BERTHA AND HER BAPTISM.
By the Author of
AGNES AND THE LITTLE KEY; or, BEREAVED PARENTS INSTRUCTED AND COMFORTED.
BOSTON: S.K. WHIPPLE AND COMPANY, 161 WASHINGTON STREET. 1857.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1857, by S.K. WHIPPLE & CO., In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
STEREOTYPED BY HOBART & ROBBINS, New England Type and Stereotype Foundry, BOSTON.
This book, and that which is also named in the title-page, were written at the same time, and as one book; but they were afterward separated, as more properly constituting two volumes, the part which was the original of the present volume now being greatly enlarged. Thus the two books grew in the author's mind together, from one and the same root,—the death of a little child.
Page CHAPTER I.
PROBABILITIES OF AN ORDINANCE FOR CHILDREN, 9
THE GRANDFATHER'S LETTER.—THE NATURE, GROUNDS AND INFLUENCE, OF INFANT BAPTISM, 16
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE BAPTISMS.—THE SUBJECTS AND MODE OF BAPTISM, 76
IS THERE ONLY ONE MODE OF BAPTISM? 121
SCENES OF BAPTISM.—REASONABLENESS, BEAUTY AND POWER, OF INFANT BAPTISM.—USE OF SPECIAL VOWS.—HUSBANDS AT BAPTISMS.—NEGLECT OF BAPTISM, 130
TESTIMONY OF THE CHRISTIAN FATHERS.—APOSTOLIC PRACTICE OF INFANT BAPTISM.—MINISTERIAL USAGES IN BAPTISMS, 143
TERMS OF COMMUNION.—NON-INTRUSION.—DENOMINATIONAL COURTESY AND KINDNESS, 184
THE ROAD-SIDE BAPTISM, 198
THE CHILDREN OF THE CHURCH.—ARE THEY MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH? 216
MATERNAL ASSOCIATIONS.—CONSTITUTION AND RULES FOR THEM.—A CHRISTIAN MOTHER'S QUESTIONS TO HERSELF, 255
BAPTISM OF THE SICK WIFE AND HER CHILDREN, 272
BERTHA AND HER BAPTISM.
PROBABILITIES OF AN ORDINANCE FOR CHILDREN.
'Tis aye a solemn thing to me To look upon a babe that sleeps, Wearing in its spirit-deeps The unrevealed mystery Of its Adam's taint and woe.—MISS BARRETT.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy.—WORDSWORTH.
It is generally believed that, of those who have gone to heaven from this world, by far the larger part have been infants and young children. Born here, they were by one man's disobedience made sinners; born of the Spirit, at their early translation to heaven, they hold an important place in the plan of salvation by Christ. Very beautiful, as well as sublime, is the thought of so large a contribution, to the heavenly world, of human beings in the dawn of their existence, enhancing, as we may suppose, the happiness of heaven by such large admixture of exotic, youthful nature, and illustrating, by their redemption from a helpless state of sin and misery, the unsearchable riches of wisdom and grace.
Has God done anything, in this world, to mark his regard for that class of the human race constituting, thus far, the greater part of the redeemed? We naturally look for something reminding the world of his interest in these subsidiaries of his kingdom. Has he confined his notice to those that are full-grown, and who have, thus far, the larger part of them, withheld from him the fruit of his vineyard? God has a church on earth, with ordinances, symbols, covenant signs: among them is there not some sign, symbol, or ordinance, recognizing those who, more than any other of the race, have, till now, been swelling the numbers of that church in heaven?
Like those elements of astronomical calculation which require and lead men to expect undiscovered planets in a certain quarter of the firmament, analogy, and the known intercourse of God with mankind, and our moral sense, incline us to look for some symbolic recognition of this earthly constituency of heaven by him who ordained and is redeeming to himself a church from among men. Words of interest and love toward them on the part of God, we all know, are not wanting in the Bible. Acts of loving-kindness, also, proving the sincerity of those words, and reaching even to a thousand generations of them that love God, are everywhere seen in sacred history.
But is there no great, conspicuous symbol of these things,—no type, no rite? Symbols appear to be inseparable attendants of God's manifested favor to men. He cannot enter into covenant with an individual, much less a people, but there is at least a stone set up, or a threshing-floor is bought for him, an altar is built, or they pour out a horn of oil. He invites Ahaz to ask of him a sign of his promise: "Ask it," he says, "either in the depths, or in the height above;" and, when that man refuses, God gives him a sign. Emblems, seals and types, in the early dispensation, burst forth like images in the waters of everything along the banks, and even of things far off. Everything has its memorial, its rite; are the children, is the parental relation, forgotten?
Here let us consider that God began with the first parents and the first children of the human race to set forth that great law of his administration, the connection of children with parents for good or evil. Every descendant of Adam is an example under that law. Thus it was for nineteen generations,—from Adam to Abraham.
When, therefore, God reestablished his church at the call of Abraham, it was no new thing to connect parents and their children in covenant promises and blessings. It had its origin in the very nature of man. Abraham, and the covenant made with him for all believers and their children, are, indeed, a striking illustration of a principle recognized and applied by the Most High; but the principle itself is older than Abraham,—it is coeval with the moral constitution of man. In making a covenant with Noah, God included his children; so with David, making mention of his house, "for a great while to come."
As soon, therefore, as religion was established in the earth, by securing its perpetuity through the conservative influences of one selected line of descent, the child was taken, as being the object of the covenant, and the means of its perpetuation, and received its seal. God designed to perpetuate religion in the earth, thenceforward, chiefly by means of the parental relation; for the parent represents God to the child more than any other fellow-creature, or thing, can do,—more than any instituted influence, whether of prophet, priest, church, or ritual. Setting up his church for all future time, with Abraham for its founder, God included children with parents who covenanted with him, as the objects of special regard and promise, and he appointed a rite to mark and seal that covenant. Thus it was from Abraham to Christ, during three times fourteen generations.
But the day of types and symbols was succeeded by another era, in which the church of God comes forth with the glory of God risen upon her, and all the nebulous matter of types and ceremonies is gathered together into two permanent sacraments; for human nature was not beyond the need and help of outward signs. Now, in the earlier of the two ages of the church, the child was recognized by a rite of the church; the child, with that rite inscribed on him, was the sign-bearer of the church's perpetuity. Yet, in the age following, the child was as dear to the parent as ever; the Christian parent was as much concerned to have religion flow through his seed, as were his predecessors; the salvation of the child was regarded with the same solicitude, and the principle of perpetuating religion by the family constitution was still the same.
But did God withdraw from the children of his servants, from the most hopeful of all the sources of his church's increase on earth and in heaven, all token of his regard in any sacramental act? Is parental affection, under the reign of Immanuel, debarred the enjoyment of one of its most valuable privileges, the sealing of the child to be the Lord's by the use of a divinely-appointed symbol? Had no ordinances and symbols been allowed after the institution of Christianity, this question would not arise; the inference would have been that human nature, under the Gospel, will no more need the aid of rites in religion. But there are Christian rites, expressly and solemnly instituted. Is not that most important relation of a believer's child to God perpetuated; and is it not still to be sealed by the use of one of the Christian ordinances?
In considering this question, and the many interesting topics connected with it, the writer will be allowed to take his own way, following an historical order in the occurrences which may be supposed to have made the subject interesting and clear to the minds of two parents.
THE GRANDFATHER'S LETTER.
THE NATURE, GROUNDS, AND INFLUENCE, OF INFANT BAPTISM.
If temporal estates may be conveyed By cov'nants, on condition, To men, and to their heirs; be not affraid, My soule, to rest upon The covenant of grace by mercy made. GEORGE HERBERT,—"The Font."
—No finite mind can fully comprehend the mysteries into which his baptism is the initiation.—COLERIDGE,—"Aids," &c.
Christian faith is the perfection of human reason.—IBID.
MY DEAR DAUGHTER BERTHA:—I am glad that you think of taking your little namesake to the house of God for baptism. You wish to know my views about it in full. My new colleague having relieved me of many cares and labors, I shall hope to write more frequently; but not often so long a letter as I fear this will be; for I wish to tell you of some conversations which I have had on the subject in question. This will show you the common difficulties, in which, perhaps, you share, and my way of removing them; and also set before you the privileges and blessings connected with the baptism of your child.
A man and his wife—sensible, plain people—came to our house one evening last July, when the "vines with the tender grape gave a goodly smell," through that trellis which you and Percival have such pleasant reason to remember. We were all sitting there in the moonlight, when this Mr. Benson and his wife came up the door-way, and were welcomed into our little group. After a few words of mutual inquiry and answer, he said:
"Wife and I, sir, thought that we would make bold to come and trouble you a little to tell us about baptizing our boy. He is getting to be four months old, and we are not willing to put it off much longer. Still, we would like to know the grounds of it a little better. People, you know, do not think much about it till it comes to be a case in hand.
"But I do not know," said he, looking round on your mother and the children, "but that we do wrong to take this time for it. It will be rather a dry subject for these young friends to hear."
