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William the Baptist



10. Infant Baptism




About two weeks after our last interview was the time for our quarterly communion.  Among those who presented themselves for membership was William.  Happy and contented, he sat with his wife to celebrate the dying love of Jesus, whose blood cleanses from all sin; the application of whose blood had that morning been symbolized by the sprinkling of the purifying element on him.  A few weeks afterwards, in a visit to the parsonage, he said he had been studying the principles of the Presbyterian Church, and expressed his decided approbation of "most of its doctrines and usages".  One thing he mentioned with which he was pleased, namely: that those seeking membership were not expected or required to subscribe to all its doctrines.  This, he continued, was fortunate for him, as he could not believe in infant baptism.  He was glad that all are allowed to have their own views on this subject, and to present their children for baptism if they feel inclined, or as he thought was best – to let their children grow to a mature age and decide this matter for themselves.


PASTOR.-- "What you say on this subject – liberty – is in part true; but as you state it, is liable to misapprehension.  In receiving members we do not ask them if they give assent to all our doctrines as set forth in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms.  Officers only, at their installation, are required to give their assent to these.  But it is expected that all persons, in seeking union with us, do agree with us on all the leading and important doctrines of our church.  One point, mentioned by you, I deem of the greatest importance, and think some church sessions are culpable in allowing it to be ignored and neglected.  I speak of the duty of Christian parents, members of our church, in dedicating their children to God in baptism."


W.-- "You astonish me.  I thought it was definitely understood that this matter was left entirely with the parents, and that church sessions had no business even to inquire into the reasons why any did not present their children.  I have known many Presbyterians who did not believe in infant baptism, and did not have their children baptized, and I never heard of any being disciplined for such neglect.  I knew an elder in the church who did not believe in it, and never presented any of his children for baptism, though he had several of them." 


P.-- "I expect you are mistaken in your last statement.  It would be a remarkable fact if true; because, at his installation, in the presence of God and the congregation, he solemnly affirmed that he received, as in accordance with the word of God, all the doctrines found in our standards.  As to your statement about others – I am sorry to say I suppose it is true.  At least some are not in accord with us, and neglect the performance of this duty.  And, as I before remarked, I think sessions are culpable in quietly overlooking such omissions of duty."


W.-- "Would you be in favor of disciplining an individual for not doing what he conscientiously thought he ought not to do?"


P.-- "Not exactly in that form; rather admonishing him for not enjoying a privilege, and discharging a duty so clearly enjoined in the word of God."


W.-- "But suppose he cannot see it in the light of a privilege and duty?"


P.-- "Then admonish him to search the Scriptures, and learn his duty."


W.-- "I am entirely satisfied on the question of the mode of baptism; but infant baptism I regard as a relic of popery, and without any divine warrant.  You had a difficult task to show me that immersion is not scriptural baptism.  But to convince me that it is my duty to have my unconscious babes baptized, would be far more difficult."


P.-- "I was not conscious of any great difficulty in the former task.  I simply called your attention to a few facts in the word of God.  Allow me to say that the great secret of your former prejudice against infant baptism, and the reason of your inability, hitherto, to see the truth in reference to it was, that your egregious errors on the question of mode cast such a shadow over it as to obscure and darken it beyond the possibility of recognition.  While it is true that some receive both immersion and infant baptism, yet they are so repugnant to each other that it is difficult to keep them together.  When about to immerse an adult, the person officiating can prevent bad consequences by whispering, 'hold your breath while under the water'; but such admonitions would be lost on the babe, and very unpleasant consequences would attend their immersion.  Since your errors on the question of mode have been rectified, it will be an easy task to point out a few passages in the word of God, where this duty is enjoined, and just as easy for you to see the truth."


W.-- "Candor compels me to assure you that you are mistaken.  I think the language found in the closing part of the book of Revelation applies to the whole word of God, especially to the ordinances of his house.  'If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.'  I would not be satisfied with anything short of a positive command, a 'Thus saith the Lord'; and I know that no such authority is found in the Bible for infant baptism, for I have read it from Matthew to Revelation."


P.-- "In all this, except your last statement, I agree with you.  But you did not finish the quotation."


W.-- "I gave all that I intended, or that I thought was appropriate."


P.-- "That, as I shall show you, is the misfortune of all immersionists.  Please quote the balance of the passage, as I shall call your attention to it at the proper time."


W.-- "And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."


P.-- "I wish you to bear in mind both these statements.  One, you see, is attended with as serious consequences as the other.  Immersionists charge us with 'adding to'; we confidently charge them with 'taking from'."


