Emblem -- do we pour on thee;
Little one! regenerate be --
Only by the crimson flood
Of the Spotless, in the blood
Of the very Son of God!
Father, Son and Holy Ghost!
Take the feeble, take the lost,
Purchased once at Calvary's cost!"
What delightful associations cluster around the baptismal altar! How tenderly does the pious mother fold her babe to her yearning heart, as she devoutly approaches that consecrated spot, and there dedicates in and through this holy sacrament, the child of her love and hope, to Him who gave it! What a holy charge she there assumes; what a sacred vow she there makes; what a solemn promise she there gives; what a momentous interest is entrusted to her there; what a weight of responsibility is there laid upon her!
Her charge is an infant soul; her vow is to be faithful to it; her promise is to train it up for God; and her's will be the lasting glory or the lasting shame! These very engagements and trusts elevate the pious parents; diffuse a tenderness and sympathy over all the domestic relations, and make better husbands, better wives, better parents, and better children, by the deep insight which is given to their faith in those mysterious relations and mutual obligations which bind them together. As the consecrated water falls upon the face of the devoted child, the parents feel the solemn vow sink deep into the soul, and realize the weight of that responsibility which God lays upon them.
God commands us not only to dedicate our children to Him, but to do so in the way He has appointed, viz., in and through Christian baptism. In this way we bring our children into the church, and train them up in a churchly way. We bring them to God through the church. In their baptism we have, as it were, a confirmation of their dedication by "the mighty Master's seal." It is the link which binds our children to the church, the rite of their initiation into the kingdom of Christ, the sign and seal of their saving relation to the covenant of grace. By it they are solemnly set apart to the service of God, enrolled among the members of His kingdom, entitled to its privileges and guardian care, and placed in the appointed way of salvation and eternal life, receiving the seal and superscription of the Son of God. This is indispensable to the demands of the Christian faith. To deny that infants are thus included in the covenant of grace, destroys the purity and spiritual unity of the Christian compact, and subverts the foundations and harmony of the Christian home.
It is revolting to the parent's faith to forbid his little ones the privilege of the church, and to treat them as aliens from the covenant of promise. Does the gospel place them under such a ban of proscription? Surely not! He who instituted the family relation had special regard to the family in all the appointments of his grace. His command is like that of Noah, "Come thou and all thy house into the ark." "The promise is unto you and your children." This is the comfort of the parent, that his children are planted by the ordinance of God into the soil of grace, where they may grow up as a tender plant in the likeness of His death, and be "like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that shall bring forth his fruit in his season; his leaf shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."
Baptism in the Christian home is eminently infant baptism. Take this away, and you sever the strongest cord that binds church and home. As the Jew was commanded to circumcise his child, and thus bring it into proper relations to the theocratical covenant, so the Christian has a similar command from Christ to bring his children, through the holy sacrament of baptism, to Him. It is not our purpose to discuss the baptistic question. When we shall have thrown sufficient light upon it to convince the Christian parent, that it is a duty to have little children dedicated to God in baptism, our plan shall be fully executed. We must either admit infant baptism, or deny that the Christian covenant includes children, and that the parent is bound to dedicate them to God. Hence the objection brought against infant baptism can, with equal propriety, be urged against circumcision; for the latter is the type of the former. In baptism Christ places Himself in true organic relations to the child, and thus opens up to it the sources from which alone the Christian life can proceed and develop itself.
The baptism of our children is grounded in their need of salvation at every age and stage of development. It is also based upon the very idea of Christ Himself; upon primitive christianity; upon the extent and compass of the Christian covenant; and upon those vital relations which believing parents sustain to their offspring. It might be proven from the commission given by Christ to His disciples to "preach the gospel to every creature;" from His language and conduct in reference to children; from the usage of the Apostles and of the apostolic church. The idea and mission of Christ Himself, we think, would be a sufficient argument in favor of infant baptism. He included in His life the stage of childhood, and came to save the child as well as the man. His own infancy and childhood are securities for this. He entered into and passed through all the various states and stages of man's development on earth, and thus became adapted to the wants of every period of our life, -- man's infancy as well as man's maturity. Ireneus says, "Christ Jesus became a child to children, a youth to youth, and a man to man." The fact, too, that the blessings of the covenant of grace are extended to the children of believing parents, is sufficient to prove the validity of infant baptism. Peter said on the day of Pentecost, when he called upon his hearers to be baptized: "for the promise is to you, and your children, and all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."