Pastor. Not at all. They owe too much to what was done for them when they were little children, to dislike it. Besides, there is nothing dry about it, as I view the subject. It is one of the most beautiful things in religion.
Mrs. Benson. It is next to the Lord's Supper, I always thought, if people take the right view of it.
Pastor. It makes you love God the Father in some such way as the Lord's Supper makes you love the Saviour. I think, sometimes, that the baptism of children is our heavenly Father's Sacrament.
Mr. B. I like that; but there is so much to study and learn about the "Abrahamic covenant," that I feel a little discouraged. I have had books lent me on the Abrahamic covenant, and I began to read them; but they looked hard; so I told my wife that perhaps you would make the thing more clear, and bring it home to our feelings, and that we would come and get your ideas about it.
Pastor. How glad I am that you came! But tell me what you take the Abrahamic covenant to mean.
Mr. B. I suppose it means that God told Abraham to circumcise his children, and infant baptism comes in the place of it, and we must do it if we are Abraham's spiritual children. But I wish to see the use of it. I am willing to do it, but I should like to feel it more; and I want to know how baptism comes in the place of circumcision, and a great many other things.
Pastor. I think that you may possibly have what may be called some Jewish notions about the Abrahamic covenant, though I trust you are right in the main. That phrase sounds foreign and mysterious, and I never use it except in talking with people who I know have the thing itself already in their hearts.
I called Helen to me, and told her to say the hymn which she had repeated to me the last Sabbath evening.
She cleared her voice, leaned against me, and twisted her fingers in my hair behind, and, with her eyes fixed there, she said this hymn:
"Begin, my tongue, some heavenly theme, And speak some boundless thing; The mightier works or mightier name Of our eternal King.
"Tell of his wondrous faithfulness, And sound his power abroad; Sing the sweet promise of his grace, And the performing God.
"Proclaim salvation from the Lord For wretched, dying men; His hand has writ the sacred word With an immortal pen.
"Engraved as in eternal brass The mighty promise shines; Nor can the powers of darkness rase Those everlasting lines.
"He who can dash whole worlds to death, And make them when he please, He speaks, and that Almighty breath Fulfils his promises.
"His very word of grace is strong As that which built the skies: The voice that rolls the stars along Speaks all the promises.
"He said, 'Let the wide heavens be spread;' And heaven was stretched abroad. 'Abra'am, I'll be thy God,' he said; And he was Abra'am's God.
"O, might I hear thy heavenly tongue But whisper, 'Thou art mine!' Those gentle words should raise my song To notes almost divine.
"How would my leaping heart rejoice, And think my heaven secure! I trust the all-creating voice, And faith desires no more."
Pastor. What a happy man Abraham must have been when the Almighty made this engagement and promise: "I will be a God to thee!" That was the "Abrahamic covenant," in part.
"Does covenant mean that?" said Mrs. B.
"What?" I inquired.
"Why, sir, what you have just said,—engagement, promise?"
"Nothing more," said I. "But what a happy man, I say, Abraham must have been! 'A God to thee!' To have the Almighty say to one, 'I will be a God to thee!' You know that this is everything."
"That is a fact," said Mr. B., wiping his eyes; "for, when I went to my store, the morning after I became a Christian, I went along the street, saying to myself, 'Now I have a God. God is God to me. Thou art my God.'
"Yes," said his wife; "Deacon B., the post-master, heard you, as you went by his side-window, and he made an excuse to bring me up a paper, that forenoon, and asked whether you had not met with a change in your feelings on the subject of religion."
"Did he?" said Mr. B. "Well, I did not mean to be heard, and yet I was willing that everybody should know how happy I was in having one whom I could call my God. How I had lived so long without God for my God, amazed me."
Pastor. You make me think of a man who, one night, on reaching his house, after having attended a lecture in a school-room, was filled with such surprising views and feelings, with respect to the greatness and goodness of God, that he saddled his horse, rode three miles, waked up the minister, and, as he came to the door, took hold of each arm, and said, "O, my dear sir, what a God we've got!" He would not go in, but soon hastened back. It was the substance of all that he wished to say; he desired to pour out his soul to some one who would understand him. He was like a thirsty land when at last the great rain is descending.
Mr. B. I suppose many people would have thought him crazy.
"I suspect the minister did, at first," said Mrs. B.
"And yet I suppose," said I, "he was never more rational. Just think what it is for a poor sinner all at once to feel that the eternal God is his; that He will be a God to him! We hear of some people dying at the receipt of good news; and I have seen some so happy at this experience, of having a God to love and to love them, that, if the thing itself did not, as it always does, bring peace and inward strength with it, nature could not have sustained it."
"Joy unspeakable," said Mr. B. "And full of glory," said his wife, waiting a moment for him to finish the quotation.
"Now, my dear friends," said I, "that man on horseback, at his minister's door at midnight, had, at that moment, the first part of what is meant by the 'Abrahamic covenant.' How little way do these words go toward expressing the thing itself, and a man's feelings under it! There was a time when God made Abraham far more happy even than he did you on your way to the post-office that morning."
Helen came along, just then, with a fruit-basket of apples, and I said to her, as she was going round with them, "Say again that verse in your hymn, which has these words in it, 'Thou art mine.'"
So, while Mr. B. was paring his apple, Helen stood before him, and said:
"O, might I hear thy heavenly tongue But whisper, 'Thou art mine!' Those gentle words should raise my song To notes almost divine."
Mr. B. put his apple and knife down, and took his red bandanna handkerchief from under his plate, and, wiping his eyes, said:
"Hymns always make me feel a good deal, especially Watts's. I've read that hymn in meeting before the exercises began."
Pastor. You know, by happy experience, what it is when that heavenly tongue whispers, "Thou art mine."
Mr. B. I do, sir, if I know anything.
Pastor. Now, my dear friends, there is something awaiting you, which you seem not to have experienced, but which is as good as that.
"We would like to hear about it," they both replied.
"How should you like, Mrs. B.," said I, "to have your little boy become a sailor?"
"O dear!" said she, "I should have no peace from this time, if I thought he was to be a sailor."
"But that," said I, "may be God's chosen occupation for him,—the way in which he will employ him to bring him to himself, and then use him to be a preacher to seamen, for example, and so to scatter the truth in many parts of the earth. We are not our own, Mrs. B., and this dear boy was not given you, as we say, to keep. 'For thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.'"
"I want him brought up at college," said Mrs. B., looking at your mother, who, she probably thought, would understand her motherly anticipations about her boy so far ahead.
"Well," said I, "let us send him to college. I suspect that you would feel a good deal the morning he left you, would you not?"
"O," said she, "I should so want him to be good first! If he should not be a good man, I would not have him get learning to do harm with it, and make himself more miserable hereafter."
The little gate, with its chain and ball, swung to at this moment, and a woman and girl came up the walk. It was Mrs. Ford, who used to be your dress-maker, and her daughter Janette, now about thirteen. It was a farewell call from Janette, who was going to the neighborhood of Philadelphia, into a coach-lace manufactory.
"So Janette is going to leave us, to-morrow, Mrs. Ford?" said your mother.
"Yes, madam, and I feel sorely about it; so young, and such a way off, and all strangers except the foreman, who spoke to me about her coming! O, sir," said she, changing her undertone, and turning to me, "what should we do without that promise, 'I will be a God to thee and to thy seed after thee'?"
I looked at Mr. and Mrs. B., and we all smiled, while I said:
"Now we have got the second part of the 'Abrahamic covenant.' So now we have the whole of it. Mrs. Ford, when you came in, we were talking about baptizing children, and about the 'Abrahamic covenant.' What do you understand by that covenant?"
"I understand by it, sir," said she, slowly gathering her words into proper order; "why, I think I understand by it, that God promises to be a God to a believer's child, as he was in such a wonderful way to Abraham's people."
Pastor. Well, that is the substance of one part of it, at least. Did you know, Mrs. Ford, that when you came in we were just entering Mrs. Benson's son at college?
Mrs. Ford. Not this Mrs. Benson, of course. Whom do you mean, sir?
Pastor. This Mrs. Benson;—her little son.
Mrs. Ford. O, I understand! Well, you will send him to P., I suppose, it is so near.
"We had not fixed on the college," said Mrs. Benson, with a laugh.
"Janette," said I, "how do you like the thought of going off so far from us all?"
Janette pulled the ends of her plain cotton gloves, and her heart was full, so that she could not speak for a moment. I was sorry that I had asked the question, and therefore added:
"You will not go where God cannot take care of you and bless you the same as at home, will you, dear?"
She lifted her white apron to her eyes, while Mrs. Ford said for her:
"I tell Janette that I gave her up to God in baptism; and when her father lay sick, he said, 'That child was given to God in his house; I leave her destitute, and with nothing but her hands, but I leave her to a covenant-keeping God.'"