W.-- "But the point I make is a very simple one, and easily disposed of.  It is this: In all religious ordinances and institutions, and in all duties that bind the conscience, there must be a positive command.  The Church of Rome claims power to bind the conscience where the Bible has not done so.  It claims the power to add to the ordinances of the House of God.  The Church, I maintain, has no such power.  There must be a positive command, or we 'add to'."


P.-- "Would not legitimate, logical necessary inference be equivalent to a positive command, and be satisfactory to you?"


W.-- "Inference is good in its place.  But in such a case it will not meet the requirements of a positive command."

P.-- "I propose to show you two facts, which now you would not acknowledge, but of the truth of which I intend to convince you: First, all Anti-paedobaptists take inference for a positive command in reference to the ordinances or institutions of religion.  Second, we have a positive command, a 'Thus saith the Lord', for dedicating our children to God, as our custom is."


W.-- "I am afraid you have spoken hastily, and will find it very difficult to verify your statement."


P.-- "Would you not admit that the church, in its collective capacity, in a general council, by unanimous consent, could change the day to be observed as the Christian Sabbath?"


W.-- "No, sir, not by the consent of the whole church."


P.-- "I agree with you.  Would inference do for such a change?"


W.-- "It must be a clear command."


P.-- "On what authority has the change been made from the first day of the week to the last?"


W.-- "I do not remember; but I presume the authority is positive and plain."


P.-- "I will give it to you, as you are not familiar with it.  Three or four passages will be enough to show you the nature of the authority, John 20:19: 'The same day, at evening,' that is, the same day on which Christ arose, 'being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in their midst…'  And verse 26: 'After eight days, again his disciples were within…'  1 Corinthians 16:2: 'Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store…'  Do you see any positive command for the change of any of these passages?"


W.-- "Nothing that has the semblance of such."


P.-- "Yet it is from such passages, taken in connection with the fact that the Lord Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, and from the fact that the early Christians celebrated the first day of the week as the Sabbath – it is from such passages that we get our warrant for the change.  Is there, I repeat, a positive command or is it mere inference?"


W.-- "Is there no better authority for the change?"


P.-- "No better can be found."


W.-- "Then it is certainly mere inference."


P.-- "Have immersionists, who make such demands for a 'Thus saith the Lord', for our warrant for infant baptism, and who will not listen to arguments from inference, any authority to observe the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath?"


W.-- "It is very certain that they must be satisfied with clear inference, or change back to Saturday."


P.-- "Their stereotyped demand is a 'Thus saith the Lord'; 'a positive command' or 'no mere inference', for any of the ordinances or institutions of religion.  The plain, positive command, as given in the Scriptures, is: Remember the seventh day to keep it holy to the Lord.  No positive command: no 'thus saith the Lord', can be pointed out for the change to the first day of the week.  Then, consistency demands of them, as you say, to go back to the seventh day, or, like honest men, admit that we have sufficient authority for such a change in inferential arguments drawn from such passages as we have quoted, and cease their repetition of a 'Thus saith the Lord' for everything pertaining to infant baptism."


W.-- "Then your argument in favor of infant baptism is inferential, I suppose?  Is it as clear as that in favor of the change of the Sabbath?"


P.-- "I wish to impress it on your mind that the argument in favor of infant baptism, in its essential parts, is not at all inferential.  It is in the form of a 'positive command', a 'Thus saith the Lord'.  In some of its aspects it is inferential; but in these cases the inference is very much clearer than that which satisfied immersionists in regard to the change of the Sabbath."


W.-- "It is news to me that you can give a positive command, a 'Thus saith the Lord'.  Do this and I am satisfied."


P.-- "You are a lawyer by profession, and are thus specially qualified to appreciate the force of the argument.  Will you tell me what is the nature, and, in point of time, the extent of the binding obligation of a law that has, in due form, been enacted?"


W.-- "A law is binding from the time it is enacted by the proper authority till its obligation ceases by limitation, or until it is in due form repealed."


P.-- "Can you tell me how this principle applies to the divine law?"


W.-- "The Savior himself answers your question in his Sermon on the Mount.  He says, 'Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets.  I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.  For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.' "


P.-- "Can you tell me to what law he refers in that statement?"


W.-- "Do you refer to the distinction between the ceremonial and moral law?"


P.-- "Yes, sir."


W.-- "I suppose he refers to both.  The statement is applicable to both."


P.-- "What does he mean by saying one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law?"


W.-- "He means that it shall not, in the least degree, be abrogated, nullified, or cease to be binding."


