Infant Baptism Scriptural and Reasonable Part 2 -by Rev. Samuel MillerCovenant Theology - God's Master Plan to Give His Son Jesus Christ a Bride
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Check out these books on Covenant Theology.
A Simple Overview of Covenant Theology
When dealing with Covenant Theology “simple” is a good thing. After the Bible, this work is the FIRST that you should read, or one that you should introduce to a friend if they are struggling with covenant concepts.
Covenant Theology Made Easy
When dealing with Covenant Theology, making doctrine easy to under is important. This work is a great follow up to the “Simple Overview of Covenant theology” book.
A Masterful Work on Baptism
There is no better succinct, concise, precise and exegetically irrefutable work on infant baptism than Harrison’s work. It is not just about baptism – it’s about infant inclusion in the covenant of grace. It’s about church membership.
Discourse 2: Objections Answered
And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us saying, “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into mine house and abide there.”
Having adduced, in the preceding discourse, the direct evidence in support of infant baptism, let us now attend to some of the most common and popular objections brought by our Baptist brethren against the doctrine which we have attempted to establish. And,
1. The first is, that we have no direct warrant in the New Testament, in so many words, for infant baptism. “We are no where,” say our opponents, “in the history of the apostolic age, told, in express terms, either that infants ought to be baptized, or that they were, in fact, baptized. Now is it possible to account for this omission on the supposition that such baptism was generally practised?” This objection has been urged a thousand times, with great confidence, and with no inconsiderable effect on the minds of some serious persons of small knowledge and of superficial thought. But when thoroughly examined, it will, I am persuaded, appear destitute of all solid foundation.
For, in the first place, even if it were as our Baptist brethren suppose that is, even if no express warrant, in so many words, were found in the New Testament, authorizing and directing infant baptism could this reasonably be considered, upon Pædobaptist principles, unaccountable, or even wonderful? The Pædobaptist principle, let it be borne in mind, is, that the church under the New Testament economy is the same with the church under the Old Testament dispensation; that the former was the minority or childhood, the latter the maturity of the visible kingdom of the Messiah; that one of the most striking features in the New Testament character of this kingdom is a great increase of light, and enlargement of privilege; that the infant seed of believers had been born in covenant with God, and their covenanted character marked and ratified by a covenant seal, for two thousand years before Christ appeared; and that, if this privilege had been intended simply to be continued, no new enactment was necessary to ascertain this intention, but merely allowing it to proceed without interposing any change. This is the ground we take.
Now, taking this ground; assuming as facts what have been just stated as such, can anything be more perfectly natural than the whole aspect of the New Testament in relation to this subject? Very little, explicit or formal, is said in reference to the covenant standing of children, on the opening of the new economy, simply because no material alteration as to this point was intended. All the first Christians having been bred under the Jewish economy, and having been always accustomed to the enjoyment of its privileges, would, of course, expect those privileges to be continued, especially if nothing were said about their repeal or abridgement. To announce to these Jewish believers that the covenant standing and covenant advantages of their beloved children were not to be withdrawn or curtailed, if no other alteration in reference to this matter than an increase of privilege were intended, would have been just as unnecessary as to inform them that the true God was still to be worshipped, and the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah still regarded as the only ground of hope. In short, assuming Pædobaptist principles, we might expect the New Testament to exhibit precisely the aspect which it does exhibit. Not to say, in so many words, that the privilege in question was to be continued; but all along to speak as if this were to be taken for granted, without an explicit enactment; to assure the first Christians that “the promise was still to them and their children;” and not to them only, but also to “as many as the Lord their God should call” into his visible church (Acts 2:39); to tell them that, in regard to this matter, the administration of his New Testament kingdom was to be such as to abolish all distinction of sex in Christian privilege; that, in Christ, there was to be no longer a difference made between “male and female;” and, in conformity with this intimation, and as practical comment upon it, to introduce whole families with the converted parents into the church, by the appropriate New Testament rite, as had been invariably practiced under the Old Testament economy.
But now turn, for a moment, to the opposite supposition; to that of our Baptist brethren. They are obliged, by their system, to take for granted that, after the children of the professing people of God had been, for nearly two thousand years, in the enjoyment of an important covenant privilege; a privilege precious in itself, and peculiarly dear to the parental heart; it was suddenly, and without explanation, set aside: that on the opening of the New Testament dispensation, a dispensation of larger promises and of increased liberality, this privilege was abruptly and totally withdrawn; that children were ejected from their former covenant relation; that they were no longer the subjects of a covenant seal, or of covenant promises; and that all this took place without one hint of any reason for it being given; without one syllable being said (in all the numerous epistles to the churches) by anyone, of justification or apology for so important a change! Nay, that, instead of such notice and explanation, a mode of expression under the new economy should be throughout used, corresponding with the former practice, and adapted still to convey the idea that both parents and children stood in their old relation, notwithstanding the painful change! Is this credible! Can it be believed by any one who is not predetermined to regard it as true?
But if the New Testament economy does not include the church membership of the infant seed of believers, such a change, undoubtedly, did take place, on the coming in of the new economy. The Jewish disciples of Christ saw their children at once cut off from the covenant of promise, and denied its appropriate seal, to which they had always been accustomed, and in which the tenderest parental feelings were so strongly implicated. Yet we hear of no complaint on their part. We find not a word which seems intended to explain such a change, or to allay the feelings of those parents who could not fail, if such had been the fact, both to feel and to remonstrate.
I must say, my friends, that, to my mind, this consideration, if there were no other, is conclusive. Instead of our Baptist brethren having a right to call upon us to find a direct warrant in the New Testament, in favour of infant membership, we have a right to call upon them to produce a direct warrant for the great and sudden change which they allege took place. If it be, as they say, that the New Testament is silent on the subject, this very silence is quite sufficient to destroy their cause, and to establish ours. It affords proof positive that no such change as that which is alleged ever occurred. That a change so important and interesting should have been introduced, without one word of explanation or apology on the part of the inspired apostles, and without one hint or struggle on the part of those who had enjoyed the former privilege; in short, that the old economy, in relation to this matter, should have been entirely broken up, and yet the whole subject passed over by the inspired writers in entire silence, is surely one of the most incredible things that can well be imagined! He who can believe it, must have a mind “fully set in him” to embrace the system which requires it.
So much on the supposition assumed by our Baptist brethren, that there is no direct warrant in the New Testament for infant membership, and of course, none for infant baptism. Admitting that the New Testament is silent on the subject, their cause is ruined. No good reason I had almost said, no possible reason can be assigned for such silence, in the circumstances in which the Christian church was placed, but the fact that things, as to this point, were to go on as before: that the old privilege, so dear to the parent’s heart, was to receive no other change than a new seal less burdensome, applicable equally to both sexes in a word, recognizing, extending, and perpetuating all the privileges which they had enjoyed before.
But it cannot be admitted that the New Testament contains no direct warrant for infant membership. The testimony adduced in the preceding discourse is surely worthy, to say the least, of the most serious regard. When the Master himself declares concerning infants, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16); when an inspired apostle proclaims, “The promise is to us and our children” (Acts 2:39); and when we plainly see, under the apostolical administration of the church, whole families received, in repeated instances, into the church, on the professed faith of the individuals who were constituted their respective heads, just as we know occurred under the old economy, when the membership of infants was undisputed: when we read such things as these in the New Testament, we surely cannot complain of the want of testimony which ought to satisfy every reasonable inquirer.