"Now," said I, "here is a dear daughter going to a strange place to learn a trade. She knows not a soul in the place but the foreman who has hired her. A boy is going to college, another to sea, another to a distant city. Here is a daughter, who receives particular attentions from certain young friends, and the probability is that she will be asked in marriage; and here is a son, who with his parents are in doubt with regard to his future occupation and course of life. God only knows the feelings of parents at such times. What prayers are made in secret,—what vows! One wrong step may embitter life. A right step may lead to prosperity and great happiness. I sometimes wish that we could gather our children together, in some of these emergencies and critical periods of their lives, and offer up prayers and vows, as parents and friends, in their behalf. There would not be many meetings more interesting than these, Mr. Benson. How the parents of such children would love everybody that came at such times to pray for their children; and what prayers would go up to God!"
"Can we not have some such meetings?" said Mr. Benson. "Every parent would like it, I am sure."
Pastor. Well, we do have some such meetings occasionally, I remember.
"Our minister loves to use parables," said Mrs. Benson, looking at your mother, "so as to make us understand the meaning better, and remember it."
"I must ask you to explain," said Mr. Benson.
Pastor. As often as we bring a child to the house of God for baptism, Mr. Benson, we have such a meeting, if Christians will but understand it so. We come with the parents, and say, "Lord God, here is this dear child, with a momentous history pending upon thy favor and blessing. In all future time, in the critical moments and eventful steps of its life, or in its early death, or in its orphanage, be thou a God to this child." If God should to-night, Mrs. Ford, say to you, "I will be Janette's God," would you not send her away with a light heart?
"He should have her for life, dear child!" said she; "and I do feel that he is a God to her."
"He is," said I, "if you have really made a covenant with him about your daughter."
"I have, sir," said Mrs. Ford.
Pastor. Did the covenant have any seal? Some good people, you know, think it enough to covenant with God about their children, without using any special act to mark and seal it. Now it is only in consecrating children to God that they omit the seal from the covenant. We practise adult baptism, joining the church, confirmation, and we partake of the Lord's Supper, feeling the propriety and the use of acts and testimonies in the form of an ordinance. What seal had your covenanting with God about your child?
Mrs. Ford. I see it now clearer than ever. As we stood with this child in our arms, we both said, afterwards, we made a public profession of religion anew; and, when the minister said those sacred names over her, I felt more than before that I was having transactions with God about the child. But people used to say to me, "Why not wait and let Janette be baptized when she is old enough to understand it?" How little they knew about it! Just as though, I told them, if I had money to put into the savings-bank for Janette, I would wait and let her put it in herself (it is so pleasant to put it in when you know all about it!), instead of laying it up for her in the funds, and let it count up while she is growing.
Pastor. Those friends who advised you so, think, perhaps, too much of the ceremony itself, and not so much of what it signifies. Now the pleasure of being baptized is nothing compared with having God enter into a covenant in your behalf when you knew nothing about it.
Mrs. Ford. They said to me, also, "What right have you to do it, instead of letting her have the choice and privilege of doing it herself hereafter?" I told them that, if we acted on that principle, in the treatment of our children, there would be a long list of useful things, which we do for them, to be postponed.
Pastor. We can benefit another without his consent. The question is, whether it is a benefit to a child for God and its natural guardians to make a covenant together in its behalf.
Mr. Benson. It surely is so, if God truly is a party to such a covenant. But where is the proof that he is? That is my trouble. They tell me that this covenanting with God for a child, and sealing it with an ordinance, ceased with Abraham, who was a Jew; that it was a Jewish custom, which died out.
Pastor. Abraham a mere Jew! God's covenant with a believer and his children a Jewish covenant! Never was there a greater mistake. Paul tells us expressly it was not so. Get me a Bible, Helen, and bring me a lamp. I read these words: "And the promise that he should be heir of the world was not to Abraham and his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith." His relation to the world was independent of dispensations; it grew out of that faith which he had in common with all believers to the end of time. "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised." Christ also says: "Moses, therefore, gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers.)" Abraham was not a Jew when God covenanted with him, any more than you, madam, were Mrs. Ford, when, at the age of sixteen, as you have told me, you entered into covenant with God. That covenant had chief respect to your immortal soul, and yet it reached in its influences to all the conditions of that soul while here in the flesh. So God covenanted with Abraham as a believer, not as a mere national ancestor; yet temporal and spiritual blessings came in rich measures upon his immediate descendants. But we read, "So then as many as be of faith are blessed with faithful," that is, believing, "Abraham." "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Can anything be plainer than this?
Mrs. Ford. My father was a minister, you know, sir, and he used to preach a great deal on this subject.
Pastor. Let us hear your understanding of these passages, Mrs. Ford.
"I am afraid," said she, "I cannot tell you just what he used to say. But my idea of it is this: Though Abraham was the founder of the Hebrew people, he was no more a Jew than a Gentile in his covenant with God, for it was as believer the great believer, that God made a covenant with him. So that he was not circumcised as a Jew, but, as the Bible says, to have a seal of the righteousness which he had by faith. God made a covenant with him as a believer, to be his God and the God of his children, as the children of a believer, not a Jew; so that all believers are blessed with believing Abraham, by having the same covenant extended to them. Then, I take it, God gave him a sign and seal as a pledge, and to remind him of it, and to keep his children in remembrance." She paused, and I said:
"Please to go on." You remember, Bertha, how you used to make this Mrs. Ford discuss doctrinal matters when she was sewing for you.
Mrs. Ford. I remember that father said that God took the rainbow as a sign and seal of his promise, to Noah and all future generations, that there should never be another universal deluge. So he appointed a children's ordinance to mark his covenant with believers to the end of time. Only there was this difference; the way of signing and sealing the covenant not being coupled with the laws of nature, but conforming to the kind of symbols successively in use, it was changed, at the time that the Sabbath was changed, and the whole of the old dispensation; but father used to say, Is the commonwealth and citizenship broken up because the legislature adopts a new state seal? Does that destroy all the old public documents?
Pastor. Good! So the United States' mint is from time to time changing its dies; lately it has abolished copper, and substituted equivalent coins of different composition. But money does not perish. A cent is a cent still, red or white. So, whether the seal be blood or water, the great ordinance which it seals remains the same.
"And now I will tell you," said I, "how it seems to me God's covenanting with parents for their children came to pass. He wished to give Abraham a token and seal of his love to him. So he took his child, the thing which he loved best, and would see oftenest, and thought of most, and made the child, as it were, the tablet on which to write his covenant with the father. That was one reason. 'Because he loved the fathers, therefore he chose their seed.' But this is the least of the reasons in the case.
"Here is one of vastly greater importance. God wished to perpetuate religion in the earth. He knew that the family constitution would be the principal means of doing this, parents teaching and commanding their children, and so transmitting religion. Because he knew that Abraham would do this, he gave it as a reason for his love and confidence in him, in not concealing from him his purpose to destroy Sodom. 'Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the ways of the Lord.' So, in order to remind Abraham of what was expected by the Most High in making his children the presumptive heirs of grace, and to remind the children of it when they came to years of understanding, God gave him and them this mark and seal."
"Well, then," said Mr. Benson, "it seems to me Abraham was better off than we, if he had God in covenant with him for his children, and we have not. I sometimes wish that I could have God covenant with me about my boy, as Abraham had about Isaac."
"I should like," said Mrs. B., "to hear him say, 'I will be a God to him,' and then tell us to do something of his own appointment that should be like our signing and sealing a covenant together, as the Lord's Supper enables us to do with Christ."
"If we have no such blessed privilege," said I, "then, as Abraham desired to see our day, I should, in this respect, rejoice to see Abraham's day. I cannot forego the privilege of having God in covenant with me for my children as he was with Abraham for his; and I crave some divine seal affixed to it.
"You said, Mrs. Benson, that you would like to have God promise to be the God of your child, and then command you to do something which would be like God and you signing and sealing it together. But do you think, Mrs. B., that this is necessary? Why is it not enough for God to make a promise, and you make one, and let it be without any sign or seal?"
"People don't do things in that way," said Mr. Benson, with a decided motion, two or three times, with his head. "They call a wedding a ceremony, it is true, and some say, 'So long as people are engaged to be man and wife, the ceremony makes little difference.' But it does make all the difference in the world,—this mere ceremony, as they call it. They never like to dispense with it themselves, at least; because, you see, it makes all the difference between unlawful, sinful union, and marriage. It makes married life; which could not exist, without the ceremony, among decent people. It gives a title and ground to a thing which could not be without it. So, I begin to see and feel, it is with regard to what some call the ceremony of baptism. But excuse me, wife, I took the answer out of your mouth."
"Well," said Mrs. Benson to me, "I must wait upon you, sir, to answer the question further."
"Mr. Benson has the right view of the subject," I replied. "We make too little of signs and seals, from a morbid fear and jealousy of those which are invented by man and added to religion. But God's own seals are safe and good. We cannot make too much of them.
"God never did anything with men, from the beginning, without signs and seals. The tree of life was one, and so was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve knew better, at first, than to say, 'So long as we love and obey God, of what use are these symbols?' By not regarding symbols afterward, they brought death into our world and all our woe. Even before that, God had appointed a symbol of his authority, and a seal of a covenant between him and man forever, in the appointment of the Sabbath. The mark on Cain's forehead, the rainbow, the lamp passing between the severed parts of Abraham's sacrifice, Jacob's ladder, the burning bush, the passover, and things too numerous to mention, show how God loves signs and seals.
