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Mercy to Babes
A Plea for the Christian Baptism of Infants

By William Adams, S.T.P.
Presbyter of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Wisconsin

New York: Stanford and Swords, 1847.

Chapter I. Part I.

The state of the Question--the importance of it--arising from the Ultra notion of Infant Baptism or Adult Baptism.

HAVING thus stated the grounds upon which I approach the subject, and that in such a manner that I feel full confidence that every lover of the truth who is in pursuit of it, and at the same time is a lover of peace, must be satisfied with them, I shall proceed to enter upon the subject; and let every reader bear in mind, that I come not as a controversialist with argument and debate, to contend for victory with the champions of adult baptism, and upon the issue of such a conflict to place the result, to say to the individual, You see I have brought forward arguments to which your advocates cannot reply, and because of this victory I demand your submission to the standard I uphold, and the opinions I support. This is the position of a controversialist--it is not mine.

I come not as a controversialist, but as a teacher; as one that has the truth, whose privilege and whose duty it is to teach it. With this I come to the private and individual Christian who has the Bible in his hands, and professes to be guided by it; to every one that has an interest in the subject, as father or mother, as brother or sister, to every one that has an interest in innocent and inoffensive babes, I come to that individual as a teacher of the truth, with the bible in my hand, bringing to them as my introduction and support, the testimony of nineteenth-twentieths of Christians at the present day, and forty-five generations of Christians dead and gone to their rest, that the baptism of infants is scriptural; that it is according to the letter, and the tenor, and the spirit of the Gospel, that babes should be baptized.

I come, therefore, backed by this testimony, as one man to his brother, saying, that infant baptism is according to the letter, and the tenor, and the spirit of the scripture, and upon this I ask a hearing of all those who profess to take the scriptures as their guide in doctrine, as most of those do who doubt or deny the doctrine of infant baptism. They cannot refuse me this. No cunning sophism shall they find here; no arguments for victory; no recurrence to matters of history or of antiquity upon which, because they lie out of the tracts of ordinary reading, the private and unlearned Christian may, because of his simplemindness and confiding faith, be deceived by misrepresentation. The bible shall be the ground of our argument; chapter and verse shall be always given. Let the reader peruse this book with the bible in his hand.

I should, however, at the outset, wish him clearly to comprehend the object of this book, distinctly to understand that particular point which I advocate. The Baptist at the very outset considers it a wrong and an injury done to his cause, to be called an advocate of adult baptism; because, says he, though in many cases, nay, the majority of cases, the persons whom we baptize are "adults" as a matter of fact; still it is not as "adults "we baptize them, not by any means with respect to age; to say we are advocates of adult baptism therefore, says he, is to do us an injury. Very well. If this be fair I make the same demand of my readers in all fairness and honesty. The tenet I advocate is called "Infant Baptism." "Infancy," we count no qualification for baptism, nor is it because they are "infants" or "babes," that we advocate the baptism of such individuals; it is because we count them suitable, according to the scriptures. Our ground is this: we protest against the mere circumstance of infancy, which involves no sin, being made a disqualification for baptism, and a limitation of the covenant.

Of old there was a dispute as to whether Christ died for all or only for the elect. The doctrines certain persons had taken up, rendered it very necessary for them to assert that Christ had made atonement only for some few. This was a limitation of the atonement established by the tradition of doctrine of man against the plain words of holy scripture. Men who had more confidence in the word of God than in these so called "doctrines," protested against such a limitation; they protested too in the face of a majority, for they knew that truth was on their side, and will make room for itself amidst overpowering numbers. The advocates for an atonement made for all men have been successful, the advocates for a limited atonement are in a miserable minority. Now the same is the position of the author of this book--the same shall be the result. Certain persons would limit baptism, the seal of the Christian covenant, to believers only, they say. But when we come to find what this word "believers" means, it not only implies the belief of the parties, it implies something more; that they can declare their faith by speech, or something tantamount to speech. They in effect say we shall permit none to be baptized but those who believe and can speak upon the matter. This is the reason why they exclude babes from the covenant. Babes cannot talk, they are "infants."

