[This is taken from the first main part of The Token of the Covenant, a booklet by Rev William MacIntyre, republished by Free Presbyterian Publications in 1984. The second main part can be found at this link: Mode of Baptism.]
We are first, then, to inquire who are the proper subjects of baptism.
Some hold that certain adults only, adults who make a credible profession of faith in Christ, are to be baptised; and others maintain that such adults, and also the infant children of baptised parents, who make a credible profession of faith in Christ, are to be baptised. These latter are called paedobaptists, paedo denoting child or infant, because they hold and practice infant baptism; and the former antipaedobaptists, because they reject the baptism of infants; or anabaptists, because they baptise again, ana means again, persons who were baptised in infancy; but more commonly, however, baptists, a name which cannot be conceded to them, if it is meant to imply that they alone baptise and are baptised with a legitimate and valid baptism. In this sense, it must be classed and repudiated with such designations as catholic, unitarian, churchman.
Paedobaptists and antipaedobaptists, it will be seen from the statement just given of the positions they respectively maintain, hold in common that certain adults are to be baptised. On this point they are at one. Paedobaptists, however, hold further, and antipaedobaptists deny, that certain infants also are to be baptised. Thus the point at issue, the only point at issue, in the controversy between them with respect to the subjects of baptism is, whether the infant children of baptised parents, who make a credible profession of religion, are to be baptised.
Accordingly, arguments to prove that adults are to be baptised are wholly irrelevant. That adults are to be baptised does not need to be proved in this controversy, for it is held in common by both parties. Still the opponents of infant baptism deal largely in arguments of this class. They adduce passage after passage to show that adults, such adults as have already been described as proper subjects of baptism, are to be baptised. For this purpose they quote Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved;” Acts 2:41, “They that gladly received the word were baptised;” Acts 8:36, 37, “The eunuch said, See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptised? Philip said, “If thou believest with all thy heart thou mayest;” and similar passages. Such passages, no doubt, prove that certain adults are to be baptised, but then this is nothing to the purpose. The maintainers of infant baptism, as well as the opponents of it, hold that such adults as are intended in passages of this class are to be baptised; and, surely, it is a strange mode of refuting their views on one point, to adduce proof that they are scriptural on another.
The point to be proved is that infants are not to be baptised, and that infants are not to be baptised in no way follows from the doctrine, that certain adults are to be baptised. If one maintained that the Chinese ought to be excluded from this country, it would surely be no valid argument in support of this position, that Europeans ought to be admitted into it. The duty of excluding the former in no way follows from the duty of admitting the latter; and as little does the duty of excluding infants from baptism follow from the duty of admitting certain adults to it. Those who resort to such reasoning, if they perceive that it is thus irrelevant, having really no bearing upon the point at issue, are guilty in resorting to it of great disingenuousness; and, if they do not perceive its irrelevancy, they betray a strange want of logical discernment and discrimination.
Leaving, then, the baptism of adults unchallenged, we direct and confine our attention to the only question which at present claims it, the question whether certain infants, the infant children of baptised parents who make a creditable profession of religion, are to be baptised. It is admitted, and can easily be proved, that under the present dispensation, baptism is the ordinance of admission into the visible Church, or to the position of members of it. It was by baptism that those who were converted on the day of pentecost were admitted to that position. “They that gladly received the word were baptised, and the same day there were added unto them,” that is, unto the visible Church by being thus baptised, “about three thousand souls.” Accordingly, to hold that baptism is not to be administered to any infants, is to hold that no infants are to be admitted to Church membership. Is it, then, the doctrine of Scripture that no infants are to be so admitted?
To prepare the way for answering this question as referring to the present dispensation, it will be proper to inquire whether under the preceding dispensations infants were admitted to Church membership. In prosecuting this inquiry it is sufficient to ascend to the time of Abraham; and to that patriarch we find the following language addressed by God, it occurs in Genesis 17:7-14,
I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee and to thy seed after thee the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house and he that is bought with thy money must needs be circumcised, and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
The covenant intended in this passage is the covenant of grace, for it is only that covenant that God promises, as he does here, to be a God to any of our fallen race. This, indeed, is the great crowning promise of the covenant of grace, to which all its other promises may be regarded as tributary, and in the consummated fulfilment of which the fulfilment of them all is comprehended. It is of course the covenant of grace that God makes with his people under the Gospel dispensation, and that covenant as it is described in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 7:10, a passage quoted from Jeremiah 31:33, is identical with the Abrahamic covenant now under consideration. “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” Here we have the same promise, only in an expanded form, “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people,” and, therefore, the same covenant. The other promise, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts,” included in the description, served only to secure the necessary qualifications on their part for being “a people” to God, and is not, therefore, to be regarded as a distinct and separate promise. In the Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul distinctly identifies the covenant under consideration as the covenant of grace. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds as of many, but, as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ. And, this I say, that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” Gal. 3:16, 17. Here he describes the covenant made with Abraham as the covenant confirmed of God in Christ, which of course was the covenant of grace; in which light we are also required to view it, from the fact, that the “seed” of Abraham, to which the promise of it was made, “is Christ,” that is, Christ mystical or Christ and believers as united to him. The covenant made with Abraham being thus the covenant of grace, the blessing promised in the covenant of grace, and bestowed, in fulfilment of its promise, on all that believe, is called “the blessing of Abraham,” “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ.” Gal. 3:14.
