Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Benjamin Keach on Baptism

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 18, 2012 at 5:36 pm

“Keach, who was at one time a General Baptist, later had a long and influential ministry among the Particular Baptists. In a book published in 1689, he attempted to interpret baptism “in its primitive purity,” and in so doing provided modest but clear evidence for a sacramental understanding of baptism. First of all, he referred to “the special ends of this holy Sacrament,” showing that this leading signatory of the Second London Confession did not assume that baptism was an “ordinance” as opposed to a “sacrament.” Second, he referred to baptism as “the Baptism of Remission of Sins” (with reference to Acts 2:38) and “the Washing of Regeneration” (with reference to Titus 3:5), without any apparent nervousness about the language. Third, he indicated that baptism looks forward to salvation as its goal:

Consider the great Promises made to those who are obedient to it, amongst other  things,  Lo,  I am  with  you  always,  even to  the  end  of  the World.  And again, He that believeth, and is baptized shall be saved. If a Prince shall offer a Rebel his Life in doing two things,  would he neglect one  of  them,  and say this  I will  do,  but the  other is  a  trivial  thing,  I’ll  not  do  that?  Surely no, he would not run the hazard of his Life so foolishly  …  And then in Acts 2.38. Repent, and  be  baptized every one  of  you  for  Remission of  Sin,  and ye shall receive  the  Gift  of  the  Holy  Spirit:  See  what  great  Promises are made to Believers in  Baptism.

Fourth, and most clearly, Keach quoted approvingly from Stephen Charnock (1628-1680), a Puritan pastor who spoke “excellently” in Keach’s opinion on the connection between baptism and regeneration:

Outward Water cannot convey inward Life.  How can Water, an external thing,  work  upon  the  Soul  in  a  physical  manner:  Neither can  it  be  proved,  that  ever  the  Spirit  of  God  is  ty’d  by  any  Promise,  to  apply  himself to  the Soul in a gracious Operation, when Water is applyed to the Body . . .  Baptism is  a means of  conveying Grace, when the Spirit is  pleased to  operate with  it; but it  doth  not work a  physical Cause upon the Soul as  a Purge doth upon the Humours of the Body:  for ’tis the Sacrament of Regeneration, as the Lord’s Supper is of Nourishment …  Faith only is the Principle of spiritual Life, and the  Principle  which  draws  Nourishment  from  the  Means  of   God’ s  Appointments.

The specific point at issue in this quotation is the practice of baptizing infants who cannot confess faith, so that Keach’s primary concern was to argue that baptism does not accomplish regeneration in any mechanical way and is thus of no value in the case of purely passive infants. However, he argued this point, with Charnock’s help, by asserting that the true way in which baptism works is as an instrument of the Spirit who sovereignly employs it in the regeneration of conscious believers. That is, although baptism has no inherent power, it is by the work of the Holy Spirit an effective sign, instrumentally conveying what it signifies. It is a sign, but not merely a sign.”[1]

[1] Stanley K. Fowler, More than A Symbol: The British Baptist Recovery of Baptismal Sacramentalism (Studies in Baptist History and Thought; 2002), pp 29-30.

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