THE EVILS OF INFANT BAPTISM
By Robert Boyt C. Howell
INFANT BAPTISM IS AN EVIL BECAUSE OF THE CONNECTION IT ASSUMES WITH THE MORAL AND RELIGIOUS TRAINING OF CHILDREN.
Importance of correct training for children; how infant baptism connects itself with it; the injuries thus inflicted.
THE correct moral and religious training of children, is immeasurably important. No subject is more worthy of our careful attention. We are all, and especially those of us to whose charge these little ones have been providentially committed, called upon to study it with prayerful assiduity. The great business of parental life is the proper training of the next generation. Material errors here must always result more or less disastrously, while true principles, prosecuted with fidelity, invariably secure the richest blessings. This most interesting and responsible work, however, is not permitted to proceed unembarrassed. With it infant baptism boldly connects itself, and confidently claims to be necessary to its faithful and successful prosecution. This connection, and the evil it inflicts, it is my purpose in the present chapter, briefly to consider. On the general subject of the moral and religious training of the young, Paul thus exhorts:
"Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:1-4.)
Regarding the benefits to be expected from compliance with this injunction the wisest of men instructs us thus:
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6.)
In approval of the domestic fidelity of Abraham Jehovah said:
"I know him that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord." (Genesis 18:19.)
All those upon whom our heavenly Father has devolved this great duty, are held accountable to him, and to society, for its true and faithful performance. How strong, too, are the other motives which impel them! Who can look upon the children around him, and especially upon his own offspring, without feeling in his heart a firm purpose, for their sake, to discharge the obligation to the utmost extent? These infant minds are so many blank sheets upon which you may write almost whatever you please. Ere, however, the work is commenced, let the startling fact be duly weighed that impressions, when once given, can never be entirely effaced. They are to a greater or less extent indelible. If evil, or adverse to purity, and truth, an injury, probably an irreparable injury, is done to the children themselves, to all the social interests with which they may afterwards be connected, and to whatever pertains to human happiness in this world, and in the world to come 1.
The principles to be instilled are all contained in the "sacred oracles." They ought to be preserved as far as possible from all evil influences, to have constantly before them a pure and holy example, and every opportunity should be improved to fix in their hearts the lessons of heavenly wisdom. The great object must be?since piety includes morality, and fits them both for the duties of this life, and the glory of the life to come?to lead them to Christ, and to seek for them pure vital religion. Until this end is gained, very little comparatively, has been accomplished. The manner in which the proposed end is to be sought, is perspicuously stated by God himself:
"These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children; and thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deuteronomy 6:6-7.)
On this general subject there is, as far as known to me, among Christians of all classes, no difference in sentiment. The moment, however, we descend to particulars, we are the poles asunder. Baptists insist that the successful moral and religious training of children can only be fully attained by adhering strictly to the teachings of divine inspiration. And since their baptism and reception into the church in infancy, are measures not authorized in the gospel, nor consonant with reason, they must be productive not of good, but of evil. Pedobaptists, on the contrary, earnestly insist that it is essential to a happy result in the premises that all infants be baptized, received into the church, and be there brought up with the people of God. Here we join issue, and shall proceed to examine the merits of the controversy. I consider myself the more imperatively called upon to do this, because Baptists have heretofore thought it scarcely worth their while on this topic, to defend their opinions, or practice, with any special carefulness. We have been, and are, fiercely attacked, and violently denounced, in sermons, books, tracts, newspapers, everywhere, as wanting in affectionate attentions to our children, and paying little or no regard to their moral and religious training! This odious charge is rung perpetually in the public ear, and it is thought to be sufficiently proved by the fact that we refuse to baptize, and receive them into our churches. The clamor has been kept up from age to age, and with so much zeal and pertinacity, that out of our own circles the calumny is almost universally believed! Justice and truth demand of us a temperate but firm defense.
Baptists wanting in affectionate attentions to their children! Pay very little regard to their moral and religious training! Let facts speak. Do the children of Baptists in their general conduct, evince less moral, propriety than others? Are they, when of the same social grade, less polished in their manners, less intelligent as men, or less patriotic as citizens? Are a smaller number of them in proportion, found to be truly religious, and active, and useful as followers of Christ? Who dare affirm any of these things? No man certainly, who has any respect for his own character, or veracity. By reliable statistics, collected at different times, and in several cities of our Union, it has repeatedly been proved, that a much larger proportion of the children of Baptists become religious than of the children of Pedobaptists.
