WE have ascertained that believers in Christ are the only persons who have a Scriptural right to
membership in the Christian churches. But this right has been claimed for infants; and the
number, talents, and piety of those who make the claim, entitle the arguments by which they
defend it, to a careful and thorough examination.
SECTION I.--DIRECT ARGUMENTS FOR INFANT MEMBERSHIP.
Argument 1.--In epistles written to church-members, Paul addresses children; and, at the same time,
exhorts the parents to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is clear, therefore, that
young children were among the church-members to whom these epistles were written. If such children
were in these churches, it cannot be doubted that they were in all the churches, and that they were admitted
Because children were addressed in an epistle directed to a church, it does not necessarily follow
that they were members of the church. As parents were required to bring up their children in the
nurture and admonition of the Lord, the same epistle that enjoined this duty on the parents, might
appropriately contain a direct command from the Lord, requiring the children to obey their parents.
In performing the duty enjoined on them, the parents would naturally and properly take their
children with them to the public worship of the church, where the apostolic epistles would be read
in their hearing. The fact, therefore, that an apostolic command was addressed to them, proves
nothing more than that the apostle expected it to reach them, and claimed the right of commanding
them in the name of the Lord.
But the probability is, that the children whom Paul addressed were members of the church. The
command, "Obey your parents in the Lord,"(1) is so expressed, as apparently to imply that the
obligation was to be felt and acknowledged by them, because of their relation to the Lord. The
children to whom Paul addressed this command must have possessed intelligence to apprehend its
meaning, and piety to feel the force of the motive presented in these words, "For this is well
pleasing unto the Lord."(2) Timothy, from a child, had known the Holy Scriptures. Intelligent piety
has, in all ages, been found in children who have not yet reached maturity; and such children have
a Scriptural right to church-membership.
The argument that the children were so young as to need the care and discipline of their parents to
bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, does not prove that they were destitute of
personal piety. Adult church-members need instruction and discipline adapted to their
circumstances; and the instruction and discipline of wise and pious parents are of inestimable
advantage to their pious children.
The argument contains a fallacy which deserves to be noticed, in the assumption, that the children
who were commanded to obey, and the children who were to be brought up in the nurture and
admonition of the Lord, were the same. Masters were commanded how to treat their servants, and
servants were commanded to obey their masters; but it would be wrong to infer that no masters
were so commanded but those who had pious servants, or that no servants were so commanded
but those who had pious masters. On the contrary, those servants who had believing masters are
distinguished from those whose masters were unbelievers; and yet the latter class were
commanded to obey, as well as the former. The relation of master and servant existed, in some
cases, when both of the parties were members of the church; and, in other cases, when one party
was in the church and the other party out of the church. No proof exists, that the relation of parent
and child may not have been divided in the same manner. Parents were not commanded to bring
up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord because the children were church-members; and children were not commanded to obey their parents because the parents were
church-members. The supposition, therefore, that the children in the two cases were the same, is
an assumption without proof.
The inference that, if there were children in the primitive churches, they were admitted in infancy,
and not because of personal piety, is illegitimate. It cannot be made to appear that they were
destitute of personal piety; and, as this was the established condition of church-membership in all
other cases, the fair inference is that their membership in the church stood on the common ground.
Argument 2.--The King of Zion has expressly declared, in Matt. xix. 14, that the privileges of his kingdom
belong to infants; and, among these privileges, that of church-membership must be included. Children are
to be received in the name of Christ, or because they belong to Christ;(3) and this must imply that they are
members of his church.
In interpreting and applying the phrase, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven," an important
question must be decided; whether the word "such" denotes literal children, or persons of child-like disposition. As the clause stands in our common version, it seems to import that the kingdom
consists of such persons exclusively. Now, no one imagines that the kingdom is a community
consisting of literal infants only; and, therefore, this rendering, if retained, greatly favors the other
interpretation, according to which the whole community are properly described as persons of
child-like disposition. The disciples of Christ are humble, confiding, teachable, and free from
malice and ambition; and these qualities characterize all who have a part in the kingdom.
But the advocates of infant church-mermbersliip have proposed another rendering of the clause.
They remark that it corresponds, in grammatical construction, with the clause in Matt. v. 3:
"Theirs is the kingdom of heaven;" but, since the word "such" has no genitive in English
corresponding to the genitive "theirs," the sense must be expressed thus: "To such belongs the
kingdom of heaven." After a careful consideration, I am inclined to think that this rendering gives
the true sense of the passage. It makes it analogous to the clause in Matt. v. 3; while the other
rendering is, I think, without any analogy in the New Testament. The kingdom does not consist
wholly of its subjects; but it has also its king, its laws, its privileges, and its enjoyments. We have
Scripture analogy for saying, that the subjects receive the kingdom, enter into the kingdom, inherit
the kingdom, and have part in the kingdom; but none for saying that they compose or constitute
the kingdom. Hence the rendering, "To such the kingdom belongs," is recommended to our
adoption, as the best interpretation of the Saviour's words. So much having been granted to the
advocates of infant church-membership, we proceed to inquire into the true sense of the passage.
In the parallel passage, "theirs is the kingdom of heaven," the persons intended are "the poor in
spirit;" and these include all the loyal subjects of the kingdom. If the parallelism between the
passages is complete, the word "such" must, in like manner, include all the loyal subjects of the
Redeemer's reign, and cannot therefore signify literal children. But if we take the word "such," to
signify a part only of those to whom the kingdom belongs, we shall still be compelled to consider
the declaration as importing that the kingdom belongs to all such. Nothing in the words, nothing
in the context, nothing in the nature of the subject, leads to the supposition that the kingdom
belongs to some infants, and not to others. But the most consistent advocates of infant church-membership, do not admit all infants indiscriminately. If the word "such" was intended to signify
any qualifications for membership, peculiar to these children, and not found in all children, no
clue whatever has been left us, in the whole context, for ascertaining what these peculiar
qualifications were. If Jesus had designed to instruct his apostles how to discriminate between the
children to be admitted, and all other children, it is unaccountable that he should have given his
instruction with so much obscurity and indefiniteness.
The words demand an interpretation, which will make the term "such" include all who have a
right to the kingdom, and no others; and this is precisely the interpretation to which the context
leads. Immediately after uttering the words, Jesus explained them: "Whosoever shall not receive
the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."(4) To be a little child, and to act as a
little child, are different things; and the latter, not the former, is what the Saviour intended. His
explanation shows this clearly; and that the explanation was made, we are expressly informed by
Mark and Luke. Matthew has omitted it; but he has recorded, in the preceding chapter, a discourse
of Christ on the same subject, giving the same instruction fully and clearly: "At the same time
came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus
called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you,
except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of
heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But whoso shall
offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were
hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."(5) Here, a child is made
the representative of him who was to be greatest in the kingdom; and the phrase, "one such child,"
denotes one who possesses a child-like disposition. Jesus was accustomed to call his disciples
"little children;"(6) and he here calls them, "these little ones which believe in me." In this discourse,
no room was left for doubt as to the import of the phrase, "one such child," and this discourse had
prepared the minds of the disciples to understand his meaning, when he afterwards said, "To such
the kingdom belongs," even if no explanation had followed; but when he added an explanation,
reiterating the very teaching which he had before given, no doubt ought to remain, that the same
kind of qualification for his kingdom was intended--not literal childhood, but a child-like
A further demand for this interpretation is found in the nature of Christ's kingdom. Those who
suppose literal children to be intended, assume that the kingdom is the visible church catholic; and
they understand that membership in this body is here affirmed to belong to infants. Our inquiries
in the last chapter have brought us to the conclusion, that Christ's kingdom is not identical with
the visible church catholic of theological writers; and that such a body as this does not in fact
exist. In Christ's kingdom, there are two classes of subjects; the loyal, and the disobedient. To the
former class exclusively, the kingdom belongs, according to the uniform teaching of the
Scriptures; and the passage under consideration corresponds precisely with this teaching, if
persons of child-like disposition be intended. But if the kingdom belongs to literal infants, who are
such by natural birth, it must be a different kingdom from that of which Jesus discoursed to
Nicodemus, when he said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Some persons understand the clause under consideration to import that the kingdom of glory
belongs to little children; and they argue that if they have a right to the church in heaven, they
ought not to be shut out from the church on. earth. But infants have not an unconditional right to
the kingdom of glory. If they die in infancy, they are made fit for that kingdom and received into it;
but if they remain in this world till they grow up, they cannot obtain that kingdom without
repentance and faith. Since the right of children to the kingdom of glory depends on the condition,
either that they die in infancy or that they become penitent believers, no inference can be
legitimately drawn from it that they have a present and unconditional right to membership in the
church on earth. Children are not taken to heaven without being made fit for it; but churches on
earth are organized for the worship and service of God, and infants are not fitted for these duties.
Even the privileges of the church on earth they are confessedly unfit for. A right to baptism is
claimed for them, but a right to communion at the Lord's table is not; yet without this right, it
cannot be said that the church or kingdom belongs to them. If by any mode of inference from the
passage the right of infants to the church on earth can be established, it must include a right to
communion at the Lord's table.
It has been objected to our interpretation of this passage, that the word "such," properly denotes
the kind or quality of the thing to which it is applied, and not the resemblance which something
else bears to it. In proof of this, such passages as the following have been cited: "Because they
suffered such things."(7) "With many such parables spake he unto them."(8) In the first example, such
things means these very things; and in the second, such parables means these parables and
others like them. In like manner it is argued, such children must mean either these very children
or these children and others like them. Hence, it is alleged that an interpretation which excludes
the children present from the import of the word "such," is inadmissible.
It is true that the word such denotes the kind or quality of the thing to which it is applied; but just
so far as it does this, it denotes also the resemblance which another thing bears to it, if that other
thing is of the same kind or possesses the same quality. It denotes the kind or quality of the thing,
and not the thing itself. In this particular, it differs from this or these. If the first of the above
examples had read "because they suffered these things," the identical sufferings would have been
signified, and not their kind or quality. Hence, such does not mean these. So in the other examples
"such parables" does not mean these and other parables, for it denotes the kind and quality of the
parables, and this the phrase these and other would not do. The fact that "such things" in the first
example, denoted the identical sufferings which had just been mentioned, is not determined by the
meaning of the word such, but by the connection in which it is used. Any other sufferings of like
kind would suit the meaning of the word equally as well. So any parables of like kind equally suit
the meaning of the phrase "such parables." The fact that the sufferings and parables previously
mentioned are denoted by the word such, or included in its meaning, is accidental. Such does not
mean these, and does not include these in its meaning, unless by accident. However frequent this
accidental use of the term may be, its essential meaning refers to kind or quality, and not to
particular things. When it is said, "They which commit such things, are worthy of death;"(9) the
particular things that had been mentioned are not necessarily intended or included; but any things
of like kind are denoted. In the words of Paul, "I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that
hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether, such as I am, except these bonds."(10) The word
such neither intends nor includes "I," but merely denotes likeness; and that likeness is confined to
spiritual endowments and privileges, and does not extend to the body or the external condition. So
the word such in the case before us, does not intend or include the children present, but denotes a
likeness to them; and that likeness does not respect the body or outward condition, but those
mental qualities which made them fit representatives of converted men.
If we were unable to distinguish between the essential meaning of the word such and its
accidental use, we might still be preserved from an erroneous conclusion in the present case by a
due regard to Matt. xviii. 5. In this verse the same word is used by the same speaker with
reference to the same subject, and in like circumstances, a little child being present as the children
were present in the other case. Yet in this case, the word such does not intend or include the child
present, but denotes those qualities in which that child was made a representative of converted
persons. The verse preceding proves this: and the words which follow the use of the term such in
the other case, prove the same. The analogy is complete, with the single exception that the
explanation follows in one case, and precedes in the other. But it follows immediately as if uttered
by the same breath, for it was spoken before Jesus laid hands on the children. If any importance
can be attached to the order of time in which the explanation was given, it should be remembered
that the whole of the discourse in the 18th chapter preceded the transaction recorded in the 19th,
and prepared the minds of the disciples for understanding it. When all these facts are considered,
we need not be staggered, though numerous examples be adduced in which such may appear to
have a different meaning. True criticism will regard the analogy of the cases rather than their
number; and if the word has different meanings, will prefer that which is supported by an analogy
so remarkable and complete. But the truth is, criticism has no choice to make between different
meanings of the word, for in every case the meaning of the word is the same.
If the criticism which we have set aside were just, it would fail to justify the conclusion that has
been drawn from it. In the passage recorded in Luke ix. 47, 48, the word such is not used: "Jesus,
perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them,
Whosoever shall receive this child in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me,
receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great." Here the
expression is, "this child;" but the meaning is not to be taken literally. The whole transaction was
symbolical. The disciples had desired the highest place in their Master's kingdom. It was their
ambition to sit on his right hand and on his left. But Jesus set the little child by him, and
constituted that child his prime minister and representative: "Whoso shall receive," &c. All this
was symbolical; and was designed to teach the disciples what they must be, to obtain the honor
which they coveted. If criticism could convert the word such into these, and the clause, "of such is
the kingdom," into theirs is the kingdom; there would be sufficient reason, even then, to regard the
children as only symbols or representatives of converted or humble and child-like persons.