P.-- "And what does he mean by the expression, 'Till all be fulfilled'?"


W.-- "Till the end for which the law was enacted has been fully met and accomplished."


P.-- "When thus fulfilled, does its obligation cease?"


W.-- "It does then, and not till then."


P.-- "Can you give me an example of such fulfillment from which the obligation to obey ceases, or the law ceases to be binding."


W.-- "The law requiring sacrificial rites found its fulfillment in Christ.  It was enacted that the Jews should bring their victims, and, in the manner prescribed, offer them in sacrifice to God.  All these bloody sacrifices typified Christ, who would, in the fullness of time, offer himself a sacrifice to God.  Since they typified him as the Lamb of God, they were fulfilled when he offered himself, and when his own blood was shed for us.  Being fulfilled, such laws are no longer binding.  Their object and end were fully met."


P.-- "Your knowledge is accurate, and your views on this question are very correct.  An interesting and instructive example is found in connection with an apartment of the temple.  The part called the holy of holies was separated from the holy place by a veil.  Into that sacred enclosure no one could go, nor even look, save the high priest, and he but once a year, on the great day of atonement.  In Hebrews we are informed that such a law was enacted to show us 'that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing'.  The apostle then shows us how all this pointed to Jesus, and typified his work.  And when 'Christ was offered to bear the sins of many', the Apostle says, 'Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil; that is to say his flesh…'  In this he teaches us that the veil separating the holy place from the holy of holies, was typical of Christ and his work.  Of course, then, the law requiring it was fulfilled when he performed the work typified, that is, when he entered into the holy placed not made with hands, that is, into heaven itself.  What further need was there, then, of that holy of holies, and of the veil enclosing it?  Therefore, in illustration of the principle we are considering, we are told that when Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost, 'the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom'."


W.-- "All that is very clear, interesting and instructive; but I do not see how it bears on the subject we are considering."


P.-- "We are preparing the way for 'a positive command', a 'Thus saith the Lord'.  Will you turn to Genesis 17:9,10, and read?"


W.-- " 'And God said unto Abraham, thou shalt keep my covenant, therefore, thou and thy seed after thee in their generations.  This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you, and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised.' "


P.-- "Here we have a law, enacted by God himself.  It is a positive command; a 'Thus saith the Lord'.  And now comes the question, How long was this law to be binding?"


W.-- "I suppose the law was peculiar to the Mosaic dispensation, and ceased with it."


P.-- "On what principle?"


W.-- "It is declared to be a covenant between Abraham and his seed.  The Jews were his seed, and, therefore, it ceased with them."


P.-- "Will you read Galatians 3:7?"


W.-- "Know ye, therefore, that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham."


P.-- "Also the 29th verse."


W.-- " 'And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.' "


P.-- "The covenant which God made with Abraham, as we shall see, was the covenant of grace, that he and his seed should be saved by faith.  The passages quoted show clearly who are the seed of Abraham, as the term is used in the covenant.  The Scriptures declare that it was not simply those who descended from Abraham; for many of his descendants were not included in this covenant."


W.-- "But did not the whole ceremonial law cease to be binding when Christ came?"


P.-- "On what principle, according to the text you quoted from the Sermon on the Mount, did they cease?"


W.-- "In that Christ fulfilled them."


P.-- "If it be true that Christ fulfilled the law we are now considering, then it is no longer binding.  We have now reached a point in the discussion which immersionists ignore; a point where it is necessary for us to change sides.  Heretofore the burden of proof has, very properly, fallen on me; now it falls to you.  You stated what everyone will admit, that the law is of binding obligation until it is fulfilled, or until it is repealed.  We have found a law, of divine enactment, requiring the seal of the covenant to be applied to children.  Our work is done; yours, at this point, begins.  It falls on you to show that the law is binding no longer."


W.-- "I now see how you have been leading me.  The point you make is new to me, and perfectly legitimate.  I can readily understand how it strikes you as very strong.  But I think I can convince you that it has ceased to be binding."


P.-- "And failing to do so, what follows?"


W.-- "Then, of course, the law is as binding as when first given to Abraham.  In the first place, I affirm that this law ceased with all the other ceremonial laws of that dispensation."


P.-- "This is mere assumption.  I demand a 'Thus saith the Lord'."


W.-- "On the same principle you might say that many of the ceremonial laws are yet binding, because we cannot point to a 'Thus saith the Lord'; showing that they have been repealed."