During the early part of last year, a report was made, after accurate examination, by the Baltimore Sabbath-school Superintendents? and Teachers? Association, with the following results:?In the Protestant Episcopal Church Sabbath-schools of that city, among all the pupils, about one in every forty-one had professed religion; in the Sabbath-schools of the Presbyterian church, Old School, about one in ninety, and New School, about one in fifty; in those of the Lutheran churches one in fifteen; in those of the Methodist Episcopal churches, one in twenty; in those of the Baptist churches, ONE IN FIVE.2 A similar investigation has been made in Cincinnati, with like results. In New York some years since, a scrutiny was instituted in a large number of families of all the prevailing denominations, and it was found that very many more of the Baptist than of any others, had been brought savingly to Christ. These are facts. What do they prove? Not that the baptized children around us have an advantage over ours, but the contrary. Every theory must be judged by its results, and both the reasons and the facts in this case, prove that of infant baptism is worse than useless. The public mind is beginning to be enlightened on this subject, and will not much longer bear with patience, the reproaches, and defamations with which we are so untiringly pursued.
Are we told that when the children are baptized, sponsors, or parents, or both, come before the church, and there in the presence of God and men, enter into the most solemn vows that they will "bring them up in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord?" All this we know. And we know more than this. Sponsors, it is plain, must be conscious when they assume these vows, that they cannot redeem them. It is notorious that not one in fifty ever even attempt it. The whole paraphernalia of sponsorship is in fact, a mere matter of form and show, without authority, and without benefit. But what of the vows of parents? Are they not substantial, and valuable? Upon them surely, every reliance may be placed. And what do they vow? Why, that they really will do what God Almighty has commanded them to do; in other words, that they will discharge an obligation which no vows of any kind can either absolve, or render more binding! Who has required this at their hands? To me it is most evident that if without these vows they will not obey the divine injunction, they will not obey it at all. If the authority of the Most High is not sufficient of itself, vows and pledges will add nothing to its force. But even if the vows in question were effective and desirable, why connect them with baptism? For this relation I can perceive no especial reason. No benefits, therefore, on this ground are, or can be, secured to the children.
These baptized children, however, are members, we are told, of the church. They have, in consequence, thrown around them a strong moral influence, which without this relation, they could not enjoy. This is looked upon as giving them superior advantages. But are they, after all, any more intimately associated with the people of God, or under the influence of the church, than they would have been had no such proceedings ever have transpired? Certainly they are not. In either case they are under precisely the same control and direction. The children of Baptists are surrounded by all the moral influences and Christian associations, that are enjoyed by those of pedobaptists, and their salutary results are felt to fully as great an extent. We have therefore all the benefits which have been supposed to attach to infant baptism, without incurring any of its evils.
It is most evident that no good arises from the engagements of sponsors, from the promises of parents, from associations with the people of God, from the moral influence of the church, from any circumstances or sources whatever, connected with their baptism, which they would not have enjoyed, and which our children do not enjoy without it. On the contrary, they incur the most serious and dangerous evil, in two respects: they are deceived on vital tenets relating to salvation, and they are thereby placed in circumstances extremely unfavorable to the reception of gospel truths. Infant baptism leads, in moral and religious training, directly into deceptions regarding the way of salvation.
These baptized children will, as soon as they are capable of thought, inquire, if they care to think at all on the subject, what relation this ordinance has given them to Christ and salvation. They can find in the Book of God no answer. The Bible is silent. To what quarter, then, must they look for information? To their catechisms, of course. And what do these same catechisms teach them? If they are Calvinists, they teach them that they were born in the covenant of grace, and members of the church of Christ, and that in their baptism they had, sealed and made over to them, "all the benefits of the death of Christ!" If they are Methodists, their catechisms teach them that their baptism cleansed them from the defilements of original sin, united them with the church, and enrolled them among the faithful people of God! If they are Episcopalians, (and so in substance of Catholics, Lutherans, and others,) that by "their baptism they were made members of Christ, the heirs of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven." A great portion of their moral and religious training consists in teaching them these very catechisms, together with their creeds, confessions, and other standards. If they believe them, they are unquestionably deceived as to the great principles of true religion. They must conclude that they are safe. What more is necessary? If now they live moral and correct lives, they cannot fail of heaven! And is this true? No. It is wholly false. Their minds are miserably perverted! They have mistaken the very nature of vital Christianity. If they would look into the Bible, they would find its teachings on this subject the opposite of those contained in their catechisms. And would they examine their own hearts and lives, they would find them, in the light of the holy word, not pure, not sanctified, but still depraved, sinful, criminal. Their moral and religious training has betrayed them! It may lead them to ruin.
These deceptions imposed upon the infant mind, are fostered in riper years, and strengthened, and deepened, and fixed, by the press, and the pulpit of all classes! "Baptized young people" are addressed by their pastors, not as sinners, but as "children of, the covenant." They are "peculiarly favored." Dr. Miller, for example, observes:?"The only question they [baptized young people] can ask themselves is not, Shall we enter the church, and be connected with Christ?s family? But shall we continue in it, or act the part of ungrateful deserters?" He maintains that:?"Such children are to be registered as members; as such they are to be specially taught; their own relation to the church tenderly pressed. There are to be meetings exclusively for their parents, and for them as members with their parents, and in those meetings they are to see their school-fellows admitted into full communion." Thus "they will be brought to recognize their own membership."3 Alluding to these views of the venerable Princeton professor, Dr. Campbell of England, in a recent work, remarks:?"Under such a system it is hardly extravagant, with Richard Baxter, and Dr. Miller, to believe that in nineteen cases out of twenty, our children would grow up dutiful, sober, orderly, serious, and before they reached mature age, recognize their membership in a personal act, with sincerity and edification."4 This is the moral and religious training prompted by infant baptism, and taught in the books. Not the conversion of these children is sought, but "the unfolding of the elements of the holy heart with which they were born," or which was imparted in baptism!
