THE BAPTISM OF THE PRINCE.
PRINCE’S STREET CHAPEL, NORWICH,
ON SUNDAY MORNING, JAN. 23, 1842,
IN ANTICIPATION OF THE BAPTISM OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCE OF WALES.
BY JOHN ALEXANDER.
Published by Request.
JOSIAH FLETCHER, UPPER HAYMARKET;
SOLD ALSO BY JARROLD AND SONS, NORWICH; AND BY
JACKSON AND WALFORD, LONDON.
The Author of the following discourse hopes it will appear from the perusal of it, that the baptism of infants is a practice which he not only believes to be scriptural, but which he warmly and devoutly loves. As a parent, and as a pastor, one of his most delightful employments has been the dedication of his own children, and of the children of others, to the God of mercy. He endeavours also to cherish in his own heart, and in the hearts of others, the assurance that baptism is a sign of spiritual influences, which our covenant God will graciously bestow upon our children, if we disciple them to Christ by gospel instruction as well as by water, and if we “teach them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.” The connection between our baptized households and church membership is so intimate, that children should be trained for communion by the parent, as well as by the pastor; and every baptized family should thus strive to be a church of Christ, and seek to possess, by the grace of God, a domestic as well as an individual relationship to “the general assembly and church of the first-born.” Were this made the object of more anxious and prayerful effort, the degree of success, divinely granted, would surprise and bless our hearts; the sacred ordinance in which we delight, would be less ridiculed than it is; the fatal mistakes which are made relative to it, would be corrected; and it would soon become, as in primitive times, universally practised. “If infant baptism were more improved,” says Philip Henry, “it would be less disputed.”
The following discourse is not put forth as a complete treatise on the subject of baptism. It is the mere outline p. ivof one branch of an argument which is briefly stated, and which is not even defended from the customary objections. It was preached, and is now published, not so much for those who deny the ordinance to their children, as for those who practice it; to remind them of the privilege which they enjoy, and of the consequent responsibility which they incur. Nothing is said in the sermon about the mode of baptizing, because the object which the preacher had in view did not require it; and because, during the time of its delivery, he was desirous to occupy the attention of his hearers with matters of more importance than the question, Whether, in baptism, the water is to be applied to the person, or the person to the water?—though he believes that the former mode is more scriptural and more seemly than the latter.
As the discourse was occasioned by the baptise of the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent to the British throne, it is now published with the earnest desire and prayer, that he may be spared till, at some distant day, he shall realize “the true idea of a patriot king;” and that the royal house into which he is born, may from one generation to another, present successive princes to the throne of Britain, who shall rule in righteousness, and who, in the scriptural sense of the language, shall be “nursing fathers, and nursing mothers,” to the church of Christ.
Norwich, February 1, 1842.
My dear Friends,
As it has been publicly announced that the infant Prince of Wales will be baptized on Tuesday next, a suitable opportunity is now afforded for directing your attention to the subject of baptism generally, and especially to the interest which little children have in the affections of the Saviour; I propose, therefore, to address you this morning from
Mark x, 13–16.
“And they brought young children to him that he should touch them; and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.”
