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 V. Part II.

The Benefits to Society of Infant Baptism.

I NEED not say that, having shown how the ordinance of Christian baptism, truly received and truly appreciated, ennobles and exalts to the greatest possible pitch the relation of the husband to the wife, and of both to the children; having shown how its effects are the rendering Christian education a possible thing, which is now impossible; and how it produces, as its result, a tone of Christianity having truly the odor of the Spirit about it, calm and gentle and peaceable, unwavering in faith, and making its great end the works of the Gospel; having shown these things, I need not say I have shown many benefits arising from it to society.

I am not to prove these things, I only indicate them, and this is enough. For I know that there are many good and true men and women who will read this book, to whom, perhaps, at first these things will be startling, and yet who by looking over their own experience, will find many more indications of the truth of the things I have said, than a hundred volumes such as this could supply. I know, too, that there is in this country a religious society, the Church, whose inheritance not to be taken away is the ordinance of Christian baptism; and I know that truer and truer, more and more practical every day to her members are becoming, because of external things, the truths she maintains; and I have seen that this sacrament, as applied to infants, is every day more felt in its power and effects among us. To the increase, then, of these two feelings I trust for the "proof," if it may be so called, of these sentiments herein expressed, and leave janglings, and disputes, and debates to those whom these things please. The bible and the nature of man, the Church of God and the world of God's providences, the home and its elements of holiness, these are advocates on my side which must be heard; and in their increasing power, and continual emancipation from the interpretation of sect and party, will give a force to things I have herein said, which I cannot appreciate, but which I know must ultimately avail. To these advocates I have hitherto appealed, and to them I leave my cause.

I might stop here, but there is a view upon this point which, in my mind, is so important in a social point of view, that I cannot refrain from laying it before my readers. It has been seen that the doctrine of baptism supposes the conferring of privileges upon those unconscious of them, privileges which are real and true, yet of which the possessors of them have no feeling.

It will be seen that these privileges of the infant in the spiritual covenant, are analogous to the privileges of the infant citizen in the political covenant, both had, in truth and reality, by those who are unconscious of their existence, that both are just, inasmuch as they imply responsibilities to which the nature of the infant man is adequate. Every one will acknowledge, that in the case of the infant citizen these privileges would be idly conferred, but that there is an institution, the State, which trains him up to them, and educates him to both these things, to act upon them, and by action to know and feel them as his; and also, he that shall look to the matter closely, will see that there is a certain influence that proportionates in the infant and growing citizen the responsibilities exactly to the privileges, and the capability of acting upon these privileges.

Now when we come to see what that influence is, and by what name it is to be called, we shall see at once it is "law." We shall see, too, that it is an influence from which, in the State, none can be free; through all the institutions of society it speaks, for these are its embodiments, the magistrate, the husband, the parent, all are mouth-pieces of this eternal spirit. To all men it speaks, to all classes, and all individuals it reaches, even to the babe on its mother's knee. To the good it is the secret plastic force of society, which works upon them almost unconsciously, framing and forming them ever with a gentle and omnipresent influence, unfelt, yet not the less real; to the bad it is a force external and severely felt, sternly thundering out its penalties, its sanctions, its punishments, placing against them a barrier they cannot leap, and calling to its aid, even when men the most reject it, powers in man's own breast, in the feelings of his fellows, in society, and even in the elements themselves, which do and will execute its decrees.

Men have felt this, and felt there is something divine in "law;" and the loftiest and the holiest have concluded, that this that we call "law," is neither more nor less than the influence and operation of the will, and power, and justice of God.

Now this fact--which we take as a fact--is that which completes the circle of facts which, with regard to the infant and unconscious citizen, render the possession of privileges, and the consequent necessity of duties, a just one to him. 1st, There are privileges to the unconscious. 2d, There are duties and responsibilities. 3d, These duties are such as his nature is adequate to, and capable of bearing. 4th, There are positive institutions which educate him to the knowledge and. the practice of these duties. And, 5th, Then there is a teacher, the "law," that, through all these institutions, speaks, and exerts an uniform formation influence.

Take away any of these conditions, and the first fact, that he is unconscious, invalidates all the rest, and places him in a wrong and unnatural position. But suppose them all to exist, as they all do, and the fact of his unconscious position has in it no absurdity, but is a most wise provision, and a defence to his rights.

Now it has been shown, that the doctrine of baptism embraces analogous facts to these, as one should imagine it ought to do, from the state of Christianity being represented as a "covenant," a "kingdom," a "nation." There is a plain assertion of privileges in the scripture, as I have shown, of which we are for the most part unconscious; there are duties and responsibilities for all ages springing from these real privileges; these duties are such as our nature is adequate to; there are positive institutions to educate to the knowledge and the acting upon these duties; and, lastly, there is, as in the world which is governed by law, a spirit, which, by means of these institutions, educates, and trains, and governs.

