by James Bannerman
The following is an excerpt from Bannerman's outstanding classic book The Church of Christ
SECTION I.—NATURE OF THE ORDINANCE
PASSING now from the doctrine of the Sacraments in general, or viewed in respect of what belongs to them in common, I proceed to consider them more in detail and individually; and for this purpose I commence with the Sacrament of Baptism, as the initiatory rite. Upon what grounds are we justified in attributing to Baptism the name and character of a Sacrament? What is the nature of the ordinance, the place which it occupies, and the office it is intended to serve in the Christian Church? The general principles which we have already laid down in regard to Sacraments as such, when applied more particularly to Baptism, will enable us to bring out distinctly the character, authority, and meaning of the ordinance. There were four elements which we found to enter into the idea of a Sacrament. Let us proceed to apply these to the ordinance of Baptism, in order that we may ascertain its true nature and import. And in doing so, we shall have an opportunity, at the same time, of noticing some of the opinions in regard to Baptism which we hold to be unscriptural and erroneous.
I. The first characteristic of a Sacrament is, that it must be a positive institution of Christ in His Church; and this mark applies to Baptism.
The doctrine of the Quakers is opposed to this first position. They contend that Baptism, and the Lord's Supper also, were Jewish practices, neither suited to the Gospel economy nor appointed for the Gospel Church, but destined to be done away with under the dispensation of the Spirit. Now, in reference to Baptism, it cannot be doubted that it was a Jewish observance before it became a Christian one, and that it was administered by the Jews to proselytes joining them from among the Gentiles, previously to the time when it was adopted by our Lord as one of the Sacraments of His Church. This is sufficiently attested by the statements of Jewish writers; it may be inferred, indeed, from the narratives of the Evangelists. Baptism, as an initiatory rite and token of discipleship, connected with a sect or school of religion, was familiarly known among the Jews; and it is on the ground of their previous acquaintance with and practice of it amongst themselves, that we can understand the question addressed to John the Baptist: "Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that Prophet?" Had John been any of those personages come into the country as a teacher or founder of a new school of religion, the Jews would have felt no surprise, and expressed no objection to his practice of baptizing with water; and it was only because he denied that he was either Christ or Elias, that they were led to demand the authority by which he baptized. Although, then, there is no mention of any such ordinance in the law of Moses, yet there seems to be no doubt that it was a ceremony that had found its way into the practice of the Jews.2 But we are not on this account to imagine that Christian Baptism was one of those temporary ordinances destined to be done away with, or that it is not a positive institution of Christ in His Church. During His own personal ministry on earth, we are given to understand that, acting on our Lord's direct authority, His Apostles adopted the rite, and administered it to the Jews who professed their desire to become Christ's disciples. Side by side with the commission to preach the Gospel given to the Apostles, when the Church was set up by our Lord after His own resurrection, we find the command to baptize those whom they taught; and the ordinances of the Word and of Baptism are spoken of in terms significant equally of the authority and standing obligation of both. "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
The natural and indeed unavoidable interpretation of the apostolic commission seems to establish these two things: first, that a literal Baptism, or washing with water, was to accompany the discipleship brought about by the preaching of the Apostles; and second, that both the ordinance of Baptism and that of preaching were to be continued unto the end of the world. Added to this, we have the evidence for the Divine authority and permanent obligation of Baptism in the Church of Christ, from the unvarying practice of the Apostles in regard to their converts, whether Jewish or Gentile, down to the latest period in the history of the Church to which the inspired narrative refers. Such considerations as these go to prove that Baptism was not a mere Jewish practice, suffered for a time in the Christian Church, and destined to be cast off with other Jewish customs and observances. On the contrary, the positive appointment of our Lord expressed in the commission He addressed to the Apostles as founders of the Christian society,—the apostolic example itself as regards Baptism equally of Gentile and Jewish converts,—and the entire absence of any intimation, either express or implied, that the practice was only temporary and designed to be discontinued, go undeniably to prove that Christian Baptism is a permanent institution of Christ in His Church.
II. Another characteristic of a Sacrament is, that it be an external and sensible sign of an internal grace,—a spiritual truth embodied in an outward action; and this mark is applicable to Christian Baptism.
That Baptism is symbolical of unseen and spiritual blessings, is admitted by all parties who hold the ordinance itself to be an appointment of Christ, whatever theory they may entertain as to its sacramental character or virtue. Adopted as it was by Christ from Jewish customs and practices, it could hardly fail, indeed, at its original institution in the Christian Church, to appear to those who used it to be of a symbolical character. They had been accustomed to the washings and sprinklings practised under the law as symbolical observances, expressive of the removal of ceremonial uncleanness, and of such a ceremonial purification as secured acceptance with God,—at least outwardly. And when Baptism was appointed by our Lord, the washing with water included in it must have been interpreted, in accordance with the previous use and meaning of the Jewish observances, as a purification, or a putting away of defilement of sin, so that the person baptized was accounted clean, and fitted for acceptance with God. Hence the language of Scripture everywhere in connection with Baptism conveys the idea of its being a symbolical ordinance like the ancient washings and sprinklings customary among the Jews, and indeed among other nations, as expressive of religious purification or cleansing. The body washed with pure water was an emblem of the soul purified and cleansed through the blood and Spirit of Christ. The "Baptism for the remission of sin" was expressive of the cleansing by which sin is removed. The action by which water was applied by the administrator to the person, was representative of the application of the blood of Christ to the guilt of the soul. The action by which the washing of Baptism was submitted to by the recipient, was expressive of his passing under the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. And the distinguishing practice in Christian Baptism, that the person who received the ordinance was baptized "into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost," was symbolical of his dedicating himself to the Father, through his justification by the blood of the Son, and his sanctification by the grace of the Spirit.
There was the twofold representation, exhibited in the ordinance of Baptism, of Christ giving Himself to the believer in the two great initial blessings of the covenant,—justification and sanctification,—and of the believer dedicating himself to Christ as one of His justified and sanctified people. Christ united to the believer, and the believer united to Christ, in consequence of the removal both of the guilt and pollution of sin which had separated between them, is the great lesson exhibited in the ordinance of Baptism as a symbol. Hence Baptism, rather than the Lord's Supper, forms the great initiatory rite of the Church. The former ordinance is more especially fitted symbolically to represent the union of the believer to Christ; the latter to set forth the communion of the believer with Christ. Baptism meets us at our entrance into the Church, and by the purification from the guilt and defilement of sin, which it more particularly represents, it exhibits us as entering into union with a Saviour in the only way in which that union can be effected,—in the way, namely, of free justification by the blood of Christ sprinkled upon the soul, and full sanctification by the Spirit of Christ cleansing and renewing our nature. In regard to this office which we assign to Baptism, of being a sign of the spiritual blessings of the covenant by which the believer is united to Christ, all parties who hold Baptism to be an ordinance of Christ at all, agree, whatever additional views they may hold as to its sacramental character or virtue.
III. Another characteristic of a Sacrament, as we have already seen, is, that it is a seal of a federal transaction between two parties in the ordinance; and this third mark also belongs to Christian Baptism.
It is more than a sign of spiritual blessings; it is a visible seal and voucher of these to those who rightly partake of the ordinance. At this point the theory of Baptism laid down in the standards of our Church differs from the views held in regard to it by Socinians, and by many of the English Independents. They contend that Baptism is a symbol, and nothing more than a symbol, of spiritual blessings. We maintain that the statements of Scripture warrant us in asserting that, in addition to its being a symbol, it is also a seal of the covenant entered into between Christ and the believer through the ordinance. That in the administration and participation of Baptism there is a federal transaction between Christ and the believer who rightly receives it, and that the outward ordinance is a seal of the covenant engagement, may be established by abundant evidence from Scripture.
1st, There are a number of statements of Scripture connected with the ordinance which cannot be understood except upon the supposition that Baptism is not only a sign, but also a seal of a covenant transaction between Christ and the believer. The very words of the institution seem to point to this. Baptism "into the name (εἰς το ὀνομα) of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost" means more than Baptism by their authority, or an expression of our submission to them. It plainly implies, on the part of the baptized person, an act of dedication of himself to the Three Persons of the blessed Godhead, under the separate characters which they bear in the work of redemption,—an act of engagement by the recipient of the ordinance unto the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit; or, in other words, a dedication of himself to God through the medium of justification and sanctification. In exact accordance with this view, we find in Scripture that Baptism is connected with "remission of sins," obtained through Christ, and with "the washing of regeneration," performed by the Spirit,—expressions which go much farther than merely to represent the ordinance as symbolical of these blessings, and which appear to imply that there is an intimate connection between the right reception of Baptism and the privilege of forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ, and of sanctification of our nature by the Spirit. What that sort of connection is which is more than a mere sign to represent, and less than an outward charm to impart these blessings, is illustrated by the Apostle Paul in a remarkable passage of his Epistle to the Romans: "Know ye not," says the Apostle, "that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." Of course in this passage the Apostle must be held as referring to the Baptism of a believer, in whose case it was a spiritual act of faith embodying itself in the outward ordinance. There are two things which seem plainly enough to be included in this remarkable statement. In the first place, the immersion in water of the persons of those who are baptized is set forth as their burial with Christ in His grave because of sin; and their being raised again out of the water is their resurrection with Christ in His rising again from the dead because of their justification. Their death with Christ was their bearing the penalty of sin, and their resurrection with Christ was their being freed from it, or justified. And in the second place, their burial in water, when dying with Christ, was the washing away of the corruptness of the old man beneath the water; and their coming forth from the water in the image of His resurrection was their leaving behind them the old man with his sins, and emerging into newness of life. Their immersion beneath the water, and their emerging again, were the putting off the corruption of nature and rising again into holiness, or their sanctification. All this seems to be implied in this statement of the Apostle in regard to a believer's Baptism; and it cannot be doubted that, in accordance with many other passages of Scripture, it makes Baptism in the case of a believer far more than a sign of the initial blessings of justification and regeneration. The Apostle undoubtedly represents the act as a federal one, in which the believer gives himself to God in the way that God has appointed, through faith in Christ for pardon, and through submission to the Spirit for regeneration; and in which these blessings are communicated and confirmed to him. Such statements of Scripture seem to bear out the assertion, that in the Baptism of a believer there is a federal transaction, and that the outward ordinance is the seal of the spiritual covenant.
2d, The same conclusion, that Baptism is not only a sign but also a seal of the covenant, may be supported by the consideration, that Baptism has come in the room of the Old Testament Sacrament of circumcision. That the ordinance of Baptism under the New Testament has taken the place of circumcision in the ancient Church, is apparent from the statements of the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians, in which he argues against the necessity of circumcision under the Gospel, on the ground that Baptism was all to believers now that circumcision had been to believers in former times; and where he actually calls Baptism by the name of "the circumcision of Christ." "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in Baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead." This assertion, that Baptism is now the circumcision of the Christian Church, leads very directly to the inference that we must regard Baptism as being as much a seal of the covenant of grace, as circumcision was a seal of the Abrahamic covenant; and it goes very clearly to establish the position, that Baptism is far more than the simple symbolical institution which many Independents would make it,—that it has more in it than the character of a mere empty sign; that there belongs to it the grand characteristic of a sacramental ordinance, namely, the character of a seal, confirming and attesting a federal transaction between God and the believer.
IV. Another characteristic of a Sacrament is, that it is a means of grace; and this fourth mark, like the former ones, belongs to Christian Baptism.
Baptism is a means for confirming the faith of the believer, and adding to the grace which he possessed before. It is not intended for the benefit or conversion of unconverted men; it is not designed or fitted to impart justification or spiritual grace to those who were previously strangers to these; but it is made a means of grace by the Spirit to those who are believers already, and fitted and intended to promote their spiritual good. I do not at present speak of the case of infants baptized, or of the benefits which they may be supposed to receive from the administration of the ordinance. Their case, as peculiar and exceptional, I shall reserve for separate and more detailed consideration. But, putting aside the case of infant Baptism for the present, the position that l lay down is, that Baptism is a means of grace fitted and blessed by God for the spiritual good of the believer. And that it is so, the considerations already stated in regard to the nature of the ordinance, if they are correct and scriptural, will sufficiently enable us to understand. If the act of the adult believer in receiving Baptism be an act of making or renewing his covenant with God through the ordinance,—if his part of the transaction be the embodiment in outward sign of the spiritual act whereby he dedicates himself to Christ,—and if Christ's part of the transaction be the giving of Himself and His grace to the believer in return, then it is plain that the ordinance, so understood, must be a divinely instituted means of grace to the parties who rightly partake of it. Christ given to the believer in the Sacrament is not less precious and blessed, but more so, than Christ given to the believer in the Word; and for this reason, that in the Sacrament Christ is not only in the Word, but in the sign also. In both cases, it is, however, only in connection with the faith of the believer that the blessing is received and enjoyed; and apart from that faith, there is no blessing either in Word or Sacrament. Christ in the Word, received into the soul by faith, is the source of saving grace to the soul. Christ in the Sacrament, received into the soul by faith, is not less, but more, a blessing likewise. But in neither case can the grace and blessing be enjoyed except in connection with the exercise of faith on the part of the hearer or receiver. There is no promise connected with Word or Sacrament over and above the promise that "the just shall live by faith." It is only in connection with faith, indeed, that grace can be imparted in a manner consistent with the nature of man as a moral and intelligent being, and without a subversion of its ordinary laws. The case of infants is an exceptional case, to be dealt with apart, and by itself. But in the case of adults, the communication of supernatural grace, whether through Word or Baptism, must be in connection with, and not apart from, the exercise of their own spiritual and intelligent nature, and in connection with that act of the spiritual nature which we call faith. Baptism is no exception to the ordinary principle that represents all the blessings of God's salvation as associated with faith on the part of the receiver of them. It becomes a means of grace in connection with the faith of the believer, which it calls into life and exercise.
The views now stated are of course opposed to the doctrine of what has been called "baptismal regeneration," whether held by Romanists or Romanizing Protestants. The Church of Rome considers Baptism, like the other Sacraments, to be a means of imparting grace ex opere operato, and to carry with it the virtue of so applying to the person baptized, whether infant or adult, the merits of Christ, as that both original and actual transgression are completely removed by the administration of it, in every case, apart altogether from the faith of the recipient. The authorized formularies of the Church of England seem to maintain the doctrine of baptismal regeneration in a sense at least approximating to that of the Church of Rome. The Thirty-nine Articles, indeed, give no countenance to such a theory; but both her Liturgy and her Catechism appear to speak differently on the subject; and the doctrine, under various modifications, is held and asserted by a large number of her ablest divines. It is extremely difficult, in investigating this question, to ascertain the exact sense in which regeneration is understood to be imparted through the ordinance of Baptism, or the precise nature and amount of change which, according to the advocates of this doctrine, actually takes place on the person baptized. In some instances, I believe that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is held in words, whilst it is not held in reality; the advantage conferred by Baptism on all equally and indiscriminately being nothing more than admission to the outward privileges of the visible Church, in consequence of the reception of it. But although, in the case of a few, the doctrine, as held by them, may be regarded as more nominal than real, yet it cannot be doubted that very many in the Church of England approximate, on this question, more or less closely to the views asserted in the standards of the Church of Rome.
There are at least three different modifications of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration held by divines of the Church of England, which can be readily enough distinguished from each other. First, there is one party who assert that Baptism, by the administration of it, gives the person baptized a place within the covenant of grace, in such a sense that he has a right to all its outward privileges and means of grace, and by a diligent and right use of them, may secure to himself salvation. This is the lowest view of the efficacy of Baptism held by those who assert the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and amounts apparently to this, that Baptism is necessary in order to the salvability of a man,—all unbaptized persons having no right to the privileges of the covenant, and being left to "the uncovenanted mercies of God." In answer to such a theory, it is enough to assert, with the Word of God, that the Gospel is free to all; that all, without exception of class or character, are invited to avail themselves of it; and that "the free gift unto justification of life" is not restricted to any limited number of men, baptized or unbaptized, but is co-extensive in its promises and invitations with "the judgment that has come upon all unto condemnation." Second, there is another party who assert that Baptism conveys to the soul, by the administration of it, regenerating grace—a true spiritual life; which may continue with the baptized person, so as to avail at last to his everlasting salvation, but which may also be forfeited in after years by means of sin. This second form of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration proceeds upon an alleged distinction—held apparently by Augustine, and after him maintained by many Lutheran divines—between those who are predestinated unto life, and those who are regenerated. It is affirmed that the two classes do not coincide, and that regeneration, though once imparted to the soul, may be subsequently lost. Third, there is another party who admit that Baptism imparts saving grace and regeneration to the soul, which under no circumstance can be entirely forfeited, but which entitle the person baptized to everlasting life.
These three different forms of the theory of baptismal regeneration it is not necessary to reply to separately. The only plausible arguments which can be brought in defence of such a doctrine are derived from a few passages of Scripture which apparently, at first sight, connect the inward and spiritual grace with the outward action in Baptism which is its sign. These passages it is not difficult to explain by the help of the canon of interpretation, to which I formerly had occasion to refer, founded on the practice of Scripture, and the practice of every other book, of predicating of the sign figuratively what can only be truly and literally predicated of the thing signified. The sacramental relation between Baptism and regeneration, which it represents, easily explains the application to Baptism, figuratively, of language that belongs literally to regeneration. And while this principle, rightly understood and applied, is sufficient to explain the statements of Scripture that apparently, at first sight, give countenance to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, the whole tenor of the Word of God clearly and decisively contradicts the theory. It is inconsistent with the fundamental principle which regulates the matter of a sinner's salvation,—the principle that he is saved and lives by faith; and that it is by faith, and not through any other channel, that he receives from God all that is necessary to his present and his everlasting well-being.
