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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 II.

The Moral and Religious Effects of Infant Baptism.

IN our last chapter we discussed the spiritual effects of Infant Baptism, and examined the capacity of infants for it. In this chapter we shall examine the moral and religious effects of it, that is, the practical effects of it. In the former we spoke of the causes; in this we shall confine ourselves to these causes in their actual operation. This'may be divided into two classes, as regards the children, and as regards the parents.

Now, as the deficiency of the mode in which this subject has hitherto been examined consists mainly in this, that the relation of this sacrament to the nature of man has not been made a topic in the investigation at all, but men have confined themselves to a dry and fruitless discussion of texts and words; we shall be plainly excused when we put forward, as a preparation to this chapter, some considerations of the principle in our nature to which this sacrament corresponds, and which it is suited to draw forth and bring to perfection. Man is, at all times, a moral and religious being." say that he has a capacity for religion and religious ideas, from the very moment his mind awakens. We fear not to say this.

Now, Christianity being that outwardly which alone can bring to perfection and satisfy these moral elements in man, Christianity ought to be a thing for the child, for the boy, for the youth, for the young man. And on the Baptist theory, is it so? Certainly, we say, in practice it is not; as witness the undeniable fact that the mass of men that unite with Baptist churches, so called, are adults. Can it be so made upon their theory? It certainly seems not. And why not? Because Christianity, to be effectual upon the individual, must not only be a fact, true, and believed in, and felt, but also applied to the individual, and laid hold on by him. Now, this being universally allowed, and "conversion" being, in their notion, the means of "applying it," and "laying hold on it," we ask, is it not a fact, that in general "conversion" is for the "adult;" that of children this process cannot, in the majority of cases certainly does not, take place so early as the child sins, is not a process for infancy or childhood?

Now what is the condition of the father and the mother in such a case? The father and the mother, they are converted according to the ordinary doctrines; being so, they are called "children of the adoption, members of Christ, and heirs of the promises." And what are their children? Surely, according to their notion, they are not this, they must be "converted" before they are.

Well, let them try to have them "converted;" let them try to have them go through the same process they themselves have gone through, and the result is practically a despair of its possibility. The guilelessness, the feebleness, the inexcitability of the infant mind render the process, in the most of cases, an impossible one. It cannot be done.

What then next? To teach the child Christianity--an historical Christianity! how Christ was born, and died, eighteen hundred years ago, in Palestine, which is not New-York; and then with the deadening fact ever before their mind, that a realization and a self-application is absolutely necessary for Christianity, and that in the case of the child that cannot be; to go on telling the facts of Christ's life and death to try to get up its feelings, as we should get up feelings concerning any other good man's suffering. This is the doom of the parent.

Now what is this--when we teach "historical Christianity" without any self-application or realization, and the morality of the Gospel without a foundation of faith, merely upon the foundation of the natural moral sense of man--what is this religion? It is merely and entirely Unitarianism.

The Unitarianism of the present day is too narrow a basis of doubt, it doubts too little. They assert Christ not to be God; we must have the privilege of absolute doubt, of doubting their negative, since others deny it. And but for this fact, the natural result of this religious training would be as it was with the Puritan Unitarianism; as it is, it is a wider system, the system of non-professorism. The religious training of children by pious parents, without Infant Baptism, is a preparation for this. I have heard them wonder it should be so--it is no wonder at all.

Now, can it be otherwise? It can. Let us look at the religious feeling which, as I have said, exists at the earliest period when reason awakens. It is always attended by another, "the sense of responsibility;" and yet another, the "sense of position."

Man ever feels responsibility, in whatever position he is placed, ever feels the effects of "position." Let him be, as far as he can be, "freed," and what is the effect? He sinks, morally and mentally. Let responsibilities be placed upon him, and he rises adequate to emergencies, able to bear loads that he would have been otherwise unequal to bear. This is a fact of universal human nature, of babes as well as of men.

Let men weigh it well, and upon it they will find all nobleness and loftiness of action and of thought to rest. Let a man have no confidence in his children; let him ever fear them; let him never trust the management of money or of business to their care, and what is the result? Why it is this, that they become irresolute in habit, mean, imbecile, extravagant. This is a known result. Let them, on the contrary, feel they are trusted, they become trustworthy; let them have little matters of business committed them, they become capable of greater; let him be generous and kind-hearted to them, they never try to escape his eye by mean trickery; let them feel that he not only feeds them because he cannot help it, but that even in expenditures they have a responsibility, and they are careful and prudent. Responsibility is an element of the human mind, a moral element, at all periods of our existence.