2. A second objection often urged by our Baptist brethren, is drawn from what they insist is the general law of positive institutions. “In cases of moral duty,” say they, “we are at liberty to argue from inference, from analogy, from implication; but in regard to positive institutions, our warrant must be direct and positive. Now, as we nowhere find in the New Testament any positive direction for baptizing infants, the general law, which must govern in all cases of positive institution, plainly forbids it. Here no inferential reasoning can be admitted.”
This argument, I am persuaded, will not be regarded as forcible by any who examine it with attention and impartiality. The whole principle is unsound. The fact is, inferential reasoning may be, and is in many cases, quite as strong as any other. Besides, if it be contended, that in everything relating to positive institutes, we must have direct and positive precepts, the assumed principle will prove too much.
Upon this principle, females ought never to partake of the Lord’s Supper; for we have no positive precept, and no explicit example in the New Testament to warrant them in doing so. And yet our Baptist brethren, forgetting their own principle, unite with all Christians who consider the sacramental supper as still obligatory on the church, in admitting females to its participation. This practice is, no doubt, perfectly right. It rests on the most solid inferential reasoning, which may be just as strong as any other, and which, in this case, cannot be gainsayed or resisted. But every time our Baptist brethren yield to this reasoning, and act accordingly, they desert their assumed principle.
3. A third objection frequently urged is, that if infant baptism had prevailed in the primitive church, we might have expected to find in the New Testament history some examples of the children of professing Christians being baptized in their infancy. Our Baptist brethren remind us that the New Testament history embraces a period of more than sixty years after the organization of the church, under the new economy. “Now,” say they, “during this long period, if the principle and practice of infant baptism had been the law of the church, we must, in all probability, have found many instances recorded of the baptism of the children of persons already in the communion of the church. Whereas, in all that is distinctly recorded, or occasionally hinted at, concerning the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Galatia, Colosse, etc., we find no mention made of such baptisms. We, therefore, conclude that none such occurred.”
This objection, when examined, will be found, it is believed, to have quite as little weight as the preceding. The principal object of the New Testament history is to give an account of the progress of the gospel. Hence it was much more to the purpose of the sacred writers to inform us respecting the conversions to Christianity, from Judaism and paganism, than to dwell in detail on what occurred in the bosom of the church itself. Only enough is said on the latter subject to trace the disturbances which occurred in the churches to their proper source, and to render intelligible and impressive the various precepts in relation to these matters which are recorded for the instruction of the people of God in all ages. Hence all the cases of baptism which are recorded, are cases in which it was administered to converts from Judaism, or paganism, to Christianity. To the best of my recollection, we have no example of a single baptism of any other kind. Now this, upon pædobaptist principles, is precisely what might have been expected. In giving a history of such churches, who would think of singling out cases of infant baptism? This is a matter so much of course, and of every day’s occurrence, that it is in no respect a remarkable event, and, of course, could not be expected to be recorded as such. No wonder, then, that we find no instance of this kind specified in the annals of the apostolical church.
But this is not all. There is connected with this fact, a still more serious difficulty, which cannot fail of bearing with most unfriendly weight on the Baptist cause. Though it is not wonderful, for the reason just mentioned, that we read of no cases of infant baptism, among the Christian families of the apostolical age; yet, upon Baptist principles, it is much more difficult to be accounted for, that we find no example of persons born of Christian parents being baptized in adult age. Upon those principles, the children of professing Christians bear no relation to the church. They are as completely “without” (Eph. 2:12) as the children of pagans and Mohammedans, until by faith and repentance they are brought within the bond of the covenant. Their being converted and baptized, then, we might expect to be just as carefully noticed, and just as minutely detailed, as the conversion and baptism of the most complete “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.” Yet the fact is, that during the whole three score years after the ascension of Christ, which the New Testament history embraces, we have no hint of the baptism of any adult born of Christian parents. In my judgment this fact bears very strongly in favour of the pædobaptist cause.
4. It is objected, that Jesus Christ himself was not baptized until he was thirty years of age; and, therefore, it is inferred, that his disciples ought not to be baptized until they reach adult age. To this objection I reply.
(1.) Christ was baptized by John. Now, it is certain that John’s baptism was not Christian baptism; for it is evident from the Acts of the apostles (chap. 19:1-5) that those who were baptized by John were baptized over again, “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Besides, it is evident from the whole passage that the baptism of Christ by John was an essentially different thing from baptism as now practised in the Christian church. The ministry of John the Baptist was a dispensation, if we may say so, intermediate between the Old and the New Testament economies. And, as our blessed Lord thought proper to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15), he submitted to the baptismal rite which marked that dispensation. Besides, under the Old Testament economy, when the high priest first entered on his holy office, he was solemnly washed with water. And that officer, we know, was wont to come to the discharge of his functions at “about thirty years of age,” the very age at which our Saviour was baptized, and entered on his public ministry. In like manner, when the “great High Priest of our profession” (Heb. 4:14), Christ Jesus, entered on his public ministry, he thought proper to comply with the same ceremony, that he might accomplish the prophecy, and fulfil all the typical representations concerning the Saviour which had been left on record in the Old Testament scriptures. The baptism of Christ, then, has no reference to this controversy, and cannot be made to speak either for or against our practice in regard to this ordinance. But,
(2.) If this argument has any force, it proves more than our Baptist brethren are willing to allow: namely, that no person ought to be baptized under thirty years of age. So that even a real Christian, however clear his evidences of faith and repentance, though he be twenty, twenty-five or even twenty-nine years of age, must in no case think of being baptized until he has reached the full age of thirty a consequence so replete with absurdity, that the simple statement of it is enough to insure its refutation.
5. A fifth objection continually made by our Baptist brethren is, that infants are not capable of those spiritual acts or exercises which the New Testament requires in order to a proper reception of the ordinance of baptism. Thus the language of the New Testament on various occasions is, “Repent, and be baptized. Believe, and be baptized. If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest be baptized. They that gladly received the word were baptized. Many of the Corinthians, having believed, were baptized” (Acts 2:38; 2:41; 8:37; 18:8). In short, say our Baptist brethren, as baptism is acknowledged on all hands to be a “seal of the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:11); and as infants are altogether incapable of exercising faith: it is, of course, not proper to baptize them.
In answer to this objection, my first remark is, that all those exhortations to faith and repentance, as prerequisites to baptism, which we find in the New Testament, are addressed to adult persons. And when we are called to instruct adult persons, who have never been baptized, we always address them precisely in the same way in which the apostles did. We exhort them to repent and believe, and we say, just as Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” be baptized. But this does not touch the question respecting the infant seed of believers. It only shows that when adults are baptized, such a qualification is to be urged, and such a profession required. And in this, all Pædobaptists unanimously agree.
