SECTION 2: PRIMITIVE BAPTISTS CONTINUED
"Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."--Phil. 2:3.
1. The death of Domitian, in 97, introduced Nerva, a tolerant emperor to the throne. In 98, Trajan became possessed of the sceptre, whose prejudices were very strong against the followers of the Lamb. Persecuting edicts were issued, and the commencement of the century was the beginning of fresh trials to the professors of the gospel. Pliny, the governor of Pontus and Bythinia, inquired of Trajan what policy he should pursue towards Christians, as he felt convinced their destruction would nearly annihilate the inhabitants of those provinces under his governance. [Lib. 10, Epis. 97] Trajan replied, they should not be sought for as heretofore; but if any were known openly to profess Christianity, "let them be punished." Under this emperor many Christians suffered death, and numbers, even of the female sex, were racked, to occasion their criminating each other. Adrian rather improved the condition of Christians. Titus Antonius Pious, succeeded, and proved himself a mild prince; but when Marcus Aurelius Antonius ascended the throne, he issued his cruel measures, and Polycarp, with many in Asia and France, were called to martyrdom. In 180, Commodus became head of the government, and the condition of Christians became tolerable; but on Severus succeeding, the aspect was changed towards the churches: Asia, Gaul, Egypt, and other provinces, were dyed with Christians blood.
2. All historians speak of the Christian church sustaining, to an eminent degree, the character of a pure virgin, for above one hundred years. The severity of the times would check insincere persons making a profession; the examples of the apostles and their successors were still kept in view; besides, the churches were composed of obscure persons in the estimation of the world; nor did learning adorn her ministers, so as to awaken any fears of rivalship among the philosophers or literati of the day. Yet their obscurity, with their "excess of virtue," [Gibbons Hist. c. 15] was no guard to their lives or property. It was a maxim with the Romans, to tolerate the religions of those nations they conquered: but this indulgence they extended not to the professors of the gospel. Various reasons and motives combined to occasion an alteration in their wonted policy, though the true grounds are assigned by Paul Rom. 8:7. Gal. 4:29. The first Christians were poor; and their benevolence towards each other was calculated to keep them free of worldly incumbrances, yet it is equally evident they were numerous, and the success of the gospel enraged the pagan priests, who reported to the governor the vilest accusations against them. [Some causes assigned for these calumnies by Mr. Robert Turner, are supported neither by reason nor evidence, particularly on Christians eating their own offspring, c. 4.] Those vile reports were ably refuted by apologists, whose works were presented to the emperor. [W. Reeves Apologies of the Fathers] The insinuations of the enemy were but too credulously regarded, and often regulated the policy of the presiding governor. The priests lived by the altars. In the public games, merchants, tradesmen, mechanics, servants, and the rustic who sold the sacrifices, were all interested in maintaining the pagan worship. Hence that popular ridicule, contempt, and persecution, which governments sometimes durst not, or could not, control. Whenever religion influenced the heart, whether of parent or child, it proved a kind of restless leaven, which attempted, by every silent and lawful means, to impregnate the whole body with which it stood connected, so that, Christianity was often accused of disturbing the previous harmony of families, and of infusing sectarian principles into the inhabitants of towns and provinces. Nor did Christianity feel in her proper station, in standing at a distance, and surveying the region of misery with philosophic apathy; but its advocates boldly advanced into the very centre of infection, and endeavored to apply the only remedy provided for its cure; yet such was the nature and desperate state of the disease, that it urged the infected to aim the destruction of every benefactor. "Beside, all other people professed a national religion, and the multitude looked on each others idols with indifference; but Christianity formed a sect of distinct and separate character." [Gibbons Hist. c. 15] "It did not confine itself to the denial or rejection of every other system: it carried on its forehead all the offensive character of a monopoly, which, when understood, spread an alarm over the Roman empire for the security of its establishments." [Chalmerss Evid. Christianity, c. 4, p. 105] Every awakening providence, as earthquake, famine, drought, plague, &c., was by pagans attributed to the anger of their gods against the followers of the Cross; this view of things being impressed on the minds of the multitude, often occasioned the rabble to demand the blood and lives of valuable men.
