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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 III.

Causes of the Denial of Infant Baptism.
1st. Want of Faith. 2d. Predestination. 3d. The Conversion Notion.
Note on Abrahamic Covenant.

WE have thus examined the doctrine of baptism as laid down in the holy scriptures. We have shown that from that doctrine as plainly as can be, the practice of the baptism of infants follows as a necessary consequence. We have shown how it accords with the nature of man. The question then follows naturally, how it comes to be denied by so large a class of men, who unquestionably are pious and devoted? This comes first in the most part of our investigation, for unquestionably the motives to any course of action are very often wholly and entirelly different from the grounds upon which we defend them.

Now let the readers of this book who are in the position of the denial of baptism to infants, examine themselves as they go along with me; and the first and most manifest is, we will honestly say, a want of faith. We take the word faith as the scriptures use it, as a supreme confidence, and unhesitating trust in the promises of the Almighty. God is almighty, eternal, omniscient, my Father, my King, my Creator, and I a man of the dust, feeble, and frail, and limited in power as in intellect; what then should be my feeling towards him? Should it not be an ever-abiding sense of His power, His wisdom, His goodwill towards me, His fatherly kindness? If men had these feelings to the full, would not these feelings reach to their children? Would they not say to them, the bone of my bone, the second self of ourselves, God reigns? And he shall be to them because of my faith all that he is to me? Because of my trust in him for them, therefore the Almighty power shall judge them, therefore my faith shall bring upon them blessings, therefore they shall not be excluded from the covenant in which I am, but with me shall enjoy all its privileges; and the eternal power shall stand around them, the eternal wisdom guide them, and the infant soul, as well as the adult, shall feel the care of its Father in heaven. Would they not see this world as a place of trial, the Church of God as the house of an eternal Father, and babes as his children as well as full grown men. And instead of looking upon the world as a waste, wherein chance and circumstances reign, recognize the fact by faith, that there is no chance, but that all things are guided by him; and that, therefore, their children vowed to God in holy baptism, sealed with his name, sanctified by faith, cannot perish, save of their free will they become cast-away, and fling aside the salvation that is theirs by covenant. Surely this would be the feelings of those fully embued with the true and living faith. Whatsoever we may say, the baptism of infants is an act of faith, and without it such baptism is unmeaning and vague.

But again, there are other reasons, and one of them I may as well bring forward now. There is a doctrine that says, that God has predestinated a certain small portfon of the human race to happiness, so that they are decreed of God from eternity to be saved, and must be saved, and the rest are decreed to eternal misery and must be damned, or else are past over, which amounts to the same. Now if that doctrine be true, what is baptism, and what is infant baptism--is it not useless, and is not the Jfecree all and in all? Certainly so. For according to it, in the predestinate, God's Spirit works--in due time grace brings forth the fruit--they are baptized in his name, and they manifestly have alone the right to baptism--to them alone it is properly applied, for all the rest must perish.

Of course then, no parents can know that their children are of the number of the Elect, and to baptize them in God's name who may be children of wrath--to dedicate to God those who may be doomed to eternal misery--to make them members of his Church, and treat them as such, when possibly, from their infancy, the spirit of evil may work in them for eternal woe--this would be a mere mockery, and an inconsistent and weak proceeding.

Surely to those who hold this doctrine conscientiously and firmly, these thoughts must occur. They must say to themselves, "We shall, as in duty bound, pray for them, train them, give them all the advantages we can give them, and then we shall see whether God's Spirit works in them--we shall see if they be of the body of the Elect to eternal happiness, the fruits and signs of the Spirit, and then consistently and truly, they can take upon them then, the vows of baptism, and be made members of the Church." So this predestination doctrine fully and consistently held, renegates and denies the baptism of infants.

