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§ 10. Infant Baptism.
The difficulty on this subject is that baptism from its very nature involves a profession of faith; it is the way in which by the ordinance of Christ, He is to be confessed before men; but infants are incapable of making such confession; therefore they axe not the proper subjects of baptism. Or, to state the matter in another form: the sacraments belong to the members of the Church; but the Church is the company of believers; infants 547cannot exercise faith, therefore they are not members of the Church, and consequently ought not to be baptized.
In order to justify the baptism of infants, we must attain and authenticate such an idea of the Church as that it shall include the children of believing parents. The word Church is used in Scripture and in common life, in many different senses, (1.) It means the whole body of the elect, as in Ephesians v. 25, and when the Church is said to be the body, or the bride of Christ, to be filled by his Spirit, etc. (2.) It means any number of believers collectively considered; or the whole number of believers residing in any one place, or district, or throughout the world. In this sense we use the word when we pray God to bless his Church universal, or his Church in any particular place. (3.) It is used as a collective term for the body of professed believers in any one place; as when we speak of the Church of Jerusalem, of Ephesus, or of Corinth. (4.) It is used of any number of professed believers bound together by a common standard of doctrine and discipline; as the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Lutheran Church, and the Reformed Church. And (5.) It is used for all the professors of the true religion throughout the world, considered as united in the adoption of the same general creed and in common subjection to Christ.
It is evident that no one definition of the Church can include all the senses in which the word is legitimately used; and, therefore, that we may affirm of the Church in one sense of the word, what must be denied of it in a different sense; and the same person may be said to be, or not to be a member of the Church according to the meaning attached to the word. In the present discussion, by the Church is meant what is called the visible Church; that is, the whole body of those who profess the true religion, or, any number of such professors united for the purpose of the public worship of Christ, and for the exercise of mutual watch and care. With regard to infant baptism the following propositions may be maintained.
First Proposition. The Visible Church is a Divine Institution.
Concerning the Church in this sense, it is clearly taught in Scripture, that it is the will of God that such a Church should exist on earth. This no Christian denies. God has imposed duties upon his people which render it necessary for them thus to associate in a visible organized body. They are to unite in him worship; in teaching and propagating his truth; in testifying for 548God in all ages and in all parts of the world. He has prescribed the conditions of membership in this body, and taught who are to be excluded from its communion. He has appointed officers, specified their qualifications, their prerogatives, and the mode of their appointment. He has enacted laws for its government. Its rise, progress, and consummation are traced in history and prophecy, from the beginning to the end of the Bible. This is the kingdom of God of which our Lord discourses in so many of his parables, and which it is predicted is ultimately to include all the nations of the earth.
Second Proposition. The Visible Church does not consist exclusively of the Regenerate.
It is no less clearly revealed that it is not the purpose of God that the visible Church on earth should consist exclusively of true believers. This is plain, (1.) Because the attainment of such a result in any society or government administered by men is an impossibility. It would require that the officers of the Church or the Church itself should have the power to read the heart, and be infallible in judgments of character. (2.) The conditions which, under both dispensations, He has prescribed for admission into this visible society of his professed worshippers, are such as men not truly regenerated may possess. Those qualifications, as we have seen, are competent knowledge, and a credible profession of faith and obedience. (3.) Our Lord expressly forbids the attempt being made. He compares his external kingdom, or visible Church, to a field in which tares and wheat grow together. He charged his disciples not to undertake to separate them, because they could not, in all cases, distinguish the one from the other. Both were to be allowed to grow together until the harvest. (4.) Christ, to whom all hearts are known, admitted Judas to the number of his most favoured disciples, and even made him an Apostle. (5.) All attempts to make a Church consisting exclusively of the regenerate, have failed. So far as known, no such Church has ever existed on the face of the earth. This of itself is proof that its existence did not enter into the purpose of God.
Third Proposition. The Commonwealth of Israel was the Church.
