Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them,' &c. Matt 28: 19.
I. The way whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemptions, is, in the use of the sacraments.
What are the sacraments in general?
They are visible signs of invisible grace.
Is not the word of God sufficient to salvation? What need then is there of sacraments?
We must not be wise above what is written. It is God's will that his church should have sacraments; and it is God's goodness thus to condescend to weak capacities. Except ye see signs, ye will not believe.' John 4: 48. To strengthen our faith, God confirms the covenant of grace, not only by promises but by sacramental signs.
What are the sacraments of the New Testament?
Two: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Are there no more? The Papists tell us of five more, viz., confirmation, penance, matrimony, orders, and the extreme unction.
(1) There were but two sacraments under the law, therefore there are no more now.1 Cor 10: 2, 3, 4.
(2) These two sacraments are sufficient; the one signifying our entrance into Christ, and the other, our growth and perseverance in him.
II. The first sacrament is baptism. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them,' &c. Go, teach all nations;' the Greek word is Make disciples of all nations.' If it be asked, how should we make them disciples? It follows, Baptising them and teaching them.' In a heathen nation, first teach, and then baptise them; but in a Christian church, first baptise, and then teach them.
What is baptism?
In general, it is a matriculation, or visible admission of children into the congregation of Christ's flock. More particularly, Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing or sprinkling with water, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, does signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's.'
What is meant by the parent when he presents his child to be baptised?
The parent, in presenting the child to be baptised, (1) Makes a public acknowledgement of original sin; that the soul of his child is polluted, therefore needs washing from sin by Christ's blood and Spirit; both which washings are signified by the sprinkling of water in baptism. (2) The parent by bringing his child to be baptised, solemnly devotes it to the Lord, and enrols it in God's family; and truly it is a great satisfaction to a religious parent to have given up his child to the Lord in baptism. How can a parent look with comfort on that child who was never dedicated to God?
What is the benefit of baptism?
The party baptised has, (1) An entrance into the visible body of the church. (2) He has a right sealed to the ordinances, which is a privilege full of glory. Rom 9: 4. (3) The child baptised is under a more special providential care of Christ, who appoints the tutelage of angels to be the infant's life-guard.
Is this all the benefit?
No! To such as belong to the election, baptism is a seal of the righteousness of faith,' a laver of regeneration, and a badge of adoption. Rom 4: 11.
How does it appear that children have a right to baptism?
Children are parties in the covenant of grace. The covenant was made with them. I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.' Gen 17: 7. The promise is to you and to your children.' Acts 2: 39. The covenant of grace may be considered either, (1) More strictly, as an absolute promise to give saving grace; and so none but the elect are in covenant with God. Or, (2) More largely, as a covenant containing in it many outward glorious privileges, in which respects the children of believers do belong to the covenant of grace. The promise is to you and to your seed. The infant seed of believers may as well lay a claim to the covenant of grace as their parents; and having a right to the covenant, they cannot justly be denied baptism, which is its seal. It is certain the children of believers were once visibly in covenant with God, and received the seal of their admission into the church; where now do we find this covenant interest, or church membership of infants, repealed or made void? Certainly Jesus Christ did not come to put believers and their children into a worse condition than they were in before. If the children of believers should not be baptised, they are in worse condition now than they were in before Christ's coming.
Objections. The Scripture is silent herein and does not mention infant baptism.
Though the word infant baptism is not in Scripture, yet the thing is. Mention is not made in Scripture of woman's receiving the sacrament; but who doubts but the command, Take, eat, this is my body,' concerns them? Does not their faith need strengthening as well as others? So the word Trinity is not to be found in Scripture, but there is that which is equivalent to it. There are Three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these Three are one.' 1 John 5: 7. So, though the word infant baptism is not mentioned in Scripture, the practice of baptising infants may be drawn from Scripture by undeniable consequence.
How is that proved?
The Scripture mentions whole families baptised; as the household of Lydia, Crispus, and the jailer. He was baptised, he and all his.' Acts 16: 33. Wherein we must rationally imagine there were some little children. If it be said, there is no mention here made of children; I answer, neither are servants named; and yet it cannot be supposed but that, in so great a family, there were some servants.
