Abraham Booth’s defence of Believer’s Baptism by Immersion

For many years, Abraham Booth studied the arguments for and against believer’s baptism by immersion. For his own interest he began compiling lists of quotations from Paedobaptist[1]Those who advocate infant baptism. authors, which actually supported the Baptist position. When a work advocating paedobaptism by the great Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) was reprinted in about 1784, Booth determined to publish his compilation. Paedobaptism Examined was published in 1784.  Booth expanded and reprinted it in 1787 in two volumes (443 pp and 342 pp).

The work provoked a flurry of interest. One reviewer noted: ‘He sets them [ie. paedobaptists] together by the ears and leaves them to overthrow the very cause in defence of which they professed to take the field.’ 

Summary of Paedobaptism Examined 

Part 1: The Mode of Administration

Chapter 1 Positive Institutions in Religion

Moral duties are universally binding. They may be seen by the light of reason and conscience. But a ‘positive institution’ is a command of God, known only by means of his Word. Baptism is a positive institution, a command of God, and we would not know about it without biblical revelation. Booth quotes twenty citations from paedobaptist writers, concluding: 

By this learned and respectable body of paedobaptists, we are taught that positive institutions originate entirely in the sovereign will of God, that the obligation to observe them arises not from the goodness of the things themselves, but from the authority of God, that they admit of no commutation, mutilation or alteration by human authority, that our obligation to observe them does not result from our seeing the reasons for them but from the command of God; that it is great presumption to make light of them.[2]Paedobaptism Examined. vol I. pp. 16-17.

Chapter 2 The terms ‘baptise’ and ‘baptism’ 

Booth gives eighty-two citations from paedobaptist writers, plus eleven citations from Quakers (who do not practice baptism, so are not partial to the Baptists). All these argue that:

  • immersion is the obvious meaning of the term baptism* the idea of immersion is retained when the term is used metaphorically of the Holy Spirit
  • the word baptism is nowhere used in scripture to signify sprinkling
  • the manner of baptism should correspond to the significance or meaning of the ordinance
  • neither pouring nor sprinkling is warranted by word baptism

Booth concludes that:

Paedobaptism as practised in the northern parts of Europe [ie. by sprinkling; the Greek and Russian sections of the Church immersed infants] is not agreeable to the native, obvious and common acceptation of the word baptism . . . It opposes the grand rule of interpretation, that the ordinary and most usual signification of words must not be deserted except for cogent reasons . . . Paedobaptism, however, has nothing to plead for departing from this rule but –  its own existence.[3]ibid.  p. 72.

Chapter 3 The design of baptism and the blessings represented by it

Booth quotes seventy-five citations from paedobaptist writers who unite in saying that immersion represents union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection: 

If then so many of the most eminent paedobaptists agree, that the term baptism properly speaking signifies immersion, and if to so great a degree they farther unite in declaring, that the principal facts represented by the ordinance are, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, as the substitute of his chosen people; their communion with him in those facts, and their interest in the blessings procured by them; we have reason to conclude on their own principles and concessions that there neither is nor can be any valid plea for pouring or sprinkling as a proper mode of administration.[4]ibid. p. 170.

Chapter 4 The practice of John the Baptist, the apostles, and the church in succeeding ages

Booth offers ninety-six quotations from paedobaptist writers to show that John the Baptist and the apostles and the church in later ages all practised immersion. For example, Witsius wrote: ‘It is certain that both John the Baptist and the disciples of Christ ordinarily practised immersion; whose example was followed by the ancient church.’[5]ibid. p. 171. Dr Wall admitted: ‘their (the primitive Christians) general and ordinary way was to baptise by immersion, or dipping the person.’[6]ibid. p. 179.

Booth concludes that the learned paedobaptist authors he has quoted agree that:

  • immersion was practised by John the Baptist, by Christ and by the primitive Christians
  • our Lord was immersed by John
  • some of them assert and many of them allow that the scripture nowhere speaks of any being baptized except by immersion
  • the practice of immersion gave occasion for some very singular and emphatic phrases to be used by the apostles
  • the baptism of the 3,000 after Pentecost cast no doubt on the practice of immersion
  • plunging (immersion) was the general and almost universal course of action for centuries
  • the churches of Helvetia [Switzerland] and the church of England require immersion (except in cases of illness)
  • a couple of paedobaptist writers even admit that the custom of sprinkling is absolutely indefensible
  • some of them admit that a restoration of the ‘primitive’ custom of immersion would be desirable[7]ibid. p. 201.

