By F. W. CONRAD, D. D.
THIS Article, according to the German text of the Augsburg Confession, reads thus:
“Respecting Baptism it is taught, that it is necessary; that grace is offered through it; and that children ought to be baptized, who, through such Baptism, are presented unto God, and become acceptable unto him. Therefore the Anabaptists are condemned, who teach that Infant Baptism is improper.”
According to the Latin text of the Confession, it is as follows:
“Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that by Baptism the grace of God is offered, and that children are to be baptized, who by Baptism, being offered to God, are received into God’s favor. They condemn the Anabaptists, who allow not the Baptism of children, and affirm that children are saved without Baptism.”
I. Its Names.
Names, when arbitrarily given, have no reference to the constitution of the object designated by them; but when naturally employed, they are designed to express some characteristic of the person or institution to which they are applied. The name Baptism was em- ployed by Jesus Christ and his Apostles in a natural sense. The generic meaning of the Greek word Baptismos, which has been introduced into our English version without undergoing a translation, is that of a washing, and it is applied to Baptism by the New Testament writers, because it is a “washing of water by the word,” even “a washing of regeneration.” And in like manner do the Confessors of the Lutheran Church designate Baptism as a sacrament, a Christian ceremony, a holy ordinance, a divine testimony, because each of these terms represents some characteristic found in the constitution of Baptism.
II. Its Institution.
Baptism was instituted by Jesus Christ. The words upon which it was founded by him, are recorded by Matthew and Mark as follows: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Matt, xxviii. 19; Mark xvi. 15, 16.
Baptism, not having been devised by man, but instituted in accordance with the will of God, must, therefore, be regarded not as a human device, but as a divine institution.
III. Its Constituent Parts.
As in nature, things are constituted by the combination of elements, so in the Church of Christ, institutions are formed by the appropriation and union of natural and supernatural elements. The natural element introduced into the constitution of Baptism, is water; the supernatural element, the Word of God. “For,” as the Larger Catechism declares, “if the word is separated from the water, it is not different from that used for ordinary purposes, and it may well be styled a common ablution; but when it is connected with the word as God has ordained it, it is a sacrament, and it is called Christian Baptism.” And with this agrees the definition of Baptism given in the Smalcald Articles: “Baptism is nothing else than the word of God connected with water, commanded by his institution. * *” As Augustine also says: “The word being added to the element, it becomes a sacrament.”
The wisdom of God is manifested in nature, by adapting certain elements for combination, and the same wisdom is exhibited by the adaptation of water and the word to form a sacramental union. To the accomplishment of this end, it was necessary that water, which, as a natural element, was unfitted to enter into combination with the word as a supernatural element, should be so changed by its appropriation to a religious end, as to be adapted for a union with the word in the sphere of the supernatural. This adaptation the water receives through its use in the administration of Baptism. In this manner it becomes an efficacious sign, a vehicle of truth, “a visible word,” analogous in its nature to the written word. While the water, therefore, as a sign or symbol, reveals the depravity of man, and the necessity of regeneration, the word enforces the command of God, and presents the promise of pardon, grace and salvation.
“For,” says Luther in his sermon on Holy Baptism, ” in order that Baptism may be and be called a sacrament, it is necessary, first of all, that some external, tangible sign or substance be employed, through which God deals visibly with us, so that we may be assured of his operation. For without some external sign or medium, God will not operate upon us merely by a deeply secret inspiration, or a peculiar divine revelation. But the external work and sign will accomplish nothing at all, if his word is not added, through which the sign becomes mighty, and we perceive what God is accomplishing in us by this sign. But the divine command also must be united to both these, in order that we may become assured of his will and work in this sign and word. And they should be viewed in immediate connection with each other, and not be severed and separated, since in union with each other they constitute a correct Baptism.”
IV. Its Administrator.
Baptism, in order that it may answer the end of its institution, must be administered, that is, the words of the institution must be spoken, and the water applied to the person presented for Baptism, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. An administrator becomes, therefore, indispensable, and God has instituted the holy ministry through his Son, Jesus Christ, authorizing them to preach the gospel to every creature, and to baptize all who believed in his name. Although Baptism is a church ordinance, which is to be administered by the Church, and through which members are initiated into the Church, nevertheless, the authority to administer it has not been conferred upon every believer connected with a Christian congregation, but upon the minister duly called and installed as its pastor. As Christ did not baptize personally, but through his Apostles, so does the Church not baptize directly through its members, but representatively through its minister, as its divinely appointed and ordained head.
V. Its Validity.
The validity of Baptism depends upon its essential characteristics, and not upon its accidental concomitants. To the former belong its constituent parts, water and the word of God, administered by an authorized minister, according to the command of Christ; to the latter belong the character of the administrator, the mode of applying the water, and the state of the mind and heart of the recipient. When thus administered. Baptism is clothed with the name, word, authority and power of God, and is always valid, whether the preacher who administers it be pious or not pious, whether the water be applied to the person by pouring or sprinkling, or the person be applied to the water by immersion, or whether the person receiving it be a child or an adult, a believer or a deceived unbeliever. Baptism ought, therefore, never to be repeated. The intrinsic nature and power of the word are not destroyed by the character of the preacher, the manner of its presentation, and the non-reception by the hearer, but remains, according to its divine constitution, quick and powerful; and the same is true of Baptism. Accordingly, Luther says in the Larger Catechism: “Baptism does not become wrong on this account (whether the person baptized believes or does not believe), but all depends upon the word and command of God. Now this is, indeed, a nice point; but it is founded upon the assertion, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the word of God intimately united; that is, when the word is connected with the water, then Baptism is right, although the individual be destitute of faith at the time of his Baptism; for my faith does not make, but receive Baptism. * * Therefore Baptism ever continues valid. * * But no one is permitted to sprinkle us with water again; for, if a person permit himself to be sunk into water a hundred times, it would still be no more than one Baptism; this work, however, continues and the signification is permanent.”
VI. Its Mode.
The mode of Baptism docs not belong to its substance, but to its accidents; and hence. Baptism may be performed by either sprinkling, pouring or immersion. There being no difference of opinion between the Confessors and the Romanists, concerning the mode of Baptism, the subject was not introduced into their Confession; and as it was regarded of minor importance, it was referred to only incidentally, in other portions of the Symbolical Books. The following quotations from the Larger Catechism present such incidental allusions to the mode of Baptism:
“Baptism is not our work, but God’s. For thou must distinguish between the Baptism which God gives, and that which the keeper of a bath-house gives. But God’s work to be saving does not exclude faith, but demands it, for without faith it cannot be grasped. For in the mere fact that thou hast had water poured on thee, thou hast not so received Baptism as to be useful to thee; but it profits thee if thou art baptized with the design of obeying God’s command and institution, and in God’s name of receiving in the water the salvation promised. This neither the hand nor the body can effect, but the heart must believe.” “We should say, I am baptized, therefore the promise of salvation is given me for soul and body.”
“For to this end these two things were done in Baptism, that the body, which can only receive the water, is wet by pouring, and that in addition, the word is spoken that the soul may receive it. The act (of Baptism) consists in our being put in connection with the water, and after its passing over us, in being withdrawn from it again. These two, our being put in connection with the water, and being withdrawn from it again, signify the efficacy and work of Baptism, which are nothing else but the mortification of the old Adam, and afterwards the rearing of the new man.”
These are the words of Luther. In the first quotation, he refers manifestly to the mode of Baptism by pouring, and in the second no less explicitly to that of immersion. From these declarations, as well as from his translations, liturgies and other writings, it is demonstrable that he believed sprinkling and pouring to be a valid and scriptural mode of Baptism; that at a certain period of his life he expressed a preference for immersion, but that he never regarded it as necessary, and that he cannot, therefore, be truthfully claimed as an immersionist. While Baptism was commonly administered in Europe during the sixteenth century by pouring and sprinkling, as well as by immersion, all over Germany it was performed, says Bugenhagen, “by pouring the water over the head and shoulders of the child.” And pouring and sprinkling have been adopted as the preferable mode by the Lutheran Church in all ages and lands.
VII. Its Subjects.
That adult believers are proper subjects of Baptism was taken for granted by the Confessors as the doctrine held by the Church universal; and that it ought also to be administered to children, they declare in the Article of their Confession under consideration. That children are proper subjects of Baptism is demonstrable from the following arguments, to most of which reference is made in the Symbolical Books.
1. From the command of Christ. The word, as one of the essential elements of Baptism, authorizes the Apostles to baptize “all nations.” The command thus issued by Jesus Christ, is not specific, directing ministers of the gospel to baptize men, women or children, but generic, commissioning them to baptize “all nations,” and, therefore, it includes children as well as adults. While the command to baptize is unrestricted to either age or sex, it is, nevertheless, limited in its application by the qualifications demanded as conditions of its reception. The qualifications thus required of adults, are repentance and faith; and the requisition for the baptism of children is, that at least one of the parents be a believer in Christ. These conditions are presented in other portions of the sacred Scriptures, and were required by the Apostles in the administration of Baptism, both to adult believers and the children of their households.
2. From the constitution, unity and perpetuity of the Church. God, in the original constitution of his Church, established infant membership, and instituted circumcision as the rite through which children were to be admitted into it. At first, membership was mainly confined to the Jews, but, “in the fulness of time,” the same privilege was conferred upon the Gentiles. In the accomplishment of this end, God did not organize a new Church, but simply extended the ecclesiastical advantages of the Jewish Church to all the Gentile nations. He did not pluck up the old “olive tree,” but simply broke off some of “the natural branches,” and then cut off branches from the wild “olive tree,” and grafted them “into the good olive tree” in their stead, in order that they might become partakers of “the root and fatness ” thereof. Christ, the Chief Shepherd, did not establish a new fold, neither did he confine his pastoral supervision to the sheep of the Jewish fold; but realizing that he had other sheep, which were not of that fold, he made the necessary provision for bringing them in, in order that there might be and remain, as there had been, “but one fold and one Shepherd.” In other words, Christ did not make such radical changes in the New Testament dispensation as to constitute a new Church. He did not restrict church membership to adults, and thereby exclude children from its rights and blessings, secured to them by covenant and promise in all generations. Baptism was simply substituted for circumcision, as the initiatory rite of the Church; it became the sign of the same promise and the seal of the same covenant; it was administered to parents and children by the Apostles, as circumcision had been to Jewish fathers and their male children; and, hence. Baptism is expressly declared by the inspired writers, to be “the circumcision made without hands,” even ” the circumcision of Christ.”
“Through Baptism,” says the Larger Catechism, “we are first taken into the community of Christians and of the Christian Church. If infant Baptism were wrong hitherto, down to the present day, there could not have been a Christian on earth. Now, since God confirms Baptism by the communication of his Holy Spirit, as was truly the case in some of the Fathers, as St. Bernard, Gerson, John Huss, and others who were baptized in their infancy; and as the holy Christian Church cannot discontinue until the end of the world, it must indeed be acknowledged, that such Baptism of children is pleasing to God. For God cannot be against himself, or favor falsehood and knavery, or grant his grace and Spirit to this end. * * For this article: I believe in a holy, Christian Church, the communion of saints, can neither be withdrawn from us nor overthrown.”
The logical force of this argument may be illustrated by reference to the relation of the common and statute laws of the State. The common law confers general rights and privileges; the statute law repeals and limits them. The plaintiff having established his right to a certain privilege by the common law, his claim cannot be annulled, unless the defendant proves that the right in dispute has been repealed by express provision of the statute law. In like manner does the Old Testament establish church membership, and confer its privileges upon children. Now, unless the New Testament, by express provision, repeals the right conferred upon children and restricts the privilege of church membership to adults, their claim to all its advantages remains in full force. It was entirely unnecessary, therefore, that Christ should institute infant membership and command his Apostles to baptize children. But if it was his design to deprive children of the blessings conferred upon them from the days of Abraham, it was indispensable that he should do this by giving specific directions to that effect, and enforcing them by adequate reasons. But as he gave no such command, his Apostles regarded the claims of children to membership in his Church as valid, and uniformly baptized the heads of families, who became believers, together with their households.
3. From the unity and perpetuity of the Covenant of Grace, with all its promised blessings. God originally instituted a covenant with Abraham and his posterity, in the words following, to wit: “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 to thee and thy seed after thee.” Gen. xvii. 7. Into this covenant, God commanded the children of Israel, in all their tribes and with all their children, to enter, from generation to generation. Deut. xxix. 9. The token of this covenant was circumcision, and the divine direction was given that every man child among them should be circumcised. Gen. xvii. 10. The promises connected with this covenant embraced a numerous posterity, the land of Canaan, the privileges of church membership, the Messiah, and all the blessings of redemption. These blessings were sealed by circumcision, and forfeited by its neglect. “Every man child who is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” Gen. xvii. 14.
From all the references made by the inspired Apostles to the covenant made with Abraham, the following propositions are clearly established: That this covenant was not designed to be temporary, but “everlasting,” and hence, it has not been annulled, but remains in full force. Gal. iii. 17. That the heathen, the Gentiles, as well as his natural posterity, became alike the seed and children of Abraham, of the covenant, and of the promise through faith. That the promise, embraced in the covenant, “that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in him,” included Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Gospel with all the blessings of grace a«d redemption. That, as the natural seed of Abraham received the sign of circumcision, as the seal of the righteousness of faith, so did the spiritual seed of Abraham receive the sign of Baptism, as the seal of the same righteousness of faith. Gal. iii. 27, 29; Rom. iv. ii. That all believers, as Abraham’s seed, are ” heirs according to the promise,” which pertains to them and their children, and to as many as the Lord our God shall call. Gal. iii. 29; Acts ii. 39. And that, accordingly, both Jews and Gentiles, as soon as they became believers, were called upon to be baptized, together with their children. Acts ii. 38, 39. Now, as the covenant of grace, in the Jewish dispensation, embraced children; as the promise connected with it had reference to children; as circumcision, the token of it, was applied to children; as the blessings sealed by it were conferred upon children, it follows, that as the covenant, the promise and the blessings remain the same. Baptism, the rite which confirms the covenant and seals its promised blessings in the Christian dispensation, ought to be applied to the same subjects, namely, to parents and children. And as the substitution of Baptism for circumcision did not annul the covenant, nor render its promise of none effect, neither did it confine its blessings to adults and withhold them from children.
The strength of the argument and the weakness of the objection to it, based upon the substitution of Baptism for circumcision, may be illustrated by reference to the amendment of a constitution. Suppose that by the old constitution of a state, certain prerogatives should be conferred upon every naturalized adult citizen as well as upon his children — say, the right of voting and holding office upon the adult, and the right of free education and moral culture upon the children — and that these prerogatives should be confirmed according to a prescribed ceremony. This constitution, as amended, makes no change either in the conditions required, or in the prerogatives conferred by naturalization, but provides for a change in the ceremony of ratification. The substitution of one form of ratification for another, could manifestly in no wise affect the proper subjects of naturalization, nor limit the prerogatives granted thereby. These would remain as secure to the children as to their parents. The Old Testament confers certain ecclesiastical prerogatives upon parents and children, and confirms them by a religious ceremony, circumcision. The New Testament nowhere either restricts or annuls the rights and privileges confirmed to parents and their children by the Old Testament. It simply sets aside circumcision and substitutes Baptism as the more significant and appropriate mode of initiating believers and their households into one holy Church of the living God, and of sealing to them the blessings promised in the covenant of grace and redemption. The substitution of Baptism for circumcision must, therefore, be regarded as simply a ceremonial arrangement, effecting no radical change in the constitution of the Church, the persons entitled to membership, or the prerogatives conferred upon them by covenant and promise.
4. From the instructions and example of Christ. “Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them.” Matt. xix. 13-15. Mark adds, “And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them and blessed them.” “And 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, and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” Mark ix. 36, 37. “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein.” Luke xviii. 17. “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” See also Matt, xviii. 10, 14.
