The Ancient Faith
“PRAYER, NOT THE DUTY OF THE UNBAPTIZED”
[This article was written in response to a Baptist preacher named Jeremiah B. Jeter who believed baptism to be unnecessary to salvation, and salvation to be by means of the sinner’s prayer said in faith.]
We assert now, as we have ever done, that there is not one passage in the Bible, which, during the reign of Christ, makes it the duty of an unbaptized person to pray. Mr. Jeter is greatly mistaken if he supposes that we cherish not this as a capital item. We do not say the sinner may not pray; and, when he does pray, we do not say it is wrong. Let us be understood. We do say, with singular emphasis, that it is not the duty of the sinner, the unbaptized, to pray for the remission of his sins; that it is not made his duty to do so by the Bible,—not even by implication. It is against this practice, or rather fiction, that our objection is especially pointed.
The sinner is taught by orthodox preachers—blind guides in this case, certainly—to pray for the remission of his sins; nay, more, that God will give him a feeling sense of remission when it occurs. Accordingly, with a broken heart and a subdued spirit, day after day, week after week, and often year after year, in blind—but, it is to be hoped, innocent—neglect of his real duties, he repeats the same fruitless prayer. And pray he may; but, unless the Savior contravene the laws of his kingdom, to accept, in a moment of awful extremity, the will for the deed of the sincere but deluded sinner, into the presence of the Lord he may come, but it will not be, we have many a fear, to remain. The sinner’s agony of mind and soul during this time, though it may stop short of lunacy or suicide, as fortunately in most cases it does, is always most intense and bitter. The wail we have heard from his heart, his indescribable look of despair, his shriek and smothered groan, strangely mingling with the flippant and, in too many instances, irreverent cant of the preacher, “Pray on, brother: the Lord will yet have mercy on your soul,” have never failed, while they have pierced us with inexpressible grief, to create in our mind the most painful apprehensions as to the fate of those who cherish and teach the doctrine. Of all the gross and fatal delusions of Protestants, there are few we can deem worse than this. It is a shame to the Baptist denomination—of which we can truly say, “With all thy faults, I love thee still”—that it should hold and teach this error. Were the sinner, in a moment of deep distress, to pray the Lord to forgive his sins, we could not find it in our heart to chide him for the deed; but we should certainly endeavor to teach him the way of the Lord more perfectly. But one thing we should never do:—teach him what the Bible does not teach him,—to expect the remission of his sins merely because he prayed for it. Why pray for a blessing which our heavenly Father has never promised to confer in this way or for this reason, but which he certainly does confer in another way and for a different reason? Where is the advantage of the prayerunless the Lord has promised to heed it?
We shall now present an extract from Mr. Jeter’s book, containing a general summary of his faith on the present subject. “Prayer,” he remarks, “has been the duty of man under every dispensation of religion. The obligation to this service springs from the relation between the infinitely-merciful God, and fallen, guilty, and dependent man in a probationary state. It is an essential element in true piety. It is the very breath of spiritual life,—a life which, I have already shown, does not depend on the act of immersion, but, in the evangelical order of things, precedes that act. It implies repentance, faith, and scriptural regeneration. No man can pray acceptably to God without renouncing his sins, believing in Christ, and having a new heart. And no man was ever a proper subject for Christian baptism who had not been taught to pray sincerely and fervently.”
It would be difficult to produce, even from this most confused of books, a paragraph indicative of greater confusion of mind than we here have. Some things which it contains are true; but more than half is false. But we shall be confined to a few particulars:—
- “Prayer has been the duty of man under every dispensation of religion.” This is what is termed, in logical language, begging the question. he very point in dispute is, whether it is the duty of man—i.e. all men, sinners and saints—to pray under the reign of Christ. This is the very thing which we deny, and which Mr. Jeter, finding himself unable to prove, quietly assumes. It has certainly always been the duty of men to pray; but then comes the question, What men? “When he says all, this is apetitio, and not a meeting of the point in dispute.
2.”The obligation to this service springs from the relation between the infinitely-merciful God, and fallen, guilty, and dependent man in a probationary state.”
It is unquestionably true that relation gives rise to obligation; but what specific duties a relation obliges us to perform, we learn, not from the relation itself, but from the laws which enact them. Relation creates obligation, but law defines it. Hence, although our relation to our heavenly Father may oblige us, as it certainly and justly does, yet in what precise respect, or to what specific duty, we learn not from the relation itself, but from the law which defines the respect or enacts the duty. The same relation which obliges us to pray would equally oblige us to believe and repent; and yet we learn that these are duties, not from the relation, but from the precepts which enact them. In precisely the same way must we learn the duty of the sinner,— not from the relation which he sustains to our heavenly Father, and which obliges him, but from the law which defines in what respect he is obliged, or to what duty. Consequently, since there is no law(we state it with emphasis) defining the sinner to be obliged to pray for the remission of his sins, we hence conclude that this is not his duty and therefore will avail him nothing.