Booth does quote some paedobaptist writers who try to challenge the idea that John the Baptist used immersion. Horsey suggests that ‘the multitude stood in ranks at the brink, or just within the river, while the administrator sprinkled or poured running water upon them.’[8]ibid. p. 213. Dr Guise suggests that: ‘the people stood in ranks near to or just within the edge of the river; and John, passing along before them, cast water upon their heads or faces, with his hands or some proper instrument; by which means he might easily baptise many thousands in a day.’[9]ibid. pp. 212-213. Booth takes several pages to extract maximum amusement from this concept. He compares it to the annual Catholic rite, ‘The Benediction of Horses’ at the convent of St Anthony, ‘where a priest in his surplice at the church door sprinkles with his brush all the animals singly as they are presented to him, and receives from each owner a gratuity . . .’[10]ibid. p. 214. He points out that the priest at least bothered to sprinkle each horse individually, whereas John is supposed by these writers to have thrown water at a whole group at a time, rather like a ‘wanton boy who makes himself sport by squirting water upon all who are near him.’[11]ibid. p.215. Booth points out that we are never told that John baptised thousands in a single day. He observes that paedobaptists do not go down into a river in order to sprinkle water on an infant. He wonders anyway how infants fit this scenario: they could not stand in ranks on the river’s edge: might they have been laid in ranks beside it? Not likely, so ‘this remarkable anecdote of primitive sprinkling of which some Paedobaptists are so fond, has a tendency to exclude infants from a share in the rite.’[12]ibid. p. 219.

Booth then cites those paedobaptists who see no problem in the three thousand converts in Acts 2:41 being baptised by immersion in one day.[13]ibid. pp.222-223. They point out that the Jewish purification rites demanded daily bathing, and that there were many large water tanks in Jerusalem for that purpose. They point out that Peter was, no doubt, assisted by the other apostles and the seventy disciples.

Notwithstanding all this, there remain some Paedobaptist writers who find it hard to think of large numbers of individuals being baptised in one day. Booth wonders why they seem to have no problem with the Old Testament accounts of large numbers of boys and men being circumcised in one day (Genesis 17:23-24).  That is more time-consuming. If you reduce immersion to sprinkling because of a supposed difficulty in timing, why not suppose that circumcision didn’t involve cutting off the foreskin but just ‘making a slight incision in that pellicle’?[14]ibid. p. 225.       

While talking about the mode of baptism, Booth deals with Matthew Henry, who accused Baptists of baptising candidates naked:

When in perusing the treatise, I came to these words, I paused, I was astonished, I was almost confounded. What, thought I, is this the language of the amiable and excellent Mr Henry? Does immersion SUPPOSE the subject of the ordinance naked or next to naked? Is this practised, generally practised, practised in public solemn assemblies, and that upon women too? . . . On the word of an author who has long been held in a high degree of esteem . . . we have often committed the most enormous outrage . . . on the laws of decorum . . . I shall only add a salutary prohibition, a gentle reprehension and a candid extenuation: ‘Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’[15]ibid. pp. 231-232.

Booth then quotes paedobaptist writers who admit that there is no ground for this calumny. In some cases in the very early church it seems that candidates undressed before baptism, and were then robed in new white clothes afterwards, but in those cases, men and women were baptised separately, and deaconesses dealt with the female candidates. 

Booth goes on to quote Richard Baxter’s intemperate attacks on immersion:   

. . . the ordinary practice of baptizing over head in cold water is no  ordinance of God, but an heinous sin . . . the magistrate ought to restrain it, to save the lives of his subjects. . . .That it is flat murder . . . is undeniable to any understanding man…. covetous  physicians,  methinks, should [encourage it] . . . Catarrhs and obstructions, which are the two great fountains of most mortal diseases in man’s body, could scarce have a more notable means to produce them where they are not, or to increase them where they are.    Apoplexies, lethargies, palsies, and all comatous  diseases, would  be promoted by it.     So would . . . debility of the stomach, crudities, and almost all fevers,  dysenteries, diarrhoeas, colics . . .convulsions,  spasms, tremors, and so on . . . it is good for nothing but to despatch men out of the world that are burdensome . . . I conclude, if murder be a sin, then dipping in cold water over head, in England, is a sin.[16]ibid. pp. 234-235.

Booth comments: ‘Poor man! He seems to be afflicted with a violent hydrophobia! For he cannot think of anyone being immersed in cold water but he starts, he is convulsed, he is ready to die with fear . . . What a pity it is that the celebrated History of Cold Bathing by Sir John Floyer were not published half a century earlier.’[17]ibid. pp. 236-237. (Floyer was a celebrated doctor, whose advocacy of cold bathing was enormously influential. He was also a paedobaptist who campaigned for the re-introduction of immersion for infants, and indeed personally supervised such immersions in Litchfield Cathedral). 

Booth concludes this chapter:

Now as it appears by the concessions, declarations and reasonings of so many learned Paedobaptists themselves that the natural and proper idea of the term baptism, the design of the institution, and the example of the apostles are all in favour of immersion and all favour our practice; we do not, we cannot, want anything more to justify our conduct either before God or before men.[18]ibid. p. 238.

Chapter 5 The practice of the Greek and Oriental churches

Ten paedobaptist writers are quoted, and it is shown that the Greek and Russian churches immerse babies. Dr Wall is quoted: ‘All the Christians in Asia, all in Africa, and about one third part of Europe, are of the last sort [ie practice immersion]’[19]ibid. p.240.

