To those who may read this treatise upon the subject of infant baptism, the author wishes to submit some preliminary considerations as regards both his own position and the mode in which he wishes to approach the subject
And the first and most important is this: he comes not to the subject as a controversialist. He has the strongest convictions of the evil of that, which in the present day is called "controversy." He sees that in the majority of cases it is not a discussion of the truth, to be perused and weighed by the layman of either side, but a personal conflict between two minds for victory, regarded by themselves and by their respective partizans solely in the light of champions of party and intellectual gladiators. In the usual course of such combats, the writer has seen many evils. Strong assertions of fact where such facts do not exist; innocently made, because taken upon the authority or argumentation of standard writers of the sect, and yet untrue and doing all the work of falsehood. Persevering imputations of consequences, which logically should follow, and yet do not, because our nature, originally formed of God, does and will in practice correct, to some degree, the natural and logical effects of the worst doctrines. Personal imputations then of evil motives, and venomous assaults upon character and reputation; and, worst of all, the little paltry literary maneuvering that attends upon all such combats, the small logic and smaller wit, the flippancy and personal snubbing which nowadays seem inevitable to such argumentation, and because of which, at the present day, the grave, the sober, the earnest, and the high minded, detest the very name of controversy justly and with sufficient cause.
These evils, some of them unavoidable in "controversy," at all times, and some the peculiar products of our own age, might be borne with, if controversy were of any probable service. But when we look at the state of Christianity in our days, sect-divided into a multitude of jarring fragments, because of this fact, the natural consequences of controversy seem to attend upon it in their worst form, and secondly, it seems wholly useless. For the men most likely to enter into controversy and carry it on with ability, the clergy of the various denominations, are bound and pledged to their several opinions, be they true or false, by ties which would require a great deal more than the argumentation of one antagonist mind to break the slightest of them. The clergyman who has inclination and abilities to defend his opinions, which are the opinions of his sect, is bound to them by affections, by his friendships, by his interests: all these things, which must have their weight, tie him down, and attach him in weightiest degree to that opinion he defends. These things must have their weight with all.
Moreover, the very subject of debate, in his opinion, is connected with the highest and holiest purposes, even with the salvation of the world; and the fact that he sustains it against a multitude of opponents, makes him almost unchangeable. Furthermore, when he has once entered into the field, if he has any appearance of success, right or wrong, he gets the applause of his denomination; he is a champion, so esteemed and so rewarded; however good and pious a man he may therefore be, vanity must come in, self-esteem and pride. The angry passions then are roused by the reply; and so the truth is forgotten, the man's own position is to be maintained, and that at all risks, and the strife goes on in this style till the sense of decency in the public permits them no longer to peruse abuse and violence couched in polished and courtly language. Who ever heard in this day of a controversy decided, or a controversialist converted by his opponent?
Again, if we look at it in another point of view, we shall see the inutility of controversy more plainly still. Controversy is a discussion. It is just the same as the pleading of a cause, save that the arguments are in writing. It therefore presupposes a judge having authority to decide. Where in. the present state of Christianity is the judge? Between a Churchman and a Baptist, a Romanist and a Methodist, entering into controversy, where is the judge? Does any one suppose that because the Baptist, or Romanist, or Methodist champion, is vanquished by his opponents, that their very respectable denominations will turn round and deter, mine that their peculiar distinguishing doctrines for which he combated, are unscriptural and untrue? Surely not; they will do no such thing. It would be the height of folly to expect it. They may by a great stretch of candor allow their champion to have been defeated, but it is the champion personally, and not his cause. If there were a judge having authority, instead of antagonist sects merely, as is the case in controversies carried on between members of the same denomination, it would be otherwise; then the matter in dispute would be the matter decided upon, not the personal merits of the pleaders. If Christianity were one, controversy, as such, would be useful, whatsoever temptations there might be to the controversialist to fall into the faults above mentioned; inasmuch as principles once settled would henceforth be no longer mooted points, but be acted upon as principles of life. Now sect-rent as it is, there can be no decision between opposing sects, because there can be no judge.
