Baptism and Church Communion by John Bunyan
Edited and Revised for the Modern Reader
by Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.
© 1995 Gregg Strawbridge. All Rights Reserved.
This selection of John Bunyan’s work was originally taken from a book entitled, A Confession of My Faith, and a Reason of My Practice: Or, With Who, and Who Not, I Can Hold Church Fellowship, or the Communion of Saints. Shewing by diverse arguments, that though I dare not communicate with the openly profane, yet I can with those visible saints that differ about water baptism. Wherein is also discoursed whether that be the entering ordinance into fellowship, or no. The text from which this abridged edition is taken is the 1854 edition of Bunyan’s complete works, edited by George Offor, published by W.G. Blackie and Son, Glasgow. I have taken the liberty to select the portion of this book which directly addresses the question of baptism and church membership. Thus, I have not included Bunyan’s Confession of Faith which immediately precedes this section, nor included his response to those who attacked this publication, Baptism, No Bar to Communion. The title of this second publication is more to the point of the issue but it is not as concise a presentation of his rationale for his position.
Further, I have taken the liberty of abridging this edition and modestly revising it for the modern reader. Though I have made no attempt to completely refurnish the syntax, I have in places abbreviated the sentence structure. Not wishing to tamper with Bunyan’s eloquent style, I saw no need to remove all archaisms (i.e., “delivereth”) but only those which have no common modern counterpart and thus, obscure the meaning altogether. I have left most of Offor’s editorial inclusions standing. These are enclosed in brackets ([ ]). Also, I have sought to maintain the original emphases of the text sometimes denoted by italics or all-capital script with italics. Finally, I have included sectional titles foreign to the original edition in hopes that they may serve to connect each section.
John Bunyan (1628-1688), a tinker or brazier by trade, was gifted by God to become a great pastor, preacher, evangelist, and writer, leaving a legacy of Christian literature in the English language—68 books in all. It is reported that John Owen once said he would give all his learning to preach as Bunyan and it was Owen who was primarily responsible for the publication of Bunyan’s most influential work, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
In Bedford, England, John Bunyan became a sufferer for conscience sake in Charles II’s reign. Imprisoned for preaching the gospel of the grace of God, he endured twelve years of misery by the grace of God. Though in the midst of persecution for not conforming to Parliament’s religious and ecclesiastical requirements, divisions and schisms were rampant throughout the nonconformist/puritan churches (Baptists, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Independents). Bunyan, a man with a big heart and a sincere love for the brethren, was called to address such divisions as were others in the previous years, namely John Owen and Oliver Cromwell. One issue which Bunyan addressed was the question of the necessity of baptism by immersion for church communion or membership. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones summarizes the historical situation.
There were four main divisions of Baptists at that time, the Strict and Particular Baptists who were Calvinists and who would not communicate with anyone, whatsoever outside the members of their churches, that is with anyone who had not been baptized by immersion. The Open and Particular Baptists were also Calvinistic. These were the people to whom Bunyan belonged. They denied the absolute necessity of baptism and were much more liberal in their communion with others. There were also the Seventh-day and Particular Baptists, and finally there were the General Baptists who were not Calvinists. Bunyan’s controversy was with the Strict and Particular Baptists.
The editor of the three-volume edition of the Works of John Bunyan in 1854, George Offor, comments on Bunyan’s position:
Bunyan saw all the difficulties of this question: he was satisfied that baptism is a personal duty, in respect of which every individual must be satisfied, in his own mind, and over which no church had any control; and that the only enquiry as to the fitness of a candidate for church fellowship should be, whether the regenerating powers of the Holy Ghost had baptized the spirit of the proposed member into newness of life. This is the only livery by which a Christian can be known. Bunyan very justly condemns the idea of water baptism being either the Christian’s livery or his marriage to the Saviour.
It is a sad fact that most Baptists have long since denied the theology of the Strict and Particular Baptists and yet have the vestige of an external requirement. Others who hold steadfastly to the theology have not listened to their father in the faith, John Bunyan. Even those whom Bunyan admonished at that time seem to have relented for a time since in the appendix to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677) they wrote,
We would not be misconstrued, as if the discharge of our consciences did any way disoblige or alienate our affections or conversations from any others that fear the Lord: earnestly desiring to approve ourselves to be such as follow after peace with holiness. We continue our practice, not out of obstinacy, but we do therein according to the best of our understandings, in that method which we take to be most agreeable to the Scriptures. The christening of infants, we find by church history, to have been a very ancient practice; still we leave every one to give an account of himself to God. And if in any case debates between Christians are not plainly determinable by the Scriptures, we leave it to the second coming of Christ.
