Sermon XXIII. On Baptism. St. Matthew xxviii. 19, 20. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.
IN the present discourse, my brethren, I propose to call your attention to the rite of admission into the Christian Church--the sacrament of baptism. That this is a divinely instituted ordinance, and therefore of perpetual obligation, seems very evident from its being enjoined in that commission under which the apostles were sent forth to evangelize and convert the world; and also from its having been continually practised from the first ages of the Christian Church. The contrary idea would scarcely require to be attended to, if it were not that in modern times this rite has been entirely disregarded by one community of professing Christians, on the ground that its appointment was a mere temporary accommodation to [336/337] Jewish customs and prejudices, and also that it was intended to be superseded by that spiritual baptism which was the subject of promise--the baptism with the Holy Ghost. But that this was not a temporary rite must from hence appear, that there is no limitation whatever in the commission to show that it should not be as lasting as the commission itself, and continue alway, even to the end of the world. Neither can it be set aside under the idea that spiritual baptism merely is intended, for the miraculous influences of the Holy Ghost, which were promised in the infancy of the Church, and his ordinary influences, which are still pledged in this sacrament, are exclusively the gift of God, kept in his own power, to be dispensed at his own will; while the rite of baptism, with all its privileges, is one which th6 apostles and their successors were authorized and commanded to confer. Besides, the visible influences of the Spirit were most frequently made consequent upon water baptism; and our Saviour recognizes both being born of water and of the Spirit, as necessary for admission into his kingdom. And with this commission before our eyes, we may with equal reason deny that all nations are to be discipled and taught, as that they are to be baptized. But if the obligation of baptism be acknowledged, several questions as to the subjects of the rite, its nature, and the mode in which it is to be administered, present [337/338] themselves to our attention. To discuss all these would exceed the limits of a discourse; and I shall, therefore, confine myself to one question only, namely, Who are the scriptural subjects of this rite? To this question I answer, in the first place, all persons who repent of their sins, and believe the Gospel. When the claims of Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, were first disclosed to the ancient Church, to whom were committed the oracles of God, those only could be appealed to to embrace or to reject him who were of age to comprehend, and of capacity to discern, the miracles which he performed, the power which he exercised and conveyed to others, the precepts which he laid down, the doctrines which he taught, and in general, the conformity of his whole character, and of his claims to being the Son of God, with the prophecies which foretold, and the scriptures which testified of him. To adults, alone, therefore, and they of the Jewish Church, was the religion addressed; and baptism being announced as the divinely instituted sign of their adhesion, and the pledge of their safety, they who believed were baptized, both men and women, and so became entitled to the benefit of the Saviour's promise, in the apostolic commission, as recorded by St. Mark--"He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved." The door of the Church being now opened to all nations and the Gospel preached to every creature, we are [338/339] authorized to address to all who have arrived at years of discretion, and apply to be baptized, the language of Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch--"If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." Thus far is there no difficulty. But at this point, a large and most exemplary body of Christians limit the administration of this ordinance, admitting none to baptism but upon such a personal profession of their faith. That they are right to require a personal profession in order to baptism, from those who are of age to make it, is evident from the passages already quoted; and this our own Church does no less than others. But to require such a profession from those who are incapable of making it, is unreasonable; and that they are wrong in excluding all such may also be shown.
