THE EVILS OF INFANT BAPTISM
By Robert Boyt C. Howell
INFANT BAPTISM IS AN EVIL BECAUSE IT IS IN DIRECT CONFLICT WITH THE DOCTRINE OF REGENERATION BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Nature of regeneration; its early identity with baptism; Popish doctrine on the subject: true principle restored at the Reformation; again confounded; Confessions of Faith, Catechisms, standard writers; contradictions; evils inflicted.
THE relations of infant baptism to the doctrines of justification by faith, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are in many respects the same. In the preceding chapter we considered the former. We now proceed to examine the latter. This also is a vital topic. It must not be summarily dispatched. It is necessary to both your happiness, and your safety, that you should understand it. You may easily be misled. God forbid that any obstruction should be thrown in the way of your obtaining a full knowledge of all that concerns your everlasting life.
Our brethren of all the Protestant denominations 1 teach that we are regenerated by the spirit of God; and they also teach that we are regenerated by baptism! Both these propositions cannot be true. This is self evident, since they are in direct conflict with each other. By the word of God, we are instructed that, while, on the one hand, regeneration is a spiritual change wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost, baptism, on the other, is merely an outward ordinance of our religion. The one is the work of God; the other is the work of man. Believers only, can be admitted to baptism; every believer is regenerate: consequently none but the regenerate can be lawfully baptized. Regeneration must then, as you perceive, come before baptism. And besides, the supposition that baptism is essential to regeneration, or ever produces it, is absurd. He who is regenerate is "born again," "born of God," "born of the Spirit," "quickened" into new life, has "Christ formed in him the hope of glory," and is "made a partaker of the divine nature." The moral image of God, lost by sin, in regeneration is restored to the soul. Is baptism, or any other ordinance, or all the ordinances together, competent to this great work? Why should it be effected in baptism rather than in any other Christian duty? Is it obtained by these, or by any similar acts? Then it is certainly, in part at least, the work of man. But can regeneration be so accomplished? The supposition is at war equally with reason, and the word of God. He only who created us originally, has power to renew, and so to change our nature that we shall be conformed to the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, enabled to love him supremely, to delight in his service, and to overcome all our corrupt propensities, and dispositions. Regeneration is one thing, and baptism is another and wholly different thing; nor are they, in any sense, dependent the one upon the other. How profoundly to be deprecated the fact that they should be confounded, and that, by any class of men, the latter should be substituted for the former! This deplorable evil, to all who truly love our Lord Jesus Christ, and have any just conceptions of the gospel, is matter of the deepest regret. Regeneration is essential to salvation. "Except a man be born again he can in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Ye must be born again." But he who has mistaken baptism for the new birth is never regenerated. How then can he be saved?
Dangerous, however, and fearfully fatal, as is this insidious error, it nevertheless arose in the church at a very early period. Its appearance was simultaneous with the perversion of the doctrine of justification by faith. It was a result, evidently, of a misconception of the design of baptism. According to the apostles, baptism is one of the witnesses of God, for our Lord Jesus Christ, (the other two being the Spirit, and the blood, that is, the sacred supper,) and it bears testimony to the amazing facts that he died for our sins, and was buried, and rose again for our justification. In receiving baptism we express our faith in the primary truth that "we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." Had the church adhered unwaveringly to apostolic instruction on this topic, the defection we now deplore never could have occurred. But the fathers became, unhappily, wiser than the apostles, and they determined that it was necessary to have some sacramental emblem of the work not only of God the Son, but also of God the Holy Spirit. The Lord?s supper being commemorative of the sufferings and death of Christ, they thought that sufficient for him, and so removed baptism from its legal place, as a concurring witness, and not only without authority, but expressly against authority, made it a witness, and significant of regeneration. They accordingly defined it, "the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace." Here the perversion commenced. It was soon established. The work of deterioration then rapidly progressed. Ere long all distinction was forgotten, and the church and her teachers confounded hopelessly, what they called "the sign," with "the thing signified." With them baptism was now regeneration, and regeneration was baptism! This delusion fixed itself permanently, and remains to the present hour the strong fortress of Popery. Both by Papists of the West, and Greeks of the East, it is uncompromisingly maintained. The Council of Trent accordingly decreed thus:?"If any man shall say that baptism is not essential to salvation, let him be accursed. Sin, whether contracted by birth from our first parents, or committed ourselves, is by the admirable virtue of this sacrament, remitted and pardoned. In baptism not only our sins are remitted, but also all the punishments of sins and wickedness are graciously pardoned of God. By virtue of this sacrament we are not only delivered from these evils, but also we are enriched with the best and most excellent endowments. For our souls are filled with divine grace, whereby being made just, and the children of God, we are trained up to be heirs of salvation also. To this is added a most noble train of virtues, which, together with grace, is poured into the soul. By baptism we are joined and knit to Christ as members to the head. By baptism we are signed with a character which can never be blotted out of our soul. Besides the other things we obtain by baptism, it opens to every one of us the gate of heaven, which before through sin was shut."2
These facts sufficiently explain the manner in which regeneration and baptism were at first confounded, and the fatal extent of the consequent delusion. Baptism was a panacea which cured every malady. This was the condition of things everywhere prevailing, when the Reformation dawned upon the world. Spiritual religion?except among a few who were denounced as heretics, and hunted down with fire and sword?was lost, and grace, and salvation, were communicated, and obtained, only through sacraments. "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people. The Reformation poured a flood of light upon the world. It restored the doctrine of justification by faith, as we saw in the last chapter; and it restored also, though much less perfectly, the doctrine of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. It did both by giving back to the people the Bible, of which for many centuries, priestly jealousy, and priestly domination, had deprived them. The minds of men were recalled to first principles. True penitents turned to God, and obtained as in primitive times, by faith in Christ, assurance of the divine favor, the Spirit bearing witness with their spirit that they were born of God. Luther, and Melancthon, and Calvin, and Zuingle, and Ridley, and Latimer, and their compeers, were themselves doubtless regenerated.
