The Christian System - Remission of Sins, Propositions VII and IX

Views of baptism, as a mere external and bodily act, exact a very injurious influence on the understanding and practice of men.



[213] Our greatest objection to the systems which we oppose, is their impotency on the heart. Alas! what multitudes of prayerless, saintless, Christless, joyless hearts, have crowded Christianity out of the [214] congregations by their experiences before baptism! They seem to have had all their religion before they professed it. They can relate no experience since baptism, comparable to that professed before the "mutual pledge" was tendered and received.

It was the indubitable proofs of the superabundance of this fruit, which caused me first to suspect the far-famed tree of evangelical orthodoxy. That cold-heartedness--that stiff and mercenary formality--that tithing of mint, anise, and dill--that negligence of mercy, justice, truth, and the love of God, which stalked through the communions of sectarian altars--that apathy and indifference about "thus saith the Lord"--that zeal for human prescriptions--and, above all, that willing ignorance of the sayings and doings of Jesus Christ and his apostles, which so generally appeared, first of all created, fostered, and matured my distrust in the reformed systems of evangelical sectaries. Communion, with me, was communion of kindred souls, immersed into one God, that celestial magnet which turns our aspirations and adorations to him who washed us from our sins in his own blood, and made us kings and priests to God.

To sit in the same pew; to gather round the same pulpit; to put our names to the same covenant, or subscription list: to contribute for a weekly sermon; to lisp the same opinions, extracted from the same creed, always appeared to me unworthy bonds of union or communion, and therefore my soul abhorred them as substitutes for the love of God shed abroad in the heart, for the communion of the Holy Spirit. "If a man would give all the substance of his house as a substitute for love, it should be utterly contemned."

The Divine Philosopher preached reformation by addressing himself to the heart. We begin with the heart. "Make the tree good," [Mt 12:33] and then good fruit may be expected. But this appears to be the error of all sects in a greater or less degree; they set about mending the heart, as preliminary to that which alone can create a new heart. Jesus gives us the philosophy of his scheme in an address to a sinner of that time--"Your sins," says he, "are forgiven you: go, and sin no more." [Lu 48,50] He first changes the sinner's state, not external but internal, and then says, "Go, and sin no more." He frankly forgave the debt. The sinner loved him.

There was much of this philosophy in question, "Who loves most--he that was forgiven five hundred pence, or he that was forgiven fifty? [Lu 7:41,42] How much does he love who is not forgiven at all?" Aye, that question brings us onward a little to the reason why the first act of obedience to Jesus Christ should be baptism into his name, and that for the remission of sins.

[215] But now we speak of the exercises of the heart. While any man believes the words of Jesus, "Out of the heart proceed the actions which defile the man," [Mt 15:19,20 Mr 7:21-23] he can never lose sight of the heart, as the object on which all evangelical arguments are to terminate, and as the fons et principium, the fountain and origin, of all piety and humanity.

Once for all, let it be distinctly noted, that we appreciate nothing in religion which tends not directly and immediately, proximately and remotely, to the purification and perfection of the heart. Paul acts the philosopher fully once, and, if we recollect right, but once, in all his writings upon this subject. It has been for many years a favorite topic with me. It is in his first epistle to Timothy--"Now the end of the commandment [or gospel] is love out of a pure heart--out of a good conscience--out of faith unfeigned." [1Ti 1:5] Faith unfeigned brings a person to remission, or to a good conscience; a good conscience precedes, in the order of nature, a pure heart; and that is the only soil in which love, that plant of celestial origin, can grow. This is our philosophy of Christianity--of the gospel. And thus it is the wisdom and power of God to salvation. We proceed upon these as our axiomata in all our reasonings, preachings, writings--1st. unfeigned faith; 2d. a good conscience; 3d. a pure heart; 4th. love. The testimony of God, apprehended, produces unfeigned or genuine faith; faith obeyed, produces a good conscience. This Peter defines to be the use of baptism, the answer of a good conscience. [1Pe 3:21] This produces a pure heart, and then the consummation is love--love to God and man.