The scene presented by these words is indescribably lovely; and the eye that contemplates it, must affect the heart of the beholder with every tender and grateful feeling. It exhibits the eternal Son of God holding in his arms the infant of a day; laying his mighty and merciful hand upon its head; and bestowing upon it his own effectual blessing. Wonderful as all this is, it is however in perfect harmony with the whole of his character, and of the great work which he came to accomplish. The infants p. 6which were now brought to him, ignorant and helpless as they were, were creatures which he himself had formed, and which he had inspired with the breath of life, and with the germ of all those intellectual and moral faculties which would render them immortal and responsible to God. He, therefore, who guides the flight of the sparrow as well as of the archangel, cares for the infant as well as for the man; and he has testified his care, not only now, when he was gathering these lambs in his arms, but through all the preceding dispensations of his mediatorial reign. His disciples, influenced by the same mistaken feelings which led the multitude to rebuke the blind men, who cried for mercy to the son of David, rebuked the parents, who were now desirous that their infants should receive his gentle touch, and “that he should put his hands on them and pray;” “but when Jesus saw it he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God,” and “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” When heaven was more immediately his residence, he had there been accustomed to gather little children in his arms, and to introduce them to the joys and royalties of his celestial palace; and when that palace is completely furnished with guests, little children, who have died in their infancy, will constitute no small portion of the glorious number. When he first formed a church on earth, and separated the subjects of his own kingdom from others, he did so with an express reference to the children of his people; and he appointed the ordinance of circumcision to be administered to them at eight days old, as the token of his p. 7everlasting promise, “I will be a God unto thee, and unto thy seed after thee.” When that church was reorganized by Moses, and during the whole period of the Jewish dispensation, the same divine regard to infants is manifested, and their dedication to God, by “the token of the covenant,” is continued. When, during that dispensation, the gospel times of the church are predicted, children are always represented as sharing in the same privileges which they had been accustomed to possess; for then, says Isaiah, “the people shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.” And now in the fulness of time, when Christ himself personally appears in the world, he manifests the same regard to little children that he had shown from the beginning. When they were brought to him, “he took them up in his arms;” not indeed to baptize them, for he never baptized any one, either infant or adult; but to acknowledge their continued connection with his kingdom, and their capacity for receiving, not only an important sign, but the spiritual blessings which that sign denoted. “Of such,” says he, “is the kingdom of God,” or, as the phrase signifies, of such is the church of God; and their being thus of his church, is given as the reason why they should be brought to him as the head of the church. Having thus declared that infants, under the gospel dispensation, sustained the same relation to his spiritual kingdom which Jewish infants had sustained, he proceeds to treat them accordingly. “He put his hands on them;” which was a sign, as significant as the token of circumcision or of baptism; for it was p. 8the sign of his own blessing. “He put his hands on them,” as Jacob put his hands on Ephraim and Manasseh, when he lifted up his voice to heaven and said, “the angel that redeemed me from all evil bless the lads;” or as the high priest put his hands on the people, when he blessed them in the name of the Lord; or as this great High Priest himself afterwards lifted up his hands and blessed his disciples, when he ascended from mount Olivet to heaven. True it is, that, as infants, they could not understand the meaning of this sign, any more than they could understand the meaning of circumcision or of baptism. They knew it not then, but they would know it hereafter. Yet, notwithstanding their present ignorance, he did not refrain; he put his hands upon them. And not only so, but as a manifestation of his power and grace, he accompanied the sign with the thing signified, “and he blessed them;” he baptized them, not with water, but with his own blessing; and thereby fulfilled his gracious promise, “I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy offspring.”