For, in the second place, the children of Christian parents, who are incapable themselves of the act of faith, are yet scriptural subjects of this ordinance. This will appear from considering the nature and organization of the Church; which, though there has been a two-fold dispensation, as existing previous to the coming of Christ, and as it has existed since, yet has been, and is, but one Church; its object one, the salvation of men; its Author, its Mediator, and Redeemer one, the man Christ Jesus. In passing from the one to the other of these dispensations, no change of the constitution of the Church took [339/340] place, but such as necessarily arose out of the coming of Christ, or such as was the result of his positive appointment. Thus there was the ceasing of sacrifices and ceremonial rites, the abolition of the typical priesthood, and the doing away of those various and burdensome observances, which were intended to foreshadow his offices and his advent. Two most important and significant institutions were, however, retained in substance, but altered in form--the passover, which prefigured Christ's death, being changed to a sacramental memorial in remembrance of him; and instead of the rite of admission, which was formerly circumcision, a token of God's covenant, and a seal of the righteousness of faith, baptism was appointed, which was intended to signify the same things. In point of membership, no change being made, the privileges of course remained the same; and because the children of Jewish parents formed a part of the Jewish Church, therefore infants, the children of Christian parents, having never, by any act of the head of the Church been excluded, form a part of the Christian Church. This might indeed be inferred on other grounds, namely, that in all communities, the condition of children follows that of their parents; and this, not in civil communities only, but also in religious. For in the case of proselytes to the Jewish faith, not less than in the case of Abraham and those who were first made partakers [340/341] of the promises, this principle was uniformly recognized. And we might further be confirmed in this belief by the fact, that among all the objections made by the Jews upon the introduction of Christianity, it was never made a reason by them for not embracing it, that their children would be excluded from privileges which they had been accustomed to cherish and to enjoy--a most serious obstacle, had it existed, and one which they would not have failed to plead. This objection, I say, they never urged; and therefore, we may be certain that there was no room for them to make it. If then the whole Jewish nation had embraced Christ as the promised Messiah, we may be assured there would have been no difference in the relation in which their children stood to God, as being members of his Church, and in covenant with him; and with the extension of that Church among other nations, there would have been an extension also of the privileges which they enjoined. And since the refusal of some of the Jewish nation to acknowledge their Messiah, could make no difference in the general scheme, we may confidently presume that whoever embraced the religion would be placed on the same footing, as respected the rights of their children with those of the Jews, who had become converts to Christianity. But we are not left to mere conjecture on this subject; for we have the express authority of St. Peter for asserting that [341/342] in this respect there was no change in the two dispensations; for when, on the day of Pentecost, he called upon the Jews to repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, he declared, "For the promise is unto you and to your children;" and lest this advantage should be supposed to be confined to their nation, he also added, "And to all that are afar off," by which it was well understood he meant the Gentile world, "even as many as the Lord our God shall call." The same conclusion, that children were still to be continued members of the Church, might fully be argued from what St. Paul asserts when, speaking of the oneness of that Church, in he Epistle to the Romans, he compares it to an olive tree, of which some of the natural branches were broken off, and the wild olive tree graffed in among them, to partake of its fatness; but of which the root remained the same. Where, by the fatness of the olive tree, is meant the privileges of the universal Church, of which we have been permitted to partake, and from which the Jewish branch has been excluded for a time; but when they shall be graffed in again, according to the promise, it shall doubtless be with the same original privileges which they formerly possessed. If then infants were originally admitted into the Church by the appointment of God himself, and if he who alone could make any change in this respect, has never excluded them from it, as it is [342/343] most manifest he never has, we certainly have sufficient authority for their admission into the Christian Church; and all the objections which may be raised as arising out of their incompetency to Church-membership, and their inability to understand its privileges and to perform its duties, would go equally to prove, that they ought not to have been admitted into the Jewish Church; a question which God has seen fit to determine otherwise. Nor can "any argument be drawn from the necessary want of active faith on the part of children, which will not be equally cogent against infant circumcision; for faith was as much the grand principle of the law as of the Gospel; insomuch that the pious patriarch of the Israelites is especially honoured with the title of the father of the faithful." [Faber, vol. i. p. 349.] It may, however, be thought, that in the commission before as, there is an obstacle to the admission of children into the Christian Church, which makes an essential alteration between it and the Jewish. For as it is said, "Go teach all nations, baptizing them," it is contended that teaching is to precede baptizing--that none can be baptized but those who are taught, and therefore, that infants must, by the terms of the commission, be excluded. In answer, let it be observed, that in the same commission, teaching is provided for after [343/344] baptism--"teaching them to observe all things what- soever I have commanded you;" and also, that the word translated teach, in the first part of the commission, is not the same which is used in the latter part of it; that while the last certainly means to instruct, the former is better rendered, as we find it in the margin of the Bible, "make disciples or Christians"--Christianize all nations--turn them from their idolatries and superstitions. And if all nations were intended thus to be christianized, surely children who form so large a part of them were to be included in the number; that so Paganism being subverted, and the worship of the one true God substituted for that of idols, every one should conspire, according to his several ability, to bring about the predicted time when they shall no more teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; but all should know him, from the least unto the greatest.
The mode in which this was to be effected, was by first convincing those who were of due age, and capable of conviction, of the truth of the religion; and then by incorparating, together with them, all to whom their authority and influence extended, into the Christian Church; that thus families following individuals, and nations following families, the darkness of heathenism should be gradually expelled, until the earth should be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the [344/345] waters cover the sea. Thus were the apostles directed by their Lord to make disciples or Christians of all nations, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever he had commanded them."