In Germany, and England, and France, and even in Spain, men awoke as from a sleep of ages. They shuddered when they beheld the gulf from which they were barely delivered. They commenced the work of reform. They exposed the abuses of Popery in terms of indignant eloquence. They stated some of the doctrines of Christ with great clearness, but this, it must be confessed, is exhibited with painful obscurity. In none of the German Confessions is it presented with satisfactory distinctness. Nor is it set forth with more plainness in the Thirty-Nine Articles, or in the Articles of Religion of Mr. Wesley. The Calvinists had evidently a better comprehension of the doctrine than the other Protestants. The Westminster Confession thus speaks:?God is pleased "effectually to call [men] by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills; and by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good."3
I am gratified to say, however, that all these denominations, but especially those portions of them who have preserved their evangelical character, have gradually acquired, as they became better instructed in the word of God, more distinct and full conceptions of the work of the Spirit in regeneration, and especially is this true of the various classes of Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians in our country and in Europe. Apart from infant baptism, they recognize amply the great truth as stated by us, that regeneration is a change of heart, effected exclusively by the Holy Ghost. More than this; they give in their life and character, most gratifying evidence that they are themselves the subjects of this heavenly renovation. Thus happy, in its influence upon the character and destiny of the church and people of God, has been the Reformation.
But has any portion of the Protestant Pedobaptist world fully renounced the old Popish dogma which teaches that infants are regenerated. in baptism? Do they believe in the doctrine of regeneration as exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit, and also in the antagonistic and conflicting doctrine of regeneration by baptism? Such inconsistency, it would seem, is almost incredible. Yet when infant baptism is to be administered, or defended, all their evangelical principles are apparently forgotten. This relic of Popery can only be sustained by the dogmas of Popery. Baptism and regeneration are not now esteemed by them as separate and distinct things, but are declared essentially identical. This statement is not hazarded carelessly. It is made after mature thought, and full investigation. I am aware that it is not a light imputation. I shall therefore sustain it by the amplest evidence.
What kind of testimony may be regarded as satisfactory in proof of so grave a proposition? The declarations of Confessions of Faith, Catechisms, and accredited writers, must, of course, be conclusive. To these, therefore, I direct your attention. The Augsburg Confession says:?"Our church likewise teaches that since the fall of Adam, all men who are naturally engendered, are born with a depraved nature, that is, without the fear of God, or confidence towards him, but with sinful propensities; and that this disease, or natural depravity, is really sin, and still condemned, and causes eternal death to those who are not born again by baptism and the Holy Spirit."4 The earlier Helvetic, another Lutheran Confession, is still more explicit. Its language is:?"Baptism is, by the institution of the Lord, the law of regeneration. With which holy law, we, on that account, baptize our infants." The Thirty-Nine Articles embrace in substance the declarations of the Augsburg Confession, and add, "There is no condemnation to them that believe, and are baptized."5 For this reason they also baptize their infants! The Articles of Religion of the Methodist church assert that, baptism is "a sign of regeneration, or the new birth," and is to be administered to infants.6 The Westminster Confession says:
"Regeneration," with various other blessings, is "offered" in baptism, and that "by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such, whether of, age, or infants, as that grace belongeth unto according to the counsel of God?s own will, in his appointed time."7 Other Confessions not yet noticed concur with these. The Belgic Confession says:?"The sacraments are signs, and visible symbols of things internal, and invisible, by which, as by means, God himself works in us by the power of the Holy Ghost." The Heidelberg Catechism, or Confession, written by Zachary Ursinus, says:?"Christ commanded the external laws of baptism with this promise annexed, that [in it] I am not less certainly washed by his blood and Spirit, from the pollutions of the soul, that is, from all my sins."