SECTION II.—THE SUBJECTS OF BAPTISM AS REGARDS ADULTS
Having discussed the general nature of Baptism, the question that next awaits our consideration is, as to the subjects of Christian Baptism, or the parties to whom this ordinance ought to be administered. There are three opinions that may be maintained in regard to this matter. There is one party who affirm that Baptism ought to be administered to all, not infants, who are qualified to become members of the Christian Church in virtue of a credible profession of faith in Christ and a corresponding conduct. There is a second party who assert that Baptism rightfully belongs not only to such persons, but also, in virtue of a representative relation between parents and their offspring, to their children. And there is a third party who hold that Baptism ought to be administered without restriction to parents and children, without demanding, as a prerequisite from the applicant, any profession of faith or corresponding conduct. These three classes, holding principles markedly different from each other, probably exhaust the answers to the question: To whom is Baptism to be administered? The first, or the Antipædobaptists, administer the ordinance only to adults, who, by their faith and obedience, appear to be possessed personally of a title to be regarded as members of the Christian Church, and exclude infants, who cannot, by their own faith and profession, make good their claim to be regarded as proper subjects of the ordinance. The second, or the Pædobaptists, administer the ordinance not only to adults, who personally possess a right to be regarded as members of the Christian Church, but also to their infants, who can have no right except what they derive from their parents. And the third class, or the advocates of indiscriminate Baptism, administer the ordinance to all applicants without any restriction, and without demanding, in the case of adults, that they establish their claim to the ordinance by exhibiting a credible profession of faith in their own persons, or, in the case of infants, in the persons of their parents or guardians.
In proceeding to examine these different systems, it will not be necessary for me to discuss over again what occupied our attention at an early period of the course,—the question of what are the qualifications that give a person a title to be regarded as a member of the Christian Church,—or to enter into the controversy between Independents and Presbyterians as to the necessity in order to membership of a true and saving faith, or simply an outward profession and consistent practice. Without entering upon that subject a second time, the three systems of opinion as to the proper subjects of Baptism now mentioned may be conveniently discussed under the head of these two questions. First: Are we warranted by the Word of God to administer the ordinance of Baptism to all applicants for themselves or their children, without any restriction as to religious profession and character in the case of the applicant? And second: Are we warranted by the Word of God to administer the ordinance of Baptism to the children of a parent who would himself be a proper subject for Baptism, and is a member of the Church? The first question, or the point in debate between our Church and the advocates of indiscriminate Baptism, we shall now proceed to deal with, reserving the second, or the question of infant Baptism, for after consideration.
The doctrine of Baptism without restriction, and apart from the religious character and profession of the applicant, has assumed an aspect of more than ordinary importance recently, in consequence of the extent to which it has prevailed and the manner in which it has been advocated among Independents. Dr. Wardlaw,—who was no friend of such a doctrine, but the reverse,—when speaking in reference to a former statement of opinion, to the effect that all parties were of one mind as to the necessity for a religious profession as a prerequisite to Baptism, says: "Until of late, I had no idea of the degree or of the extent of this laxity, both as to the requisites in adults to their own baptism, and in parents, to the baptism of their children. It has been a cause of equal surprise and concern to me to find, from the publications of more than one of my brethren which have recently appeared, that in my first statement I have been so very wide of the truth. The lax views to which I now refer have been propounded and argued at length in the Congregational Lecture for 1844, by my esteemed friend, Dr. Halley of Manchester." The surprise expressed by Dr. Wardlaw at the acceptance which the doctrine of indiscriminate Baptism has received, and the prevalence which the practice has obtained among English Independents, is not without foundation. Dr. Halley may, I believe, be fairly regarded as the representative of the views of Independents, at least in England, on the subject; and he is perhaps the ablest defender of the practice which prevails, very nearly universally, among them. The doctrine of the class to which he belongs, and whose views he advocates, is expressed by Halley as follows. After stating the principles held by other and opposite parties, he says: "There are, lastly, those who baptize all applicants whatsoever, provided the application does not appear to be made scoffingly and profanely,—for that would be a manifest desecration of the service,—and all children offered by their parents, guardians, or others who may have the care of them." "The third class maintain that, as no restriction is imposed upon baptism in the New Testament, none ought to be imposed by the ministers of the Gospel." "These views,"—I quote again from Dr. Wardlaw,—"these views, which he broaches and defends, are characterized by a latitudinarian laxity, which in my eyes is as mischievous as unscriptural,—the former, because the latter."2 The question, then, of indiscriminate Baptism is one of very great interest and importance,—more especially in the present day,—and amply deserves discussion. In that discussion we must of course appeal for the only arguments which can decide the controversy to the Scriptures themselves. We learn from them that Baptism is a positive institution of Christ in the worship of the Christian Church; and from them also we must learn the terms on which the ordinance is to be dispensed, and the parties entitled to receive it. Is the ordinance, then, to be administered to all applicants indiscriminately without regard to religious profession or character,—to believers and unbelievers alike,—without any restriction, except, according to Dr. Halley, that they do not apply for it "scoffingly and profanely?" Or, on the contrary, does a title to participation in the ordinance of Baptism imply, as a prerequisite, a religious profession and corresponding conduct on the part of the applicant?
Now, in examining into the doctrine and practice of Scripture bearing upon this question, it is important to understand distinctly at the outset the real point in debate. There are two preliminary remarks which may help to place it in its true light.
1st, The question in debate between the advocates and opponents of indiscriminate Baptism is not, as Dr. Halley has stated it to be: "Whether the Apostles and their assistants baptized indiscriminately all applicants, leaving their characters to be formed and tested by subsequent events." The question rather is: Whether, in such application made to the Apostles for Baptism, there was not included or implied a religious profession of faith in Christ, such as to warrant them to administer the ordinance because of the profession. It is manifest that, in apostolic times, when men were called upon in consequence of a Christian Baptism to forsake all that was dear to them on earth, and to incur the hazard of persecution and death, almost any such application necessarily involved or implied at least a credible profession of faith in Christ; inasmuch as hardly any conceivable motive except a belief in Christ would have induced any one to make the application, except, it may be, in rare and exceptional cases. Generally speaking, the fact of a man's applying for Baptism in apostolic times was itself the evidence of a credible profession, and enough to warrant the administration of the ordinance, not on the principle of baptizing all, believers and unbelievers alike, with a profession or without it; but rather on the principle that the applicant, by the very act of application, in the circumstances of the early Church, professed his faith in Christ. Upon this principle we can easily explain why, in the Scripture narrative of the practice of baptizing in the early Church, we find no example of the applicant being kept for a length of time in the position of candidate for Baptism, so as thereby to test his character and profession.
2d, The question in debate between the advocates and opponents of indiscriminate Baptism is not, whether the Apostles, in their administration of the ordinance, baptized, as Dr. Halley asserts, "bad men as well as good." That the Apostles did so in particular instances, the case of Simon Magus plainly attests. But that case no less plainly attests that the Baptism was administered, not in the absence of any religious profession, but in consequence of such a profession. Nothing can be more undeniable than that it was upon the ground of his professed belief in the Gospel preached by Philip that Simon Magus was baptized. "Then Simon," says the inspired account of the transaction, "then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized," etc. Like the other hearers who were baptized in consequence of their profession of faith in Philip's doctrine, Simon professed to believe, and, on the credit of that profession, was baptized as they were. But although among the number of those who received apostolic Baptism there were good men and bad men, as there must be among the members of the Church in all ages, this is not the real question at issue between the friends and opponents of indiscriminate Baptism. The real question in controversy between them is, whether Baptism was generally, or was ever, administered without a religious profession at all on the part of the applicant; or whether such a profession was invariably present as a prerequisite to Baptism. "Baptism," says the Shorter Catechism, "is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible Church, till they profess their faith in Christ and obedience to Him."2
Bearing in mind these preliminary remarks, it is not difficult, I think, from an examination of Scripture doctrine and practice in regard to Baptism, to establish the conclusion, that it is a sacramental ordinance not to be administered indiscriminately and without restriction to all applying for it, but, on the contrary, limited to those maintaining an outward character and profession of Christianity.
I. The nature and import of the ordinance of Baptism are inconsistent with the idea of an indiscriminate administration of it to all, without respect to religious character and profession.
The doctrine and practice of the advocates of indiscriminate Baptism very naturally arise out of the system maintained by them as to the nature of the ordinance. With Dr. Halley and the Independents, whom he represents, Baptism is not, in the proper and peculiar sense of the term, a Sacrament, but only a sign; and a sign, too, of a very restricted meaning indeed. It is a sign that the person holds certain Christian truths, or is willing to learn them; which truths may be held in the way of a mere intellectual apprehension, without the man who so holds them being a Christian, or even seriously professing to be one. Upon this theory,—that Baptism is no more than a sign, expressive of certain truths of Christianity,—it is quite possible to engraft the doctrine of an indiscriminate administration of the ordinance in every instance where those truths, as is usually the case in a Christian country, are not openly renounced or publicly denied. To affix the sign of allegiance to those truths in the case of every man who merely does not deny them, and must be held by the very act of applying for the sign, as at least in some tolerable degree acquainted with them, is consistent enough. To affix the sign to all infants proposed for Baptism, is also consistent; for they are capable of being instructed in the truths represented, and the act of their parents in bringing them to receive the ordinance may be regarded as an acknowledgment that they are willing that their children be so instructed. Restrict the import of Baptism to that of a mere sign of certain Gospel truths, and it is quite in accordance with the theory of indiscriminate administration. "Practically," says Dr. Halley, "those who baptize indiscriminately all applicants and all children proposed for baptism, and those who reckon upon the prospect of teaching the baptized, will be found seldom at variance; for scarcely ever is any one proposed whose religious instruction might not be secured by proper care." As a sign expressive of acquaintance with certain Christian truths, or of a capacity and willingness to receive them, Baptism may consistently enough be administered without restriction to all applicants, whether adults or infants.
But the very opposite doctrine and practice must be maintained, on the supposition that the Sacrament of Baptism is not a sign merely, and that in a very restricted sense, of Christian truth, but a seal of a federal transaction between two parties in the ordinance, whereby the recipient gives himself in Baptism to Christ, and Christ in Baptism gives Himself and His grace to the recipient. A seal of a covenant which the party baptized does not even profess to make, and has avowedly no intention of entering into,—a voucher to a federal transaction, in which there is no person in the least professing to be a party,—an attestation to a mutual engagement never pretended by the individual who is supposed to give the attestation,—this is a contradiction and inconsistency not to be got over. There is a manifest incongruity in administering equally to those who avow that they are believers, and to unbelievers with no such avowal, the same Christian ordinance,—in dispensing a Gospel Sacrament indiscriminately to those who profess to have received the Gospel, and to those who do not,—in giving a religious privilege to those who make no religious profession, not less than to those who do. If Baptism be no more than a sign of certain religious truths known, or at least that may be learned, by the party baptized, then indeed there is no such incongruity between the nature of the rite and its unrestricted administration. But if Baptism be the outward seal of a federal engagement, distinctively marking the true Christian, then the very nature of the ordinance forbids it to be administered to men with no profession of Christianity. If it be the Sacrament of union to the Saviour and admission into the Christian Church, the ordinance itself points out the necessity of its restriction to those who "name the name of Christ," and whose life and conduct are not outwardly inconsistent with their claim to be numbered among His people.
II. The administration of Baptism by John, the forerunner of our Lord, has been very generally appealed to in favour of an indiscriminate dispensation of the ordinance, but in point of fact may be regarded as affording evidence of a contrary practice.
The Baptism of John, when we are told that multitudes of the Jews flocked to him in the wilderness to be baptized, has been quoted in favour of the doctrine and practice of English Independents. There are two things which it is necessary to establish before any argument for indiscriminate Baptism in the Christian Church could be drawn from the preaching of John; and both these things, so far from being proved, may with good reason be denied. In the first place, it were necessary to prove that the Baptism of John was identical with Christian Baptism, before any countenance could be derived from his practice,—even if it were, as is alleged, that of indiscriminate Baptism,—in favour of the same custom in the Christian Church. And in the second place, it were necessary to establish the assumption that John really baptized all equally who came to him, without regard to their religious profession. I believe that neither the one nor the other of these positions can be established from Scripture, but the reverse.
With regard to the first position, there seems to be warrant from Scripture to say that John's Baptism was not identical with that of Christ. His doctrine and his office occupied an intermediate place between those of the Old Testament teachers and those of the Gospel Church; and his Baptism corresponded with his doctrine. He taught the doctrine of repentance and of preparation for Him that should come after him; he pointed to the future Saviour, rather than preached a present one; and his Baptism was the same in character. We have no reason to believe that he baptized in the name of Christ; and we have ground for asserting that the Baptism of John, in the case of those who received it, was afterwards replaced by Christian Baptism, when they were received into the Christian Church. That such was the case, the instance of the disciples at Ephesus proves; whom Paul rebaptized, as is recorded in the nineteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: "And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."
With regard to the second point, or the assumption that the Baptism of John was really given to all applicants indiscriminately, without respect to religious character, there seems to be no evidence for it in Scripture, but the reverse. We seem to have as good evidence, that John demanded a profession of a religious kind from those whom he baptized, as the character of the very brief and scanty narrative which has come down to us of the transaction would naturally lead us to expect. That vast multitudes of the Jews enrolled themselves by Baptism in the number of John's disciples, would appear to admit of no doubt; for we are expressly told that "there went out unto him into the wilderness all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river Jordan." That of this great multitude all were truly brought to repentance, and turned from sin, and savingly taught to look forward to the Messiah who was to come, may, from many circumstances, appear improbable. But that they were all admitted to the ordinance of John's Baptism, without any regard to the religious profession that they made, is undeniably contradicted by the express language of the sacred historian; for it is added: "They were all baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." The Baptism and the confession of sins went together,—the one being the accompanying condition of the other. So far is it from being true that the practice of John gives countenance to the theory of indiscriminate Baptism, that the very opposite may be proved from the inspired narrative, brief though it be.
III. The terms of the commission given by our Lord after His resurrection to His Apostles in regard to founding and establishing the Christian Church, seem very clearly to forbid the practice of indiscriminate Baptism, and to require a profession of faith in Christ as a prerequisite to Baptism in His name.
The terms of the commission, as recorded in the Gospel by Matthew, are these: "Go ye therefore, and disciple—μαθητευσατε—all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Such is the language employed by our Lord in what must be regarded, I think, as the original institution of Christian Baptism. The commentary of Dr. Halley on these words brings out his argument in favour of indiscriminate Baptism. "The question," says he, "respecting the subject of Baptism is here resolved into one of grammar and criticism. It is simply what is the antecedent to the word them, or for what noun is that pronoun substituted. 'Going forth, disciple all the nations—παντα τα ἐθνη—baptizing them—αὐτους—all the nations, into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost; teaching them—all the nations—to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.' So far as the grammatical construction is concerned, the meaning of the terms is precisely the same, as it would be if the words of the commission were, 'baptize all the nations.' Adhering, therefore, to the grammar of the words, we say, the commission, which no man has a right to alter, is, 'baptize all the nations.' " Now, this somewhat summary and confident mode of reasoning may be satisfactorily set aside in two ways.
1. There is some weight due to the order in which the terms of the commission run, as indicating the order in which the discipling, the baptizing, and the teaching of all the nations were to take place, and were to be accounted necessary parts of the Apostles' or the Church's obedience to the commission of Christ. There are three particulars embraced in the authoritative commission addressed to the Apostles, and, through them, binding upon the Church in every age. First, the command is to make disciples of all nations, turning them to the profession and belief of the faith of Christ. Second, there is the command to baptize all nations, granting them the formal and public rite by which their admission into the Church was to be attested and ratified. And third, there is the command to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever Christ had appointed for His Church collectively, or His people individually. This is the order in which, according to the nature of the various particulars embraced in the commission, they were to be accomplished. That the order of procedure here indicated is in harmony with the nature of the work to be done by the Church in reference to the world, is abundantly plain from the scriptural account given of it in many other passages of the Bible. First of all is the preaching of the Gospel, as the grand instrument employed by the Church to gather in the disciples of Christ within its pale. Next there is the affixing to the disciples thus gathered the characteristic badge of discipleship, and granting them, by the initiatory rite of Baptism, formal admission into the Christian Church. And lastly, there is the instructing those thus admitted in the observance of all their appointed duties as disciples of Christ and members of His Church. This is plainly, I think, the order of procedure indicated in the apostolic commission; and it is an order which implies that a knowledge and profession of the faith as disciples preceded the administration of Baptism to them. The expression, "all nations"—παντα τα ἐθνη—upon which Dr. Halley builds his argument for universal and indiscriminate Baptism, is not to be regarded so much as declaring the duty of the Apostles to teach and baptize every individual of the world, or as denoting the absolute extent of the commission, as asserting that individuals of every nation were to be discipled and baptized, and marking out that no nation or class were excluded from the range of the commission. The terms, "disciple," "baptizing," must be taken together, and not separately; and in the order of the inspired declaration, and not in the reverse of that order.