But still our Baptist brethren, unsatisfied with this answer, insist that, as infants are not capable of exercising faith, as they are not capable of acting either intelligently or voluntarily in the case at all, they cannot be considered as the proper recipients of an ordinance which is represented as a “seal of the righteousness of faith.” This objection is urged with unceasing confidence, and not seldom accompanied with a sneer or even ridicule, at the idea of applying a covenant seal to those who are incapable of either understanding, or giving their consent, to the transaction. It is really, my friends, enough to make one shudder to think how often, and how unceremoniously language of this kind is employed by those who acknowledge that infants of eight days old, were once, and that by express divine appointment, made the subjects of circumcision. Now circumcision is expressly said by the apostle to be a “seal of the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:11), as well as baptism. But were children of eight days old then capable of exercising faith, when they were circumcised, more than they are now when they are baptized? Surely the objection before us is as valid in the one case as in the other. And, whether our Baptist brethren perceive it or not, all the charges of “absurdity” and “impiety” which they are so ready to heap on infant baptism, are just as applicable to infant circumcision as to infant baptism. Are they, then, willing to say that the application of a “seal of the righteousness of faith” to unconscious infants, of eight days old, who, of course, could not exercise faith, was, under the old economy, preposterous and absurd? Are they prepared thus to “charge God foolishly?” (Job 1:22). Yet they must do it, if they would be consistent. They cannot escape from the shocking alternative. Every harsh and contemptuous epithet which they apply to infant baptism, must, if they would adhere to the principles which they lay down, be applied to infant circumcision. But that which unavoidably leads to such a consequence cannot be warranted by the word of God.
After all, the whole weight of the objection, in this case, is founded on an entire forgetfulness of the main principle of the pædobaptist system. It is forgotten that in every case of infant baptism, faith is required, and, if the parents be sincere, is actually exercised. But it is required of the parents, not of the children. So that, if the parent really presents his child in faith, the spirit of the ordinance is entirely met and answered. It was this principle which gave meaning and legitimacy to the administration of the corresponding rite under the old dispensation. It was because the parents were visibly within the bond of the covenant, that their children were entitled to the same blessed privilege. The same principle precisely applies under the New Testament economy. Nor does it impair the force of this consideration to allege, that parents, it is feared, too often present their children, in this solemn ordinance, without genuine faith. It is, indeed, probable that this is often lamentably the fact. But so it was, we cannot doubt, with respect to the corresponding ordinance, under the old dispensation. Yet their circumcision was neither invalidated, nor rendered unmeaning, by this want of sincerity on the part of the parent. It was sufficient for the visible administration that faith was visibly professed. When our Baptist brethren administer the ordinance of baptism to one who professes to repent and believe, but who is not sincere in this profession, they do not consider his want of faith as divesting the ordinance of either its warrant or its meaning. The administration may be regular and scriptural, while the recipient is criminal, and receives no spiritual benefit. It is, in every case, the profession of faith which gives the right, in the eye of the church, to the external ordinance. The want of sincerity in this profession, while it deeply inculpates the hypocritical individual, affects not either the nature or the warrant of the administration.
6. Again; it is objected, that baptism can do infants no good. “Where,” say our Baptist brethren, “is the benefit of it? What good can a little ‘sprinkling with water’ do a helpless, unconscious babe?” To this objection I might reply, by asking in my turn, “What good did circumcision do a Jewish child, helpless and unconscious, at eight days old? To ask the question is almost impious, because it implies an impeachment of infinite wisdom.
God appointed that ordinance to be administered to infants. And accordingly, when the apostle asked, in the spirit of some modern cavillers, “What profit is there of circumcision?” He replies, much, every way (Rom. 3:1-2). In like manner, when it is asked, “What profit is there in baptizing our infant children?” I answer, Much, every way. Baptism is a sign of many important truths, and a seal of many important covenant blessings.
Is there no advantage in attending on an ordinance which holds up to our view, in the most impressive symbolical language, several of those fundamental doctrines of the gospel which are of the deepest interest to us and our offspring; such as our fallen, guilty, and polluted state by nature, and the method appointed by infinite wisdom and love for our recovery, by the atoning blood, and cleansing Spirit of the Saviour? Is there no advantage in solemnly dedicating our children to God by an appropriate rite, of his own appointment? Is there no advantage in formally binding ourselves, by covenant engagements, to bring up our offspring “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?” (Eph. 6:4). Is there no advantage in publicly ratifying the connection of our children, as well as ourselves, with the visible church, and as it were binding them to an alliance with the God of their fathers? Is there nothing either comforting or useful in solemnly recognizing as our own that covenant promise, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee … to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee?” (Gen. 17:7).Is it a step of no value to our children themselves, to be brought, by a divinely appointed ordinance, into the bosom, and to the notice, the maternal attentions, and the prayers of the church, “the mother of us all?” (Gal. 4:26). And is it of no advantage to the parents, in educating their children, to be able to remind them, from time to time, that they have been symbolically sanctified, or set apart, by the seal of Jehovah’s covenant, and to plead with them by the solemn vows which they have made on their behalf?
Verily, my dear friends, those who refuse or neglect the baptism of their children, not only sin against Christ by disobeying his solemn command; but they also deprive both themselves and their children of great benefits. They may imagine that, as it is a disputed point, it may be a matter of indifference, whether their children receive this ordinance in their infancy, or grow up unbaptized. But is not this attempting to be wiser than God? I do not profess to know all the advantages attendant or consequent on the administration of this significant and divinely appointed rite; but one thing I know, and that is, that Christ has appointed it as a sign of precious truths, and a seal of rich blessings to his covenant people, and their infant offspring; and I have no doubt that, in a multitude of cases, the baptized children, presented by professing parents who had no true faith, but who, by this act, brought their children within the care, the watch, and the privileges of the church, have been instrumental in conferring upon their offspring rich benefits, while they themselves went down to everlasting burnings. If I mistake not I have seen many cases, in which as far as the eye of man could go, the truth of this remark has been signally exemplified.
Let it not be said that such a solemn dedication of a child to God is usurping the rights of the child to judge and act for himself, when he comes to years of discretion; and that it is inconsistent with the privilege of every rational being to free inquiry, and free agency. This objection is founded on an infidel spirit. It is equally opposed to the religious education of children; and, if followed out, would militate against all those restraints, and that instruction which the word of God enjoins on parents. Nay, if the principle of this objection be correct, it is wrong to preoccupy the minds of our children with an abhorrence of lying, theft, drunkenness, malice, and murder; lest, forsooth, we should fill them with such prejudices as would be unfriendly to free inquiry.
The truth is, one great purpose for which the church was instituted, is to watch over and train up children in the knowledge and fear of God, and thus, to “prepare a seed to serve him, who should be accounted to the Lord for a generation.” And I will venture to say, that that system of religion which does not embrace children in its ecclesiastical provisions, and in its covenant engagements, is most materially defective.
Infants may not receive any apparent benefit from baptism, at the moment in which the ordinance is administered; although a gracious God may, even then, accompany the outward emblem with the blessing which it represents, even “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).This, indeed, may not be, and most commonly, so far as we can judge, is not the case. But still the benefits of this ordinance, when faithfully applied by ministers, and faithfully received by parents, are abundant nay, great and important every way. When children are baptized, they are thereby recognized as belonging to the visible church of God. They are, as it were, solemnly entered as scholars or disciples in the school of Christ. They are brought into a situation in which they not only may be trained up for God, but in which their parents are bound so to train them up; and the church is bound to see that they be so trained, as that the Lord’s claim to them shall ever be recognized and maintained. In a word, by baptism, when the administrators and recipients are both faithful to their respective trusts, children are brought into a situation in which all the means of grace; all the privileges pertaining to Christ’s covenanted family; in a word, all that is comprehended under the broad and precious import of the term Christian education, is secured to them in the most ample manner. Let parents think of this, when they come to present their children in this holy ordinance. And let children lay all this to heart, when they come to years in which they are capable of remembering and realizing their solemn responsibility.