The history which our text records is therefore the consummation and the climax of a series of circumstances, which are intended to show the interest which the children of believers have in the Saviour’s kingdom. And as such we receive it with joy and thankfulness. There is, in the heart of every christian parent, an earnest desire that his children, as well as himself, should participate in the enjoyment of spiritual blessings; and when he receives his new-born babe into his arms, the first wish of his heart is to lay it on the arms of Christ, and to p. 9dedicate it to him for ever. So strong is this feeling, that many persons, who deny infant baptism, are so convinced of the desirableness of having some mode of dedicating their offspring to God, that they hold a special meeting for the purpose, in which the pastor of the church sets their children apart by a solemn dedicatory service. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans, guided probably by imperfect tradition, as well as by the light of nature, were accustomed, a few days after the birth of a child, to carry it to the temple, and to commend it to some patron deity. Instructed by the sacred scriptures, it is our privilege to believe that He who awakens this desire in the parental bosom, has appointed appropriate means whereby it may be expressed and gratified; and that having instituted circumcision, for such as were of the kingdom of God under the former dispensation, he has now instituted baptism for such as are of that kingdom, whether they be adults or infants. Some proof of this has already been afforded by the history to which your attention has been called; for if Christ has declared that our children now, as well as formerly, are “of the kingdom of God,” and if he gave to them the sign of his blessing, and the blessing itself, “can any one forbid water, that these should not be baptized?” But a variety of additional evidence is still presented by this holy book, our only divine and authoritative guide. The great question which we have to ask on this subject is, What is the will of Christ? and in seeking an answer to that inquiry, we are not to dictate to the divine Spirit the manner in which the will of Christ is to be made known to us, but we are thankfully to receive p. 10it, in the form of express command, or by any other mode of intimation that may seem good in his sight. As there is, in the New Testament, no prohibition of infant baptism, we are not much concerned about a direct injunction to practise it. There are some institutions belonging to former dispensations of religion, which it was not necessary should be formally re-enacted in the New Testament; because the will of Christ respecting their continuance can be gathered by evidences less direct. And as such a mode of teaching often requires thoughtful and continuous reading to ascertain the mind of God, we thereby gain a more extensive and intelligent acquaintance with the scriptures, than we could have gained if every thing had been stated as expressly and minutely as it is in the book of Leviticus. The sabbath, for instance, was instituted at the creation; it was continued during the patriarchal age; it was observed during the Jewish dispensation till the time of Christ; there is no command enjoining it in the New Testament; and though some passages seem at first sight to discountenance the observance of a christian sabbath, yet, from various remarks and circumstances, incidentally scattered through the sacred book, we are led to believe it to be the will of Christ that a sabbath should be continued through the gospel dispensation, and that it should be transferred from the last day of the week to the first; and when we consult early ecclesiastical history, we find all our convictions confirmed by the fact, that the first day of the week was universally observed by the christian church as a day of rest and worship. The ordinance of circumcision, in its connection with baptism, is similarly p. 11circumstanced. It was instituted in the time of Abraham, and it continued to be observed till the time of Christ, as a memorial of God’s everlasting covenant, and of the relationship which he had established between believing parents and their children. In the New Testament, we find that the ordinance itself is changed from circumcision to baptism; just as the sabbath is changed, from the seventh to the first day of the week. But this is the principal change relative to the ordinance which the New Testament declares. The old ordinance and the new have precisely the same spiritual signification. Faith, in an adult, was as necessary to precede circumcision, as it is now necessary to precede baptism. Infants are quite as capable of being baptized, as they were of being circumcised; and that it is the will of Christ they should be baptized, is quite as evident, from scripture testimony, as that the first day of the week is the divinely appointed christian sabbath. Indeed, their right to baptism seems to follow as a matter of course from the fact declared in our text, and already illustrated, that our children now sustain the same relation to the kingdom of God, that the children of believers did formerly; especially when we find that Christ not only said, “of such is the kingdom of God,” but also that “he put his hands on them, and blessed them.”
The evidence which the New Testament affords of the right of infants to baptism, is, however, abundant and various; so much so, that scarcely an outline of it can be given in the small space allotted to it in this discourse. The commission which Christ gave to his apostles, refers not only to baptism, but p. 12also to the christian instruction with which baptism is to be connected, and which it is the great design of the ordinance to secure. “Go,” says he, “and teach all nations, baptizing them unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Circumcision had been confined principally to one nation, baptism is to be extended to all nations; and as the sphere of the ordinance is thus enlarged, is it at all likely that the subjects of the ordinance are to be diminished? and that children, who were admitted to the initiatory rite of the limited Jewish dispensation, are to be excluded from the initiatory rite of the universal dispensation of the gospel? If they had been excluded, would the Jews have been silent about it? Would they not have made it a subject of complaint? and would they not have referred to the exclusion of their children as an argument in favour of Judaism, and against Christianity? Undoubtedly they would; and their silence is a strong presumptive evidence that the baptismal, as well as the circumcisional commission, included infants. The word “teach,” in the former part of the passage, is not, in the original, the same word as that which is translated “teaching” in the latter part; but a word which literally signifies to disciple, or to make disciples; so that the apostles were directed to “go and make disciples,” not of Jews only, but “of all nations.” And how was this to be done? By baptizing and by teaching. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them.” The language of course implies that some degree of instruction must go before baptism, p. 13in the case of ignorant adults; but it is evident that the “baptizing” is to be introductory to the “teaching” just as circumcision was. The first persons who would be baptized, would of course be adults, as was the case when circumcision was instituted; but there is nothing, either in the nature of baptism, or in the terms of this commission, to exclude infants. If it had been written, “Go and make disciples of all nations, circumcising them, and teaching them all things,” who would have said that the language excluded infants from circumcision? and as baptism has succeeded circumcision, and as it means the same thing, why should infants be excluded by a mere change in the ordinance? especially as the ordinance of baptism seems to be more suited to an infant than circumcision was. If, nevertheless, it be maintained that no person is to be baptized until he has been taught—taught to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded, infants I admit will then be excluded from baptism, and so for the most part will adults be, and no persons can be baptized at all; for such “teaching” comprehends the entire gospel, and can be afforded only by long continued pastoral instruction. The conduct of the apostles in executing the commission, is, however, the best interpretation of its language; and they considered that a single sermon to the three thousand, and a single conversation with the eunuch, and a few words to the jailor, were quite sufficient to precede baptism; and it was not till after baptism, that the principles and duties of the gospel were more fully taught; nor was it till after baptism that they expected to perceive the fruits and the influences of p. 14knowledge and of faith. Instruction has therefore precisely the same relation to baptism that it had to circumcision. It follows rather than precedes. It does so, principally, in the case of adults; it does so, entirely, in the case of children. Baptism is merely an initiatory rite. It introduces the disciple into the school; and it places him there, that he may be “instructed in the way of God more perfectly,” and taught not only to understand, but also “to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.”
Long before the time of John the Baptist, “divers baptisms” had been practised by the Jews. They appear to have been in the habit of baptizing, as well as of circumcising, the households which were proselyted from heathenism to Judaism. They had therefore become familiar with the ceremony, and consequently expressed no surprise that John should come among them baptizing with water. John indeed baptized unto repentance, and he refused this baptism to none by whom it was requested. The apostles baptized unto Christ; and therefore unto his death, his burial, and his resurrection—unto all that he had done and suffered as the mediator between God and man. And when they go forth to make disciples of all nations, how exactly their practice corresponds with the principles I have stated. These apostles were Jews. They rejoiced in the exceeding great and precious promise which God had made to Abraham and to them, “I will be a God unto thee, and unto thy seed after thee.” Authorised and encouraged by this promise, they had been accustomed to disciple and to dedicate their children by circumcision, which one of them calls “a yoke upon the p. 15neck of the disciples.” On the day of Pentecost, they began their work by declaring that the same promise that had been the hope of Jews, was now given to the Gentiles also, and to their children. They made the same distinction between the children of Christian parents and other children, that they had been accustomed to make between the children of Jews and of heathens; for they called the one class “unclean,” and the other class “holy;” “else were your children unclean, but now are they holy;” that is, externally and ceremonially holy—holy as all children are who are discipled and consecrated unto Christ. They made baptism, just what circumcision was, a domestic as well as a parental service. They baptized the family as well as the man; not as an extraordinary circumstance, but as a common practice; just as our missionaries do, who are placed in circumstances similar to those of the apostles; and who baptize not only men and women, but families also—the household of Stephanas; Lydia and her household; the jailor, and all his straightway. When they wrote epistles to the churches which they had baptized, they addressed children as well as parents, and appealed to them in the name of the Lord. And though the history of their labours extends over a period of sixty years, yet in all that time they baptized none but Jews and heathens; they never baptized any adult, who was an infant when his parents were baptized; nor is there an instance upon record, of a person who had been taught the gospel from his infancy, and whose baptism was deferred till the maturity of life.