Paul's order or arrangement is adopted by us as infallible. Testimony--faith unfeigned--remission, or a good conscience--a pure heart--love. Preaching, praying, singing, commemorating, meditating, all issue here. "Happy the pure in heart, for they shall see God." [Mt 5:8]


Views of baptism, as a mere external and bodily act, exact a very injurious influence on the understanding and practice of men. Hence, many ascribe to it so little importance in the Christian economy. "Bodily exercise," says Paul, "profits little." [1Ti 4:8]

We have been taught to regard immersion in water, into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as an act of the whole man;--body, soul, and Spirit.

The soul of the intelligent subject is as fully immersed into the Lord Jesus, as his body is immersed in the water. His soul rises with the Lord Jesus, as his body rises out of the water; and into one spirit with all the family of God is he immersed. It is not like circumcising a Hebrew infant or proselyting to Moses a Gentile adult.--The candidate believing in [216] the person, mission, and character of the Son of God, and willing to submit to him, immediately, upon recognizing him, hastens to be buried with the Lord, and to rise with him, not corporeally but spiritually, with his whole soul.

Reader, be admonished how you speak of bodily acts in obedience to divine institutions. Remember Eve, Adam, and all transgressors on the one hand. Remember Abel, Noah, Enoch, Moses, Abraham, down to the harlot Rahab, on the other; and be cautious how you speak of bodily acts!

Rather remember the sacrifice of a body on mount Calvary, and talk not lightly of bodily acts.

There is no such things as outward bodily acts in the Christian institution;

and less than in all others, in the act of immersion.

Then it is that the spirit, soul, and body of man become one with the Lord. Then it is that the power of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, come upon us. Then it is that we are enrolled among the children of God, and enter the ark, which will, if we abide in it, transport us to the Mount of God.


In examining the New Testament, we find that a man is said to be "justified by faith," Ro 5:1 Ga 2:16 3:24 "Justified freely by his grace," Ro 3:24 Tit 3:7 "Justified by his blood," Ro 5:9 "Justified by works," Jas 2:21,24,25 "Justified in or by the name of the Lord Jesus," 1Co 6:11 "Justified by Christ," Ga 2:16 "Justified by knowledge," Isa 53:11 "It is God that justifies," Ro 8:33

viz: by these seven means--by Christ, his name, his blood, by knowledge, grace, faith, and by works. Are these all literal? Is there no room for interpretation here?

He that selects faith out of seven must either act arbitrarily or show his reason; but the reason does not appear in the text. He must reason it out; he must infer it.

Why, then, assume that faith alone is the reason of our justification?

Why not assume that the name of the Lord alone is the great matter, seeing his name "is the only name given under heaven by which any man can be saved;" [Ac 4:12] and men "who believe receive the remission of sins by his name. Ac 10:43: and especially, because the name of Jesus, or of the Lord, is more frequently mentioned in the New Testament, in reference to all spiritual blessings, than any thing else!! Call all these causes, or means of justification, and what then? We have the grace of God as the moving cause, Jesus Christ for the efficient cause, his blood the procuring cause, knowledge the disposing cause, the name of the Lord the immediate cause, faith [217] the formal cause, and works for the concurring cause.

For example: a gentleman on the sea shore descries the wreck of a vessel at some distance from land, driving out into the ocean, and covered with a miserable and perishing sea-drenched crew.

Moved by pure philanthropy, he sends his son in a boat to save them. When the boat arrives at the wreck, he invites them in,

unto this condition, that they submit to his guidance.

A number of the crew stretch out their arms, and seizing the boat with their hands, spring into it, take hold of the oars, and row to land,

while some, from cowardice, and others because of some difficulty in coming at the boat, wait the expectation of a second trip;

but before it is returned, the wreck went to pieces, and they all perished.

