John Kershaw’s Baptism
I was brought up amongst the sect calling themselves Independents, so that all my earliest attachments were to that people. The ordinance of baptism I was taught to believe was that of infant sprinkling. After my cousin left my father’s house, he began to attend the Baptist chapel at Rochdale, and I heard that he and some others were to be baptized by immersion.
Moved by curiosity, and attachment to my relative, I went to see the ordinance administered. I got there in good time, and had a seat where I could see the whole of what was attended unto.
Mr. Littlewood [the pastor] preached upon the ordinance, proving that believers are the proper subjects, and that immersion was the scriptural mode of its administration. He was an able advocate for the doctrine, though what he said had not the least effect upon my mind in convincing me it was right.
After the sermon he left the pulpit, and a hymn was sung, during which time my mind was filled with anxiety. The minister and candidates for baptism came out of the vestry, and, standing by the water-side, the minister delivered a short address.
They then, like Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, “and he baptized them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
As I sat and looked on, my mind was greatly affected. I said within myself, “This is the baptism of the Bible.” I thought of John baptizing at Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there, and of Jesus being baptized by John in the River Jordan.
From this time I became a decided Baptist in principle, and nothing that I have ever heard or read against it since has in the least tended to move me from it, but rather to establish my mind in the truth of the doctrine.
The arguments raised in support of infant sprinkling I conceive are founded upon supposition, drawn from circumstantial evidence, viz., supposing that there were infants in those households that were baptized in the apostolic age without having one “Thus saith the Lord” to build upon.
A friend put into my hand Wilson’s Scriptural Manual upon Baptism, which tended greatly to confirm and establish my mind in the truth of it. I know that it is of God, not only because the precept is so clearly revealed in the Scriptures, but from having proved it to be “the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” and also from having felt my Master’s solemn and blessed presence with me so many times in the administration of it to others.
In many instances I have seen the blessing of the Lord attending it to others of His people who, like myself, were spectators. So let men, and even men of God and ministers of Jesus Christ, say what they may against it, none of these things move me.
In writing this memoir, it is not my province to write a defence of the ordinance. This has been done by far abler hands than mine, and in a way that can never be overthrown.
On one occasion, when in London, I had to baptize ten persons. A few days before the time I met an old Christian friend. As we shook hands he said, “I hear you are going to baptize before you leave town.”
I told him I was.
“And are you going to baptize the dead or the living?”
I looked at him, and for a moment was rather staggered at the question, but replied, “Sir, I trust I am going to baptize both the dead and the living; such as are dead to the law by the body of Christ and to all hope of salvation by works of righteousness done by them, having felt the truth of Paul’s words: ‘For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.’ They are such also as I trust are alive, being blessed with a good and lively hope through grace of an interest in Christ, living a life of faith upon the Son of God, who hath loved them and given Himself for them.”
He exclaimed, “Go on, my friend, baptizing both the dead and the living, and the Lord has promised to be with you, and bless you” (Matt. 28. 19, 20).
None have a scriptural right to be buried with Christ in baptism but such as are dead, for in nature none are to be buried but the dead. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
On another occasion, when examining a candidate for baptism who was giving “a reason of the hope that was in him with meekness and fear,” he spoke of his desire to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, and from love to Christ to keep His commandments by bowing to the sceptre of King Jesus and being baptized in His name.
I said, “Do you think you shall be any better when you have been baptized?”
He replied, “Yes, I trust I shall, for it has been a long time upon my mind, and my conscience has accused me for the neglect. It is said to be ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’; and if I be baptized and enjoy this, I shall be better as regards my feelings than I have been for two or three years past.”
We were much pleased with the honesty and simplicity of this man’s remarks.
Baptism sets forth the solemn, awful and overwhelming sufferings of Him who said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” When in the Garden of Gethsemane, He resisted unto blood, striving against sin, travelling in the greatness of His strength. In the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God due to the sins of His people, He stained all His raiment, so that He was clothed in a vesture dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God. The sprinkling of a few drops of water upon the face is a faint emblem of the overwhelming sufferings of Christ and the “fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.” The immersion of the body in water is by far the most scriptural, strong and striking emblem of the sufferings of Him of whom the poet so sweetly and solemnly sings:
“Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine,
And bathed in its own blood,
While all exposed to wrath divine
The glorious Sufferer stood.”
It is a great mercy to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings as set forth in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, being made conformable unto His death…Having the love of Christ shed abroad in my heart, and as one of His sheep, I heard His voice saying unto me, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.”
I had been a Baptist in principle from the first time I saw it administered, as previously mentioned. I now felt it to be my duty and privilege to follow my Lord and Master in that solemn ordinance.