Thus His gospel excludes none, neither is it restricted to a certain age or capacity. As the child, as well as the man, fell and died in the first Adam, so the child, as well as the man, can be made alive in the second Adam. As infants, therefore, are subjects of grace, why not subjects also of baptism? As they are included in the covenant, why not enter it by the divinely constituted sacrament of initiation? As they are included in the plan of salvation, why not receive it in a churchly way? If Christ is the Saviour of infants, why not bring them to Him through baptism?
Besides, the idea of following Christ reaches its full meaning only through infant baptism. His own infancy, as we have already seen, is a warrant of this. Without it He cannot penetrate and rule in every natural stage of human life. Hence a denial of infant baptism is a subversion of the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. The very constitution of the Christian family, its unity and mission must be overthrown; for infant baptism is incorporated with the nature of christianity itself, with the conception and necessities of the individual Christian life, and of the Christian family life.
And yet with the plainest teachings of the gospel before them, is it not strange that there are so many virulent enemies to infant baptism? Their rejection of it seems to rest mainly upon the untenable position that baptism has meaning and force only when it is the fruit of an antecedent, self-conscious faith on the part of the subject, and that it is but the outward demonstration of a separate and prior participation of some inward grace. As infants have not a self-conscious faith, it is believed, therefore, that they are not, of course, fit subjects of baptism.
There is a cunning sophistry in all this. It goes upon the supposition that faith necessarily demands the prior development of self-consciousness. It assumes that faith is bound to a particular age, and can be exercised only after the full and complete development of the logical consciousness, and is dependent upon it; it also assumes that this faith must necessarily be exercised by the subject of Christian baptism.
Now this is all mere assumption. There is no scripture for it. In all this, the distinction is not made between faith in its first bud, and faith in its ripe fruit. The first may exist in the unconscious infant, just as undeveloped reason exists there; because natural powers do not generate supernatural faith. Faith is the gift of God; and its existence does not depend upon any particular stage of mental development. The enemies of infant baptism can see nothing in baptism. They can see no objective force in that holy sacrament; but regard it as something merely external, extraneous, unproductive, -- a mere unmeaning form in which a prior faith is pleased to express itself, as the conclusion of a work already accomplished. The great error here lies just in this, that they mistake it as an act of faith, whereas it is an act of Christ. They think it is the formal rite through which they elect and receive Christ; whereas it is the sacrament in which Christ elects and receives them.
If, in church worship, man placed himself in a relation to God, without God placing Himself in a relation to man, then we might reject infant baptism. But this is not so. God, in baptism, places Himself in a relation to the subject, receives the subject until it become a part of the organism of grace in its subjective and objective force, and is recognized as a member of the church of Christ. Now the falsity of the position assumed by the enemies of infant baptism lies just here, that only the subjective side of baptism is held up, while its objective, sacramental character is left altogether out of view. It reverses the relative positions of faith and baptism, making the former to take the place of the latter, and holding that any one dissociated with the church, can receive and exercise a true living faith, which overthrows the very idea of the church itself. It makes faith first, baptism second, entering the church third; whereas baptism comes before the conscious faith of the subject. If so, then why object to infant baptism?
Baptism is that sacrament by means of which the order of divine grace is continued. It generates faith, and its development is from authoritative, to free, personal faith. "What the personal election of Christ was to the first circle of disciples, that baptism is for the successive church, the divine fact through which Christ gives to His church its true and eternal beginning in the individual." If so, then is it not plain that baptism goes before the self-conscious faith of the subject? And if this church-founding sacrament brings your child into a living and saving relation to the church, then why deny it that baptism? Dare you reverse the divine procedure which God has ordained for the salvation of His people? And if Christ is related to the individual only through the general; if He is related to the members only through the body, and having fellowship with them only as the Head of that body, then is it not plain that your children, in order to come to Him as such, to be incorporated with Him and related to Him in a saving way, must come to Him through the church, -- must become a member of it, and that too in the manner and through the medium He has prescribed, viz., baptism?