P.-- "Our demand is reasonable, and a necessity.  You yourself have laid down the principle that a law is binding until fulfilled or repealed.  We affirm that all the laws of the Old Testament are binding that have not ceased to be so in some of the methods enumerated by you.  The truth is, most of the ceremonial laws were typical of Christ and his work, and were fulfilled by him, and therefore ceased.  The law requiring us to observe the Sabbath was not typical of Christ nor his work, and was not fulfilled by him, therefore it is still binding.  The law requiring Abraham and his seed after him to apply the seal of the covenant of grace to their infant children was not typical of Christ nor his work, and was not fulfilled by Christ.  Thus, you see, it is an assumption to say that this law ceased when such laws as those requiring sacrificial rites came to an end."


W.-- "I see and appreciate the distinction you make.  I remember the text, 'Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled'.  I acknowledge that this law was not fulfilled in Christ, nor by his work.  But I will change the form of my argument.  The law specifies that the children should be circumcised.  Circumcision, as you will acknowledge, has ceased by divine authority; and therefore, in the very nature of the case, the law has ceased to be binding."


P.-- "I am glad you are ready to acknowledge an error when it is made plain to you.  But, giving up one assumption, you have fled to another.  You now say that a thing is so in the very nature of the case.  But I say that is an assumption.  I affirm that the law requiring circumcision has not, in any proper sense of the word, ceased to be binding.  Here I demand the proof, and will be satisfied with nothing but a 'Thus saith the Lord'."


W.-- "But the rite of circumcision has ceased.  Do you deny that it has ceased by divine authority?"


P.-- "I acknowledge that it has ceased, and that too by divine authority.  But I called upon you to show me that authority."


W.-- "I cannot, only that it ceased after the establishment of the New Testament Church.  Can you give the authority or the reason of its cessation?"


P.-- "I can."


W.-- "Will you do it?"


P.-- "The task belongs to immersionists, or the opposers of infant baptism, but they cannot do it.  They propose to 'take from' the word of God on mere assumption.  Circumcision ceased in very much the same manner as did the feast of the Passover, by what may be called substitution.  The law we are now considering is to be regarded in a two-fold aspect: First, and most important, requiring parents to consecrate their children to God; to have the seal of the covenant applied to them.  Second, requiring circumcision, it being at that time the seal.


"It would indeed be a strange view to take of the law, to suppose that it required circumcision for the sake of circumcision.  The essential part was the consecration or the application of the seal.  The rite, which was then the seal, has ceased only by giving place to another of the same kind, or for the same purpose.  The law requiring the consecration of children to God, or the application of the seal of the covenant to them, stands unfulfilled and unrepealed."


W.-- "On what authority do you affirm that circumcision has ceased by giving place to another rite of the same kind, and for the same purpose?  I suppose you mean that baptism has taken its place?"


P.-- "It certainly has; and the proof is very clear.  Firstly, they have the same object.  Circumcision was the rite of initiation into the church under the Old Testament dispensation.  It was by this rite that men became Jews.  Baptism is the rite of initiation into the church under the New Testament dispensation. It is by this rite that we become or are recognized as Christians.  Secondly, their significance is the same.  Circumcision was intended to signify purity of heart. A few passages will make this evident.  Deuteronomy 10:16: ‘Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked’.  Deuteronomy 30:5: ‘And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live’.  Jeremiah 4:4: ‘Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem’.  Romans 2:28-29: ‘He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God’.  Baptism, as you well know, signifies the same thing.  As John says, ‘There are three that bear witness in earth, the Water, and the Blood, and the Spirit; and these three agree in one’.  The two former typify, and the last accomplishes, our cleansing.  Thirdly, each sustains the same relation to the covenant of grace, that is, a seal to it.”


W.-- "The Jews occupied a peculiar position.  They present themselves to us in the two-fold aspect of a state and a church.  Was not circumcision, so to speak, a national badge; or was not circumcision intended to confer citizenship rather than church membership?”


P.-- "This is an old objection; and the enemies of infant baptism show the poverty of their cause when they seek to evade the force of the truth by such expedients.  It is true they were both a nation and a church, but it is also true that these two formed but one theocracy.  There were not two governments.  To belong to the nation was to belong to the church, and vice versa.” 


W.-- "But did not circumcision belong to or pertain more to citizenship in the state than to membership in the church?”


P.-- "What I have said as to the significance of the rite ought to be a sufficient answer to this question.  But I will cite another authority to show you how exceedingly erroneous is such a view.  When I told you that circumcision was the seal of the covenant of grace, I expected you to ask my authority for such a statement: but as you did not, I will anticipate such a demand, as my warrant for that statement will show you that circumcision had special reference to the church, as distinguished from the nation.  Will you read Romans 4:11, the first part of the verse?”


