THE theology of the child, I shall try to show, is all contained in the reason, the meaning, and the truth of Baptism. I believe that if we could start at the divinely instituted beginning of the spiritual life and see in baptism not only all the reason for it and the meaning in it, but, above all, all the reality of it as an immediate and direct utterance of the Word, and presence and operation of the Spirit, of God,--if we could take in and live out the pregnant saying of Luther to the effect that the sum and substance of Christianity is to realize or actualize one's baptism--the conclusion of the whole matter would be in our hands. It is a great deal, but it is not enough to say that "Baptism doth represent unto us our profession" as Christians. It does truly and perfectly represent it, but the function of baptism--as St. Paul, for example, sees it--is not simply to represent, it is to effect, to constitute, to be--as it is the function of our faith to take it as what God's grace makes it. Along with baptism we proceed too often to make all of Christianity a mere sign, representation, or expression, of something unreal and non-existent. I say non-existent, because baptism means something of and in us, and if we deny that, then we make it a mere form of something that is not.
Christians were to be constituted such by baptism into Christ; what they were thus, by divine grace--that is by the right, title, and power of God,--potentially constituted and made, they were to be, actu, by what Luther called realizing it. What that means may be illustrated in a popular and homely way by an expression recently in vogue among us, as when we say that the only way to do certain things is to do them--or, we may add, the only way to be certain things is to be them. In other words, there are certain matters which wait and depend simply and solely upon our being and doing. The man whom God regenerates in baptism is then not actu regenerate, only because he will not be. Suppose he takes God at His word, and himself in faith and sincerity says that he is and knows himself to be what God says He is, is he not regenerate? What is it more to be regenerate than to know yourself where God places you, and what God makes you, in baptism? If you are regenerate by God's grace, and not so in your faith, where is the fault and the failure but in your own not being.
All this will become clear only by reflection upon what baptism is in Christianity. St. Paul says: "Thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered." Interpreting the apostle's mind from his entire argument (Rom. vi), which is based upon the truth of baptism, we may explain some of the above words as follows: "Ye were conformed to the mould into which ye were cast"--that is, in baptism. Baptism is, first, "into Christ." Christ is that perfected relation of God to man and of man to God, that accomplished unity of both in one, which has been effected and exists in His person. Into this reconciliation or at-one-ment God brings us by His act of grace in baptism and bids us realize or actualize it in ourselves by faith. The function of faith is simply to take God at His word, to make good in ourselves, by our own being and doing, what He calls and makes us. "Whatsoever now ye do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." He is your relation to God, your status with God. You have only to be and to do in that name, and He will supply not only all the authority, all the right and title, but all the grace and power to realize the relation into which you are placed. Baptism is not an act of man which his faith goes before and accomplishes, it is an act of God which his faith comes after and accepts and appropriates and realizes or actualizes in himself. We do not tell our children that, if they will repent and believe, they will be or become children of God. That is just what they cannot do, or make themselves. We tell them that they are children of God, that God's grace has gone before and made them so, that not only all the right and title but all the grace and power of it are theirs in Christ, and that their part is only to be and do what God in Christ will be and do in them. It is only their faith and will to be and do that, that is needed to enable them to say out of a full experience of the heart, with St. Paul: "I can bear all things, I can do all things, I can be all things, through Him that loved me." In His name, His grace is sufficient for all my needs. "Because we are sons, God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father." We are not sons because we have the spirit of sons, we have the spirit of sons because we are sons. And nothing will give us or bring us the spirit and disposition and reality of sonship but the realizing that we are sons. Baptism is not magic, it is the simplest, plainest, most direct address and appeal to our intelligence, our affections, our will, our whole selves that is possible. It simply tells us immediately from God Himself that He is one with us and we are one with Him in Christ: that through simple faith in and realization of that fact we become the objects and subjects of His eternal love, infinite grace, and perfect fellowship of life. Just let us take that in, and it will work itself: a real or realizing faith is patently the sole condition of a real and self-realizing divine grace.
It is not necessary that children should realize or know all at once the entire rationale and operation of grace working through faith. Let them at first, as St. John says, simply "know the Father"; and they can know Him really only as "the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." The simplest knowledge of God will beget, and nourish with its own growth, the instinct of holiness, righteousness, and eternal life. The sense and full experience of sin will come of itself in due course and with it the need and experience of the redeeming power and operation of grace. Let us know, as we need it, that we have all these in Christ--and we have them. "Behold," says St. John, "what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God--and we are." But it is not enough that we should be called,--we must call ourselves, realize and know ourselves to be, if we would really and actually be.