7. A seventh objection which our Baptist brethren frequently urge is, that, upon our plan, the result of baptism seldom corresponds with its professed meaning. We say it is a symbol of regeneration; but experience proves that great majority of those infants who are baptized, never partake of the grace of regeneration. The practice of Pædobaptists, they tell us, is adapted to corrupt the church to the most extreme degree, by filling it with unconverted persons. To this objection we reply:
That baptism is not more generally connected or followed with that spiritual benefit of which it is a striking emblem, is indeed to be lamented. But still this acknowledged fact does not, it is believed, either destroy the significance of the ordinance, or prove it to be useless. If it holds up to view, to all who behold it, every time that it is administered, the nature and necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit; if it enjoins, and to a very desirable extent secures to the children of the church, enlightened and faithful instruction in the great doctrines of the gospel, and this doctrine of spiritual cleansing in particular; and if it is, in a multitude of cases, actually connected with precious privileges, and saving benefits; we have, surely, no right to conclude that it is of small advantage, because it is not in all cases followed by the blessing which it symbolically represents.
How many read the Bible without profit! How many attend upon the external service of prayer, without sincerity, and without a saving blessing! But are the reading of the scriptures, and the duty of prayer less obligatory, or of more dubious value on that account? In truth, the same objection might be made to circumcision. That, as well as baptism, was a symbol of regeneration, and of spiritual cleansing: but how many received the outward symbol without the spiritual benefit? The fact is, the same objection may be brought against every institution of God. They are all richly significant, and abound in spiritual meaning and in spiritual instruction; but their influence is moral, and may be defeated by unbelief. They cannot exert a physical power, or convert and save by their inherent energy. Hence they are often attended by many individuals without benefit; but still their administration is by no means, in respect to the church of God, in vain in the Lord. It is daily exerting an influence of which no human arithmetic can form an accurate estimate. Thousands, no doubt, even of baptized adults receive the ordinance without faith, and of course, without saving profit. But thousands more receive it in faith, and in connection with those precious benefits of which it is a symbol. This is the case with all ordinances; but because they are not always connected with saving benefits, we are neither to disparage, nor cease to recommend them.
But if baptism is a symbol of regeneration; if it holds forth to all who receive it, either for themselves or their offspring, the importance and necessity of this great work of God’s grace; if it binds them to teach their children (as soon as they become capable of receiving instruction) this vital truth, as well as all the other fundamental truths of our holy religion; if, in consequence of their baptism, children are recognized as bearing a most important relation to the church of God, as bound by her rules, and responsible to her tribunal: and if all these principles are faithfully carried out into practice: can our children be placed in circumstances more favourable to their moral benefit? If not regenerated at the time of baptism (which the nature of the ordinance does not necessarily imply), are they not, in virtue of their connection with the church, thus ratified and sealed, placed in the best of all schools for learning, practically, as well as doctrinally, the things of God? Are they not, by these means, even when they fail of becoming pious, restrained and regulated, and made better members of society? And are not multitudes of them, after all, brought back from their temporary wanderings, and by the reviving influence of their baptismal seal, and their early training, made wise unto salvation? Let none say, then, that infant baptism seldom realizes its symbolical meaning. It is, I apprehend, made to do this far more frequently than is commonly imagined. And if those who offer them up to God in this ordinance were more faithful, this favourable result would occur with a frequency more than tenfold.
8. A further objection often urged by the opponents of infant baptism is, that we have the same historical evidence for infant communion that we have for infant baptism; and that the evidence of the former in the early history of the church, altogether invalidates the historical testimony which we find in favour of the latter.
In reply to this objection, it is freely granted, that the practice of administering the eucharist to children, and sometimes even to very young children, infants, has been in use in various parts of the Christian church, from an early period, and is, in some parts of the nominally Christian world, still maintained. About the middle of the third century, we hear of it in some of the African churches. A misconception of the Saviour’s words, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53), led many to believe that a participation of the Lord’s supper was essential to salvation. They were, therefore, led to give a small portion of the sacramental bread dipped in wine to children and dying persons, who were not able to receive it in the usual form; and, in some cases, we find that this morsel of bread moistened with the consecrated wine was even forced down the throats of infants, who were reluctant or unable to swallow it. Nay, to so revolting a length was this superstition carried in a few churches, that the consecrated bread and wine, united in the same manner as in the case of infants, were thrust into the mouths of the dead, who had departed without receiving them during life!
But it is doing great injustice to the cause of infant baptism to represent it as resting on no better ground than the practice of infant communion. The following points of difference are manifest, and appear to me perfectly conclusive.
(1.) Infant communion derives not the smallest countenance from the word of God; whereas, with regard to infant baptism, we find in scripture its most solid and decisive support. It would rest on a firm foundation if every testimony out of the Bible were destroyed.
(2.) The historical testimony in favour of infant communion is greatly inferior to that which we possess in favour of infant baptism. We have no hint of the former having been in use in any church until the time of Cyprian, about the middle of the third century; whereas testimony more or less clear in favour of the latter has come down to us from the apostolic age.
(3.) Once more, infant communion by no means stands on a level with infant baptism as to its universal or even general reception. We find two eminent men in the fourth century, among the most learned then on earth, and who had enjoyed the best opportunity of becoming acquainted with the whole church, declaring that the baptism of infants was a practice which had come down from the apostles, and was universally practiced in the church; nay, that they had never heard of any professing Christians in the world, either orthodox or heretical, who did not baptize their children. But we have no testimony approaching this, in proof of the early and universal adoption of infant communion. It was manifestly an innovation, founded on principles which, though to a melancholy degree prevalent, were never universally received. And as miserable superstition brought it into the church, so a still more miserable superstition destroyed it. When transubstantiation arose, the sacred elements, (now transmuted, as was supposed, into the real body and blood of the Saviour) began to be considered as too awful in their character to be imparted to children. But in the Greek church, which separated from the Latin before the transubstantiation was established, the practice of infant communion still superstitiously continues.
9. Again: It is objected that Pædobaptists are not consistent with themselves, in that they do not treat their children as if they were members of the church. “Pædobaptists,” say our Baptist brethren, “maintain that the children of professing Christians are, in virtue of their birth, members of the church plenary members externally in covenant with God, and as such made the subjects of a sacramental seal. Yet we seldom or never see a pædobaptist church treating her baptized children as church members, that is, instructing, watching over, and disciplining them, as in the case of adult members. Does not this manifest that their system is inconsistent with itself, impracticable, and therefore unsound?” This objection is a most serious and weighty one, and ought to engage the conscientious attention of every Pædobaptist who wishes to maintain his profession with consistency and to edification.
It cannot be denied, then, that the great mass of the pædobaptist churches do act inconsistently in regard to this matter. They do not carry out and apply their own system by a corresponding practice. That baptized children should be treated by the church and her officers just as other children are treated, that they should receive the seal of a covenant relation to God and his people, and then be left to negligence and sin, without official inspection, and without discipline, precisely as those are left who bear no relation to the church, is, it must be confessed, altogether inconsistent with the nature and design of the ordinance, and in a high degree unfriendly to the best interests of the church of God. This distressing fact, however, as has been often observed, militates, not against the doctrine itself, of infant membership, but against the inconsistency of those who profess to adopt and to act upon it.