(1.) It is so called in Scripture. (Acts vii. 38.) (2.) The Hebrews were called out from all the nations of the earth to be the peculiar people of God. They constituted his kingdom. (3.) To 549them were committed the oracles of God. They were Israelites to them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service, and the promises. (Rom. ix. 4.) Nothing more can be said of the Church under the new dispensation. They were selected for a Church purpose, namely, to be witnesses for God in the world in behalf of the true religion; to celebrate his worship; and to observe his ordinances. Their religious officers, prophets, and priests, were appointed by God and were his ministers. No man could become a member of the Commonwealth of Israel, who did not profess the true religion; promise obedience to the law of God as revealed in his Word; and submit to the rite of circumcision as the seal of the covenant. There is no authorized definition of the Church, which does not include the people of God under the Mosaic law.
Fourth Proposition. The Church under the New Dispensation is identical with that under the Old.
It is not a new Church, but one and the same. It is the same olive-tree. (Rom. xi. 16, 17) It is founded on the same covenant, the covenant made with Abraham. It has, indeed, often been said that it is to belittle the truth to put the idea of a covenant between God and man in the place of a general law or economy. It is, however, to be remembered that God is a person, capable of speaking with other persons, of promising and threatening. These promises are not merely announcements of the results of cosmical laws, physical or moral. That Christ should be born of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, and of the house of David, is not to be attributed to the working of any general law. Nothing pertaining to his advent, his person, his work, or to the application of his redemption, is to be accounted for in any such way. Our Lord gives us an infinitely higher idea of God’s relation to the world when He tells us that He feeds the young ravens when they cry; and that the hairs of our heads are all numbered; than when He is regarded as merely the author or source of the physical and moral order of the universe. A covenant is a promise suspended upon a condition. It is beyond controversy that God did make such a promise to Adam, to Abraham, and to the Hebrew nation through Moses; and these transactions are in Scripture constantly called covenants. It does not, therefore, seem very reverent to speak of God as belittling his truth by the form in which He presents it.550
God, then, did enter into covenant with Abraham. In that covenant He promised that Abraham, although nearly a hundred years old, should have a son. He promised that his descendants, through Isaac, should be as numerous as the stars in heaven; that He would give them the land of Canaan for a possession; that He would be their national God, and that the Hebrews as a nation should be His peculiar people; and above all He promised the patriarch that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. By seed was not meant his descendants collectively, but one person, that is, Christ. (Gal. iii. 16.) The blessing promised, therefore, was the blessing of redemption through Christ, his promise to Abraham was a repetition of the promise made to our first parents after the fall, this promise was the Gospel. The Gospel or εὐαγγέλιον has a definite meaning in the Scriptures. It means the announcement of the plan of salvation through Christ, and the offer of that salvation to every one that believes. This Gospel, Paul says, was preached before unto Abraham. The pious Hebrews are, therefore, described as (τοὺς προηλπικότας ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ) those who hoped in Christ before his advent. (Eph. i. 12.) This promise of redemption made to Abraham was that “unto which,” Paul says, “our twelve tribes, instantly servmng God day and night, hope to come.” (Acts xxvi. 7.) The condition of all these Abrahamic promises was faith. This the Apostle abundantly teaches, especially in the fourth chapter of Romans and the third chapter of Galatians. Abraham believed in the promise of the birth of Isaac. (Rom. iv. 19, 20.) Those of his descendants who believed in the promises of national blessings made to the Hebrews, received those blessings, those who believed in the promise of redemption through Christ were made partakers of that redemption.