It has been further objected, that the clause, "for of such is the kingdom of heaven," could not,
according to our interpretation, contain a reason for admitting into Christ's presence the children
that were brought to him. We cheerfully grant, that the connection of this clause with what
precedes would be quite obvious, if it could be shown to declare the right of infants to church-membership; and if it could also be shown that these infants were brought to Christ to be initiated
into his church. This last has been supposed by some, but without any proof from the sacred
narrative. The purpose for which they were brought to Jesus is thus expressed: "that he should put
his hands on them, and pray;"(11) "that he should touch them."(12) If initiation into the church was the
design, it is unaccountable that all the inspired writers should have failed to mention it, and that
they should have described the act as performed with a different design. If it was usual for infants
to be admitted to church-membership, the apostles must have known it; and their opposition, in
the present case, is unaccountable. Moreover, if these infants were brought to be initiated into the
church, and if Jesus declared their right to the privileges of his church, it cannot be supposed that
they were sent away without the benefit desired. But were they initiated? If so, by what rite?
Baptism has been considered the rite of initiation; but there is no evidence that these children were
baptized. When Jesus made disciples, they were baptized, not by himself, but by his disciples.
There is no evidence that he put these children into the hands of the disciples, with a command to
baptize them; but, on the contrary, he took them into his own arms, not to baptize, but to bless
On a careful examination of the passage, we discover that the conjunction "for" connects the
clause which follows with the command, "forbid them not." This command was addressed to the
disciples; and the reason which follows may be supposed to have been introduced for their sake,
rather than for the sake of the children. He was displeased with his disciples, and designed to
rebuke them. Now, to understand his rebuke, we must view it in connection with the fault of
which the disciples had been guilty. They expected their Master to set up a temporal kingdom; and
all his teachings to the contrary, and even his crucifixion at last, did not convince them that his
kingdom is not of this world. They were ambitious to have the highest place in his kingdom; and
this sinful ambition remained, till they ate the last passover with him. He had recently set a little
child before them, and used it as a representative of the chief favorite in his kingdom. This
discourse they had not understood. Like other discourses designed to explain the nature of the
kingdom, and of the qualifications for it, the instruction which it contained was not properly
received until after Christ's departure, when the Holy Spirit brought it to their remembrance.
Ambition and worldly policy blinded their minds. How they understood the Saviour's discourse,
we cannot certainly determine; but they seem, like the advocates of infant church-membership, to
have understood the word such to refer to age, and not to moral qualities. Hence, the words,
"Whoso receiveth one such child," placed little children before their minds as rivals for the highest
place of dignity in the kingdom. Whether they feared that Christ would postpone the setting up of
his kingdom until these young rivals should be of age, or whether they apprehended that he would,
among the miraculous works which he performed, endow them supernaturally, even in infancy, for
holding office in his kingdom, we have no means of ascertaining. But, whatever may have been
their notions, they seem to have conceived a jealousy of these young rivals. The ministers of
Eastern monarchs guarded the way of access to their sovereign. This right of guarding the way of
approach to their Master, the disciples assumed on this occasion. Jesus, who never denied access
to any that sought favor at his hands, was displeased with their conduct and the worldly ambition
which instigated it. To them, and for their benefit, he said what may be thus paraphrased: "Suffer
the children to come unto me, and forbid them not. Do not, by this usurpation of power, think to
exclude these dreaded rivals from my presence and favor; for to such as these the privileges and
honors of my kingdom belong, rather than to those who, like you, are actuated by worldly
ambition. Instead of driving these children away, imitate their spirit; for whosoever shall not
receive the kingdom as a little child, shall not enter therein."
Whether we have succeeded or not in discovering the true connection of the clause with what
precedes, the clause itself does not affirm the right of infants to church-membership. The proofs
which have been adduced on this point are clear and decisive.
What has been said, sufficiently explains Mark ix. 27, the other passage quoted in the argument.
We admit that to receive one of such children in the name of Christ, is to receive him because he
belongs to Christ; but the passage does not teach that literal infants are members of Christ's
church. We have proved that the Saviour employed the phrase, such children, to denote persons of
child-like disposition. Hence, the doctrine of infant church-membership cannot be inferred from
Some Congregationalists have held that children are members of the church universal, but not of
local churches. This distinction may perhaps account for their admission to baptism, and exclusion
from the Lord's supper; but it accounts in such a way as to show clearly, that the privileges of the
kingdom do not belong to them. No one maintains that unregenerate infants are members of the
spiritual church. If they are members of a universal church, it must be the visible church catholic.
Now, if such a body exists, it never meets or acts; and the privileges of membership in it, to those
who are denied membership in local churches--what are they? To the local churches belong the
regular worship of God, a stated ministry, the benefits of discipline and mutual exhortation, and
the communion of the Lord's table. The baptized children grow up, without the membership which
entitles to these privileges. How, then, can it be said that the kingdom belongs to them?
Argument 3.--Paul declares, that the children of certain members of the Corinthian church were holy.(13)
The word holy, or saints, was used by him to denote church-members, that is, persons consecrated to God.
We have, therefore, ground for the conclusion, that these children were members of the church.
The passage referred to, reads as follows: "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." This passage, if the holiness of which it speaks signifies church-membership, will
prove too much. The word "sanctified," which is applied to the unbelieving husband and
unbelieving wife, means made holy. These unbelievers, therefore, were also holy; and must,
according to the interpretation, have been members of the church. The text is a process of
reasoning; and the laws of reasoning require, that the term "holy" in the conclusion, should be
used in the same sense as in the premises. If holiness implies church-membership, when
predicated of the children, it must imply the same when predicated of the unbelieving husband and
wife. But no one imagines that those unbelievers were members of the church; and, therefore, the
holiness affirmed of the children, is not church-membership.
If it be asked, what holiness could be predicated of these children, or of the unbelieving husband
and wife, which did not include church-membership--the answer is at hand. The Jews accounted
gentiles unclean, and thought it unlawful to enter their houses, to keep company or eat with them,
or to touch them. The Jewish Christians retained this opinion, as is manifest from Gal. ii. 12.
According to this opinion, they with whom familiar intercourse was lawful, were considered holy;
and all others were unclean. The question had arisen among the Corinthians, probably from the
influence of Judaizing teachers, whether familiar intercourse with unbelievers is lawful.
In the fifth chapter of the epistle, Paul discusses this question, and decides that association in
church-membership with such persons, was unlawful; but that ordinary intercourse with them
must be admitted, or Christians "must needs go out of the world." As the principle which he
opposed had produced a doubt among the Corinthians, whether it was lawful for Christians to live
in familiar intercourse with unbelieving husbands or wives, Paul considers this case in the seventh
chapter. He decides that, if this principle may disturb the domestic relations, it will separate parent
and child, as well as husband and wife. If familiar intercourse with the unconverted is unlawful in
one case, it is unlawful in the other also. This is the argument of the apostle; and it is precisely
adapted to meet the difficulty. But this argument presupposes, that the children, like the
unbelieving husband and wife, were not members of the church. The text, therefore, furnishes
decisive proof, that infant church-membership was unknown in the time of the apostles.(14)
Argument 4.--The writers of the New Testament used words in the sense in which they were accustomed
to read them in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Greek word Christ, corresponded to the Hebrew
word Messiah; and both words denoted the same person. The Greek word ecclesia, was not a newly-invented term; but it was the word by which the LXX. had rendered the Hebrew cahal, of the Old
Testament, and must therefore be understood to denote the same thing, the Congregation of the Lord.
Hence the church was not a new organization. It was the Hebrew congregation, continued under the new
dispensation; and, as children were included with their parents, in the former dispensation, the right of
membership cannot now be denied to them. The identity of the church under both dispensations is further
apparent in the fact, that the names Zion and Jerusalem, derived from the places where the Old Testament
worshippers assembled, are given to the church of the New Testament.
It is true that the Hebrew word Messiah, and the corresponding Greek word Christ, denoted the
same person; but it cannot be hence inferred as a universal truth, that identity, either of person or
things, always attends identity or correspondence of name. The Hebrew name Joshua is applied in
Scripture to different persons;(15) and the corresponding Greek name Jesus, is applied to persons
different from these, and different from one another.(16) The English words assembly, convention,
association, &c., are in common use as names of organized bodies; but the character of the
organization cannot be inferred from the name. The name Assembly sometimes signifies the
legislative body of a state, and sometimes an ecclesiastical judicatory. With this name the Hebrew
and Greek words for congregation and church very nearly correspond in signification; but were the
correspondence perfect, it could not be inferred that organized societies denoted by them must be
But the correspondence between the designations of the church and of the Hebrew congregation is
not perfect. Two Hebrew words, cahal and edah, were used to denote the Hebrew congregation,
and neither of these is invariably rendered by the Greek word ekklesia;. In the sixth verse of
Exodus 12, the chapter in which the Hebrew congregation first appears on the sacred page, both
Hebrew words occur, and one of them the LXX have rendered plathos, and the other synagoge. In
Numbers xvi. 3, both words occur, and both are rendered synagoge. If any one should argue from
hence, that whenever the New Testament writers use the words plathos and synagoge, they must
mean the Hebrew congregation, he would err egregiously. The argument which would be so
fallacious when applied to these words, cannot be valid when applied to ekklesia.
The single words which we have noticed, are, when used to designate the bodies to which they are
applied, often accompanied with adjuncts. The Hebrew congregation was called the Congregation
of the Lord or Jehovah, and the Congregation of Israel. It was a congregation instituted for the
worship of Jehovah as the God of the Hebrew nation. The church is called the church of God, and
the church of Christ. These full designations of the two bodies are by no means coincident; but we
have proof that the two bodies are not identical, which is far more to be relied on than a want of
coincidence in their names.
When the New Testament church is first introduced in the sacred writings, Jesus calls it not the
cahal or ecclesia of Israel, but my ecclesia. He moreover speaks of it as yet to be constructed: "On
this rock will I build my ecclesia." It cannot be that he intended the cahal of Israel which was
instituted in the time of Moses, and its organization completed in the most minute particulars. The
next occurrence of the word ecclesia in the New Testament is still more remarkable: "Tell it to the
ecclesia. If he will not hear the ecclesia, let him be, &c." Can it be true that the New Testament
writer who recorded these words, understood the word ecclesia in the sense in which he had been
accustomed to read it in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, as referring to the Hebrew cahal?
Can it be that Jesus meant it to be so understood? Did he mean that his followers should refer their
matters of grievance to the great congregation of Jewish worshippers, their enemies and
persecutors, and be governed by their decision? Incredible! The next mention of the New
Testament ecclesia is equally decisive: "The Lord added to the ecclesia such as should be saved."
The time was the feast of Pentecost, when the worshippers of the Hebrew cahal were assembled at
Jerusalem. From this assembly the converts to the new religion were made; and when made, they
were added to the ecclesia. No proof more decisive can be desired; that the ecclesia to which they
were added, was not the cahal to which they had previously belonged.
The argument from the name may be retorted with effect. When Jesus said, "Tell it to the church;"
the Christian churches in which discipline was to be exercised had not yet been organized. The
master of the family was still present to manage the affairs of the household by his direct
authority; but he gave the command to be observed after his departure, as a perpetual rule of
discipline. The unguarded manner in which he speaks of the ecclesia, furnishes proof of no
inconsiderable force, that the word which he employed, was not at the time in familiar use as a
name for the congregation of Jewish worshippers. Had it been, this application of the word would
have been natural to the disciples, and some accompanying explanations would have been needed
to guard them from mistake. When intending that which did not yet exist, of which they had no
personal knowledge, and which never had existed, he would not, without explanation, have
employed a term to denote it, with which they were familiar as the name of something that had
long existed and was well known to them. The conclusion to which this argument tends, is
strongly corroborated by the fact, that although the word ecclesia occurs in the New Testament
more than a hundred times, it never, with but one exception, denotes the people of Israel; and in
this single exception, "He that was in the ecclesia in the wilderness,"(17) it does not denote the
people of Israel as an enduring organization, but refers to a particular time in their history, when
they were assembled at Sinai to receive the law, and for this reason it should have been translated
assembly. As an enduring body, they are called the house of Israel, the commonwealth of Israel,
the people, the nation; but the ecclesia they are never called.
