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§ 11. Whose Children are entitled to Baptism.

This is a very delicate, difficult, and important question. No answer which can be given to it can be expected to give general satisfaction. The answers will be determined by the views taken of the nature of the Church and the design of the sacraments. Probably the answer which would include most of the views entertained on the subject, is, that the children of the members of the visible Church, and those for whose religious training such members are willing to become responsible, should be baptized. But this leaves many questions undecided, and allows room for great diversity of practice.

Difference between the Jewish and Christian Usage.

We have already seen under the old dispensation, (1.) That God made a nation his Church and his Church a nation. (2.) Consequently that membership in the one involved membership in the other, and exclusion from the one, exclusion from the other. (3.) That the conditions of admission to the Church were, therefore, the same as the conditions of admission into the commonwealth. (4.) That those conditions were profession of faith in the true religion, and a promise of obedience to the will of God as revealed in his word. (5.) That the State exacted this profession and enforced this obedience so far as the external conduct was concerned. All the people were required to be circumcised, to offer sacrifices, to observe the festivals, and to frequent the temple services. And, (6.) That this was God’s way of preserving the knowledge of the true religion in that age of the world. And it succeeded. When Christ came, the uncorrupted Scriptures were read in the synagogues; the sacrifices as divinely appointed were offered in the temple; the high priest in his offices and work still stood before the people, as the type of Him who was to come. Under this system there could be no question as to whose children were to be circumcised.

When Christ came and broke down the wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles, and announced his Gospel as designed and adapted for all men, all this was changed. It followed from the fact that the Church was to embrace all nations. 559(1.) That the Church and State could no longer be united or identified as they had been under the theocracy. The Christian Church at the first was established in an enemy’s country. For three centuries it was not only independent and separate from the State, but it was in every way opposed and persecuted by the civil power. It is still the fact that the Christian Church exists in Pagan and Mohammedan countries. (2.) From the necessity of the case it is a body independent of the State. It has its own organization, its own laws, its own officers, and its own conditions of membership. It has the right to administer its own discipline agreeably to the laws of Christ its king and head. (3.) As it was intended by Christ that his Church should be thus catholic or universal, existing under all forms of human government, civilized or savage, it was clearly his intention that it should be thus independent and distinct from the State. He declared that his kingdom was not of this world. It is not of the same kind with worldly kingdoms; it has different ends to accomplish, and different means for the attainment of those ends. It is spiritual, that is, concerned with the religious or spiritual, as distinguished from the secular interests of men. It moves, therefore, in a different sphere from the State, and the two need never come into collision. (4.) As the Church, since the advent is identical with the Church which existed before the advent, although so different in its organization, in its officers, and in its mode of worship, the conditions of church-membership are now what they were then. Those conditions still are credible profession of faith, and obedience to the divine law. But it is no longer the duty of the State to require such profession or to enforce such obedience, so that every citizen of the State should be “ipso facto” a member of the Church. The two bodies are now distinct. A man may be a member of the one, and not a member of the other. The Church has the right to exercise its own discretion, within the limits prescribed by Christ, as to the admission or exclusion of members.

Doctrine of the Church of Rome on the Baptism of Children.

It has already been remarked that the Romish theory of the Church is founded on that of the ancient theocracy. That theory, however, is necessarily modified by the catholicity of the Church. Being designed for all nations, it could not be identified with any one nation. National citizenship is no longer the condition of church-membership. Rome, however, teaches, —

1. That the Church is, in its essential character, an external, 560organized society, so that no man can be a member of Christ’s body and a partaker of his life, who is not a member of that society.

2. The Church is an institute of salvation. Its sacraments are exclusively the channels for conveying to men the benefits of the redemption of Christ.

3. As the sacraments are the only channels of grace, no gracious affections or fruits of the Spirit can be required of those who receive them. Being designed to make men good, goodness cannot be the condition of their reception or efficacy.

4. The sacraments, and especially baptism, being thus necessary to salvation, it is the duty of all men to apply that they should be administered to them and to their children.

5. With regard to those children whose parents, through ignorance or indifference, neglect to bring them to the Church for baptism, they may be presented by any one who takes an interest in their salvation, that they may be baptized on the faith of the Church, or on that of those who are willing to act as their sponsors. It is no matter, therefore, whether the parents of such children are Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, or Pagans, as they all need, so they are all entitled to the sacrament of baptism. To exclude them from baptism, is to exclude them from heaven.

The Roman Catechism562562II. ii. quæs. 25 [31, xxx]; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 274. declares that the people must be taught that our Lord has enjoined baptism on all men, so that they will all perish eternally unless they be renewed by the grace of baptism, whether their parents be believers or unbelievers. In the answer to the next question the Scriptural authority for the baptism of infants is given; and in answer to the following question it is taught that infants, when baptized, receive the grace signified, not because they believe by the assent of their own mind, but because of the faith of their parents if believers, and if not, then by the faith of the Church universal; and they may be properly offered for baptism by any one who is willing to present them, by whose charity they are brought into the communion of the Holy Spirit.