The Gallican Confession says:?"God really, that is, truly and efficaciously, does whatever he there [in our baptism in infancy] sacramentally shadows forth, and therefore we annex to the signs the true possession of that thing [regeneration] which is thus offered us."8 The same doctrine is maintained in the Bohemian, the Saxon, and all the others. These are the teachings of the Confessions. Their lessons cannot readily be mistaken. The Catechisms maintain the same doctrine. The Bishops of the English church, in their "Answers to the Ministers of the Savoy Conference," remark:?"We may say in faith, of every child that is baptized, that it is regenerate by God?s Holy Spirit; and the denial of it tends to Anabaptism, and the contempt of this holy sacrament, as nothing worthy, nor material whether it be administered to children or no."9 The present Bishop of Exeter thus states the doctrine of his church:?"The grace of God so certainly attends this ceremony of baptism, that regeneration and baptism are contemporaneous, and the terms are convertible, and may be used interchangeably."10 And did not Mr. Wesley express himself in similar terms? He says:?"By baptism we who are by nature the children of wrath, are made the children of God. And this regeneration which our church in so many places ascribes to baptism, is more than barely being admitted into the church, though commonly connected therewith." "By water then as a means, the water of baptism, we are regenerated and born again, whence it is called by the apostle, ?the washing of regeneration.? In all ages the outward baptism is a means of the inward. Herein we receive a title to and an earnest of the kingdom, that cannot be moved. In the ordinary way, there is no other way of entering into the church, or into heaven." "If infants are guilty of original sin, then they are proper subjects of baptism, seeing in the ordinary way, they cannot be saved unless this be washed away in baptism."11 Mr. Henry, Prof. Hodge, and others of their class, teach, as we saw in the last chapter, doctrines essentially the same. Mr. Ainsworth says:?"Thus to whom God giveth the sign and the seal of righteousness by faith, and of regeneration, they [the infants] have faith and regeneration; for God giveth no lying sign; he sealeth no vain or false covenants." "If we cannot justly object against God?s work in nature, but do believe that our infants are reasonable creatures, and are born not brute beasts, but men, though actually they can manifest no reason, or understanding more than beasts, then neither can we object to God?s work in grace, but are to believe that our infants are sanctified creatures, and are born believers, not infidels, though actually they can manifest no faith, or sanctification."12 But Calvin himself ought to be heard in behalf of his followers. He says:?"We agree that sacraments are not empty figures, but do truly supply whatever they represent; that the efficacy of the Spirit is present in baptism to cleanse and regenerate us."13 With the divines of Zurich, he had however, in this matter, one sad difficulty, which is more than intimated in the Westminster Confession. In "The Argument," drawn up in 1549, Calvin says:?"We diligently teach that God does not put forth his power without distinction to all who receive the sacraments, but only to the elect." If then the child is not one of the elect, it is not regenerated in baptism. If it is elect, it is certainly regenerated in baptism.
A volume might be filled with similar passages, but further proof is deemed useless. The Catechisms, and standard writers, even more conclusively than the Confessions of Faith, demonstrate, as you must plainly see, all that I have alleged. The fact is now placed beyond question that, whatever they may avow, or maintain at other times, whenever this ordinance is in question they all connect infant baptism and regeneration. With the Lutherans infants are born again by baptism; with Episcopalians baptism and regeneration are contemporaneous, and the terms are convertible; with the Methodists baptism is the means by which their infants are regenerated and born again; and with Presbyterians, since God gives no lying signs, nor seals, infants of believers are believers, and if they are elect infants, they are regenerated, sanctified, adopted, have conferred upon them, in a word, "all the benefits of the death of Christ," "The denial of this tends," in the language of the bishops, "to Anabaptism, and the contempt of this holy sacrament as nothing worthy, or material whether it be administered to children, or no." They all teach, therefore, that we are regenerated exclusively by the Holy Spirit of God; and they also teach that we are regenerated by baptism! These propositions are the opposites of each other. They cannot both be true. But the doctrine of regeneration by the Holy Spirit is true. Therefore the doctrine of infant baptism is not true.
I am here again met, however, with the declaration, that the best and most pious of all these classes utterly deny that they believe at all, as charged, in baptismal regeneration. To this disclaimer I have already replied in such terms as I think appropriate. I have said that their positions are irreconcilably at variance. I have myself often heard them assure these same baptized children when grown up, who had been regenerated in their infancy, that they must yet be regenerated or they could not be saved! The attitude in which they are thus placed is most perplexing, and pitiable.
They solemnly declare to the world that they do not believe the very dogmas that in their books they solemnly declare that they do believe! They repudiate them, adhere to them! In this dilemma they have involved themselves. I lament it sincerely, and trust that they may yet see their inconsistencies, and embrace the whole "truth as it is in Jesus." In these facts and considerations we have revealed another of the evils of infant baptism. It withdraws the mind from truth, and places it upon a fiction. It seduces men from the reality to the mere forms of religion. It attributes to an ordinance, which since it is despoiled of its form, and applied to unlawful subjects, is no ordinance of Jesus, a work which the Holy Ghost only can do. It is utterly subversive of the fundamental doctrine of the work of regeneration by the Spirit of God. It is a most deplorable evil.
1 Baptists are
not protestants. That you are aware of this is taken for granted. See the proof
in my work on
Communion. All protestants are pedobaptists.
2 Concil. Trid., Sess. 7, Can. 5.
3 Art. 10, sect. 1.
4 Conf., Art. 11.
5 Art. 9.
6 Art. 17.
7 Art. 28, sects. 1-6.
8 Sylloge Conf, p. 74, et seq.
9 Caldwell?s Conf., pp. 325-356.
10 Gorham Trial.
11 Works, N.Y. edit., vol. 1, pp. 15-16.
12 Hanbury?s Histor. Memor., vol. 1, pp. 413-414.
13 Epist, ad Melanc. Op, vol. 9., Epist. 82.
INFANT BAPTISM IS AN EVIL BECAUSE IT DESPOILS THE CHURCH OF THOSE PECULIAR QUALITIES WHICH ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.