But some one will say, Public Opinion is the judge. In matters of political concern it may be. For then there is an ultimate court of appeal, and an ultimate authority to decide and settle disputes, and men must bow to its decisions. But religion in this country is by the law of the land a matter between a man and his conscience. My neighbor, therefore, by the law of the land is no judge of my religious opinions; has no authority at all; I may hold any opinions I please, on any motives I please, and with any realization of them in practice I please, provided they are not opposed to the morality of common law; that is, provided they are neither a "nuisance" or an "injury" to my neighbor. He has therefore no authority to decide upon them, whether right or wrong, within these limits; and all respectable sects keep within these. No arithmetic therefore can give to my neighbor collectively, that is, the Public, the right which the one individual does not possess legally. My neighbor may think my opinions or my practice upon these opinions veiy silly or very pernicious, but except he can prove an actual injury done to himself, his business is to let me alone; and the same is the case with ten or ten millions.
But besides this, the constitutional and common law view of the case, does any one in his senses suppose that I or any other sincere Christian will be willing and content to trust the authoritative decision of the dearest and most vital points of Christian truth--points to us of such importance that our estimation of their value prevents Christians from being united in one body--to the opinion of a mass of men, full one half of whom have no interest in Christ our Lord, whether by baptism, profession, or any thing else, and the remainder, save our own denomination, are pledged against us by all the ties of sect?
No; controversialists may well be pleased when the "public "applauded, for they know then that so much of an impression is made upon the mass in favor of the opinions they seek to maintain. They may therefore, by a kind of innocent hypocrisy or unconscious deceit, make the public the judge. But in sincerity and truth, the absurdity of taking such a body as a real judge of controversy, is one which no man aikl no denomination in its senses, at the present day, can be guilty of.
I for one shall be guilty of no such hypocritical conduct. I appeal not to the public. I bow not to its decisions. I belong to that body whose business it is to correct and conquer public opinion, and vanquish majorities--the kingdom of heaven--the one Catholic and Apostolic Church of God--the little leaven that leaveneth the whole lump.
The Bible then is the judge, of course; the fountain of our faith. All Protestant denominations agree in this. Personally the author gives the fullest consent to this truth, and cannot better express his opinion than in the words of one of those articles which, in these days, some belonging to our communion in England, have most dishonestly tried to misinterpret! Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, or may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be counted requisite or necessary to Salvation. Art. 6. This is the opinion of our Church as to the Bible.
Still in the opinions formed upon matters of faith from the Bible by any man or body of men, there are two things which go to make it up, the infalliblo word of God, and the fallible mind of the individual. Public opinion, therefore, upon the Bible, this I do not count authoritative; this I will not submit to. Nor do I imagine that a Baptist or a Methodist will much disagree with me in this decision.
These then being my opinions as to controversy, I come not before the readers of this book as a controversialist assailing others or defending. And I hope that he who reads this book will find that throughout it, I shall act up to the determination here laid down. For with God's grace no one shall find here any of the jangling, the bitterness, or the malignity of controversy. If the book shall bo assailed, I shall make no reply; only this I shall do, read the work of my opponent as carefully and as candidly as I can. And as no man is infallible, if errors in fact or in reasoning are detected, I shall correct them if the book goes on to another edition. For with controversy, properly so called, I would have nothing to do; of its evils I have the fullest sense; of its uselessness at the present day I am convinced in the fullest manner; and I do conceive that truth ever must be victorious; and with truth upon my side I am content to go on quietly, believing that neither my reputation, nor the cause I support, will perish even if I make no reply to the rejoinders of a hundred exulting antagonists.
I am the further established in this opinion by another consideration, which I shall take the liberty of submitting. One of my strongest objections to controversy has been its negative and combative character. It assails and refutes error, while itself may be in the wrong, upon the very point in debate. For truth is but one, error is manifold. If a man establishes one truth, he destroys a thousand errors in as many different directions. Let him only assail error, he may be just as far wrong himself.
I have, therefore, no sympathy for the assaults of such men as Voltaire upon superstition. I care nothing and give nothing for them. This principle I have acted upon in my ministerial life. I have sought to establish truth, and never assailed error save in this way. I have ever preached what I considered the truth, and left it to combat the error; and thereby I have found great advantage; for all men that are sincere in these days are seeking for the truth; and truth so declared comes without offence, and must ultimately be successful. The same course I shall pursue in this book.
Many persons may think that the course which I have thus marked out for myself to pursue is a very strange and impracticable one; nor will this opinion be diminished when they consider that the subject of it, the baptism of infants, is one of those subjects the most controverted at the present day. Yet, perhaps, a statement of my own personal position will in some degree explain this to them.