6. Although not identified with the State, the Church theoretically absorbs the State, and does so in fact wherever it has the ascendancy. The Church is a body which has two arms — a spiritual and a secular. It demands that the State require all its subjects to profess its faith, to receive its sacraments, and to submit to its discipline; and where it has not the power thus to render 561the State its tool, it openly asserts its right to do so. One of the encyclical letters of the present pope so openly denied the liberty of conscience, the liberty of the press, and the lawfulness of tolerating any other religion than that of the Church of Rome, that the late Emperor of the French forbade its publication in France; yet the Archbishop of New York read it in his cathedral to an immense and approving audience.

The Roman Church, therefore, believing that baptism is essential to salvation, baptizes all children presented for that ordinance without regard to their immediate parentage or remote descent.

Theories on which many Protestants contend for the propriety of the baptism of children other than those of believing parents.

There are two principles on which the baptism of children whose parents are not members of the visible Church, is defended. The first is, that the promise is to parents and their children, and their children’s children even to the thousandth generation. Children, therefore, whose immediate parents may have no connection with the Church, have not forfeited their privileges as children of the covenant. If the promise be to them, its sign and seal belongs to them. The second principle is, that of spiritual adoption. Children who are orphans, or whose parents are unfit or unwilling to bring them up in a Christian manner, may be so far adopted by those willing and qualified to assume the responsibility of their religious education as to become proper subjects of baptism. This principle is sanctioned in the Scriptures. In Genesis xvii. 12, God said to Abraham, “He that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations; he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not thy seed.” Our Church on the same principle in 1787 enjoined with regard to apprentices that “Christian masters and mistresses, whose religious professions and conduct are such as to give them a right to the ordinance of baptism for their own children, may and ought to dedicate the children of their household to God, in that ordinance, when they have no scruple of conscience to the contrary.” In 18l6, it was decided, “(1.) It is the duty of masters who are members of the Church to present the children of parents in servitude to the ordinance of baptism, provided they are in a situation to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, thus securing to them the rich advantages which the Gospel 562provides. (2.) It is the duty of Christ’s ministers to inculcate this doctrine, and to baptize all children of this description when presented by their masters.” On the baptism of heathen children the Church in 1843 decided that such children are to be baptized, “who are so committed to the missions, or other Christian tuition, as to secure effectually their entire religious education.”563563Baird’s Digest of the Acts, Deliverance, and Testimonies of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, pp. 106, 107; edit. 1856, pp. 82, 83.

It was on the authority of the two principles above mentioned that many of the most distinguished theologians of Holland contend that foundlings, whose parents were unknown, illegitimate children, and the children of excommunicated persons, should be admitted to baptism. The question whether heathen children, committed to the care of Christian missionaries, should be baptized was submitted to the Synod of Dort. There was a diversity of opinion on the subject among the members, but the majority decided against it; not, as would appear, from the language employed, because of either of the above principles being denied, but because of the uncertain tenure by which such children were held. It was feared that they might return to heathenism, and thus the scandal of baptized persons practising heathen rites be afforded.564564   Doctrina Christianæ Religionis per Aphorismos summatim Descripta. Editio sexta. Cui nunc accedit Υποτυπωσις Theologiæ Elencticæ in usum Scholarum Domesticarum Campegii Vitringæ. Curante Martino Vitringa, cap. xxiv. Lyons, 1779, vol. vii. p. 153, note I.
   Bernhardini de Moor, Commentarius Perpetuus in Johannis Marckii Compendium Theologiæ Christianæ. Pars. V: cap. 30, § 19; Lyons, 1768, vol. v. pp. 500-502.

A second theory advanced on this subject was that of a twofold covenant; one external, the other internal; answering to the distinction between the Church visible and invisible. God, under the old dispensation, entered into a covenant with the Hebrew nation constituting them his visible Church, which covenant was distinct from that in which eternal life was promised to those that truly believe in the Redeemer who was to come. The conditions of admission into this external, visible society, were outward profession of the true religion, and external obedience. The condition of admission into the invisible Church, was true and saving faith. The sacraments were attached to the external covenant. All who made this external profession and yielded this outward obedience to the Mosaic law, were of right entitled to circumcision, to the passover, and to all the privileges of the theocracy. So it is now according to the theory in hand. Christ designed 563to form an external, visible Church, furnished with a constitution, laws, and proper officers for their administration. The conditions of admission into this visible society, were the profession of speculative, or historical faith in his religion, and external conformity to its laws and the laws of his Church. To this external body all the ordinances of his religion are attached. Those, therefore, who apply for baptism or the Lord’s Supper, do not profess to be the regenerated children of God. They simply profess to be believers as distinguished from infidels or scorners, and to be desirous to avail themselves of Church privileges for their own benefit and for the good of their children. From this body Christ gathers the great majority of his own people, making them members of his mystical body.

De Moor gives a long account of the controversy. Vitringa, it appears, strenuously opposed this theory of a twofold covenant in its application to the New Testament economy. Marck as strenuously defended it.565565De Moor, ut supra, cap. XXX. § xvi. vol. v. pp. 470-473.

