THE EVILS OF INFANT BAPTISM
By Robert Boyt C. Howell
INFANT BAPTISM IS AN EVIL BECAUSE ITS DEFENSE LEADS TO MOST INJURIOUS PERVERSIONS OF THE WORD OF GOD.
The general principle; instances in illustration, from the apostolic commission; from Peter?s sermon; from Paul?s instructions to the Corinthians; from Christ?s blessing the children; forms of the evil
THE defense of infant baptism, unsustained as it is by divine authority, necessarily leads to most injurious perversions of the word of God. The same may be said also, of every other departure from truth, to support which a resort is had to the sacred record. The evil resulting will of course, be in proportion to the magnitude, and peculiar bearing, of the error sought to be established. Infant baptism is not a mere ceremony, which when performed, ceases to be of any further importance. Considered in itself, it may indeed seem of little consequence. It is not however thus isolated. Its relations, and influences extend themselves into every department of Christianity. It is the process by which the churches which practice it, receive their entire membership, and must therefore enstamp upon them all, its own peculiar character. It leads to insidious and hurtful expositions of scripture; imposes upon the people false doctrines; subverts the true ecclesiastical polity; corrupts the spirit of religion; vitiates Christian intercourse; weakens the power of the gospel; and hinders the conversion, and salvation of men. Like an error in the beginning of a mathematical calculation, it runs through the whole process, continually increasing in magnitude as it advances, until every part of it is involved in hopeless confusion. How then, can infant baptism be taught and defended without most injurious perversions of the word of God?
In proof of the proposition now before you, I will point you to appropriate examples. But these are so numerous that I know not where to begin. A proper exposition of them all would require a volume. In the space allowed to this chapter it is not practicable to do more than briefly to refer to a few instances. These, however, of themselves, will be sufficient to establish the truth of the proposition now before us.
The apostolic commission, which I had occasion in the preceding chapter to recite, has been confidently claimed as a law for the baptism of infants. "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; and lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." This is the version of Matthew. That of Mark is as follows:?"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." How plain! How perspicuous! How comprehensive! To mistake its sense would seem almost impossible. The solemn obligations thus imposed, are to be faithfully and always obeyed by both the teachers, and the taught. And let it not be forgotten that the several parts of the commission are to be observed in the order in which they are enjoined. The order is plainly as imperative as the commands themselves. A violation of the order is indeed a violation of the commands. This interpretation so evidently correct, is not peculiar to Baptists. Pedobaptists also give it their concurrence.
Baxter, for example, says:?"This is not like some occasional historical mention of baptism, but is the very commission of Christ to his apostles, and purposely expresseth their several works in their several places and order." "To contemn this order, is to renounce all rules of order; for where can we expect to find it if not here?"1 Each duty in the commission must therefore be observed in the order in which it is enjoined. Thus far all is simple and obvious. The commission is evidently, as before seen, a law to baptize believers, and believers only.
By what kind of process, we now inquire, can it be possibly made to appear, that this law to baptize believers is a law to baptize infants? Pedobaptists shall themselves answer, and in their own words. "In this commission to his apostles," says Dr. Worcester, "his direction was that all nations should be baptized, and children constitute a part of all nations;" therefore children are to be baptized.2 Dr. John Edwards remarks:?"This general commission includes all particulars. Go baptize all nations, is as much, and as full, as if Christ had said, Go baptize all, men, women, and children."3 Matthew Henry observes:?"If it be the will and command of the Lord Jesus that all nations should be discipled by baptism, and children, a part of all nations, are not excepted, then children are to be discipled by baptism.4 These are fair examples of their teaching; and of the manner in which they bring infant baptism into the commission of Christ to his apostles.
Consider these expositions attentively. How evident the perversions they contain! Were the apostles directed to baptize all nations without respect to moral character, or any other religious qualification? Surely not. Is the commission a command in other words, to "baptize all, men, women, and children?" Preposterous claim! If infants are not in the commission "excepted" in express terms from baptism, are they therefore to be baptized? How surprising the pretension! Is any one ever "discipled by baptism?" To disciple is to teach. To teach is one thing. To baptize is another. They are not the same thing. To pretend then, that any one is "discipled by baptism" is nonsense. Here we have four perversions of this portion of the word of God, all palpable, and all made evidently for no other reason than to defend infant baptism. When great and good men, such as these, and the thousands of others who agree with them, thus interpret the commission, we cannot but lament the blindness of mind into which this pernicious error has betrayed them.
