Alexander Campbell - Christian System - Remission of Sins Prop. XI

PROP. XI.--All the apostolical Fathers, as they are called; all the pupils of the Apostles; and all the ecclesiastical writers of note, of the first four Christian centuries, whose writings have come down to us; allude to, and speak of, Christian immersion, as the "regeneration" and "remission of sins" spoken of in the New Testament. [189]

While Alexander Campbell denied the idea that baptism "procures" remission of sins he holds that baptism is necessary to enjoy the privileges of citizenship in the kingdom. Alexander Campbell did not invent his opinions but the connection between water or baptismal regeneration was universally held by most theologians for 1500 years.

This proposition I shall sustain by the testimony of those who have examined all Christian antiquity, and by citing the words of those usually called the apostolic Fathers, and other distinguished writers of the first four hundred years. We shall first summon one whose name is familiar throughout Christendom. Whether the writing be genuine or spurious, it is on all hands admitted to be a fragment of the highest antiquity:--

BARNABAS, (The Epistle)

In his catholic Epistle, chapter xi. says, "Let us now inquire whether the Lord took care to manifest any thing beforehand, concerning water and the cross. Now, for the former of these, it is written to the people of Israel, how they shall not receive that baptism which brings to forgiveness of sins; but shall institute

[190] another to themselves that cannot. For thus saith the Prophet,

"Be astonished, O Heavens! and let the earth tremble at it; because this people have done two great and wicked things: They have left me, the fountain of living waters, and have digged for themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water. Is my holy mountain Zion, a desolate wilderness? For she shall be as a young bird when its nest is taken away."--

"Consider how he hath joined both the cross and the water together. For this he saith, "Blessed are they, who, putting their trust in the cross, descend into the water; for they shall have their reward in due time; then, saith he, will I give it them." But as concerning the present time, he saith, "Their leaves shall not fail." Meaning thereby, that every word that shall go out of your mouth, shall through faith and charity be to the conversion and hope of many. In like manner does another Prophet speak: "And the land of Jacob was the praise of all the earth;" magnifying thereby the vessels of his Spirit.

And what follows? "And there was a river running on the right hand, and beautiful trees grew up by it; and he that shall eat of them shall live forever." The signification of which is this:--

that we go down into the river full of sins and pollutions; but come up again bringing forth fruit;

having in our hearts the fear and hope which are in Jesus by the Spirit: "And whosoever shall eat of them shall live forever." That is, whosoever shall hearken to those that call them, and shall believe, shall live forever."

CLEMENT and Clement Stromata AND HERMAS.

The former gives no testimony on the subject. The latter deposes as follows [Book of Similitudes, Chap. xvi]

In speaking of a tower built upon the water by which he signified the building of Christ's church, he thus speaks:--"Hear, therefore, why the tower is built on the waters:--Because your life is saved, and shall be saved, by water." In answer to the question, "Why did the stones come up into this tower out of the deep?" he says it was necessary for them to come up by (or through) water, that they might be at rest; "for they could not otherwise enter the kingdom of God; for before any one receives the name of the Son of God, he is liable to death; but when he receives that seal, he is delivered from death and assigned to life. Now, that seal is water, into which persons go down, liable to death, but come out of it assigned to life; for which reason to these also was the seal preached; and they made use of it, that they might enter the Kingdom of God."

[191] Both Clement and Hermas wrote about the end of the first, or beginning of the second century.

Hermas, moreover, deposes as follows, in another work of his, called "The Commands of Hermas

"And I said to him, I have even now heard from certain teachers,

and there is no other repentance besides that of baptism,
when we go down into the water, and receive the forgiveness of sins, and after that we should sin no more, but live in purity. And he said to me, Thou hast been rightly informed."

Having closely and repeatedly examined the Epistles of Clement; of Polycarp, to the Philippians; of

that to the Magnesians;
Ignatius, to the Ephesians; Chapter XVIII.-The Glory of the Cross.

