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The Doctrine Surrounding Infant Baptism – by Rev. Ezekiel Hopkins

Covenant Theology

Why does Hopkins need to vindicate infants for this practice? – to prove its lawfulness.

Vindicating Infants In the Doctrine of Baptism
By Rev. Ezekiel Hopkins (1633-1688)

I. But, before I can come particularly to show you what sanctification it is, that we receive by Baptism; and how we are in it made the members of Christ, the children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven, it is necessary, and I hope will be useful, to VINDICATE THE PRACTICE OF BAPTIZING INFANTS, against which some of late have eagerly disputed.

For, if the Church mistake in the persons to whom this ordi­nance belongs, certainly they can claim no privilege by virtue of their having been baptized. And, therefore, since Baptism is usually administered to infants, let us briefly examine whether their admission to this holy and mystical institution be according to the precept of the Gospel; for, if not, how can they say, as the Catechism directs, that in their Baptism they were ” made members hers of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven?” Herein I shall,

Prove to you the lawfulness of Infant Baptism. Answer some objections that are plausibly urged against it. Show you what are the uses of Baptism, and the ends for which it was ordained.

I shall begin with the arguments, to prove the lawful­ness OF INFANT BAPTISM.

1. The first is this: Infants are members of the Church of Christ’, and, therefore, to be baptised.

Two things are here to be proved, that Church-members are to be baptized; and, then, that Infants are Church-members.

(1) I suppose the former may be evidently demonstrated, because there is no other way of solemn admission into the visible Church but by Baptism; and, therefore, if the members of the Church ought to be solemnly admitted into the visible flock of Christ, they ought to be baptized. But, clear enough it is, that those who are Church-members, ought to be solemnly admitted into the visi­ble Church of Christ. They are members of the Church, as a king is a sovereign, before his coronation; as a soldier is such, before his military oath. So, Baptism is our public and solemn inauguration into the kingdom of Christ; it is our military oath and sacrament, to be Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants unto our lives’ end.

(2) It only remains now to prove, that Infants are Church-members.

And that appears, because once they were so, and that privilege is not repealed; for, in the Church of the Jews, infants were a part of them, who entered into covenant with God. See Deut. xxix. 10, 11, 12. “Ye stand…all of you before the Lord…your little ones, and your wives, and the stranger…that thou. shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God.” It is not, nor indeed can it be, denied, that the Jews’ children were members of their Church: consequently, then, the children of Christiana must like­wise be members of the Christian Church; unless it can be manifested, that Christ hath repealed and recalled this privilege. No such repeal, I am confident, can be produced. Nor, indeed, can the repeal of such a privilege, as the being members of the Church, consist with greater mercy and goodness of God, revealed since Christ’s coming, in comparison of what it was before. The child­ren of the Jews were members of the Jewish Church, before Christ’s coming into the world; but, if a Jew be converted to the faith, shall not his children be now members of the Church of God? If not, they are in a far worse condition since Christ, than they were before; which is little less than blasphemy.

Again, that the infants of believing parents are members of the Church of Christ, appears from this, that they who deny them to be members of the visible Church of Christ, must of necessity make them to be members of the visible kingdom of the devil:

for there is no third estate on earth; but the kingdom of Christ, which is the Church, and the .kingdom of the devil, divide all mankind between them. Those who are not of the Church, are of the world: since our Saviour affirms, that he hath called and taken his out of the world, and that they are not of the world; and the devil is called the god and the prince of this world. There­fore all, that are not of Christ’s flock and of his Church, are of the world, and they belong to the kingdom of the devil:. and so, by a very uncharitable, but yet an unavoidable consequence, if we deny infants to be members of Christ’s Church, we must hold that they are all members of Satan, subjects of the kingdom of darkness, and in a desperate state of condemnation.

From all this it follows clearly, that the children of Christian parents are Church-members; and, being Church-members, they have a right to Baptism, which is appointed by Christ to be the standing ordinance for solemn admission into the visible Church. So that, when they are in our Catechism said to be made members of Christ in their Baptism, the meaning only is, that now they are owned and publicly acknowledged to be such, by their solemn admission into the society of Christians. They are Christians nati; born Christians, by the covenant: Christianity is their birth­right, and their native privilege.

That is the First argument.

2. The Second argument to prove Infant Baptism may be formed thus: Infants are Christ’s disciples; and, therefore they ought to be baptized.