He who, for the reason, therefore, that children can have no self-conscious faith, refuses to have them baptized, but exposes his ignorance of the divine procedure of grace as developed in the church, of the true moral relation between parent and child, and of the scripture idea of the Christian home. Why not for the very same reason refuse to teach them, to have them pray, to bring them up to church service? Yea, why not deny to them salvation itself? For the very same reason for which you reject infant baptism, you must also reject infant salvation; for faith is held up in the Word of God as a qualification for salvation with more emphasis than as a qualification for baptism. Hence if you say that infants cannot be baptized because incapable of faith, you must also say, by a parity of reasoning, that infants cannot be saved, because incapable of faith.
This is a dilemma, and to avoid it, some enemies to infant baptism have even confessed that they see no hope for the salvation of children. Thus Dr. Alexander Carson says, "The gospel has nothing to do with infants. It is good news, but to infants it is no news at all. None can be saved by the gospel who do not believe it! Consequently by the gospel no infants can be saved!" But if out of Christ there is no salvation, then tell me, how will infants be saved? We have no answer from these enemies, yea, there is no answer!
Christian parents! what think you of this? When bending over the grave of a beloved child, with the cherished hope of meeting it in heaven, how would such intelligence as this startle you from your dream of reunion there, and cast a deep pall of desolation around your sorrowing hearts? Does not the parent's faith forbid the intrusion of a doctrine so revolting as this? Though you have been in your home, the divinely appointed representative of your child, and in its baptism exercised faith in its behalf, on the ground of those natural and moral relations which the Lord has constituted between you and your child, yet in this startling dogma of the enemies of its baptism, you find a virtual denial of the existence of such moral relations and parental vicarage; yea, a denial of parental stewardship and of the religious ministry of the Christian home. The revulsion with which the Christian heart receives such a denial of infant baptism is at least a presumptive evidence against it. But we think enough has been said to lay the foundation of some practical comments upon the subject of Christian baptism.
If it is a fact that infants are proper subjects of baptism, then it is the duty of Christian parents to have them baptized. It is not only a duty, but a delightful privilege, to consecrate them to God in a perpetual covenant never to be forgotten, regarding them as the members of the kingdom of Christ, and so called to be God's children by adoption and grace.
Their baptism involves many parental duties and responsibilities. If it is both a sign and a seal of the covenant of grace, and a means of grace, so that the parent's faith, in their baptism, places the child in covenant relation to the Incarnate Word, through the life-giving Spirit, then it is plain that the parent is bound to secure for the child those blessings which that baptism contemplates, and which hang upon the exercise of a receiving faith. This sacrament gives the child a churchly claim upon parental interposition in its behalf, in all things pertaining to its spiritual culture, -- in a true religious training, in a proper direction in the use of the means of grace, in a holy Christian example. Here it is the parent's duty to represent the church, to act for the church in religious ministrations to the child, to be the steward of the church in the Christian home, to rear up the child for a responsible membership.
No parent, therefore, who neglects the baptism of the child, can have "the answer of a good conscience towards God." If we are satisfied to have our homes separate from the church; if we are satisfied with individualistic, disembodied, unassociated christianity, -- a religion that owns no church, but which has its origin, root and maturity in the self-conscious activity of the individual, we may then neglect this duty. But in doing so, to be consistent, we must also discard the sister ordinance of the Lord's supper, yea, all the churchly means of grace; yea, the church itself; for why repudiate one ordinance, -- one idea of associated Christianity, and not all the others?
That baptism is greatly abused and neglected, none will deny. It is often abused by neglect of the proper time of its administration. The earliest period of infancy is the proper time; for then there will be a proper correspondence in time between the dedication and the baptism. In this we have an example from Jewish circumcision. The pious Jew took the infant when it was but eight days old, and had it circumcised. But many Christian parents defer the baptism of their children until late childhood, while their vows of dedication are left in mere naked feeling and resolution, having no sacramental force and expression; and as a consequence will grow cold and indifferent. When parents thus delay having their children brought within the fold of God and the bosom of the church, they presume to be wiser than God, and oppose their own weak reason to His word and promises.