But infants are not capable of the end of baptism; for baptism signifies the washing away of sin by the blood of Christ. Infants cannot understand this; therefore what benefit can baptism be to them?
Neither could the child that was to be circumcised understand circumcision; yet the ordinance of circumcision was not to be omitted or deferred. Though an infant understand not the meaning of baptism it may partake of the blessing of baptism. The little children that Christ took in his arms, understood not Christ's meaning, but they had Christ's blessing. He put his hands upon them and blessed them.' Mark 10: 16.
But what benefit can the child have of baptism if it understand not the nature of baptism?
It may have a right to the promise sealed up, which it shall have an actual interest in when it comes to have faith. A legacy may be of use to the child in the cradle; though it now understand not the legacy, yet when it is grown up to years, it is fully possessed of it. But it may be further objected: --
The party to be baptised is to be engaged to God; but how can the child enter into such an engagement?
The parents can engage for it, which God is pleased to accept as equivalent to the child's personal engagement.
If baptism comes in the room of circumcisions, and the males only were circumcised, what warrant is there for baptising females? Gen 17: 10.
Females were included, and were virtually circumcised in the males. What is done to the head is done to the body; the man being the head of the woman.1 Cor 11: 3. What was done to the male sex was interpretatively done to the female.
Having answered these objections, I come now to prove by argument, infant baptism.
(1) If children during their infancy are capable of grace, they are capable of baptism; but children in their infancy are capable of grace, therefore they are capable of baptism. I prove the minor, that they are capable of grace, thus: if children in their infancy may be saved, then they are capable of grace; but children in their infancy may be saved; which is thus proved: that if the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, they may be saved; but the kingdom of heaven may belong to them, as it is clear from, Of such is the kingdom of God' (Mark 10: 14); who then can forbid that the seal of baptism should be applied to them?
(2) If infants may be among the number of God's servants, there is no reason why they should be shut out of God's family; but infants may be in the number of God's servants, because God calls them his servants. He shall depart from thee, and his children with him, for they are my servants.' Lev 25: 41. Therefore children in their infancy, being God's servants, why should they not have baptism, which is the tessera, the mark or seal which God sets upon his servants?
(3) But now are they (your children) holy.' 1 Cor 7: 14. Children are not called holy, as if they were free from original sin; but in the judgement of charity they are to be esteemed holy, and true members of the church of God, because their parents are believers. Hence that excellent divine, Mr Hildersam, says, that the children of the faithful as soon as they are born, have a covenant holiness, and so a right and title to baptism, which is the token of the covenant.'
(4) From the opinion of the fathers and the practice of the church. The ancient fathers were strong asserters of infant baptism, as Irenaeus, Basil, Lactantius, Cyprian, and Augustine. It was the practice of the Greek church to baptise her infants. Erasmus says that infant baptism has been used in the church of God for above fourteen hundred years. And Augustine, in his book against Pelagius, affirms that it has been the custom of the church in all ages to baptise infants. Yea, it was an apostolic practice. Paul affirms that he baptised the whole house of Stephanus.1 Cor 1: 16.
Having seen Scripture arguments for infant baptism, let us consider whether the practice of those who delay the baptising of children till riper years, be warrantable. For my part, I cannot gather it from Scripture. Though we read of adult persons, and grown up to years of discretion, in the apostles' times, being baptised, yet they were such as were converted from heathenish idolatry to the true orthodox faith; but that in a Christian church the children of believers should be kept unbaptised for several years, I know neither precept nor example for it in Scripture, but it is wholly apocryphal. The baptising of persons, grown up to maturity, we may argue against ab effectu, from the ill consequence of it. They dip the persons they baptise over head and ears in cold water, and naked; which, as it is indecent, so it is dangerous, and has often been the occasion of chronic disease, yea, and of death itself; and so is a plain breach of the sixth commandment. How far God has given up many persons, who are for deferring baptism, to other vile opinions and vicious practices, is evident, if we consult history; especially if we read the doings of the Anabaptists in Germany.
