Project Canterbury

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 III. Part I.

In what shape shall we put the question?

HAVING thus stated that we shall go to the bible for an answer to this question, and how we shall go, we proceed onward to the next matter to be decided. In consulting the bible upon the matter, what is the shape in which we shall put the question? The Baptist says, bring us a command to baptize infants. That we shall not do--we baptize them not in respect of age, more than in respect of the same they profess to baptize adults. The unfairness they complain of in being called advocates of adult baptism, we shall not permit them to put upon us. We baptize them because they are immortal souls, for whom Christ, our most blessed Redeemer died, in whom there is no speck or spot of actual sin, and whom therefore we count most worthy of the covenant of God, and of its seal. To expect that our Lord Jesus, in promulgating his covenant, would make mention of infancy or adult years; would speak of the baptism of boys, or girls, or virgins, or married men, or married women, or widows--this would be an absurdity. The physical and the personal has nothing at all to do with the spiritual covenant.

But the absurdity of such a demand is more fully shown by the question I would put to a Baptist, Would not you baptize an infant if you knew he had faith? Of course he would. Why talk thus then against infant baptism as such? And pray is this impossible? He, who, a babe in his mothers's womb, leaped for joy at the presence of her who bore unborn his Saviour, how could he rejoice in him without believing. (See upon this Dr. Woods on Baptism.) The same infant that was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb, how could he be so sanctified, not having faith?

The conclusion, therefore, I would come to, is a plain one; it is an absurdity to make a physical and corporeal matter a qualification or disqualification for a spiritual covenant; a still greater absurdity to demand from others such a command. We say that they are fit for the above reason, that God is no respecter of persons; that age, or youth, or sex, or condition, are nought to him if the qualifications be there. And they make this purely a personal thing, a disqualification; and call upon us to show-that a personal thing, as this is, is a qualification. Such a matter, we say, as being nothing in God's sight, cannot be a disqualification; as being nothing in his sight, it cannot, and is not mentioned as a qualification. The true mode for those who make infancy a disqualification, or non-talking, for this is the amount of it, they being absolutely certain that infants or babes do not talk, and not absolutely certain that they do not believe, is to show that God bids these stainless souls, whom his Son redeemed, to be excluded from his covenant, because they are infants--because they cannot talk! Let them go candidly to work; let them say, although infants may be sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost; and although St. Peter makes such an influence of the Holy Ghost a qualification for baptism--"Who can forbid water, that these be baptized who have received the Holy Ghost, as well as we"--still, nevertheless, we count that the mere physical fact of infancy is a disqualification--we forbid infants because they are such--as they do--and then let them show chapter and verse for it. This would be the fair bible way--the whole bible way. We take not the opinion or knowledge of man as on a par with the holy word of God.

But, again, there is another reason in the nature of the thing. The commission to baptize is confessedly the most important text upon the subject. In it we should expect to find directions; in it, if there were any class excluded for other than spiritual qualifications, a mention would be made of the class, and yet behold the command is general: "Go ye therefore, and teach, (make disciples of,) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." [The first Baptists saw the importance of establishing a limitation from the command and commission. And being ignorant and unlearned they thought they had it in the word "teach"--how could they be taught except they could speak, i. e. they could not be infants. Manqanow is to learn; from it, comes maqhthV, a disciple; from it again maqhteuw to make disciples, the word in our text.] The text then implies no limitation in itself, save this, that they in all nations, who were capable of the ordinance, and were capable of being disciples of Christ, should be baptized. The command is general. The mass of Christians have ever taken it so. They that forbid infants to be baptized because they are infants, their business it is to bring a limitation, to show that as they forbid "infants," so do the scriptures forbid them. This would at once settle the point. But Baptists are not very hasty in entering upon this point; they prefer making violent calls upon their opponents for a command from scripture; quite forgetful that a command to baptize all, embraces a command to baptize infants, except an exception of them be expressly made. Such a limitation they cannot produce--such a prohibition. They are, therefore, very ready to stick it out and abide upon the other ground.

We, however, as not wrestling or tugging in controversy with Baptist books, shall begin in this way, and we fear not that the judicious and sober-minded whom we address, will be content with it. The first question, therefore, we shall put, is this, Is infant baptism forbidden in the scriptures?

We have given reasons enough why this should be the first question for him who seriously desires to examine into the scriptures; which is quite a different thing, and implies a different temper from that which seeks proof and desires to support an opinion by the scriptures. Now shall we give some additional reason from the position of the parties in the debate. Every one who knows any thing of the Christian world, is well aware that nineteen-twentieths of those who profess the faith of Christ, and rest their salvation upon his name, are against the limitation of his covenant and its seal, by the circumstance of age, and consequently baptize infants. A small proportion only are Baptists, holding infancy to be a disqualification. Here, then, is a vast majority of Christians at the present day professing to be saved by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; and among them there certainly is as much consistency to their profession, and as much fruits of faith, as there is amongst the Baptists, whether we count that mixed multitude of sects who have but little claim to unity, whether of doctrine or practice, save in the common fact of denying baptism to infants, and baptizing by plunging under the water, or take only the smaller body, called regular Baptists; in either case, the rest of the Christian world are to them at the least twenty to one. Now are all these men--so vast a majority, all with the bible in their hands--all professing to be saved by Christ only--all worshipping him as their Saviour--are they all in the wrong? Surely "they are all in the wrong--they baptize infants." "Paedobaptism is the most grievous corruption ever brought into Christianity--a corruption which invalidates all Christianity, and destroys--so all these are not Christians, nor do we who are Christians, in any way recognize them as such."

