While at Sidmouth, preaching, in April, 1830, three believing sisters held in his presence a conversation about "believers' baptism," which proved the suggestion of another important step in his life, which has a wider bearing than at first is apparent.
They naturally asked his opinion on the subject about which they were talking, and he replied that, having been baptized as a child, he saw no need of being baptized again. Being further asked if he had ever yet prayerfully searched the word of God as to its testimony in this matter, he frankly confessed that he had not.
At once, with unmistakable plainness of speech and with rare fidelity, one of these sisters in Christ promptly said: "I entreat you, then, never again to speak any more about it till you have done so."
Such a reply George Müller was not the man either to resent or to resist. He was too honest and conscientious to dismiss without due reflection any challenge to search the oracles of God for their witness upon any given question. Moreover, if, at that very time, his preaching was emphatic in any direction, it was in the boldness with which he insisted that all pulpit teaching and Christian practice must be subjected to one great test, namely, the touch-stone of the Word of God. Already an Elijah in spirit, his great aim was to repair the broken-down altar of the Lord to expose and rebuke all that hindered a thoroughly scriptural worship and service, and, if possible, to restore apostolic simplicity of doctrine and life.
As he thought and prayed about this matter, he was forced to admit to himself that he had never yet earnestly examined the Scriptures for their teaching as to the position and relation of baptism in the believer's life, nor had he even prayed for light upon it. He had nevertheless repeatedly spoken against believers' baptism, and so he saw it to be possible that he might himself have been opposing the teaching of the Word. He therefore determined to study the subject until he should reach a final, satisfactory, and scriptural conclusion; and thenceforth, whether led to defend infant baptism or believers' baptism, to do it only on scriptural grounds.
The mode of study which he followed was characteristically simple, thorough, and business-like, and was always pursued afterward. He first sought from God the Spirit's teaching that his eyes might be opened to the Word's witness, and his mind illumined; then he set about a systematic examination of the New Testament from beginning to end. So far as possible he sought absolutely to rid himself of all bias of previous opinion or practice, prepossession or prejudice; he prayed and endeavoured to be free from the influence of human tradition, popular custom, and churchly sanction, or that more subtle hindrance, personal pride in his own consistency. He was humble enough to be willing to retract any erroneous teaching and renounce any false position, and to espouse that wise maxim: "Don't be consistent, but simply be true."
Whatever may have been the case with others who claim to have examined the same question for themselves, the result in his case was that he came to the conclusion, and, as he believed, from the word of God and the Spirit of God, that none but believers are the proper subjects of baptism, and that only immersion is its proper mode. Two passages of Scripture were very marked in the prominence which they had in compelling him to these conclusions, namely: Acts viii. 36-38, and Romans vi. 3-5. The case of the Ethiopian eunuch strongly convinced him that baptism is proper, only as the act of a believer confessing Christ; and the passage in the Epistle to the Romans equally satisfied him that only immersion in water can express the typical burial with Christ and resurrection with Him, there and elsewhere made so prominent. He intended no assault upon brethren who hold other views, when he thus plainly stated in his journal the honest and unavoidable convictions to which he came; but he was too loyal both to the word of God and to his own conscience to withhold his views when so carefully and prayerfully arrived at through the searching of the Scriptures.
Conviction compelled action, for in him there was no spirit of compromise; and he was accordingly promptly baptized. Years after, in reviewing his course, he records the solemn conviction that "of all revealed truths, not one is more clearly revealed in the Scriptures-- not even the doctrine of justification by faith-- and that the subject has only become obscured by men not having been willing to take the Scriptures alone to decide the point."
He also bears witness incidentally that not one true friend in the Lord had ever turned his back upon him in consequence of his baptism, as he supposed some would have done; and that almost all such friends had, since then, been themselves baptized. It is true that in one way he suffered some pecuniary loss through this step taken in obedience to conviction, but the Lord did not suffer him to be ultimately the loser even in this respect, for He bountifully made up to him any such sacrifice, even in things that pertain to this life. He concludes this review of his course by adding that through his example many others were led both to examine the question of baptism anew and to submit themselves to the ordinance.
Such experiences as these suggest the honest question whether there is not imperative need of subjecting all current religious customs and practices to the one test of conformity to the scripture pattern. Our Lord sharply rebuked the Pharisees of His day for making "the commandment of God of none effect by their tradition," and, after giving one instance, He added, "and many other such like things do ye."*
*Matthew xv. 6, Mark vii 8.
It is very easy for doctrines and practices to gain acceptance, which are the outgrowth of ecclesiasticism, and neither have sanction in the word of God, nor will bear the searching light of its testimony. Cyprian has forewarned us that even antiquity is not authority, but may be only vetustas erroris-- the old age of error. What radical reforms would be made in modern worship, teaching and practice,-- in the whole conduct of disciples and the administration of the church of God if the one final criterion of all judgment were:
"What do the Scriptures teach?"
And what revolutions in our own lives as believers might take place, if we should first put every notion of truth and custom of life to this one test of scripture authority, and then with the courage of conviction dare to do according to that word-- counting no cost, but studying to show ourselves approved of God! Is it possible that there are any modern disciples who "reject the commandment of God that they may keep their own tradition"?
This step, taken by Mr. Müller as to baptism, was only a precursor of many others, all of which, as he believed, were according to that Word which, as the lamp to the believer's feet, is to throw light upon his path.