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- Submitted: Jul 07 2012 03:45 PM
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- Author: William Shirreff
- e-Sword Version: 9.x - 10.x
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Shirreff, William - Lectures on Baptism
Bibliology (BibleDoctrine) Baptist
9.x - 10.x
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The main argument over baptism boils down to the Church’s desire to conform to Christ’s standards as best as humanly possible. Paedobaptists and Credobaptists firmly believe they are running closer to Christ’s standards, and in the best cases, but sadly not the most cases, their antagonism is a fair desire to see a pure church.
Unfortunately for those wishing to study the subject, both sides of the baptism differences seem to “infer” Biblical proof that is not always clear. Both sides claim the support of the early fathers, and both sides have strong ties to historical background. Even worse, there are those who chose to be antagonistic for the sake of antagonism, who only cause needless divisions amongst brothers. As a result, it is to the student’s advantage to pursue a Scriptural, objective, and compassionate book on baptism.
However, choosing an “objective” book on baptism is impossible, and a “compassionate” book is rare. Both sides employ convincing apologetical authors defending their views and attacking the opposite view. As a result, attempting a study necessarily involves an uncomfortable sensation of being accused of scriptural corruption by the author of the opposing treatise. It is a shame that the church is reduced to squabble over an important issue in a commonly childish fashion.
The baptism issue is important, as a Christian’s view of baptism will influence other areas of his theology. Coming to a conclusion on the controversy is essential.
Please realize that as the publisher of this module, I do not necessarily endorse the content, arguments, or perspectives of this module. I have undertaken this module because of my desire to understand the issue of baptism; I am still a student of the issue desiring to see Christ’s church closely conforming to His commands. Please do not view this module as representative of my opinions, but feel free to send me helpful articles on baptism!
William Shirreff’s Lectures on Baptism
Because William Shirreff’s writings can be strong and harsh at times, it is best first to understand the man. Shirreff was a pastor in the Church of Scotland, and became convinced that state churches and infant baptism were both errors. Shirreff chose to resign his lucrative rectorship in St. Ninians and pastor a fledgling church in Glasgow. At Glasgow, Shirreff wished to educate his congregation on the baptism controversy. Every Wednesday, Shirreff lectured on the issue.
Shirreff’s Lectures on Baptism, published posthumously, is an important treatise. For years, his lectures were one of the “go-to” books for the Credobaptist side. Although Shirreff firmly believes his own opinion, and does come across strongly, his arguments represent well the traditional defense of Credobaptism.
From the Introductory Lecture:
“The object of these Lectures is to state the doctrine of the Scriptures on the ordinance of Christian Baptism. It is a very common, though a very groundless and hurtful opinion, that the discussion of this subject is unnecessary. Positive institutions are far from being uninteresting to the friends of religion; in them the truth is embodied, and the observance of them, as of every precept of revelation, belongs to the obedience of faith, and comfort of the gospel. We have salutary warning in the scriptures, that it is at our peril, if we act on the popular error, that positive institutions are unworthy of study and attention.
“The design of these Lectures will not be altogether frustrated, if, by their means, any shall be induced to lay aside prejudice, to examine for themselves, and for themselves to decide and act in regard to this important ordinance of Christ.
“The object of these Discourses is to assist the honest inquirer in his search after truth. When he is in danger of being misled by habit, misrepresentation, or sophistry, he must be apprised of his danger; these habits, misrepresentations, and sophistries must be exposed. Beyond this necessary duty, every thing polemical and controversial, will be avoided. It is with doctrines that the inquirer after truth is concerned. The grand question is — “What saith the Scripture?" Having ascertained this, it ought to be of no moment by whom the doctrine is either taught or received, opposed or rejected.
“It is the desire and duty of the speaker to assist the honest and enlightened part of the community in detecting and removing the corruptions of Christianity. This design would be frustrated by the perversion, misrepresentation, or misapplication of any part of Scripture. Inquirers therefore may depend on it, that, according to the grace given, the example of the Apostle will be followed, 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not. But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
“In order to profit by these Lectures, the following hints may be useful: —
“1st, Continue in prayer to God for the direction and guidance of the Spirit.
“2d, Whilst any particular topic is under discussion, we should confine our attention to that particular topic. Of that exclusively it will be our interest to think and determine. For instance, the inquiry whether Christians, after believing, ought to be baptized, does not involve the consideration of infant baptism. Again, supposing infant baptism to be commanded, the question whether this should supersede our observance of Baptism after believing, is distinct from both the preceding inquiries.
“3d, The inquirer should be on his guard against the effects of remaining corruption and external influence. Many good men (like the first Reformers) have never studied these subjects. Some of approved character and learning have defended corruptions of the truth by arguments which prove only the power of preconceived opinions. In the ordinary affairs of life, the man would be pitied who had the weakness seriously to advance such arguments. The influence of corruption remaining in the mind, is still more to be dreaded. He has little to expect from the assistance of others, who is not continually on his guard against it.
“4th, The inquirer must himself read through the New Testament; he must observe all the passages which treat on the subject of Baptism at one, or rather at different readings; he must observe what each passage intimates on the different topics of inquiry. Having finished this process, he must mark the result. If he reads other books (as he probably will) he must act in regard to his books, as a judge or a jury acts in regard to counsel: having heard both sides, they decide for themselves. I said, books besides the New Testament will probably be read; but allow me to say also, that this labor is not absolutely necessary. The Scriptures themselves are sufficient to make the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work. But whether other books be perused or not, the inquirer must begin and end with the perusal of the New Testament. The Spirit of God must have the honor, which is exclusively due to himself. The inquirer will find that submission to, and the enjoyment of God are here, as every where the, inseparably connected. Of the reasonings of men, we shall treat in their place; at present, I give only the following cautions: — Never mistake supposition, or mere assertions, for proof. Never act on a proof proposed, but not understood. Never confound the creatures of imagination with the conclusions of reason. Never mistake one subject for another, but distinguish things that differ.”
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