Sadly, this statement was omitted from the 1689 republished edition of the Second London Baptist Confession—the year after Bunyan’s death. We concur with Bunyan, “I own water baptism to be God’s ordinance, but I make no idol of it” and respect the counsel of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Let us discuss it [the doctrine of baptism] as brethren; but what we must never do, surely, is to divide and separate and to make that which John Bunyan regarded as secondary, central and all important and a cause for breaking or refusing communion.” In fact, Ian Murray, the biographer Lloyd-Jones comments, “He especially regretted that baptism had ever been made a point of denominational identity and was critical of Baptists in that regard.” Moreover, Offor concludes his comments with a benediction we also heartily endorse:”May the time soon arrive when water shall not quench love, but when all the churches militant shall form one army, with one object,—that of extending the Redeemer’s kingdom.”
& Church Communion
Having thus made confession of my faith, I now come to show you my practice in worship, with the reasons thereof in which I shall have occasion to touch, under two distinct heads.
1) With whom I dare not hold communion.
2) With whom I dare.
Only first note that by the word communion, I mean fellowship in the things of the kingdom of Christ, or that which is commonly called church communion, the communion of saints.
WITH WHOM I DARE NOT HOLD COMMUNION
First, I dare not have communion with them that profess not faith and holiness or that are not visible saints by calling: but note, that by this assertion, I meddle not with the elect, but as he is a visible saint by calling, neither do I exclude the secret hypocrite, if he be hid from me by visible saintship. I only exclude him that is not a visible saint. Now he that is visibly or openly profane, cannot be then a visible saint, for he that is a visible saint must profess faith, and repentance, and consequently holiness of life, and with none else dare I have church communion.
First, because God himself hath so strictly put the difference, both by word and deed. For from the beginning, he did not only put a difference between the seed of the woman and the children of the wicked (Genesis 3:15), but did cast out from his presence the father of all the ungodly, even cursed Cain, when he showed himself openly profane, and banished him (Genesis 4:8-16).
Second, because it is so often commanded in the Scriptures, that all the congregation should be holy. “I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, also 19:2, 20:7, 1 Peter 1:15-16). Also, the gates of the temple were to be shut against all other. “Thus saith the Lord God: No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of a stranger that is among the children of Israel” ( Ezekiel 44:9, also Isaiah 26:9, Psalm 118:20).
Third, I dare not have communion with them because the example of New Testament churches before us has been a community of visible saints. Paul, to the Romans, writes thus: “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” (1:7). And to the rest of the churches thus: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus; called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2, likewise see Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1). Besides, the members of such churches go under such characters as these: (1) “The called of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:6). (2) Men that have drank into the Spirit of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). (3) Persons in whom was God the Father (Ephesians 4:6). (4) They were all made partakers of the joy of the gospel (Philippians 1:7). (5) Persons that were circumcised inwardly (Colossians 2:11). (6) Persons that turned from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). (7) Those that were the body of Christ, and members in particular, that is , those that were visibly such; because they made profession of faith, of holiness, of repentance, of love to Christ, and of self-denial, at their receiving into fellowship.
Fourth, I dare not hold communion with the openly profane because the church is to be “a chosen generation , a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”(1 Peter 2:9-10). Also, with the openly profane it is not possible to have true and spiritual communion. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14ff.).
Fifth, I dare not hold communion with the openly profane because this would be ploughing with an ox and ass together (Deuteronomy 22:10) and because submission to the discipline of a Christian Church must be voluntary and not constrained. Further, Paul exhorteth Timothy to follow after righteousness, faith, charity, peace, etc. “with them that call on the Lord, out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Sixth, in a word, to hold communion with the openly profane, is most pernicious and destructive. The church is to be pure and not mixed. “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6). “Look diligently therefore, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).
