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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 II.

Objections from Doctrinal Inference.

WE have shown that the baptism of infants is not forbidden in the scriptures. This is what we have at present established, nor do we ask our readers to believe more than that it is not forbidden.

We have shown also, that there is no physical qualification attached to it; no distinction of "infancy" or "adult" years; why then is the physical distinction made? for surely they that sneer at the "baptism of babes," imply that they will not baptize them "because they are babes," "because they are infants." They, with regard to an ordinance of Christ's spiritual kingdom, make a physical circumstance a disqualification. When, therefore, there is in the scriptures no such disqualification, why do they of their own will establish it? In other words, why do they limit the universality of the ordinance by a condition they cannot find limiting it in holy writ? This is a question of importance, and we shall try in this chapter to answer it.

Now, in proceeding to this question, we shall ask another; we shall, as we have promised at the commencement of this treatise, put aside the discussions of professed theologians and champions of sect, and ask of ordinary men and women, upon this or other points, what is the first thing that suggests itself to the plain Christian of common sense, who is interested in this thing, to the father or the mother who has an infant child, which some, in whom he places confidence, good and pious men of clear and honest minds, would persuade him to have baptized, and others, in his estimation equally good and honest, of equally sound mind, would persuade him not to have baptized? What is the question, that in such a case, would the most naturally arise to the mind of such a one?

Surely it is this, "What advantage is baptism to the infant? What advantage in a Spiritual, a Moral, and a Social point of view?

These then embrace the whole question upon which the matter is really in such a case decided--the Spiritual, the Moral, the Social advantage.

And fairly and justly we may conclude, that each and every act of religion has its advantages in these three ways, and that to show them is to show the use and advantages of the act, whatever it is. The spiritual benefits of any act are evidenced from the holy scriptures. The moral from its influence upon the moral nature of man, and the social by its operation for his social good. Let this question then be answered in the affirmative-let it be shown that the baptism of infants has such advantages connected with it, and what they are, and at once the question is decided.

We have had many books for, and many books against the baptism of infants, and we have felt that herein lay their deficiency. They omit this question altogether, "What is the good of infant baptism?"

They argue dryly upon words and texts--they argue as if they had no hearts, and their readers, men and women, fathers and mothers, had no affections; as if there were no such thing as human nature in the world; no such thing as a spiritual world, of which Christ our Lord is King, and we his subjects, recipients of spiritual blessing; no such thing as a religious influence of Christianity upon morals and life, or a course of God's providence ruling and guiding the world for the sake of religion; and, therefore, to men and women that have a practical and real interest in the question, these books on the one side and the other, are dry and without interest; they do not touch the question that should be put in the forefront of the examination--the question we have specified. We put this question in its proper place--the very front of the inquiry.

And the proper answering of this question will enable us to answer another, set forth at the commencement of this chapter, "Why do you not baptize babes? "Honest Baptists may argue and debate, but when they come to examine their motives, this they will find lies at the bottom--"we see no use in baptism as applied to babes." They will tell us that they see a manifest use as applied to adults, but as applied to babes they can see none.

Now this is the vital point at issue; this of the uses of baptism in general, and we ask them what are its uses? why do you baptize, or why are you baptized? "The uses? why it is the scripture form of profession of faith, and no more--it has no grace attached to it, no power, no influence; and the reason we do it is, that it is a commanded ordinance."

Now we put it to the candid and fair man, whether these sentiments do not fairly represent the opinion of the mass of ordinary Christians upon the point of baptism. We put it to them also, whether one holding these sentiments must not, because of his holding them, quite irrespective of the scriptures, deny all baptism of infants; for surely if baptism be of no force, or efficacy, or power, but only a form of profession, infants cannot be benefited by it, or make or consent to it; if there is no use in it, and we do it only because commanded, &c.

Now, as before said, we speak to the Christian with the bible in his hand, and the means of ready reference to its parts, and we assert boldly, that of these two sentiments--first, "That baptism is merely a form of profession without any advantages, spiritual, moral, or social, attached to it;" and secondly, "That we are baptized mainly or merely because it is a commanded ordinance," that there is not such an assertion in the scriptures--it cannot be brought forward.

Why then do men not baptize infants? Simply because these two sentiments are in their minds when they come to the examination of the scriptures--they are preached and repeated until they are believed; and they hide away from men's minds the description of baptism given by the scriptures. They make the baptism of adults a mere form of profession--they do away the baptism of infants altogether.