This seems substantially the ground taken by the Rev. Mr. Stoddard, grandfather of President Edwards. Mr. Stoddard published, in 1707, a sermon on the Lord’s Supper, in which he maintained, “That sanctification is not a necessary qualification to partaking of the Lord’s Supper,” and “That the Lord’ s Supper is a converting ordinance.” This was answered in a “Dissertation” by Dr. Increase Mather. To this Mr. Stoddard replied in “An Appeal to the Learned; being a Vindication of the right of visible saints to the Lord’s Supper, though they be destitute of a saving work of God’s Spirit on their hearts; against the exceptions of Mr. Increase Mather.” President Edwards succeeded his grandfather as pastor of the Church in Northampton, Mass., in 1727, and for twenty years continued to act on the same principle on this subject as his grandfather. Having become convinced that that principle was unscriptural, he published, in 1749, “An humble Inquiry into the Rules of the Word of God, concerning the qualifications requisite to a complete standing and full communion in the visible Christian Church.” His design was to prove that no one should be admitted to the Lord’s table who is not in the judgment of the Church truly regenerate. This doctrine was very obnoxious to the people of his charge, and opposed to the sentiment and practice of the majority of the neighbouring churches.566566It is stated in the Life of President Edwards, by Sereno F. Dwight, prefixed to an edition of Edwards’ Works, in ten vols., New York, 1829, vol. i. p. 307, that “All the churches in the country, except two, and all the clergy, except three, approved of the lax mode of admission.” That is, were opposed to Edwards’ doctrine on the subject. The difficulty arising from this controversy 564was one of the principal causes which led to the dismission of President Edwards from his pastoral charge at Northampton. The views of Edwards soon gained the ascendancy in the Evangelical churches of New England, and to a great extent also among Presbyterians.

The Rev. John Blair, a prominent minister of our Church, took substantially the ground of a twofold covenant. Mr. Blair, as well as his more distinguished brother, Rev. Samuel Blair, took an active part with Whitefield and the Tennents in the great revival which occurred about the middle of the last century, and belonged to what were called the New Lights in the controversy which issued in the schism of 1741. He does not, indeed, admit of a twofold covenant, but he teaches the same doctrine which that expression was intended to assert. The Church of Christ, he says, is very properly distinguished as visible and invisible. By the former is meant “the whole number of true believers wherever they are.” “The visible Church consists of all those who by an external profession of the doctrines of the Gospel, and subjection to the laws and ordinances of Christ, appear as a society separated from the world, and dedicated to God and his service. In this view, in the present imperfect state, the Church comprehends branches that are withered, as well as those that bear fruit. Now the covenant of grace subsists between the blessed God and the Church, as such a visible Society,567567To this sentence Mr. Blair appends the following note: “In no other way can we conceive the covenant to subsist between God and believers as a Church. In the exercise of faith, believers have union to, and communion with Jesus Christ; but by this alone, they could have no fellowship with one another; for each one could only be conscious of his own exercise of faith, and could have no society with any other therein. Whatever real relation to each other is founded in their common union to Christ, yet they could not at all perceive it. They would be members of Christ, but utterly detached from each other, and so not formally a body. It is only as incorporated in the visible Church, that they are fitly placed in the body, and have any knowledge one of another, and so have fellowship.” and is rendered visible by a visible transaction and external administration in various ordinances; and comprehends sundry external privileges for the advantage and spiritual edification of the Church. Here are not two covenants, one for the invisible Church and another for the visible.” Gomarus, a leader in the Synod of Dort, says two covenants should be distinguished. That with the visible Church he calls hypothetical, that with the invisible Church absolute. In the main point, however, they agree, for Mr. Blair goes on to say: “It is [to] the covenant of grace 565in this view, namely, as visibly subsisting between God and his Church, considered as a visible society, a public body separated and distinguished from the world, and dedicated to God, that the sacraments are annexed as visible signs and seals thereof.”568568Essays on, I. The Nature, Uses, and Subjects of the Sacraments of the New Testament; II. On Regeneration, wherein the principle of Spiritual Life thereby implanted is particularly considered; III. On the Nature and Use of the Means of Grace. By John Blair, A. M., Pastor of the Church of Good-Will (alias Wallkill), in the Province of New York, New York: printed by John Holt, at the Exchange, 1771. Essay I. pp. 13-15. A man, therefore, in coming to the Lord’s table, or in presenting himself or his children for baptism, does not profess to be a member of the invisible, but only of the visible Church. God has commanded men not to steal, and not to neglect their religious duties; He commands them to pray; to hear his word; to attend the assemblies of his saints gathered for his worship; to be baptized; and to commemorate the Redeemer’s death in the way of his appointment. All these duties are obligatory; and they are all to be performed in a right spirit. But a man, argues Mr. Blair, is not to wait until he thinks himself regenerate and is so regarded by the Church, before he attempts to obey them. The sacraments, he says,569569Ibid. p. 35. “are not instituted to be visible signs of persons opinion or judgment concerning the exercises of their own hearts.” He no more professes to be regenerated when he comes to be baptized than when he prays. His prayer is from its nature a profession of faith in the divine existence and perfections, in the power of God to hear and answer his requests; it is a confession of his necessities and of his dependence. And this profession and confession are sincere; so sincere that it is not only his duty, but his right to pray a right which no man may take from him. In like manner a man may be, in the same sense, sincere in his belief of the truth of the Gospel; sincere in his desire to obey the command of Christ, and secure the benefits of his salvation. “When the sons of the stranger,” says Mr. Blair, “are instructed in the doctrines of the Gospel, are convinced in their judgment and conscience, they are true and exhibit the true religion; that they are bound by the authority of God to embrace it, and yield obedience to the divine laws; It is their immediate duty to embrace it, and that publicly and avowedly by joining themselves to the Lord, and his Church, in the sacrament of baptism; and thus make a public profession of the true religion, come under solemn obligations to walk in the ways of God’s commandments, and under the care and discipline 566of the Church.”570570Blair, Essays, ut supra, p. 28. Such persons “are brought under the bond of the covenant. This should be early laid before them, to let them see that by this dedication to God, they are bound to perform all duties of religion for which they have capacity, to receive instruction and appear for religion as the professors thereof. As soon as they have a competency of knowledge, and are capable of the discipline of the Church, they are bound to commemorate the death of Christ, and renew their engagements to Him at his table, unless debarred by discipline for unchristian conduct. When they shall become parents, they are bound to dedicate their children to God in baptism.”571571Ibid. p. 43.