2. The words of institution in the baptismal service seem to imply that a knowledge and profession of the faith of Christ are necessary as a prerequisite to Baptism. The recipients of the ordinance are to be baptized "into the name, εἰς το ὀνομα, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,"—language which obviously refers to the peculiar character the Three Persons of the Godhead sustain, and the offices they discharge in the work of man's redemption. Unless Christian Baptism, then, be a mere heathen mystery, to suffice as a sign or to work as a charm, it necessarily implies previous knowledge and instruction in the fundamental truths of the Gospel system; and this, again, implies that the Church, in administering the ordinance, has a right to require some evidence, such as an intelligent profession of the faith, that such knowledge has been obtained. All this points very distinctly to a profession of faith in Christ as a necessary prerequisite to the administration of the ordinance in the case of candidates for Baptism.
IV. An examination in detail of Scripture practice, as bearing upon the doctrine of indiscriminate Baptism as contradistinguished from Baptism restricted to professing Christians, will sufficiently bear out the conclusion to be drawn from the previous considerations, that at least a profession of faith is necessary as a prerequisite to the scriptural administration of the ordinance.
It is impossible, and indeed unnecessary, for us to enter at length into this field of argument. Nothing but the most violent injustice done to the language of Scripture by a bold and unscrupulous system of interpretation can suffice to get rid of the evidence which, in the case of the Baptism of converts mentioned in Scripture, connects the administration of the rite with a profession of faith in Christ on the part of the person who was the recipient of it. The association of the person's profession, faith, repentance, or believing, with Baptism, appears in a multitude of passages; while not one passage or example can be quoted in favour of the connection of Baptism with an absence of profession. "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved;" "repent every one of you, and be baptized;" "many having believed, and been baptized,"—these and many other passages of a like import connect together, as inseparable in the process by which under the eye of the Apostles many in their days were added to the Christian Church, the two facts of the religious profession of the candidate, and the administration of the religious ordinance by which formally he became a member of the Church of Christ. In the history, although brief and incomplete, of the Baptism of the early converts to the Christian faith, there is almost invariably some statement by which is attested the distinctive Christian profession that stands connected with the administration of the outward rite; while in no instances are there any statements from which it could be proved that Baptism ever stood connected with the absence of such a profession. Connected with the Baptism of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, there stands the statement, "Then they that gladly received the Word were baptized." Connected with the Baptism of the people of Samaria in consequence of the preaching of Philip, there stands the assertion, "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." In regard to the Baptism of the Ethiopian treasurer, we are told that, after the Gospel was preached to him by the same evangelist, "the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him." In connection with the Baptism of Lydia, and as preceding the administration of the rite, we have the statement: "whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things that were spoken of Paul." Connected with the Baptism of the Philippian jailer, there stands the statement: "And he rejoiced, believing in God, with all his house." In short, in almost every example of Baptism which the New Testament records, there is enough in the narrative, however scanty and compressed it be, to bring out the fact, that in close association with the administration of the rite appears the religious profession of the recipient. And, on the other hand, it may be safely asserted, that in no example of Baptism recorded in the New Testament can it be distinctly proved that no such profession was made.
What, then, is the answer given to this abundant and apparently satisfactory evidence for a Baptism restricted to and connected with a religious profession by the advocates of its indiscriminate administration? The answer given by them is twofold: first, that there are examples of bad men as well as good baptized by the Apostles; and second, that many or most of these Baptisms were administered so immediately in point of time after the profession made, that there was no opportunity to test by any satisfactory process the sincerity of it. Neither of these replies to the Scripture evidence is satisfactory. With regard to the first, or the fact that unbelievers and hypocrites were baptized, it is enough to say that we do not hold the Independent doctrine that a saving belief is necessary to entitle a man to Church membership; but, on the contrary, maintain that a profession of faith is enough, and that we have no security beyond the mere circumstance of an outwardly decent life against such profession being insincere. With regard to the second, or the fact that the profession on which the apostolic Baptisms in many instances proceeded could have been of no more than a few hours' standing, and therefore not proved by the lapse of time to be true, it is enough to say that there may be, and in apostolic times were, circumstances apart altogether from its duration sufficient to give credibility to the profession.2
SECTION III.—INFANT BAPTISM
We have now considered the question, To whom ought Baptism to be administered, in so far as it regards adults? The conclusion to which we were conducted was, that the ordinance ought to be dispensed to those alone who "profess their faith in Christ, and their obedience to Him." The theory of indiscriminate Baptism we set aside as inconsistent with the nature and meaning of the Sacrament, as destitute of any countenance from the practice of John the Baptist, as contrary to the terms of the apostolical commission, and opposed to the practice of the apostles and the New Testament Church. There still remains for our consideration the question as to the connection of infants with Baptism, and as to the lawfulness or duty of administering the ordinance to them. The subject is a delicate and a difficult one, and demands a more than usually earnest investigation. The practice of baptizing infants may be regarded at first sight as running counter to all those views which we have already asserted in regard to the nature of Sacraments in general, and of Baptism in particular. Add to this, that it seems at first view directly to traverse the principles we have so lately laid down on the question of indiscriminate Baptism. The advocates of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, who hold that Baptism is a charm with an inherent and independent power to confer grace in all circumstances and on all parties, can readily defend the practice of administering it to infants, as efficacious in the case of unconscious children, not less than in the case of intelligent adults. The advocates of the doctrine that Baptism is no more than a sign, have also an obvious ground on which they may defend the practice of infant Baptism,—the parents' professional badge being, not without reason or precedent in other matters, affixed to the child. And once more, the party who hold the doctrine of indiscriminate Baptism, and regard themselves as authorized to dispense the rite without regard to religious character or profession, can have no sufficient reason for excluding infants from this comprehensive commission. But if Baptism be the seal of a federal transaction between the party baptized and Christ; if this be the main and characteristic feature of the ordinance; and if a religious profession be a prerequisite to its reception; it would appear as if there were no small difficulty in the way of admitting to the participation of it those who, by reason of nonage, can be no parties to the engagement in virtue of their own act or will. The difficulty that stands in the way of infant Baptism lies on the very surface of the question; and Antipædobaptists have the advantage of an argument on their side which is both popular and plausible.
But in this case, as in all others connected with matters of positive institution in the Church of Christ, the primary and ruling consideration in the controversy must be the express Divine appointment on the subject. In those positive, and in a sense arbitrary, institutions, set up by God in the worship of His Church, mere inferential considerations drawn from reason must be of secondary authority and subordinate force to determine their nature and use, as compared with express intimations of the Divine will. Positive observances, from their very nature, must be regulated by positive institution; and it is only as secondary to such positive institution, that we can listen to arguments drawn from our views of the moral character or meaning of the ordinance. Our first appeal in the case of infant Baptism must, therefore, be to the express statements of the Word of God, and to the view of the ordinance as a positive institution which is there presented. We shall consider, then, in the first place, the scriptural principles which bear upon the question of the lawfulness or duty of infant Baptism. Thereafter we shall examine into the objections, from reason or Scripture, that have been brought against the practice; and also discuss the subject of the efficacy of the ordinance in the case of infants; and lastly, the scriptural mode of administering it.
What, then, is the bearing of Scripture doctrine and practice on the question of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of infant Baptism? The following five propositions I shall endeavour to establish in connection with this subject; and the discussion of these will very nearly exhaust the question. First, the covenant of grace, as revealed by God at different periods for the salvation of His people, has been essentially the same in former and in later times, and has always comprehended infants within it. Second, the Church of God, made up of His professing people, has been essentially the same in character in former and in later times, and has always included infants among its members. Third, the ordinance of outward admission into the Church has, in its essential character and meaning, been the same in former and in later times, and has always been administered to infants. Fourth, the principle on which the initiatory ordinance of admission into the Church has been administered has been the same in former and in later times, and has always applied to the case of infants. And fifth, the practice in regard to the administration of the initiatory rite has been the same in former and in later times, and has always included the case of infants. The illustration of these five propositions must, in consequence of the limits prescribed to us, be very brief, and more in the way of giving the heads of the argument than the argument itself. But taken under consideration even in the briefest way, they will embrace the prominent points of the controversy in regard to infant Baptism. One or more of them separately, if sufficiently established by an appeal to Scripture, would suffice to demonstrate that "the infants of such as are members of the visible Church are to be baptized;" while all taken together afford a very full and cumulative proof of the lawfulness of the practice.
I. The covenant of grace, as revealed by God at different periods for the salvation of His people, has been essentially the same in former and in later times, and has always comprehended infants within it.
This proposition is, properly speaking, made up of two: first, that the covenant was essentially the same in all ages; and second, that within the covenant, infants were always included. Neither of these two assertions ought to be very difficult of proof. In regard to the first, it is undeniable that God has had a people on the earth since the fall, chosen from the rest of mankind, who called upon His name, and were themselves called by it. The faith and hope of that chosen people, through every generation, have been sustained by a revelation of a Saviour, who either was to come or had come, expressed in promise and in type, in prediction and in symbol before His coming, and in plainer and ampler narrative of actual fact after His appearance. In whatever outward form it was revealed, this was God's covenant—His free promise of grace—His Gospel of glad tidings for the salvation of His people, identical in character and in substance, one in its announcements and its terms in every age from the first revelation in Paradise down to the last in Patmos. It was one and the same covenant of grace which was revealed to Adam in the first promise given to him, and the first ordinance of sacrifice appointed for him; revealed in other terms and form to Noah; repeated to Abraham in the word of promise and type; embodied in history, and prophecy, and symbolic institutions to the Church under the Mosaic economy; and fully brought to light under the Gospel dispensation. That the covenant of grace established under the Gospel was not then for the first time made known, but had been announced long before,—that although in the latter times it was more fully revealed, it had been revealed all along in substance, and proved to be the same at first as at the last,—the plain statements of Scripture very expressly affirm. The Apostle Paul tells us in the Epistle to the Galatians, that "the Gospel was preached before unto Abraham." And in the same Epistle he tells us that "the covenant confirmed of God in Christ was given to Abraham four hundred and thirty years before the giving of the law" of Moses,—language fitted to mark both the identity of the covenant of Abraham with the Gospel covenant, and its independence of the Mosaic ceremonial institutions. If we turn to the book of Genesis, we shall find the account of the revelation of the covenant of grace given to Abraham, and referred to by Paul,—a covenant which, as then revealed, comprehended in it temporal blessings, such as the promise of Canaan to the patriarch and his seed, but was in itself independent of these; which preceded the law by more than four hundred years, and was not disannulled by the giving of the law; which was founded on the free grace and unchangeable promise of God, and thus was not bound up with any temporary institution; and which was the very Gospel afterwards "confirmed in Christ."2 So clear and abundant is the evidence for the first part of our proposition, that the covenant of grace, revealed under various forms in former and in latter times, was in substance one and the same.
The proof of the second part of our proposition is not less full and satisfactory, that this covenant has always comprehended infants within it. The infants of the parents with whom God's covenant was made, were not left outside that covenant. The promises of grace were not given to the parents, to the exclusion of the children. Infants were not left to their chance of uncovenanted mercies, while to adults the blessings were insured by covenant. On the contrary, that infants were comprehended within the covenant as well as their parents, is a fact that the plainest statements of Scripture demonstrate. In what sense or to what effect infants were so included, may come to be inquired into when we afterwards consider the efficacy of Baptism in their case, or the seal of the covenant as regards infants. But that the covenant made with the parents did not exclude but included their infant children also, the plain assertions of Scripture leave no room to doubt. In the inspired account of the various announcements made by God of His covenant from time to time, the terms of the announcement are almost invariably "you and your seed." In the case of Abraham, as referred to by the Apostle Paul, this is very expressly stated: "And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you, and thy seed after thee; Every man-child among you shall be circumcised." The covenant of grace, as then revealed to Abraham, included infant children of eight days old; and it has at all times been equally comprehensive and the same. The seal of the covenant, as affixed to the child when eight days old, was the standing evidence and memorial for two thousand years, that infants were included in God's federal promises."2
And in what manner is this argument from the example of Abraham, in favour of the fact that infants are comprehended within the covenant, met by the advocates of Antipædobaptist doctrines. The ordinary reply given by the opponents of infant Baptism is this: They affirm that there were two covenants, distinct and separate from each other, made by God with the patriarch at that time; the one a covenant of temporal, and the other of spiritual blessing. They assert that the "seed" mentioned in the history of the transaction, were the natural seed of Abraham, including adults and infants, in so far as regards the temporal covenant; and the spiritual seed of Abraham, or adult believers alone, in so far as regards the spiritual; and that the seal of circumcision administered to his children was the token of a temporal, and not a spiritual blessing. And lastly, they argue that under the Gospel the natural relationship of children to their parents, which under a former economy warranted their admission to the sign and seal of a temporal covenant, does not warrant their admission to the sign and seal of a spiritual one.
Now in regard to this attempted reply to the Scripture evidence for infants being included in the covenant of grace as revealed to Abraham, it is unnecessary to do more than make the following observations.
1st, Even although it were capable of being proved that there were two covenants made with Abraham, and not one simply,—a covenant of temporal blessing separated from the covenant of grace,—and that infants were included in the one but not in the other, this would not do away with the whole tenor of Scripture declaration in many other passages which evinces that the covenant of grace, under whatever shape and to whatever parties it was revealed, included not only the parties themselves, but also their infant offspring. The covenant of grace, as revealed to Abraham, and recorded in Genesis, has been very generally appealed to by the advocates of infant Baptism in demonstration of the interest infants had in it; and it has been so appealed to because it contains a more detailed and distinct evidence of the fact than most other passages of Scripture. But even were the record of the Abrahamic covenant expunged from the Bible, the interest of infants jointly with their parents in the covenant of grace could be satisfactorily established without it. The whole tenor of Scripture justifies us in saying, that it was a covenant which, at whatever time or in whatever form it was revealed to men, embraced both them and their infant seed.
2d, There is certainly no countenance in the narrative in Genesis given to the notion of two covenants, separate and distinct from each other; in the one of which the children of Abraham, being infants, were to have an interest, and in the other of which the descendants of Abraham, not being infants, but adult believers, were alone comprehended. The terms employed very expressly refer to one covenant, and not to two. "Thou shalt keep my covenant. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, betwixt me and you, and thy seed after thee." Such is the language emphatically reiterated in the original narrative of the transaction, marking a single covenant and not many. It is true, indeed, that there was a twofold blessing, the temporal and the spiritual,—the inheritance of Canaan, and the inheritance of the heavenly Canaan,—embodied in that one covenant. But these two orders of blessing were promised by the same covenant, and referred to the same end. There is no mention of one covenant intended for the natural posterity of the patriarch, and a second intended for his spiritual posterity. The temporal blessings might, indeed, be enjoyed by the descendants of Abraham after the flesh, while they had no interest in the spiritual; just in the same manner as a man under the Gospel may enjoy the outward privileges of a Church state without participation in the inward and saving blessings. But there is nothing whatever in the book of Genesis to warrant the distinction which the opponents of infant Baptism draw between a temporal covenant made with Abraham including infants, and a second and a spiritual one made at the same time and excluding them.
3d, The rite of circumcision, appointed for every man-child when eight days old, in the Abrahamic covenant as the token of it, excludes the theory of the Antipædobaptists, that the covenant in which infants were interested was a temporal covenant only. The fact that circumcision was ordained in connection with the covenant proves that it was not a mere temporal covenant, as Antipædobaptists allege, but a spiritual one,—the very covenant of grace which was the same through all times and dispensations of the Church. It does so in two ways. First, circumcision, as the token of the Abrahamic covenant, was a sign not of temporal, but of spiritual blessings. That this is the case is very expressly asserted by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. "He is not a Jew," says Paul, "which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." The ordinance of circumcision, then, had a spiritual import; it was expressive of Gospel blessings. And when it was appointed by God as the token of His covenant with Abraham, and administered in that capacity to children, it very plainly declared that the covenant, of which it was the token, and into which it introduced infants, was spiritual too. Circumcision, as the sign of the Gospel blessings, when it was appended to the covenant, demonstrated that the covenant itself was the covenant of grace. Second, circumcision is declared by the Apostle Paul to be more than a sign of grace; it is asserted to be a seal of grace. It is declared to be so, when he tells us, in reference to this very matter of the covenant established with Abraham, that "he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being yet uncircumcised." As the seal, then, of the covenant according to which Abraham was justified, the ordinance plainly testified that it was the covenant of grace; and, when administered to infants eight days old, it no less plainly indicated that they were interested in that covenant.3
The objections, then, brought by Antipædobaptists against the evidence from Scripture,—more especially derived from the covenant of grace as revealed to Abraham, but by no means confined to that source,—to the fact that infants are interested in that covenant, are of no great force. Our first position seems to be fairly established by Scripture evidence, namely, that the covenant of grace has been, under all the different forms in which from time to time it has been revealed, identical in substance and essentially unchanged; and that it has ever included infants within its provisions. The denial of infant Baptism cannot very well be maintained in the face of this proposition. If included in the provisions of the covenant of grace under the Gospel, infants must have a right to Baptism as one of them. They cannot be excluded from the initiatory ordinance which signifies and seals its blessings, unless the covenant of grace under the New Testament is different essentially both in its extent and in its terms from what it was before. The covenant of grace under former dispensations comprehended within its limits the infants of parties interested in it, as well as the parties themselves. This is undeniable. And the covenant must be altered essentially as to its extent,—it must be a different covenant as to the parties with whom it is made,—if so large a portion of the members included in it formerly, as infants were, should appear under the New Testament Church to be excluded. Further, it must be altered essentially as to the terms of it, and as to its free and gracious character,—it must be a different covenant as to the conditions of it,—if by these conditions one important class, made up of irresponsible parties such as infants, are now cast out when they were formerly comprehended. Unless the covenant of grace, in short, under the New Testament Church is another covenant from what it was under the Old Testament, infants must have a place in it now as much as then. But it is not so altered or restricted. Neither its extent nor its terms are altered. It is God's covenant of grace still; and as it was gracious enough and wide enough to comprehend within its limits infants under a former economy, it does so still.