p. 16The argument on behalf of the baptism of infants, which has been thus briefly and imperfectly sketched, is full of conviction and satisfaction; it is an argument for the understanding and the heart; and it is in blessed harmony with all that a believer desires on behalf of his children. We thank God for it; and we thank God that having withheld a direct and formal precept for the practice, he has been pleased to make known his will to us in such a way, as enables us more fully to understand and to appreciate his word. We consider that baptism in any case, but especially to our children, is a valuable privilege; not indeed as a mere ceremony, but as a token of the goodwill of our heavenly Father. We regard the rainbow, not merely because of the beauty of its arch, but because it betokens the covenant which preserves the earth, and perpetuates the seasons. And we regard baptism, not superstitiously, as if it contained some mystic charm, but because it is a memorial of God’s covenant mercy, and the means by which our offspring are dedicated and discipled. And we regard it too, because it is an institution which is in beautiful harmony with the whole system of revelation, in the Old and New Testaments. As the substitute for circumcision, it connects the church at its origin, with the church in its progress, and in its gospel maturity. Whilst the promise, “I will be a God unto thee, and unto thy seed after thee,” remains the same, baptism now attaches to it the sign and the seal which was once affixed by circumcision. The language and the conduct of Christ to little children, in the case before us, is in perfect harmony p. 17with their baptism, and with all the principles on which their baptism is practised. And when the apostles baptized households; when they called the children of believers “not unclean but holy;” and when they addressed children in the epistles which they wrote to the churches, they adopted a style of speaking and of action, which is not only in accordance with infant baptism, but which would not have been used if they had considered infants unfit for the ordinance. There are indeed some christians, worthy of our esteem and love, who do not perceive the force of this great argument, and who, therefore, deny to their children the blessed privilege which we thankfully enjoy. But it was not so formerly. The nearer we approach to apostolic times, the more the practice of the church accords with the principles I have advocated; and the most careful and learned ecclesiastical historians bear undeniable testimony to the fact, that for hundreds of years, immediately after the apostles, the baptism of infants was universal in the church.
II. In proceeding, from the subject of infant baptism generally, to consider the baptism of the Prince of Wales, I cannot, with propriety, refrain from adverting to some appendages which will be made to his baptism, and which the Church of England sanctions, but which I conceive to be unscriptural and injurious. I allude principally to the sponsors; to the sign of the cross; and to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
The persons who are most interested in the baptism of a child are its own parents. They are its natural guardians; and they are its divinely appointed p. 18ministers, to dedicate it to God, and to plead on its behalf the promise of the everlasting covenant. But in the Church of England, the parents seem to be entirely excluded from participating in the service. The twenty-ninth canon declares, not only that “no parent shall be admitted to answer as godfather for his own child,” but that “no parent shall be even urged to be present” at its baptism. And when the parents are thus wrongfully set aside, another class of persons are introduced, called sponsors—godfathers and godmothers, who may indeed be relatives or friends of the child, but who sometimes are entire strangers, and who may be foreigners residing in a distant country. The appointment of such persons, however ancient, is not scriptural; and however desirable they may appear to be, when the parents are dead, they are worse than useless when the parents are living. The responsibility which these sponsors take upon themselves is indescribably awful. Standing in the presence of God, they solemnly promise and vow that the child shall renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh; that he shall believe all the articles of the christian faith; and that he shall keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of his life. Such are the things which every sponsor engages shall be done; and I ask, ought any human being to enter into such an engagement? If he does enter into it, will the Lord hold him guiltless if he does not fulfil it? And yet how often is this solemn vow addressed to God, by the thoughtless and profane? p. 19And how many sponsors, when they have made it, never afterwards care for the soul of the child, and perhaps never afterwards see its face.
In imitation of the Church of Rome, the Church of England uses the sign of the cross in baptism; and having poured water on the child, the priest marks him on the forehead with a cross, “in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner.” This ceremony is not authorized by the Scriptures. The sign of the cross was never used by Christ and his apostles, either as a part of baptism, or as an appendage to it. The Church of England, therefore, has no right to command it. By so doing, she renders imperative what Christ has not required, and what many of his people deem a vain superstition.