One striking instance is now before you of the perversion of the word of God, made for the sake of defending infant baptism. Take if you please, another. In a learned and very elaborate work recently published, by a distinguished clergyman of the Episcopal church, we have the following passage:?"The chief scripture ground upon which it [infant baptism] is placed, is the text,
"The promise is unto you, and your children."?Acts 2:39.
And one of its best supports is St. Paul?s statement that the children of a believing parent are in a certain sense holy.?1 Corinthians 7:14.5 We have here therefore, as claimed by pedobaptists themselves, the two passages which are, the one their "chief scripture ground" for infant baptism, and the other "its best support." We will therefore, briefly examine them both, and see to what extent they have been perverted for the defense of the rite in question.
"The promise is to you, and to your children." (Acts 2:39.)
This text we are told, is the chief scripture ground upon which infant baptism is placed." That you may understand it perfectly, I will refresh your memory with the circumstances under which this inspired declaration occurred. It was uttered by Peter, in Jerusalem, during the ever memorable Pentecost. Multitudes had on that day, been called together by "the signs, and wonders, and miracles" resulting from the fulfillment of the promise of God in the gift of the Holy Ghost. This intrepid apostle seized the occasion to preach Christ to the people. His sermon evinced great power, and was attended with singular success. Large numbers were convicted of sin, and in the anguish of their heart cried out:?"What shall we do?" In the strictest consonance with the apostolic commission, and almost in its very words, he answered: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." What, I now inquire, was the promise of which the apostle here spoke? It was undoubtedly, the gift of the Holy Ghost. Peter himself so declares.
"This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: (Joel 2:2832.) And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all. flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on my servants, and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my spirit." "And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:16-21.)
It is decided therefore that the promise was the Holy Ghost, whose influences as predicted by Joel especially, were at that moment seen so conspicuously among the people. This truth is indubitable.
To whom, I next ask, was this promise made? Peter answers, "To you Jews, and to your children, and to all that are afar off." The words of the promise in Joel, recited by Peter, are, To you Jews, and to "your sons and your daughters." By "children" therefore, the apostle means "sons and daughters," or in general terms, posterity. (tekna) The gentile nations are in other places of the scriptures spoken of as "them that are afar off."
They are, therefore, the persons alluded to in that form of language. But was it the promise of God that all or any these classes of persons, who in reality included "all flesh," should receive the Holy Ghost in the times of Messiah?"the last days"?unconditionally? No one will surely maintain that it was, and especially since these very conditions were explicitly stated. They were according to Joel, that the persons in question should "call on the name of the Lord." Peter instructs us that by calling on the name of the Lord is implied, that they should "repent, and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." The promise was to be fulfilled to all those who should comply with these conditions, and to none others. If you Jews repent of your sins, and by baptism profess your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, for the promise is to you. If your "children," or as Joel calls them, "your sons and your daughters," repent of their sins, and by baptism profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, for the promise is to your children. Nor are these privileges and blessings to be confined to your nation. They are to be extended to "them that are afar off," to "all flesh," to "every creature," to all nations," to as many as the Lord our God shall call by his gospel, and who shall repent and be baptized, no matter to what people they belong. They also shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, for the promise is to them. To that anxious multitude how full of encouragement was this precious gospel message! It fell upon their hearts like gentle showers upon the parched earth. Hope sprang up in the bosoms of about three thousand, who gladly received the word." They believed it; they acted upon it; they became the subjects of renewing grace, and received the Holy Ghost, according to the promise of God.