The passage, "In the midst of the ecclesia I will sing praise unto thee,"(18) is quoted from the Old
Testament, where the word cahal is used, and where there is an allusion to the Hebrew
congregation; but as used by Paul, the ecclesia intended consists of the "many sons" brought to
glory, who are mentioned in the context. The same ecclesia is afterwards spoken of, "The church
of the first born," with an apparent allusion to the assembly of Old Testament worshippers. This
allusion may be readily accounted for by the fact, that the worship of the Old Testament
dispensation was "a shadow of good things to come." Zion and Jerusalem were types of heaven,
the future meeting place of the saints; and the congregation of Israel assembled for the worship of
God, typified that future assembly in which the redeemed of the Lord shall come from the east, the
west, the north, and the south, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom
of Heaven. This fully accounts for the use which the prophets have made of the names Zion and
Jerusalem, in predicting the glory of the church.
The Hebrew cahal was an actual assembly. Three times in the year the tribes were required to
meet for public worship in the place where the Lord would put his name.(19) This obligation
continued as long as the ordinances of their worship were obligatory; and ceased when the
handwriting of them was nailed to the cross of Christ. An intimation that the obligation to meet at
Jerusalem was to cease, is given in the words of Christ to the woman of Samaria: "The hour
cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father."(20) When
men were no longer required to meet in Jerusalem, the cahal of Israel was dissolved.
The distinction between the church and the Hebrew congregation, may be further elucidated by an
attentive consideration of the design with which the congregation was instituted.
Although, in the divine purpose, a sufficient sacrifice for sin had been provided from eternity, yet
it did not seem good to Infinite Wisdom that it should be immediately offered, when sin first
entered into the world. Four thousand years of ignorance and crime, God winked at, or overlooked
as unworthy of his regard, or unfit for his purpose; and fixed his eyes on that period denominated
"the fulness of time," when it would best display the divine perfections, for the Redeemer to atone
for transgression; and repentance and remission of sins to be preached in his name, among all
nations. As, in the exercises of an individual Christian, the discovery of salvation in Christ is
withheld, until an anxiety is excited in his breast that makes the discovery welcome; so in the
history of the world, the Messiah makes not his appearance, until mankind have felt the necessity
of such a deliverer; then he comes, the desire of all nations. It pleased God that a full experiment
should be made of man's power and skill to find a remedy for his moral disease, before God's
remedy for the healing of the nations should be revealed and applied. "After that, in the wisdom of
God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save
them that believe."
The experiment which, in the wisdom of God, opened the way for the Redeemer's entrance into the
world, was of a two-fold nature; or, rather, there were two distinct experiments, demonstrating
distinct truths. When the bolder enemies of God and religion make their appeal from the volume
of inspiration to the volume of nature, and assert the sufficiency of the latter to enlighten and direct
them in the search after God; we can refer to actual experiment, to ascertain how far fallen man,
without the oracles of God, can advance toward the knowledge of the Divine character. With the
light of nature, the bright beams of science, and the keen eye of natural genius, the wisest men of
antiquity still felt in the dark, after the unknown God.(21)
When those who profess to receive the truth, deny the doctrine of grace, and maintain that man
has sufficient native virtue, if properly cultivated, to render him acceptable to God; that there are
influences of the Word or Spirit common to all men, which are sufficient, without any additional
special influence, to bring him to know and enjoy the Most High; we have in the wisdom of God,
another completed experiment, which decides against this doctrine, with as much certainty as is
anywhere to be found within the limits of experimental philosophy. In the sacred record is the
history of a people, who had the advantage over every other people much every way. They were
not left to read the volume of nature only; but to them were committed the oracles of God. They
were not left with unmeaning forms, and unauthorized rites of religion; but they had ordinances of
divine service, instituted on the authority of God. "To them pertained the adoption, and the glory,
and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." Nor were
they without instructors in religion; but holy men were raised up among them, who spake as they
were moved by the Holy Ghost. Neither were they without motives to obedience; but a covenant
was made with them, containing every threat which might deter--every promise that might allure.
The experiment was made fairly and completely. Jehovah himself said, "What could have been
done more to my vineyard, that I have not done?" And what was the result? It was clearly
demonstrated that man is totally depraved; that the best institutions, instructions, and motives,
with all common influences of the Spirit, whatever such there may be, are altogether insufficient to
restore his fallen nature; and that a direct special influence upon his heart, by the effectual working
of Divine power, is indispensably necessary, in order to make him delight in the law of God, and
render acceptable obedience to its holy requirements. See Heb. viii. 8, 9, 10.
That society of persons which was the subject of the last-mentioned experiment, is frequently
denominated the Congregation of the Lord. It appears to have been the only divinely instituted
society, organized for religious worship, that ever existed before the coming of Christ. That God
designed by the Mosaic dispensation, of which this congregation was the subject, to give a clear
demonstration of man's depravity, may be inferred from the end which has actually been
accomplished, and from such declarations of Scripture as the following: "The law was added
because of transgression until the seed should come. The law entered that the offence might
abound." Since unto God all his works from the beginning are known, he well knew the
imperfections of the Mosaic covenant, even from the time of its institution, and what would be the
result of the experiment. He found fault with it long before its abrogation; and so prepared it at
first, that it typified and foretold a better covenant that should succeed it, established upon better
The first account that the Scriptures give of the Congregation of the Lord, we find in the twelfth
chapter of Exodus. When a new order of things was introduced; when the year received a new
beginning, and became, as it has been called, the ecclesiastical year; when God took his people by
the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt;(22) when that code of laws for the regulation of
religious worship, which the apostle means by the first covenant throughout his epistle to the
Hebrews, began to be promulgated; and the Passover, as one of the ordinances of divine service
pertaining to the first covenant, was instituted; then, first, are the Israelites recognised as a
worshipping congregation. Before this, the word of the Lord had come to individuals, and
individuals had performed religious rites; but now, the word is sent to a whole congregation, and
that congregation, by divine appointment, perform a rite of divine worship simultaneously. Before
this, the Israelites had indeed been distinguished from the rest of mankind; but not by the
characteristics of a worshipping society. That there were persons among them who worshipped
God in sincerity and truth, will not be disputed. But where were their public altars? Where was
their sanctuary? Where were their public ministers of religion? Where were their appointed
sacrifices? Where their statute book, the laws of their worship, the rules of their society, &c.? A
worshipping society, without forms, and rites, and rules of worship, God never constituted.
The seed of Abraham were destined to be the subjects of special dispensations, throughout all
their generations. This appears no less in their history since the Christian era, and before their
deliverance from Egyptian bondage, than in the intermediate time. But, during all this
intermediate time, they were the subjects of that peculiar, experimental, preparatory dispensation,
which we have been considering. They were constituted, and continued to be, the Lord's peculiar
cahal, his only worshipping congregation.(23) But while the ordinances of. their worship were wisely
contrived to be types and prophecies of Christ, at the same time that they afforded to the world that
experiment, which appears to have been so important a part of their design; in like manner, an
instructive intimation of the future exclusion of the Jews from gospel privileges, and of the
admission of the gentiles, appears to have been given, in the character of the members who
composed this sacred congregation. The great body of its constituents were the descendants of
Abraham; but provision was made in its charter, that Israelites in some cases should be excluded,
and that gentiles might be admitted.(24) Nothing like this can be found in the covenant made with
Abraham and his seed, as recorded in the 17th chapter of Genesis. This covenant received into its
arms every circumcised son of Jacob (in whom the seed was ultimately called), without any
exception; and thrust from its embrace every Gentile, without any distinction. It was, indeed, one
of its stipulations that every Israelite should have all the males of his. house circumcised; but there
is no intimation that they were all thereby incorporated among the covenant seed, or that they had
more right to the territory granted in the covenant, than had Ishmael, or the sons of Keturah.
Jacob's servants were circumcised; but they did not become heads of tribes in Israel, as they would
have been, had circumcision endowed them with the privileges of the covenant seed.
When the end for which any society was instituted has been accomplished, it is natural to expect
its dissolution. The experiment for which the Congregation of the Lord had been organized, was
completely made, when the Redeemer appeared, in the end of the world, "to take away sin by the
sacrifice of himself." The first covenant, established upon conditional promises, was proved, upon
due trial, to be faulty, weak, and unprofitable; and the necessity of a better covenant, whose better
promises should be all yea and amen in Christ Jesus, was clearly demonstrated: "He taketh away
the first, that he may establish the second." When "There was a disannulling of the commandment
going before," in which was contained the charter of the Congregation of the Lord, the society was
dissolved. Deprived of the character of a worshipping congregation, it lost its existence. The wall
that had enclosed it from the rest of mankind, was broken down, when its ordinances were nailed
to the cross of Christ.(25)
We have not insisted on the obvious difference between the church and the Hebrew congregation,
as to the character of the members composing them. The congregation consisted mainly of
Israelites; and these were admitted without regard to moral character, if circumcised, and free
from ceremonial defilement and bodily defect. Gentiles were admitted, on conforming to the law
of circumcision; but a Moabite, or Ammonite, could not be admitted until the tenth generation;
and the most pious Israelite was prohibited, if he was ceremonially defiled, or the subject of a
particular bodily defect.(26) In Christ Jesus, circumcision availeth nothing, but a new creature.
Moabites and Ammonites are not excluded; but, in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh
righteousness, is accepted with him.(27) Ceremonial defilement and bodily defects constitute no
obstacle to the fellowship of the saints. If the institution were the same, such radical changes in
the membership could not well consist with the continued membership of infants. But the Mosaic
institution has been abolished: "For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going
before, for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof."(28) "For if that first covenant had been
faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second."(29) "He taketh away the first, that
he may establish the second."(30)
Some advocates of infant church-membership, admit the temporary nature of the Mosaic
institution; but maintain that there ran through it, and was contained in it, a spiritual and
unchangeable covenant, which had been made with Abraham, and which is now in force. To this
covenant, our attention will next be directed.
Argument 5.--The Lord promised Abraham, that in him all nations of the earth should be blessed; and
entered into a covenant with him, constituting him the father of many nations, and engaging to be the God
of him and his seed. Believers in all nations where the gospel is preached, are accounted the children of
Abraham; and admitted into this covenant, and become members of God's church. In this covenant,
children have always been included with their parents; and their right to its privileges was recognised by
Peter, on the day of Pentecost, in these words: "The promise is to you and your children." That believing
gentiles were received into the same covenant which belonged to national Israel, is taught by these words
of Christ: "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits
thereof."(31) And still more clearly by Paul, under the figure of the good olive-tree, of which the people of
Israel were the natural branches; but into which believing gentiles were grafted, so as to partake of the root
and fatness of the olive-tree. In this way, the blessing of Abraham comes on the gentiles; and the covenant
which secures the blessing, embraces their children with them.
In order to estimate the force of this argument, it will be necessary to review some events in the
life of Abraham.
The first event that claims our attention, is thus recorded:--
"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from
thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I
will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that
bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be
blessed."(32) In this narrative, all is to be taken literally. The command was meant, and understood,
and obeyed, according -to the literal import of the words. The promise has thus far been fulfilled in
its literal sense, and is still in progress of literal accomplishment. Abraham was personally blessed
with eminent piety, and extraordinary tokens of the Divine favor. Though an humble man,
dwelling in a tent, and not distinguished as a conqueror, statesman, or philosopher, he is one of
the most renowned of all whose names have been transmitted to our times. The nation of Israel,
descended from him, was great in number, and strength, and great in its influence on the world.
To this nation, under God, mankind are indebted for the Bible, the gospel; and, above all, the
Saviour of the world, who was, according to the flesh, of the seed of Abraham. This nation has
given to the world the knowledge of the true God; which knowledge is ultimately to overspread
the earth, and bless all nations. In this manner the promise made to Abraham, that in him all the
families of the earth should be blessed, will be fulfilled. This promise was repeated to the
patriarch, after the birth of his son Isaac, in these words: "And in thy seed shall all the nations of
the earth be blessed."(33) The source of blessing to mankind was originally in the person of
Abraham, but was now transferred to the person of the son that had been born of him: and hence
the language of the promise was changed, "In thy seed," &c. The same promise was afterwards
repeated to Isaac,(34) and to Jacob.(35) This promise is frequently referred to in the Scriptures, and is
called the covenant which God made with the fathers(36)--the word covenant being used according
to its latitude of meaning, to denote a firm and stable promise, and it is once called, the gospel
preached unto Abraham.(37) No doubt can exist, that this important and distinguished promise
included spiritual blessings; but the language is not spiritual in the sense in which this epithet is
sometimes used, to mark what is not literal. Every word of this "gospel to Abraham," is as literal
as the gospel declaration of Paul: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
The second event which we shall notice, is stated thus:--
"And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou
be able to number them; and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord;
and he counted it to him for .righteousness."(38)
Here, again, all is to be understood in the literal sense. The posterity promised to the patriarch,
were literal descendants, persons born out of his bowels.(39) The great blessing of justification,
bestowed on this eminent believer, is spiritual in its nature; but the language in which it is
described, is as simple and literal as that which is used in the New Testament, to denote the same
blessing: "By him, all that believe are justified from all things."