There are manifold intimations in the New Testament that the covenant of grace is not less comprehensive in latter times than in former. At the first planting of the Christian Church the Apostle Peter assured the Jews that there was no change in this respect of the covenant under the Gospel economy as compared with its comprehensiveness under the Old Testament: "For," said he, "the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call." To the Philippian jailer Paul declared in the very form of the Old Testament promises: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." In these, and a multitude of other expressions of similar force and import, we recognise the great and important truth, that the covenant of grace was the same under the Gospel as under the law; that it was not limited or straitened in latter times in comparison with former; but that in its grace and comprehensiveness it embraces infants under the New Testament dispensation as well as under previous economies. We conclude, then, that the covenant of grace, revealed by God at different periods for the salvation of His people, has been essentially the same in former as in latter times; and has always comprehended infants within it.3
II. My next proposition is, that the Church of God, made up of His professing people, has been essentially the same in character in former and in latter times, and has always included infants among its members. This second proposition, like the first, consists of two parts, each of which admits of being established separately; the first part of the statement being, that the Church of God, under whatever outward form it has appeared, has been identical in substance throughout every dispensation; and the second part of it being, that it has always included infants among its members.
The first part of the proposition, which affirms the identity of the Church of God under all its outward forms, in Old Testament times and in New, may be readily demonstrated from two general considerations, independent of other arguments.
1. The oneness of the covenant of grace in every age necessarily implies the oneness of the Church of God in every age. It was on the foundation of that covenant that the Church of God was built at first, and has ever since been maintained. It is that covenant that gives to its members every privilege which, as belonging to the Church of God, they possess; it defines the nature and limits the extent of their rights; it is the title by which they hold their standing and place as members of the Church; it constitutes the badge that distinguishes between a Church state and character, and the absence of them. The covenant is the charter of the Church of God in every age; and that charter remaining unchanged and identical from age to age, the Church that is built upon it must, in all its essential features, be one and the same also,—whatever may be the outward form it may bear, or the circumstantial and accidental changes that may be superinduced upon it. The Church of God in the days of Abraham,—the Church in the days of Moses,—the Church under the Gospel,—are in all vital respects the same; one Church, founded on the same covenant of grace, having the same essential character, and the same chartered rights, although different in outward things, according to the different stages and periods in the development of the Divine dispensations. The reason of this is obvious. The charter that constituted the society was the same in the earlier as in the later times. The covenant that called into existence and defined the character of the Church was essentially identical in the age of Abraham, and in the present age. We are not to confound with the unchanged and unchanging covenant of grace, on which the Church of God was and is built, the covenant made with Israel at Sinai, and destined to be a mere local and temporary ordinance. That subsequent and secondary covenant could neither disannul nor alter the former. It superinduced, indeed, upon the former certain local and temporary ordinances; but nowise enlarged, or contracted, or changed the original charter of the Church's existence and rights. The Church of Israel under the former economy, and the Church of Christ now under the Gospel, are constituted and defined as to their character, their extent, and their membership, by the same covenant of grace. They form the same society in their nature, their essential privileges, and their real members.
2. The identity of the Church of God in every age and under every dispensation, might be evinced by the relation which the Church ever bears to Christ as Mediator, and the relation which Christ as Mediator ever bears to the Church. Since the beginning He has been the Prophet, Priest, and King of the Church, immediately discharging all His offices as Mediator towards it, and sustaining it in existence by His continual presence in the midst of it. At different periods, indeed, He has been differently related to the Church, in so far as regards the extent of His manifestations of Himself, and the extent of His communications of spiritual gifts and blessings. But at no period has the Church existed, except through the same presence and power of Christ, as Mediator, that the Christian Church now enjoys,—the same in nature, although different in amount. The Church has ever been the Church of Christ; and this spiritual relationship, the same and unaltered from age to age, has caused the Church itself to be identical as a society throughout all times in its essential character, and privileges, and membership. Such considerations as these very clearly and abundantly attest the truth of the first part of our proposition, namely, that the Church of God, made up of His professing people, has been essentially the same in character in former and in later times.
As regards the second part of the proposition, namely, that the Church has always included infants among its members, the proof, after what has already been said, need not demand a lengthened illustration. If the Church of God, made up of His professing people, be one and the same society at all times, and under all its different dispensations, then the proof that infants were members of it at one period must be a proof that they are competent to be members of it at any subsequent period; unless, indeed, some express and positive enactment can be produced, altering the charter of the society, and excluding, as incompetent to be admitted by the new and altered terms of the deed, those formerly comprehended within it. If no such proof of alteration in the charter or constitution of the society can be produced,—if the society itself remains the same in character and terms of admission as before,—then the proof that infants were once its members may suffice for proof that they are still competent to be so. We know that under the Abrahamic Church infants, as well as their parents, were admitted to the place of members. We have already proved that they were interested and comprehended in the covenant that constituted the Church in those days. The sign and seal of the covenant marked them out at eight days old, as embraced within it. The initiatory ordinance of the Church, which was the formal evidence of admission to its membership, was administered to the infants of such as were themselves members of the Church; and with that token in their flesh they grew up within the pale of the Church in Old Testament times. Circumcision was not part and parcel of the Sinaitic covenant, revealed afterwards through Moses. Our Lord Himself testifies that the ordinance was "not of Moses, but of the fathers." It constituted the door of admission, not into the Sinaitic Church as distinct from the Abrahamic, but into that Church of which Abraham was a member, and of which all in every age are members who have like faith with Abraham. It constituted the door of admission, in the days of Abraham, into that very Church of which Christians are members now. And turning to Gospel times, we have a right to say that infants are competent to be members of the Christian Church now, unless it can be demonstrated that the Church of God is not the same now as in former times; that it is different in character and extent; and that those capable of admission before are, through an express alteration in the fundamental principles of the society, excluded now. Falling back upon our general proposition, already demonstrated, that the Church of God, as the society of His professing people, is one and the same in its essential nature in every age, we are entitled to affirm that infants once competent members of it are competent members of it still.
This proof is sufficient in the absence of any statute of limitation alleged to have been enacted in New Testament times, altering the character of the Church of God, and restricting it to the reception into its membership of adults, and adults alone. But there are very plain intimations in the New Testament, not only that no statute of limitation has been passed excluding infants, but that the privilege they once undeniably enjoyed under the Old Testament economy has been continued to them under the New. I do not dwell again upon the very express declaration of Peter to the Jews, when explaining to them the Gospel privilege: "the promise is unto you and to your children,"—language which, in the case of a Jewish parent, could have only one meaning. I would refer to the language of our Lord Himself, when the Jewish parents brought their little ones to Christ, and He took them up in His arms and blessed them, accompanying the blessing with the words: "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." There can be no plausible interpretation of this passage given which proceeds upon the idea that those very infants blessed of Christ, and said by Him to belong to His kingdom, were actually excluded from it as its members. That they were not persons grown up, as one party of Antipædobaptists allege, but infants, who could by no act of their own profess their faith in Christ, is clear from the act of Christ taking them up in His arms when He blessed them. That the expression, "of such is the kingdom of heaven," means no more than that persons of the like dispositions with children belonged to the kingdom of heaven, and that those very children were actually excluded from it, as another class of opponents of infant Baptism affirm, may be safely denied; inasmuch as the act of Christ in blessing them, in connection with the words He used, cannot be explained on the supposition that they were shut out beyond the pale of His covenant, and actually cut off from His Church. In short, the words of our Lord, taken in conjunction with His action, very distinctly demonstrate that the right of infants to be members of His Church, formerly recognised under the Old Testament, was not cancelled, but rather confirmed and continued under the New.2 We are entitled thus far to hold as proved our second grand proposition in all its parts, namely, that the Church of God, made up of all His professing people, has been essentially one in character in former and in latter times; and has always included infants among its members.
The two propositions, which we have already had under consideration, established as we believe them to be by Scripture evidence, go very far indeed, taken by themselves, to decide the question as to the lawfulness of infant Baptism. If infants as well as their parents have an interest in God's covenant,—if infants as well as their parents have a place in the Church as members,—it were difficult to affirm that they have no right to share in the privilege of Baptism, as the seal of the covenant, and the ordinance appointed for the formal admission into the Church of its members. An express prohibition forbidding the administration of the ordinance to them, or an incompatibility no less distinct between the nature of the Sacrament and their condition as infants, might, indeed, force upon us the conclusion that they are excepted. But in the absence of any such exception forced upon us by explicit prohibition or explicit incompatibility, we seem to be warranted in saying that the covenant state of infants and the Church state of infants, fairly demonstrated, unavoidably carry with them the inference that infants are entitled to the administration of Baptism as the seal of the one, and the door of formal admission into the other. The opponents of infant Baptism feel considerable difficulty in giving any explicit or consistent explanation of the relation sustained by infants either to the covenant or to the Church. Some of them deny absolutely that infants have any place either in the covenant or in the visible Church as members; while others of them hesitate about such a sweeping denial in the face of the strong Scripture evidence available to establish the fact, and rather consider infants as possessed of an inchoate and undeveloped right to be members, and as put under the care of the Church in order to be prepared for claiming and exercising the full right afterwards. But the covenant state and the Church state of infants, once fairly established, as they can readily be from Scripture, and the absence of any express bar interposed by Divine authority to the contrary, seem unquestionably to lead to a conclusion in favour of infant Baptism, even were there no further evidence that could be adduced in support of it. But there is much additional evidence at hand. The three propositions which still remain to be discussed and illustrated afford strong additional confirmation of the same conclusion; and, taken along with the positions already established, furnish a complete proof of the lawfulness and duty of baptizing infants.
III. The ordinance of outward admission into the Church has, in its essential character and meaning, been the same in former and in later times; and has always been administered to infants.
The main object of this third general proposition, as forming part of the argument for infant Baptism, is to identify, as essentially one and the same in their use and import and character, the Old Testament rite of circumcision with the New Testament rite of Baptism. If we can prove that they meant the same thing, and held the same place, and performed the same office in the Church of God in former and in later times, it were difficult to object to the conclusion that the one ought to be administered to the same infant members of the Church as was the other. To establish this general proposition we may make use of these three steps. First, circumcision and Baptism are both to be regarded as the appointed ordinance for the formal and public admission of its members into the Church. Second, both circumcision and Baptism have essentially the same meaning as the signs and seals of the same Divine truths and the same spiritual grace. Third, Baptism has been appointed to occupy the place and come in the room of circumcision, which has been done away.
In the first place, then, circumcision and Baptism are both to be regarded as the authorized ordinances for the formal admission of members into the Church.
That circumcision was the initiatory ordinance for the Old Testament Church, an appeal to the history of its institution and administration in ancient times will sufficiently evince. Without it no Israelite was accounted a member of the Old Testament Church; with it he could establish a right of membership, and a title to its ordinances. From the days of Abraham down to the date of the discontinuance of the ordinance in Gospel times, circumcision was the only thing that gave a right of admission to the privileges of the Old Testament Church; and apart from circumcision no one had a right to these. There was no access to the membership or ordinances of the ancient Church, except through the door of circumcision. That this was the case, is proved both from the case of infants and the case of adults. In the case of infants, the ordinance was universally administered; and in virtue of it alone, the circumcised infant, as it grew to manhood, was regarded as a member of the visible Church, and ceremonially qualified to receive its privileges without any other initiation or admission. In the case of adults, the administration of the rite to those who had not received it before,—as, for example, in the instance of Gentile proselytes,—was necessary as the door of admission into the fellowship of the Church. Without circumcision they were not admitted. By Divine appointment, circumcision bestowed on "the stranger, who joined himself to the Lord," a right, the same as that of the Israelites themselves, to Church privileges and to partake of the passover. "When a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord,"—such were the terms of the enactment,—"let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof." Both in the case of infants, then, and of adults, circumcision constituted the initiatory ordinance of admission into the ancient Church from the days of Abraham downwards.
Against this fact, so very plainly attested in Scripture, it has been objected on the part of the opponents of infant Baptism, that it was not circumcision, but birth and natural descent, that gave admission into the ancient Church; and that every one born an Israelite became a member of the Israelitish Church. And in confirmation of this view, the fact of the circumcision of the descendants of Ishmael and Esau, without the observance giving them a title to admission to Church membership among the Israelites, is appealed to. The objection has not the least force in it. The tribes that sprang from Ishmael and Esau were divinely separated from the descendants of Abraham in the line of the covenant; and had not, like the other children of the patriarch, any interest in the federal promise. With these, therefore, circumcision could avail nothing to give them admission into the Church. Although practised by them, it was not with them a Church ordinance in connection with the covenant Church; and could not, therefore, admit them among its members. And on the other hand, mere birth did not give to the Israelite a right of admission into the Church, unless when connected with circumcision administered and submitted to. No Israelite was born a Church member. Unless, in addition to his birth as an Israelite, he was also circumcised, he had no right to the privileges of the ancient Church. So very far is it from being true, as some Antipædobaptists affirm, that his birth as an Israelite gave him a right to be considered a member of the Church, without circumcision, that it only placed him under the certainty of a heavy judicial sentence. To be born an Israelite, without circumcision being added to birth, only brought upon his head the sentence of God: "He shall be cut off from his people."3
There is quite as little foundation for another objection brought by other opponents of infant Baptism against our position, when they allege that circumcision was no more than a door of entrance to the Mosaic Church, and a token of admission to its outward and ceremonial privileges; and not the initiatory ordinance of the spiritual Church of God in Old Testament times. In answer to this objection, it is enough to say, that circumcision was instituted more than four hundred years before the legal economy was set up; and although it afterwards came to be associated with the law of Moses, yet it never lost its original meaning and use as the initiatory ordinance through which members entered into the Old Testament Church. It was in that character that we are to regard it when first instituted and administered in Abraham's family; and although four hundred years later there was superinduced upon the Church, to which circumcision was the door, a number of outward and ceremonial observances, yet it never ceased to be the initiatory rite of that Church of which Abraham was a member, and of which believers in every age, who have Abraham's faith, are members also. Under the Mosaic law, circumcision used and owned as an outward badge or privilege, admitted a man to an interest in an outward ceremonial institute; but not the less under the Mosaic law circumcision used and owned as a spiritual ordinance, and connected with the faith of the recipient, admitted also to an interest in that inner and spiritual Church, which was one and the same in the days of Abraham, in the time of Moses, and at the present time. Circumcision, although when associated with the Mosaic economy it was an outward badge of an outward Church, never ceased to be what it was at the first hour of its administration to Abraham himself, the ordinance of admission into the true Gospel Church.
The argument from Scripture, then, to prove that circumcision was the authorized ordinance for the admission of members into the Old Testament Church, is clear and satisfactory. It is hardly necessary to prove that Baptism is the authorized ordinance for the admission of members into the New Testament Church. That it is so, is admitted well nigh on all hands. The terms of the apostolic commission prove it to be so. The practice of Apostles and apostolic men in admitting converts to the Christian Church by Baptism, proves it to be so. The meaning of the ordinance as the Sacrament of union to Christ, proves it to be so. In this respect, the two ordinances occupy the same ground, and stand at the entrance of the Church publicly to mark and define its members; being the rites respectively belonging to the Old Testament Church and the New, for accomplishing the same object. To this extent, as the ordinance of admission into the Church of God, circumcision and Baptism are identical.
In the second place, circumcision and Baptism are expressive of the same spiritual truths, and are to be identified as signs and seals of the same covenant blessings.