Lastly, to conclude, it provoketh God to punish with severe judgments: And therefore heed well the following: (1) The drowning of the whole world was occasioned by the sons of God intermingling themselves with the daughters of men; and the corruption of worship that followed thereupon (Genesis 6 & 7). (2) He sent a plague upon the children of Israel for joining themselves unto the people of Moab; and for following their abominations in worship (Numbers 25:1-5, Joshua 22:17). Let no man think that now I have altered the state of the question, for it is one and the same for the church to communicate with the profane and to sacrifice and offer their gifts to the devil (Deuteronomy 32:16-19, Psalm 56:36-40). The reason is because such have by their sin forsaken the protection of heaven and are given up to their own heart-lusts and left to be overcome of the wicked, to whom they have joined themselves (Deuteronomy 12; 7:1-6). Join not yourselves, said God, to the wicked, neither in religion nor marriage, “For they will turn away thy sons from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly” (Deuteronomy 7:5). Hear how Paul handleth the point: “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles [or openly profane] sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: Ye cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10:20-22). I conclude, that therefore it is an evil and a dangerous thing to hold church communion with the openly profane and ungodly. It polluteth the Lord’s ordinances, it violateth his law, it profaneth his holiness, it defileth his people, and provoketh the Lord to severe and terrible judgments.
WITH WHOM I DARE HAVE COMMUNION
Thus have I showed you with whom I dare not have communion; and now to show you with whom I dare. But in order thereto, I desire you, first, to take notice that touching shadowish or figurative ordinances, I believe that Christ hath ordained but two in His church, water baptism and the supper of the Lord, both which are of excellent use to the church in this world. They being to us representations of the death and resurrection of Christ and are, as God shall make them, helps to our faith therein. But I count them not the fundamentals of our Christianity, nor grounds or rule to communion with saints: for they are servants and our mystical ministers to teach and instruct us in the most weighty matters of the kingdom of God. I therefore here declare my reverent esteem of them, yet dare not remove them, as some do, from the place and end, where by God they are set and appointed, nor ascribe unto them more than they were ordered to have in their first and primitive institution. It is possible to commit idolatry even with God’s own appointments, but I pass this, and come to the thing propounded.
Second, then, I dare have communion, church communion, with those that are visible saints by calling—with those that, by the word of the gospel, have been brought over to faith and holiness. It maketh no matter to me, what their life was heretofore, if they now be “washed,” if they be “sanctified,” if they be “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Now in order to the discovery of this faith and holiness, and so to fellowship in church communion, I hold it requisite that a faithful relation be made thereof by the party thus to be received; yea, if need be, by witnesses also, for the satisfaction of the church, that she may receive in faith and judgment, such as best shall suit her holy profession (Acts 9:26-28, 1 Corinthians 16:10, 2 Corinthians 8:23). Observe that these texts do respect extraordinary officers, and yet see that their reception by the church was made by a faithful relation of the faith and holiness of these very persons. For no man may intrude himself upon, or thrust himself upon, or thrust himself into a church of Christ without the church first having the knowledge and liking of the person to be received. If otherwise, there is a door opened for all the heretics in the world, yea, for devils also if they appear in human shapes.
But Paul shows you the manner of receiving, by pleading (after some disgrace thrown upon him by the false apostles) for his own admission of his companions: “Receive us, [saith he,] we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man; we have defrauded no man” (2 Corinthians 12:2). And so concerning Timothy: “If Timotheus come, (saith he,) see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do” (1 Corinthians 16:10). Also, when Paul supposed that Titus might be suspected by some; see how he pleads for him: If “any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 8:23). Phoebe also, when she was to be received by the church at Rome; see how he speaketh in her behalf: “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also” (Romans 16:1-2). Yea, when the apostles and brethren sent their epistles from Jerusalem to Antioch; under what characters do those go, that were the messengers to them? “It seemed unto [the Holy Ghost and to] us, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26-27). Now though the occasions upon which these commendations were written were not simply, or only, in order to church relation, but also for other causes. Yet because the persons concerned were of the churches to be received as faithful, and such who would partake of church privileges with them, they have relevance to this concern. Therefore, their faith and faithfulness related to the churches as those that were particularly embodied there. Besides Timothy and Titus being extraordinary officers stood as members and officers in every church where they were received. Likewise Barnabas and Saul, Judas and Silas, abode as members and officers where they were sent. It was requisite, therefore, that the letters of recommendation should be in substance the same with that relation that ought to be made to the church, by or for the person that is to be embodied there. But to return, I dare have communion, church communion, with those that are visible saints by calling.
The Basis for Church Communion
Question: But by what rule would you receive them into fellowship with yourselves?
Answer: Even by a discovery of their faith and holiness, and their declaration of willingness to subject themselves to the laws and government of Christ in his church.
Question: But do you not count that by water baptism, that being the initiating and entering ordinance, they ought to be received into fellowship?
Answer: No. But tarry, and understand my word. For herein lies the mistake, to think that because in time past baptism was administered upon conversion, that therefore it is the initiating and entering ordinance into church communion, when by the Word no such thing is testified of it. Besides, that it is not so will be manifest, if we consider the nature and power of such an ordinance.
Circumcision, the Old Testament Initiating Ordinance
If there be an initiating or entering ordinance, it doth give to them that partake thereof a right to, and a being of membership with that particular church by which it is administered. I say, a right to, and a being of, membership, without the addition of another church act. This is evident by the law of circumcision, which was the initiating law of old; for by the administration of that very ordinance the partaker thereof was forthwith a member of that congregation, without the addition of another church act (Genesis 17). This is declared in its first institution, and therefore it is called the token of the covenant. Circumcision was the token or sign of righteousness, of Abraham’s faith, and of the visible membership of those that joined themselves to the church with him—which was the very inlet into church communion that gave a being of membership among them.
And thus Moses himself expounds it, “every man’s servant, that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall eat” of the passover (Exodus 12:44). Acceptance at passover did not require another church act to empower him thereunto. His circumcision hath already given him a being there, and so a right to, and privilege in church relation: “A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof (because he was not circumcised). And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover. . . .then let him come near and keep it (for then; he is one of the church) and he shall be as one born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof” (Exodus 12:45, 48). Neither could any other thing, according to the law of circumcision, give the devoutest person that breathed a being of membership with them. “He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and the uncircumcised man child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people” (Genesis 17:13-14). Note then, that that which is the initiating ordinance admitteth none into church communion but these that first partake thereof. The angel sought to kill Moses himself, for attempting to make his child a member without it (Exodus 4:24-26). Note again, that as it admitteth of none to membership without it, so as I said, the very act of circumcising them, without the addition of another church act, gave them a being of membership with that very church, by whom they were circumcised.
Baptism is Not the New Testament Initiating Ordinance
But none of this can be said of baptism. First, there are none debarred or threatened to be cut off from the church, if they be not first baptized. Secondly, neither doth it give to the person baptized a being of membership with this or that church, by whose members he hath been baptized. John gathered no particular church, yet was he the first and great baptizer with water. He preached Christ to come, and baptized with the baptism of repentance, and left his disciples to be gathered by him (Acts 19:3-5). Besides, after Christ’s ascension, Philip baptized the eunuch, but made him by that no member of any particular church. We only read that Philip was caught away from him, and that the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing to his master and country of Ethiopia (Acts 8:35-40). Neither was Cornelius made a member of the church at Jerusalem, by his being baptized at Peter’s command at Cesarea (Acts 10-11). Neither were they that were converted at Antioch, by them that were scattered from the church at Jerusalem, by their baptism, if they were baptized [in water] at all, joined to the church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:19). No, they were after gathered and embodied among themselves by other church acts (Acts 16). What shall I say? Into what particular church was Lydia baptized by Paul, or those first converts at Philippi? Yea even in the second chapter of the Acts, baptizing and adding to the church appear to be acts distinct: but if baptism were the initiating ordinance, then was he that was baptized made a member of a particular church, by the very act of water baptism? Neither ought any by God’s ordinance to have baptized any, but with respect to the admitting them by that act to a being of membership in this particular church. For if it be the initiating ordinance, it entereth them into the church: What church? Into a visible church? Now there is no church visible but that which is particular; the universal church being utterly invisible, and known to none but God. The person then that is baptized stands by that a member of no church at all, neither of the visible, nor yet of the invisible. A visible saint he is, but not made so by baptism; for he must be a visible saint before, else he ought not to be baptized (Acts 8:37, 9:17, 16:33). Baptism [in water] makes thee no member of the church, neither particular nor universal: neither doth it make thee a visible saint. It therefore gives thee neither right to nor being of membership at all.