Booth concludes: ‘These paedobaptist writers show immersion has been uninterruptedly continued as general mode in all Greek and oriental churches. These include about half the Christians in the world . . . Therefore why do opponents of immersion treat it as novel and singular?’[20]ibid. p. 241. Booth points out that the English prayer book actually says that the priest should dip the infant in water, unless the godparents certify it to be weak.[21]ibid. p. 242. He wonders why all the infants in England seem to be afflicted with weakness!

Chapter 6 The Design (meaning) of baptism is more clearly expressed by immersion than by pouring or sprinkling  

Booth quotes sixteen paedobaptist writers who agree that the meaning of baptism is more clearly expressed by immersion than by pouring or sprinkling.  For example, Witsius writes: ‘ It must not be dissembled, that there is in immersion a greater fruitfulness of signification and a more perfect correspondence between the sign and the thing signified . . .’[22]ibid. p.245. And Dr Wall admits: 

That [sprinkling] is sufficient for the essence of baptism; but [he] could not deny the other (except in the case of danger of health) to be the fittest . . . The immersion of the person, whether infant or adult, in the posture of one that is buried and raised up again, is much more solemn, and expresses the design of the sacrament and the mystery of the spiritual washing much better, than pouring a small quantity of water on the face. And that pouring of water, is much better than sprinkling, or dropping a drop of water on it.[23]ibid. p. 248.

Booth reflects that all these paedobaptist writers admit that immersion, compared with pouring or sprinkling, has the honour of priority in respect of time; it is more significant and it is more certain of being right.

Chapter 7 The reasons for the rise and prevalence of pouring or sprinkling instead of immersion

Twenty-four paedobaptist writers are cited to show that pouring was first used in the case of invalids. Then, when Christianity spread to cold countries, pouring was sometimes used instead of immersion. Then, later, when infants began to be baptised instead of adults, because of their weakness, pouring was used instead of immersion. The most ancient instance on record of pouring or sprinkling is Novatian, in 251 AD. The supposed necessity arose either from bodily weakness, or from lack of water. But water was poured or sprinkled not on the face only, but on the whole body. This pouring or sprinkling was considered an imperfect administration of the ordinance, and it was called sprinkling, not baptising. 

Paedobaptist writers are used to show that while the practice of sprinkling commenced during the reign of Elizabeth I, immersion was still the more common practice until the time of James I. Booth concludes: 

The practice of pouring and sprinkling makes but a poor figure in the eyes of a consistent protestant, for . . . It had no existence until many corruptions had taken deep root in the church; it originated in dangerous error; was fostered by the mother of abominations [ie Roman Catholic Church]; and under the powerful influence of her authority and her example, it became the general custom in all those parts of the world to which her tyranny ever extended, but nowhere else.[24]ibid. p. 263.    

Primitive immersion has been laid aside upon a ‘supposition of it being dangerous and indecent’.[25]ibid. p. 291. Many paedobaptist writers appeal to the Old Testament text ‘I will have mercy and not sacrifice’. They say that immersion in cold water is not merciful, and it is kinder to sprinkle instead. But if you are talking about ‘mercy’ would not that have had much more relevance to the practice of circumcision? And there are plenty of even non-Christian people who advocate cold bathing for the benefit of health! Anyway, Booth writes, ‘How strange it is that Protestant authors should ever talk of dispensing with divine laws or of mitigating their severity!’[26]ibid. pp. 295-296. And he quotes Dr Osbourne: ‘To take advantage of dark surmises, or doubtful reasoning, to elude obligations of any kind, is always looked upon as an indication of a dishonest heart.’[27]ibid. p. 296.

Part II The Subjects of Baptism

Chapter 1 Neither express precept nor plain example for paedobaptism in the New Testament 

Booth quotes thirty-one paedobaptist writers who argue that there is no clear command or example of infants being baptised in the New Testament.

For example, Cellarius writes: ‘infant baptism is neither commanded in Sacred Scripture, nor is it confirmed by apostolic examples.’[28]ibid. p. 309. Booth concludes that infant baptism rests on the same foundation as diocesan episcopacy: it is a human tradition. He quotes a Quaker writer as saying: ‘as to the baptism of infants it is a mere human tradition for which neither precept nor practice is found in all the scripture.’[29]ibid. p. 310.

Booth goes on to show that when children are present in various New Testament narratives, it is made very explicit. For example:

  • children were present at the feeding of 4 thousand (Matthew 14:21; 15: 38)
  • children were presented to Christ (Matthew 19:13; Mark 10:13;  Luke 18:15)
  • children were present at the farewell to Paul (Acts:21:5)

So, if children were baptised in the New Testament, it would have been even more important to make it clear that they were present and included than in the above cases. 

In Acts 8:3 we hear that men and women were persecuted, and in Acts 8:12 that men and women baptised, but there is no mention of children. In Acts 21:21, Christian Jews are told not to circumcise their children. They are not told to baptise them instead.