Thus, briefly, I have submitted the sense of the passage, and that it is the true sense it seems to me impossible to doubt. In what part of it is infant baptism taught? Not the remotest reference is found to any such thing. Yet say our friends, "it is the chief scripture ground for infant baptism!" How is it possible for them to make good this assertion? It cannot be done. But you shall hear their arguments. They shall speak for themselves. Mr. Henry gives the meaning of this passage as follows. Peter, he asserts, intends to say, in other words, to the people:?"Your children shall have, as they have had, an interest in the covenant, and a title to the external seal of it. Come over to Christ to receive those inestimable benefits; for the promise of the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, is to you, and to your children." "When God took Abraham into covenant he said, I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed;?Genesis 17:7?and accordingly every Israelite had his son circumcised at eight days old. Now it is proper for an Israelite, when he is by baptism to come into a new dispensation of this covenant, to ask, What shall I do with my children? Must they be thrown out, or taken in with me? Taken in, says Peter, by all means; for the promise, the great promise of God?s being to you a God, is as much to you and your children now, as ever it was.6
Who that possesses any tolerable knowledge of the scriptures could readily imagine that learned and good men would venture this as the sense of the passage in question? It is crowded in nearly every line, with absurdities and perversions. Let them be separately, and more particularly designated.
In the first place, the representation that the word "children" in the passage means the babes of those then present is absurd for three reasons; first, because Joel says they were their sons and their daughters, who should then prophesy; and Peter did not intend to contradict Joel: secondly, because their babes could not fulfill the conditions upon which the promise was made: and thirdly, because of the nature of the promise itself, which was that they should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and prophesy. The word "children" is unquestionably used by Peter, in the sense of posterity simply. This fact is so obvious that it is frankly conceded by some of the best biblical critics among the pedobaptists themselves. Dr. Whitby says:?"These words will not prove a right of infants to receive baptism, the promise here being that of the Holy Ghost mentioned in verses 16, 17, 18, and so relating only to the times of the miraculous effusions of the Holy Ghost, and to those persons who by age were capable of these extraordinary gifts."7 Limborch of Amsterdam, says:?"By children the apostle understands not infants, but posterity." "Whence it appears that the argument which is commonly taken from this passage for the baptism of infants is of no force, and good for nothing."8 With these distinguished interpreters agree Doddridge, Hammond, and many others. To represent Peter therefore, as referring to infant children, and inculcating their baptism, is a most injurious perversion of the word of God.
A second perversion is found in the implication that the faith and baptism, of their parents, were the conditions upon which their infant children were to receive the Holy Ghost, and the remission of sins. This passage teaches no such thing. Our pedobaptist brethren however represent Peter as saying in other words, to the Jews there under conviction of sin, and whom they, singularly enough, suppose to be inquiring, "What must I do with my children;" "Come over to Christ to receive these inestimable benefits; for the promise of the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, is to you and to your children." Do you join the church of Christ, and your children, by virtue of their relation to you, shall be entitled to the same blessings you receive. They shall share with you every gospel blessing, and especially "the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost." Do not hesitate therefore; "come over to Christ." What a monstrous perversion!
A third perversion of this passage is committed. Our Pedobaptist brethren insist that the promise in question, relates to the blessings pledged in the covenant with Abraham. The promise as stated by Peter, was the gift of the Holy Ghost to believers. But their version is wholly different. They interpret the apostle as saying to the Jews:?Your children [infants] shall [still] have as they have had, an interest in the covenant [with Abraham] and a title to the external seal of it," all which the gospel gives to you, and consequently to them!
This short passage is subjected to a fourth perversion. They maintain that the gospel covenant is a continuance of the covenant of circumcision! Their language is, "When God took Abraham into covenant, he said, I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed;?Genesis 17:7?and accordingly every Israelite had his son circumcised at eight days old. Now it is proper for an Israelite when he is to enter into a new dispensation of this covenant, to ask, What must be done With my children?" And is the gospel a new dispensation of this covenant that God made with Abraham, according to which "every Israelite had his son circumcised at eight days old? The gospel a new dispensation of the covenant of circumcision! And does Peter so teach? No such thing appears, either in this text, or elsewhere.