The third event which claims our consideration, gave existence to the covenant of circumcision.
The record of this important transaction is found in the 17th chapter of Genesis:--
"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto
him: I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant
between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face, and God
talked with him, saying, As for me, behold my covenant is with thee."
Thus far all is to be taken as literally as any other historical record.
"And thou shalt be a father of many nations."
This has been supposed by some, to be more than was true of Abraham, in the literal sense; but
they err. From Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, was descended the nation of Israel--the great
nation intended in the promise, "I will make of thee a great nation." From Esau, another grandson,
sprang the Edomites, a great and powerful nation. From Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar,
twelve nations were descended.(40) These several nations were less great and powerful than the
Israelites, or Edomites; but, nevertheless, each of them was called a nation, according to the use of
the word in those times. Besides Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham had six sons by Keturah.(41) If these
were as prolific as the other two, the whole number of nations descended from Abraham was fifty-six. No reason, therefore, exists for abandoning the literal sense of the clause. We have no right to
insist on such a sense for the word "nation," as will correspond with its use in modern history.
What it meant, when the covenant was made, is what it means in this clause; and in this sense, the
promise has been literally fulfilled.
"Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham."
This change of name has been thought to imply that there is something mystical in the covenant.
The change was doubtless significant; but the supposition that it had any signification which
militates against the literal construction of the covenant, is wholly unfounded. The posterity of the
patriarch, including the many inspired prophets whom God raised up among them, the first
preachers of the gospel, and the writers of the New Testament, were accustomed to use this new
name Abraham to signify their literal ancestor.
"For a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful; and I will
make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee."
The first of these clauses explains the change in the patriarch's name. It was not in some mystical
sense that God made him exceedingly fruitful; and, therefore, the phrase, "I have made thee a
father of nations," does not need a mystical interpretation. God "made Abraham fruitful," not by
some mystical appointment, but by literally multiplying his seed; and in this literal sense he made
him the father of many nations. The promise, "and kings shall come out of thee," was literally
fulfilled; and this clause, a. mystical interpretation of which no one has ventured to insist on, binds
down the covenant to the literal construction.
"And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee in their
generations, for an everlasting covenant."
All this is to be understood according to the meaning which common usage assigned to the words.
A difficulty would attend the interpretation, if the term "everlasting" always denoted unlimited
duration; but this was not its only signification. The grant of the land of Canaan afterwards made
in the covenant, could not extend beyond the duration of the present world; and, if the covenant
was to continue in force to the end of time, or even till that state of things should cease, for which
the covenant was designed to provide, the epithet "everlasting" was properly applied to it. In
various passages of Scripture the word is used in this sense.
"To be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."
These words were not designed to be a promise of spiritual grace, or eternal life, to all the
descendants of Abraham. A new covenant predicted by the prophet Jeremiah, contained the
stipulation: "I will be their God; and they shall be my people."(42) This promise secured spiritual
grace; but it would not have been a new covenant if the same grant had been made in the covenant
with Abraham. As contained in this covenant, the promise engaged a special divine care over
Abraham and his descendants; and particularly over the nation of Israel, the seed to whom the
grant of Canaan was made in this covenant. In this sense, the promise was literally fulfilled. He
separated them from all other nations, and acknowledged them to be his people: "You only have I
known of all the families of the earth."(43) His providence over them, and his revelations to
them,.were all peculiar. In all his dealings with them, he acted in the relation of a God. He
rewarded as a God, and punished as a God. He made himself known to them as a God, while other
nations were permitted to remain in ignorance of him; and as a God, while he granted to this
nation means of grace and salvation unknown to the rest of the world, he used the nation as the
channel for conveying spiritual blessings to all the nations of the earth.
" And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the
land of Canaan for an everlasting possession."
All this was meant literally, and was literally fulfilled. The import of the word "everlasting," has
been explained in the remarks on the phrase "everlasting covenant." Whether the word everlasting,
either in application to the covenant or to the possession of Canaan, was limited to the
dispensation that preceded the time of Christ, or extended into the present dispensation, and still
stretches forward into future time, will be a subject of future inquiry. But whatever may be true on
this question, the use of the word militates nothing -against the literal construction of the
"And I will be their God."
This promise, as has already been explained, was literally fulfilled.
"And God said unto Abraham, thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou and thy seed after thee
in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you, and thy seed
after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of
your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight
days old shall be circumcised among you; every man child in your generations, he that is born in
the house or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy
house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and my covenant shall
be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his
foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my
The precept enjoining circumcision was intended to be understood literally, and it was understood
and obeyed literally. An important, very important part of God's design in making this covenant,
was to distinguish and separate the descendants of Abraham from the rest of mankind; and this
design would have been frustrated if this part of the covenant had not been taken literally. The
whole history of the Hebrew nation, and almost every page of the New Testament, testify in favor
of the literal construction.
"And God said unto Abraham, as for Sarai, thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah
shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and
she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her."
The new name Sarah, like the new name Abraham, was significant; but neither of them signified
anything contrary to the literal construction of the covenant. Abraham was the father of many
nations, because he had sons by other wives; but his only son by Sarah was Isaac, the father of
Jacob and Esau; and the only nations descended from Sarah, were the Israelites and the Edomites.
It was promised that Sarah should be a mother of "nations," not of "many nations;" and this
adaptation of the language to what became literally true, proves that the covenant was made in the
literal sense of the words. In the literal sense kings came out of Sarah; the kings of Edom, and the
long line of kings in Israel and Judah.
Our examination of the covenant has proved conclusively, that It was designed to be understood
literally; but a question arises whether it does not admit another and more spiritual sense.
The precepts which enjoined the ceremonies of worship to be observed by the Hebrew
congregation, were all designed to be understood and obeyed literally. Literal bulls and goats were
to be sacrificed; literal fire was to be used, and all the directions given were to be observed in their
literal import. But the various ceremonies of this worship were shadows of things to come; and a
large part of the epistle to the Hebrews is employed in explaining their spiritual signification.
Persons and events of the Old Testament which appear in their proper connection as subjects of
literal history, are in the New Testament made to represent spiritual things, and spiritual
instruction is drawn from them. The history of Hagar, as given in the book of Genesis, is literally
true; but Paul calls it an allegory, and uses it to represent spiritual things. In the same manner the
covenant of circumcision is made a source of spiritual instruction. The chief particulars in the
covenant which are made representatives of spiritual things, are three:
I. The literal descendants of Abraham are made to represent believers, who are called his children
in a different sense of the word. The metaphorical use of the terms which denote the paternal and
filial relations, is frequent in the Scriptures. One who appears at the head of a class of persons as a
father appears at the head of his family or tribe, is called the father of that class; and the
individuals composing the class, are called his children. Thus, "Jabal was the father of such as
dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle: and Jubal was the father of all such as handle the harp
and organ."(44) These persons called fathers, were inventors of arts; and the class of persons who
practice these arts are regarded as their children. So those who practice the piety of which
Abraham was an illustrious example, and walk in the footsteps of his faith, are called his children.
In this tropical sense of the term, Jesus said to the wicked Jews, "If ye were Abraham's children,
ye would do the works of Abraham."(45) Since the men whom Jesus addressed were children of
Abraham in the literal sense, the distinction between the literal and the metaphorical sense is
plainly marked; and the latter sense is made to depend on imitation of Abraham in the works for
which he was eminent. Paul has distinguished between the literal Jew and the metaphorical Jew;(46)
between the children according to the flesh, and the children of promise.(47) The latter, he says, "are
counted for the seed;" that is, they are accounted the seed of Abraham when the covenant is
viewed as an allegory.
2. Circumcision is made to represent regeneration, the spiritual change by which men become new
creatures. Hence it is said, "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor
uncircumcision; but a new creature."(48) A tropical use of the word circumcise to denote a moral
change, is found in the Old Testament: "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the
heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou
mayest live."(49) Paul distinguishes between the literal and the spiritual circumcision; thus, "Neither
is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. ...Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit,
and not in the letter."(50) This circumcision of the heart is in another passage called the
"circumcision of Christ." While the literal circumcision which marked the literal seed of Abraham
avails nothing in Christ Jesus, the spiritual circumcision marks those who belong to Christ, and
who are, in the spiritual sense, the seed of Abraham. "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's
seed, and heirs according to the promise."(51)
3. Canaan, the land promised to Abraham and his literal seed, is made to represent heaven, the
future inheritance of those who have like faith with the patriarch. Abraham at the command of
God left his native country, and sojourned in the land of Canaan; but though the land was his by
promise, he never obtained possession of it. Paul makes a spiritual use of this fact: "Confessed
that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. But now they desire a better country, that is, an
heavenly."(52) The literal Canaan was present to the sight of the patriarch, as a desirable possession
secured by covenant to him and his seed; but the eye of his faith was directed to a better country,
of which this was but a type. His spiritual seed are like him in faith, and their faith directs its eye
to the same heavenly inheritance.
The allegorical interpretation of the covenant is beautifully harmonious in all its parts. Abraham,
the most illustrious example of faith found in the Old Testament, appears at the head of a class of
persons who are like him in faith; and he is hence called the father of the faithful. As he was
marked by the circumcision of the heart, and distinguished thereby from the rest of mankind, so
are they. As he looked beyond the earthly possession granted to him, and sought a heavenly
inheritance, so do they.
The spiritual truths which the covenant represents in its allegorical use, were not brought into
existence by the covenant, and are not dependent on it. They are above it, as the things which the
Mosaic ceremonies typified are superior to the ceremonies; or as a substance is superior to its
shadow, and independent of it. In the third chapter of Galatians, Paul teaches that believers are the
children of Abraham, and are blessed with him; and he dates back their connection with him to a
time that preceded the covenant of circumcision. He says, that "the law was four hundred and
thirty years after." Now, reckoning back four hundred and thirty years from the giving of the law,
we arrive at the time when Abraham received the first promise. This preceded the covenant of
circumcision by twenty-four years. This promise, first made with reference to Abraham himself,
and afterwards renewed with reference to his seed, is the covenant to which this passage evidently
refers. Hence, believers hold their connection with Abraham receiving the great gospel promise,
and not with Abraham receiving the covenant of circumcision; with Abraham as first
distinguished by the circumcision of the heart, and not with Abraham as afterwards distinguished
by the circumcision of the flesh. Precisely the same view is presented in the fourth chapter of
Romans, in which it is taught that believers are connected, not with the circumcised, but with the
uncircumcised Abraham, in obtaining the blessing of justification.
The judaizing Christians taught, "Except ye be circumcised and keep the law, ye cannot be saved."
This was the current doctrine of the Jews. They gloried in the covenant of circumcision, and their
connection with the circumcised Abraham; and for the purpose of securing a title to the earthly
Canaan, literal descent from Abraham, and the circumcision that is outward in the flesh, were
sufficient. But Paul opposed the doctrine of the judaizing teachers, and opened a different view of
the Holy Spirit's teachings in the Old Testament. He taught that to secure the spiritual blessings
which Abraham enjoyed, we must seek them in the way in which Abraham obtained them. He did
not obtain the favor of God by circumcision and keeping the law; but enjoyed this blessing four
hundred and thirty years before the law, and while he was yet uncircumcised. He received the
blessing by faith; and every one who would be blessed with him, must seek it in this way. These
arguments of Paul, in which he deduced the true doctrine of the gospel from the Scriptures of the
Old Testament, were powerful in opposition to the judaizing theory.
The covenant of circumcision in its literal sense, included in the covenant seed none but the literal
descendants of Abraham. The patriarch and his sons were commanded to circumcise all the males
of the household, including the servants born in the house, and those bought with money; but
these servants did not thereby become incorporated with the covenant seed. None of the servants
in the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had this privilege conferred on them; and it cannot
be supposed that the servants of their descendants were more highly favored than the servants of
the patriarchs themselves. On the contrary, those servants, though circumcised, are expressly said
in the covenant itself, to be "not of thy seed." When the Congregation of the Lord was instituted,
provision was made for gentiles to be admitted to the privileges of its worship on conforming to
the law of circumcision; but they were nevertheless strangers within the gate, and not a part of the
covenant seed, or entitled to a part in the land of Canaan. Genealogical records were kept
distinguishing the seed proper from the proselytes of the gate; and hence Paul was able to call
himself "a Hebrew of the Hebrews;" that is, a Hebrew by original extraction.