Let my spirit be counted as nothing for the sake of the cross, which is a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to us salvation and life eternal. "Where is the wise man? where the disputer? " Where is the boasting of those who are styled prudent? For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost.

He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.

The cross of Christ is indeed a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to the believing it is salvation and life eternal. "Where is the wise man? where the disputer? " Where is the boasting of those who are called mighty? For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began , and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. For says [the Scripture], "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and He shall be called Immanuel." He was born and was baptized by John, that He might ratify the institution committed to that prophet.

that to the Trallians, the Romans, the Philadelphians, the Smyrnians, and his Epistle to Polycarp; together with the Catholic Epistle of Barnabas, and the genuine works of Hermas,

Be ye subject to the bishop as to the Lord, for "he watches for your souls, as one that shall give account to God."[6] Wherefore also, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men,

but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us,
in order that, by believing in His death,
ye may by baptism be made partakers of His resurrection.

I can affirm that the preceding extracts are the only passages in all these writings that speak of immersion.

Having heard the apostolic Fathers, as they are called, depose to the views of the pupils of the Apostles, down to A. D. 140; I will summon a very learned Paidobaptist antiquarian, who can bring forward every writer and Father, down to the fifth century; and, before we hear any of his witnesses, we shall interrogate him concerning his own convictions after he had spent many years in rummaging all Christian antiquity:--

Pray, Doctor, have you examined all primitive writers from the death of John down to the fifth century?

W. Wall.--I have.

And will you explicitly avow what was the established and universal view of all Christians, public and private,
........... for four hundred years from the nativity of the Messiah, on the import of the saying, (John iii. 5,)
........... "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God?"

W. Wall.--"There is not any one Christian writer, of any antiquity in any language,
        but who understands it of
baptism; and, if it be not so understood, 
        it is difficult to give an account how a person is born of water, any more than born of wood.

Did all the Christians, public and private, and all the Christian writers from Barnabas to the times of Pelagius, (419,) as far as you know, continue to use the term regenerate as only applicable to immersion?

[192] W. Wall.--"The Christians did, in all ancient times, continue the use of this name "regeneration," for baptism;
........... so that they never use the word 'regenerate,' or 'born again,'
........... ........... but they mean, or denote by it, baptism. And almost all the quotations
........... ........... which I shall bring in this book, shall be instances of it.

Did they also substitute for "baptism" and "baptize," the words renewed, sanctified, sealed, enlightened, initiated, as well as regenerated?

W. Wall.--"For to baptize, they used the following words:--Most commonly, anagennao, to regnerate; sometimes, kainopoieo, or anakainiozo, to renew, frequently, agiazo, to sanctify. Sometimes they call it the seal; and frequently, illumination, as it is also called, Heb. vi. 4, Heb 6:4 and sometimes, teliosis, initiation."St. Austin, not less than hundred times, expresses baptized by the word sanctified.

We shall now see some of Mr. Wall's witnesses; and I choose rather to introduce them from his own pen, as he cannot be supposed partial to the views I have presented in this essay:--


Justin Martyr wrote about
forty years after John the Apostle died, and stands most conspicuous among the primitive Fathers. He addressed an apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius. In this apology he narrates the practices of the Christians, and the reasons of them. Concerning those who are persuaded and believe the things which are taught, and who promise to live according to them, he writes--

"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 water (en to udati) in the name of God the Father and Lord of all things, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit; for Christ says,

Unless you be regenerated you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; John 3:5
and everybody knows it is impossible for those who are once generated (or born) to enter again into their mother's womb."

"It was foretold by Isaiah, as I said, by what means they who should repent of their sins might escape them; and was written in these words, 'Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil,' &c.;"

Chapter LXI.-Christian Baptism.

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making.

As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true,
        and undertake to be able to live accordingly,
        are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting,
        for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them.
Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated
        in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated.
For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit,
        they then receive the washing with water.

For Christ also said, "Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers' wombs, is manifest to all.

And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks:

"Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, saith the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet,

I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."  

Rachac (h7364) raw-khats'; a prim. root; to lave (the whole or a part of a thing): - bathe (self), wash (self).