"There are many good people, at the present day, who say to me, I am willing to consecrate my child to God in prayer, and bring him up for God; but I do not see the necessity of an ordinance. Why bring the child to baptism? I can do all which is required and signified, without the sign."
"What do you say to them?" said Mrs. Ford.
Pastor. I tell them they are on dangerous ground. Will they be wiser than God? He knows our natures, and what to prescribe to us in our intercourse with him. I would as soon meddle with a law of nature, as with God's ordinances. I might as well neglect a law of nature, and think to be safe and well, as to neglect one of God's ordinances, and expect his blessing.
People, moreover, may as well object to family prayer, and say that they try to live in a spirit of prayer all day. Why do they have special seasons for retirement, if they walk with God? Why do they hardly feel that they have prayed if company, or a bedfellow, on a journey, keeps them from using oral prayer? It is a bitter grief, also, when no funeral solemnities lead the way to the grave with a beloved object; yet, where in the word of God are they commanded? As Mr. Benson said, "Who is willing to dispense with the wedding ceremony, except in cases where sadness and trouble seek concealment?"
People cannot give full evidence that they are Christians unless they make a public profession of religion. They cannot properly remember Jesus without partaking of his body and blood. Depend upon it, my dear friends, God sets great value on ordinances, and our observance of them. God has given us two sacraments, and he who dispenses with them because he undervalues them, or undertakes to say that they are not necessary to him, or to any in this age of the world, is in peril. The only danger from forms and ordinances is when they are of human origin. We must take care and not let our revulsion from Romanism carry us to the extreme of neglecting or setting aside the ordinances of God's appointment. "There are three that bear record on earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one." A man may, with equal propriety, dispense with the blood, and its symbol the wine, or with the Spirit, as with the water, if God has appointed it with the other two as a witness between him and us. You notice that the Spirit is named with the two inanimate things, the blood and the water. Take care, I say to my friends, lest, in setting aside the water, you shut out that divine Spirit, who, knowing how to deal with our nature, chooses the blood and the water to be used by us in connection with our most spiritual religious exercises of the mind and heart. We have no more right to interfere with God's ordinances than with the number of the persons in the Trinity.
"All this affects me so," said Mr. Benson, "that I shall not fail to offer my child to be baptized, if I am allowed to do so. Now, there is my difficulty. Why do you think, and how do you show, that baptism must now be used as God's sign and seal of his covenant with believers for their children? When circumcision was dropped, some insist that the covenant was dropped with it, and, therefore, that there is no warrant in Scripture for baptizing children."
"Why," said Mrs. Ford, "if the coming in of Moses' dispensation did not abolish the arrangement with Abraham, why should its going out? I am inclined to think that Abraham and his seed are, to Moses and his dispensation, something like that vine to the trellis, running over it to the top of the piazza, bending itself in, you see, to accommodate itself, but having a root and a top, the one below, the other above, the short frame, which only guides it up to the roof. In the eleventh of Romans does not Paul say that Jews and Gentiles have one and the same 'root'? I always supposed that root to be Abraham and his covenant."
I did not quote Latin to my friends, but I thought of the old law-maxim, Manente ratione, manet ipsa lex—which, if your scholarship is not at hand to translate it, Percival will tell you, means, "The reason for a law remaining, the law itself also remains." It is used in such cases as the following: When one would insist that a law was intended to be repealed by the operation of another law, not directly or expressly aimed to repeal it, it is a good reply. If the original reason for enacting the old law can be shown still to exist, it is strong presumptive evidence that there was no intention to repeal that law. I explained this, in as simple language as I could, to my excellent friends, and told them, "If God's covenant, which circumcision sealed, were Mosaic, and therefore national, Jewish, we should presume that it ceased with the Jewish nation; or, if it continued, that it was restricted to their posterity. But why should God bestow his inestimable blessing on the father of the faithful, and take it away from the faithful themselves? We love our children, as Abraham did his. It is as important to us that God should be the God of our seed, as it was to Abraham. My heart yearns after that covenanting God in behalf of my children."
"I will give up thinking of Abraham as a Jew," said Mrs. Benson.
"What was he, then?" said I, "or what will he be to you, from this time?"
"He was the head of believers," said she, "just as Adam was the head of men. As Mrs. Ford said, he was the great believer; and I am persuaded that all who are of faith have his privileges, and more too; but certainly all that he had."
"But, my dear," said your mother, "you have forgotten the question. Supposing that the covenant still remains, why do you take baptism for the seal of it? The old way of sealing it is given up. What authority do you show for using baptism in its place?"
"I take the initiating ordinance of religion for the time being," said I, "whatever it may be. Is not baptism the initiating ordinance, as circumcision was? When they built our long bridge, and the ferry-boats ceased running, did the town put up a great sign over the gate, saying, 'It is enacted that this river shall continue to be crossed'? Did they add, 'This bridge is hereby appointed as the way of getting over the river'? Or, did not people take it for granted, when the bridge was opened and the ferry-boats were withdrawn, that the bridge was designed to be the way by which they were to pass over the river?
"Now, suppose so impossible a thing as this, that hereafter baptism should, by divine revelation, be changed for anointing with oil, and nothing were said about children. I would anoint the child with oil, instead of baptizing it with water. We are to use the initiatory rite of the church for the time being."
"But," said Mrs. Benson, "is there any resemblance between circumcision and baptism?"
"There need be none," said I. "Resemblance does not give it efficacy, but God's appointment of it. If marking the flesh in some way should be appointed to succeed baptism, we need not look for a likeness between it and baptism before we complied with the divine requirement."
"I do wish," said Mrs. Benson, "that the authority to baptize children were more expressly stated in the Bible, to satisfy all who were not brought up as we have been."
Pastor. The overwhelming majority of those who now receive the Bible as the word of God find it there.
Mrs. Benson. But why did not Paul receive a revelation about it, as he did about the Lord's Supper?
Pastor. Did that make the thing any more authoritative with us than the original appointment? We will not prescribe to God how to teach us. We will not make up our minds how he ought to have made a revelation, but we will take that revelation and try to understand it.
"I agree to that," said they all.
Pastor. It appears to me that God prefers, on certain subjects, that the world shall reason by inferences. It is a wise way of educating children and youth, to leave some things to be learned in this way, and not by setting everything before them, like too many examples in the arithmetic wrought out.
We have changed the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day in the week. It gives me a sublime idea of our Sabbath, that by some great, silent alteration, it has come to pass that all the world keep the day of Christ's resurrection, instead of the day which commemorated the work of creation. I feel toward it as I do with regard to the noiseless changes of the seasons, and the conformity of our habits and practices to them. I left New York late in winter for the Azores, and, before I expected it, the warm southern airs came one morning into my cabin window. So the Christian Sabbath, with its beautiful associations, flowed in upon the world without a formal proclamation. I feel thankful to God for so regarding our intelligent natures, as to leave some things, relating to ordinances, modes, and forms, to be inferred, bringing great changes over the moral and spiritual world, and leaving us to adjust ourselves and the administration of the appointed ordinances to them. We can add nothing, we take nothing away from an express, divine command; but, as the first disciples were left to infer that a Sabbath was as necessary after Christ brought in the new creation as before, and adjusted it to the celebration of the Saviour's rising from the dead, so we infer that God's covenant with believing parents for their children is as desirable now as ever; that all the original reasons for it now exist; and, therefore, we take the initiating ordinance of religion now, as the church in former ages did, and apply it to the children. All church-members did it before Christ; all church-members may do it now. God saw fit to make every adult member, at least, of the Jewish family, a church-member; if he has changed and restricted the terms of church-membership now, that is a sufficient reason for not making the sealing of children as universal now as it was before. That is to say, in both cases, it is a church-member's privilege.
Without detailing the conversation at this point, let me say, I take it for granted that Abraham, as my great spiritual ancestor, my representative before God, my commissioner to receive for me and transmit my privileges and blessings, continues in that relation unless expressly set aside. Christ did not set him aside. How wonderfully he is brought forward under the new dispensation, when it is said to us, "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." But, pray, why should Abraham be intruded in connection with Christ, if he with his covenant is like a lapsed legacy, or a superseded act of Congress? Why comes he here, in connection with the Saviour, and tells me that if I am Christ's, then am I his, Abraham's, seed? Hear this: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." Wonderful elevation of Abraham and his blessing, as the great type of all that Christ was to procure for us! If Abraham and his covenant ceased with the Jewish people, how does the blessing of Abraham fully come upon us, the Gentiles? But give me his covenant for my children; then I see that Christ is executor of the testament made with Abraham for his children; and I am one of the heirs; as indeed I am, even if I have no children, but if I have, all of Abraham's privileges and his covenanting God are mine and theirs.
So that, I said to my friends, I go to the Bible not to say, "Must I baptize my children?" but, "Am I forbidden to baptize them?"
