THE EVILS OF INFANT BAPTISM
By Robert Boyt C. Howell
INFANT BAPTISM IS AN EVIL BECAUSE IT IS CONTRARY TO THE PRINCIPLES OF CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Nature of freedom; infant baptism destroys civil freedom; it destroys religious freedom; it enslaves the mind in all respects.
FREEDOM is a state of exemption from illegal control We enjoy civil freedom under a government in which our persons, our property, and all our rights, are secured, and protected, by just and equitable laws, promptly administered, and duly obeyed. Religious freedom is immunity from the dominion of men over our faith. He is free who worships and serves God without molestation, according to his own convictions of duty. Freedom has no affinity with lawless license. It cannot, on the contrary, be possessed without submission to the law. Government is essential to the condition of man. God has therefore instituted government, both civil and religious. Between these departments there is no conflict. They never contravene each other. As citizens of a common country, and moral and accountable beings, we are subject to both divine and human laws. Ours are the blessings of both. In the obedience rendered we are admonished by Messiah himself, to "give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar?s, and unto God the things that are God?s."
Civil government is of divine appointment. "The powers that be are ordained of God." As members of the body politic, every man is obliged scrupulously to conform to its legal requirements, in all cases in which they do not come into collision with his obligations to God. His duty to the Most High is more exalted and imperative than any other. Jehovah has not delegated his authority to earthly rulers of any class, whether they be officers of state, or ministers of religion. In faith and worship every man, as long as he infringes the rights of no other man, is accountable to God only. The disciples were forbidden to call any man on earth master. Messiah is himself sole Lord. Nor are they permitted illegally to rule each other. Even the apostles of Christ disavowed any authority in this respect. "Not" said they to their brethren, "that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy;" (2 Corinthians 1:24.) and "Who art thou that judgest another man?s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth." (Romans 14:4; James 4:12.) Freedom, political and religious, thus defined and understood, is, as we now see, not only the just right of every man, but, I will add, it is his inalienable right. He is not permitted to resign it even if he were so disposed; nor can he, by any power, be deprived of it without the grossest violence, and wrong. "Religious freedom is inalienable," says the distinguished and lamented Dr. Robert B. Semple, "because the opinions of men depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men. It is inalienable, also, because what is here a right towards man, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time, and degree of obligation, to the claims of civil society. Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the universe. And if a member of civil society who enters into any subordinate association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority, much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular civil society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the universal Sovereign. We maintain, therefore, that in matters of religion, no man?s right is abridged by the institution of civil society, and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance."1 These great facts and principles will be readily conceded by all enlightened American Christians, of every denomination. The time is past when, in this country at least, they will be called in question. Yet with them all infant baptism, as I shall now demonstrate, is wholly incompatible.
It is contrary to the principles of civil freedom.
It is the first step in a process which soon enslaves the mind, and throughout after life, leads captive all its powers. The child, without its own knowledge or consent, has been subjected to the ordinance in which he makes a profession of religion. As soon as his reason begins to dawn, he is, in popish countries and communities, obliged at regular intervals, to confess to his priest, all the actions of his life, and thoughts of his heart. He dare not entertain any opinion, which his confessor condemns. To him he must submit in all things. Thus a feeling of dependence and subjection is created in his earliest years, which is fostered in all subsequent life He must receive upon authority, as true, propositions which to his own judgment and reason, if he may venture to exercise them, are absurd; and he must hold as false those which appear to him incontestably true. He must adopt no sentiment but by permission of his spiritual guide. Habits of self-distrust, and submission to superiors, thus formed, are soon indelibly fixed in the soul. They can never be eradicated. In Catholic countries, and communities, children are thus reared. As a natural consequence, they are mentally, through life, inevitably, and irrecoverably slaves. His habits are characteristic of the man, and are, as a matter of course, carried into all the relations of life, civil as well as religious. Every citizen is sedulously trained to refuse the formation of any judgment of his own, or if he chance to do so, to distrust, and renounce it, the moment it is contradicted by those to whom he is accustomed to defer. Can such a man be free? He is necessarily, politically, a slave. His soul is bound in such fetters that he can no more recover from them than he can change his nature. Infant baptism places men in this condition. Therefore infant baptism is contrary to the principles of civil freedom. Occasionally, I grant, as an exception to a general rule, a man may be found who is capable of breaking these chains, and rising above the evils of his condition. But he is almost alone. The great mass are content to remain in their bondage. No Popish nation, therefore, ever has been, or ever can be, free. The people are so trained that they must have masters. They demand to be ruled. How dare they form an independent opinion upon politics, or any other subject? They never did such a thing. The act is above their reach. They shrink from it with alarm. If, as lately in France, they arise, and achieve their liberty, it is done in tumult, and they remain in tumult, until, as that nation did once before, and so will again, we fear,2 they sink back into despotism. The states of South America are called republics, but they are not free. They never can be, under existing circumstances, because all these destructive influences are embodied in their organic laws. Infant baptism is at the foundation of the slavery of the nations.