But again, not only is there a majority now, but for three hundred years, that is, for nine generations, back to the time of the reformation, the majority has been as great--have these all been under error in the point? Surely so, say the consistent Baptists. And then from the reformation up to the time of Origen, during which period, by the confession of Baptist writers themselves, the whole Church unanimously and universally baptized infants. During all which times, however, there might have been two or three scattering heretics here and there, who held the Baptist notion--these were confessedly no Baptist organization, or as they call it, a church. During this period of 1350 years, or forty-five generations, was the whole Church in error upon this point, practicing "a grievous corruption, which invalidates all Christian ordinances, and disqualifies for the name of Christian?" Surely the consistent Baptists say it was.

It is a very hard thing to believe, for any Christian man who believes that Christ has promised to be with his disciples to the end of the world; harder still for one who considers Christianity and the Church as a power struggling in the world, ever seeming to be conquered, yet ever overcoming; combating the world through all ages in its various forms, from the rude barbarian of Attila and Genseric, with their devouring hosts, downward through the devouring violence and brute force of middle age feudalism; hard it is to believe all these holy and self-denying men, whom we know through all this stream of ages, to have stood up like men for God and his word, against the fierce and bloody tyrants of the earth, and all in the name of Christ, our Lord and theirs--that all these were no Christians, unworthy of the communion of Christ's body and blood, because they baptized infants!

Supposing now that the Baptist doctrine is true--granting too, as they will grant, that they have such a mass against them of those who profess to believe in Christ, to be saved by faith in his name, and in the bible to find their doctrine, what is their proper position? They are reformers, a body of reformers fighting against a vast majority who have adopted and do support "an erroneous abuse," "one of the most grievous corruptions of Christianity." The position then, which they take, essentially both by their numbers, as so small compared with the mass, and also by the zeal with which they assail the others, is the position of reformers who protest against an erroneous positive abuse. But more than this, it is reformers who have the same code of laws of life to appeal to, the very same book, in the same words, as they have who receive that so called abuse. And to both parties that book stands in the same position. What then is their ground as reformers? surely that of denying the abuse, of showing it to be forbidden. If they are in the right, this would be the position they would most naturally take, to show that in the scriptures infant baptism is forbidden. Such a demonstration would be at once the firmest and the best support of their principles. Such I have before shown was the position our blessed Lord took with regard to the Pharisees and their corruptions. Such the position the reformers took toward Rome. Here is the abuse they said, for instance, of worshipping images--they minded not the subtle distinctions of Latria and Dulia--and here is the command, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, or the likeness of any thing in heaven above, or the earth beneath, or the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them." Such must be always the position of religious reformers; the position of showing that which they deem a corruption to be plainly forbidden in the scriptures, a position the Baptists are not very fond of taking; however, we shall take it. We shall make the first question to be the investigation, as to whether the baptism of infants, which they charge as so weighty an abuse, is forbidden by the word of God. It is, as we have shown, the most natural way of proceeding; a way, which, when it is clearly made out and decided, gets us free from an immensity of vagueness and ambiguity, and enables the plain man who has only the bible in his hand, to go on clearly and tranquilly to the further examination of the question.

The conduct of the Baptists towards the rest of Christendom, as well as their assumed position of reformers, protesting against an erroneous abuse which is positive and injunctive, warrants this mode of proceeding. Their first step ought to be to show, if they can, that the scripture forbids the practice which they disclaim against so forcibly. If they cannot show this to be so, most likely they are innovators instead of being reformers.

Their bearing towards the rest of Christians strengthens this, and will warrant the demand in the mind of every reasonable Christian. The fact that they, a small minority in this age, and in every age by-gone, by cutting off all the rest of Christendom from communion, and denying their baptism, deny them to be Christians, this is a motive for the same line of proceeding. The others thus excluded may say, "We believe in the same God--we read the same bible--we are saved by faith in the same Redeemer--we show as much of the fruits and proof of faith as is seen among you--and yet you deny us to be Christians. Why is this?" Surely this is a fair question, one which the hearts of all men tell them must be answered. And what is the answer--"There is among you a great and erroneous corruption, the very cancer that eats into the heart of Christianity--the baptism of infants." May not the others then make this fair request, and should it not be gratified--"Show us then, that the baptism of infants is what you say it is, by the scriptures--show it to be what you assert it to be by the bible--do with us as regards our corruptions, as our Lord did with the Pharisees, as the reformers did by the Romish Church--let us have the plain words of scripture, forbidding the doctrine and the practice. This is the proceeding your position and your assertions render necessary. This, then, we have a right to demand." There is no man we believe, not even the most inveterate enemy of infant baptism, can deny the justice of such a demand, especially when he considers the importance of the question, and the relative position of the parties in the case.

The next question, therefore, is this--Is infant baptism forbidden in the scriptures?

Project Canterbury