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On the Public Institutions y Ordinances and Worship of the Church.
SOCIAL and public worship, consisting in prayer, singing psalms or hymns, and in preaching and hearing the gospel, appears to be an institution of Christ, from what is recorded in scripture. The disciples of Christ, after his ascension, met together, and continued with one accord in prayer and supplication; being about an hundred and twenty.369369 Acts i. 14, 15. And when converts were multiplied, and a church was formed at Jerusalem, “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and prayers. And continued daily with one accord in the temple, praising God.”370370 Acts ii. 42, 46,47. At Antioch, Barnabas and Saul assembled themselves with the church a whole year, and taught much people.371371 Acts xi. 26. It appears, that the church at Corinth often came together into one place, to attend on the preaching of the gospel, prayer, singing psalms, and the administration of the Lord’s supper.372372 1 Cor. xi. 18, &c. and Chap. xiv. throughout. Christians had places convenient for them to convene in public assemblies, and attend on public worship.373373 Jam. ii. 1-10. And they were 241commanded, “Not to forsake the assembling themselves together,” for public exhortation and mutual edification, &c.374374 Heb. x. 24, 25.
Public worship being an institution of Christ, this necessarily implies a place where this may be attended decently, and with the greatest convenience to the members of the church; which is to be agreed upon and provided by the church, using all such help and assistance, as the head of the church shall, in his providence, afford them. They are to assemble on the first day of the week for public worship; and at any other time, which the church shall judge is agreeable to the will of Christ, as best suited to promote his cause, and their edification. And there may be special calls in divine providence, to public fasting and prayer, or thanksgiving. And particular circumstances may render it proper and important to meet oftener, and to spend more time in public worship, at some times, than at others.
It has been observed that the bishops, or overseers of the church, are to preach the word, and to preside and lead in public prayers, to which they are to devote themselves: And they are on this account to be counted worthy of double honour, and be decently supported with the necessaries and comforts of life. For Christ has ordained, that they who preach the gospel, should live of the gospel.375375 1 Cor. ix. 14. Gal. vi. 6. 1 Tim. v. 17, 18.
The stated time for public worship, is the first day of the week, which the apostles, under the inspiration and particular direction from Christ, fixed upon, and appointed to be the christian Sabbath. The Jewish Seventh-day-Sabbath, which was a type and shadow of that redemption which was in a peculiar sense and degree effected by the sufferings and death of Christ, from which he rose on the first day of the week; and of the rest, into which the christian church entered, upon this ceased and was abolished; when the substance, and the things typified by it took place. With reference to this, the apostle Paul says to christians; “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath 242days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”376376 Col. ii. 16, 17. The apostle has respect to the Jewish rites respecting meat and drink; and to their least days, new moons, and their weekly Sabbaths, and declares that christians, especially those who were Gentiles, were not under any obligation to observe them. This has no respect to the christian Sabbath. This was observed by the apostles and christian churches in their day. Christ having risen on the first day of the week, he appeared repeatedly to his disciples, while they were together on this first day. And on this first day of the week, “when the day of Pentecost was fully come, and they were all with one accord in one place,” the holy Spirit was poured out on them, and they spake with tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance: And Peter preached to the multitude who were; collected on that occasion, and great numbers were converted.377377 Acts ii. 1, &c. The day of Pentecost was always on the first day of the week.378378 Levit. xxiii. 15-21. And this day of the week was honoured by this remarkable event, and not the seventh day of the week, which was the Jewish Sabbath. And no reason can be given, why the church were together in one place on that day, but that it was the day of the week on which they were directed, and used to assemble for instruction and worship.
Accordingly, we find that on the first day of the week, christian churches used to assemble for public worship, with the apostles’ approbation. When the apostle Paul, and his companions in travelling, came to Troas, they continued there seven days, without meeting for public worship. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.”379379 Acts xx. 7 By this it appears, that the first day of the week was the day on which christians used to meet for public worship. If the seventh day of the week had been their Sabbath, why did they not meet on that day to hear Paul preach, and to break bread, that is, to partake of the Lord’s supper? That christian churches were wont to meet on the first day of the week for religious purposes, is evident from the following direction which this apostle gives to the 246church at Corinth. “Now, concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye, upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when 1 come.”380380 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 2. It appears from this, that christian churches in general, or rather universally assembled together on every first day of the week; the reason of which cannot be given, unless this were their Sabbath, on which day they attended public worship: A. id this was a proper time to make a collection for the poor saints, which is to be considered as an act of public worship. Nor can it be supposed, that the churches would all agree in fixing on this day, to meet together for public worship, unless it were by the direction of the apostles, which they gave to all the churches, as from Christ, who had instructed them in this matter, before his ascension, or had since communicated it to them, by inspiration. In this view, there appears a consistency, in all the facts and assertions concerning this, which have been mentioned.
And the words of the apostle John are a confirmation of all this, when he says, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day.”381381 Rev. i. 10. By the Lord’s day, he must mean some particular day of the week, which was known by this name to the churches of Christ, as distinguished from all other days; for otherwise, it would not be saying any thing, which would be intelligible to christians, or of any signification. It supposes there was one day in the week consecrated to the honour and service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that this was therefore called, the Lord’s day; as that repast of bread and wine, which was instituted by Christ, and observed in the churches, in remembrance of him, was called the Lord’s Supper, to distinguish it from all other eating and drinking together, as peculiarly consecrated to his use and honour. And that this day, which for this reason the apostle John calls the Lord’s day, is the first day of the week, is evident beyond a doubt, in that this day, and no other day of the week has been distinguished and known by this name, in the church of Christ, from that day to this, of which there is incontestible evidence.244
And that the first day of the week is appointed by Christ to be the christian Sabbath, to be observed by his church as holy time, and distinguished from other days by being devoted by them, in a peculiar manner, to his service and honour, will be further evident perhaps, and some objections removed, by the following observations.
1. It is evident from divine revelation, that it is the will of God, that one day in seven should be observed as a Sabbath by his people, to the end of the world, and not under the Mosaic dispensation only.
This may be argued from the institution of a holy Sabbath, which God blessed and sanctified, when he first made man: Having himself wrought six days, and finished the work of creation, he rested on the seventh. And this is mentioned in the fourth commandment as a reason, why men, after they had attended to secular business six days, should rest from such labour, and observe the seventh day as a holy Sabbath.
And the command, to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. &c. being given from Mount Sinai, and written on one of the tables of stone, and put into the ark with the rest of the commands, containing the moral law, which is perpetually binding on all men, and in this way distinguished from those particular precepts which were temporary: This is a strong argument, that it is equally perpetual with the other nine commands, and points out the duty of all men, at all times, to whom this command shall be made known. If this command respected that nation only, and were to cease when the Mosaic dispensation ended, it cannot be accounted for, that it should be revealed in the same peculiar manner, with that in which the moral law was revealed, and incorporated with the moral law, written with it, on tables of stone, and put into the ark: It has all the external marks of being perpetual and binding on all men, which attend the rest of the commands of the moral law.
Moreover, there are some things said in the scripture which indicate, that it is the will and design of God, that the command to keep holy the Sabbath day, should take place and be observed under the gospel. The fifty sixth chapter of Isaiah is evidently a prophecy of 245gospel times; and there, keeping the Sabbath from polluting it, is repeatedly mentioned, as an important duty, to which promises are made. And in the eleventh chapter are these words, with reference to Christ and the gospel dispensation. “And in that day, there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people: To it shall the Gentiles seek, and his rest shall be glorious.” The word translated rest, is the same, which in other places is translated Sabbath. His Sabbath shall be glorious. And it is not improbable that the Psalmist has reference to the first day of the week, as distinguished and appointed by Christ, and made holy by him, as the day on which he rose from the dead. He foretells the resurrection of Christ in the following words. “The stone which the builders rejected, is become the head of the corner.” These words are cited by the apostle Peter, and applied to the resurrection of Christ.382382 Acts iv. 11. The Psalmist adds, “This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”383383 Psalm cxviii. 22, 23, 24. These words, “This is the day which the Lord hath made,” considered in their connexion with the foregoing, and referring to the resurrection of Christ, may naturally be understood of the day on which Christ rose, as a day of the week, which should be a joyful day to the church, on which this great and happy event should be celebrated by believers in Christ to the end of the world; it being made by him, and appointed to be a holy Sabbath of rest, and peculiar gladness and praise.
2. The fourth command in the decalogue does not specify any particular day of the week, to be kept holy as a Sabbath; but only commands men to observe one day in seven, as a holy Sabbath. “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” We must look somewhere else in divine revelation, to find what day of the week is to be observed as a Sabbath, and when to begin to reckon. The Israelites were told, which day of the week they should keep holy as a Sabbath; but not in 246this command. The clay of the week on which their Sabbath should be, was made known to them, before this command was given from Mount Sinai; therefore, this command obliged them to keep the seventh day of the week as their Sabbath. And when Christ made it known to his church, that it was his will, that the first day of the week, on which he rose from the dead, should be observed as a Sabbath, he having abolished the Jewish Sabbath; this laid christians under as great obligations to keep the first day of the week as their Sabbath, as the Jews were under to keep the seventh day; and this did not in the least degree set aside, or alter the fourth command; for christians remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, when they, having attended to their secular business six days, keep the seventh day as a holy day of rest from all unnecessary worldly employment: And the fourth command as much binds them to keep their Sabbath on the first day of the week, as it did the children of Israel to keep the seventh day. The evidence, that Christ has revealed this to be his will, has been briefly stated above.
3. The Jewish Sabbath was not to be perpetual; but did cease and vanish away with other types and shadows of the Mosaic dispensation, being equally a shadow with them, and in some respects the greatest and most remarkable type, which will be more fully considered under the next particular. That the weekly Jewish Sabbath is abolished seems to be expressly asserted by the apostle Paul, in the words which have been mentioned.384384 Col. ii. 16, 17. But since the Sabbath of the fourth command is to be perpetual; and the Jewish Sabbath was not so; it follows, that another day of the week is appointed by Christ, who is Lord of the Sabbath, to be observed by his church, which appears from what has been observed above, to be the first day of the week.
4. There is no evidence from scripture, that the Sabbath, which God gave to the people of Israel, by Moses, was on the same day of the week with that, which was instituted when the work of creation was finished; but it is very probable, if not certain, that it was not.247
The day on which God rested from the work of creation; and which he blessed and sanctified, to be an holy Sabbath for man, was the seventh day from the beginning of the creation: but it was really the first day of Adam’s life. He was created on the latter part of the sixth day, but soon fell into a deep sleep, and had no great enjoyment or thought, till the next day. It is certain, the Sabbath day was the first whole day of his life, and he would naturally begin to reckon time and weeks, from that day, as the first day in the rotation of weeks.385385 See Bedford’s Scripture Chronology, demonstrated by Astronomical Calculations; and Kennedy’s Complete System of Astronomical Chronology, unfolding the Scriptures. In which they have undertaken to demonstrate by astronomical calculations, that the seventh day from the beginning of the creation, has been reckoned the first day of the week, from that time to this. This day was observed by the antideluvian church, and by Noah, and his posterity, as the first day of their week; which has continued by an uninterrupted rotation of weeks, to this day. When mankind, after the flood corrupted their religion, and apostatized from the instituted worship of the only true God, to idolatry, and deified, and worshipped the sun, moon and stars, which was the first kind of idolatry practised by mankind, they consecrated their Sabbath which was the first day of their week, and considered as a high day, the most important and honourable of any of the days of the week, to the sun, which is the first and brightest luminary of the heavens, denoting this day to the worship of this god. And hence it obtained the name of Sunday: that is, the day of the sun, as it was devoted to the worship of this heavenly luminary; as most, or all the other days of the week, have had names given them from the particular planets, to the worship of which they were devoted. The original Sabbath, or the first day of the week, being thus perverted, God saw fit, for this, and other reasons, some of which will be mentioned, to appoint another day of the week to be a Sabbath to the children of Israel, when he brought them out of Egypt. He ordered it so that they should pass through the red sea, on the seventh day of the week, which completed their redemption, and deliverance from Egypt; and he appointed that day of the week, to be their Sabbath, in commemoration of this 248remarkable deliverance; on which day, they praised God, for this redemption, and sang the song recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus. And in the next chapter this their Sabbath is first mentioned; and was probably the statute, and ordinance which God made with that people, spoken of, chapter xv. verse 25. And when some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather manna, and found none, the Lord said, “See that the Lord hath given you the Sabbath, therefore, he giveth you on the sixth day, the bread of two days.” The Lord hath given you the Sabbath. This naturally expresses his having then appointed a day to be their Sabbath, as peculiar to that people; and not that he had appointed a Sabbath for all mankind, when men were first created. There were two reasons, if not more, for appointing this seventh day of the week, to be their Sabbath.
First. This was suited, with many other laws, which were given to them, to keep them a distinct and separate people, from other nations, and prevent their joining with others in their idolatrous improvement of the first day of the week. This was then observed by the nations round them, as a high day, and a festival in honour of the sun, and other gods, which they worshipped, and it was of great importance, that they should be kept a distinct people, and not join with them. Their keeping another day of the week for their Sabbath was suited to do this as much or more than any other law which was given to them, for this end, excepting circumcision.—Accordingly, they were, in after ages, mentioned with contempt, and ridiculed by the heathen for this peculiarity.
Secondly. As their deliverance out of Egypt was a great and remarkable event, and a designed type and pledge of the redemption and salvation of the church by Christ, it was proper, and of great importance, that it should be kept in mind, and commemorated by a day appointed to be observed out of a particular respect to that event. Therefore, that day of the week was fixed upon by God, to be their weekly Sabbath, on which this deliverance was completed. This appears to be the truth respecting this appointment, from the words of 249Moses, when speaking to them of the command of God, to keep their Sabbath, he says, God commanded them to keep it, out of respect to this deliverance. “Keep the Sabbath day, to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence, through a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm: Therefore, the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.”386386 Deut v. 15. This must respect the Seventh-day-Sabbath, which was peculiar to them, appointed out of respect to that deliverance, and more especially to commemorate that, not only as a great event in itself, but as a remarkable type of the spiritual and eternal redemption of the church of Christ, which is mentioned and referred to in scripture, as such.387387 See Isaiah li. 9, 10, 11. 1 Cor. x. 1-11. Jude v. This is the reason of God’s appointing the seventh day of the week for their Sabbath, and commanding them to keep it as a Sabbath-day; but is no reason why other nations and mankind at all times, should observe a Sabbath. Therefore, in the fourth command, which was written on one of the tables of stone, and put into the ark, and is binding on all men, in all ages, this is not mentioned as a reason for observing it; nor is any particular day of the week pointed out, as has been observed. The seventh day of the week had been before given to the Israelites for their Sabbath; and Moses gives the reason for this particular appointment and command of God to them, in the words above rehearsed. And the fourth command, in the decalogue, was a command to them, to keep the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath, because God had before fixed on this day for them to observe. But it prescribes no particular day to any other people; unless it be the first day of the week, sanctified by God, and handed down from the first Sabbath; and which has been established by Christ, to be the holy Sabbath for christians; which lays the christian church under as great obligations from the fourth command, to observe the first day of the week, as their Sabbath, as those under which the Israelites were, to observe the seventh day of the week as their Sabbath.250
The Seventh-day-Sabbath, being given to the Mosaic church as a commemoration of their deliverance out of Egypt, which was a distinguished type in that typical church, was itself therefore a typical institution, and a shadow of good things to come, as was the passover, and other festivals in that church. Therefore, with truth and the greatest propriety, the apostle Paul mentions their weekly Sabbaths, with other Mosaic institutions, as shadows of things to come, which of course ceased and were done away, when the things of which they were types and shadows took place.388388 Col. ii. 16, 17. And then the Sabbath took place according to its original institution and course, on the first day of the week, and perfectly agreeable to the fourth command, and in a degree more so than the Jewish Sabbath.
5. Upon the whole, it must be observed, that some time should be fixed upon, and set apart, and distinguished from ether time, to be in a peculiar manner devoted to the exercises of piety, and public worship, in which all pious men and christians should agree and unite, appears reasonable, desirable and important. If this were left to men, they would not be competent judges of the proportion of time, that it would be most suitable and proper to be set apart for those purposes; and could never agree in the particular days, and the precise proportion of time that should be thus distinguished and improved. And if they could do all this, they have no power or authority, to make one part of time, or one day more sacred or relatively holy, than another. God alone, who is the owner and Lord of time, and of all things, can make this distinction, and in this sense sanctify any day or part of time, and set it apart for particular holy purposes; and he only has authority to command men to observe it accordingly, and keep it holy. And he only knows what proportion of time is wisest and best to be thus sanctified; so as to be best suited to answer the purposes of it, and circumstances of man, to promote the good of his church. It is therefore desirable, and to be expected that God would determine this in the revelation which he gives to the 251world. Accordingly, we find he has done it, when he first made man, specifying the day which he blessed and sanctified, and setting an example to man, that after six days of labour, he should rest from his worldly business on the seventh day, and keep it holy. This he afterwards inserted among those commands containing a perpetual moral law, commanding men, all men, without distinction, to observe the Sabbath, and keep one day in seven holy, or the seventh day, after six days labour. In the mean time, for particular, wise, important reasons, he separated a people from all other nations, and formed them into a church, giving them laws and statutes, suited to keep them separate from the idolatrous nations, and to point out by types and emblems the Redeemer of man, and the great salvation by him; and to prepare the way for his coming into the world, dying and rising again, and setting up his kingdom on earth: And. among the rest, they received a command to keep the seventh day of the week as a holy Sabbath, which was much insisted upon during that dispensation, as an important article, which should be to them a constant visible sin, that they were a holy people, devoted to God. When the end of this Seventh-day-Sabbath was fully answered, and the thing of which this, and the event it was to commemorate, were a type and shadow, took place, it was abolished, and the Sabbath of the first day of the week took place by his order and command, who is Lord of the Sabbath, in commemoration of his resurrection from the dead, and the eternal redemption of the church which he had obtained by his blood, and which he arose to accomplish.
And nothing could be more suited by this institution to gratify and please the friends of Christ, than to have the first day of the week, on which their dear Lord arose from the dead, consecrated and sanctified; that they may keep a holy Sabbath on this day, and honour and praise him, and celebrate the work of redemption. This has been to the people of God in general, in the christian church ever since, a high day, a delight, holy of the Lord, and honourable; and is so even now. 252And if any of the true servants of Christ be otherwise minded, God will show it unto them.389389 That the first day of the week, which is the christian Sabbath, is the same day of the week, which was sanctified as a Sabbath, when creation was finished, appears probable from what has been observed, and it is thought serves in some degree to illustrate this point. But though this supposition be natural and probable, and there be nothing in scripture inconsistent with it; yet it is not pretended to be demonstration, or necessary, in order to prove the first day of the week to be the christian Sabbath. For if what has been supposed, and observed, concerning this, be considered as mere conjecture, and without any foundation, the other arguments for the abolition of the Jewish Sabbath, and the divine appointment of the first day of the week, to be the christian Sabbath, stand good, and sufficiently establish the point.
It has been a question upon which professing christians have been divided, when a christian Sabbath begins? At what time of the twenty four hours of the day it commences? Whether at the setting of the sun, at midnight, or when the light comes on in the morning? Some have supposed that it cannot be certainly determined; and that it is of no importance, when it begins; that if persons act conscientiously, and according to their own judgment, though they differ, and one observes the night preceding the day; and the other the night following the day; they are equally right, and do equally well. Others, being at a loss about the time of beginning the Sabbath, will observe both the evening before, and that after the day, that they may be sure to keep the right.
Perhaps the following observations may give some light on this point. They are offered to the serious, attentive, and unprejudiced.