Such were the views on this subject entertained by some of the most evangelical ministers of our Church during the last century and long afterwards. The same views prevailed, to some extent, also in New England.

A third theory on which the baptism of children, whose parents are not communicants, is contended for, makes a distinction between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. More is required for the latter than for the former; and, therefore, adults who are entitled to baptism for themselves and for their children, may not be entitled to admission to the Lord’s table. This is one of the views on this general subject referred to by Vitringa and De Moor in the works above mentioned. The advocates of this theory appeal to the fact that the Apostles, who were no more able than other men to read the heart, baptized thousands on the on a simple external profession of faith. So Paul baptized the jailer at Philippi and his family “straightway,” that is, as would appear, at midnight in the prison. Philip baptized the eunuch of Ethiopia as soon as he confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, although he knew nothing, so far as appears in the narrative, of his conduct either before or after. On the other hand, it is urged that these same Apostles required all who came to the Lord’s Supper to examine themselves, and see whether they were in the faith, or whether Christ dwelt in them. This seems to have been the ground taken by Mr. Blair in the earlier part of his ministry; for he says in his preface572572Ibid. p. 4. to his Essays: “Many of my friends will, probably, be surprised, to find I have changed may sentiments with respect to some subjects of one of the sacraments; for they know it was formerly my opinion, that the unregenerate ought not, by any means, to adventure to the Lord’s table; though they ought to dedicate their children to God in baptism.”


This is also the theory which was known in New England as the “Half-Way Covenant.” Many were recognized as entitled to present their children for baptism, who were not prepared for admission to the Lord’s Supper. The controversy on this subject began in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1654, 1655. Several councils were called, which failed to produce unanimity. The question was referred to a Synod of divines to meet in Boston. The Synod met and sat two or three weeks. “As to the case of such baptized persons as, without being prepared to come to the Lord’s Supper, were of blameless character, and would own for themselves their baptismal obligations, it decided that they ought to be allowed to present their children for baptism. This assuming of baptismal obligations was called by opponents, taking the Half-way Covenant.”573573A History of New England, from the Discovery by Europeans to the Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, being an Abridgment of his “History of New England during the Stuart Dynasty” by John Graham Palfrey. New York, 1866, vol. ii. p. 19.

The Synod decided in favour of the following propositions: —

“1. They that, according to Scripture, are members of the visible Church, are the subjects of baptism.

“2. The members of the visible Church, according to Scripture, are confederate visible believers, in particular churches, and their infant seed, i.e., children in minority, whose next parents, one or both, are in covenant.

“3. The infant seed of confederate visible believers, are members of the same Church with their parents, and when grown up are personally under the watch, discipline, and government of that church.

“4. These adult persons are not, therefore, to be admitted to full communion, merely because they are, and continue members, without such further qualifications as the Word of God requireth thereunto.

“5. Church-members who were admitted in minority, understanding the doctrine of faith, and publicly professing their assent thereto, not scandalous in life, and solemnly owning the covenant before the Church, wherein they give up themselves and their children to the Lord, and subject themselves to the government of Christ in the Church, their children are to be baptized.

“6. Such church-members, who either by death, or some other extraordinary providence, have been inevitably hindered from publicly acting as aforesaid, yet have given the Church cause, in judgment of charity, to look at them as so qualified, and such as, had 568they been called thereunto, would have so acted, their children are to be baptized.

“7. The members of orthodox churches, being sound in the faith and not scandalous in life, and presenting due testimony thereof; these occasionally coming from one church to another may have their children baptized in the church, whither they come, by virtue of communion of churches. But if they remove their habitation they ought orderly to covenant and subject themselves to the government of Christ in the church where they settle their abode, and so their children to be baptized. It being the church s duty to receive such into communion, so far as they are regularly fit for the same.”574574Magnalia Christi Americana, by Rev. Cotton Mather, D. D., F. R. S., Hartford, 1853, vol. i. pp. 276-316. The passage referred to contains a full account of the controversy. The words above are on page 279.