Such being the nature of the covenant made with Abraham, it is plain that so far as its main element is concerned, it is still in force. It is the covenant of grace under which we now live, and upon which the Church is now founded. This cannot be doubted by any who admit the account just given of the Abrahamic covenant. This is clear because the promise is the same. Paul says (Gal. iii. 14) that the blessing promised to Abraham has come upon us. In his speech before Agrippa, he said: “I stand, and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers. . . . . For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.” (Acts xxvi. 6, 7.) As the promise is the same, so also the condition is the same. The Apostle argues that men now 551must be justified by faith, because Abraham was thus justified. Christians, therefore, are said to be the sons or heirs of Abraham, because faith in the promise of redemption secures their redemption just as faith in the same promise secured his. And he tells the Galatians, “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. iii. 29.) This doctrine, that the Church now rests on the Abrahamic covenant, in other words, that the plan of salvation revealed in the Gospel was revealed to Abraham and to the other Old Testament saints, and that they were saved just as men since the advent of Christ are saved, by faith in the promised seed, is not a matter incidentally revealed. It is wrought into the very substance of the Gospel. It is involved in all the teachings of our Lord, who said that He came not to destroy, but to fulfil; and who commanded inquirers to search the Old Testament Scriptures if they would learn what He taught. The Apostles did the same thing. The Bereans were commended, because they searched the Scriptures daily to see whether the doctrines taught by the Apostles accorded with that infallible standard. (Acts xvii. 11.) The messengers of Christ constantly quoted the Old Testament in support of their teachings. Paul says that the Gospel which he preached had been taught already in the law and the prophets. (Rom. iii. 21.) He tells the Gentiles that they were grafted in the old olive-tree and made partakers of its root and fatness.
The conclusion is that God has ever had but one Church in the world. The Jehovah of the Old Testament is our Lord; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is our covenant God and Father; our Saviour was the Saviour of the saints who lived before his advent in the flesh. The divine person who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt; who led them through the wilderness; who appeared in his glory to Isaiah in the temple; towards whose coming the eyes of the people of God were turned in faith and hope from the beginning, is He whom we recognize as God manifest in the flesh, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He, therefore, who was the head of the theocracy is the head of the Church. The blood which He shed for us, was shed from the foundation of the world, as much “for the redemption of the transgressions which were under the first testament” (Heb. ix. 15), as for us and for our salvation. The promise unto which the twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hoped to come (Acts xxvi. 7), is the promise on which we rely. The faith which saved Abraham was, both as to its nature and 552as to its object, that which is the condition of salvation under the Gospel. “The city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. xi. 10), is “Jerusalem the golden,” the heaven to which we aspire.
Fifth Proposition. The terms of admission into the Church before the Advent were the same that are required for admission into the Christian Church.
Those terms were a credible profession of faith in the true religion, a promise of obedience, and submission to the appointed rite of initiation. Every sincere Israelite really received Jehovah as his God, relied upon all his promises, and especially upon the promise of redemption through the seed of Abraham. He not only bound himself to obey the law of God as then revealed, but sincerely endeavoured to keep all his commandments. Those who were Israelites only in name or form, or, as the Apostle expresses it, were “Jews outwardly,” made the same professions and engagements, but did so only with the lips and not with the heart. If any from among the heathen assayed to enter the congregation of the Lord, they were received upon the terms above specified, and to a place equal to, and in some cases better than, that of sons and of daughters. If any Israelite renounced the religion of his fathers, he was cut off from among the people. All this is true in reference to the Church that now is. The Christian Church requires of those whom it receives to membership in visible communion, nothing more than a credible profession of faith, the promise of obedience to Christ, and submission to baptism as the rite of initiation. There has, therefore, been no change of the terms of admission to the Church, effected by the introduction of the Gospel.
Sixth Proposition. Infants were Members of the Church under the Old Testament Economy.
This is conclusively proved by the fact that infants, by the command of God, were circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. It is indeed said that circumcision was the sign of the national covenant between God and the Hebrews; and, therefore, that its administration to children was only a recognition of their citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel.
