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 II.

Application of the previous Chapters of Part II.--Spiritual Benefits of Infant Baptism.

WE have discussed in the previous chapters the doctrine of baptism, with a view to the question, what use is baptism in a spiritual point of view generally? that is, to all capable of baptism. We brought forward two notions, which, in our estimate, serves to blind men, being held as principles of scripture, and not being so; the notion that baptism is a mere declaration of faith, having in itself no privileges, and then the other, that plainly follows from the first, "that only because of its being an ordinance, and commanded, are men baptized;" we asked for the scripture proofs of these notions, and showed that none such exist; we brought forward then a list of texts plainly asserting that baptism has privileges attached to it, and from them we educed the doctrines regarding baptism. Now if baptism has, according to these notions, no privileges, then men need not be baptized at all. For, first, there is no command to baptize all believers, an inference from practice, which we cannot to have been universal; and, secondly, it would be very absurd to think that Christ should cotnroand an ordinance which is of no effect only as a profession, when profession may be made in so many different ways. This, we believe, is the argument of the Society of Friends, an argument we see it is very difficult to get rid of upon the above premises.

Secondly, we showed most plainly, that if baptism be only of use as a profession, infants need not be baptized at all--every motive for baptizing them is cut away.

And in opposition to both these notions, we brought forward the idea of a covenant between God and man, as the basis of the scriptural system of a true and real covenant; we showed its agreement with the rest of the scriptures, its uses and advantages, and showed the relation baptism bore to it as its seal of admission. We took then the effects attributed to baptism in the scriptures, its doctrines, in other words, and showed them plainly the privileges of the covenant, and showed that to them baptism is the door of admission. Now the Christian can apply them to the case of infants for himself.

But, however, as all men may not take the trouble, we shall apply them, and let the Christian examine our applications of them. In the first place, from the very form, baptism is a dedication on the part of the minister unto God. I will ask the Christian, if under the old law \hvfirst born of every animal was dedicated to God, cannot thq infant, unspotted by actual sin, be dedicated unto him? If under the old law the child, the first born, was sanctified unto the Lord, (Exodus xiii. 12,) and because it should have been a sacrifice was redeemed, cannot we, as Christians, sanctify them to God whom "Christ, the first born among many brethren," has redeemed by his sacrifice? more especially since the apostle has declared all children of Christians to have the same privileges as the first born of Israel--"Your children are holy." Cannot these, then, much more be brought into the temple of God and dedicated to him, by him who ministers there in God's name and by God's authority? Can he not take them in his arms and bless them, for baptism is a blessing, and lay his hands upon them whom Christ his master took in his arms and blessed? Can-he not dedicate them who are' commanded not to be prevented from coming to him, when he knows that "where two or three are gathered together, there is he in the midst;" and that if this promise be true they can come to him there present in the midst of his worshipping people in his temple? Simply considering baptism in the light of a blessing and a dedication, there is nothing to prevent its being given to children, even to babes.

And add to this, that they are free from the guilt of actual sin, that they too are redeemed by the blood of Christ, that they have immortal souls, that "as the soul of the father is mine, so is the soul of the son mine," all these things show the propriety of the priest offering and dedicating to God the soul of that unspeaking babe.

And the parents, too, have they not the power of dedicating their children to God? If Hannah, under the old law, could vow her child to God, even before he was born--"If thou wilt give me a child, then will I give him to the Lord all the days of his life;" if the Nazarite could be vowed unto God in his infancy, and God fulfilled that vow, cannot the child of Christian parents be vowed and dedicated by his parents to Him?

History is full of it, the history of the Church and the bible. And so fully do I believe in that principle, that I say to Christian mothers and fathers, vow your children to God in his temple, dedicate them to him with prayer and in baptism, and your vow shall not fail. In the strength of your faith say unto the Eternal--"Here, in God's temple, to the Father almighty, to the Son, who has redeemed the child, here present--here present if the promise be true--do I vow and dedicate my child, by the hands of God's minister"--and the, vow shall not fail.