The Purpose of Baptism
Question: But why then were they baptized?
Answer: That their own faith by that figure might be strengthened in the death and resurrection of Christ. And that they themselves might see, that they have professed themselves dead, and buried, and risen with him to newness of life (Colossians 2:12, Romans 6:4). It did not seal to the church that they were so (their satisfaction as to that arose from better arguments) but taught the party himself that he ought so to be. Further, it confirmed to his own conscience the forgiveness of sins, if by unfeigned faith he laid hold upon Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26, 1 Corinthians 15:29, Acts 2:38, 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21).
The New Testament Rule for Acceptance Into Church Communion
Now then, if baptism be not the initiating ordinance, we must seek for entering some other way, by some other appointment of Christ, unless we will say that without rule, without order, and without an appointment of Christ, we may enter into his visible kingdom. The church under the law had its initiating and entering ordinance. Now that which by Christ is made the door of entrance into the church, by that we may doubtless enter; and seeing baptism is not that ordinance, we ought not to seek to enter thereby, but may with good conscience enter without it.
Question: But by what rule then would you gather persons into church communion?
Answer: Even by that rule by which they are discovered to the church to be visible saints and willing to be gathered into their body and fellowship. By that Word of God therefore, by which their faith, experience and conversation, being examined, is found good; by that the church should receive them into fellowship with them. This reception is not as they practice things that are circumstantial, but as their faith is commended by a word of faith, and their conversation by moral precept.
Wherefore it is observable that after Paul had declared himself sound of faith, he falls down to the body of the law: “Receive us [saith he], we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man” (2 Corinthians 7:2). He saith not, “I am baptized,” but instead, “I have wronged no man” [see also vv. 18-21]. I will say therefore, that by the word of faith, good works, and moral duties gospelized we ought to judge the fitness of members. By these we ought also to receive them to fellowship. For he that in these things proveth sound, he hath the antitype of circumcision, which was previously the entering ordinance. “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28-29; see also Philippians 3:1-4).
Now a confession of this by word and life, makes this inward circumcision visible. When you know him therefore to be thus circumcised, you ought to admit him to the Lord’s passover. He hath a share not only in church communion, but a visible right to the kingdom of heaven. Again, “For the kingdom of God, [or our service to Christ] is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ, is acceptable to God, and approved of men” (Romans 14:17-18; see also Deuteronomy 28:47). By which word “righteousness,” he meaneth as James doth, the royal law, the perfect law, which is the moral precept evangelized, or delivered to us by the hand of Christ (James 2:8-9). Now he that in these things serveth Christ, is accepted of God, and approved of men. For who is he that can justly find fault with him, that fulfilleth the royal law from a principle of faith and love? “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,’ ye do well.” He then that serveth Christ according to the royal law, from faith and love going before, he is a fit person for church communion; God accepteth him, men approve him.
Communion is Forbidden
Because of the Transgression of a Moral Precept
Therefore I say, the rule by which we receive church members, it is the word of the faith of Christ and of the moral precept evangelized. When Paul forbiddeth us communion with men, they be such as are destitute of the faith of Christ, and live in the transgression of a moral precept. “I have written unto you, [saith he,] not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11). He saith not, “if any man be not baptized [in water], have no hands laid on him, or join with the unbaptized,” these are fictitious, Scriptureless notions.
The word of faith and the moral precept is that by which Paul enjoins the Galatians and Philippians, still avoiding outward circumstances. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16). As many as walk according to “this rule”: What rule? The rule by which men are proved new creatures: The word of faith and moral precept. These words,”For in Christ Jesus,” are put in on purpose to show us the nature of New Testament administrations, and how they differ from the old. In Moses an outward conformity to an outward and carnal ordinance was sufficient to give a being of membership with the Jews. But in Christ Jesus it is not so. Of Abraham’s flesh was the national Jewish congregation, but it is Abraham’s faith that makes New Testament churches. They that are of faith are the children of faithful Abraham. They that are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9). For take away the confession of faith and holiness and what can distinguish a Christian from a Turk? He that indeed receiveth faith and that squareth his life by the royal, perfect, moral precept; and that walketh therein, in joy and peace of the Holy Ghost, no man can reject him.
Is Church Communion Granted Without Baptism?
