A Discourse on Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism
And when we are called to instruct adult persons, who have never been baptized, we always address them precisely in the same way in which the apostles did. We exhort them to repent and believe, and we say, just as Philip said, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest" be baptized. But this does not touch the question respecting the infant seed of believers. It only shows that when adults are baptized, such a qualification is to be urged, and such a profession required.
But still our Baptist brethren, unsatisfied with this answer, insist that, as infants are not capable of exercising faith, as they are not capable of acting either intelligently or voluntarily in the case at all, they cannot be considered as the proper recipients of an ordinance which is represented as a "seal of the righteousness of faith. It is really, my friends, enough to make one shudder to think how often, and how unceremoniously language of this kind is employed by those who acknowledge that infants of eight days old, were once, and that by express divine appointment, made the subjects of circumcision.
Now circumcision is expressly said by the apostle to be a "seal of the righteousness of faith" Rom. But were children of eight days old then capable of exercising faith, when they were circumcised, more than they are now when they are baptized? Surely the objection before us is as valid in the one case as in the other. And, whether our Baptist brethren perceive it or not, all the charges of "absurdity" and "impiety" which they are so ready to heap on infant baptism, are just as applicable to infant circumcision as to infant baptism.
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Are they, then, willing to say that the application of a "seal of the righteousness of faith" to unconscious infants, of eight days old, who, of course, could not exercise faith, was, under the old economy, preposterous and absurd? Are they prepared thus to "charge God foolishly? Yet they must do it, if they would be consistent. They cannot escape from the shocking alternative.
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Every harsh and contemptuous epithet which they apply to infant baptism, must, if they would adhere to the principles which they lay down, be applied to infant circumcision. But that which unavoidably leads to such a consequence cannot be warranted by the word of God. It is forgotten that in every case of infant baptism, faith is required, and, if the parents be sincere, is actually exercised.
But it is required of the parents, not of the children. So that, if the parent really presents his child in faith, the spirit of the ordinance is entirely met and answered. It was this principle which gave meaning and legitimacy to the administration of the corresponding rite under the old dispensation. It was because the parents were visibly within the bond of the covenant, that their children were entitled to the same blessed privilege.
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The same principle precisely applies under the New Testament economy. Nor does it impair the force of this consideration to allege, that parents, it is feared, too often present their children, in this solemn ordinance, without genuine faith. It is, indeed, probable that this is often lamentably the fact. But so it was, we cannot doubt, with respect to the corresponding ordinance, under the old dispensation. Yet their circumcision was neither invalidated, nor rendered unmeaning, by this want of sincerity on the part of the parent.
It was sufficient for the visible administration that faith was visibly professed. When our Baptist brethren administer the ordinance of baptism to one who professes to repent and believe, but who is not sincere in this profession, they do not consider his want of faith as divesting the ordinance of either its warrant or its meaning. The administration may be regular and scriptural, while the recipient is criminal, and receives no spiritual benefit.
It is, in every case, the profession of faith which gives the right, in the eye of the church, to the external ordinance. The want of sincerity in this profession, while it deeply inculpates the hypocritical individual, affects not either the nature or the warrant of the administration. Again; it is objected, that baptism can do infants no good.
What good can a little 'sprinkling with water' do a helpless, unconscious babe? To ask the question is almost impious, because it implies an impeachment of infinite wisdom. God appointed that ordinance to be administered to infants. And accordingly, when the apostle asked, in the spirit of some modern cavillers, "What profit is there of circumcision?
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In like manner, when it is asked, "What profit is there in baptizing our infant children? Baptism is a sign of many important truths, and a seal of many important covenant blessings. Is there no advantage in attending on an ordinance which holds up to our view, in the most impressive symbolical language, several of those fundamental doctrines of the gospel which are of the deepest interest to us and our offspring; such as our fallen, guilty, and polluted state by nature, and the method appointed by infinite wisdom and love for our recovery, by the atoning blood, and cleansing Spirit of the Saviour?
Is there no advantage in solemnly dedicating our children to God by an appropriate rite, of his own appointment? Is there no advantage in formally binding ourselves, by covenant engagements, to bring up our offspring "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Is there no advantage in publicly ratifying the connection of our children, as well as ourselves, with the visible church, and as it were binding them to an alliance with the God of their fathers?
Is there nothing either comforting or useful in solemnly recognizing as our own that covenant promise, "I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee Is it a step of no value to our children themselves, to be brought, by a divinely appointed ordinance, into the bosom, and to the notice, the maternal attentions, and the prayers of the church, "the mother of us all?
And is it of no advantage to the parents, in educating their children, to be able to remind them, from time to time, that they have been symbolically sanctified, or set apart, by the seal of Jehovah's covenant, and to plead with them by the solemn vows which they have made on their behalf? Verily, my dear friends, those who refuse or neglect the baptism of their children, not only sin against Christ by disobeying his solemn command; but they also deprive both themselves and their children of great benefits.
They may imagine that, as it is a disputed point, it may be a matter of indifference, whether their children receive this ordinance in their infancy, or grow up unbaptized. But is not this attempting to be wiser than God? I do not profess to know all the advantages attendant or consequent on the administration of this significant and divinely appointed rite; but one thing I know, and that is, that Christ has appointed it as a sign of precious truths, and a seal of rich blessings to his covenant people, and their infant offspring; and I have no doubt that, in a multitude of cases, the baptized children, presented by professing parents who had no true faith, but who, by this act, brought their children within the care, the watch, and the privileges of the church, have been instrumental in conferring upon their offspring rich benefits, while they themselves went down to everlasting burnings.