As the covenant of circumcision in its literal sense, admitted none into the covenant seed but
literal descendants of Abraham; so in the allegorical sense, none are included in the spiritual seed
but true believers. This is clear from many passages of Scripture:-- "So then they which be of
faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.(53)...If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs
according to the promise."(54) The following passage is perfectly decisive on this subject, and shows
conclusively that genuine faith is intended, and not the mere profession of it: "Therefore it is of
faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed."(55)
One among the promises made to Abraham was, "I will make of thee a great nation." In the
covenant of circumcision, it was promised that he should be the father of many nations; and the
nation of Israel was contemplated as one of these.. The covenant in its literal sense, instituted no
ecclesia or worshipping congregation. A cahal for the worship of God, was instituted by Moses;
and laws and ceremonies for that worship were instituted with it. The covenant then made with
Israel had ordinances of divine service and a worldly sanctuary; but he who looks for these in the
covenant of circumcision will look in vain. It contains no sanctuary, no ordinances of divine
worship, no priesthood, no assembly. We have shown that the cahal instituted by Moses has been
dissolved; and, if the covenant of circumcision still survives, it exists as it did before the days of
Moses--a national covenant, made with the literal descendants of Abraham, admitting no others
to be incorporated with the covenant seed, and making no provision for the public worship of God.
Surely, the Christian church is not founded on this covenant.
Since the covenant of circumcision instituted no ecclesia, and cannot admit gentile infants among
the covenant seed, the doctrine of infant church-membership cannot be affected by the question,
whether the covenant has been abrogated, or is now in force: and, for any purpose of our present
inquiry, we are under no obligation to decide this question. Since this covenant existed before that
which was made by Moses, the abrogation of the latter may have left the former just as it had
previously been. In it, the land of Canaan was given for an everlasting possession; and the
covenant is styled "an everlasting covenant." We may hence infer, that the covenant will continue
in force as long as the Israelites shall possess the land of Canaan. If the general expectation be
well founded, that they will return to their land and repossess it, the covenant must be still in
force. The facts that, since the abrogation of the Mosaic covenant, they have been called the people
of God;(56) that they have the promise of being restored again to his favor;(57) and are declared not to
be cast off, because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance;(58) confirm this view. To all
this we may add the remarkable fact, that, when the apostles declared converts from among the
gentiles to be under no obligation to be circumcised, they did not release Jews from this
obligation. For a gentile to be circumcised, is an admission that the Congregation of the Lord is
still in being, and the Mosaic law still in force; and for any one, whether Jew or gentile, to be
circumcised as a means of salvation, is to set aside Christ and render him unprofitable. But can
any one prove that it is inconsistent with the gospel for a Jew to retain circumcision, as a token of
his connection with Abraham, and his interest in that remarkable people, through whom he still
expects God to display the riches of his grace in the most wonderful manner?
Is the covenant of circumcision in force, in its allegorical sense? This question is about as
unmeaning as if it were asked, whether a portrait exists in the person of him whom it resembles.
The portrait and the man exist independently of each other. The man may die, and leave the
portrait; or the portrait may be destroyed while the man lives. If the covenant of circumcision is in
force at all, it is in force in that only sense in which it is a covenant-- namely, the literal. No one
would say that the ceremonial law is now in force, because the spiritual truths which the
ceremonies prefigured abide for ever. Whether the covenant is abrogated, or is now in force, the
spiritual instruction derived from it is the everlasting gospel.
While the covenant, literally construed, gives no sanction to infant church-membership, the
spiritual use which is made of it in the Scriptures incidentally decides that all the members of the
primitive churches were believers. Paul says to the Galatians: Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are
the children of promise." "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. If ye be Christ's,
then are ye Abraham's seed." These texts prove that the members of the Galatian churches were all
accounted the children of Abraham, in the spiritual sense--that is, were true believers--and what
was true of those churches, must have been true of all other churches instituted by the apostles.
A portrait is not more distinct from the man whom it resembles nor a shadow more distinct from
the substance which casts it, than is the covenant of circumcision from the spiritual truth which it
represents, in the allegorical interpretation of it. We ought never to confound things so distinct; but
this is done by the doctrine of infant church-membership. It follows the literal sense, from
Abraham down to the introduction of the gospel, and accounts the literal seed, during this period,
to be the church: it then follows the spiritual sense, and introduces gentile believers among the
covenant seed: it then returns to the law of literal descent, and follows this for one generation, and
then abandons it. By this unaccountable mixture of interpretations, the immediate literal
descendants of those who are, or ought to be, according to their profession, the spiritual seed of
Abraham, are supposed to be brought within the covenant, and incorporated with the covenant
seed: but, alas! they are a seed which inherit neither the literal nor the spiritual promises made to
the patriarch. They do not inherit the literal promises, because they are gentiles; nor the spiritual
promises, because these are secured only to believers.
It remains that we examine the other texts of Scripture, which the argument that we are
considering, cites in its support.
" For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the
Lord our God shall call."(59)
The word which is here rendered "children," denotes posterity, immediate or remote, without
respect to age. The same word is used in the sentence, "Children shall rise up against their
parents, and shall cause them to be put to death;"(60) and in the phrase, "children of the flesh,"(61)
when used to denote all the natural posterity of Abraham. The promise here referred to appears,
from the words which immediately precede, to be the promise of the Holy Spirit; but, whether it be
this, or the promise made to Abraham as the argument supposes, it must be understood to include
spiritual blessings. Three classes of persons are mentioned, to whom the promise is given; the
Israelites of that generation, their posterity, and the gentiles: "you, your children, and all that are
afar off." To neither of these classes is the promise given without condition or limitation. When it
is said, "Repent, for the promise is to you," the receiving of the promise is evidently suspended on
the condition of repentance. The same condition applies equally to the other two classes. This is
fully established by the limiting clause, "even as many as the Lord our God shall call." The
promise is not absolute to all who are externally called by the gospel, but to those only who are
effectually called to repentance This limitation applies equally to all the three classes. Though the
word "children" may sometimes be used with exclusive application to infants, there is no reason to
suppose that such use of it is made here, but the whole posterity are intended; and it cannot be that
spiritual blessings were promised to all those, without condition or limitation. The mention of the
posterity, in this case, was peculiarly appropriate. Peter had charged them with the crime of
crucifying the Lord Jesus. When this crime was committed, in calling on Pilate to crucify him,
they had said: "His blood be on us, and on our children." This fact rendered the information
suitable and welcome, that the same means of salvation that were granted to them, would be
granted to their posterity.
"The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits
The name of a type is sometimes applied to the thing typified. Regeneration is called circumcision;
but, to show that literal circumcision is not intended, it is called the circumcision of the heart or
the circumcision of Christ. Heaven is called a country, in allusion to the country promised to
Abraham, which typified it; but, for the sake of distinction, the epithets "better" and "heavenly" are
applied: "a better country, that is, a heavenly." The nation of Israel, marked by the literal
circumcision, and heirs of the earthly Canaan, typified those who are circumcised in heart, and are
heirs of the heavenly country. These last are on this account called a nation; but, to distinguish
them from the nation which typified them, they are called "a nation bringing forth the fruits" of the
kingdom; that is, the fruits of holy obedience to God as their king. Peter calls them "a chosen
generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people." They are not a nation, in the
literal sense of the term, as the nation of Israel was. Earthly nations included infants, but this
spiritual nation consists of those who bring forth the fruits of the kingdom; and who, according to
Peter, "show forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous
light." These things cannot be predicated of infants. It follows, therefore, that, in this transfer of
the kingdom, infants are not its recipients.
The precise sense in which the kingdom is said to be taken from the nation of Israel, it is not
necessary, for our present purpose, to determine. The government of that nation has been called a
theocracy. God was their king; and various benefits resulted to them from being under his reign.
To these benefits the text may refer; and the sense may be, that the peculiar privilege of having
God to reign over them, should no longer distinguish them from other nations of the earth; but this
privilege would henceforth be confined to a spiritual people, to be selected out of all nations. But,
as the phrase, "kingdom of God," was commonly used by Christ to denote the new kingdom which
he was establishing, the reference may be exclusively to this. He was born "King of the Jews," and
was crucified with this title. He was sent, as he himself declared, not to the gentiles, but to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel. The first proclamation of his reign was made to this people; and the
beginning and first benefits of his reign were confined to them. Their rejection of his reign was
made the occasion of its extension to the gentiles: "It was necessary that the word of God should
first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of
everlasting life, lo, we turn to the gentiles."(63) The blessings of the Messiah's reign were expected
by the nation to be theirs, and the first offer and bestowment of them accorded with this
expectation: but the peculiar privilege was taken from them when they rejected their king; and it is
now enjoyed by those who obey him in every nation. These, and these only, bring forth the fruits of
the kingdom; and, however the transfer to them may be understood, it cannot prove the church-membership of infants.
The last Scripture cited in the argument has been much relied on, as proof that the Christian
church is a continuation of an organized society which existed in the Old Testament dispensation.
Under the figure of the good olive-tree, Paul is supposed to teach that the church sprang from
Abraham, and that it has continued to the present time.
In the passage which contains this figurative representation, the following things may be
I. The olive-tree underwent an important change when many of the natural branches were broken
off. The reason for their separation is expressly given: "Because of unbelief, they were broken off."
Since the unbelieving branches were taken away by this act, none were left but believing branches.
These are the remnant before spoken of; "the remnant according to the election of grace:" the seed
intended when it is said, "Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma,
and been made like unto Gomorrha."(64)
2. A second change took place when branches were engrafted from the wild olive-tree. The
character of these branches is made known by the words with which Paul addresses them: "Thou
standest by faith." We are hence assured that these also were believing branches. This accords
with what is elsewhere taught: "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the gentiles through
3. Another important change is still expected when the natural branches which were broken off
shall be "graffed in again." The condition on which it will be done is expressly stated: "They also
shall be graffed in again, if they abide not in unbelief." They are recognised as natural branches,
and the olive-tree is called "their own;" but neither of these facts will suffice to effect their
restoration. If they come in again, they must come as believing branches.
These three comprehend all the changes which the olive-tree is said to undergo; and as a
consequence of these, none but believing branches have a present, or can have a future connection
with the tree. The design for which this figurative illustration was introduced, and the
explanations which accompany it, clearly show that the natural branches were designed to
represent the natural seed of Abraham; and the changes which the tree undergoes, are precisely
such as substituted the spiritual seed for the natural, the children by faith for the children
according to the flesh. The whole scope of the apostle's teaching in connection with the passage, if
attentively considered, leaves no reasonable doubt that this was the design of the figure.
Types, parables, and allegories, are founded on similitude; but when spiritual things are likened to
natural, the likeness is necessarily imperfect. He who seeks to extend the likeness beyond its
proper limit, is in danger of mistake. In the present case it would be unprofitable, and perhaps
worse than unprofitable, to inquire what may be signified by the trunk of the tree, its leaves, and
the various other parts of which botanists could tell us. In the sketch which the apostle's pencil has
drawn, imperfect indeed, but sufficient for all his purpose, we see nothing of the tree but its
branches, its root, and its fatness, unless its fruit may be referred to in v. 16. The chief question
before the apostle's mind, related to the branches; and what these signify he has sufficiently
informed us. What the root and fatness of the olive-tree signify, we are left to learn from the
connection of the passage; and from this we may infer that Abraham, and the promises made to
him, are intended.
Some have supposed that Christ is the root of the olive-tree; and that the figure corresponds with
that of the vine in the 15th chapter of John. The strongest argument in favor of this opinion, is
furnished by the words, "Thou bearest not the root, but the root thee." Since Christ is the only
name by which we must be saved, the believing soul is borne or supported by him, and not by
Abraham. But such support as this, is not intended by the word "bearest" in this passage. The
word is used with evident allusion to the figure, and signifies only what the figure signifies by the
dependance of the branches on the root. The natural descendants of Abraham, who are the natural
branches of the olive-tree, do not depend on their illustrious progenitor as the believing soul
depends on Christ; and, therefore, such dependence is not implied in this passage. Paul, though he
was the minister of the uncircumcision, was careful to teach the gentiles their indebtedness to the
Jews. He urged the obligation of contributing to relieve the poor saints at Jerusalem by this
consideration: "Their debtors they are. For if the gentiles have been made partakers of their
spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal."(65) So in the present case, he
urges on the gentiles, "Boast not against the natural branches; for if thou boast, thou bearest not
the root, but the root thee." The religion which blesses the gentiles was obtained from the Jews.
Jesus Christ was a Jew. The Old Testament was a Jewish book; and the New Testament is the
gospel written by Jews. In the comprehensive words of Christ, "Salvation is of the Jews." The
promise to Abraham, "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed," contemplated the
Hebrew nation to whom the oracles of God were committed, and from whom, according to the
flesh, Christ came, as yet in the loins of the patriarch. In this view, Abraham is presented in the
figure as the root of the olive-tree; and the spiritual blessings are its fatness of which gentile
An objection presents itself, that in the substitution of the spiritual for the natural seed, such a
change is supposed as destroys the identity of the olive-tree, and the more so, because the fatness
of which the two kinds of branches partake, cannot be the same. To this objection it is a sufficient
reply, that figures cannot be expected to hold good in everything. But another reply may be given.