Objection: But notwithstanding all that you have said, water baptism ought to go before church membership; show me one in all the New Testament, that was received into fellowship without it.
Answer: That water baptism hath formerly gone first is granted, but that it ought of necessity so to do, I never saw proof.
Let us suppose baptism was the initiating ordinance and that it once did, as circumcision of old, give a being of membership to the partakers. Even set the case that men were forbidden then to enter into fellowship without it: All these things notwithstanding, men might be received into fellowship without it. All these things were involved in circumcision which was the initiating ordinance that gave being of membership, without which it was positively commanded none should be received into fellowship (Joshua 5). Yet for all this, more than six hundred thousand were received into the church without it, yea received, and also retained there, and that by Moses and Joshua, even those to whom the land was promised, when the uncircumcised were cut off. But why then were they not circumcised? Doubtless there was a reason; either they wanted time, or opportunity, or instruments, or something. But they could not render a bigger reason than this, I have no light therein—which is the cause at this day that many a faithful man denieth to take up the ordinance of baptism. But I say whatever the hindrance was, it mattereth not, our brethren have a manifest one, an invincible one, one that all the men on earth, nor angels in heaven can remove. For it is God that giveth light and for them to do it without light would but prove them unfaithful to themselves, and make them sinners against God; “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). If therefore Moses and Joshua thought fit to communicate with six hundred thousand uncircumcised persons; when by the law not one such ought to have been received among them; why may not I have communion, the closest communion with visible saints as afore described, although they lack light in baptism, and so cannot submit to that, which of God was never made the wall of division betwixt us. I shall therefore hold communion with such.
Reasons For Communing with Visible Saints
Who Have Not Submitted to Baptism by Immersion
First, because the true visible saint hath already been subjected to that which is better, even to the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, by which he stands just before God. He also hath made the most exact and strict rule under heaven, that whereby he squares his life before men. He hath like precious faith with the best of saints, and a conversation according to light received, becoming the gospel of Christ. He is therefore to be received, received I say, not by thy light, not for that in circumstances he jumpeth with thy opinion; but according to his own faith which he ought to keep to himself before God (1 Corinthians 10:29). Again, if water baptism, as the circumstances with which the church were pestered of old, trouble their peace, wound the consciences of the godly, dismember and break their fellowship; it is, although an ordinance, for the present to be prudently shunned. For the edification of the church, as I shall show in the following, is to be preferred before it.
Second, there is “one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (not of water, for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body), “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in you all” (Ephesians 4:6). This is a sufficient rule for us to hold communion by, and also to endeavour the maintaining of that communion, and to keep it in unity, within the bond of peace against all attempts whatsoever (1 Corinthians 12:16).
Third, I am bold therefore to have communion with such because they have the doctrine of baptism, though not the practice of it. He that believeth in Jesus Christ hath richer and better than the outward circumstance of baptism in water, since he is dead to sin, and that lives to God by him, he hath the heart, power and doctrine of baptism. All then that he lacks is but the sign, the shadow, or the outward circumstance thereof. The best of baptisms he hath; he is baptized by that one Spirit. But if for want of light, he partake not of that sign, his faith can see it in other things, exceeding great and precious promises. Yea, as I also have hinted already, if he appear not a brother before, he appeareth not a brother by that.
Fourth, I am bold to hold communion with visible saints as afore described because God hath communion with them, whose example in the case, we are explicitly commanded to follow. “Receive ye one another as Christ also received us (saith Paul) to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Vain man! Think not by the straightness of thine order in outward and bodily conformity, to outward and shadowish circumstances, that thy peace is maintained with God, for peace with God is by faith in the blood of His cross who hath borne the reproaches of you both. Wherefore he that hath communion with God for Christ’s sake, is as good and as worthy of the communion of saints as thyself. He erreth in a circumstance, thou errest in a substance; who must bear these errors? Upon who must these reproaches fall? Some of the things of God that are excellent have not been approved by some of the saints: What then? Must these for this be cast out of the church? But to return; God hath received him, Christ hath received him, therefore do you receive him? There is more solidity in this argument, than if all the churches of God had received him. Therefore, you can by the Word judge a visible saint, one that walketh with God, you may also judge by the Word that God hath received him. Now him that God receiveth and holdeth communion with, him you should receive and hold communion with. Will any say we cannot believe that God hath received any but such as are baptized in water? I will not suppose a brother so stupefied; and therefore to that I will not answer. Receive him “to the glory of God!”