But the most objectionable part of the service, is that which ascribes to baptism regenerating efficacy, by which the soul of the child is said to be purified and saved. The language used by the Church of England on this subject, is as follows:—“Dearly beloved brethren, this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s church.” “We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy church.” “I certify you, that in this case all is well done concerning the baptizing of this child; who, being born in original sin, and in the wrath of God, is now by the laver of regeneration in baptism, received into the number of the children of God, and heirs of everlasting p. 20life.” In accordance with these declarations, the child himself is afterwards taught to say by the catechism,—“in my baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” And when this same child is brought for confirmation, his baptismal regeneration is declared and ratified by the bishop, when he says, “Almighty and everlasting God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins.” All this, you perceive is the language not of a commentator but of the Church herself, uttered by her formularies, in which she plainly, emphatically, and repeatedly declares, that all the children she baptizes are, by their baptism, spiritually regenerated, so as to be the pardoned, adopted, and purified children of God. So decidedly is this doctrine the belief of the Established Church, that the liturgy seems to be constructed entirely on the principle that all her members are spiritually renewed. There is in it, confession of sin, and petition for pardon, such as any regenerated person might offer, but there is in it no prayer that any in the congregation may be born again, and renewed in the spirit of their mind; for that is a change which it is supposed has already taken place in baptism. If, however, it should be thought that we attach too strong a meaning to her language, listen to a statement contained in the charge, which the present bishop of Exeter delivered to his clergy in the year 1836. “The church,” says he, “is a visible body, into which its members are admitted by a visible sign, the sacrament of the new life; in baptism is regeneration; p. 21without it we have no warrant of scripture to affirm that the new birth takes place at all; without it we are yet in our sins, in a state of spiritual death, of enmity with God, and of fellowship with the arch enemy in his hatred, and in its everlasting punishment!” Now, in the first place, this doctrine of baptismal regeneration is unscriptural, and utterly subversive of the gospel of Christ. No writer in the New Testament ascribes spiritual efficacy to water baptism. John declares that he could baptize with water only, and that Christ alone could baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Paul thanks God that he had baptized but few of the Corinthians, and declares that Christ sent him not to baptize but to preach the gospel, which certainly would not have been the case if baptism effected regeneration. There is indeed a baptism, emphatically called the “one baptism,” which does regenerate and save; but it is not water baptism; it is not “the putting away the filth of the flesh;” it is not ceremonial purification; but it is “the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” and “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” What has been said of circumcision, may, therefore, with equal propriety, be said of baptism; “He is not a Christian who is one outwardly; neither is that baptism which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and baptism is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Secondly, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is injurious to the souls of men. There is a strong tendency in the depraved heart of man to exalt ceremonies above morals, and to substitute ritual observances for spiritual p. 22religion. This has been done, both with circumcision and with baptism. Some of the Jews taught circumcisional regeneration, and declared that every circumcised man was safe. Precisely the same error has been connected with baptism; and equally injurious consequences follow. By thus substituting a ceremony for faith and for divine influence, and by ascribing to that ceremony what the Spirit of God alone can secure, the word of God is made of none effect; spiritual religion is reduced to a merely mechanical operation; the worldly-minded and the immoral are taught to regard themselves as pardoned and saved, because they have been baptized; and thus thousands perish, whose blood will be required at the watchman’s hand. And thirdly, this doctrine, independently of other circumstances, renders our nonconformity with the Church of England, and our dissent from its services, a solemn and imperative duty. When the present Prayer Book was issued on St. Bartholomew’s day, in 1662, and an “unfeigned assent and consent” to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and to other antichristian doctrines, was demanded, no less than two thousand clergymen refused their signatures. They could not, with a good conscience, declare “that the Book of Common Prayer containeth in it nothing contrary to the word of God;” and therefore they retired from the church in which they had ministered, and submitted to much poverty and persecution. While we desire to value whatever is scriptural in that church, and while we would love all who love Christ, yet, with our convictions of the unscriptural character of this doctrine, and of other doctrines taught in its liturgy, conformity p. 23would be a sin, a wilful and presumptuous sin, for which we should have to answer in the great and terrible day of the Lord.
III. Having thus stated the doctrine of infant baptism as it is taught in the Scriptures, and having shown you what is objectionable in the baptismal service of the Church of England, I desire now to connect this latter part of the discourse more immediately with the former; and therefore keeping in view the baptism of the prince, I shall address you as subjects, as parents, and as children.