These propositions are founded on the following principles: —

1. That as under the old economy the Temple was one, it had its outer and inner courts, and those who had access to the former were not thereby entitled to enter the latter; so under the new dispensation the visible Church is one, but it includes two classes of members; baptized professors of the true religion, and those who, giving evidence of regeneration, are admitted to the Lord’s Supper.

2. That the qualifications for baptism and for full communion are not identical. Many may properly be admitted to the former, who are not prepared for the latter.

3. That baptism being a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, all who are baptized, whether adults or infants, are properly designated “fœderati,” members of the visible Church, believers, saints, Christians.

4. That those baptized in infancy remain members of the visible Church until they are “discovenanted,” as the Congregationalists express it; or, separated from it by a regular act of discipline.

5. That being members of the Church, if free from scandal and continuing their profession, they are entitled to present their children for baptism.

The decision of this Synod did not put an end to the controversy. It was, however, in accordance with the views of the majority of the New England churches. Its chief opponents were found among “the more conservative class of laymen. Its advocates among the clergy were from the first a majority, which 569went on increasing from generation to generation; and the Half-way Covenant, as it was opprobriously called, came to be approved by the general practice of the Congregational churches of New England.”575575Palfrey, p. 103. Such, also, it is believed, although on somewhat different principles, was the general practice of the Presbyterian Church in this country until within a comparatively recent period of its history.

The Puritan Doctrine on this Subject.

The Puritans, in the restricted sense of that word, held, (1.) That the Church consists of the regenerate. (2.) That a particular church consists of a number of true believers united together by mutual covenant. (3.) That no one should be admitted to church-membership who did not give credible evidence of being a true child of God. (4.) They understood by credible evidence, not such as may be believed, but such as constrains belief. (5.) All such persons, and no others, were admitted to the Lord’s Supper. They, therefore, constituted the Church, and to them exclusively belonged the privileges of church-membership, and consequently to them was confined the right of presenting their children for baptism. All other professors of the true religion, however correct in their deportment, were denied that privilege.

These principles, when introduced by the Brownists in England, were opposed by the great body of Protestants in Great Britain and upon the Continent. They were brought to this country by the disciples of Robinson, and controlled the New England churches for many years. They were gradually relaxed when the theory above stated gained the ascendancy, which it retained until President Edwards published his “Essay,” to which we have referred, which gradually changed the opinions and practice of the Congregational churches throughout the land, and to a great extent those of Presbyterians also.

President Edwards, however, lays down one proposition, and devotes his whole treatise to proving another. The proposition which he undertakes to establish is, that none “ought to be admitted to the communion and privileges of members of the visible Church of Christ in complete standing, but such as are in profession, and in the eye of the Church’s Christian judgment, godly or gracious persons.”576576Works, edit. New York, 1868, vol. i. p. 89. What he proposes to prove, therefore, is that those only who, in the judgment of the Church, are godly 570or gracious persons are to be admitted to the sacraments. All his arguments, however, ten in number, are directed to prove that those who come to the Christian sacraments profess to be Christians. These propositions are very different. Many who assent to the latter, reject the former. The one has reference to the qualifications for church-membership in the sight of God; ths other concerns the legitimate power of the Church in receiving or rejecting those who apply for access to the ordinances which Christ has appointed as means of grace for the people. Edwards had far higher notions of Church power in this matter, than those entertained by the great body of Protestants. The reason why President Edwards confounded the propositions above mentioned, was, that those against whom he wrote did not deny the prerogative of the Church to sit in judgment on those who applied for Church privileges; that, with them, was not the matter in dispute. The question concerned the divinely appointed qualifications for membership in the Christian Church. Did Christ intend and ordain that those only whom the Church judged to be truly regenerated should be admitted; or did He design the sacraments, as Stoddard contended, for the unconverted; they is well as preaching, being appointed as means of conversion. This being, then, the only matter of debate, to it Edwards naturally confined his attention.

Edwards is very explicit in his statement of the prerogative and duty of the Church in acting as a judge of the real character of those who profess to be Christians. He says: “By Christian judgment I intend something further than a kind of mere negative charity, implying that we forbear to censure and condemn a man, because we do not know but that he may be godly, and therefore forbear to proceed on the foot of such a censure or judgment in our treatment of him: as we would kindly entertain a stranger, not knowing but in so doing we entertain an angel or precious saint of God. But I mean a positive judgment, founded on some positive appearance, or visibility, some outward manifestations that ordinarily render the thing probable. There is a difference between suspending our judgment, or forbearing to condemn, or having some hope that possibly the thing may be so, and so hoping the best; and a positive judgment in favour of a person.”577577Works, edit. New York, 1868, vol. i. pp. 91, 92.