The nourishment which proceeds from the root of a tree to its various parts, is assimilated to each
according to its nature, and becomes woody fibre, bark, leaf, or fruit. Even the fruit may vary,
though deriving nourishment from the same root; for that which is produced by a grafted branch
will differ from that produced by a natural branch. All this is found in a natural tree; and yet the
change of its branches by grafting, and the variety of nourishment which the root yields, do not
affect the identity of the tree in a general view of it. It can, therefore, be no objection to Paul's
figure, that it represents natural and spiritual branches as connected with the same root and
deriving benefits of different kinds from it. This mode of meeting the objection is proposed merely
to show that it has not a solid foundation to sustain it; but we cannot suppose that Paul, in
sketching out this figure, had reference to abstruse principles of vegetable physiology. He informs
us that the distinction represented by the two classes of branches existed in the days of Elijah,
when God informed the prophet that he had reserved to himself seven thousand men who had not
bowed the knee to the image of Baal. "Even so," he adds, "there is at this time a remnant
according to the election of grace." Besides the natural branches who were bowing to Baal, there
then existed a remnant who were faithful and enjoyed spiritual blessings. All these together, the
advocates of infant church-membership tell us, composed the visible church of that day, and were
branches of the same olive-tree; and the same constitution of things, uniting natural and spiritual
branches on the same trunk, they suppose continues to the present time. According to the view
which we have taken, the great Husbandman has broken off the natural branches, and but one
species of branches now remains. It follows, therefore, that the objection, whatever may be its
force, is applicable rather to the opinion which we oppose, than to that which we defend.
The question whether the passage teaches the church-membership of infants, may be approached
aside from the objection which we have been considering, and from all perplexing inquiry as to
what the root and fatness of the olive-tree signify. It relates wholly to the branches of the tree; and
with respect to these, we have the unerring Spirit to guide our interpretation. His express teaching
determines, that the branches now connected with the olive-tree, are all believing. Here a
landmark is fixed, which must not be removed. If we leave the plain teaching of the Spirit, and
follow the guidance of our own fancy, until we become involved in error, it must be our own fault.
Infant membership is argued from the identity of the olive-tree; but, unfortunately for the
argument, the changes which the apostle has described, infringe on the identity of the tree, exactly
in the wrong place. All these changes respect the branches, and are made on one principle--the
substitution of faith for natural descent; as the bond of connection between the branches and the
root. Infant membership depends on natural descent; and the one principle on which all the
changes are made, by taking away natural descent, leaves infant membership to hang on nothing.
SECTION II.--ARGUMENTS FOR INFANT BAPTISM
The arguments which were considered in the last section, aim directly to establish the right of
infants to church-membership. Other arguments, tending indirectly to establish the same point,
have immediate respect to the doctrine of infant baptism.
The Holy Scriptures contain no precept or example for infant baptism; and the qualifications
which they uniformly describe, as necessary to baptism, infants do not possess. With these facts
before us, we are compelled to reject infants from the ordinance, unless a special claim in their
behalf can be well established. We shall now proceed to consider the chief arguments which have
been used, in support of their claim.
Argument 1.--Repentance and faith are as much required by the Scriptures, in order to salvation, as in
order to baptism, but as infants may be saved without them, so they may be baptized without them. From
the nature of the case, these qualifications are required of adults only. The commission does indeed place
believing before baptizing, but it equally places it before being saved; and it even declares, in express
terms, "He that believeth not shall be damned." If, therefore, we may infer from it, that infants ought not to
be baptized, we may, with as much certainty, infer that they cannot be saved.
This argument has no force, to establish infant baptism. Because infants may be saved without
repentance and faith, it does not follow that they are entitled to every privilege which may be
claimed for them. The utmost extent to which the argument can go, is to weaken the force of the
opposing argument; and this it does in appearance only. How are we to reconcile the declaration,
"He that believeth not shall be damned," with the doctrine of infant salvation? The answer is
obvious. When Christ commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to every creature, he meant
every creature capable of hearing and understanding it. "He that believeth not," means--he that,
having heard the gospel, rejects it. In this obvious meaning of the phrase, it affirms nothing
contrary to infant salvation. Adopting the same mode of exposition, in the preceding clause, it
signifies--he that hears the gospel, believes it, and is baptized, shall be saved. The commission
does not say, whether infants will be saved, or whether they ought to be baptized; for the simple
reason, that it has no reference to them. The argument before us, drives us to this exposition of the
commission; but what does infant baptism gain by it? We learn from it, that, in the great
commission which Christ gave to his apostles, by which baptism was established as a permanent
institution to be observed among all nations to the end of time, he had no reference to infants.
Argument 2.--Though the Scriptures contain no positive precept for infant baptism, the same is true with
respect to female communion, and the Christian Sabbath. The Lord's Supper is a positive institute; and yet
we admit females to partake of it, without a positive precept. The change from the seventh day of the week
to the first, in the observance of the Sabbath, has no express command for it in the Scriptures, and is, in
part, a repeal of the fourth commandment; yet we admit it on satisfactory inference, supported by the
practice of the early churches. In like manner the observance of infant baptism may be vindicated, though
not prescribed by positive precept.
We do not exclude all reasoning with respect to positive institutes. No one on earth can point to a
positive precept in the Scriptures, requiring him in particular to be baptized. Paul was directly
commanded to be baptized; and so were those whom Peter addressed, on the day of Pentecost, and
in the house of Cornelius. From these facts, we think it lawful to infer, that persons of like
character, and in like circumstances, ought now to be baptized. The commission did not directly
command any one to be baptized: but it commanded the apostles to baptize; and from the
obligation to baptize laid on one party, we infer the obligation of another party to be baptized; and
we infer the perpetuity of the obligation, from the fact that the commission was manifestly
designed to be perpetual. Such inferences we hold to be legitimate and necessary; but we
maintain, that positive institutes originating in the will of the lawgiver, cannot be determined by
mere reasoning from general principles. The obligation to baptize believers, can be referred to
express divine command; and if an obligation to baptize infants exists, it cannot be made out by
any process of reasoning from the parental and filial relations or general principles of morals; but
must be referred, in like manner, to some divine command. We ask for this command. Whatever
reasoning may be necessary, to unfold the command, and show that infant baptism is contained in
it, we consent to undertake; but we must know that it is the will of Christ, before we can observe it
as an institution of his religion.
The necessity for divine command is rendered the more urgent, because infant baptism interferes
with the divine institution of believers' baptism, and would, if universally practiced, banish it from
the earth. God commands a believer to be baptized;--is he released from the obligation by the fact
that his parents had him baptized in infancy? Is he now chargeable with the sin of anabaptism, if
he obeys the divine command? For proof of all this, some divine authority for infant baptism is
needed, as clear and certain as that by which believers' baptism is established.
For female communion, we have divine authority in the command of Christ, "this do," "drink ye
all of it." The Scriptures interpret this command. Women were among the disciples mentioned in
the first chapter of Acts, verse 8,--and all these, with the three thousand who were added,
continued in the breaking of bread.(66) In the same number were included the widows, who were
neglected in the daily ministration. Women were in the church at Corinth, when the whole church
assembled to celebrate the Lord's supper.(67) In the command, "Let a man examine himself, and so
let him eat,"(68) the word rendered man, signifies a human being, of either sex. It is evident, from
these facts, that female communion is practiced on divine authority; and it, moreover, sets aside no
other divine command. If such authority for infant baptism can be produced, we ought to practice
it: but even then we might question the propriety of its superseding believers' baptism.
But it is alleged, that the Christian sabbath does supersede the observance of the seventh day
prescribed in the decalogue; and therefore, presents a case analogous to the one before us. Is it
then true, that our inferences can in any case set aside the express commands of God? We think
not. The decalogue requires the observance of the seventh day, regularly returning after six days of
labor; and not the seventh day of the week. As thus interpreted the Christian practice literally
conforms to it. If the seventh day in the commandment means the seventh day of the week, it is
our duty to obey strictly; and if we can learn, by legitimate inference, that the first day of the week
ought to be observed, our course of duty is plain--we ought to observe both days: so, if infant
baptism can be made out by legitimate inference, instead of permitting it to supersede believers'
baptism, we ought to observe both. We open our minds, therefore, to the inferential reasoning by
which infant baptism is to be sustained.
Argument 3.--Christ's commission is, "Teach or make disciples of all nations, baptizing them." Children
form a part of all nations; and the commission, therefore, contains authority for baptizing them.
The word "nations "in the original, is of the neuter gender, and the word "them" is masculine. It
has been concluded, hence, that the pronoun stands properly, for the masculine noun "disciples"
understood. But, without the aid of this criticism, the connection of the clauses shows that this is
the true meaning. The sense is the same as in the passage, "Jesus made and baptized disciples." If
the commission authorizes to baptize every one in the nation, adult unbelievers must be included,
contrary to what all admit.
Argument 4.--The commission requires to baptize disciples. A disciple is one engaged to receive
instruction from a teacher. In secular matters, parents select teachers for their children, and make
engagements for their instruction. In religion, they are under the highest obligation to place them in the
school of Christ, that they may be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The commission
requires, that these young disciples should receive the mark of discipleship. The propriety of considering
them disciples, may be proved by the passage, "Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke on the neck of the
disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"(69) The yoke of circumcision is here referred
to. And every one knows that this fell chiefly on infants. The import of the word used in the commission,
and its applicability to infants may be proved by a passage in Justin Martyr, who wrote near the middle of
the second century. Among those who were members of the church, he says, "there were many of both
sexes, some sixty, and some seventy years old, who were made disciples to Christ from their infancy." The
word he uses is ematheteuthesan, the same word that is used in the commission. It is evident, therefore,
that Justin understood the command of Christ to make disciples and baptize, as applicable to little children.
And he wrote only about one hundred years after Matthew, who records that command. This testimony is
important, as showing the early prevalence of infant baptism, since these persons must have received the
mark of discipleship within a few years after Matthew wrote. But it is cited here, to show the sense of the
Greek word which Christ employed in the commission.
In secular concerns, it is possible, though not usual, for parents to engage their children, from
early infancy, to some teacher, by whom they may be afterwards instructed; but the usus loquendi
will scarcely allow us to call them his disciples, until they begin to learn from him.
In the Scriptures, we read of John's disciples, the disciples of the Pharisees, the disciples of Jesus;
and such is the current use of the term, that, in these several applications of it, the idea of infancy
is never suggested. We read, "The number of the disciples was multiplied in Jerusalem." . . . "And
the apostles called the multitude of the disciples to them, and said, 'Wherefore, brethren, look ye
out." . . . "And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose," &c.(70) If the infants of all
the believers in Jerusalem were disciples, they must have been included in the multitude here
mentioned; but the things stated in the narrative forbid the supposition. Another passage in the
same chapter shows that to be a disciple, and to have faith, are descriptive of the same person:
"The number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests
were obedient to the faith."(71) The same is proved by another passage in a subsequent chapter:
"Finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye
believed?"(72) But we have still clearer proof on this subject;--Christ himself expressly declared the
qualifications necessary to constitute a disciple: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father,
and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot
be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my
disciple."(73) Against such declarations of the divine Master, the inference from a merely possible
use of the term in secular concerns, can be of no avail.
But the argument alleges that we have Scripture example for the application of the term to infants.
In the case referred to, Judaizing teachers had taught, "Except ye be circumcised, and keep the
law, ye cannot be saved." The yoke which they imposed on the gentile converts was not
circumcision merely, but the whole burden of the legal ceremonies. Circumcision was not, in
itself, the intolerable yoke referred to, "which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear." These
were circumcised in infancy, and did not afterwards account circumcision a grievous burden. But
the burdensome law received from Moses is manifestly the thing intended; and the burden did not
fall on infants. The passage therefore contains no proof that infants were intended by the word
The words of Justin Martyr, apo paidon are incorrectly translated from infancy. The name
Pedobaptist, which is given to those who practice infant baptism, and which is derived in part
from the Greek word pais seems to countenance this rendering: but, in truth, pais does not signify
an infant. It is used, in either the masculine or feminine gender, for one who has not reached
maturity; and is applied to the young man who fell from the loft while Paul was preaching;(74) and
is used by Justin, in another place, for the boys or young men who were the objects of unnatural
lust.(75) A diminutive, paidion, formed from this word, is frequently used for infants; but even the
diminutive is applied to a person twelve years of age.(76) In classic usage, the primitive word is
rendered applicable to infants by a word added--nepios pais--an infant boy.(77) If the word itself
denoted infancy, this addition would not be necessary. Once in the second chapter of Matthew it is
applied to infants; but it is remarkable that the diminutive, paidion, is used nine times, in the same
chapter, for infants. Why did the inspired writer adopt another word in this one case? We have the
explanation in the note of Dr. Campbell on the passage: "The historian seems purposely to have
changed the term paidion, which is used for child, no less than nine times in this chapter; as that
word being neuter, and admitting only the neuter article, was not fit for marking the distinction of
sexes; and to have adopted a term, which he nowhere else employs for infants, though frequently
for men servants, and once for youths or boys." This application of pais to infants may be
illustrated by a familiar usage in our own language. The words boy and girl do not signify an
infant; and yet we ask whether an infant is a boy or a girl, if we wish to know its sex. Justin had
no need to distinguish the sex of the persons whom he referred to, for he says, "There are among
us persons of both sexes." Had Justin designed to say that these persons had been made disciples
in infancy, the Greek language had words to express the idea; but what he did say amounts to
nothing more than that these persons, now sixty or seventy years of age, had become disciples of
Christ before they had arrived at maturity. This was the pedobaptism which existed in the days of
Justin; and to such pedobaptism there can be no objection.