All these conditions are specified clearly and distinctly in the holy scriptures--in the privileges of baptism--Christian duties for all ages--the family and the Church to train, and the Holy Spirit as working through and by both. And these, fully seen and fully appreciated, make up the complete cycle of the conditions and elements of the justice of infant citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, as of infant citizenship in the state on earth. These, in their reality and truth, carry out that practice through the life, in the one case as in the other.

Now I do not say, nor do the administrators of the baptism of John pretend to say, that their baptism is a baptism of privileges, but a baptism of declaration; hence, this being wanting, all the rest is grace. The Church is not an institution, but a voluntary association. Their churches speak not with the same voice, but with different voices; there is not, and there cannot be unity, and spiritual law there is not. Now this being so, it were folly to baptize children--a sheer inconsistency. Whatever arguments they may use, it is certain that if there be not one church, one faith, one spiritual law, the baptism of infants is a thing that does no good, but is unjust.

From these considerations it may be seen how closely connected infant baptism is with the doctrine and the reality of one Church; and how there must ever be, in those that have left that doctrine and practice, a tendency to deny the doctrine of infant baptism.

Having made these remarks, which tend to clear the way, we go to consider the effects of the doctrine of baptism, especially in reference to infant baptism, upon a subject most important at the present day, the subject of spiritual law and discipline. We have shown how nature makes the parent an educater and a religious law-giver to the child; we have shown how the doctrine of Christian baptism (not the baptism of John) brings out and completes the natural position in Christianity of the parent that from the nature of the home, and the relation of parent to child, this is not unjust to the child, but right. And we proceed to examine its bearing upon a great want of society at the present day, the want of a "spiritual law," a practical, uniform law of Christianity, that shall teach the Gospel to all classes, as the "law" teaches and trains all classes in and to itself.

The institutions of this that we call Christianity, every one will admit, are divided, society against society, church against church, doctrine against doctrine; they utter not the one voice as to doctrine, or as to practice, they are not manifold teachers of the one spirit; they are opposite. True it is of all the so-called orthodox sects, they teach morality; and yet that morality is in no respect different from the morality of non-religious men; it is a morality which is partly that of negation, and partly is the mere morality of the natural feelings.

There is a Christian morality, something higher and loftier than this. We have read a good deal of the history of ancient nations, and we have no hesitation in saying, that we know not of any Christian nation yet, whose morality is at all equal to that of the Roman nation, the "plebs Romana," from the time, we will say, of the expulsion of the kings till the death of the Gracchi. We believe that the morality of Christianity has never yet been the morality of any nation, nationally, but only of individuals; that it can be, and that it will be in this our land, but is not yet; and that if it comes, it will come in no other way than this, by the production within Christianity itself of a "spiritual law," analogous to the "law" which in society has been at work so unremittingly since the revolution.

Now let us look at the present state of the religious world, as to the effect of the "law" of Christianity. Now what is the fact as to religious societies, are they institutions that exercise any such influence? Certainly not. They are voluntary associations, the will of the mass, this rules; their laws and rules are those of mere convenience, of mere order; they are neither educating nor training societies. There is no authority, no law in them, their ministers but seldom approach the people in the character of authority; nay, points that have been settled in the Christian Church hundreds of years ago, these are brought up again, and unsettled. Now what we say is this, that in the present Christianity there is no characteristic difference between a professor of religion and a moral non-professor; the one is as the other, save that he does sometimes wear a graver face, and is a little more set, a little more bigoted. But the main fact is this, that they differ not in morality.

One in the civilized state is differenced at once to the eye from a savage, by a thousand things in his whole being, small in themselves it may be, but still very plain and very manifest, and which to every one bear evidence of the influence of "law" upon him; so it ought to be with the Christian--so it is not.

And the difference between the savage and the civilized man is in two things--first, "self-subjection." The appetites, passions, desires, in the savage rule; and these, momentarily as they arise; the civilized man has them under subjection, "law" has trained them to the uses nature intended them for; self-restraint is a perpetual evidence of the workings of "law" upon the man of civilization. Again, "law" in the civilized man subdues the will--the man's will is not all, he may wish and desire, but still "law" has taken his will into control, it fetters it by the will of thousands; the savage's own will is his sole motive to action.

Now I ask, wherein is the Christian at the present day more self-denying than the non-professor? Self-denial being the foundation of Christian morality, are not the mass of Christians just as luxurious, just as selfish, just as little subdued, as the mass of the world? Is it not a fact that the training of self-denial prescribed by our Saviour, Christ, and his apostles, under the shape of fasting, is done away with, and even scorned and flouted at? and that there is no greater evidence of it in professors than in non-professors? This, every one must admit, is a fact.