But we do not know Jesus Christ, or what it is to be baptized into Him, until we know Him crucified, dead, and risen. It may not be necessary for us to understand or define the process by which the Word of God at-one-d Himself with humanity in the person of our Lord, but it is necessary for us to follow the way in which the humanity in Him at-one-d itself with God; for the way by which He brought us to God is the only way by which in Him we come to God. According to St. Paul all humanity as one man sinned and was fallen: this simply expresses the indubitable universal fact that "in Adam" (that is, in themselves) all sin and all die. That is the actual condition of humanity, and our Lord in taking upon Himself our humanity took upon Him its condition, its sin; in assuming our nature assumed its curse. "He was made sin for us, Who knew no sin, that we might be made, or become, the righteousness of God in Him." And how did He bring our fallen nature, our sinful humanity, out of sin and death into the holiness and righteousness and life of God? Why, simply by dying in all that mere nature, that insufficient and impotent selfhood, in which humanity cannot but be sinful and dead, and living in that oneness with God which is in itself holiness and life.
I have said that for childhood simply to be in Christ, to know the Father, and to know ourselves His children, the objects of His love, His grace, His closest and most continuous fellowship and companionship, is enough to quicken and nourish the instinct and principle of holiness, righteousness, and life. But humanity is very much more than childhood: life is a dream to which we have to awaken, an ideal which we have to make actual, a work which we have to accomplish, an end which we have to attain. And in all that there is just as much not to do, or even to undo, as there is to do. There is no such thing as spirit or personality which does not begin in one form of freedom and end in another. There is no such thing as freedom without the exercise of choice, or choice without the possibility of opposites and the necessity of a decision between them. We cannot get rid of the alternative of good or bad, right or wrong, glory or shame, life or death. The only life of one of these is in the death of the other, the only death of one is in the life of the other. The issue for us is between the flesh and the spirit: we can live in either only by dying in the other. The flesh means living in mere self as organized into the constitution and conditions of nature. The Spirit means living in eternal, infinite, and perfect relations of oneness with God. The Spirit is in enmity with the flesh, or with the self in us, only as these are in alienation from Itself and so subject to sin and death; It is in reality the fulfilment of both the flesh and the self as instruments through It of holiness and life. The formal freedom with which we begin is the personal choice between the flesh and the spirit; the real freedom with which we truly end is the subjection of flesh and self, not by extinction but by fulfilment, by conversion from all false independence into instruments of the sole control and dominion of Spirit.
This whole experience of what the Christ meant in Himself, and what He means equally in us, as not only God with us and in us, but God with us and in us in the necessary and indispensable process of our redemption, in the act and accomplishment of our death to sin, which is the death of death itself in us, and our resurrection to holiness, which is the life of God Himself in us,--all this experience, I say, follows in organic and actual sequence upon every real and effectual attempt to live the life of the spirit, which is the life of God. We must die to each previous mode or relation of life in order to live in the higher which succeeds and must displace it: We know Christ, either in Himself or in ourselves, only as we know Him crucified. Every child can know at least the beginnings of repentance and faith, himself as he is in himself and as he is in Christ, and to know so much is to enter upon an experience which ends properly and wholly in the death to sin and the life of holiness and God.
Not only all theology of the child, but all theology takes its rise, if not in baptism, yet in that relation of God to us and of us to God which is embodied in baptism as not only its expression but its instrument and mean. The question as to whether baptism was "into Christ," or into "the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," is, from the theological point of view, no question at all. There is nothing in the latter and fuller formula that is not, more than merely implicitly, contained in the former. Already "Christ" means "Us in God," and that relation of God to us and us to God can find no other expression, because it has no other existence, than "in the name of Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost"--or, "in the love of the Father, through the grace of the Son, by impartation and participation of the Holy Ghost." The Trinity is primarily not a dogma but a pragma. It is not a definition but an actuality and a manifestation of God as One in Three. I know God only as Christ: that is the only objective manifestation of Him, as Himself, to us. I may know of Him, invisible things of Him, in other things, as Creation; but I know Himself only in Christ. And I know Christ only in and through the Holy Ghost in me. I may know of Him--objectively through the testimony and historically through the records of others; but I know Himself only in His presence in me by the Spirit in me, Who is both He and God. Moreover, what Christ manifests, as the essence of Himself and the substance of what He has to impart, is Sonship: baptism into Him is baptism into all the fulness of His accomplished human relation to God. It not only reveals but makes God Father, and us Sons. As, again, the essence of the Holy Ghost, and the substance of what He has to impart in us, is the Spirit, which is Life, which is Christ, which is God.
It was impossible for the primitive Church to think and speak of God but in terms of God's Self-manifestation and living incarnation and operation, that is to say, except in terms of Christ and the Holy Ghost; but what I wish to repeat and emphasize is that the whole impulse and motive and manner of thinking and speaking of God in Trinity was pragmatic and not dogmatic. They knew God in Trinity, because God came to them in Trinity, manifested and gave Himself to them through Trinity. If there had been no Son of God Incarnate, no Christ, there would have been no God, in that culminating and completing act and relation in which alone we know God, through His actual entrance as personal and controlling agent and factor in our lives. If there had been no Holy Ghost, there would have been no Christ; for Christ comes by revelation not only without but within us; He came originally, for what He was, neither to nor in any save those to whom the Holy Ghost imparted the necessary illumination, in whom He wrought and communicated the incarnation that Christ was.