Argument 5.--The commission may be rendered, "Go proselyte all nations, baptizing them." Christ was a
Jew, and addressed these words to Jews. The Jews had been accustomed to make proselytes to their
religion from among the gentiles. When these proselytes were received, they were circumcised and
baptized, together with their children. Had Christ commissioned his apostles to proselyte the nations to
Judaism, circumcising and baptizing them, they must have understood that children were to be circumcised
and baptized with their parents. Being accustomed to this mode of receiving proselytes, they would
naturally conclude that their Master intended them to adopt it in executing his command.
The proposed translation, "Go proselyte all nations," is not correct; for a proselyte and a disciple
are not the same thing. If for the sentence, "Thou art his disciple, but we are Moses' disciples," we
substitute, "Thou art his proselyte, but we are Moses' proselytes," every one will perceive that an
important change is made in the meaning. A proselyte to Judaism abandoned his former religion;
but when John and Jesus made disciples, these disciples did not cease to be Jews. Paul claimed to
be a Jew,(78) and even a Pharisee,(79) after his conversion. The fishermen of Galilee were indeed Jews,
but they knew little, in all probability, of those efforts in which some of their nation compassed sea
and land to make one proselyte; and they could not have understood their Lord to refer to those
efforts in the commission under which they were to act. Some of them had been disciples of John;
and all of them had been associated with Christ in making and baptizing disciples from among the
Jews. Had they witnessed the admission of a proselyte from heathenism to Judaism, they knew
well that the ceremonies which he underwent did not make him a disciple of Christ. They could
not, therefore, understand the Saviour to refer to this process. The making and baptizing of
disciples was a process to which they were accustomed, and by it they would naturally interpret
the commission. Even if their Jewish prejudices had led to the supposed interpretation, it would
have been unauthorized. These prejudices caused them to misinterpret the commission in another
particular; and, in consequence, they did not, for some time, preach the gospel to the
uncircumcised gentiles. It was their duty, in interpreting the commission, to look more to the
Saviour's words, and less to their Jewish prejudices: and the same obligation rests on us, and
deserves the attention of those who urge the argument which we are considering.
The question whether the custom of baptizing proselytes to Judaism existed as early as the time of
Christ, has engaged the attention of learned men, who have been divided respecting it. Prof. Stuart
has given the subject an extended investigation, and finds no evidence that the custom existed
before the destruction of Jerusalem.
Argument 6.--Infants were admitted to church-membership by circumcision, the initiatory rite under the
former dispensation; and baptism now takes its place, being the same seal in a new form; and therefore
ought to be administered to infants.
The arguments for the church-membership of infants were considered at large in the preceding
section of this chapter. In this discussion, it was shown, that the church is not identical with the
great nation descended from Abraham, and distinguished by the mark of circumcision. Since
baptism was designed for those only who are spiritually qualified for membership in the church,
no valid argument for the application of it to infants can be drawn from the fact, that the infant
descendants of Abraham were marked by circumcision, as entitled to membership in the
commonwealth of Israel.
If baptism is merely a new form of the same seal, the subjects to whom it is to be applied
remaining the same, it ought still to be applied to infants on the eighth day. This day was fixed by
express divine command. No authority inferior to that which made the covenant, can abrogate or
change this precept. Moreover, the seal, as anciently administered, was not confined to
descendants of the first generation; and baptism, if it is the same seal under another form, ought to
be extended in its application to all the descendants of those who are admitted within the
It is an argument against the identity of baptism and circumcision, that baptism was administered
to those who had previously received the seal in the other form, according to the command of God.
They who were baptized under the ministry of John and of Jesus, were children of the covenant,
and had been previously marked with the proper seal according to divine command in the
covenant. Why was the seal necessary in another form? For some time after the ascension of
Christ, the gospel was preached to the circumcised only; and no others were baptized. These
persons were addressed as children of the covenant; and had the seal of the covenant in their flesh,
affixed when that form of the seal was not only valid, but obligatory. Why was the repetition of the
seal in another form necessary?
The command to circumcise, was positive; and every one who did not receive this token of the
covenant in his flesh, was to be cut off from among God's people. If the church is founded on the
covenant of circumcision, it becomes a deeply interesting inquiry, whether any but circumcised
persons can be members. The theory is, that baptism takes the place of circumcision; but how can
this theory annul the express command of God? We need authority for changing the form of the
seal, as great, and as express, as that by which the original form was instituted; but we look for it
in vain in the Holy Scriptures. Instead of finding an express precept for changing the form, or an
express declaration that it has been changed, we find decisive proof, that the inspired apostles did
not understand baptism to be a new form of the old seal. They discussed the question, whether
gentile converts ought to be circumcised, and they decided in the negative; but they did not so
decide, on the ground that baptism had taken the place of circumcision, and rendered the
continued use of the old form unnecessary. This, according to the pedobaptist theory, was the true
ground of their decision, being the true and only sufficient reason for laying aside the old form of
the seal. That the apostles did not assign this reason, is decisive proof that they were strangers to
the theory. With this evidence before us, how can we hold ourselves bound by the Abrahamic
covenant, and expect the blessings which it is understood to promise, if we refuse its only divinely
In describing the completeness of Christians, Paul states, in one verse, that they are "circumcised
with the circumcision that is made without hands;" and in the next, that they are "buried with
Christ in baptism."(80) From the connexion in which these things are mentioned, some have argued
that baptism takes the place of circumcision: but the passage does not justify the inference. Literal
circumcision is not the duty of gentile believers; and is therefore no part of Christian
completeness. Literal baptism is a duty of all Christians; and is therefore necessary to their
completeness. The adjuncts with which circumcision is mentioned in the passage, shows
regeneration to be intended. This, in the order of Christ's appointment, precedes baptism; and in
this order Paul mentions both as distinct parts of Christian completeness. Nothing in the passage
justifies the confounding of baptism with circumcision. Whatever analogy there may be between
the two rites, their identity is not taught in these verses.
Argument 7.--Without insisting on a strict substitution of baptism for circumcision, it may be assumed as
unquestionable, that a striking analogy exists between the two rites. Both are initiatory, both are religious,
both are outward signs of inward grace, and seals of the righteousness of faith. The parental relation is one
of exceeding importance. God has distinguished it greatly in his Word, and uses it, in his providence, as a
chief means of perpetuating his church in the world. This relation is the same in all ages, and the essential
principles of religion are the same. As, therefore, the relation was marked by a religious rite in the former
dispensation, the immutable principles of the divine government make it proper that it should be marked by
a religious rite now. Whatever may be said of the Abrahamic covenant as a whole, the stipulation which it
contains, that the Lord would be a God to him and his seed, includes spiritual blessings, and is substantially
the covenant which God now makes with every believer. As the parent and the child were admitted into the
covenant by the same religious rite formerly, so they ought to be admitted by the same religious rite now. In
this sense, baptism takes the place of circumcision; and ought, therefore, to be administered to infants.
This argument is objectionable, on the ground that it rests the proof of a positive institute, on
reasonings from general principles. If immutable principles require the parental relation to be
marked with a religious rite, why was it not so marked from the beginning of the world? And why,
when it became marked, was the relation to male descendants only, affected by the immutable
principle? In the family of Abraham, the relation of the patriarch to all his descendants, remote as
well as immediate, was marked by the rite then instituted: and if immutable principles require the
relation to be marked by a religions rite now, it ought to be applied to remote descendants.
The promise to Abraham, to be a God to him and his seed, is contained in the covenant of
circumcision, and is to be understood according to the tenor of that covenant. It extended to remote
descendants, contemplated them as a nation, and brought the nation into a peculiar relation to
God. It did not absolutely engage the spiritual blessing of justification which had been previously
bestowed on the believing patriarch personally. The covenant now made with believers is
personal, and secures personal spiritual blessings. "This is the covenant that I will make with the
house of Israel: after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their minds, and write
them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people."(81) The promise
of this covenant is absolute, and secures the putting of the law in the heart. This, the promise in
the Abrahamic covenant did not secure; and, on this account, the covenant established on better
promises, is called a new covenant. So different is its nature, from the national covenant made
with Abraham, that, if it were right to infer positive institutes from general principles, we could
not, with propriety, draw the inference which infant baptism requires.
The agreement between baptism and circumcision, as initiatory rites, is urged to no avail, if the
bodies into which they initiate are differently constituted. They may both be called religious rites,
because religion has to do with whatever God commands; but we need God's command, to
instruct us in the proper use of these rites. They have also been called sealing rites: but in what
sense they seal, is involved in obscurity. Abraham received the sign of circumcision,--a seal of
the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised. His receiving of
circumcision seems to imply more than merely his being circumcised. It signifies that
circumcision began with him. This fact was viewed by Paul as a proof that he was already in the
favor of God; and the apostle regards it as a confirmation or seal of what had been previously said.
"Abraham believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness."(82) Paul does not say
that circumcision was a seal to all to whom it was administered. The case of Abraham, and the
faith of Abraham, are all that his argument had in view, in the use of the word seal.
Baptism is nowhere in the Scriptures called a seal. Believers are said to be sealed by the Holy
Spirit; and the validity of this seal God will ever acknowledge; but many receive baptism who are
not sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption.(83) We need to understand in what sense,
and by what authority, the two rites are called sealing, and what engagements they, as seals,
confirm, before we can argue, that because one of them was applied to infants, the other must, in
like manner, be applied to infants. When we view the nature and design of the two rites in the
light of the Holy Scriptures, we discover that circumcision was intended for the literal descendants
of Abraham, but that literal descent from Abraham, without faith, gave no title to baptism.
Whatever agreement may be traced between the two ceremonies in other respects, their difference
in this particular destroys the analogy, at the very point where alone it can be of use to the cause of
The argument proves too much. We have seen that it extends the application of the religious rite to
remote descendants. Besides this, it applies it, not to infant children only, but to children of
whatever age, provided they belong to the household. Moreover, it requires that the relation of
master and servant be marked in the same way. This also is an important relation, which God has
used in extending his church; for servants have often been converted by being brought into pious
families. The precept given to Abraham, extended to the whole household; and was given in very
explicit language. The argument requires that every believer should put himself in the place of the
patriarch, and consider himself bound by this command. At this point, the subject may be viewed
advantageously in connection with the following argument.
Argument 8.--The three households of Lydia, the jailer, and Stephanas, are said in Scripture to have been
baptized. It is improbable that there were three entire households without any infants in them. The manner
in which the facts are recorded, especially in the case of Lydia's household, indicates that it was the
prevailing custom to baptize the household, when the head of it became a believer. No intimation is given,
that the members of the household were all believers, and admitted to baptism on their personal faiths; but
their baptism followed, of course, on the admission of Lydia herself into the church. Were such a statement
published, in the journal of any modern missionary, every one would understand the missionary to be a
pedobaptist. No one expects to read an account of household baptisms, in a history of Baptist missions.
Mention is made in the New Testament, of several households which appear to have consisted
entirely of Christian believers.(84) Such instances are not uncommon in modern times, even among
Baptists: and, in times of religious revivals, whole households are not unfrequently baptized on
profession of faith. The probability of such occurrences in the slow progress of modern missions in
a heathen nation, is far less; and it would be unfair to estimate from a history of missions, the
probability that whole households were converted at once, under the ministry of the apostles. A
modern missionary sometimes labors for years, and scarcely reports a single convert; but, in
primitive times, three thousand were converted in one day, and the Holy Spirit fell on the whole
congregation assembled in the house of Cornelius. In this state of things, it is not surprising that
three households should have been converted and baptized. We are told that the nobleman of
Capernaum "believed, and his whole house;"(85) that Crispus "believed with all his house;"(86) and
that Cornelius "feared God with all his house." Here are three households, which consisted entirely
of pious persons; and the probability that these three had infants in them, must be as great as in
the case of the three households that were baptized. Besides, in the accounts given of these last
households, circumstances are mentioned which strongly indicate the absence of children. 1. In the
case of the jailer's household, "they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in
his house;"(87) "he rejoiced, believing in God with all his house."(88) Who would expect to read such
statements as these in the journal of a pedobaptist missionary, who, on receiving a convert from
heathenism, baptized him with his infant children? 2. In the case of the household of Stephanas
we are informed, "that they addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints."(89) It has been said
that this was some years after their baptism, when the infants might have grown up. But, in most
families, while some infants grow, other infants are added; and in replying to an argument
dependant on probability, we are at liberty to assume, that the probability of finding infants in the
house of Stephanas was as great at one time as at the other. We may also notice, that the baptism
of this household is not mentioned in connection with the baptism of the head. Paul baptized the
household of Stephanas;(90) but who baptized Stephanas himself, we are not informed. So far as
appears, the two baptisms were performed at different times, and were independent of each other.