If one great end of instituting a church, as was before observed, is the training up of a godly seed in the way of truth, holiness, and salvation; and if one great purpose of sacramental seals is to “separate between the precious and the vile” (Jer. 15:19), and to set a distinguishing mark upon the Lord’s people; then, undoubtedly, those who bear this mark, whether infant or adult, ought to be treated with appropriate inspection and care, and their relation to the church of God never, for a moment, lost sight of or neglected. In regard to adults, this duty is generally recognized by all evangelical churches. Why it has fallen into so much neglect, in regard to our infant and juvenile members, may be more easily explained than justified. And yet it is manifest, that attention to the duty in question, in reference to the youthful members of the church, is not only important, but, in some respects, preeminently so; and peculiarly adapted to promote the edification and enlargement of the Christian family.
If it be asked, what more can be done for the moral culture and welfare of baptized children, than is done? I answer, much that would be of inestimable value to them, and to the Christian community. The task, indeed, of training them up for God, is an arduous one, but it is practicable, and the faithful discharge of it involves the richest reward. The following plan may be said naturally to grow out of the doctrine of infant membership; and no one can doubt that, if carried into faithful execution, it would form a new and glorious era in the history of the church of God.
Let all baptized children, from the hour of their receiving the seal of God’s covenant, be recorded and recognized as infant disciples. Let the officers of the church, as well as their parents according to the flesh, ever regard them with a watchful and affectionate eye. Let Christian instruction, Christian restraint, and Christian warning, entreaty and prayer ever attend them, from the mother’s lap to the infant school, and from the infant school to the seminary, whatever it may be, for more mature instruction. Let them be early taught to reverence and read the word of God, and to treasure up select portions of it in their memories. Let appropriate catechisms, and other sound compends of Christian truth, be put into their hands, and by incessant repetition and inculcation be impressed upon their minds. Let a school or schools, according to its extent, be established in each church, placed under the immediate instruction of exemplary, orthodox, and pious teachers, carefully superintended by the pastor, and visited as often as practicable by all the officers of the church.
Let these beloved youth be often reminded of the relation which they bear to the Christian family; and the just claim of Christ, to their affections and service, be often presented with distinctness, solemnity, and affection. Let every kind of error and immorality be faithfully reproved, and as far as possible suppressed in them. Let the pastor convene the baptized children as often as practicable, and address them with instruction and exhortation in the name of that God to whom they have been dedicated, and every endeavour made to impress their consciences and their hearts with gospel truth. When they come to years of discretion, let them be affectionately reminded of their duty to ratify, by their own act, the vows made by their parents in baptism, and be urged, again and again, to give, first their hearts, and then the humble acknowledgment of an outward profession, to the Saviour. Let this plan be pursued faithfully, constantly, patiently, and with parental tenderness. If instruction and exhortation be disregarded, and a course of error, immorality, or negligence be indulged in, let warning, admonition, suspension, or excommunication ensue, according to the character of the individual, and the exigencies of the case.
“What!” some will be disposed to say, “suspend or excommunicate a young person, who has never yet taken his seat at a sacramental table, nor even asked for that privilege?” Certainly. Why not? If the children of professing Christians are born members of the church, and are baptized as a sign and seal of this membership, nothing can be plainer than that they ought to be treated in every respect as church members; and, of course, if they act in an unchristian manner, a bar ought to be set up in the way of their enjoying Christian privileges. If this be not admitted, we must give up the very first principles of ecclesiastical order and duty. Nor is there, obviously, anything more incongruous in suspending or excluding from church privileges a young man, or young woman, who has been baptized in infancy, and trained up in the bosom of the church, but has now no regard for religion, than there is in suspending or excommunicating one who has been, for many years, an attendant on the Lord’s table, but has now forsaken the house of God, and has no longer any desire to approach a Christian ordinance. No one would consider it as either incongruous or unreasonable to declare such a person unworthy of Christian fellowship, and excluded from it, though he had no disposition to enjoy it. The very same principle applies in the case now under consideration.
It has been supposed, indeed, by some Pædobaptists, that although every baptized child is a regular church member, he is a member only of the general visible church, and not in the ordinary sense, of any particular church; and, therefore, that he is not amenable to ecclesiastical discipline until he formally connects himself with some particular church. This doctrine appears to me subversive of every principle of ecclesiastical order. Every baptized child is, undoubtedly, to be considered as a member of the church in which he received baptism, until he dies, is excommunicated, or regularly dismissed to another church. And if the time shall ever come when all our churches shall act upon this plan; when infant members shall be watched over with unceasing and affectionate moral care; when a baptized young person, of either sex, being not yet what is called a communicant, shall be made the subject of mild and faithful Christian discipline, if he falls into heresy or immorality; when he shall be regularly dismissed, by letter, from the watch and care of one church to another; and when all his spiritual interests shall be guarded, by the church, as well as by his parents, with sacred and affectionate diligence; when this efficient and faithful system shall be acted upon, infant baptism will be universally acknowledged as a blessing, and the church will shine with new and spiritual glory.
The truth is, if infant baptism were properly improved; if the profession which it includes, and the obligations which it imposes, were suitably appreciated and followed up, it would have few opponents. I can no more doubt, if this were done, that it would be blessed to the saving conversion of thousands of our young people, than I can doubt the faithfulness of a covenant God. Yes, infant baptism is of God, but the fault lies in the conduct of its advocates. The inconsistency of its friends has done more to discredit it, than all the arguments of its opposers, a hundred fold. Let us hope that these friends will, one day, arouse from their deplorable lethargy, and show that they are contending for an ordinance as precious as it is scriptural.
10. Another objection, often urged with confidence, against infant membership and baptism is, that, if they are well founded, then if follows, of course, that every baptized young person, or even child, who feels disposed so do so, has a right to come to the Lord’s table, without inquiry or permission of anyone. Upon this principle, say our Baptist brethren, as a large portion of those who are baptized in infancy are manifestly not pious, and many of them become openly profligate; if their caprice or their wickedness should prompt them to go forward, the church would be disgraced by crowds of the most unworthy communicants.
This objection is founded on an entire mistake and a recurrence, for one moment, to the principles of civil society, will at once expose it. Every child is a citizen of the country in which he was born: a plenary citizen; there is no such thing as half-way citizenship in this case. He is a free born citizen in the fullest extent of the term. Yet, until he reaches a certain age, and possesses certain qualifications, he is not eligible to the most important offices which his country has to confer. And after he has been elected, he cannot take his seat for the discharge of these official functions, until he has taken certain prescribed oaths. It is evident that the state has a right, and finds it essential to her well being, by her constitution and her laws, thus to limit the rights of the citizen. Still no one supposes that he is the less a citizen, or thinks of representing him as only a half-way citizen prior to his compliance with these forms.
In like manner, every baptized child is a member a plenary member of the church in which he received the sacramental seal. There his membership is recognized and recorded, and there alone can he regularly receive a certificate of this fact, and a dismission to put himself under the watch and care of any other church. Still, the church to which this ecclesiastical minor belongs, in the exercise of that “authority which Christ has given, for edification and not for destruction,” will not suffer him, if she does her duty, to come to the Lord’s table, until he has reached an age when he has “knowledge to discern the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:29), and until he shall manifest that exemplary deportment and hopeful piety which become one who claims the privileges of Christian communion. If he manifests an opposite character, it is her duty, as a part of her stated discipline, to prevent his enjoying these privileges, just as it is her duty, in the case of one who has been a communicant for years (when he departs from the order and purity of a Christian profession), to debar him from the continued enjoyment of his former good standing.