That their practice corresponded with this view of the meaning of their commission, their own declarations and acts abundantly testify. Their language was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ"--believe thou, in the singular number--and thou shalt be saved and thy house--saved so far as the knowledge and light of the truth can save either thee or them. And upon such a belief being professed by an individual, the instances were frequent in which baptism was administered to their families, as it is recorded of Lydia, whose heart the Lord had opened, that she was baptized, and her household; and of the jailor, that when he knew the truth, he was baptized, and all his house, straightway; and of Stephanus; and of many Others. In all these cases, we may suppose the declaration of St. Paul would apply, "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband;" and hence he argues, "else were your children unclean," debarred from the privileges of the Church, "but now are they holy," partakers of the covenant of promise.
What has been urged I deem sufficient to [345/356] justify the admission of children to Christian baptism; but objections are made which it is proper to answer. It is alleged by those who oppose the practice of infant baptism, that it has neither the sanction of positive command, nor of positive example; and that one or other is necessary in order to justify it. Now grant, for a moment, that we have neither; still we assert that the practice should be sustained, because it is sanctioned by a fair course of scriptural argument, and just inference. And to show the validity of this sanction,-we remind those who object, that from reasoning and inference is derived the only authority, and (as we and they deem,) a perfect and sufficient one, for women to partake of the Lord's Supper; for Christians to observe the Lord's day; and) for many other duties which have not the obligation of positive command. But in regard to the baptism of infants, the answer stops not here; for as it respects the necessity of a command, it can-not be required to justify the continuance of a privilege which has always been acknowledged, and always existed, as, that of infant membership under the Jewish dispensation. But if a command be at all required, it must be for the rejection and discontinuance of it; and this throws the burden of proof upon those who refuse the ordinance and not upon us. It is then a sufficient answer to the objection that there is no command to baptize infants, to say that there is no command [346/347] to omit it; and as to the requiring of an example, our ground is equally strong. We have seen that households were baptized without the mention of any profession of faith other than by their head. Now those households either contained infants or they did not. If they contained infants, we need -look no further for examples; and the question is put at rest. If they did not contain infants, they must have consisted-of adults, persons themselves capable of repentance and faith; and if such were the fact that the apostles admitted to baptism, merely by profession on the part of another, persons who had actual sins to repent of, and who could answer for themselves, how much more should infants be admitted, they who are not liable to either of these objections, who had no actual sins to need repentance, and who could not engage for themselves.
A similar argument may be maintained from our Saviour's own declaration in respect of children; that "of such is the kingdom of heaven." For the only sense in which this term kingdom of heaven is used, is either as applied to the visible Church on earth, or to the invisible Church in heaven. Now if the words are here used in the first sense, it is clear that their right to membership of the Christian Church, and consequently to the ordinance of admission, is fully recognised. And if the words are employed in respect of the invisible Church, the kingdom of heaven, that [347/348] they are, as indeed we firmly believe, fit subjects for admission into it, by what authority shall we undertake to reject them from admission to the lower and subordinate privilege, especially when Christ himself has said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not." I will only further remark, that if, passing from Scripture authority, we inquire into primitive practice, the evidence is conclusive in favour of the baptism of infants; and the question which was early discussed, whether children should be baptized before the eighth day, and the reasoning and decision which took place upon it in the time of St. Cyprian, show most clearly that their admission into the Church by baptism had been universally practised; and also that the belief that this rite had come into the place of circumcision, was then uniformly entertained, and entirely undisputed.
Such are the grounds on which the administration of baptism to infants is vindicated. To go largely into the nature of this ordinance, would be trespassing upon your time. The definition of a sacrament, in our Church Catechism, expresses it briefly, but truly, "It is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us;" which sign was "ordained by Christ himself, as a mean whereby we receive that grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof." And in our 27th article it is said of [348/349] baptism, that it "is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of regeneration, or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased, by virtue ft of prayer unto God."
That the efficacious influences of the Holy Spirit, which, like the imperceptible wind, bloweth where it listeth, are vouchsafed and assured in baptism, we cannot refuse to believe, without making it a mere nugatory form. And since Christ himself has connected the being born of water with being born of the Spirit, and since St. Paul acknowledges baptism as the washing of regeneration, our Church adopts the term regenerated to express that change of state, by which we are brought into the society of Christians, made partakers of the promises, and admitted to all the rights and privileges of the Christian Church. Still, confessing the need of something more than the outward action, she teaches us to pray to God for those internal influences by which the subject of baptism may so daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit, as finally to be an inheritor of his "everlasting kingdom."