And is it true? Has the babe been preordained to hell--for if the man has been, then has the babe, since the decree has gone out from eternity, and stands through all time, and therefore the babe at its birth is so preordained? No: this is the doctrine of the Fatalist, not the doctrine of the scriptures. There is a predestination in the scripture and an election. And every where they are called the Elect through the whole scriptures, who belong to the Visible Church Christ has upon the earth. They who are chosen by God to the glorious adoption of sons, to the privileges of the Gospel, to the means of grace, and all the aids and helps which, in his Church^ God has given man to work out his own salvation by. And, therefore, all these helps, which in the first part of this treatise I have enumerated, all these are the privileges of the elect. And he is "Elect" who is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who has these privileges by Christian baptism. To him they were given by God's decree, that by them he should stand, and by his own free will he should avail himself of them and be saved. And except of his own free will he cast them away, he shall be saved. All circumstances may be contrary--his nature may be rebellious--he may be left without father or mother to train him in the ways of God--he may be flung upon the world desolate and houseless--he may be exposed to evil companions, still the soul of God's election, the seal of baptism, is upon him and all things shall work together for the child of God's Election; the Spirit shall struggle with him, the tide of circumstances shall fling him in the way of religion, the angels of God shall guard him, all things shall tend for his good, and by many paths and ways he knows not, shall the Almighty lead him, and, save by wilfully casting himself away, he shall not perish.

This is the true doctrine of Election; and because it is so, the Churchman feels that the enrolling the infant among the members of God's Visible Church upon earth, the body of the Elect, is doing a deed of faith, whose results can only be discerned by faith, but shall be fully manifest in eternity.

Again, there is another doctrine much in vogue, which also is an obstacle in the way of infant baptism--another doctrine I will not say, but a set of floating notions--and that is, the opinion ordinarily entertained about conversion. Now I am the farthest in the world from denying the fact that there is a real and true conversion unto God, farther-still from denying that there is a most important change in man's feelings and affections called change of heart; but this I will say, that the ordinary floating notions upon this point have been the greatest barrier that can be to infant baptism. It is as common a thing as can be, for members of the non-Episcopal sects, who are not Calvinistic, to say, when the baptism of their children is suggested to them--"It is better for them to wait until they are converted, and then they may be baptized in any way they like;" and undoubtedly the motive that lies at the bottom of such talk is their notions of conversion, combined with their want of faith, and their ignorance as to the scripture doctrine of baptism and its foundations. With regard to the last two things we have plainly spoken; how want of faith comes in, may be seen in the commencement of this chapter, the doctrine of baptism is enough explained in the commencement of the book.

Now with regard to the other points we shall speak plainly. There are three things mentioned in the scriptures--1st, Regeneration, or the new birth; 2d, Conversion; and, 3d, Change of heart. With regard to the first, we have explained what it means; that it takes place in true Christian baptism by the agency of the Holy Spirit, first, in planting the life of God in man's soul; and, secondly, introducing him into the Church of God, and its blessed atmosphere and influences. And we add, furthermore, that this cannot be done in any other than the appointed way, for the means that Christ has instituted there is no alternative, no substitution of any other by the will of man in his interpretation of the scriptures. "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God;" this is an exclusive and prohibitory declaration, which cannot be got over. Repentance may be of the sincerest, and faith the most lively, and therefore the man by them may be prepared for his entrance into the kingdom of heaven; but no repentance, however agonizing, no faith, however sincere, can void the ordinary commandments of God, and render the means of grace which he has instituted unnecessary.

But again, we acknowledge that there is a second process, "conversion;" and what is this? "The leaving off of sin, and the turning unto righteousness upon motives of religion." Now we say this, and boldly we assert the fact, that according to the scripture there is no "conversion" without a leaving oft' of sin, a casting aside of those sins that are committed by the individual; a reformation, it must be, of life, and that true and real, else it is no conversion. The leaving aside of sin, actual and real sin, under which the individual was in bondage, is the completion and the crowning part of true conversion. First, there is repentance from dead works; secondly, faith in Christ Jesus; and, thirdly, because of this, the leaving off of sin as the realizing test of repentance, the doing of good works as that which realizes and tests faith; and without the abandonment of sin, without the doing of the works of the Gospel upon the motives of the Gospel, there is no true "conversion."

Thirdly, There is a state in which faith has become habitual, and Christian action habitual, in which the love of God and the motives of the Gospel ripen and rule in the heart of man. That is the spiritual kingdom of God dwelling in man, that state in which the virtue of Charity rules in him, to which none attains in its perfection, save he to whom the description given of charity is applicable; and this is a state of degrees, none perhaps of mortal men ever having attained to it in its completeness, and yet every one beginning in it from the time he has true repentance, that is, repentance realized by abandonment of sin, and true faith, that is faith realized by Christian works. This I conceive to be the state called "change of heart," or "sanctification," or "renewal of the Spirit day by day," or "growth in grace," or "perfection," or "holiness," or "charity," or "love," for by all these names it is called.