If I mistake not I have seen many cases, in which as far as the eye of man could go, the truth of this remark has been signally exemplified. Let it not be said that such a solemn dedication of a child to God is usurping the rights of the child to judge and act for himself, when he comes to years of discretion; and that it is inconsistent with the privilege of every rational being to free inquiry, and free agency. This objection is founded on an infidel spirit. It is equally opposed to the religious education of children; and, if followed out, would militate against all those restraints, and that instruction which the word of God enjoins on parents.
Nay, if the principle of this objection be correct, it is wrong to preoccupy the minds of our children with an abhorrence of lying, theft, drunkenness, malice, and murder; lest, forsooth, we should fill them with such prejudices as would be unfriendly to free inquiry. The truth is, one great purpose for which the church was instituted, is to watch over and train up children in the knowledge and fear of God, and thus, to "prepare a seed to serve him, who should be accounted to the Lord for a generation. Infants may not receive any apparent benefit from baptism, at the moment in which the ordinance is administered; although a gracious God may, even then, accompany the outward emblem with the blessing which it represents, even "the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" Titus This, indeed, may not be, and most commonly, so far as we can judge, is not the case.
When children are baptized, they are thereby recognized as belonging to the visible church of God. They are, as it were, solemnly entered as scholars or disciples in the school of Christ. They are brought into a situation in which they not only may be trained up for God, but in which their parents are bound so to train them up; and the church is bound to see that they be so trained, as that the Lord's claim to them shall ever be recognized and maintained. In a word, by baptism, when the administrators and recipients are both faithful to their respective trusts, children are brought into a situation in which all the means of grace; all the privileges pertaining to Christ's covenanted family; in a word, all that is comprehended under the broad and precious import of the term Christian education, is secured to them in the most ample manner.
Let parents think of this, when they come to present their children in this holy ordinance. And let children lay all this to heart, when they come to years in which they are capable of remembering and realizing their solemn responsibility. A seventh objection which our Baptist brethren frequently urge is, that, upon our plan, the result of baptism seldom corresponds with its professed meaning.
We say it is a symbol of regeneration; but experience proves that great majority of those infants who are baptized, never partake of the grace of regeneration. To this objection we reply:. That baptism is not more generally connected or followed with that spiritual benefit of which it is a striking emblem, is indeed to be lamented. But still this acknowledged fact does not, it is believed, either destroy the significance of the ordinance, or prove it to be useless.
If it holds up to view, to all who behold it, every time that it is administered, the nature and necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit; if it enjoins, and to a very desirable extent secures to the children of the church, enlightened and faithful instruction in the great doctrines of the gospel, and this doctrine of spiritual cleansing in particular; and if it is, in a multitude of cases, actually connected with precious privileges, and saving benefits; we have, surely, no right to conclude that it is of small advantage, because it is not in all cases followed by the blessing which it symbolically represents.
How many read the Bible without profit! How many attend upon the external service of prayer, without sincerity, and without a saving blessing! But are the reading of the scriptures, and the duty of prayer less obligatory, or of more dubious value on that account? In truth, the same objection might be made to circumcision. That, as well as baptism, was a symbol of regeneration, and of spiritual cleansing: but how many received the outward symbol without the spiritual benefit?
The fact is, the same objection may be brought against every institution of God. They are all richly significant, and abound in spiritual meaning and in spiritual instruction; but their influence is moral, and may be defeated by unbelief. They cannot exert a physical power, or convert and save by their inherent energy. Hence they are often attended by many individuals without benefit; but still their administration is by no means, in respect to the church of God, in vain in the Lord.
It is daily exerting an influence of which no human arithmetic can form an accurate estimate. Thousands, no doubt, even of baptized adults receive the ordinance without faith, and of course, without saving profit. But thousands more receive it in faith, and in connection with those precious benefits of which it is a symbol.
This is the case with all ordinances; but because they are not always connected with saving benefits, we are neither to disparage, nor cease to recommend them. But if baptism is a symbol of regeneration; if it holds forth to all who receive it, either for themselves or their offspring, the importance and necessity of this great work of God's grace; if it binds them to teach their children as soon as they become capable of receiving instruction this vital truth, as well as all the other fundamental truths of our holy religion; if, in consequence of their baptism, children are recognized as bearing a most important relation to the church of God, as bound by her rules, and responsible to her tribunal: and if all these principles are faithfully carried out into practice: can our children be placed in circumstances more favourable to their moral benefit?
If not regenerated at the time of baptism which the nature of the ordinance does not necessarily imply , are they not, in virtue of their connection with the church, thus ratified and sealed, placed in the best of all schools for learning, practically, as well as doctrinally, the things of God? Are they not, by these means, even when they fail of becoming pious, restrained and regulated, and made better members of society?
And are not multitudes of them, after all, brought back from their temporary wanderings, and by the reviving influence of their baptismal seal, and their early training, made wise unto salvation? Let none say, then, that infant baptism seldom realizes its symbolical meaning.