All my predecessors in the church of God, before Christ, had the privilege of bringing their children into the bonds of the covenant with themselves. If they felt as we do about it (and strict usage, and the rich experience which they had had of its benefits, must have made it inestimably precious to them), it is incredible that a sudden and total discontinuance of it, at the beginning of Christianity, should not have occasioned great clamor. The formalists, at least, would have remonstrated at the seeming violation, by this new order of things, of natural affection. For, as Doddridge well observes, "What would have been done with the infants, or male children, of Christians?"—that is, of converted Jews, as well as others. They could not circumcise them; but their teachers, being spiritually-minded men, knew that circumcision was a seal of faith, not merely of nationality, and must not the converts have required some sign and symbol still for their children? Now they had long been used to the baptism of proselytes and their children; so that baptizing their own children, as a substitute for circumcising them, could not have been a violent change with those whom Peter's vision of the sheet had taught that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs. And when he, in one of his first sermons, said to the whole house of Israel, "Ye are the children of the covenant," and "The promise is unto you and to your children," we can account for their utter silence as to any revocation by Christianity of the right and privilege of applying the initiatory ordinance of religion, for the time being, to a believer's child.
"But," said Mr. Benson, "the Saviour said, 'He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved.' The apostles said, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you.' Show us, now, why this does not prove that repentance and faith were not thus made essential to baptism. According to these passages, none could be baptized who had not repented and believed. This would exclude infants. 'Believe, and be baptized;' how do you dispose of that, sir?"
"Very easily," said I.
Mrs. Benson exclaimed, "O, sir, if you can, all my difficulty is at an end!"
"Well, then," said I, "in the first place, there is no such requirement in the Bible. You see the expression very often, but it is not found in Scripture. But tell me exactly what your difficulty is."
"Why," said she, "my husband has just stated it. People tell us the Bible says, 'He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved.' So they insist that no one should be baptized who is not old enough to believe."
I told her that I could remove her difficulty in very few words.
"Suppose," said I, "that Abraham is preaching to full-grown men in Canaan, and is trying to proselyte them from their idolatry to the worship of God. He would say to them, 'Believe and be circumcised,' would he not? for God ordained that certain proselytes should be circumcised."
"Yes, sir," said two or three voices at once.
"Well, then," said I, "must it follow that children could not be circumcised because Abraham said to men, 'Believe and be circumcised'? How will that reasoning answer? Is it true? No. Little Isaac refuted it, for he was circumcised even when his father was saying to his pagan neighbors, 'Believe and be circumcised.'"
"True enough, all who believed, in Christ's day and the apostles', needed to be baptized, because they were not children, but were grown up, when Christian baptism began. Had an apostle, however, lived to see the jailer's family, and that of Lydia, and of Stephanas, grown up, and any in those families had remained unconverted, and then he had said to them, 'Believe and be baptized,' there would be some force in saying that believing and baptism must always go together."
"One other thing always troubled me," said Mr. Benson, "and that is, that there was no seal of the covenant for any but male children. Now, if the initiatory rite of Christianity be used for the same purpose as that given to Abraham, why not confine it, as formerly, to males?"
"How interesting it is," said I, "and it is full of instruction, to see God paying regard to the world's knowledge and progress, in all his measures, and doing nothing prematurely. There is a very striking illustration of this in the account of the fall.
"God knew the history of the tempter during his agency in Paradise; for angels had sinned and fallen from heaven. But the existence and agency of fallen spirits had not been disclosed in the Bible,—the time for the disclosure had not come,—and therefore it is said, with beautiful simplicity, 'Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made;' and the narrative has respect only to the external appearance of the tempter, the serpent, because it would have been premature as yet to bring in the story of fallen angels, or make allusion to them.
"So, for reasons belonging to the early ages of the world, woman was included in man, who acted for her.
"But, however the arrangement began, God regarded that organic law of society, and, in giving Abraham a seal of a covenant for his children, he restricted it to the sons, they in all things standing and acting as the representatives of the house, according to the existing custom. God did not go far beyond the world's advancement, in his ordinances, but, with condescension and in wisdom, suited the one to the other. But, as things were then generally represented by types, so the male child was a type and representative of the more full and complete form, which was reserved till the fulness of time, and till the world should know the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. For 'in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female.'"
[Footnote 1: A curious reason for this, in the minds of some, appears to be that, when man was created, woman was included in him. For, they say, in the first chapter of Genesis, and in the account of the sixth day, before woman was made, the plural word them is used: "male and female created he them." They say that the blessing was pronounced on the man and woman in Adam. For they think it improbable that Moses would anticipate his history so much as to bring in woman, and, withal, her blessing, too, at the sixth day, when the narrative teaches that she was made some time afterwards. Hence, they say, it was that woman was for ages treated as included in man. There is something pleasing in this fancy, but it seems like one of Origen's allegories, he being the father of allegorical interpretation. It had its origin in an ancient Rabbinical sentiment.]
So I discoursed with my visitors till between ten and eleven o'clock, and when they rose to go, we all stood up together and joined in prayer. We commended Janette to her covenant-keeping God, whose name had been inscribed upon her. We remembered the little boy who had been the occasion of all this pleasant conversation, and prayed that his consecration might be accepted, and the sign and seal of it be owned and blessed to him and his parents. As I walked down to the gate with my friends, I said to them, that, when God was covenanting with Abraham, he bade him look up into the heavens, and count the stars, and told him that his seed, like them, should be innumerable. So I told them frequently to look up to those old heavens, and remember that the covenant-keeping God is there, the same who, in blessing Abraham, included his seed; and that, because Abraham was so good a man, God calls his posterity "the seed of Abraham my friend." And so we said good-night.
In reading over what I have written, there are a few things more which I feel disposed to add, because I know that Percival will make good use of them in talking with others in your congregation.
I feel, more than I can express, that the state of mind in parents which will make them prize and use the ordinance of baptism for their children is the great want of our day. Bringing children to church, and baptizing them, unless the parents are themselves in covenant with God, is as wrong as it was for those earthly-minded Corinthians, whom Paul rebukes, to eat the Lord's Supper. They made a feast, or a meal, of the supper; and some use baptism just to give a child a name,—to "christen" it, as they say,—in mere compliance with a custom. But the abuse of a thing is no valid argument against it. The last supper is the subject of far more perversion; it gives occasion to a vast amount of superstition and folly. The procession of the host, the elevation of the host, the laying of the wafer on the tongue, the solemn injunctions against spitting for a certain time after receiving it, are no valid arguments against the Lord's Supper, and no Christian is led by them to disregard the words of the Lord Jesus, "This do in remembrance of me." Much of the practical benefit of the Supper comes through the feelings which it awakens, the conduct which it promotes. So with infant baptism. The child must be truly consecrated to God, beforehand, and afterwards; and the ordinance must be used as a sign and seal on our part, as it is on the part of God,—an act and testimony, a memorial, a vow. Hannah lent her child to the Lord from the beginning, and then brought him to the temple, with her offerings. We must take the child from baptism as though God had placed it a second time in our hands, to be trained up for him.
But, still, the ordinance is God's, and not man's. He has a work to do in us by means of it, while it also helps our feelings, fixes them, makes them vivid, and imposes solemn obligations upon us by its signified vow. So it is with the Lord's Supper. In each case it is God's memorial, and not ours; and its benefit does not consist so much in showing forth the state of our hearts at the time of administration, as in sealing to us the promises of God.
True, our feelings are awakened and strengthened, ordinarily, by the ordinances; but that neither explains nor limits the meaning of them. We are wrong if we suppose that the Lord's Supper has done no good unless our feelings are vivid at the time of partaking. If we were sincere, our act had the effect to engage and seal blessings from God of which we were not aware, and may never be able to trace them back to that transaction. So with regard to baptism.
Some call this sacerdotalism, and are afraid to allow that the sacraments have any influence or use, except as a testimony from us to God. Romanism has driven us to the opposite extreme in our ideas of sacraments. We do not vibrate back again too far toward Romanism, if now we conclude that God employs his sacraments, properly received by us, as seals from him of love and promises. Many Christians derive less comfort and help from the Lord's Supper than they may, because they regard it as profitable only so far as they can offer it to God with vivid feelings on their part; and, when their frames are not as they desire, they conclude that the ordinance is unprofitable. But let us also consider who appointed this ordinance. It is the appointment of Christ, not ours; and at his table we are his guests, not he ours. The Saviour is well represented as saying to us,
"Thou canst not entertain a king! Unworthy thou of such a guest; But I my own provision bring, To make thy soul a heavenly feast."
There is a divine side to sacraments, as there is a divine side in conversion. While we are active in regeneration, there is a work of God wrought in us, distinct from our faith and repentance, yet inseparable from it. So, while sacraments are vows on our part to God, they are, primarily, gifts, pledges, seals, on his part to us. Therefore, when one says, "I can bring up my children, I can be a Christian, without the use of sacraments," it is a proper reply, "But can God do his part toward your children, and toward you, without them?" For, not only is prayer "the offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will," but there is the additional truth, which is well expressed in those lines of a hymn:
"Prayer is appointed to convey The blessings God designs to give."