Qualities essential to the church; how destroyed by infant baptism; examples drawn from Protestantism in its various forms; recovery of the church hopeless.
THE true visible church of our Lord Jesus Christ upon earth, is necessarily spiritual, and pure. If deprived of these qualities, it is evidently no longer his church. Its form, and organization, may still be retained; it may be great, and powerful, and honored; but it is a mere worldly corporation. It is not the church of Christ.
Do you inquire what I mean by spirituality, and purity? By spirituality I mean, that disposition of mind implanted by the Holy Ghost, by which men are inclined to love, delight in, and attend to the things of the Spirit of God. Those who are spiritual seek spiritual blessings, engage in spiritual exercises, pursue spiritual objects, are influenced by spiritual motives, and experience spiritual joys. Paul describes their character in terms, as clear as they are comprehensive.
"They that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life, and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:5-8.)
Such is spirituality. And purity is a fixed habit of abhorrence of whatever holiness forbids, whether in the heart or in the life. It is the disposition that discovers itself by a cautious fear of all that leads to sin, and by perseverance in prayer, devotion, and the service of God. Where these two qualities exist, all the others that distinguish true Christians, will ever be present. A congregation of such will be
"living stones, built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5.)
All those from whom they are absent, are carnal and unholy. And can men of this class legitimately compose Christ?s church upon earth? The supposition is preposterous. Spirituality, and purity, must distinguish those who are entitled to a place in the sanctuary of God.
Of this character were all those who formed the church in its original organization. The King in Zion intended and required that the holiness of his church should be preserved, and perpetuated. But how can this be done? Its accomplishment demands evidently, the strictest regard to appropriate laws of membership. That the required character cannot otherwise be attained must, to every thinking man, be perfectly obvious. Who does not know that the character of any association, among men, is determined, and ever must be determined, by its laws of membership? These laws decide the qualifications of the individuals of whom the association is composed. The aggregate is made up of the individuals. The character of the individuals will inevitably be the character of the association. This truth is self-evident. That would not be a Temperance society, however vehemently it might demand the name, which should receive, and retain, large numbers of men who continue in the daily use of ardent spirits as a beverage. A Literary society would not remain such, in any proper sense, when filled up with uneducated men, who neither study, nor intend to study literature. Nor would a Medical society deserve the name, if composed mostly of planters, merchants, and lawyers, who designed to give no special attention to medicine. If the specific character of the association is preserved and perpetuated, those only must be admitted to membership, and retained in the body, who are qualified by the necessary acquirements, and disposed to prosecute the objects had in view in its formation. These great truths are especially applicable to the church of Christ. Her spirituality and purity as a body, can be preserved and perpetuated no otherwise than by admitting to membership, and retaining in communion, those individuals only who are spiritual and pure. In accordance with these facts, and corroborating their truth, the laws of membership enacted by our Lord Jesus Christ, are fixed with the greatest possible plainness and particularity. Baptism is the outward form in which this membership is given and assumed. This ordinance is essential to admission into the visible church, and of that church all who receive it are members. Paul so teaches us when he says:
"As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:27.)
All the denominations around us receive, and act upon this truth. At the baptism of a child in the Episcopal church, the minister says:?"We receive this child into the congregation of Christ?s flock."1 The Methodist minister says when a child is baptized, it is done that:?"He [this child] being delivered from thy [God?s] wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ?s church."2 And the Presbyterian says:?"Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament," "whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord?s."3 The laws of baptism, therefore, are confessedly included in the laws of membership, Let these laws, as enacted by Messiah, now be indicated. "Teach," said he, and "baptize" the instructed. "Preach the gospel," and "him that believeth" the gospel "baptize." In all your administrations let the fact be remembered, that
"My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:26.)
"The kingdom, and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High." (Daniel 7:27.)
The language of the New Covenant describes truly, without doubt, the character of those who are in that covenant, and such only are legitimately, church members.
"I will," says God, "put my laws into their mind, and write them in their heart; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest." (Hebrews 8:6.)
By the laws of Christ, therefore, only those are to be admitted into the church who have been taught, who believe, who are not of this world, who are saints, in whose mind and heart the law of God is incorporated, and who know the Lord as their God. This character is required of them also by their relations to Jehovah. The church of God offer him acceptable worship, but this can be done by no others than those described; "for God is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth." (Romans 8:2-6.)
It is also demanded by their relations to mankind.
"Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-17.)
These are some of the laws of membership in his church as fixed by Christ himself. How definite! How precise in all things! They describe, with the utmost clearness, the spiritual, and the pure. None others can enter his church, since it is his purpose to perpetuate in the body these holy qualities. The execution of these laws is confided to his ministers and people. If they swerve from their duty, the result is lost. The strictest obedience on their part, is consequently commanded, and enforced by the most solemn sanctions. He who fails in his fidelity, no matter who he is, or what may be his official position, sins against God, by disregarding his solemn injunctions; sins against the church, by corrupting and degrading it; sins against the world, because he removes and extinguishes the light by which it is to be guided to salvation; and sins against his own soul, covering himself with crime, and condemnation.
We are now prepared to inquire into the effect produced upon the character of the church by infant baptism. It sets aside all the laws of membership enacted by Christ for her preservation and glory; it proceeds upon others of its own creation, and substitution; it brings into the body, not the spiritual and pure only, but also all classes of men; and it thus impresses upon it such a character as effectually destroys its claims to be regarded as the true visible church of Christ. It is thenceforth necessarily carnal and unholy. It is not the church of Christ.
