THE EVILS OF INFANT BAPTISM
By Robert Boyt C. Howell
INFANT BAPTISM IS AN EVIL BECAUSE IT ENFEEBLES THE POWER OF THE CHURCH TO COMBAT ERROR.
Design of the church; to accomplish it, it must be pure; weakening effect of infant baptism; illustrated by its influence on the Reformation; by daily occurrences.
JESUS CHRIST designs to destroy sin among men. His church is mainly, the instrumentality by which this great work is to be achieved. By the gospel, she is to enlighten the world, to instruct the nations, to subdue the hearts of all men to the truth, and to bring them under the glorious dominion of Messiah. This is a fundamental feature in the faith of all Christians. Its correctness no one doubts.
Contemplate the extent, and the nature of the work proposed. To accomplish it, must not the church herself be clothed with all her strength? Her power is in her conformity in all things, to the laws of Christ. He has therefore sanctified his church,
"that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy, and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:27.)
Is it possible for a Pedobaptist church to maintain this character? We have already amply seen that it is wholly impracticable, since infant baptism necessarily robs it of its purity, and spirituality, and consequently of its ability to fulfill the purposes of its organization. A corrupt church may become great, and learned, and powerful. It may rule over the world. The Papacy has done all this. But to rule the nations is one thing, and to convert the nations to Christ is another thing. This last she cannot do, because she is not herself converted. To accomplish the work assigned her, is to her impossible. Infant baptism, whenever operating without restraint, inevitably corrupts the communities that practice it. It fills the church with the worldly and unregenerate, and thus gives her either a dead and soulless faith, as in Spain, or a living and active infidelity, as in Germany. It is manifest that such a church has no longer any power successfully to combat error in herself, in her sister denominations, or in the world around her.
Of this important truth we have no more striking exemplification than that which is presented in the history, and results, of the Lutheran reformation. This great moral revolution was characterized by many defects. Painfully was it mingled with the passions, and prejudices, and fanaticism of men. It fell far short of restoring religion to its original Bible standard. Yet it was productive, during a long period, of many great and most happy consequences. "Indulgences," as they are familiarly called, first attracted the attention of the reformers. By indulgences is meant to be described a peculiar appendage to the Popish "sacrament of penance." They had regard to the pardon of the sins of the baptized. The baptized were conscious that they committed daily sins, from the guilt of which it was necessary they should be absolved. In this way only could that favor be dispensed, and for such pardon the frivolous, the gay, and the criminal, were disposed to pay liberally. But they would pay much more liberally, when their pardon included, as it frequently did, permission for subsequent crimes which they desired, and intended to perpetrate. Priests only could administer sacraments; consequently priests only, could grant indulgences. Lucrative indeed, did they find the monopoly. These indulgences, with some others of the outworks of popery, were vigorously attacked. Not long, however, did the conflict rage before nearly every department was involved. The citadel itself of popery?the power of sacraments to convey the grace of God, and their consequent necessity to the salvation of all, whether adults, or infants?they soon gallantly assailed. With the Bible in their hands, which they professed to regard as the standard of truth, and duty, Luther and his coadjutors exploded, and overwhelmed with obloquy, the whole fabric of superstitions which had been imposed upon the world as the religion of Christ. Terrible indeed, for a season, was the battle. Upon which standard victory would ultimately perch seemed doubtful. It was soon perceived that the conquest could not be gained unless the word of God, in their vernacular, was put into the hands of the people, and disseminated throughout the whole land. This was done. The spell by which men had been bound, was broken. The Papacy writhed like an expiring monster. Its power was overcome. The great doctrines of salvation by grace, not through ordinances, but through faith, were again proclaimed to the world.
This was the first period of the Reformation. During its continuance the simple force of truth was the sole reliance of its friends. No exterior aid was invoked. The gospel, unencumbered by any of the traditions, or commandments of men, was everywhere in the ascendant.: No power could resist its progress. Religion was no longer a dead formality for the masses, but a spiritual energy pertaining to each individual personally. It concerned his own heart, and life. Thus the hopes of men were removed from the old popish theory of grace expected through sacraments, to the gospel scheme of grace received through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This was then the character of Protestantism. It was the character of the religion of the apostles. Errors of all kinds, fled before it. It rapidly spread into all the nations of Europe. England, and France, and even Spain, as well as the German nations, felt its power. They were all agitated as by the throes of an earthquake. Never was there a movement so popular.: Not the people alone, but the princes also embraced the gospel. O, if the gospel had continued to guide them, what might not have been the result! But here a second era in the Reformation commences. A national establishment of religion was unhappily, considered by them all, as a matter of course.