And fully am I justified in this when I look at the human heart, even of the regenerate and the pious; when I see the power of old habit, the many feelings which were wrongly directed, and now are to be trained anew; the fighting and the struggles that all Christians have to encounter from within, and the jneans which the scripture enjoins upon men to use, the cautions that are given them, and the dangers that are set before them as a part of their lot; when I look at all these things, I must conclude that this latter process is, in the very best, a thing slow and gradual, of which man in this life is capable only in a degree, and in which, till the end of life, he must strive to rise and advance perpetually.

These, then, are three separate and distinct things, and yet, in the case of the ordinary notions upon conversion, they are all mixed up. He who is converted is led to believe that repentance, acute sorrow, we will say, for sin, and faith, strong belief in the atonement, is sufficient; for on the spot he is declared "converted," without its being seen whether his sins are abandoned, or the works of the Christian life are done. He is taught to apply to himself all texts that speak of change of heart, instead of being taught that his work is to labor and pray, and do the works of the Gospel and seek the grace of the Spirit to aid him in that work of bringing all things into subjection to the will of God. And, furthermore, he is taught to apply to that mere repentance, without abandonment of sin, hat faith without good works, the name of the new birth, or regeneration, so plainly applied in scripture to the birth of water and the the Spirit. No wonder that in such a mixture and confusion of scriptural ideas, that baptism for infants should be rejected, and baptism for adults become a mere form, and cease to be considered even a means of grace.

But it is worth while more fully to consider how this system puts an end to and destroys infant baptism. According to its practice, men must acknowledge that preaching is taken to be the sole means of grace; now, to comprehend preaching and be affected by it, manifestly the mass of men must be adults; children, except the very premature, cannot be moved by it; they have not the knowledge, they have not the acquaintance with the world, they have not the amount of actual sin, and they have not the passions that men have, or their feelings. As a practical matter, the vast mass of those converted at revivals must be adults.

But again, only those so converted, are Christians. Infants, then, must be excluded; nay, the conscientious and religious mother and father must teach them so, nay, must teach them that baptism is nothing, that this is all; must teach them that they are not Christians, that they have no right or claim to the privileges of Christians, but at some future time are to obtain them by this process. I will not stop to consider how this cuts away responsibility, how it sets them freed from Christianity and its duties; for where there is no privilege there can be no duty, and no consequent responsibility. But this I will say, if this system be true, and men act consistently with it, there is and can be no covenanted relation between the innocent infant-spirit and the Almighty. The almighty power of the Father cannot arrange the affairs of the world to educate the infant's mind; the almighty Spirit that sanctified John from his mother's womb, cannot sanctify the infant; he that begot our blessed Lord, and brought it about that the almighty Word should be a babe in the womb, cannot plant in the babe the seed of eternal life, or move and form by his eternal power the infant-mind to religion. He cannot introduce him to the mysterious privileges of Christ's Church; the ministry of angels cannot be aught efficient; the trainings of God's providence, the washing away of original sin, all these are nothing; and the home is no longer a temple of the living God, and the father and the mother representatives, and sanctified agents of Christ and the Church. Nay, more than this: knowing as we do that the sense of sin awakes in the child just so soon as responsibility awakes, and that this is practically a long time before "the conversion" which our dissenting brethren preach, the child is left to sin, without a remedy. All these things are destroyed, nullified, put out of the way, by the ordinary notions of conversion, and conversion confined to the adult.

It makes no matter that men say, "we do not so confine it." We admit that children may be converted, while they take it for granted that preaching is the sole means of grace, and confine the name of Christian to the men and women that make a profession of religion, &c. The result of their practice shows, that of their system only adults are capable.