Not only this, but it can be placed upon us, and that to a great extent; and it is not unjust, provided it does not exceed the capabilities of our nature. We see it done daily; and the way it is done is, by putting us in such a position that there is no escaping. Look at all moral training, all education, it all depends upon this; the placing of man, by others, in such a position that he cannot escape from taking up, of his own free will, responsibilities connected with it, and acting upon them--for man will escape if he can.

Now to me, this notion of "conversion," applicable as it is mainly to adults, looks very like the setting the child, for a certain portion of life, free from religious responsibility. For, we ask, upon this notion, is the unconverted child a Christian? Certainly not. Now Christians, as such, must have responsibilities peculiarly Christian, coming from the fact of their Christianity. Is not the child free from them? Undoubtedly. Nay, we may imagine the child asking--"Mother, am I a Christian?" and being answered "no," he argues, "Mother must go to church, because she is a Christian; I need not, for I am not a Christian--and it is very tiresome; mother must do so and so, but I am no Christian." It requires no very great stretch of the imagination to imagine this; whether it has taken place or not we do not know; but certain it is that this feeling must and does arise in the minds of adult non-professors, and every one that has had much intercourse with them has seen it.

Now let us take the duties and the responsibilities peculiarly Christian, and let us know which of them is unsuited and unfitting to the infant mind, to the child, and the youth. Certainly none. If prayer, and praise, and love, and faith, and obedience to God, and the outward services of religion, be Christian duties, they are duties for the child; nay, duties to which his nature, uncorrupted by the world, unalloyed by the passions, is more fitted than ours are.

But this notion puts him in no position for these, it gives him the liberty of escape, and he does escape. It is in vain to say that the authority of parents, custom, habit, the beauty and suitableness of them, will compel him; they are Christian duties, and the true and proper position in which alone he will be compelled freely to feel the responsibility, is that he be a Christian, in as true and real a sense as his parents are. The principle itself of our nature shows this.

Now taking this as a fact, that Christianity is for all ages; that the human mind, as a foundation of its moral powers, has the sense of responsibility; that to place and impose upon others, over whom we have natural authority, responsibility, is just and right, I do not and cannot see how we can avoid the conclusion that infant baptism is according to the moral nature of man; that the parents have a right to place their child in covenant with God, provided the demands of that covenant do not transcend his nature, as they do not, and so placed, they have a right to urge his position upon him as a motive to action upon his responsibilities.

To be sure, if baptism be nothing, if instead of its being a reality, and the covenant a reality, it is a form merely, then he is in no position other than before, and under no responsibilities more than before; if there be no aids to him more than before, why then there is no change in position. But if the covenant between God and man be a true covenant, binding upon both parties; if gifts and graces are given in it, then let him look to man's nature, and it corresponds with the facts asserted as to baptism and the covenant in the holy scriptures. The child may be made a Christian by baptism; may act upon it, and grow up in it, and have its motives kept before him by parents, and recognize these motives and responsibilities from earliest years.

I tell not dissenters for this to baptize their children, for with them baptism is that of "faith and repentance solely," the "baptism of John;" I tell them not because of this to baptize them, because, having only the notion of John's baptism, and believing that a further process, called "conversion," is that which makes the Christian, their Baptism of infants, not taking the true ground, must be a thing inconsistent. But because of this I do say, that the true Christian baptism, the baptism for remission of sins, wherein the child "is born again of water and the Spirit," is most in accordance with the principles of our nature; is that whereby alone Christianity is made an institution and a privilege for all ages.

Now let us take the parent and the child; we have shown the position of the parent and the child under the other system, look at their position under this. Consider the parent with the fixed thought upon his mind, that as he is in covenant with God, so is the child; that as he is a Christian, so is his babe; that as in him the Holy Spirit dwells, so in the child; that as to him sufficient grace is given, so to the child; that as he is under the guardianship of angels, so his child. Let him have these thoughts--and men have had them, and have acted upon them--and how much does it add to the relation of child and father; it makes it at once one of the loftiest and noblest thoughts, and brightest hopes. And side by side with the expansion of the child's intellect as to the relation between him and his earthly father, it places his knowledge with regard to his heavenly one; and to every act of religion which the father places upon the child, it assigns at once a reason of position in the relation of the child.