Popery was abolished. Protestantism must be adopted, and furnished with the scepter of worldly dominion, which had just been snatched from Popery?s bloody hand. It was done. Here was the first false step. "A vital question," says Stovel, "at once arose to be considered. It was how the uninformed and un-converted masses of the people, might be most peacefully transferred from a Papal to a Protestant government, and most effectually united under its rule. In determining this question, to every worldly politician it would appear, that the less change they introduced in the external ceremonies, and popular rites of religion, the more their difficulties would diminish, since the change would thus become less obvious to the people." They supposed themselves, therefore, obliged "to retain infant baptism, always pleasing to the masses, and as much of the other Papal ceremonies, and sacramental doctrines, as they could possibly tolerate."1 Here was the next false step. How lamentably had they now, already receded from their original ground! To render their religion national, they had given up the essentials of its purity, and to fix it in the affections of the people, they had embodied in it the elements of its destruction. Thus they placed themselves voluntarily, in a position in which it was impossible long to retain their character, as the representatives of Christ upon earth! How could the reformers consent to such desecrations? How could Luther, and Melancthon, and Zwingli, and their associates, fail to see that the union of church and state, and infant baptism, a necessary concomitant of that union, must, sooner or later, be ruinous to all true religion? Did they not anticipate that these influences, if permitted to operate, would ultimately destroy all the advantages to gain which they had labored and suffered so nobly? No. They all concurred with the princes. Protestantism was established by law. Infant baptism was fixed upon the church! The power of the church vanished. It had no more ability successfully to combat error.
Another fact here claims our attention. The Baptists saw the approach of the Reformation with unmingled joy. During its first period they warmly sympathized with the movement, and heartily co-operated with its friends. They were found in every place, gallantly battling in the cause. When, however, to settle Protestantism as the religion of the state, infant baptism was confirmed and established, they stood appalled. They paused. They protested. They said to their brethren, "Christianity is not a mere expansion of Judaism. Its great end is not again to envelop man, as the Papacy seeks to do, in the swaddling-bands of outward ordinances, and man?s teaching. Christianity is a new creation. It takes possession of the inward man, and transforms him in the innermost principles of his nature, so that he needeth not human teaching, but by God?s help he is able of himself, and by himself, to discern that which is true, and to do that which is right." Balthasar Hubmeyer, for example?one of the noble army, whose souls ascended to heaven from amidst the martyr-fires of Vienna was a pious, learned, and eloquent Baptist. Before the dawn of the Reformation he had sought to revive the spirit of religion in the Catholic church, of which he was then a priest, and multitudes had flocked to his preaching, and had been moved by his appeals. When Luther and Zwingli lifted their voice for reform, an animated echo was instantly heard from Hubmeyer. He had already translated portions of the scriptures into the language of the people, and was by the side of the foremost in the battle. When the leaders halted, considered, hesitated, and acquiesced in infant baptism, and the union of church and state, he dissented, and planted himself upon the eternal principles of the word of God. He knew that nothing was gained until the church was restored to its primitive: form, as set forth in the gospel. "Write to me again," said he to Zwingli, his early friend, but afterwards his bitter foe, "Write to me again, for God?s sake, on baptism." "I believe and know, that Christendom shall not receive its rising aright, unless baptism, and the Lord?s supper, are brought to their original purity." Zwingli had once doubted himself, as had Melancthon, and Carlstadt, and most of the others, about infant baptism; but they were now committed. The fatal step was taken. But he could not pause, until he saw the church composed, as Jesus Christ commanded, of believers only, and a pure, and spiritual body. Blourock, and Grebel, and Mantz, and Hubmeyer, and the others, reminded the reformers of their own previous doctrines. What response did they receive? Zwingli pettishly answered:
"It is impossible to make a heaven upon earth. Christ has taught us to let the tares grow among the wheat!"2 Our brethren, determined that no effort should be wanting on their part, still pressed the subject. They were answered only by imprisonments, persecutions, and the stake! For the great Swiss leader, however, D?Aubigne ventures this apology:?"He designed a complete religious reformation, but he was resolved not to allow the least invasion of public order or political institutions. This was the limit at which he discovered written by the hand of God, that word from heaven, ?Thus far shalt thou go, and no further.? Somewhere it was necessary to make a. stand, and it was at this point Zwingli, and the reformers, took their stand, in spite of the efforts made by rash and impetuous men [the Baptists] to hurry them beyond it."3 in other words, infant baptism was necessary to a state religion, and as such had entered into the "public order, and political institutions." It was the law of the land. Our brethren, therefore, who refused to conform to it, were denounced as rebels; they were covered with reproach as violators of the law; they were, by princes and magistrates, imprisoned, scourged, banished, put to death! And for their persecution Christian men still rise up as apologists! The Progress of the Reformation ceased, it was stationary for a season. The current then turned back, and flowed towards the corruptions from which it set out. In France, England, and other countries, it followed in the same direction, and reached the same results. Infant baptism has now had time to work its legitimate effects, and they have been full of calamity. It is actually announced from some quarters, and by Protestants themselves, that "The Reformation has proved itself a failure." And so believing, what measures are being adopted by these same Protestants? Do they compare the principles of the Reformation with the Bible, ascertain in what they are deficient, correct their errors, and thus go forward into the light of truth? Far from it. They give up even what had been gained, and take up their march back again into Popery! How large a portion of the Episcopal church, especially in England, has already returned to the embraces of "the Man of Sin!" Infant baptism made Popery what it is, and. infant baptism will carry Protestantism again into Popery.
What power has Popery, what power has Protestantism now, either permanently to reform itself, to extirpate error from other Christian communities, or to convert the nations to Christ? They cannot make others purer than themselves. Were all men of their principles, they would not therefore be the humble, converted followers of Christ. They would not be Christians in the true gospel sense. What can the English church do at present, in the combat with error? She is enfeebled to a hopeless degree. What can Lutheranism do, in any of the numerous governments where it prevails? She is powerless. And Calvinism? All, what is to be hoped from the Arianism of Geneva, or the Unitarianism, and Universalism of New England? Scattered among all these classes are to be found many individuals who really love our Lord Jesus Christ, and serve him with a sincere heart. Their piety I respect and honor. I speak here not of these few, but of the great mass of the Popish, and the Protestant world. In them all infant baptism has evinced the essential evil of its character, by either wholly destroying their ability, or greatly enfeebling their power to combat error. "Will it be said that, in the present depraved state of humanity, communities might easily be pervaded by an irreligious and infidel spirit, even if infant baptism had never existed? We grant it But then the destructive element would have been out of the church.: Now it is within the church. However high the tide of ungodliness may rise,? all is safe while the church preserves the model ordained by its divine founder. Planted on the rock against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, it presents an embankment to the swelling waves, which breaks their force, and turns them harmless back. In a pure church there dwells a recuperative power that can renovate the most degenerate lands. Living and spiritual; in the world, yet distinct from the world; such a church acts as a correcting and restoring agent, reproving iniquity, confounding unbelief, and holding forth the word of life to a reckless and profligate generation. But if its own light becomes darkness, how great is that darkness! When the church itself engenders the disease; when its own bosom is the fountain that sends out the contagion; then the last hope disappears. It must be taken down, and give place to one built on a scriptural foundation. Otherwise the land which its presence blights, must sink beyond recovery, into the gulf of corruption."4 It can never reform itself; it can never reform others; it will retard and obstruct the conversion of men.
It may be objected, however, that these facts and considerations are too sweeping, and are not applicable to the evangelical Pedobaptist denominations among us. Let us, then, descend to more of particularity, and trace in the minutiae of society, and among the best classes, the influence of infant baptism in destroying the power of the church successfully to combat error.