Edwards is careful not to make any detail of religious experience the ground upon which the Church was to rest its judgment. 571This was one of the charges brought against his scheme which he earnestly resists. In reply to this objection578578Misrepresentations Corrected and Truth Vindicated, in a Reply to the Rev. Solomon Williams’ Book; Works, edit. New York, 1868, vol. i. pp. 206, 207. he quotes the following passage from his work on “Religious Affections:” “In order to persons’ making a proper profession of Christianity, such as the Scripture directs to, and such as the followers of Christ should require in order to the acceptance of the professors with full charity, as of their society, it is not necessary they should give an account of the particular steps and method, by which the Holy Spirit, sensibly to them, wrought and brought about those great essential things of Christianity in their hearts. There is no footstep in Scripture of any such way of the Apostles, or primitive ministers and Christians requiring any such relation in order to their receiving and treating others as their Christian brethren, to all intents and purposes; or of their first examining them concerning the particular method and order of their experiences. They required of them a profession of the things wrought; but no account of the manner of working was required of them. Nor is there the least shadow in the Scripture of any such custom in the Church of God, from Adam to the death of the Apostle John.”

According to this theory, therefore, the Church consists of those who are “judged” to be regenerate. None but those thus declared to be true believers are to be received as members of the Church. They alone are entitled to the sacraments either for themselves or for their children, and consequently only the children of communicants are to be admitted to baptism. It may be remarked on this theory, —

1. That it is a novelty. It had never been adopted or acted upon by any church on earth, until the rise of the Independents.

2. It has no warrant from Scripture either by precept or example. Under the old economy those who professed the true religion were admitted to the theocracy; but no body of men sat in judgment on the question of their regeneration. Those thus admitted, unless excluded judicially, had a right to the sacraments of the Church for themselves and for their children. The Apostles acted upon precisely the same principle. It is impossible that they should have examined and decided favourably as to the regeneration of each of the five thousand persons added to the Church in one day in Jerusalem. The whole Church, for more than a thousand years, followed the example of the Apostles in this matter.


3. The attempt to make the visible Church consist exclusively of true believers must not only inevitably fail of success, but it must also be productive of evil. Dr. Cotton Mather, in defending the decision of the Synod of Boston, which allowed baptism to the children of non-communicants, quotes Paræus as saying, “In church reformation, ’tis an observable truth that those that are for too much strictness, do more hurt than profit the Church.” And he, himself, says, “Baptism is a seal of the whole covenant of grace; but it is by way of initiation. Hence it belongs to all that are within the covenant or have the first entrance thereinto. And is there no danger of corruption by overstraining the subject of baptism? Certainly, it is a corruption to take from the rule, as well as add to it. Moses found danger in not applying the initiating seal, to such for whom it was appointed. Is there no danger of putting those out of the visible Church, whom our Lord would have kept in? . . . . . If we do not keep in the way of a converting, grace-giving covenant, and keep persons under those church dispensations, wherein grace is given, the Church will die of a lingering, though not violent, death. The Lord hath not set up churches only that a few old Christians may keep one another warm while they live, and then carry away the Church into the cold grave with them when they die; no, but that they might with all care, and with all the obligations and advantages to that care that may be, nurse up still successively another generation of subjects to our Lord, that may stand up in his kingdom when they are gone.”579579Mather’s Magnalia, vol. ii. p. 309.

4. Experience proves that it is a great evil to make the Church consist only of communicants and to cast out into the world, without any of that watch and care which God intended for them, all those together with their children, who do not see their way clear to come to the Lord’s table. Admitting with gratitude all that can be said of the great advance made by the Church in this country within the last fifty or sixty years, there are loud and almost universal complaints made of the decay of family religion, of family training, and especially of the ecclesiastical instruction of the young. It is within the memory of many now living that in almost every Presbyterian and every Congregationalist family in the land, as a matter of course, the children were regularly taught the “Westminster Catechism.” It is not so now.580580The venerable Mr. Spaulding, during his recent visit to this country, after spending thirty-five years as a missionary of the American Board in Ceylon, was so much struck with the change in these respects which had taken place during his absence, that he said he thought the time would come when the Tamul people would be called upon to send missionaries to America.


Doctrine and Usage of the Reformed Churches.

The language of the Reformed Churches as the proper subjects of infant baptism is perfectly uniform. In the “Second Helvetic Confession” it is said,581581Cap. XX.; Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, p. 518.Damnamus Anabaptistas, qui negant baptisandos esse infantulos recens natos a fidelibus. Nam juxta doctrinam evangelicam, horum est regnum Dei, et sunt in fœdere Dei, cur itaque non daretur eis signum fœderis Dei?

The “Gallic Confession” says:582582Art. XXXV. Ibid. p. 338.Quamvis baptismus sit fidei et resipiscentiæ sacramentum, tamen cum una cum parentibus posteritatem etiam illorum in ecclesia Deus recenseat, affirmamus, infantes sanctis parentibus natos, esse ex Christi authoritate baptizandos.

The “Belgic Confession” says:583583Art. XXXIV. Ibid. p. 384.(Infantes e fidelibus parentibus natos) baptizandos et signo fœderis obsignandos esse credimus.

The “Westminster Confession” says:584584Chap. xxviii. 4. “Now only those that do actually profess faith in, and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.”

The “Larger Catechism” says:585585Quest. 166. “Infants descending from parents, either both or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to Him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and are to be baptized.”

