I CANNOT say that my father was a Hittite, and my mother an Amorite, but my father was a Presbyterian, and my mother a high-flying, separate new-light. I was as far from being a new-light myself, as men’s hearts are from their mouths, or as old darkness is from new light; but when my school-fellows got mad at me, they would call me a new-light, and if I asked them what a new-light was, they would be as confused in their answers as if they did not know B from a bull’s foot. Sometimes, when I was reading, they would laugh at me for my new-light tone; once, in particular, as I was reciting a lesson, to a Latin master, he told me “not to preach like a new-light, but to speak like a scholar.” This put me upon a search into the nature of tones, and I was soon convinced that a holy tone did not make a holy man, for some who had the tone, would be as hypocritical as Lucifer himself; but the same persons who laughed at me for my tone, had a disagreeable tone of lying, swearing, and sneering at all good sense and religion, yet there was no harm in that tone, because it was polite.
Like other boys, I wished to be in fashion, and as the Presbyterians were the most fashionable, I applied myself to the study of their books, but was not a little puzzled to reconcile their writings with my boyish thoughts. I could not, for my gizzard, understand their orthography, until I was more than sixteen. They would spell thus: c-i-r, cir, c-u-m, cum, c-i, ci, s-e-d, baptism. This, I say, puzzled me greatly: and if I asked any body how they reconciled it, they would tell me that “great, learned, and good men said it was right, and it would be presumption in me to call it in question.” I further observed that sometimes those authors would put the cart before the horse; as for instance, where it said, “he that believed and is baptized shall be saved.” Surely, said I, this is a Presbyterian tone; for I did not then know that there was a Papist, a Russian, or an Episcopalian in the world.
Another thing also confounded my youthful thoughts. Men and women would bring their children to the minister to be baptized, if but one of them was a believer, and it was supposed that the faith of one parent was sufficient to initiate the child; but my thoughts would be running thus: “is the soul of that child made by God, and infused into the body while in the womb, or it is begotten by the parents? If it is made and infused by God, then the children of wicked parents bring as good souls into the world as the children of good parents do. But if souls are begotten in ordinary generation, then regenerate men will beget regenerate souls, and wicked men will beget wicked souls; and if Adam was regenerate before he begat any of his children, by succession down to this day, we are all regenerate.” But as this was to me uncertain, I was casting my eyes and thoughts on my neighbors. Uncle Benson had married aunt Nancy, by whom he had a son whose name was Peter. Uncle was a believer, but aunt was not. Here I had a great query in my mind, to find from which parent the soul proceeded. Aristotle informed me, that the child, in animalcula, came originally from the mother. Surely, then, said I to myself, cousin Peter had no right to baptism, for his mother is an infidel. But the European philosophers said that the animalcula that form the fetus, came from the father. If so, said I, again, then Peter is a Christian. But here I was perplexed again: if Peter came into the world a Christian, how can he be made a Christian by water? Can a priest and water make him what he was before he was born? Uncle Sam said, Peter came into the world a Christian, and therefore had a right to baptism; but uncle Ned insisted upon it, that it was his baptism that made him a Christian, and confirmed his sentiment by observing, that the name given him in baptism, was his Christian name; that is, a name given him when he was made a Christian; but others declared that the child came half from each parent; then, said I, Peter ought to have but half his face sprinkled, for half of it came from his heathen mother.
While I was thus as full of thoughts as Don Quixote was of projects, I went to meeting: and how was I surprised to see a man and his wife stand in the broad aisle, owning the baptismal covenant, as they called it. I had read of baptism being a command – a fulfilling of righteousness – the answer of a good conscience; but never heard it called a covenant before. What wind next? said I within myself. But here I soon found that neither the man nor his wife were believers; that they had never given themselves to God, and yet were offering their child to him. This made me think of uncle Tim, who would never give any of his own interest to any body, but when he was at another man’s house, he would be as liberal as a prince, in giving to every one that came in. If these people, said I, loved their child as well as they do themselves, they’d never trust it where they durst not trust themselves. But after the priest had read what he had written for them, and they had consented by a bow and courtesy, he declared that they had a right to all the privileges of the church except the Lord’s supper.
The thought that arose in my mind was this: they may have a right to the privileges of that church, but have they a right to all, or any, of the privileges of Christ’s church? If, from the innocency of the children – the confession of the parents, or the faith of one or both of them, they have a right to baptism, why not to the eucharist? Here I remembered to have read an account of Cyprian, the African bishop, who, in the middle of the third century, first introduced infant baptism, and, to be consistent with himself, introduced infant communion at the same time.
