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If it be necessary that adult persons should make a profession of godliness, in order to their own admission to baptism, then undoubtedly it is necessary in order to their children being baptized on their account. For parents cannot convey to their children a right to this sacrament by virtue of any qualifications lower than those requisite in order to their own right: children being admitted to baptism only as being, as it were, parts and members of their parents. And besides, the act of parents in offering up their children in a sacrament, which is a seal of the covenant of grace, is in them a solemn attending that sacrament as persons interested in the covenant, and a public manifestation of their approving and consenting to it, as truly as if they then offered up themselves to God in that ordinance. Indeed it implies a renewed offering up themselves with their children, and devoting both jointly to God in covenant; themselves, with their children, as parts of themselves. But now what fearful work will such doctrine make amongst us! We shall have multitudes unbaptized, who will be without the external badge of Christianity, and so in that respect will be like heathens. And this is the way to have the land full of persons who are destitute of that which is spoken of in Scripture as ordinarily requisite to men’s salvation; and it will bring a reproach on vast multitudes, with the families they belong to. And not only so, but it will tend to make them profane and heathenish; for by thus treating our children, as though “they had no part in the Lord, we shall cause them to cease from fearing the Lord;” Josh. xxii. 24, 25.
Answ. 1. As to children being destitute of that which is spoken of in Scripture as one thing ordinarily requisite to salvation; I would observe, that baptism can do their souls no good any otherwise than through God’s blessing attending it: but we have no reason to expect his blessing with baptism, if administered to those that it does not belong to by his institution.
Answ. 2. As to the reproach, which will be brought on parents and children, by children going without baptism, through the parents neglecting a profession of godliness, and so visibly remaining among the unconverted; if any insist on this objection, I think it will savour of much unreasonableness and even stupidity.
It will savour of an unreasonable spirit. Is it not enough, if God freely offers men to own their children and to give them the honour of baptism, in case the parents will turn from sin and relinquish their enmity against him, heartily give up themselves and their children to him, and take upon them the profession of godliness?—If men are truly excusable, in not turning to God through Christ, in not believing with the heart, and in not confessing with the mouth, why do not we openly plead that they are so? And why do we not teach sinners, that they are not to blame for continuing among the enemies of Christ, and neglecting and despising his great salvation? If they are not at all excusable in this, and it be wholly owing to their own indulged lusts, that they refuse sincerely to give up themselves and their children to God, then how unreasonable is it for them to complain that their children are denied the honour of having God’s mark set upon them as some of his? If parents are angry at this, such a temper shows them to be very insensible of their own vile treatment of the blessed God. Suppose a prince send to a traitor in prison, and upon opening the prison doors make him the offer, that if he would come forth and submit himself to him, he should not only be pardoned himself, but both he and his children should have such and such badges of honour conferred upon them; and yet the rebel’s enmity and stoutness of spirit against his prince is such, that he cannot find in his heart to comply with the gracious offer, will he have any cause to be angry, that his children have not those badges of honour given them? Besides, it is very much owing to parents, that there are so many young people who can make no profession of godliness. They have themselves therefore to blame, if proceeding on the principles which have been maintained, there is like to rise a generation of unbaptized persons. If ancestors had thoroughly done their duty to their posterity in instructing, praying for, and governing their children, and setting them good examples, there is reason to think, the case would have been far otherwise.
Insisting on this objection would savour of much stupidity. For the objection seems to suppose the country to be full of those that are unconverted, and so exposed every moment to eternal damnation; yet it seems we do not hear such great and general complaints and lamentable outcries concerning this. Now why is it looked upon so dreadful, to have great numbers going without the name and honourable badge of Christianity, when at the same time it is no more resented and laid to heart, that such multitudes go without the thing, which is infinitely more dreadful? Why are we so silent about this? What is the name good for, without the thing? Can parents bear to have their children go about the world in the most odious and dangerous state of soul, in reality the children of the devil, and condemned to eternal burnings; when at the same time they cannot bear to have them disgraced by going without the honour of being baptized? A high honour and privilege this is; yet how can parents be contented with the sign, exclusive of the thing signified? Why should they covet the external honour for their children, while they are so careless about the spiritual blessing? Does not this argue a senselessness of their own misery, as well as of their children’s, in being in a Christless state? If a man and his child were both together bitten by a viper, dreadfully swollen, and like to die, would it not argue stupidity in the parent, to be anxiously concerned only about his child’s having on a dirty garment in such circumstances, and angry at others for not putting some outward ornament upon it? But the difference in this present case is infinitely greater, and more important. Let parents pity their poor children because they are without baptism; and pity themselves who are in danger of everlasting misery, while they have no interest in the covenant of grace, and so have no right to covenant favours and honours, for themselves nor children. No religious honours, to be obtained in any other way than by real religion, are much worth contending for. And in truth, it is no honour at all to a man, to have merely the outward badges of a Christian, without being a Christian indeed; any more than it would be an honour to a man that has no learning, but is a mere dunce, to have a degree at college; or than it is for a man who has no valour, but is a grand coward, to have an honourable commission in an army; which only serves, by lifting him up, to expose him to deeper reproach, and sets him forth as the more notable object of contempt.