1. If God has sanctified one day in seven, or the first day of the week, all the hours of that day, being twenty-four, are holy time; and there is a time when they begin independent of us, or our opinion or practice. Man cannot make any time holy. If God have not done it, there is no holy time; and if it be made holy by him, it is so, independent of man; and the hours which are sanctified are fixed and stated, so that when the first hour of that time comes, it is holy time, and continues so, till twenty-four hours be passed, and then holy time ceases, till another Sabbath comes on, and commences at the same hour that the preceding Sabbath did. And 253men cannot change or commute it, by neglecting that time which God has sanctified, and keeping some other day, or hours of another day, as holy time. Therefore, if the first day of the week be sanctified, the precise hours of that day, from beginning to end, and when they begin, are fixed, and all those hours are holy time, and not those which precede or follow; and it is a piece of superstition to keep them as holy time. Therefore,
2. We have reason to believe and be sure, that there is light enough in the Bible to discover to every christian who will faithfully use the advantages he has, to get light on this head, when, or at what time the Sabbath begins, as well as what day of the week is sanctified as a Sabbath. For if such light and information be not given, the command to keep the day holy cannot reach him, as he has no capacity to obey it. There may be light enough in the scripture to determine this; and yet not be seen by christians, through some blameable defect in them. They may be too inattentive, or prejudiced, or both, and follow the opinion of others, without properly examining for themselves, with that care and honest impartiality, which becomes a christian; and be satisfied with arguments, which really have no weight in them. If this be not decided by any one express declaration m scripture, telling when the Sabbath is to begin, it may be as clearly revealed otherwise, to an attentive, honest, discerning mind. Whatever proposition or truth, clearly follows from what God has said in his word, from beginning to end, is part of divine revelation, and is the light and truth it contains, or is discovered by it.
3. This cannot be determined by the hour, or time of day, on which the Redeemer rose out of the grave or tomb: For this is not certainly known, which would have been revealed, had the time of beginning the Sabbath depended on this: but if it were known, this would not decide the matter; for no reason can be given, why the day which is sanctified as a commemoration of that event, should begin precisely at the hour when he rose from the dead. But if any reference be had to the time of the resurrection of Christ, it is as probable, and perhaps more sq, that he rose soon after 254the Jewish Sabbath ended, which was at sunsetting, when the first day of the week did certainly begin, unless there were a chasm of time between the seventh day of one week, and the first day of another, and which belonged to neither. Matthew says, “In the end of the Sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary came (or went) to see the sepulchre.” The same word in the original, here rendered began to dawn, is used by Luke, and rendered, drew on: “The Sabbath drew on;”390390 Luke xxiii. 54. and it must have that meaning there. And the words of Matthew may be accordingly rendered: “In the end of the Sabbath, as the first day of the week drew on, as soon as the Jewish Sabbath was over, which ended at sun down, these women went to the sepulchre;” that is, sat out to go: but that earthquake and storm, which Matthew goes on to relate, took place then, and stopped them on their way, and prevented their getting there till next morning; at which time of the earthquake. &c. Christ rose from the dead, the first day of the week having began.391391 See Mr. Knight’s Harmony, on Matt, xxviii. 1. So that he rose on the first day of the week, as much as if he had lain in the grave till midnight, or the next morning. But be this as it may, the time of the first day of the week, on which Christ rose from the dead, whether between sun down and dark, or at midnight, or at the dawning of the day, or at the rising of the sun, were it certainly known, cannot determine when the Sabbath begins.
4. The time in which men consider their civil day as beginning and ending, will not determine when the Sabbath, which God has sanctified, begins or ends. In this, men are arbitrary, and different nations begin their civil day, at different times and hours.
5. Time did not begin with light, or in the morning; but darkness, or night, preceded the light of the first day; and the evening and the morning were the first day, and not the morning and the evening. And so the succeeding days, in which the world was created, are reckoned to begin with the evening, or night, and to end with the light: “And the evening and the morning were the second day,” &c. Therefore, the seventh day, 255from the beginning of creation, which was blessed and sanctified as a Sabbath, began with the evening, and ended with the light, or with the setting of the sun. By this we learn, how time was reckoned by God; and at what time he fixed the beginning of the day. Not in the morning, or at midnight, but the evening which preceded the morning. And the first Sabbath which was sanctified, began at evening, and included the night preceding the light of the day. And why is not this a sufficient guide to us, in determining when the day is to begin, which God has set apart for himself, and made holy? We are told by him how he reckoned time and days, when they first began, and that he connected the preceding night with the following light, to make a whole day; and that he sanctified such a day, which began in the evening and ended at the next evening, and blessed it for the use of man; and may it not be safely and with certainty inferred, that all holy days, which God hath made so, begin with the evening, since there is no intimation in the Bible that he has altered his way of reckoning days, since the beginning of time? Nor has left it to men to determine as they please? But the contrary; for,
6. When God made known, and gave a weekly Sabbath to the children of Israel, and appointed other holy days, he ordered them to begin all of them at the evening, or going down of the sun. This none will dispute, who attends properly to his Bible.
The Jews, when Christ was on earth, began their Sabbath at the setting of the sun, and ended it at the same time of the day. This is evident from what is related by three of the Evangelists.392392 Matt. viii. 16. Mark i. 32. Luke iv. 40. When Christ had attended the public exercises of the Synagogue on the Sabbath, and had cured a man found there possessed by an unclean spirit, he went into the house of Simon: “And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils; and all the city were gathered together at the door.” The rulers and doctors among the Jews held and taught, that it was not lawful to heal on the Sabbath; and strictly forbid all persons coming to 256Christ on that day. When Jesus healed a woman whom he found in the synagogue on the Sabbath, “The rulers of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath-day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: In them, therefore, come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath-day.”393393 Luke xiii. 14. Therefore, the people did not bring any of the diseased to Christ, to be healed on the Sabbath-day. But at evening, when the sun was set, they came in crowds to the house where Jesus was, bringing their sick and possessed to Christ, to be healed. This fact renders it certain, that the Jews did then consider the Sabbath as ended, when the sun did bet; consequently they began at the setting of the sun. And the Jews have practised agreeable to this, from that time down to this day; beginning their Sabbaths, and all their other festivals, at the going down of the sun.
Jesus and his disciples observed the Jewish Sabbath, which began and ended at the setting of the sun. And the apostles would of course begin the christian Sabbath at the same time, which succeeded the Jewish Sabbath, on the first day of the week, and began when that ended; and ought to do so, unless they had a particular command to begin it at a different time, of which there is not the least intimation. Though the Jewish Sabbath is abolished, and the first day of the week is appointed to be the christian Sabbath, and thus the day is altered; yet this is no warrant to alter the time of beginning the day; but it must remain the same, unless God has manifested it to be his will that it should be altered, and fixed another time, on which to begin the day, which he has not done. Since the change is only of the day, and not of the time of beginning it; and the first day began, when the seventh day ended, which was at sun down; is not this sufficient evidence, that it is the will of God, that the christian Sabbath shall begin at the going down of the sun, when the Jewish Sabbath ended? And does not this, in conjunction with what has been observed in the preceding particular, sufficiently discover the will of God respecting the beginning of the holy days, which he makes so for the use of man? And is it 257not presumption, and willworship, to begin the Sabbath at any other time of the day, without a divine warrant, sufficient to counteract what God has done and revealed, in the instances which have been mentioned?
7. It is as proper and convenient to begin the Sabbath at sun down, as at any other time, and in some respects more so. A care and exertion to have all worldly affairs and business finished, so as to be laid aside by that particular time, is a proper expression of regard to a divine institution. And if the heads of a family, and their household be pious, and delight in the Sabbath, they will find no insuperable difficulty, in ordinary cases, to be prepared to meet and welcome the Sabbath, when the time comes on; and come together, and begin it in joining in social worship. The Jews find no insuperable difficulty or inconvenience, in punctually beginning their Sabbath at sun down, when they commonly join in social worship. And christians may certainly, with equal convenience and propriety, begin their Sabbath at the same time.
Baptism is an ordinance, or sacrament, which Christ has instituted. This is to be performed by the application of water, to die person baptized, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In order to be a proper subject of baptism, a person, if adult, must profess his faith in Christ, and subjection to him, and engage to do all those things which he has commanded; and appear to be a true christian, or real believer in Christ; and to understand and believe the great and essential doctrines, and precepts of the gospel. This ordinance is to be applied to every one, who appears to be qualified, according to the rules which Christ has given, to be a member of the visible church. And no one is to be considered and treated as a member of the church and kingdom of Christ, unless he be baptized with water, as this is the only door, by which persons can be introduced into the visible kingdom of Christ, according to his appointment. And all who are 258baptized according to his direction, are visible members of his church, Christ, in his commission to his disciples, directed them to baptize all whom they proselyted.394394 Matt. xxviii. 19. And we find, by the history we have of their preaching and conduct, that they practised accordingly. The words of Christ to Nicodemus express the essential qualifications, by which a person becomes a true and real member of his visible church. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”395395 John iii. 5. By the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of heaven, when mentioned by Christ, he commonly means his visible church and kingdom in this world. By being born of the Spirit, is meant that renovation of heart, by which persons become real christians, and members of the invisible kingdom of Christ. To be born of water is to be baptized with water, according to the institution and command of Christ, by which persons enter into the visible church, and become members of the visible kingdom of God; without which they cannot enter into this kingdom; as this is the only appointed way, to enter into that covenant, of which baptism is the initiating seal, and so to be made a visible member of this kingdom. The former, his being born of the Spirit, does not make him a member of the visible church or kingdom of God. But in order to this, he must profess his faith, and enter into covenant, and have this visible seal of the covenant put upon him. As a person may be born of the Spirit before he is a visible member of the kingdom of God, and must be so in order to be a real and true member, at any time; and he is supposed and appears to be such an one, when he is baptized, and by it becomes a visible member of this kingdom: So a person may appear to be born of the Spirit, and profess that which implies it, and be baptized and enter into the visible kingdom of God, and yet not be really born of the Spirit. He is not a member of the invisible church, but may be a member of the visible church, admitted according to the rules which Christ has given to his church. He is not in the kingdom of God in the sight of God; but is so, in the 259sight of men. But he who is born of the Spirit, and is baptized, has entered into the kingdom of God, in the sight of God and man, arid appears to be what he really is, and shall be saved: Whereas the other, who is born of water only, is a hypocrite, and is a member of the kingdom of God only in appearance, that is, he is a visible member only, and not a complete one, and has no tide to salvation.
Baptism is an appointed seal of the covenant of grace, both on the part of Christ, and of him who is baptized. It is a seal of the truth of the promises of this covenant, to all who believe, and are the true friends of Christ, And he who is baptized, makes this a visible seal and token of the truth of his profession, of his believing in Christ, and of his friendship to him; and his willingness to obey and serve him; so it is a visible, solemn covenant transaction, between Christ and him who is baptized; by which his sins are visibly washed away and forgiven, and he is visibly entitled to all the promises of the covenant of grace, and numbered among the saved; and is really so, if his heart be answerable in any degree to his profession, and this solemn transaction; as it is, if he be born of the Spirit of God.
Christian baptism, is not to be repeated, or administered, more than once to the same person, because we have no precept or example for this in the scripture. And there does not appear any reason for doing it; for by this, persons are introduced into the visible church of Christ, as appearing to be real members of his kingdom. And if one, so baptized, and introduced, be afterwards rejected and cast out, for his visible bad conduct; and after this, profess and appear to be a true penitent, there can be no visible evidence that he was not a real christian when he was baptized, and first introduced; therefore, there is no more reason for re-baptizing him, than for repeating the baptism of any other visible member of the church; and though he has been rejected, his relation to the church does not cease, on supposition he shall repent; therefore, when he appears to repent, he restores himself to the same station in the visible church, in which he was before.260
Baptism is a public ordinance, and the church is to know who are baptized, and who are not; and it is therefore, in ordinary cases, to be administered in public. But there may be instances in which it is proper and necessary, to do it more privately; of which we have examples in the days of the apostles.
There have been, and still are, different and opposite sentiments, among professed believers, respecting the ordinance of baptism; especially with regard to the mode of applying water in baptism; and the proper subjects of this ordinance: and many volumes have been written, containing controversy on these points. And as no new light can perhaps be given now on these subjects in dispute, it is not thought needful to enter particularly into this controversy here. A few things, however, will be observed, respecting these points, of the propriety and truth of which, every one will judge for himself.
1. The difference and opposition in sentiment and practice, respecting this institution, and all other christian doctrines, duties and ordinances, is not owing to any want of light and instruction in the scriptures, on these points. To suppose this, is a reproach on divine revelation, and the author of it, and an implicit denial that it comes from God. All differences of this kind are owing to something defective and wrong in man, by which he is blind to that which is clearly revealed in scripture. This ought to encourage and excite every honest man diligently to search the scriptures on this subject, as well as others, praying that he may not be blinded by prejudice or any wrong bias; but that his eyes may be opened to see what God has revealed. We are not to confine ourselves to one part of the Bible in neglect of others; or to conclude nothing to be revealed which we do not find asserted in express words; but all parts of scripture are to be carefully examined, and compared together, in order to learn what is the whole revealed will of God: And whatever is the just and necessary consequence from any one, or two, or more propositions or facts, which are expressly asserted, is as really revealed, as those propositions and facts themselves.261
However we may differ now in sentiment and practice on the subject of baptism, and oppose and censure each other; when men shall be more upright, discerning, and diligent, in attending to the Bible, ready to receive with meekness what God has revealed, as they will be in the days of the millennium, all those differences will cease, and what is so much disputed now will then be seen to be clearly decided in divine revelation: All former errors will be rectified. And doubtless it will then be seen, that we were all, more or less, in the wrong, on this point. We must therefore go to the law and the testimony; and if we think and speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in us, while it shines sufficiently clear in the Bible.
2. As to the mode of baptism, and the form and manner of using and applying water in this ordinance, to the person baptized, it does not appear to be decidedly fixed in the scripture; whether it be by plunging, pouring on water, aspersion or sprinkling. Each of those ways have been embraced and practised by different churches, and some do insist that plunging the person wholly under water is the only scriptural mode of baptism, and that none are really baptized, who are not thus plunged.—But when the scripture is carefully examined, it will not appear that this form of baptism was instituted by Christ, or practised by the apostles; or that the word in the original, translated baptism, or to baptize, invariably signifies plunging the whole body in water. This has been particularly considered and proved over and over again, by writers on this subject. Therefore, their opinion and practice, with regard to baptism, seems to be most agreeable to scripture, who think no particular form of applying water in baptism is prescribed there, by precept or example, or by any thing that is there said on this point; therefore, every church is left to adopt that particular mode which appears to them most decent and convenient; or that different persons may be baptized in different ways of application of water, as shall be most agreeable to them, allowing all to be really baptized, to whom water is religiously applied by a proper person, in the name of the sacred Trinity, whether by plunging, pouring on water, or by 262aspersion and sprinkling; as the christian baptism does in no degree consist in the particular manner of using and applying water; and that it is as real baptism, according to the institution of Christ, when performed in different modes. And they seem to be rigid beyond any scripture warrant, and in a degree superstitious, who insist that all shall be baptized by plunging; and reject all those to whom water has not been applied in this particular mode, as not baptized. This is doubtless making that essential to this ordinance, which the scripture has not made so, and rejecting those from christian communion, and the privileges of the visible church, whom Christ receives. If they who have adopted this mode of baptism, by plunging, did not make it a term of communion, and exclude all, as not baptized, who have not had water applied to them in this particular way, and not visible christians, the dispute and contention would be at an end; and they who think and practise differently might hold communion with each other, and be members of the same churches; though baptized in different modes.
3. The proper subjects of baptism, if adult, are those who by profession, and in appearance, are believers in Christ, and true friends to him. None but they who are really such, do in heart “put on Christ,” and approve of the covenant of grace, and the way of salvation by him, and devote themselves to his honour and service, which all who come to baptism, profess to do, and by this transaction are admitted into the church, as the servants of Christ, and are visibly interested in the blessings of the covenant of grace, and are considered as among the number of the saved, and are thus distinguished from all others, as saints, or holy persons. They must therefore be really holy, in order to put on this visibility and profession of it, with propriety and truth, which they do in baptism: For if they be not really such, they are utterly unqualified in the sight of God, to be admitted to baptism, as it is, on their part, only a piece of hypocrisy.—Therefore none are to be admitted to this ordinance, but those who in the view of the church appear to be true friends to Christ, or believers in him, and really holy, and are justly considered 268by them as such, who can judge only by outward appearance, and cannot certainly know, what is in the heart.
That none but such, who are thus visibly, and in the charitable judgment of the church, and of those who administer this ordinance, believers in Christ, and really holy, are the proper subjects of this ordinance, and to be admitted to baptism, is abundantly evident from scripture, as well as from the nature of the transaction, and the reason of things. The apostles, when they first began to administer christian baptism, and form a church, baptized none but such who “gladly received the word.”396396 Acts ii. 41. When the Eunuch desired to be baptised, Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”397397 Acts viii. 37. This implies that he was not qualified for baptism, or a fit subject of that ordinance, unless he were a true believer in Christ; and that he could not baptize him, unless he professed and appeared to be such a believer. Hence all who were baptised, and formed into churches, were considered and addressed by the apostles, in their letters to them, as saints or holy persons, believers in Christ, and friends to him; as those who were saved, and heirs of eternal life: or, which is the same, as real christians: Of which every one must be sensible, who reads the Acts of the Apostles, and their Epistles.
Whether infants, the children of visible believers, and members of the visible church, who have been now described, are the proper subjects of baptism, is an important question, upon which professing christians are greatly divided; and which has been the subject of much dispute in the three last centuries. It is not thought proper, or that it will answer any good end, to enter here very particularly into this dispute, upon which so much has been written on both sides. It will be sufficient briefly to state the chief arguments for the baptism of such children; and the ground, and import ©f this ordinance, when applied to them.264
ARGUMENTS FOR INFANT BAPTISM.
I. The arguments may be exhibited under the following particulars.
1. It is observed from the scripture, that God, in his dealings with men, in his constitutions and conduct, and covenants with them, does connect children with their parents, and considers the former as included in the latter; so that the children take their moral character, and visible relation to God, and derive good or evil, a blessing, or the contrary, from their parents, according to their character and conduct.
When God first made man, he considered the children of Adam as included in him, and they were included in the covenant made with him; so that they were to be blessed or not, according to the conduct of their parent; and his moral character and conduct was to determine and fix theirs. Though there were some things peculiar in this constitution, especially as it was mote general and comprehensive, taking in all the natural descendants from Adam, to the end of the world; yet thus much is to be gathered from it, viz. That children may be included in the covenant which is made with their parents, so as to take their moral character from them, and derive good or evil, according to the moral conduct of their parents, and that God has actually done this, in a perspicuous and most striking instance, in which he may be considered, perhaps, as setting a pattern and example of his conduct with mankind, in his public, covenant transactions with them; and that in all such covenants children are to be considered as included with their parents.
When God made a covenant with Noah, after the flood, his children and seed were included. And God’s covenant with Abraham was with him, and his seed after him. And his children and posterity had favour and blessings in consequence of this covenant, and out of respect to it. “He remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant. And he brought forth his people with joy; and his chosen with gladness. But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, 265the seed of Abraham, my friend.”398398 Psal cv. 42, 43. Isai. xli. 3. See also Gen. v. 4, 5, 24. Exod. vi. 5. Levit. xxvi. 42. And God saved the children and posterity of David from evil, and shewed them special favours, for his sake, and out of respect to the covenant made with him.399399 1 Kings xi. 12, 13, 32, 34, 36. 2 Chron. xxi. 7. Isaiah xxxvii. 35.
From these instances it appears, that God has in fact entered into covenant with parents, in which their children or seed were included in such a sense and degree, that he has shewed favour to them, out of respect to such covenants, and to the parents with whom the covenant was made. When God entered into covenant with the children of Israel, on the plains of Moab, their children, even their little ones, or infants, are expressly included in the covenant.400400 Deut. xxix. 10, 11, 12. They are said to enter into covenant with their parents. Therefore infants and children did enter into covenant with their parents, as included with them, in the solemn transaction.
Agreeable to this, God says, “I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that lore me, and keep my commandments.”401401 Exodus xx. 5, 6. Here, on the one hand, God says, he brings evil on the children and posterity of wicked parents, as the consequence of their iniquity. It hence is evident, that the moral character of the children of wicked parents is, by divine constitution, affected, formed, and fixed by, or in consequence of the parents’ iniquity, who are enemies to him: For God has declared, that the child who does not imitate his father in his iniquity, shall not suffer for his father’s wickedness.402402 Ezekiel xviii. 1-20. The words cited from the second commandment are not repeated or contradicted by this passage in Ezekiel, as some have suggested, but are explained; and hereby we learn, that visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children does not intend punishing the children for the iniquity of their fathers, whatever be the moral character and conduct of the children, and though they abhor and renounce their father’s iniquity, and fear and love God. But their moral character is supposed to be like 266that of their wicked father; and is necessarily implied in the iniquity of their father, being visited upon them; that they shall not renounce, but approve of the sins of their father, and suffer natural evil or punishment, for their own disposition and conduct, and because their moral character and conduct is like their father’s. Hence it appears, that the moral character of the children of wicked parents, is the consequence of the iniquity of their parents, and is formed by it, as the foundation of the natural evil which they suffer; and that this is meant by visiting the iniquity of the fathers, who hate God, upon their children. These fathers do hand down, and entail to their children, their iniquity, or their own moral character; as there is no other possible way, in which their iniquity can be visited upon their children.