Infant baptism, I have said, necessarily leads to this melancholy result. Let this proposition be further considered. Does it not, to the extent that it prevails, throw the whole population of the country into the church? This fact no man will deny. Is it not also true, that great multitudes of these baptized children grow up to maturity in the church, worldly, sensual, wicked men? They are all members, and some of them ministers, and other officers, in the church! If, as we have seen, the character of an association as a body, is necessarily that of the individuals of which it is composed, then it follows with certainty, that infant baptism must soon despoil the church of its spirituality and purity, and render it carnal and unholy, since it is by this rite, filled with members, officers, and ministers, who are not themselves spiritual and pure, but carnal, unholy, and worldly. The church is what the members are of which it is composed.
But the evil influence in the connection in which I now speak of it, is not negative merely, it is positive, and overwhelming. It not only excludes spirituality and purity from the church, but it introduces corruptions of the most destructive character.
How it corrupts the church in her membership is sufficiently apparent. Its corrupting influence upon her doctrines has been seen in previous chapters. I will here recapitulate. It perverts the word of God to bring it apparently into its support; it engrafts Judaism upon the gospel of Christ; its principles contradict the doctrine of justification by faith; they are in conflict with the work of the Spirit in regeneration; and they falsify the doctrine of universal depravity. What fearful destruction it has thus wrought in all that is revered and holy! What now must be her general temper, and disposition? Will she be as designed by Jesus Christ, and represented by his apostles,
"A glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy, and without blemish?" (Ephesians 5:27.)
Will she "crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts?" Will she "live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit," bringing forth the fruits of "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, temperance?" Will she not rather be guided by ambition, pride, and vainglory, relying for her advancement upon measures of mere worldly policy? Will she not prefer a learned, or an eloquent, to a converted ministry? Will she not be ready to embrace any false doctrines, or unscriptural practices, which may be found congenial with her unsanctified nature, and suited to her purposes of dominion, and power? With such a spirit infant baptism has always been found inspiring the church. Nor is this less true of Protestantism than it is of Popery. Whence originated the Neology of Lutheranism, the Puseyism of Episcopacy, and the Unitarianism and Universalism of Calvinism? Had these churches adhered to the laws of membership established by Christ Jesus, and admitted, or retained in their communion, none but the truly converted, could these miserable dogmas ever have covered them with shame and misery? They are all, therefore, the legitimate offspring of infant baptism. Its advocates have "sown the wind," and as a natural consequence, "they have reaped the whirlwind."
Nor does the evil of infant baptism terminate even here. It blots out every vestige of the church itself, by wholly destroying its visibility! This proposition may seem startling. Let us give, it a candid investigation. The doctrine taught by pedobaptists would bring every child upon earth into the church as soon as it is born! We will suppose, for the sake of the illustration, that from this hour, the gospel is known in every land, and these principles universally prevail. What would be the practical effect? Evidently that in one generation the whole world would be in the church! The Presbyterians would baptize all the children of believing parents; the Episcopalians would baptize "upon the faith of the church," all those for whom sponsors could be secured; and the Methodists, and others, would baptize the remainder! Not a living being would be out of the church! What now is the condition of things? The church is the world; and the world is the church! They are identical! Either there is no church; or there is no world! If the world is not the church?and we know that it is not?then there is no visible church of God upon earth! Its visibility is destroyed; and is destroyed by infant baptism. What do we now see? The spirituality of the church is gone! The purity of the church is gone! The visibility of the church is gone! The church itself is gone! It is despoiled of those peculiar qualities which are essential to the church of Christ. If there is no other than a Pedobaptist church, then there is no true visible church of Christ upon earth!
But is not this an overstatement of the case? Would not a laudable Christian charity draw a much brighter picture than the one I have now sketched? I am reminded that the Methodist church, the Presbyterian church, the Congregational church, and several other churches in this country, and in England, are, in their numerous divisions, highly evangelical. All these, with infant baptism, still hold and teach the great fundamental truths of the gospel. I am happy to concede that this is true. It is, however, the result of a peculiar condition of things, and cannot, therefore, discredit any argument which has been submitted on the subject. Four causes, continually acting upon them all, have hitherto preserved them, in a great measure, from falling into the same destruction which has overwhelmed others.
The first is the great Baptist principle, with which they are unceasingly in contact. In North America the Baptist churches contain a million of communicants. Four millions more, at least, are of their opinion, and under their influence. Nearly one-fourth, therefore, of all our population are strongly Baptistical. All these regard infant baptism, and infant church membership, as wholly unauthorized, and treat them as nonentities in religion. These Baptists are diffused in all the families of the land, high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, learned and unlearned. They are associated with their Pedobaptist brethren upon equal, and most intimate terms. As a consequence of this state of things, the influence of infant baptism is, to a very great extent, neutralized, and destroyed.