That Christ’s disciples ought to be baptized, I suppose none will deny: but that infants are Christ’s disciples, is most evident from the express “words of Scripture. See Acts xv. 5. where it is said, there arose a great controversy in the Church, because that certain erroneous brethren, some converted Pharisees, persuaded them that it was still needful to continue the custom of circumcising their children. To decide this, a council of the Apostles and Elders assembled together; and in v. 10, we have their definitive sentence against the necessity of circumcision: ” “Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Now on whom would these Pharisees have laid this yoke? was it not on the disciples? And what was this yoke? was it not circumcision? And who were they, whom they would have to be circumcised? doubtless, all the Gentiles, who believed in Jesus Christ, both men and children: and, in following ages, especially, if not only, children were to have been circumcised, if this erroneous doctrine had pre­vailed. “Well then, they whom these false teachers would have to be circumcised, were disciples: but it is plain that they would impose this, not only upon adult persons, but children; for that they required they should be circumcised according to the law of Moses; as verse 1. Now, according to the law and manner of Moses, all children, whether of native Jews or proselytes, ought to be circumcised the eighth day. And this, saith the Holy synod of the Apostles, is a yoke, that neither they nor their forefathers were able to bear. Not that circumcision itself, although a painful was yet an intolerable rite, but only as it was a sign and seal engaging them to keep the whole law of Moses, which was this pinching yoke and this insupportable burden, that the apostolical council decreed should not be put upon the, disciples. And, there­fore, either infants are disciples; or, notwithstanding this decree, they may still receive circumcision as an engagement to the obser­vation of the Mosaical law.

3. Another argument may be drawn from the text: ” He loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water.” From whence I thus argue:

Those for whom Christ gave himself that they might be saved, he doth likewise intend to bring to salvation, by sanctifying and cleansing them with the washing of baptismal water: but he gave himself likewise for infants, that they might be saved; for he ex­pressly tells us, that of such is the kingdom of heaven, not only of their conditions, but of their condition; and, therefore, infants are ordinarily to be cleansed with the washing of water in Baptism.

I do not say that none can or shall be saved without Baptism.

That were too uncharitable an opinion and doom upon those, who are inevitably deprived of this holy institution. But this I say: that Baptism is the ordinary means appointed by God for the sanctifying and cleansing of those, for whom Christ gave himself to bring them to salvation. And, though the children shall not be damned for want of Baptism, yet, as King James said, I doubt whether the parents of them may not, for their neglect and con­tempt of it.

Many other arguments might be produced: but these may suffice in a place, where this great doctrine need not be laboriously proved; especially being such as cannot be sufficiently answered.

ii. Let us, therefore, in the next place, take into consideration some of the Principal Objections, That Are Made Against Infant Baptism.

Which I would not mention in a place where this practice is not contradicted, but that I know the evidence for it is abundantly superior to the cavils against it, and that you may be fortified against the fallacies of deceivers hereafter. For, in these broken and divided times, when the whim of men and their confident fan­cies have so far prevailed against the unity of the Church, God knows what they may next attempt: and plentiful experience hath shown, that Anabaptism usually follows separation.

It is objected,

1. That “Infants are not capable of the ends of Baptism; and, therefore, ought not to be baptized. The end of Baptism is, to signify to the receiver of it, the washing away of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ: but infants, not having the use of reason, cannot possibly comprehend this significancy: and, therefore, it being to them an insignificant thing, it cannot be the ordinance of Christ that it should be administered to them.”

To this I answer; that, although infants are not, as such, capable of all the ends for which Baptism was ordained; yet it doth not thence follow, that it is insignificant, and therefore unnecessary or unlawful to baptize them.

For, (1) Baptism may be administered to those, who are capable of some of the ends of it, though they are not of all. It is true, one great end of Baptism is to be a sign of the wash­ing away of sin, and cleansing the soul; and why may net this be God’s sign towards infants, though it cannot be theirs towards him?

Certainly, the sacraments are instituted to be the signs of God’s favor to his children, as well as pledges of their service to him. Again, we find that our Lord Jesus Christ himself was baptized by John, whose baptism was the baptism of repentance; and yet our Saviour had no sin to be repented of, no filth to be washed away. By which instance alone, it is sufficiently clear, that an in­capacity for some ends of an ordinance, where there is a capacity for others, doth not exclude from a right of partaking of it.

(2) Another great end of the institution of Baptism was, to be God’s seal to the covenant of his grace.

Now, as a man may seal a deed of gift to an infant, which shall be valid, though he understand it not: so God may and doth seal the promises of his covenant to infants; and yet their incapacity of knowing it doth not make the truth and promise of God of none effect.

(3) Though infants cannot perceive the significancy of Baptism, yet this can be no reason to exclude them from it.

For, I suppose it will be granted, that circumcision was signifi­cant, being a sacrament as well as Baptism. And yet we read and know, that circumcision was instituted for infants, who were alto­gether as incapable of understanding the nature and end of that ordinance, as our children are of Baptism. If, therefore, circum­cision were not an idle, insignificant ceremony to the Jewish chil­dren, which it is blasphemy to assert; no more is Baptism to the children of Christians, though they cannot understandingly reflect upon the significancy of it.