Let us look again at the law. Riches, according to the Gospel, is the root of all evil. We know how often Christ and his apostles warned against its influence; we ask, then, what power has Christianity upon the rich, or over them?

Men may say very great--I say just none at all. It is not the rich that support the Gospel, but the poor; the rich give not in proportion to their riches. Take any religious society, divide the property held by them into two parts as nearly as may be, putting on one side the two or three extreme rich who have incomes or properties equal to those of the mass together, and those of the mass upon the other side, and ten times a greater proportion comes from the mass than from these. The mechanic of five hundred dollars a year gives his ten or twenty dollars; the man of five thousand gives his fifty--and who rule but these? It is time that there should be as much justice in religious societies as there is in mercantile companies.

Now, we will say, a rich man is divorced for other cause than adultery; he seeks to marry again--where is the ordinary clergyman who dare refuse to perform the marriage ceremony? or, if he did, where is the support that would give him, in Christianity, that protection which is given to every constable in the state in doing his duty?

Again, with regard to the discipline over the very rich, where is it? The criminal law, the law of public opinion, self-interest, will keep a man from the grosser vices; but within these limits there is a multitude of offences against the law of Christ--where is the power of the law of Christ in ordinary against these things in the exceedingly rich? Know we not that a man may do a multitude of these things, and yet, because of the competition among religious societies, especially if he be rich, he will still be able to remain? or if he goes, because he is rich, has influence, is fair and plausible, he shall be received with gladness in others? So that now, to men of the world who are shrewd in their profession, the fact of a man being a professor of religion, is no prima facie evidence that he does not break contracts when he can do it safely, that he does not defraud, lie, oppress the poor, and extortionate. And the richer he is the less certainty there is, for this thing we call Christianity has but little power over the rich. I speak this in sorrow, but still it must be spoken.

People are ready to rest in present evils, to bear with them, to say these things are unavoidable; certainly they are unavoidable under a Christianity that gives no privileges, that has no unity, that is sect-rent. But under a Christianity at unity, under a Christianity that is founded upon a covenant real and true, they are not unavoidable; under a Christianity that has "one faith," and therefore one Church; "one baptism," and that a "baptism for the remission of sins," (Christian baptism,) these evils are conquerable.

In old Christianity, which was so, the emperor of half the world, in despite of all power and all wealth, had to bow before the "law" of Christianity as the meanest transgressor, (Theodosius.) And again in a hundred instances the same thing took place with the lords of the world. The same thing may take place again, nay, shall; but under a Christianity having these elements alone, not under the other.

We have said enough to prove that the main deficiency is the deficiency of a spiritual law.

We now shall go on to examine the influence of Christian baptism in producing this law, conformably to that text of Paul--"One Lord, one faith, one baptism;" and we plainly say that we understand it to mean neither more nor less than this, one God, one faith, (and therefore one Church) and one baptism, (for the remission of sins, that is, Christian baptism.) We will take the child first having Christian baptism; his position in a covenant having privileges, and responsibilities, in a home which is by its nature, as defined by the scriptures, holy, under parents, we will say, baptized with the same baptism, is essentially that of one "under law." The business of his parents, to draw forth his privileges into action and duty, is essentially legal, a training in the law of Christ. Day by day, in the smallest things as well as the most important, to recognize that law, to be conscious of it, to act upon its motives, to live by its rules, these it is their business to teach him as having authority, and his business to learn.

The covenant was first with a family, and so at the present day the family is to the young citizen of the kingdom the first influence' of the "law of Christ" upon him. Strictly and rigidly, in the family under Christian baptism, is he under the "law of Christ." Unity, manifestly under such a Christianity then, must be in the home, for all motives must lead the parent to confer upon all his children the "one baptism." Doctrine, and feeling, and principle, all, in him who acknowledges this baptism, lead him to confer it upon all.

And because of this baptism being for all ages, the Christianity that holds it must be a teaching Christianity, an authoritative Christianity, a Christianity with one faith. The Church then steps in; her prayers are teachings, (at the same time he prays, he learns.) Doctrines, which a divided Christianity disputes about, these he is certain upon from the form of his liturgy; he doubts not Christ is God, he doubts not the atonement, he doubts not eternal punishment; with the one baptism ever is connected the "one creed," and the fact of a liturgy as the means and instruments of the one faith.

Let us then consider the motives of him under a covenant, and we shall see that they imply "law, a spiritual law," as the foundation; they actually and really produce that feeling and that opinion. Christian baptism has, as I have said, privileges, it is a covenant. Now in ordinary what is it that draws forth the feeling of law in men, in a state? This, that they have privileges; law defines, guards, protects these. Having life, having liberty, having property, these make a man feel the worth of law, these make him think upon it and uphold it.