3. In the case of Lydia's household we have the following facts: Lydia was "a seller of purple of
the city of Thyatira."(91) No mention is made of husband or children. She had a house at Philippi,
which she called "my house;" and the business in which she was engaged, appears to have been
under her own management. When Paul and Silas were released from prison, it is said, "they
entered into the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and
departed."(92) The connection of the clauses in this verse, renders it probable, that the brethren here
mentioned, belonged to the house of Lydia, and were the persons baptized with her. This
probability ought to be admitted, in an argument founded on probability; and it is at least as great,
as that Lydia, the apparently single proprietor and manager of her own house and business, should
have had infant children. So far as to the argument about probability.
The second part of the argument is, that the narrative states the baptism of the household as
following, of course, on the faith and baptism of the head. But this, as we have seen, is not the
case, with respect to the household of Stephanas and the jailer. All the weight of the argument
rests on the single case of Lydia; and it is merely an argument from the silence of Scripture. We
are not expressly informed that Lydia's household were believers; but the silence on this point does
not prove that they were not. It is stated, in another place, that "Crispus, the chief ruler of the
synagogue, believed, with all his house." No mention is made of their baptism: but the silence of
Scripture on this point, does not prove that they were not baptized. Faith and baptism are
everywhere throughout the narrative so connected with each other, that the mention of both, in
every instance, was unnecessary. The faith of the household is not mentioned in the case of Lydia;
neither is it mentioned in Paul's address to the jailer:--"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou
shalt be saved, and thy house."(93) Here the promise of salvation is made to the household, without
an express requirement of faith from them,--the command, "believe," being in the singular
number. We know, from the whole tenor of Scripture, that the jailer's household were not saved on
his faith; and we have the same reason for knowing that Lydia's household were not baptized on
If any one should maintain that, when households are said to believe and to fear God, infants may
have been overlooked in the statement, because known to be incapable of religious affections, we
admit the possibility of what is supposed, and we maintain, in turn, that the same may have been
true with respect to baptism. In all the sacred volume, and in all the usage of primitive times, faith
was a qualification for baptism; and it may be that, in the mention of household baptism, no
account was taken of infants, because it was universally known that they were never baptized. Our
cause admits this hypothesis; but is not dependent on it.
A distinction ought to be made, between household baptism and infant baptism. The preceding
argument, if it proves either, proves household baptism; and the same is true of the argument now
before us. Children of various ages, even to adult years, and servants, are included in the proper
import of the word household. It was so, when the covenant of circumcision was made with
Abraham; for his son Ishmael, and his servants, were circumcised. It is so in the Acts of the
Apostles: for in the household of Cornelius, "two household servants" are mentioned.
It deserves to be carefully noticed, that almost every argument for infant church-membership and
infant baptism, tends to prove, so far as it proves either, not the church-membership and baptism
of infants, but of whole households. The covenant of circumcision required the rite to be
administered to the whole household. Under the Mosaic covenant, when a stranger was admitted,
he was required to be circumcised with all his household; and the same law was applied to him, in
the keeping of the passover, as to those born in the land. When proselyte baptism was practiced, it
was applied to all the household. No example of infant baptism can be found in the Bible; but the
three examples which have been relied on to prove it, are all examples of household baptism.
Now, according to a hypothesis stated in the last paragraph, it may be that the infants of a
household may be overlooked, when something is affirmed of the household, which is
incompatible with infancy; but it can never be supposed, that the term household signifies infants
only, to the exclusion of older members. If household baptism has been proved, who will practice
it? The admission of ungodly youths and servants to baptism and church privileges, when the
father and master becomes converted, is so contrary to the spirit and tenor of the gospel, that no
one ventures to advocate it. Yet this is the point to which almost every argument tends, which has
been advanced in support of infant baptism. These arguments are numerous: and if each one could
bring a ray of light, however feeble, we might expect the combined illumination to render the
subject visible; but we have traced the direction of the rays, and find that their concentrated force,
whatever may be its illuminating power, falls elsewhere, and leaves infant baptism still in the
Argument 9.--Learned men have searched the writings of the Christian fathers, and have found evidence
as abundant, and specific, and certain, as history affords of almost any fact, that infant baptism universally
prevailed from the days of the apostles, through four centuries. This ought to satisfy us, that the practice
originated in the apostolic churches.
Other learned men have examined the same writings, and have arrived at the conclusion, that
infant baptism was wholly unknown, until about the close of the second century;--that it
originated in Africa, and in the third century became prevalent there, but did not supplant the
primitive baptism in the Oriental churches, until the fifth century.
Amidst this conflict of opinions, derived from the same source, it is a happy privilege which we
enjoy, to leave the muddy streams of tradition, and drink at the pure fountain of revelation. The
aim of the present work is, to ascertain what the Scriptures teach on the subject of church order;
and it does not accord with the design, to enter into an investigation of questions appertaining to
ecclesiastical history; but I will state, very briefly, what appear to me, so far as I have been able to
investigate the subject; the chief facts to be gleaned from the early fathers, relative to the origin of
No trace of infant baptism can be found, previous to the time of Justin Martyr. The passage of his
writings, which is quoted on page 174, has been regarded as the first clear testimony on the
subject; but we have shown that this, when properly interpreted, means nothing more than that
some persons, then sixty or seventy years of age, had been made disciples of Christ before they
were fully grown. In another part of Justin's writings, he purposely gives an account of the usages
which existed among Christians, respecting baptism; and, in doing this, he describes the baptism
of believers, without any intimation that infants were concerned in the rite. Had infant baptism
been the universal practice, his purpose would have required a description of it.
The primitive practice required each candidate for baptism to profess his faith personally. But a
custom arose, of permitting the profession to be made by proxy: the candidate being present, and
signifying his assent. This custom made it easy for very young persons to be admitted to the rite,
and the opinion, which had now become prevalent, that baptism possessed a saving efficacy,
produced a tendency to extend the application of it to children. Tertullian, who wrote about A. D.
200, opposed this tendency; and insisted that, instead of granting baptism on the candidate's
asking for it, and making profession through-his sponsors, the baptism should be deferred until he
had become instructed respecting its nature and design. Thus far, it does not appear that the rite
was ever administered to children incapable of asking for it; but Cyprian, A. D. 250, interpreted
the cries of new-born babes to be an asking for the grace which baptism was supposed to confer.
The propriety of giving it to infants was now extensively admitted, but the practice was not
The late Neander, who is esteemed the greatest of ecclesiastical historians, says: "Baptism was
administered at first only to adults, as men were accustomed to conceive baptism and faith as
strictly connected." "Immediately after Irenaeus, in the last years of the second century, Tertullian
appears as a zealous opponent of infant baptism: a proof that the practice had not as yet come to
be regarded as an apostolical institution; for, otherwise, he would hardly have ventured to express
himself so strongly against it."(94) "For these reasons, Tertullian declared against infant baptism;
which at that time was certainly not a generally prevailing practice; was not yet regarded as an
apostolical institution. On the contrary, as the assertions of Tertullian render in the highest degree
probable, it had just begun to spread; and was therefore regarded by many as an innovation."(95)
Jacobi, a learned friend of Neander, says: "Infant baptism was established neither by Christ nor
the apostles." "Many circumstances conspired early to introduce the practice of infant baptism."(96)
Mosheim, in his account of the Second Century, says: "The sacrament of baptism was
administered publicly twice every year, at the festivals of Easter and Pentecost, or Whitsuntide,
either by the bishop, or the presbyters, in consequence of his authorization and appointment. The
persons that were to be baptized, after that they had repeated the creed, confessed and renounced
their sins, and particularly the devil and his pompous allurements, were immersed under water,
and received into Christ's kingdom by a solemn invocation of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
according to the express command of our Blessed Lord. After baptism, they received the sign of
the cross, were anointed, and, by prayers and imposition of hands, were solemnly commended to
the mercy of God, and dedicated to his service; in consequence of which they received milk and
honey, which concluded the ceremony. The reasons of this particular ritual coincide with what we
have said in general concerning the origin and causes of the multiplied ceremonies that crept from
time to time into the church.
"Adult persons were prepared for baptism by abstinence, prayer, and other pious exercises. It was
to answer for them that sponsors or godfathers were first instituted, though they were afterwards
admitted also in the baptism of infants."
The use of sponsors is retained in the Episcopal Church. The officiating minister addresses the child as if he were an intelligent candidate; and the sponsors give what is regarded as the answer of the child. In these forms, we may see the remains of primitive usage, the lifeless corpse of the ancient baptism, which was once animated with piety, and profession strictly personal.
1. Eph. vi. 1.
2. Col. iii. 20.
3. Mark ix. 37.
4. Mark x. 15; Luke xviii. 17.
5. Matt. xviii. 6.
6. John xiii. 33. In the original text a different word is here employed, which seems to have been more appropriate for the expression of endearment. Its literal meaning agrees with that of the other term, and is properly given by our translators in the words "little children."
7. Luke xiii. 2.
8. Mark iv. 33.
9. Rom. i. 32.
10. Acts xxvi. 29.
11. Matt. xix. 13.
12. Mark x. 13; Luke xviii. 15.
13. 1 Cor. vii. 14.
14. For a more extended examination of 1 Cor. vii. 14, see a tract entitled "A Decisive Argument against Infant Baptism," published by the Southern Baptist Publication Society.
15. Ex. xxiv. 13; Zech. iii. 1.
16. Matt. i. 21; Col. iv. 11.
17. Acts vii. 38.
18. Heb. ii. 12.
19. Deut. xii. 5.
20. John iv. 21.
21. Acts xvii. 27.
22. Heb viii. 9.
23. 1 Chr. xxviii. 8; Mic. ii. 5.
24. Deut. xxiii. 1-8; Exod. xii. 43-47.
25. Eph. ii. 14, 15.
26. Deut. xxiii. 1-3.
27. Acts x. 35.
28. Heb. vii. 18.
29. Heb. viii. 7.
30. Heb. x. 9.
31. Matt. xxi. 43.
32. Gen. xii. 3.
33. Gen. xxii. 18.
34. Gen. xxvi. 4.
35. Gen. xxviii. 14.
36. Acts iii. 25.
37. Gal. iii. 8.
38. Gen. xv. 5, 6.
39. V. 4.
40. Gen. xxv. 16.
41. V. 1-3.
42. Jer. xxxi. 33.
43. Amos iii. 2.
44. Gen. iv. 20, 21.
45. John viii. 39.
46. Rom. ii. 29.
47. Rom. ix. 8.
48. Gal. vi. 15.
49. Deut. xxx. 6.
50. Rom. ii. 28, 29.
51. Gal. iii. 29.
52. Heb. xi. 13, 16.
53. Gal. iii. 9.
54. V. 29.
55. Rom. iv. 16.
56. Rom. xi. 1, 2.
57. V. 23-30.
58. V. 29.
59. Acts ii. 39.
60. Matt. x. 21.
61. Rom. ix. 8.
62. Matt. xxi. 43.
63. Acts xiii. 46.
64. Rom. ix. 29.
65. Rom. xv. 27.
66. Acts ii. 42.
67. 1 Cor. xi. 5-20.
68. V. 28.
69. Acts xv. 10.
70. Acts vi. 1-5.
71. V. 7.
72. Acts xix. 1, 2.
73. Luke xiv. 26, 27.
74. Acts xx. 12.
75. Gynaikas emoicheusan, kai paidas diephtheiran. Justin's Works, London Edition, A. D. 1722, p. 10.
76. Mark v. 39, 40, 42.
77. Parkhurst's Lexicon, under the word nepios.
78. Acts xxi. 39.
79. Acts xxiii. 6.
80. Col. ii. 12.
81. Heb. viii. 10.
82. Gen. xv. 6.
83. Eph. iv. 30.
84. 2 Tim. iv. 19; Acts x. 2; Acts xvi. 34; 1 Cor. xvi. 15, 19; John iv. 53.
85. Joh iv. 53.
86. Acts xviii. 8.
87. Acts xvi. 32.
88. V. 34.
89. 1 Cor. xvi. 15.
90. 1 Cor. i. 16.
91. Acts xvi. 14.
92. V. 40.
93. V. 31.
94. History of Christian Religion and Church, pp. 311, 312 (Torrey's Translation).
95. Spirit of Tertullian, p. 207. Quoted from Christian Review, Vol. xvi. pp. 517, 520.
96. Kitto's Cyclopedia; Art. Baptism.