Booth shows that the argument for infant baptism from inference or intimation is exactly the methodology used by Catholic writers. For example, Mr Walker writes: ‘Where the authority of Scripture fails, there the custom of the church is to be held as a law . . . who can say but that among those many unwrittensayings of his [ie. Christ’s] there might be an express plea for infant baptism?’[30]ibid. p. 307. This, says Booth, is the exact method used to justify Catholic rituals.

Booth mentions the meeting of Oxford Divines in 1647 who concluded: ‘Without the consentaneous judgement of the universal church, they should be at a loss when they are called upon for proof, in the point of infant baptism.’[31]ibid. p. 309.

He goes on to show that the most paedobaptists can do is show that infant baptism is ‘not forbidden’. ‘There is no instance where it may be incontrovertibly inferred that any child was baptised by the apostles.’[32]ibid. p. 309. He goes on to quote many paedobaptist writers who show that baptism ought to be administered to those who profess faith and are regenerate.[33]ibid. pp. 343-346.

He then quotes paedobaptist writers to show that the Bible alone is our source of authority, not tradition. For example, Bishop Hurd writes: ‘a practice [in religious worship] not being enjoined is forbidden.’[34]ibid. p. 317. Or, Dr Owen writes: ‘works not required by the law are no less an abomination to God than sins against the law.’[35]ibid. p. 317. Booth quotes paedobaptist writers who argue that  ‘the silence of scripture’ is sufficient ground for rejecting Roman Catholic practices such as the sign of the cross or the adoration of images of Christ.[36]ibid. pp. 317,319.

Chapter 2 No evidence of paedobaptism before the latter End of the Second or the beginning of the Third Century 

Booth quotes twelve paedobaptist writers to show that there is no evidence of paedobaptism before the end of the second or the beginning of the third century.  

Tertullian is the first person to speak expressly of infant baptism. Some in his day were baptising infants because they were afraid they might die before baptism: he opposed them (De Baptismo written about 204 AD). Tertullian thought that one who has no understanding of the faith should not be baptised.  He allowed various other rites, making the sign of cross etc, but he considered infant baptism a novel invention, not enjoined by divine command nor warranted by apostolic example, nor yet recommended by tradition, not even countenanced by prevailing custom.[37]ibid. p. 384.  

Booth concludes:

As it appears from this and the preceding chapter, that the NT contains neither express precept for, not plain example of infant baptism, and that no substantial evidence can be produced from ecclesiastical authors, of its being a prevailing custom, till about the middle of the third century; we may with great propriety (mutatis mutandis[38]Latin term meaning ‘things being changed which are to be changed’. Meaning that one can apply one set of arguments, where appropriate, to another and corresponding set of issues.) adopt and apply to Paedobaptism, the reasonings of Protestants against the peculiarities of Popery.[39]ibid. p. 394.

Booth quotes a whole series of paedobaptist authors against rituals such as consecrating water, prayers for the dead, candidates for baptism wearing white robes for a few days, candidates carrying lighted tapers and the baptising of bells. All these, like baptising infants, were not introduced until about the time of Tertullian. 

Chapter 3 The high opinion of the Fathers concerning the utility of baptism and the grounds on which they proceeded in administering the ordinance to infants when paedobaptism became a prevailing practice 

Paedobaptist writers are quoted to explain that the belief grew up that without baptism there would be no salvation. Therefore, if an infant were critically ill, it would be presented for baptism. Salmasius wrote: ‘An opinion prevailed, that no one could be saved without being baptized, and for that reason the custom arose of baptizing infants.’[40]ibid. p. 414. (414) Episcopius wrote: ‘Paedobaptism was not accounted a necessary rite, till it was determined so to be in the Milevitan council, held in the year 418.’[41]ibid. p. 415.

When the text ‘except a man be born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven’ (John 3:5) began to be taken to mean baptism, then infants were baptized. Some paedobaptists said that as infant baptism was necessary for salvation, children of ‘anabaptist’ parents who refused to baptise them should be seized by the magistrate, forcibly baptised, and then returned to their parents.[42]ibid. p. 423. Booth points out, that John 3:5 cannot mean that without water baptism there is no entry to heaven: we are saved by grace!  

Chapter 4 The modern grounds of paedobaptism: namely Jewish Proselyte baptism; external covenant; Jewish circumcision, particular passages of Scripture, and apostolic tradition

Booth shows that Scripture does not teach that baptism took the place of circumcision. ‘Admitting the succession pretended, how came it that Paul circumcised Timothy after he had been baptized?’[43]Paedobaptism Examined. vol II. p. 86. ‘It is obvious that the primitive Jewish Christians did not consider baptism a substitution for circumcision, or as coming in its place, because they circumcised their children.’ (Acts 21:21)[44]ibid. p. 88.

Particular passages of Scripture

Matthew 28:19. Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of e Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Converts are first to be instructed, then baptised. Booth gives twenty-eight citations from paedobaptist writers to show that this text argues against infant baptism. For instance, Samuel Palmer wrote: ‘There is nothing in the words of the institution – respecting the baptism of infants.’[45]ibid. p. 107.

Genesis 17:7. And I will establish my covenant between me and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto Thee and to thy seed after Thee.

Booth gives fourteen citations from paedobaptist writers to show that ‘the covenant of God with Abraham . . .ascertained no spiritual blessing to his carnal seed as such, nor considered merely as his natural descendants were any promises made to them of a spiritual nature.’[46]ibid. p. 143. Paul interprets this to mean that Abraham is the father of all who believe. (Rom. 4:11-18)

Matthew 19:14: Suffer the little children to come to me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Booth quotes a number of paedobaptist writers who admit that Christ did not baptise children here.

Booth accepts that it is appropriate to recommend an infant to God in solemn prayer. He allows that this text ‘wears a smiling aspect on the final state of such as die in their infancy, and that without any restriction in reference to carnal descent. But hence to infer that infants are entitled to baptism any more than to the holy supper is a conclusion wide of the mark’[47]ibid. p. 161.

Booth is firmly against infant dedication ceremonies. If asked, he would read a Scripture, give an exhortation to the parents, give thanks for the child and recommend the child to God in prayer. 

If, however, there be any Baptist ministers who take infants in their arms, give them names, pronounce blessing upon them, and call this dedicating children to God; we despise their conduct as a paltry substitute for infant sprinkling, and leave them to the severest censure  of our opposers: because we are of the opinion, with Owen, that “all the men in the world cannot really consecrate or dedicate any thing [or person] to God but by virtue of divine appointment” and we are confident there never was an appointment of this nature’ [48]ibid. p. 164.

John 3: 5 ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven’

Booth quotes a number of paedobaptist writers to show that just as the birth here spoken of is spiritual and metaphorical so is the water.[49]ibid. p. 165.

Acts 2:39. ‘The promise is to you and your children and to all that are far off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call.’

Booth gives eight paedobaptist citations to show that this text does not infer infant baptism. The promise is of the Holy Spirit, or his extraordinary gifts. The term ‘children’ signifies ‘posterity’ (not infants). Repentance is needed for enjoyment of these blessings. The text refers to ‘those who are called’, not all offspring without exception.

Acts 16:15,33 ‘When she was baptised and her household’; ‘and was baptized, he and all his, straightaway’. 

1 Cor 1:16 ‘I baptised also the household of Stephanus’

Booth uses paedobaptist writers to show that we have no evidence that infants were baptised. For example, Dr Hammond: ‘I think it unreasonable that the apostle’s bare mention of baptizing his household should be thought competent to conclude that infants were baptized by him, when it is uncertain whether there were any such in the house.’[50]ibid. p. 177.

Dr Doddridge quotes 1 Corinthians 16:15, where the household of Stephanus ‘were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints: submit to such as these.’[51]ibid. p. 178. This household could not possibly have included infants; as the Corinthians could not be expected to submit to mere infants. And Limborch pointed out that Lydia may not have had any children.[52]ibid. p.178.

Acts 16:33: they spoke the Word to the jailor and all the others in his house . . .he and all his family were baptised . . . he had come to believe, he and all his family [ie all believed]

The term ‘household’ actually implies the exclusion of infants. The household of Crispus all believed(Acts 18:8).

Romans 11:16 ‘ For if the first-fruit be holy the lump is also holy and if the root be holy, so are the branches’

Booth uses several paedobaptist writers to show that Paul is not talking about baptism here.  He is dealing with the patriarchs, and converted Jews, and the future conversion of Abraham’s posterity in latter days.

However, there are paedobaptists who understand this text differently. Matthew Henry, for example: 

This proves that the seed of believers as such are within the pale of the visible church, and within the verge of the covenant, till they do by their unbelief throw themselves out; for ‘if the root be holy, so are the branches.’ . . . Look how they will answer it another day, that cut off the entail by turning the seed of the faithful out of the church [ie. Baptists], and so not allowing ‘the blessing of Abraham to come upon the Gentiles. The Jewish branches are reckoned holy, because the root was so.[53]ibid. p. 187.

Booth responds:

Not allow the blessing to Abraham to come upon the Gentiles! Truly, Mr Henry, this is very severe!  Happily for us, however, though we hear the thunder roar, we are neither much hurt, nor greatly provoked, nor sadly frightened. Not the first: for our cause is yet safe, except it be proved that every Christian parent is under the same peculiar economy with Abraham . . . Not the second; for though we do not admire this observation of this celebrated commentator, we highly respect his character, and are unfeignedly thankful to Providence for his excellent exposition. Not the last; for though we heard the terrible explosion it was at a distance; and we are still capable of reflecting that the principles on which our expositor here proceeds are more becoming a member of the ancient synagogue, than a pastor in the Christian church . . . [54]ibid. p. 188.    

1 Corinthians 7: 14 the unbelieving husband is sanctified . . . else were your children unclean, but now they are holy

Booth here gives eighteen paedobaptist citations which argue that ‘sanctified’ here indicates that the marriage is legitimate and the children are legitimate; that the text says nothing about baptism or the Lord’s Supper.

Apostolic Tradition, and the impracticability of pointing out the time when paedobaptism commenced

Booth here uses fourteen paedobaptist writers to show that we should not use tradition to retain unscriptural rites. ‘Nothing as I conceive can impel serious and sensible Protestants to seek a refuge for any religious tenet or practice in tradition but a conviction that the scripture offers it little or no support.’[55]ibid. p. 243.

Chapter 5 Infant Baptism and Infant Communion introduced about the same time and supported by similar arguments

Booth shows that many paedobaptist writers agree that infant baptism and infant communion were introduced at about the same time, and supported by similar arguments. For example, Venema wrote:

. . . in the ancient church these two sacraments, in respect of the subjects were never separated the one from the other. . . Infants in the third century were generally admitted to baptism and the Lord’s supper. . . In the thirteenth century baptized infants ceased to be admitted to the eucharist, because it began to be administered after one kind.[56]ibid. pp. 256-257.

Dr Priestly admitted: ‘no objection can be made to this custom [ie infant communion] but what may with equal force be made to the custom of baptizing infants.’[57]ibid. p. 257.

Bishop Taylor accepted that:

. . . for above six hundred years the church of God did give the holy communion to newly baptized infants . . . The primitive church had all this to justify their practice, that the sacraments of grace are the great channels of the grace of God; that this grace always descends upon them that do not hinder it, and therefore certainly to infants. . . It was confessed that the communion would do them benefit, yet it was denied to them then when the doctrine of transubstantiation entered; upon pretence lest, by puking up the holy symbols, the sacrament should be dishonoured.’[58]ibid. pp. 257-258; 260.

All these paedobaptist writers point to the fact that:

  • The Lord’s supper was given to infants when infant baptism was introduced
  • the custom first prevailed in the African churches
  • it then became more general
  • there is no express mention of infant baptism before that of infant communion
  • the practice of giving communion to infants first arose from a misunderstanding of John 6:53 ‘unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you’
  • giving infants communion followed immediately on them being baptized
  • in point of legal right these two positive ordinances cannot be separated
  • in the ancient church baptism and the Lord’s supper were never separated
  • The Lord’s supper was considered necessary for salvation
  • so when infants were sick the Lord’s Supper was privately administered to them in the same way as to sick adults
  • infant communion was the general practice for 600 years

Booth’s overview of the arguments put forward by Paedobaptist authors in favour of believer’s baptism by immersion:

It is very observable, that so many Paedobaptists themselves have admitted the facts on which we reason, and that they have either expressly rejected the texts usually pleaded against us, as having nothing to do in the controversy; or so explained them, as renders their application in support of infant baptism quite impertinent. They have admitted the facts on which we reason.  

Do we maintain, for instance, that baptism is a positive institution, and that positive rites depend entirely on the revealed will of God, in regard In the manner of performing them, the persons to whom they belong, and the signification of them? All this they readily grant.

Do we insist, that the obvious and native sense of the term baptism is immersion? They expressly allow it.

Do we assert,  that the principal thing intended by the ordinance is a representation of communion with Christ in his death,  burial, and resurrection?  It is cheerfully granted.

Do we maintain that immersion was the apostolic practice, and that, except in extraordinary cases, it was the general custom for thirteen hundred years?  They confirm our sentiment.

Do we affirm, that immersion is the present practice of the Greek and Oriental churches, and that those churches include one half of the Christian world? Their own pens bear testimony for us.

Do we insist, plunging is more expressive of the great things intended by the ordinance than pouring or sprinkling? They accede to our opinion.

Do we assert, that the first instance of pouring or sprinkling, instead of immersion which is expressly recorded, was about the middle of the third century and then condemned; that the apostate church of Rome . . . brought pouring into common practice and that Protestant churches received it from her polluted hands? These, being stubborn facts, are all acknowledged. 

Do we maintain that in ordinary cases, immersion is not prejudicial to health? Paedobaptist physicians without a fee and medical practice without hesitation confirm our opinion.

Do we assert that no power on earth has authority to alter the law of Christ or to depart from apostolic example in regard to immersion? So do they, in effect, when disputing with the Papists concerning the sacred supper.

Do we contend that there is no express command or plain example in the New Testament relating to infant baptism? It is granted by them.

Do we plead, that there is no evidence of Paedobaptism’s being practised before the conclusion of the second or the beginning of the third century? This also is readiIy granted, even by some of those who were the greatest adepts in Christian antiquities.

Is it our opinion, that the extravagant notions of the fathers, in the second and in the beginning of the third century, concerning the great utility of baptism, and their misunderstanding of I John 3: 5, laid the foundation of Paedobaptism? It is allowed.

Do we consider the arguments from proselyte baptism, an external covenant, and circumcision, as of no avail to the cause of infant baptism?  They concur in our opinion.

Do we treat with contempt the plea of pretended apostolic tradition, unsupported by scripture?   So do all Protestants, except Paedobaptism, Episcopacy, or something similar, solicit their patronage.

Once more: Do we maintain, that infant baptism and infant communion were introduced about same time; that they are supported by kindred arguments; that they were equally common for a course of ages;  and that they are still united in the practice of half the Christian world? We have the happiness to find, that these facts are all confirmed by their learned pens.

Again: In regard to passages of scripture usually pleaded against us, we have the pleasure to see, that various eminent Paedobaptists either expressly reject them, as having nothing to do in the controversy, or so interpret them, as renders their application to infant baptism quite impertinent.

Do we, for example, consider Matt, xxviii. 19, as requiring instruction previous to baptism? So do they.

Do we maintain that Gen. xvii. 7, speaks of a twofold seed, carnal and spiritual? They freely allow it.

Do we understand Ezek. xvi.20, 21, as regarding the Jews, on the foundation of the Sinai covenant? They acquiesce.

Are we of opinion, that Matt. xix. 14, is no proof of infant baptism? They coincide with us.

Do we insist, that our Lord, in John iii. 5, is not speaking about the necessity of baptism? So do they.   

Do we assert, that Acts ii. 39, is impertinently cited in proof of infant baptism? They confirm our assertion.

Do we consider the baptizing of households as equally unavailing, when produced against us? So do they.

Do we interpret Rom. xi. 16, as foreign to the cause of Paedobaptism? They agree with us.        

And, finally, do we explain 1 Cor. vii. 14, as relating to lawful marriage and legitimate offspring?

Even here we are not entirely deserted, for some of them afford us their friendly suffrage. 

In a word, there is not, that I recollect, one topic of argument, nor one scripture, usually pleaded in favour of infant baptism, even by the more judicious of our opponents; but it is either expressly cashiered, as having nothing with the controversy, or so understood, as to be of no service to the cause.

We have the honour, therefore, to  agree with many of them, as to a great part of our premises; and with some of them, respecting the whole.

Yes, amazing as it may seem, we are honoured with having some of them for our associates in everything except the conclusion. Here indeed we are utterly deserted by them.[59]ibid. pp. 289-292.

Which infants should be baptised?

  • Booth points out that Paedobaptists are divided between themselves on this question. Should baptism be for:
  • infants of communicant church members (or at least one parent to be so)
  • infants of true believers, whether church members or not
  • any children (eg. children of ‘infidels’ if they fell into ‘Christian’ hands during times of war; or orphans left by unbelieving parents)

They are also divided on what the grounds for infant baptism are. Is infant baptism based on:

  • the universality of divine grace
  • the necessity of baptism for salvation
  • the profession of faith made on behalf of infant by sponsors (as in Church of England)
  • the children of believers being included in covenant of grace by virtue of birth
  • the children of believers being brought into covenant of grace by virtue of baptism
  • children have right because of profession of faith of parent/parents/ancestors

And so on. Booth concludes: ‘Now, reader, what think you of these efforts and struggles to support the reputation of paedobaptists? Are they not plain indications that the obvious meaning of divine law, and the natural import of New Testament facts, are inconsistent with the modern prevailing practice?’[60]ibid. p. 304. 


Booth reflects on Bishop Taylor’s assertion that the paedobaptists have ‘more truth than evidence on our side.’ Booth declares himself to be pleased to hear that the Bishop admits that the Baptists have evidence on their side. He professes to be puzzled how anyone can discover truth without evidence? He is even more nonplussed to think of truth and evidence taking opposite sides in an argument. He insists that the Baptists will continue to go where the biblical evidence leads them.

On the other hand, we need not wonder if the Paedobaptists exult in the possession of truth, because it is a precious jewel; and such truth especially as it is obtained without evidence must be precious indeed, it being so extremely scarce. Despairing therefore of putting an and to any controversy where truth and evidence take different sides, I must here lay down my pen.[61]ibid. p. 342. 

The response to Paedobaptism Examined

Booth’s two volume work provoked one published paedobaptist response.  Dr Williams (1750-1813) wrote Antipaedobaptism Examined. This was embarrassingly badly written, peppered with grammatical errors and aggressive in tone.  One writer commented: ‘We can scarcely imagine two combatants more unequally matched.’[62]Jones, William. Essay on the Life and Writings of the Rev. Abraham Booth. Liverpool. 1808. p.47.  Booth did not at first consider it worth publishing a reply. He considered that no part of William’s work went anywhere near to offering a plausible answer to any of the points he had made in Paedobaptism Examined.[63]Booth. A Defence of Paedobaptism Examined. In Paedobaptism Examined, vol II, p. 347.  But Dr Williams was heard to boast that his book had won Booth over to the Paedobaptist position, which was why no response had been published! On hearing this preposterous claim, Booth realised the need to publish a response.     