Indulgences, auricular confessions, priestly celibacy, purgatory, and similar doctrines and practices of the Papacy, are revolting abuses. They are theological monstrosities which ought to be banished from the world. But what Protestant Pedobaptist has power to reach them? He may show them to be destitute of any countenance from the word of God. His arguments may be logical, and conclusive. But what has he accomplished? His Popish brother effectually puts down all his essays by a single question:?Where do you get your infant baptism? He tells him in the face of the sun, and he tells him truly, that the Bible gives just as much support to the Papal rites which he condemns, as it does to the Protestant rite which he approves and practises. They all rest upon the same ground, and must stand or fall together. No man can consistently receive one, and reject the others. They must, for the same reasons, be all received, or all rejected. This appeal to his own principles comes with resistless power. He is silenced, and silenced forever. Infant baptism has wholly incapacitated him successfully to combat the errors of Popery.
Among Episcopalians, confirmation, and orders, are among the most striking abuses. Our Presbyterian and Methodist brethren declaim against them eloquently. They pronounce them unauthorized in the Bible, and injurious to religion. Their verdict is true. But while they learnedly discuss, and clearly prove these propositions, their Episcopal brother hears them unperturbed. He knows that he is armed with a weapon they cannot resist; it is the argumentum ad hominem. Our authority, he calmly responds, for confirmation and orders, is the same with yours for infant baptism! Are these corruptions, and injurious to religion, because they have no direct scripture warrant? Then so is infant baptism a corruption and injurious to religion, for the same reason. With what consistency can you practice one, and condemn the others? They dare not contradict him. They are necessarily silent.
Among Methodists, a very painful corruption is the baptism of "seekers," and their reception to their communion. And who are these "seekers?" They are persons who desire to be saved, and manifest feeling on the subject of religion, but who professedly, have not a living faith in Christ, nor any well-grounded hope of eternal life. Against. this practice Presbyterians of all classes protest. They pronounce it a gross error, palpably unscriptural, and not to be countenanced! Their Methodist brother is not at all disconcerted. He tells them plainly, and tells them truly, that, The baptism of seekers is, to say the least, as lawful as the baptism of infants. It is, in truth, attended with prospects even more encouraging, since these seekers may soon be rejoicing in hope, but of infants no such expectation is reasonable. The scriptures favor one as much as they do the other. His assailants cannot answer him. They are silent. He is thenceforth uninterrupted.
The doctrine of "hereditary claims to the covenant of grace," is an appalling abuse among Presbyterians, and Calvinists generally. Other Pedobaptists pronounce it an absurdity, and wholly incredible. Dare they openly assail it? If they do, they are quietly reminded that their theory of infant baptism is as scriptural as any other. Thus they are all put to flight each by the other. Every denomination is so enfeebled that it cannot combat error in any other. The invariable and effectual answer to every argument is, "Physician, heal thyself."
Let no one consider these views of the subject as of small importance. The method of argument here sketched has ever been, and is now, a favorite resort of both Papists and Protestants. It was employed by Cardinal du Perron in his reply to the first King James; by John Ainsworth against Henry Ainsworth; by Fisher the Jesuit against Archbishop Laud; and by Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, against De La Roque of Rouen. Bossuet?s object was to defend the withholding of the cup from the laity in the Lord?s supper, upon the authority of the church, and he urged that infant baptism, both as to subjects and mode, was maintained not by scripture, but by church authority only, with which, nevertheless, the reformed complied. Why, then, he asked, should they refuse compliance in the other case?"5 De La Roque was dumb. Dr. Whitby employs this argument with special force against the English pedobaptist dissenters. When, after pleading for some condescensions in their behalf, he says:?"And on the other hand, if, notwithstanding the evidences produced that baptism by immersion is suitable to the institution both of our Lord and of his apostles, and was by them ordained to represent our burial with Christ, and so our dying unto sin, and our conformity to his resurrection by newness of life, as the apostle clearly maintains is the meaning of that rite, (Romans 6:3-6.) if, I say, notwithstanding this, all our dissenters do agree to sprinkle the baptized infant; why may they not submit to the significant ceremonies imposed by our church? For since it is as lawful to add to Christ?s institutions a significant ceremony which he or his apostles instituted, as to use another in its stead which they never did institute, what reason can they have to do the latter, and refuse submission to the former? And why should not the peace, and union of the church, be as prevailing with them to perform the one, as is their mercy to the infant?s body to neglect the other?"6 Thus infant baptism is used as the grand plea for compliance with the ceremonies both of the church of Rome, and of the church of England. It is their chief prop to support these hierarchies, the appeal to which they resort for countenance. And so triumphant is this appeal, that no pedobaptist ever has been able to stand before it.7 They must all either submit, be silent, or renounce infant baptism. While they retain this unauthorized rite, they have no power to resist error on the part of others.