On the contrary, God shews mercy unto a thousand generations successively of them who love him, and keep his commandments. This is God’s covenant with such; which appears from the words of Moses, in which he has reference to the declaration and promise in the second command. “Know, therefore, that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him, and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.403403 Deuteronomy vii. 9. From these words we learn two things.
First, That the mercy mentioned in the second command, which God exercises and shews, is covenanted mercy, mercy which he has promised to them who love him, and keep his commandments, who have entered into covenant with him.
Secondly, That thousands m the second command, means a thousand generations; and so is a promise of mercy not only to those individual persons, now on the stage of life, who love God and keep his commandments; but that these by fearing God, and keeping his commandments, shall transmit and hand down mercy to the next generation, or to their children; and those children, by faithfully following their parents’ steps, and keeping covenant, shall likewise procure mercy for their children of the next generation. And in this way, unless the covenant be broken by unfaithfulness and disobedience, 267mercy will go down, from one to another, even to a thousand generations; that is, to all generations; and the course can never be interrupted; and in this respect it is an everlasting covenant.
And that this is the meaning of the words in the second commandment, is evident from the words themselves, taken together. For the promise is set in opposition to the threatening: The threatening respects posterity or children, or generations yet to come—“Unto the third and fourth generation.” Generation is not in the original, but is necessarily understood, and therefore properly supplied by our translators. Therefore, the promise has respect to the same; and “Shewing mercy unto thousands,” means a thousand generations; and might have been thus translated and supplied with as much reason and propriety as the foregoing clause, and agreeable to the sense Moses gives of the words, in the place just cited. As evil descends from father to children, to the third and fourth generation; so, on the other hand, mercy descends from parents to children, to a thousand generations: That is, to all generations, without any limitation, a certain number, or many, being mentioned, for an unlimited one. The descent of evil from father to children, from generation to generation, is limited, and has an end, either by the interposition of mercy, to put a stop to the succession of evil, as it sometimes does, and so “mercy rejoices against judgment;” or by cutting off the posterity, and putting an end to the succession of evil, which is often the case. But mercy descends from parents to children, from generation to generation, without limitation or end, unless the succession be interrupted and cut off by disobedience, and breach of covenant, by the parents.
And as the disobedient parents transmit a bad moral character to their children, by their iniquity, this being implied in the threatening, as has been shown; and their iniquity is in this way visited upon their children: so by the promise, which is opposed to the threatening, the love and obedience of the parents affect and form the moral character of their children; so that their piety and obedience do, by the promise, convey spiritual 268blessings to their children, which is the mercy promised and shown to the parents who love God and keep his commandments, in opposition to the judgment and evil threatened to disobedient parents. As their impiety and disobedience is in judgment visited on their children, in the manner above explained; so, on the contrary, the piety and obedience of them, who love God, and keep his commandments, is in mercy visited upon their children, transmitting a good moral character to them, and all those blessings which are implied in this; and thus, as the Psalmist declares, “The generation of the upright shall be blessed: His seed shall be mighty upon the earth.”404404 Psalm cxii. 2.
All that is to be inferred from this passage, at present, (though farther use may be made of it before this subject is finished) and from those mentioned before, under this particular, is, that God, in his transactions and covenanting with men, does include children with their parents, and they are so connected together, that children derive their moral character, at least in many instances, from their parents: And God, in entering into covenant with parents, extends the promises and blessings of his covenant to their children; which are suspended on the character and conduct of their parents, on their fulfilling the covenant, on their part, or not. It is presumed this is undeniably certain, from the passages of scripture which have been here cited.
As this has in fact been the way of God’s dealing with mankind, and this is declared to be his method of conduct, and the tenor of his covenanting with his people, in the second command; not as a temporary, but a perpetual rule of his proceeding and covenanting with man; and this appears rational and natural; no reason can be suggested, why it should not take place under the gospel, to as great a degree, if not greater, in God’s covenanting with christians; but this gives good reason to conclude, with great certainty, that this is the way in which God deals with christians, and christian churches universally; and that his covenant with them includes their children also.269
This is thought to be one good and strong argument, for the baptism of children, of parents who are visible believers, and are in covenant with God, and members of a christian church. Since the covenant has respect to their children, as well as to them, and the children are really included in it; this is a good reason why the seal of the covenant should be applied to them, as well as to their parents; therefore they are proper subjects of baptism.
2. That the above reasoning is right and conclusive, from the facts and declarations recorded in scripture, which have been mentioned; that the children of those who enter into covenant are proper subjects of the seal of the covenant, and have an equal right to it with their parents, is confirmed by the express direction and command of God, to administer and affix the seal of his covenant to the children, as well as to their parents. Of this there is indisputable evidence, both from precept, and from fact.
When God entered into covenant with Abraham, the father and pattern of all believers to the end of the world, and formed a visible church in his house and family; and appointed circumcision to be a token and seal of the covenant, his children, and all the children in his family, were included in the covenant, and by an express direction and command were to be circumcised at eight days old. And this was the seal of die covenant, between God and the seed and posterity of Abraham, and all who were proselyted, and joined with them, by which they were visibly in covenant, and distinguished from others; and was constantly applied to children, from Abraham, down to the christian dispensation, and till the right of circumcision was expressly set aside and abolished in the church; and another rite appointed in the place of it by divine authority; which is baptism with water. And the circumcision of infants Was so strictly enjoined, and made so important and necessary, in order to continue and maintain a visible church, that when a parent neglected to circumcise his children, the covenant was broken with respect to the children, and the parent, and they were cut off from the church.405405 Gen. xvii. 9, 10, 14. Ex. iv. 24, 25, 26. xii. 48.270
The Abrahamic covenant, and that into which the children of Israel entered, which is in substance the same, included the promise of spiritual blessings, even all the good things which are contained in the covenant of grace, which takes place between God and the visible churches of Christ, and every individual believer; and the latter is the same with the former, in the essence and substance of it. Nothing greater or more is promised to man in the Bible, nor can more be promised by God, than that he will be a God unto them. This promise was contained in the covenant made with Abraham, and his seed.406406 Gen. xvii. And this promise contains all the blessings of the gospel covenant, or the new covenant, called so to distinguish it from the covenant published from Mount Sinai, in the form of a covenant of works; which did, however, under that form, more darkly contain the covenant of grace.407407 Jer. xxxi.31, 32, 33, 34. Ezek. xxxvii. 27. Heb. viii. 10. Rev. xxi. 7. And nothing more is to be promised on man’s part, than to keep this covenant, which was enjoined upon Abraham and his seed. “And God said unto Abraham, thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou and thy seed after thee, in their generations.”408408 Gen. xvii. 9. To enter into covenant with God, and acknowledge and receive him as their God, is to engage to do all the duty enjoined in the covenant, which is necessary, in order to partake of the promises; to love God, and keep his commandments: Which is expressed to Abraham in the following words: “The Lord appeared to Abraham, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.409409 verse 1.
This covenant did indeed contain a promise of temporal blessings, and of possessing the land of Canaan; but this does not make it essentially different from the covenant under the gospel; for this contains a promise of temporal good things, which shall be proper and needed: It has the “promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”410410 1 Tim. iv. 8.
Therefore, the token or seal of this covenant, on the part of those to whom it was applied, signified a new heart, a heart to love God, a humble, penitent, obedient heart. And an heart opposite to all this, is called an 271uncircumcised heart. “Circumcise therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”411411 Deut. x. 16. xxx. 6. “If then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled.”412412 Levit. xxvi. 41. “Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.”413413 Acts vii. 51. “He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.”414414 Rom. ii. 29. Circumcision, therefore, implied, and did signify as much, and the same thing, as baptism does, when applied to the adult, or any other person.
The argument from this fact, and divine constitution, is stated in the following manner: When God formed a church in the family of Abraham, and in Israel his posterity, upon the same foundation and covenant, as to substance, with that upon which the church under the gospel is founded; requiring the same character in order to be members of it, and containing the same mutual promises and engagements; and appointed a token or seal of this covenant, by the application of which persons were introduced as visible members of this church, and were distinguished from all others, as a visibly holy people: He did, at the same time, order this distinguishing seal of the covenant to be applied and administered to their children, and they were taken into covenant with their parents. The children of parents in the christian church are as capable of being included in the covenant with their parents, and of having the qualifications for baptism, and the things signified by it, as the infants of Abraham and his posterity were, of being included in the covenant made with them; and of having the qualifications, and those things which were signified by circumcision, these being in substance the same; there being no other alteration or change, but that which is circumstantial; and the ancient initiating rite and seal of the covenant, changed from circumcision to baptism with water, which is the christian circumcision. Therefore, 272the children of believers in the christian church are included in the covenant into which the parents enter, and are to have the initiating seal of the covenant applied to them, as being the proper subjects of baptism. And the divine command to Abraham, and his posterity, to circumcise their children, is as binding on christians, who are the children of Abraham, to baptize their children; unless this command and institution of God be expressly, or clearly, by necessary implication, repealed and set aside; which is not to be found in the Bible, nor the least intimation of any such thing, but the contrary; as will be shewn under the next particular. It was a favour and privilege, to both parents and children, in the Abrahamic church, to have the latter admitted into covenant with their parents, and to have the seal of the covenant applied to them; and no reason can be given or thought of, why it is not as great a favour and privilege to both now, as it was then; no man, therefore, can set this divine institution aside, unless he have a warrant from heaven to do it, without disobedience to God, and injuring the church of Christ, and offending those little children, the children of believing parents.
God, by instituting a church in the family of Abraham, set a pattern, and appointed a form of a church, in all the essentials of it, agreeable to his own wisdom and goodness, in which he included both parents and their children, and ordered the initiating seal of the covenant to be applied to infants; hereby declaring them to be the proper subjects of it. This was a great favour and privilege to parents and children; and was therefore strictly enjoined, and much insisted upon as an important duty, the neglect of which brought the parents under censure, and excluded them from the privilege of the church, and injured the children. Therefore, this institution continues, and is binding on the christian church, and will continue to the end of the world; and there is no reason to expect or desire, that it should be set aside, and be made to cease; or that it should be expressly enjoined again, and the command renewed, under the gospel; because this is wholly needless; it having been once expressly enjoined, and actually put 273into practice, a total silence about it afterwards, is a tacit command to continue the observance of it.415415 They who are expecting and demanding, that Christ or his apostles should expressly renew and enjoin on christians the appointment and command of God, to apply to the infants of believers, the initiating seal of the covenant, in order to warrant men to do it, refusing to acquiesce in the decision of this point, which God had already made, if the argument above be conclusive, are imitating Balaam, who did not rest satisfied with the decision which God had once made, respecting his going to curse Israel, but expected and required, that God should speak again, if he did really forbid his doing it: And are acting as the Scribes and Pharisees did, who demanded a sign from heaven, to prove that Jesus was the Messiah; while they disregarded all the signs, and the abundant evidence, which had been given to confirm this truth.
3. It has been just now observed, that if nothing be recorded in the New Testament that was said or done by Christ or his apostles, contrary to including the children of believers, in the covenant with their parents, and baptizing them; then the constitution which God had already made in his church, with respect to this, must stand unrepealed; and it may be safely concluded, that it is the will of Christ, that this should take place in his church, and that it actually did take place, and was practised, though nothing be said directly concerning it. But it must be now observed, that there are things said in the New Testament, which do imply this, and show that the children of believers were then considered in the same light and character, and treated as the children were in the Abrahamic church.
What Christ said of little children and infants, and did to them which were brought to him for his blessing, is remarkable. The disciples rebuked those who brought them for doing it; but Christ was much displeased with them for doing so, and said to them, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And he took them in his arms, and laid his hands on them, and prayed for them, and blessed them.416416 Matt. xix. 13, 14, 15. Mark x. 13, 14. Luke xviii. 15, 16. Upon this the following things are to be observed:
1. They who brought those children and infants to Christ were believers in him, and friends to him; for none but such would in these circumstances bring their children to him, to obtain his blessing.
2. They were not brought to Christ to be cured of any bodily disease: For if this had been the case, and 274the children had need of healing in this sense, the disciples would not have rebuked them for bringing them to be healed; beside, there is not a word said, intimating that they were cured of any bodily disorder, or that they had any.
3. Christ encouraged their bringing their little children and infants to him; and discovered his approbation, by shewing his displeasure with his disciples, for discouraging and forbidding them to do it; and charging them not to do so again; and by granting the request of those who brought them.
4. Christ, by taking them in his arms, and praying for them and blessing them, declared that they were capable of receiving spiritual saving blessings; of being the subjects of all the blessings contained in the covenant of grace, and of all that is signified in the ordinance of baptism; and that he actually fixed this character upon them, and conferred these blessings, and numbered them among the saved; those who are redeemed by him. For his praying for them, and blessing them, must imply all this; as he was always heard, and they whom Christ blesses are blessed, and shall be blessed forever.
5. When Christ says, “For of such is the kingdom of heaven,” he, in these words, gives the reason why little children should be brought to him for his blessing. By the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, which is the same, is meant the visible kingdom of Christ in this world, or his church; in which sense, this phrase is most commonly used by Christ. What he here declares therefore is, that such children as these, that is, the children of his friends, who believe in him, belong to his kingdom, and are to be members of his visible church, and to be with their parents, numbered among the redeemed.
This declaration of our Saviour sets the children of believing parents under the gospel in the same situation in which the children of the visible members of the ancient church, in the family and posterity of Abraham, were placed. Such were introduced with their parents, into that church and kingdom, and were as real members of it as their parents. But they cannot enter into this kingdom of God, the visible church of Christ, in 275 any way but by being baptized with water: Therefore, this is as proper, important and necessary, as was the circumcision of children, under the covenant made with Abraham. If children of visible believers are to be considered as having a right to be visible members of the kingdom of God, and to be treated as such; in which light Christ has set them in those words; then they are to be introduced to this visible standing: in this church and kingdom, by the only door which Christ has fixed and opened for this, which is, by being baptized with water, in the name of the sacred Trinity; or being born of water.
In sum, what Christ said and did on this occasion is entirely conformable to the institution in the covenant with Abraham, and the practice of the church of Israel, respecting children; and is really an approbation of it, and a manifestation of his will, that the children of his disciples, and members of his visible church, should be considered and treated as the children of Abraham, and his posterity were, as being in the same covenant and kingdom with their parents.
What the apostle Paul says to the church of Christ at Corinth, and particular members of it, respecting their children, is an evidence that they had the same station and character in the christian church, which they had in the church before the incarnation of Christ. “Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”417417 1 Cor. vii. 14.
Here it is asserted, that the children of believing parents, even if one of them be a believer, are holy. The meaning of the word holy, here, is doubtless plain and determinate, and will appear so, when properly considered, and compared with other parts of the Bible. Is it not certain that this word, especially in the New Testament, when applied to a moral agent, denotes a moral character, and means real holiness, or the appearance of real holiness, in the view and judgment of those persons who are to form a judgment of their moral character, and treat them accordingly? This is the same with visible holiness; that is, real holiness in the sight and judgment of men, who are to judge and act upon it. To be 276visibly holy, is to be really holy in appearance to men, so far as they can, or have a right to judge; and is a sufficient warrant for them to consider and treat them who have this visibility of real holiness, as if they were in fact really holy, though this visibility, or the signs and evidence by which they are to judge, be not infallibly connected with real holiness.
In this sense all the members of the apostolic churches were holy. They Were therefore called “holy brethren,” and saints, which is the same word in the original, by which the character of children of believers is here expressed; and might be translated, “Else were your children unclean; but now are they saints.” This is an epithet common to all who were baptized and received into the churches, professing faith in Christ, and entering into covenant with him, and with each other, to obey his laws, and to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were thus called saints, or holy, and considered and treated as being really such, because they had that appearance in the sight of men, according to the rules by which they were to judge and act in their treatment of them; and not because they infallibly knew they were real saints. They were visibly real saints, according to the marks and evidence, and the appearance they made in the sight of men, by which Christ had ordered them to judge and act. Thus they were visible saints: All the members of every church were so. They were baptized and received as members of the church, as appearing to be real saints, which is meant by a visible saint. All who were not real saints, or really holy in the sight of Christ, which was true of some, were hypocrites, and not what they professed and appeared to men to be. In this case the fault was wholly in them, who made an appearance and profession, not agreeable to the truth; and not theirs who acted according to the rules which Christ has prescribed, in forming a charitable judgment of them, and receiving them, as being really holy, and friends to Christ.
In this sense, the children of the believer are holy, or saints. Christ has put this character upon them, and directed his people to consider and receive them as 277such; which character is derived wholly from the believing parent. If the parent of the children be a visible saint, or holy person, that is, appears to men to be a real saint, the children are visible saints, or holy also; that is, they have the appearance and character of real saints, as really as their parents, and are to be treated as such, until this appearance ceases. How this appearance and visibility may cease, and on what ground it is derived to children, from their parents, will be more particularly considered in the sequel.
It has been said, that the unbelieving parent is sanctified, according to this text; which is the same with being made holy: Such parent is therefore here represented to be as holy as the children; consequently the latter are no more, and in no other sense holy, than the former, according to these words.
Answer. No one can suppose, that to be sanctified, and to be holy, do here express the same character; or that the unbelieving parent is asserted to be holy, in precisely the same sense, in which the children of believers are holy. Therefore, the unbelieving parent being said to be sanctified by, in, or to the believing parent, whatever this may mean, does not in the least determine what is the character of the children, which is expressed by their being called holy; and is as consistent with their being asserted to be really holy, in the sense which has been now explained, as it is with their being holy in any other sense. And it is to be considered, whether the sense here given be not the most natural, consistent sense: and whether any other sense, which is consistent and unforced, has ever yet been mentioned, or can be suggested.
When the unbelieving parent is said to be sanctified by, or to the believer, the meaning is plain and easy, viz. That the believer may live in such a connexion, consistent with maintaining a christian character; and the unbeliever may, to such a degree, answer the ends of that relation to the believer, as to be improved by the latter to the holy purposes of true religion. Thus the unbeliever is sanctified to the believer, as every kind of food, and every creature of God, is sanctified to such, 278by the word of God, and prayer.418418 1 Tim. iv. 5. Therefore, the children of such parents are holy: they derive their character from the believing, holy parent, and not from the unbeliever: which could not be the case, if the unbeliever were not sanctified by, or to, the believer, in the sense above explained. Who does not see the difference between the unbeliever being sanctified by, in, or to, the believer; and the children of the believer being consequently holy? The latter, according to the use of the word in the New Testament, denotes a moral character, and fixes it on the children: the formed has no respect to the moral character of the unbeliever; but of the believing parent, from whom that of the children is derived.
According to this view of the words under consideration, the children of believers and members of christian churches are to be considered, and were considered by Christ and his apostles, and the primitive churches, as having the same character with their believing parents; just as the children of parents in the Abrahamic church were considered and treated, viz. as being in the same covenant, and having the same character with their parents. The children of Abraham, and of Israel, when more particularly formed into a church, and they renewed and entered into covenant at Mount Sinai, after they had greatly apostatized, during their long servitude in Egypt, were denominated by God, “A holy nation, and a holy people.” And all their children were included in this covenant, as has been shewn, and this epithet was applied to them, as much as to their parents: the seal of the covenant was therefore applied to them, by which they were visibly separated and distinguished from all other people, as a holy nation, both parents and children.
Is not this sufficient evidence, that it was the will of Christ that the churches erected by the apostles should make no alteration with respect to children, from that which took place in the church, formed in the family of Abraham; but they are to have the same character and privileges with them? How contrary is this to a supposed repeal of the institution, by which children were 279received into covenant with their parents, and had the seal of it applied to them, in the family of Abraham!
And if the children of believers be holy, in the sense explained, and were so in the apostolic churches; are they not the proper subjects of baptism? Who can forbid water, that they should not be baptized?
It may be added, that consistent with these words, thus understood, this apostle treated and addressed the children of believing parents, as being numbered with the saints, and so as saints. Headdresses his epistle to the church at Ephesus, and to that at Colosse, to the saints at Ephesus, and at Colosse, and to no other persons; and he speaks to such, and no others, in those, and in all his epistles. Yet here we find him particularly addressing, and exhorting children, as included in the church, and among the saints. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Children, obey your parents in all things; for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”419419 Eph. vi. 1. Col. iii. 20.