With reference to circumcision, it is important to bear in mind that it was the sign and seal of a spiritual covenant, and not merely, as has been alleged, of the Sinai covenant, with its outward and ceremonial privileges. It was the covenant of grace as revealed to Abraham of which circumcision was primarily the token; and hence we have distinct evidence in Scripture that the spiritual blessings conveyed in that covenant to the believer were precisely the blessings which the ordinance of circumcision represents. The two cardinal blessings given by the covenant of grace are justification from guilt by faith in the righteousness of Christ, and sanctification from sin by the renewal of the heart through the work of the Holy Spirit; and these two blessings, we have express Scripture warrant to say, circumcision was intended to signify and seal. That circumcision was expressive of justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ, we are distinctly taught by the Apostle Paul to believe, in that passage of the Epistle to the Romans already more than once referred to: "And Abraham," says the Apostle, "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised." And again, that circumcision was a token of the sanctification of the heart and renewal from sin by the Spirit, is proved by several passages of Scripture which speak of "the circumcision of the heart" as the true meaning of the ordinance. "He is not a Jew," says the same Apostle, "which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."2 These passages, and others which might easily be adduced, abundantly demonstrate that circumcision, as a sign and seal, represented and attested those two spiritual blessings of the covenant of grace, which are introductory to all the rest,—the blessings of justification and sanctification. And it is hardly necessary to add, that these are the two very blessings mainly and emphatically represented in the ordinance of Baptism under the New Testament Church. The very words of the Baptismal service tell us, that the member formally admitted into the Church is baptized "into the name of the Father" through means of justification by the Son, and sanctification through the Spirit. That is to say, the very same spiritual blessings represented and attested of old time by circumcision, are now represented and attested by Baptism. In this respect, as the signs and seals of the very same covenant blessings, circumcision and Baptism are one and the same.
In the third place, the oneness of circumcision and Baptism is yet further established by the fact that Baptism has come in the room of circumcision.
They are not only both initiatory ordinances for the admission of members into the Church, the one under the Old, and the other under the New Testament. They are not only appointed to be expressions of exactly the same spiritual truths, which stand permanently connected with the admission of a sinner into an interest in the covenant of grace. There is distinct enough evidence to show, that when circumcision was done away with at the establishment of the Gospel Church, Baptism was appointed to stand in its stead and fulfil its office. This appears, among other proofs, from the statement of the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians. "And ye are complete in Him," says the Apostle, referring to the unspeakable fulness of blessing laid up in Christ,—"and ye are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power; in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in Baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him." Such language seems plainly enough to imply that Baptism comes to Christians now in the room of circumcision to believers under the former dispensation; and that it is both fitted and intended to supply its place as a sign and seal of the blessings of the covenant. The reasoning of the Apostle appears very distinctly to intimate, that all which circumcision could do under the former dispensation, Baptism does now.
Upon these grounds, then, we are warranted to say that our third proposition is established,—namely, that the ordinance of admission into the Church has, in its essential character and meaning, been the same in former and in latter times, and has always been administered to infants.
IV. The next general proposition which I laid down at the outset of the discussion was this, that the principle on which the initiatory ordinance of admission into the Church of God has been administered, has been the same in former and in latter times, and has always applied to the case of infants.
This is a proposition of much interest and importance as forming part of the argument for infant Baptism. What was the principle on which circumcision, recognising a title to membership in the Church under the Old Testament, was administered, and in accordance with which parties had a right to participate in the ordinance? This is the first question. What is the principle on which Baptism, recognising a title to membership in the Church under the Gospel, is administered, and in accordance with which parties have a right to participation in the ordinance? This is the second question. These questions in our present discussion must, of course, be restricted to the case of infants under both economies. The case of adults does not so directly concern our argument; and indeed in itself admits of little dispute. The personal act of the adult professing his religious faith is the ground on which, under the Old Testament in the case of proselytes, and under the Gospel in the case of converts, their right to be admitted as members of the Church, and to receive its initiatory ordinance, as the formal recognition of their admission, is obviously founded. But setting aside the case of adult proselytes or converts, upon what principle were infants entitled to circumcision in ancient times, and are infants entitled to Baptism in these latter days? Can it be established that the principle on which the ordinance is administered is one and the same in both cases?
1st, Upon what principle was the right of infants to circumcision founded under the Old Testament Church?
The analogy of the proceedings of God in providence and in grace not indistinctly points to the principle on which infants in the ancient Church were admitted to the same ordinance and to the membership of the same Church as their parents. By no personal act of theirs could infants become entitled, in the same manner as adults become entitled, to the privileges of the Church. But there is a familiar principle of representation, illustrated in the case of civil society, of providence, and of God's spiritual dispensations, in consequence of which infants, in certain cases and to certain effects, are held to be one with their parents, and through this relationship become entitled to the privileges of their parents. We see this representative principle in civil society, when, in consequence of no personal act of theirs, but simply in consequence of being accounted one with their father, infants become members of the civil society in which their father is a member, and their civil character and standing are the same as his. We see the representative principle, again, in the constitution of God's providence, when, in virtue of no deed of their own, but because of their relationship to their father, his place in society, his moral and intellectual character, his very bodily constitution for good or evil, to a certain extent become theirs. We see the representative principle, once more, in God's spiritual dispensation, where infants, in consequence of no personal act of theirs, but in accordance with that prevailing and universal constitution of things which is found in this world, become, in consequence of their filial relationship and the inheritance of the same flesh and blood as their father, concluded under his sin, and made one with him in original transgression and liability to punishment. In all these cases the representative principle is familiar to us, and infants are seen to partake for good or evil of the relations of their father. In most cases,—perhaps, if we were capable of understanding it, in all cases,—in which God deals with infants so as to show His method or law of dealing, He does so on the representative principle when He cannot deal with them on the principle of personal action and responsibility; and He acts with respect to them as if to a certain extent they were one with their parents.
That God may act towards infants in a way of sovereignty, without regard to their connection with their parents, may be true. But when He deals with them, and desires at the same time to manifest to us His rule or method of dealing, He does so on the principle of representation; a principle revealed to us both in His providential and spiritual economies. And such is unquestionably the principle according to which, in the constitution of the Old Testament Church, infants were dealt with. God made His covenant with infants as well as with adults; and the way in which He did so was never in connection with any personal act of theirs, which was impossible, but in connection with their filial relationship. God made His Church to include infants among its members as well as adult believers; and this too He did not in connection with their personal act, which was impossible, but in connection with the act of their parents. The membership of the father was counted to the infant; and the circumcision of the father gave a right to the infant to be circumcised also.
There are two views somewhat different from each other, that may be held on this point, which it is of considerable importance to discriminate between. The right of the child to circumcision and to the privileges of the Jewish Church, may be viewed as depending on his immediate father; or it may be regarded as depending on his remote progenitor, Abraham. In the one case, his title to be circumcised is counted good because of his relationship to his immediate parent, who was a member of the Jewish Church, and interested in the covenant. In the other case, his title to be circumcised is counted good because of his relationship to Abraham, his remote progenitor, with whom the covenant was made, and independently of his connection with his immediate parent, and without regard to the circumstance of his parent being or not being a member of the Jewish Church. The evidence of Scripture seems not indistinctly to point to the first view as the correct one, or to the view that connects the right of the infant directly with his immediate father's interest in the Church and covenant, and not the view that connects it indirectly with Abraham's. Dr. Halley advocates the view that connects the infant's right not with the parent's, but with Abraham's interest in the covenant, making that right independent of the parent's connection or non-connection with the Church; and he does so apparently with the view of founding upon it the doctrine of indiscriminate Baptism to all infants alike, whatever be the father's Church state, and whether he be a member of the Church or not. The two following considerations, however, seem very decisively to prove that the right of the infant to circumcision in the Jewish Church was valid in consequence of the Church membership of the father, and not in consequence of his remoter connection with Abraham. First, mere connection with Abraham did not in all cases give a right to the privileges of the Jewish Church, as we see exemplified in the instance of the descendants of Abraham in the lines of Ishmael and Esau. They were directly connected with Abraham as their ancestor, and yet were separated from the communion of the Jewish Church. Second, the case of the infants of Gentile proselytes demonstrates that not remote connection with Abraham, but immediate connection with the parent, is the ground of the infant's right to circumcision. The infants of such Gentile proselytes as were circumcised and members of the Jewish Church, had no connection with Abraham through ordinary descent; and yet in virtue of their father's circumcision they had a right to be circumcised also. These two considerations seem sufficient to prove that the right of the infant to circumcision was not derived remotely from Abraham, passing over his immediate parent, but came directly from the parent. In other words, the case of circumcision under the Old Testament presents to us a complete and perfect illustration of the representative principle, and of the privileges of the child being held to be the same as those of the parent. By no personal act of their own did children become entitled to circumcision; but they were so entitled, in consequence of the right of their father to the ordinance.
2d, Now, what is the principle on which infants under the New Testament Church become entitled to Baptism? Are we warranted by Scripture in identifying the principle on which Baptism is administered now with the principle on which circumcision was administered before? I think that we are. The identity in meaning, and character, and use, already proved between circumcision and Baptism, would afford a strong presumption in favour of the conclusion, even had we no further evidence for it. The strong and close analogy between the two cases would go very far of itself to establish it. But there is one passage of Scripture more especially, which seems of itself explicitly to announce that the very principle of representation found under the Old Testament in the case of parent and child, is not cancelled, but continued under the New, and must be held as a permanent principle in the dealings of God with infants. The passage to which I refer is in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and is to the following effect. Speaking of the case of husband and wife, when one of the parties is not a Christian but an unbeliever, the Apostle says: "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified (ἡγιασται) by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy (ἁγια)." The principle of representation found under the Old Testament is the very principle introduced by the Apostle to explain the position and character of children in the case where no more than one parent is a believer and member of the Church.2 That the contrasted terms, "unclean" and "holy," are to be understood in the Old Testament sense of not set apart and set apart to the service or fellowship of God, seems to be undoubted. And the assertion of the Apostle is, that one of the parents being a believer, although the other is not, avails, so that the infants are to be accounted clean, or fit for the service of God and the fellowship of His Church. The holiness of the one parent that is a member of the Christian Church, communicates a relative holiness to the infant, so that the child also is fitted to be a member of the Church, and to be baptized. The forced and unnatural interpretation put upon this passage by Antipædobaptists cannot stand a moment's investigation. They interpret the "cleanness" of the infant as the legitimacy of the infant,—a construction plainly forbidden by the consideration that marriages are lawful, and the children legitimate, whether the parents be believers or unbelievers. In this passage, then, we have a very express avowal of the principle of representation, proved to obtain in the case of circumcision under the Old Testament. The child is accounted clean because the parent is clean; or, to translate the phrase into ecclesiastical language, the child is entitled to Church membership because the parent is a Church member.2 We recognise at once the identity of the principle under the former economy and the present; and we are entitled to hold as proved the fourth of our general propositions, namely, that the principle on which the initiatory ordinance of admission into the Church of God has been administered, has been the same in former and in latter times, and has always applied to the case of infants.
V. The practice in regard to the administration of the initiatory ordinance has been the same in former and in latter times, and has always included the case of infants.
This is the fifth and last of the general propositions which I laid down at the outset; and after what has already been established, it requires no more than the briefest notice. Of course in regard to the practice of the Old Testament Church the proposition may be regarded as proved; the circumcision of the infant eight days old being the standing proof of the practice of the Church in former times. With regard to the practice of the Church under the Gospel, there are two preliminary remarks which it is important to carry along with us. First, the uniform practice of the ancient Church down to the epoch of the Gospel, taken in connection with the total silence of Scripture as to any change of practice when the Jewish passed into the Christian Church, is itself very nearly conclusive as to the practice of the early Christians in regard to infant Baptism. Second, there is not a single instance among all the Baptisms recorded in Scripture in which we find a person, who had grown up a Christian and without Baptism, receiving the ordinance when he became an adult. We have many examples of adult Baptism in Scripture, but none of adults who for years had been Christians before they received the ordinance.
Carrying these remarks along with us, nothing more is necessary, in regard to the practice of the Primitive Church in the matter of infant Baptism, than to refer to the frequent and almost constant mention of the Baptism of "households" and "families," in which it is morally certain that there must have been infant members. "I baptized the household of Stephanas." "He was baptized, and all his, straightway." "She was baptized, and her household," etc. Such expressions as these, interpreted in the light of the previous undoubted practice of the Jewish Church, can admit of only one meaning. Infants are not mentioned specifically as baptized along with the parents, because it is taken for granted that everybody understood that they were. Had they been pointedly and separately mentioned in such cases, it would very fairly and reasonably have given rise to the suspicion or inference that infant Baptism was in principle an entire novelty, that it was a new thing for the Church to have infant members. The notices of household and family Baptisms, that occur in the New Testament so repeatedly, cannot be explained on the theory of the Antipædobaptists, that the family or household were adults. In the case of Lydia, for example, it is said: "She was baptized, and her household." If, according to the theory of the opponents of infant Baptism, the household of Lydia consisted of adults, who separately and personally were converted like herself, and on a personal profession of faith like hers were separately baptized, it is very difficult to understand why their conversion and Baptism were not, like hers, separately mentioned, or on what principle they are all merged under her single name. Upon the theory of infant Baptism, on the contrary, it is easy to understand how infants, with no personal profession of faith, and no conversion like her own, were merged under her name as "her household." Under the circumstances of the Apostolic Church, the repeated mention of household or family Baptism is of itself decisive evidence of the practice by which infants were baptized. We are justified in saying that our fifth and last proposition, like the former, is sufficiently established, namely, that the practice in regard to the administration of the initiatory ordinance of the Church has been the same in former and in latter times, and has always included the case of infants.2
SECTION IV.—OBJECTIONS TO INFANT BAPTISM
We have been occupied of late with the consideration of the general principles laid down in Scripture, upon which the lawfulness and duty of the Baptism of infants may be argued. I have endeavoured to establish and explain five general propositions, from any of which singly, but more especially from all taken together, may be drawn a proof in favour of infant Baptism. In doing this I adopted, as upon the whole the best, the plan of following the natural order of the argument, without caring to turn aside at every step to answer the objections which Antipædobaptists have urged against it, except when these lay directly in the line of my own illustration of it. In the right understanding of the argument itself, there is contained an answer to these objections, so that they may be considered as in a good degree met by anticipation. But still, as the subject is an important one, and as it may better help to develop the principles of the argument, I shall now proceed to consider some of the most common and plausible of the objections brought by Antipædobaptists against the relevancy or conclusiveness of our reasonings.
That in the case of infants baptized, there are difficulties connected with their condition as infants, which it may be hard to solve, it would be useless to deny. But that those difficulties, in one form or other, are peculiar to infant Baptism, and nowhere else to be met with, may reasonably be questioned. Above all, that those difficulties should be permitted to overbear the very strong and cumulative evidence from Scripture in favour of the doctrine and practice, it is not the part of truth or wisdom to assert. And yet I believe that it is mainly those difficulties which have led many to scruple to accept as valid or conclusive the Scripture evidence for infant Baptism. In what sense, or to what effect, infants are interested in the ordinance of Baptism, or benefited by it; what explanation is to be given of the use and efficacy of the Sacrament in their case; in what manner we are to reconcile infant participation in the sign and seal of the covenant of grace with the absence of intelligence and responsibility in infants: these are difficulties which have had more to do in bringing about that state of mind which has led many to declare infant Baptism to be unscriptural, than the force of Scripture argument against it. I believe that these difficulties which have influenced so many against the practice of infant Baptism, and which at first sight appear to be peculiar to it, are not really peculiar to it. In one shape or other, and to a greater or less extent, these difficulties are to be encountered in the case of adult Baptism as much as in the case of infant; and, indeed, are common to the supernatural grace or virtue connected with all Divine ordinances. Such difficulties may appear more palpably and prominently in their association with infant Baptism, and by many have been regarded as connected with it alone; but in reality they will be found in greater or less measure present, wherever we admit that the work of the Spirit of God in His own ordinances is present, making them the means or instruments of supernatural grace.
This matter will come on for consideration at a subsequent stage, when I proceed to deal with the question of the efficacy of Baptism in the case of infants. I advert to it at present for the purpose of indicating my conviction that the source of not a few of the objections to infant Baptism is to be found, not in the Scripture evidence against it, but rather in those difficulties which are thought to embarrass the theory or explanation of its efficacy. It is plain that, in the first instance, our duty is to examine and weigh the Scripture evidence on the subject, and to be guided in our belief and practice by its force and conclusiveness. It is only in the second instance that it is lawful for us to inquire as to what explanation is to be given of the difficulties which stand connected with the Scripture ordinance. Objections drawn from the mere difficulty of framing a theological theory of the Sacrament, in its application to infants, are not for one instant to be allowed to contradict Scripture evidence, where it is clear and conclusive on the subject. That such evidence we have in support of infant Baptism, the heads of argument already given may be enough to evince. Postponing, then, for after consideration, the question of the efficacy of the ordinance in the case of infants, and the difficulties alleged to be connected with that point, because that question ought not to be allowed to interfere with the Scripture evidence to be weighed and examined in the first place, I now go on to consider some of the common and most plausible objections to that evidence as it has been already laid down.
The objections generally urged against the Scripture argument for infant Baptism, may be ranged under two heads: those which deny the relevancy of a large portion of our reasoning; and those which controvert the conclusiveness of it. There are two general objections which I shall examine, as commonly urged against the relevancy of the argument; and there are two objections also which I shall notice, directed against the conclusiveness of our reasoning. Under these heads we shall probably be able to discuss all that is of much weight or plausibility in the objections of Antipædobaptists.
I. Under the head of objections to the relevancy of our reasoning in favour of infant Baptism, I remark in the first place, that not a few object to our argument as one based upon, as they allege, an outward and ceremonial dispensation that was to be done away, and which has no place under the Gospel. They regard our reasoning from the Abrahamic covenant as irrelevant to our duty or practice under the Gospel economy; and hold that, in transplanting the custom of affixing to infants the outward seal of the covenant from the ancient to the present dispensation, we are borrowing the carnal ordinances of a bygone time, and giving them, without warrant and unlawfully, a place in the spiritual Church of Christ.