In short, the language of the apostle Paul, though originally intended for a different purpose, is strictly applicable to the subject before us: “The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from the servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father” (Gal. 4:2). In a word, in the church, as well as in the state, there is an order in which privileges are to be enjoyed. As it is not every citizen who is eligible to office; and as not even the qualified have a right to intrude into office uncalled; so youthful church members, like all others, are under the watch and care of the church; and the time and manner in which they shall recognize their baptismal engagements, and come to the enjoyment of plenary privileges, Christ has left his church to decide, on her responsibility to himself. No one, of any age, has a right to come to her communion without the consent of the church. When one, after coming to that communion, has been debarred from it for a time, by regular ecclesiastical authority, he has no right to come again until the interdict is taken off! Of course, by parity of reasoning, one who has never yet come at all, cannot come without asking and obtaining the permission of those who are set to govern in the church.
This view of the subject is at once illustrated and confirmed by the uniform practice of the Old Testament church. The children of Jewish parents, though regular church members in virtue of their birth, and recognized as such in virtue of their circumcision, were still not allowed to come to the Passover until they were of a certain age, and not even then, unless they were ceremonially clean. This is so well attested by sacred antiquarians, both Jewish and Christian, that it cannot be reasonably called in question. Calvin remarks, that “the Passover, which has now been succeeded by the sacred supper, did not admit guests of all descriptions promiscuously; but was rightly eaten only by those who were of sufficient age to be able to inquire into its signification.”
The same distinct statement is also made by the Rev. Dr. Gill, an eminent commentator of the Baptist denomination. “According to the maxims of the Jews,” says he, “persons were not obliged to the duties of the law, or subject to the penalties of it in case of non-performance, until they were, a female, at the age of twelve years and one day, and a male at the age of thirteen years and one day. But then they used to train up their children, and inure them to religious exercises before. They were not properly under the law until they were arrived at the age above mentioned; nor were they reckoned adult church members until then; nor then neither unless worthy persons; for so it is said, ‘He that is worthy, at thirteen years of age, is called a son of the congregation of Israel.'” (Commentary on Luke 2:42.)
The objection, then, before us, is of no force. Or rather, the fact which it alleges and deprecates has no existence. It makes no part of the pædobaptist system. Nay, our system has advantages in respect to this matter, great and radical advantages, which belong to no other. While it regards baptized children as members of the church, and solemnly binds the church, as well as the parents, to see that they be faithfully trained up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), it recognizes the church as possessing (and as bound to exercise) the power of guarding the communion table from all the profane approaches, even of her own children, and so regulating their Christian culture, and their personal recognition of Christian duty, as shall best serve the great purpose of building up the church as “an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).
11. The last objection which I propose to consider is this: “If baptism,” say our opponents, “takes the place of circumcision, and if the church is the same in substance now as when circumcision was the initiating seal, then why is not baptism as universal in the New Testament church, as circumcision was under the old economy? Why is not every child, under the light of the gospel, baptized, as every Israelitish child was circumcised.”
I answer, this undoubtedly, ought to be the case. That is, all parents, where the gospel comes, ought to be true believers; ought to be members of the church of Christ themselves; and ought to dedicate their children to God in holy baptism. The command of God calls for it; and if parents were what they ought to be, they would be all prepared for a proper application of this sacramental seal. Under the Mosaic dispensation, a single nation of the great human family was called out of an idolatrous world to be the depository of the word and the ordinances of the true God. Then all who belonged to that nation were bound to be holy; and unless they were at least ceremonially clean, the divine direction was, that they should be “cut off from their people.” The obligation was universal, and the penalty, in case of delinquency, was universal. Multitudes of parents, no doubt, under that economy, presented their children to God in the sacrament of circumcision, who had no true faith; but they professed to believe; they attended to all the requisitions of ceremonial cleanness, and that rendered the circumcision authorized and regular. So in the New Testament church. This is a body, like the other, called out from the rest of mankind, but not confined to a particular nation. It consists of all those, of every nation, who profess the true religion. Within this spiritual community, baptism ought to be as universal as circumcision was in the old “commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:12). Those parents who profess faith in Christ, and obedience to him (and those only), ought to present their children in baptism. There is, indeed, reason to fear that many visible adult members are not sincere. Still, as they are externally regular, their children are entitled to baptism. And were the whole infant population of our land in these circumstances, they might, and ought to be baptized.
I have thus endeavoured to dispose of the various objections which our Baptist brethren are wont to urge against the cause of infant baptism. I have conscientiously aimed to present them in all their force; and am constrained to believe that neither scripture, reason, nor ecclesiastical history afford them the least countenance. The longer I reflect on the subject, the deeper is my conviction, that the membership and the baptism of infants rest on grounds which no fair argument can shake or weaken.
From the principles implied or established in the foregoing pages, we may deduce the following practical conclusions:
1. We are warranted in returning with renewed confidence to the conclusion stated in advance, in the early part of our first discourse: namely, that the error of our Baptist brethren, in rejecting the church membership and the baptism of infants, is a most serious and mischievous error. It is not a mere mistake about a speculative point; but is an error which so directly contravenes the spirit of the whole Bible, and of all Jehovah’s covenants with his people, in every age, that it must be considered as invading some of the most vital interests of the body of Christ, and as adapted to exert a most baneful influence on his spiritual kingdom. On this subject, my friends, my expressions are strong, because my convictions are strong, and my desire to guard every hearer against mischievous error increasingly strong. I am, indeed, by no means disposed to deny either the piety or the honest convictions of our respected Baptist brethren in adopting an opposite opinion from ours. But I am, nevertheless, deeply convinced that their system is not only entirely unscriptural, but also that its native tendency is to place children, who are the hope of the church, in a situation less friendly to the welfare of Zion, and less favourable, by far, to their own salvation, than that in which they are placed by our system; and that its ultimate influence on the rising generation, on family religion, and on the growth of the church, must be deeply injurious.
2. Again, it is evident, from what has been said, that the baptism of our children means much, and involves much solemn tender obligation. We do not, indeed, ascribe to this sacrament that kind of inherent virtue of which some who bear the Christian name have spoken and inferred so much. We do not believe that baptism is regeneration. (See Note B, “Baptismal Regeneration.) We consider this as a doctrine having no foundation in the word of God, and as eminently fitted to deceive and destroy the soul. We do not suppose that the ordinance, whenever legitimately administered, is necessarily accompanied with any physical or moral influence, operating either on the soul or the body of him who receives it. Yet, on the other hand, we do not consider it as a mere unmeaning ceremony. We cannot regard it as the mere giving a name to the child to whom it is dispensed. Multitudes appear to regard it as amounting to little, if any more than one or both of these. And, therefore, they consider the season of its celebration as a kind of ecclesiastical festival or pageant. They would not, on any account, have the baptism of their children neglected; and yet they solicit and receive it for their offspring with scarcely one serious or appropriate thought; without any enlightened or adequate impression of what it means, or what obligation it imposes on them or their children. A baptism, like a marriage, is regarded by multitudes as an appropriate season for congratulation and feasting; and very little more, in connection with it, seems to occur to their minds. This is deeply to be deplored. The minds of the mass of mankind seem to be ever prone to vibrate from superstition to impiety, and from impiety back to superstition. Those simple, spiritual views of truth, and of Christian ordinances which the Bible everywhere holds forth, and which alone tend to real benefit, too seldom enlighten and govern the mass of those who bear the Christian name.