And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. Eze.16:4

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. Isaiah 4:4

"And we have been taught by the Apostles this reason for this thing. Because we being ignorant of our first birth, were generated by necessity (or course of nature) and have been brought up in all customs and conversation; that we should not continue children of that necessity and ignorance,

but of will (or choice) and knowledge, and should obtain forgiveness of the sins in which [193] they have lived, by water (or in water).
Then is
invoked over him that has a mind to be regenerated, the name of God the Father, &c.; And this washing is called the enlightening."

As you trace the history of infant baptism, Mr. Wall, as nigh the apostolic times as possible, pray, why do you quote Justin Martyr, who never mentions it?

W. Wall.--"Because his is the most ancient account of the way of baptizing, next the scripture; and shows the plain and simple manner of administering it.

Because it shows that the Christians of those times (many of whom lived in the days of the Apostles) used the word, 'regeneration' (or 'being born again') for baptism;

and that they were taught to do so by the Apostles. And because we see by it that they understood John iii. 5. of water baptism;
........... and so did all the writers of these 400 years, NOT ONE MAN EXCEPTED."--p. 54.

Did any of the ancients use the word matheteueo (to disciple) as it is used in the commission; or did they call the baptized discipled?

W. Wall.--"Justin Martyr, in his second apology to Antoninus, uses it. His words are:--'Several persons among us, of sixty and seventy years old, of both sexes, who were discipled (matheteuio) to Christ, in or from their childhood, do continue uncorrupted.'"--p. 54.

[The meaning of water regeneration intimately connected to original sin]

So soon as they began to mysticize,

they began to teach that immersion without faith,
would obtain remission of sins,
and that immersion without faith was regeneration.

Then came the debates about original sin: and so soon as original sin was proved, then came the necessity of infant immersion for the remission of original sin.

And so undisputed was the import of baptism for remission, that when the Pelagians denied original sin, pressed with difficulty,

"why immerse those who have no sins?" they were pushed to invent actual sins for infants; such as their crying, peevishness, restlessness, &c.;, on account of which sins they supposed that infants might with propriety be immersed, though they had no original sin.


Tertullian, the first who mentions infant baptism,
flourished about A. D. 216. He writes against the practice: and among his most conclusive arguments against infant immersion, (for then, there was no sprinkling,) he assumes, as a fundamental principle not to be questioned,

that immersion was for the remission of sins; and, this being universally conceded, he argues as follows:--

"Our Lord says, indeed, 'Do not forbid them to come to me;' therefore, let them come when they are grown up--let them come [194] when they understand--when they are instructed whither it is that they come.

Let them be made Christians when they can know Christ. What need their guiltless age make such haste to the forgiveness of sins? Men will proceed more warily in worldly goods; and he that should not have earthly goods committed to him, yet shall have heavenly! Let them know how to desire this salvation, that you may appear to have given to one that asketh." p. 74.


Origen, though so great a visionary, is, nevertheless, a competent witness in any question of fact. And here I would again remind the reader, that it is as witnesses in a question of fact, and not of opinion, we summon these ancients. It is not to tell their own opinions, nor the reasons for them, but to depose what were the views of Christians on this institution in their times. There was no controversy on this subject for more than four hundred years, and therefore we expect only to find incidental allusions to it; but these are numerous, and of the most unquestionable character. Origen, in his homily upon Luke, says:--

"Infants are baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Of what sins? Or when have they sinned? Or how can any reason of the law, in their case, hold good, but according to that sense that we mentioned even now? (that is)
........... none is free from pollution, though his life be but the length of one day upon the earth."

And in another place he says, that--
........... "The baptism of the church is given for the forgiveness of sins."

And again--

"If there were nothing in infants that wanted forgiveness and mercy, the grace of baptism would be needless to them."

In another place he says--

"But in the regeneration, (or new birth,) by the laver (or baptism,) every one that is born again of water and the Spirit, is clear from pollution: clear (as I may venture to say) as by a glass darkly."--p. 82.