Now in reference to this objection, it is at once admitted, that the argument for infant Baptism rests partly, although not by any means exclusively, upon a consideration of the Abrahamic covenant and Church. But it rests upon nothing peculiar to that Church, or that has been done away with. It is not unfrequently demanded of the advocates of infant Baptism, why they so often begin their argument in favour of a New Testament ordinance, such as Baptism, from the days of Abraham and from the nature of the covenant made with him. The answer to such a question is very plain. We not unfrequently begin with the Abrahamic covenant in the argument for infant Baptism, because with Abraham the Gospel Church was first formally established, and endowed with that ordinance which we believe to be in its character and use identical with Baptism. No doubt the Church of God had existed from the days of the first promise made to Adam of a Saviour, and of the first believer in that promise; and downward to the present time, under all its different forms, a Church has existed in this world. But with Abraham, and not before, began that outward provision in the Church for the admission of infants by means of an initiatory rite which was to signify and seal their interest in the covenant of grace; and therefore, in seeking to ascertain the meaning and nature and use of that initiatory rite, whether you view it under the form of circumcision in other days, or of Baptism now, it is both natural and lawful to go back to its origin and first institution the better to understand it. Circumcision was, in short, the Baptism of the Church of God in former days; and in arguing in respect to its use and administration, it is both justifiable and reasonable to inquire into its origin, and into the terms on which it was originally enforced. Nor is there the slightest ground for alleging that in doing this we are guilty of transplanting an Old Testament, carnal, and temporary practice into the New Testament and spiritual Church without warrant, and against the meaning and nature of Gospel ordinances. It is granted, that there is a vast and unspeakable difference between the spirituality of the Gospel dispensation and the outward and ceremonial nature of the Jewish economy. But it is carefully to be remarked,—and if marked, would prevent much confusion in the argument,—that although in popular and common language we are wont to speak of the Jewish and Christian Churches as if they were two separate and contrasted Churches, and not one Church under two dispensations, yet strictly speaking the expression is not correct, and has led to much confusion both of thought and argument on this question as well as on others. There were two dispensations, the Jewish and the Christian; a carnal and outward dispensation, and a spiritual and more inward one. But it was the same Church of God under both, identical in character and essence, and all that is fundamental to a Church; although in the one case, under the Mosaic dispensation, it was the Church encircled by and subsisting in a carnal and outward economy, and in the other case, under the Gospel dispensation, it was the same Church encircled by and subsisting in a less outward and more spiritual economy. What belonged to the mere dispensation within which the Church of God was at any time encircled might be done away; what belonged to the Church itself was not to be done away.
There are two brief considerations that will be sufficient to remove the objection to the relevancy of our argument for infant Baptism, from the alleged fact that it is built upon the practice of a former and temporary dispensation.
1. As already indicated, the objection is founded on the fallacy that the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church were not one but different Churches; the one being carnal and the other spiritual,—the one being outward and ceremonial, as contrasted with the other, which is not so. It is hardly necessary to repeat what has already been largely established, that the Church of God has been one and the same in all ages, whether it is made up of "the household of Abraham" whom the patriarch circumcised, or "the household of Stephanas" whom Paul baptized; whether it numbers as its members Jews as in the days of Moses, or Gentiles as in our own. The outward dispensation superinduced upon the Church was changed from time to time; but the Church itself remained the same. Circumcision did not belong to the dispensation; it belonged to the Church. The initiatory ordinance by which infants were admitted as its members, was appointed more than four hundred years before the Jewish dispensation, and was administered before as well as during the period of the ceremonial economy. That economy, with its legal observances and symbolic ritual, might have been removed, as indeed it was removed, at the introduction of the Gospel dispensation; and yet, had God not intended to introduce Baptism in the place of circumcision in these latter times, circumcision might have still remained in force as the initiatory rite of His Church, in virtue of the place which it had in the Abrahamic covenant. Circumcision was independent either of the introduction or abolition of the law of Moses; and would have continued the standing ordinance for admission into the Church of God, as the seal of the covenant of grace, had not Baptism been expressly appointed as a substitute for it.
2. The objection to our reasoning, that it is founded on the practice of a bygone and temporary dispensation, arises partly out of a misapprehension in regard to the typical nature of the ordinance. Under the general and comprehensive formula that all types are now merged in their antitypes, and that all that was symbolic in other days is abolished in the New Testament Church, Antipædobaptists have argued in support of the conclusion that circumcision belonged to a temporary economy, which can be no precedent under the Gospel. Now circumcision may, it is frankly admitted, have served the purpose of a type of Christian sanctification under the ancient economy; and as a type, it had place no longer than until the antitype was realized. But it cannot be denied that it served another purpose also. It cannot be denied that it was instituted and used as a sacramental ordinance in the Church of God, altogether apart from its typical character as expressive of Christian regeneration; that it was, in short, a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. And in this character, which it unquestionably sustained, over and above its typical one, we cannot regard it as part and parcel of the Mosaic institute; nor is there any ground for alleging that, in appealing to the authority of circumcision in favour of infant Baptism, we are appealing to a carnal dispensation as a precedent for the practice of the Gospel Church.
II. But under the head of objections to the relevancy of our reasoning for infant Baptism, I remark, in the second place, that not a few object to our argument, because, as they allege, it is applicable to an outward, but not applicable to a spiritual, Church. This second objection is no more than a modification of the preceding one. It is allied to the fallacy that circumcision was the badge of a temporary and typical dispensation, opposed to the spirit of the Gospel, and not to be represented under the Gospel by any parallel or identical ordinance, equally binding, and equally administered to infants.
In many cases, the source of the feeling which regards infant Baptism as akin to an outward but unsuited to the character of a spiritual Church, is to be found in the denial of the Scripture distinction, so important to be kept in mind, between the visible and invisible Church. When the character of the Church as a visible corporate society is ignored or denied,—when the Church on earth is identified with the invisible Church made up of true believers alone,—when the title to membership in the Church here below is restricted to a saving faith in Christ and regeneration by His Spirit, and none but those possessed of saving faith are considered to have a right to entrance,—when such views as to the nature of the Church and its membership are held, it is not unnatural, but the reverse, that infants should be regarded as not members of the Church, and that infant Baptism should be accounted a misapplication of the ordinance. And hence, historically, it is a fact of great significance and interest, that among Independents, who deny the distinction between the visible and invisible Church, mainly, if not entirely, have been found also that religious party who deny infant Baptism; while among Presbyterians, whose principles lead them to mark distinctly and maintain strongly the difference between the visible and invisible Church, few or no deniers of the lawfulness of infant Baptism have been found. I feel myself exempted from the necessity of falling back upon the question of the grounds on which the important distinction between the visible and invisible Church of Christ rests, inasmuch as these have been fully argued at a previous stage in our discussions. It is enough for me to remind you that the Church of Christ, as exhibited in this world, has, as we have already established, a visible and corporate character, and is possessed of certain outward privileges and certain outward ordinances, by which it is known in the eyes of men, as well as an inward and spiritual character, by which it is known in the eyes of God; that the tares grow side by side with the wheat in the enclosure of the Christian Church; and that even the external provision of ordinances and Sacraments, administered, although they may be, in numberless instances, to merely nominal Christians, is not to be undervalued or set aside, but rather esteemed a gift of God to His Church exceedingly great and precious. The ordinance of Baptism, administered to infants as well as to adults, forms part of the outward provision of ordinance which God has made for the visible Church. And it is an unscriptural theory, which, by denying the existence of such a Church, and assuming one purely and exclusively spiritual, would bear with an unfriendly influence on the doctrine and practice of infant Baptism.
But passing from the objections to the relevancy of our argument in favour of infant Baptism, I go on to consider some of the more common objections to the conclusiveness of our reasonings.
1st, Under the head of the objections to the conclusiveness of the reasoning in favour of infant Baptism, I remark, in the first place, that it has been objected against infant Baptism that there is no express or explicit command in the New Testament to administer the ordinance to infants.
It is readily admitted that Baptism is a positive institution; and that in regard to the nature and use of positive institutions in the Church of Christ we must be guided solely by the communications of the Word of God in regard to them. But that the objection to infant Baptism from the absence of a positive and articulate formula, enjoining the administration of the Sacrament to infants, is of no real force, can be readily evinced.
First, the absence in Scripture of an express formula enjoining any duty, is no proof that the duty is not required; and the absence of any express formula imposing the duty of infant Baptism in particular, is no argument against the practice, but the reverse. Looking at the proposition as a general one applicable to all cases, it is evidently both unwarrantable and perilous to lay down as a canon of Scripture interpretation, that whenever there is no express and explicit injunction, in so many words, requiring a duty to be performed, there the deed is unlawful, or at least not commanded. It is unwarrantable; because we have no right to limit God as to the form in which He may be pleased to make known to us His will, if, in one form or other, it is made known. It is perilous as regards ourselves; because there can be no more dangerous position than to assume the attitude of refusing to regard the will of God intimated to us, because it is not intimated in the manner which we may consider the plainest and the best. Whatever is laid upon us in Scripture, whether it be in the way of direct and explicit commandment, or in the way of indirect but necessary inference from what is commanded, is equally binding and of Divine obligation.
But the absence of any express formula enforcing the Baptism of infants in Scripture is more especially and emphatically to be regarded as no argument against the practice, but rather an argument on its side. A positive formula for infant Baptism, parallel to that which was given to the Apostles, to preach the Gospel, and to baptize all nations, would have looked very much as if infant Baptism was a novelty in the Church, unknown in principle and substance before. To preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, to baptize the Gentiles, were duties unknown to the exclusiveness of the Jewish Church; and hence a new and express formula enjoining them was necessary at the outset of the new economy. Had the admission of infants as members been equally unknown to the Church, there would have been a no less urgent necessity for an express and explicit command in regard to it. But infants had been accounted and treated as members of the Church of God for well nigh four thousand years; and at the era of the Gospel dispensation there was no need for the proclamation of any new law in regard to their admission. Any such new law formally enjoining it might well have given rise to the idea that the practice had never been heard of before; that it was as much a new thing in the Church as seeking to proselytize and baptize the Gentile nations was. All that was necessary was a positive intimation that the outward manner of admitting infants into the Church was to be different under the Gospel from what it was before,—that the ordinance of Baptism was to be used instead of circumcision; and such an intimation is very expressly given both in the way of precept and example in the New Testament. Anything beyond this in the shape of an express formula to admit infants into the Church would reasonably have led to the belief that they had been excluded before.
Second, in reply to the objection to infant Baptism taken from the absence of any explicit injunction of the practice, it may be remarked that exactly the same objection may be brought against other Christian duties, which notwithstanding are generally or universally acknowledged to be duties, because, in the absence of an express command, the authority of Scripture imposing them can be certainly learned by "good and necessary inference." For example, the duty of females to commemorate the Lord's death at His table, and the duty of keeping the Sabbath under the Gospel, are not, it has often been remarked, expressly enjoined by any separate formula in the New Testament Scriptures. The duty of females to join in the Lord's Supper is only to be gathered inferentially by a process of reasoning not more direct than that which establishes the lawfulness and duty of infant Baptism. In like manner, the duty of keeping the first day of the week holy unto the Lord can claim no express or separate injunction in the New Testament any more than the practice of infant Baptism can.
There is a marked resemblance, indeed, between the sanctification of the first day of the week and the practice of baptizing infants, in regard both to what is enjoined and what is left to be inferred in respect of each, in the New Testament. The sanctification of one day in seven was not a new appointment in the Christian Church, but rested on the practice and authority of the more ancient dispensation of God; and hence there is no re-enactment in the New Testament of the general Sabbath law. But the change in the circumstance of the time when the Sabbath was to be kept, was a new appointment under the Gospel; and hence, by explicit examples of an authoritative kind, the change of the day is intimated and fixed in the New Testament. Exactly parallel to this, the admission of infants as members of the Church was no new appointment in the Church of God at the introduction of the Gospel dispensation; and hence it was left very much to rest for its authority on the previous law and practice of the Church, without any re-enactment of what was binding before. But the change in the form of admitting infants into the Church,—the change from circumcision to Baptism,—was a new appointment; and hence, by explicit command and example in the New Testament, we have authority for the change.
Third, in reply to the objection against infant Baptism, drawn from the absence of any separate authority for the practice, it might be enough to challenge the Antipædobaptist upon his own principles to prove his own practice to be scriptural; and show an explicit precept or explicit precedent for baptizing the child of a Church member not along with the parent in his infancy, but afterwards when the child has grown to manhood. The inspired history of the Christian Church contained in the Acts of the Apostles embraces a period of more than twice the number of years required to allow the infants of a baptized convert themselves to grow up to the years of discretion, when they might have been accounted able to make a personal profession of their faith, as their parents had done before; and yet there is neither precept nor example in Scripture giving express authority for baptizing the children of Christian parents, after they had grown up to years of maturity, apart from the case of adult converts, which forms common ground to both parties in this controversy. Tried by their own principles, the practice of Antipædobaptists would be found wanting in Scripture authority.
2d, Under the head of objections to the conclusiveness of our reasoning for infant Baptism, I remark further, that it is commonly or universally objected by Antipædobaptists against the practice of infant Baptism, that faith, or at least a profession of faith, in Christ, is positively demanded as a prerequisite to Baptism in all cases; and that as infants cannot have such faith, or make such a profession, they cannot be admitted to the ordinance. Of the fact asserted in this objection, namely, that a profession of faith is required, both by the scriptural commission given to the Apostles to baptize, and by the apostolic examples in this matter, on the part of the person to be baptized in all ordinary cases, there is no room for doubt. We have already had occasion to illustrate and assert the fact against the doctrine and practice of indiscriminate Baptism. But the fact there asserted is too narrow a foundation to build an objection on against infant Baptism.
In the first place, the demand of Scripture for faith or a profession of faith, as a prerequisite for Baptism, is a demand that has respect to adults, and is not addressed to infants; and not being addressed to infants, it cannot be regarded as laying down the conditions or terms on which infants are to be made partakers of the ordinance. It is quite plain that those passages of Scripture in which a profession of faith is connected with Baptism, like the Scriptures at large, are intended for adults and not for infants,—for the common and general case of men in the full possession of their intellectual and moral powers, and not for the exceptional case of infants not in full possession of those powers. That this is the case, the single consideration that the Bible is God's message to men and not to infants, is enough to prove; unless it could be shown, which it cannot, that in those passages, not men but infants are specifically referred to. The passages usually quoted by Antipædobaptists in support of their objection, are the commission to the Apostles, as recorded in Mark, and the saying of Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostolic commission in Mark is to this effect: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned." It is abundantly obvious that this language applies primarily to the ordinary case of adults, and not to the exceptional case of infants; and while the order—first belief, and then Baptism—refers to adults, it cannot apply to infants, to whom the Gospel cannot be preached, and who cannot be expected to believe it. Are infants, then, in virtue of this passage, to be excluded from Baptism, because in consequence of their infancy they are excluded from believing? Certainly not; for by the very same argument they would be excluded also from salvation. The order of the passage is, first, belief; second, Baptism; third, salvation. And if, on the strength of this passage, infants, as Antipædobaptists assert, are to be excluded from Baptism because they are excluded from believing, they must, in like manner, be excluded from salvation too.
The saying of Philip addressed to the Ethiopian eunuch, is quite as little available for the Antipædobaptist objection. "If," said Philip, addressing the man upon whose understanding and heart there had dawned, through the evangelist's preaching, a saving knowledge of Christ,—"if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest be baptized." The language was addressed to an adult in the full possession of all his powers of mind, and laid down for him the order of faith as preceding Baptism. But Philip never applied the same language, nor laid down the same order, in the extraordinary case of infants, whose salvation must be according to a different order and a different method. The announcements of Scripture which imply the necessity of faith or a profession of faith in order to Baptism, are framed upon the principle of adult Baptism, not upon the exceptional case of infant Baptism.
In the second place, the objection of Antipædobaptists, grounded on the impossibility of infants complying with the conditions on which Baptism ought to be administered, may be proved to be fallacious by a consideration of the case of circumcised infants. That infants were circumcised, and had a title to be so, will not by any party be denied. And yet circumcision involved in it the very same profession of faith, in all its essential respects, that Baptism now does. Substantially, it is the same ordinance as Baptism. It expressed the same truths. It implied on the part of the worthy recipient essentially the same spiritual qualifications. That this was the case is very expressly asserted by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians. "Every man," says he, "that is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law." In other words, circumcision in the case of the person circumcised involved a profession of his obligation to keep God's law, very much in the same manner as Baptism involves such a profession now. And yet infants, incapable of making such a profession, were circumcised. And exactly on the same principle, infants incapable now of making such a profession are to be baptized.
