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mentioned by writers on this subject, in support of the baptism of the children of believers; but it is not thought needful particularly to consider them here, since these which have been brought into view are supposed sufficient to show that it is the will of Christ that the institution of a church in the family of Abraham, so far as it respects children, including them with their parents and applying the seal of the covenant to them, should not be repealed under the gospel.
4. That the apostolic churches and primitive Christians did admit their children to baptism, as proper subjects of it, is argued from the general and almost universal practice of it, in all ages since from that time. This is a fact which writers on this subject have abundantly proved. From writings now extant, it appears that infant baptism was practised in the Christian churches in the second, third, and fourth centuries; and it was asserted, by writers in the church in those ages, that it had been the universal practice from the days of the apostles, and not one person appears to have denied it, or to suggest that it was not thus handed down as an institution of Christ; and it appears to have been the common practice in Christian churches for above a thousand years, at least, and it is, to this day, the general practice in the Christian world. If this were not the practice of the first Christian churches, formed by the apostles, it seems impossible that it should be introduced at so early an age, as the universal practice, without opposition by any one church or person as an innovation, and contrary to the practice of the primitive churches, and without any account or notice given when it was done, and by whom, and by whom it was opposed. Various heresies took place in the churches, soon after the apostles' days, by which Christians were divided in their sentiments and practice in many things, of which we have the history handed down to us, informed when and by whom they were introduced. And learned men, — who took pains to inform themselves, and were under advantages to do it, - who lived in the early ages of the church, have given a particular account of the heresies which had arisen among Christians in different parts of the world, and at different times; but they never mention infant baptism as one of them, nor the omission or denial of it, as a Christian institution, by any church or single person who practised the baptism of any with water. By those heresies, professing Christians were divided into parties, and became spies opon each other; and if they had not all been agreed in baptizing infants, and it had not been the universal practice before those divisions rose, but was introduced afterwards, it would have been impossible that they should all agree in it, or that they should be silent about it, and that none should dispute against it and oppose it. If one party had adopted it, the other would oppose it as an innovation, never known to be practised before, etc. But while they differed about many things, in this practice they were all agreed, as an institution handed down from the apostles.
Corruptions and practices have taken place in churches, especially in the church of Rome, which are contrary to the institutions of Christ, and were not practised by the primitive churches; but we have an account when most of those were introduced, and of great opposition made to them by many, and they have never been universally received by the churches. If the baptism of children be not a divine institution, it is a great error indeed, a great corruption and abuse of the ordinance of baptism, and an utter perversion of it to a purpose for which it was not instituted. And it is perfectly unaccountable (and may we not say impossible ?) that it should so universally take place in the church of Christ, and that so soon after the death of the apostles, without any opposition by any one person, for many centuries, and no account be handed down of the time when it was introduced, and by whom, if it were not universally practised from the days of the apostles, but is an innovation, contrary to the original institution and practice of the churches ?
But if the baptism of the children of believers be a divine institution, and universally practised by the churches in the apostles' days, agreeably to the foregoing arguments, and was handed down from them in the Christian churches, then its taking place so generally, and even universally, from the earliest times, for so many ages, can be well accounted for, and appears perfectly consistent. This fact, therefore, increases the evidence, and serves to strengthen and confirm other arguments, which are thought to be in themselves fully conclusive, that the baptism of infants is a divine institution, and was practised by the apostolic churches,
THE NATURE AND DESIGN OF INFANT BAPTISM.
II. The next thing proposed on the subject of infant baptism is, to consider the import and design of it, and what good ends it may answer to the parents and their children.
If it be evident and certain that this is a divine institution, it ought to be punctually attended and practised, though the reason, design, and end of it were not to be discovered, and none could tell or see of what benefit it can be to the parents or children. But if this were in fact the case, and it should appear to us only an unmeaning, useless ceremony, and really of a bad tendency, this would greatly tend to blind us to the evidence that it is indeed an institution of Christ, and to prejudice our minds, and shut our eyes, so as not to see it, however clear it may be. It is, therefore, no wonder that persons who have imbibed this notion of infant baptism, and look into the Bible, and attend to the arguments which are brought in favor of it, and what is said against it, with this prejudice on their minds, should not be convinced that it is a divine institution, but reject it with a great degree of confidence and religious zeal. In this view, the inquiry now before us is very important and interesting. And if a rational and consistent account can be given of this institution, and the ground and design of it be discovered by the help of the Scripture, and it can be shown in what respect it is suited to promote the good of parents and their children, and of the church, it will tend to remove prejudices, and to confirm the arguments which have been offered from the Scripture in favor of infant baptism.
This will now be attempted by offering the following observations and conclusions to the candid consideration and careful examination of those who are willing to attend to this subject, and desirous to form right conceptions of it, and to know what is the reason, design, and advantage of this institution.
1. The baptism of the children of believers is a covenant transaction, by which, in some sense or other, and in some degree, at least, the children are visibly taken into covenant, so as to be included in it, and are to be considered as sharing in the blessings of it with their parents. No less than this can be made of the transaction with Abraham, and the covenant made with him and his seed, in which the seal of the covenant was applied to them. And the same constitution takes place in the Christian church with respect to children, and the appointed seal of the gospel covenant is therefore applied to them. If this were not a covenant transaction which has respect to the children, and they were in no sense included in the covenant, the application of the seal of the covenant to them, by baptizing them, would be an unmeaning transaction indeed, or, rather, would be a signification of that which is not true, and does not really take place. Nor would it answer to what was intended and actually took place in the circumcision of children in the Abrahamic church, which was expressly called the token of the covenant, and the covenant itself, which God made and established between himself and Abraham and his seed. " I will make a covenant between me and thee; and I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 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 it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. 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.” (Gen. xvii.) What can be more plain and certain than those words make it, that the children of Abraham were as really included in the covenant made with him, of which circumcision was the appointed token and seal, as he himself was, and, consequently, that all the parents in Israel and their circumcised children were equally included in the same covenant? And who that believes in infant baptism will deny that this is as much a covenant transaction as was the circumcision of the children of Abraham, and that the baptized children of believers are as really and as much in covenant as the circumcised children of Abraham? Therefore, they who believe the baptism of infants to be a Christian institution have generally, if not universally, considered it as a covenant transaction, importing the children of believers to be included in the same covenant with their believing parents, though they may have differed in their notion of this covenant, as it respects children.
2. This covenant transaction in baptizing the children of believers, is between God and the parents. It respects the children, indeed, which are baptized, but they are incapable of acting in the affair, so as to enter into covenant by any act of theirs. If they be brought into covenant, and the seal of it set upon them, it must be by what is done for them, and determined and acted with respect to them, in which they are the subjects, and not the agents; and all this takes place previous to their knowing any thing of the matter. In this all are agreed.
3. A covenant is commonly understood to imply mutual engagements and promises, on some condition expressed or understood between two parties so covenanting. Thus, when God enters into covenant with men, or a covenant takes place between them, he proposes and promises to grant some good thing to them on some condition to be performed on their part, which they engage and promise to perform, approving of the proposal and complying with it. But the condition on which the divine promises are made in the covenant which he proposes, and into which he enters with man, is all implied in a cordial approbation of the promise, and acceptance of the thing promised, and perseverance in this, and expressing it in a proper and answerable conduct; for this is to love God and keep his commandments.
The absolute, unconditional promises of God are, indeed, called a covenant, and he is said to make a covenant with those to whom he makes such promises. Thus he is said to establish his covenant with Noah and his seed, in which all mankind who were to exist after that are comprehended, and with every living creature, (Gen. ix. 3, etc. ;) which covenant consisted in an absolute, unconditional promise that he would not destroy the world again by a flood. Of the same kind are many of the promises made to the church; that God will never forsake it, but that it shall continue to the end of the world, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it, and that it shall yet prosper and flourish, and fill the world, etc.
The covenant of grace, which is called the new covenant, is, in a sense, unconditional. As it is established with the redeemed, the church as a body, it is called a promise and testament, in which are contained all the good things which are implied in the complete, eternal redemption of the redeemed church; and whatever is necessary on their part, is comprised in the promise, in which God engages that it shall take place and be wrought in them, so that they shall will and do the things necessary to their being in covenant with God, and sharing in all the blessings of it. This is evident from the particular description which the apostle Paul gives of this covenant, in a quotation from the prophet Jeremiah. “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws in their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest; for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb. viii. 8, 10-12.)
Here God promises to do all that is to be done; and if there be any condition necessary on the part of the church, it is included in the promise, and God engages that it shall take place. “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts, and they shall be to me a people.” This is to be considered as a condition which must take place in all of the redeemed church, and implies saving faith, or love to God, and obedience to him in keeping his commandments. But in this covenant of