But are infants or children capable of conversion--are they capable of repentance, and capable of faith? They are; but not under any system that shuts them out of God's covenant; not under any system that denies to them, because they are babes, the blessed privileges of that covenant. As baptized in the Church by the true Christian baptism, the baptism of remission of sin, in this case, just as soon as the child knows what God is, just as soon as he knows that God's law is binding upon him, just so soon he is capable of being converted, for the almighty Spirit dwells in him, and aids his natural infirmity; a nd his relation to his father is to him an instruction of which he may be unconscious, of his relation to his almighty Father, his relation to his mother, of his relation to the Church. They tell him that he is a child of God, and therefore that he must obey God; they instruct him that such and such is the will of God, and that therefore he must act in this way--and he believes them; is not this faith'? The belief of an innocent child, seated upon his mother's knee, and hearing from her of Christ, and how he was born and died, and how we must obey his law, and striving to do so under his mother's teaching and her guidance, kneeling at her knee, and with the child-like awe and reverence of which only children are capable, praying to his Father in heaven with upturned eye--is not this faith? Yes, it is--and each mother in the Church knows it by experience, for in that feeble babe's soul is the seed of heaven planted by the eternal Spirit at baptism; behind that feeble infantile germ of mind is the framing and moulding influence of the eternal Spirit; as in the ever-blessed babe of Bethlehem, by the influence of the same eternal God in the flesh, almighty, all-knowing, late a feeble suckling upon the knee of "her whom all generations shall call Blessed." Are not such infants capable of repentance? Surely we have seen it; we have seen the influence of human nature, which remains even in the regenerate, struggling and breaking through the law of God, as manifested to the child by the legislators God has appointed to childhood, the father and the mother; we have seen in the child sorrow upon the motives of the Gospel, godly sorrow; we have heard the blessing and instructions of the father and mother, and seen the prayer bringing down forgiveness and absolution; for, with Augustine, we do hold that prayer, with repentance and faith, brings true and real remission of sin. We hold, then, that children, so baptized, are capable of conversion; and more than this, that they are, in the majority of cases, "converted" actually and really, if they have a religions father and mother, and the home is what it ought to be, before they are seven years old. Is it so, we will ask, with the children of those who are under the ordinary notion? Certainly not--by our own experience.

Nay, we will go farther than this--we will say that, according to our own experience, the change of heart takes place in them, in the mass of cases, in youth. By the holy training of the home, the baptized child is taught to act upon the motives of the Gospel, to be obedient to the laws of Christ, upon principle, steadily and consistently to go according to his will, and this takes place in childhood and youth. We have known many cases of it, and we will say, as far as our knowledge is concerned, they who are born in the Church, and are acknowledged to be most pious and devoted, in them "the change of heart" that comes from an obedience in all things to Christ's law upon principle, in them this change takes place before the years of maturity. That it should be so, we believe; that it is not so with the numbers of those who date their religion from their "conversion" at revivals, we believe to be a fact.

Now we have already, in more than one place, shown the adaptiveness of infant baptism to that crisis in the child's life in which the sense of responsibility, and of a law to be obeyed, and of sin, consequently arises; we have shown how the feeling that the child is a member of Christ, a child of God, an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, and the fact that it is so, work together. We have seen how this child may be converted, as a child; and we know enough of children to know how the principle of steady and consistent obedience to the laws of Christ may be established in the heart of the boy or the girl.

Now let the father or the mother consider what is the most dangerous point in the life of the young. Is it not the time when the passions awake? Surely this is time of peculiar danger to the religion and the morality of men. We may have new theories and notions as to the matter, but the old one of the Church, Father Augustine's, is true--"that the passions of the fornes peccati," "the fuel of sin." The experience of all men and women tells them this; their sins become habits, and vices, and wickednesses, and then all the frames of mind that are against God's law are permanently founded. The word "morality," in the Unitarian sense, had been before that an adequate expression of man's condition; but after that, "religion" is the only expression that it is capable of. Now taking it as a fact, that in passing from childhood to manhood, the awakening-of the passions is a storm that the moral nature of all must meet and pass through as best it can--which is best prepared to meet it, he who has been converted in childhood, and under the guidance of the means God has appointed, has learned as a principle to obey God's laws, to walk in his way, and to have recourse to his Redeemer and his Spirit in all things; he whose heart is truly changed, as I have seen that it may be changed; or that one who, as a babe, has been denied the precious privileges of infant baptism, as a child has been taught that he was no Christian, and as a youth, in consequence, has felt no allegiance to Christ, no aid of the Spirit, no blessedness in prayer--and all this because "his parents do not believe in baby-sprinkling?"

They who read this book can tell whether their system gives any aid to the youth at those two most important crises, the awaking of the sense of responsibility, and the awaking of the passions. I have looked at it carefully, and I have not seen that it does, and with regard to the last mentioned crisis, it has always seemed to me that the process they call conversion cannot be undergone at all save by those in whom the passions have already awakened. And certainly the mass of those that are converted are those in whom that era has passed. With us, when the father and the mother do their duty consistently, "conversion" and "change of heart" takes place in childhood, and that most dangerous period is met with all the aids of religion, fixed by habit and established in principle.