In the third place, the objection of Antipædobaptists may be proved to be groundless by a consideration of the case of infants saved. The very same difficulty, if difficulty it can be called, alleged to stand in the way of the doctrine of infant Baptism, applies with undiminished force to the case of infant salvation. "He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned." Such is the simple and unchangeable formula that declares in Scripture the order and connection of faith and salvation. It is a formula adopted and intended to apply to the case of adults, responsible for their belief; and it makes the salvation of their souls to be suspended on the existence of their faith. Interpreted in the same manner, and applied in the same unlimited extent to infants, it would close against them the door of the kingdom of heaven, and exclude the possibility of their salvation; for they are incapable, by reason of their infancy, of that faith which stands connected with the justification of the sinner before God. Shall we, in virtue of the Antipædobaptist canon of criticism, proceed to reverse the Saviour's words, and turn His blessing into a curse, and say in regard to infants, that of such is not the kingdom of heaven? Or shall we not, on the contrary, reject a canon of interpretation that would lead to such results, and rather say that infants are subjects both of Baptism and salvation?
SECTION V.—THE EFFICACY OF INFANT BAPTISM
The efficacy of Baptism in the case of adults may be understood' from what has been already said of the nature of the Sacraments in general. Baptism, like the Lord's Supper, is a sign and seal of a federal engagement between the receiver and Christ. It presupposes the existence of justifying and saving grace in the person baptized; and it seals or attests that grace to the soul, in this manner becoming the means of further grace.
There is a meaning in the fact that the person receiving the Sacrament has a part to perform in the ordinance,—that in the Lord's Supper he personally takes and partakes of the elements of bread and wine, and that in Baptism he personally submits himself to and receives the sprinkling of water. In both Sacraments there is a personal act on the part of the participator, which has its spiritual meaning, which cannot and ought not to be overlooked in the transaction. That act forms the link that connects the receiver of the ordinance with the ordinance itself; and the spiritual faith embodied in the act forms the link which connects his soul with the covenant blessings which the ordinance represents. The Sacrament is a seal, then, of more than the covenant generally; it is a seal of the covenant in its appropriation by the believer to himself personally in the ordinance.
There are some theologians indeed who in their explanation of the Sacraments make them seals of the covenant in general, and not seals of the believer's own personal interest in the covenant. They make the Sacraments attestations vouching for God's promises of grace at large, but not vouching for those promises as appropriated by the believer and realized in the experience of the worthy receiver of the Sacrament. This explanation of the Sacraments, however, is, I think, much too narrow and limited. It overlooks the personal act of the receiver in the Sacrament, and the spiritual meaning of that act. It disowns or neglects as not essential to the ordinance, the part which the participator has to perform, when in the case of the Lord's Supper he personally takes of the bread and wine, or when in the case of Baptism he personally presents himself to be sprinkled with water in the name of the Trinity. There is a spiritual meaning in these personal acts not to be overlooked in our explanation of the Sacraments, and essential to a right understanding of them. These personal acts constitute the part performed by the believer in the covenant transaction between him and Christ in the ordinance, and are necessary to make up the covenant. And the Sacrament, as a seal, is applicable to that part of the covenant transaction by which the believer appropriated the blessing to himself, not less than to that other part of the covenant transaction by which Christ exhibits or makes offer of the promise of grace to the believer. In other words, the Sacrament is not merely a seal of the covenant offered, or exhibited, or declared in general, but a seal of the covenant appropriated by the believer in particular, and, through means of his own spiritual act in the ordinance as well as Christ's, received in his personal experience.
In the case of Baptism administered to a believing adult, his own personal part in the ordinance, when he presents himself to the sprinkling of water, is the sign of that spiritual act of his through which the blessings of justification and regeneration, represented in the Sacrament, have previously become his; and Baptism is to him a seal not merely of these blessings as exhibited and promised in the covenant generally, but of these blessings realized and enjoyed by himself. Through the channel of his faith, and by means of the Spirit in the ordinance, Baptism becomes a seal in his justification and regeneration, and so a means of grace and spiritual blessing to his soul.
Such is the efficacy of Baptism administered to an adult believer. What is the virtue or efficacy of the ordinance when administered to infants incapable of faith, although not incapable of being made partakers in the grace which the Spirit confers? In entering on the consideration of this delicate and difficult subject, it is necessary, in order to clear our way to it, to lay down one or two preliminary propositions of much importance in the discussion.
First, The proper and true type of Baptism, as a Sacrament in the Church of Christ, is the Baptism of adults, and not the Baptism of infants. In consequence of the altered circumstances of the Christian Church at present, as compared with the era when Baptism was first appointed, we are apt to overlook this truth. The growth and prevalence of the visible Church, and the comparative fewness of the instances of adult conversion to an outward profession of Christianity amongst us, have led to the Baptism of infants being almost the only Baptism with which we are familiar. The very opposite of this was witnessed in the Church of Christ at first. And the true type of Baptism, from examining which we are to gather our notions of its nature and efficacy, is to be found in the adult Baptisms of the early days of Christianity, and not in the only Baptism commonly practised now in the professing Church, the Baptism of infants. It is of very great importance, in dealing with the question of the nature and efficacy of Baptism, to remember this. Both among the enemies and the friends of infant Baptism the neglect of this distinction has been the occasion of numberless errors in regard to the import and effects of the Sacrament. Men have judged of the nature and efficacy of Baptism from the type of the ordinance, as exhibited in the case of baptized adults. They have reversed the legitimate order of the argument, and argued from the case of infants to that of adults, and not from the case of adults to that of infants. It is abundantly obvious that adult Baptism is the rule, and infant Baptism the exceptional case; and we must take our idea of the ordinance in its nature and effects not from the exception, but from the rule. The ordinance of Baptism is no more to be judged of from its ministration to children, than is the ordinance of preaching to be judged of from its ministration to children. The Sacrament in its complete features and perfect character is to be witnessed in the case of those subjects of it whose moral and intellectual nature has been fully developed and is entire, and not in the case of those subjects of it whose moral and intellectual being is no more than rudimental and in embryo. Infants are subjects of Baptism in so far as, and no farther than their spiritual and intellectual nature permits of it. And it is an error, abundant illustration of which could be given from the writings both of the advocates and opponents of infant Baptism, to make Baptism applicable in the same sense and to the same extent to infants and to adults, and to form our notions and frame our theory of the Sacrament from its character as exhibited in the case of infants. It is very plain, and very important to remember, that the only true and complete type of Baptism is found in the instance of those subjects of it who are capable both of faith and repentance, not in the instance of those subjects of it who are not capable of either. The Bible model of Baptism is adult Baptism, and not infant.
Second, The virtue of infant Baptism, whatever that may be, is not more mysterious than the virtue ascribed to adult Baptism, although it may have the appearance of being so. It is a very common idea, that the difficulty in framing an explanation of the efficacy of Baptism in the case of infants, is peculiar to the ordinance in its administration to them, and does not attach to it in its administration to adults. I believe that this is not the case. There may be greater difficulty in gathering from the statements of Scripture what the virtue of Baptism really is in its application to infants, than in ascertaining what it is in its application to adults. But to explain the supernatural virtue itself is just as difficult in the one case as in the other, and simply from this reason, that it is supernatural. Up to a certain point it is easy enough to explain the efficacy of adult Baptism, but beyond that fixed point it is impossible to explain it. That point is where the natural efficacy of the ordinance passes into the supernatural efficacy. There is a certain natural influence which Baptism, as expressive of certain spiritual truths, and through means of these truths, is fitted to exert upon the adult, because he is a moral and intelligent being, with his faculties developed and complete. And this natural influence of Baptism, through means of the truths expressed by it, cannot be exerted upon the infant, because, although he is a moral and intelligent being, his faculties are not developed or complete. As a sign of spiritual truths understood by the adult, and not understood by the infant, Baptism has a certain natural effect on the one and not on the other, which it is not difficult to explain. But this effect is moral or natural, and not, properly speaking, the sacramental efficacy that is peculiar to the ordinance. The sacramental efficacy peculiar to the ordinance is not natural, but supernatural,—an efficacy not belonging to it from its moral character, but belonging to it in consequence of the presence and power of the Spirit of God in the ordinance. This distinctive efficacy of Baptism as a Sacrament, we cannot understand or explain, either in the case of adults or the case of infants. It is a supernatural effect of a gracious kind, wrought by the Spirit of God in connection with the ordinance; and because it is supernatural, it is not more and not less a mystery in the case of infants than in the case of adults.
The supernatural efficacy connected with Baptism, and owing to the presence of the Spirit of God with the ordinance, is an efficacy competent to infants as much as to adults. Even upon their unconscious natures the Spirit is free to work His work of grace, not less than upon the natures of adults whose understandings and hearts are consciously consenting to the work. The work of regeneration by the Holy Ghost is a work which it is as easy for Him to accomplish upon the infant of days as upon the man of mature age,—upon the child who enjoys but the rudiments of his moral and intellectual life, as upon the adult whose moral and intellectual powers are co-operating in and consenting to the gracious change. But broadly marked although the regeneration of the infant and the regeneration of the adult be, by the absence in the one instance, and the presence in the other, of a capacity moral and intellectual for faith and repentance, yet it is never to be lost sight of or forgotten that the work is the work of the Spirit of God, and not to be explained on any natural principle either in the former case or in the latter. The presence of his complete and perfect intellectual and moral powers in the case of the baptized adult, and the exercise of those powers in connection with the truths represented and signified in the Sacrament, afford no adequate explanation of the sacramental grace or efficacy connected with the ordinance in consequence of the power of the Spirit in it. At this point we have got beyond the limits of the natural, and into the region of the supernatural; and it is not more and not less supernatural in the case of infants than in the case of adults. Sacramental grace, properly so called, is a mystery of which there is no explanation, except that it is the grace of the Spirit of God. Admit that this grace is conveyed in any given case through the channel of Baptism to the believing adult, and you admit a mystery, which the presence and active exercise of his moral and intellectual powers do not in the least explain. Admit that this grace is conveyed in any given case through the channel of Baptism to the infant incapable of believing, and you admit a mystery too, but one not more mysterious than the former, and not more difficult to explain, from the absence or incapacity of his moral and intellectual faculties. In one word, the efficacy of infant Baptism, whatever that may be shown from Scripture to be, is not more mysterious than the sacramental virtue ascribed to adult Baptism.
Bearing in mind these preliminary remarks, what, I ask, are the effects of Baptism in so far as regards infants baptized? I do not pause at present in order to examine into the nature and benefit of the ordinance in so far as regards parents, who, in the exercise of a parent's right to represent their unconscious children, claim the administration of the ordinance for their offspring. In acting as the substitute for the infant, who cannot act for itself, in the solemn federal transaction between it and Christ,—in becoming a party in its name to the covenant made between the baptized infant and its Saviour through the ordinance,—the parent comes under a very great and solemn obligation on behalf of the child, thus pledged and given to the Redeemer through the parent's deed and not its own. But passing by this, let us confine our attention to the case of the infant, and proceed to inquire what are the benefits and efficacy of Baptism to the infant participators in the ordinance? In the case of adults, we know that Baptism is fitted and designed not to confer faith, but rather to confirm it,—not to originate grace, but to increase it,—not to effect that inward change of regeneration by which we are numbered with the children of God, or that outward change of justification by which we are accepted of Him, but to seal these blessings before bestowed. With adults, Baptism is not regeneration or justification, but the seal of both to the regenerated and justified man. And in the case of infants, the Sacrament cannot be regarded as accomplishing without their faith, what in the case of adults with their faith, it fails to accomplish. In other words, infant Baptism is not infant regeneration or justification, any more than in the instance of adults. The Baptism with water to a child is not the same thing as the birth by the Spirit. It is not a supernatural charm. It is not a magic spell to confer the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Ghost. Sacraments in the case of infants, as in the case of adults, have no mysterious and supernatural power of their own to impart, by the bare administration of them, spiritual life. Let us endeavour to understand what are the effects of Baptism in the case of infants.
I. Baptism, in the case of all infants baptized, gives to them an interest in the Church of Christ, as its members.
Circumcision gave to infants in other days a place in the ancient Church as its members; and they grew up within its pale entitled to all its outward privileges and rights, needing no other admission in after life. And what circumcision did during the time when it was in force, that Baptism does now in regard to infants baptized. It constitutes the door of admission into that visible Church of God on earth of which the parent himself is a member; and the baptized one grows up within the pale of its distinctive communion, needing no other admission, marked off at least outwardly from a world that has no interest in God, and having a right to the enjoyment of privileges which, as an outward provision for His own in this earth, God has given to them and not to the world. And this of itself is no small privilege, outward and temporal though it be, and not inward and spiritual. That outward provision of the means of grace, which has been given to the visible Church in this world for its establishment and benefit, is always represented in Scripture as a gift of Christ to His people, not to be undervalued or despised because it comes short, in those who enjoy it, of a saving blessing, but rather to be accounted exceeding great and precious. It is a gift of Christ to His Church which is of such worth and moment that the giving of it is spoken of in the Word of God as one of the great purposes for which the Saviour ascended up on high. "When He ascended up on high," says the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians,—"when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." That outward provision of ordinances and means of grace for the visible Church, the bestowment of which is thus represented as one of the grand objects for which Christ left this world and ascended to the Father, must be to that Church of no ordinary importance and value. It is a right to this provision of outward ordinances and means of grace which the baptized infant receives, when by his Baptism he becomes formally a member of the visible Church; and growing up in the use and enjoyment of them, the benefit to him, although short of a saving benefit, is beyond all price. Baptism as the sign of membership and the passport to the infant into the sanctuary of the visible Church, does not bestow the saving blessing, but brings him in after life into contact with the blessing; it does not constitute him a member of the kingdom of heaven, but it brings him to the very door, and bids him there knock and it shall be opened unto him.
II. Baptism, in the case of all infants baptized, gives them a right of property in the covenant of grace; which may in after life, by means of their personal faith, be supplemented by a right of possession.
In regard to this matter, I would have recourse again to a distinction, which in other discussions we have found it necessary to adopt, and which has more than once helped us to clear our way to a right understanding of the question in debate. A man may have a right of property in an estate, and yet a stranger may be in possession of it; and he may require to add to his right of property a right of possession, acquired by making good the former in a court of law, before the stranger is extruded, and he himself introduced into the enjoyment of the inheritance. Now, to apply this distinction to the case in hand, a right of property in the blessings of the covenant of grace is conferred by the gift and promise of God, made over to every man who hears the Gospel message addressed to him. "And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." This right of property in the blessings of the covenant of grace, belonging to every man, is written down in these words. The charter which every man has, bearing in it inscribed his right of property to these blessings, is the revealed Word of God. This is the first and superior title. But in itself it is incomplete, and inadequate to put him into the personal possession of his heritage. It requires to be supplemented by another title, before he can actually enjoy the salvation so made over to him by right of property, and certified by God's word and promise. To his right of property there must be added a right of possession; and this latter is obtained by means of his own personal act of faith, appropriating to himself the salvation before made over to him. The Word of God addressed to him, giving him a right of property in the blessings of the covenant, and his faith receiving that Word, giving him a right of possession, complete the full and perfect title to the blessing; and both together admit him to the enjoyment of it. There are many, who have the right of property in the covenant of grace, who never complete their title by seeking for themselves a right of possession in it. The Word of God giving the one, is not supplemented by the faith in that Word which would confer the other; and hence they are never put in actual possession of the salvation of which they are invited to partake.
Now, what the Word of God addressed to the intelligent and responsible adult is, that Baptism is when administered to the unconscious and irresponsible infant. The word of God's promise, giving a right of property in His covenant to all who hear it, cannot penetrate the silent ear, nor reach the unconscious spirit of the little child. That word cannot convey to its mind the glad tidings of its covenant right to God's grace. But is it therefore denied that right, which adults have by the hearing of the ear and the perception of the understanding, in connection with the word of promise addressed to them? Not so. If the outward word that speaks the promise of God cannot pierce to its dormant spirit,—sleeping in the germ of its moral and intellectual being,—the outward sign, that represents the promises of God, can be impressed upon it, giving to the unconscious infant, as the word gives to the intelligent adult, a right of property in the blessing of the covenant. And that is much. The infant, sprinkled with the water of that Baptism which is a sign of the covenant, has—even as the adult addressed with the word of the covenant has—a right of property in the blessings which the covenant contains; and in after life he may, by his own personal act, supplement his right of property by a right of possession obtained through faith. When the period of infancy is passed and he is a child no longer, he bears about with him, in virtue of his Baptism, a right of property in the promise of his God; and laying his hand upon that right, and pleading it with God in faith, he may add to it the right of possession, and so enter into the full enjoyment of the salvation that he requires for his soul. The written or preached Word cannot speak to the mute and insensible infant, as it speaks to the hearing ear and understanding mind of the adult, making over to him in conscious possession a right of property in the blessings of the everlasting covenant. But the little one is not thereby shut out from all interest in the covenant. The outward sign suited to his state of infancy, the outward mark impressed upon his outward person, when the significant Word were in vain addressed to his ear, have been given by God in gracious condescension to supply to him the want of that Word heard and understood. By the act of Baptism, suited and appropriate to his wholly sensitive condition of being and life, his name is put into the covenant with his God. And after years may witness the infant,—then an infant no more,—reading in faith his name there, and with the charter of his right in his hand making good his right, not of property merely, but of personal possession in all the blessings which are written in it.