And this is a thing forgotten through the want of faith at the present time, the power of a parent's vows at the time of baptism, a thing well known to those of old. And as a point of practical Christianity, no child of a faithful parent should be without the precious benefit of the parent's vow at the time of its baptism. The doctrine of the scripture allows it, God's promise is to it, the natural heart speaks in its favor.

Again, have not the prayers of the congregation, for the blessings promised, some effect, if it be true "that if two or three shall agree upon any thing, it shall be done for them of my Father which is rn heaven," when they seek for spiritual blessings upon the babe so dedicated? Surely the Father almighty can answer these prayers, and direct the stream of providence upon the babe, so "that all things shall work together for its good; surely the Son, who hath redeemed it, can apply his redeeming blood to itj surely he "who sanctified the Baptist from his mother's womb," the Holy Spirit, can sanctify babes as well as men; surely thy strong faith shall bind the whole Trinity to that helpless babe who, being a babe, hath no means of access to the teachings of men, yet, being an immortal soul, is capable of the providential interposition of the Almighty Father, the redemption wrought out by the Almighty Son, the influences of the Holy and Almighty, who can sanctify even the unborn.

And so dedicated, so vowed, the parent shall look upon the child as such, and in faith rejoice in the vow and dedication; for, as the psalmist says, "Thou art the God that performest the vow."

And, again, are not children capable of the covenant? They were circumcised under the old law, and members of the covenant. Yes, men say, but this was a Jewish ordinance. Well, it was an ordinance appointed by God for the Jews, certainly; but still an actual and real covenant between God and man, binding God as well as that). And if God, by a covenant, can be bound to a babe, without the babe knowing any thing of it, surely he can be bound now, if the Christian covenant be a true covenant. But circumcision was a natural thing: well, we are declared to "have a circumcision too," though not made with hands; we are declared also to be a "holy nation," by St. Peter.

But the old covenant concerned temporal things only: so it did, and yet circumcision is declared to be the "seal of the righteousness which is by faith."

Well, but children are not capable of the covenant of Christianity, for they have not faith, they have not repentance: they have not repentance, for they have not committed actual sin--repentance is sorrow for actual sin. Now the qualities that make sin an impediment to a covenant with God are two the guilt, and the stain of actual sin; having not sinned actually, they have neither. Is not their freedom from actual guilt, and freedom from actual stain, a better qualification than sorrow for them?

They have not faith: surely they have not, but the prayer of others is efficient to the remission of sins, actual as well as original.

So, then, we have babes free from actual sin, and therefore needing no repentance; we have faith sufficient for the pardon of sin, even in others; we have it, the evidence of things unseen, the substance of things hoped for, and that by the scriptures, to others as well as ourselves. Shall it not confer upon the babe, who is free from "guilt" and "stain," the unseen and spiritual blessings of the covenant? Shall it not substantiate the hopes, supported by prayers, of them who dedicate it? Surely, if there be any power in faith or prayer, it shall.

But others undertake promises for them, that they shall do so and so--is not this a thing absurd? Not at all, when we consider ourselves under the law of God; under the law of man the same thing is done daily, as we see mortgages and bonds in the name of children; not at all, when we consider the effects of a vow, and that to it, made in faith by the parents, the disposition to fulfil the engagement taken by the parent in the name of the child, is given; not at all, when we consider Almighty God as the disposer of all events, and the Almighty Spirit as the sanetifier of the hearts, as well of babes as of full grown men.

Nor is it contrary to the holy scriptures in other parts. Moses bound by covenant the little ones as well as their fathers to enter into covenant with the Lord their God, and "into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day," not the covenant of circumcision, for they had been circumcised before, but the vow to act and do according to the words of God's law. (Deut. xxix. 11, xxxi. 10--13.) Jehosaphat brought up to his fast all Israel, with their wives and their children. And the people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast, from the greatest to the least. (Jonah iii. 5.) Surely then, if these things are so, and faith is what it is asserted to be, the father, or mother, or sponsor, can justly engage for the children, and trust in God for the fulfilment.

Of course, we cannot engage for those who wilfully cast the covenant behind them, who do despite to the Spirit of God. We know that there are and will be apostates, yet, too, we know that those apostates are such in despite of the means of grace. Certainly it is folly to abstain from using the means because we fear men may be such. Christ knew that Judas would be, or was a devil. He chose; are we to exclude infants free from actual sin, because one of them may be a Judas? Surely experience has shown us that adults, as Judas, are just as likely as infants to fall. Shall we exclude infants, therefore, all of them?

But, lastly, a great argument to our introducing infants into the covenant is, that in the covenant are given the means of grace for fulfilling its conditions, aids and assistances which they have not outside it. This is plainly laid down in the past chapter, and in the following part of this I shall show that of all these aids and helps, there is not one of which infants, even the babe of a day old, is not capable. In the mean time, I refer backward to the last chapter, or onward to the next, and I ask the Christian, are not all these privileges spiritually attached to baptism and the covenant, aids to fulfil its conditions, and all possible to children?

These, then, are the reasons why we consider children capable of the covenant: Because, under the old law, they were capable of a covenant ing God to them; because, this was a covenant of promise, and they were capable of the promises; because, they have in the case of repentance a better title, in the case of faith as good as adults; because, it is in accordance with the nature of faith, and the nature of vows to God, that men should promise to God for another, although he be unconscious of it, and God, as he has shown, will bring it about--and this binding the unconscious to an oath and engaging for them, is a thing of which we have brought instances; and because the same motive (which I must call an evidence of weak faith, or rather no faith) that would induce us to reject all infants, because they may, in the course of life, fall away, would also induce us to reject all adults.

And because, within and by the covenant and its seal, aje given aids to fulfil its conditions, which are not to be had by those outside. He that will consider these things, and put by them the nature of a covenant as binding both parties, the person and the Almighty, and the nature of faith, he who looks at these things, must conclude that the children of Christians are capable of the covenant.

But, besides this, in the book of the Acts, children are expressly offered the covenant of baptism. Peter said--"Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost. For the promise is to you and your children." A text which plainly holds out to the children the covenant--the covenant promised by the prophets--as one to themselves and their children, and baptism as its seal, as applicable to babes as to men.

"The promise is to you and to your children," the promise of a new covenant; you are Jews, and both you and your children are promised it. Therefore says Peter--"Since it is to you and them, we shall admit you and keep them out, and baptize every one excepting them, although in our discourse we have said nothing about it!" The discourse of Peter, considering that the promise was that of a new covenant, considering that they were Jews whom he addressed, certainly does not look very like that of a Baptist, nor very likely to be mistaken; and when we couple it with the fact before, that these infants are not, forbidden to be baptized, in the scripture, that therein there is no such estimation of it to be found, and no such warnings against it given, as we meet with in the sermon of every Baptist preacher at the present day, surely we must conclude that Peter held children capable of it; and that they and their children were capable of the "covenant," they and their children to be baptized in it.

Then, again, it is said that the children of believers are holy. "The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband, else were your children unclean, but now they are holy." (1 Cor. vii. 14.) Holy, not positively, for no one that is born is actually holy; "unclean" is used in the holy scriptures as unsuitable for admission within the covenant, and "holy" for that which is suited thereto. And why, upon what principle? Upon this, that "husband and wife are one flesh"--a principle literally taken by all nations in the laws of marriage, and literally acted upon. The one flesh, cannot, therefore, at the same time be holy, or suited for the covenant with God, and unholy, or unsuited; hence the offspring must be, by the very principle, suited for the covenant.

I say not a word to those who say holy means legitimate, and unholy, illegitimate; such meanings are not to be found for the words in the scriptures. They are the mere explanations of those who would maintain a cause at all hazards, coupled with a profound ignorance of the sacredness and the mysteriousness of marriage, as an institution of Almighty God whereby, through his power, and creative and dispository influence, they that have been two become actually, and really, and in-dissolubly one. If this be admitted, and realized, and held as a fact and truth, then the Apostle's argument follows; if it be no fact, but a metaphor, why then you may interpret it any way you please.