So with sacraments; they convey gifts from God, not primarily gifts from us to God.
He, then, who declines to have his children baptized, on the ground that it is useless, may, in so doing, interrupt the communication of a divinely-appointed medium between God and his child. For he need not be told that the faith of parents brought blessings from the Saviour, when on earth, to their children, nor be reminded that the benefits of circumcision were bestowed on the ground of the parental relation to God.
One further illustration occurs to me of the power which resides in the sacraments themselves, in distinction from their being a testimony from us to God. Let me call to your remembrance notices which you sometimes see, of young people going, in a frolic, before a clergyman or justice of the peace, to be married, when they intended nothing but sport, and found, afterward, that they had brought themselves into difficulty, and were legally held to be married.
You see by this that covenants do not, by any means, derive all their efficacy from the feelings of a contracting party. Covenants and their seals are the most sacred of all human transactions, and cannot be lightly regarded, or trifled with. God reveals himself often under the name of the God that keepeth covenant. So that we may not set aside the sacraments, nor undervalue them. This leads me to say, furthermore, that children, who doubt whether their parents sincerely and truly offered them to God in baptism, the parents being in an unregenerate state, as it afterward appeared, when they came with their children to the ordinance, may be greatly comforted and encouraged by taking this view of the divine sacrament of baptism as having a force and application in their behalf, by the goodness of God, irrespective of their parents' character. God will not let his sacraments depend, for their efficacy, on the character either of the administrator or of the parents. For, if the character of an administrator affected the baptism, it might so happen that one could never really be baptized, since every successive hand which applied it might prove, in turn, to be that of an unworthy person. If a child is baptized on the profession of parents who afterward show that they were not sincere, the child shall not suffer thereby, if he recognizes the transaction, and makes it his own act. In the case of a converted husband or wife, while one companion remained a heathen, the children were, nevertheless, counted "holy," because the Gospel leaned to the side of mercy, and gave the children the benefit of the believing parent's faith, instead of attainting them through the heathen parent. So, when a child is baptized in error, he shall not suffer, nor even lose anything, if he will accept the covenant with its seal. No one can justly reply to all this, that, therefore, every one even though not of the church, may offer his child for baptism. No; for these are exceptional cases, in which it is true that a covenant, even if it be not fulfilled, has force, and things may enure under it which one who does not make the required profession cannot receive. The covenant, if but the outward conditions be complied with, places all, who are in any way related to it, under various contingencies, which sometimes, to some of the parties, may be productive of good. We see illustrations of this in the great tenderness and love which we feel toward a child whose parent has brought a stain upon himself and his family. We find an echo, in our hearts, of those kind words of the Most High, "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father;" and, if that son behaves himself worthily, every good man is doubly careful to protect and help him. In this way the broken, or unfulfilled, covenant operates, with God and with man, to the good of some related to it. But shall we, therefore, break our covenant? Shall the unworthy be promiscuously admitted to its privileges? "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?"
In speaking of the influence of sacraments, I am aware that we approach enchanted ground. The human heart loves a religion of forms and ceremonies, which professes to renew and save without self-denial, breathing around us the quietism of ordinances, and lulling us to drowsy forgetfulness of duty in the luxurious enjoyment of an irresponsible religion. While, therefore, we cannot too carefully guard against the abuse of ordinances, we must not forget that God, who made man, body and soul, chooses to convey some of his gracious operations to us by the help of the two simple sacraments, and that they are intended to act upon us, in the hands of his Spirit, in the first instance; not merely serving as offerings to God.
It is not that there are fewer children baptized now than formerly (if such indeed be the case), that awakens sorrow and apprehension; but that parents are deficient in the feelings which make us prize and use baptism. This is the evil sign, and it is greatly to be deplored. One must have intelligent views of the Scriptures as a whole,—of both Testaments,—most fully to understand and value infant baptism; for its roots were planted in the Old Testament. I always feel deep respect for a church-member who comprehends this subject in its wide relations, and is not swayed by the popular demand for an express sign at every step, but can reason inferentially as well as when proofs are demonstrative and palpable; and who has in his mind the whole system of redemption, with its various economies, interdependent, and none made perfect without the rest. When all our church-members come to understand and feel the power of this subject in this manner, what times of enlightened religious prosperity, and a high state of religious culture, it will indicate. I pray and wait for the time when all our Paedobaptist churches, of every name, will conspire to promote spiritual views of children's baptism, holding it forth as the expression of spiritual feelings, and discountenancing formalism in connection with it. Though I was never an Episcopalian in my preferences, and though the appointment of godfathers and godmothers may, like every good thing, relapse into mere form, I honor it for its excellent and pious design of surrounding the parents and the children with admonition and help. For there are sponsors, I am happy to know, who are not mere formalists, but who make it a rule to have an interview with their godchildren on or near their birthdays, or the anniversaries of their baptisms, and, in an affectionate, faithful manner, they endeavor to fulfil the vows which they took upon themselves at the baptism. Blessings on such faithful Christian friends! Happy the children who have them for helpers of their faith and piety. Let us all, as church-members, be sponsors, at least by prayers and a kind interest for it, to every child of a Christian brother or sister, when we witness its baptism. Suppose a church-member, after witnessing the baptism of an infant, its parents, perhaps, entire strangers, goes to his place of private prayer, and, moved with disinterested love toward those parents and the child, supplicates the blessing of God upon them. Could Christian love be more pure than this, or prayer more pleasing to God? In the revelations of eternity such prayers will not only be rewarded openly by Him who saw those doors shut with that secret love and piety, but blessings upon parents and child without measure may be traced to such petitions as their procuring cause. How good it is to perform such acts, knowing that they can never come abroad in this world! Should every Christian who witnesses the baptism of a child, afterward pray for that immortal soul in secret, with special petitions, what an increased privilege and blessing it would be esteemed to offer a child in baptism, and in God's house, before a witnessing church, rather than at home! I hope, my dear daughter, that you and Percival, as private Christians, will do good to your own souls, and to the souls of baptized children, and to their parents, by making it one of your private rules to pray in secret, on the Sabbath, for every child whose baptism you witness.
The effort to promote and enforce infant baptism, by ecclesiastical enactments merely, is absurd. We must fertilize the soil, not spread glass sashes over the plants. Give Christians right views and feelings about their covenant privileges and duties; disabuse them of their mistakes about the severance of the Old Testament from the New; teach them to look at Abraham, not as a decayed peer, or an old Jew, but as the founder of the church of all ages, to whom Almighty God virtually said, 'On this rock I will build my church,'—Abraham being the first foundation stone, waiting for apostles to be added with him, and, as our great representative, bearing in his hand the covenant made with him for us, as well, as for the other great branch of the family of God; show them that baptism is now the initiating ordinance, and that the old covenant was never repealed, though the seal be changed; let them see what it is to have God in covenant with them to be the God of their seed; and, withal, let us correct, or modify, the intense anti-papal jealousy of the Christian rites, which makes us all, unconsciously, verge to the opposite extreme, thus missing the divinely-appointed intention and use which there is in our two simple ordinances; and then, with the revival of such spiritual views and feelings, and, as a consequence, with greater reference in the prayers of Christians, public and private, to the subject, the practice of children's baptism will increase, as surely as accessions to the Lord's table increase when people come to have Christ in them the hope of glory.
We, ministers, can do very much to promote a love for the ordinance in many ways. We ought to make it convenient and pleasant by all the expedients within our power. I like the practice which you speak of, in your church, of the mother remaining with the child in the anteroom till the introductory services and the loud organ-playing are over. Does your pastor pour water into the child's face and eyes, and then begin the words of baptism? I presume not; but I have seen it done. We should not touch the child's head till near the close of the baptismal formula; and then so that the child will not see the arm move toward it.
Much can be done by these simple expedients to promote a quiet and pleasant attendance upon the delightful rite. I like the practice, in your church, of chanting low some appropriate words of Scripture before and after the baptism.