- “And no man was ever a proper subject for Christian baptism who had not been taught to pray sincerely and fervently.” This is merely the bald assertion of Mr. Jeter. That he has a strong persuasion of its truth we shall not deny; but had he imbibed his religious convictions from the Bible, and not from tradition, it is something he would never have uttered. It is difficult for a man who has been long steeped in error to persuade himself that his errors are not divine; hence the boldness with which Mr. Jeter asserts the truth of his.
But it is now proper to present Mr. Jeter’s detente of his doctrine. “What,” he inquires, “say the Scriptures on this point?—’And Jesus spake a parable unto them, [the disciples,] to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint.'” On which he comments thus:—”Christ taught that men—not baptized men merely, but men, irrespective of their character, relations, or professions—all men—ought, are under obligation, to pray.”
Now, waiving all dispute as to the relevancy of this parable to the real question at issue, we shall cheerfully concede that it teaches that men ought to pray; but the question is, What men? Does it teach that all men ought to pray, or only the disciples, or persons named by the Savior in the conclusion he draws from the parable? The former is Mr. Jeter’s position, the latter ours. The whole parable” and the conclusion are as follows:—
“And he [Christ] spake a parable unto them, [the disciples,] to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge which feared not God, neither regarded man. And there was a widow in that city, and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary: and he would not for a while. But, afterwards he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man, yet, because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest, by her continual coming, she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily” (Matthew 18:1-8)
Now, will this language apply to sinners? Are they God’s own elect, who cry day and night to him? So to assert would be shocking. And yet clearly “God’s own elect” are the persons for whose benefit the parable was spoken, and whom it teaches to pray always and not to faint. It has no reference whatever to sinners.
But the following rendering of Dr. Campbell settles the question:—”He [Christ] also showed them, [the. disciples,] by a parable, that they ought to persist in prayer without growing weary.”
Why, now, did Mr. Jeter cite only the introduction to the parable, and build his argument on it, intentionally suppressing the conclusion, which he knew to be decisive against him? It is surely a pity that a man who affects to oppose nothing but error should yet so often do so with those artifices with which dishonest men alone stoop to oppose the truth.
The next case alluded to by Mr. Jeter is that of the publican who went up to the temple to pray. But this is not a case in point. We have not denied that it was the duty of a Jew, living under the law, to pray. What we deny is that it is the duty of the ungodly, during the reign of Christ, to pray. But even the case of the publican does not determine who—i.e. whether saint or sinner—is to pray, but only that whoever prays must, if he pray acceptably, pray with deep, heartfelt humility. This is what the case determines,—no more. The third case referred to is that of the thief on the cross. But this case, again, has no reference whatever to the question in dispute. Besides being a case which can never happen again, and intended to teach no general duty, it occurred at a time when baptism was obligatory on no one. We shall, therefore, dismiss it without further notice.
The fourth and last case adduced by Mr. Jeter is that of Saul of Tarsus, of which he thus speaks:—”When Saul of Tarsus was converted, the Lord directed Ananias to go to him, for, behold, said the Lord, he prayeth (Acts 9:11.) It is clear from this Scripture, beyond a question, not only that Saul prayed before his baptism, but that his prayer was acceptable to the Lord, and that Ananias was sent to instruct and baptize him in consequence of its acceptableness; and this example of acceptable prayer has all the weight, authority, and efficacy of an explicit command to the unbaptized to pray.”
We readily grant that Saul prayed, but deny that he prayed because Christ made it his duty to pray. He prayed precisely as any other Jew, in deep sorrow, would have prayed, and for no other reason.
1.That his prayer was acceptable to the Lord is not known. It may or it may not have been, for aught that appears in the narrative. The Lord merely stated the fact that he prayed, not that he accepted his prayer. To state a fact, as a fact, is one thing; to accept it as an act of worship, another. We must first show that the Lord has made it the duty of the sinner to pray, before we can infer that his prayer is acceptable. And as to Ananias being sent to instruct and baptize Saul in consequence of the acceptableness of his prayer, it is a sheer fiction. There exists no evidence that it is true.
The most that can be said of the case of Saul (and this much certainly can be said) is, that, when Ananias commanded him to be baptized and wash away his sins, he commanded him to do so calling on the name of the Lord. And so we say, “Command the sinner, not to pray for the remission of his sins, (for the Lord has not enjoined it on him,) but to be baptized and wash them away calling on the name of the Lord.” This form of prayer, and under these circumstances, we approve from our heart.
And are these cases all that Mr. Jeter could urge in defense of his doctrine? and does he ask us to accept it as true on no better grounds? We shall only add,we wonder that even he did not become ashamed of his feeble defense, and abandon the cause he was so ineffectually seeking to establish.
[This article is from the book entitled A Review of Rev. J.B. Jeter’s Book Entitled Campbellism examined, by Moses Lard published in 1857.]