The fifth perversion of this passage, and the last I shall mention, is the claim that Peter means by "the promise," that infants are to be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and be taken into the church. "An Israelite" is represented as inquiring, If I "come over to Christ," and unite with this gospel church of yours, "What must be done with my children? Must they be thrown out, or taken in with me?" To this they represent the passage as answering?"Taken in, says Peter, by all means; for the promise, that great promise of God?s being to you a God, is as much to you and your children now, as ever it was." How manifest a perversion is here! Strangely are good men blinded, so blinded by infant baptism, that they it seems, really believe that Peter teaches what they represent in the passage! Having thus disposed of "the chief scripture ground upon which it is placed," and found that no allusion whatever is made in it to infant baptism, we now turn to the other passage, which is, "one of its best supports." This "is St. Paul?s statement that the children of a believing parent are in a certain sense holy." In what sense are they holy? To comprehend the whole matter perfectly, let us turn to the sacred record, and together with its context, read carefully the entire passage, "Now concerning the things where of ye wrote unto me," says Paul, and proceeding, he gave various instructions to the Corinthians regarding marriage, and domestic duties. Among other things he says:
"Let not the wife depart from her husband; but if she depart let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife." "If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath a husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else were your children unclean, but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart let him depart. A brother, or a sister, is not in bondage in such cases; but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or what knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all the churches." (1 Corinthians 7:1-17.)
We will here pause if you please, until we have ascertained definitely, the true sense of this interesting portion of divine truth. Paul is without doubt, instructing the Corinthians regarding their conjugal, domestic, and social relations. This fact no one can rationally question. On these topics they needed to be enlightened, since they were evidently disposed to go astray. By some means, probably the instructions of Judaizing teachers among them, the church had, it seems, become agitated with the question whether the old Jewish law which required Israel to regard all gentiles as unclean, and their touch polluting, which in a word prohibited all familiar intercourse with them, ought not to govern Christians in their relations with unbelievers. Should not the church regard all who are not members as unclean to them in the same sense that gentiles were formerly looked upon as unclean to Jews? To this opinion the brethren of Corinth appear to have strongly inclined. They soon saw, however, that such a rule of intercourse if adopted among them, must be attended with the gravest consequences. It would not only sever their social and domestic relations, but would actually break up and destroy their families, since some of them were married to unbelievers, from whom of course, they must instantly separate. That this was the true state of the case, and the actual question submitted by them to the apostle, is so plain, from his answer alone, that it is confessed by some of the Pedobaptist commentators and divines themselves. Even Henry, for instance, could not avoid seeing it. He says:?"They thought that (the unconverted members of their families) would be common, or unclean, in the same sense as heathens in general were styled in the apostle vision."9 Dr. Miller, notwithstanding his prejudices, is still more full. He says:?"It appears that among the Corinthians to whom the apostle wrote, there were many cases of professing Christians being united by the marriage tie with pagans; the former being perhaps converted after marriage, or being so unwise as after conversion deliberately to form this unequal and unhappy connection. What was to be deemed of such marriages seems to have been the grave question submitted to this inspired teacher."10 Upon this point therefore, we are certainly right.
These were the perplexing circumstances under which they wrote to Paul for advice. He answered them in substance, that the old Jewish law regulating intercourse with gentiles, was not applicable to them, not only because the ceremonial dispensation to which it exclusively belonged had passed away, but also because in their case, (and the same was true of all other churches,) its observance was impracticable. Any attempts to enforce it, must have been attended with the most disastrous consequences. The Christians, unlike the Jews, lived, and must live, in the midst of unbelievers. Many of them were connected with their families, and were a part of them. With such persons they could not avoid contact, and association. If such separation was necessary to preserve their Christian purity, then to retain it they "must needs go out of the world."
But especially some of them were married to unbelievers, and if this abrogated Jewish law was to be enforced all such husbands and wives must part from each other. But this was not demanded by the gospel, and ought not to take place, unless the temper of the unbelieving party should render it necessary. "If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath a husband that believeth not, if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him." "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases; but God hath called us to peace." Believers and unbelievers who are husband and wife, may lawfully, and ought to continue to dwell together. No such rule of ceremonial holiness, and uncleanness, obtains under the gospel as that which characterized the Mosaic economy. The marriage tie makes the parties, though it unite a believer with an unbeliever, holy to each other. The unbelieving husband is not unclean so that the believing wife may not lawfully dwell with him. The unbelieving wife is not unclean so that the believing husband may not lawfully dwell with her. Why then separate? Let them remain together. And for their continued union there is yet another most important reason. God may perhaps, bless the efforts of the believing, to the conversion and salvation of the unbelieving party.
