The Ancient Faith
FAITH BY ITSELF
That it is not faith, but an act resulting from
faith, which changes our state, we shall now attempt to prove.
No relation in which we stand to the material world–no political relation, or relation to society, can be changed by believing, apart from the acts to which that belief, or faith, induces us. Faith never made an American citizen, though it may have been the cause of many thousands migrating to this continent, and ultimately becoming citizens of these United States. Faith never made a man a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a master, a servant, though it may have been essentially necessary to all these relations, as a cause, or principle preparatory, or tending thereunto. Thus, when in scripture men are said to be justified by faith, or to receive any blessing through faith, it is because faith is the principle of action, and, as such, the cause of those acts by which such blessings are enjoyed. But the principle without those acts is nothing; and it is only by the acts which it induces to perform, that it becomes the instrument of any blessings to man.
ACCESS BY FAITH
Many blessings are metonymically ascribed to faith in the sacred writings. We are said to be justified, sanctified, and purified by faith–to walk by faith, and to live by faith, &c. &c. But these sayings, as qualified by the Apostles, mean no more than by believing the truth of God we have access into all these blessings. So that as Paul explains, ‘By faith we have access into the favor in which we stand.’ These words he uses on two occasions (Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 3:12) when speaking of the value of this principle, contrasted with the principle of law; and in his letter to the Hebrews, when he brings up his cloud of witnesses to the excellency of this principle, he shows that by it the ancients obtained a high reputation–that is, as he explain, by their acts of faith in obedience to God’s commands.
That faith by itself neither justifies, sanctifies, nor purifies is admitted by those who oppose immersion for the forgiveness of sins. They all include the idea of the blood of Christ. And yet they seem not to perceive, that, in objecting to immersion as necessary to forgiveness in connection with faith, their own arguments preclude them from connecting the blood of Christ with faith. If they admit that faith, apart from the blood of Christ, cannot obtain pardon, they admit all that is necessary to prove them inconsistent with themselves in opposing immersion for the remission of sins; or immersion, as that act by which our state is changed.
CONVERSIONS IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
1. The Apostle Peter, when first publishing the gospel to the Jews, taught them that they were not forgiven their sins by faith; but by an act of faith, by a believing immersion into the Lord Jesus. That this may appear evident to all, we shall examine his Pentecostian address, and his Pentecostian hearers.
Peter now holding the keys of the kingdom of Jesus, and speaking under the commission of converting the world, and by the authority of the Lord Jesus; guided, inspired, and accompanied by the Spirit–may be expected to speak the truth, the whole truth, plainly and intelligibly, to his brethren the Jews. He had that day declared the gospel facts, and proved the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the conviction of thousands. They believed and repented–believed that Jesus was the Messiah, had died as a sin-offering, was risen from the dead, and crowned Lord of all. Being full of this faith, they inquired of Peter and the other Apostles what they ought to do to obtain remission. They were informed, that though they now believed and repented, they were not pardoned; but must ‘reform and be immersed for the remission of sins‘ (Acts 2:38).
Immersion for the forgiveness of sins, was the command addressed to these believers, to these penitents, in answer to the most earnest question; and by one of the most sincere, candid, and honest speakers ever heard. This act of faith was presented as that act by which a change in their state could be effected; or, in other words, by which alone they could be pardoned. They who ‘gladly received this word were that day immersed;’ or, in other words, the same day were converted, or regenerated, or obeyed the gospel. Those expressions, in the Apostle’s style, when applied to persons coming into the kingdom, denote the same act, as will be perceived from the various passages in the writings of Luke and Paul. This testimony, when the speaker, the occasion, and the congregations are all taken into view, is itself alone sufficient to establish the point in support of which we have adduced it.
2. But the second discourse, recorded by Luke from the lips of the same Peter, pronounced in Solomon’s Portico, is equally pointed, clear, and full in support of this position. After he had explained the miracles which he had wrought in the name of the Lord Jesus, and stated the same gospel facts, he proclaims the same command–“Reform and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out;” or, “Reform and turn to God, that so your sins may be blotted out; that season of refreshment from the presence of the Lord may come, and that he may send Jesus whom the heavens must receive till the accomplishment of all the things which God has foretold,” &c. Peter, in substituting other terms in this proclamation, for those used on Pentecost, does not preach a new gospel, but the same gospel in terms equally strong. He uses the same word in the first part of the command, which he used on Pentecost. Instead of “be immersed,” he has here “be converted,” or “turn to God;” instead of “for the remission of your sins,” here it is, “that your sins may be blotted out;” and instead of “you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” here it is, “that seasons of refreshment from the presence of the Lord may come.” (Acts 3:19). On Pentecost, it was, 1st. “Reform.” 2d. “Be immersed.” 3d. “For the remission of sins.” And 4th. “You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In Solomon’s Portico, it was, 1st. “Reform.” 2d. “Be converted.” 3d. “That your sins may be blotted out.” And 4th. “That seasons of refreshment from the presence of the Lord may come;” that “you may have righteousness, peace, and joy in a holy spirit.” So read the different clauses in those two discourses to the Jews, expressive of the same acts.