We deny that these sentiments are in the scriptures; furthermore, we assert they are anti-scriptural. When we ask Christians, Why are you baptized? they answer, "Because it is a commanded ordinance." So this is the reason--the sole reason. Does God put it so? Does our most blessed Lord command, without giving any other reason than his command? Under the new spiritual law, are Christians gone back so far into the gloom of Jewish ordinances, that any practice enjoined upon Christians shall be put solely upon the command without any benefit, spiritual, or moral, or social, attached to it? Surely when we think that Christ instead of the mass of ceremonies, rites, and sacrifices, instituted but two sacraments, it must seem to the Christian a most unworthy supposition to imagine that the two institutions of the spiritual kingdom have no spiritual blessings, but are as the Jewish rites, forms, and mere forms, to be performed only because commanded. We assert, that these sentiments are not only not to be found in the scriptures, but untrue and derogatory to the dignity and truth of the Gospel.

And for this assertion of ours we do not demand our mere word to be taken. We say that in the scriptures baptism has clear and definite description given of its uses, ends, meaning, and purposes; so clear, that to assert that it is a mere form of profession, or to put it upon the command, is neither more nor less than to substitute the opinions of men for the words of God; to make void the commandments of Christ by our tradition, and to annul his word. We assert too, what no Christian can deny, that if we wish to know what are God's ordinances and their uses, we must go for the description to the scriptures themselves. One word of the holy scriptures is worth all the notions and theories of men. We shall bring up, therefore, the scripture descriptions of baptism, both as-a proof of what we have asserted as to the unfairness of these two sentiments we have censured, and as a declaration in the literal words of what we believe upon the point.

We know that a multitude of well meaning and good men, are so besotted with these opinions above mentioned, that rather than give them up, they will evade the plain words of Christ and his apostles, regarding his own ordinances; nay, as we have known, they will deny the words of our Lord, at the same time they quote them, rather than give up the tradition of sect. And we pray God to forgive them this their sin of ignorance and of position. Still the scripture is ever the same; it and its interpretation shall survive all the notions of those who have misinterpreted it. And of this, his own ordinance, the description he has given of its uses, ends, and purposes, shall be believed according to their plain literal meaning, although now they may be obscured in men's minds by these two notions.

And for ourselves, as a minister of the Gospel, we shall never attribute less to any fact or principle, than he has attributed to it himself; we shall never argue upon grounds that are inadequate, or adopt for our own, principles that come not up to the fulness of the Gospel we have received; nor will we attribute so little power to the holy scriptures, and so little considerateness or candor to men, as to believe that none of those who have been in error will reconsider their opinions, or take the plain words of God in their literal and manifest sense, instead of the theories of men.

And this we say, with the fact broadly before our eyes, as to the prevalence of the opinions we reprobate. With the knowledge, how strange to take the words of the scripture as they stand will appear to men. We do believe, in despite of these things, that many will bethink themselves, reconsider their opinions, and come to see the truth.

We shall, therefore, place the passages that describe baptism in the bible together.

"He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved." (Mark xvi. 16.)

"The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth now save us, (not the putting away the filth of the flesh,) but the answer of a pure conscience before God." (1 Peter iii. 21.)

"Ye are buried with Christ by baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." (Col. ii. 12.)

"As many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death; therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead, even so should we walk in newness of life." (Rom. vi. 3, 4.)

"As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." (Gal. iii. 27.)

"By one Spirit we have been baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, bond or free." (1 Cor. xii. 13.)

"Peter said, Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins." (Acts ii. 38.)

"Ananias said unto Saul, why tarriest thou? arise, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord." (Acts xxii. 16.)

"He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." (Titus iii. 5.)

"Jesus said, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." (John iii. 5.)

In Hebrews vi. 1, the doctrine of baptism is one of the first principles of the Gospel, along with faith, repentance, laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment.

We address not those who deny water baptism, but those who, admitting the necessity of water, doubt or deny the validity of the baptism of infants; and we ask them to look at these texts, just as they stand; to think upon them as the words of the Holy Spirit; are these of a piece with the sentiment that says, "baptism is a form of profession and nothing more?" or, "that we are baptized only because it is a commanded ordinance?" or rather, are not various effects attributed here to baptism, when received by living faith, following upon repentance? effects which wholly contradict the sentiments of ordinary Christians upon the point?

Surely every Christian must admit, that it is as we say, that these texts, taken honestly, as they stand, in the literal sense, ascribe specific effects to the ordinance.

We shall go a little further; we say, that with their notions and their doctrines, ordinary Christians dare not use these texts as they use the rest of the scriptures. When the cry arises from one or many, "What shall we do to be saved?" dare they say as Peter, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus, for the remission of sins'?"--dare they say, as Ananias to the repentant Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord?"--dare they say, "We are saved by baptism," or, "we are buried with Christ by baptism," or, "he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved?" or can they use the words, "Except ye be born of water and the Spirit, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven?"