W.-- " ‘And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, being uncircumcised.’ “


P.-- "To whom does the apostle here refer?”


W.-- "To Abraham.”


P.-- "What is a seal?”


W.-- "It is something applied to an agreement or covenant to establish or confirm it.”


P.-- "Of what was circumcision given as a seal?”


W.-- "Of righteousness.”


P.-- "And what does this mean?”


W.-- " ‘A seal of righteousness’ means a confirmation of the fact that he was righteous.”


P.-- "And how did the righteousness come; or how did he get it?”


W.-- " ‘A seal of the righteousness of faith,’ that is, that his faith secured the righteousness.”


P.-- "We are taught that Abraham was justified by faith; that God regarded and treated him as righteous because of his faith; and in confirmation of the fact that he would so regard him, he gave him circumcision as a seal.  We are here very clearly taught the object of circumcision at its institution; as it was given to Abraham, it was a ‘seal of righteousness which is by faith, a seal of the covenant of grace’.  Does this language of Paul sufficiently answer your question?”


W.-- "Yes, sir; I never saw circumcision in that light before.  According to Paul’s statement it is evident that, at the time of its institution, it had exclusive reference to the church, or, as you said, it was the seal of the covenant of grace.  In its object and significance, it seems to have been identical with baptism.”


P.-- "The law requiring children to be consecrated to God has not been repealed; the rite by which the consecration was accomplished has ceased; but another rite, for the same object, and with the same significance, but simpler in its nature, is found in the New Testament Church.  Is it not a necessity that we conclude that the one takes the place of the other?”

W.-- "It would seem to be so.  But there is a serious difficulty in the way, and that is, only male children were circumcised; and if one takes the place of the other, then only male children should be baptized.  But you baptize children of both sexes.”


P.-- "The fact that baptism takes the place of circumcision is, of itself, a sufficient answer to this objection.  But I will say further in answer to it:


”1.   The seal of the covenant was, in its very nature, applicable only to males.

“2.   It was not applied to females of any age; and therefore women, individually or personally, were not members of the church.  They were regarded as represented by the males.

“3.   In the New Testament Church, with a change of seal, a seal applicable to them, we find it was applied to them, as we learn from the case of Lydia.

“4.   As female adults did not have the seal applied to them for the same reason that female infants did not; and as the former have the new seal applied to them, for the same reason it should be applied to the latter also.

“5.   It is to be presumed that in some of the household baptisms there were female children; but no distinction is mentioned.”


W.-- "I confess that I myself did not feel the force of the objection I made, but it suggested itself to my mind, and I thought I would mention it to see how you would met it; and I am satisfied with the answer you have given.  But it seems to me that in all your reasoning you proceed on the assumption that the two dispensations are, in reality, but one, with some slight, non-essential changes.”


P.-- "I do assume that such is the fact, and am glad of the opportunity of relieving it from the charge of being an assumption, as it is very easy to raise it to the high position of a demonstration.  My proposition is that the church, from the time of its formal organization under Abraham to the end of the world, is one and the same; identical in all essential particulars.  I might go back still further, but to extend the period to Abraham will suffice for our present purpose.


“The demonstration of this proposition will establish the perpetuity of the obligation to dedicate our children to God; for if it was a law to the church, and has not been repealed, and if the church is the same now as it was then, the inference is inevitable.”


W.-- "I am afraid you have undertaken a difficult task to prove, to my satisfaction, that the old Jewish Church was, in any true sense, the same as the Christian Church.”


P.-- "I think we will find the task very easy in the abundance of the light that the word of God throws on it.  What may be regarded as the great central necessity of the church?”


W.-- "The Savior, the Lord Jesus as the God-man dying for sinners.”


P.-- "He is our only Savior.”


W.-- "Our only Savior.”


P.-- "Did Abraham, and David, and Isaiah, and those living under that dispensation have a Savior?”


W.-- "I suppose they had.”


P.-- "And who was their Savior?”


W.-- "There never was, nor could there be, any Savior besides Jesus.”


P.-- "Very good.  ‘Abraham’, said Jesus, ‘rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad’.  The Bible teaches us that there can be no salvation without a Savior; and, as you say, it teaches us that Jesus is the only Savior – not simply the only one that has been given us, but the only one that could be given us.  In both dispensations, then, there was the same Savior.  What is the next thing essential to salvation, or the church?”


W.-- "I suppose it is the doctrine of salvation, or the manner of our being saved by the Savior.”