I am constrained to say, though with diffidence, that I fear some of my good brethren give erroneous impressions by what they say of the church-membership of children. They push it to extremes. They discuss the question, What shall be done with baptized children, who, on arriving at years of understanding, refuse to enter into covenant with God? Church censures are asserted by some to be proper in such cases, even to excommunication, or interference in some judicial way by the church. So long as I believe in regeneration by the Holy Spirit, I cannot feel that baptized children, as such, are, in any sense whatever, in which the term is generally received among men, members of the church of Christ; while, in another and most important sense, they do belong to the church, hold a relation to it, and are a part of it. Strictly speaking, and in the highest spiritual sense, they are not even "the lambs of Christ's flock;" for lambs have the nature of sheep; but the children of believers are, by nature, children of wrath, even as others. And yet, in another sense, they hold a most important relation to the flock of Christ, as no other children do. In its most important sense, they are not to the church even what they are to the state; they have no place whatever in the invisible church,—the church which is saved,—till they are born again. If children are regenerated by the act of baptism, of course it is otherwise; but, not believing this, I am clear that the baptized child of a believer differs from any other unregenerate child, who is not baptized, only in this: that God looks upon it with peculiar interest and love, and that it is surrounded with special and peculiar privileges, opportunities, promises, and hopes, with regard to its being brought to repentance and saving faith in Christ; and by baptism it is initiated into special relationship to the people of God. The church also has special duties with regard to it. Some of my brethren give great occasion to those who resist children's baptism, to argue against it as Romish in its nature and effect, by not discriminating clearly in using the words members and membership in connection with children. Read almost any modern book against infant baptism, and you will find that its main force is directed against the practice as a "church and state" institution, and as making persons members of the church by means of sacraments. Let us who are really free from such imputation, assert the truly spiritual nature and object of this ordinance. I wish to see it divested of all that does not belong to it, made eminently spiritual, expressed in terms which cannot easily be misunderstood, and appealing to the natural affections, the understandings, the consciences, of spiritual men and women, as, in its sober and legitimate use, God's great appointment, from the call of Abraham to the millennium, for the increase and perpetuity of his church.
[Footnote 2: This subject is discussed by itself, and more at large, in another part of this book.]
You are aware that the great question, which has made most of the trouble in the Christian church from the beginning, relates to the meaning and use of sacraments and ordinances, or what we call Symbolism. The tendency of the human mind, even in Paul's day, as indicated by him, with other things belonging to it, under the name of "the mystery of iniquity, which doth even now work," was, to increase the number of sacraments and ordinances, and make them bear an essential part in the work of regeneration. The right to multiply or extend them, and the claim that they possess a saving efficacy, characterizes one great division of the professed Christian church, while those who are called Protestants and the Reformed, regard them chiefly as signs; though of these, some seem to have much of that appetency after undue reliance on forms which Paul seeks to correct in the Epistle to the Galatians, while others go to an opposite extreme, and undervalue the two divinely-appointed sacraments, which they think have no efficiency as used by the Spirit of God, but only as signs used by us to represent something.
Between these divisions of the Christian church lies the battle-ground of great ecclesiastical controversies from the beginning, as the Netherlands were, for a long time, the battle-field of Europe. Archbishop Leighton seems to strike the balance between formalism and sacramental grace in ordinances, as well as any writer, in commenting on these words of Peter, "The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth also now save us." He says:
"Thus, then, we have a true account of the power of this, and so of other, sacraments, and a discovery of the error of two extremes. (1.) Of those who ascribe too much to them, as if they wrought by a natural, inherent virtue, and carried grace in them inseparably. (2.) Of those who ascribe too little to them, making them only signs and badges of our profession. Signs they are, but more than signs merely representing; they are means exhibiting, and seals confirming, grace to the faithful. But the working of faith and the conveying Christ into the soul, to be received by faith, is not a thing put into them to do of themselves, but still in the supreme hand that appointed them; and he indeed both causes the souls of his own to receive these his seals with faith, and makes them effectual to confirm that faith which receives them so. They are then, in a word, neither empty signs to them who believe, nor effectual causes of grace to them that believe not."
Let me make the distinction very clear to your mind, for it is of great practical importance. The "mystery of iniquity" in Paul's time, and since his day, did not, and does not, consist in making too much of God's ordinances in their purity and proper use. That cannot be done, any more than you can intelligently love the Bible too much, or the Sabbath. But, to pervert them, or to make additions to them, or to rely upon them wholly, is Romanism. But can men make too much of having a seal on a deed? Is the deed good for anything without the seal? Can they make too much of having three witnesses to their wills? Those three witnesses, instead of two, make an otherwise worthless writing, a man's last will and testament. Thus, a true sign, ordinance, or seal, among men, has inherent efficacy of some sort. Shall we deny it to the ordinances and seals of Heaven? He who lays claim to the covenant, but rejects the seal, deceives himself. They must go together.
But will you not think me older even than I claim to be, because I am so garrulous? I have many things to say, but will not say them with pen and ink, hoping to see you shortly. Farewell, my dear daughter, to you and your beloved husband, with abundant kisses for your little namesake, who, I pray, may be spared to you, if God has any work for her to do on earth. Dedicate her sincerely and entirely, beforehand, to God, and then in his house, with baptism, before the assembled brethren in Christ; and let your subsequent treatment of her be a repetition of the whole. Baptizing a child, with right views and feelings, leads to much prayer for it. Renew the consecration of your child daily, in little, sudden acts of prayer, as well as in more deliberate offices of devotion. Thus surround it with an atmosphere of faith and consecration, not forgetting the public transaction in which you covenanted with God, before many witnesses, for the child, and He, my dear daughter, with you, in its behalf. For, a covenant implies two parties; and God is one, and you are the other; and Jesus is the mediator, who said of children, "Of such is the kingdom of God." "He that came down from heaven," had seen, in heaven, how largely that world is peopled with them. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." Peace be with you. All send love.
Your affectionate Father.
BERTHA'S BAPTISM.—CHANTING AT BAPTISMS.—PUBLIC AND PRIVATE BAPTISMS.—WEEK-DAY BAPTISMS.—A DAUGHTER'S LOVE.—BAPTISM OF A DEAF-MUTE INFANT.—FIDELITY OF A BAPTIZED CHILD.—SUBJECTS OF BAPTISM.—THE MODE.—IMPROBABILITY OF IMMERSION, IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.—ON BEING BURIED IN BAPTISM.—NEW VERSION OF THE SCRIPTURES.—OUR DIVISION INTO SECTS.—A MOTHER'S PLEA FOR INFANT BAPTISM.
Where is it mothers learn their love? In every church a fountain springs, O'er which th' eternal Dove Hovers on softest wings.
O, happy arms, where cradled lies, And ready for the Lord's embrace, That precious sacrifice, The darling of his grace!
We took Bertha to church when she was two months old. The minister, being fond of music, had, for some time, requested the choir to chant select passages of Scripture at baptisms.
So, as we came up the aisle with the child, the choir breathed out those words, "And I will establish my covenant between thee and me, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God." "And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." And, as we turned away from the font, they added, "So shall he sprinkle many nations." "The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children." "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments, to do them."
How I loved that choir, and the congregation! for, many a face did I see bathed in tears, and others beaming with smiles and love, as, with respectful, half-turned looks, they seemed to give us their blessing.
"Do you not think, more than ever," I said, to the beloved grandmother of my child, after church, as we watched the little sleeper in her cradle, "that people lose very much in having their children baptized at home?"
"It makes a different thing of it," she replied. "I felt that all the congregation loved Bertha and you. How many prayers you obtained for her and for yourselves, which you would have missed by a private baptism!"
"Besides," I remarked, "'God loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.' I think that for that reason, and on the same principle, namely, that he is more honored, he regards our public dedication of children with more favor than a private baptism, except, of course, where sickness makes the public service impossible. But it is some trouble to mothers, and no doubt many shrink from it."
"The trouble is more in anticipation than reality," she replied. "That pastor's room, where they stay till the introductory services are over, makes it more convenient and agreeable. But all the trouble, even if it were far greater, is nothing compared with the satisfaction of having taken your offering and come into His courts. You have paid your vows unto the Lord, in the presence of all his people. You will remember those prayers, those words of Scripture which were chanted, and your feelings as you took the child into your arms to be presented to God, and as you heard those adorable names pronounced upon her and then received her back into your arms, as it were, from the hands of God."
"What do you think," said I, "of the practice of having children baptized in the church on a week-day? It enables the parents to attend meeting on the Sabbath with more composure than when they bring their children on the Sabbath."
"But O," said she, "what is that, compared with the privilege of bringing the child before the whole church of God, in his house, on the Lord's day, and so identifying its baptism with the most solemn acts of public worship? I do not like those week-day baptisms. Where they have the communion lecture in the afternoon of a week-day, there may be reasons of convenience for bringing the children for baptism then, rather than on the Sabbath; but there is a great loss of enjoyment, and also of impressiveness, in the ordinance, in doing so, I think. I was at a place, several years ago, when fourteen children were baptized on a Wednesday afternoon, in the church. I went to see it, but it was not solemn at all. I could not help thinking what an impressive and useful sight that would have been on the Sabbath, before all the people, and how much more good, probably, it would have done the parents, even if they had given up half the Sabbath in going and returning with the children."
"If people," said I, "thought more of the spiritual meaning and privileges of baptism, and viewed it as they do in times of sickness and death, they would think less of inconveniences and discomforts, and see that the ordinance is something more than giving a child a name."