Now, the truth is, little as it is recollected and laid to heart, few things can be more expressive, more solemn, or more interesting, more touching in its appeals, more deeply comprehensive in its import, or more weighty in the obligations which it involves, than the baptism of an infant. I repeat it and oh! that the sentence could be made to thrill through every parent’s heart in Christendom the baptism of a child is one of the solemn transactions pertaining to our holy religion. A human being, just opening its eyes on the world; presented to that God who made it, devoted to that Saviour without an interest in whose atoning blood it had better never have been born; and consecrated to that Holy Spirit, who alone can sanctify and prepare it for heaven; is indeed a spectacle adapted to affect every pious heart. In death our race is run; worldly hope and expectation are alike extinct; and the destiny of the immortal spirit is forever fixed. But the child presented for baptism, if it reaches the ordinary limit of human life, has before it many a trial, and will need all the pardoning mercy, all the sanctifying grace, and all the precious consolations which the blessed gospel of Christ has to bestow. And even if it dies in infancy, it still needs the pardoning mercy and sanctifying grace which are set forth in this ordinance. On either supposition, the transaction is important. A course is commenced which will be a blessing or a curse beyond the power of the human mind to estimate. And the eternal happiness or the misery of the young immortal will depend, under God, upon the training it shall receive from the hands of those who offer it.
Let those, then, who bring their children to the sacred font to be baptized, ponder well what this ordinance means, and what its reception involves, both in regard to parents and children. Let them remember that, in taking this step, we make a solemn profession of belief that our children, as well as ourselves, are born in sin, and stand in indispensable need of pardoning mercy and sanctifying grace. We formally dedicate them to God, that they may be “washed and justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). And we take upon ourselves solemn vows to train them up in the knowledge and fear of God; to instruct them, from the earliest dawn of reason, in the principles and duties of our holy religion; to consider and treat them as engrafted members of the family of Christ, and to do all in our power, by precept and example, by authority and by prayer, to lead them in the ways of truth, of holiness, and of salvation. Is this an ordinance to be engaged in as a mere ceremony, or with convivial levity? Surely if there be a transaction, among all the duties incumbent on us as Christians; if there be a transaction which ought to be engaged in with reverence, and godly fear (with penitence, faith, and love; with bowels of Christian compassion yearning over our beloved offspring; with humble and importunate aspirations to the God of all grace for his blessing on them and ourselves; and with solemn resolutions, in the strength of his grace, that we will be faithful to our vows): this is that transaction! O how full of meaning! And yet how little thought of by the most of those who engage in it with external decorum!
3. The foregoing discussion will show by whom children ought to be presented in holy baptism. The answer given by the old Waldenses to this question is, undoubtedly, the wisest and best. They say, as before quoted, “Children ought to be presented in baptism by those to whom they are most nearly related, such as their parents, or those whom God hath inspired with such a charity.” If [the] parents are living and are of a suitable character that is, if they have been baptized themselves, and sustain a regular standing as professing Christians they, and they alone, ought to present their children in this ordinance. And all introduction of godfathers and godmothers, as sponsors, either instead of the parents, or besides the parents, is regarded by the great majority of pædobaptist churches as superstitious, unwarranted, and of course, mischievous in its tendency. Whatever tends to beget erroneous ideas of the nature and design of a gospel ordinance, to shift off the responsibility attending it from the proper to improper hands, and to the assumption of solemn engagements by those who can never really fulfil them (and have no intention of doing it), cannot fail of exerting an influence unfriendly to the best interests of the church of God.
But if the parents are dead; or, though living, of irreligious character; and if the grandparents, or any other near relations, of suitable qualifications, are willing to undertake the office of training up children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), it is proper for them to present such children in baptism. Or, if deserted or orphan children are cast in the families of strangers, who are no way related to them according to the flesh, but who are willing to stand in the place of parents, and train them up for God; even these strangers, in short, any and every person of suitable character, who may be willing to assume the charitable office of giving them a Christian education, may and ought to present such children for Christian baptism. Not only the offspring of Abraham’s body, but “all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money” (Gen. 17:12-13), were commanded to be circumcised. Surely no Christian who has a child, white or black, placed in his family, and likely to be a permanent member of it, can doubt that it is his duty to give it a faithful Christian education. And as one great object of infant baptism is to secure this point, he will not hesitate to offer it up to God in that ordinance which he has appointed, provided no valid objection in regard to the wishes of the parents of such a child interposes to prevent it.
4. This subject shows how responsible, and how solemn is the situation of those young persons who have been in their infancy dedicated to God in holy baptism! This is a point concerning which both old and young are too often forgetful. It is generally conceded, and extensively felt, that parents, by dedicating their children to God in this ordinance, are brought under very weighty obligations which cannot be forgotten by them without incurring great guilt. But young people seldom lay to heart as they ought, that their early reception of the seal of God’s covenant, in consequence of the act of their parents, places them in circumstances of the most solemn and responsible kind. They are too apt to imagine that they are not members of the church until, by some act of profession of their own, they are brought into this relation and assume its bonds; that their making this profession, or not making it, is a matter of mere choice, left to their own decision; that by omitting it they violate no tie, contract no guilt; that by refraining, they leave themselves more at liberty; and that the only danger consists in making an insincere profession. This is a view of the subject which, however common, is totally, and most criminally erroneous.
The children of professing Christians are already in the church. They were born members. Their baptism did not make them members. It was a public ratification and recognition of their membership. They were baptized because they were members. They received the seal of the covenant because they were already in covenant by virtue of their birth. This blessed privilege is their “birth-right.” Of course, the only question they can ask themselves is not, “Shall we enter the church, and profess to be connected with Christ’s family?” But, “Shall we continue in it, or act the part of ungrateful deserters? Shall we be thankful for this privilege, and gratefully recognize and confirm it by our own act, or shall we renounce our baptism, disown and deny the Saviour in whose name we have been enrolled as members of his family, and become open apostates from that family?” This is the real question to be decided; and truly a solemn question it is!
Baptized young people! think of this. You have been in the bosom of the church ever since you drew your first breath. The seal of God’s covenant has been placed upon you. You cannot, if you would, escape from the responsibility of this relation. You may forget it; you may hate to think of it; you may despise it; but still the obligation lies upon you; you cannot throw it off. Your situation is solemn beyond expression. On the one hand, to go forward and to recognize your obligation by a personal profession, without any love to the Saviour, is to insult him by a heartless offering; and on the other, to renounce your allegiance by refusing to acknowledge him, by turning your backs on his ordinances, and by indulging in that course of life by which his religion is dishonoured, is certainly, whether you realize it or not, to “deny him before men,” and to incur the fearful guilt of apostasy of “drawing back unto perdition” (Matt. 10:33; Heb. 10:39).
