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Spurgeon’s Theology of Baptism

Yuta Seki September 11, 2023

In the previous article, I considered how Spurgeon became a credobaptist at an Anglican school of all places, and from the Church of England catechism. A few years later, Spurgeon was baptized in the River Lark by Mr. Cantlow, and we considered his own retelling of that day which was May 3, 1850 from his Autobiography.[1] In this piece, I will consider that account again, drawing out aspects of his baptismal theology.[2]

Convinced, but catholic in spirit

When Spurgeon was baptized as a believer at the age of fifteen, he was acting out of his personal convictions. As he read the Bible, he could not find the paedobaptism he observed his entire life and received as an infant. He writes, “I knew that my father and my grandfather took little children in their arms, put a few drops of water on their faces, and said they were baptized; but I could not see anything in my Bible about babes being baptized.”[3] Such a view placed him squarely in the Baptist tradition. Yet, to be a Baptist was not his highest aim. “If I thought it wrong to be a Baptist,” wrote Spurgeon, “I should give it up, and become what I believed to be right. . . . If we could find infant baptism in the Word of God, we should adopt it.”[4] Thus, above all, Spurgeon desired to be biblical.

While Spurgeon was persuaded of the Baptist teaching, he maintained a catholic spirit towards other believers. On one occasion, Spurgeon’s grandfather wanted to assure that his grandson would “not be one of the tight-laced, strict-communion sort.”[5] The reference here is to those who practice closed communion which barred paedobaptists from the Lord’s Table. Spurgeon assured his grandfather that on this issue, they were in agreement and that each man should follow his own conscience. Open communion was practiced at The New Park Street Chapel and The Metropolitan Tabernacle under Spurgeon’s leadership and paedobaptists who belonged to evangelical churches were welcomed to the Table. Membership, however, remained closed, being available only for those baptized as believers.[6]

The nature of baptism

What was Spurgeon’s understanding of the nature of baptism? In a letter to his mother, Spurgeon wrote, “Conscience has convinced me that it is a duty to be buried with Christ in baptism, although I am sure it constitutes no part of salvation.”[7] In his testimony, he says, “I had no superstitious idea that baptism would save me, for I was saved” even prior to being baptized.[8] Thus, baptism was an act of obedience for Spurgeon. He answers his own question, “Why was I thus baptized?” by saying, “because I believed it to be an ordinance of Christ, very specially joined by Him with faith in His name.”[9] So, even though he did not believe baptism as essential for salvation, he would reject the notion that baptism is non-essential.[10]

Though baptism did not save, it symbolized or was emblematic of salvation. Spurgeon says, “I regarded baptism as the token to the believer of cleansing, the emblem of his burial with his Lord, and the outward avowal of his new birth.”[11] That word avowal conveys the idea of baptism as a public profession or declaration to the world that a person belongs to Christ. At the time, there was a practice developed by Doddridge where a believer could prayerfully sign and seal a document as a sign of dedication.[12] While not entirely condemning the practice, Spurgeon said, “I conceive that burial with Christ in baptism is a far more Scriptural and expressive sign of dedication.”[13] Peter J. Morden calls this aspect of Spurgeon’s baptismal theology, “a solemn pledge of absolute commitment,” and a “complete consecration to Christ.”[14] Thus, baptism was the ordained means whereby a person dedicated himself to Christ.

There were two further realities that baptism signified according to Spurgeon. First was the union of a believer to Christ’s dying and rising which is best displayed by dipping, or immersion. When the believer goes under the water and comes back up, his death to the world and his being raised to newness of life are visibly signified. Second is separation from the world. Morden says of baptized believers that “they had crossed the Rubicon and there was no turning back.”[15] A believer cannot go back to the world in the same way because he has crossed a point of no return. He must sever all ties with the world, for he has died to the world.

The final aspect that I will consider is the integral connection of baptism and the local church.[16] Spurgeon says, “Baptism is the mark of distinction between the Church and the world.”[17] Spurgeon makes clear that such profession ought to happen through believers’ baptism: “I never dreamed of entering the Church except by Christ’s own way, and I wish that all other believers were led to make a serious point of commencing their visible connection with the Church by the ordinance which symbolizes death to the world, burial with Christ, and resurrection to newness of life.”[18] Baptism is the entry point into the church.