Baptism is often abused, also, by being used as a mere habit, an unmeaning form, without a proper sense of its significance, importance, duties and responsibilities. It is administered because others do the same, -- because customary among most church members, and because perhaps it looks like an adherence to the outward of christianity and the church at least. When they have thus obeyed the law of habit, and girded themselves with the formula of parental duty, they feel they have done enough; and perhaps neither their children nor the vows they assumed at their baptism ever after recur to them as objects of specific duty.
But we would remind such parents, that habit is not always duty, and our adherence to habit does not prove our sincerity and the truthfulness of our purpose. It does not always imply "the answer of a good conscience towards God." If having our children baptized is simple obedience to the law of habit, it is not the performance of a parental duty, but the abuse of a blessed privilege; there is in it all no living churchly expression of willing vows. In this way we only reach its outward form, and we do that, not because of its inherent worth, not because of a duty and privilege; but because we desire to cope with others, and decorate our religion in the popular dress of other people's habits.
Baptism is also abused by mistaking the object and design of its administration. Why do many parents have their children baptized? Because they wish to express their vows of dedication in that sacramental form and way which God has appointed? Because they desire to bring them into the fold and bosom of the church, and place them in saving relations to the means of grace? Alas, no! but too often because they make their baptism the mere occasion of giving them, in a formal, public way, their Christian names. They christen their children to give them a name; and often with them this holy sacrament is as empty as the name. Their baptism, in their view, is but the sealing and confirming the name they had before chosen for the child; and when this is done they have no more thought of the baptism. With them the baptism of their children is the ordinance of name-giving. Before it takes place they are busied about getting a name from the most approved, and fashionable novels of the day. This takes the place of dedication. Their prior thoughts are all absorbed in getting a strange, new-fangled name, -- such an one as will carry you away by association to some love-sick tale, or remind you of the burning of Rome, or some other deed which has disgraced humanity. And then as soon as this is done, they fix upon some auspicious occasion when either in the church or in the presence of a select company at home, (for children cry now-a-days too much to bring them to church) they have their pastor to baptize them.
Perhaps a great feast is prepared; godfathers and godmothers (if they have the warrant of some valuable presents) are chosen; and then in all the glare and parade of fashion, they have the ordinance administered. And what then is the first joyful cry of the fond parents, after the solemn ceremony is ended? Why "now, dear, you have your name!" And this is the end, -- yes, the finale of the vows there made before God, -- the end of all until God shall call them to account!
It requires but very little discrimination to see that in all this the nature, design, and obligations of Christian baptism are left totally out of view. They do not here appreciate this ordinance as a channel for the communication of God's grace to their children. When baptized they do not regard them as having been received into gracious relation to God, as plants in the Lord's vineyard, as having put on Christ, and as having their ingrafting into Him not only signified but sealed. Thus being undervalued, it is, as a consequence, abused and neglected.
The great neglect of Christian baptism is doubtless owing to the low, unscriptural views of its nature and practical importance; for if they realized its relations to the plan of salvation, and its office in the appropriation of that salvation to their children, they would not permit them to grow up unbaptized, neither would they be recreant to the solemn duties which are binding upon the parent after its administration. But upon the subject of baptism itself, we have seen that there is great laxity of feeling and opinion.
The spirit of our fathers upon this point is becoming so diluted that we can scarcely discern any longer a vestige of the good old landmarks of their sacramental character. Instead of walking in them, Christians are now falling a prey to a latitudinarian spirit of the most destructive kind. They are, in leaving these old landmarks, falling into the clutches of rationalism and radicalism, which will ere long leave their homes and their church
"A wreck at random driven,
Even ministers themselves seem to grow indifferent to this wide-spread and growing evil. They hardly ever utter a word of warning from the pulpit against it. Their members may be known by them to neglect the baptism of their children; and yet by their silence they wink at this dereliction; and when they have occasion to speak of this ordinance, many advert to it as a mere sign, as something only outward, not communicating an invisible grace, not as a seal of the new covenant, ingrafting into Christ. No wonder when this holy sacrament is thus disparagingly spoken of, that Christian parents will neglect it practically, as a redundancy in the church, -- as a tradition coming in its last wailing cry from ages and forms departed, -- as a church rite marked obsolete, as an old ceremonial savoring of old Jewish shackles, embodying no substantial grace, and unfit for this age of railroad progression and gospel libertinism.