Other passages in the New Testament have been often mentioned, by writers on this subject, in support of the baptism of the children of believers: But it is not thought needful, particularly to consider them here: Since these, which have been brought into view, are supposed sufficient to shew, that it is the will of Christ, that the institution of a church in the family of Abraham, so far as it respects children, including them with their parents, and applying the seal of the covenant to them, should not be repealed under the gospel.
4. That the apostolic churches and primitive christians did admit their children to baptism, as proper subjects of it, is argued from the general, and almost universal practice of it in all ages since, from that time. This is a fact, which writers on this subject have abundantly proved. From writings now extant it appears, that infant baptism was practised in the christian churches, in the second, third, and fourth centuries. And it was asserted by writers in the church in those ages, that it had been the universal practice from the days of the apostles; and not one person appears to have denied it, or to suggest that it was not thus handed down, as an institution 280of Christ. And it appears to have been the common practice in christian churches for above a thousand years, at least; and it is to this day the general practice in the christian world. If this were not the practice of the first christian churches, formed by the apostles, it seems impossible that it should be introduced at so early an age, as the universal practice, without opposition by any one church or person, as an innovation, and contrary to the practice of the primitive churches; and without any account, or notice given, when it was done, and by whom, and by whom it was opposed. Various heresies took place in the churches soon after the apostles’ days, by which christians were divided in their sentiments and practice in many things, of which we have the history handed down to us; informed when, and by whom they were introduced. And learned men, who took pains to inform themselves, and were under advantages to do it, who lived in the early ages of the church, have given a particular account of the heresies which had arisen among christians in different parts of the world, and at different times; but they never mention infant baptism, as one of them; nor the omission or denial of it, as a christian institution, by any church or single person, who practised the baptism of any with water. By those heresies, professing christians were divided into parties, and became spies upon each other; and if they had not all been agreed in baptizing infants, and it had not been the universal practice before those divisions rose, but was introduced afterwards, it would have been impossible that they should all agree in it; or that they should be silent about it; and that none should dispute against it, and oppose it. If one party had adopted it, the other would oppose it, as an innovation, never known to be practised before, &c. But while they differed about many things, in this practice they were all agreed, as an institution handed down from the apostles.
Corruptions and practices have taken place in churches, especially in the church of Rome, which are contrary to the institutions of Christ, and were not practised by the primitive churches; but we have an account when most of those were introduced, and of great opposition made 281to them by many; and they have never been universally received by the churches. If the baptism of children be not a divine institution, it is a great error indeed; a great corruption and abuse of the ordinance of baptism, and an utter perversion of it, to a purpose for which it was not instituted. And it is perfectly unaccountable (and may we not say impossible) that it should so universally take place in the church of Christ, and that so soon after the death of the apostles, without any opposition by any one person, for many centuries, and no account be handed down, of the time when it was introduced, and by whom, if it were not universally practised from the days of the apostles, but is an innovation, contrary to the original institution and practice of the churches?
But if the baptism of the children of believers be a divine institution, and universally practised by the churches in the apostles’ days, agreeable to the foregoing arguments, and was handed down from them in the christian churches; then its taking place so generally, and even universally, from the earliest times, for so many ages, can be well accounted for, and appears perfectly consistent. This fact, therefore, increases the evidence, and serves to strengthen and confirm other arguments, which are thought to be in themselves fully conclusive, that the baptism of infants is a divine institution, and was practised by the apostolic churches.
THE NATURE AND DESIGN OF INFANT BAPTISM.
II. The next thing proposed on the subject of infant baptism, is, to consider the import and design of it, and what good ends it may answer to the parents and their children.
If it be evident and certain, that this is a divine institution, it ought to be punctually attended and practised, though the reason, design, and end of it were not to be discovered, and none could tell or see of what benefit it can be to the parents or children. But if this were in fact the case, and it should appear to us only an unmeaning, 282useless ceremony, and really of a bad tendency; this would greatly tend to blind us to the evidence, that it is indeed an institution of Christ; and to prejudice our minds, and shut our eyes, so as not to see it, however clear it may be. It is therefore no wonder that persons, who have imbibed this notion of infant baptism, and look into the Bible, and attend to the arguments which are brought in favour of it, and what is said against it, with this prejudice on their minds, should not be convinced that it is a divine institution; but reject it with a great degree of confidence, and religious zeal. In this view, the inquiry now before us is very important and interesting. And if a rational arid consistent account can be given of this institution, and the ground and design of it be discovered by the help of the scripture; and it can be shown in what respect it is suited to promote the good of parents and their children, and of the church; it will tend to remove prejudices, and to confirm the arguments which have been offered from the scripture, in favour of infant baptism.
This will be now attempted by offering the following observations and conclusions to the candid consideration, and careful examination of those who are willing to attend to this subject, and desirous to form right conceptions of it, and to know what is the reason, design and advantage of this institution.
1. The baptism of the children of believers is a covenant transaction, by which, in some sense or other, and in some degree, at least, the children are visibly taken into covenant, so as to be included in it; and are to be considered as sharing in the blessings of it, with their parents. No less than this can be made of the transaction with Abraham; and the covenant made with him and his seed, in which the seal of the covenant was applied to them. And the same constitution takes place in the christian church, with respect to children; and the appointed seal of the gospel covenant is therefore applied to them. If this were not a covenant transaction, which has respect to the children, and they were in no sense included in the covenant, the application of the seal of the covenant to them, by baptizing them, would be an unmeaning transaction indeed; or rather 283would be a signification of that which is not true, and does not really take place. Nor would it answer to what was intended, and actually took place in the circumcision of children in the Abrahamic church, which was expressly called the token of the covenant, and the covenant itself, which God made, and established between himself, and Abraham and his seed. “I will make a covenant between me and thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee; and thy seed after thee; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 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; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And the uncircumcised man child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”420420 Gen. xvii. What can be more plain and certain, than those words make it, that the children of Abraham were as really included in the covenant made with him, of which circumcision was the appointed token and seal, as he himself was; and consequently that all the parents in Israel, and their circumcised children, were equally included in the same covenant? And who that believes in infant baptism, will deny that this is as much a covenant transaction as was the circumcision of the children of Abraham; and that the baptized children of believers are as really and as much in covenant, as the circumcised children of Abraham? Therefore, they who believe the baptism of infants to be a christian institution, have generally, if not universally, considered it as a covenant transaction, importing the children of believers to be included in the same covenant with their believing parents; though they may have differed in their notion of this covenant, as it respects children.
2. This covenant transaction in baptizing the children of believers, is between God and the parents. It respects the children indeed, which are baptized, but they are incapable of acting in the affair, so as to enter into covenant, by any act of theirs. If they be brought into covenant, and the seal of it set upon them, it must 284be by what is done for them, and determined and acted with respect to them, in which they are the subjects, and not the agents; and all this takes place previous to their knowing any thing of the matter. In this, all are agreed.
3. A covenant is commonly understood to imply mutual engagements and promises, on some condition expressed or understood, between two parties, so covenanting. Thus when God enters into covenant with men, or a covenant takes place between them, he proposes and promises to grant some good thing to them, on some condition to he performed on their part; which they engage and promise to perform, approving of the proposal, and complying with it. But the condition on which the divine promises are made in the covenant which he proposes, and into which he enters with man, is all implied in a cordial approbation of the promise, and acceptance of the thing promised; and perseverance in this, and expressing it in a proper and answerable conduct; for this is to love God, and keep his commandments.
The absolute, unconditional promises of God, are indeed called a covenant, and he is said to make a covenant with those to whom he makes such promises. Thus he is said to establish his covenant with Noah and his seed, in which all mankind, who were to exist after that, are comprehended; and with every living creature.421421 Gen. ix. 3, &c. Which covenant consisted in an absolute, unconditional promise, that he would not destroy the world again by a flood.—Of the same kind are many of the promises made to the church; that God will never forsake it; but that it shall continue to the end of the world, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it; and that it shall yet prosper and flourish, and fill the world, &c.
The covenant of grace, which is called the new covenant, is in a sense unconditional. As it is established with the redeemed, the church as a body, it is called a promise and testament, in which are contained all the good things which are implied in the complete, eternal redemption of the redeemed church: and whatever is 285necessary on their part, is comprised in the promise, in which God engages that it shall take place, and be wrought in them, so that they shall will and do the things necessary to their being in covenant with God, and sharing in all the blessings of it. This is evident from the particular description which the apostle Paul gives of this covenant, in a quotation from the prophet Jeremiah. “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. This is the covenant that I will make with the housie of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws in their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying. Know the Lord: For all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”422422 Heb. viii. 8, 10, 11, 12. Here God promises to do all that is to be done; and if there be any condition necessary on the part of the church, it is included in the promise, and God engages that it shall take place. “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts, and they shall be to me a people.” This is to be considered as a condition which must take place in all of the redeemed church, and implies saving faith, or love to God, and obedience to him, in keeping his commandments. But in this covenant of grace, this condition of salvation, and all that is implied in eternal redemption, is promised to the church. This is the legacy, the testament, or promise which Christ has left to his church.
But this does not exclude, but necessarily includes, a condition, or something which must take place in every individual, in order to his being interested in the blessings of this covenant, or being properly in covenant with God. This may properly be called a condition, the condition of the covenant, on man’s part, as necessary in order to his being in covenant.
How the children of believers are visibly included in this covenant, and may really be so, having the condition 286of it wrought in them, will be shown in what follows. But the observation in this particular, under which some digression has been made, that it might not be misunderstood, is, that in the covenant transaction between God and the parents in the baptism of their children, there are mutually promises and engagements between them, which do particularly respect the children. What they are will be considered under the following particulars.
4. The parent, who offers his child to baptism, does expressly or implicitly renew his covenant with God, and dedicates himself to him, to love him and keep his commandments; and does renewedly lay hold of the covenant, acting for himself and child. He brings his child to Christ, for his blessing, and dedicates, and gives it away to him; and promises to bring it up for him, “In the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” as one of Christ’s children. All this is professed, and promised in this visible, external transaction: And if this be done understandingly and heartily, or is a true expression of the heart of the parent, it is really done in the sight of God. This is true, in the view of the church, who look only on the outward appearance, and cannot see the heart. The parent is considered by them as sincere and hearty in making his profession and promises; that he does really dedicate his child to Christ, and will do all that is implied in bringing it up for him, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
What is implied in this engagement and promise will be move particularly considered hereafter. Whatever this may be, all who believe the baptism of the children of believing parents is a divine institution will grant, that all, which has been now expressed, is implied in the profession and promise made by the parent in offering his child in baptism.
5. Jesus Christ does, in this transaction, receive the child into the same visible standing and character with the parent, as a visible saint, or holy person, and orders the church to consider and look upon it in this light, as being one in their view, and so far as they are to judge, really holy, and among the number of the saved, Of this holiness, the child is as capable as the parent; and 287by the command of Christ, who has put this character upon all such children, and said, they are holy; they are to be considered and received by the church as such; that is, in appearance, to their view, really holy. He has commanded his church to receive all those adult persons who make a proper profession and appearance of real holiness, and to look upon them as being really holy; that is, to consider and treat them as being really what they appear to be, though they may not, in fact, be really what they appear to men to be; though they may not be really holy, and there be no reason to believe that they are all such; and how great the number is of those who are visible saints, that is, who appear to the church to be real saints, and whom they are commanded to receive and treat as such, and yet are not really saints, none can tell. In like manner, he has commanded his people to receive their children, whom they bring to the church, in the same character with their parents, as really holy; that is, as appearing to them to be really holy, which is the same with being visibly holy; because he has put this character upon them, which he has put upon their parents, and ordered them to be called saints, or holy, though they may not be really so; and there may be as many, among such children, not really holy, as there are among their parents, or the adult members of the church, or more. Their connexion with their parents, and having the same character put upon them by Christ, by saying, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God,” and calling them saints, or holy, is a good warrant to the church to receive them, with their parents, into the visible, holy covenant, and apply the seal of the covenant to them, as the children of the parents of the ancient church were, and were called holy, and the holy seed.
Two reasons may be given, why the Redeemer has affixed the same character to the children of believing, visibly covenanting parents, as he has to the parents themselves, and ordered them to be taken into the same covenant, and to have the seal of the covenant applied to them, and to be numbered among the redeemed, both in his ancient church, and in that under the gospel.288
1. Because he has ordered that those who are made really holy, and are saved, should be chiefly taken from, and found among visible believers and their children. Therefore, he has directed us to look there, for really holy persons that shall be saved, and no where else. He has, for wise reasons, determined, that real holiness and salvation shall briefly and ordinarily descend in this line, from believing parents to their children. Therefore, he has ordered them all to be looked upon by the church to be holy, and to be numbered among the saved; for the same reason that all adult professing believers are to be received by the church, as really holy, viz. because they who are really holy and shall be saved are to be found among those who have this appearance, and are to be looked for among them; and one cannot be distinguished from another, so as to be known to be really holy, and the other not; therefore, all such must be considered as really holy, and have this character put upon them.
That it is God’s common way, to convey saving blessings down from godly parents to their children, and to bless the children for the sake of their parents, may be argued from many passages of scripture; some of which have been mentioned heretofore. “The righteous is ever merciful and lendeth: and his seed is blessed. The just man walketh in his integrity; his children are blessed after him. Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, and delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon the earth. The generation of the upright shall be blessed.”423423 Psalm xxxvii. 26. cxii. l, 2. Prov. xx. 7. God promises his church, which has a special respect to the gospel church, that he will bless them and their children with spiritual blessings, and the promise is made as much to their offspring as to them. “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty; and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.”424424 Isai. xliv. 3. And still speaking of the church, he says, “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord, my spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, 289nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and forever. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble: For they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.”425425 Isaiah lix. 21. lxv. 23. “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one wav, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them.”426426 Jer. xxxii. 38, 39. Thus the children are connected with their parents, and the good, the blessing, is represented as descending from parents to children; and the latter are included in the promises of good to the former. To the same purpose are the following words, which have reference to the gospel day, “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”427427 Deut. xxx. 6. And the covenant which God makes with his church and people is represented as conveying blessings from parents to children, to a thousand generations.428428 Exod. xx. 6. Deut. vii. 9. Thus piety and spiritual blessings are represented as descending down in a line from parents to children, in the church; and there we are to look, and expect to find holiness, if any where: And the children of visibly pious, holy parents, are to be considered and looked upon as of the same character with their parents, and as the blessed of the Lord, and holy with them, so long as they do not discover the contrary. Therefore, they are to be considered and treated as in the same covenant with their parents, and heirs of the same blessings with them, so long as they are incapable of acting for themselves; which cannot be done without applying the seal of the covenant to them, by baptizing them.
Agreeably to the representation of scripture, which has now been brought into view, this appears to be true in fact, from what has taken place in the visible church in all ages. Ever since there has been a visible church in the world, those who have been saved have generally been members of that, and this salvation has been handed down from parents to children, until, by apostasy and open breach of covenant, they have been destroyed, or 290cast off by God, and ceased to be a visible church—When the church was erected in the family of Abraham, and was enlarged, as his posterity multiplied, which continued down to the crucifixion of Christ, and even to the destruction of the temple and nation of the Jews by the Romans, before it was wholly abandoned and destroyed, true religion, real holiness, and salvation were chiefly confined to that church, and handed down from parents to children. The most of the truly pious and holy people in the world were to be found in that church, during all that time, from generation to generation.—This church was therefore called the inheritance of the Lord, and his heritage. And is represented by the apostle Paul, by an olive tree, which had flourished along time, a holy tree; but when the branches were broken off by unbelief, and an open breach of covenant, the Gentiles were inserted in their place, into the holy root of this olive tree; and then the Gentile and christian church, being in the foundation and essence of it, the same with the church which had subsisted in the family and posterity of Abraham, was the visible holy society, including parents and children. And as Christ says, salvation was of the Jews, while they continued branches in the holy olive tree; so when they were broken off, as a nation, and agreeable to the ancient prediction, the law went forth out of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, unto the Gentile nations; and many people heard and said, “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”429429 Isaiah ii. 3. From that time, salvation was of the christian church, and has been handed down from parents to children, to this day. And though some particular churches or branches of the christian visible church, and however many and great, have been broken off by apostasy; yet still the true visible christian church subsists, and will continue from parents to children, to the end of the world. And the parents and children of which it consists, are visibly holy, and heirs of salvation: and no others are or can be so.291
2. Another reason why the same character is affixed to the children of believers, which the latter sustain; and why they are received into covenant with them, and have the seal of the covenant applied to them, and which may be considered as the foundation of what is observed as a reason of this, in the foregoing particular, is this, That real holiness, and salvation, are secured to the children of believers, by the covenant into which the parents enter with God, as it respects their children, if the parents faithfully keep covenant, and fulfil what they profess and promise, respecting their children, when they offer them in baptism.
It has been observed, that parents offering their children in baptism, is a covenant transaction, between God and them, with regard to the children, to whom the seal of the covenant is administered; and that there are mutual promises and engagements between the parties covenanting, without which it would not be a covenant transaction: And it has been also observed, that the baptism of children has been generally considered in this light by those who have believed it to be a divine institution, and have vindicated it as such. The parent, in this transaction, professes to devote his child to Christ, and give it away to him, asking his blessing on it, as the greatest and only portion he wishes for his child; and promises, that if he and the child shall live, to bring it up for Christ, as belonging to him, as one of his lambs in his flock, and bearing his mark and name, to train it up in the way in which he should go, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
And Jesus Christ, as the other party in this covenant transaction, visibly receives the child as belonging to him; and on the condition which the parent professes and promises to perform, he promises to bless the child, and bestow salvation upon it. Therefore, such children are visibly saints, and numbered among the saved: For the profession and engagements of the parents are to be relied upon by the church; and that they will fulfil their promises respecting their children; upon which the promise of Christ will be made good to them.
That this is the tenor of the covenant between God and believing parents, respecting their children, seems 292to be evident from the transaction itself in baptism, as it has been now stated and explained: And this will fully account for the children of believers belonging to the visible kingdom of God, and their being called holy, or saints. But this may be farther confirmed by those passages of scripture, which contain promises of saving grace, or of salvation, to the children of those parents who are faithful in keeping covenant with God.
The covenant with Abraham, which has been mentioned, by which a visible church was formed in his house and family, who is the father and pattern of all believers; and which covenant and church was handed down in his posterity, and is not essentially different, but really the same covenant and church, which still exists, since the natural posterity of Abraham have been broken off or cast out, by their unbelief and open breach of covenant, as has been shown: This covenant with Abraham included his children; and the promise it contained was made as much to his children as to him. The words of the promise are, “To be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” The promise to be a God unto Abraham included the blessings of the covenant of grace, even saving mercies, and it must imply the same when made to his seed. This promise was made on a condition on Abraham’s part, which is implied, and is expressed in the context. “The Lord appeared unto Abraham and said. Walk before me, and be thou perfect: And I will make my covenant between me and thee.”430430 Gen. xvii. l, 2. The condition of the covenant, which was required of Abraham, is here expressed in these words, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” And the condition of the covenant or promise is again expressed in the following words, “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. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”431431 verse 10, 11. The external rite of circumcision is not here intended, as the only condition of the covenant; but this implies the things signified by circumcision, the sign being mentioned, as including what was the import 293and signification of it. Therefore, it is here called the token of the covenant. When Abraham circumcised his children, he devoted them to God, and promised to treat them as God’s children, and educate them for God, which implied praying for them, and with them; instructing them in the things of this covenant, and directing and watching over them, and exercising parental care and government of them, and using all proper means, to lead them to know and do their duty to God and man, as soon as they should be capable of acting for themselves; at the same time, setting a good example before them in all his conduct, both of true piety towards God, and righteousness and benevolence towards men. This was the covenant between God and Abraham, on Abraham’s part, with respect to his children, of which circumcision was the sign, token, and seal; and though he circumcised his children, if he did not in heart dedicate them to God, and faithfully perform the duties signified and promised in this transaction, he did not keep the covenant of circumcision, but would break it, in the most important and essential part of it. Upon this condition, implied, professed and engaged, in Abraham’s circumcising his children, God promised to be their God, to bless them with the blessings of the covenant, or that they should be holy and happy forever. Thus God entered into covenant with Abraham and with his seed: and the promise was to him and his children, upon condition he would keep the covenant of circumcision, which was a token and seal of the covenant, by both the parties covenanting.