As subjects of the British throne, the feelings with which you hailed the accession of our beloved Queen Victoria are, I am persuaded, still fresh and joyous in your hearts. Her youth; her education; her deceased father, and her still living and honoured mother; her known attachment to civil and religious liberty, inherited from her royal ancestors of the House of Brunswick; and her virtuous character; all conspired to brighten and to bless the day of her accession, and to fill our hearts with joy and praise. Nor did we fail, as members of the Church of Christ, to make her the subject of special, fervent, and united prayer. And it is a most important and impressive fact, that probably no sovereign, either in Britain or in any other nation under heaven, ever ascended a throne accompanied by more earnest and affectionate supplications than Queen Victoria did. May all those prayers be answered, in the divine bestowment of a long and prosperous reign, followed by a holy and a happy eternity! Nor did the royal marriage tend to lessen either our joy or hope. It enhanced them both. Prince Albert is favourably known to p. 24the lovers of protestantism and of piety in this country, as the branch of an illustrious family, which at the era of the Reformation, protected and patronized the immortal Luther, when he was kindling in Germany that sacred flame which rapidly spread through this county, and consumed many of the corruptions and abominations of popery. And now, the royal pair having become parents the second time—the parents of a prince, and heir apparent to the British throne, we earnestly pray that his baptism may be accompanied and followed by an unction from the Holy One, and that he may grow, as the Babe of Bethlehem grew, “in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with both God and man.” Vast indeed is the influence and the responsibility to which, as a British prince, he is probably destined; and much indeed, under God, will depend on the education he may receive; on the talents he may possess; and especially upon the moral and religious character he may acquire. In his reign, if he be spared to reign, and if not before his reign, rank and wealth may have to yield more of their influence to intellect and character, and the many may have to take a still greater share in those national affairs which are now principally conducted by the comparatively few. Ancient monopolies, however serviceable they may have been in former times; and ecclesiastical establishments, injurious at all times, will have to endure a more searching examination than they have even yet experienced, and will probably have to give way to better institutions. And in the prospect of these changes—changes which seem demanded by the interests of the nation and of the Church of Christ: p. 25and changes which will require, in their introduction and completion, much of wisdom, human and divine, we feel the necessity of constant earnest prayer, that our rulers and our fellow subjects may be all under the guidance of “Him, by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice.” Believing too that the principles, on which the congregational churches in this country are founded, are scriptural principles, and that they are favourable to civil and religious liberty, to all the national interests, and to the purity and progress of christian truth, we desire to maintain them, as our forefathers did, firmly and devoutly; especially now, when attempts are making to extend among us the superstitions of popery, and the fatal results of priestly domination. If the existence of an Established Church in this country, renders us dissenters, we trust that we are not dissenters from the Church of Christ. Our motto is, Conformity to the Church of Christ in every thing; and nonconformity to every church which has dissented from Christ’s institutions. These are principles, brethren, which are too sacred and important, not only to be trifled with, but even to be advocated by carnal and worldly minds. They belong to “a kingdom which is not of this world;” and we pray that all by whom they are professed, may be equally desirous “to render unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s.”
In addressing you as parents, who have dedicated your children to God by baptism, I would affectionately remind you of the duties which you owe both to yourselves and to them. The apostle tells you that “they are not unclean but holy”—holy, as the p. 26sabbath and the temple were; and holy as all children are who are dedicated to God by a religious rite. When you brought them to the waters of baptism, you thereby testified your conviction of their depravity and of their need of cleansing grace; you thereby testified your belief that the great promise, “I will be a God unto thee, and unto thy seed after thee,” which was once to the Jews, is now unto you and unto your children; and at the same time you testified your intention “to teach them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.” Remember then, that the great and blessed privilege which you have enjoyed, is connected with corresponding obligations. Having given your children to God by baptism, you are to regard them as being peculiarly his; and you are to regard yourselves not as their proprietors, but as trustees, appointed by Christ, to train them up for the church, and for the service of their Lord and Master. Baptism, you are aware, does not constitute a man a member of any particular church; but it gives him a ceremonial qualification for membership. And this is just the position in which baptism has placed your children. They are candidates for communion with the church; and, as “holy children,” they possess the ceremonial qualification for communion. Now, as you have been the means of giving them the one qualification, you may also be the means of giving them the other. You may, through the divine blessing, be the means of making them spiritually as well as ceremonially holy. And it is the will of God that you