Of the covenant made with Abraham, which, we have now seen, was the covenant of grace, and, therefore, of the covenant of grace under the patriarchal dispensation, God constituted circumcision “a token” and “a sign.” “It shall be a token,” he said to Abraham, in a passage already quoted, “of the covenant betwixt me and thee.” We read also, Rom 4:11, that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision.” Accordingly, when God, by instituting circumcision, caused it to be applied to Abraham and to his seed, he, as it were, inscribed his covenant upon them, so that it was in their flesh.” He, therefore, said to Abraham, when enjoining circumcision, “my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” Thus, when they were circumcised, they were brought, outwardly, within the bonds of the covenant, of which circumcision was the “token,” into the position of persons in covenant with God, that is, of members of his visible Church.
It will not be denied that God had a Church on earth in the time of Abraham, and his visible Church in all ages is composed of those with whom he has outwardly entered into covenant, and whom he has thus brought outwardly into such a relation to himself that he “is a God unto them.” Now circumcision was the “token” by the application of which Abraham and his seed were outwardly received within the bonds of the covenant which God made with them, that is of the covenant of grace, and thus constituted members of the visible Church, as then organised.
Under the Mosaic economy, circumcision continued to occupy the same place as the rite of admission to Church membership.
An attempt has been made to divest circumcision, as far as possible, of this character, partly by presenting a low view of its own nature and import, and partly by presenting a low view of the Church to the membership of which it was the ordinance of admission. With this aim circumcision has been described as “a sign of carnal descent, a mark of national distinction, and a token of interest in those temporal blessings that were promised to Abraham.” We have already seen that, according to God’s institution, it was “a token of the covenant,” which he made with Abraham and his seed, and that that covenant was the covenant of grace; and, though we did not possess this information with respect to it, we could not regard it as being, according to this depreciating estimate of it, “a sign of carnal descent;” for it was to be applied not only to the natural descendants of Abraham, but, also, to every other member of his household, whether “born in his house, or bought with his money of any stranger, which was not of his seed.” Nether could it be considered as a mere “mark of national distinction.” Such a view of it is forbidden by the relation in which we have seen it stood to the covenant of grace; and, besides, the use of it was not confined to the descendants of Abraham in the line of Isaac. As regards the remaining particular of the description, to say that circumcision was “a token of interest in those temporal blessings that were promised to Abraham,” is only to say, in a very partial manner, however, and with an unseemly want of thoroughness and cordiality, that it was a token of the covenant which God made with Abraham, and which, in addition to its great promise, “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed,” contained what may be called a supplementary promise of temporary blessings. That it is “a token of the covenant” is God’s own description of it; and it is, surely, wiser and more becoming to accept his description of it, than to cast about for another to get rid of the argument which the application of it to infants, as the sign of the covenant, affords in favour of the baptism of infants.
With the same design of invalidating the claim of circumcision to rank with baptism, as having been, during the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, the initiatory rite of the visible Church, a low view has been presented also of the Church, particularly as it existed under the latter of those dispensations. “It was,” it has been said, “an ecclesiastico-political institution.” Without stopping to inquire, what, exactly, this strange language means, we must peremptorily refuse to have anything to do with the hybrid sort of thing which it is evidently intended to denote. The Church in question either was a Church, the visible Church of God, or it was not. If it is held that it was not, let this be said without boggling or half utterances; and if, on the other hand, it is held that it was, let this be admitted ungrudgingly and in its totality. And this admission cannot be evaded. The Church of which we speak was the visible Church of God, the only Church he had on earth from the time of Abraham to that of Christ, and circumcision was the rite of admission to its membership.
We have already, by vindicating the claim of circumcision to be regarded as the “token” and “sign” of the covenant of grace, by which all to whom it was applied were admitted outwardly to the privileges and brought under the obligations of that covenant, sufficiently defended its spiritual character and significance. It may be proper, however, still further to unfold and confirm the view of it thus presented. Let it be observed then that, in a passage already partly quoted, Rom. 4:11, the Apostle Paul describes circumcision as the “seal of the righteousness of faith.” As a “seal”, it confirmed the covenant in which this “righteousness” was provided, and thus gave assurance of the righteousness itself to all who by faith accepted the covenant. It thus bore a most decided spiritual character and served a most important spiritual purpose. And its spiritual significance is asserted and explained by the same Apostle, when he says, Rom. 2:28, 29, “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.” It is here emphatically taught that the outward rite of circumcision is the symbol of an inward circumcision, circumcision “of the heart, in the spirit, whose praise is of God.” There could not be a more decided testimony to the spiritual significance of the ordinance.
Let, then, the view of circumcision which the Scriptures thus present be freely and fully embraced. Let there be no exercise of argumentative precaution, no influence allowed to the apprehension that by an unqualified and irrevocable admission of that view you may surrender the power of maintaining a favourite position. Leave logical consequences to be afterwards determined, and do now what is now to be done, adopt, without reserve, or modification, the estimate of the ordinance under consideration to which the Scriptures conduct you. We ask, then, was not the covenant that God made with Abraham, and which contained the most glorious promise that can be given to human beings, “I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed,” and which the Apostle Paul describes as the “better covenant, of which Christ is the mediator,” (Heb. 8:6 and 10,) and as “confirmed of God in Christ,” (Gal. 3:17,) was not this covenant the covenant of grace? Were not those on whom the “sign of circumcision” was impressed admitted, outwardly, to the privileges of this covenant, or, in other words, to the position of persons in covenant with God, or of members of the visible Church? And, while circumcision was thus the rite of admission to Church membership, was it not rich in spiritual significance? We will suppose that the answers are given to these questions which the Scriptures supply, that it is distinctly recognised and held that, under the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, circumcision was the divinely appointed sign and token of the covenant of grace, a seal of the righteousness which that covenant provides, and the rite of admission to the position of members of the visible Church. And, in giving these answers, it is important that we, as it were, mark down and record that they are our answers, and that they embody the scriptural view of circumcision, so that, with the full recognition that we have reached this point, we shall, in the further prosecution of the enquiry in which we are engaged, proceed from it as a point we have reached.
