From the Free Presbyterian Magazine, April 1897.
EVER since the rise of the Anabaptist controversy this question has been very much canvassed. In attempting to settle it, the appeal has, to a certain extent, been frequently made to the testimony of antiquity. This has been the case on both sides, and with regard to both it has been a point of weakness. This question is not alone in this respect. Another question that is to be settled by a line of evidence much resembling the evidence that leads us to give an affirmative answer in this case is the sanctification of the first day of the week— i.e., is it the Christian Sabbath? The Church of Rome, and all that lay great stress on Church testimony, are in the habit of referring to these questions as matters where the appeal to Scripture is not decisive, and resort must be had to the Church for confirmation. On both these matters, however, a train of cumulative reasoning leads us to the position that what the Churches of the Reformation received as the tradition of Christ is essentially what they took it to be.
The question at issue between Paedobaptists (in favour of infant baptism) and Anti-paedobaptists (against infant baptism) is one that has been frequently obscured. It is not, “Should an adult heathen be baptised on his profession of Christian faith?” For on this matter, both sides are at one. But the real point of division is one that relates to the nature of the Church. The Anabaptist view is that the Church visible consists of those who make a profession of faith in Christ, and of them only. The sacrament of baptism they hold to be a peculiar duty and privilege belonging to those bearing such a character. The Church of the New Testament they hold to be spiritual as contrasted with the Old Testament Church which was carnal. Since this is their view, they regard all arguments drawn from the practise in the Old Testament Church as beside the mark, and attach no weight to them. Here we may say is their first mistake. The Church of Christ is one in all ages, and this unity seems to occupy a position by no means unimportant in the writings of the New Testament. Christ came not to establish a new threshing floor—He came to purify the old. He came not to plant a new vineyard. The old olive tree is that into which the Gentile Church has been ingrafted. The Gospel preceded the law; it was preached before to Abraham. The law coming after it could by no means disannul it so that the promise should prove of no effect. For the law is not against the promise, but was subsidiary [less important than but related or supplementary] to it in order to its fulfilment. The law, it is true, was not meant to be permanent. It contained the shadow of good things to come. It was a promise of these good things, and when the time for their coming came the law had served its day and had to pass away. But the promise, to which the law was subsidiary, preceded the law and ran along side of it. When the law dispensation came to an end, the promise still lived on, and as the spiritual light of the Old Testament saints flowed from this promise when it was yet to come, so the light of life for New Testament believers still flows from that same promise, now that substantial fulfilment has been given to it in the actual work and mediation of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven.
The promise given to Abraham was the ground of his faith. In it, he saw Christ’s day and was glad, and that promise, in its varied forms of expression as given to him at various times, tells of God Almighty being a God to him and to his seed after him. “I will be their God and they shall be my people” is the great promise of eternal life. This promise served as the ground of Abraham’s faith, and God, who was his God, was the God of his seed after him. In this covenant of promise there was a seal attached (Gen 17). This was circumcision. Of this seal we read that it was a seal of the righteousness of faith. It further bespoke the fulness of the covenant salvation, typifying as it did the circumcision of the heart by the knowledge of God. Thus it was spiritual, and to those who walked in the steps of Abraham’s faith, who rested on the promise that God should be their God and the God of their seed, it sealed the righteousness of faith, and told of deliverance from the power of sin. Age after age of Old Testament believers had thus the sign in their flesh of the faithfulness of a covenant God. Taking God at His word, that He should be the God of their seed, their male children were circumcised. They gave themselves to Him and determined that, as for them and their house, they would serve the Lord. The circumcision of their flesh they had received in their infancy. On their faith, the seal effectually sealed what it figuratively spoke of. The seal was a sign of spiritual blessings given in connection with the covenant of promise; yet the profession that it implied was made not alone for the individual who had respect to this ordinance as God’s command, but also it was made for the eight-day- old male child. There was a principle of family religion and family dedication to God’s service. The promise, in relation to which this observance was instituted, whose meaning it typified, and whose blessings it represented, is the root and fatness of the olive tree. The good olive tree has been spoiled of its natural branches. For unbelief they have been cut off, and a Gentile Church, that once was alienated from the covenant of promise, is grafted in to share of the root and fatness of the olive tree. The promise is one and unchanged—to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee—so it reads, so it is to be received, and so when the new dispensation was set on foot it was declared. It is “unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, to as many as the Lord shall call.” This promise, applied by faith, causes the believer to receive God in Christ as his God, and the God of his seed too. Thus, is the gospel Church constituted, even of the blessed of the Lord and their offspring with them. But in connection with this dispensation, the old seal has been abrogated. It had become so intimately associated with the ministration of condemnation that it was, in itself, now ambiguous. It had become a badge of devotion to Moses, and many who wore the badge with more zeal than knowledge sought to lay on the neck of the disciples the burden that their fathers could not bear.
In connection, however, with the ministration of the Spirit, a seal has likewise been given of the righteousness of faith, a seal that speaks too of the cleansing of the conscience and heart. This new seal is of similar import with the old, and those who accepted Jesus as the end of the law for righteousness, showed their submission to Him as Son over His own house in taking up His yoke, professing His truth, and being baptised into His name. God in Christ is their God, and the God of their seed. The family consecration has not passed away—it preceded the law, and it survives it. The children of the believer are on a different platform from that on which the seed of the ungodly are. They are not unclean, they are holy. They are within the bonds of the covenant promise. Covenant privileges are theirs. God has given himself to be their God. This has He done to their parents. It is but taking Him at His word to acknowledge this by the initiatory rite into the Christian fellowship. They are born in the Church. Their baptism but recognises what is theirs, and their obligations to take God as their God are thus sealed to them. But it may be asked, “How do we know that infants and children were baptised”? Take the principle of family consecration, take the wording of God’s promise, take the oneness of meaning in circumcision and baptism, take the accounts of household baptisms, and do not these things in their collective force lead us to the conclusion that baptism has taken the place of circumcision? Yet it may be urged (and is urged), “Can an infant make a solemn profession of devotion to God?” No more could the eight-day-old boy under the older economy, yet one and the same profession was made, and one and the same promise was rested on. If we note the baptisms of the New Testament, there is one sort that we cannot find, and that is the baptism of the child of Christian parents come to age, and being baptised on his own profession of faith. Such a case would be a precedent for Anabaptist practice. Until such a case is found, we have no example on which to rely as a proof of Anabaptist principles. We nowhere find infants excluded from the status they once had, and the privilege they once enjoyed. Nay, we find their status acknowledged, and cases of family baptism recorded, which, in the light of the unchanging tenor of the covenant promise, should abundantly satisfy us that when a believer entered into the fold of Christ by public profession, his seed were taken with him into the standing of holiness that the parents’ profession secured to them.