should. For that purpose he has committed them to your charge; for that purpose he has authorized p. 27you to baptize them; and for that purpose he has given you the blessed assurance, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, AND THY HOUSE.” One of the great principles on which the God of mercy acts, in his moral government of the world, is to bless children for the sake of their believing parents; and the number of such children which are received into our churches, and which are engaged in the christian ministry, is an evidence of the fact, and of the faithfulness of Him by whom the promises are made. But you are not to expect this blessing unconditionally; nor are you to expect it from the mere fact of their baptism. When God made promise to Abraham, and gave him the sign of circumcision as the token of his covenant, he made the fulfilment of that promise to depend on Abraham’s personal piety, and on the religious education of his children. “Abraham,” said he, “shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him. For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” And in like manner you are to be known to God, and to command your children and your household after you, to keep the way of the Lord, and to do justice and judgment. As parents, you are to have and to exercise authority in your own families. You are not only to advise and to recommend, but you are to command, and to be obeyed. You are “to rule your children and your own houses well; having your children in subjection with all gravity; teaching them p. 28to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded;” and ever, acting in accordance with the vow which you have made, “as for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Having baptized your children unto Christ, you have motives and encouragements of the most powerful and constraining character, to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” You can appeal to them by the fact that you have given them to Christ; that you “have opened your mouth unto the Lord concerning them, and you cannot go back;” and that, by their baptism, they and you have incurred responsibilities from which neither of you can be released, and which should lead both of you to serious consideration, and to unreserved consecration to God. Oh! then, christian parents, use the power and the privilege which God hath thus put into your hands; use them in connection with earnest and unceasing prayer; enforce them by consistent and holy example; cherish “the full assurance of hope” that, through the grace of God, you will succeed. And you shall succeed; “the Lord will bring upon you that which he hath spoken.” “He will be a God unto you, and unto your seed after you.” Your house shall be saved as well as yourself. “He will pour out his Spirit upon your seed, and his blessing upon your offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say I am the Lord’s; another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.”
Finally, I appeal to you as baptized children; and while I congratulate you on the blessed privilege p. 29of having been dedicated to God in your infancy, I would seriously admonish you of the obligations and responsibility which your baptism has imposed. Almost as soon as your existence commenced, you were brought to an ordinance which, like the bow on the cloud, is the sign of God’s better and enduring covenant. When you were almost as unconscious as the cloud on which the rainbow shines, God fixed upon you the sign and the seal of his new covenant righteousness. He did not wait till you had attained to years of maturity, or even of intelligence; but before you could understand, he taught you; before you could hear, he spoke to you; and his significant language was, “You are come into a world of mercy as well as of pollution and sin; and this baptismal water is an emblem of that ‘blood of sprinkling,’ through which mercy may come to you.” That baptism, beloved young friends, has brought you into circumstances of great responsibility. It is an evidence that you were born into the midst of gospel privileges. It is a mark by which you are known to have been dedicated to God. It is a mark which never can be obliterated; which no human efforts can wash out; which you will carry to the grave; and which will be found upon you at the bar of God! With this mark upon you, there you will stand, not as “unclean children” and heathens, but as “the children of the kingdom;” as disciples who have been introduced into Christ’s school, and taught to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded. By that baptism which you have received, and by those commands which you have been taught to observe, you will then be judged. And what will be your end, if you obey not the p. 30gospel of God! In your case especially, obedience is expected, because, in your case, it is especially encouraged. If there was much profit in circumcision, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God, how much more profit is there in baptism, because to you are committed, not only the Old Testament oracles, but the New. If he that was circumcised became thereby “a debtor to do the whole law,” and “to fulfil all its righteousness,” how much more are you, the baptized, debtors to believe and to practice “the glorious gospel.” You have been baptized unto Christ, have you put on Christ? You have been ceremonially qualified for church communion, are you spiritually qualified? You have been dedicated to God by others in your baptism, have you dedicated yourselves to God? You have been “born of water,” have you been “born of the Spirit?” “for except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Nay, except you go back to your own infancy, and become spiritually now, what you were naturally then—“except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven;” and “verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of god as a little child he shall not enter therein.”
PRINTED BY JOSIAH FLETCHER, NORWICH.#ENGLISH