About this time, my father, schoolmaster, and minister, took much pains to teach me the catechism, where it is observed that baptism is not to be administered to any who are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to his revealed will. What, in the world of wonders, though I, do these people mean? The man and his wife, now in the broad aisle, do not profess to be believers, and yet they claim baptism for their child, contrary to that oracular catechism, composed by so many D. D.’s and M. A.’s. Here my zeal broke over all bounds, and turning to old neighbor Turnpie, said I, “do these people hold to the Westminister catechism?” “Yes,” said he, “but, they are constantly gaining more light, and, therefore, altering their modes, but still they are the same people.” This made me think of the Irishman’s knife which he kept for antiquity’s sake, which had been his grand-father’s, his father’s and his own; and, although it had worn out two of the three blades, and three or four handles, yet it was the very knife that his grandfather first bought.
After pausing awhile, I remembered that the article concluded thus: “but the infants of those who are enemies of the visible church, are to be baptized.” You lie, reverend sirs, said I. What! first tell us that baptism is not to be administered to any out of the church, and then tell us it is, and think boys and men too will believe your contradictions? Here I should have proceeded, but a man in the seats not only began to knock his black staff, but really came and took me by the hand. “What now?” said I. He replied, “I am a tything-man to keep order.” Here a thousand thoughts rushed into my mind, some of which were as follows: did Jesus or his apostles, ever appoint tything-men to keep boys or men in order? Did they ever give orders to civil rulers to make laws to force people to go to meeting once a month, or pay a fine? Did they ever institute black staves and stocks to prevent disorder in religious worship? Have those people New Testament authority to establish creeds for others, and go contrary to them, themselves, and punish others if they cannot receive their glaring inconsistencies and absurdities? Some say that the laws of men are the sinews of the gospel: but are they not rather the sinner’s gospel? Is not every kind of cruelty and oppression executed under the pretext of civil law? Have not the majority in every part of the world christened all their madness and self-will by the names of civil law and good order? These things are so, said I, in my heart, but durst not speak, for the tything-man held me by the hand. After meeting was over, and I had escaped from the black staff, I returned home, resolving to read for myself.
Carefully reading the New Testament, I found that the word baptize, with its various declensions, occurred about one hundred times; but in none of these places did it countenance baby baptism, and as I had made some proficiency in Greek, I searched the Greek Testament and lexicon, where I found that baptism came from the word baptizo, and that the word sprinkle, came from the Greek word rantis, so that sprinkling could not be baptizing.
The Greek baptizo, in a few places, is translated wash; but as bodies, cups, and platters cannot be washed well, by sprinkling a few drops of water upon them, I concluded that all who undertook to baptize, by sprinkling, were religious sluts.
About this time, my father was often telling me that he designed me for the gown; that I was of weakly constitution, not able to get a living out of the ground, and if I could furnish my mind with the letter and theological knowledge, I might be inducted into a parish where I might receive a good benefice. But here my foolish heart kept running thus: my father intends me for a minister, but does God? Those who are sent by men to preach, must look to men for their pay; but those that are sent by God, must depend on him.
If I have but a weakly constitution, why should a runt, of a family, be imposed on a parish to eat more than he can work? If a benefice tempts me to preach, I shall preach for filthy lucre, and not out of love to God and souls. If I learn to preach by rule, I shall fall upon the plan of others, of long prayers and short sermons, to save the trouble of writing much. And when I have my sermons all penned down, I shall have to pray, not for God’s assistance, but for good eye-sight.
Upon the whole, I concluded that the religion I had been acquainted with, was little more than a state trick of court intrigue, and was therefore resolved to study politics. By this time, I had gained my twenty-second year; and being fired with ambition to know what other men did, I first purchased a book containing the several constitutions of government adopted in the different states. Now, thought I, I shall be a wise man. I had such profound reverence for the men who framed these constitutions, that I concluded that it would be presumption, and almost blasphemy, to call in question a single word: but, attending to their strictures, I found that they were not two of them agreed. What, said I, do great men differ? boys, women, and little souls do; but can learned, wise patriots disagree so much judgment? If so, they cannot all be right, but they may all be wrong, and therefore, Jack Nips for himself. What encouraged me to search and judge for myself, was this: when I was a small boy, I fancied that I stood in the middle of the world, and that the earth extended no further than my eye-sight explored: but people told me that I was wrong in my judgment; but after a few years study, I found I was half right. That the earth exceeded my eye-sight, I soon found by experience; herein I was wrong. But that I am always on the centre spot of the surface of the globe, is an undeniable truth. And as mature experience convinced me that my boyish thoughts were some of them right, I conclude it might be so with my study in politics.
The above is the only portion of this piece that could be obtained; as every effort to find an unmutulated copy of it has proved unsuccessful.
Elder John Leland
The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland
Pages 73 – 77