This is here said to be an everlasting covenant. “And my covenant shall be in your flesh tor an everlasting covenant.”432432 Gen, xvii. 13. True religion and salvation would be transmitted to a thousand generations, even without end, or to the end of the world, from parents to children, if parents were faithful in the covenant, as it respects their children. But this covenant may be broken, by the parent’s not keeping covenant, and not acting up to his obligations, profession and promises, with regard to his children, and being guilty of great and persevering neglect of his duty, and by his unfaithfulness. This is evident 294from the words which follow, and is plainly expressed in them. “And the uncircumcised man child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people: He hath broken my covenant.”433433 Gen. x. 14. Upon these words the following observations may be made.
First. In the case mentioned, the child does not properly break the covenant; for he is not in the least active or guilty in the affair. The covenant is broken by the parent’s neglect of his duty to the child. Therefore, when it is said, “He hath broken my covenant,” the meaning is, the covenant is broken, as it respects the child, and by this mean the child is out of covenant, and excluded from the privileges of it; but the parent is the covenant breaker, as it is wholly by his neglect to circumcise his child.
Secondly. As the covenant made with Abraham was visibly broken by a parent’s refusing or neglecting to circumcise his children; so it was really broken by the parent, if he refused and neglected to do what is implied in the circumcision of children, and what he professed and promised in that transaction. Though he performed the external rite, yet if his heart were not answerable to it, and he were disposed to neglect all the important duty respecting his children, which he professes and solemnly engages, in performing the external rite of circumcision, he breaks the covenant as much, and more in the sight of God, than if had not circumcised his children; and forfeits all the promised blessings of the covenant to his children, which were promised on condition of his faithfulness in keeping this covenant. Circumcision, considered as a mere external rite and ceremony, was not the circumcision which was commanded by God: If the moral exercises and duties implied in it, and signified by it, and which were professed and engaged, did not take place, but were neglected. These were of the essence of circumcision; the external rite was but a sign or token of the other, in which the covenant consisted; and if the things signified, professed and promised, by this external sign and token, did not take place, the external sign and transaction was a mere nullity in the sight of God, and in the 295sight of men too, so far as this was apparent, and known to them. This is expressly asserted by the apostle Paul, when speaking of circumcision. “Circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uucircumcision. Neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh.”434434 Rom. ii. 25, 28.
Therefore, when a parent in Israel circumcised his children, and neglected to do the duties enjoined, professed and promised, of which the circumcision of his children was a token and pledge, and so did not keep the law of circumcision, but broke it; his children were in this respect, as if they had not been circumcised, and the covenant of circumcision was as really, and as much broken, as if he had neglected to circumcise his children; and his children were, by this neglect, cut off from the promises and blessings of the covenant. Can any thing be more plain and certain than this? What moral exercises and duties, respecting the children, the parent professed and promised, and what was the law of circumcision, in this respect, has been briefly stated above, and will be more fully explained, before the subject is closed.
Thirdly. Hence it appears that the covenant of circumcision, as it respected the seed or children of the parents, who circumcised them, did not extend, in the promises of it, any farther than to the children thus circumcised; though the parents were faithful in keeping covenant, and acted up to their profession and engagements. They could transmit the blessings of the covenant, according to the promises of it, no farther than to their children, which were circumcised by them. If these children should neglect to circumcise their children; or if they should circumcise them, and yet not keep the law of circumcision, but neglect the duties, with respect to their children, which they had professed and engaged, the covenant would be broken, and their children be cut off from the promises and blessings of it. And thus, this everlasting covenant, which, if faithfully kept, would transmit spiritual blessings and salvation to all generations, to the end of the world, may be, and has 296been broken; by which breach of this covenant, all the dreadful and prevailing evils and the curse, which have fallen upon mankind, have been introduced, and spread over the world, agreeably to the words of God by Isaiah. “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore, hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate.”435435 Isaiah xxiv. 5, 6.
But the following question will be suggested here, which requires an answer.
Question. If spiritual blessings and salvation, the blessings promised in the covenant, be transmitted from parents who keep covenant to their children, these children will be holy and obedient, according to the promise made to their parents; consequently, their children will be holy and obedient also, and so on through every generation, to the end of the world. How then can this covenant be broken, so that any children in this line of succession, should be unholy and disobedient? Must not holiness and salvation be infallibly transmitted from parents to children, to the last generation, according to this notion of the covenant, without a possibility of a breach of covenant?
Answer. The covenant, as it respects the parents, in their own persons, and the duties required of them, in order to their own salvation, is different from the covenant, and the duties required, as they respect their children. What regards their children is a distinct branch of the covenant, and differs from what respects their own persons only.
The covenant, as it respects the individual person entering into covenant, promises salvation to him who believeth, even to the least and lowest degree of true faith, by which he lays hold of the covenant; it promises that all such shall be finally saved; that they shall be furnished with every thing necessary for this, and shall be kept by the power of God, through their faith, unto salvation.—The person entering into covenant, as it respects his own person, professes this faith, and to devote himself to God in the exercise of it; lays hold of 297the covenant, and promises by divine assistance, relying upon the promised grace of God, to live a life of faith and holiness.
The covenant, as it respects the children of believing parents, and includes them, promises spiritual blessings and salvation to them, on condition of the parents’ faithfulness in devoting them to God, and bringing them up for him, persevering in the exercises and duties, which are implied in this. And these exercises and duties respecting their children are professed and promised by the parents, when they devote them to God, in this covenant transaction, and in applying the seal of the covenant to them. But there is no promise in this covenant that if they do, with a degree of sincerity, give up their children to God, and profess all those exercises and promise to perform all that duty towards them, which are implied in bringing them up for God, that they shall certainly do all this; but they may be very deficient and unfaithful in this covenant, as it respects their children, and bring a curse upon them, rather than the blessings promised in the covenant.
Therefore, though the parents may be true believers, and interested in all the blessings of the covenant, so far as they respect themselves, in their own persons; yet they may be so negligent of the exercises and duties of the covenant, as it respects their children, and which they have promised; and by this so break the covenant, with respect to them, as to cut them off from the promised blessings of the covenant. Though the parents of children may, in one instance or more, be faithful in performing their promised duty to their children, and their children be made partakers of spiritual blessings, in consequence of it; yet these children, though true believers, and interested in the blessings of the covenant themselves, may so neglect their duty to their children, as not to keep covenant, as it respects them; and consequently their children be deprived of the blessings of the covenant; and so the covenant, and the succession of blessings, from parents to children, be broken and cease.
Though Abraham was faithful in this covenant, and fulfilled the duties of it, as it respected his children; yet 298Isaac or Jacob, or both, though good men, and interested in the promises of the covenant in their own persons, might be so negligent and unfaithful, in their duty to their children, or some of them, at least, as to cut them off from the promises of the covenant, as it respected them. Eli appears to have been a good man; yet he was so negligent of his duty to his sons, that by this, evil came upon them. And king David, who was in many respects an eminently holy man, appears, from the history we have of him, and his family, to be very unfaithful in his duty to many of his children; and indulged a partiality in their favour, and a parental fondness, which was inconsistent with his treating them as he ought to have done; and led him far astray from his duty to them. Even his marrying so many wives was inconsistent with the regard he ought to have had for his posterity, and tended to prevent his doing his duty to his children. The Prophet Malachi, speaking against polygamy, refers to the original institution of marriage by God, who made only one woman for one man, and says, “And did he not make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed.”436436 Mal. ii. 15. It appears from these words, that in the institution of marriage, God had regard to the good of children and posterity, that they might be a holy seed: And that if the duties of this relation, particularly as they respect their offspring, be properly and faithfully attended to, and performed, their children will be holy, inherit the blessings of the covenant, and be saved. It also appears, that polygamy is contrary to the good of posterity, arid has a strong tendency to produce an ungodly seed; as it is unfriendly to the duties which parents owe to their children, and in many respects inconsistent with them.
It is to be observed, and must be kept in mind, that what has been said on the Abrahamic covenant, and the circumcising his children; the profession, promise and duties implied in this, and what depended upon these, with regard to the children, is equally applicable to parents, and their seed, and to the baptism of their children, under the christian dispensation.299
All that has been observed, concerning the covenant made with Abraham and his seed, may be yet farther illustrated, and made more evident, by attending to the following words of God, concerning Abraham, and his children and household. “For I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.”437437 Gen. xviii. 19.
First. We may observe what is here said of Abraham, which God knew he would do. He knew he would do it, because he had determined to work in him to will and to do it; for Abraham was wholly dependent on God for this, as for every thing else. “1 know him, that he will command his children and household after him.” This implies the whole of the duty which he engaged towards his children, and household, in the covenant of circumcision; and when he circumcised his children; and by doing this, he kept the covenant, as it respected them. Commanding them after him, implies proper and careful instruction of them, in the way of the Lord, teaching them the great doctrines of religion, what the way of the Lord is, what true religion is; and what are the revealed commands of God, and what duties they must do; for the exercise of authority and commands, without such instruction, would be improper, unreasonable, without a meaning, and absurd. This branch of duty cannot be done, without constant study, and great care and pains, watching every opportunity for it, and repeating it without cessation, which cannot be done without a good degree of religious knowledge, and great assiduity, concern and zeal. This part of the duty of parents to their children is particularly and repeatedly inculcated by God, on the parents in Israel, “These words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”438438 Deut. vi. 6, 7. And again, “Therefore, ye shall lay up these my words in your heart, and in your soul. And ye 300shall teach them your children, speaking of them, when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon earth.”439439 Deut. xi. 18, 19, 21.
Parental government is also implied in these words. Without a proper and wise government of children, they cannot be properly and with success instructed. They must teach, in this sense, with all authority. Children who are disobedient to their parents, which is always the case, where there is no proper government, cannot be instructed by them. Therefore, a proper, steady, wise government of children, in the exercise of parental authority, is essential to their good education; and parents must command their children after them, if they would bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The importance and necessity of family government, for the good of children, and of the church, are exhibited in a striking light, by the law which God gave to Israel, which ordered that no ungoverned, disobedient child, should live there; but that every one of this character should be put to death; and the parents were commanded to see it executed, upon every child who would not submit to their government, and obey their commands.440440 Deut. xxi. 18-21.
This branch of the education of children, which is so important and essential, cannot be properly and faithfully executed, without great and constant care, circumspection, prudence, and resolution; continually watching over their children, and treating and governing them, in a manner best suited to answer the end of government, and lead them both to fear and love their parents.
These words also necessarily imply, that Abraham did pray constantly and with earnestness and importunity for his children, that God would indeed bless them, and render his endeavours successful, so as to form them to true piety, and secure their salvation. And also that he might be faithful and wise in attending upon, and executing the important charge, respecting his children. 301A pious believer, who feels towards his children in any good measure, as he ought to do, and acts up to his character and obligations, in the religious education of his children, must thus pray for himself, with regard to his duty to them, and for them. He feels the infinite importance of their having the blessing of God, and of their salvation; that all their interest lies here; and he is a thousand times more concerned about this, and desirous of it, than of any temporal, worldly interest whatsoever.441441 It is to be observed, that these are the views, feelings and conduct of parents, who come up to what might be justly expected of them.—But this is not true of every pious parent. Such may be very unsteady in their views and feelings with respect to their children, and come vastly short of their duty in their conduct; and say and do many things which have a contrary and bad influence on their children, and be very offensive to God, and a gross violation of their obligations and vows. He knows his obligations, and the vows he has solemnly taken upon himself; and is sensible of his dependence on God, for wisdom and fidelity in the performance of what is justly expected of him; and that God only can bless the means he uses, and grant salvation to his children: A weighty sense of all this will bring him on his knees, in humble, constant, earnest application to God by prayer, for assistance and success, in this most important and interesting matter. To neglect such prayer, is grossly to neglect his duty to his children; and does imply a neglect of the other branches of their religious education, implied in commanding them after him. Therefore, when God said, he knew Abraham, that he would command his children and his household after him, it is implied that he knew he would pray for himself, that he might faithfully do this; and for his children, that they might have the blessing of God, and be saved.
These words also imply the good example that Abraham would set before his children, and his household, of piety and righteousness. He would command them after him. He would set them an example of that religion, in which he educated them, and instruct and command them to follow him. This is essential in the proper and religious education of children. The parent who is not exemplary in his conduct, and does not set before his children an example of piety, righteousness, 302and benevolence, cannot give them a religious education. If he attempt to instruct, direct, and command them in the ways of religion, he will, in their sight, be guilty of gross contradictions; and will appear to them not to be sincere and in earnest; and his bad example, or want of a good one, will counteract and defeat all his attempts to instruct, exhort, and govern them, and vail have more influence to corrupt them, than any thing he may say or do in favour of religion, can have to form them to piety and righteousness, if he should say or do any thing of this kind: But even this is not to be expected of such a parent. They who do not love religion, and practise it themselves, will not take any proper methods, and exert themselves suitably, to make their children truly religious.
This branch of duty requires great and constant care, watchfulness and circumspection; that the whole of their conversation and conduct may be as becometh godliness, and recommend religion to all with whom they live and converse; setting a calm, steady, dispassionate example of humility, uprightness, sincerity, truth, justice, benevolence and mercy. Expressing their piety in all proper ways, and on every suitable occasion; and practising religion and devotion in their families, and in a constant attendance on all divine institutions.
Abraham was under obligation to do all this. He professed to have a heart to do it, and promised to do all this duty to his children and household, when he circumcised them. And God, who knew all things, and on whom Abraham wholly depended for grace and assistance, to perform this difficult and important branch of duty, determined to work in him to will and to do it; and therefore knew that he would be faithful in keeping covenant, and not neglect to do it. And christian parents who bring their children to baptism, profess and engage all this duty in their treatment of them. And their obligations are increased, and are much greater, and more extensive, than those under which Abraham was; and they are bound to greater attention, concern and zeal, and to do much more in instructing and educating their children, than he was, as they have much 303greater light and advantages, than he had. The future state being much more clearly brought into view now, than it was then; and consequently, the importance that children should be religious and be saved, ought to be more strongly impressed on the minds of parents, and animate them to greater concern and zeal in this matter. And as they enjoy so much more light, they are under greater advantages to understand the great truths of religion, and to teach them to their children, and constantly inculcate them both by words and example, their duty is enlarged, and their obligations to faithfulness, in the performance of it, greatly increased; and every neglect of duty toward their children is much more criminal, than such neglect would have been, in the father of the faithful.
Secondly. In these words is declared the consequence of Abraham’s faithfulness in his duty to his children in their education; and the certain connection of the former with the latter. “And they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” This is to be truly pious and holy, and to go in the way which leads to eternal salvation. Here then is a declared and promised connection between Abraham’s being faithful and thorough in the covenant of circumcision, as it respected his children, and their holiness and salvation, the latter following as a certain and promised consequence of the former. This explains the covenant, mentioned in the seventeenth chapter, which God made with Abraham and his seed, in which he promises to be a God to him and his seed after him; and confirms what has been observed above, concerning this covenant, as being agreeable to the truth, viz. That in this covenant, God promised spiritual blessings and salvation to the children of Abraham, upon condition of his faithfully performing what he professed and engaged to do, with respect to them, when they were circumcised by him; and that on this ground they were denominated a holy seed, and to be numbered among the saved.442442 It has been supposed by some, that Ishmael, Abraham’s son, was not a good man; but none ought to think so, unless there were clear positive evidence of it, which it is believed there is not. This supposition is inconsistent with the express declaration of God, in the words which have been considered, viz. That the children of Abraham should keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment. It is said of him, when he died, “He was gathered unto his people.” This is said of the good; but of no wicked man.304
And as this covenant with Abraham, including his seed with him, was the covenant of grace, which, as to substance, is the same into which God enters with all believers and their children, and is a pattern and example of God’s entering into covenant with believers in all ages, taking in their children with them, which all hold who believe in the baptism of the children of believers; then why does not, why must not this same covenant contain the same promise to believers, of the holiness and salvation of their children, upon the same condition to be performed by them through all ages, to the end of the world? If this covenant made with Abraham, including his seed with him, has been now rightly explained, agreeable to the plain meaning of it, the consequence will certainly follow. And that the true sense and meaning of the mutual promises between God and Abraham, with respect to his seed, has been given, and consequently that the seed of believers have the promise of holiness and salvation, upon the parents being faithful in keeping covenant, as it respects their children, will appear yet more evident from other passages of scripture, which are now to be considered.
Those words of God which have been mentioned, “Shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments,” compared with the words of Moses, which have reference to these, “Know therefore, that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him, and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,”443443 Exodus xx. 6. Deuteronomy vii. 9. serve to explain the covenant made with Abraham, and his seed, and to confirm the sense which has now been given of it.
It has been shewn, that these words in the decalogue contain a promise to parents who love God and keep his commandments, of mercy to their children, and that this mercy shewn to their children, in consequence of the parents keeping the commandments of God, respects their moral character, which implies true piety, and 305final salvation: And that the course of this mercy, descending down to posterity, cannot be interrupted, unless the parents are unfaithful in keeping covenant. It has also been shewn, that keeping the commandments of God includes their duty to their children, in devoting them to God, and bringing them up for God. And what is implied in this has been particularly explained, and needs not to be repeated. It has been also shewn, that godly parents, who have a degree of true love to God, may grossly fail of keeping his commandments, as they respect their children; and so break the covenant between God and them, so far as it regards their posterity, and fail of having any share in the promise of mercy to them. But those who do not greatly fail of their duty in this respect, but are faithful in the covenant, have the promise of mercy to their children, and are the happy instruments of conveying holiness and salvation to them, and no farther; but if their children be also faithful, they hereby hand down spiritual blessings to their children; and so on to a thousand generations; and the succession cannot be interrupted, but by breach of covenant by some of the parents. These words, therefore, thus explained and understood,444444 See page 265, &c. (and it is believed that no other consistent sense can be put upon them) do confirm what has been said of the covenant made with Abraham, and his seed, and with all believers and their children, to the end of the world; and prove that the covenant of grace and mercy contains a promise of mercy and salvation to the children of parents who faithfully keep the covenant and commands of God, as they respect their children.
And in this view, the natural and easy sense of those words of the apostle Peter, which have been the subject of so much altercation, offers itself as another proof of the point under consideration. The words are, “Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you and to your children.”445445 Acts ii. 38, 39.
The covenant with Abraham contained a promise to him and his children, which is denoted by the promise. 306And as the apostle is speaking to the Jews, they would naturally understand this covenant by the promise, and that these words of Peter imported that this covenant was still in force, and was not curtailed or altered in this respect; and though now baptism was the token and seal of the covenant, instead of circumcision, yet still it contained the promise of saving mercy to every penitent believer, and to his children; as did the covenant of circumcision made with Abraham their father. It was natural, and of importance, when he spoke to the Jews of baptism, and exhorted them to submit to it, to explain to them the covenant and the promise, of which baptism was the seal, and to mention the nature and extent of it; and to show that it reached their children as well as themselves, and included them as much as their parents, as did the covenant with Abraham and their fathers, the covenant of circumcision.
The Pedobaptists have generally understood these words in the sense which has now been given, and considered them as a strong and conclusive argument for the baptism of the children of believers, as included in the covenant of which baptism is the seal, and interested in the promise: though they have not agreed in the meaning and extent of the promise made to the children of believing parents; nor in explaining the condition on which the promise is made. It is for them now to consider and judge, whether the true meaning of these words has not been stated above, according to the scripture; and whether any other consistent meaning in favour of infant baptism, and agreeable to the passages of scripture which have been considered under this head, can be thought of, and supported.
The following words of Solomon connect the wise, faithful, and pious education of children, with their piety and salvation; and amount to a promise, that the latter shall be the consequence of the former. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”446446 Prov. xxii. 6. These words assert the same thing which God says of Abraham and his children, which has been considered, “He will command his children, and his household after him; and they 307shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” And they coincide with all that has been said on this point; and serve to strengthen the evidence, that parents have a promise in the covenant of grace, that upon their faithfulness in keeping covenant, as it respects their children, they shall go in the way to heaven.
What he says elsewhere, concerning the education of children, may be considered in the same light. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Withhold, not correction from the child: For if thou beatest him with the rod he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest: Yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.”447447 Prov. xxii, 15. xxiii. 13, 14. xxix. 17. Correcting a child, the rod of correction, and beating him with a rod, intends the whole of a wise and faithful education of children, as a proper government of them is an essential part of such education, and cannot be properly and thoroughly, and with success maintained and practised, where the other parts of education are neglected. To such proper and wise government, and the faithful, painful, religious education implied in it, are connected the wisdom, piety and salvation of the children, and repeatedly promised in those words. It will drive foolishness far from them. Consequently they will be wise, which implies true piety. They shall not die, but their souls shall be delivered from hell; therefore shall be saved. They shall give rest and delight to the pious parent, which they cannot do, unless they are wise and holy.