Application for today

How can Spurgeon’s baptismal theology help pastors today? First, Spurgeon’s resolve to be baptized out of his biblical convictions while maintaining a spirit of honor towards his parents is instructive.[19] Spurgeon was driven by sound conviction based primarily on a reading of the New Testament, and not so much from familial, historical, traditional, or even doctrinal sources. At the same time, he maintained respectful relations with his family and sought to obtain their approval prior to his baptism.

Second, we should not miss the significance of the occasion of baptism for Spurgeon. In his journal entry for that day, he wrote, “In the afternoon, I was privileged to follow my Lord, and to be buried with Him in baptism. Blest pool! Sweet emblem of my death to all the world! May I, henceforward, live alone for Jesus!”[20] Baptism should result in joyful reflection in our union with and devotion to Christ.

Third, the combined practice of closed membership and open communion, in the way that Spurgeon understood it, seems a wise approach.[21] It upholds a Baptist ecclesiology, while maintain a catholic spirit towards our paedobaptist brothers and sisters.

Fourth, Spurgeon’s understanding of baptism—non-salvific, emblematic in nature, an act of obedience, a pledge of consecration, and a public profession—undergirds, clarifies, and sharpens our own baptismal theology and practice.

[1] This account can be found in C. H. Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon Autobiography, vol. 1,  The Early Years, 1834–1859, vol. 1 (London: Banner of Truth, 1962), 145–52.

[2] “In Spurgeon’s accounts of his baptism as a believer the main features of his baptismal theology appear.” Tim Grass and Ian Randall, “C. H. Spurgeon on the Sacraments,” in Baptist Sacramentalism, ed. Anthony R. Cross and Philip E. Thompson, Studies in Baptist History and Thought 5 (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2003), 57. This insight was first pointed out to me by Michael Haykin who advised me to “begin with his accounts in his autobiography of his baptism. In that you have the essence of his baptismal theology.”

[3] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:145.

[4] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:152.

[5] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:119.

[6] Grass and Randall, “C.H. Spurgeon on the Sacraments,” 61.

[7] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:113.

[8] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:151.

[9] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:151.

[10] Grass and Randall, “C. H. Spurgeon on the Sacraments,” 59.

[11] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:151. Two helpful articles on Spurgeon’s baptismal theology are by Peter J. Morden. In the first article, Morden argues that Spurgeon’s baptismal theology was non-sacramental. Peter J. Morden, “C. H. Spurgeon and Baptism: The Question of Baptismal Sacramentalism,” The Baptist Quarterly 43, no. 4 (October 2009): 196–220. In the second article, he presents Spurgeon’s baptismal theology more positively and then proceeds to critique his non-sacramental view. Morden, “C. H. Spurgeon and Baptism: The Importance of Baptism,” The Baptist Quarterly 43, no. 7 (July 2010): 388–409.

[12] Morden, “C. H. Spurgeon and Baptism: The Importance of Baptism,” 395.

[13] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:148.

[14] Morden, “C. H. Spurgeon and Baptism: The Importance of Baptism,” 394.

[15] Morden, “C. H. Spurgeon and Baptism: The Importance of Baptism,” 394.

[16] Morden, “C. H. Spurgeon and Baptism: The Importance of Baptism,” 396.

[17] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:147.

[18] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:150.

[19] Our church receives two interns from a German missions organization each year. Since many of them were baptized in the state church, some of them will end up wrestling with the issue of baptism during their time at our Baptist church. Perhaps reading Spurgeon’s correspondence with his parents, along with his recounting of his own baptism, would be a helpful starting point. Those who are convinced of the soundness of credobaptism should have a sense of urgency to pursue baptism in obedience to Christ.

[20] Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:131.

[21] Spurgeon’s reticence to participate in the Lord’s Table prior to his (believer’s) baptism should be a check to those who take Spurgeon to be supportive of an open communion in which the only requirement for partaking is belief in Christ and the gospel. In other words, Spurgeon seems to be saying, one may partake in communion at this church if they are a genuine believer, have been baptized (whether by pedobaptism or credobaptism), and belong to a local church. To those who would call themselves Christians but are not yet baptized, the words of Spurgeon should be instructive, “I was invited to the communion table, although I had not been baptized [i.e., as a believer]. I refused [to take communion], because it did not appear to me to be according to the New Testament order.” Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, 1:145.

Yuta Seki serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth at Maple Avenue Baptist Church in Georgetown, Ontario. He earned a Master of Divinity at The Master’s Seminary and is pursuing a Doctor of Educational Ministry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is happily married to Alyssa, and they have three boys.

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