There is yet, in this discourse in the Portico, a very strong expression, declarative of the same gracious connection between immersion and remission. It is the last period in the discourse. “Unto you, first, brethren of the Jews, God having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, every one of you, in the act of turning from your iniquities;” or, as we would say, in the act of conversion. Why the Apostle Peter should have used “converted,” or “turning to God,” instead of “be immersed,” is, to the candid and unprejudiced reader of this narrative, very plain. After Pentecost, the disciples immersed on that day, having turned to God through Jesus, were spoken of by their brethren as discipled or converted to Jesus. The unbelieving Jews, soon after Pentecost, knew the disciples called the immersed “converted;” and immersion being the act of faith which drew the line of demarcation between Christians and Jews, nothing could be more natural than to call the act of immersion the converting of a Jew. The time intervening between these discourses was long enough to introduce and familiarize this style in the metropolis; so that when a Christian said, “Be converted,” or “Turn to God,” every Jew knew, the act of putting on the Messiah to be that intended.
3. After the immersion of some Gentiles into the faith, in the house and neighborhood of Cornelius, it was reported that the Gentiles were converted to God. Thus, the Apostles in passing through the country, gave great joy to the disciples from among the Jews, “telling them of the conversion” or immersion of the Gentiles (Acts 15:3). Indeed, in a short time it was a summary way of representing the faith, reformation, and immersion of disciples, by using one word for all. Thus, “All the inhabitants of Sharon and Lydda turned,” or “were converted, to the Lord” (Acts 9:35).
4. While on the subject of conversion, we shall adduce, as fourth testimony, the words of the Lord Jesus to Paul, when he called him. Paul is introduced by Luke in the Acts, telling what the Lord said to him when he received his apostleship. “I send you Paul, by the faith that respects me, to open their eyes; to turn or convert them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God; that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among the saved.” Everything to be accomplished among the Gentiles was to be effected by the faith or truth in Christ. The Saviour connected that with opening their eyes; their conversion from the ignorance and tyranny of sin and Satan; their forgiveness of sins; and finally, an inheritance among the saved or sanctified. First, faith or illumination; then, conversion; then, remission of sins; then, the inheritance. All these testimonies concur with each other in preaching the act of faith–Christian immersion, frequently called conversion, as that act, inseparably connected with the remission of sins; or that change of state, of which we have already spoken.
One reason why we would arrest the attention of the reader to the substitution of the terms convert and conversion, for immerse and immersion, in the apostolic discourses and in the sacred writings, is not so much for the purpose of proving that the forgiveness of sins, or a change of state, is necessarily connected with the act of faith called “Christian immersion:” as it is to fix the minds of the biblical students upon a very important fact, viz.; that no person is altogether discipled to Christ until he is immersed. It is true, that this view of the matter bears strongly upon the question; but it bears upon other great matters pertaining to the present and ancient order of things.
Discovering that much depends upon having correct views on this point, we have carefully examined all those passages where “conversion” either in the common version, or in the new version, or in the original, occurs; and have found a uniformity in the use of this term, and its compounds and derivatives, which warrants the conclusion, that no person was said to be converted until he was immersed; and that all persons who were immersed were said to be converted. If any apostatized, and were again converted, it was in that sense in which our Lord applied the word to Peter, “When you are converted, strengthen your brethren,” or, as James used it in his letter when he said, “If any of you err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he who converts a transgressor from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19, 20)
THE GREAT COMISSION
The commission for converting the world teaches that immersion was necessary to discipleship; for Jesus said, “Convert the nations, immersing them into the name,” &c., and “teaching them to observe,” &c. The construction of the sentence fairly indicates that no person can be a disciple, according to the commission, who has not been immersed: for the active participle in connection with an imperative, either declares the manner in which the imperative shall be obeyed, or explains the meaning of the command. To this I have not found an exception:–for example.– “Cleanse the house, sweeping it.” “Cleanse the garment, washing it,” shows the manner in which the command is to be obeyed, or explains the meaning of it. Thus, “Convert (or disciple) the nations, immersing them, and teaching them to observe,” &c., expresses the manner in which the command is to be obeyed.
If the Apostles had only preached and not immersed, they would not have converted the hearers according to the commission: and if they had immersed, and not taught them to observe the commands of the Savior, they would have been transgressors. A disciple, then, according to the commission, is one that has heard the gospel, believed it, and has been immersed. A disciple, indeed, is one that continues in keeping the commandments of Jesus.
The following examples of the above general rule illustrate its value and certainty: “Let us offer up the sacrifice of praise to God, confessing to his name.” Heb. xiii. 15. “Let us go forth to him out of the camp, bearing his reproach.” Heb. xiii. 13. “Be an approved workman, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim. ii. 15. “Guard the precious deposit, avoiding profane babblings.” 1 Tim. vi. 20. “Observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing by partiality.” 1 Tim. v. 21. “Pray every where lifting up holy hands.” 1 Tim. ii. 8. “Walking in wisdom to them that are without, gaining time.” Col. iv: 5. “Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God.” Col. iii. 17. “Speak the truth, putting away lying.” Eph. iv. 25. “Be not vainglorious, provoking one another. Gal. v. 26. “Convert the nations, baptizing them,” &c. &c. Now, do not all these participles define their respective imperatives, or show the way and manner in which this command should be obeyed! Many similar examples may be found in all the sacred writings.
This rule has passed through a fiery trial. I have only been more fully convinced of its generality and value. There is no rule in the English syntax more general in its application. I would only add, that the participle does not always express everything in the command; but it always points out something emphatically in the intention of the imperative, and without which the injunction cannot be suitably and fully performed.
We have, however, no need of this rule, nor of anything not generally conceded, to establish the point before us: for the New Testament and all antiquity teach, that so long as the Apostles lived, no one was regarded as a disciple of Christ who had not confessed his faith and was immersed.
[This essay is an excerpt from a study by Alexander Campbell entitled “The Remission of Sins” found in his book The Christian System (1839)]