There are many other passages of scripture which coincide with the idea of the covenant of grace, which has been now given; and serve to strengthen the evidence which has already been produced from the scripture, that it contains promises of saving good to the children of those who keep covenant, as it respects their offspring. Several of these have been mentioned, which contain declarations and promises of blessings to the children of those who love God, and keep his commandments; and that this shall take place, especially in the millennium, when parents shall in general be 308more faithful in keeping covenant. There are others of the same tenor, such as the following. “I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: All that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble: For they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.”448448 Isaiah lxi. 8, 9. lxv. 23. “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children; that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God; but keep his commandments.”449449 Psalm lxxviii. 5, 6, 7. In these words, it is represented, that according to the covenant and appointment of God, piety was to be handed down from parents to children, by the care and fidelity of the former, in educating and instructing the latter. The following passage has reference to the words in the decalogue, which have been considered, and confirm the meaning which has been given of them. “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting, upon them that fear him; and his righteousness unto children’s children, to such as keep his covenant, and to those who remember his commandments, to do them.”450450 Psalm ciii. 17, 18.
When the prophet Malachi foretells the introduction of the gospel dispensation, and of John the Baptist, the messenger who should prepare the way before Christ, and the effect and consequence of all this, he comprehends the whole in the following words, with which the Old Testament concludes. “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”451451 Mal. iv. 6. These words do not only express the effect of the preaching of John, while he was on the stage of life; but the nature and effect of the christian dispensation 309which he should introduce, so far as it should take place. This effect took place, in some degree, in the days of John, and his preaching tended to promote it: And this is the natural tendency of christianity; it had this effect in the days of the apostles to a greater degree than in the days of John. And so far as christianity has been understood, and the true spirit of it has been imbibed, in any age and nation since that time to this day, it has tended to turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers. But when true religion shall flourish, and take place universally, to a greater degree than ever it has yet done, this prediction will be accomplished in a much higher degree, and more apparently, than ever before; to which the ministry of John, and all that has taken place since, may properly be considered as an introduction; and to which those words, therefore, have a principal reference; and the chief accomplishment of them will be in that day, which is yet to come.
By the heart of the fathers being turned unto the children, is not meant the exercise and increase of what is called natural affection; tor this is found in a sufficient degree, in almost all parents, at all times; and if it were increased, it would not alter their moral character, or answer any good end. It must therefore intend the exercise of a religious, pious affection towards them, leading them to a proper aid great concern for their salvation, and a zeal and engagedness to do their duty faithfully, and in all respects, as it concerns their children, and which has a tendency to promote their holiness and salvation, and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord: Sensible of their covenant engagements to do this, and of the strong motives and great encouragement God has set before them, to be faithful and laborious in this, by the gracious promise he has given them.
The heart of the children is turned to their parents, when they are disposed to obey them in the Lord, and grow up in the exercise of piety and righteousness, or keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; following and imitating their parents in this, as the children of Abraham did. When they hearken to their pious 310fathers, saying, “My son, receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding. My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways:”452452 Prov. ii. 1, 2. xxiii. 26. Then the heart of the children will be turned to the fathers.
It is to be observed here, that the turning of the heart of the children to their parents, is in consequence of the heart of the fathers being turned unto the children, as being connected with it. This is agreeable to those scriptures which have been considered, as they have been explained; shewing that there is a constituted or promised connection between parents keeping covenant, and doing the duty towards their children, which they have promised, which is expressed by their heart being turned towards them; and the piety and salvation of the children, which is necessarily implied in their heart being turned toward their parents, hearkening to them, and obeying them in the Lord in all things.
It is here represented, that this shall take place under the gospel dispensation, which John the Baptist should introduce, in a higher degree than it had done before; and christianity, and true religion, should be propagated in this way, and handed down from parents to children; and that this shall take place, especially in the millennium, of which time the prophet speaks particularly, in the preceding part of this chapter; when christianity shall have its proper and genuine effect, to a much greater degree, than ever before; and which will therefore be, in the highest sense, the gospel day, the day of salvation; when the heart of fathers will be turned unto their children, in the sense above explained, to a vastly higher degree than they ever were before, and consequently the hearts of children will be turned to their fathers, more universally, in the high exercise of piety, from their youth. And in this view, these words coincide with those scriptures which have been mentioned, where God promises that he will then circumcise the heart of parents and of their children, to love the Lord, &c. That he will pour his Spirit upon the seed of his people, and his blessing upon their offspring. That his church 311shall be established in righteousness, and all her children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of her children. And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; my Spirit which is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth, and forever. 1 will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: All that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. And they shall be my people, and 1 will be their God. And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them. And 1 will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but 1 will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”453453 Deut. xxx. 6. Isa. xliv. 3, 4. liv. 13, 14. lix. 21. lxi. 8, 9. lxv. 23. Jer. xxxii. 38, 39, 40.—“Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” By these words, it is represented that the only way, according to divine constitution and appointment, to keep up true religion in the world, and transmit it down to the end of it, and so to prevent mankind becoming totally corrupt, so as to be destroyed by the curse of God, as they once were by a flood, is to turn the heart of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to the fathers. And that this will take place, in an eminent degree, in the millennium, by which the everlasting covenant will be maintained, and appear in its full force and operation; by which means, the curse of God on mankind, by his terrible judgments, for their wickedness, in breaking the everlasting covenant, renouncing it themselves, and with respect to their children, not training them up for God, in the ways of true piety, but for the devil, in the 312ways of sin, shall have a stop put to it, and proceed no farther, as it otherwise must, and would, to the total extirpation of mankind. These words may perhaps receive some illustration by the following passage in Isaiah, which has been mentioned. “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof: Because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant; therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.”454454 Isaiah xxiv. 5, 6. This chapter is a prophecy of the introduction of the millennium, and of the awful judgments on mankind, and especially on corrupt, nominal christians, previous to that, by which a great part of men shall be destroyed; as a testimony of the displeasure of God with them, for their great wickedness, aid not fearing God themselves, nor educating their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but the contrary; training them up in sin, and the service of Satan; and thus transgressing the law, changing the ordinance of God, and breaking the everlasting covenant, which, if kept, would convey true religion down from generation to generation. But all mankind shall not be destroyed, because the remaining few, compared with the whole, shall be truly pious, and their hearts shall be turned to their children, and the hearts of the children to them, and so a pious race shall be propagated and multiplied, and fill the world; “for God will then pour his Spirit on them, and on their seed, and his blessing on their offspring; and they shall spring up as among grass, as willows by the water-courses.” This is represented in the following words, in this same chapter. “When thus it shall be, in the midst of the land, among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning of grapes, when the vintage is done. They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the Lord, they shall cry aloud from the sea.”455455 Isa. xxiv. 13. 14.
The reasonableness and importance of such a constitution and covenant between God and parents, with respect to their children; and the good ends this is suited to answer, will farther appear by the following observations; 313which will, at the same time, serve to strengthen the evidence, that the covenant of grace does contain a promise of saving good to the children of parents, who are faithful in keeping covenant, as it regards their offspring.
1. It appears from reason and the circumstances of the case, and from fact and experience, that the good education of children is of great importance, and necessary for their good, and the good of society.
Children are very much formed in their disposition and manners by their education. If this be bad, or wholly, or in a great measure neglected, and they be not governed and instructed, and have not good examples set before them, but the contrary; the bad effects of this are generally seen in them, and they become injurious to society, rather than a benefit. God has so constituted things, that if parents be wise and faithful in educating their children, they will have more influence on them, than any others can, and this has a great tendency, to form them to a good moral character and conduct. And the parents must have the first aid chief hand in teaching them, and forming their minds, and regulating their conduct; as they are under the best advantages to do this; and if it be wholly neglected by them, other means and advantages are never like to reach them, so as to do them any great good, according to the ordinary course of things. It is certain, that no instruction from any other quarter, or any means that can be used with them, can have an equal tendency to their benefit; and if parents neglect their duty to their children, other means used for their instruction and benefit are commonly useless, and in vain to them.
It is known, from experience, that the character of children is not only often, but commonly formed for life while they are in their minority, while they are under the care and education of their parents, or of others who are substituted in their room. And a foundation is generally laid then, if ever, for their piety and moral christian character, so far as we can judge from appearance and facts.
2. Therefore, this branch of duty, the wise and faithful education of children, is much insisted upon, and 314often strictly enjoined in scripture. This is frequently inculcated on the members of the church of Israel, as a very important part of their duty. “Ouly take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thine heart all the days of thy life: But teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons. Gather the people together, and 1 will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach them their children. These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them, when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”456456 Deut. iv. 9, 10. vii. 6. vi. 7. This is so important a command that it is repeated again.457457 Chap. xi. 19. “And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
It is again and again enjoined in the following words: “Gather the people together, men and women, and children, that they may hear, and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law. And that their children, which have not known them, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God.”458458 Chap. xxxi. 12, 13. “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day; which ye shall command your children to observe, to do all the words of this law: For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.”459459 Chap. xxxii. 46, 47. It was repeatedly enjoined upon parents to teach their children the great works God had done for them, and the deliverances he had wrought for his people; and to explain to them the meaning of the religious rites, which were instituted by God, and the commands and ordinances which he had given them.460460 Ex. x. 2. xii. 25, 26, 27. xiii. 14, 15. Deut. vi. 20-25.
God speaks of it as an excellent and important part of the character and conduct of Abraham, That he would command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and 315judgment.461461 Gen. xviii. 19. The Psalmist mentions the command of God to instruct and educate children, as an important article, and as necessary to transmit true knowledge and piety to posterity. “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, &c.”462462 Psalm lxxviii. 5, 6, 7.
Solomon often speaks of the importance and advantage of the faithful and wise education of children, and inculcates it as a duty He says, “He that spareth his rod, hateth his son: But he that loveth him, chasteneth him betimes. Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. Train up a child in the way he should go: And when he is old, he will not depart from it. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Withhold not correction from a child; for if thou beatest him with a rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. The rod and reproof give wisdom: But a child left to himself, bringeth his mother to shame. Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest: Yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.”463463 Prov. xiii. 24. xix. 18. xxii. 6, 15. xxiii. 13, 14. xxix. 15, 17. And the nine first chapters of the Proverbs of Solomon are designed to express the concern parents ought to have for the spiritual good of their children; and their constant attention to them in this view, watching over them, instructing, admonishing and warning them; and through the whole exhibit the importance and necessity of the childrens’ hearkening and obeying their parents, in order to their good; and the happy consequence of this to them. And the awful consequence of slighting and disobeying parents is repeatedly mentioned in that book.
This is the first command in the second table of the decalogue, “Honour thy father and thy mother.” To which is annexed a promise of good: Which supposes the duty of parents to govern and instruct their children, 316and to exercise great and constant care in their education; and to conduct so, as to be worthy of love, respect, and honour from their children. And an awful curse is denounced upon those children who do not obey this command, “Cursed is he that setteth light by his father or mother.”464464 Deut. xxvii. 16. And God made a law, which, if observed, did effectually prevent any disobedient children living in the congregation of Israel. For if parents had a disobedient child, they were commanded to bring him forth to the elders of the city, and witness against him, and he was put to death.465465 Deut. xxi. 18, 19, 20, 21. This law was suited to awaken, and keep alive the feelings of pious parents towards their children, and excite a great concern and unremitting care and exertion, early and constantly to govern them, and keep up their authority in the wisest and best manner, suited to form them to love and obedience; and to instruct, admonish and warn them; and educate them in the best manner which shall tend to promote their obedience and true piety; having the awful event constantly in view, which might be the consequence of their neglect, and would certainly take place, if their children should grow up ungoverned and disobedient.
And this law had a mighty tendency to impress the hearts of children with a sense of the evil consequence to them, of disobedience to their parents: and to guard them against the least degree of a disposition to disregard and slight them; and to excite them to a constant care, and resolution to attend to the instructions, and admonitions of their parents, and strictly obey all their exhortations and commands. In what an important and interesting light does this law, and the other directions and precepts which have been mentioned under this head, set the wise and faithful education of children; and their obedience to the instructions and authority of their parents! It is suited powerfully to turn the heart of the fathers to the children; and the heart of children to the fathers.
And under the gospel dispensation, the faithful and pious education of children, and their obedience to parents in all things, are strictly enjoined. The command 317is, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Children, obey your parents in all things; for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: But bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”466466 Eph. vi. 1, 4. Col. iii. 20. And no man who had a family could be an officer in the church unless he was “One that ruled well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity,” even faithful or believing children.467467 1 Tim. iii. 4. Tit. i. 6.
3. Since the faithful, prudent, and religious education of children, is of such vast importance, and so necessary for their good, and the good of the church, according to the natural course of things, which God has constituted; and since this is so strictly enjoined upon the people of God, and so much inculcated in divine revelation; it may hence be inferred, that God has set before parents the strongest motives, and the greatest encouragements to be faithful and laborious in their duty to their children, and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and which will have the greatest tendency to animate them to engagedness and perseverance in this difficult work, in which they will meet with much opposition, and many discouragements, from themselves, the world, Satan, and their children. This may be reasonably expected, especially in the covenant of grace, or that gracious covenant which God makes with believers, as it respects their children, and their duty to them: For the greater the blessings are, which are promised to their offspring; and the greater the motives and encouragements are to do the duty enjoined, or perform the condition on which the blessings are suspended, the more grace is contained and exhibited in the covenant.
4. A promise that the children shall be blessed with spiritual blessings and salvation, on the parents’ faithfulness to them, and bringing them up for God, affords the strongest motive, and gives the greatest encouragement to pious parents, to be faithful and perform the condition of the covenant, as it respects their children, that can be thought of as possible; and renders 318the covenant, in ibis respect, in the highest degree, a covenant of grace.
If pious parents felt as they ought, and had exercises which might be reasonably expected tow aids their children, then- greatest concern would be that they might be sanctified and saved. This they would desire for them unspeakably above all other things. To have them live and die in sin, is, to such parents, infinitely dreadful. They had much rather have no offspring, than lo bring forth children for such a death, even eternal destruction. If their children may not be holy and saved, they have nothing to ask or desire for them; their existence, and all they can have and enjoy, is, on the whole, worse than nothing; infinitely worse! Therefore, that they may be holy and saved, is the great object of their desires and prayers. And what can be more agreeable and pleasing to such parents, than for God to take their children into covenant with them, and to say, “If you will be faithful to your children, and treat them as becomes pious parents, and bring them up for me, I will be their God, and they shall be holy and happy forever: Therefore, let all your concern for the good and salvation of your children, excite and animate you to proper exercises and faithfulness, with respect to them; for they are committed to you, to bring them up for me; and if you will do this faithfully, they shall be blessed, and saved?” What christian parent is there, whose views and feelings are in any good measure answerable to his character, who would not admire the condescension and grace of such a promise; and rejoice to enter into such a covenant and promise, through Christ’s strengthening him to perform the condition of the covenant, and give up his children to Christ, and have the seal of the covenant put upon them?
And upon this ground, the children of believers are holy, and numbered among the saints and the saved. Holiness and salvation are secured to them, by divine promise, on condition, the parents are faithful in the covenant, which they solemnly profess and engage to be. The church, relying on their profession and engagements, that they will be faithful and keep the covenant, as it respects their children, consider them, receive and 319look upon them, as holy, and those who shall be saved; so they are as visibly holy, or as really holy in their view, as their parents are.
But here several questions, which may be suggested, from what has been said, on this point, must be answered.
Question I. Is not this doctrine, that the covenant of grace contains a promise of the holiness and salvation of the children of parents, who are faithful in their duty to them, and in educating them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, contrary to known fact and experience, in that so many children of pious parents appear as destitute of holiness as other children, and are of a contrary character, when they are capable of discovering their disposition by their conduct; and many of them appear to live and die so: And there are many known instances of children, whose parents appear to be eminently pious, and careful to educate their children well, who yet appear to have no piety, but are openly and notoriously vicious, and appear to live and die so? And how can all the children of professors of religion, who enter into covenant with God, be considered, as really holy, or how can it be expected that they will grow up pious children, and be saved, when this does not appear to be true in fact, in so many instances; but the contrary.
Answer 1. It does appear from fact, that the education of children, if in any good measure practised, and so far as it has taken place, has a great influence on children in general; and many of them who have had any degree of a pious education, do themselves become professors of religion, and appear to be holy. How much greater and more universal might be the good effect of such education, if parents were more faithful and thorough in this branch of their duty, than they generally are, even as diligent and faithful, as might reasonably be expected, considering the importance of the case, and the motives and encouragements they have!
This leads to
Answer 2. Parents who have been professors of religion, and have entered into covenant with God, have been, in general, grossly negligent of their duty to their 320children, and have lived in the constant violation of the covenant as it respects their children. This will appear to every one, who will consider what is implied in bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, as it has been briefly stated above; and judge what might reasonably be required and expected of parents, in this important and interesting matter: And at the same time, will, in the light of this, observe how the children, even of the professors of religion, are in general educated. He will be sensible there is but little wise and prudent government, steadily and perseveringly maintained from the early days, in which children are capable of discipline and government, until they cease to be minors: And that much of the contrary generally takes place, which is suited to weaken all parental authority, and tends to ruin the children. He will find few instances, if any, of that careful, wise and constant instruction, assiduously endeavouring to instil into their young minds, the principles of true knowledge and wisdom, and watching over them, to guard them from wrong notions, en ors and delusions, in things of religion, which are most reasonable and important, and which we find so strictly enjoined in the Bible. And what bad examples, of evil speaking, and backbiting, of vain, trifling conversation; of passion; of covetousness, and worldliness; of great indifference, and neglects respecting the exercises and practice of piety, in reading and studying the Bible, and the worship of God, are to be found among professors in general, which have a great and destructive influence on the minds of children? And how few are there who are not greatly deficient in the example they set before their children, which could not take place, were they not grossly negligent in their duty to them, and had they a reasonable and proper concern for their good? How little is done or said by parents, in general, which is suited to excite and maintain a proper and faithful education of children, in all the parts of it? How little do they appear to regard or understand their covenant engagements, or the nature of the covenant into which they have entered, and the encouragements and promises made to faithfulness in keeping covenant; and the infinite importance of this to 321their children? And the churches take no care in this matter, to watch over one another, with respect to the education of their children; and to warn and exhort, and assist each other to do their duty in this respect; which is certainly a great neglect.
When these things are properly considered, the general want of piety, and the too common irreligion and vice, which are found among the children of professors of religion, may be accounted for, consistent with there being a promise in the covenant of grace, that the children of parents who faithfully perform the duties of the covenant towards them, shall be holy, and share in the great salvation; and does not afford the least shadow of an argument that there is no such promise.
True religion has generally been in so low a degree in the church, and still is, and there have been so many members of it wholly strangers to a life of godliness, not being true believers, that the life and power of christianity has not had the proper influence and been acted out by professors in general, as it ought to be, and might be reasonably expected.
Most real christians have been, and now are, shamefully deficient, as to the strength and constancy of their religious exercises, and in every branch of duty; and their discerning and knowledge in the doctrines and duties of christianity has been in so small a degree, that when, considering the time and advantages they have had, they ought to be teachers, especially of their children, they, in general, need themselves to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God. And the nature and extent of the covenant of grace, as it respects the children of believers; and the design and meaning of the institution of baptism of such children, and what is implied in it, have not been generally understood: And the duty which parents engage to do towards their children has been greatly overlooked and disregarded, even in theory, as well as practice: And the promise of the success of faithfulness in this duty, in the holiness and salvation of their children, has not been believed by the most, and they are now disposed to oppose this sentiment; and so cannot feel the motives and great encouragement this affords, and sets before parents, to 322care and faithfulness in this branch of duty; nor the vast importance of it, to them and their children.