Other sinners may require to be "born again," but these have been "purified by baptism." It remains only that they "recognize their membership" in the church, and they are in "full communion." They are not exhorted to "personal religion," but warned against "personal apostasy," "the part of ungrateful deserters!" It is a calamitous mistake to connect infant baptism with the moral and religious training of children. Its doctrines deceive millions. It creates false hopes. It leads them to conceive themselves favorites of heaven, when in truth they are "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity."
The children of Baptists are led into no such deceptions, but are carefully guarded against them. No mists are thrown around them which prevent them from understanding the gospel of Christ. They are not obliged to perform the double labor of "unlearning what they have learned amiss," and then learning the truth They set out in the right direction, and industriously pursue it. They learn that all, whether baptized or unbaptized, are by nature, depraved and sinful, and that in order to be saved they must repent, and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ; that all true religion is personal; that every man must account individually to God; and that each must for himself think, decide, and obey our Lord Jesus Christ. Their minds are not preoccupied by error, but open to receive the truth without prejudice, and to practice it without hindrance. These advantages are priceless. They are of unspeakable magnitude and importance! Of them all, however, our brethren of the several denominations around us are unhappily deprived. The hearts of their children have been withdrawn from the truth, and "turned unto fables." Infant baptism, therefore, unfits parents, and others, for the successful moral and religious training of children, and it disqualifies the children under their charge from embracing the truth, by previously imbuing their minds with error, and implanting prejudices against the simple gospel of the Son of God.
We have now submitted for your consideration the importance of the moral and religious training of children as enjoined in the word of inspiration; the obligations it imposes upon parents, and others; and the claims to fidelity preferred by the interests of society, and urged by the spiritual and eternal destiny of the children themselves. We have seen that from their baptism, and church relationship, no good is secured of any kind, but on the contrary, that they are seriously and permanently injured. We have ascertained that the evil inflicted consists, in part at least, in the false impressions made upon their minds in regard to the teachings of the gospel, in regard to their own character as sinners, in regard to the way of salvation, and in regard to the true nature of the religion of Christ. And we have also shown that parents thus place both themselves and their children in a position in which they lose all the advantages of being guided by the divine word, of receiving originally just conceptions of themselves, and of preserving the mind free from prejudices of all kinds in relation to both truth and duty. Most fearful, therefore, and often we apprehend fatal, is the evil of infant baptism, evinced in the connection which it arrogates with the moral and religious training of children.
1 True Union, June 12th, 1851. A correspondent writes as follows:" A few months ago you published the statistics of the Baltimore S.S. Superintendents? and Teachers? Association, to disprove the oft-repeated fallacy that Baptists are cruel to leave their children without ?the seal of the covenant,? and thus exposed more than those who have enjoyed that ?privilege? to live and die without Christ. We then showed that in the Sabbath-schools of this city, the proportion of converts was more than twice as large among the Baptists as in any other school, and more than ten times as great as in some of them. The report for the present year is still more conclusive, and I humbly trust it will tend to dissipate the fears and silence the complaints of those who say our children are left ?to the uncovenanted mercies of God. Would that all the children were taught as ours are, that they are by ?nature children of wrath,? needing the work of the Spirit and the application of the blood of Jesus to their hearts, before they are fit for a place in his holy church. Then we might see more than we do converted in their early days, and consecrating the bloom of their youth to God. To teach all unconverted person (man or child) that he is a member of the church, and embraced within the covenant, simply because a rite with which he had nothing to do, was performed upon him, can have no other effect than to lull his conscience to sleep, and to make him comparatively contented with his favorable position. God grant that the day may soon come when such dangerous and unscriptural teaching shall cease, and when the church shall be as she is described by inspiration, ?a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,? ?a peculiar people.
2 "But to the Report:
School Number Attending Prof. Of Religion Proportion
Protestant Episcopal 1161 28 1
Presbyterian, Old School 726 8 1 in 90&3/4
Do. New School 300 6 1 in 50
English Lutheran 553 37 1 in 15
Methodist Episcopal 4556 220 1 in 20&3/4
Baptist 761 143 1 in 5&1/3
"It will be seen by this table that the: Baptists have nearly three times as many professors of religion in their schools as any other denomination, and about seventeen times as many as are in the Old School Presbyterian church, one of the strongest advocates of infant baptism. These are eloquent facts, and we trust that their language may not be forgotten."
3 Stovel?s Hereditary Claims, p. 24.
4 Jethro, p. 219.
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