But one thing is certain--if "unclean" in the children mean that they are bastards, and "holy "that they are legitimate, "holy" or "unholy" must have the same meaning in the case of the husband or the wife. And then we have the apostle declaring that the validity of marriage depends upon "belief," or "faith"--a most strange and outrageous doctrine to be attributed to the apostle, and most contradictory to the whole of the scriptures.

Children, then, in this passage are declared capable of admission into the covenant, clearly and plainly. And so, beside the argument for it on the ground of reason, we have the express declaration of holy writ.

We go on to the next part of this argument. That is, there is nothing in the condition of infancy to forbid them attaining all the privileges of the covenant, and being benefited by them all.

The first, the initial privilege of all, is the remission of sins. Now, what sins are to be remitted in infants? None actual. What follows from this? Is it that they should be excluded from the covenant with God? Certainly not. Else being excluded, they would actually be punished by separation from the other privileges of the covenant.

What, therefore, is baptism in their case, considered as a rite for the remission of sins? This may be seen by the nature of sin. What, then, is sin? This, neither more nor less--the transgression of the law, this is actual sin. And how does this come, how comes it, that since the "law is holy, and just, and true;" "since virtue," or conduct in obedience to the law of God, "is the law of man's nature," that men transgress the law, for that law is evidently in accordance with man's best interests? Certainly it is not by the bondage of an iron fate predestinating us to be sinful, as certainly it is not the force of external circumstances driving us onward and impelling us to sin; for every man knows, by the fact that he is a man, that man ig the lord of circumstances. How then does it come? By this, that there is a moral inability to keep God's law perfectly; an inability born with, and which we clearly see not to have belonged to man's nature originally, but to have been the result of a deterioration, which is called the Fall.

This inability is in the infant; it developes itself in him just so soon as reason and responsibility begin to develope themselves. And the great end of remission, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, is the putting an end to this inability in actual transgression and in its own guiltiness. The fact of the inability and the fact of its origin, every one can see from his own nature.

The nature of sin we do not clearly know in this world; even our deepest imaginings cannot penetrate it. The very consideration of it is involved in the deepest mystery. It would seem that there is a hideousness and horror about it more fearful than we can imagine, when we think that for its remission and pardon the eternal word must take flesh and be born, suffer, die, and be buried, that it should be remitted; it would seem too, that if we only could comprehend it, that it is an actual and real death, of which the death of this world is only the shadow. It would seem also to be of the nature of an infection, reaching from generation to generation, and from father to son, extending as a disease, loathsome of itself in the eyes of God. It would seem also as if it tainted the nature of all men, as unquestionably the nature of poisonous or venomous animals, although undeveloped, still is in their offspring. It would appear also, that there is some impenetrable and happier connexion, as it were, between the souls of all men, between our souls and the souls of all Our progenitors, and by consequence with the soul of him in whom the deterioration took place. And, lastly, it is plainly manifest from the scripture, that this world is a world of evil, in which we are all born subjects to this evil taint. "We were by nature children of wrath." (Eph. ii. 3.) "As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." (Rom. v. 12.) So, from all these considerations, would it seem that this natural inability requires remission. This sinfulness which is in us by birth, must be pardoned.

This is called original sin. I need not say that the explanation of it is difficult; from the first, that we, as men, born to sin, cannot understand what sin is clearly in this life, or how it looks in the eyes of a most holy God. Only this I will say, that any other opinion than this of original sin, must and will force us into difficulties and contradictions, overthrowing the whole plan of salvation. And any Christian that looks inward upon his own nature, and sees with a due estimate of its mysteriousness the nature of sin, and then looks upon a God most holy and most pure, must come to the conclusion, that "original sin" both exists and needs pardon from Almighty God in each individual; that is, the application of the blood of Christ.

When we speak of pardon of sin, we are too apt to imagine to ourselves an earthly pardon, wherein mere words convey the pardon. When we speak of forgiveness, we fall into the same error, for earthly forgiveness is for the most part gratuitous; when we say remission, it is the same thing. These convey to us an idea or notion of what we cannot fully comprehend, on account of our dim-sightedness. The truth is, that what we count metaphor more fully conveys the truth than these abstract phrases. The "blood of Christ cleanses us from sin;" cannot infants be cleansed by the blood of Christ? "He has redeemed us;" cannot infants be redeemed? "He is the Saviour of men;" cannot infants be "saved? "He gave his life a ransom for many;" can they not be ransomed? "He reconciled men to himself;" cannot they be reconciled? The men who object to the doctrine of original sin, and the necessity of its remission to infants, will admit all these as applicable to infants; and yet they are all identical with "remission of sin."

But it may more plainly be seen by another consideration. Forgiveness of sin necessarily implies in the sin two things--the guilt to be pardoned--the stain upon the moral nature to be wiped off. It implies both these to be taken out of the sight of God, as both are offensive in his sight, both incapacitate for the enjoyment of happiness. In forgiveness both these come in. Now, although actual guilt and actual stain be not in infants, still there is a stain of nature, and this may be blotted out, this may be cleansed, this may be washed in Christ's blood. And this being remitted or blotted out, the term remission is truly and really applied to infants who have not committed actual sin.

Infants then are baptized for the remission-of original sin, that they may be washed in the blood of Christ, that being born the children of wrath, they may be made the children of grace. If they are not capable of this, are they capable of salvation? For surely every one will acknowledge they have been redeemed. Now if they have no sin, actual or original, how can they be redeemed? I conclude, therefore, that to infants, baptism which is for the remission of sin, can be applied by reason of original sin, which is the speck and stain of human nature.

Let us look then to regeneration; the being born of water and the Spirit. And keeping clearly in our mind that it consists of two parts, the implanting in us of a principle of life, which is not in us by nature, and the being introduced into the kingdom of Christ, which is the world of that birth, the sphere wherein alone the spiritual life can come to perfection in actual and real prosperity; let us inquire, how an infant is incapable of these two privileges. Is there any text that says they are incapable of it? is there any text that says "that infants cannot be born of water and the Spirit? "Is there any text that says this? We say with the Church in all ages they can--let the passage be brought forward that says they cannot.

There is too a text that says, "except one (mistranslated a man,) be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." How plain is it, that they who exclude infants shut them out from God's kingdom.

The Spirit is the agent in the new birth, the almighty and eternal-Spirit; he formed a body for Christ; he sanctified John from his mother's womb. Men assert that infants cannot be born of him: how great a contradiction is this, that the Almighty Spirit the Sanctifier, cannot work his miraculous effects upon a human spirit at any time and at any age, and this when there is no resistance; for the spirit of an adult can resist God's Spirit, but the spirit of the babe cannot; and this too, when the spirit of the babe is free from the guilt of actual sin; so free, that they must become like it, who would prepare themselves to enter into that kingdom. The assertion of an impossibility in infants because of their infancy, to "be born of water and the Spirit," not only has no foundation in the scriptures, but is contrary to all we know from experience and from the scriptures, of the moral state and spiritual condition of the infant.

And when we look at the two parts of this heavenly birth, we find in neither of them any natural impossibility, nothing in the condition of an infant that should prevent either of them from being wrought in him. The spiritual life, as I have explained, is a principle not of us, but of the Spirit dwelling in us; it is a life, and similar to our bodily life. The bodily life is not absent, because we cannot discern it by our senses; it is present in sickness and disease, although these are antagonist influences; it is that which overcomes them, and medicine cures not disease, only removes the obstacles to the working of the life in our bodies; it is present when we are unconscious of it, as in infants; when we are asleep, as full grown; unseen itself and undiscernible, it shows itself only by its working. The feelings of the body may be lowered by disease, still the life is there, and it is it that overcomes disease in the body.

Just so, if there be a life of God, are its operations in the souls of men. It is a permanent possession, a life; when implanted it is not away, because we cannot see it; it is present, an antagonist principle in us to the life of this world that abides in our flesh. Prayer, the means of grace, meditation, faith, these are to it what medicines are to the natural body in the case of disease, not means of producing it, for it is the sole gift of the Holy Ghost, the giver of life, but means of removing obstacles out of its way. It dwells with us when unconscious, when asleep, unseen itself and indiscernible, its workings manifest it.

Now let him who has read this character of the life of God in man, let him compare it with the various passages in the scriptures describing tlie "life of God in the soul of man," and he shall see how exactly they answer to it. Let him compare it with this one passage, "the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."

Now look at the infant--we will say unbaptized and unregenerate; is there not an evil principle in his nature, whose root and source is original sin, that springs up in actual sin; which puts forth first the germ, then the stalk, the leaves and the branches? Surely there is. We see in the child that the falling into evil is no sudden start, but a development, a growth.

How unjust would it be, that there should be no stop to this until adult years, no counteracting power internally. Unjust it would, and unnatural. But the life of God is the healing and antagonist power, even in the baptized infant. The same privilege that our infant Saviour had, that same privilege have our infants. "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given the Son to have life in himself." Was there any time of manhood, or youth, or infancy, when this gift was given, or rather had not Christ, the man-God, this life in himself as God-man in infancy, at birth? Surely he had. What then hinders us who have the life of him, to have it in infancy by his appointed means? Furthermore, this life is a hidden life--"our life is hid with Christ in God." Should not this be a strong reason against asserting that infants cannot have this life, because we see it not?

But we may look at the absurdity of the denial a little further. Infants can be born into the world, but they cannot, because they are infants, be born of God, the Holy Ghost, "the Lord and Giver of life," although that Spirit is almighty, nay, although Christ is "the light that lighteneth all that come into the world"

Now we plainly assert, that "if the life of Christ" be a true and real life, and not a metaphor, then by the very situation and position of infants, they are more capable of it than adults.

With regard to the second part of the new birth, as we have above said, the very fact of a life implies a sphere in which to exist; the natural life implies a natural sphere of existence for the life to develope itself in; so does the life of sin, a natural sphere of evil, which is what is called the world; and the life of God a sphere of existence, which is the Church, the covenanted body, the family, the people of God. We have shown that infants are capable of admission into the covenant. Let the Christian look at the meaas of grace provided for all, at the care of fathers and mothers who are of the household of-faith, the teaching and catechizing, the training given therein, the general feeling there is all throughout the Church of the preciousness of the infant soul, and he will see that this is the sphere of life, as far as actual means are concerned. All these means take it for granted, that the life dwells therein, and are founded upon that supposition.

Let him look then at the other spiritual privileges of the covenant. The indwelling of the Spirit in the body and soul of the believer--is aught of man's devices more fit than this to maintain the purity of childhood? The gift of sufficient grace; needs not the infant or the growing youth this gift to maintain the life of Christ in him? The indwelling of Christ, who is the resurrection and the life; is not this a gift for the two months' babe as well as for the full grown man? And, lastly, the guardianship of holy angels promised to the little ones of Christ's flock; is not this a privilege of the covenant most suitable to the tender babe? Are not all these most needful in the space that intervenes between birth and the time when man can be conscious of, and realize his privileges for the infant, the child, the growing youth? Are not these things privileges and mercies in the sphere of life, for the life? and the existence of these in that sphere, and their needfulness, an argument to us, that the life can be implanted in the infant, and that it can live and abide therein?

To sum up the whole, there is no where in the holy scripture any text that denies to the infant any of the privileges of baptism expressly attached to it in the scriptures. There is not in the nature of the infant any incapacity for any of them, nay, in the case of the most of them, they are most appropriate and most needful, just as appropriate as to the full grown man, and more needful and suitable to the babe. That is, if these be real spiritual blessings needing the eye of faith to realize them.

But if baptism have no privileges attached to it, and the covenant no privileges, if baptism be a mere form, why then these are nothing to the infant, or to any one else; and all we can do is to wait till the babe becomes a man, till he has passed through the sins of childhood and of youth, and then the grace of God may convert him. I deny not that it may be so.

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