It is therefore no matter of wonder, that the children of professors in general, and of really pious parents, have not received the blessings of the covenant of grace, as the duties of the covenant have been so grossly neglected by almost all; and they have not so much us believed that there is any such covenant between God and themselves, respecting their children. This is what might be reasonably expected, as things have gone on, and still take place, with regard to children, in the great neglect of that duty, to which the promise of success is made.—Which branch of duty has doubtless been more neglected by really christian parents, than other branches of christianity; not only because it has been less understood, and inculcated, and the motives and encouragement to faithfulness in it, have been kept out of sight, or at most, been less in view: But because there are peculiar difficulties and temptations in the way of a wise and faithful discharge of this duty; and Satan, who knows how much depends upon the parent’s faithfulness, and what advantages he gains, against children, and the church, and the interest of religion in general, by the gross neglect of this branch of duty, exerts all his cunning and power, and improves every advantage he has, to lay snares and stumbling blocks in the way of their duty; and in magnifying the difficulties and discouragements, to deter them from it; offering every temptation he can, to neglect it, and to do that which has a contrary, and most fatal tendency, even to ruin their children. Nor is there any certainty that this influence of the devil will cease, or that the power of godliness will so take place in general, as to lead parents to be faithful in their duty to their children; and to keep covenant, so that the blessings of it shall descend from father to son, through many generations, until Satan shall be bound, and cast into the bottomless pit, and shut up there a thousand years, that he may deceive men no more, during all that time: And when christianity shall have its proper and full effect, by the effusions of the Holy Spirit, in greater degrees than before; forming christians to eminent degrees of holiness, and true zeal and 323 engagedness to do their duty in all the branches of it; especially that which they owe to their children, which is now so much, and so generally neglected. Then the heart of the fathers will be turned to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, as they never were before; and the covenant of grace, which contains promises to parents, and their children, will take place in the full extent of it, and the happy consequences of it be seen and enjoyed.
Such a time is abundantly spoken of and predicted in the scripture. And all that takes place previous to that day, is preparatory to it. That is the time of salvation, in the highest sense, when the doctrines and institutions of the gospel will be better understood than ever before, and have their proper and full effect. The Bible itself has principal reference to that time, and will be then understood, prized, and improved more and better, than ever before. The institutions and ordinances of Christ, have been and now are, greatly misunderstood, perverted and abused, by most christian churches, and professors of religion, and great irregularities take place in attendance on them. The time preceding the millennium, may be compared to the winter, when things appear in great disorder and confusion, and the influences of the sun are weak and small, and have little effect; but all is preparatory to the spring and summer, when the sun and rain will have their proper effect, in producing the fruits of the earth.
These observations are made to show, that we cannot judge of the good effect of the proper, pious, and faithful education of children, and of the extent of the promises of the covenant of grace, and of the design and meaning of the baptism of the children of believers, by what has already taken place in the christian church: But we must learn this from the Bible; and not expect that the proper and happy effect of this institution will take place in any great degree, until the Spirit and power of christianity shall be more felt, and exerted in practice, which will introduce the millennium. Then parents, with their hearts full of love to Christ, and under a sense of the infinite importance of the salvation of their children, and ardently desiring to be the happy instruments 324of it, will give them up to Christ in baptism, rejoicing in this seal of the divine promise to bless them, on their acting a consistent and faithful part towards them; and with a heart admiring the grace of God in this covenant, and strongly desirous and disposed to be faithful, they will lay hold of the covenant; and make it their great concern, and an important branch of their duty, to bring up their children for Christ. Then the happy effect of this will be seen in the early piety of the children, who will grow up in the fear of God, and walk in his ways, to the unspeakable satisfaction and joy of the parents, and the comfort and edification of the church. Then, when a large congregation of christians shall be assembled for public worship, all possessed with a realizing belief and sense of the truth of the gospel, and the great salvation, and their hearts glowing with fervent love to Christ, and to each other, what pleasure and joy will it spread over such an assembly, when children are brought by their parents, and publicly dedicated to Christ in baptism; solemnly, and with all their hearts engaging to bring them up for him, and laying hold of the gracious promise of the covenant to their children; All will consider these children, as heirs of the blessings of the covenant, and numbered among the saved, confident that the parents will faithfully keep covenant with God; and having seen the general happy effect of this, they will join in all the solemnities of this transaction, with great pleasure, fervency and joy, and every one be edified, and animated to the duty of his station, and go away with enlarged views of the grace of the gospel, and the condescension and love of Christ.
Answer 3d. Though some of the children of parents who appear eminently pious, and to take much pains in the education of their children, do, when they come to adult age, renounce all religious duty, and live in open vice; yet this affords no real evidence, that the doctrine to which this fact is alleged as an objection, is not true; for,
1. We cannot be certain that those who appear to be christians, and to excel many others, are really such. They may deceive others, and be themselves deceived, and never truly and with their heart, devote their children 325to God. The first, in appearance and profession, may be last, and wholly destitute of true holiness. No argument can be justly formed from such instances, unless there were a certainty that the parents are real christians, and faithful in keeping covenant with God.
2. Parents who are real christians, and excel in some respects in pious zeal, and in the practice of many of the duties of christianity, may be very deficient and unfaithful in their duty to their children. They may be guilty of neglecting that which is important and essential in the good education of children, in some instances at least, and of doing or saying that, which tends to hurt and ruin their children, in some particular instances, and on some occasions, which may be the means of giving an evil bias to their minds, and issue in their abandoning themselves to vice. And this may be the case with regard to one particular child, while they are more wise and faithful in their treatment and education of their other children. And such instances of neglect or wrong conduct toward some or all of their children, may so displease God, as to give up the children to sin and ruin. It has been observed, that parents may keep covenant, as it respects their own persons, and yet neglect the duties of it, as it respects their children. This is so difficult a part of duty, and Satan is so watchful, and exerts all his policy and power to prevent parents doing it, and to promote that which is contrary to it; and the proper education of children is so little understood, and the importance of it not much attended to and realized; and the encouragement and promise God has given to the faithful discharge of this duty, is so generally not believed, or overlooked, that it may be reasonably supposed, that some parents who are eminently pious, and devoted to the duties of religion in other respects, may so fail of their duty to their children, in some important part of their education, as shall tend to bring a curse on them, rather than a blessing.468468 When all this is well considered, it will not appear incredible, or unaccountable, that pious parents, and even those who may appear eminently so, in many respects, may be greatly deficient and unfaithful in their duty to their children; and much more so, than in any other branch «f their duty, notwithstanding the natural affection they have to the m, and the desire they must be supposed to have of their salvation, And he who contemplates and keeps in view, the nature and extent of this duty, and carefully observes the general conduct of those parents, whose piety is not questioned, as it respects their children, will find it confirmed by lamentable, and too notorious fact. On what ground then can it be doubted?326
And it is left to the reader to consider, whether it be not more reasonable, and for the honour of God and religion, when such instances of the impiety of the children of parents who appear eminently godly, take place, to impute it to the unfaithfulness of the parents in this branch of their duty, in some very important and capital instance, rather than to curtail the covenant of grace, and doubt of the promise of saving blessings to the children of parents who are faithful in keeping covenant; or of the faithfulness of God to fulfil his promise, whenever the condition is in some good measure performed.
Answer 4. Though parents who have given up their children to Christ in baptism, and promised to bring them up for him, have in so many instances neglected their duty, and come so far short in the education of their children, that they have generally grown up without any appearance of piety; this is not a sufficient reason to lay aside the institution of Christ, and practise it no more. We are to hope that professors of religion will in future be more faithful. The church has no right to reject those who offer their children in baptism, and profess and promise to devote them to Christ, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and refuse to receive their children, as holy and belonging to Christ, because so many children of professors who have been thus devoted, and received, have discovered, when they became adult, that they were not truly pious, and have refused to obey Christ. This should rather excite christians to watch over each other, and exhort one another daily, respecting their duty to their children; and awaken the church to the practice of a more strict and thorough discipline; and to take more care of the children of the church, those lambs of the flock, as soon as they are capable of public admonition and discipline.
There are too many instances of persons who are received into the church, in adult years, as holy and real 327christians, who afterwards fall from their christian character and violate the laws of Christ, and are rejected by the church, or ought to be, as those who have disappointed their hopes and expectations: Yet such instances, however numerous, cannot be justly alleged as a reason why they should receive no more, upon their profession and engagements to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, because they have been deceived in others, who have fallen from their christian profession. This ought to excite the church to greater care in receiving persons as real christians; and to a more strict and constant watchfulness over those they do receive, and the use of all proper means to prevent their apostasy, and all unchristian conduct, and to induce them to obey Christ in all things.
Question II. If there were such a promise of saving blessings to children, on a condition to be performed by the parents, and which they engage, is it not reasonable to suppose this condition would be specified, and so particularly stated and described, that parents might distinctly know what it is, and when they come up to it, or fall short of it; and would not this be necessary, in order to afford any proper encouragement and satisfaction to parents? The covenant of grace contains promises of salvation to faith, repentance, or love to God; and these are defined, and the nature and concomitants of them particularly described; and the promise is made not only to those who exercise these graces in a particular high degree; but to the lowest possible degree of these; so that if persons know they have any thing of this nature, they may from that be certain of salvation. But in the case before us, no such thing is supposed, or can be true; but the matter is left so vague and uncertain, that none can know, whether he has come up to the condition to which the promise is made, or not, or how far he is from it. Is not this a strong and unanswerable objection to the doctrine now advanced?
Answer 1st. All will grant, that there are certain exercises of heart, a constant course and degree of them, and of external duties, which are the proper expression of those exercises of heart, which parents owe 328to their children, and which may reasonably be expected of pious parents, and must take place, in order to their acting a consistent part, and answerable to the christian character, and to such a relation. And they who practise infant baptism consider parents as professing a desire and willingness to perform this duty; and promising to be faithful in doing it: That they profess to give up their children to Christ, desiring for them, above all other things, that they may be saved; and promise to bring them up for Christ, and act a faithful part to them, agreeable to such dedication and such desires.
Now, if any one will tell what is implied in this engagement and duty, which the parent must perform, in order to fulfil his promise, and perseveringly conduct agreeable to this transaction; and state it with such exactness, that the parent may know when he has come fully up to it, or how far he has been deficient; then it will be easy to tell precisely what is the condition on the parents’ part, to which the promise of saving blessings to his children is made, so that the parent may know whether he has performed it or not, and how far he has fallen short of it; for he has already done it, in shewing what is the duty promised by the parent and justly expected of him.
But if this cannot be done, it is as much of an objection to these being any duty promised or required of the parent, in order to his acting a faithful and consistent part towards his child, as that which has been mentioned in the question under consideration, to there being a promise of saving blessings to children, on a condition which is required, and yet not precisely stated. If duty may be required of parents towards their children, which they may and ought to promise to perform, without pointing out the precise degree of duty, or the particular manner and circumstances in which it is to be done; then this same duty, thus required and promised, may be made the condition of saving blessings to the children. Surely, if it may be required and promised, it may be required and promised as a condition, to which God, who requires it, promises blessings to the children.
Answer 2d. The condition of the promise is expressed as particularly, and as plain as the nature of the case will admit; and so as to be sufficiently intelligible to an honest, pious mind. The whole is contained and expressed in the following sentence and injunction, “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The whole Bible is suited to explain this sentence, and show what is the meaning of it, and the duty implied in it, so that he who is willing to know and do his duty, in this branch of it, and comply with this injunction, and will properly attend to the matter, will sufficiently understand the meaning of it, and be at no undesirable uncertainty concerning it.
It is certain, that in these words a duty is enjoined on parents, or a course of exercises, exertions and conduct, to such a degree, and with such constancy, care and faithfulness, as to educate their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And all will grant that this command is sufficiently plain, and does clearly point out the duty, so that parents may know what it is, and comply with it; and that it is stated as precisely as the nature of the case and kind of the duty will admit. And must it not then, for the same reason be granted, that it is as sufficiently plain to be the condition of a promise; and that, as such, it is as fully and clearly expressed, as the nature of the case requires, or will admit?
Answer 3d. The condition, or the kind and measure of the duty to which this promise is made, is as precisely and fully stated in the scripture, as is desirable, and so as to be suited to answer the end designed by it.
It is enough for the parents to know, that it is a covenant of grace, into which God enters with them, and that the condition of the promise of saving blessings to their children, is as low as can be, consistent with answering the ends of it; and that Christ, who is infinitely gracious, and knows what is right, and has stated the condition, will not be rigorous, but make all proper and possible allowances in their favour; even all that they can reasonably desire; for grace will look on their exercises and conduct in the most favourable light. They have therefore all possible encouragement, to exert 330themselves constantly, and strain every nerve in doing their duty to their children, that they may be faithful, and come up to the condition; knowing that no advantage will be taken of them, for their many imperfections and defects, which they constantly confess and lament, if they be laborious and faithful, in any good degree answerable to the importance of the case, and the motives and encouragements which are set before them. And their not knowing whether they have. come up to that degree of exercise, care and faithfulness, which is the condition of the promise, and fear that they have not, will be a constant spur to them, to greater care, watchfulness and diligence, that, if by any means, they may obtain the promised blessing to their children. And the greater and more constant their care and exertions are, and the more strongly they find their hearts turned unto their children, in the practice of parental duty toward them, the more comfort they will have, in the hope, and confidence, that the heart of their children will be turned to them, and that God will bless, and save them; while they are still constantly and with importunity looking to him for grace and assistance to do their duty to their children, and that they may be blessed indeed.
Question III. Is not this a legal scheme? Salvation, according to this, is given to children for the good works of the parents; or the children are saved by the obedience and good, and meritorious deeds of the parents. Is not this directly contrary to salvation by free grace?
Answer 1st. It is certain from scripture, that God has given blessings to children out of regard to the obedience and faithfulness of their parents and ancestors.—There are many instances of this in scripture, which the attentive readers of it must have observed. Abraham, Caleb, and David, are instances of it. Yet these blessings were as much of free grace, as if they had not been given in this way.
Answer 2d. Many and great blessings both in this world, and in heaven, are promised and given to men as a reward of their obedience: And yet these blessings and rewards are as much the fruit of free grace, as they could be, if given in any other way; because 331they are really no more describing of the blessings and rewards they receive, than if they had not obeyed.
Answer 3d. The obedience and faithfulness of the parents in keeping covenant does not render their children more deserving of blessings, than if they had not obeyed. Holiness and salvation come to the children, as much a free gift, and there is as much free grace in this gift to them, as if it did not come to them in this way, in connection with the obedience of the parents. And the parents’ obedience has not the least merit or desert of such blessings. Therefore, the promise made to them, of saving blessings to their children, on condition of their obedience, is a gracious promise, wholly the fruit and expression of free, undeserved grace; as much as if their obedience were not the condition. And the parents depend on free, sovereign grace, for a heart and assistance to perform the condition. So that it is all of free grace, from beginning to end; from the foundation to the topstone. The covenant of grace is therefore hereby enlarged, and contains more grace, by the promise of saving mercy to the children of those who keep the covenant, than if it contained no such promise. The parents, who have been in this way the instruments of bringing salvation to their children, will forever admire and adore that infinite free grace, which so constituted the covenant of grace, as to include their children with them, and given them grace to be faithful in the covenant, and perform the condition on which the promise of salvation to their children was made, and by which it has been conveyed to them. The children who are saved in this way will forever celebrate and adore that sovereign grace of God, exercised towards them in constituting such a gracious covenant, and ordering that they should be born of such pious parents, by whom they were brought into covenant, and dedicated to God; and in giving their parents a heart to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and in this way giving them holiness and salvation. This is, therefore, so far from being inconsistent with salvation by free, sovereign grace, that it serves to display it; and instead of curtailing, it enlarges the. covenant of grace.332
Question IV. How are the children who are thus in covenant, and holy, in the sense explained, to be treated by the church?
Answer. Before they come to years of understanding, so as to be capable of acting in matters of religion for themselves, they are not to be admitted to receive the Lord’s supper, because they are incapable of receiving any benefit by it, or of attending upon it in the manner, and for the ends prescribed by Christ, viz. to do it in remembrance of him. But when they shall be able to act for themselves, the church of which they are members, is to expect and require that they conduct as pious christians, and profess and appear to understand the doctrines and duties of christianity, and to be willing to obey Christ, in keeping all his commandments, and attending on all his institutions, to which they are to be admitted, and treated in all respects as the disciples of Christ. But if they be immoral, or neglect the duties of christianity, and refuse or neglect to make a christian profession, and attend upon the Lord’s supper, the church is to use proper means to reclaim them, and bring them to their duty; and if they still neglect and refuse to hear the church, and comply with their duty they are to be rejected and cast out of the church, and treated in all respects as any adult persons are to be treated, who have been members of the church, and are rejected for disobedience to the laws of Christ.
As soon as the children are capable of being taught, they are to be instructed and told, what their standing is, what has been done for them; what will be expected and required of them, when they come to act for themselves; that if they do not then say “I am the Lord’s,” and subscribe with their hand to the Lord, and comply with all the institutions of Christ, they will fall under the censure of the church, and be cast out, as unworthy of the station into which they were brought by their parents. And this is constantly to be held up to their view, and urged upon them.
It has been observed, that if the laws given by Moses to the congregation of Israel, were strictly observed, no child who was disobedient to his parents, and refused to serve the Lord, could be suffered to live among them: 333for all such were to be put to death: And that this law was suited to have a constant and mighty influence on parents, to awaken and excite them to the greatest care, prudence and faithfulness in educating their children; and on the minds of children, from their early days, to lead them to hearken to their parents, and obey them, and to make it their great concern to fear and serve the Lord.
The christian institution, now under consideration, is suited to answer the same end, and to have a salutary effect on the minds, both of parents and their children. Though under the milder dispensation of the gospel, no one is to be put to death for rejecting Christ and the gospel, even though he were before this a visible member of the christian church; yet he is to be cut off, and cast out of the visible kingdom of Christ. And every child in the church, who grows up in disobedience to Christ, and in this most important concern will not obey his parents, is thus to be rejected and cut off, after all proper means are used by his parents and the church to reclaim him, and bring him to his duty. Such an event will be viewed by christian parents as worse than death, or only to have a child taken out of the world by death; and is suited to be a constant, strong motive to concern, prayer and fidelity respecting their children and their education: And it tends to have an equally desirable effect on the minds of children; and must greatly impress the hearts of those who are in any degree considerate and serious.
Question V. According to this plan, if children grow up and continue in a state of sin, and a course of disobedience to Christ, it must be owing to the parents’ neglect, and breach of covenant; must they not therefore be censured and excommunicated by the church, as well as their children, as covenant breakers?
Answer. This question must be answered in the negative, for the following reasons:
1. Though it be evident, that parents have not done their duty to those of their children, who grow up and continue in disobedience to Christ, and refuse to walk in the way in which they should go; yet if no course of actions, nor any particular overt act, contrary 334to their duty, nor any gross, known and designed neglect of their duty to their children, can be proved, or alleged against them, there can be no ground of public censure.
2. Though it could be proved, and were known, that they had been guilty of many mistakes, much imprudence, and great neglects, in the education of their children, and were far from doing their duty, and complying with all that is implied in bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and so had broken the covenant between God and them, with respect to their duty to their children; yet this may be consistent with their being true believers, or real christians; and therefore cannot be a sufficient ground of censuring them, and casting them out of the church; for nothing can be the proper ground of such censure, but those overt acts, or that neglect of duty, which, if persisted in, is inconsistent with a person’s being a real christian. It has been observed, that a person may be a true believer, and be entitled to the blessings of the covenant of grace, as to his own person, and yet not perform the condition of the covenant, as it respects his children: Therefore, though the latter may be proved, this is no evidence against him, with respect to the former; consequently is not a ground of rejecting him as no christian.
Question VI. It is a known truth, and often mentioned, that parents cannot give or convey grace to their children, by any thing they can do. Is not the doctrine now advanced, which teaches that the holiness and salvation of children, is the certain consequence of their parents doing their duty to them, contrary to this truth?
Answer. It is true, that holiness is wrought in the heart, by the power and energy of the holy Spirit, and cannot be communicated to children by any means or endeavours used by parents; but is wholly effected by divine influences. In this view and sense, parents do not convey grace to their children: this is wholly out of their power: It is the work of God. But it does not follow from this, that God has not so constituted the covenant of grace, that holiness shall be communicated by him to the children, in consequence of the faithful, 335commanded endeavours of their parents, so that, in this sense, and by virtue of such a constitution, they do, by their faithful endeavours, convey saving blessings to their children.
In this way, they give existence to their children.—God produces their existence by his own almighty energy; but by the constitution he has established, they receive their existence from their parents, or by their means. By an established constitution, parents convey moral depravity to their children. And if God has been pleased to make a constitution, and appoint a way, in his covenant of grace with man, by which pious parents may convey, and communicate moral rectitude or holiness to their children, they by using the appointed means, do it as really and effectually, as they communicate existence to them. In this sense, therefore, they may convey and give holiness and salvation to their children.
