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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 II. Part I.

How the Bible is to be argued upon in this matter.

IN my last I stated the position, that in arguing for infant baptism I did not argue as if that age were a qualification, but that I took the broad ground, that it is no disqualification; that age, or sex, or any circumstances whatsoever, that do not stain the soul with actual sin, cannot be a bar to the mercies of God; that I here protest against the limitation of God's covenant by man's notions.

I stated too, the importance of the question in such a way that each fair and candid individual must think that if I am wrong, I have been as severe upon the consequences of my error as upon those of the other side; and finally, I declared that to the bible I should appeal, and decide the question by it.

Now let the laity remember that I am writing for them; let them remember that it is to the bible I appeal, and not as a controversialist; let them consider that they have not the books of Christian archaeology; that the most of Christian writers of the last ages are shut up in tomes of Greek and Latin, and yet they have the bible in their hands; I ask them then to think how we shall take the bible; seriously and solemnly I ask them, before entering upon the question, to think how the bible should be taken.

Let them bear in mind, first, the position that I have taken; a position so different from that of the ordinary writers; the position of a teacher that has the truth. Let them then think upon their own position; that of men who seek the truth and are in earnest about it; for I hope the remarks I have made in the previous chapter will have caused all vain and inquisitive persons with itching ears, to have laid the book aside before they come so far as this. I hope that all who peruse this page are in earnest, and see the deep and solemn importance of the alternative which, on the one side, implies mockery of the Almighty; on the other, spiritual cruelty of the most pernicious kind. This mutual position then of the writer and of his readers, implies a temper in both him and them, which is in a great measure unknown to books upon this point, and readers of these books. Now to show what temper that is, let us just see how men argue. Romanists assert that infant baptism cannot be proved from the scripture, though some of their eminent authors consider it can, when it suits their purpose. They, therefore, are out of our way; we have nothing to do with them. We are Protestants. We have taken at the beginning of this treatise the Protestant ground, that nothing is an article of faith but that can be proved from the scriptures. Now the dispute on infant baptism is between Protestants. The Baptists on the one side, as fixed and determined in practice as well as doctrine, consistent Anabaptists; and on the other, the Paedobaptists, at whose head, as perfectly consistent both in doctrine and practice, we have put the Church. Now we ask of sober-minded and thoughtful men and women, to look at the way in which this argument has been hitherto carried on. The bible, we will remark, is the common ground both profess to go upon. The Baptist brings up a text which he thinks to prohibit infant baptism; he urges it, goes upon it, takes his stand upon it, as ground firm and sure, that cannot be cut away. The Paedobaptist comes again, he takes the same text, he shows again that there is no strength in it; that the interpretation is wrong. Again, the Baptist replies; the reply is followed by a rejoinder; pages are written, and books, all to prove or disprove. Now these books are for the laity, to be read by them. Is this the taking the bible as our ground? I ask the fair common sense Christian, is ii so? No: certainly it is not. The proof is not the text &at all; for it requires to be proved that it means so and so. Men, of whose learning, ability, and honesty, we have enough evidence, assert the one side and assert the other. What is the proof then? Why, it is the correctness of their own reasonings, the quantity of Greek criticism brought out in their pages, and supported by great names, of whom the ordinary Christian has but seldom heard. The opinion of this great man and the other great man; history, which one in a thousand knows nothing about, and the antiquities of eighteen centuries, as much as can be put in twenty pages. Assertion, denial, argumentation, history, criticism, archeology, nine-tenths of the matter written upon the one side and the other, is clearly out of the tract of ordinary Christian men and women. Prove baptism by the bible, when the bible texts themselves, upon which they rely, are themselves to be proved by a quantity of learned matter, which is so far out of the way of ordinary men, as the Mahabarater of the Sanscrit poet, or the Shuchmanch of Fredusi! Really and truly, considering the ground we Protestants profess to take, it has been hitherto kept to but ill! The argument hitherto has not been the bible, but the learning, research, and argument, of Dr. G. and Dr. T.; very good indeed when you have taken decisively one side or the other, and believe and have full confidence in them, and their truth and candor; good then, for confirmation of your belief, but no good at all in deciding, and not by any means deserving the name of arguments founded upon the bible. Let the Baptist or Paedobaptist, who is no scholar, take his books, those he most trusts upon, and he will see that his so called bible proof is none at all, being itself proved by other proofs of which, by his position, he cannot, know whether they are true or false, and does most surely know that they are denied by a multitude. The so called "bible arguments," are no such thing at all.

The sense and feeling of this fact is what has driven the author to write this book. He has felt that the religious faith of man, the undying, is not a thing to be thus played upon; not a pair of scales to go in this manner, see-sawing between pro and con. He feels that one side is true, and a thousand learned doctors, and a thousand cart loads of learning, cannot weigh it down. He knows it is true according to the bible, and therefore he will not argue in a way which talks of the bible, and virtually puts the bible out of place, and puts in learning, research, the argument of men, instead of the holy word of God. He writes for the unlearned and the ordinary Christian; he does not then bring in learning, and learned arguments, of which they can be no judges. He writes as a teacher that has the truth, and not as a lawyer employed in defending a cause, right be it or wrong. Every thing he says, every statement he makes, the ordinary and unlearned Christian shall be able to judge of, whether it is true or false, and form his opinions accordingly; no need shall he have of Greek, or Hebrew, or Latin, or metaphysics, or the knowledge of a multitude of books, to decide upon it. This is the way of one who believes his doctrine to be in the bible, and to be capable of being proved from it-this and not the other.