Fifth, because of a failure in such a circumstance as water, doth not unchristian us. This must needs be granted, not only from what was said before; but for that thousands of thousands that before could not consent thereto as we have, are more glorious than we are now, having acquitted themselves and their Christianity before men, and are now with the innumerable company of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. What is said of eating, or the contrary, may as to this be said of water baptism. Neither if I be baptized, am I the better, neither if I be not, am I the worse. Not the better before God, not the worse before men—still meaning as Paul doth, provided I walk according to my light with God. Otherwise it is false, for if a man that seeth it to be his duty shall despisingly neglect it, or if he that hath no faith therein shall foolishly take it up; both these are for this the worse, being convicted in themselves for transgressors. He therefore that doth it according to his light, doth well, and he that doth it not, or dare not do it for want of light, doth not ill; for he approveth his heart to be sincere with God. He dare not do any thing but by light in the Word.
If therefore he be not by grace a partaker of light in that circumstance which thou professeth; yet he is a partaker of that liberty and mercy by which thou standest. He hath liberty to call God father, as thou, and to believe he shall be saved by Jesus; his faith, as thine, hath purified his heart. He is tender of the glory of God as thou art, and can claim by grace an interest in heaven which thou must not do because of water. Ye are both then Christians before God and men without it. He that can, let him preach to himself by that. He that cannot, let him preach to himself by the promises; but yet let us rejoice in God together. Let us exalt his name together! Indeed the baptized can thank God for that, for which another cannot; but may not he that is unbaptized thank God for that which the baptized cannot? “Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Romans 14:13).
Sixth, I am therefore for holding communion thus, because the edification of souls in the faith and holiness of the gospel, is of greater concernment than an agreement in outward things. I say, it is of greater concernment with us, and of far more profit to our brother than our agreeing in or contesting for the business of water baptism (John 16:13, 1 Corinthians 14:26, 2 Corinthians 10:8). That the edification of the soul is of the greatest concern is out of measure evident because heaven and eternal happiness are so immediately concerned therein. Besides, this is that for which Christ died, for which the Holy Ghost was given, yea for which the Scriptures and the gifts of all the godly are given to the church; yea, and if gifts are not bent to this very work, the persons are said to be proud or uncharitable that have them. And know that the edification of the church of God dependeth not upon, neither is tied to this or that circumstance. Especially when there are in the hearts of the godly, different persuasions about it; then it becometh them in the wisdom of God, to take more care for their peace and unity than to widen or make large their uncomfortable differences.
Seventh, therefore I am for holding communion thus, because love, which above all things we are commanded to put on, is of much more worth than to break about baptism. Love is also more discovered when it receiveth for the sake of Christ and grace, than when it refuseth for want of water. As I have also said before, this exhortation to love is grounded upon the putting on of the new creature, which new creature hath swallowed up all distinctions, that have before been common among the churches. To have fellowship one with another for the sake of an outward circumstance, or to make that the door to fellowship which God hath not; yea to make that the including, excluding charter, the bounds, bar, and rule of communion, when by the word of the everlasting testament there is no warrant for it—to speak charitably, if it be not for want of love, it is for want of knowledge in the mysteries of the kingdom of Christ. Strange! Take two Christians equal in all points but this, nay, let one go beyond the other far, for grace and holiness; yet this circumstance of water shall drown and sweep away all his excellencies, not counting him worthy of that reception, that with hand and heart shall be given to a novice in religion, because he consents to water.