Christianity was observed to give dignity, composure, serenity, and confidence, to its possessor, which was supposed by heathens to be confirmed obstinacy--which many consequently resolved to subdue. The religion of the Cross has, in all ages, formed a bond of union among its disciples, to which no heathen superstition made pretensions. The enemies of the Lamb, being totally unacquainted with the genius and spirit of Christianity, and the objects of its followers in uniting together in social worship, misconstrued their motives, attributed to them revolting crimes, and their love and unity led to associations of a political character formed against the government.
It was also seen that Christianity ever maintained an uncompromising character; it forbade its friends "to partake of other mens sins," or to pour out libations, or throw a grain of incense on the pagan altars: and this unsociable, uncommunicable temper, in matters of religion, could be regarded, by the best of the heathens, in no other light, than arising from an aversion to mankind. [Joness Ecc. Lect. v.i., p. 193] From these circumstances, the pagans would never be destitute of materials for misconstruction. As Christians would not themselves bow to pagan rites, so they were alike careful to prevent any character, however exalted, realizing the privileges of their communion, without a strict conformity, in spirit and conduct, to the requirements of divine revelation. They, consequently, at times, became the objects of the most unrelenting fury, for maintaining, in their ecclesiastical community, purity of principle, and purity of practice.
3. The Christian societies, instituted in the cities of the Roman empire, were united only by the ties of faith and charity. Independency and equality formed the basis of their internal constitution; [Gibbons Hist. c. 15] and they were in every way corresponding to churches of the Baptist denomination at the present day, in the admission of members, discussing affairs, dismissing brethren, or excluding offenders. [Mosh. Hist. C. 2, p. 2, c. 2, S 4; Robin. Res. p. 123; Campbells Ecc. Lect. p. 122; Joness Ecc. Lect. v.i., p. 299] Though the churches sustained a primitive character for more than one hundred years, yet, during this century, and particularly towards its close, the scriptural simplicity of the institution became obscured, from the introduction of various rites borrowed from the Old Testament; and baptism was now supposed to convey some peculiar advantages. to the receiver. [See Wall and Bingham] There being persons of narrow capacities, the teachers of religion thought it advisable or expedient to instruct such in the essential truths of the gospel, by placing those truths, as it were, before their eyes, under visible objects or images. [Mosh. Hist. C. 2, p. 2, c. 4] By these and other expedients, the purity of the original institutions became sophisticated; and when once the ministers of religion had departed from the ancient simplicity of the gospel, and sullied the native purity of divine truth by a motley mixture of human inventions, it was difficult to set bounds to this growing corruption. [Mosh. Hist. C. 6, p. 2, c. 3, S 1]
4. We shall now refer to the writers of this century on the subject of Baptism; and the first we notice is JUSTIN MARTYR, who was born of pagan parents, but became a proselyte to the Jewish religion. Dissatisfied with his profession, he embraced Christianity. His character is obscured by his mixture of systems, and his figurative style was calculated to lead astray. He taught, through natural objects, to view spiritual things, viz., "The cross according to the prophet (Moses), was the great characteristic of his power and government; almost every thing we see resembles a cross; the yards of a ship, the head of a plough, the handle of a spade, &c. -- nay, man erect with his arms extended, forms the cross." [Justins Apol., p. 72; Reeves trans. v. i, p. 96] He retained the leading features of Christianity, and wrote ably in its defence.
In giving an account to the emperor, Justin says, "I shall now lay before you the manner of dedicating ourselves to God, through Christ, upon our conversion; for should I omit this, I might not seem to deal sincerely in this account of our religion. As many as are persuaded and believe that those things which are taught by us are true, and do promise to live according to them, are directed first to pray, and ask God, with fasting, the forgiveness of their sins: and we also pray and fast together with them. Then we bring them to some place where there is water; and they are regenerated by the same way of regeneration by which we were regenerated: for they are washed in the name of the Father, &c. After he is baptized, and becomes one of us, we lead him to the congregation of the brethren, where with great fervency, we pour out our souls together in prayer, both for ourselves and for the person baptized, and for all other Christians throughout the world. Prayer being ended, we salute each other with a kiss. Bread, and a cup of wine and water, are then brought to the president or bishop, who offers up prayer and thanksgiving in the name of the Lord Jesus, the people concluding with a loud amen. The deacons distribute the elements to those who are present, and carry them afterwards to he absent members. [Walls Hist. of Infant Bap. p. 1, c. 2, ~ 3] This food we call the eucharist, of which none are allowed to be partakers, but such only are as true believers, and have been baptized in the laver of regeneration for the remission of sins, and live according to Christs precepts."+ On this statement Dr. Wall observes, this is the most ancient account of the way 0 baptizing, next the Scriptures, and shows the plain and simple manner of administering it. The Christians of these times had lived, many of them at least, in the days of the apostles. [Walls Hist.]