P.-- "What is the plan of salvation with us?  How are we saved?”


W.-- "By faith in the Lord Jesus.”


P.-- "And how were the Jews saved?”


W.-- "The Scriptures speak of Abraham having been justified by faith.”


P.-- "In the fourth chapter of Romans, Paul holds up Abraham as an example to us, to show us that we are to be justified by faith.  In the conclusion of the chapter, having shown that he was justified by faith, he says, ‘Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed if we believe on him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead’.  The Savior and the plan of salvation being identical in both dispensations, what else is to be regarded as essential to the church?”


W.-- "I do not think of any thing that can be regarded as essential.”


P.-- "Nor is there anything else.  The church is the body of believers, those who receive the Lord Jesus as their Savior.  The mode or manner of confessing him, or making a public profession of our faith in him, may vary according to the will of God, as revealed to us.  Once circumcision, by the appointment of God, was the seal of the covenant; now it is baptism by the same authority; but all the essentials are the same.  The opposers of infant baptism feel the importance of building a very high wall between the two dispensations.  Sometimes they seem to wish to make the impression that the gospel is peculiar to us.”


W.-- "I thought it was.”


P.-- "The gospel is the glad tidings of salvation through Jesus.  These glad tidings came to them.  Paul says, ‘For unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them’; that is, unto those living under the Old Testament dispensation.  Of course, then, it was preached unto them as well as unto us.  They looked forward to, and trusted in, the Savior to come.  We look back to him as already come.  To them he was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, slain in type, and slain for all the purposes of salvation.


“The apostle Paul often speaks of the identity of the church in both dispensations.  In the eleventh of Romans he makes an argument of it.  He represents the church as a tree, and the Jews of the old and the Gentiles of the new dispensation as branches of it – the Jews as the natural branches, and the Gentiles as taken from a wild olive tree and graffed in among them.


“Romans 11:17-21: ‘And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree, boast not against the branches.  But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.  Thou wilt say then, the branches were broken off that I might be graffed in.  Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith; be not high-minded, but fear.  For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.’  It is difficult to see how anyone can read such statements and fail to see that the church, under both dispensations, is one and the same.


“Paul, in writing to Timothy says, ‘And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus’.  (2 Timothy 3:15)  When Timothy was a child there were no Scriptures but those of the Old Testament.  In the next verse he says these are profitable unto all things.  And in the verse quoted he declares they are able to make men wise unto salvation.  By faith in Christ Jesus.


“Will you now tell me wherein I have failed to demonstrate the identity of the church under both dispensations?”


W.-- "According to your view, the old Jewish church was as much entitled to be called ‘Christian’ as the church of the present day.”


P.-- "Why is it now called the Christian church?”


W.-- "Because Christ is its Savior and Head.”


P.-- "And who was the Savior and Head of the Jewish church?”


W.-- "The same Lord Jesus Christ.”


P.-- "Then was it not as much the Christian church as is the church under the present dispensation?”


W.-- "I see no reason to the contrary.”


P.-- "Why are we called Christians?”


W.-- "Because we trust in Christ.”


P.-- "And in whom did Abraham and his descendants trust?”


W.-- "In the same Savior.”


P.-- "Then were they not Christians as well as we?”


W.-- "For the same reason they were.”


P.-- "Let us not lose sight of the question before us.  In the Christian church, away back yonder in the time of Abraham, God gave a command that Christian parents should consecrate their children to him.  The law requiring it has not been fulfilled to put an end to it; it has not been repealed.  Is it still binding?


W.-- "I do not see what good can be accomplished by baptizing a little child, unconscious of what is taking place.”


P.-- "I will leave, for the present, the question I propounded, and which you neglected to answer, and consider the difficulty you raise.  What good can be accomplished by baptizing anyone?”


W.-- "It is a duty imposed by Jesus.”

P.-- "So is the baptism of infants.  But again, what good was accomplished by circumcising infants?”


W.-- "But we are commanded to repent and believe, and then be baptized.  Infants cannot repent nor believe, therefore they cannot be baptized.”


P.-- "Faith is essential to salvation.  ‘He that believeth not shall be damned.’  Infants cannot believe, and, therefore, they cannot be saved.”


W.-- "But that conclusion is unwarrantable, because such statements are only intended to apply to adults, or to those who can believe.”


P.-- "How do you know that such passages are thus restricted?  I find no such restriction in the context.”


W.-- "There is no need to make mention of it.  It is according to the very nature of things that it would be so restricted.  Without so understanding such statements it would follow that all infants dying in infancy would be lost.  Do you not believe they are saved?”