In these passages, the opinions and instructions of Christ concerning little children are given, and the manner in which he treated them, and desired that his disciples should treat them, are set forth. He regarded them as among the lost, whom he came, according to the will of his Father, to save from perishing. He warned all against despising them, rebuked those who forbade them to come to him, and declared that “their angels did always behold the face of his father which is in heaven.” He received them, took them in his arms, laid his hands on them, and imparted his blessing to them. Created by him, and redeemed by his blood, he claimed them as his own, opened the door of his kingdom and invited them to come in, directed parents to bring them to him, and instructed his Apostles to receive them in his name. As an incentive to obedience, he announced that those who receive such little ones in his name, do thereby receive both him and the Father that sent him. And as a consequence of these truths, he positively affirms, that unless men be converted and become as little children, and thus receive Christ and the kingdom of heaven, they shall in no wise enter therein, because of such is the kingdom of heaven. It is hardly necessary to add, that through Infant Baptism the views and directions of Christ in regard to little children are carried out, and his example and that of his Apostles in their treatment of them imitated; while the sentiments and practice of those who reject Infant Baptism appear in striking contrast therewith.
5. From the practice of Household Baptism by the Apostles. Baptism was not first instituted by John the Baptist, and afterwards adopted by Christ, as the initiatory rite of his Church, but it originated among the Jews, and was practiced by them ages before in the reception of proselytes from among the heathen. Maimonides testifies that Baptism was already practiced in the wilderness before the giving of the law; that proselytes were thus made to Judaism in the days of Solomon and David; and that the children of the proselytes were baptized as well as their parents. And Lightfoot, the greatest of the old rabbinical scholars, says: “The baptizing of infants was a thing as commonly known and as commonly used before John’s coming, and at the time of his coming and subsequently, as any thing holy that was used among the Jews; and they were as familiarly acquainted with Infant Baptism as they were with Infant Circumcision.”
Under such circumstances, it is manifest that the Apostles, being Jews, with their knowledge of the establishment of infant membership in the Church, and the practice of infant Baptism prevalent among them before their eyes, would continue the reception of children into the Church by Baptism, unless they were prohibited from doing so in so many words by Christ himself And as no such prohibition was given by him, they continued the practice of baptizing the children of all parents who professed faith in Jesus Christ. Accordingly it is expressly mentioned by Luke, that Lydia, as soon as her heart was opened, so that she attended to the things which were spoken by Paul, “was baptized and her household;” and that when the jailor at Philippi believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, “he and all his were baptized straightway;” and Paul states that he “baptized also the household of Stephanus.” In this manner, believing parents and their children became ecclesiastical households, or Christian churches. There was such a Church organized in the house of Philemon (Phil. i. 2), in the house of Nymphas (Col. iv. 15), and in the house of Aquilla and Priscilla (Rom. xvi. 5). These churches were designated by the name of the father of the family, and called his “house.” The “house of Stephanus” and the “house of Onesiphorus” were constituted ecclesiastical households or Christian churches through Infant Baptism, as practiced by the Apostles. In other words, the Apostles practiced household Baptism in the organization and government of Christian congregations, both among the Jews and the Gentiles.
6. From the History of Infant Baptism in the Christian Church. Infant Baptism must either be a human invention, or a divine institution. If it be a human invention, it must have had an inventor; it must have been introduced at a certain period by some one, and history must have recorded his name, the time when the innovation was introduced, and the process through which his sentiments and practice became universal in the primitive church. But the pages of ecclesiastical history contain no account of its introduction. No such name can be found, no such period is mentioned, and no such ecclesiastical change even referred to by any ecclesiastical writer of the primitive ages of Christianity.
But if Infant Baptism be a divine institution, ordained by Jesus Christ and practiced by his Apostles, it would be rational to conclude that its introduction and practice would become general in the primitive Christian churches, and that it would continue to prevail in subsequent ages. And this conclusion is verified by the concurrent testimony of history.
The Christian fathers represent Infant Baptism as a universal custom derived from the Apostles. Justin Martyr, born about the time of St. John’s death, says that among the members of the Church in his day, ” there were many of both sexes, some sixty, and some seventy years old, who were made disciples to Christ in their infancy y Origen, born eighty- five years later, says: “There was a tradition in the Church received from the Apostles, that children also ought to be baptized.” Augustine says: “The whole Church practices Infant Baptism; it was not instituted by councils, but was always in use,” and that he “never heard of any person, either in the Church or among the heretics, who denied the propriety of baptizing infants.” And this testimony, Pelagius, who travelled in England, France, Italy, Africa and Palestine, corroborates. Infant Baptism can thus be traced from the fifth century down to the first, yea, to the very threshold of the Apostolic Church. The testimony of ecclesiastical history, relative to Infant Baptism, is summed up by Dr. S. S. Schmucker, as follows:
“During the first four hundred years from the formation of the Christian Church, neither any society of men nor any individual denied the lawfulness of baptizing infants. Tertullian only urged some delay in the baptism of infants, and that not in all cases. And Gregory deferred it perhaps to his own children. In the next seven hundred years there was neither a society nor an individual who even pleaded its delay. In the year A. D. 1120, one sect opposed infant baptism, but it was opposed by the other churches as heretical, and soon came to nothing. From that time no one opposed the baptism of infants until the year 1522, when the Anabaptists arose, since which period, also, the great body of the Christian Church has continued to practice infant baptism.”
VIII. Its Sacramental Character, as a Means of Grace.
The Confessors declare that “through Baptism the grace of God is offered.” By the grace of God they mean those moral and spiritual influences which God, out of pure favor, has introduced into our world through the mediation of Jesus Christ, under whose operation man is induced to exercise faith in the word and promise of God, through which he obtains the remission of sins, becomes a new creature, and is recognized as an heir of eternal life. These gracious influences are exerted by the Holy Spirit through the word of God. And as we have seen that water, as a constituent element of Baptism, by its appropriation to a sacramental purpose, becomes an efficacious sign, and as a “visible word,” united with the written and spoken word, with which the Holy Spirit is united, and through which he operates. Baptism becomes a means of grace co-ordinate with the word of God. As grace is offered through the promise of the gospel made in Baptism, when this promise is received by faith, the grace offered is also conferred in Baptism, and becomes efficacious in the justification, regeneration, and salvation of the soul. And as children are to be baptized, grace is offered to them as well as to adults by Baptism.
In accordance with these views the Apology says: “For it is altogether certain that the divine promises of grace and of the Holy Spirit belong not only to adults, but also to children. Now, the promises do not apply to those that are out of the Church of Christ, where there is no gospel nor sacrament. For the kingdom of Christ exists only where the word of God and the sacraments are found. It is, therefore, a truly Christian and necessary practice to baptize children in order that they may become participants of the gospel, the promise of salvation and grace, as Christ commands. Matt, xxviii. 19. Now, as grace and salvation in Christ are offered to all, so Baptism is offered both to men and women, to youths and infants. Hence, it certainly follows that we may and should baptize infants; for in and with Baptism, universal grace and the treasure of the gospel are offered to them.”
Baptism, as a means of grace, is called a sacrament. This word is not found in the Scriptures. It was applied in ancient times to the oath of the Roman soldier (sacramentum) by which he bound himself to obedience and loyalty. And as by the sacraments, and especially by Baptism, the Christian is enrolled as a soldier of Christ, and binds himself to be faithful to him, as the captain of his salvation, it was significantly called by the Latins a sacrament, and is thus designated until this day by the theologians of the Lutheran Church.
Baptism is declared to be one of the “sacraments through which, as means, God imparts the Holy Spirit, who, in his own time and place, works faith in those that hear the gospel.” ” Concerning their use it is taught, that the sacraments have been instituted, not only as tokens by which Christians may be known externally, but as signs and evidences of the divine will towards us, for the purpose of exciting and strengthening our faith; hence they also require faith, and they are properly used then only, when received in faith and when faith is strengthened by them.” “True sacraments, * * commanded of God, have the promise of grace, which in reality belongs to and is the New Testament. For the external signs were instituted to move our hearts, namely, both by the word and the external signs, to believe when we are baptized, and when we receive the Lord’s body, that God will be truly merciful to us, as Paul says, Rom. x. 17: “Faith cometh by hearing.” As the word enters our ears, so the external signs are placed before our eyes, inwardly to excite and move the heart to faith. The word and the external signs work the same thing in our hearts; as Augustine well says: “The sacrament is a visible word; for the external sign is like a picture, and signifies the same thing preached by the word; both, therefore, effect the same thing.”
Baptism, as a sacrament, according to the above statements, and such as are contained in the parallel passages of the other symbols, is an external religious ceremony; not only a token of recognition through which Christians may be known to each other, but an outward, efficacious sign of the divine will toward us, of the grace 0f the New Testament, of the covenant of promise, of reconciliation with God, of human depravity, and of the remission of sins. It is a sure testimony, furnishing evidence of God’s grace and purpose towards us; a confirmation of the word and a seal of the promise of God. It is a means through which God imparts the Holy Spirit, and operates in exciting and strengthening faith, and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost.
The manner in which Baptism, as a means of grace, exerts its influence and attains its end, is also explained. As it is an outward ceremony, a token of recognition and a sign of the most momentous truths, the meaning of the ceremony, the import of the token, and the signification of the sign, must be apprehended by the recipient. As it constitutes a peculiar form of evidence concerning the divine will, a sure testimony of God’s grace, a confirmation of his word, and a seal of his promise, the strong assurances of truth thus exhibited must be received by faith. And as living faith is the spiritual grace which can apprehend the truth conveyed by a symbol, and rely upon the evidence attested by a seal, it is properly demanded as the necessary condition and qualification for the reception of Baptism and its benefits.
Baptism exhibits and confirms truth in two ways, by sign and by statement, and addresses it to different organs. The eye is the organ through which the truth signified is received, the ear that through which the truth pronounced is received, the latter being the same mode which characterizes the proclamation and reception of the truth when preached. But the internal organ and mode of the reception of the truth, whether symbolized or pronounced in the administration of the sacrament, or preached by the ambassador of Christ, is the same, viz., faith apprehending and confiding in the truth made known by each, according to its respective mode of operation. This is the Lutheran view of the sacraments. The generic conception which runs through them is truth; the informing idea which binds all their elements together is that of grace; the Spirit which pervades and imparts to them their inherent force is the Holy Ghost, and the spiritual capacity which distinguishes and appropriates to itself all their contents is faith.
This view of Baptism as a means of grace, according to which it exerts its influence through the supernatural power of the truth signified and declared by it, stands in contrast with several erroneous views concerning its efficacy, set forth and rejected by the Confessors. The first is that of Thomas and the Dominicans. They maintained that God had placed a spiritual, supernatural power in the water, and that in consequence thereof the sins of the recipient were washed away by the water, in an incomprehensible manner, and without regard to any other part connected with the administration of Baptism.
The second error rejected is that of Scotus and the Franciscans. They maintained that Baptism washes away sins, through the assistance of the divine will, through which such washing alone comes to pass, and not at all through the word and water.
The third error rejected is that of the Romanists. They held that Baptism, as a sacrament, produces justification in its recipients, ex opere operate, that is, by the mere outward performance of the work, without any apprehension of the mind, or good disposition or faith in the heart. The Scholastics explain it by the manner in which medicine acts upon the body. The force and blessed effects of Baptism lay locked up in the administration itself, like medicine in a box, and upon the bare application of which all its legitimate effects follow, as when a healing plaster is laid upon a wound.
The Council of Trent teaches, that the sacraments produce their effect, ex opere operate; that the grace of God was bound internally and necessarily to them, so that it is not received through them but in them. Their efficacy or working is therefore always objectively and necessarily bound to them, wherever and whenever the administration of them is properly celebrated. Their effect does not take place sometimes and upon some persons, but always and upon all persons to whom they are administered. Their efficacy grows out of the matter and form of the sacramental transaction itself; it is specifically its own, and works necessarily through the mere observance thereof. Their benefits depend upon the act itself, its proper administration and reception, and not upon the state of the mind, disposition or spirit of the recipient. Baptism, as a sacrament, impresses once, and for all time, an indelible character upon the soul. The manner in which Baptism operates and produces the justification, regeneration, and salvation of its subjects, may be characterized as objective and arbitrary, physical and materialistic, magical and mechanical, mysterious and incomprehensible, necessary and irresistible. And while it thus deposits its saving contents into the soul of its recipient, it becomes efficacious, independent of his having either a spiritual apprehension of its symbolic meaning, or true faith in its word of promise. In other words, it exerts its saving power ex opere operato.
The effects or benefits of Baptism, in so far as adults are concerned, are not specifically stated by the Confessors in the Ninth Article of the Confession, but they are described with a considerable degree of precision and comprehensiveness in other portions of their symbolical writings. In answer to the question: “What are the gifts or benefits of Baptism?” the Small Catechism says: “It worketh the forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and confers everlasting salvation upon all who believe as the word and promise of God declare.” In the edition of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the Confessors declared that “Original sin is truly sin, which brings all those under the eternal wrath of God, who are not born again by Baptism and the Holy Spirit.” In the German edition of 1533, Melanchthon modified the concluding phrase as follows: “who are not regenerated by Baptism and faith in Christ, through the gospel and the Holy Spirit.” In the Apology he quotes Luther as teaching, “that Holy Baptism extirpates and removes the entire guilt and hereditary debt (Erbpflicht) of original sin, although the material (as they call it) of the sin, viz. the evil propensity and lust, remain.” In the same sense Augustine is also quoted as saying: “Original sin is forgiven in Baptism — not that it becomes extinct, but it is not imputed.”
In reply to the question: “How can water produce such great effects?” the Small Catechism says: “It is not the water, indeed, that produces these effects, but the word of God, which accompanies and is connected with the water, and our faith, which relies on the word of God connected with the water. For the water, without the word of God, is simply water, and no Baptism. But when connected with the word of God, it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life, and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says to Titus, iii. 5-8.”
Melanchthon quotes Luther in the Apology as maintaining “that the Holy Ghost, given through Baptism, begins daily to mortify and blot out the remaining evil desires in us, and puts into the heart a new light, a new mind and spirit.” And further: “that original sin as it remains after Baptism is, in itself, not indifferent, but that we need Christ, the Mediator, in order that God may not impute it unto us, and the constant light and operation of the Holy Spirit, to mortify and remove it.” And in corroboration of these opinions of Luther, the Apology cites the following passage from Augustine: “The law which is in our members is put away by spiritual regeneration, and yet remains in the flesh, which is mortal. It is put away, for the guilt is entirely remitted through the sacrament (Baptism) by which the believers are born anew; and yet it remains, for it produces evil desires against which the believers strive.”
Baptism, as thus set forth, was regarded by the Confessors as a means of washing away original, and of sealing the pardon of actual sin, as well as a means of imparting the Holy Spirit, through whose agency the soul is born anew and sanctified by faith in the truth as it is in Jesus. The explanation given of the manner in which Baptism confers these benefits accords with the mode in which the sacraments, as means of grace, produce their saving effects as already described.