How then shall we take the bible-for evidently there are two ways of taking it; one we have pointed out above. In this way we shall not take it; others may bring in nice interpretation, and subtle special pleading, by which to evade the plain sense of the words that lie upon the surface. They may then wrestle and try in controversy, and search through all the rubbish of past ages, for supports to prop them up. We shall not do so; we shall take the scripture as it lies, in the plain manifest sense in which any man of piety and ordinary good sense must be forced to lake the words, if unprejudiced. And we demand of the sober-minded, that when we bring forward passages of the scripture in this sense, that they take the word of God as it reads and as it means; that they cast -away the false interpretations of sect and party, and take the word of God as it stands.

We take the liberty of dwelling upon this point a little; of solemnly urging it upon the hearts and consciences of our readers; for barely to have the bible in our hands and in our mouths is not enough, if we do not act in this way. The Pharisees of old had the bible, and sincerely professed to go by it, but they had their subtilties, their distinctions, their sect-interpretations; and these they taught-their laity believed them. These did away the force of the scriptures; as it is said, "they taught for traditions the doctrines of men;" and again, "ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your traditions; "that is, by subtle interpretations, handed down from one to the other, which did away the plain force of the scriptures. And he, the Teacher whom we follow, the Master that has commissioned us to teach, he came not to them in their own way of argumentation and debate. No: he was a teacher and not a controversialist. He placed first the word of God, and side by side with it, the tradition which did it away. "God commanded, honor thy father and mother, and he that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, whosoever shall say to his father or mother, it is (corban) a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free." (Matt. xv. 4-6.) No refutation here of the arguments by which the sect-interpretation was proved, and. they are many and plausible; but one placed side by side with the other, and the decision left to the truth that lies in the heart of man. So when the Romanists had declared that images might be worshipped and bowed down to, because of certain subtle interpretations, needless here to mention, the true refutation is juxta-position of them with the plain words of scripture, "thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image-thou shall not bow down to them nor worship them."

The controversialist refutes. The teacher says, "here is the word of God in its plain sense; here the interpretation which does it away; if you take the word of man instead of the word of God, you do it at your peril-I am free."

Now this is not of those days only, but now it is the curse of a sect-rent Christianity. Good men and pious men in centuries gone by, have organized sects; the practices they enjoined have necessitated interpretations according with these practices. These are handed down from one generation to another; they have with men the force of scripture, while they do away the scripture; yea, its plain words and manifest sense. Upon this we stand as Churchmen, as will be after seen in the course of this practice; upon this the author stands in this book. He brings the words of scripture, and side by side with them the tradition. He neither argues nor refutes, but takes the plain sense. This is the way in which we take the bible; a fair and just way, as every one can see-the only way in which men can come to a conclusion. If any one, therefore, denies the conclusions we come to, he need not look far for the reason. He will find some passage or other previously adduced, some plain text of the scripture, which, because of his sect-prejudices, of his previous teaching, he was unwilling to take in its manifest sense-the sense in which it reads. Upon his own head be the responsibility then; he and his notions shall pass away, but "the word of the Lord endureth for ever."

Of course men will say, "if you act thus you will have but small success; you will be refuted, argued against, disproved, put down by jeers, and slightly valued." We are content to be so-such was our Master. But still with God's word in its plain sense upon our side, and the truth, and a heart and soul that feels the truth and its work, we do not care for these things. We enter upon a new course upon this subject, a course different from the old; and we believe in man, in his desire after the truth, in all things. We bring the truth here, and a most vital one, which we deeply realize ourselves, and in the way that we think the best, and we feel that some at least must realize it; and though no renown may follow this book, still we shall have our reward, and that in the way we desire. If because of this book a father shall take his children upon his knee, and feeling that they are by holy baptism made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, shall do his duty by them as a Christian father, a priest in his own house, in leading them onward in the path of obedience to God and duty; training them in God's word, and in his ways, as members of the covenant to whom the promise is; instead of leaving them, as I have seen pious men do, to be converted when adults; and in the mean time to be guided by all influence of chance and time; and this because there was no bond of duty, such as infant baptism establishes; if because of this book one mother can embrace her children, and feel that they are not her flesh and her blood only, but baptized into his body, by whom she is saved, "members of his body, his flesh, and his bones," and thereby do her duty to them, as women will do, when they feel it, and as but few do it at the present day, outside the Church; if one family, by means of this book, can come to be wholly consecrated to God, instead of belonging half to God, and half to the world, the flesh and the devil, (for surely the unconverted belong not to God,) so that an household shall become, because of it, a. temple wholly consecrated and dedicated to Him; then may the author leave aside all concern for controversial renown or controversial assaults, for great shall be his reward in heaven."

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