The author is a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and this from a free and deliberate choice, because he believes her organization to be of divine origin, and her doctrines, her form of worship, her tone of religious feeling, the most in accordance with the bible and the Church in the purest ages. This conviction, taken up as he believes, sincerely and upon due examination, has not decreased in strength, but all reading and all examination has tended to strengthen it, as well as all experience, and all emotions and feelings. He is therefore willing to abide by her standards taken in the plain literal sense, and to take them as his standards of religious truth. The reader therefore knows where to find him. The Book of Common Prayer is in the hands of tens of thousands. These are the writer's doctrines, these his opinions, and from them, taken in the plain literal sense, he does not shrink. A position at once free and bound; freely taken and freely maintained, and yet to which he is bound. Such a thing there is, howsoever the present lovers of unrestrained liberty may deny it; for armor of iron and steel upon the unwilling is shackles and manacles, while to the willing wearer it is protection and defence.
Now in the Book of Common Prayer there are no less than two offices for the baptism of infants, the author therefore is committed as a Paedobaptist--bound to it. In fact, so clear is the doctrine, and practice, and feeling of Churchmen upon this point, that it would be as great an absurdity to imagine a regular Baptist minister who should preach and practice infant baptism, as a clergyman of the Church who should oppose, or deny, or even doubt the truth and scripturalness of infant baptism. Other denominations may waver, but of the position of these two there is no doubt. Every one that hears that such and such a man is a Baptist, knows at once that he is a person who rejects or denies "infant baptism." Every one too that hears the words "Episcopalian," or "Churchman," at once understands by tkem a person who is just as firmly decided an advocate of the baptism of babes.
And for myself, as a clergyman, I can declare that in no other office of my ministry do I take so much delight as in the dedication of the unconscious infant to "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." In none else do I feel my faith in the almighty power of the Almighty Father, in the atonement made for all by his eternal Son, and in the sanctifying and all-searching influences of the eternal Spirit, shine out so bright and clear. Such an office has always seemed to me to be one peculiarly blessed, as one of pure faith altogether removed from sight, in which I can trust in him, the Almighty, that he will, in despite of my dim-sightedness, do his own work, which he has granted me the grace to begin.
My position then, both by situation and feelings, is not that of a controversialist or mere arguer. It is the position of one who has the truth and will not abandon it, and cannot. Men may say, "Then are you infallible! "Sneers are what the consistent supporters of truth always have to encounter; and no one can reply to a sneer. Yet upon this subject there is such a thing as truth; and he that has the truth is more than infallible--he is free. And when I calmly say, that upon this point I have the truth most certainly, I no more say that I am infallible, than I do when I say that I see the light of the sun. The truth is in the bible, and I see it there, just as I see the light in the sun. Again, I see the truth then by "the Church," "the pillar and ground of the truth." Just as I see the light by the sense which God in his wisdom has given me, so do I see the truth doctrinally and practically by the Church, the interpreter and guardian of holy writ.
Men of course will deny this, and sneer at it; this I cannot help--I cannot move off the ground I occupy, or combat them on this point. It is one of my positions, one which they must take as an additional reason for my declining controversy.
The author, therefore, of these papers, holding upon the subject of infant baptism clear and determinate views in its favor--holding them also as a vital doctrine of Christianity, and in such a way that he cannot give them up and will not, comes forward not as a controversialist to attack others, or to enter into discussion with any champion of the opposite views. This is not his object--his purpose is far different. He wishes to lay clearly and plainly before those who doubt or deny infant baptism, the grounds for his own belief that are to be found in the scripture. To lay it before them as persons that have a real and vital interest in it as professing Christians, as persons too that have the bible in their hands, and are bound to search for the truth there. The author's undertaking, therefore, is to declare the doctrine held by the Church, and himself as a minister of the Church, upon the points; to take the bible then, and show clearly and manifestly, that it contains the same doctrine, and authorizes the same practice. And he implores of those into whose hands this book may come, that they read it fairly and candidly--that they put aside prejudices; and, above all, he desires that they would take the scriptures as they read, in the plain and manifest sense, avoiding as much as may be, the error of the old Pharisees, who made it of no effect, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men, and made the scriptures vain through their tradition. And he implores of the Almighty God, whom he serves, that this small book may be made efficient both to do away prejudice, to soften the strife of sect, and to unite Christians once more in their old profession of one God, one faith, one baptism.