Answ. 3. Concerning the tendency of this way of confining baptism to professors of godliness and their children, to promote irreligion and profaneness; I would observe, first, That Christ is best able to judge of the tendency of his own institutions. Secondly, I am bold to say, that supposing this principle and practice to have such a tendency, is a great mistake, contrary to Scripture and plain reason and experience. Indeed such a tendency it would 477 have, to shut men out from having any part in the Lord, (in the sense of the two tribes and half, Josh. xxii. 25..) or to fence them out by such a partition-wall as formerly was between Jews and Gentiles; and so to shut them out as to tell them, if they were never so much disposed to serve God, he was not ready to accept them; according to the notion the Jews seem to have had of the uncircumcised Gentiles.—But to forbear giving men honours to which they have no title, and not to compliment them with the name and badge of God’s people and children, while they pretend to nothing but what is consistent with their being his enemies, this has no such tendency. But the contrary has very much this tendency. For is it not found by constant experience through all ages, that blind, corrupt mankind, in matters of religion, are strongly disposed to rest in a name instead of the thing; in the shadow, instead of the substance; and to make themselves easy with the former, in the neglect of the latter? This over-valuing of common grace, and moral sincerity, as it is called; this building so much upon them, making them the conditions of enjoying the seals of God’s covenant, and the appointed privileges, and honourable and sacred badges, of God’s children; this, I cannot but think, naturally tends to sooth and flatter the pride of vain man, while it tends to aggrandize those things in men’s eyes, which they of themselves are strongly disposed to magnify and trust in, without such encouragements to prompt them to it, yea, against all discouragements and dissuasives that can possibly be used with them.
This way of proceeding greatly tends to establish the negligence of parents, and to confirm the stupidity and security of wicked children.—If baptism were denied to all children, whose parents did not profess godliness, and in a judgment of rational charity appear real saints, it would tend to excite pious heads of families to more thorough care and pains in the religious education of their children, and to more fervent prayer for them, that they might be converted in youth, before they enter into a married state; and so if they have children, the entail of the covenant be secured.—And it would tend to awaken young people themselves, as yet unconverted, especially when about to settle in the world. Their having no right to christian privileges for their children, in case they should become parents, would tend to lead them at such a time seriously to reflect on their own awful state; which, if they do not get out of it, must lay a foundation for so much calamity and reproach to their families. And if after their becoming parents, they still remain unconverted, the melancholy thought of their children going without so much as the external mark of Christians, would have a continual tendency to affect them with their own sin and folly in neglecting to turn to God, by which they bring such visible calamity and disgrace on themselves and families. They would have this additional motive continually to stir them up to seek grace for themselves and their children. Whereas, the contrary practice has a natural tendency to quiet the minds of persons, both in their own and their children’s unregeneracy. Yea, may it not be suspected, that the way of baptizing the children of such as never make any proper profession of godliness, is an expedient originally invented for that very end, to give ease to ancestors with respect to their posterity, in times of general declension and degeneracy?
This way of proceeding greatly tends to establish the stupidity and irreligion of children, as well as the negligence of parents. It is certain, that unconverted parents do never truly give up their children to God; since they do not truly give up themselves to him. And if neither of the parents appear truly pious, in the judgment of rational charity, there is not in this case any ground to expect that the children will be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, or that they will have any thing worthy the name of a christian education, how solemnly soever the parents may promise it. The faithfulness of Abraham was such as might be trusted in this matter. See Gen. xviii. 19.. But men that are not so much as visibly godly, upon what grounds are they to be trusted? How can it be reasonably expected, that they should faithfully bring up their children for god, who were never sincerely willing that their children or themselves should be his? And it will be but presumption, to expect that those children who are never given up to God, nor brought up for him, should prove religious, and be God’s children. There is no manner of reason to expect any other than that such children ordinarily will grow up in irreligion, whether they are baptized or not. And for persons to go about with the name and visible seal of God, and the sacred badge of Christianity upon them, having had their bodies, by a holy ordinance, consecrated to God as his temples, yet living in irreligion and ways of wickedness; this serves to tend exceedingly to harden them, and establish in them an habitual contempt of sacred things. Such persons, above all men, are like to be the most hardened and abandoned, and reclaimed with most difficulty: as it was with the wicked Jews, who were much more confirmed in their wickedness, than those heathen cities of Tyre and Sidon. To give that which is holy to those who are profane, or whom we have no reason, from the circumstances of parentage and education, to expect will be otherwise, is not the way to make them better, but worse. It is the way to have them habitually trample holy things under their feet, and increase in contempt of them, yea, even to turn again and rend us, and be more mischievous and hurtful enemies of that which is good, than otherwise they would be.
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