And yet more. Must the believing husband or wife separate from the unbelieving, for the reasons alleged? Then it will follow that, for the very same reasons, the believing parent must also separate from his own children, since they also are not believers! Indeed, not a member of the church, if separation from all unbelievers is necessary to preserve his Christian purity, must touch his own children, eat with them, or associate with them. The believing parent occupies, in this respect, precisely the same relation to his child that he does to his unbelieving wife. Must he separate from his wife? He must also separate from his child. But you do not, said Paul, consider your children unclean to you, but holy. You do not, you must not, humanity forbids that you should, consider their touch polluting. They are sanctified, holy, clean, to you. So also the unbelieving wife is sanctified, holy, clean to you. You must not separate from your child. Therefore you must not separate from your wife. "The unbelieving husband is sanctified to11 the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified to the husband, else were your children unclean [to you], but now they are holy" to you. Therefore the unbelieving wife is holy to you. In the same way that the child is holy to the believing parent, the unbelieving husband is holy to the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife is holy to the believing husband. You may lawfully remain with your children. You may therefore lawfully remain with each other. Throw aside these absurd notions about the old Jewish law of ceremonial purity. Dwell together in the conjugal relation. "As God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all the churches." Is not this a true exposition of the sense of the apostle? It is self-evident. Some few of the more learned pedobaptist divines have seen and confessed it. Dressier, for example, says:
"According to Paul a holy pedigree is nothing in religion. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth any thing, but keeping the commandment of God. The passage 1 Corinthians 7:13-14, [that now before us] does not support any such view. He says, if the Christians would flee from every unbeliever, regarding him as unclean, they must flee from their own children, and hold them as unclean, for they were among the unbelievers. ?Otherwise your children would be unclean,? for they are not Christians by birth merely. ?But now are they holy,? i.e., you are not to consider yourselves polluted by them."12
Such is the lesson, in response to their inquiry, taught by Paul to his brethren the Corinthians. How beautiful! How important! How simple! How easy to be understood! Not the remotest reference is made in it in any way, to infant baptism. Yet it is declared to be "one of its best supports!" Accordingly our brethren have chiefly predicated upon it this declaration in the Westminster Confession of Faith?"Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized."13 Commenting upon the passage, "Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy," Mr. Henry says:?"That is, they would be heathen, out of the pale of the church, and covenant of God. They would not be of the holy seed." "The children born to Christians, though married to unbelievers, are not part of the world, but of the church."14 On the same passage Dr. Clarke remarks:?"If this kind of relative sanctification were not allowed, the children of these persons could not be received into the Christian church, nor enjoy any rights or privileges as Christians; but the church of God never scrupled to admit such children as members." Dr. Miller, after admitting all that we have just seen, still says that Paul "pronounces under the direction of the Holy Spirit, that in all such cases, when the unbeliever is willing to live with the believer, they ought to continue to live together, that their connection is so sanctified by the character of the believing companion that their children are ?holy? that is, in covenant with God; members of that church with which the believing parent is in virtue of his profession united; in one word, that the infidel party is so far, and in such a sense, consecrated by the believing party, that their children shall be reckoned to belong to the sacred family with which the latter is connected, and shall be regarded and treated as members of the church of God."15
These are specimens of the havoc made of the sense of the word of God for the sake ?of infant baptism. Look at the perversions here committed. Paul teaches, as they contend, that the offspring of parents one of whom is a believer, are born members of the church with which the believing parent is connected; that they are born in covenant with God; that as such they are entitled to "enjoy the right and privileges of Christians;" and that were it not so their children "would be heathens!" Here are four palpable perversions. None of these propositions are true in themselves; they are not sustained at all in the word of God; and especially they are not found in the instructions of Paul to the Corinthians. But a still greater perversion of this passage, if possible, remains to be mentioned. Paul told the Corinthians that as they did not consider their children ceremonially unclean or unholy to them, but holy, and they therefore took care of them; so the unbelieving party in marriage, since she bore the same relation to the believing party with the child, was not to be considered by the other ceremonially unclean, or unholy, but holy, and they should therefore remain together. No, no, Paul! respond our Pedobaptist brethren, this is not what you mean! You mean that the holiness of the children is spiritual, that it is "ecclesiastical," and more, you mean that this holiness is produced by hereditary transmission, so that the children are born in the covenant and church of God, and, since as such they are entitled to "enjoy the privileges and rights of Christians," they are to be baptized! Thus boldly do they contradict the apostle himself, and greatly also to his injury; since if their interpretation is true they make Paul speak nonsense, and bring him into collision with himself, and other portions of divine truth. Are the terms unclean, sanctified, and holy to be understood in a spiritual, or an ecclesiastical sense? They so maintain. It is certain that these words are used in the same sense in their application to both parent and child. It follows thus, that if the child is to be baptized because that relationship makes it holy, as certainly is the unbelieving husband, or wife, to be baptized because by the same relationship he, or she, is sanctified. He who is sanctified is holy, and the sanctified have the same right to baptism with the holy?16 If then you baptize the child upon the faith of its mother, you must, to be consistent, baptize the unbelieving husband upon the faith of his wife, since if the child is holy, so also is the unbelieving father sanctified. But it is certain Paul teaches no such doctrine. Paul was wise. We have reason to lament that so much cannot be said of very many of his professed interpreters.