Viewing circumcision, then, as the initiatory rite of the visible Church, the rite of admission to its membership, under the two preceding dispensations, we have now to observe further with respect to it, that it was applied to infants. It is very true that obvious and plausible objections to this application of it might have been urged. It might have been objected, for example, that, as circumcision was the sign of the covenant, an infant, being incapable of entering into covenant with God, was not a proper subject of it; or it might have been urged that, according to the express testimony of the apostle, (Gal. 5:3), circumcision imposes an obligation “to do the whole law,” and that it ought not, therefore, to be applied to infants, inasmuch as they are incapable of incurring and of discharging this obligation. Plausible, however, as these objections are, and they are plausible, and others equally plausible might be framed, it is clear they are all devoid of validity; for, in instituting the ordinance, God expressly and authoritatively required that it should be applied to infants; and in this, as in every case, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” (1 Cor. 1:29.)
As the bringing of objections has been thus foreclosed at this point, they have been brought at another, or a course equivalent to the bringing of them at that other point has been adopted. To that course we have already directed attention, pointing out that, in pursuing it, the mode of procedure is, first to disparage circumcision itself as much as possible, and then to disparage as much as possible, the Church, to the membership of which it gave admission, that thus the ordinance might appear under such a character, that the application of it to infants might involve no violation of a theory, that would be seriously violated by the application to infants of such an ordinance as it really was. This is a desperate expedient, and the cause must be desperate that is felt by its advocates to impose a necessity of resorting to it.
But whatever objections might have been urged against the circumcision of infants, and whatever efforts may have been made to get rid of the precedent which it furnishes, and of the practice which it established as divinely prescribed, it was appointed by God that infants should be circumcised. In instituting circumcision he especially requires, “every man-child among you shall be circumcised; he that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every man-child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.” And, as circumcision was the token of the covenant of grace and the rite of admission into the visible Church, infants, when circumcised, were admitted to the outward privileges of the former, and to the membership of the latter. Such, as regards this admission, was the manner of dealing with infants from the time of Abraham to that of Christ, a period of some two thousand years. Such, as regards this admission, was the manner of dealing with them during Christ’s personal ministry, and to the very close of the Mosaic dispensation.
Suppose, then, that we lived at the close of that dispensation, that the last hours of it were passing over us, and that, fully aware of the transition character of the period, we were waiting for the introduction of the new and more advanced dispensation that was to succeed it; and suppose that, while we were in this attitude of intelligent expectation, we heard their commission issued to those who were to conduct the operations of the new dispensation, and in the commission observed these words, “go ye therefore and disciple,” for so the word is literally rendered, “all nations, circumcising them;” should we, knowing that circumcision had all along hitherto been applied to infants, and that the application of it to them had always been, and was still, and that most justly, regarded as a privilege, should we in those circumstances, and in the absence of all intimation authorising, not to say requiring, us to do so, understand that the application of it was no longer to be extended to them?
The facts and influences operative in the case, the circumcision of infants all along hitherto under the authoritative requirement of God, their circumcision leaving but little room for the circumcision of adults, the high value justly attached to the privilege of enrolling infants by circumcision among the members of the visible Church, the character of the new dispensation as distinguished not more or less, or in any respect, by a curtailment of privilege, but uniformly, so far as it would affect privilege at all, by a great enlargement of it; and, in consequence of all this, our own associations derived from the past, and our anticipations with respect to the future, would all conspire to preserve us, and could not fail to preserve us effectually, from understanding or rather misunderstanding the injunction, “Go and disciple all nations, circumcising them,” as requiring the withholding of circumcision from infants, and would infallibly shut us in to understand it as requiring that it should be applied to them, nay, would so mould and determine our ideas and views that to understand it otherwise would not so much as occur to us. If you fully, in imagination, place yourselves in the position we have supposed, the position of believing Jews, who, knowing that a new dispensation was immediately to be introduced, and understanding and appreciating its distinctive character, and if for the time you make their views, associations, impressions, and anticipations your own, you cannot but feel this.
And, then, there was nothing, as we have already remarked, in the injunction itself which we have supposed, that in any way announced or even intimated that infants were now to be deprived of the divinely-conferred and long-enjoyed privilege of admission to the membership of the visible Church; and, clearly, it would require a very distinct intimation of the will of the Church’s lawgiver to induce those who had been always accustomed to such admission of infants, and who valued it, to withhold from them the rite of admission. A Roman poet said tauntingly, with respect to something that he regarded as incredible, “let a circumcised Jew believe it;” but a believing Jew might well say, with respect to the withholding of the initiatory rite from infants, without a distinct intimation of the divine will to that effect, “The uncircumcised Gentile may believe it; I cannot and will not.” Nothing but a divine enactment could bring a Jew to entertain for a moment the idea of such a treatment of infants.
It might no doubt be argued that the injunction was “disciple all nations, circumcising them,” and that it was implied that none were to be circumcised but such as were first discipled, and that infants, therefore, as they could not be discipled, ought not to be circumcised; but this reasoning would have no weight with an intelligent Jew. If he condescended to reply to it, he would remind the opponent of infant circumcision, at whose strange misdirected zeal he would feel no little surprise, that, when Gentiles were admitted to Church membership under the Mosaic dispensation, it was necessary first to “disciple” them, but that, at the same time, when parents were admitted their infant children, notwithstanding the alleged incapability of infants to be discipled, were admitted along with them, the males by circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice, and the females by baptism and sacrifice.