If we would, as we should, hold nature in toto, and God in toto, we must make up our minds to find relations and connections between God and us in matters of fact, and not in' modes of statement or explanation. God, by His Word, through His Spirit, or God in His Son, and by His Spirit--is a fact of relation and community between Him and us, which exists and persists in itself, no matter what the inadequacies or contradictions of the terms--Person, and Persons, and Trinity--which we use in expressing it. If the Church, in its spiritual philosophizing, has pushed back these distinctions and integrations, behind the Incarnation, into all the cosmic or creational activities, and even into the very nature and interrelations of God Himself--that is a matter of philosophy which need not disturb the mind of children; if they are taught it, it is as the mind of the Church, not their own--at least until they have grown into very much more than children.
It is in keeping with the above that, historically, the Creed, or Creeds, did grow up out of the baptismal formula; and that, while it did confine itself to facts of divine-human relation--the Unity and Community of God and man, a relation in itself possible and actual for the simplest and the youngest--yet its statement of that relation, as nearly as human language permitted, was in exact terms of the highest spiritual philosophy. I do not see how children can be taught aught else than the Church's Creed; but the practical and important thing is how it ought to be taught. There are some things about which we ought to be careful and some that we ought to avoid.
In the first place, neither the minds nor the experiences of children, their spiritual knowledge nor their spiritual growth, ought to be prematurely pressed or matured. With any child or person thoughtful enough, and sincere enough, really to raise the question, the distinction ought to be made between his faith in what he professes and that profession as the Church's faith. Not too much of modesty and good sense can be inculcated in him as to the difference between his qualification and the Church's to judge and say what is the truth and faith of Christianity; but the child should be taught, as every one of us needs to have learned, how to use all the spiritual knowledge and life, all the actual faith and grace, he has got; and not to judge as yet what he has not got, but modestly to expect that what has received common consent he too in time will consent to. Such an attitude will reap the reward of discovering in due process that old and tried and accepted truth is larger and wiser than young doubt or dissent. But, at any rate, the time is past when even the child is to be trained to have no mind in the faith he believes, or will of his own in the life he lives, that the Christian layman is and is to be a perpetual minor under the direction of a priesthood and the priest himself only a moulded mind and will under the authority of a higher and unquestionable system. There is no human being that is not under individual and personal responsibility to have a right reason and a free will. The catholicity of the future will have to rest, no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem, upon a common sense recognition of the rational and rightful authority of the Unity of Consent.
A premature and unreal faith is no more to be avoided than a premature and unreal experience and profession of life. There is enough in the simple being in Christ and growing up in him that is knowable and usable even from infancy, without forcing a child's experience, or any immature experience, into stages and reaches that are beyond it. We may, as I have said, be in Christ for holiness, for righteousness, and for actual life in God long before, by sufficient experience and knowledge of sin, we really feel the need or appreciate the truth and the blessedness of the death in Him to sin, and the life, through that death, to God. It is very true that nothing can be said too much of either the sinfulness or the wretchedness of sin, nor yet of the glory and the bliss of a redemption from it, which is nothing less than a regeneration and a resurrection, but much of all this is true and intelligible only to those who have long and honestly and truly essayed the life of God, and have discovered for themselves the deficiencies of nature and the insufficiencies of themselves, how hard it is for man to be perfect as God Himself is perfect. And there is no other way of perfection, nor end and goal of perfection. "By the law is the knowledge of sin"; and it is only as we have known the law, and measured for ourselves our degree of conformity to it and the extent of our transgression of it, that we can know all the meaning either of sin itself or of our redemption from it. Only the saint knows sin; only he who thus knows sin knows the Cross; only he who knows the Cross knows redemption and resurrection and eternal life. The Church teaches us all this and gives us all this, but it can neither give it all nor teach it all in a minute, because these are things to be learned and had only in and through the actual experiences of a full life. If we insist upon requiring the fruits and accumulations of a full faith as a prerequisite and condition of faith at all, or life at all, the consequence will only be what we already see. This is an age in which everything must stand or fall by its own internal virtue of reality. Professions and pretensions must go down before the true and wholesome spirit of scepticism, criticism, and verification which will spare nothing as too sacred for it, and which is most needed just in the things that are the most sacred. The only thing on God's earth that is going to escape or survive the winnowing fan, the refiner's fire, that Christianity above all things ought to be and is, is the thing, whatever it is, that is genuine, that is real.