One other passage ought to be considered, and its false glosses briefly exposed, since much confidence has of late, been expressed that it contains evident authority for infant baptism.
"Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14.)
Let us, in the first place, carefully examine this text, and ascertain its exact Sense.
The Savior was in the midst of a discourse of surpassing interest. His disciples were absorbed in their attention to his instructions. Suddenly there "were brought unto him little children." The object of those who brought them?probably their parents?the evangelist fully states. It was, "That he should put his hands on them, and pray."17 This was a very familiar observance among the Jews. Great importance was attached by them, and justly, to the benedictions of holy men. To obtain them therefore, when practicable, had been common from the earliest times. (Genesis 48:14; Matthew 9:18;. Mark 16:18.) These parents fully believed that Jesus was a prophet of God, and they desired for their children his prayers and blessing. This was what they sought, and all that they sought. They however, encountered in their approach, a rebuke from the disciples!
This occurred, not certainly, from any want of respect on the part of the disciples for their motives, and wishes, but evidently because they were impatient of the interruption. Their feelings were deeply enlisted in the topic before them, and they were not willing that their Master should, on any account, be diverted from it. But he, observing what they did, "was much displeased," (Mark 10:14-16.) and immediately suspending his discourse, "Called the little children to him." (Luke 18:16.) Thus he manifested his great love, patience, and condescension. What the Savior did for these children is now distinctly and fully stated:?"He took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." Meantime he compensated his disciples: for the interruption, by imparting one of the richest lessons to be found in all his teachings. It is contained in the very passage now in question:?"Of such is the kingdom of heaven." And he adds:?"Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein."
By "the kingdom of heaven," and "the kingdom of God," here employed as convertible terms, our Savior refers to the Gospel, the true principles of which in the heart, alone can qualify any one for the holy brotherhood of the church upon earth. This fact needs only to be stated. But what are we to understand by the phrase, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven?" Is it not sufficiently explained by the other phrase, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God [the grace offered by Christ] as a little child, [in the spirit, and with the disposition of a little child] shall in no wise enter therein?" This appears to me most evident. He does not say that the kingdom of heaven?the church?belongs to little children, or is composed of these, and other such little children. Certainly not. This is plain from our present version, but in the original it is still more obvious.
The word rendered "of such," (toioutwn, not autwn.) conveys the idea, as every scholar must see, of comparison, and does not therefore, signify identity, but likeness. The church therefore, is made up, not, as Pedobaptists tell us, of little children, but of those who by divine grace are made like little children. Only "such" can have a place there, as are spiritually, what little children are literally. Little children love their parents supremely: To fit you for a place in his visible church, you must love God supremely. Little children receive as true, and implicitly believe, whatever is declared by their parents: You must receive as true, and implicitly believe whatever is declared in his word, by God. Little children submit themselves to such provisions as are made for them by their parents: You must submit yourselves to such arrangements as are made for you by God. Little children obey the commandments of their parents: You must obey the commandments of God. In these and other respects, to qualify you for a place in the kingdom, or church of God, you must be like little children. You "receive the kingdom of God as a little child" when you cherish the same love, faith, submission, and obedience towards God, that little children do towards their parents.