 The certainty that "God is always ready to "give, with the sign, the thing that is signified," justifies us, my brethren, in using the strongest language respecting the high importance of baptism, and its advantages where it may be had. Still, while we urge upon all to embrace it, we do hot regard it as indispensible, but as generally necessary to salvation; and with Archbishop Usher would say, "when God denieth it, either in regard of the shortness of the infant's life, or by any other unavoidable necessity, there comes no danger from the want of the sacraments, but only from the contempt of them." [Faber's Sermons, vol. i. p. 329, quoted in note.] My brethren, if God, in this ordinance, condescends to set a seal upon your children, to claim them as his, to convey to them the benefits of that covenant by which faith in his merits is counted to them for righteousness, and to assure to them those timely aids of his Spirit by which they may be strengthened for his service, and fitted for his kingdom, how gratefully should parents devote them to him in the way which he has appointed; and how careful should they be to do so, not out of custom or superstition, but with the desire and the prayer, that he would indeed fulfil towards their offspring all that is intended and promised in that holy sacrament.
"Perhaps there is not in the world a sight more [350/351] interesting," says an excellent writer of another Church, "than that of an infant offered: up by believing parents to God in baptism; The helpless circumstance of the child; the peculiars tenderness of the relation existing between it and the parents; the strong expressions of their faith in God, in giving up their beloved offspring to him, devoting it to his service, and engaging to train it up for his glory; the exhibition of their reliance on the blood of Christ, and the agency of the Spirit, to cleanse it from original pollution; and the affecting manifestation of Divine goodness, in permitting and inviting us thus to offer up our children to God," when united with the soleminities of the "sacred day, the place, and the occasion, form a combination of facts, and doctrines, and duties, scarcely paralleled in the present world. On the minds of the parents, particularly, the impression made cannot fail, unless through very gross insensibility, or gross wickedness, of powerfully persuading them to the duties involved in this; dedication. Of the same nature are the impressions which will very naturally be made on those who are present at the administration. Persons heretofore dedicated to God in baptism, will feel anew their own obligations, while those who have dedicated them will realize also the privileges to which they and their offspring have been admitted, the engagements they have [351/352] made, and the duties which, in a peculiar manner, they are required to perform." [Dwight's Theology, vol. iv. p. 307.]
I need not say, my brethren, how much these considerations, added to the manifest propriety of the thing, concur to recommend the public baptism of infants in those consecrated courts where God has recorded his name, where he has promised to be present, and from which the united supplication of the people have solemnly ascended; that whosoever shall there be dedicated to him by baptism, may be sanctified by the Holy Ghost, delivered from his wrath and eternal death, be received as a living member of Christ's Church, and may ever remain in the number of his faithful children. Nor need any other motives be urged to justify the warning which the Church makes it obligatory upon her ministers to give to parents, that without great cause and necessity they procure not their children to be baptized at home in their houses.
The subject, my brethren, should be improved by us all. To parents it should suggest the intimate connexion there is between devoting their children to God in baptism, and the duty of so training them for his service, that they may be inheritors of his kingdom. And if gratitude, of a sense of obligation to him--if affection, or a natural and parental regard for them--if [352/353] consistency, or a recollection of their own promises and rows--have any influence or power, they should make them diligent to teach their children all those things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health; and most anxious and watchful, that according to the intent of this holy ordinance, they may be virtuously brought up to lead a godly and a Christian life.
To those who have been made the subjects of this ordinance, and who are arriving at years to comprehend its duties and advantages, it should suggest the importance of giving heed to their parents and instructors; of co-operating with them in their efforts to promote their highest and greatest good; and of striving, in all docility to learn, and in all obedience to fulfil, the engagements which have been made in their behalf; that so they may bring joy to their parents, glory to God, and honour, security, and everlasting happiness, to themselves.
And upon all should the reflection be deeply impressed, that not merely to be dedicated to God in baptism, nor yet to be assured, in the holy communion, of his favour and goodness towards us, are the criteria of our Christian character, or the undoubted marks of our future safety. These seals are certain on his part only upon the fulfilment of their conditions in ours. If, therefore, we would have them effectual, we must ourselves practice the duties which we impress upon others. [353/354] And far from supposing that there is in manhood a dispensing quality to free us from the obligations which are inculcated upon, infancy and youth, we must be willing humbly to fulfil the tasks which we ourselves impose; for it is the language of our Saviour, "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter therein."