Eighth, but for God’s people to divide into parties, or to shut each other from church communion; though from greater points, and upon higher pretences, than this water baptism—hath heretofore been counted carnal, and the actors herein babyish Christians. Paul and Apollos, Cephas and Christ, were doubtless higher things than those about which we contend; yet when they made divisions for them how sharply are they rebuked? “Are ye not carnal?” (See 1 Corinthians 1:11-12, 3:1-4). And observe it, the great divisions at Corinth were helped forward by water baptism: this the apostle intimates by the statement, “Were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” Carnal Christians with outward circumstances will, if they be let alone, make sad work in the churches of Christ, against the spiritual growth of the same. But “I thank God,” saith Paul, “that I baptized none of you.” Not that he despised an ordinance of God, but they abused it, in making parties thereby. By this negligent relating, who were baptized by him, he showeth that he made no such matter of baptism, as some in these days do. Nay, that he made no matter of it at all with respect to church communion; for if he did not heed who himself had baptized; he much less heeded, who were baptized by others. But if baptism had been the initiating, or entering ordinance, and so appointed of God—no doubt he had made more conscience thereof, than so lightly to pass it over. “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). The gospel then may be effectually preached, and yet baptism neither administered nor mentioned. The gospel being good tidings to sinners, upon the account of free grace through Christ; but baptism with things of like nature, are duties enjoined such a people who received the gospel before. I speak not this because I would teach men to break the least of the commandments of God; but to persuade my brethren of the baptized way, not to hold too much thereupon, not to make it an essential of the gospel of Christ, nor yet of communion of saints.
Ninth, if we shall reject visible saints by calling, saints that have communion with God, that have received the law at the hand of Christ, that are of a holy conversation among men—they desiring to have communion with us—we take from them their very privileges and the blessings to which they were born of God. For Paul saith, not only to the gathered church at Corinth, but to all scattered saints that in every place call upon the name of the Lord, that Jesus Christ is theirs. “Drink you all of this,” is entailed to faith, not baptism. Nay, baptized persons may yet be excluded this when he that discerneth the Lord’s body hath right and privilege to it (1 Corinthians 11:28-29). But to exclude Christians from church communion and to debar them their heaven-born privileges for the want of that which yet God never made a wall of division between us— (1) This looks too like a spirit of persecution (Job 19:28). (2) It respecteth more a form, than the spirit and power of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5). (3) This is to make laws where God hath made none, and to be wise above what is written, contrary to God’s Word and our own principles (1 Corinthians 4:6). (4) It is a directing of the Spirit of God. (5) It bindeth all men’s faith and light to my opinion. (6) It withholdeth from them the increase of faith. (7) It occasioneth the world to reproach us. (8) It holdeth staggering consciences in doubt of the right way of the Lord. (9) It giveth occasion to many to turn aside to more dangerous heresies. (10) It abuseth the holy Scriptures; it wresteth God’s ordinances out of their place. (11) Shall I add, is it not that which greatly prevailed to bring down these persecutions, which at present we feel and groan under; I will dare to say, it was a cause thereof.
Tenth, and lastly, bear with one word further. What greater contempt can be thrown upon the saints than for their brethren to cast them off, or to debar them church communion? Think you not that the world may say, “Some great iniquity lies hid in the skirts of your brethren when in truth the transgression is yet your own?” But I say what can the church do more to the sinners or openly profane? Civil commerce you will have with the worst, and what more have you with these? But can you commit your soul to their ministry, and join with them in prayer; and yet not count them worthy of other gospel privileges? I would know by what Scripture you do it? Perhaps you will say, “I commit not my soul to their ministry, only hear them occasionally for trial.” If this be all the respect thou hast for them and their ministry, thou mayest have as much for the worst that pisseth against the wall. But if thou canst hear them as God’s ministers, and sit under their ministry as God’s ordinance, then show me where God hath such a gospel ministry, as that the person ministering may not, though desiring it, be admitted with you to the closest communion of saints.
In closing, I say to the visible saints by calling, that stand at a distance one from another upon the accounts before specified: Brethren, be one, as the Father in Christ is one. (1) This is the way to convince the world that you are Christ’s, and the subjects of one Lord; whereas the contrary makes them doubt it (John 13:34-35). (2) This is the way to increase love; that grace so much desired by some, and so little enjoyed by others (2 Corinthians 7:15). (3) This is the way to savour and taste the Spirit of God in each other’s experience; for which if you find it in truth you cannot but bless, if you be saints, the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4). (4) This is the way to increase knowledge, or to see more in the Word of God: for something may be known by two that is not seen by one (Isaiah 52:8). (5) This is the way to remove secret jealousies and murmurings one against the other: yea this is the way to prevent much sin, and greatly to frustrate the design of hell (Proverbs 6:16-19). (6) This is the way to bring them out of the world into fellowship that now stand off from our gospel privileges, for the sake of our vain janglings. (7) And this is the way to obtain much of that, “well done, good and faithful servant,” when you stand before his face.