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THE ORDINANCES: THE SUBJECTS OF BAPTISM.
In baptism a Christian believer publicly makes profession of personal faith in Christ and assumes the obligations of Christian discipleship. The rite can be administered, therefore, only to those who are capable of making such a profession and of assuming such obligations. Pædobaptists, on the contrary, affirm that not only believers, but also their infant children, are to be baptized. The following facts, however, seem at the outset to create a presumption against infant baptism:
1. The wholly contradictory grounds on which its validity is maintained. Romanists deny its biblical authority and rest its validity on the authority of the church; and they justly insist, therefore, that Protestants, in practising the rite, abandon the great Protestant principle that the Bible is the only and sufficient rule of faith and revert to the authority of tradition. The German Reformers, with Luther, conceded its lack of New Testament authority; and yet, with strange inconsistency, in the Augsburg Confession it was made essential to infant salvation. The Anglican Church bases its validity on the faith of sponsors, who are supposed to represent the child before God till it comes of age. Most of the English, Scotch, and American churches rest it on the Abrahamic covenant, yet not a few of their ablest divines reject this as a foundation. The German theologians, with Neander, are emphatic in denying that it has either precept or example in Scripture; but they justify the rite as a legitimate outgrowth from germinal principles of the gospel, but of later development than the Apostolic age-a principle which, by denying the sufficiency of Scripture, in reality subverts Protestantism. A still wider diversity exists in respect to the design of baptism in infancy and to the status of those thus baptized. Now, reasons so contradictory, after ages of investigation, certainly create a presumption that no solid scriptural basis for the rite exists; for if it were an ordinance of God, his will would be revealed in relation to an institution so important.
2. Infant baptism has confessedly neither precept nor certain example in Scripture. This is universally conceded; yet it is wholly incredible that the baptism of infants was required throughout the churches, Gentile as well as Jewish, and was commonly practised, and not one instance be recorded, or even alluded to, in the whole New Testament. So important and prominent a fact could not have been omitted. We might at least expect some intimation of duty respecting the rite; for even if it were admitted that the Jewish Christians received the rite in the place of circumcision, and therefore needed no command, certainly the Gentile Christians, who had no circumcision, would need instruction respecting it.
What other reason can there be for the total omission of such a command, except that the rite was totally unknown to the apostles ?
The above facts seem to us to make a presumption against the apostolic authority of infant baptism, and to place the burden of proof on him who ventures to practise a rite thus unknown to the New Testament.
FIRST: ARGUMENTS FOR INFANT BAPTISM EXAMINED. I. THE ARGUMENT FROM THE COVENANT OF CIRCUMCISION.
This argument, as stated by its ablest advocate, the celebrated John M. Mason, D.D., * may here be concisely expressed as follows: God's covenant with Abraham is perpetual; the new as well as the old dispensation is
* Essays on the Church of God.
founded on it. Under the old dispensation, the natural descendants of Abraham, with their natural offspring, were embraced in the covenant and were entitled to circumcision. It follows, therefore, that under the new dispensation, believers, who are the spiritual children of Abraham, with their natural offspring, are included in the covenant and are entitled to baptism, unless the New Testament forbids. But the New Testament does not forbid; the children of believers are, therefore, within the covenant and are entitled to baptism. On this we remark:
1. The conclusion is not contained in the premises. Truly stated, the argument is this: The Abrahamic covenant is perpetual. Under the old dispensation the natural children of Abraham, with their natural offspring, were in the covenant and were entitled to circumcision. Therefore, under the new dispensation, the spiritual children of Abraham, with their spiritual offspring—i. e., partakers of their faith-are in the covenant and are entitled to baptism. For under the earlier dispensation it was the natural relation to Abraham which secured to the child a place in God's covenant and a right to circumcision, but under the later it is the spiritual relation to Abraham which secures a place in the covenant and a right to baptism. Plainly, even Dr. Mason's argument, when properly stated, shows that as of old carnal descent entitled to circumcision, so now spiritual descent—that is, participation of like faith-entitles to baptism; and baptism belongs, therefore, only to the children of Abraham by faith.
2. The conclusion is disproved by an analysis of the Abrahamic covenant. It is evident that this covenant had a double import, a literal and a typical. It pledged to Abraham three earthly blessings-viz., that his descend
ants should be vast in number, that Jehovah would be their God, and that they should inherit the land of Canaan. These pledges were all literally fulfilled to Israel. But in its higher import it gave assurance that the children of Abraham by faith should be innumerable, that Jehovah would be their God through all the ages, and that they should inherit heaven, of which Palestine was the type.* These pledges God has been fulfilling to the children of Abraham by faith in all ages. Now, of this covenant, circumcision was the sign only of the literal import. For, (1.) Its prerequisite was only carnal descent from Abraham, and its effect was simply to entitle to the earthly privileges of Israel. (2.) The contrast drawn between the spirituality of the Christian and the carnality of the Jewish rite is further evidence (Matt. iii. 8, 10; Phil. iii. 3). (3.) The form itself of circumcision indicates its application only to carnal descent. (4.) The apostolic restriction of circumcision among Christians to Jews only confirms this view of its design as sign of outward, national privileges. If, then, circumcision was administered to the natural children of Abraham as a sign of an interest in the temporal blessings of the covenant, it follows, by an obvious law of typology, that baptism, if its substitute, should be administered to the spiritual children of Abraham as a sign of an interest in the spiritual blessings of the covenant. If carnal descent entitles to the one, spiritual descent entitles to the other; and baptism is restricted, therefore, to "the children of Abraham by faith."
3. Baptism is not the substitute of circumcision in any such sense as to render the terms of admission to the one, also the terms of admission to the other, and this is the only point in
* See Gen. xii. 1-3; xiii. 14–18; xv. 1-7; xvii. 1-16; xxii. 15–18; Rom. iv. 9-12; Gal. iii. 6–16.
question. Circumcision was the rite of initiation into the old dispensation, baptism is the rite of initiation into the new; the two rites are plainly so far analogous, and in this sense the one is the substitute of the other. But as the two dispensations materially differ in the characters of their members, the old making no ritual distinction between the converted and the unconverted, so also the conditions of admission are essentially different. Indeed, the substitution of baptism for circumcision as the form of initiation itself creates a presumption that the design of the rite is different, and consequently the terms of admission to it different; otherwise, why make a change in the rite ? But the most decisive reasons exist for denying that the terms of admission to the two rites are identical, and this is the only point in question. Thus, (1.) Circumcision was administered only to males; baptism is given to both sexes. (2.) It admitted all the circumcised into all the privileges of the nation; if, then, baptism be in all respects its substitute, baptized children should be admitted to all the privileges of the church. (3.) The covenant positively required the circumcising of servants as well as children, old or young; if baptism be its substitute, the parent is bound to have all his servants baptized. His whole household, godly or ungodly, willing or unwilling, must come with him at once into the bosom of the church. (4.) The apostles and Jewish Christians were both circumcised and baptized; but if one rite came in all respects in the place of the other, where was the need of this ? Why not begin the new rite with infants, simply baptizing instead of circumcising them ? But we know that in the case of infants the Jewish Christians continued strictly to practise circumcision, while we have no evidence that they administered both rites to their children; such a supposition is wholly improb