The moving cause of their salvation who escaped was the good will of the gentleman on the shore;

the son who took the boat, was the efficient cause;

the boat itself, the procuring cause;

the knowledge of their perishing condition and his invitation, the disposing cause;

the seizing the boat with their hands, and springing into it, the immediate cause;

their consenting to his condition, the formal cause; and their rowing to shore, under the guidance of his son, was the concurring cause of their salvation.--

Thus men are justified or saved by grace, by Christ, by his blood, by faith, by knowledge, by the name of the Lord, and by works. But of the seven causes, three of which are purely instrumental, why choose one of the instrumental, and emphasize upon it as the justifying or saving cause, to the exclusion of, or in preference to, the others? Every one in its own place is essentially necessary.

If we examine the word saved in the New Testament, we shall find that we are said to be saved by as many causes, though some of them differently denominated, as those by which we are said to be justified. Let us see: we are said to be "saved by grace," Eph 2:5 "saved through his life," Ro 5:9,10 "saved through faith," Eph 2:8 Ac 16:31 "saved by baptism," 1Pe 3:21 or "by faith and baptism," Mr 16:16 or "by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit," Tit 3:5 or "by the gospel," 1Co 15:1,2 or "by calling upon the Lord," and by "enduring to the end," Ac 2:21 Ro 10:13 Mt 10:22

Here we have salvation ascribed to grace, to Jesus Christ, to his death and resurrection--three times to baptism, either by itself or in conjunction, once with faith, and once with the Holy Spirit; to works, or to calling upon the Lord, or to enduring to the end. To these we might add other phrases nearly similar, but these include all the causes to which we have just now alluded. Saved by grace the moving cause; by Jesus the efficient cause; by his death, and resurrection, and life, the procuring cause; by the [218] gospel, the disposing cause; by faith, the formal cause; by baptism, the immediate cause; and by enduring to the end, or persevering in the Lord, the concurring cause.


Thousands ask Peter, What shall we do? [Ac 2:37] The Jailor asks Paul, What shall I do? TO BE SAVED, [Ac 16:30] if the reader pleases. Peter says, Reform, and be baptized every one of you, &c.; Ac 2:38 Paul answers, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, with thy family." Ac 16:31

How is this, Paul and Peter? Why do you not preach the same gospel, and answer the same question in the same or similar terms? Paul, do you preach another gospel to the Gentiles, than Peter preached to the Jews? What sayest thou, Paul?

Paul replies--"Strike, but hear me. Had I been in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, I would have spoken as Peter did.

Peter spoke to believing and penitent Jews;

I spoke to an ignorant Roman jailor.

I arrested his attention after the earthquake, by simply announcing that there was salvation to him and all his family, through belief in Jesus."--

But why did you not mention repentance, baptism, the Holy Spirit? "Who told you I did not?" Luke adds nothing about it; and I concluded you said nothing about them.--Luke was a faithful historian, was he not? "Yes, very faithful: and why did you not faithfully hearken to his account?

Does he not immediately subjoin that as soon as I got the jailor's ear, I spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all that were in his house?" [Ac 16:32] Why you reason like a Paidobaptist. You think, do you, that the jailor's children were saved by his faith! I spoke the whole gospel, or word of the Lord to the jailor and to his family.

In speaking the word of the Lord, I mentioned repentance, baptism, remission, the Holy Spirit, the resurrection, judgment, and eternal life:

else why should I have baptized him and all his house; and why should he have rejoiced afterwards with all his family!" [Ac 16:34]

Paul, I beg your pardon. I will not interrogate Peter, for I know how he will answer me: he would say--"Had I been in Philippi, I would have spoken to an ignorant Pagan as Paul did, to show that salvation flowed through faith in Jesus; and when he believed this and repented,

I would then have said, Be baptized for the remission of your sins." Alexander Camlbell

Restoration Movement

Alexander Campbell and The Christian System

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