* * * * *
Some time after this, I called upon a cousin of ours, a young married lady of our congregation, who, within a year, had come to us from another place, she having been married to an educated, intelligent member of another congregation, and who, from his great love for her, had come with her to our place of worship from another denomination, this having been made a condition of their marriage. For she felt that she could not be debarred the privilege of sitting at the Lord's table with her mother, three sisters, and brother, as she would be if she united herself with her friend's church. The idea of going to any table of Christ on earth where they could not come, thus seeming to disfranchise her whole family whom Christ had gathered into his fold, and some of them into heaven, did violence to her feelings. At one time, it seemed likely that the engagement of marriage would be terminated, on this ground alone. Some one of the gentleman's persuasion, who thought that she "ought to follow Christ in ordinances," and "take up her cross" in this instance, whispered to her that she was, perhaps, in danger of denying Christ, from love to her kindred, and he said to her, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me." This had the opposite effect from that which was intended, for it showed her, in the strongest light, the error of supposing that love to Christ could ever require her to separate from herself, at the table of Christ, such friends of Jesus as the members of her dear Christian home,—a home which had been like that of Bethany to many of the Saviour's friends. She felt more sure of being actuated by right motives in giving up her marriage, and not withdrawing fellowship from her mother and the family, than she would be in sacrificing that fellowship to gratify a new affection. Her next younger sister was baptized after the father's death. She was a deaf-mute. The mother was a very beautiful woman. She had borne severe trials for her religion with a spirit of patience and Christian propriety which won the love and esteem of the community. She went to the altar of God, a widow, with the little deaf and dumb child, and presented it for baptism. It was as though the impending calamity of its father's death had shut up some of the senses of the child, and God had placed it in the mother's hand as a silent memorial to her, for life, of his chastising love. She left her fatherless flock in the family pew, and went with her nursling, not merely to give it to God, but to receive for it the seal of his covenant, bowing submissively to his inscrutable appointment, and imploring the God of Abraham to be still her God, and the God of this her seed. That scene had not failed to make deep impressions upon the other children; and now it was proposed to one of them that she should, by connecting herself in marriage, disavow her mother's right to cling, in those hours of anguish, to that asylum of the fatherless, infant baptism,—that very present help in trouble, the covenant of God with believers and their offspring. The little child, moreover, had become a Christian, and had sat with her sister, side by side, at the communion-table, for several years. "Forbid it," she prayed with herself, "that I should go where I cannot be allowed to follow Christ till I have separated this dear one from my side."
She once wrote a letter on the subject to the gentleman, which he showed, after their marriage, to some of his friends. There will be no impropriety in its appearing here. It ran thus:
"MY DEAR MR. E.: Though I am not willing to deny that Roger Williams was, as you say, raised up to illustrate some important principles, and to help on the general cause of truth, I must say that he strikes me as a very unreasonable man in much of his behavior. Our puritan fathers did not come to this wilderness with French, atheistic, idolatrous love for a goddess of liberty. They came here, it is true, for liberty of conscience and freedom to worship God. With a great sum they purchased this freedom. But infidels could as well claim to be absolved by the laws from all recognition of God, under the plea of liberty, as Mr. Williams and his friends could make his demands for toleration. To insist that our fathers, in their circumstances, should have opened their doors wide to every doctrine, and to the denial of everything professed by them, is unreasonable. They came here with an intense love for certain truths and practices, which persecution had only served to make exceedingly precious to them. To have proclaimed at once universal toleration of every wind of doctrine, would have proved them libertines in religion. Because they did not so, reproach is cast upon them by some, who seem to me to be free-thinkers on the subject of religious liberty. If other men wished to found a community with doctrines and practices adverse to those of the New England fathers, the land was wide, and it would have been the part of good manners in Mr. Williams to have gone into the wilderness at once, to subdue it and to fight the savages, all for love and zeal for his own tenets, instead of poaching upon the hard-earned soil of those who had laid down their all for what they deemed to be the truth. It seems to me unphilosophical in some of our historians to reflect, as they do, upon our forefathers for not being so totally indifferent to what they deemed error, as to allow it free course. Their strict, and, if you please, rigid ways, were the necessary defences of their principles, which were just taking root here. They did right in passing stringent laws to protect them; and religious liberty was no more violated in doing so than is the liberty of our town's people here, who, by the law of the State protecting game, cannot take fish, or kill birds, during certain seasons.
"Besides, I never saw any proof that Mr. Williams was himself the great apostle of toleration. I remember reading to father, during his sickness, some remarks of the late John Quincy Adams, in which he vindicates the New England fathers for banishing Roger Williams as a 'nuisance.' Mr. Adams surely cannot be accused of bigotry, nor of being an enemy to the cause of freedom; and his remarks seemed to me more just than the eulogies, by historians and orators, of Mr. Williams. Father once showed me an old book of Mr. Williams's, which we have now, called 'George Fox digg'd out of his Burrowes,' in which Mr. W. inveighs against the Quakers for their want of 'civil respect,' and for using 'thee' and 'thou,' in addressing magistrates and others. He says, on the two hundredth page, 'I have therefore publickly declared myself, that a due and moderate restraint and punishing of these incivilities (though pretending conscience) is as far from persecution, properly so called, as that it is a duty and command of God unto all mankinde, first in families, and thence unto all mankinde societies.'—It is also a matter of history that the colony settled by Mr. Williams refused their franchise to Roman Catholics, though even then the Roman Catholics of Maryland were tolerating people of his own faith, and Quakers also. Mr. Williams always seemed to me like one of our pious, zealous 'come-outers.' He even forsook his own denomination in three months after he had been baptized, and for forty years denied the validity of their sacraments, and the scripturalness of their churches and ministry. Such a man would even at this day be excommunicated by every society, unless it were some association for the encouragement of radical notions of liberty. I no more see in him the impersonation of religious freedom, than in some other good people who go or stay where they are not wanted. I am not disposed to deny that you and your friends, with their principles, of which you, erroneously, I think, claim Mr. Williams as the great exponent, 'have a mission,' as you say, to perform; but I do not feel called upon to join in it. Some of your writers seem to me—shall I say it?—a little too sure of having just the right pattern and patent-right in ordinances, and somewhat too complacent in not being liked by other denominations, and perhaps a little disposed to look for persecution. Now I was pleased with a remark of Matthew Henry's, on Mark 10:28, that 'It is not the suffering, but the cause, that makes the martyr.' But we were brought up under different associations, and cannot see just alike in all things. I cannot, however, contradict, by any step which my feelings would incline me to take, the Christian citizenship of those who are dear to Christ, and are so precious to me. As much as I love you, I think you should feel perfectly free to leave me in my happy home, if you cannot allow me to retain my fidelity to my own conscientious convictions of truth, and to the sacred rights of those whom nature and grace have conspired to make inseparable from my own Christian hopes and joys."
[Footnote 3: "Can we blame the founders of the Massachusetts Colony for banishing him from their jurisdiction? In the annals of religious persecution is there to be found a martyr more gently dealt with by those against whom he began the war of intolerance; whose authority he persisted, even after professions of penitence and submission, in defying, till deserted even by the wife of his bosom; and whose utmost severity of punishment upon him was only an order for his removal as a nuisance from among them?"—Discourse before Mass. Hist. Soc., 1843, pp. 25-30.—[ED.]]
The gentleman agreed to allow her the largest liberty, and they were married. He knew that she had a mind and heart that were more precious than rubies, and that the heart of a husband could safely trust in her. The sequel will show, however, how good it is to be matched as well as mated, and, in the conjugal relation, to be "perfectly joined together in the same judgment."
The object of my call, that evening, was to rejoice with her, and to be the bearer of some congratulations at the recovery of their infant, whose death had been expected for some time. The child was now perfectly restored.
As I stood in the entry, not having rung the door-bell, and was hanging up my hat and coat, some one in the parlor said:
"What good can it do the child or us to sprinkle a little water on its head?"
"Good-evening, Mr. M.," said the husband, as I went in. I was interrupted in my expression of a fear that I had intruded upon their conversation, by their assurances to the contrary. "I am glad you came in," said Mr. Kelly, "for perhaps you can help us. You heard, I suppose, what I was saying as you came in. If I am not mistaken, Mr. M., you yourself are not very strenuous about infant baptism, for I have heard of your making inquiries on the subject."
"Not only have all my doubts been removed," said I, "but the baptism of my child has been the source of the richest instruction and comfort."
"I am glad to hear you say so," said Mrs. K.
"But," said Mr. K., "you do not, of course, derive your warrant for it from the word of God. That is our only guide, you know. There is no more authority in the Bible for baptizing children than there is for praying to saints. You are probably aware that the practice originated in the third century of the Christian era."
Mr. M. It originated with a man by the name of Abraham, I believe, sir, two or three thousand years before Christ.
Mr. K. O, then, you go to Judaism for it!
Mr. M. Judaism comes to me with it, and hands it over to me. There was something good in Judaism, we all think. Judaism was not a Mormonism, as certain ways of speaking of it not unfrequently would make us think it to have been; it was not an exploded folly, but the form which the church of God bore for two thousand years. But it began before Judaism; it is older than Moses. Judaism received it from Abraham. It is like a great river rising in a desert place, and seeming to lose itself in a lake, but flowing out again into another lake, and thence to the sea. So Judaism was only a great lake, which took and seemingly held this river of baptism for a time, but its current went on and flowed into another lake, the Christian dispensation. But you cannot say that a river which makes a chain of lakes, rises, for that reason, in the first lake. No, its head spring, in this case, was antecedent to the lake.