The Scriptural doctrine of regeneration is set forth in the following passages: “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John iii. 3. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” James i. 18. “In Christ Jesus, I have begotten you through the gospel.” i Cor. iv. 15. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John iii. 5. “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.” Gal. iii. 26. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” i John v. i. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John i. 12, 13. These passages, with their parallels, declare the absolute necessity of regeneration to salvation. They teach that the gospel as the word of truth is the instrument, the ambassador of Christ, the medium of communication, the Holy Spirit the divine agent, and faith the spiritual exercise of mind in connection with which it ordinarily takes place. The doctrine of regeneration thus taught, the Confessors set forth clearly and unequivocally in the Symbolical Books. They declare in the Apology that “the natural man is and remains an enemy of God, until by the power of the Holy Ghost, through the word preached and heard, he is converted, endowed with faith, regenerated and renewed.” This faith is not a natural faculty, capable of obtaining a “mere historic knowledge of Christ,” but a spiritual grace, wrought by the Holy Spirit, which comprehends the word and promise of Christ, awakens the “conviction” of their truthfulness, “receives” and “firmly cleaves” to them, and “trusts in Christ, who was given to atone for the sins of the world, as the only Mediator and Redeemer.” And where this faith exists, “we are regenerated by it, and through it we receive the Holy Ghost into our hearts, who renews them, and thus enables us to keep the law of God, to fear and love him.” “He who thus believes, rightly apprehends the great beneficent work of Christ, becomes a new creature; and prior to the existence of such faith in the heart, no one can fulfil the law.”
Baptism, as a sacrament, was held by the Confessors to be a means through which, as well as the word, God imparts the Holy Spirit, who in his own time and place works faith in them that apprehend its true significance, and believe the promise of God connected with it. Baptism is consequently not a new species of instrumentality, producing its effects in an arbitrary manner, but it is a means belonging to the same species as the word, through which the Holy Spirit excites, confirms and strengthens faith, in the same manner as he does through the word. The analogy between the manner in which the word and the sacraments as external signs produce their effects, explained by Melanchthon in the Apology, is also set forth by Luther. In his Larger Catechism, he teaches that Baptism signifies the “mortification of the old Adam, and afterwards the rearing up of the new man. For in this Baptism the Holy Spirit, grace and virtue are given to suppress the old man, that the new man may come forth and increase in strength.” But in order that “the gifts and benefits ” of Baptism may be received, it is necessary that the import of “the application of water ” should be “apprehended,” and the pronunciation of the words of promise comprehended and “believed” with all the “heart.” In this manner the soul enters through faith at Baptism upon “the new life,” and through “repentance demonstrates and practices it.”
In order that the full significance of Baptism may be comprehended, it must be contemplated as a whole. As instituted by Christ, it is a religious ordinance. Its elements are water and the word, its administrator the minister of God, its agent the Holy Spirit. As thus constituted it is revealed to man with the conditions upon the fulfilment of which he may secure all its benefits. These conditions are all met by faith. It comprehends its meaning as a “visible word,” it relies upon its promise of pardon, it submits to its administration, and it pledges obedience to its authoritative commands. In being baptized, the Christian, on his part, makes a profession of his faith, enters into covenant with God, confesses the name of Christ before men, unites with his Church, and consecrates himself to his service — and God, on his part, places the seal of his covenant upon him, assures him of the remission of his sins, and grants him the gift of the Holy Ghost, that he may be strengthened with might in the inner man, “and kept through faith by the power of God unto salvation.” As Baptism comprehends the truth of God, the Spirit of God, and the faith of God, whatever may be predicated of the word, as the means of the Spirit, in working faith and in securing its justifying, regenerating, sanctifying and saving effects, may also be predicated of Baptism. Accordingly, the Scriptures declare that the Word is “the incorruptible seed” of regeneration, and Baptism “the washing of regeneration;” that man must be “born again by the word,” and “born of water,” that is of Baptism; that the Church is “sanctified by the word” and cleansed by Baptism, as a “washing of water;” and that the redeemed are saved by the word, and saved by Baptism, through faith in the word and faith in Baptism.
“What God hath, therefore, joined together” in Baptism, “let no man put asunder” by rational speculation. Through an analytical process, its constituent parts may be separated and contemplated in isolation. The water may be separated from the word, the word may be separated from the Spirit, the administrator may be uninvested with authority, and the subject may be destitute of faith. By divesting the water of its significance, the word of its supernatural power, the administrator of authority, and the recipient of faith. Baptism is destroyed, and a human ceremony substituted in its stead and called by its name. And when this process of disintegration has been completed, the theological vandal can with impunity ask: How can a handful of water applied to the head, and a few words addressed by the minister to the ear, wash away sin, renew the heart, and save the soul? But as the Scriptures reveal no such Baptism and contain no affirmations concerning the efficacy of such a ceremony, the question becomes absurd and needs no answer.
Nor must the efficacy of Baptism be limited to time. It must, of necessity, be administered, but its benefits are by no means confined to the time of its administration. Baptism was the means of imparting the extraordinary influences of the Holy Ghost; but they were not given in the moment of its reception. The disciples of John, whom Paul met at Ephesus, were baptized, but received the Holy Spirit immediately afterwards through the laying on of hands. While Peter was speaking at the house of Cornelius, the Holy Spirit fell on his hearers, and he commanded them subsequently to be baptized. Christ received the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove after his baptism in Jordan, and the Apostles were baptized with the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, in the form of cloven tongues of fire, without the application of water. Baptism was also the means of imparting the ordinary influences of the Holy Spirit. Peter said to the inquirers at Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” These influences of the Spirit were, however, frequently imparted through the word received by faith, and not during the time of the administration of Baptism. The eleven Apostles, of whose Baptism no record was made in the New Testament, received the ordinary gift of the Holy Spirit through faith in the word and call of Jesus. And the same may be affirmed of the great majority of the adult members of the churches organized by the Apostles. Baptism is also the means of conferring the remission of sins. Peter preached a baptism “for the remission of sins,” and Paul was commanded by Ananias to “arise, be baptized and wash away his sins,” thus receiving, as an adult, the “seal of righteousness of faith ” in Baptism, which, as a child, he had received in circumcision.
But its sealing power was not limited to the period of its reception. That remained in full force, and could be appropriated by repentance through subsequent life. There is consequently nothing of a temporary character connected with Baptism. It is not a religious ceremony producing a magical effect during the time of its performance, but it is a divine ordinance, constituted with imperishable elements, and clothed with perpetual efficacy. In accordance with these views, Luther says: “The same words of God once pronounced in the first Baptism endure forever, so that they can afterwards rely on these words if they desire; and the water is poured over them, to enable them also afterwards to comprehend it in faith if they wish.” He regarded Baptism not as something isolated and transient, notwithstanding the fact that the external administration soon takes place; but as a permanent and enduring transaction, exerting its influence upon the individual believer from the beginning to the end of his life, and upon the Church, as the general assembly of the saints, unto the end of the world.
The effects or benefits which Baptism confers upon children, are briefly stated by the Confessors. In the Latin edition, they say that “children, being offered to God by Baptism, are received into God’s favor.” In the German edition they affirm that children, by “Baptism, are presented to God, and become acceptable to him.” This language is generic, and no clear and unmistakable explanation of its precise meaning is given in other parts of the Symbolical Books. This resulted doubtless from the fact, that the inspired writers nowhere explain the specific effects which take place in the mind and heart of the infant at its Baptism, nor describe in detail the benefits conferred upon it thereby. These effects must therefore be determined rather from analogy, implication and the necessity of the case, than from didactic statements contained in the Scriptures. On this account the subject is involved in more or less obscurity, and beset with grave difficulties. This the Confessors felt, and consequently did not attempt to make a specific and full deliverance on the subject, but satisfied themselves with the general statement quoted above.
The difficulties connected with the determination of the effects of Infant Baptism, and the manner in which they are produced, were vehemently urged by the Anabaptists and constantly felt by Luther. He had rejected the opus operatum theory of the Romanists, and adopted the evangelical theory of the efficacy of the sacraments, according to which the benefits of Baptism can only be received through faith apprehending the truth signified, by the application of the element, confiding in the promise of God repeated in its administration, and obeying the command of God enjoined in the words of its institution. His efforts were accordingly directed to the origination of hypotheses by the aid of which he attempted to explain the effects of Baptism, and the manner in which they are produced in infants, as consistent with the manner in which the same effects are produced in adults, viz., by faith. He at first maintained that children believe in a technical sense, but subsequently admitted that they have not baptismal faith in the evangelical sense, and helped them out by substituting the faith of the Church, which presents them for Baptism. He also held that through the power of the prayers of the believing Church, God infuses faith into the child, and attributes the production of the same effect to the operation of the Holy Spirit through the word of God spoken in the baptismal act. These hypotheses, however, neither silenced the Anabaptists nor satisfied Luther. He was accordingly led, in the year 1528, to make a thorough re-investigation of the whole subject in the light of the Holy Scriptures, the result of which was a modification of his views and the full development of his doctrine of Infant Baptism.
Baptism is an ordinance of God. Its validity depends not upon the faith or worthiness of the recipient, but upon its divine institution. Its essence consists of the element and word, through which its power is exerted by the Holy Ghost. As thus constituted, it is clothed with objective force, which faith may sooner or later appropriate. Its validity stands fast whether faith be present or not, but its beneficial effects can only be fully realized by faith. He still holds that children have faith, and that the contrary cannot be proved, but he hands the discussion of the question over to the doctors. In 1523 he had said to the Bohemian Waldensians, “It would be better to baptize no child any where, than to baptize without faith;” but in 1528 in writing on Anabaptism he said: “Faith indeed is not for the promotion of Baptism, but Baptism for the promotion of faith. Now, when faith comes, Baptism has what it requires, and rebaptism is useless.” And he predicates the Baptism of children not upon their hypothecated faith, but upon the command of God, who calls them to himself and authorizes them to be baptized. Baptism is a prevenient movement of God towards the child, through which he makes a presentation of grace and adopts it into his family. Universal grace revealed in the gospel specializes and individualizes itself in Baptism, so that personal faith, whenever it may be exercised, does not arise from the natural ability of man, but is called forth through the prevenient grace of God, which is objectively presented and revealed in the sacrament. He holds that the effects of Baptism commence in the child with its administration, according to the degree of lively susceptibility possessed by it, without determining, however, how far this extends. This susceptibility he calls faith, and regards it as constituting the new birth. “The spiritual birth,” says he in his sermon on Baptism, “takes its rise, indeed, in Baptism, proceeds and increases; but only in the last day is its significance fulfilled; only in death are we rightly lifted out of Baptism by the angels into eternal life.”
In the study of nature, the truth of a theory can only be demonstrated by proving that all the facts pertaining to the subject are consistent with and can be readily interpreted by it. And the same method is required to establish the truth of a theory in theology. The theory of Infant Baptism must, therefore, be consistent with and interpret all that is declared in the Scriptures concerning the state, capacities, and relations of children. This Luther felt and made the attempt to accomplish. Having adopted the theory that the exercise of evangelical faith was indispensable to the reception of the benefits of Baptism in an adult, he at first maintained that children became partakers of its blessings in the same way, that is, by faith. He accordingly adopted the hypothesis that children have faith. In the Larger Catechism he says: “With respect to Infant Baptism, we bring forward the child under the impression and the hope that it believes.” If this means that children in their natural state have faith, it contradicts the declaration made in the Second Article of the Confession, on Original Sin, “that all men who are naturally engendered are conceived and born in sin; that they are all, from their mother’s womb, full of evil desires and propensities, and can have by nature no true fear of God, no true faith in God.”
Luther also adopted the hypothesis that faith is infused into children through the faith and prayers of the Church. “The young children,” says he, “are through the faith and prayers of the Church, purified from unbelief and the devil, and gifted with faith, and accordingly baptized.” But this method of infusing a faith that purifies and renews the child, differs from that in which faith is said to be wrought by the Holy Spirit through the preached word in the Fifth Article of the Augsburg Confession, and accords much more nearly with the spiritualistic conception of the Anabaptists, that the Spirit operates directly and independently of the word. Luther also adopted the hypothesis that faith was imparted to the child in Baptism, through the words uttered at its administration. The sound of the word of God spoken strikes outwardly upon the ear of the child, through which the Pioly Spirit, who is almighty, and to whom nothing is deaf, imparts to it faith, that is, a greater susceptibility for the word of God. But as the child cannot comprehend the meaning of the sound of the words spoken, the effect attributed to them must be produced mechanically, and savors more of the magical operation of the Romish opus operatum than the method of the Scriptures, according to which faith cometh by a hearing, which apprehends the meaning of the word heard.
Luther uses the word faith as applied to children in a technical sense. In the Wittenberg Concordia he describes it as follows: “It must not be thought that the children have understood (the word), but there are the movements and inclinations to believe the Lord Christ and to love God, in some measure similar to the movements of those who otherwise have faith and love; and it is in this way that we desire to be understood when we say that the children have personal faith.” He distinguishes between faith as a condition or state of natural susceptibility for God, his word and Spirit, and faith as an act or exercise intelligently and consciously appropriating the grace offered through the word and the sacrament, and explains it as a latent power of reception which is set into activity by Baptism, analogous to the faith of adults in sleep.
These various shades of thought presented by the different forms of expression employed, indicate the impossibility of originating a satisfactory explanation of the subject. Of a “latent power of reception” in contradistinction from the rational powers with which God has endowed every child, and through the possession of which it becomes a cultivatable being, we can form no distinct conception. And as a change in the susceptibility is conditioned, according to the rational constitution of man, upon a change in the radical disposition in which it inheres; and as a change in the radical disposition can only take place through an intelligent movement or disposing of the mind, the awakening of a spiritual susceptibility for God, his word and Spirit, cannot take place without self-conscious and intelligent action; and as infants are incapable of such voluntary action, it is impossible to understand how a spiritual susceptibility in which “inclinations to believe Christ and to love God” arise, can be produced in their hearts through Baptism. All this Luther himself felt and acknowledged. While he still held that it was reasonable to maintain that children do believe, he admits in his letter on Anabaptism that it is “unknown to us how they believe, or how faith is wrought in them;” and then adds, “and yet, after all, this is of little importance.”
The following paragraph taken from the same letter presents the scriptural arguments by which Luther attempted to prove that children can believe. “But we have Scripture to establish the fact that children may and can believe, even if they have neither language nor cultivated reason. As the Scripture says, the Jews, ‘sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils and shed innocent blood.’ Ps. cvi. 37, 38. If it were innocent blood, as the text says, they were certainly pure and holy children, and such children they could not be without the Spirit and faith. Again, the innocent children, Matt. ii. 16, were not over two years old, and undoubtedly destitute of language or cultivated reason; yet they are now holy and happy. And Christ, Matt. xix. 14, says in reference to little children, ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And St. John in his mother’s womb was a child, Lk. i. 41, and I am of opinion indeed that he could believe.”
The argument is not direct, but inferential. It is not expressly stated that any of the children referred to believed. As none of them were baptized, faith could not have been infused into them through Baptism. And if these passages prove that children in their natural state are ‘” innocent,” ” pure and holy,” filled with the Holy Spirit, and morally fit for the kingdom of God on earth and in heaven, and from which it must be inferred that they have faith, then we cannot see how such an interpretation of the above passages can be harmonized with those passages which declare that children are conceived in sin, shapen in iniquity, receive not the things of the Spirit of God, and are by nature children of wrath. Nor can we reconcile such an interpretation with the representations made in the Apology, concerning the natural state of man. “We descendants of Adam are all so born as not to know God, that we despise him and do not trust in him; yea, that we flee from and hate him.” We are born destitute of “original righteousness,” that is with an “innate want of divine light and of every thing good, which continues so long as we are not born anew of the Holy Ghost and enlightened by him.”
