Many months are now past, since I laid before Your Honor my judgment, my desire, and with God�s leave, my purpose, to administer the baptism of our Lord unto such as were instructed and orthodox in the Christian religion, and should bring testimony signed by more than one among the people of God that they are of a virtuous conversation, and should after their names have been publicly propounded (and objection cannot be made against them) openly and seriously give themselves up to God in Christ, according to the terms of the covenant of grace, with a declaration of their study to prepare themselves further for the table of the Lord.
I have intimated unto you that I look upon such persons as visible subjects in the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, although they have not proceeded so far in Christianity as to be constituent members of the corporations, the particular churches in that Kingdom; and I have intimated that baptism is an ordinance that belongs to visible Christians, or those that are visibly of the catholic church, before and in order to their joining to a particular.
In this thing, the Scripture-pattern seems plain; and among the people of God, I have the concurrence of the most able, the most learned, and the generality, an army to a man.
Now that I might after many a prayer and fast, and after a thousand most solicitous thoughts, know the way that God would have me to take, I was willing to try the mind of the dear people to whom I am related; and this with as little clamor or dispute as may be. Accordingly, the instrument which I once put into your worthy hands, I gave to two or three discreet men, who carried it unto almost every one of the brethren belonging to our church that were not then abroad at sea. I directed not their coming to you, because, I told them, I would myself do that part. But they almost every man of them, did sign with their hands their desire that I would immediately put in execution the persuasions and proposals wherewith I had entertained them. Indeed, there were three or four that forebore signing the address which the church thus made unto me; but even of these, one told me he agreed unto my persuasions, and another told me he thought I sinned by delaying to proceed unto the practise of my proposals. Briefly, I have seventy-five hands (whereof three are of their Majesties� Council) and I suppose I could for asking have when I will, ten more, soliciting me to go on.
�Tis a good part of a year ago, that this thing was done; and I have ever since let it rest. But when I have seen that the devils have been baptizing so many of our miserable neighbors in that horrible witchcraft, for the extinguishing whereof God has made a more than ordinary use of your honorable hand, I must confess it has increased my uneasiness under that sin of omission wherein I reckon myself to live. I cannot be well at ease until the nursery of initiated believers, out of which this garden of God is from time to time to be supplied with the trees of righteousness, be duly watered with the baptism, as well as with the teaching of the Lord. I would mark as many as I should, that the destroying angels may have less claim unto them.
I do most fully agree with you that no unregenerate person is to be baptized. But then, I also think that a person so qualified as has been described, and one so sensibly submitting to the laws of our Lord, should not be pronounced unregenerate. Except I own that such persons may be baptized, I declare that they are visibly the subjects of the devil; but I think that is to do them a very visible injury.
If it be said, Why then don�t they come to the table of the Lord: I answer, first, because they are themselves under doubts and fears which discourage them; and for us to punish those doubts and fears in them, with declaring of them to be infidels, or to have no other consideration in the Kingdom of God than the infidels have, is, in my poor opinion, very unreasonable. Secondly, because the supper of the Lord, requiring not only grace but some growth in grace, and being a sacrament of confirmation for those who have heretofore in baptism had their initiation, we may justly expect more positive attainments for the one, than for the other; and so the primitive churches practised.
But where shall we stop? I answer, the instrument which our brethren have signed sets a sacred and a glorious bound; if we go hitherto and no further, we shall be safe, and none can fairly demand us to go any further. It was in part for this cause that I was willing to have this instrument so circumstanced; namely, because if hereafter you should have a pastor who may not be so concerned for purity or administrations as I hope you have always found, and may yet find, me to be, you may have an everlasting clog upon all endeavors of any man to prostitute an ordinance.
In short, this dispensation of baptism, to such as have received the messages of the Gospel, which I bring unto them unto whom I am to seal the truth of the covenant so received by them, in the baptism of that covenant, it is properly my work. And I have therefore so cautiously stated the whole matter that I avoid entangling any of our brethren who may be scrupulous, in any act which they may not see light for. And yet I resolve also, in all my admissions, to have the particular assistances of two or three or more of our understanding brethren; and particularly of some that have been most scrupulous of enlargements, until we have a consistory of elders more fully settled.
I am ever now and then visited by well-disposed people who, I believe, have the fear of God in them; and these tell me, Sir, Your ministry has broke our hearts for us; we would willingly become the professed servants of Jesus Christ; it is a trouble to us that we, or ours, are not by baptism dedicated unto Him: will you baptize us? Sir, if you can�t, we must be forced to seek that blessing elsewhere, and so leave your ministry, which we would not leave upon any other terms whatsoever. It is true, we should come to the Lord�s table; but such is our weakness, we dare not; pray don�t punish us for that weakness; and when we are a little better confirmed in Christianity, we shall come. These persons I do in my conscience judge that I ought to baptize; and yet, scores of such have I banished from my ministry merely because I have been loath to go against the sense of but two very good men, whom I value at so high a rate; and of these, dearest sir, you are the chief. Quere, whether my dear Major himself would not advise me to do otherwise? Say, my excellent friend, say, whether this be not hard!
God forbid that ever I should pollute the sanctuary! But I think the way of the Lord which I have offered is the most ready way to prevent feared pollutions. For my part, I shall not be able to hold up my head before the whole Christian world, until I do more than I have done in this regard; no, nor can I answer it unto the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, before whose judgment-seat I set myself, when I am going to take any steps in this affair.
All that I now ask of my ever-honored Richards, to whom I have signalized my perpetual respects before the whole world, and whom I can�t endure to dissent from, is but thus much. Tell me that if I proceed in what I propound, it will be (tho� perhaps not easy, yet) not grievous to you. Tell me that if I go on, you will still hold a joyful communion with me in the points wherein we are agreed, and not be roiled in your heart about those wherein we are not. For my part, I observe it that the more men grow in grace, the more they abate of rigidness in many matters where extension of charity is to determine. And you being now grown to a high degree in grace, and apace ripening for Heaven, it gives me no little encouragement with reference to this very matter. Say then, ought I not to do what the church has in the most explicit manner called me to? And this, when �tis my burden that I have so long deferred the doing of it? I am confident that almost all men living would say, I ought! Let my Major then say it. And so let me not want that countenance in the work of God which upon all other accounts you have always comforted me withal. God has made you a singular blessing and honor to me; and I am very confident of my having Heaven itself, a little while hence, the sweeter for your being there. Pray, let what is now before us cause no diminution of that satisfaction. Upon some temporal accounts, I suppose, few ministers of our Lord in this poor land have been more incommoded that I have been; and yet, as I never did complain, so let me not be inconvenienced upon spiritual accounts, and I never shall.
But let what will happen, I will be of Your Honor, and of Madam your virtuous consort, Sir, a very sincere servant,