But now let me ask Dr. Wall,--Do Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and St. Austin, concur with all their predecessors in those views of regeneration and remission?

W. Wall.--"Yes, exactly. I have observed, among the several names which the ancients give to baptism, they often, by this phrase, 'the forgiveness of sins,' do mean the sacrament of baptism."--p. 179.

And as for Chrysostom, he expressly says, "In baptism, or the spiritual circumcision, there is no trouble to be [195] undergone but to throw off the load of sins,

and to receive pardon for all foregoing offences." p. 182. And again; "There is no receiving or having the bequeathed inheritance before one is baptized; and none can be called a son till he is baptized."--p. 183.

The controversies about infant baptism and original sin were contemporaneous; and just so soon as they decided the nature and extent of original sin, baptism for the remission of sins was given to infants because of this pollution, and defended because of the necessity of regeneration and forgiveness to salvation;

and because immersion was universally admitted to be the scriptural regeneration and remission.
In this way, there is no reasonable doubt, but infant baptism began; and for convenience' sake, as Dr. Wall contends, it was substituted by infant sprinkling.

Unless we were to transcribe all the testimonies of antiquity, one by one, no greater assurance can be given, that for more than four hundred years after Christ, all writers, orthodox and heterodox, Pelagius and Austin not excepted, concurred in the preceding views. Were I to summon others--Eusebius, Dupin, Lightfoot, and Hammond, cum multis aliis--will depose the same.

This proposition we will dismiss with the testimony of the most renowned of the Bishops of Africa. I extract it from a work now generally read, called the "History of Martyrs." It is from the account Cyprian gives of his conversion.--p. 317.

"While (says he) I lay in darkness and uncertainty, I thought on what I had heard of a second birth, proposed by the divine goodness;
........... but could not comprehend how a man could receive a new life from his being immersed in water,
........... cease to be what he was before, and still remain the same body.

How, said I, can such a change be possible? How can he who is grown old in a worldly way of living strip himself of his former inclinations and inveterate habits? Can he, who has spent his whole time in plenty, and indulged his appetite without restraint, ever be transformed into an example of frugality and sobriety? Or he who has always appeared in splendid apparel, It is impossible for a man, who has borne the most honorable posts, ever to submit to lead a private and obscure life: or that he who was never seen in public without a crowd of attendants, and persons who endeavored to make their fortunes by attending him, should ever bear to be alone.

This (continues he) was my way of arguing: I thought it was impossible for me to leave my former course of life, and the habits I was then engaged in, and accustomed to:

but no sooner did the live-giving water wash the spots off my soul,
than my heart received the heavenly light of the Holy Spirit, which transformed me into a new creature; all my difficulties were cleared, my doubts dissolved, and my darkness dispelled. I was then able to do what before seemed impossible; could discern that my former life was earthly and sinful, according to the impurity of my birth;
........... but that my spiritual birth gave me new ideas and inclinations, and directed all my views to God."

Cyprian flourished A. D. 250.

The "clear conscience" offered only by request at the time and place of baptism means:

Suneidesis ((g4893) soon-i'-day-sis; from a prol. form of 4894; co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness; - conscience.

Suneido (g4894) soon-i'-do; from 4862 and 1492; to see completely; used (like its prim.) only in two past tenses, respectively mean. to understand or become aware, and to be conscious or (clandestinely) informed of: - consider, know, be privy, be ware of.

Mandaeands Sabians Iraq Christians

"Sabian" is a word derived from the Aramaic-Mandic verb "Saba" which means "baptised" or "dyed", "immersed in water". "dMandaeans" is derived from "menda" which means in the mandiac language "knowledge". Thus, "Mandaean Sabians" means those who are baptised and who know the religion of God.

Clement of Alexandria: Recognitions on Musical Idolatry and Baptism
Clement of Alexandria defined baptism as modern churches of Christ believe and teach. That is, forgiveness of sins is connected to water because God in Christ Jesus defined it to be true.

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Alexander Campbell and The Christian System

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