Nor are they untrammeled even in their efforts to bring the unconverted to Christ. Infant baptism tends to close the hearts of sinners, and does close the hearts of thousands, against those great doctrines of the gospel, the reception and belief of which, are essential to their salvation.
Is it asked?How does infant baptism prevent men from embracing the fundamental doctrines of the gospel? Preach as they are revealed in the word of God, the doctrines of universal and total depravity, the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, justification by faith, and other doctrines of this class, and press them upon those who have been taught to believe the baptismal doctrines of the Standards. They will gaze in your face with a look of self-confident incredulity. If they answer you at all, it will be in language like this:?"We believe that children are born in the church, and covenant of grace, or that their original sin was washed away in baptism. In either case, they are consequently holy. We are all, therefore, originally pure. No one can be holy and depraved at the same time. Those, at least, who are baptized in childhood are not depraved. We were baptized in childhood. Your doctrine of depravity we do not believe!" But the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, they surely will not deny! You see before you a company of men "without God, and without hope in the world."
You affectionately warn them that, if they would be saved, they "must be born again"?"born of the Holy Ghost." Do they believe your message? They have studied their catechisms too well. We, they answer, were baptized in our infancy, and in that ordinance we were then, and there, "born again of water, and of the Holy Ghost." Why do you tell us, who have been long ago "born again of the Holy Ghost," that we must yet be born again of the Holy Ghost? Are people twice born again? They pronounce your teaching nonsense! They profess that they believe in the regenerating efficacy of the Holy Spirit, but they confine it to the medium of baptism! They adhere to the catechisms. In the form in which the doctrine is revealed in the Bible, they do not believe it. And regarding justification by faith, what are their impressions? They are confident that in their baptism, in infancy, they "were cleansed from the defilements of original sin," and had "conferred upon them all the benefits of the death of Christ." They must then, have been accepted of God, and of course, justified! Men are justified but once. They have no idea that they are again to be justified. Infant baptism has encased them all in a covering of steel.
You cannot approach them. They are impervious to truth! Why, say they to their Pedobaptist teachers, what do you mean? We were brought up in the church. We have never forfeited our birthright. "We are not sinners of the gentiles." "We are Abraham?s seed," "the children of the covenant." They are confirmed in sin and deception! Infant baptism has been their ruin. These, alas! are no fancy pictures. They are realities which are daily occurring all around us. These deceived men boldly tell you that if you taught them the truth concerning baptism, you now teach them falsely; and if you now teach them the truth, you then taught them falsely! What can you answer them? Their declaration is true. You have betrayed them! You cannot justify yourself. Infant baptism has closed their hearts against the gospel.
Thus does infant baptism destroy the power of the church to combat error, and prove itself a most lamentable evil. By adopting it she takes away her own purity, and places herself in a position in which she can do nothing effectually, either to reform herself, or to remove the errors of her sister churches. This is shown conclusively, by the history and results of the Reformation; by the present attitude of Lutheranism, Episcopacy, and Calvinism; by the inconsistencies of even evangelical Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians; and by the influence of the rite upon the minds of unrenewed men. Such a church ceases necessarily, to be an effective instrumentality for the destruction of sin among men. She cannot teach the nations the gospel. She cannot enlighten the world. She cannot subdue the hearts of men to the reign of truth. She can never bring a rebellious universe under the dominion of Messiah. She has lost forever, the locks of her strength.
1 Christian Disciple, pp.
2 D?Aubigne, Hist. Ref, vol. 3, p. 306.
3 D?Aubigne, Hist. Rcf., vol. 3, p. 311.
4 Ide, in Gill?s Part and Pillar, etc., pp. 79-80.
5 Stennet?s Answer to Russen, p. 173, et sequitar.
6 Protestant Reconciler, p. 289.
7 Gill?s Part and Pillar, etc., ch. 2.
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