Page images

Mark. It comprehends that signal act of Christ, by which in reproof of his disciples, he blessed little children and said: "Suffer them to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven;" an expression well known to designate his Church. The spirit of the pas. sage implies, that they may be his, not merely in the sense of visible society, but in that of love and appro. bation. Now the stress of the objection against our doctrine, lies in the supposed impossibility of infants being generally in such a state, without subsequent conversion; which requires the exercise of reason. Therefore the objection is not only erroneous in itself, but has its origin in another errour.

3. In the first epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul uses the expression, "else were your children unclean, but now are they holy." By all who contend for infant baptism, this text is urged in proof of it: Surely there is inconsistency in urging it to that effect, and yet in limiting the sense to an initiation into a visible Society. The Greek word translated "holy," is the same which in other places is rendered "saints."

4. Some of the epistles of the apostles are addressed to churches so long after their formation, that there was, more than a sufficiency of time for the children of believers, baptized in infancy, to become adult. Now we have in those epistles precepts relative to children; such as that of "bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." But there is no direction to labour for their conversion, or their regeneration: the matter which, according to the opposite theory, ought most of all to have been attended to.

5. In analogy with the above fact, it may be remarked of good men, under the Mosaick and the Abrahamick Covenants, that there is not a single instance, in which any one of them is supposed to have begun to be in covenant with God, at any other period than when there applied to him the promise attached to cir cumcision-"I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed

viii. 14. + vii. 14, † Αγιοις. § Ephes. vi. 4.

after thee." The being brought within the covenant, whether in infancy or in maturity, was supposed to involve an application of the promise. The subject of the dispensation might still have occasion, in the event of a fall, as in the case of David, to put up the prayer

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me:"+ But such conversion from sin, is not derogatory to the position of the integrity of the initiatory state.

6. On any other principle than that now maintained, the gospel has, in this particular, less of grace in it, than is to be found in the preceding dispensation of the law. All advocates for infant baptism, suppose this ordinance to answer under the gospel the same end, as that which had been before attached to circumcision: and they consider that place in scripture, which speaks of "the circumcision made without hands" as intended of baptism. Now that older ordinance was the sign of the covenant which God made with Abraham, and with his seed after him. The sign ought not to be considered as severed from the thing signified. Unless therefore the whole transaction be thought confined to temporal blessings -which would not be yielded by the disapprovers of our present doctrine-the said instituted rite conveyed an assurance of the divine favour, in an unlimited sense. Must not this be also a property of the entrance into the covenant under the gospel? To suppose otherwise, would not be consistent with the commendation of the latter, that it is "the grace of God, bringing salvation to all Men." There has been the more minuteness in regard to a sentiment so prominent in the institutions of our Church; because of many notions of modern times, which stand directly opposed to it. What we teach in this particular, was uniformly held by the primitive Church: and there was no departure from it, until

* Gen. xvii. 17. † Ps. li. 10.

Coloss. ii. 11.

Tit. ii. 1. This text is quoted, according to the strict translation of the original.

[ocr errors]

above fifteen hundred years after the commencement of the Christian Era. After that time, there was set up the doctrine, that those once in grace cannot finally fall from it. Now as many, baptized in infancy, are afterwards grievous sinners, and continue so to the end of life; it followed, that they could not have been in grace. But our Catechism was drawn up, before that novel notion had gained such ground, as to transfuse its complexion into the creed of any Christian church. And this circumstance is one of the evidences, of her being built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, "Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone."* But in saying so, there is the wish to guard the hearers, against mixing with a reverence and a belief of the doctrines of our Church, intolerance towards any other. "The end of the commandment is charity:" not that indifference, which occasionally assumes its name; but that which issues from " a pure heart and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned."+ [See Diss rtation I]

After these remarks, of which the prominent property is their being doctrinal; although-it is trusted -not without an influence on practice; there is felt a satisfaction in passing to others, which are practical in the strictest sense.

The first, is the obvious duty of parents, to procure an early initiation of their children into the Christian church, by baptism. This is not said, with any idea of the dependence of the salvation of the child on the transaction. Circumcision under the law and baptism under the gospel, being the signs of covenants between God and man, it would be injurious to the divine attributes to suppose, that any heirs of the intended benefit become disappointed of it; in the former case by death, before the eighth day appointed for the ceremony; and in the latter case, by any imperious necessity; or in either, by the neglect of those on whom the duty of procuring the initiation

* Eph. ii. 20.

† 1 Tim. i. 5.


has been laid. But this hinders not there being in such neglect great sin: the sin of want of reverence to an institution, which we believe to be divine; and not only so, but instead of a mere ceremony, to which some erroneously degrade it, the intended mean of grace to the recipient.

The next lesson to be founded on the subject, is that which concerns sponsors; including parents, whether they have or have not given answers in that character: the duty lying on them, independently on any such circumstance. It is to be feared, that many bring this burden on their consciences, without adverting to the force of the words to which they assent. This must be seen to be utterly indefensible; when we consider the agreement which should always subsist between promises and words, and the purpose of the mind; and much more, when there is taken into view the great Being, whose presence and whose appointment is continually referred to in the transaction. On the other hand, to guard against such a construction of the baptismal promise, as may hinder its being engaged in by serious persons, from the notion of impracticability; it may be proper to mention, that by every rule of fair construction, the substance of the engagement must be considered as contained in the charge to the sponsors, at the conclusion of the service. But if any consider that charge, as extending to more than they are willing to perform for as to inability, no such plea can be made, by persons possessed of an ordinary measure of information-it must be confessed, that under such indisposition to the performance of a duty, not lying without the consent of the party, the consent should not be given.

The next use of the subject, is in the way of admonition, to all who have hitherto kept their baptismal vow; not having apostatized from it, to a state of habitual and known sin.

As to this point, there must be confessed the difficulty of distinguishing accurately between the frail

ties and the imperfections attendant on the Christian state, and what properly comes under the name of apostacy. Doubtless, we have all reason to exclaim with the Psalmist "Who can understand his errours?"* and to put up with him the prayer— "Cleanse me from my secret faults:" that is, such as may have escaped my observation at the time, or my recollection afterwards. Indeed, when a person overlooks any thing contrary to Christian rectitude, but supposed to be comparatively small; or fails to make it the ground of present self-condemnation, and of future watchfulness; there is cause to suspect the existence of such apathy, as is the beginning of apostacy.

Still, there is a difference between this, and such imperfections and frailties, as are consistent with a state of grace: And if even the latter should keep alive a holy jealousy of ourselves; much more should we have an awful apprehension of the other, as a state in which it is fearful to live and desperate to die. Al, though some men continue in it with very little sensibility of their danger; yet where any sin can be lived in, and no such sensibility be entertained, it must be an unequivocal proof of the forfeiture of baptismal grace.

The importance of cultivating that grace, and of maintaining the innocency for which it is bestowed, is a topick full of argument and persuasion; but because of the limits of this address, can be only slightly touched on.

There can be no motive for the engaging and the persevering in a virtuous course of life, which does not apply more powerfully to the period in question, than to any other. Accordingly, if temporary departure should seem palliated by any delusive suggestion occurring to the mind; it goes, in its consequences, to the absolving of us from our obligations altogether. Especially, if such departure should derive encouragement from purposed return, and from mercy

*Ps. xix. 12.

† Ibid.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »