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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 III.

The Commission does not imply that Baptism must always be preceded by Belief.

AFTER the previous chapter, which shows the motives which induce men to deny the baptism of infants, because upon the notions there exposed, they must reduce baptism to a mere form, the examination naturally comes of the texts upon which baptism is denied. And the first and most prominent is the commission.

Matt, xxviii. 18--20. "And Jesus spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

Now, upon the various points of the commission, I would remark, and ask the attention of my readers. Now I would ask of the candid Christian to remark the connexion between 'the first and the second clauses of that commission given by our ever-blessed Lord.

"All power is given me in heaven and earth," I am by the gift of the Father "omnipotent," and therefore, "go ye, teach all nations, baptizing them," &c. The omnipotence of Christ has, as its consequence, the commission to baptize. The power and authority to baptize is an immediate consequence of his omnipotence. This connexion lies upon the force of the commission.

Now if baptism be a mere rite, a mere form, and is of no effect, what need of this connexion so solemnly stated? We read not that John received such a commission as the disciples did, prefaced with the authority of omnipotence; we read too, that John is greater than all the prophets, but "yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he," the least minister of the kingdom that is. If John's baptism, the baptism of mere repentance, and faith, be Christian baptism, how can this be? if Christian baptism be a baptism without privileges and without effects, whose sole end is a dedication of faith before the congregation, what need this solemn preface?

But if his kingdom be a real and true kingdom, the covenant a real and true covenant, binding upon the Eternal Father as upon us--if to those who after faith and repentance receive that covenant, these privileges are conferred by the Holy Spirit, and that Holy Spirit is almighty and eternal, sent by the Father and the Son, then the commission to baptize is duly prefaced by a declaration of our Lord's omnipotence. If baptism be for the remission of sin, which none but God can remit--if it be for the application to the believing of the Atonement of the Almighty Son--if it be for the implanting of a spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, and the nourishing of it, and the work of baptism is done by the almighty Spirit, then well may the commission be prefaced by a declaration of His omnipotence--for to such a baptism who is sufficient? What power? Only omnipotence. Accordingly he says, "All power is given me--go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them."

And it seems to me, that if men had thought sufficiently of this, that the commission to baptize is connected with, and founded upon, the omnipotence of Christ; that it is a baptism "in the name of the Father (almighty,) the Son (almighty,) the Holy Ghost (almighty,) "we should have less discussion about the baptism of infants. Seeing that infancy places them not beyond the redemption of the Son, of which all men now acknowledge them capable--and if they can be redeemed by Christ's blood, why not baptized in his name? Seeing too, that infancy is not beyond the providential teaching and guidance of the Father--seeing too, that the feeblest infant has a spirit that can be wrought upon by the Holy Spirit, as we see was the case with John.

But persons will say, but this declaration of his omnipotence is not connected with the right to baptize exclusively, it is with the whole commission, it refers to teaching, to going forth in faith, add so forth, not to baptism, which is only a form.

With regard to this we say, "baptism is not merely a form," as any one may see who will give a due examination to the previous part. It is in the effects which we attribute to it the work of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in their name, and therefore omnipotence is the preface to it.

Again, we say, that, admitting the preface to refer to the whole commission, baptism is therein, and to it as well as the other parts it must refer. We say that men can do all the rest, and have done all the rest of themselves and their own power unauthorized, but to confer Christian baptism is another matter; a commission is necessary on the one hand, and on the other, the pledged co-operation of the almighty Spirit. In fact, on no other idea than that of a baptism conferring supernatural and heavenly privileges, and wrought out therefore upon all by Almighty power, can this preface be sustained. This we look upon, therefore, as sustaining the doctrine of Christian baptism, and is not to be explained otherwise.

Another remark we shall make: the word all nations, is general in this commission: nation is an assembly of men, and women, and children, it must therefore be taken so; but, say they, the word "teach," limits it. Yes, to be sure, to those that are teachable, if the English word "teach "is the exact correspondent to the Greek; well, for argument, sake, say it is. "The infants cannot be taught, it must be adults." "Infants can be (aught, there are infant schools in this day." Well, babes cannot be taught--not by man, but by God they can, by the Holy Spirit they can. Now, good reader, look at this--"teach all nations--baptizing them;" it does not say, first teach them, and then baptize them, but teach them--baptizing them. Now I, by baptism, dedicate an infant to God by the commission of the Almighty--I give him up to the eternal Spirit and omnipotent, to him who taught the soul of John before he was born, to him whose teachings can reach the heart and mind, even of a babe unborn. Do I, therefore, according to the principles of Christian baptism, "teach "that child, "baptizing him or not?" Certainly I do; the common sense of every man can see.

Even so, upon the translation "teach," the commission takes in infants when we hold to the true doctrine of baptism. But the Greek, though it may be translated "teach," is not exclusively this, it is more properly "make disciples"--"make disciples of all nations--baptizing them." This brings it out still more plainly, "make disciples of them--baptizing them." For in baptism the Holy Spirit, the Teacher, has the main work, and to him the work of Christian baptism is attributed. How then are they taught by baptism? how are they made disciples? Certainly if that teaching had reference barely to the instruction of man, if that discipleship only embraced that which we see, it were poor indeed, poor discipleship. Yet let the Christian take his faith, which is the eye of things unseen--let him view the Holy Spirit who is poured out upon our sons and our daughters, who shall teach you all things--let him look at the course of God's providence, wherein all things work together--let him look to the ministry of angels--all these privileges, strictly coming under the privileges of disciples, and then shall he see why omnipotence is a preface to the commission to baptize--then shall he see how the Christian by being baptized is made a disciple and taught, baptism to adults and to infants, admitting to this teaching. Let him look to angel and archangel, to cherubim and seraphim, and the whole company of heaven, intellects far reaching, and wide working, and think that to them we are given up, and ask if to their teaching, or to the teaching of the almighty Spirit, or to the teaching of God's providence, aught is requisite save the possession of a soul that can be redeemed by the blood of Christ our Lord, and innocence from actual sin. I suppose this is enough in reference to that objection that rests upon the word teaching, and supposes that only adults can be "taught."

We take now the other version of the commission, Mark xvi. 15, 16: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Therefore, say certain persons, infants cannot be baptized, for they cannot believe.

Very well: then must they be damned, because you assert infants do not believe and cannot, therefore by the second verse, they must be damned. "He that believeth not shall be damned"--infants cannot believe, therefore infants must be damned. Let those who argue in this way get out of the damnation of all babes that die in babyhood if they can.

The old Calvinists were blamed because they said some infants were "elect," in their use of the word "elect; "and therefore asserted some infants or babes dying in infancy, were damned; but this notion asserts that all infants, dying before they can speak, are damned.

But, again: "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." "Simon himself also believed, and was baptized," therefore Simon was saved. Yes, but Simon fell away. Surely he did, but is not "shall" used there?

There is no getting out of this, no means of evasion: it must be possible that the faith of others will go for the infant, so as to qualify him for baptism, or he be capable of faith, or else all infants that die in infancy must, by the very terms of the commission, be damned. Let the reader think of it, let him think what a hideous mockery it is, that the very commission which the. Lord of all mercy, he who blessed babes and loved them, should be so interpreted as to demand damnation upon the babes his blood redeemed. Men, it is true, do not press upon this now; they have omitted, they let it slip, but still by their principles they exclude infants, because they have not faith; theirs, forsooth, is "believer's baptism," exclusively and peculiarly. Paedobaptism is of course the baptism of those who

"do not believe;" can it be any thing else, than that they "who do not believe "shall be damned? Can Psedobaptists' ba.ptism be a baptism unto salvation? Certainly not. This odious and horrid principle may be smoothed over, but there it is and cannot be got rid of. He that denies baptism to babes because they have not faith, and cannot have it, by that principle and the second clause of this commission in St. Mark, dooms them to perdition. The scripture is true, and the principle is false.

False to the plan of redemption, false to the mercy of Christ our blessed Lord, false to the feelings of man's heart, false to the heart of the father and the mother whose unspeaking babes are upon their knees and in their bosom.

We are led now to the second interpretation of that passage, the interpretation which, because the first is so odious, is now generally put forward. The interpretation upon which they found their title, "believer's baptism." The interpretation is this--"He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned." Belief is first in the sentence, and therefore must come first. We baptize after belief, and therefore we alone have true scripture baptism. Now let the candid reader remark this first, that there is no passage in the scripture that says this in express terms; the conclusion is an inference drawn; if that inference be correctly drawn, then it is true; if it be not correctly drawn, it is untrue. I that baptize infants, I deny the correctness of the inference. I deny that in that sentence there is any thing inferring that belief should come first.

Now does that sentence assert that belief is a qualification for baptism, or what does it assert? On the plain face of the sentence it asserts two qualifications as requisite to salvation, one belief and the other baptism. "He that believeth"--here is one qualification; "and is baptized"--here is another; "shall be saved." Will any man dare to say, that upon any fair construction of the language, upon any principles of law, or equity, or grammatical construction, that of two qualifications thus placed, \ve can make one of the two a qualification for the other? can say that one must come before the other, belief before baptism, or baptism before belief?

Now this is a book written for plain people, and for common sense people. Look at a sentence of precisely the same kind, expressing two qualifications--"He that professes his allegiance and is naturalized shall vote;" just the same as "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Therefore, by the same way of arguing, none can be naturalized before they profess their allegiance; therefore infants cannot be naturalized. Again: "He that is industrious and honest shall succeed in business." There being two qualifications for success, therefore by the argument, a man must be industrious before he is honest. And so, through a multitude of examples, of which any one may devise thousands. The error being this, that because two things are qualifications for a third, one of them therefore must be a qualification for the other.

How then are we to interpret the text? Just in the same way that justice and equity would require us to interpret any such sentence in other cases. The sentence is of authority, it prescribes qualifications, it is therefore "law," and that law moral and spiritual. If the two qualifications are there, then it is right; if, on the other hand, there be a moral and spiritual impediment, then the right is voided--if the impediment be physical, it does not void the right. He that through a physical necessity, such as invincible ignorance or impossibility of being baptized is prevented from it, he, if he believe, and have therefore the other qualification, he claims salvation, and his claim is valid by all principles of justice and equity. He too who is baptized, and yet owing to infancy, idiocy, or any other incapacity, is rendered incapable of believing, he too is saved under that law. And he that be-lieveth not, through moral or spiritual causes, he shall be damned. Now let men examine this interpretation upon the ground of justice and equity, and they will see that it is the true and right interpretation.

Now I will put forward another consideration. Baptists say that baptism is "total immersion, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost." Now I will suppose a case of one so immersed, in infancy; he is trained up in the fear of the Lord, and believes--what comes of him? You may say, "no case of infant immersion has occurred;" and I say, that the English Church, before the Reformation, immersed infants universally; I say the Greek Church does so now; I say that such immersion has been performed in Protestant Episcopal churches in America, and authority is given me, as a presbyter of that Church, to do it, as well as to any other clergymen of the Church, and it has been done. And what is the case with such a person, confessing their faith and "being converted? The case is this--that by the law of Jesus Christ such a person "believeth," and is "baptized;" taking baptism in your sense of total immersion; and by the false gloss I have been exposing, such a person is not baptized; an absurdity which may be dwelt upon, and with it the text that says, ye have made vain the law by your traditions.

"He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved." All we have from this text is, that there are two qualifications to a certain state--the state of salvation; nothing more can be got out of it. Upon the face of it, as we have showed, it cannot be said that either is first. As far as this text goes, there can be no inference made. This we leave to the common sense of every one.

But it will be said, does not faith go before baptism--ought it not to go before it? Certainly, in all cases except where there is a physical impediment. A physical impediment, from the very words of the commission, as discussed in the last chapter, from the very fact of the spirituality of the law under which we are, does not invalidate the right to baptism; but there can be, as we have before said, found no text in the scripture that asserts any physical condition whatsoever to be an obstacle to the operation of the almighty Spirit; and therefore is there no text in the scripture that forbids baptism to infants.

Of course, with them that are not physically disqualified, faith is a pre-requisite, and we who believe in the baptism of infants, preach faith as absolutely necessary to them; but we cannot go beyond God's law and God's word, we cannot establish a rule which breaks down the principles of that law, and makes it, not a spiritual, but a physical law. So far of the notion which says "that faith must, in all cases, go before baptism." And furthermore, we shall add one remark. Our Saviour and the apostles demanded faith as a prerequisite of their miraculous powers; but in no case did they make such a demand where faith was physically impossible--and so do we. The energy of the Holy Spirit is not to be stopped by physical or bodily impediments.

But it will be said, that in all the cases of baptism recorded in the scripture, faith comes first. Well, this is true in reference to those cases in which the conversations are recorded, for in that case it appears that the persons could speak, and were adults. But it is recorded that households were baptized, and it is not said that there were no children among them; nay, the oldest translation says--"Lydia and her children were baptized;'' it is not said that infants ought not to be baptized; it is not said that infants were not baptized. Things which certainly, if any of the apostles were of the sentiments of the modern Baptists, would have been most abundantly reiterated. It cannot, therefore, be proved that in all the cases of baptism recorded in the scripture, no infants were baptized, or that a profession of faith, with their own mouths, did always take place.

And, as we have shown, the faith of parents, of sponsors, of the congregation, and of the clergyman, are enough for the babe.

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