Use one. See the riches of God's goodness, who will not only be the God of believers, but takes their seed into covenant with them. I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed.' Gen 17: 7. A father counts it a great privilege, not only to have his own name, but his child's name put in a will.
Use two. Those parents are to be blamed who forbid little children to be brought to Christ; and withhold from them this ordinance. By denying their infants baptism, they exclude them from membership in the visible church, so that their infants are sucking pagans. Such as deny their children baptism, make God's institutions under the law more full of kindness and grace to children than they are under the gospel; which, how strange a paradox it is, I leave you to judge.
Use three. For exhortation. (1) Let us who are baptised, labour to find the blessed fruits of it in our own souls; not only to have the signs of the covenant, but the grace of the covenant. Many glory in their baptism. The Jews gloried in their circumcision, because of their royal privileges; to them belonged the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants. Rom 9: 4. But many of them were a shame and reproach to their circumcision. For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.' Rom 2: 24. The scandalous Jews, though circumcised, were, in God's account, as heathens. Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians to me? saith the Lord.' Amos 9: 7. Alas! what is it to have the name of Christ, and want his image? What is baptism of water without the baptism of the Spirit? Many baptised Christians are no better than heathens. O let us labour to find the fruits of baptism, that Christ is formed in us (Gal 4: 19); that our nature is changed; that we are made holy and heavenly. This is to be baptised into Jesus. Rom 6: 3. Such as live unsuitable to their baptism, may go with baptismal-water on their faces, and sacramental bread in their mouths, to hell.
(2) Let us labour to make a right use of our baptism. Let us use it as a shield against temptations. Satan, I have given up myself to God by a sacred vow in baptism; I am not my own, I am Christ's; therefore I cannot yield to thy temptations, for I should break my oath of allegiance which I made to God in baptism. Luther tells us of a pious woman, who, when the devil tempted her to sin, answered, Satan, baptizata sum, I am baptised;' and so beat back the tempter.
Let us use it as a spur to holiness. By remembering our baptism, let us be stirred up to make good our baptismal engagements; renouncing the world, flesh, and devil, let us devote ourselves to God and his service. To be baptised into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, implies a solemn dedication of ourselves to the service of all the Three Persons in the Trinity. It is not enough that our parents dedicate us to God in baptism, but we must dedicate ourselves to him; this is called living to the Lord. Rom 14: 8. Our life should be spent in worshipping God, in loving God, in exalting God; we should walk as becomes the gospel. Phil 1: 27. We should shine as stars in the world, and live as earthly angels.
Let us use it as an argument to courage. We should be ready to confess that Holy Trinity, into whose name we were baptised. With the conversion of the heart must go the confession of the tongue. Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.' Luke 12: 8. Peter openly confessed Christ crucified. Acts 4: 10. Cyprian, a man of a brave spirit, was like a rock, whom no waves could shake; like an adamant, whom no sword could cut. He confessed Christ before the pro-consul, and suffered himself to be proscribed; yea, chose death rather than betray the truths of Christ. He that dare not confess the Holy Trinity, shames his baptism, and God will be ashamed to own him at the day of judgement.
Use four. See the fearfulness of the sin of apostasy! It is renouncing our baptism. It is damnable perjury to go away from God after a solemn vow. Demas has forsaken me.' 2 Tim 4: 10. He turned renegado, and afterwards became a priest in an idol-temple, says Dorotheus. Julia the apostate, Gregory Nazianzen observes, bathed himself in the blood of beasts offered in sacrifice to heathen gods; and so, as much as in him lay, washed off his former baptism. The case of such as fall away after baptism is dreadful. If any man draw back.' Heb 10: 38. The Greek word to draw back, alludes to a soldier that steals away from his colours; so, if any man steal away from Christ, and run over to the devil's side, my soul shall have no pleasure in him;' that is, I will be severely avenged on him; I will make my arrows drunk with his blood. If all the plagues in the Bible can make that man miserable, he shall be so.