And, following his antagonist to the language of the injunction, he might ask him, “are not infants a part, and a very large part, of the whole which we call a nation, and, therefore, how can this whole be discipled, if a large part of it, that which infants compose, is left, and inevitably left, undiscipled? But, when a nation is discipled, it is discipled, not a part of it, but the whole, infants and all; otherwise the nation would not be discipled, for the adults of a nation are not the nation, but only a part of it; but it is the whole, and not a part, that we call the nation. Therefore, when a discipled nation is circumcised, its infants as well as its adults, none are circumcised but those who were first discipled; for the nation was discipled, and the infants are comprehended in the nation no less than its adults.”
And, he might add, addressing his Gentile opponent, for none could oppose infant circumcision but a Gentile, “You have much reason, friend, to suspect that your ideas of discipling, according to which infants cannot be discipled, must be erroneous, for, if infants cannot be discipled, neither can a nation, for infants form a component part of a nation, and yet the injunction is, Disciple all nations. According to your views, what is thus enjoined is impracticable, for according to them, nations cannot be discipled. Would it not be wise to reconsider them? For is it not more likely you have fallen into error in adopting them, than that the commission which they exhibit as impracticable is really impracticable?”
Thus the argument against infant circumcision that it might be attempted to derive from the words of the supposed injunction, “Disciple all nations, circumcising them,” would be wholly worthless. Treating it as worthless, if it should be used, an intelligent believing Jew would, as we have seen, as a matter of course and inevitably, understand that injunction as prescribing the circumcision of infants no less than that of adults.
Let us now substitute for the case which we have supposed the case that actually occurred. To believing Jews, who were aware that a new dispensation, of which the introduction would be attended not with any diminution or curtailment, but with a great extension and enlargement of privilege, was on the eve of being introduced, and who understood that baptism was to take the place of circumcision, for, doubtless, they were put in a position to execute their commission intelligently, to such Jews our Lord said, “Go ye, therefore, and disciple all nations, baptising them.” Now, what difference would it make as to the application of the rite to infants, that the rite to be applied was baptism, and not circumcision, as in the case we supposed? If, in the case supposed, those to whom the commission “Disciple all nations, circumcising them,” was given, would conclude inevitably and justly, that as infants were all along circumcised, and thus admitted to the membership of the visible Church, under the former dispensation, and as there was no intimation in the commission of any new restriction of the application of circumcision, infants were still to be circumcised, and thus admitted to the membership of the visible Church, equally, in the actual case, those to whom the commission “Disciple all nations, baptising them,” was given, would conclude, inevitably and justly, that as infants were all along circumcised, and thus admitted to the membership of the visible Church under the former dispensation, and as baptism was to be substituted for circumcision, while there was no intimation in the commission of any new restriction of the application of the initiatory rite, infants were now to be baptised, and thus admitted to visible Church membership under the new dispensation.
Antipaedobaptists call upon us to produce an express precept enjoining the baptism of infants; but those to whom our Lord said, “Disciple all nations, baptising them,” received, when these words were addressed to them, an express command to baptise infants. They knew that circumcision, as the initiatory rite of the former dispensation, was applied to infants, and now, when they were commanded to administer baptism as the initiatory rite substituted for circumcision under the new dispensation, they were clearly commanded to baptise infants. It was virtually said to them, “Circumcision is now to be superseded as the rite of admission to the membership of the visible Church, and baptism to be substituted for it; go ye and disciple all nations, admitting them to the membership of the visible Church by administering baptism to them in place of circumcision.” Such, as was formerly shown was the sense in which they would inevitably understand the part of their commission now under consideration, the sense which it really bore, and in which, therefore, it was intended they should understand it; and it thus conveyed to them an express command to baptise infants as well as adults.
Their commission changed one clause, so to speak, of the law respecting the initiatory rite, the clause which determined the form of the rite. This clause it changed by substituting baptism for circumcision, leaving the law otherwise as it was. Accordingly, the only deviation from the existing practice which it prescribed or authorised was this substitution; and, therefore, in acting under it, they were to adhere to the existing practice, except only that they were to baptise instead of circumcising. The law formerly required, and it required still, for as regarded this requirement it was not changed, that the initiatory rite should be applied to infants as well as adults, and, therefore, they were to apply it to infants as well as to adults; and the law as now changed substituted baptism for circumcision, as the initiatory rite, and, therefore, they were to baptise and not to circumcise. (As regards the application of baptism to females, it followed, even from the spirit and effect of circumcision, that, the initiatory rite admitting of such application, it should be applied to them. Accordingly, the commission under consideration did not expressly prescribe this application of it.) This was, clearly, the meaning of their commission; and in this sense, brought up as they had been as Jews, with the views and associations of Jews with respect to the application of the initiatory rite to infants, and possessing now the intelligence with respect to the character of the new dispensation as bringing along with it a great enlargement of privilege, which the personal teaching of Christ and the grace and inspiration of the Spirit imparted, they would inevitably understand it.
Antipaedobaptists, however, contend that they could not and did not understand it in this sense; that they understood it as so restricting the application of the initiatory rite that it was not to be applied to infants. But where is this restriction enacted or announced? We have already seen that there is not a trace of it in the commission. There is there, indeed, a change of the rite, the substitution of baptism for circumcision, but no other change, no restriction of the application, no limitation of the subjects of the rite. The puerile attempt to find such a restriction and limitation in the fact, that the nations were to be first discipled and only then baptised, has been already sufficiently exposed. But there is nothing better that can be substituted for it. There is not a shadow of evidence that the limitation of the subjects of the initiatory rite, for which our opponents contend, was ever enacted by Christ. If it was enacted, where is the enactment, or any record of it? Nowhere.
They constantly enunciate and reiterate that, in the case of positive institutions, of which baptism is one, we must at every step have the authority of an express precept or a plain example; and, in accordance with this dictum, let them produce either precept or example for the limitation of the subjects of the initiatory rite for which they contend. The initiatory rite was applied to infants under the former dispensation, and if, as they maintain, it is not to be applied to them under the present dispensation, where is this restriction of the application of it commanded? And, if it is nowhere commanded, as it certainly is not, where is it exemplified? It is nowhere exemplified either. What evidence is there, then, that it was ever enacted? Oh! we have no precept or example for applying the initiatory rite to infants, and that is evidence enough in the case. What! demand fresh authority for continuing a practice once appointed by God, and never abolished!
God once enacted that the initiatory rite should be applied to infants, and this enactment he has never repealed. There is nothing in the legislation of the New Testament by which it is repealed. That legislation, indeed, substitutes baptism for circumcision, but it does no more. The law with respect to the subjects of the initiatory rite it leaves as it was. That law has thus descended to us unchanged from the time of Abraham. This being our position, it is really absurd to call upon us, as our opponents are in the habit of doing, to produce precept or example from the New Testament for applying baptism to infants. It is upon them it devolves to produce precept or example from the New Testament, and not upon us. They hold that the initiatory rite is not to be applied to infants under the present dispensation, but it was applied to them under the former dispensation, and it is for them to produce precept or example for the change.
Instead, however, of producing either, they maintain that circumcision was not an initiatory rite, and that baptism has not come into its place. We have already vindicated the claim of circumcision to be regarded as the initiatory rite of the patriarchal and Jewish dispensations. Those to whom it was applied were outwardly received under that covenant in which God had promised to be a God to Abraham and to his seed, and a covenant that contained that promise could be no other than the covenant of grace; they were thus admitted outwardly into the relation to God of his covenant people, and, if he had a Church on earth during the patriarchal period, or at any time, it was composed of those who sustained that relation to him. The Church that he has now on earth is composed of them. Thus, then, circumcision, inasmuch as those to whom it was applied were admitted, outwardly, to the relation to God of his covenant people, and therefore of members of his visible Church, was clearly an initiatory ordinance.
We have also shewn that circumcision exhibited spiritual truths and sealed spiritual blessings. It is therefore unnecessary for us to take notice in detail of the offensively disparaging statements that are made with respect to it by opponents of infant baptism. All such statements are repelled by the fact that it served important spiritual purposes. To one of them, however, we may advert in passing. Circumcision is represented as “requiring neither intelligence, faith, nor any moral qualification.” This is a most extraordinary representation, or rather misrepresentation. When Abraham received the sign of circumcision and thus accepted the covenant, of which it was the divinely appointed token, was it not required of him, from the very nature of the transaction, that he should lay hold on the promise contained in that covenant, “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” And how can it be said that circumcision required no moral qualification, when the Apostle expressly testifies, “If thou be a breaker of the law thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.” (Rom 2:25.) This is surely a very emphatic requirement of moral qualification. That the Jews themselves held that circumcision required intelligence, faith, and moral qualifications is evident from the fact that they held it to be necessary that a proselyte, before they received him by circumcision, should have a competent knowledge of the true God, should profess faith in him, and should promise to worship him, and to abstain from idolatry.
Our opponents further deny that baptism came into the place of circumcision, and endeavour thus to get rid of our argument that, as circumcision, the initiatory rite under the former dispensation, was applied to infants, baptism, which has been substituted for circumcision as the initiatory rite under the present dispensation, is also to be applied to them. But we have already proved that circumcision was the initiatory rite under the former dispensation, and it is admitted and has been shown, that baptism is the initiatory rite under the present dispensation. It therefore follows that baptism has come into the place of circumcision.
And with this conclusion the representation of Scripture harmonises. “In whom,” says the Apostle Paul referring to Christ, Col. 2:11, 12,
in whom ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him.
Here he sets forth the spiritual import of circumcision. The outward circumcision in the flesh symbolised an inward spiritual “circumcision made without hands,” which consists in the “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.” And the believing Colossians he represents as having experienced this circumcision in their having been buried with Christ in baptism, that is, in their having undergone an inward spiritual baptism. In other words, he represents them as having been circumcised in having been baptised. He thus exhibits baptism as occupying the place and accomplishing the design of circumcision.
That he thus represents baptism as the substitute, and in a manner the continuance of circumcision, will appear with increased clearness, if we examine more narrowly the train of thought in the passage. The apostle, then, teaches that believers “put off the body of the sins of the flesh;” or, according to the more approved reading, “put off the body of the flesh,” called elsewhere “the old man.” This “putting off the body of the flesh” is the following up of the crucifying and death of the flesh, and then the putting off of “the body” of it, and a consequent entrance on a new life. This, according to the apostle, is spiritual circumcision, what the outward circumcision symbolised.
Or it may be viewed as a spiritual baptism, for in such baptism the subjects of it are buried with Christ and also risen with him; and thus in spiritual baptism or what the outward baptism symbolises, as in spiritual circumcision or what outward circumcision symbolised, there is first the death of the flesh proved to be real by its being followed by burial; and then there is the putting off of the body of the flesh, the leaving of it in the grave, and a consequent resurrection to, and entrance upon, a new life. According to this representation, baptism symbolises exactly what circumcision symbolised, and thus the former ordinance occupies precisely the same place which the latter ordinance occupied. We may observe here, in passing, how utterly unscriptural the views are, which the disparaging statements with respect to circumcision, to which we have already adverted, embody and imply. According to the apostle’s theology, the scriptural theology, circumcision bore a lofty spiritual character and symbolised the richest spiritual blessings.
Baptism, then, occupies the same place as circumcision occupied; and, therefore, we again call upon those who maintain that it is not to be applied to infants as circumcision was, to adduce, according to their own dictum, a precept or an example in support of their doctrine. But no, they cannot adduce either. They undertake, however, to prove otherwise, that infants are not to be baptised. According to their own dictum, it is necessary for them to adduce a prohibitory precept or example for this purpose. We shall not, however, insist upon this, for we do not subscribe to their dictum; we are, therefore, ready to hear the different proof which they offer to lead. This is it, then: “Faith and repentance are necessary qualifications for baptism, and infants are incapable of these.”
This is very plausible; but let us have the passages on which the argument is founded. The following are two of them, and may suffice: Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved;” and Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you.” According to the first of these passages, the order is, to believe first and then to be baptised; and according to the second, to repent first and then to be baptised. Thus, faith and repentance should precede baptism.
Yes, in the case of adults, for it is to adults only that these passages refer. They prove nothing, therefore, with respect to infants. They prove that, in the case of adults, faith and repentance are necessary qualifications for baptism; but they do not prove that they are necessary qualifications for it in the case of all; and, therefore, they do not prove that infants, because they are incapable of faith and repentance, are not to be baptised. If these passages applied to infants, the first of them, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved,” would prove that infants cannot be saved. It makes believing necessary in order to salvation; but infants are incapable of believing, and, therefore, according to the logic of our opponents, they cannot be saved. Our opponents, however, do not draw this conclusion, and will not accept it; but they must accept it, or else abandon their interpretation of the passage. If the passage teaches, as, according to their interpretation, it does, that none but such as believe are to be baptised, it teaches also, and, indeed, still more clearly, that none but such as believe shall be saved. Thus, if it teaches that infants, because they are incapable of faith, are not to be baptised, it teaches, also, that infants, because they are incapable of faith, shall not be saved. Strange, that antipaedobaptists will not see this! What a striking illustration is afforded by the fact that they do not see it, of the partiality and one-sidedness of view which an erroneous doctrine produces!
As we cannot obtain from the opponents of infant baptism any proof of their doctrine, we shall proceed, not exactly to prove, but to confirm our own. We have already proved it by shewing that the application of the initiatory rite to infants was instituted by God, and has not been abolished. But, though no further proof of it is necessary, it may be advantageous to shew, in confirmation of it, that it entirely harmonises with scripture representations.
With this view, we request attention to the manner in which the scriptures mention the baptism of families. An instance occurs in the Acts of the Apostles, 16:14, 15.
A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord had opened that she attended unto the things that were spoken of Paul. And, when she was baptised and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide there. And she constrained us.
Here it is only with respect to Lydia herself we are informed that she was converted, but baptism was administered not only to herself but also to her household. The words of the narrative are, “she was baptised and her household,” If baptism had been administered to each member of her household on antipaedobaptist principles, the administration of it could scarcely have been related in such terms. If the fact of the case was that she was converted, and that, on her being converted and professing faith in Christ, not only herself was baptised but also her household, the narrative is exactly such as we would have expected. But, if each individual was baptised, according to the antipaedobaptist principles, on his own profession of faith, the narrative certainly does not present the case in this light. It mentions only Lydia’s conversion, and then with her conversion connects not only her own baptism, but also that of her household, without the slightest intimation that the members of her household were themselves converted. This certainly has a very paedobaptist look, and has no resemblance whatever to an antipaedobaptist account of antipaedobaptist proceedings.
In the same chapter, verses 30-34, we have a similar account of the baptism of a household, of that of the Philippian jailer. “Sirs,” this was the inquiry of the jailer,
What must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptised, he and all his straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
It is only of the conversion and faith of the jailer himself that we have evidence in this narrative. It is stated of him that, “he took them,” Paul and Silas, “the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes.” He thus afforded a practical proof, and made an open practical profession of his faith; and, on his having done so, baptism was administered, not only to himself, but also to his entire household, he “was baptised, he and all his, straightway.” It is true that “they spoke the word of the Lord,” not only “unto himself,” but also “to all that were in his house;” but, then, we are not informed what reception any, except himself, gave to the word thus spoken.
The authorised version, indeed, of the last clause of verse 34, “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house,” conveys the impression that “all his house” believed in God. But the literal rendering of this part of the narrative is, “he rejoiced with all his house, having believed in God.” Thus it is only himself that is represented as “having believed;” and even as regards the rejoicing, no more is stated, than that he rejoiced domestically, for “with all his house” in our translation is the rendering of one word in the original, that word being an adverb which may be translated domestically, and which immediately follows and qualifies the word for “rejoiced.” It is not said that he rejoiced and all his house, but that he rejoiced domestically, that is, expressed his by some act or service in which he called upon his whole household to take part. This statement affords no evidence, and none is afforded in any other part of the narrative, that his household believed.
Though, “having believed in God, he rejoiced domestically,” it in no way follows that, because the rejoicing was a household or family rejoicing, the members of his household had also “believed in God,” and had thus in their own spiritual history and experience the same cause of rejoicing, that he had in his. If he had recovered from some severe and dangerous illness, he might, very properly, have “rejoiced domestically,” or “with all his house;” but surely, none would infer from the household character of the rejoicing, in this case, that the members of his household had experienced a similar recovery; and, when it is stated that, having believed in God, he rejoiced domestically, it can quite as little be inferred, from the household character of the rejoicing, that the members of his household exercised a similar faith. And, then, as to the statement that “the word of the Lord” was spoken “to all that were in his house,” do our opponents need to be told that many of those to whom the word of the Lord is spoken continue in unbelief?
In short, the view presented by the narrative is, that the jailer believed, and that, on his believing, baptism was administered not only to himself but also to “all his straightway;” that is, that the paedobaptist mode of procedure was adopted in the case, the same mode of procedure exactly as was adopted under the Mosaic economy in admitting proselytes. If the antipaedobaptist mode of procedure had been adopted in baptising the jailer’s household, and the baptism of it had been related by an antipaedobaptist historian, the narrative would certainly have been very different from that of Luke. Such an historian, an historian writing under the bias of antipaedobaptist views, and relating an administration of baptism in accordance with those views, would never have framed a narrative which records only the faith of the jailer himself, and which conveys that, on his having furnished evidence of his faith, both himself and all his were baptised “straightway.” Luke has penned precisely such a narrative: but, most assuredly, if he had been an antipaedobaptist, and had been recording antipaedobaptist proceedings, he would have written very differently. His narrative would, in that case, have borne that not only the jailer himself, but also “all his” believed, and that he and they were baptised on a profession of faith made by them individually. He would have felt it the more necessary to bring it clearly out that baptism was administered to each individual on a profession of faith made by himself personally, as the universal and well-known mode of procedure in the analogous case of the admission of proselytes was that when the head of a family was found qualified for admission, the rite of initiation was applied not only to himself but also to the members of his household.
We have not insisted on the high probability that there were infants in some, if not in all, of the families of which the scriptures record that they were baptised, the record in two at least of the cases clearly indicating that they were baptised on a profession of faith made by their respective heads. Our argument has been that, while the scripture mode of relating that families or households were baptised is throughout in exact harmony with paedobaptist views and practice, it cannot be reconciled with those of antipaedobaptists. There is, however, a high probability that there were infants in some at least of the families in question. Besides, the practice of baptising families on a profession of faith made by the heads of such families, which the cases under consideration, when viewed in the light in which, we have seen, the scripture narrative presents them, clearly establish, involves the baptism of infants.
The practice of baptising families on a profession of faith made by the heads of them is recorded; families, therefore, are to be baptised on such profession; but infants form often a part of families, and therefore, as families are to be baptised, infants are to be baptised, for the families of which infants form a part would not be baptised, if the infant members of them were not baptised. The practice established is the practice of baptising families on a credible profession of faith made by the heads of them, and not the practice of baptising a certain class of families on such profession, for nothing whatever is mentioned to distinguish the families baptised from other families. Now the practice of baptising families clearly comprehends in it the practice of baptising infants, for in many families there are infant members; and, therefore, if the infant members of families, the heads of which make a credible profession of faith, are not baptised, the practice of baptising families on such profession, unequivocally established by the authoritative example of the apostles, is abandoned, and a course at variance with that practice is adopted.
Further and strong confirmation is afforded to our doctrine by the manner in which the apostle speaks in the following passage of the bringing in of the Gentiles and the restoration of the Jews, Rom 11:17, 18:
If some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree, boast not against the branches; but if thou boast thou bearest not the root but the root thee.
And again, verses 23, 24,
They also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in, for God is able to graff them in again; for, if thou wert cut out of an olive tree, which is wild by nature, and wert graffed, contrary to nature, into a good olive tree, how much more shall these which be the natural branches be graffed into their own olive tree?
Here the “good olive tree” clearly represents the visible church; and, when “some branches” are represented as “broken off” from the olive tree, the meaning evidently is, that some of the members of the visible Church were cast out by the rejection of the Jews. All the members, however, were not cast out; the church was not dissolved; it still continued. Into the church which thus continued, or into the olive tree, still standing, though some branches were broken off, the Gentiles were graffed. Now, infants were members of the church as it existed under the Mosaic dispensation, and, therefore, as it was into this church that the Gentiles were admitted, infants were members of the church into which they were admitted, and, consequently, of the church as it existed after their admission. And, further, when it is stated that the Jews shall be graffed in again, graffed into their own olive tree, the church into which they shall be admitted, to be their own olive tree, must recognise the membership of infants; for the membership of infants was recognised by the church from which they had been cast out.
What the apostle in this passage contemplates as already effected, our Lord predicts in Mat. 21:43, “the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Here the church, spoken of figuratively by the apostle as an “olive tree,” is designated “the kingdom of God”, a designation strictly appropriate. This “kingdom of God,” our Lord predicts, should be “taken from” the Jews and given to a nation “bringing forth the fruits thereof.” It was not to be destroyed, to cease, or to be essentially changed; it was only to be transferred from one nation to another, still continuing the same kingdom. While the prophecy implies that it was to remain unchanged as to all that was essential to it, it particularly indicates that it was to remain such that it could “be given to a nation.” God had given it to the Jews, as a nation, to their infants as well as to their adults; and now he was to give it to another “nation,” that is, to the Gentiles; and, in being thus given to another “nation,” it must as before be given to infants as well as to adults, for, if not given to infants, it would not be given to “a nation,” infants forming a very considerable part of every nation.
Besides, into the church which was taken from the Jews infants were admitted as members, and, as it was the same church that was taken from the Jews that was to be given to the Gentiles, therefore into the church that was to be given to the Gentiles, infants were to be admitted as members. According to antipaedobaptist principles this prophecy, and there are not a few such, cannot be fulfilled. They do not admit of the giving of the kingdom of God to “a nation;” they admit of the giving it only to those who make a personal profession of religion, and those who make such a profession or are capable of making it do not in any case form the whole of a nation.
Christ himself holds such language with respect to infant children as implies, if it does not expressly recognise, their church membership. He does so in the following passage: “He took a child, and set him in the midst of them; and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me.” The word rendered “child” in this passage denotes a little child, and that the child spoken of was a little child is further indicated by the fact that Christ “took him in his arms.” Referring, then, to this little child, Christ says to his disciples, “whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me,” Now how could one receive a “little child in Christ’s name,” if little children could have no visible connection with him? But how could a little child or any one else have a visible connection with Christ otherwise than by visible church membership? To receive one “in Christ’s name” is to receive him as “belonging to Christ,” (see v. 51); but that we may be in a position to receive any one as belonging to Christ, he must visibly belong to him, and those who so belong to him are just the members of the visible church. Accordingly that we may be in a position to receive little children as belonging to Christ, and he himself represents it as our duty to receive some little children as belonging to him, such little children must be members of the visible church.
In Mark 10:14, Christ uses language, with respect to little children, very similar to that which we have now examined. “Suffer,” he says, “the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” The declaration, “of such is the kingdom of heaven” means that “the kingdom of heaven” belongs to “such” little children as “they were bringing to him” at the time, that it is theirs, belonging to them, not, indeed, exclusively, but in common with others. If the meaning were that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are “such” in disposition as the children referred to, the fact stated would clearly have no force, as a reason why those little children should be suffered to come to him, it would have been irrelevant to say “Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Our Lord, then, testifies that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such little children, as those to whom he referred; and, from this fact, in whatever sense, “the kingdom of heaven” is to be taken, it follows that such little children should not be excluded from the membership of the visible church. If by the kingdom of heaven we are to understand the kingdom of glory, then, surely, those, to whom it belongs, are not to be excluded from the visible church, the corresponding kingdom on earth; and, if we are to understand by it the visible church itself, Christ’s kingdom as it is administered on earth, then, surely, those to whom it belongs are not to be excluded from it.
Christ himself regards and treats little children as capable of occupying a place among those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs; and how then can they be incapable of being admitted amongst them by the outward rite of admission? Are higher qualifications necessary to constitute them fit subjects of the outward rite of admission, than are necessary for the actual occupation of the position to which outwardly admission is given by that rite? If they may be actually among those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs, may they not be treated, outwardly, as being among them? It would be a strange anomaly if they might not; but this anomaly the antipaedobaptist system presents. The truth is that the views of our opponents with respect to the relation of infants to the covenant of grace and the outward administrations of it are grievously erroneous, as is painfully manifest, when we contrast their treatment of little children and their statements respecting them, with the treatment given to them and claimed for them by Christ, in the instance before us.
With the procedure towards infants which Christ thus required and exemplified, and with what we have seen the scriptures so abundantly teach with respect to their relation to the covenant of grace, and to the outward administration of it, the exhortation addressed by Peter to those that were “pricked in their hearts” on the day of Pentecost fully harmonises. Having “said unto them, repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost,” he adds, in enforcement of this exhortation, “for the promise is unto you and to your children.”
He evidently refers to the great promise which God gave to Abraham when he instituted circumcision, “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed.” And, in testifying that this promise was still in force, did he not intimate to them that the outward rite of admission to an interest in it, was still, as hitherto, to be applied to their children? If he did not intend to convey this intimation, the reference to the promise as being not only to themselves but also to their children was calculated to mislead. And why was it made? How could the fact that the promise was to their children enforce the exhortation addressed to them, if in no part of their compliance with it they required the warrant and encouragement of a promise to their children?
If they were only exhorted to repent and to be themselves baptised, they required no promise to their children to be in a position to comply with the exhortation. It is only on the supposition that, as a matter of course, their own baptism would be followed by the baptism of their children, that there could be any propriety in the reference to the promise to their children. A partially instructed Jew, when exhorted to repent and to enter the Christian church by baptism, would naturally enough inquire in his own mind, “but if I submit to baptism, what is to be done with my children?” This inquiry the apostle anticipates and satisfies. “The promise,” he announces, “is to your children,” as well as to yourselves, and, therefore, if you are baptised, they shall be baptised as your children. They shall be treated in this respect, as they were treated under the former dispensation, and in accordance with the promise, “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed.”
We shall only adduce one other passage, 1 Cor. 7:14 which affords direct and strong confirmation to the doctrine of infant baptism. “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband, else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.” When both the parents were unbelieving, and therefore heathen, their children were also heathen, and therefore “unclean,” unfit to be admitted to the membership of the church; but, when one of the parents believed their children were “holy,” not of course in respect of personal character, but relatively, as being set apart, and thus brought into a position to be admitted into the church. This seems to be the only sense of which this passage admits, and, thus understood, it makes immediate reference to the baptism of infants, for it is only by baptism that infants are admitted to the membership of the visible church.
Other passages might be adduced, but we shall only further, in support of infant baptism, refer to the fact that the Jewish converts never complained of the treatment given to their children under the new dispensation. If their children were not baptised, they would be excluded from the position occupied by children under the former dispensation; and it cannot for a moment be imagined that their parents would submit quietly, without murmur or complaint, to this exclusion of them.