The Confessors regarded the world as fallen, corrupt, lying in wickedness, and doomed to destruction; and redemption as a great remedial movement, designed to secure the pardon, moral recovery and salvation of all men. As children were involved in the disabilities entailed by the fall of Adam, they are also included “in the promised redemption of Christ.” As original sin exposes them to condemnation and the development of their depravity, provision must be made for their pardon and sanctification, both of which are accomplished through the atonement of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. As all men are depraved and sinful, “Christ tasted death for every man;” and the Spirit has been poured out “upon all flesh.” As there was nothing good in man to induce God to originate the movements of grace towards him, so can there be nothing in man to limit their application, save voluntary unbelief and its concomitants and developments. As there is no voluntary unbelief or actual antagonism to God found in children, no moral barrier exists to prevent the grace of God from reaching and saving them. As the Scriptures reveal but “one Baptism for the remission of sins” and the bestowment of “the gift of the Holy Ghost,” and as children are to be baptized with that Baptism, it must be the means of washing away their original sin and of imparting to them the Holy Spirit. In consistency with these views, the Confessors affirm in the Apology, that children are entitled “to the divine promises of grace (pardon) and of the Holy Spirit,” that “in and with Baptism, universal grace and the treasures of the gospel are offered to them;” and that they are to be baptized “in order that they may become participants of the gospel and the promise of grace and salvation.” This explains what they meant when they said in the Article under consideration, that through “Baptism the grace of God is offered,” and that children, by being presented to God in Baptism, become “acceptable to him and are received into his favor.” In other words, they held that through Baptism children were “born of water and of the Spirit,” yea, “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” who would, in his own time, place and manner, develop faith, as well as work in them “both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” The truth of this view may be argued from the following considerations:
1. From the Necessity of the Case. Children, as “born of the flesh,” are by nature children of wrath; and in order to be saved from perdition and qualified for heaven, they must become the subjects of pardoning mercy and regenerating grace. As “where sin abounded grace did much more abound,” it follows, that to whatever penal consequences and depraving influences they became exposed through original sin entailed upon them by the fall of Adam, adequate provision hath been made to deliver them from its guilt and dominion through the redemption of Christ. As nearly one-half of the human race die in childhood, provision must be made for their justification and regeneration, and it is rational to conclude that God would devise some means adapted to its accomplishment. And as children were incapable of being “born again,” like adults, through faith in the word, the Confessors believed that they were capable of being “born again of water and of the Spirit through holy Baptism.” And if, according to the general opinion, God effects the pardon and regeneration of all unbaptized children who die in infancy, without means, in an extraordinary manner, it accords much more with his wisdom and goodness to conclude that he will make provision for accomplishing the same end through appropriate means. And if the approach of death becomes an adequate reason for an interposition of an extraordinary movement of grace towards them, their moral purification, usefulness and happiness in this life, as the precursor of that which is to come, becomes a more potent reason for a prevenient movement of grace towards them through Infant Baptism. And as by being “born of the flesh,” they will “sow to the flesh,” reap corruption and die; by being “born of water and of the Spirit,” they will sow to the Spirit, and “from the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
2. From the progressive character of the work of fashioning and perfecting the new creature. Man, under the operation of the workmanship of God, is created anew in Christ Jesus, and becomes a new creature. The terms begetment, quickening, birth and growth, which set forth the progressive stages in which, according to the laws of natural generation, the body of man is conceived and grows to maturity, are employed in a general sense by the inspired writers to exhibit the work of the new creation, and in their specific sense, they fitly describe the process in which, “according to the law of the Spirit of life,” the new creature is fashioned, as well as the successive stages through which it must pass in order to attain perfection. And as Baptism is administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, it involves the supernatural begetment of the Father, the quickening of the Son, and the birth through the Spirit, as well as the subsequent workmanship of the Triune God, in fashioning the new creature into the stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus. As the Confessors adopted this comprehensive conception of regeneration, as the work of the new creation, they believed, according to the analogy of Scripture, that as begetment involves all the natural forces, which in their development fashion the old man in Adam, Baptism involves all the supernatural forces, which in their development form and perfect the new man in Christ Jesus.
3. From the True Conception of Church Organization. The Church of Christ is described in the Scriptures, not as a mechanical aggregation, but as a living organism — as a vine, an olive tree, a body, a family? a kingdom. As such she is pervaded by a supernatural life, even the life of Christ. In nature, atoms in their natural state are unadapted to organization; but when brought into connection with a germ or life force, they are changed and assimilated by it, and incorporated into its body, and by such transformation alone can they become constituent parts of a living body. And to this there is a striking analogy in the sphere of the supernatural. It is not by mere accident that church organization is represented as an engrafting of branches into a vine or olive tree, and the insertion of members into an organized body. Even when the Church is represented as a house, building or temple composed of stones, the members are declared to be “lively stones” with which there is “built up a spiritual house.” Yea, Paul says to them, “ye are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord, in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God, through the Spirit.” Man in his natural condition is morally dead, and while he remains in his inorganic state, he is unfit for ecclesiastical organization. But when brought into contact with Christ as the life-force of redemption, he is quickened, changed, assimilated and incorporated as a living member into the Church, as his mystical body. Accordingly Paul declares that Christ is the head of the body, the Church; that all Christians “were baptized by one Spirit into one body;” that they thereby became “members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones;” and that through such a union with Christ, they would be able “to grow up in all things into him, from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” This determines the qualifications, the means, the process and the results of church organization. Now, if it be the design of Christ that children should become members of his Church, as the Confessors believed, it becomes indispensable that they be transformed from a state of moral death into one of spiritual life. As the Baptism of water was the appointed means for imparting the Baptism of the Spirit to adults, and for preparing them for a living union with Christ, in his Church, and as according to divine appointment, the same means were to be applied to children, it follows that in order to meet the requirements of Church organization, and prepare them, as well as adults, to become true “members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones,” their Baptism must also secure to them the gift of the Holy Ghost.
4. From the Indispensable Conditions of Christian Nurture. The process and possibilities of Christian nurture are set forth analogically in the Scriptures. Men cannot gather “grapes from thorns nor figs from thistles.” “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” No one “can bring a clean thing out of an unclean;” “that which is born of the flesh remains flesh; ” and “the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth evil things.” Now, as by no process of cultivation one species of plant can be so modified as to become, and to bring forth the fruits of another species, so by no process of natural culture or education can the depraved nature of man be changed, and the fruits of holiness brought forth by him.
Christian nurture consists in so cultivating the plants of grace in the husbandry of Christ, that they may flourish as trees of righteousness, and in so feeding the lambs of Christ that they may become the sheep of his fold. In other words, it consists in so training the children of the covenant, that they may grow up into Christ, and be thoroughly furnished unto every good work as members of his Church. But without the provision of supernatural agency and instrumentality, capable of transforming tares into wheat, goats into lambs, and the children born of the flesh into children born of the Spirit, spiritual growth, as the product of Christian nurture, becomes absolutely impossible. Such provision the Confessors maintained was made through the means of grace. Baptism securing the renewing agency of the Spirit, and the word furnishing the instrument of Christian nurture.
Stier in his “Words of the Lord Jesus,” Vol. VIII, p. 317, expresses his views of the relation of Infant Baptism to Christian nurture as a theologian, and his feelings as a father, in the following explicit terms: “That there should be a Church which receives and educates children; that there should be a baptizer, acknowledging and representing the faith of the mother-church, who would invoke for them the Triune God — is necessary, but it is also enough. Thus the grace of him that calleth (that the fulfilment may not come behind the type, Rom. ix. ii,) the germ out of which the tree of their Christian life is developed under spiritual culture, is one necessary foundation of Christian education — of their nurture in Christ, and not merely into Christ. As a Christian father, I could never regard one of my children as still standing without the grace of regeneration, and not yet taken into the covenant and promise through the sacrament appointed to that end. The higher my estimation of this, the more deeply do I feel its need for my children as for myself; and moreover, I have no notion of any such education, as should, apart from the divine foundation, prepare them for and lead them to Baptism. The more stress we are in fact obliged to lay upon the blessing, the sanctification and the union with the Church, of a child growing up in strict Christian culture, the more must his subsequent Baptism lose of its importance; it must in fact appear to be a mere supplementary ceremony of water.”
5. From the Declarations of Christ concerning the manner in which little children are made meet for the kingdom of God. The instructions given by Jesus Christ — in regard to the relation of children to his Kingdom or Church, heretofore quoted, establish the logical connection of the following propositions, viz: that children born of the flesh will, until born of the Spirit, develop the moral characteristics of the flesh, remain among the “lost” and “perish;” that it is not the will of God that one such little child should perish, and that Christ came to seek and to save them; that in order to be saved they must enter the kingdom of heaven, they must be “born of water and of the Spirit,” and that to effect this new birth, a supernatural instrumentality must be originated and applied to them by divine agency; that Baptism has been appointed by Christ as the means, and the Holy Spirit sent as the agent for its accomplishment; that Christ having commanded his Apostles to make disciples, by baptizing them in his name and receiving them into his kingdom, also enjoined that little children should be received by them in his name; and as there is no other way of doing this revealed in the Scriptures, except through Baptism, they did baptize the children of believing parents and receive them also into his kingdom; that children thus received in his name came to Christ, received the kingdom of heaven, and became members of it; that having entered the kingdom of heaven through Baptism, they must have been “born of water and of the Spirit;” that adults must first be converted in order to possess the same gracious qualifications for receiving and entering the kingdom of heaven; and that the kingdom of heaven, as constituted by Christ, consists of baptized children, and of adults who, through conversion, become spiritually like them. The logical connection of these propositions cannot be broken except by a violation of the rules of sound reasoning, nor can the conclusion which they demonstrate be resisted, save by the adoption of Anabaptist and Pelagian sentiments.
Christ did not, indeed, baptize the little children with water, but received them into his arms, laid his hands on them and blessed them. This could not have been an empty ceremony, but was much rather a verification of the promise of the Abrahamic covenant. That promise was: “In thee and thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Christ was the seed of Abraham (Gal. iii); he redeemed man in order “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles,” and that they “might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” “The blessing of Abraham” was, consequently, the Holy Spirit. The Son received from the Father “the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts ii. 33), and ministered or dispensed the Spirit (Gal. iii. 5). As Christ baptized the Apostles with the Holy Ghost, through “cloven tongues, like as of fire,” and thus fulfilled the promise of the Spirit made unto them; as Peter expressly declared that “the promise” of the Spirit, which was “the blessing of Abraham,” pertained also to “children” (Acts ii. 39), as Christ, who ministereth the Spirit, laid his hands on them and blessed them, and as by the laying on of hands, the Apostles dispensed the Spirit, the Confessors believed, that Jesus, the seed of Abraham, “blessed” the children with “the blessing of Abraham,” that is, with the Holy Spirit, thus fulfilling the promise of the covenant made with Abraham, and preparing them for and admitting them into his kingdom.
6. From the Specific Office of Baptism as a Divine Ordinance. While Baptism belongs to the same species of instrumentality as the word and the Lord’s Supper, it is, nevertheless, not identical with either of them. As a means of grace, it is distinguished from the word. Through the written word remission of sins is preached and the Holy Spirit offered to all who repent and believe; through Baptism, the “visible word,” the remission of sins is sealed and the gift of the Holy Ghost conferred upon the individual believer. The promise of universal grace is repeated whenever the eye rests upon the sacred page, or the lips of the preacher open to proclaim it, and the sound thereof reverberates throughout all the earth, but the promise of personal grace offered by Baptism is never repeated, but concentrated upon the individual, and stands good and available to him through life. As a sacrament. Baptism is also distinguished from the Holy Eucharist. Like the Lord’s Supper, it is a symbol: the Supper proclaiming the Lord’s death — Baptism exhibiting the cleansing power of his blood, the washing away of sins. Like the Lord’s Supper, it is a communion: the Supper the communion of the body and blood of Christ — Baptism the communion of the Holy Ghost. Now, as the specific office of the Lord’s Supper was the communion of the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for the remission of sins, the specific office of Baptism is the communion of the Holy Spirit, who washes away all sin. If Paul could, therefore, truly say: “The bread which we break — is it not the communion of the body of Christ? the cup of blessing which we bless — is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” he might just as truly have said: The water which we pour, in the name of him who “ministereth the Spirit” — is it not the communion of the Holy Ghost? As advocates of Infant Baptism, the Confessors did not believe that Baptism, when administered to children, lost its essential constituents and became an empty ceremony; but, on the contrary, maintained that it retained its specific office, and, consequently, must wash away their original sin, and confer upon them the Holy Spirit.
7. From the Sacramental Interpretation of the Passages of Scripture relating to Baptism. “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” ” Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” “The Ark, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water, the like figure whereunto, even Baptism, doth also now save us.” In these passages a certain relation is declared to exist between Baptism and the birth and renewal of the Spirit, sanctification and salvation. What the precise nature of the relation is, is not expressly stated. According to the Romish view of the sacraments, the relation is that of cause and effect, and the operation magical; according to the Zwinglian, the relation is that of symbol and thing symbolized, and the operation merely exhibitive; according to the Lutheran, the relation is that of a means to an end, and the operation sacramental. These divergent views have given rise to three distinct methods of interpretation, the literal, figurative, and sacramental. The Confessors adopted the sacramental interpretation, according to which Baptism becomes the medium of communicating the Holy Spirit to both children and adults, through which and the word, as means of grace, he works faith, effects the new birth and renewal, sanctification and salvation. And this interpretation is epexegetical of the baptismal formula, according to which, to be baptized INTO the name of the Triune God, is to be baptized into communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Entertaining this profound view, Stier says: “Thus this Name, and in and with it, the uttered, attested, revealed nature of God, is actually the wonderful virtue of the water of Baptism as bound up in the institution for all futurity, the true water of the word (Eph. v. 26) in which the Church is further to be cleansed and sanctified unto perfection. Beginning, sum and kernel of this word is the name of God, in which life and power are communicated by means of the Spirit. * * And because the Father and Son work upon and within men, and enter them by the Holy Spirit, this third name is here the decisive and completing name. Therefore the first promise made in .baptism at the beginning ran quite rightly, ” Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” But we also know in what way apostolic doctrine interchangeably supplements the words — “The baptized are incorporated into the Son (i Cor. xii. 13; Gal. iii. 27; Rom. vi.) and have put Him on, that is, finally, as the children of God, the Father.” The words of the Great Commission, authorizing the baptism of all nations into the nam.e of the Triune God, involve, according to their true import, being baptized into the communion of the Holy Ghost, as well as into the fellowship of the Father, and of his Son, Jesus Christ.
This is the doctrine of “baptismal grace” (tauf gnade) held by the Confessors. The grace offered and imparted through Baptism embraces specifically the Holy Spirit, and with him, generally, all the promises of the gospel. Children through such Baptism are offered to God, become acceptable to him, and are received into his favor. The phrase employed to designate the effect of the reception of the Holy Ghost, and through which they become acceptable to God, and qualified for the kingdom of heaven, is that of the new birth. Hence they call Baptism “a laver of regeneration,” and speak of being “born again by Baptism and the Holy Spirit.” While these phrases are specifically applied to adults, who are born again by faith, and fully explained in exhibiting the doctrine of regeneration, there is no such specific application and explanation made of them to children, and their general reference to them is explained by the general terms quoted above. This proves the caution of the Confessors as well as their moderation, in setting forth the benefits of Infant Baptism.
The individual sentiments of the Confessors, on the efficacy and benefits of Infant Baptism, are more fully expressed in their other writings. Melanchthon, who worded the Ninth Article of the Confession and explained more fully its meaning in the Apology, in discussing the subject of Pedo-baptism, expresses himself as follows; “In and by Baptism the Holy Spirit is given to children, who operates in them according to their measure (masse) or capacity, as he operated on John in the womb of Elizabeth. And although there is a difference between the old and the young, inasmuch as the old are attentive to the works, still the influences of the Spirit are, in both old and young, a tendency towards God.” Luther, in explaining the effects of Baptism, confines himself mainly to the interpretation of the declarations of Scripture concerning the new creation, as the special work of the Holy Spirit. As man is naturally “dead in sin,” Luther held that God through the grace of Baptism, “constitutes out of the old, inanimate man, a saint with a new principle of life.” As all men, born of the flesh, must be born of the Spirit, he believed that “the spiritual birth took its rise in Baptism as the wash- ing of regeneration.” As all men must put off the old and put on the new man, he maintained that “in Baptism the Holy Spirit, grace and virtue are given to suppress the old man, that the new may come forth and increase.” As all men who are alive in sin must die unto sin and live to God, he taught that “we are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that like as he rose from the dead, so we also should walk in newness of life.” The work of the new creation, as above described, involves a spiritual quickening, spiritual birth, spiritual mortification, and spiritual growth on earth, culminating in spiritual perfection in heaven. And as this is especially the work of the Holy Spirit, conferred through Baptism, Luther held that the Spirit commenced the new birth with its administration by imparting “a new principle of life” and awakening a “lively susceptibility for God,” which he calls faith.
Reinhard says, that the position that faith is imparted to children through Baptism is to many Lutheran theologians objectionable, involves no insignificant difficulties, and cannot be established from the Scriptures. Good says that while “the early divines of the Protestant churches did not generally adopt precisely Luther’s view, and express themselves as if they considered an infant capable of the acts of faith, they did speak of an infant as capable of the seed, or principle, or incipient stage of faith.” Heim, the Wurtemburg pastor, writes, as quoted by Stier, “The Reformers with all their deep conviction of the internal character of Christianity, were yet, in respect to their understanding of the truth, too much bound up in externality of thought and discursive reasoning. Hence it came to pass that the question was agitated with so much asperity, whether children could have faith, for while this contradicts the natural reason of man, it yet could not be denied, according to the notions of the old theologians, without making Baptism a mere empty formality, or a merely conditional assurance for the future. The simple answer would have been, that by Baptism itself the germ, from which the tree of faith would grow, was placed in the soul as the seed of life from God.” The same view was held by Calvinistic divines. Calvin maintains ” a seed of faith in infants;” Ursinus “an inclinatory faith.” Voetius holds that “there; is in them a root, faculty, supernatural principle, seed or nursery, from whence in its own time faith springs up.” Peter Martyr says that faith in infants is “incipient in its principle and root, inasmuch as they have the Holy Spirit, whence faith and all virtues flow forth.” While all Lutherans regard Baptism as a means of grace, they also believe that when administered to children, according to the Scriptures, it does not lose its essential characteristics and become an empty ceremony, but that it performs its specific office, as the medium of imparting to them special blessings. But in the specific enumeration of these blessings, and the explanation of the precise effects produced by them in the minds and hearts of children, they express themselves in different terms.
Dr. C. F. Schaeffer (Evangelical Review, Vol. VIII., p. 339.) says: “We do not therefore insist on the word Faith, when we desire to designate the effect produced in the babe’s soul by Baptism through the operation of the Spirit; * * we simply ascertain from the Scriptures the fact itself, that in Baptism a change influencing a child’s moral nature has been actually wrought, and this change, which tends to render the child acceptable to God, may analogically be called Faith; or inasmuch as this change actually amounts to the production of a spiritual life in the soul, we may call it a spiritual birth, or adopting the Scripture term denominate it regeneration.”
Dr. C. P. Krauth (Conservative Reformation, p. 579,) explains it as follows: “Faith as an act, like sin as an act, presupposes a condition of mind, which condition is the principal thing in both cases, to which the act is merely phenomenal. * * By nature the infant is as really a sinner, and by grace as really a believer, as the adult is, though it can neither do sin nor exercise faith. It has sin by nature and it has faith by grace. Working out under the law of the first condition, it will inevitably do sin, as under the law of the second, it will exercise faith. Faith justifies by its receptivity alone. There is no justifying merit in faith as an act, nor is there any in the acts it originates. In the adult it is divinely wrought, it ‘is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.’ In the infant there is wrought by God, through the Holy Ghost, by means of the water and the word, that receptivity of condition, which it has not by nature. The Holy Ghost offers grace, and so changes the moral nature of the child, that this nature becomes receptive of the grace offered. This divinely wrought condition we call receptive faith, and though its phenomena are suspended, it is really faith, and involves what is essential to justification, as does the faith of the adult.”
Dr. B. Kurtz (Infant Baptism, p. 156, 157), bears the following testimony: “We have already remarked that we do not feel warranted to define the nature and measure of this blessing (viz. that of Baptism). It may be, for aught we know, the gift of the Holy Ghost, in those secret spiritual influences, by which the actual regeneration of those children who die in infancy is effected, and which is a seed of life in those who are spared, to prepare them for instruction in the word of God, as they are taught it by parental care, to incline their will and affections to good, and to begin and maintain in them the war against inward and outward evil, so that they may be divinely assisted, as reason strengthens, to make their calling and election sure.” * *
* * “Baptism is, in an eminent degree, the emblem of moral purification by the new birth, and may even become the blessed means of that birth. But the uniform agent in effecting that birth, is the Holy Spirit. These remarks appear to favor the notion, that the influences of the Spirit may possibly constitute the blessing conveyed to children at their Baptism. That those influences become immediately active is not maintained by us, because the infant is not as yet a moral agent, or capable of intelligent or responsible action; but so soon as he arrives at the age of discretion, he may seriously meditate on his relations as a member of the Church, and the blessing imparted at his Baptism may become effectual to his conversion and salvation, or if he die before he reaches that age, the same blessing may become alike efficient, in renewing his nature and qualifying him for heaven.”
Dr. S. S. Schmucker, in his Popular Theology, p. 273, 274, teaches that the Scriptures represent Baptism to adult believers “as a means for obtaining the remission of sins,” and also “as a means of regeneration.” It is termed the washing of regeneration, and yet it is admitted that regeneration is effected by the Holy Spirit through the means. The agency of the Spirit is distinctly associated by the Saviour himself with Baptism, one of whose special advantages consists “in the immediate influences of the Holy Spirit.” “Baptism in infants (Definite Synodical Platform, p. 31) is the pledge of the bestowment of those blessings purchased by Christ for all.” “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” And “the promise is to you and your children,” Acts ii. 39. Those blessings are forgiveness of sins, or exemption from the penal consequences of natural depravity, (which would at least be exclusion from heaven, on account of moral disqualification for admission,) reception into the visible Church of Christ, grace to help in every time of need, and special provision for the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to which parents pledge themselves.”
He had taught (Pop. Theol., p. 148) that as “the atonement not only delivered its subjects from punishment, but purchased for them a title for heaven, it follows that children (who are embraced in it) not having lost their title by voluntary unbelief, will for Christ’s sake enjoy the benefit of it, that is, that at death their corruptible nature shall be transformed into an incorruptible, and their mortal into an immortal one, and they, liberated from their moral disease, be ushered into the blissful presence of Him who said: ‘Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'”
Now, as God would thus remove the guilt and corruption of original sin from unbaptized children dying in infancy, in an extraordinary manner without means, and as the specific office of Baptism is to seal the remission of sins and confer the Holy Spirit upon adults, consistency demands that it must, unless it ceases to be Baptism and becomes something else, perform the same office when administered to children. He accordingly admits that through Baptism God “bestows upon children forgiveness of sins” and “removes their moral disqualification for admission into heaven,” which can be nothing else but the application of the redemption remedy for their “moral disease” (natural depravity) through the influence of the Holy Spirit. If this be not his meaning, then his statement involves two insuperable difficulties. The first is that Baptism, when administered to children, must be split into two, the one-half, which seals the remission of original sin, being present, but the other half, which confers the Holy Spirit, being absent, and, 0f course, inoperative. The second difficulty is that if Baptism only removes the penal consequences of original sin, and fails to provide grace to overcome the dominion of its sinful influence, through the Holy Spirit, it would provide only for one of the evils entailed by original sin, and leave the other, no less important, unprovided for, and present the baptized child in an anomalous condition in the moral universe, justified and saved from hell, but unregenerate and unfit for heaven. And the declaration that Baptism furnishes the child with “grace to help in every time of need,” must prove delusive unless it confers the Holy Spirit, through whose influence alone it can be born of God, and trained as his child, through Christian nurture in the Church of Christ. But that Dr. Schmucker did mean what we have said, is clear from the declaration made by him in his Lutheran Manual, p. 141, “As to the benefits of Baptism to children, it may be said that, in addition to being admitted by it into the visible Church of Christ, and securing the advantages of a religious Christian education, this ordinance confers on them all the other benefits that it does on adults (including, of course, remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost) so far as they are capable of receiving them.”
As the operations of the Holy Spirit, in regeneration, are mysterious and incomprehensible, the effects produced by him, through Baptism, on the soul of an infant, can not be described. The representations quoted above, that, in baptism, there is a new principle, faculty or life implanted, or a supernatural germ, seed or root deposited in the soul of the child, must, therefore, be regarded as human efforts to explain what the inspired writers and the Confessors left unexplained. The hypotheses that children have faith, and that it is infused into them by baptism, and the explanations given by the theologians just named, of this peculiar species of faith, savor more of the Romish than of the Lutheran view of the sacraments. And the fact that the advocates of these doubtful speculations appeal to Matt, xviii. 5, 6, and Tit. iii. 5 in support of them, proves to what straits they are reduced to find any scripture warrant for their opinions. The appropriation of these passages to such a use is inconsistent with their context, contradicted by the analogy of faith, and rejected by many of the .most distinguished expositors and theologians.
The Lutheran doctrine of “Baptismal grace,” is also taught in the catechism and liturgies adopted by the General Synod. In the “Order of Salvation,” the following questions and answers occur. 88. “How does the Holy Ghost enlighten and sanctify us?” “The Holy Ghost works in us faith in Christ, and makes us entirely new creatures.” 92. “When did the Holy Ghost begin this sanctification in you?” “In the holy ordinance of Baptism the Holy Ghost began this sanctification in me,” Titus iii: 5, 7. 93. “What did God promise you in holy Baptism?” “God promised and also bestowed upon me, the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation,” Acts ii. 38; i Pet. iii. 21. 94. “But what did you promise God?” “I promised that I would renounce the devil and all his works, and all his ways, and believe in God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” Rom. vi. 2, 3; James iv. 7; Hosea ii. 19, 20; Rev. ii. 10. 95. ” Through whom did you make this promise in holy Baptism?” “I made this promise in holy Baptism through my parents, or sponsors.” 96. “Are all baptized persons holy and pious?” “No, many fall from their baptismal covenant,” 2 Pet. ii. 20, 22. 97. “Whereby does a person fall from his baptismal covenant?” “By wilful sin we fall from our baptismal covenant,” Is. lix. 2. 99. “How can such a wilful sinner be sanctified again?” “He can be sanctified again through the word of God,” John xvii. 7; James i. 21. 100. “But to what does the word of God exhort us?” ” The word of God exhorts us to repentance and conversion,” Matt. iii. 2; Acts ii. 38. Under the conviction that grace is offered in Baptism through the Holy Spirit, the following petitions are found in the baptismal formulas for infants in both the first and second liturgies of the General Synod. “And now, when he (she) has been baptized according to the institution of our blessed Redeemer, we pray that he (she) may also be regenerated by the Holy Spirit; that he (she) may die unto sin, live unto righteousness, be incorporated into thy holy Church, and rendered a partaker of eternal life.” “We bring this child to thee to be baptized. Take him as thine own, and bestow upon him all the blessings that flow from the ‘washing of regeneration.’ Bring him to a saving knowledge of thy truth, that his soul may be truly converted to thee. Sanctify him by thy Spirit, that he may be delivered forever from the power of sin and Satan, and that by receiving the spirit of adoption, he may inherit eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
But the doctrine of baptismal grace was neither originated, nor first discovered, by Luther and the Reformers. It was found in the Scriptures by the primitive Church, and practically illustrated in her organization and development. It was involved in the oecumenical creeds and taught by the fathers. Origen states it as follows: “According to the usage of the Church, Baptism is given even to infants, when, if there were nothing in infants which needed forgiveness and mercy, the grace of Baptism would seem to be superfluous. Infants are baptized for the forgiveness of sins. No one is free from pollution, though he has lived but one day upon earth. And because by Baptism native pollution is taken away, therefore infants are baptized.” It was also defended by Augustine, the champion of orthodoxy, and even inconsistently admitted by Pelagius.
Augustine asks: “Why are infants baptized for the remission of sins, if they have no sin?” Pelagius replies: “Who can be so impious as to hinder infants from being baptized, and born again in Christ, and so make them miss of the kingdom of God.” Augustine further says: “In baptized infants the Holy Spirit dwelleth, though they know it not. So know they not their own mind — they know not their own reason, which lies dormant, as a feeble glimmer, which is to be aroused with the advance of years.”
The doctrine of baptismal grace is not, however, confined to the Lutheran Church, but is also held by other Protestant denominations. The Moravians accepted it, by the adoption of the Augusburg Confession. The Church of England appropriated it, in compiling her Thirty-Nine Articles and her liturgical formulas from Lutheran sources. The Calvinistic Churches have differed from the Lutheran in their statements concerning the grace of Baptism, as well as the extent of its availability, limiting its blessings to elect infants. But so repugnant do their representations appear in the light of the Scriptures and the universally received faith of the Church prior to the rise of Calvinism, that many of their ablest divines have modified their opinions and embraced in substance, if not in form, the Lutheran doctrine. They have maintained that justification and regeneration are not only signified and sealed, but also imparted in Baptism, either to all infants, or at least to the elect. Calvin says to Melanchthon: “I grant that the efficacy of the Spirit is present in Baptism, so that we are washed and regenerated. We deny that infants cannot be regenerated by the power of God, which is as easy to him as it is wonderful and mysterious. But as they (the objectors) think it would be such a great absurdity for any knowledge of God to be given to infants, to whom Moses denies the knowledge of good and evil, I would beg them to inform me, what danger can result from our affirming that they already receive some portion of that grace, of which they will ere long enjoy the full abundance.” Accordingly the late Dr. Miller, of Princeton, as quoted by Dr. Kurtz, observed: “A gracious God may even then (at the moment when the ordinance is administered) accompany the outward emblem with the blessing which it represents, even the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The late Dr. A. A. Alexander, Professor in the Presbyterian Seminary at Princeton, expresses his views on the subject of baptismal grace in the following explicit terms, and maintains that his sentiments are in perfect accordance with the doctrines received as orthodox by the Presbyterian Church: “I do maintain that the germ of spiritual life may be communicated to the soul of an infant, which, of course, remains inactive as does the principle of sin, until, etc. — this development is altogether by the word, etc. But the doctrine that infants are incapable of being regenerated, until they are capable of attending to the word is in my opinion fraught with consequences, subversive of our whole system. For, if infants are incapable of a holy principle, the same must be true of a sinful principle, and then the whole doctrine of birth-sin or natural depravity is set aside. It may remove some obscurity from the subject to say, that we are accustomed in treating the subject of regeneration with accuracy, TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN IT AND CONVERSION. The one is the communication of spiritual life, the other is its exercise. Suppose a dead seed to be impregnated with a vital principle, and you have my idea of regeneration.” Life of A. A. Alexander, p. 587.
“And what time in infancy is more likely to be the period of spiritual quickening, than the moment when that sacred rite is performed, which is strikingly emblematic of this change. Whether it be proper to say that Baptism may be the means of regeneration, depends upon the sense in which the word means is used. If in the sense of presenting motives to the rational mind, as when the word is read or heard, then it is not a means, for the child has no knowledge of what is done for it. But if by means be meant something that is accompanied by the divine efficiency, changing the moral nature of the infant, then, in this sense, Baptism may be called the means of regeneration; when thus accompanied by divine grace.” Religious Experience, p. 38.
In comparison with the specific and emphatic declarations made by the distinguished Reformed and Lutheran theologians quoted above, in regard to Infant Baptism and its gracious efficacy, how moderate do not the representations of our Lutheran Confessors appear. They affirm, “That through Baptism the grace of God is offered, that children are to be baptized, and being through Baptism offered to God, become acceptable unto him, and are received into his favor.” And further, “That children are to be baptized, in order that they may become participants of the gospel, that is of the promises of the Holy Spirit, grace and salvation, which belong not only to adults, but also unto children; for in and with Baptism universal grace and the treasures of the gospel are offered to them.”
The doctrine of baptismal grace, thus set forth by the Confessors, is sustained by the Holy Scriptures, as interpreted by the most learned and profound commentators of ancient and modern times; it was confessed by the primitive Church and defended by the Christian fathers; it was corrupted and abused by the Romanists, but it has been accepted by the great majority of the Protestants. It supplies the spiritual wants of the children in the family, and imposes the obligation of Christian nurture upon parents; it builds up the Church, by affording adequate incentives to the religious training of the young; it promotes the stability of the State, and advances the moral progress of the nations. Perverted and misapplied by some, misapprehended and assailed by others, it has, nevertheless, maintained the ascendancy in the Lutheran household of faith. And as it could not be overthrown, neither will it be abandoned, but rather maintained in its scriptural and confessional integrity.
In the Latin text of the Confession, the Confessors declare that “Baptism is necessary to salvation.” But as this phraseology was liable to be misunderstood, they omitted the words “to salvation” in the German edition, and simply affirmed that “Baptism is necessary.” And to guard still more against the misinterpretation of the language employed, Melanchthon added to the Latin form of the declaration concerning the necessity of Baptism to salvation, in subsequent editions, the explanatory phrase, “as a ceremony instituted by Christ.”
They predicated its necessity upon the declaration and command of Christ, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John iii. 5. “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” Matt, xxviii. 19. And as Christ instituted Baptism as a ceremony through which all his followers should be initiated into his Church, and enjoined its observance upon them, it becomes necessary to be baptized, in order that obedience may be rendered to his command, and all the blessings of the kingdom of God secured.
But Baptism was not regarded by the Confessors as necessary per se, but as a means through which God offers his grace; not necessary unconditionally, but conditioned upon the possibility of receiving it; not necessary absolutely, but ordinarily as a moral obligation, imposed by the word and institution of Christ. Accordingly, a distinction must be made between that which is essential and that which is merely necessary. Being “born of the Spirit” is absolutely essential to an entrance into the kingdom of God; being “born of water” relatively necessary. The internal renewing of the Holy Ghost is unconditionally essential to salvation; the outward “washing of regeneration” ordinarily necessary.
In consistency with these discriminating statements, the Lutheran Church has not held that Baptism was absolutely necessary to salvation. Accordingly Luther says, that not the deprivation of Baptism, but the contempt of it, condemns a man — and that although God binds us to the means as the ordinary instruments of his grace, he is not himself limited by them. The dying thief, though unbaptized, ascended to Paradise; while Simon Magus, notwithstanding his Baptism, remained “in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.” And in like manner, “as children also belong to the promised redemption effected by Christ,” and ought on that account to be baptized, nevertheless, should their Baptism be neglected prior to death, they would not, on that account, be excluded from heaven. In other words, children dying in infancy out of the Church, even those of the heathen, are saved without baptism, through the saving efficacy of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, and the extraordinary operation of the Holy Spirit.
Baumgarten says: “The necessity of Baptism is not an absolute, unconditional necessity, but a moral obligation, which presupposes and requires an outward opportunity.”
Cotta, as quoted by Dr. Krauth, maintains the salvation of infants by the following considerations: “1. From the infinite pity of God, 2. The extent of the benefits wrought by Christ. 3. The analogy of faith — no one absolutely reprobated, but actual unbelief alone condemns. 4. Not the absence but the contempt of Baptism condemns. 5. God can operate in an extraordinary way. 6. Though original sin, in itself, merits damnation, and is a sufficient cause of it, yet it is not, (because of God’s infinite goodness,) an adequate cause of the actual infliction of the condemnation.”
Luther, while he held that Baptism was necessary to salvation in general, says in reference to the children of Christians who have died unbaptized: “The holy and merciful God will think kindly upon them. What he will do with them, he has revealed to no one, that Baptism may not be despised, but has reserved to his own mercy: God does wrong to no one.” And as regards children in general, he says: “God has not bound himself to the sacraments, so as not to do otherwise, without the sacraments. So I hope that the good and gracious God has something good in view for those who, not by any guilt of their own, are unbaptized.”
Wisdom is exhibited in the adaptation of means to the attainment of ends. The provisions of redemption show the manifold wisdom of God. Baptism as a divine ordinance must, therefore, be characterized by adaptation.
1. Baptism is Adapted to the Presentation of Children to God. Children are said to be a heritage from the Lord, who is the framer of their bodies and the Father of their spirits. Hence he says: “All souls are mine; ” Ezek. xviii. 4. The gift of a child is there fore the greatest earthly blessing which God can confer upon parents, and it is befitting that they should recognize his claims, and dedicate it to his service. Accordingly, God required parents to offer every male child to him through circumcision, and to present to him besides all the first born, the males being thus specially set apart for the priesthood. They were regarded as holy unto the Lord, and their parents brought them to the temple and presented them to God, accompanied with an appropriate offering, Ex. xiii. 2, Numb. viii. 17. In accordance with these directions, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, and presented unto the Lord in the temple at the end of forty days by Joseph and Mary.
The relation which God bears to children as their Creator and his claims to them, their moral wants and the blessings necessary to supply them and secure their spiritual interests, are not limited to periods, but remain the same in all generations. The reasons which induced God to require parents to present their children to him during the Jewish, would lead him to make the same requisition upon them in the Christian dispensation. And as the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, male and female, the first-born child and the other children, were all to be removed, it was necessary that circumcision, which was more particularly adapted to such limitations, should be superseded. And as by faith the Gentiles became the seed of Abraham, and male and female became one in Christ, and every believer became sanctified unto God, and every child of a believing parent became “holy” unto the Lord, it became necessary that a rite should be substituted for circumcision, adapted to the universality which was to characterize the Christian dispensation; and Baptism was chosen to meet all these requisitions.
It would, therefore, be expected that provision should be made for the presentation of children to God in the Christian Church. This, it seems to us, is clearly taught by Paul (i Cor. vii. 14): “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.” According to the ceremonial law certain things were regarded as clean (holy), and others as unclean. The unclean could not be offered to God, and that which was holy would alone be accepted by him. Now, Paul declares that according to divine arrangement, the faith of the believing husband or wife so sanctifies the unbelieving one that the children born to them become holy, and can properly be offered unto the Lord. This idea, with which the Jews were so familiar, and under the promptings of which they had been accustomed to present their children to God for ages, doubtless actuated the parents who brought their infants to Christ, induced him to accept them, and led him to institute Baptism as a rite, in all respects adapted to the presentation of children to God, and their consecration to his service. Accordingly, the Confessors taught in the Article under consideration, that “children, through Baptism, are presented or offered to God,” received into his favor, and recognized as his sons and daughters.
2. Baptism is Adapted to the Religions Training of Children. A child is born into the world in a state of ignorance, depravity and helplessness. It is endowed with intellectual and moral faculties, upon the proper development of which will depend its course of conduct and character in this life, as well as its destiny in that which is to come. Accordingly God has made ample provision in the establishment of His Church for the religious training of the young.
The process through which the results of religious training may be secured in the Church, is represented in the Scriptures as analogous to that through which the results of culture are attained in nature. A plant, remaining in its original position and subjected to the forces of nature surrounding it, will grow to maturity naturally. But if it be transplanted, and subjected to a change of climate, soil, light, heat and moisture, it may be greatly modified in size, form, texture, and even in its nature. Every child naturally engendered “is conceived and born in sin,” and if left to develop, “its evil desires and propensities ” under the influence of the errors and example of the world, it will grow up in wickedness, and remain a child of wrath, exposed to condemnation. But through Infant Baptism, a child may be taken up from the world, initiated into the Church, subjected to Christian nurture, and transformed by baptismal grace into a child of God and an heir of eternal life. Furthermore, by strewing the pollen of one species of plant upon the pistils of another, a still greater modification may be effected and a new variety of plant produced, whose life-force will differ from and yet resemble that of each of the parent plants. And in like manner may the animal and rational life of a child be so modified under the forces of baptismal grace and Christian nurture, as to become a spiritual life differing from each and yet resembling both. It still retains its animal life with its appetitive propensities, as well as its rational life with its intellectual and moral faculties; but the spiritual life, superinduced upon them by the Holy Spirit, becomes regnant over both, and through conscience, its motive power, regulates the appetitive cravings of the animal, as well as the moral dictates of the rational nature, and thus secures the end of religious training, “walking in newness of life.” In this, according to Luther “consists the efficacy and work of Baptism, which are nothing else but the mortification of the old Adam, and afterwards the rearing up of the new man, both of which are to be pursued through our whole life, so that a Christian life is nothing more than a daily Baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.”
In the light of Christian nurture, Infant Baptism attains its special significance and value. No degree of natural culture through purely rational means, can ever attain a transformation of nature and produce spiritual results. Religious training, without Infant Baptism as a means of grace, becomes a human experiment, without any divine arrangement or special provision. The expectation may, indeed, be cherished, that the desired result will be attained, but it cannot carry with it the assurance given by God to parents who dedicate their children to him in Baptism, and bring them up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and to whom he thus seals the promise of the covenant of grace, that he will be a God unto them, and their seed after them in all generations.
The Christian Church, being a development of the Jewish, retains many of its distinguishing characteristics, as well as religious customs. Every Jewish male child was presented to the Lord, entered into covenant with him, the promise of which was sealed to it by circumcision. The child thus became a member of the Church of God. But as church membership required a profession of faith and obedience, and as the child was, by reason of its undeveloped capacities, incapable of making the requisite vow itself, the parent was required to make it in its name. That vow, according to the divine constitution of the family, was as obligatory upon the child as if it had been made by itself, and it was thereby pledged to assume and fulfil it as soon as it arrived at the age of discretion. It was enjoined upon parents to explain to their children the import of religious ordinances, to remind them of the nature and requirements of the vow made for them at their circumcision, and to urge them to ratify the same in their own name. It was expected, that under the moulding power of religious training, carried on in the family and seconded by the instructions of the Church, every child would be fully prepared to make a personal profession of religion at the age of thirteen, when the circumcised children were called upon to confirm their vows, and were declared, by the laying on of hands, to be the sons of the congregation of Israel.
Infant membership, with all its Jewish concomitants, save that Baptism has taken the place of circumcision, is retained in the Christian Church. The ancient covenant still stands — children are still commanded to enter into it — they are still unable to act for themselves — their parents are still bound to consecrate them to God, and make the required vows in their name, as well as to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The Church is still obligated to recognize their membership and provide them with a religious training — the children are still bound at the age of discretion to ratify the vows made in their name at their Baptism — and “the laying on of hands ” is still retained as the most significant, appropriate and impressive mode of making a profession of religion, and they are thereby recognized as full members of the Christian Church and entitled to all its privileges.
This form of profession was called Confirmation. It originated among the Jews; it was adopted by the Church in the second century, and retained by the Confessors of the Lutheran Church “as a rite transmitted to us from the Fathers.” Confirmation is, consequently, the complement of Infant Baptism. Infant Baptism is the antecedent. Confirmation its consequent. In Infant Baptism, the child was dedicated to God by its parents; in Confirmation, it dedicates itself to Him. In Infant Baptism, the child entered into covenant with God by substitution; in Confirmation, it ratifies that covenant in person. Through Infant Baptism, the child was placed in the school of Christ; in Confirmation, it is recognized as a trained disciple of Christ. In Infant Baptism, the grace of God was offered and conferred; in Confirmation, its transforming power is exemplified. In Infant Baptism, the child was apprenticed and subjected to a course of preparation; in Confirmation, it enters upon the practice of the good profession of Christianity. By Infant Baptism, the child is admitted into the family of God, but although he be an heir, he is kept, during his minority, “under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the Father;” in Confirmation he is recognized as “lord of all,” and put in possession of his promised inheritance, embracing all spiritual blessings on earth, and eventually the enjoyment of immortal glory in heaven.
These are described by the Confessors as follows:
” The Anabaptists, who teach that Infant Baptism is improper, and that children are saved without Baptism, are condemned.”
Their erroneous sentiments are more fully set forth in the Form of Concord. They maintained the following propositions:
“1. That infants, which are not baptized, are not sinners in the sight of God, but are righteous and innocent; and that, consequently, in their innocence they are saved without Baptism, of which they have no need. Thus they deny and reject the whole doctrine concerning original sin, and all that is connected with it.”
“2. That infants are not to be baptized, until they attain the use of their reason, and are able to make a confession of faith themselves.”
“3. That the children of Christians, since they are born of Christian and believing parents, are holy and the children of God, even without and prior to Baptism. For this reason they do not highly esteem Infant Baptism, nor promote it; contrary to the express words of the promise of God, which extends to those alone who keep his covenant and do not despise it. Gen. xvii. 9, 10.”
The errors of the Anabaptists, condemned by the Confessors, embrace the denial of Pedo, as distinguished from Adult Baptism, the rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin, and the maintenance of the salvation of infants on the ground of their natural innocence and holiness. Inasmuch, however, as these errors are refuted in the general discussion of the subject, no direct refutation is deemed necessary here, and we, therefore, content ourselves with the simple statement of them as found above. The principal objections made by the Anabaptists to Infant Baptism, are the following:
1. That there is no scriptural warrant for Infant Baptism. For an answer to this we refer to the argument already presented, under the head of the subjects of Baptism.
2. That faith is a universal prerequisite to the reception of Baptism, and that as children cannot believe, they are not proper subjects of Baptism. To the assertion that faith is universally demanded as a prerequisite for Baptism, we reply that it is contradicted by an examination of all the passages contained in the Scriptures referring to the subject. Nothing is said about faith as the indispensable condition of Baptism, even in the words of the institution, as contained in Matthew, and the same is true of the great majority of the scriptural references to Baptism. There are, however, a number of passages in which faith and repentance are made conditional for Baptism. The true interpretation of the baptismal passages must, therefore, be sought in the practice of the inspired writers. An examination of all the examples of Baptism administered by the Apostles proves that they invariably insisted upon the exercise of repentance and faith for the reception of Baptism on the part of adults, and just as invariably administered Baptism to the children composing their households, without requiring the exercise of faith from them.
To the assertion that children cannot believe or have faith, we reply that the Confessors did not hold that unconscious infants had truth apprehending and appropriative faith. When they describe the characteristics of justifying, regenerating, sanctifying and saving faith, they have reference to adults and not to infants. The faith of infants is not affirmed in the Confession, the subject is only incidentally alluded to in the Larger Catechism, and the individual sentiments of Luther are not quoted in any of the Symbolical Books.
And even he only maintained that children had faith in a technical sense, and held it more as a matter of theological hypothesis, then as a positive dogma. He, accordingly, wisely abstained from introducing it either into the definition of Baptism contained in the Smalcald Articles, or the Small Catechism, and in the Larger one delivered the whole question about the faith of children to the Doctors as one of secondary importance. From all of which it becomes manifest, that the theory of the Anabaptists, that evangelical faith is an indispensable prerequisite for the reception of Baptism, does not interpret all the passages of Scripture pertaining to the subject; that the individual hypothesis of Luther, that children have faith, and, consequently, meet the universal requirement demanded of adults, interprets the baptismal passages no better; but the theory of the Confessors, that Baptism is to be administered to adults as well as to their children on the ground of the faith of the parents alone, and not on that of their infant offspring, does interpret every inspired declaration concerning Baptism, and therefore proves itself to be the theory of Christ, illustrated by his Apostles.
3. That the benefits of the sacraments can only be secured through faith, and as children can have no faith, Baptism can confer on them no benefits. We have already seen, that in the earlier statements of Luther, the theory was stoutly maintained that faith was indispensable to the reception of the benefits of the sacrament, and that children had faith, and in consequence thereof became participants of its blessings. We have, however, also seen that he subsequently modified his theory in these respects, and expressed himself in a different manner. He accordingly says in his letter on Anabaptism, as already quoted: ” Faith indeed is not for the promotion of Baptism, but Baptism for the promotion of faith.” In accordance with this sentiment the Confessors declare that children are baptized in order that they may become participants of the promises of grace and the Holy Spirit, who, in his own time and place, works faith in them, through which all the treasures of the gospel, offered in Baptism, become their inheritance.
4. That the predication of any blessing as the result of Infant Baptism, led unavoidably to a magical opus operatum. In regard to the divine operations in general, the Confessors rejected the fanatical notions of the enthusiasts, that God works in the minds and hearts of men “by a secret inspiration or a peculiar divine revelation.” Relative to the efficacy of the sacraments, we have seen that they rejected the error of the Dominicans, “that God has placed a spiritual power in the water,” as well as that of the Franciscans, “that Baptism washes away sins through the will of God.” The opus operatum of the Romanists, with its magical operation, they condemn as follows: “Our opponents have no certainty, nor can they correctly tell us, or state in clear and intelligible terms, how the Holy Ghost is given. They dream that by the simple bodily reception and use of the sacraments, ex opere operato, we obtain grace and receive the Holy Ghost, although the heart be entirely absent, as if the light of the Holy Ghost were so worthless, weak and futile.” The Confessors held that there was but one Baptism, which was the means of imparting the Holy Spirit to adult believers, and as that same Baptism was to be administered to their children, and as their children needed the influence of the Holy Ghost just as much as their parents, it must, unless it should become a different species of Baptism, be the means of conferring on them the Holy Spirit also. The manner in which this takes place is through the administration of the ordinance according to the Scriptures, on the ground of the faith of the parents, and in answer to the prayers of the administrator, as the representative of the Church and the minister of God.
5. That to enter into covenant presupposes voluntary and intelligent action, and as children are incapable of apprehending and assenting to the terms of a covenant, no moral obligation can be imposed, and no special blessings can be conferred upon them through Baptism. In reply to this it must suffice to say, that God did, nevertheless, call upon children to enter into covenant with him; that he sealed unto them, through circumcision, great and invaluable blessings; that he threatened to cut off every child that did not in like manner enter into covenant with him; that on great public occasions, the children of the Israelites were present, and received special mention as entering into covenant with God as well as the adults, and thus became heirs with their fathers of all the blessings of the covenant of promise. And as children were embraced in the covenants made by the parents, so too were they obliged to fulfil the stipulations thereof, according to the divine arrangement, just as much as if they had intelligently and voluntarily entered into the covenant themselves. And the same is true in regard to human covenants. We, as children, are bound by the covenants made by our fathers, and our children are bound by the compacts which we may make and ratify. And as we inherited the blessings of the covenants of our fathers, so will our posterity become the heirs of the inheritance of their fathers, as well as ours, to the remotest generations.
From the foregoing discussion of the subject of Baptism, the character of the Confessors as reformers, and the manner in which they accomplished the work of the great Reformation, become manifest. And while they thus transmit to us the treasures of wisdom gathered by them from the fields of experience, observation and the Scriptures, they not only challenge our admiration, but they become to us, their ecclesiastical descendants, worthy examples for our imitation.
In their presentation of the subject of Infant Baptism, the Confessors exhibit both unity and diversity of sentiment. They agreed in confessing that Infant Baptism has the divine sanction; that through it grace is offered to children; that the grace thus offered embraces remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost; and that children being thus offered to God, become acceptable to him, and are received into his favor. They differed in regard to the question whether children had faith, and in what sense this could be consistently affirmed, the precise effects produced by the operation of the Spirit on their minds and hearts, as well as in regard to the precise period, manner and degree of his influence upon them. In so far as they allowed themselves to refer to this aspect of the subject at all, they did so with great circumspection, and expressed their various shades of thought in different terms.
On Baptism, as was their wont on almost all disputed subjects, the Confessors took a medium position. The extremes, which in the providence of God had arisen in the Church, were those championed by Rome and Munster. Between the magical opus operatum of the Romanists, and the spiritualistic fanaticism of the Anabaptists, they were called upon to choose. Under the guidance of the Spirit, they took their position midway between these extremes, and expressed their judgment in the Augsburg Confession. And so clear and scriptural did their doctrine appear, that it met not only with the approval of the Lutherans, but also with that of the Reformed. At Marburg, Zwingli and his associates formally endorsed it, and the representatives of. the Reformed did the same at the Wittenberg Conference. The Lutheran doctrine of Baptism, unitedly confessed in the Wittenberg Concordia, as given by Dorner, was as follows: ” The promise was valid also for infants, and was to be appropriated to them through the ministrations of the Church. Without regeneration there was, even for infants, no entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Infants indeed had no understanding, but the Holy Ghost exercised his power in them according to their measure, and thereby they pleased God. The way and manner of these operations were unknown, but it was certain that there were in them new and holy impulses, the inclination to believe in Christ and to love God, which was in a certain measure similar to the movements of those which are otherwise possessed of faith and love.”
The Confessors in setting forth the doctrine of Baptism, expressed their opinions with marked wisdom and great moderation. The proof of this will at once become apparent, by comparing the declarations, both as individuals and Confessors, with those of the theologians and Confessors of other denominations. The Westminster Confession says: “The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered, yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will in his appointed time.” The Heidelberg Catechism declares “That Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding thereto this promise, that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water;” that to be thus baptized, “is to receive the remission of sins, and also to be renewed by the Holy Ghost;” and that, “as infants, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and Church of God, and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult, they must therefore, by Baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian Church,” etc. Wesley, as quoted by Curteis, says: “It is certain, that our Church (the Episcopal) supposes that all who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time ‘born again,’ and it is allowed, that the whole office for the baptism of infants, proceeds upon this supposition.” Dr. Heppe, a distinguished modern Reformed theologian, in presenting quotations from Calvinistic authors, quotes Polanus as testifying, “That to those who are baptized, it is signified and sealed, that they (to whom the covenant of grace pertaineth) are received into the communion of the covenant of grace, are inserted into Christ, and his mystic body the Church, are justified by God, for the sake of Christ’s blood shed for us, and regenerated by Christ’s Spirit.” In order to estimate the force of these Calvinistic quotations, it must be remembered that the grace of Baptism is held to pertain to the children of the elect, as well as to the parents themselves. In comparison with the above confessional deliverances, those of the Lutheran Confessors must be regarded as mild; and in comparison with the declarations of Heppe, and those heretofore quoted of Calvin, and Drs. Miller and Alexander, those of Luther and Melanchthon, as already presented, appear very moderate.
The Confessors also discriminate in their confessional writings with special care between Adult and Infant Baptism, and in this respect imitate the sacred writers. Christ and his Apostles exhibit the doctrine of Baptism in general, the qualifications for its reception, its relation to the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost, regeneration and sanctification, union with Christ, church membership and salvation, in clear and positive terms. These representations are of such a character as to convince the great majority of Christians that Infant Baptism is taught and involved in them. And as there is but one Baptism instituted by Christ, and as that was administered to adult believers and their children, it follows that whatever grace it is the specific office of Baptism to confer, of which children stand in need and are capable of receiving, it must offer and confer upon them. Nevertheless, the inspired writers abstain from declaring in express terms, what the specific benefits of Infant Baptism are, and leave them to be inferred from their general teaching on the subject. And this is precisely the course pursued by the Confessors. They take up the adult believer and assure him that by Baptism he is “born of water and of the Spirit,” and that it is to him “the washing of regeneration,” through which he may be “sanctified” and “saved.” But when they come to treat of Infant Baptism in particular, they go no farther than to declare that grace is offered through Baptism; that children are thereby presented to God, who, through such Baptism, become acceptable to him, and are received into his favor. And in explanation of this they content themselves with the assurance, that the promises of grace and of the Holy Spirit belong to children as well as to adults, and that they are baptized in order that they may become partakers thereof
In the domain of philosophy it has often occurred that the disciples of the great masters have misapprehended their tenets, and perverted their principles, and thus become the propagandists of errors, which were baneful in their tendencies, and brought reproach upon their names and systems. And the same thing has occurred in the domain of symbolism in the Lutheran Church. The wisdom and moderation of the Confessors in setting forth the doctrine of baptismal grace, have not always been imitated by those professing the Lutheran name. Their conceptions, forms of expression and manner of applying it, were discarded, and the doctrine so perverted as to be little, if any, better than the magical opus operatum of the Romanists. Such a perversion took place in the Pietistic era of the Church. “The so-called orthodox opponents of Spener,” says Dorner, “were of opinion that there is a truly spiritual and divine theology even of the unregenerate;” that ” piety is no essential requirement in a theologian, for the apodictic mark of a true teacher is simply correctness of doctrine;” and that “saving power was transferred to knowledge and inward experience of salvation only inferred from purity of doctrine.” “The office of an orthodox teacher, even if he be ungodly, is self-efficacious. With this were connected hierarchial notions of the office of the Church and of so-called official grace. * * Thus the continued agency of the Holy Ghost was, in a deistic fashion, abolished by the ministry, by the Church and its means of grace, and the power belonging to the Spirit alone, represented as abdicated to the.se second causes. These were no longer regarded as mere media for his operation, but as exercising an independent agency, wherever access was allowed to them. A regenerating power being thus attributed, not only to the sacraments, but to correct doctrine and to notions, in the case of those who did not wickedly oppose them, the opus operatum of Romish doctrine, which works in all who non ponunt obicem was again reached, and an intellectual Pelagianism combined with a magical effect of grace.”
Dr. S. Sprecher, in his Holman Lecture on Original Sin (Evangelical Review, October, 1867), presents the doctrine of the Confessors as follows: “The Confessors declare that all men naturally engendered, whether infants or adults, are born in sin, and that this inherent disease and natural depravity is sin, and still condemns and causes eternal death to all who are not born again by Baptism and the Holy Ghost. * * I need not say, therefore, that the Confessors do not mean that God has no other way or means of regeneration except those revealed in the Bible, or that unbaptized infants, from the mere absence or want of baptism, are unregenerated, and dying in infancy are unprepared for heaven. They speak only of the revealed order of salvation, the way into which the gospel calls us, and in which those who hear the gospel have the only sure warrant and certain pledge of regeneration. To subjects who have not the gospel, or are incapable of receiving it, this declaration does not refer. For aught it teaches, all infants, baptized and unbaptized, may be regenerated and saved. But if regenerated and saved, they are regenerated and saved by the grace of God alone.”
In regard to the perversion of the doctrine by scholastic distinctions. Dr. Sprecher says: “Spener deplored the effects of it as little better than those of the Papal opus operatun, and it was a departure from original and true Lutheranism. * * While Spener regarded the conversion of Christians who had fallen into spiritual death, as a return to baptismal grace, yet he calls such conversion explicitly and emphatically a new regeneration, inasmuch as the baptismal regeneration (grace) had been entirely lost; and regarding this as the case of the vast majority of those baptized in infancv, he treated all who did not exhibit the evidences of spiritual life, as not only unconverted, but unregenerate. * * As Luther returned to primitive Christianity, so did Spener return to early Lutheranism.”
The terms employed by the Confessors, and the precise meaning attached to them in portraying the doctrine of baptismal grace, deserve special consideration. The words ” faith ” and “regeneration,” as the synonym of “being born again,” and “born of God,” are frequently used by the sacred writers, and have a clear and well defined meaning. The Holy Ghost works faith through the word and sacraments, and whosoever believes on the Son of God and is baptized is begotten of the word of truth, “born of water and of the Spirit,” and receives “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” In this sense the Confessors employ these terms in their application to adults; but when they refer to Infant Baptism and its effects, both in the Confession and the Apology, they employ none of them, and express themselves in the general terms already quoted. And even when they employ the words “faith” and “regeneration” as applicable to baptized infants, it is done in a technical sense, which, in order to prevent misapprehension, they explain. But as these terms have their fixed meaning, and will be understood accordingly, it is injudicious to use them in connection with Infant Baptism, without careful discrimination; and as the impression made by their ordinary meaning may be stronger than that made by the explanation of their technical meaning, it would, perhaps, be better to imitate the Confessors in this respect, and not employ them at all in defining Infant Baptism. We have already seen that Luther affirmed that children had “faith,” and how he explained his meaning in the Wittenberg Concordia. He also employed the term “regenerate” and its synonyms in his Baptismal Formulas just as it had been used in the Romish service; but while he did this in deference to the prejudices of the people who had been accustomed to it, he employed it in the Evangelical, and not in the Romish sense. He tells us this himself “I did not wish to alter many things, though I could have wished that the Form was better furnished. For it had careless authors, who did not sufficiently consider the importance of Baptism. But I leave the most part unchanged, lest weak consciences complain that I have instituted a new Baptism, and lest those already baptized complain that they are not rightly baptized. For, as has been observed, human additions are not of much consequence, so that Baptism is itself administered with the word of God, true faith, and earnest calling upon God.”
The phrase ” Baptismal Regeneration,” was not employed by the Confessors, and it does not occur in the Symbolical Books. It is true that as the ”washing of regeneration,” in Titus iii. 5, refers to Baptism, the phrase “baptismal regeneration ” would be its scriptural equivalent. But as it is not specifically applied by Paul to baptized infants, and as it is generally used to express the Romish doctrine of the opus operatum, it cannot be employed in setting forth the Lutheran doctrine of baptismal grace without constant liability to misstatement and misapprehension.
Dr. A. Alexander (Religious Experience, p. 37, 38,) says: “If piety may commence at any age, how solicitous should parents be for their children, that God would bestow his grace upon them, even before they know their right hand from their left. And when about to dedicate them to God in Holy Baptism, how earnestly should they pray, that they may be baptized with the Holy Ghost; that while their bodies are washed in the emblematic laver of regeneration, their souls may experience the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. If the sentiments expressed above be correct, then may there be such a thing as baptismal regeneration: not that the mere external application of water can have any effect to purify the soul, nor that internal grace uniformly or generally accompanies this external washing, but that God, who works when and by what means he pleases, may regenerate by his Spirit the soul of the infant, while in his sacred name water is applied to the body.”
In his Life by his son, Dr. Alexander refers to the misapprehension of his meaning which had occurred, as follows: “If, however, I had foreseen the perversion which some have made of my real opinion, I would perhaps have avoided the use of the phrase “baptismal regeneration,” but I have clearly explained that my meaning was, that as infants are capable of regeneration before the use of reason, that blessing might be granted at the moment when they were made the subjects of an ordinance which is intended to give an emblematical representation of that change.”
The doctrine of “baptismal regeneration” has been defined by Dr. S. S. Schmucker, as follows: “By this designation is meant the doctrine that Baptism is necessarily and invariably attended by spiritual regeneration, and that such water Baptism is unconditionally essential to salvation.” “Regeneration consists in a radical change in our religious views of the divine character, laws, etc., a change in our religious feelings, and in our religious purposes and habits of action, of none of which children are capable in the proper sense of the term regeneration.” Dr. C. P. Krauth (Conservative Reformation, p. 565), in referring to the above statements, says: “The charge against our Church as teaching ‘baptismal regeneration,’ as those who make the charge define it, is, as we have seen, utterly ungrounded. It is not true in its general statement nor in its details; it is utterly without warrant in the whole or in a singular particular.” And this denial is reiterated by Dr. C. F. Schaeffer and Prof. D. Worley, in their discussion of the subject contained in the Evangelical Quarterly Review. Stier maintains that the words spoken in Titus iii. 5,6, “cannot hold good of every Baptism of every child, and that while full regeneration cannot be predicated of Infant Baptism, a living principle, and a commencement tending to that full regeneration, it does involve in spite of all contradiction and confusion of opinion.” And he agrees with Hoffman, “that only in Infant Baptism, the nature of Baptism is exhibited in its purity and integrity, as it is the first receiving of the gift of grace unto a new life, while an adult must necessarily bring to it some- thing of the old, inrooted, personal character which affects, although it may be in a very small degree, the reception of the grace.” And this opinion receives additional force from the fact, that the Apostles and their adult converts, as believers, were regenerated by the Spirit through the word as a spiritual seed and not through Baptism, and hence they and all others like them, as Gerhard says, ” have no need of regeneration through Baptism, but to them Baptism is a confirmation and sealing of regeneration,” and the passages referring to Baptism and the new birth are accordingly clothed with special signification when applied to Infant Baptism.
The doctrine of baptismal grace held by the Confessors, involving as it does the moral development and destiny of every baptized child, is not divested of all difficulties. But to those who admit the conclusiveness of the argument for Infant Baptism, and the specific office of Baptism, as the divinely appointed means of sealing the remission of sins and of conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost, as expressly taught by Christ, Peter, Paul and Luke, and illustrated by Apostolic practice, these difficulties will by no means appear insuperable. If Baptism be a means of grace, and there be but one Baptism, it must, when administered to children, be the medium of offering and conferring grace upon them. And if Baptism was designed to give assurance of justification and impart the Spirit of regeneration, it must, unless it cease to be Baptism, perform its scriptural office when administered to children. In other words. Infant Baptism must be Baptism, and not some other ordinance. As those who hold the doctrine of human depravity, readily believe that God through Infant Baptism cancels the penal consequences of original sin, the remaining difficulty will be, to believe that God has made special provision for bestowing upon children the Holy Spirit, to aid them in resisting the sin-enticing power of their depraved natures. And can this prove a stumbling block to faith? We trow not.
Dr. Alexander says: “It is an interesting question, whether now there are any persons sanctified from the womb? If the communication of grace ever took place at so early a period, there is no reason why it should not now sometimes occur. * * As we believe that infants may be the subjects of regeneration, and cannot be saved without it. why may it not be the fact that some who are regenerated live to mature age?” If these questions be prompted from the Calvinistic standpoint: of the particularity of grace, they are easily answered from the Lutheran standpoint of the universality of grace. No good reason can be given, why grace cannot be imparted in some cases at so early a period, but many reasons can be given why such grace may be imparted in all cases meeting the scriptural requirements through holy Baptism.
To the prophet Jeremiah it was said: “Before thou earnest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee.” David declares that “the Lord was his God from his mother’s womb,” and that he made him to “hope from his mother’s breasts.” The angel Gabriel declared, that John the Baptist should “be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.” These passages prove that children may become the subjects of divine grace and receive the Holy Spirit from birth; that he must have some way of influencing them; that by such influence they are “sanctified” and become the children of God, and that adequate reasons existed for such special manifestations of grace to children in both dispensations. These declarations ought to remove the difficulty of those who think that infants are incapable of being brought under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and who, through their chronological and metaphysical speculations, propose to render God the important service of instructing him in regard to the capacities of children, and the operations of the Spirit, and of guarding him against a work of supererogation in dispensing his grace to them through Baptism prematurely. If Enoch and Elijah were bodily translated to heaven, and Lazarus and Christ raised from the dead, to illustrate the universality of the doctrine of immortality and the resurrection, why may not the sanctification of Jeremiah and John from the womb illustrate the universality of the doctrine of baptismal grace conferred upon children by the Holy Spirit through Infant Baptism?
The early piety of children has also an important bearing on this subject. Samuel feared the Lord from his earliest years. Timothy knew the Scriptures and was made wise unto salvation from childhood. Dr. Bushnell refers to the case of Baxter, who became pious so young, that he could not remember any period when he did not love and trust in Jesus, and Dr. Alexander states that such cases have often occurred. President Edwards mentions the case of Phoebe Bartlett, and other manifestations of the Spirit’s work in the conversion of very young children in his day; and the examples of early piety in the family and the Sunday-schools in our day, may be counted by thousands. Now Luther in the Larger Catechism, and Melanchthon in the Apology, state that God gave the Holy Ghost to many who were baptized in their infancy, and regard it not only as an argument in favor of Infant Baptism, but also of the truth of the doctrine of baptismal grace.
Every child has an animal and a rational nature, whose respective developments commence from birth. The motive power of the animal nature is exerted through appetite, that of the rational nature through conscience. Now, as the world and Satan may influence the animal nature to do evil, the Holy Ghost is provided to influence the rational nature to do good. Adequate provision is thus made to counteract the development of depravity, and to secure the development of piety. But if baptismal grace be denied to children, then will the flesh, the world and the devil have free course, and childhood be left helpless and exposed to their corrupting influences, without any supernatural assistance during the formative period of life, in determining its course and in forming its character. And if this be true, then must the declaration, that “where sin abounded” through Adam, “grace did much more abound” through Christ, be regarded rather as a rhetorical flourish than as a veritable fact, and such deficiency stand out as a glaring and unaccountable inconsistency in the economy of grace and redemption. Every child has constitutionally a disposition to love and trust its parents. This disposition manifests itself very early, and becomes the ground of piety, that is of obedience towards its parents, prompted by faith and love. Now, as it is the work of the Holy Spirit to shed abroad the love of God in the heart, why may he not, by a superinduction of divine grace, so dispose the heart of a child, that its constitutional capacity for piety towards its parents may become also a gracious capacity for piety towards God? And as it is the work of the Holy Spirit to take the things of Christ and show them to the soul, the child, as it is made acquainted with Christ, will be able spiritually to discern him, and its gracious capacity to love, trust, and obey him will become manifest, and constitute Christian piety. And in this manner, the Spirit will work faith, as well as to will and to do, in the mind and heart of a child, in his own time and in his own way. And that such manifestations of baptismal grace are not only possible but actual, the history of Christian nurture in the churches holding it abundantly proves.
The apprehension that the doctrine of baptismal grace would prove practically detrimental to experimental piety, is based upon misapprehension. The doctrines concerning faith, repentance, conversion, regeneration and sanctification, when apprehended and received, become the source of religious experience and practical piety. But no uninspired men ever lived who understood and preached these doctrines more clearly and effectively than Luther and the Reformers, Spener and the Pietists, Muhlenberg and the fathers of the American Lutheran Church. The modern spiritualistic reformers, who charge them with promoting formalism and self-righteousness, and who claim a monopoly of experimental piety, would do well to sit at their feet as learners, and from their writings and example correct their fanatical notions of religious experience, as well as mend their inconsistent lives. The Confessors held the doctrine of baptismal grace, and through the consistent use of it, became the authors of the Reformation; the Pietists, the promoters of the revival of true Lutheranism; and the Hallean Fathers, the founders of the Lutheran Church in America.
The tendency to naturalism and legalism is inherent in human nature, and not a necessary outgrowth of the doctrine of baptismal grace. It threatened, at times, almost a total apostasy during the Mosaic economy, led the Jews to crucify Christ, deluded even some of the converts of the apostles, leavened the Romish Church, and inoculated the Lutheran in the seventeenth, the Episcopal in the eighteenth, and the Congregational in the nineteenth century; and the instruments chosen of God to reform them, through a revival of experimental piety, were, in almost all cases except that of Edwards, believers in baptismal grace.
Two general systems of religious effort for the promotion of experimental piety have been prevalent in the Christian Church. The one may be called the system of religious training, involving baptismal grace, infant membership, and Christian nurture in the family, the school and the Church. While its advocates make a faithful use of the ordinary means of grace, they regard it as not only allowable, but also in accordance with scriptural precedent, to make special efforts to lead the impenitent to Christ, and edify believers, at such times as the religious interests of the Church and the indications of Providence call for them. The other system may be called that of extraordinary periodical efforts. Its advocates reject baptismal grace, lay comparatively little stress on Christian nurture, undervalue the ordinary means of grace, and rely mainly on special periodical efforts for the conversion of children and adults. But the large proportion of self-deceptions and spurious experiences, together with the multitude of backsliders and the instability of the piety promoted thereby, have induced many of its abettors to modify it, by introducing some of the features of the training system of God, and thus guard against its injurious results. Tested by its fruits, the Lutheran doctrine of baptismal grace, when faithfully preached and consistently developed, will bear favorable comparison with the modern system of periodical efforts, or with any other system of doctrine and usage ever employed for the promotion of experimental religion and the development of true piety.
If the arguments by which the Confessors endeavored to prove the doctrine of baptismal grace be deemed inconclusive, those who reject it will be constrained either to originate a new or to adopt an old theory. As they will hardly venture to engage in invention, they must content themselves with making a selection. They are not likely to make choice of the one-sided spiritualistic theory of the Quakers, who dispense with Baptism altogether; nor that of the Anabaptists, who reject Infant Baptism; nor that of the Romanists, who invest it with a magical influence; nor that of the Campbellites, who attribute its justifying and regenerating power to its mode (immersion); nor that of the Calvinists, who maintain that Baptism is applied to the children of believing parents, as the sign of a regeneration already accomplished, according to the purpose and election of God. This leaves them nothing but the Puritan theory as the object of their choice.
The modern Puritan theory was recently set forth in the Bibliotheca Sacra in these words: “In the economy of grace, prayer for the salvation of men puts them in the way of receiving more abundant ministrations of the Spirit. Infant Baptism is, on the part of parents and the Church, a confession, a prayer, a pledge and a hope, embodied in one sacrament. It is a confession of the universal reign of sin, except where grace abounds; a prayer for the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit; a pledge of faithfulness of Christian nurture; and a monument of the hope that the prayer will be answered, and that through the divine blessing, the nurture will accomplish its designed results. As being the most objective and public expression of this faith that can be made on the part of the parent and the Church, God on his part binds himself, in this act more than in any other, to fulfil his promise, and to bestow peculiar blessings on the children thus consecrated to him.” This theory, while it still calls Baptism a sacrament, really divests it of its sacramental character, and substitutes prayer in its stead. Prayer is the means of securing for others the ministrations of the Spirit. According to the Scriptures, however, prayer is a privilege, to be improved by the individual believer, to whom the promise of the Spirit is given, and which he may offer constantly, but it is not like Baptism a formal rite through which God confers the Holy Spirit upon others. It contradicts itself It first makes prayer the means of conferring the Spirit, but afterwards maintains that God through Baptism, in an especial manner, binds himself to fulfil his promise and bestow peculiar blessings upon baptized children, meaning of course the Holy Spirit. It confounds Christian nurture and baptismal grace. Prayer is, indeed, offered in the administration of Baptism, but it belongs to and is an important part of Christian nurture, and not a substitute for Baptism. Everything is made to depend on nurture, and nothing upon grace. So that without nurture, Baptism does not and will not avail anything for the child. But according to the Scriptures, Baptism is a means of grace, supplying the conditions upon which the possibility and success of Christian nurture depend. While this theory formally initiates the children into the Church, it really leaves them in the world; and hence it is declared that “it leads to a confusion of thought, and a perversion of the rite (Baptism), to call baptized children church members, until they give some positive sign of regeneration, and make a public profession of Christ.”
This theory not only ignores the initiatory character of Infant Baptism, but by denying that it is a means of grace, it involves an erroneous theory of Christian nurture, and leads to the most lamentable results. Dr. Bushnell describes it in his work on “Christian Nurture” as follows: “It is the prevalence of false views on this subject (Christian nurture) which creates so great difficulty in sustaining Infant Baptism in our churches. If children are to grow up in sin, to be converted when they come to the age of maturity, if this is the only aim and expectation of family nurture, there really is no meaning or dignity whatever in the rite (Baptism). They are even baptized into sin, and every propriety of the rite as a seal of faith is violated. The aim, effort and expectation should be, not as is commonly assumed, that the child is to grow up in sin, to be converted after he comes to a mature age; but that he is to open on the world as one that is spiritually renewed, not remembering the time when he went through a technical experience, but seeming rather to have loved what is good from his earliest years. * * It would certainly be very singular, if Christ Jesus in a scheme of mercy for the world had found no place for infants and little children — more singular still, if he had given them the place of adults — and worse than singular, if he had appointed them to years of sin as the necessary preparation for his mercy.”
“And why should it be thought incredible, that there should be some really good principle awakened in the mind of a child? For this is all that is implied in a Christian state. The Christian is one who has simply begun to love what is good for its own sake; and why should it be thought impossible tor a child to have this love begotten in him? Take any scheme of depravity you please, there is yet nothing in it to forbid the possibility that a child should be led, in his first moral act, to cleave unto what is good and right, any more than in the first of his twentieth year. He is in that case only a child converted to good, leading a mixed life, as all Christians do. The good in him goes into combat with the evil, and holds a qualified sovereignty. And why may not this internal conflict of goodness cover the whole life from its dawn, as well as any part of it? And what more appropriate to the doctrine of spiritual influence itself, than to believe that, as the Spirit of Jehovah fills all the worlds of matter, and holds a presence of power and government in all its objects, so all human souls, the infantile as well as the adult, have a mixture of the Spirit, appropriate to their age and their wants? What opinion is more essentially monstrous, in fact, than that which regards the Holy Spirit as having no agency in the immature souls of children, who are growing up helpless and unconscious, into the perils of time?”
While Dr. Bushnell rejects the Romish error of Baptismal Regeneration, he declares that the Puritan theory and practice concerning Infant Baptism involve an error scarcely less injurious. He does not, indeed, introduce the Lutheran doctrine of baptismal grace, but that very grace for which he pleads, and through the influence of which children may be trained to grow up Christians, is precisely the grace which the Confessors taught that Infant Baptism offers and secures.
When the Puritan and the Lutheran theories of Infant Baptism are tested by the Scriptures, the contrast between them becomes still more striking. Admit that through Baptism God confers the Holy Spirit upon children, and every passage pertaining to the subject can be readily explained, according to the true laws of interpretation. Deny this, and transform Baptism into a naked sign of grace and parental pledge of Christian nurture, and the baptismal passages cannot be made to accord with such a theory, without doing violence to the rules of sound exegesis. Children, offered to God in the name of Christ, are said to receive the kingdom of God, but they are, nevertheless, left without grace, to choose the kingdom of Satan — they are recognized as members of the Church, which is made up of the saved, but they belong to the world, which embraces the lost — they are baptized into the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but, with original sin untouched by grace, they remain in fellowship with the devil and his angels.
We conclude our lecture with the following summary of the Lutheran doctrine of Baptism as set forth by the Confessors. Baptism is a religious ordinance, instituted by Jesus Christ. Its constituent elements are water and the word of God. Its administration consists in the application of water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, by an authorized minister of the gospel, either by sprinkling, pouring or immersion. Its subjects are adult believers and their children. Its validity is based upon its divine institution and observance according to the command of God, and not upon either the character of the administrator, the mode of applying the water, or the faith of the recipient. It is a sacrament or ”visible word,” an efficacious sign and seal of the promise of God, a sure testimony of his will toward us, which becomes efficacious, not ex opere operato, but through faith, apprehending the truths signified, and relying upon the promise made by it. It is a means of grace, through which God offers his grace and confers the Holy Spirit, who excites and confirms faith in those who use it aright, whereby they obtain the remission of sins, are born again, released from condemnation and eternal death, and are received and remain in God’s favor, so long as they continue in a state of faith and bring forth good works; but to them who are destitute of faith it remains a fruitless sign and imparts no blessing, while those who misimprove their Baptism by a course of wilful sin and wicked works, receive the grace of God in vain, grieve and lose the Holy Spirit, and fall into a state of condemnation, from which they cannot be recovered except by a true conversion, involving a renewal of the understanding, will and heart. Baptism ought also to be administered to children, who, through such Baptism, are offered to God, become acceptable to him, and are received into his favor. It imposes the duty of Christian nurture upon parents and the Church, and finds its complement in Confirmation. It is ordinarily necessary, as a divinely appointed ordinance, but not absolutely essential to salvation.