Here let us be careful, however, to bear in mind and keep before us that we claim for the child only the birth of a new life. It has been born of water and the Spirit. A birth we know is but a very feeble beginning of life. So faint are the flickerings of the natural life at birth, that it is often doubtful at first whether any life is present. The result of a birth is not a full-grown man, but a very weak and helpless babe. The little life needs the most tender, watchful and intelligent fostering and care.
So it is also in the Kingdom of Grace. The divine life is there. But it is life in its first beginnings. As yet only the seeds and germs of the new life. And this young spiritual life also needs gentle fostering and careful nourishing. Like the natural life of the child, so its spiritual life is beset with perils. While the germs of the new life are there, we must not forget that the roots of sin are also still there. Our Church does not teach with Rome that "sin (original) is destroyed in baptism, so that it no longer exists." Hollazius says: "The guilt and dominion of sin is taken away by baptism, but not the root or tinder of sin." Luther also writes that "Baptism takes away the guilt of sin, although the material, called concupiscence, remains."
Unfortunately for the child these roots of sin will grow of their own accord, like the weeds in our gardens. They need no fostering care. Not so with the germs of the new life. They, like the most precious plants of the gardens, must be watched and guarded and tended continually. Solomon says: Prov. xxix.15, "A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." And this may be true even of a baptized child.
The Christian parent, therefore, has not fulfilled his whole duty to the child by having it baptized. It is now the parents' duty; or rather it should be considered the parents' most blessed privilege to keep that child in covenant relationship with the blessed Redeemer. This also belongs to the teaching of the Church of the Reformation. This point, however, many parents seem to forget. Many who are sound on the question of baptismal Grace, are very unsound as to a parent's duty to the baptized child.
Hunnius, a recognized standard theologian of our Church, in speaking of the responsibility of those who present children for baptism says it is expected of them First, to answer, in behalf of the child, as to the faith in which it is baptized, and in which it is to be brought up. Second, to instruct the child when it comes to years of discretion, that it has been truly baptized, as Christ has commanded. Third, to pray for the child, that God may keep it in that Covenant of Grace, bless it in body and spirit, and finally save it with all true believers, and Fourth, to use all diligence that the child may grow up in that faith, which they have confessed in the child's name, and thus be preserved from dangerous error and false doctrine.
That most delightful Lutheran theologian, Luthardt, says: "Infant baptism is a comfort beyond any other, but it is also a responsibility beyond any other." Again: "As Christians we know that God has bestowed upon our children not only natural, but spiritual gifts. For our children have been baptized and received by baptism into the Covenant of Grace. To preserve them in this baptismal Grace, to develop in them the life of God's spirit, this is one side of Christian education. To contend against sin in the child is the other." Dr. Schmid, in his Christian Ethics, also teaches that it is possible to continue in the uninterrupted enjoyment of baptismal Grace. Dr. Pontoppidan, in his explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, asks the question: "Is it possible to keep one's baptismal covenant?" He answers; "Yes, by the Grace of God it is possible."
The teaching of our Church, therefore, is that the baptized child can grow up, a child of Grace from infancy, and that under God, it rests principally with the parents or guardians whether it shall be so. And this Lutheran idea, like all others, is grounded in the Word of God.
We note a few examples: Samuel was a child of prayer, given to his pious mother in answer to prayer. She called him Samuel, i.e., asked of God. Before his birth even, she dedicated him to God. As soon as he was weaned she carried him to the Tabernacle and there publicly consecrated him to the service of the Most High. From this time forth, according to the sacred record, he dwelt in God's Tabernacle and "ministered unto the Lord before Eli". As a mere child God used him as a prophet. Of the prophet Jeremiah it is written: (Jer. i.5) "Before thou earnest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee." Of John the Baptist it is written: (Luke i.15) "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb". To Timothy, Paul says: "From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation," and in speaking of Timothy's faith Paul says, that faith "dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice." Psalms lxxi.5-6: "Thou art my trust from my youth. By thee have I been holden up from the womb."
It is therefore possible for God, not only to give His Grace to a child, but to keep that child in His Grace all its days. To dispute this is, simply, to dispute the record that God gave.
Lest some one should still say, however, that the examples above noted are isolated and exceptional, we note further, that the tenor of the whole Word is in harmony with this idea. Nowhere in the whole Bible is it even intimated that it is God's desire or plan that children must remain outside of the covenant of Grace, and have no part or lot in the benefits of Christ's redeeming work until they come to years of discretion and can choose for themselves. This modern idea is utterly foreign and contradictory to all we know of God, of His scheme of redemption, and of His dealings with His people, either in the old or new dispensation. He ordained that infants at eight days old should be brought into His covenant. He recognized infant children as partakers of the blessings of His covenant. "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise;" "Suffer them to come unto Me." Everywhere it is taken for granted that the children who have received either the Old or New Testament sacrament of initiation are His. Nowhere are parents exhorted to use their endeavors to have such children converted, as though they had never been touched by divine Grace. But everywhere they are exhorted to keep them in that relation to their Lord, into which His own ordinance has brought them. Gen. xviii.19, "I know that he will command his household after him, and that they shall keep the way of the Lord." Psalm lxxviii.6, 7, "That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, which should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments." Prov. xxii.6, "Train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it." Eph. vi.4, "Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Let the baptized child then be looked upon as already belonging to Christ. Let the parents not worry as though it could not be His until it experiences a change of heart. That heart has been changed. The germs of faith and love are there. If the parent appreciates this fact and does his part, there will be developed, very early, the truest confidence and trust in Christ, and the purest love to God. From the germs will grow the beautiful plant of child-trust and child-love. The graces of the new life may be thus early drawn out, so that the child, in after years, will never know of a time when it did not trust and love, and as a result of this love, hate sin. This is the ideal of God's Word. It is the ideal which every Christian parent should strive to realize in the children given by God, and given to God in His own ordinance. How can it be done? Of this, more in the next chapter.