This is a maxim often mentioned by parents, when the faithful education of their children is brought into view, and urged, that parents cannot give grace to their children, however faithful they are in their education. This is not true, in the sense now mentioned, if the covenant of grace contains a promise that their children shall be holy, if they will use all proper and commanded endeavours to this end, by which there is a constituted connection between such means, and the end. And whether this has not been proved from scripture, the reader will judge, when he has considered what has now been offered on this point. There is reason to fear, and even to believe, that the above maxim is too often mentioned by parents, in order to exculpate and excuse themselves from fault, when their children grow up ungoverned, ignorant and vicious. In this view it is desirable it should be laid aside.
Question VII. If this be a doctrine plainly taught in scripture, and explains and points out the meaning, design and importance of the baptism of the children of believers, why has it not been understood and believed in all ages in the christian church; but remained in the dark, and unknown till this time?336
Answer 1st. It was taught by Christ and his Apostles, as they said things which do necessarily imply it, as has been shown. And it was therefore doubtless understood and believed in the churches constituted by the Apostles; which, with other doctrines and practices enjoined by them, was soon corrupted, misunderstood and in a great measure lost in darkness and error. And that this was an apostolic institution, may be argued from the opinion which was handed down in the christian church, that baptized infants were regenerated: and hence their baptism was called regeneration, which appears by the writings of those who lived in the second century of the christian church, and since. Though the true reason of baptized children being considered and called holy, viz. their being the children of parents who dedicated them to God, and had engaged to bring them up for God, on which condition they were to be holy and saved, according to the divine promise, was soon after the days of the apostles too generally overlooked and misunderstood: yet the doctrine, that such children were to be considered to be regenerated and holy, was still taught and believed; and has been embraced by many, even to this day. But instead of understanding the true ground of this, and giving a rational and scriptural account of it, the most of them have either given no reason for it, or attributed it, not to what the parents had done, or should do for them, and the promise made to them in the covenant of grace, upon their faithfulness: but to the efficacy of the ordinance of baptism itself; and thought that the bare administration of baptism would sanctify and save them, without regard to any condition to be performed by their parents, or others.
Answer 2d. This doctrine has been expressly asserted by writers
of this and the last centuries:469469 “Baptism seals our introduction and initiation into the
visible church and body of Christ, and our adoption to the heavenly
inheritance.”— Calvin. Epist. 185.
Dr. Thomas Goodwin, in his discourse on 1 Cor. vii. 14—Else were your children unclean, but new are they holy, says, “The meaning is this, that whereas unbelievers’ children are, in the account of the gospel, and of God himself under the gospel, pronounced unclean, (that is, as remaining in the state in which they were born, viz. of sin and uncleanness)—On the contrary, (saith he) your children (although born in sin, as others) are yet, by God’s true sentence of them, in has word and revealed will, proclaimed holy; and so are to be judged of by us, as truly regenerate and born again. He means, therefore, evangelical holiness: That though they be born in sin, as others are, yet they are in part sanctified, or regenerate and made holy in state, and so are not in a state of sin, but of evangelical holiness.
For the terminus, or object of our thoughts, it is real holiness; that is, which we are to think real and true. Some divines have said, that because the church was to judge any such child holy, though all were not so, that therefore it is but a reputative holiness, and an outward, sacramental holiness, that we, in our judgments are to give them. But they are mistaken; for though in the event indeed, it proves in many of them but a reputative holiness, and only in esteem; yet still so, as the terminus of the church’s judgment, or that holiness, which they are, in their judgments to attribute to them, is true, real holiness: But it is called reputative, only in respect to the event, in that we should attribute true holiness, to those who prove not so: Yet still the holiness we are to think in them, is no other than real to our thoughts: Even as it is in our judging those of riper years to be saints, when admitted into churches; it follows, not that it is a mere outward holiness, that is to be the terminus of our thoughts, or that which we are to content ourselves to find in them, or think of them: But that they are truly and really holy; though in the event it proves no other, in many, than an outward, titular holiness; yet the holiness we pitch upon and aim at, and judge of, and embrace men for, is a holiness, to our judgments real, though we be often mistaken.”—Dr. Goodwin’s Works, second vol. Of Election, page 406, 422
The Assembly of Divines, at Westminster, in the Shorter Catechism, composed by them, say, “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the blessings of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.” And in the next sentence say, “The infants of such as are members of the visible church, are to be baptized.” This catechism is received by the church of Scotland, and by all, or most of the presbyterian and congregational churches in England, Ireland, and America; and taught to their children. If baptism signifies and seals, what it is here said to do; then infants, where they are baptized, are visibly, or in the view of the church, ingrafted into Christ, and partakers of the blessings of the covenant of grace; which is the same with being entitled to holiness and salvation, on some condition, which, if not expressed, is supposed and understood. And 337many divines, if not most, who have written in favour of infant baptism, have said that which really implies this doctrine, while they assert that the children of believers are received into covenant with their parents, and have a visible title to the promise of the covenant, which is, that God will be a God lo them, or their God; and therefore are federally holy. Which implies the whole that has been now advanced on this point, if these words be taken in any proper consistent sense; or if indeed they have any real meaning. It cannot be denied indeed, that many of these same authors have passed over this point, without an explanation, or have so explained this assertion, as to leave it without any consistent sense, or nothing but words without any meaning: 338And have denied that to be the meaning, which is the only natural and consistent one.
Answer 3d. If this doctrine were wholly neglected and lost, ever since the age in which the apostles lived, and had not been revived or thought of, till this time, or even till the millennium shall commence, this would be no argument against the truth of it, whenever, upon inquiry, it be found to be contained in the Bible.
Those doctrines and duties of christianity, which are most contrary to the selfishness, pride, worldliness, and the various natural corrupt inclinations of men, are most exposed to be soon rejected and lost, or greatly corrupted: and though once taught and established, and continuing to be contained in divine revelation, will be neglected and discarded, when the power and spirit of true religion declines. And they will not be long maintained and practised in their original purity and strictness, in christian churches, unless divine influences be granted, to form the hearts of successive generations, to discern and love the truth and practise it. This observation has been verified by fact and experience. The christian church, in general, soon became corrupt, and sunk into darkness and error, in principles and practice, after the days of the apostles. And this declension and apostasy from the truth once delivered to the saints, became greater and more general, as the spirit of true religion vanished: and error in doctrine, and superstition, and corruption in practice increased. There were, from time to time, some degree of partial revivals of truth and religion; and particular men were raised up to investigate and declare some of the most important truths contained in the Bible, and oppose the general corruption in christian doctrine and duty: and this took place to a remarkable degree and extent in the reformation from popery. But who will presume to say or think, that any of the different sects and denominations of christians in the protestant world, have come up to the purity in doctrine and practice, of the primitive church; or that the Bible is yet understood, in all the important branches of truth and duty, as they are there revealed? Christians in general are still in a great degree of darkness, and much of the light held up in the 339Bible is not received, through the inattention, prejudices and blindness of men. The scripture has not been so well and so fully understood, as it will be in the days of the millennium, when the Spirit of God shall be poured out on christians in general, in much greater degrees than it has been by which they shall have more discerning, and be disposed to search the Bible, with a sincere and earnest desire to know the truth, and a strong disposition to receive it, and practise agreeable to it. The Bible will then be improved to much better purpose, than it had ever been before; and many important truths and duties which had in ages before not been understood or seen, will then appear plain and easy to be understood. Then the Bible will answer the end for which it is given to men, as it never had done before, as it was chiefly designed for that day, by the proper improvement of which, the knowledge of God, and of all revealed truth, will fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea.
The doctrine now under consideration may be then well understood by all, and the evidence of it appear much more strong and clear, than it can be made to do now, and being reduced to practice, the good effect of it will be seen, as has been observed above. This doctrine, taken in its full length and breadth, when reduced to a practice agreeable to it, is directly contrary to the natural disposition of man, and peculiarly so in many respects: and it is not expected, that however evident the truth of it is from the Bible, that it will be generally believed; and that it will be received, and properly conformed to, and practised by many churches, if by any, in the christian world, at this day. Religion, even the true spirit of christianity, must rise much higher than it now does, in order to practise the duties implied in the baptism of infants, and many other duties which are commanded, and ought to take place among christians, and in christian churches.
Question VIII. If a right account of infant baptism has now been given, then the baptism of children of believers is an institution of vast importance, and an indispensable duty, as well as a great privilege; and they who deny, that infant baptism is a christian institution, 340and refuse to practise It, are very erroneous and wicked. Ought they not, therefore, to be rejected as no christians?
Answer. They who believe the baptism of infants is evidently a christian institution, and think it to be as important and useful, and suited and designed by Christ, to be of such advantage to parents and their children, and to the church, as has been represented above, must look upon those who refuse to comply with this institution, but oppose it, as in a great error, and as offending Christ, and those little ones, who being the children of believing parents, ought to be considered and received as believers in him.470470 See Matt. xviii. 5, 6. Luke ix. 48. But they are to be thought of, and treated with great candour, tenderness and christian charity: especially since there is reason to believe, that most, if not all, who believe in the baptism of children, and practise it, are more guilty and offensive to Christ, in their treatment of this institution, than the Antipedobaptists are. The Pedobaptists believe infant baptism to be a divine institution, and baptize their children; but most of them, if not all, refuse to comply with, and practise the most important and essential duties implied in the institution, which they solemnly profess and engage to do. They make use of the external rite, but treat it as a mere ceremony, because it is the custom of their denomination, or to gratify their pride, or superstition: they generally shew, that they do not heartily devote their children to Christ, by their neglect to educate them for him. In this respect, their children are not distinguished from those who are not baptized: and let them behave as they will, they are not treated as being under the care of the church, or subjects of discipline, and most, if not all the parents who bring their children to baptism, do not desire they should be censured and cast out by the church, if when they are adult they refuse to obey Christ; but stand ready to oppose it. It is a common practice to baptize the children of those who are not visible believers, who do not obey Christ, in attending upon all his institutions, and, in many instances, are in other respects immoral: and in those churches where no children are baptized, but of 341parents who make a profession of religion, and are members of the church, the baptism of children is generally treated as a mere ceremony: when that is performed, no more is done for the children by the parents, or the church, than is done for those who are not baptized. How short do they come of the duty which is reasonable and important, and solemnly engaged by the parents, and the church, if the above representation of this duty be in any measure just! How greatly is this institution abused and perverted even to bad purposes, by most of the Pedobaptists! The error and sin of the Antipedobaptists consists in their not believing infant baptism to be an institution of Christ, and therefore rejecting it, as a mere human invention. Theirs is a sin of ignorance. Their ignorance and unbelief are criminal; but who are the greatest criminals in their treatment of this institution, it is easy to determine.
The words of Christ to them, who brought to him a woman guilty of adultery, and said Moses commanded such to be stoned, are applicable to this case. “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Too many of the Pedobaptists have treated those who deny infant baptism, with unreasonable censoriousness and severity; especially since they themselves have been so faulty in this very matter; and have denied or neglected, in principle and practice, the most useful, important, and essential part of this institution. To such may be applied the words of the Prophet Obed, to the host of Israel, with a little variation. “Ye have condemned and censured your brethren, with a severity and rage that reacheth up to heaven. But are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God?”471471 Chron. xxvii. 9, 10.
This subject will be concluded by observing, that what has been offered from the scripture, to prove that the baptism of infants is a divine institution; and whatever other arguments from it have been mentioned by others, or may be thought of, stand good, and ought to be considered in their full weight, independent of what has been now said, to show what is the design and import of this institution; and whether this can be sufficiently 342supported from scripture, or not: Though it is thought that the view which has been here given of it, if it be admitted, will serve to strengthen the evidence that it is an institution of Christ, and to show the propriety and importance of it. Therefore, they who shall not be convinced that there is any promised connection between the faithfulness of parents in the covenant, as it respects their children, and the conveyance of saving blessings to the latter, will not find the evidence on which they believe and practise infant baptism, in any degree weakened: While they who believe that such a connection is evident from scripture, will, by this view of the matter, be more confirmed in the reality, usefulness and importance of this institution; and excited to improve it accordingly. It is presumed that this attempt has no tendency to prejudice any one against the practice of infant baptism, or to lead him to doubt whether it be a christian institution: And that no one can have any reason to think that the belief of such a connection, and a practice agreeable to it, can tend, in any respect, to slur the institution, or to render it less important and useful to the christian church; or be hurtful to any.
If V hat has been now offered on this subject, shall in any degree awaken the attention of divines, and christians in general, to this matter, and excite to a more careful and strict examination of it, which, it is thought, has not vet been thoroughly explored; but has been generally treated in too loose and indeterminate a manner; and if, in consequence of this, greater light on this point shall be obtained, and a more consistent and scriptural account of it shall be given, than is here exhibited, the composing and reading of these pages will not be in vain.
THE LORD’S SUPPER.
The Lord’s Supper is also an institution of Christ, which he has commanded his followers to observe, and attend upon; and has appointed it to be celebrated in his church to the end of the world.
The elements of this ordinance are bread and wine. The bread consecrated and broken represents the broken 343body of Christ, in his death on the cross. The wine poured out represents his blood in his death, which was shed for the remission of sins. The professed followers of Christ, by eating the bread and drinking the wine, when consecrated and blessed, by prayer and thanksgiving, and distributed to them by the officers of the church, do, by this transaction, profess cordially to receive Christ by faith, and to live upon him, loving him, and trusting in him for pardon and complete redemption, consecrating themselves to his service. And by the ministers of the gospel consecrating those elements, and ordering them to be distributed to the communicants, Christ is exhibited as an all-sufficient Saviour, and the promise of salvation is expressed and sealed to all his friends. This is therefore a covenant transaction, in which those who partake of the bread and wine express their faith in Christ, that they are his friends, and devoted to his service; and their cordial compliance with the covenant of grace; and solemnly seal this covenant by partaking of these elements. And at the same time, they are a token and seal of the covenant of grace, on the part of Christ. All this is asserted by the apostle Paul, when speaking of this ordinance. “The cup of blessing, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”472472 1 Cor. x. 16. “For I have received of the Lord, that which I also delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus, in the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you: This do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the New Testament in my blood.”473473 Chap. xi. 23, 24, 25. And the church by coming together, and celebrating this holy supper, not only profess their love to Christ, and union of heart to him; but that peculiar love and union to each other, which takes place between the true disciples of Christ, and is essential to their character. This is expressed in the following words of the apostle Paul. “For we; being many, are one bread, and one body: For we are all partakers of that one bread.”474474 1 Cor. x. 17.344
The appointment, therefore, of this holy supper, is an instance of the wisdom and goodness of Christ, as it is suited to be a repeated and continual exhibition of a crucified Saviour, and hereby to excite the faith and love of christians, and to lead them to renew their covenant with him, dedicating themselves to his service and honour. And is also adapted to the communicants’ united expression of their mutual love and union of heart to each other, while they jointly partake of one common good, even all the benefits of Christ crucified.
That this is appointed by Christ to be a standing ordinance, to be observed by his church, and by every professed baptized believer in him, to the end of the world, is evident by the words and manner of the institution of it, recorded by the evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke; and is farther evident by the history we have of the observation of it by the churches, in the days of the apostles. We are told, that on the first day of the week, the disciples at Troas came together to break bread;475475 Acts xx. 7. that is, to celebrate the Lord’s supper. The church at Corinth attended upon this ordinance from time to time; which appears from what the apostle Paul says to them respecting it, when he undertakes to correct their abuse of it.476476 1 Cor. xi. And in order to reform them, he refers them to the original institution by Christ, and tells them particularly what it was, as he had received it from the Lord Jesus Christ himself; and adds the following words, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” Which words strongly assert, that this ordinance was to be observed to the end of the world, when Christ the Lord shall come the second time, without sin unto salvation.
This ordinance, according to the nature, signification and extent of it, is to be repeated by the same persons to the end of life, as it expresses the believer’s living upon Christ; and the nourishment of his soul, by faith in him, and is suited to excite renewed acts of christian love and holiness. There is the same reason why a participation of it should be repeated, as there is that it should be once attended. “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death 345till he come.”477477 1 Cor. xi. 26. There is a difference between this ordinance and that of baptism, in this respect: As the latter is the initiating ordinance and seal by which persons are visibly introduced into the church and kingdom of Christ. And this being once done, the end of it is answered, and there can be no reason or propriety in repeating it, by applying it more than once to the same person.
The infant children of believers are as capable subjects of baptism, and of all that is signified by it, as adults are, as has been shown. But as they are not capable of that which is signified by partaking of the Lord’s supper, till they arrive to years of understanding, this is not to be administered to them before that time, when they shall be able to “discern the Lord’s body, and examine themselves.” There is no evidence that the circumcised children in Israel were admitted to the passover, and to partake of the paschal lamb, until they were able to understand the reason and end of that institution. The Jews say, children did not partake of the passover till they arrived to the age of twelve years. This seems to be confirmed by the history we have of the parents of Jesus taking him with them to the feast of the passover at Jerusalem, when he was twelve years old, which plainly implies that they did not do it before. “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem, after the custom of the feast.”478478 Luke ii. 41, 42. This may be considered as a guide to christian churches, in admitting baptized children to the Lord’s supper.
This ordinance, according to the nature and design of it, is to be administered and attended upon publicly, by every particular church; and is not designed to be administered privately, to one single person. Of this we have no example in scripture: But the disciples, the whole church, came together to break bread, and eat the Lord’s supper. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread.”479479 Acts xx. 7. “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation.”480480 1 Cor. xi. 20, 33, 34.346
As to the frequency of administering this ordinance in a church; this does not appear to be fixed by any precept or example in scripture; and therefore seems to be left to the discretion of the church to determine how often they will attend upon it, and have it administered to them, according to their circumstances, and as they shall think it to be most convenient to them, and most for the honour of Christ, and their edification. It has been often said, that christians in the first ages of the church, celebrated the Lord’s supper, at least every Lord’s day. But it may be asked, by what authentic history this can be made evident? What author has produced this evidence? And if it were certain, that some churches did attend upon it every Lord’s day, and oftener, this would not prove that this was commanded by Christ, or his Apostles. Some have thought it evident that this ordinance was attended by the first christian church, which was formed by the Apostles at Jerusalem, at least every first day of the week, if not every time they met for public worship, which they must have done by the direction of the Apostles; and is therefore as binding on all christian churches to the end of the world, as if there were an express precept to attend upon it in the same manner, and so often. But the words on which this conclusion is grounded, do not appear sufficient to support it, when carefully examined. They are these: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did cat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”481481 Acts ii. 42, 46. “They continued stedfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine.” That is, they attended constantly on the instructions and preaching of the Apostles, and stedfastly adhered to the truths delivered by them. “And in fellowship:” That is, in communicating and making collections and distribution, to supply the bodily necessities of those who stood in need of assistance and support. This is the meaning of the word κοινωνιω, which is here translated fellowship. “And in breaking of bread.” This probably means their partaking of the Lord’s supper, “And 347in prayers.” That is, joining in public prayers, and in singing psalms, which is included in prayer; which Mere constantly performed when they attended the other parts of public worship. Here then every part of their public worship is mentioned, viz. public teaching; distribution to the necessities of the poor saints; attendance on the Lord’s supper; and prayer; including psalmody, which is devotion, and a particular manner of prayer. But it does not follow, from this enumeration of the different parts of their public worship, that every part was attended upon every time they met for prayer or preaching; or that they made a contribution for the poor, or broke bread, every time they met together for public worship: But that these were performed, as often as was convenient and proper. Breaking bread from house to house, and eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,482482 Verse 46. does not appear to mean their eating the Lord’s supper from house to house; but their partaking of their common food, and eating together; exercising liberality and friendship one towards another, in eating their common meals. But if breaking bread does here mean the Lord’s supper, and it were certain that believers at Jerusalem did, in their then peculiar and extraordinary circumstances, administer and partake of this ordinance, whenever a number of them met in a particular house, it would not hence follow, that the disciples of Christ are by this bound in all ages of the world to attend the Lord’s supper in the same manner, or thus frequently.
When it is said, “And upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread:”483483 Acts xx. 7. It does not import, that breaking bread was the only or chief thing for which they came together on that day; for this was not true, as appears by the relation. Nor does it follow from those words, that they always came together on the first day of the week to break bread. It is only said, that on that first day, they did so. They might, consistent with this, come together on many other first days of the week, not to break bread, but to attend on other parts of public worship, without partaking of the Lord’s supper.348
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