(4) Though, at present, infants cannot understand the significancy of Baptism, yet this sign may be effectual and operative when they are grown up to the use of reason; and they may then be taught, as it is the duty of all parents to instruct their children, what an early covenant God entered into with them, and they with God.

Certainly, it is of some avail to have a child’s name put into a lease or deed of gift, though for the present be understand not the use of it: it may afterwards be of as much value to him, as all his estate and livelihood is worth. The covenant of grace is a deed of gift made to us by Christ, wherein he promiseth to bestow upon us eternal life and happiness. Now, as it would be absurd to say, that a child’s name ought not to be put into any legacy or deed, till he come of age to understand it: so, alike absurd and far more inju­rious is it, to leave out our children from this heavenly legacy, that Christ hath left to his Church; which, though for the present they do not understand it, yet may be of infinite use to them afterwards when they are grown up to years of discretion, and they may strongly plead it with God with good success.

2. Another main objection against Infant Baptism is, that “Neither Christ nor his Apostles, have anywhere commanded Infants to be baptized. Now it might seem strange, that a matter of such con­sequence should be omitted in the Scripture, if it were a necessary duty.”

To this I answer,

(1) The Scripture commands whatsoever may be deduced from it by good and necessary consequence.

Now it is plain in Scripture, that infants are disciples: again, it is plain in Scripture, that disciples ought to be baptized. It is plain in Scripture, that infants are members of the Church: again, it is plain in Scripture, that the members of the Church ought to be solemnly admitted into it by Baptism. And this is plain scripture-proof, supposing that the Scriptures were written for men who have reason to deduce consequences from premises; for it is a known and a certain rule, That whatsoever is drawn from Scripture by true and solid reason, is Scripture.

(2) That it lies upon them to show, where Christ hath excluded infants; not upon us to show, where they are expressly admitted.

The reason of it is, because it is clear, that infants were once admitted to be members of the visible Church by circumcision. Now if Christ hath repealed such a privilege as this, let them first produce this repealing act; which they can never do: and, next, let them show what greater and better privilege Christ hath be­stowed on infants instead of it, or else they will make him to be Durus Deus Infantum; and that our children, under the Gospel, are in a far worse estate than the Jews’ children under the law.

(3) It is certain, that the Apostles knew nothing of the repeal of this privilege.

They could not think that Christ had excluded infants from being any longer of his Church, when they thought themselves bound to observe the Jewish customs, and to continue all the ob­servances of the Jewish Church; yea, and that after they had baptized many thousands of people.

(4) We find that those of the Jews, who believed on Christ, were yet very much offended at the neglect of circumcision.

This is clear from that speech of the Jewish Christians to St. Paul, Acts xxi. 20, 21. They said unto him, ” Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that

thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying, That they ought not to circumcise their children.” To remove which prejudice he himself observed the rites of purifi­cation, prescribed by the law of Moses; and, upon the same misprision, had before circumcised Timothy, as we find it, Acts xvi. 3. So that, certainly, St.. Paul thought not any privileges of the Jew­ish Church to be repealed by their becoming Christians; but that they might, according to the law of Moses, circumcise their infants, as being members of the Church: and, therefore they ought to baptize them; this being as much required by the gospel, as the other was by the law.

These things, therefore, being well considered, we may see reason and authority enough to continue our practice of baptizing infants; unless they can bring some place of Scripture, that doth exclude them from this ordinance.

3. But then, again, they object, that such a place they can and do produce: and that is. Mat. xxviii. 19, where our Saviour gives commission to his disciples, to go and teach all nations, baptizing them. Here it is clearly expressed, that they are first to be taught, before they are baptized; and, consequently, Infants, who are incapable of being taught, are thereby rendered incapable of being baptized.

For answer to this, you must consider,

(1) That there is a vast difference between a Church in its first institution, and a Church in its progress and continuation.

The Apostles, who received this commission immediately from the mouth of Christ himself, were sent to frame a Church out of the heathen world, who had never known the true God, nor heard of the name of Christ Jesus, and therefore were to be instructed in his doctrine before they could be baptized in his name: it had been a strange and preposterous course, if men, grown up to years and the use of reason, should be baptized into the profession of Christ, before ever they had heard who this Christ was, and what was that belief into which they were baptized: but, when once they were thus taught and baptized, it is more than barely conjectural, that their infants were made partakers of the same ordinance; from this, that some whole families are said to have been baptized: wherein they must be unreasonably bold, who will deny there were any infants; or children, as incapable to receive the knowledge of so high a mystery, as infants are. But we are not to lay the founda­tions of a new Church, but to build upon the old: indeed, were we to convert an infidel, reason and religion would show, that we should instruct him before we baptize him: but the children of believing parents are members of the Church of Christ by their birth-right; and therefore have a right to Baptism, long before they have a capacity for instruction. So saith the Apostle, 1 Cor. vii. 14, that the children of a believing parent are holy: now to be holy, signifies to be separated unto God; and, certainly, if they be separated to God in their state and condition, they ought to be solemnly dedicated unto him in the ordinance of Baptism. For they are not unclean: i. e. they are not in the same state with the child­ren of heathen and infidels: but they are holy, and therefore mem­bers of the Church (unless we would imagine a generation of holy persons without the Church;) and therefore are they capable of being baptized before they are capable of being instructed.