To this it may be answered, first, that under the old economy the Church and State were identical. No man could be a member of the one without being a member of the other. Exclusion 553from the one was exclusion from the other. In the pure theocracy the high priest was the head of the State as well as the head of the Church. The priests and Levites were civil as well as religious officers. The sacrifices, and the festivals, even the Passover, ever regarded as a sacrament, were national as well as religious services. If, therefore, circumcision was a sign and seal of membership in the Hebrew nation, it was a sign and seal of membership in the Hebrew Church. All this arose from the nature of God’s covenant with Abraham. In that covenant, as we have seen, were included both national and religious promises. God selected the descendants of that patriarch through Isaac to be a people peculiar to himself, He constituted them a nation to be secluded and hedged around from other nations, He gave them the land of Canaan for a habitation, and He enacted for them a code of laws, embracing their civil, national, social, personal, and religious duties. All these enactments were mingled together. The people were not regarded as bearing distinct relations to the magistrate and to God. All their obligations were to Him. They were a holy people; a Church in the form of a nation. The great promise, as we have seen, was the promise of the redemption of the world by the Messiah. To this everything else was subordinate. The main design of the constitution of the Hebrews as a distinct nation, and of their separation from all other people, was to keep alive the knowledge of that promise. Almost the whole significancy and value of the priesthood, sacrifices, and temple service, were to prefigure the person, offices, and work of the Messiah. To the Hebrews as a people were committed the “oracles of God;” this was their grand distinction. Those oracles had reference to the great work of redemption. To suppose a man to be a Jew, and not at least a professed believer in those promises and predictions, is a contradiction. A man, therefore, was a member of the Jewish commonwealth, only in virtue of his being a member of the Jewish Church; at least, he could not be the former without being the latter. Consequently, every child who was circumcised in evidence that he was one of the chosen people, was thereby sealed as a member of the Church of God as it then existed.
Secondly, that circumcision was not the sign exclusively of the national covenant with the Hebrews, is plain because it was enjoined upon Abraham and continued in practice hundreds of years before the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, when the people were inaugurated as a nation. It was instituted as the sign of 554the covenant (that is the Scriptural and proper word) made with Abraham. The essential features of that covenant we learn from such passages as Genesis xii. 3, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” xvii. 7, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” These passages are explained in the New Testament. They are shown to refer, not to temporal or national blessings, but to the blessings of redemption. Thus in Romans xv. 8, it is said, “Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, that the blessing of Abraham might come on us. (Gal. iii. 14.) This covenant, the Apostle goes on to argue, “that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” In short, the whole New Testament is designed to show that the covenant made with Abraham, and the promises therein contained, were executed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Of that covenant circumcision was the sign and seal.
Thirdly, this is directly asserted by the Apostle in Romans iv. 9-12, where he proves that circumcision cannot be the ground of justification, because Abraham was justified before he was circumcised, and “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being yet uncircumcised.” This is saying that circumcision is the seal of the covenant which promises salvation on the condition of faith. That is, it is the seal of the covenant of grace, or of the plan of salvation which has been the only ground of hope for man since his apostasy. If, therefore, children were circumcised by the command of God, it was because they were included in the covenant made with their fathers.
Fourthly, that circumcision was not merely a civil or national institution, is further plain from its spiritual import. It signifies the cleansing from sin, just as baptism now does. Thus we read even in the Old Testament of the circumcision of the heart. (Deut. x. 16; Jer. iv. 4; Ezek. xliv. 7.) Therefore uncircumcised lips are impure lips, and an uncircumcised heart is an unclean heart. (Ex. vi. 12; Lev. xxvi. 41. See, also, Acts vii. 51.) Paul says the true circumcision is not that which is outward in the flesh; but that which is inward, of the heart, by the Spirit. (Rom. ii. 28, 29) Therefore the Apostle speaking of himself 555and of other believers says, “We are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil. iii. 3.) Such being the spiritual import of circumcision, its reference to the national covenant was a very subordinate matter. Its main design was to signify and seal the promise of deliverance from sin through the redemption to be effected by the promised seed of Abraham.
Children, therefore, were included in the covenant of grace as revealed under the old dispensation, and consequently were members of the Church as it was then constituted. In the sight of God parents and children are one. The former are the authorized representatives of the latter; they act for them; they contract obligations in their name. In all cases, therefore, where parents enter into covenant with God, they bring their children with them. The covenant made with Adam included all his posterity; the promise made to Abraham was to him and to his seed after him; and when the Mosaic covenant was solemnly inaugurated, it was said, “Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: that thou shouldst enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day.” (Deut. xxix. 10-12.) It is vain to say that children cannot make contracts or take an oath. Their parents can act for them; and not only bring them under obligation, but secure for them the benefits of the covenants into which they thus vicariously enter. If a man joined the commonwealth of Israel he secured for his children the benefits of the theocracy, unless they willingly renounced them. And so when a believer adopts the covenant of grace, he brings his children within that covenant, in the sense that God promises to give them, in his own good time, all the benefits of redemption, provided they do not willingly renounce their baptismal engagements.