The second of these causes is the universal diffusion of the Bible. The word of God is now carefully studied, in Sabbath-schools, in Bible-classes, in families, and in the closet, not by scholars only, but also by all classes of our people, and it is probably better understood by them all, than it has ever been at any period since the days of the apostles. The masses are enlightened; they exercise their own judgment; and their religious opinions are approaching, consequently, much nearer the scriptural standard. In all the teachings of that holy book they find not one word to justify infant baptism. Thousands, consequently, who have received the rite, refuse utterly, to act in accordance with it. They do not regard themselves as church members, or in any way privileged spiritually, because of their infant baptism. That, say they, was only a form. And indeed, so far has this conviction proceeded, that many, very many members, even of Pedobaptist churches, do not hesitate to avow their entire disbelief in the whole theory. Hence its wide-spread neglect throughout our whole land. In proportion as the Bible is understood, loved, and obeyed, does infant baptism, in all its relations and bearings, dwindle, and recede from public view.
The third cause is found in the character of our Pedobaptist ministry. The great body of them, and especially of those connected with the denominations I have named, are converted men. Their religion and good sense lead them involuntarily to discard, except in its forms, the puerilities of their distinguishing rite. They preach to all alike, and boldly declare to sinners of every class, that if they are saved at all, it must be alone by the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, whom they can approach only as penitent believers, and whose Spirit must renew and sanctify their hearts. Thus preaching the fundamental truths of the gospel, they falsify infant baptism, keep it out of sight, and avert in part its deleterious influence. The fourth and last cause is the revivals of religion which have so long, and so extensively prevailed in our country. Of these, in common with our churches, theirs have largely, and happily partaken. These revivals call the thoughts of men directly to the corruptions of their own nature, to the light of the word of God, to the cross of the Redeemer, to regeneration by the Holy Ghost, and to pardon, justification, and salvation, through faith in Christ. True religion is thus everywhere spread abroad, and many, notwithstanding the errors of their standards, and other authorities, whose forms they still observe, are converted, and saved.
These, mainly, are the causes which in America, and the British dominions, have thus far averted from them, its natural and inherent evils, and preserved their churches from total overthrow. Take these away, and nothing can save them from utter disaster.
We have now established our proposition by scripture, reason, and facts. We proceed still further to illustrate and confirm it, by the history and present state of the Pedobaptist world.
Infant baptism swept the primitive churches into popery, with all its darkness, and horrors. The earthly "Head and Ruler," thus brought whole nations into the church, and made them subject to his authority. National governments were within, and subordinate to his, and all the people of which they were composed owed to the "Holy See" their personal and primary allegiance. Thus the Pope ruled the nations with "a rod of iron." That all this is due to infant baptism is demonstrated by these two facts: in the first place, that he exercised this authority solely upon the ground that the people, and princes, were all members of his church; and in the second place, we all know that they never could have been of his church, but for infant baptism. May I not add, that it is by the same means that he still retains his influence over nations, and communities, keeps them in awe of his spiritual prerogatives, and holds them in servile subjection to his will?
For what other purpose than to force them under his authority, does he so sedulously inculcate the pernicious dogma, that by their baptism received in infancy, they are brought into the fold of the church, within which they will be saved, and out of which they will be damned; and that therefore, if they renounce their baptism, or apostatize from Popery, their everlasting destruction is certain? Do any of these nations, or communities, dare at any time, to oppose his authority, or disobey his orders? He immediately lays them under an interdict, suspending the sacraments, all public prayers, burials, and baptisms, the obsequious priests implicitly obeying his mandates. A superstitious dread of these prohibitions, and particularly of that which withholds baptism from their children, soon reduces the people to an humble compliance, since to parents it seems most horrible that their children thus deprived must, if they die, be inevitably lost. Whole kingdoms therefore yield to his exactions, however arbitrary or oppressive, because thereby, as they suppose, they save their own souls, and the souls of their children, which would be lost if they did not submit to the "Vicar of Christ!" What a tremendous influence does infant baptism give to Popery! How cunningly is it adapted to uphold its power?4
Protestant Hierarchies in the old world were not, in adopting infant baptism, indifferent to the power which they would be able through its means, to exert over the people. But we are now considering its effect upon the spirituality, the purity, and other holy qualities, which are essential to the true church of Christ. In these respects what, when uninfluenced by antagonistic causes, such as those I have recited, has been its effects upon the churches of the Reformation? Survey the present aspect of the Episcopal Church, and especially in England. Her creed was in the main, evangelical. Many of her early ministers were men of great learning, energy, and piety. She took a firm hold upon a large proportion of the people. She abolished the mass, and with it purged out most of the grosser abominations of popery, but she retained infant baptism, with its sacramental doctrines. It has had time to produce its mature fruits. And what are they? "The land which around the martyr-fires of Smithfield, swore eternal hatred to Popery, is now full of Popish dignitaries, Popish priests, and Popish proselytes!" Almost every week announces the conversion to Romanism of some of her ministers, and people! Infant baptism has destroyed her gospel faith, and transformed her worship into a beggarly imitation of Italian pageantry. Of the Methodist church, a late and vigorous offshoot of Episcopacy, it is proper to say, that it has not yet existed long enough to feel deeply, the evils in question. But since it is following in the same steps, it must, at length, reach the same results. How many already, of her ministers, and members, are found going over to the Episcopal church, and some of them go on to Puseyism, and to Rome! Thus Methodism evinces that the blood of the mother courses in the veins of the daughter.