(2) If our Saviour had sent his disciples to convert the Gentiles to the law of Moses, what other words could he have used to them, but ” Go teach all nations, circumcising them.”

If therefore, such words would not imply, but that the infants of proselyted heathens ought to have been circumcised before they were taught and instructed in the law of Moses, no more do our Saviour’s words imply, that the infants of believing Gentiles ought not to be baptized before they are instructed in the faith of Christ: for, if .Christ had used such words, none would have imagined that the infants of proselyted Gentiles were to be excluded by them from circumcision; and, therefore, neither can there be any reason to imagine, from the words as they lie, that our Saviour did intend by them to exclude the infants of Christians from Baptism.

(3) We must consider what apprehensions the Apostles, to whom our Saviour spake, had concerning the Church-estate of infants in their time.

Did they not look upon them as members of the Church then? It is plain that they did, since they were all circumcised. And can we with reason think, that, when our Saviour bade them gather whole nations into his church, they should imagine that infants must now be excluded out of it by a new example, since they were all in­cluded in the Church under the dispensation which was in use among them? This is highly improbable. And therefore we have all reason to conclude, that, when our Saviour bade them teach and baptize, they understood no other, but that they were to bring the Gentiles into the same state of a Church in which the Jews were before, that they might enjoy the same privileges or greater: the adult to be taught and baptized, and the infants of these to become Church-members upon the faith and profession of their parents; just as it was before, in the case of proselytes. And this very sense the word mathateute doth well bear: for it signifies to make disciples, as well as to teach; and, as I have before proved, that children are disciples, so it is clear that our Saviour himself chose disciples before he had taught them; and, that scholars are ad­mitted, not because they have learned, but that they may learn.

4. It may be again objected that “Baptism is an engaging sign: but how can Infants covenant and engage with God?”

To this I answer,

(1) That, certainly, our children are as much capacitated to en­ter into covenant with God, as were the children of the Jews; and, that Circumcision was as much an engaging seal of the covenant, as now Baptism is.

If, therefore, they condemn Infant Baptism, because infants can­not enter into covenant with God; they do but thereby pretend to be wiser than God: and tell him, that he may possibly be a loser by transacting with those, who perhaps hereafter may plead non­age, and that they could not be obliged by any thing transacted in their minority.

(2) It is true, that Baptism is an engaging sign between God and the baptized; whereby they enter into covenant with God, and he with them: but, though they cannot personally vow nor stipulate, yet they may have sponsors and sureties to undertake this for them.

For parents, and those who are appointed by parents, have cer­tainly a right to bind and engage children in this Baptismal cove­nant. It is but a natural right which they have over them, to bind them to the terms of any covenant or agreement; especially such as shall be for their benefit and advantage. I showed you before, out of Deut. xxix. 10-13, that they were to enter their child­ren into covenant as well as themselves. And, though it be the custom of our church for those who are not the parents to engage for the child, yet their stipulation is in this case valid and obliga­tory; because they are hereunto appointed by their parents, who have a natural right over their children, and make these their rep­resentatives.

But some will say, and it is commonly objected, but not more commonly than very ignorantly, that ” These sureties promise more than they can perform. They promise, that the child pre­sented to Baptism shall forsake the devil and all his works, and renounce the pomps and vanities of this world, and continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto its life’s end. But this is not in their power to effect.”

To this I answer: It is not they, that promise these things for themselves; neither indeed do they promise that the child shall do them; but it is the child, that promiseth these things by them. It is not their duty, by virtue of that promise; but his. Indeed, they ought to contribute their best help and assistance hereunto;

and that is all that is incumbent on them: which, if they have done, and the child prove notoriously wicked, they have not thereby broken any covenant, but only he himself; for, in entering into those holy engagements, they bore the person of the infant, and their stipulation is legally his: so that they leave him obliged to perform what in his name is promised; which if he performs, eter­nal life will be his reward; if not, eternal death. They lay this engagement upon the child; as parents, and those deputed by parents, may do: leaving it to him to fulfill the covenant, or to transgress it at his own peril.

And thus, I hope, I have, to all sober and rational persons, made it sufficiently clear, that Infant Baptism is lawfully used in the Church of Christ: and that those things, which are objected against it, are but of small moment; being grounded either upon mistakes or falsehoods.

Taken From The Works of Ezekiel Hopkins, Volume 2, Pages 301ff

Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind