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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 IV. Part I.

Is the Baptism of Infants forbidden?

WE come then to the question, Is infant baptism forbidden in the scriptures? And upon this I take my stand. In the name of the huge majority of Paedobaptists who are upon the earth at the present day, in the name of fifty generations of Christians now dead and gone to their rest, who both held and practiced infant baptism, I ask for the proof that our practice is unscriptural, I ask for the passage that forbids the baptism of infants.

Let us come to the proof. It "is a corruption in the Church," say the Baptists, "the most grievous and unscriptural of all corruptions." Their practice is in accordance with their sentiment; they virtually declare that there are no other Christians than themselves; they have no communion with others; as far as lies in them, they excommunicate all others. Surely one would say, the bible must forbid this sin. The bible was hidden from all Christians for fifteen hundred years; the printing press was not in existence; the clergy kept the word of God to themselves, and for their private gain, baptized infants.

The bible has been in the hands of all Christian denominations now, by their own acknowledgment, unrestrainedly, for three hundred and fifty years, and nineteen-twentieths of them are not Baptists. This does not look very like the baptism of infants being forbidden by the bible.

It is not forbidden; if it be, let us have chapter and verse. Not a verse is there, not a line, not a word, that forbids it, in the course of the whole New Testament, from the first chapter of St. Matthew to the last of the Apocalypse. How strange a thing this is, if it be "the most erroneous corruption of the Gospel ever introduced into Christianity;" that from Christ our Lord, ever-blessed, and from his holy apostles, there should come no warning against it, no prophetic prohibition of it, no declaration of its danger, no caution against it. Surely, the very fact, that infant baptism has been so extended, so universal--this, if it were a corruption, would render such a warning needful, upon the principles of the Gospel; and yet, in the whole of the New Testament, there is no such thing, not a word forbidding it; through the whole New Testament there is not a single text that says, "ye shall not baptize infants." How strange a thing this is, and how inconsistent with the scheme of revelation, if the Baptist doctrine, and their opinion as to infant baptism, be correct.

Again, if infant baptism be such a thing as they say it is, so great a corruption, can the common sense Christian imagine that the commission would be left as it is, general, "Go ye, teach, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost?" Surely if the baptism of infants were so great a corruption, here would have been the place for the exception to have been made, "except infants," and the cause for that exception in some such words as the Baptists now stigmatize it with--"for this is a sin and a corruption." But here, where most naturally we should have expected some such thing, it being an absurdity to suppose a commission given by our Lord not clear and distinct, and in itself having a snare and a pitfall to sin, there is no such thing; nay, through the whole of the scriptures, there is no text that prohibits the baptism of babes in express words.

The amount of the whole matter then is, that it is not forbidden in the scriptures. I take my stand upon this--I say to my readers, that not a passage can be produced from the one end of the New Testament to the other, that prohibits the baptism of infants; nay, not a line from which the inference can be drawn, that they, having immortal souls, for which Christ died, and being without spot or speck of actual sin, are incapable of being in covenant with the Father of spirits, and being signed with the seal of that covenant.

This is the plain common sense view of the case, which every one, with his bible in his hand, can see to be true. And standing upon this, I ask men seriously, how they, professing to be Christians, can reject and cast away from his covenant, those whom he has not forbidden.

Yes; but does he command? Yes, he does command, for the command embraces them in the word "all." You say they are the exception; you cannot establish that exception, asserted by yourselves only, and not by him, for you cannot bring forward the text that says they are forbidden.

How then do they arrive at that conclusion, taking, as they do, like all Protestant denominations, the scripture as their rule of faith and practice? They must acknowledge they find no express prohibition, no command that says, "thou shalt not baptize infants." Not being direct, it must be by inference.

Inference is of two kinds, verbal and doctrinal. We assert, that neither verbally or doctrinally, is there any inference that prohibits infant baptism. Let our readers look to this, and they will see the inference is the other way. The Christian life is an inference, a realization of the spirit of the scripture in action: nineteen-twentieths of them are baptizers of infants. Here is the inference: the spirit of the scriptures in action, is it against Psedo-baptism? No, certainly, it is for it: of the millions of those who baptized their children in infancy, and read God's holy word, upon how few has the notion of its being wrong ever remotely come?

But the inference is the other way. The direct command, enjoining the baptism of infants among other classes, for so it does, since the exception which the Baptists make, is not made in the scriptures, but solely made by themselves. The inferences all in accordance with that direct command, are instead of against it. We ask the plain common sense Christian to consider with us one of these, before we end this chapter.

"And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those who brought them. But Jesus, when he saw it, was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." (Mark x. 13; Matt. xix. 14.)

Now let us remark upon this passage. Here the parents, we may suppose, bring their infants to Christ--young children, it is expressly said, wherefore this? Because they were pure and innocent; because too, before this time, Christ had taken a child and placed him in the midst of his disciples, as a warning; because they knew too that virtues had gone out of him, and undoubtedly had reason to believe, that the blessing and the touch of such a man, who was both God and man, must be of no unimportant service to the future life of their children.

"His disciples rebuked them." And wherefore should they rebuke them? Let the reader think why. Surely it must have been because of their infancy; for looking at Christ as a teacher and their teacher, how could unspeaking babes become disciples with them; how could they have faith in him; how could they repent? They could not speak at all, and therefore the disciples judged that they could not be disciples. Again: after being blessed by him, who knew but lhat they would disgrace that blessing? Again: of what service could it be, that he should touch them? The mind of infants could not be conscious of that blessing which should be given, and what spiritual good could come to the souls of them by a touch.

"And, therefore, they rebuked them." Faith they had in that which he told them, because of his wondrous works--faith in the act proposed they could not have without evidence, and no evidence they had seen. They rebuked those fathers and mothers in whom their human nature spoke, and believed in Christ. They spoke harshly and severely, and were for forbidding them. They, believers in Christ, could not consider the instructive yearning of nature here to be aught but folly, such folly as merited a rebuke.

"And then he was much displeased." The anger of a man and his just displeasure, is a thing truly to be afraid of and grieved at; but here is the displeasure of him who was both God and man; as God, without wrath, save at sin and evil; as man, pure from sin, and then far from sinful anger; free from wrath, at evil inflicted upon himself, and meek in bearing suffering without anger, however great his sorrow might be.

"And he was much displeased." Surely because they had sinned, because presumptuously trusting upon their own reasonings, they had striven to keep away from him the helpless and the undefiled, and had repressed the voice and instinct of nature in the parent's heart, crying after a blessing for their children.

"And he said, Suffer little children to come unto me." From this we see little children then could come to him. Can they not come now? Is there any thing in the state of a babe born of the race of Adam different now from what it was then? Is there any thing in Christ now, "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever," different from what there was then?

"Forbid them not." Man then could forbid them. The way in which Christ enjoined that they should suffer them to come, this way might by men, and his own disciples too, be blocked up against them, and they forbidden by them.

"Of such is the kingdom of God." The kingdom of God is the "Church on earth and in heaven." Here is a qualification, Christ died for them, they had immortal souls, they were free from actual guilt. Christian, thou who believest in the atonement of sins through faith in Christ after repentance, is not this the state in which thou professest to be--this state of a little child? and is it not because of this, that thou comest forward? if this were not thy state, wouldest thou come to his holy baptism? Look then at the following verse.

"Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."

Here it is most plainly laid out to be so. The word "as," manifestly implying situation and character, and not merely docility. In the other Gospel, where this passage is cited, "of such is the kingdom of heaven," evidently "such" in qualities.

"And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands upon them, and blessed them." Took up infants who were unconscious, and knew not therefore of it; laid his hands upon them; upon the flesh of these babes, the Master of spirits, our spiritual Teacher, laid the hands of his sinless humanity, his hands of" human flesh as our's, but hands untainted with the fires and pollution of sin, and blessed them; words of benediction, which their ears heard yet did not understand, and what did not convey any mental emotion to the undeveloped soul; what benefit could these be to them?

Ecclesiastical history tells us, that in after years, before the justest and the greatest of the Roman persecuting emperors, there stood a poor and aged man, a holy bishop of the Church, bearing testimony to the first of the Christians' maxims, with his incarnate Lord. And how the pagan scoffed at the notion, that a living man could bear within him the crucified. And that Ignatius said, "lam Ignatius called Theophoros." (God-bearing and God-borne, the word has both these meanings.) The first he brought forth in his answer to Trajan; for the second, ecclesiastical history tells us that he was one of those babes borne of Christ, and blessed by his hands.

You ask me, then, what good this could have done? This blessing and touching with Christ's hand, could they not afterwards have fallen into sin? Yes; but, my friend, I will tell you, there are things I cannot deny, might happen; I have no proof that they did not happen, and yet I will not believe that they could happen. Did you ever think upon the fact of Adam's sin, and consider it as possible, that the first of men might have perished everlastingly? Yes; it is possible no doubt, and yet without argument, without proof, without any thing to prevent it, there is hardly a Christian to whom such a supposition will not be too revolting to entertain for a moment. We must, by the instinctive force of nature, believe that Adam did not perish everlastingly. So with these children, blessed of Christ, I confess so much does the voice of nature in me approve and exult in, the voice of nature in their parents, that be they few or be they many, I can as soon think of one of them, blessed by Christ in their helpless infancy perishing, as of Adam.

I have digressed, however, from the subject. Here we have two classes. The disciples rebuking--not suffering--forbidding. We have Christ much displeased at this--laying his hands upon unconscious babes, and blessing them. I ask plainly and candidly upon which side our Baptist brethren would have been. Surely the action of the disciples in the text would have been theirs; their rebukes would have been theirs. Surely, too, all the arguments against bringing infants to be touched and blessed of Christ then, are in every way the same of the Baptists. Explain, argue, account as you may for the facts of the case, the position of the disciples is the position our Baptists would then bave taken; all the reasons for that position, which, upon the supposition that the disciples were reasonable beings, we can assign to them, are the reasons of the Baptists against infant baptism. And every quality in the infant that meets the Baptist as an impediment to infant baptism is here; every argument against it, from the nature of baptism itself is here also; every thing in the parents is here too, that is, in the parents who bring their children to the laver of regeneration; the parent's faith and parental love; the babe's unconsciousness; the taking it in his arms, blessing, and laying hands upon it, all these are in infant baptism; and the motives in the one are the motives in the other.

It is easy to see what side a Baptist, with the principles and notions Baptists have, would have taken; forbidding the baptism of infants, they would have forbidden this also. I ask of those who doubt or deny infant baptism, who clearly see, as see they must, that there is no such thing as an exception to the command to baptize all made in the case of infants, because of their infancy, to go over this passage, to consider the position of the disciples, the arguments that must and would have led them, and to think of the fact, that Jesus, our Redeemer, the ever-blessed, was much displeased. To think that they themselves, by "forbidding" them whom he has not forbidden, may be incurring the displeasure of their Lord!

I know the way men get over this, by the assertion that it is merely an event of our Lord's life, and not a command to baptize infants. Surely so it is, no one said ever it was any more; an act it is, paralled in all the circumstances, and as an example warranting most fully, the inference that we have drawn. Pages may be written, but infants, the babes of our race, are the same as in the days of our Lord--they can come to him as such, now as then. And he who has promised to be with his Church to the end of the world, is the same now as then--the same in mercy, the same in love, the same in all the attributes of that humanity which he took of his mother, and still bears, seated upon God's everlasting throne, which should lead him to bless and pity, and pour out his benedictions upon the babes of our race, brethren of his flesh. His ministers too have the sure promise, that what they do in his name he does for them. And thanks be to God, the hearts of fathers and mothers are the same, and however much they may be perverted by false doctrine and practice, still their feelings cannot be utterly destroyed. And then, though pages upon pages were written, still will these things arise, and dash away the flimsey web. And while they who are in his Church, and therefore taught of him, particularly each time they read this passage, see that he who blameth them for their practice, blameth Christ, for so it is always, "the rebukes of them that rebuked thee fell upon me." They who are outside and yet sincerely seek the truth at least, must admit, that all the force, all the influence, from this passage, goes clearly and plainly against the supposition, that infant baptism is a thing forbidden.

We have shown that while the position of the question as agitated between the Baptists and other denominations requires a prohibition, in plain words, the command being general, and the position of the Baptists themselves as reformers, arguing against a "positive and injunctive error" of practice, and bestowing upon it such titles as they do, requires the same. There is yet no such prohibition to be found. We then consider that there might be an inference possibly, which would amount to a prohibition. Now, inference being of two kinds, verbal and circumstantial, and also doctrinal, we sought after the first kind, and the reader has seen the circumstantial inference is all the other way. There are no words in the bible from which we can draw the doctrine, that the "baptism of infants is forbidden;" no circumstances from which we can argue, that our Saviour and his apostles held such a dogma; but very plain evidence that the apostles, in their blindness, approached very much to the principles oh which it would be founded, and for this incurred our Saviour's heavy rebuke and exceeding displeasure.

This, then, we count enough; we shall turn to doctrinal inference.

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