Will any one deny the extent of such a spirit in the church and homes of the present day? Let him refer to church statistics, where he may receive some idea of the magnitude of this evil. In them we can see the extent to which parents have neglected the baptism of their children. We take from a note in the "Mercersburg Review" the following statistical items: "The presbytery of Londonderry reports but one baptism to sixty-four communicants; the presbytery of Buffalo city, the same; the presbytery of Rochester city, one to forty-six; the presbytery of Michigan, one to seventy-seven; the presbytery of Columbus, one to thirty. In the presbytery of New Brunswick, there are three churches which report thus: one reports three hundred and forty-three communicants, and three baptisms; another reports three hundred and forty communicants, and two baptisms. In Philadelphia, one church reports three hundred and three communicants, and seven baptisms; another, two hundred and eighty-seven communicants, and one baptism."
These statistics speak volumes. They tell us how Christian parents neglect the baptism of their children, and also how the church winks at it. And from this neglect we can easily infer their indifference to it. If we refer to the statistics of all other churches, we shall witness a similar neglect. No branch of the church now is free from the imputation of such neglect. It is now difficult indeed, to induce parents to have their children baptized, because they think it is no use! "Let them wait," say they, "till they grow up, and then they will know more about it!" This shows us where the parent stands, viz., in an unchurchly state, and radical to the very core. It shows us what that influence is, which is at work upon his mind. "He will know more about it!" -- just as if that in religion is worthless until we know all about it. Baptism then is not worth anything until the child understands all about it! In that parental utterance we hear the wildest shout of triumphant rationalism!
But again, baptism is often abused by parental unfaithfulness to its obligations. In the baptism of their children, parents solemnly vow to bring them up in the nurture of the Lord, to train them up in His holy ways, to teach them by precept and example, to pray for them and teach them the privilege of prayer. And yet how grossly are these solemn vows left unperformed, and even never thought of in all after life! Perhaps the very opposite course is taken even on the day of baptism. Parents! by this you endanger your own souls as well as the souls of your children. How will the memory of such neglected duty and privilege sink with deepening anguish in your souls, when you shall be called hence to answer to God for your parental stewardship! Be not deceived; God is not mocked; neither will he hold you guiltless when you thus outrage His holy sacrament.
Baptism is often abused by the unfaithfulness of children to its privileges, influences and blessings. Many children fight against these, prevent parents from performing their duties, and repel all the overtures of the Christian home, all the offers of the Spirit's baptism, abandoning the means of grace, refusing to assume the baptismal engagement taken for them by their parents; and thus, so far as they are concerned, undo and neutralize what their parents did for them. Oh, ye baptized children, -- ye to whom the holy ministry of home has been faithfully applied, -- know ye not that the frowns of abused heaven are upon you, and that the memory of your rebellion against the prerogatives of the family, will constitute an ingredient in your cup of woe? The privilege of baptism lays you under solemn requisition. If unfaithful to it, it will be your condemnation, and add new fuel to the flame of a burning conscience.
Parents and children! be faithful to this holy ordinance of God. It is a solemn service. You should approach the baptismal font with a trembling step and a consecrated heart. And what a solemn moment it is, when you take your child away from that altar! There you gave it up to God, -- dedicated it to His service; and there in turn He commits it to you in trust, saying to you as Pharaoh's daughter said to the mother of Moses, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will pay thee thy wages," and you bore it away, as did that faithful mother, to bring it up for God. There you solemnly promised that in training that child, the will of God should be your will, and the law of all your conduct towards it. You can never forget that solemn transaction, and how you there vowed before witnessing men and angels that you would be faithful to the little one God has given you. What now has been the result? Eternity will answer.