Such is undoubtedly, the true, and full sense of the passage. How evangelical! How rich! Never, as has been said, did the Redeemer himself, teach a more important lesson. Let it be observed, however, that neither in the passage, nor in the context, nor anywhere else in this connection, is there an allusion of any kind even remotely to baptism. With these facts and expositions before us, we turn to the interpretations of our pedobaptist brethren. What are they? Mr. Henry shall again serve as an example of them all.18 He speaks thus:
"Observe the faith of those who brought [these children to Christ. They were believing parents.] The children of believing parents belong to the kingdom of heaven, and are members of the visible church. Of such?not only of such in disposition, and affection, (that might have served for a reason why doves, or lambs should be brought to him,) but of such in age?is the kingdom of heaven; to them pertain the privileges of visible church-membership as among the Jews of old." "Parents are trustees of their children?s wills, are empowered by nature to transact for their benefit, and therefore Christ accepts their dedication of them as their [the children?s] act and deed, and will own these dedicated things in the day when he makes up his jewels. Therefore he takes it ill of those who forbid them, and [who] exclude those [children] whom he has received;" "and who forbid water that they [infants] should be baptized, who if that promise be fulfilled (Isaiah 44:3) [I will pour out my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring] have received the Holy Ghost as well as we, for aught we know." Look at this gloss! Ponder it! How preposterous! Dr. Clarke?s commentary is as follows
"Let every parent that fears God, bring up his children in that fear; and by baptism let each be dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Whatever is solemnly consecrated to God, abides under his protection and blessing."19
These, and such like, are the Pedobaptist interpretations of the passage in question! They are published to the world, and received, and defended, as expressing its true sense! Is it surprising therefore, that a vail is thus thrown over the gospel, and its great truths withheld from the faith of the simple?
And now mark if you please, the glaring perversions with which this whole Pedobaptist "exposition" is crowded. I shall notice six only. It is here denied that Christ designs to illustrate the true Christian character by the disposition of children, and it is asserted that this might have been done by the dispositions and affections of doves, or lambs, as well as by those of children; thus the obvious truth is repudiated: it is maintained that Christ here teaches the church-membership of literal infants, by natural birth; that parents have a natural right to "transact" in religion for their children?impose upon them the vows, and ordinance of baptism?and that God will accept it as binding upon the children; that in the last day, when God shall make up his jewels, persons will be "owned" by him, because they were in their infancy "dedicated to the Holy Trinity in baptism;" that Christ takes it ill of those who refuse to receive infants into the church, and to baptize them; and that "for aught we know, infants have received the Holy Ghost as well as we," and ought therefore to be baptized! What perversions! What falsifications of truth!
We have thus seen how the word of God is perverted in order to sustain this unauthorized rite, in the instances of the apostolic commission, the address of Peter on the day of pentecost, the instructions of Paul to the Corinthians, regarding social and domestic intercourse, and the blessing of children by our Lord Jesus Christ. Many, very many other examples equally striking, might be produced, but enough has been said to establish fully the proposition with which we set out. It is unquestionably true that the defense of infant baptism necessarily leads to most injurious perversions of the word of God. This is an evil, a most melancholy evil. It destroys all just principles of biblical interpretation; it covers the sacred oracles with impenetrable obscurity; it inculcates error, and withholds the truth from the cause and people of God; by it knowledge is abridged; faith is made weak; religion becomes less enlightened; and practical godliness is overwhelmed!
1 Disp. of Rights to Sacr., pp. 91-149,150.
2 Letters on Bap., p. 115
3 Theol. Ref, vol. 1, p.568.
4 Treat. on Bap, p. 114.
5 Goode on Bapt. p. 81
6 Comm. in loco.
7 Annot. in loco
8 Comm. in loco
9 Comm. in loco.
10 Miller, Bapt., pp 17-20
11 en. Macknight in loco.
12 Doct. Sacra. Bapt., p. 137.
13 West. Conf, pp. 21, 22.
14 Comm. in loco
15 Miller on Bad., pp. 17-20.
16 In the original both words are the same, one the verb, the other the corresponding adjective.
17 See context.
18 Comm. in loco.
19 Comm. in loco.
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