Turn now to Lutheranism. The fabric reared by the reformers of Germany, was originally, massive, lofty, and glorious. But infant baptism was left, apparently a little rill beneath its foundation. It has continued to flow on, slowly but certainly undermining the structure, and now it is overturned, and lies prostrate, in stately ruins! "For two centuries the doctrines taught by Luther, were rigidly maintained. But they were by many, held merely as a dead letter." They constituted "a theological creed for which men would buckle on the armor of controversy, but which had no place in their hearts, and no influence over their lives." "There came at last a change over the public mind." There was "a breaking away from old paths of thought, and a reckless pushing into new ones." What power existed to check this current of things? The whole of the people were in the church. Infant baptism had placed them there. Very few were converted. "Even her pastors, and theological professors, were in most instances, destitute entirely of any experimental acquaintance with the power of Christianity.
Such could have no inward witness of the truth of the gospel, and no illumination of the Spirit to guide them in their inquiries. Led exclusively, by unsanctified reason, and a skeptical philosophy, they plunged into speculations" the most wild and extravagant. The Bible was either perverted to sustain their infidel theories, or regarded by them as a mere mythical representation. Its inspiration they discarded as a fond conceit of former days. "This condition of things has continued until the church of Luther, the eldest daughter of the Reformation, has, to a great extent, become crowded in all her departments with men who, while partaking of her ordinances, and filling her offices, laugh at her doctrines," and trample upon the word of God! Tholuck, a distinguished minister of her own, says of the present state of the Lutheran church, that, it is "a huge mass, stiff, cold, and livid. What in many of its parts appears like life, is but the life of the corruption itself by which these parts are dissolving. Only here and there among its dying members is there a living one, that with difficulty averts death from itself."5 This is the deplorable condition of Protestant Christianity in all the German states. By what means has it been produced? By infant baptism. The barriers with which Jesus Christ surrounded his church, were by this rite, thrown down, and the unregenerate, profane, and worldly filled her sanctuary.
The church of Calvin offers to our consideration, and from the same cause, a similar history. Like Luther, he did not return to the gospel laws of membership, but continued the initiatory ordinance as practiced by Popery. The light of his doctrines, with the piety of his people, gradually waned. The very city where he dwelt, is now covered by "the black night of Socin-Janism! Her radiance is quenched. Her voice of truth is hushed. The very pulpit in which he preached, is polluted by lips that deny the divinity of the Son of God, and the renewing agency of his Holy Spirit."
Such are the results to which infant baptism has already brought Episcopacy, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, in Europe. But a still more striking instance, if possible, of its pernicious effects is furnished in the history of Puritanism in our own country. "The founders of `the New England churches had cast off the fetters of a tyrannical Hierarchy in the old world, and they brought with them to the new, views respecting the spiritual nature of Christian communities, and the simplicity of Christian worship, much more correct than those generally entertained in that age. They were men profoundly read in the scriptures, of great faith and zeal, and of exemplary holiness." "Their situation removed them far from the corrupting influence of other less evangelical societies. They were alone in the wilderness, with themselves, their offspring, and their God." Here, then, if it ever can be anywhere, infant baptism would surely have been harmless. The process by which it inevitably leads to deterioration is thus described by Dr. Wisner, who being himself a Puritan Pedobaptist, cannot be suspected of having colored his picture too highly. "As to the promises [made at their baptism, by parents and friends] of educating children in the fear of the Lord," "they soon came to be alike disregarded by both those who exacted, and those who made them." "The most solemn and impressive acts of religion, came to be regarded as unmeaning ceremonies, the form only to be thought important, while the substance was overlooked, and rapidly passing away." "And now another and still more fatal step, was taken in this downward course. Why should such a difference be made [in the persons receiving them] between the two Christian sacraments, which reason infers from the nature of the case, and the scriptures clearly determine, require precisely the same qualifications?
If persons were qualified to make in order to come to one ordinance, [baptism] the very same profession, both in meaning and terms required to come to the other, [the communion] why should they be excluded from that other? The practical result, every one sees, would be, that if the innovation already made [known among them as the Half-Way Covenant, according to which all the baptized, if not openly immoral, were regarded as church members]6 were not abandoned, another would be speedily introduced. And such was the fact. Correct moral deportment, with profession of correct devotional opinions, and a desire for regeneration, soon came to be regarded as the only qualification for admission to the communion." The churches soon came to consist very considerably, in many places, of unregenerate persons; of those who regarded themselves, and were regarded by others, as unregenerate. Of all these things the consequence was, that within thirty years after the commencement of the eighteenth century, a large portion of the clergy throughout the country, were either only speculatively correct, or to some extent actually erroneous in their religious opinions; maintaining regularly the forms of religion, but in some instances having well-nigh lost, and in others having, it is to be feared, never felt its power."7
"To such a state," remarks Dr. Ide,8 "had the Puritan churches of New England been brought by infant baptism within a single century! Silently, but surely, it had done its work!" Successively it had destroyed the spirituality, and the purity of the church. Truth was abandoned. Religion expired. "Every where men avowedly unconverted, belonged to her communion, presided over her interests, and served at her altars. With such a membership, and such a ministry, both alike carnal, it was not to be supposed that the church would long retain even a theoretical belief in the grand teachings of revelation. These, however, were not at once repudiated.