The nine persons who were separated from the church in Town Meadows, under the pastoral care of Mr. Littlewood, agreed to be formed into a church. As my heart and soul were more united to them and Mr. Gadsby than to Mr. Littlewood and the people who remained with him, though I loved them much, and felt it a trial to leave them and the place where I had thought to have been buried, I resolved to join their little community.
They were my most intimate companions. I attended their meetings, to consult what steps we should take, there being several individuals who had not been baptized who wished to unite with them.
A special meeting, therefore, was appointed to hear their experiences. The Lord laid it upon my mind that I must attend. I had much exercise of soul respecting this affair. My father was rather against it; not that he was opposed to the ordinance itself, but in consequence of my youth. Not being yet seventeen, he had his fears lest I should be drawn aside by sinful lusts and pleasures, and he wished me to defer it until I was older.
What he said had its due effect, knowing in some measure my own weakness, and that I had fallen into sin before, so that I was much cast down at times when I thought of being baptized and joining the church.
I saw it was according to God’s Word, and I knew the Lord had done great things for my soul, whereof I was glad. I loved Him too, and had it in my heart to honour and obey Him by bowing to His sceptre in attending to the ordinances of His house.
The day came when the experiences of those who wished to join should be heard, and such were the feelings of my soul that I could not keep away. Before going I went into a barn to pray that the Lord would go with me, and if it was His blessed will that I should join His church and people, He would be with me to keep and preserve me from evil, so that I might not bring a reproach upon His cause, which He knew lay nearer my heart than either father or mother, or even my own life.
I found the friends assembled. The meeting commenced with singing and prayer to the great Head of the church for His blessing to attend us as a people uniting together in church fellowship. Along with the rest who were to be baptized, I gave a reason of the hope that was in me with meekness and fear, but had not that liberty which I expected in declaring what the Lord had done for my soul. The friends agreed to receive us, but said that Mr. Gadsby, who was to administer the ordinance, wished to hear us relate the dealings of God with our souls.
We should, therefore, have to meet him at a certain time appointed for that purpose. I trembled at the thought of having to be examined by so excellent a man.
When the time came, he brought a minister with him from London, who also wished to hear what we had to say. My turn came. Like Ephraim, I began to speak tremblingly; but the Lord was graciously pleased to shine into my soul and upon the path wherein He had led me, so that I had sweet liberty and enlargedness of heart in declaring the things which the Lord had taught me. When I had finished, Mr. Gadsby asked me several questions upon the doctrines of grace, and my views respecting the ordinances of God’s house, baptism and the Lord’s supper.
I well remember the last question, which was this: “John, you are very young, and you will be exposed to many snares and temptations. Do you think you can stand your ground, and not bring a reproach upon yourself and the cause of God and truth?”
I replied, “Yes, the Lord keeping and preserving me; as Paul said, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’”
He smiled, and said to his London friend, “Have you anything to ask this lad?”
He replied, “No; there is everything in him that can be desired. I am well satisfied that the good work of grace is begun in his soul.”
The 24th of May, 1809, being Wednesday in Whit-week, was the appointed day for baptizing and planting the church. As we had neither chapel nor baptistery, the question arose as to where the ordinance was to be administered.
One of the friends, a farmer, said he had a small stream of water running through one of his fields which could be made use of for that purpose. This was agreed to. When the day came, nearly two thousand people were assembled. Professor and profane were gathered together to witness the ordinance of baptism by immersion.
Mr. Gadsby stood on the bank of a reservoir, which served as a kind of gallery where many sat, the great body of the people being before him in the field. He preached
from John 5. 39: “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have
eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.”
At this time he was about thirty-six years of age, and such was the power of his voice that the sound of it was heard nearly a mile off, but not to distinguish the words.
After the sermon he baptized six persons. In an hour after, we met together in the farmhouse, were formed into a church, and partook of the Lord’s supper. This was similar to the apostolic custom, when the churches met in private houses for breaking of bread and prayer.
I have a sweet and solemn remembrance of the day when fifteen souls were thus united together. They have all long been gone but myself. Many have been the changes I have seen since that day. But, having obtained help of God, I am still continued. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for He has wrought wonders amongst us. Three churches have sprung from us. In each case I have organized them, by the mutual consent of our church, it being done for the furtherance of the gospel, that Zion’s cords might be lengthened and her stakes strengthened.
We have also had removed by death at this time (1866) 170 members, many of whom have left a blessed testimony behind them that they died in the Lord, and about the same number remain as members.
By John Kershaw