Now, reader, here is my position; I come forward not in respect to age as an advocate of Infant Baptism, but I come forward to protest against a limitation of the covenant, a denial of baptism, its seal, to any class, because of a circumstance not spiritual but strictly corporeal. 'To uphold the opinion that no circumstance, merely personal, such as this is, of talking or not talking, for this it amounts to, should so limit the covenant as to deny baptism, the seal of it, to those for whom Christ died, who have immortal souls, and are pure and clean from the stain of actual sin. This is my position. I take my stand upon the great truth, that "God is no respecter of persons;" I uphold the truth, that no circumstances merely personal, as infancy, or youth, or age, speaking or not speaking, are disqualifications for an alliance between the pure and ever-living spirit and the all-pure Father of spirits.

And this question of the limitation of the seal of God's covenant, I do not count to be any indifferent or unimportant matter. The question of the exclusion or the admittance to such a privilege, as is that of membership in the Church of God, is manifestly a most deeply important one. The more so, that if a wrong and injury be done to those who are thus excluded, it is a wrong inflicted upon those who cannot resist it, and are unconscious of the injury inflicted, and yet must suffer by it; a wrong done to those whom all men call innocent, and all love and pity.

However, let us dwell for a moment upon this consideration. There are manifestly but two sides to the question:--"the baptism of infants according to the letter, the tenor, and the spirit of the Gospel," this is the one side; or, "the baptism of infants contrary to the letter, the tenor, and the spirit of the Gospel;" this is the other side. Both these cannot be true; one must be true and the other false. This must be the case, no matter how many are on the one side or on the other; there is no alternative, no indifference, no third point. This must be the conclusion of every reasoning man and woman.

This is manifestly the alternative between fixed Paedobaptists, as Churchmen are by their profession, and fixed Anti-paedobaptists, as they are who deny infant baptism, and make that denial a term of communion. He that affirms the one must deny the other. It would be folly to take either of these parties, not to be wholly and entirely in earnest upon the matter. It would be the greatest insult and injury to impute to them indifference or carelessness upon the point. By their position and by their official acts, neither party is indifferent, each is willing to accept of the alternative, to affirm it and its consequences.

I myself as a Churchman am not indifferent in the slightest degree, nor do I wish to treat the matter as an indifferent one. I consider it as a question of the very highest importance, a vital and fundamental question. I believe it one upon which one day or another all parties must and will agree; and its decision I look upon as the great means towards the bringing of all that profess Christianity once more towards the natural condition of Christianity, the condition of our Church, having "one God, one faith, one baptism." Nor do I care for indifferent readers; they who see the alternative to be as it is stated above, that "infant baptism, according to the scriptures, must be either true or false," and who having an interest in the rising generation, as all men have, do not, as all right-minded and warm-hearted men ought to do, feel that interest to be a vital and important one, and therefore will not see the importance of this question, and count it a matter indifferent, they have my full consent to drop the book and read no further on in it; for I feel that the question is truly whether Christianity shall be brought in contact with the family, whether it shall be an element of life in all ages, and a motive and principle of action to all persons, or only to those who can speak. The question is truly, shall it be a thing of the family, or shall it be excluded from it, and be a matter of the Church only? The cold-hearted, and the selfish, and the short-sighted, only can be indifferent upon this question. Such readers I care not for.

Now, with regard to those who are thoroughly in earnest upon the question of infant baptism; with regard, too, to those who take a real interest in the family, and considering it as the very foundation of society, think that nothing is unimportant that touches it; to them I wish to present the consequences of this alternative. I accept them myself, and am certain that the fixed and honest Baptist is willing to do the same, though neither of course will make them matters of personal offence to our neighbours; both in this matter are willing to be guided in the conduct of daily life towards our neighbours, by the influence of charity.

Now let us look to the consequences of the alternative. If infant baptism be contradictory to the letter, the tenor, and the spirit of the Gospel, what is it in itself or in its effects? what must we consider it to be? The answer is, "It is and must be the most grievous of all the corruptions of Christianity--a perversion of the covenant--a mockery of our Lord Jesus by the introduction into his covenant of those who are by his word forbidden so to be introduced, and who are unfitted for it by the principles of the Gospel, who never may have faith in him, and yet are members of his Church." Such, as regards God, is the ac.t of the man who baptizes infants, if such baptism be unscriptural. This is the estimate of the action that we are compelled to make if the supposition be true. But "God not being mocked," it is in that case "no baptism at all"--perfectly invalid. The effect of the act, therefore, as regards the persons baptized, is to delude the parents with the pretence that their children are in covenant with God, under His protecting guardianship, and the peculiar objects of the influences of the Holy Spirit, when they are not in covenant with him, more than any other children when they are not influenced by the Spirit any more than any others. It is to propagate this delusion, to persuade them as they grow up to act as members of "Christ's body, his flesh, and his bones," when they are aliens from the household of God, and the commonwealth of Israel. If, therefore, the Baptists' notion that infant baptism is unscriptural be true, such an act on the part of the baptized is, when we consider it in respect of God, a mockery and a blasphemy; in respect of man, a delusion involving very pernicious consequences.