P.-- "I believe that all such are saved.”


W.-- "Then you cannot believe that such passages refer to infants.”


P.-- "I think you have taken a correct view of such statements.  My only objection is that you apply that ruled of interpretation when it suits your purpose; and when it serves a better purpose to deny it, then you deny it.”


W.-- "How is that?”


P.-- "When repentance or faith is spoken of as a prerequisite for baptism, you find a strong argument against infant baptism, because infants cannot believe.  Why do you not see that those passages which speak of faith as preceding baptism, in the very nature of the case apply only to adults who can believe?”


W.-- "I acknowledge the justness of your criticism of my interpretation.  The two classes of passages are similar and should be similarly interpreted.  But it does seem to me unreasonable to administer baptism to an infant that knows nothing of its object or significance.”


P.-- "I suppose your emotions, on seeing a young child baptized, are somewhat complex: in part pity for the credulity or semi-superstition of the parents, and in part a feeling of condemnation for adding to what God has given.”


W.-- "I confess you have made a good analysis of my feelings when witnessing the baptism of a babe.”


P.-- "On the supposition that immersionists are exercised in a similar manner, it is fortunate for their comfort that they place such a small estimate on the Old Testament Scriptures, regarding them as about obsolete, and therefore devote so little attention to them.”


W.-- "Why so?”


P.-- "Because they would become so very nervous in reading about the circumcision of little babes only eight days old.  Circumcision, as we have seen, was identical with baptism in its object and significance.  The very same objections can be urged against the one as against the other.  But I suppose you would excuse those old Jews for such foolish practices, on account of the darkness of the period in which they lived.”


W.-- "But circumcision was appointed by God himself.”


P.-- "Exactly so.  And I wish you would take the trouble to see if all the objections you urge against infant baptism could not apply with equal force against the circumcision of infants.  Many silly objections are urged against infant baptism.  By some it is treated with ridicule; and in the language of contempt they call it ‘baby sprinkling’.  But as circumcision is chargeable with precisely the same objection, of course such ridicule is directed against God himself.”


W.-- "One objection I have heard urged against infant baptism, and I think with some force, is the levity it produces oftentimes in the spectators.  Children are generally timid and afraid of strangers.  I have seen pastors whose habit it was to take the babe in their arms when baptizing it.  The timidity of the child, the circumstances surrounding it, the sensation produced on it by the water, all contributing, would produce a scene bordering on the ridiculous.  Now, it seems to me that a rite liable to such things does not harmonize with the solemnity that should attend an act of worship.”


P.-- "I am sorry that such an objection should have any weight with you.  I have often heard them urged.  I have seen descriptions of such scenes, given in great detail, in Baptist newspapers.  In one of their Sabbath school papers, a few years ago, I saw what purported to picture of what actually occurred.  The minister had the child in his arms, and was trying to baptize it, and the child was resisting with all its power, and the spectators were indulging in hearty laughter at the scene.


“To all such objections urged against the rite, it might be a sufficient answer to suggest that such scenes may not have been uncommon in connection with the circumcision of infants.  To bring the matter nearer home, the same objection might be urged against the immersion of adults, as an offset to such silly charges brought against infant baptism.  I know not the number of ridiculous things I have heard in connection with immersion – things so ridiculous as to render smiling on the part of the spectators excusable.”


W.-- "I see that such an objection should have no weight.  You have made it very clear from your reference to circumcision.  And I admit that similar objections might be urged against immersion.  But on the supposition that the law or promise as given to Abraham was not, in any manner, repealed, is it not strange that we find no intimation in the New Testament that it is still binding?”


P.-- "Before answering that, allow me to put a question to you.  On the supposition that it was to be regarded as binding, and in no sense repealed, in what way, or in what connection would you expect to find any statement setting forth such a fact?”


W.-- "I would expect to find some statement affirming, or so speaking as to assume its continued obligation.”


P.-- "And this is just what we find in the New Testament.  On the day of Pentecost, when the multitude asked, ‘men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter after telling them they must repent and be baptized, said, ‘For the promise is unto you and to your children’.  Peter was addressing Jews – those who were familiar with the fact that children were included in the covenant.  How could they understand such language?”


W.-- "I could put an interpretation upon such an expression as to evade the force of it as an argument in favor of the continued obligation of that promise to Abraham.”

P.-- "I suppose that all Anti-paedobaptists do.  But that is not the question.  How would those who had all their lives been under a dispensation where children were included in the covenant, and had a right to the seal of that covenant, how would such understand it?”