This is really the turning point in the controversy concerning infant church-membership. If the Church is one under both dispensations; if infants were members of the Church under the theocracy, then they are members of the Church now, unless the contrary can be proved. The next proposition, therefore, on this subject, to be established is, the556
Seventh Proposition, that there is nothing in the New Testament which justifies the Exclusion of the Children of Believers from Membership in the Church.
The “onus probandi” rests on those who take the negative on this subject. If children are to be deprived of a birthright which they have enjoyed ever since there was a Church on earth, there must be some positive command for their exclusion, or some clearly revealed change in the conditions of membership, which renders such exclusion necessary. It need hardly be said that Christ did not give any command no longer to consider the children of believers as members of the Church, neither has there been any change in the conditions of church-membership which necessarily works their exclusion. Those conditions are now what they were from the beginning. It was inevitable, therefore, when Christ commanded his Apostles to disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, that they should act on the principle to which they had always been accustomed. When under the Old Testament, a parent joined the congregation of the Lord, he brought his minor children with him. When, therefore, the Apostles baptized a head of a family, it was a matter of course, that they should baptize his infant children. We accordingly find several cases of such household baptism recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts xvi. 15, it is said Lydia “was baptized, and her household,” and of the jailer at Philippi (ver. 33), that “he and all his” were baptized; and in 1 Corinthians i. 16, Paul says that he baptized the household of Stephanas. The Apostles, therefore, acted on the principle which had always been acted on under the old economy. It is to be remembered that the history of the Apostolic period is very brief, and also that Christ sent the Apostles, not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, and, therefore, it is not surprising that so few instances of household baptism are recorded in the New Testament. The same remark applies substantially to the age immediately succeeding that of the Apostles. The Church increased with great rapidity, but its accessions were from without; adult converts from among the Jews and Gentiles, who in becoming Christians, brought, as a matter of course, their children with them into the fold of Christ. Little, therefore, during this period is heard of the baptism of infants. As soon, however, as children born within the Church constituted the chief source of supply, then we hear more of baptisms for the 557dead; the ranks of the Church, as they were thinned by the decease of believers, being filled by those who were baptized to take their places. In the time of Tertullian and Origen infant baptism is spoken of, not only as the prevailing usage of the Church, but as having been practised from the beginning. When Pelagius was sorely pressed by Augustine with the argument in support of the doctrine of original sin derived from the baptism of infants, he did not venture to evade the argument by denying either the prevalence of such baptisms or the divine warrant for them. He could only say that they were baptized, not on account of what they then needed, but of what they might need hereafter. The fact of infant baptism and its divine sanction were admitted. These facts are here referred to only as a collateral proof that the practice of the New Testament Church did not in this matter differ from that of the Church as constituted before the advent of Christ.
The conduct of our Lord in relation to children, in its bearing on this subject must not be overlooked. So far from excluding them from the Church in whose bosom they had always been cherished, He called them the lambs of his flock, took them into his arms, and blessed them, and said, of such is the kingdom of heaven. If members of his kingdom in heaven, why should they be excluded from his kingdom on earth? Whenever a father or mother seeks admission to the Christian Church, their heart prompts them to say: Here Lord am I and the children whom thou hast given me. And his gracious answer has always been: Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.
Eighth Proposition. Children need, and are capable of receiving the Benefits of Redemption.
On this point all Christians are agreed. All churches — the Greek, the Latin, the Lutheran, and the Reformed — unite in the belief that infants need “the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” and the renewing of the Holy Ghost in order to their salvation. The Reformed, at least, do not believe that those blessings are tied to the ordinance of baptism, so that the reception of baptism is necessary to a participation of the spiritual benefits which it symbolizes; but all agree that infants are saved by Christ, that they are the purchase of his blood, and that they need expiation and regeneration. They are united, also, in believing that all who seek the benefits of the work of Christ, are bound to be baptized in acknowledgment of its necessity and 558of their faith, and that those who need, but cannot seek, are, by the ordinance of God, entitled to receive the appointed sign and seal of redemption, whenever and wherever they are presented by those who have the right to represent them.
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