The forms of faith which have become fixed in a community, do not suddenly pass away. Truth leaves the heart, and the lips, long before it leaves the creed. For a considerable period, therefore, a dead, leaden orthodoxy hung over New England, hiding like a shroud the rottenness beneath. But this could not continue. An incipient change began to be perceived. The distinguishing doctrines of the gospel were not, indeed, denounced and opposed. They were passed over. While keeping their place in the Confessions, and Articles, they were quietly dismissed from the pulpit, to make room for moral essays, and panegyrics on the beauty of natural virtue. The downward progress having gone thus far, must go further. Men are never satisfied with what is merely negative. They demand a positive. When once they have discarded positive truth, their next step is to embrace positive error, Hence we find that as early as the middle of the last century, opinions involving a denial of the proper divinity of Christ, the depravity of human nature, the need of atonement, and the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, were extensively adopted in Massachusetts." "They spread for fifty years through the country, pervading the graceless clergy, and more graceless laity." "At last the great Unitarian apostasy stood revealed in all its hideous deformity!" All these facts are authenticated by the stern voice of impartial history. They afford a demonstration most perfect, that infant baptism, wherever it is not counteracted by mitigating influences, will destroy, and must destroy, the spirituality, the purity, the very visibility of the church. It inevitably despoils her of all those qualities which are essential to the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Infant baptism, as must be seen, in the light of all the facts and considerations now before you, is not merely a question of an ordinance, it is also a question of membership in the church of Christ. In the former sense it is unlawful. In the latter it is fearfully destructive. It must always give character to the church in which it is practiced. It inevitably fills it with the unregenerate, and unholy, with skeptics, and unbelievers. And still more Against this deterioration and moral death, there is for Pedobaptist churches, as such, no possible remedy. They possess within themselves no power to throw them off. They must wither and expire under their influence. Not so with us. Do corruptions, no matter of what character, invade Baptist churches? They contain inherently all the elements of restoration. They have only to recur to first principles, to their inspired laws of membership, and discipline. By the former, no persons are admitted to a place among them, but those who are decided, in a judgment of charity, to be true penitent believers in Christ, born of the Holy Ghost; and by the latter laws, all those who depart from piety in life, or truth in principle, are promptly separated from their communion. By this simple, but effective process, how often have they purged themselves from evils of all kinds! Striking instances are perhaps, within your own memory.
Antinomianism attempted to fasten itself upon our churches. It was promptly thrown off. Campbellism came, with its Pedobaptist doctrine of sacramental efficacy. They arose and cast out this source of impurity. Thus they have acted in all ages. They have only to enforce the fundamental laws of their constitution, which require that God?s spiritual house shall be composed of spiritual materials. While they do this, they will ever rejoice in a pure doctrine, a pure membership, a pure and able ministry, and a vigorous life. With Pedobaptist churches the case is wholly different. From a resort to first principles they can derive no help. These very first principles, embracing, as they do, infant baptism, and infant church membership, have done all the mischief. While they preserve and cherish the source whence they arise, they can never escape the corruptions that necessarily result. They may manifest occasional amendment. There may be in their history, intervals of revival. There have been such, in this country, among Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, and in the Methodist branch of the Episcopal church. Comparative spirituality and purity, will in such cases, for a while prevail. But these periods must be evanescent. The same prolific fountain is perpetually sending forth its streams, and they must soon again be deluged. They have no remedy. They must renounce their first principles, and adopt the laws of church membership contained in the word of God. The annals of history contain not an instance of a Pedobaptist church, that has continued a Pedobaptist church, which has radically and permanently reformed itself.
The Church of England has not done it. The Church of Germany has not done it. The Church of Calvin has not done it. No Pedobaptist church ever has done it. None ever will, except those who cease to receive into their bosom the worldly and the profane. In a word, if they would be what the church was designed to be by Christ, they must cease to be Pedobaptists.
With Baptists, I remark in conclusion, are lodged, as you must plainly see, the only conservative influences now existing in the universe. It is ours, with the blessing of God, to save from being quenched that truth which is "the world?s only hope." It is ours also, to save Pedobaptists themselves, of all classes, from the consequences of their own errors. If we do not save them, they must sink. It is ours to spread the gospel throughout the round earth. How exalted, therefore, how responsible, how far-reaching, is our mission! It is fearfully sublime. It has, however, been assigned us by our God. Sustained by his grace, let us discharge it with fidelity. He is even now, clothing us with strength for the work. How unexampled is our multiplication! How rapid our diffusion over the whole earth! Jehovah is evidently about to vindicate his gospel; to sweep away the clouds of ignorance, superstition, and error; to restore to man a pure and glorious Christianity. Of this great conflict who will consent to remain an idle spectator? Who can refrain from participating in the Battle? Who does not involuntarily exclaim with the princely prophet, "For Zion?s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem?s sake I will not be silent, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth?"
1 The Liturgy.
2 Discipline, ch. 3, sect. 2.
3 Larger Catechism, Quest. 165.
4 Consult Dr. Gill?s Inf. Bap. a Part and Pillar of Popery, ch. 2.
5 Predigten, Band 1, Section 25.
6 Vide Mather?s Magnalia, Book 5.
7 History of the Old South Church.
8 In his excellent chapter in Gill?s Part and Pillar, ch. 4, from which I have here drawn my statements regarding Episcopacy, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Puritanism
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