And to this, more than any thing else, to this fact, that in the mass of cases the religion of the religious in the Episcopal Church dates before the awakening of the passions is due, the fact acknowledged by all, that our tone of piety is more calm:, more stable, more quiet, than that of others. In fact, in such a case, that properly called fanaticism is impossible, even to those of the greatest fervor of natural temper.

We have digressed upon this point from the object of this chapter, but we hold ourselves perfectly excused by the importance of the subject. We return to it again: on the Calvinistic notion, infant baptism is and must be an inconsistent practice. On the ordinary "revival notion" of conversion, it evidently must be so also. Now we ask of the readers of this book to go over these grounds and to see whether it is not so; whether, by the believer in these systems, baptism is not made a mere form and a nothing, and consequently infant baptism is not altogether cut away? We demand of those that hold these systems, to recognize their own position, to see it clearly, and to know that, because of the system they hold, they deny infant baptism, and not to think that they are arguing merely upon scripture, when they take for granted schemes of doctrine which, if the doctrine of baptism were as plainly stated as it is in this book, would cause them to interpret it another way. This is to be honest, and this we expect of every reader of this book.

We know men may perhaps feel angry with us for this, but still this is a fact, that men, honest and true, may imagine they are arguing wholly upon scripture, when they are merely speaking scripture after a theory they have received, upon very inadequate grounds.

We instance in our Church cases connected with men, whose piety, and honesty, and truthfulness, none doubt. Scott, the eminent commentator, a clergyman of the Church of England, was a Calvinist; he, and all that school, called Evangelicals, had signed the articles of the Church of England honestly and truly I believe; they denied however, the doctrine of baptism, as plainly written in her formularies as may be, yet they were men honest, and true, and pious; but they had a system preoccupying their minds inconsistent with their doctrine, and so were deluded. And so John and Charles Wesley, unquestionably honest and pious men, did the same.

Now if these men could do so, let the reader of this book think it no offence, that I caution him lest it may be so with him; that I ask him clearly to set before his mind whether he is arguing upon, scripture as it stands in the plain literal sense, or is interpreting it by a system. Let him not be offended that I demand of him to set the fact plainly before his mind, and having ascertained whether it is so or not, to consider his position in consequence of it. I demand of him then to put on the one side his theory of "predestination to hell or heaven," or his "revivalist theory of adult conversion," and on the other, the plain doctrine of the scriptures as to baptism, and make his choice. For this is a plain fact to my mind--the predestination theory is adverse to infant baptism--the conversion theory also is inconsistent with it--one or the other is right or wrong, but both cannot dwell together.


Systems as held intellectually always tend to be intellectually consistent; and, therefore, when Calvinism disengaged itself from the Church in the shape of Presbyterianism and Congregationalism, large masses, feeling the inconsistency, as we have stated it, became "Baptists," so that in this country all they that are "Baptists," save only a, few, ought to have been Congregationalists and Presbyterians.

Still the system of the Church was made to correspond with human nature, that is, the whole man, not intellectually alone, but morally also, and physically. And, therefore, even in those that do hold Calvinism, a system intellectually inconsistent with the baptism of infants, there is a longing after that baptism. And infants are so baptized. We have spoken above of its inconsistency; in the text may be seen further proofs still; how a baptism of mere faith and repentance, and of no privileges, no grace, no remission, can be in any degree useful to infants, is not easy to see.

But, however, such a baptism is administered; chiefly, we believe, in accordance with the demands of the nature of man. The way it is defended is this--it is administered as succeeding circumcision, which was given to Abraham, and therefore upon the grounds of the "Abrahamic covenant."

Now if it be said, that the Christian covenant is the same with that of Abraham, and that the covenant of Abraham was one of faith and spiritual, and that baptism succeeds circumcision, we have no objection in the world to it; but if it be said that, at this day, there are two covenants, "the Abrahamic," under which are baptized babes, the Christian, under which are "converted" and predestinate adults, we say, that a more monstrous fiction never existed. We say, that babes and parents are under the one covenant alike, blessed with the same privileges, and these spiritual; and are alike capable of them by their nature, and by the nature of the doctrine of baptism.

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