He may not at first understand it clearly, as he does not understand how his father is his father, and being such, has power over him. But just as soon as he knows what "Christian" means, just so soon the moral sense attaches the feeling of responsibility to the word; and the evidence of those whom he must believe, his father and his mother, to the effect that he is a Christian, compels him to feel that he must take up these responsibilities, and he will do it; and the gifts and graces given in true baptism, these will sustain him. And so from day to day the child will grow in grace, and never, at any one period of life, be enabled to remember the time when first he learned that God was his Father, and Christ his Redeemer; never be able to trace in his heart and soul the beginning of his faith and hope; and Christianity will be a thing not put on with an effort, and walked in with an effort, but one that has grown with his growth, and strengthened with his strength.

Need I say that I have seen such in the Church, men and women grown, that from childhood had been Christians, who had never had as to belief any morsel of doubt; as to their own position from childhood, its duties, responsibilities, and privileges, any hesitancy, but calmly and quietly had gone on from infancy to age in a realization of these responsibilities?

I will say, that if the promises attached to baptism be true, such a Christianity as this, is the one that is most suitable to our nature, and that in effect it actually and really does surpass the other. Let one be a Christian in this way, (I speak but for the Church, for there are the means for it, not elsewhere,) and there is no doubt, no fear, no hesitancy, all which cling and hold fast to him (in a greater or less degree) that has been converted in maturer years. There is, too, a greater consistency of life; a kind of saintliness and sweetness in temper and feeling, that attaches itself to them who have been Christians from infancy under the Church's teachings. I use the word "saintliness" for want of a better, to express a peculiar tone of temper that I have ever noticed in the pious in the Church whose piety dates from their Christian baptism in infancy--a quality observed by myself, and noticed by several to me.

Furthermore, with regard to feeling this has the advantage. I see the father converted with great labor and great struggle acting upon the Gospel, taking up its feelings and acting on them until they become his own. Let him only be the Christian, and not his child, and these feelings terminate in him; let him estimate and consider the child as a Christian, and the child think itself so to be, and lie so, and the direct effect of this is, that from imitation, from affection, from the thousand influences by which in the home the child is moulded, the feelings of the father, his hopefulness, or his faith, or his humility, become the inheritance of the child.

I might advance still further--I might show how, upon this fact of infant baptism, all Christian education depends, and how all Christian education attempted without this for childhood must fail; but enough has been said to set the candid inquirer upon the track; enough to have suggested to him the elements of many thoughts upon the subject, which I hope will confirm my views.

We proceed, therefore, to the moral and religious effects upon the parents. There is no doubt that there are two views in which the household may be taken--the merely physical view, and the Christian view. In the merely physical view, the house is "a certain place to shelter a woman and a man, who, for mutual advantages, are united together." The husband is he who provides the elements of comfort, the wife she who arranges and combines them. He marries for a housekeeper, for an attendant upon his comforts, for the station of respectability given in society by marriage, for a thousand things, all which terminate in self; and she for a comfortable home, for a protector, for station, or family, or for a hundred things more, all which terminate in self: convenience, comfort, advantages merely physical, these are the motives which cause the most of marriages, these are the grounds whereupon their continuance is placed.

Yet still this is not openly avowed to one another by the parties; it is hidden from one another; only in the consciousness of the individual does it lie concealed.

And as God made man, so in man's heart there is a longing and a searching after the higher truths of his revelation; and in despite of all false theories, will the heart of man, even untaught, search out to itself some faint twinkling of the truth. And so in despite of this notion, which is the notion that most at these days profess and act upon, the notion, I say, "that marriage is a civil contract for supply of mutual wants," in despite of this notion, which I honestly say, is my opinion, places the union of two human beings on the ground of the union of a pair of animals, permanancy being the only thing in which it differs, in despite of this which makes us rational brutes, animals with reason; still the heart of man will attach something of sanctity, something of holiness to the union. The husband's love towards the wife will still have something of the reverence, something of the deep feeling of veneration, something of the religious respect for the wife, which the true scripture doctrine realized as a sentiment of the heart, would give in its fulness. And the wife will still have for the husband that feeling akin to worship, which that true doctrine inspires, the highest feeling of the heart towards a created being that the man is capable of. Imperfect are these sentiments, and not clearly understood or distinctly held, since their foundation is denied; but still in some degree they will exist.