W.-- "I suppose they would look upon it as intending still to include the children.”


P.-- "They could put no other interpretation on it.  Nor can any, if the only object is to ascertain the truth.”


W.-- "Are there any more such references?”


P.-- "Please read 1 Corinthians 7:14.”


W.-- " ‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband.  Else were your children unclean.  But now they are holy.’  I remember to have heard a very satisfactory interpretation of this, by which it would appear there is no reference to infant baptism.”


P.-- "What does it mean.”


W.-- "Holy is here used in the sense of legitimate.”


P.-- "Then suppose both parents were unbelievers, what would be the condition of their children?”


W.-- "I see.  It would then follow that the children of such would not be legitimate.  I do not know what it means.”


P.-- "Its meaning is very clear.  It means that, in the cases spoken of, the child would be ceremonially unclean; that is, not entitled to the seal of the covenant.  It needed no explanation to the Corinthians.  It is very plain to all who are willing to understand.  It is one of those passages which take for granted that children have not been thrust out of the covenant.”


W.-- "Is it not strange, then, that among the number of baptisms recorded, no mention is made of the baptism of children?”


P.-- "You must remember, that when talking on the question of mode, you found but few cases of the administration of the rite to adults.  Let me ask you, on the supposition that one of our missionaries should receive into the church a husband and wife from among the heathen, and, when baptizing them, should also baptize their children, some of whom were too young to act for themselves, how would such a baptism be reported?”


W.-- "He might report that he had baptized the man and his wife and their children.”


P.-- "Will you read Acts 16:15?”


W.-- " ‘When she was baptized, and her household.”


P.-- "Also the 33rd verse.”


W.-- " ‘And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his straightway.’ “


P.-- "Also 1 Corinthians 1:6.”


W.-- " ‘And I baptized also the household of Stephanas; besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.’


“The record of these household baptisms does seem remarkable.  But they may have included only those who could act for themselves.  In the case of the jailer, it is stated, ‘They spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house’.  This implies that his household could understand for themselves.”


P.-- "Does that exclude infants?”


W.-- "It would if the apostles could speak to them, and they could comprehend what was spoken.”


P.-- "Does it imply any more than that the apostles spoke to all in his house who were capable of understanding?  You must recollect that we had this question up when considering the text, ‘He that believeth not shall be damned’.  On the supposition that there were some in the household capable of understanding, and some who could not, would it not be proper to use the language you quote?”


W.-- "I suppose it would be allowable on the principle that we are not to consider language applied to infants which, in the very nature of the case, is not applicable to them.”


P.-- "As a question of probabilities, are we not to conclude that there were infants in some of those households?”


W.-- "I confess the probabilities are in favor of the supposition.”


P.-- "As we have considered the question, it stands thus: We have pointed you to a positive command, a ‘Thus saith the Lord’, giving children a place in the covenant, and requiring the seal of the covenant to be applied to them.  We have shown that the covenant thus made with Abraham was the covenant of grace.  We have taken the position that the law so enacted as never fulfilled; could not be in its very nature; and further, it has never been repealed.  Nothing short of the ‘Thus saith the Lord’ would be satisfactory evidence of its having been repealed.  But not only is it true that no such evidence can be adduced, but no passage can be pointed out from which any inference can be drawn that it was ever repealed.  On the contrary, we have shown that the New Testament Scriptures award evidence, very conclusive, that it was assumed, taken for granted, that the Law was still in force.  And still further, we have referred you to several household baptisms, which, taken in connection with all the other facts, renders it practically certain that baptism, the seal of the covenant under the New Testament dispensation, was applied to the infant children of believing parents.  What more can you desire in the way of proof?”


W.-- "You have presented the subject in a light entirely new to me.  I confess it seems unanswerable.  The ‘positive command’ and the ‘Thus saith the Lord’ which I required, you have furnished.  I now see why you insisted on my giving the balance of the quotation from Revelation.  I now see that the denial of infant baptism, and the refusal to receive it as a divine command, is taking away from what God has given us to observe.  Viewed in this light, parents are certainly guilty of a great offence in neglecting to comply with the divine injunction.  I can also see how sessions are culpable in quietly passing by such neglect on the part of parents.”


P.-- "I was certain you could not fail to see the truth when presented.  As I before remarked, the unscriptural notion that immersion is baptism stands as the great obstacle in the way of all God’s people seeing the truth on this subject.  The two things are seen to be so incompatible that one or the other must be given up.”



The End




William the Baptist (index)