Baptism, then, in the case of all baptized infants, gives them a right of property in the covenant of grace; which may in after life, by means of their personal faith, be supplemented by a right of possession, so that they shall enter into the full enjoyment of all the blessings of the covenant. The benefits of Baptism in the case of infants are not fully experienced by them until in after years they add to Baptism their personal faith, thereby really making out a complete title, not only to the property, but also to the possession of salvation. In this respect there is an obvious distinction between the Baptism of infants and the Baptism of adults. Infants are not capable of faith and repentance; and Baptism can be to infants no seal of the blessings which these stand connected with, at the time of its administration. But it may become a seal of such blessings afterwards, when the child has grown to years of intelligence, and has superinduced upon his Baptism a personal act of faith, and thereby become possessed of the salvation which he had not before. In such a case, he can look back upon his Baptism with water, administered in the days of his unconscious infancy; and through the faith that he has subsequently received, that Baptism which his own memory cannot recall, and to which his own consciousness at the time was a stranger, becomes to him a seal of his now found salvation. In adults it is otherwise; and the difference is appropriate to their condition as adults. Baptism to the believing adult is a seal at the moment of his interest in the covenant of grace; a sensible attestation of the blessings of justification and regeneration, of which at the time he is in possession, through the exercise of his faith contemporaneously with his Baptism. In the case of the adult, Baptism is a present seal in connection with the faith which he presently has. In the case of the infant, it is a prospective seal in connection with the faith which he has not at the moment, but which he may have afterwards. The full enjoyment of the benefits of the ordinance the adult experiences at the moment of its administration, in virtue of the faith which at the moment makes him a partaker in the blessings of the covenant. The full enjoyment of the benefits of the ordinance the infant cannot experience at the moment of its administration, in virtue of his incapacity of faith; but it may be experienced afterwards, when, in consequence of his newly formed faith in Christ, he too is made partaker of the covenant, and can look back in believing confidence on his former Baptism as a seal. "The efficacy of Baptism," says the Confession of Faith, "is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will in His appointed time."
III. There seems to be reason for inferring that, in the case of infants regenerated in infancy, Baptism is ordinarily connected with that regeneration.
To all infants without exception, Baptism, as we have already asserted, gives an interest in the Church of Christ as its members. To all infants without exception, Baptism, as we have also already asserted, gives a right of property in the covenant of grace, which may, by their personal faith in after life, be completed by a right of possession, so that they shall enter on the full enjoyment of all the blessings sealed to them by their previous Baptism. And beyond these two positions, in so far as infants are concerned, it is perhaps hazardous to go, in the absence of any very explicit Scripture evidence; and certainly, in going further, it were the reverse of wisdom to dogmatize. But I think that there is some reason to add to these positions the third one, which I have just announced, namely, that in the case of infants regenerated in infancy, Baptism is ordinarily connected with such regeneration. I would limit myself to the case of baptized infants regenerated in infancy,—a class of course to be distinguished broadly from baptized infants who never at any time in their lives experience a saving change; and also to be distinguished from baptized infants who experience that change, not in infancy, but in maturer years. There are these three cases, plainly to be distinguished from one another. There are, first, those infants baptized with an outward Baptism who never at any period come to know a saving change of state or nature. To such Baptism may be an ordinance giving them a place in the visible Church, and giving them also a right of property in the covenant of grace, never completed by a right of possession, and therefore given to them in vain; but it can be nothing more. There are, secondly, those infants baptized with water in infancy, but not regenerated in infancy by the Spirit of God, whose saving change of state and nature is experienced by them in after life. To such Baptism is an ordinance giving them a place in the visible Church, and giving them also a right of property in the covenant, at the moment of its administration; and in after years, when born again by the Spirit through faith, Baptism becomes to them, in addition, the seal, as it had previously been the sign, of the covenant,—their right of property having been completed by the right of possession, and the Sacrament, although long past, having become in consequence a present grace to their souls. But there are, thirdly, those infants baptized with water in infancy and also regenerated in infancy; and with regard to them I think there is reason to believe that this Baptism with water stands connected ordinarily with the Baptism of the Spirit.
That many an infant is sanctified and called by God even from its mother's womb, and undergoes, while yet incapable of faith or repentance, that blessed change of nature which is wrought by the Spirit of God, there can be no reason to doubt. There are multitudes born into this world who die ere their infancy is past,—who open their unconscious eyes upon the light only to shut them again ere they have gazed their fill,—and who, in the brief moment of their earthly being, know nothing of life save the sorrow which marks both its beginning and its close. And with regard to such infants dying in infancy, there is a blessed hope, which the Scriptures give us to entertain, that they are not lost but saved,—that they suffer, and sorrow, and die here from their interest in Adam's sin, but that, not knowing sin by their own personal act or thought, they are redeemed through their interest in Christ's righteousness. But saved though infants dying in infancy may be, yet there is no exemption, even in their case, from the universal law of God's spiritual dispensation towards men, that "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Within the brief hour of an infant's life, and ere the unconscious babe passes through the avenue of death into the Divine presence, must that mighty change of regeneration be undergone, which none but the Spirit of God can work; and among the rudiments of its intellectual and moral life, sleeping in the germ, there must be planted the seed of that higher life, which in heaven is destined to expand and endure through all eternity. And where, in the brief history of the young life and early death of these baptized little ones, shall we say that this mysterious work is wrought? At what moment, rather than another, is this regeneration by the Spirit accomplished? We dare not limit the free Spirit of God. The beginning of the life that comes from Him may be contemporaneous with the commencement of natural life in the infant, or it may be contemporaneous with its close. The Spirit of God is free to do His own work at His own time. But in the appointment of an ordinance to signify and represent that very work,—in the command to administer that ordinance as a sign to the little infant during the brief hour of its earthly life and ere it passes into eternity, there does seem to me some ground to believe that in such a case, of infants regenerated in infancy, the sign is meant to be connected with the thing signified,—that the moment of its Baptism is the appointed moment of its regeneration too,—and that, ordinarily, its birth by water and its birth by the Spirit of God are bound in one. It is Baptism which gives the baptized infant a right of property in the blessings of the covenant of grace; and when the infant is placed,—not from its own fault,—in such circumstances as to bar the possibility of its completing its title to those blessings by seeking through its personal faith a right of possession in them also, then it is consistent with the analogy of God's appointments in other departments of His Church, that in such extraordinary cases the absence of a right of possession should not exclude from the blessings, but that the right of property alone should avail to secure them; or in other words, that in the case of infants regenerated and dying in infancy, their Baptism should coincide with their regeneration.
I do not wish to speak dogmatically on such a question as this, when Scripture has given us so little light to enable us to read the truth with certainty. But in the particular case of infants regenerated in infancy, there does seem to be some reason to believe, that the washing with water in virtue of God's own appointment stands ordinarily connected with the renewing of nature by God's own Spirit. In the instance of believing adults, regeneration is linked inseparably with the Word believed. In connection with the Word,—although the Spirit of God is free to work without it,—He does His mysterious work of regeneration upon the adult's nature. But that Word cannot profit the little infant who is to die ere his eyes can look upon it. The Spirit of God cannot, therefore, do His gracious work of spiritual renewal and cleansing on the unconscious babe in connection with the Word believed. But there is another ordinance adapted to the infant nature, which needs to be regenerated ere it passes into another state of being. There is another ordinance, not the Word, which we are commanded to administer to the babe, incapable of receiving or profiting by the Word. There is the Baptism with water, expressive of that very regeneration which, before the little one shall pass from us to eternity, its unconscious nature must undergo. And when the infant carries with it to the tomb the sign of the covenant, administered in faith, shall we not say that with the sign, and mysteriously linked to it, there was also the thing that was signified; and that in such a case of a dying babe regenerated in infancy, the laver of Baptism was the laver of regeneration too? In the sign of the covenant thus administered to the child, and linked, as we believe, in such a case to a new and spiritual life, there is a ground of hope and consolation to a bereaved but Christian parent beyond all price. There is a joy at its birth, which none but a mother can feel, when it is said unto her that a man-child is born into the world; and there is a bitter sorrow at its early death, which none but a mother can know, when she is called upon to resign the little one whom she brought forth in sorrow, and to give it to the dust in sorrow deeper still. And when a Christian mother has been called upon thus to weep at the open grave of many of her infants, ere it close in peace upon herself, it is an unspeakable consolation for her to know, that the little one, whom she took from off her bosom to lay in the tomb, was indeed signed with the sign of a Christian Baptism; and that in its case the Baptism with water and the Baptism with the Spirit were bound up in one.
"Oh when a mother meets on high
The babe she lost in infancy,
Hath she not then for pains and fears,
The day of woe, the watchful night,
For all her sorrows, all her tears,
An over-payment of delight?"
SECTION VI.—THE MODES OF BAPTISM
Before passing altogether from the subject of Baptism, it may be desirable briefly to consider the mode or modes in which the ordinance may lawfully be administered. It may seem, indeed, at first sight, a question of no great importance whether we baptize by sprinkling or by immersion,—the former being the method adopted by almost all Protestant Churches and by Western Christendom generally, the latter prevailing to a great extent in the early centuries, and still practised largely in the East. The almost unanimous opinion of orthodox theologians has always been, that Baptism in the name of the Trinity was equally valid in whichever of the two ways referred to it was administered. The position, however, taken up in our own day by many of the advocates of Baptism by immersion has given to the question an importance not properly belonging to it. The Evangelical Baptists in America, for example,—a numerous and energetic denomination,—deny the validity of Baptism by sprinkling, and declare that all persons thus baptized are living in open sin, should not be regarded as members of the Church of Christ, nor be admitted to the Lord's table. Further, they aver that the English authorized version of the Scriptures is false and unfaithful on the subject of Baptism,—purposely so, many of them add. They have issued accordingly a translation of their own with the requisite changes, and consider,—to use the words of a resolution of the Baptist American and Foreign Bible Society,—"That the nations of the earth must now look to the Baptist denomination alone for faithful translations of the Word of God."
Our translators, in point of fact, seeing that they had to frame their version of the Bible in the very heat of a controversy about Baptism, strove carefully to stand neutral on the subject. They simply gave the Greek word an English dress; instead of βαπτιζω and βαπτισμα, they wrote "baptize" and "baptism," thereby deciding nothing either way.
The real question at issue has been very clearly stated by President Beecher, to whose valuable work on the Mode of Baptism I would refer you for an exceedingly able and exhaustive discussion of this whole subject. "The case," he says, "is this: Christ has enjoined the performance of a duty in the command to baptize. What is the duty enjoined? or, in other words, What does the word 'baptize,' in which the command is given, mean? One of two things must be true: Either it is, as to mode, generic, denoting merely the production of an effect (as purity), so that the command may be fulfilled in many ways; or it is so specific, denoting a definite mode, that it can be fulfilled in but one. To illustrate by an analogous case, Christ said: 'Go, teach all nations.' Here the word go is so generic as to include all modes of going which any one may choose to adopt. If a man walks, or runs, or rides, or sails, he equally fulfils the command. On the other hand, some king or ruler, for particular reasons, might command motion by a word entirely specific, as, for example, that certain mourners should walk in a funeral procession. Now it is plain that such a command could not be fulfilled by riding or by running, for, though these are modes of going, they are not modes of walking, and the command is not to go in general, but specifically to walk.… So likewise, when Christ said, 'baptize,' He either used a word which had a generic sense, denoting the production of an effect, in any mode, such as 'purify,' 'cleanse;' or a specific sense, denoting a particular mode, such as 'immerse,' 'sprinkle,' 'pour.' "
Now the scriptural meaning of the term βαπτιζω, I believe there is abundant evidence to show, is generic and not specific; it denotes the production of an effect which can be brought about equally well in more ways than one. The adherents of Baptist views, on the other hand, consider that the word is so specific in its signification as to fix down the lawful performance of the duty enjoined to one method only; they hold that "in Baptism the mode is the ordinance; and if the mode is altered, the ordinance is abolished."
The word βαπτω, from which βαπτιζω is derived, was long maintained by Dr. Gale and other advocates of the Baptist theory to have one meaning, and only one, alike in classic, Hellenistic, and ecclesiastical Greek. It meant, they held, to immerse or dip; and it never meant anything else. This view, however, was with good reason abandoned by Dr. Carson, probably the ablest defender of the Baptist theory in our own days. It is now very generally admitted by our opponents on this question that βαπτω has at least two meanings; first, to immerse, and second, to dye or colour. The same is true of the Latin "tingo," and various similar words in other languages. It will not therefore be thought improbable that the derivative βαπτιζω should also have a primary and a secondary meaning. In point of fact, we find that, especially in later Greek, while often denoting to immerse or overwhelm, it means also, in many cases, to wash, sprinkle, cleanse. It is natural, however, to suppose that when transferred from common to ecclesiastical use, and applied in Scripture to a religious ordinance which is confessed by all parties to symbolize regeneration or spiritual purification, the meaning of the word might undergo some change. The question therefore comes to be, What is the usus loquendi of the New Testament as regards the term βαπτιζω? Looking, then, to all the passages in which the word occurs, it becomes plain, I think, that the only meaning which will carry us consistently through all of them is that of purification or cleansing. It is perfectly clear that whatever signification of the word we adopt, we must adhere to it throughout. It is quite true that βαπτιζω may have, and has, more meanings than one in ordinary Greek; but that is when it is applied to different things, and used under different circumstances. It can have but one meaning when used with respect to one definite appointment or rite, and under the same circumstances. This test can be easily applied to the various interpretations of the word in question. Take, for example, the first passage in the New Testament in which the term baptize occurs, the third chapter of Matthew, and substitute for it first the rendering which I have adopted, and then that of our Baptist brethren. It is not difficult, I think, to see which of the two best suits the whole scope of the passage: "Then went out unto John Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, and were purified (immersed, or plunged) of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his purification (immersion, or plunging), he said, … I indeed purify (immerse or plunge) you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall purify (immerse or plunge) you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.… Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be purified (immersed or plunged) of him. But John forbade Him, saying, I have need to be purified (immersed or plunged) of Thee, and comest Thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness."
That such a transition of meaning should have taken place in the case of the word βαπτιζω, appears very natural when we consider the historical circumstances connected with it. It is repeatedly used in the Septuagint, and in the works of Jewish writers who employed the Hellenistic or Alexandrian dialect, to denote the ceremonial immersions, washings, and sprinklings with water, blood, or ashes, common among the Jews. These "divers baptisms," as the Apostle Paul calls them, were all practised for the sake of purification, legal or ceremonial. The two ideas, of "baptizing" and of "purifying," were therefore constantly associated in the minds of the Jewish people; and nothing seems more natural than that in the course of time the one should pass into the other, and the words come to be used as synonymous. To recur to the history of the kindred word already alluded to: Men dipped objects in liquid in order to impart colour to them; and βαπτω came to signify "to dye." The Jews immersed, or washed, or sprinkled, in order to attain purity; and so βαπτιζω came to mean "to purify." In Jewish ecclesiastical language, considerably before our Lord's time, βαπτιζω seems to have dropped all reference to mode, and to have become a general term for purifying, practically equivalent to καθαριζω. A remarkable confirmation of this may be found in the third chapter of John. We are there told that a dispute had arisen between the disciples of John the Baptist and a Jew (as the true reading seems to be; not Jews as in the A. V.) "about purifying" (περικαθαρισμου). Now this dispute, as is shown by the context, was simply about the respective Baptisms of John and of Christ. The followers of the former were jealous on their master's behalf of the seemingly rival claims of our Lord, which had apparently been urged against them by this Jew. "They came unto John, and said, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come unto Him." The "question about purifying" was just a "question about baptizing;" and the Evangelist uses the words interchangeably, just because in the ecclesiastical language of his day the two meant the same thing.
The evidence by which the position which I have laid down on this subject can be still further established and strengthened, is of a cumulative sort, and for the details of it I must refer you to such works as that by Dr. Beecher, already referred to. With respect to the apostolic practice in this matter, I am disposed to agree with the author last named, that "it is not possible decisively to prove the mode used by the Apostles; for if going to rivers, going down to the water and up from it, etc., create a presumption in favour of immersion; so does the Baptism of three thousand on the day of Pentecost in a city where water was scarce, and of the jailor (and his household) in a prison, create a presumption in favour of sprinkling. And if a possibility of immersion can be shown in the latter cases, so can a possibility of sprinkling or pouring be shown in the former. The command being to purify, and the facts being as stated, the decided probability is, that either sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, was allowed, and Christian liberty was everywhere enjoyed. A tendency to formalism led to a misinterpretation of Paul in Rom. 6:3, 4, and Col. 2:12; and this gave the ascendency to immersion, which increased (in the postapostolic Church) until it became general, though it was not insisted on as absolutely essential on philological grounds."
In conclusion, I remark, that many take up what appears to me a wrong ground on this question, in seeking first to prove that the word βαπτιζω, in the whole wide field in which it occurs, sometimes means to immerse, sometimes to wash, sometimes to sprinkle or pour; and then drawing from that the inference that we may lawfully baptize in any of these ways. It may be perfectly true that in profane literature the word has several meanings, but it by no means follows from that fact that, when used ecclesiastically, and applied definitely to one thing, it has more meanings than one. As employed to denote a definite religious rite, the term Baptism must have but one definite signification. And whatever we hold that to be, we must adhere to it throughout, and in all cases in which the word occurs. The true meaning of Baptism in the New Testament I believe to be purification or cleansing. That purification may be effected either by sprinkling or by immersion, according to the dictates of Christian expediency. The command to baptize is a generic command, which may be carried out in either way with equal lawfulness.
Excerpt from The Church of Christ by Jame Bannerman