And what then, the reader may say, is the true doctrine? That plainly laid down in the scriptures, "that these two are one flesh;" that the two individuals, being two, are yet one, a man and a woman, yet one humanity--one not only in union of interest, will, affections, sympathies, for this is a figurative oneness; but one so as no other oneness is; one so, that by Christ's law, nothing save death can disunite them; one so, that the unbelieving wife or husband is sanctified by the believer. One as Christ and his Church are one; one in a mystery; that is to say, the fact is to us impossible, yet as being revealed to us by the word of God, as confirmed too by the instinctive feeling of our nature, we receive it as the work of God, while the means whereby it is so, the grounds, the consequences of it, these lie far beyond as deep hidden in the limitless power and the inscrutable wisdom of the Eternal.

This is the Christian doctrine of marriage, and by this the union is holy and full of grace, an union which is so, whether we feel it or not, and works out its effects even upon those denying it, the feeling and modes of thinking above alluded to, even on those the most unconscious of it.

The house then of man is no lodging of a pair of rational animals, no tavern wherein the husband is a permanent boarder for the money he brings in, and the wife a permanent boarder for the work she does; but nearer to a temple it comes, and the husband and the wife are priests of God, declaring to one another and to the world by their union the mysterious power and mysterious wisdom of the Almighty, and by their feeling produced by this fact, manifesting that there is upon the earth holiness, and reverence, and worship, and affection, independent altogether of self.

Man of sentimentality! were it not better you took this as a plain fact, kept it in your memory, and acted upon, than delight yourself with vague luxuriancies of feeling, which only in this have their reality? Man of romance! think you not this a more permanent foundation for your love than the false floating notion of Thomas Moore, and Byron, and Bulwer? Men of poetry! Provencal troubadours of old, and German minnesingers, from whom, by many a channel, you drain your notions, on this founded their noblest thoughts, which to them were but the faint utterance of their deep feeling of this religious truth, and to you are "pretty poetry," and "sweet thoughts."

And as a proof of this, you may search through the ancients from Homer down to Euripides, and in none of them all will you find what we Christians call "love; "in ail of them you will find what they call love, to be merely animal feeling. All the scattered nobleness of thought and feeling as to the love there may be in poetry or romance, all take their origin remotely or directly from the Christian doctrine and the Christian sentiment of marriage. Methinks it is time when we look at the enormous number of divorces, that men were standing upon the Christian doctrine again, and giving up the "boarding-house," or "mutual permanent-tavern "theory.

But this doctrine and this sentiment are, the "possession of the Church." We naturally have it, and easily and unconsciously fall into it. To others, although plainly asserted in the bible, it is a "falsehood," an "absurdity," a thing "that cannot be." It is nevertheless true.

Now in view of this truth, let us look at the relation of the infant to the home. In view of this, and this alone, which as we have shown, our nature yearns after and confirms, "the home is a holy place," not merely consecrated by the affections and unconsecrated when they are not present, but of itself in itself holy. In view of this, what the apostle said is true, "your children are holy." The marriage is holy, the home is holy, the children are holy.

Take the worst of men and they in action will recognize these facts as true; the foulest debaucher will hide his debaucheries from his family; the filthiest speaker before his wife and his children will abstain from his filthy speaking; they feel the holiness of wife, of children, and of the home; nay, even the heathen poet, plunged in that horrid vortex of all vice that is foul, all debauchery that is abominable, which drowned the last days of ancient Rome, could feel this of nature when he said, "maxima debetur pueris reverentia"--the deepest reverence is due to children.

Now taking these facts as truths, who is there that does not see the fact, that to the Christian parent, Christian baptism of infants is that which completes and brings to its full and thorough perfection, the relation of the parent to the child, as the same ordinance coupled with the other sacrament of Christ's body and blood, is that which fills up the relation of husband, and wife, and home. In fact, I will say, the baptism of the infant, and this alone, can establish the relation of the home in its Christian fulness.