Christian baptism confers privileges; the knowledge of this fact produces the same feeling. My sins are remitted, I have that privilege; does not the knowledge of that fact make me obedient to the law of Christ, and produce a course of action in me according to his royal law, the law of faith, and works, and charity, that may retain me in this position? I am born of the Spirit; feeling this as a fact, will I not be obedient to the law of Christ? I am within the covenant; will not this motive make me struggle to remain within it? I am a member of Christ; must I not labor and pray to make my calling and election sure? And so with regard to all the other privileges of the baptized, they are motives that directly lead forth and draw into practice the belief in a royal law of liberty, the practice of a clear and definite Christian and spiritual law.

And then, in direct bearing upon this, comes the great fact, that a covenant with God once concluded, cannot be undone. Men talk of the un-spirituality, the want of power in the Church doctrine. They know it not. Upon this the Christian can take his stand with a face to the individual, nothing else can give. This completes the practical force of the Gospel. If men are made by holy baptism members of Christ, children of God, inheritors of the kingdom of heaven--then has the minister a power for good, a moral power not to be estimated. "You are," says the Sectarian, "by your faith, all this;" "well, my faith is lost of course--I am no longer this--no longer bound by the duties that attach themselves to these relations; what shall I do?" "Pray for faith, obtain it, and then all these privileges are assured to you again." This is the manifest way upon the Sectarian notion. It seems very like setting the man or woman free from the responsibilities in the mean time.

Well, we take a different view, we say, "you cannot undo that which is done--you are still a child of God--rebellious by your own account, and disobedient; by remaining so, you subject yourself to the penalty--cease then sinning, and cease being disobedient--a member of Christ, take care of being an unworthy member--an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, beware of losing the inheritance." Which is the more practical way? that which tells the more effectually every one can see. The last manifestly supposes the idea of law.

Now to these considerations I add another fact, which a great many deny, but which their position leads them to deny, that there is and ever has been in the world one visible body, the holy Catholic Church, holding one faith, one ministry, teaching by authority, one baptism, one tone of feeling; that this Church is founded by the Holy Spirit, and has the one apostolic succession. I add this fact, for which I refer to the ordinary books upon Episcopacy, Hobart, or Kip's Double Witness of the Church, or any other of the ordinary books, and then I have the circle completed, which makes the baptism of infants a true and real instrument toward the spread of the Gospel. This, in its teachings, its educational, and legislative, and corrective capacity, completes the circle. This is ever inclusive, it tends to draw all others within it; it is holy, the privileges it confers are those spiritual ones which, in their realization, tend to holiness; its action upon the individual is such as to draw forth these privileges into consciousness as motives to holiness, and these motives to reduce to a spiritual love of holiness. It is Catholic, universal, tending to become of itself universal, to spread universally, as well as being the same in all ages and all times.

Now let us put these elements together, and we find the amount is this:--First, Christian baptism is the conferring of actual privileges. Second, These imply duties for all ages. Third, These duties are those to which nature is adequate, and therefore can be justly imposed. Fourth, These are positive institutions, the family and the Church, whose business it is to train to a knowledge of these duties. Fifth, The Church is "one" Catholic and Apostolic--one showing the spirit of law, which is and must be one--Catholic, fitted for all natures, times, places, and persons--and Apostolic, having authority. Take any or either of these conditions away, and the baptism of infants is an absurdity; let them exist as facts, and infant baptism is right and just. And all of them are plainly asserted in the scriptures.

Ye that deny or doubt the baptism of infants, examine yourselves, and you will see that you deny or doubt some one of these five facts. These are the motives for your denial, whatsoever arguments you may use.

Now let us see how and what effect Christian baptism would have upon the state of Christianity as an universal thing. The effect would manifestly be at the very first, that all children of Christian parents would be brought under a training peculiarly Christian, a freedom from doubt, and fear, and unbelief, a habit of ruling themselves after the law of Christ from infancy, more or less perfect, according to the character and knowledge, but still practical and at unity, calm, and quiet, and determined, obedient to the law of Christ, and zealous, yet opposed to excitement and fanaticism. The generation of their fathers passes away, they come to engage in matters of religion, to be the communicants of churches; there is one spirit among them, the spirit of unity in faith and feeling; the tone of Christianity is exalted, it speaks in one law, and from generation to generation the spirit of the fathers falls upon the children; it spreads, and once more we have "one faith, one God, one baptism," the gift of a saintliness and holiness in Christianity, such as certainly we see not now.

This is a thing not to be done by societies or by united efforts, or by any one thing but this, that each parent should give to his children Christian baptism, and act up himself to the duties that baptism imposes.

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