Baptism, Adult or Infant.
IN the Baptist controversy, the opponents of infant baptism consider that Scripture is so clearly on their side, and are so sure that it is only the influence of human custom and authority that holds its supporters in their fetters, that they feel justified in saying that the only reason believers in infant baptism cannot see God's will in Scripture on this point to be what Baptists practise, is their unwillingness to make the sacrifice which would follow their acceptance of the truth. Even men, who are large-hearted and loving men, find it difficult to explain the hold which infant baptism maintains on the Church of Christ on any other ground.
It would indeed be a terrible thing if the charge were true. Tens of thousands of Christians, professing with intensest longing to know the will of God in Scripture, and yet maintaining that to them it teaches that the baptism of the children is His will, not able to see what their brethren assure them is clear as day, only because they are not willing to do His will! Hardly less terrible is the charge if it be not true; because such judgments, however for a time they may be covered by Christian love, yet at times cannot but spring up and bring forth the bitter fruits of division and estrangement, to the weakening of the body of Christ.
And what answer has infant baptism to give to its opponents? Our book, though not written for the purpose, may be taken in answer. There are truths we believe, and duties we consider binding, for which one clear single chapter-and-verse proof cannot be given. Take our keeping holy the first day of the week, instead of the seventh, as the fourth commandment requires. Because there is no distinct command for the change, we have men who insist that they alone truly obey God's commandment who keep the seventh day. And such servants of the letter utterly refuse to listen to or understand the teaching of the Spirit in Scripture, on which the Church, without any literal command, grounds its keeping holy the Lord's day. It is just so with the question between infant and adult baptism. Though there be no literal command to baptize the little ones, the study of God's Word as a whole makes so clear both the ground on which it rests, and the reasons why no literal command on the subject was needed, that the Holy Spirit leads men, wholly given up to follow Him in teachableness and obedience, to find in God's Word the confident assurance that infant baptism is according to His will.
And their judgment then on adult baptism? 'Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth V In the very remarkable chapter from which these words are taken, God has for all time given His Church the principle that ought to guide her in matters in which those who seek to follow the leading of the Word and Spirit differ as to duty. It is a most significant fact that while Paul knew that it was lawful to eat the meat by which some were offended, or to esteem every day alike, he did not interpose his authority, much less the authority of God, to tell the weak brother to give up his ignorant prejudice. Such a decision might have settled that question, but it would have left the Church a great loser; it could ill miss the teaching the chapter conveys, by which, as it is, she has profited all too little. That natural character and other circumstances may give rise to differences of view; that such diversities may at all times exist, which it is not the will of God to settle by any absolute rule; that, therefore, the judgment of the brother is not ours, but the Lord's; and that the exercise of humility and forbearance, for which the diversity calls, may be a far greater blessing than the uniformity which we think so desirable: these are lessons of the utmost importance, which have their applicability here too.
Our place on the earth is such that we can only see one-half of the starry heavens at a time. And so in the great sphere of Divine truth no mind is large enough to grasp the whole. Every truth in man's hands becomes one-sided. God's way of remedying this defect and its danger is to entrust one aspect of truth to one portion of His Church, while another holds the abuse of it in check by testifying for some different aspect. In this way the dependence of all on each other is to be maintained, and the triumph of love in the midst of difference to be made manifest. So with baptism. Infant baptism, with its discipling and baptizing the nations, has its danger. When the Church becomes lax, and the ministry is not faithful in teaching the word of faith, through which alone a sacrament is effective, infant baptism may come to be a form without power. And then adult baptism comes in as a needful protest, to plead for the spiritual character of the rite, and the absolute necessity of a living faith to make it acceptable with God.
But adult baptism, that is, man's teaching concerning it, has its danger too. In the individualism which cannot understand God's dealing with the family, on the groundwork of the covenant of grace, nor the power of a parent's faith, as according to God's will it embraces the child, nor the free mercy which when it takes a child into the covenant for the parent's sake can give it the seal of the covenant ere it has believed, it would utterly fail of gathering in the nations. And while it holds that it alone witnesses aright for the faith through which the sacrament can have its value, and a spiritual blessing be received, infant baptism claims that it is a still bolder witness for the power of faith, as it teaches, in accordance with all God's revelation, how a parent's faith can accept and keep the blessing for the child too.
I sincerely trust that the study of God's words and thoughts, concerning parents and children, will lead those who hold infant baptism to see the Divine ground on which it rests, its deep spiritual significance for them and their seed, and the need of a living faith, as that without which it may become but a lifeless form.