Certainly not; these texts ordinary professors dare not use as they stand, in the plain literal sense of them; they dare not use them, or even think of them, without some salvo, some limitation, actually doing away the whole sense of the words. And their preachers preach not upon them, except for the purpose of doing away with their force, and proving that they mean nothing.

Is not this true, and does it not betoken something wrong in the whole state of ordinary religion, that men should shrink back from the plain literal sense of God's words, and do it away, because they cannot bear with it? I ask the honest and candid inquirer to look at this fact, not to shrink back as men do sometimes, from truths, unpleasant and unsuitable, but to face it, and ask himself, is it not so with him? and then I ask him to go back to these notions I have above specified, and to see whether they are not his motives? to examine them by the scriptures, and to cast them aside.

But the reader will say, who believes them as they stand, without any salvo, in the plain evident sense of them? who believes that baptism is for the remission of sins? who believes that it is a saving ordinance? who believes that we are buried with him by baptism; or that therein we are born of water and the Spirit?

The reader will remember that I am a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, and that I come before him in no disguise of affected candor, word, liberality, or monk-meekness, but as what I am, a clergyman of the Church, and as such I say I do. I say, moreover, that it would seem by the next paragraph, that as a clergyman of the Church, I must be either very dishonest, very stupid, or very much influenced by prejudice, if I do not, owing to the book we use, take these in the literal and manifest sense.

When I catechise children, I ask them, "Who gave you your name?" and they reply, "My sponsors in baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." An answer manifestly consistent with the literal sense of these texts; manifestly inconsistent with the other notions. In the service for baptism, of infants or adults after baptism, I declare to them, "that they are now born again, and made heirs of everlasting life." Or in that of adults, "that these persons are regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ's Church." In a solemn prayer before the whole congregation, I implore God to give the holy Spirit, "that these persons, being born again and made heirs of everlasting salvation, may continue his servants." And likewise I apply most plainly the passage in St. Peter, asserting "baptism to be a saving ordinance." And, lastly, in the solemn creed, in which both minister and people, with one voice together, confess upon the days of communion, I plainly declare myself to believe "in one baptism for the remission of sins." What were I then if I did not believe in the above quoted texts literally taken?

This is the case with the twelve hundred clergy of the Church in this country; the eighteen thousand of the English Church. And this, I will say, before Luther was, was the opinion of the Church from Christ downward; and more than this, the ordinary common sense man, when he comes to think of it, will see is the plain doctrine of the scriptures.

I am aware that to many candid and sincere searchers after the truth as it is in our blessed Lord Jesus, the assertion will seem most startling, and the first thought that will arise in their mind, will be that of Nicodemus on the same subject, "how can these things be! "To such persons I say, I seek not to force upon your mind the doctrine to which you see I assent, and in which I believe, even although I believe that I have for it stronger evidence, for I know the power of previous education; I know the force of circumstances; only these two things I ask, first, not to think a doctrine strange which has in its favor the united belief of so many Christian clergy and people, and the literal sense of holy writ, but to consider it at least worthy of examination and consideration; and, secondly, to go on with me and see "how these things can be;" and whether they are in accordance with the spiritual, the moral, and the providential government of God over man in this world.

The doctrine then, which I say, is the doctrine of the scriptures upon this matter, and most plainly the doctrine of the texts that I have quoted, is this, that in baptism received upon repentance with living faith, we "are born of water and the Spirit." And this embraces the following consequences:--1st. The remission of sins. 2dly. The being introduced into the kingdom of heaven, that is, the Church of God. 3dly. The gift of sufficient grace. 4thly. The dwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. 5thly. The mystical union of Christ our Lord with man, whereby we are made partakers of his life and resurrection--power. And, 6thly. That the baptized are in the communion of saints, having a participation in all the prayers and spiritual blessings of the holy on earth, and the holy departed; and also are under the immediate guardianship and care of the holy angels, whereby he ministers to them that love him.

All these gifts are to him who, being of mature years, received baptism in faith, or to the helpless and innocent babe, gifts conveyed through God's grace, by his sacrament of baptism. If this be a true statement, are there not reasons enough for the baptism of infants as well as those of maturer years? Is it not sufficiently manifest, that the forgetting these truths is the reason why infants' are not baptized?

And that as I have declared in the first part of this chapter, that the natural question that arises to the minds of men, and that upon which it is decided, is, What are the advantages and uses of baptism in general? and then the mind for itself decides upon the particular case of infant baptism; so the proper method of deciding, is to examine the doctrine of baptism in general. I propose, therefore, in the following chapter, to ask how can these things be? To take the system of the Gospel, and see how far they agree with it.

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