[+ Justins Apol. S 79, 85, 86, Reeves trans. Justins Apology to the emperor describes the dedication of believers in religion, but not of infants! In section 36, he deplores the way the heathens trained their children; and section 18, alludes to believers discipeling their offspring to Christ. He does not refute the charge of infanticide, by asserting that Christians dedicated their children to Christ by baptism, though so favorable an opportunity offered; at the same time, he evinces an anxiety not to omit to his imperial majesty any circumstance or practice that would lessen the force of prejudices against Christians. Justin has committed an unpardonable fault in omitting the infant rite; unless, as was the case, paedobaptism was unknown.]
Justins use of the term regeneration, instead of baptism, with other figurative language, led the simple and unlettered to conclude, that the import of the word was conveyed in the ordinance. Too much dependence was, at this period, placed on the eucharist; as is evident, in its being carried to absent members after it had been prayed over. So the simplicity of the supper was departing, by the mixture of water with the wine: though the church still retained, in its members and discipline, all the essentials of its original constitution.
Irenaeus, pastor of a church at Lyons. He was a Greek by birth, and liberally educated. Before he accepted the pastorate of Lyons, he lived at Smyrna, under the religious instruction of Polycarp, one of Johns disciples. During his residence at Lyons, the Christians were called to realize death in every form. A creed is still extant bearing his name, and much of early simplicity. [Le Clercs Ecc. Hist. and Jortins Rem. on Ecc. Hist. v. ii., b. 2, p. 2, p. 25] The following passage from his writings is supposed by some to allude to the ordinance: "Christ passed through all ages of man, that he might save all by himself: all, I say, who by him are regenerated to God infants, and little ones, and children, and youths, and persons advanced in years:" [Facts Opposed to Fiction, p. 17] but these words refer to salvation, not baptism. The word regeneration cannot, in this passage, be understood to signify baptism, without attaching too much importance to that ordinance. The same pious father regrets the conduct of some "who thought it needless to bring the person to the water at all; but mixing oil and water together, they pour it on the candidates head." [Walls Hist. part 1, p. 406] How deeply would Irenaeus grieve, did he live now!
Clement, the schoolmaster and innovator, presided over a school at Alexandria, to whom we shall again refer. He observes, on the ordinance, "The baptised ought to be children in malice, but not in understanding; even such children who, as the children of God, have put off the old man with the garments of wickedness, and have put on the new man." [Epis. 111. in Bap. Mag. v.i., p. 166]
5. Although unwarrantable customs and ceremonies began to prevail at the conclusion of this century in some churches, yet the ordinances of religion were not diverted or altered from their scriptural subject, which is supported by the best historians, as, "It does not appear by any approved authors, that there was any mutation or variation in baptism from the former century." [Mag. Cent. c. 2, in Danvers, p. 59]
"During this century, the sacrament of baptism was administered publicly twice a year, at the festivals of Easter and Whitsuntide. The persons to be baptized, after they had repeated the creed, confessed, and renounced their sins, particularly the devil and his pompous allurements, were immersed under water, and received into Christs kingdom, by a solemn invocation." After baptism, various ceremonies ensued. [Mosh. Hist. e. 2, p. 2, e. 4, ~13] Immersion universally prevailed, since all the ancients thought that burying under water did more lively represent the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. [Binghams Antiq. of the Christian church, b. 11, c. 11, ~ 1]
The absence of infant baptism, during the two first centuries, is fully acknowledged by so many of the most learned among the Paedobaptists, that it is quite unnecessary to copy their assertions. [Booths Pedo. Exa., C. 4, p. 78; and c. 9, p. 194]
Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Tatian, Minucius Felix, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria, constitute the Christian writers of this second century; who so far from directly speaking of infant baptism, never once utter a syllable upon the subject. [Dr. F.A. Cox on Bap. p. 156]