Men will say, "O! we can feel all this without baptizing our infants, just as well as water can flow in a channel to which there is no fountain." Men will avoid responsibilities just as much as children. By man's position lie should give his children a Christian education. It is hard to give such to those that are no Christians. No Christians, say some, because they are not converted--none, say I, because they are not baptized.

Let them be baptized with Christian baptism, and what are the thoughts of the father? Here they are unconscious of their privileges as Christians, just as they have been a little while ago unconscious of their privileges as human beings, yet having them. And I and their mother have taught them these, have watched over the first glimpses of intelligence as to the outward world, and aided this consciousness as to earthly things, should I not as to heavenly things? I have been their father, and they called me father before they knew what father meant--is there aught incongruous in their being children of God, and calling him "father" before they know what that means? and is it not my duty as with regard to myself, their earthly father? I have awakened their knowledge as to the one, so do with regard to the other. They are sanctified by the Spirit all unconsciously, should not the parent draw forth this fact as a motive into their minds? They are under the guardianship of God's peculiar providence, is not this fact a ground for the parent's instruction as to faith?

Yes, I say, faith in children, faith in babes, true saving faith, this the parent, knowing infant baptism as a fact, may produce unhesitating, unwavering, unshaken faith, such as man converted in maturer years possibly can have. For all Christian virtues and feeling in children, Christian baptism in its peculiar Christian meaning and power, is a means to the parent, and to himself the completion of his duty as a parent.

Let the responsibility be placed upon him, his position leads him to realize it, and he will realize it; he will feel that "children of heaven and of Christ," not merely of his own person, are entrusted to him, heirs not barely of his earthly property, but of Christ, are given him. That his house is a temple, and himself the priest of it, the delegate and representative of the Father most high.

And knowing that baptism is no empty sign, no mere form, but the work of the Almighty Father, the Almighty Son, the Almighty Spirit, he will let no thoughts of possible coincidence of adverse circumstances dismay him, no considerations of rebellious nature or unruly wills trouble him, but go on in faith in God, and do that duty towards them, which even his natural feelings tell him should be done; he undertakes the responsibility which, as it is not too great for him, so he has a right to undertake it, and can fulfil it.

And upon himself behold the effect. Teaching, he is taught; training, he is trained. The questions of a Christian child, coming from the heart unhackneyed in the ways of the world, these are instructions for the greatest and the deepest-thoughted. Nay, I do believe, that as to the Christian husband, the intercourse of a Christian wife will give a lone to his piety which otherwise it could not have, so to the Christian father, the teaching of his "Christian children," born again of the Spirit, will communicate a great deal of that childlike spirit, which is the character, according to our Saviour, of true Christianity.

And one reason why this is wanting, why the present Christianity is so fierce, fanatical, and excited, I think to be, because Christian baptism is so rare. For under it we are a "royal priesthood." The Spirit under it speaks from the father to the child, from the child to the father, from the wife to the husband, from the husband to the wife. From all founts of natural affection, from all sources of happiness, the Spirit too of God flows, for it takes possession of them all, and makes of them all issues of its grace.

And highly responsible and lofty will be the feeling of father and mother, knowing these things; not a grim religious home, as under the old Puritans, when the father, in truth and fact, was the representative of a God of absolute decrees of predestination to heaven and reprobation to hell, but a Christian house full of all tenderness and mutual sympathy. The child at once a child, and in Christ a brother, endowed with the same privileges, and blessed with the same Spirit. When as under the ordinance of the Spirit of God, the fruits of the Spirit prevail. "For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law." (Gal. v. 22, 23.)

Let them who have seen both say, whether these are the fruits of the puritanic home or of the home of the non-professors.

Men will say, we have not seen these things. Well, we say, as we have said before, there is but little Christian baptism in the land; we say too, there is but little realization or acknowledgment of the Christian doctrine, as to the family among those called professors. We say too, look at the doctrine of Christian baptism, look at the Christian doctrine of the family, and these acknowledged and realized, ever bring forth these fruits, and we have seen them.

And as our conclusion, we will say, from this whole chapter, "no Christianity is full and complete in the Spirit and the temper of Christ, that has not begun in childhood." No Christians that are parents are full and complete in the Spirit of our Lord, who do not give their children Christian baptism, and undertake and act upon the responsibility it imposes.

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