A Defence of Paedobaptism Examined or Animadversions on Dr Edward Williams’s Antipaedobaptism Examined (474 pages) was a good humoured response to a bad-tempered book. There are pleasant allusions to the various insults which had been directed against Booth sprinkled throughout. Booth could afford to be relaxed: his opponent had not produced anything especially threatening:

A repeated perusal of Antipaedobaptism Examined, far from producing that strong conviction, of which Dr Williams was pleased to boast, had an effect quite the reverse. For the principles on which he endeavours to support infant sprinkling, are many of them so novel, so paradoxical, and so extremely foreign from every idea suggested by the law and practice of baptism as recorded in the New Testament, that I received additional confirmation of my avowed sentiments. Nay, so far from being convinced . . . I could not forebear suspecting, that even many Paedobaptists themselves . . . must be ashamed to see their cause defended on such principles. . I have endeavoured to convince him . . .that I am NOT a paedobaptist incognito. . . . I am no more convinced by the force of my Opponent’s arguments than I am charmed with the modesty of his pretensions, the consistency of his sentiments, the perspicuity of his meaning, the accuracy of his language, or the elegance of his composition, on all which I have made some animadversions, that would certainly have been spared  . . . if he had not considered me as captivated by his performance . . .[64]ibid. pp. 349-350.

Then, finally, a Mr Peter Edwards wrote Candid Reasons for Renouncing the principles of Antipaedobaptism. Mr Edwards found it hard to make his mind up on this issue.  Originally a paedobaptist, he became a baptist and was baptised by immersion. He then changed back again and became a paedobaptist. At which point he penned Candid Reasons. It should really have been called Candid Reason (singular). Edwards triumphantly produced one, single, point. Where, he asked, is the scriptural ‘proof’ that women should take the Lord’s Supper? And, if you can’t come up with definite ‘proof’, why should you demand ‘proof’ that infants were baptised in the New Testament? The likelihood for infants being baptised is about equal to the likelihood of females taking the Lord’s Supper.

Edwards frequently descended to the most scurrilous personal abuse of Booth.  A reply was published by James Dore in 1795, with the unwieldy title: The Principles of Antipaedobaptism and the Practice of Female Communion completely consistent. In answer to the arguments and objections of Mr Peter Edwards in his Candid Reasons: with Animadversions on his temper and conduct in that Publication. This reply was in reality written by Booth: it was easier to answer the numerous examples of personal invective against himself when using the third person.[65]cf. pp. 421-424.

These volumes, long out of print, present what is perhaps the most detailed, comprehensive and compelling defence of believer’s baptism by immersion ever written.

1 Those who advocate infant baptism.
2 Paedobaptism Examined. vol I. pp. 16-17.
3 ibid.  p. 72.
4 ibid. p. 170.
5 ibid. p. 171.
6 ibid. p. 179.
7 ibid. p. 201.
8 ibid. p. 213.
9 ibid. pp. 212-213.
10 ibid. p. 214.
11 ibid. p.215.
12 ibid. p. 219.
13 ibid. pp.222-223.
14 ibid. p. 225.
15 ibid. pp. 231-232.
16 ibid. pp. 234-235.
17 ibid. pp. 236-237.
18 ibid. p. 238.
19 ibid. p.240.
20 ibid. p. 241.
21 ibid. p. 242.
22 ibid. p.245.
23 ibid. p. 248.
24 ibid. p. 263.
25 ibid. p. 291.
26 ibid. pp. 295-296.
27 ibid. p. 296.
28 ibid. p. 309.
29 ibid. p. 310.
30 ibid. p. 307.
31, 32 ibid. p. 309.
33 ibid. pp. 343-346.
34 ibid. p. 317.
35 ibid. p. 317.
36 ibid. pp. 317,319.
37 ibid. p. 384.
38 Latin term meaning ‘things being changed which are to be changed’. Meaning that one can apply one set of arguments, where appropriate, to another and corresponding set of issues.
39 ibid. p. 394.
40 ibid. p. 414.
41 ibid. p. 415.
42 ibid. p. 423.
43 Paedobaptism Examined. vol II. p. 86.
44 ibid. p. 88.
45 ibid. p. 107.
46 ibid. p. 143.
47 ibid. p. 161.
48 ibid. p. 164.
49 ibid. p. 165.
50 ibid. p. 177.
51 ibid. p. 178.
52 ibid. p.178.
53 ibid. p. 187.
54 ibid. p. 188.
55 ibid. p. 243.
56 ibid. pp. 256-257.
57 ibid. p. 257.
58 ibid. pp. 257-258; 260.
59 ibid. pp. 289-292.
60 ibid. p. 304.
61 ibid. p. 342.
62 Jones, William. Essay on the Life and Writings of the Rev. Abraham Booth. Liverpool. 1808. p.47. 
63 Booth. A Defence of Paedobaptism Examined. In Paedobaptism Examined, vol II, p. 347. 
64 ibid. pp. 349-350.
65 cf. pp. 421-424.