Let us do as we may, if infant baptism be contrary to the letter, the tenor, and the spirit of the scriptures, such is and must be its nature. Christians may, and of course will, in the spirit of Christian charity, make all allowances for prejudices, mistakes, and errors, on the part of men who are fallible. Of course, they will give all credit for sincerity and for right motives, perverted and misdirected by outward circumstances. But still these change not the nature of the act; if it be wrong it must be what we have said.

I do not blame our Baptist friends for holding such opinions; their action at least is consistent, and in accordance with their principles, and must be right if infant baptism be unscriptural. I seek, therefore, to make no capital from this fact against them; to rouse no prejudice, to make no advantage of it. They at least are honest and bold, and unflinching in their honesty, qualities not to be despised in thisday of indifference and carelessness. And I feel not uneasy about their opinions, seeing that along with me, they must condemn the best majority of Christians both now and at all times previous.

Let us now look at the other side. If infant baptism, as the majority of professing Christians who are Psedobaptists believe, be according to the lettef, the tenor, and the spirit of the Gospel of our most blessed Lord, what is the practice of the Baptist sects? If it be in accordance with the Gospel, that the babe should be a member of his Church, manifestly then to exclude them from it, must be a cruelty of the worst kind, as done to innocent babes, who are unconscious of the wrong and cannot resist it, yet must suffer by it. If there be any benefits to those who are within the covenant more than to those without it, from the Almighty Father, whose providence rules all events for the good of them that love him; from the Son who has died for the unspeaking babe as well as the adult; from the eternal and all-pervading Spirit; it is to deprive them of all these unjustly and cruelly, and at a period when they most need it, to cut off from the babe, the child,* and the growing youth, influences which, though unse.en, the eye of faith views as most precious. If grace, the oil of the Spirit, is promised at baptism, and conferred upon those in covenant with God's Church, it is cruelty to cut him off from the grace of God. To forbid the little child to come unto him and thus to deserve the rebuke, and the displeasure of our Lord. If there be only two states in this world, the state of covenant with God, and the state of unregenerate human nature, it is to shut the infant out from the covenant, to leave him to all influences of unregenerate human nature; to keep him in the world, when he might be in the Church; and to leave him to the prince of the world, when he might be a subject of Christ, guarded and guided by his covenant; more than this, it is to put a great gulf between the Christian parent and the child; herself a Christian, to compel her to know that whatsoever claim herself may have on the undeserved mercy of God, her child has not and cannot be taught the facts and truths of the Gospel, as one that has a right in them, but must be instructed in Christianity, as a mere historical thing, thus cutting away all possibility of a true Christian education, and taking away from the infant, and the growing boy, and the youth, Christianity, as a law of life, and a motive and principle of action. They who consider infant baptism to be just and scriptural, must by that very fact hold these opinions, as to the effect of a systematic denial and opposition to the baptism of infants; they must think it to be unjust and cruel in the highest degree, and attended with the most pernicious consequences.

Surely a doctrine, the truth or falsehood of which necessitates such opinions upon the part of professing Christians, with regard to one another, must, in the course of time, be decided one way or the other. Surely men that have the bible in their hands, must at some time, come to an unanimous decision upon a point which forces them to believe the practice of their neighbors, who have faith in the same God, read the same scriptures, are saved by the same Redeemer, to be of such a character. It would be an injustice to the Almighty to suppose that it will be always so. We must by the very fact, that "God is love," and love is the fulfilling of the law, be, in the course of his providence, all Baptists, or else all Paedobaptists.

I make no apology to my readers for introducing my subject in this way to them; nor do I fear offending even the most firm and determined Baptist, who may peruse this book by it. They see there is an alternative, of which we must take the one side or the other--baptism of infants is according to the scriptures, or opposed to them. And which ever side be true, the other has necessarily the character I have given it. Such an alternative need give no offence; it is one of position, and which cannot be avoided, but must be taken; it is one which shows the importance of the question, the absolute necessity for deciding it in the one way or the other--and by the bible we shall decide it.

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