“According to this representation,” I shall be told, “the condition of many of our youth is very deplorable. It is their duty, you say, to profess the name of Christ, and to seal their profession at a sacramental table. This they cannot do; for they are conscious that they do not possess those principles and dispositions which are requisite to render such a profession honest. What course shall they steer? If they do not profess Christ, they live in rebellion against God: if they do, they mock him with a lie. Which side of the alternative shall they embrace? Continue among the profane, and be consistently wicked? Or withdraw from them in appearance and play the hypocrite?”
The case is, indeed, very deplorable. Destruction is on either hand. For “the unbelieving shall have their part in the lake of fire;” and “the hope of the hypocrite shall perish” (Rev. 21:6; Job 8:13). God forbid that we should encourage either a false profession, or a refusal to make one. The duty is to embrace neither side of the alternative. Not to continue with the profane, and not to act the hypocrite, but to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in truth, and to walk in him.
“I cannot do it,” replies one: and one, it may be, not without moments of serious and tender emotions upon this very point: “I cannot do it.” My soul bleeds for thee, thou unhappy! But it must be done, or thou art lost forever. Yet what is the amount of that expression in the mouth of some a flaunting excuse, and of others, a bitter complaint “I cannot?” Is the inability to believe in Christ different from an inability to perform any other duty? Is there any harder necessity of calling the God of truth a liar, in not believing the record which he has given of his Son, than of committing any other sin? The inability created, the necessity imposed, by the enmity of the carnal mind against God? It is the inability of wickedness, and of nothing else. Instead of being an apology, it is itself the essential crime, and can never become its own vindication.
But it is even so. The evil does lie too deep for the reach of human remedies. Yet a remedy there is, and an effectual one. It is here: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezek. 36:25-27). Try this experiment. Go with thy “filthiness,” and thine “idols;” go with thy “stony heart,” and thy perverse spirit, which are thy real inability, to God upon the throne of grace; spread out before him his “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:4); importune him as the hearer of prayer, in the name of Jesus, for the accomplishment of them to thyself. Wait for his mercy it is worth waiting for and remember his word, “Therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him” (Isa. 30:18).
5. Finally, from the foregoing principles and considerations, it is evident, that the great body of pædobaptist churches have much to reform in regard to their treatment of baptized children, and are bound to address themselves to that reform with all speed and fidelity. It has been already observed, that one great end for which the church of God was instituted, was to train up, from age to age, a seed to serve God, and to be faithful witnesses in behalf of the truth and order of his family, in the midst of an unbelieving world. If this is so, then surely the church in her ecclesiastical capacity is bound carefully to watch over the education, and especially the religious education, of her youthful members; nor is there any risk in asserting, that just in proportion as she has been faithful to this part of her trust, she has flourished in orthodoxy, piety, and peace; and that when she has neglected it, her children have grown up in ignorance, and too often in profligacy, and wandered from her fold into every form of error. If the church wishes her baptized youth to be a comfort and a strength to their moral mother; if she wishes them to adhere with intelligence and with dutiful affection to her distinctive testimony; and to be a generation to the praise of Zion’s King, when their fathers shall have gone to their final account; then let her, by all means, watch over the training of her young people with peculiar diligence and fidelity; and consider a very large part of her duty, as a church, as consisting in constant and faithful attention to the moral and religious culture of the rising generation.
What is the reason that so many of the baptized youth, in almost all our pædobaptist churches, grow up in ignorance and disregard of the religion of their parents? Why are so many of them, when they come to judge and act for themselves, found embracing systems of gross error, if not total infidelity, and wandering, in too many instances, into the paths of degrading profligacy? It is not enough to say that our children are by nature depraved, and prone to the ways of error and folly. This is, doubtless, true; but it is not the whole truth. It cannot be questioned, that much of the reason lies at the door of the church herself, as well as of the parents of such youth. The church has too often forgotten that baptism is as really a seal to the church, as it is to the parents and the children who receive it. And therefore, while in many instances a superstitious regard has been paid to the mere rite of baptism, a most deplorable neglect of the duties arising from it has been indulged, even by some of our most evangelical churches. Parents while most vigilantly attentive to the literary, scientific, and ornamental education of their children, have slighted, to a most humiliating degree, their moral and religious training. They have sent them to schools conducted by immoral, heretical, or infidel teachers, who, of course, paid no regard to that part of their education which is unspeakably the most important of all; or who rather might be expected to exert in this respect, a most pestiferous influence. And, after this cruel treatment of their offspring, [they] have appeared to be utterly surprised when they turned out profligates! What other result could have been expected ?
While it is granted that the primary movements in the great work of Christian education are to be expected from the parents indeed, if the work is not begun in the mother’s lap, a most important period has been suffered to pass unimproved yet the church has a duty to perform in this matter which is seldom realized. It is hers, by her pastors and eldership, to stimulate and guide parents in this arduous and momentous labour; to see that proper schools for her baptized youth are formed or selected; to put the Bible and suitable catechisms, and other compends of religious truth into their hands; to convene them at stated intervals for instruction, exhortation, and prayer; to remind them from time to time, with parental tenderness, of their duty to confess Christ and recognize their relation to his church by their own personal act; and, if they fall into gross error or open immorality, or continue to neglect religion, to exercise toward them, with parental affection, and yet with firmness, that discipline which Christ has appointed expressly for the benefit of all the members, and especially of the youthful members of his covenanted family. If this plan were faithfully pursued with our baptized youth, I am constrained to concur with the pious Mr. Baxter, in believing that in nineteen cases out of twenty, our children, consecrated to God in their infancy would grow up dutiful, sober, orderly, and serious, and before they reached mature age, recognize their membership by a personal act, with sincerity and to edification. Happy era! When shall the church of God be blessed with such fidelity, and with such results?
Footnotes for Discourse 2
1. A grave and respectable Baptist minister, in the course of an argument on this subject, candidly acknowledged that the administration of circumcision to an infant of eight days old, would have appeared to him a useless, and even a silly rite! An honest, and certainly a very natural confession.
2. The two preceding paragraphs are from the powerful and eloquent pen of the late Rev. J. M. Mason, D.D. See Christian’s Magazine, Vol. 2, pp. 414-416.
Covenant Theology Poster
The Puritans made many posters, even in their day, to aid church members in understanding Scriptural truth. I created this new poster to cover the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace.
Check Out these Books on Covenant Theology
Presumptive Regeneration, or, the Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants by Cornelius Burges (1589-1665)
A Discourse on Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism by Cuthbert Sydenham (1622-1654)
Infant Baptism of Christ’s Appointment by Samuel Petto (1624-1711)
Covenant Holiness and Infant Baptism by Thomas Blake (1597-1657)
The Manifold Wisdom of God Seen in Covenant Theology by George Walker (1581-1651)
The Covenant of God by Thomas Blake (1597-1657)
A Chain of Theological Principles by John Arrowsmith (1602-1659)
The Covenant of Life Opened by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
The Covenant of Grace Opened by Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)
The Covenant of Redemption by Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
The Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace by Edmund Calamy (1600-1666)
The Doctrine and Practice of Infant Baptism by John Brinsley (1600-1665)
God’s Covenant and Our Duty By Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
God’s Glory in Man’s Happiness by Francis Taylor (1589-1656)
Infant Baptism God’s Ordinance by Michael Harrison (1640-1729)
Jesus Christ God’s Shepherd by William Strong (d. 1654)