The “Shorter Catechism” says:586586Quest. 95. “Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible Church, till they profess their faith in Christ and their obedience to Him; but the children of such as are members of the visible Church, are to be baptized.”

The “Directory for Worship” says:587587Chap. vii. 4. “The seed of the faithful have no less right to this ordinance, under the Gospel, than the seed of Abraham to circumcision.”

It is, therefore, plain that according to the standards of the Reformed Church, it is the children of the members of the visible Church who are to be baptized. Agreeably to Scriptural usage such members are called “fœderati,” saints, believers, faithful, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling. The Apostles in addressing professing Christians in the use of such 574terms did not express any judgment of their state in the sight of God. They designated them according to their profession. If they professed to be believers, they were called believers, and were treated as such; unless they gave tangible evidence to the contrary, and in that case they were excommunicated. The Reformed, as well as the Lutheran theologians, therefore, speak of the members of the visible Church as believers, and of their children as born of believing parents. All that is intended, therefore, by the language above cited is, that the sacraments of the Church are to be confined to members of the Church and to their children. It never entered the minds of the authors of those symbols that the visible Church consists exclusively of the regenerate, or of those who gave such evidence of their regeneration as to constrain a judgment in their favour.

It has already been stated that the common doctrine of Protestants on this whole subject is, —

1. That the visible Church has always consisted of those who professed the true religion, together with their children.

2. That the terms of church-membership under all dispensations have been the same, namely, profession of faith and promise of obedience.

3. The requirements for participation in the sacraments were the same. That is, any one entitled to the rite of circumcision, was entitled to partake of the passover; those, under the Christian dispensation, entitled to baptism, are entitled to the Lord’s Supper. Those who, unbaptized, would be entitled to baptism for themselves, are entitled, and they only, to present their children for baptism. This is only saying that the privileges of the Church are confined to members of the Church.

4. The profession of faith required for admission to the Church or its ordinances is a profession of true faith; and the promise of obedience is a promise of the obedience of the heart as well as of the outward life. When a man professed to be a Jew he professed to be truly a Jew. It is inconceivable that God required of him only an insincere, hypocritical, or formal faith. This point is strenuously urged by President Edwards. He argues that those who enter the Christian Church enter into covenant with God, because under the Mosaic economy all the people thus pledged themselves to be the sincere worshippers of God. He appeals to such passages as Deuteronomy vi. 13, x. 20, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; Him shalt thou serve, and to Him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.” “This institution, 575in Deuteronomy, of swearing into the name of the Lord, or visibly and explicitly uniting themselves to Him in covenant, was not prescribed as an extraordinary duty, or a duty to be performed on a return from a general apostasy, and some other extraordinary occasions: but is evidently mentioned in the institution as a part of the public worship of God to be performed by all God’s people.”588588Works, edit. New York, 1868, vol. i. pp. 106, 107. This was an institution, he adds, belonging not only to Israel under the Old Testament, but also to Gentile converts, and to Christians under the New Testament. This explicit open covenanting with God, he argues,589589Ibid. p. 109. ought to be required of persons before they are admitted to the privileges of adult members of the Church. Circumcision and the passover were not designed for the conversion of the Gentiles. Those only were admitted to these ordinances who professed to be converted. In like manner baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not converting ordinances. They are to be administered only to those who profess to be Christians. It is plain, from the nature of the case, that those who partake of the Christian sacraments profess to be Christians. This is not so much asserted as assumed as self-evident by the Apostle, when he dissuades the Corinthians from frequenting the feasts given in the temples of idols. As, he says, those who partake of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper thereby profess to be in communion with Christ; and as those who partake of the Jewish altar, thereby profess to be the worshippers of Jehovah; so those who partake of feasts given in honour of idols, thereby profess to be idolators. (1 Cor. x. 14-21.) In baptism the recipient of that ordinance publicly dedares that he takes God the Father to be his father; God the Son to be his Saviour; and God the Holy Ghost to be his sanctifier. More than this no Christian can profess. That this profession shou1d not be insincere or hypocritical, or merely a matter of form, need not be argued. When a parent presents his child for baptism, he makes precisely these professions and engagements; and he can do no more when he comes to the Lord’s Supper.

5. The prerogative of the Church is limited to the demand of a credible profession of faith and promise of obedience. And by a credible profession is to be understood, such as may be believed; that is, one against which no decisive, tangible evidence can be adduced. If a man professes faith who is an avowed heretic, or avows a purpose of obedience while leading an ungodly life, the 576Church is authorized and bound to refuse to receive him. Nothing, however, can consistently be made a ground of such refusal, which would not be regarded as a sufficient ground for the discipline of one already in the communion of the Church. Two things are to be considered, the one concerns the applicants for Church privileges. They are bound to obey the command of Christ to be baptized and to present their children for baptism, and they are bound to commemorate his death in the way of his appointment. They assume a grave responsibility who refuse to allow them to comply with those commands. It is moreover not only a duty, but a right, a privilege, and a blessing to receive the sacraments of the Church. They are divinely appointed means of grace. We must have good reasons if we venture to refuse any of our fellow sinners the use of the means of salvation which Christ has appointed. It is to be feared that many have come short of eternal life, who, had they been received into the bosom of the Church and enjoyed its guardian and fostering care, might have been saved. (This is not inconsistent with the doctrine of election, as that doctrine is taught in Scripture.)