Infant baptism is contrary to the principles of religious freedom. The deteriorating causes just noticed are also influential here. A people incapable of civil, must also be incapable of religious liberty. But there are here additional reasons. The very first act in religion is a gross violation of the great principle of freedom. No choice is left to the child. He is baptized, and placed in the church, as soon as he is born. His faith, his religion, his relation to God, is not a subject upon which he is ever to exercise his own powers of reason or judgment. His church is selected for him, and he is committed to the principles of that church, no matter what they may be, in its polity, in its doctrines, or in its forms. To question the truth of any thing he is taught, is presumptuous and criminal. He is not to doubt whether his church may in some things be wrong. He may prove her right if he can, but not wrong. In most countries it is at the risk of his reputation, his fortune, and his life, that he adopts any opinions, or practices, not sanctioned by authority. Talk to such a man about studying the scriptures to learn the true faith, and to gain correct knowledge of his duty! His faith and duty are prescribed. He dare not dissent. Why should he study the scriptures? He is prohibited from giving them any other than the authorized interpretation. He is obliged to believe what the church believes, and to do what he is commanded by her priests. Religious liberty is to him, utterly impossible. He is bound hand and foot, in hopeless slavery. And what is true of one man is true of a whole community, or of an entire nation, since it is composed of men all of whom are of the same character. Such a nation never can possess, they never can even understand religious freedom. Into this condition of things they are thrown by infant baptism. Therefore infant baptism is contrary to religious no less than to political freedom.
Am I told that the evil we are now considering might exist without infant baptism? If it might, then infant baptism cannot be justly regarded as its legitimate cause. But no, it could not exist, and would not, without it. To this cause it is truly and necessarily traceable. Without infant baptism there could have been no overshadowing and oppressive hierarchies; without it there could have been no degenerate nominal Christianity; without it there could have been no union of church and state; there could have been no lording it over the consciences of the people of God by men in power; there could have been no destruction of religious freedom. Let infant baptism be at once blotted out, and all of every successive generation of children taught the true principles of religion as set forth in the word of God; put the Bible into their hands, and teach them that in their faith and practice they must exercise their own judgment; that they cannot be members of the church unless they have repentance of sin, and a living faith in the Redeemer; and that no obedience can be acceptable to God which is not rendered from love to our Lord Jesus Christ, voluntarily, and intelligently; let all this be instilled into their minds, and religious freedom will instantly spring up, and spread itself over the face of the earth. Infant baptism is the true origin of the evil, and it must be banished from the world before the nations can be emancipated.
But these facts and arguments, I am reminded, are predicated of infant baptism as it exists in connection with Popery, and that it does not necessarily follow that they are true of it when practiced in connection with Protestantism. Infant baptism, I answer, made Popery, and it will carry Protestantism back to the same point. Out of Great Britain, what is Protestantism at this hour in Europe? So far as religious freedom is concerned, it differs almost nothing from Popery. Our facts and arguments are therefore true and applicable also to Protestantism.
In England, however, and in our own country, do not men think and act freely in religion? How, then, can it be said infant baptism fetters their freedom either in politics or religion? In England, I answer, infant baptism is very extensively renounced, and a corresponding liberty prevails. But does England enjoy full religious freedom? That she does no one will for a moment pretend. Public sentiment is brought to bear on the subject by means of the establishment, and the influence of fashion wealth, and aristocracy. An enslaving power is thus exerted which few have the moral courage to encounter, and which all must confess is contrary to the principles of religious freedom.
In America, the very atmosphere we breathe is essentially anti-Pedobaptistic. Here infant baptism is comparatively a dwarfish and inefficient thing. A distinguished minister of that class?Rev. Dr. Bacon of New Haven?in a recent official paper, thus speaks of the decay of the practice:?"A wide neglect of infant baptism prevails" in the Congregational and Presbyterian churches. "How does this happen? We commend the inquiry to the earnest attention of all whom it concerns, and especially of pastors, and the teachers in the theological seminaries." "Is it true that the views on the subject which have been gaining authority in our churches for more than a century, are essentially and-Pedobaptistic in their tendency, and that this tendency is revealing itself in a growing disuse of infant baptism? The question of the fact, and the question how to explain the fact, ought to be fairly and frankly considered. Our Baptist brethren on the one hand, and the believers in baptismal regeneration on the other, are constantly telling us that the baptism of an unconscious infant is incongruous with our theory of religion." This witness is true. There is among all classes in our country "a wide neglect of infant baptism!" It can never flourish here. It is out of its element, and does not produce its mature fruits. It is in the old world that its results are felt in all their power. But is it not in the nature of the same cause to produce the same effects? These effects may be so modified by other influences, as to be less painfully felt, but as far as they go they are precisely the same. It is in the nature of infant baptism here as elsewhere, to destroy civil and religious freedom, and that it has not its full effect among us is attributable mainly, if not wholly, to the Baptist element which everywhere so strongly pervades the public mind, and even enters the Pedobaptist churches themselves. Thus have we seen the nature of freedom, political and religious; that it is the inalienable right of all men; and how it is destroyed by infant baptism in the state, and in the church. It is true, therefore, beyond question, that infant baptism is contrary to the principles of civil and religious freedom. It follows that by how much civil and religious freedom is an unspeakable blessing, by so much is infant baptism, which destroys it, an evil, and a curse.
1 Semple?s Hist. of Virginia
Baptists, p. 436.
2 This prediction, hazarded in the first edition, recent events have given us no ground to retract
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