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To the Congregation of Protestant Dissenters assembling at Market-Harborough in Leicestershire.
MY DEAR FRIENDS,
YOU have in the following pages, the result of a free and serious inquiry into the Sripture-doctrine of Christian Baptism. After reading many controversial tracts on the mode and subjects of this ordinance, I found myself obliged to examine the sacred pages, before I could be thoroughly satisfied either as to the manner or time of life, in which it ought to be administered. Previous to this inquiry, I endeavoured to divest myself of every prejudice, and determined to follow the truth whithersoever it might lead me. Far be it from me to assert, that I have no where mistaken the language of the Holy Spirit in the several passages that either give an account of the administration of Christian Baptism, or tend to explain the nature and design of the institution. But this I hope I can say, that I have endeavoured to enter into the true meaning of them, and have explained them in a sense that appears to me (upon the maturest consideration) most consistent and scriptural. I think myself obliged to tell you, that the inquiry has afforded me abundant satisfaction. The reasons for our practice of baptizing children,
and that by sprinkling or pouring of water, appear to me now in a much stronger light than before; and I am more fully convinced than ever, that the specious objections which are thrown out against it have no solid foundation in reason, or the word of God.
You can bear me witness that, during the eighteen years of my ministry among you, I have by no means been desirous or willing that your sacred hours should be employed in controversial subjects. Yet knowing, that you have always thought it your duty to give up your Infant-offspring to the Lord in this ordinance, and that many of you wished to have the reasons of your conduct herein explained in public for the satisfaction of others, especially the rising generation, that I might not seem ashamed of any doctrine or duty taught in the oracles of eternal truth; I lately delivered three or four discourses among you upon this subject. You have, in this little volume, the substance of those discourses, with some alterations and enlargements. As I then entered upon the subject for your sakes, so it is partly at your desire that I have revised and published my thoughts upon it; and partly for reasons which, in tenderness to others, I suppress here; though some of you are not entirely unacquainted with them. You, therefore, will not expect any farther apology for the publication. And I am not anxious to apologize to others for it; though it be upon a
subject on which so much has been written, that little new can be expected. Yet I would beg leav to observe here, that, of the numerous tracts and volumes that have been written upon Baptism, some are merely on the subject, others only on the mode; many are warm, and indeed angry, debates about words and phrases which this or that Author had before made use of in the controversy: But few, that I have met with, give such a view of the whole subject as seems calculated to afford all desirable satisfaction to a serious and humble inquirer after truth and duty. This I have here attempted; and as I have not written in haste, or with a design to offend, I should not be afraid to vindicate what I have advanced, upon proper occasions: Yet I have neither time nor inclination for controversy; but wish rather to promote the genuine spirit of the gospel, and a practical regard to its sacred institutions; and shall not, therefore, by any means, think myself obliged to take notice of every anonymous or ill-natured retailer of hackneyed observations upon this subject. Nevertheless, if I am convinced, by candid sober sense, that I have been mistaken, either with respect to the mode, or the time of life, in which this ordinance should be administered, I will freely give up my present sentiments and practice, and make my grateful acknowledgments to the kind friend who shall convince me of my error. Until then, I shall, as hitherto, heartily
concur with you in giving up your littles to the Lord in an everlasting covenant.
Only permit me to add, that I hope we are better acquainted both with the nature and influence of Christian principles, than to indulge uncharitable censures of any of our brethren in Christ Jesus, merely because their sentiments on Baptism are different from our own. The consistent piety and true goodness of some who do not administer this ordinance just as we do, entitle them to our fraternal esteem and affection. And let us pity the ignorance and bigotry of others, rather than return railing for railing.
That the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, may make you perfect to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight; that formed on a truly primitive model, ye may continue stedfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers; and that each of you, by walking in the statutes and ordinances of the Lord blameless, may give joy to ministers and fellow-christians who behold your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ; is, my Friends, the fervent prayer of
Your servant, for Jesus' sake,
Harborough, Sept. 6, 1770.