Besides the duties and rights of the people, the other thing to be considered in this matter, is the proper office of the Church. The Church has a solemn duty to perform. That duty is clearly laid down in the Word of God. It is bound to refuse to recognize as Christian brethren those who deny the faith, and those whose manner of life is inconsistent with the law of Christ. The Bible gives a list of offences which exclude those who commit them from the kingdom of heaven, and for which the Church is commanded to exclude men from her communion, In doing this it secures all the purity it is possible, in the present state of existence, to attain. Beyond this the Church has neither the right nor the power to go. It cannot legitimately assume the prerogative of sitting in judgment on the hearts of men. It has no right to decide the question whether those who apply for the privileges of Christ’s house are regenerate or unregenerate. The responsibility as to their inward spiritual state rests upon those who seek to become members of the Church. They should be taught what it is they profess and promise.

That the Church is not called upon to pronounce a judgment as to the real piety of applicants for membership is plain, —

1. Because no such prerogative was assumed under the Old Testament. The terms of membership were then what they are now. The same inward sincerity was required then as now. 577This Edwards insists upon, yet he does not venture to assert that all Jews admitted to circumcision and the passover, were, in the judgment of charity, truly regenerate persons.

2. The New Testament contains no command to the Church to assume the prerogative in question. There is the command often repeated to recognize as brethren all who profess their faith in Christ. There are explicit directions given as to those who, although calling themselves brethren, are to be rejected. (1 Cor. v. 9, 10; Rom. xvi. 17; 2 Thess. iii. 6; Tit. iii. 10; Matt. vii. 15-17.) But there is no command to exclude those whom the Church or its officers do not in their hearts believe to be the true children of God. The gates of the kingdom of God are not to be opened or shut at the discretion of weak, fallible men. Every man has a right and is bound to enter those gates, except those whom Christ has commanded his Church to reject.

3. The Apostles, it is plain, never acted on the principle in question. This is clear, as remarked above, from their baptizing converts immediately after the profession of their faith. It is obviously impossible that there should have been any protracted examination of the religious experience of the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost, or of the five thousand brought in by the sermon of Peter, recorded in the third chapter of Acts. The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of the New Testament afford abundant evidence that the early churches did not consist exclusively of those whom the Apostles “judged” to be regenerated persons. The Church of Jerusalem was filled with men who were so “zealous of the law,” that Paul feared that they would not receive him even when he came to bring alms to the people. Paul charges the churches of Galatia with having turned aside to another gospel. He reproves the Corinthians with the grossest irregularities; and the Epistles of John are no less objurgatory.

4. Experience proves that all attempts to preserve the purity of the Church by being more strict than the Bible, are utterly futile. The tares cannot be separated from the wheat.

5. Such attempts are not only futile, they are seriously injurious. They contravene the plan of God. They exclude from the watch and care of the Church multitudes whom He commands his people to look after and cherish. In confining the visible Church to communicants, it unchurches the great majority even of the seed of the faithful.

6. There is an obvious inconsistency in having one rule for 578admission into the Church, and another for continued membership. If Christ requires us to reject all whom in the judgment of charity we are not constrained to believe to be regenerate, then He requires us to excommunicate all those of whom this belief is not entertained. But no Church acts, or can act on that principle. No man once admitted to Church privileges can be debarred from them, except after a trial and conviction on the charge of some “scandal” or “offence.”

The sacraments as all admit are to be confined to members of the Church. But the Church does not consist exclusively of communicants. It includes also all who having been baptized have not forfeited their membership by scandalous living, or by any act of Church discipline. All members of the Church are professors of religion. They profess faith in Christ and are under a solemn vow to obey his laws. If they are insincere or heartless in this profession, the guilt is their own. The Church is, and can be responsible only for their external conduct; so long as that is not incompatible with the Christian character, and so long as the faith is held fast, the privileges of member ship continue.

This seems clearly the doctrine of the standards of our own Church. Those standards teach, (1.) That the sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant of grace. (2.) That consequently all who partake of them do thereby profess to accept of that covenant for their own salvation; they profess to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to them in the gospel. (3.) That although a man may doubt of his being in Christ he may be a worthy partaker of the sacraments, if he “unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity.”590590Larger Catechism, answer to the 172d Question. (4.) That the Church has no authority to exclude from the sacraments any except those who, although they may profess faith, are ignorant or scandalous. In answer to the question, “May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, be kept from it?” it is answered, “Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament by the power which Christ hath left in his Church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.” This, according to Presbyterians, is the extent of the power of the Church, in the matter of shutting the doors of the kingdom of God.


Those, therefore, who, having been themselves baptized, and still professing their faith in the true religion, having competent knowledge, and being free from scandal, should not only be permitted but urged and enjoined to present their children for baptism, that they may belong to the Church, and be brought up under its watch and care. To be unbaptized is a grievous injury and reproach; one which no parent can innocently entail upon his children. The neglect of baptism, which implies a want of appreciation of the ordinance, is one of the crying sins of this generation.

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