Sermon 20. Infant Baptism

"Whoso shall receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me." Matt. xviii. 5.

{287} PERHAPS there are no words uttered by our Lord in the Gospels more gracious and considerate, as well as holy, just, and good (that is, if we dare measure His words by our own sense of them), than the encouragement given in this text, and others of a similar character; none, more gracious and considerate, taking into account our nature and the necessary consequence of believing the doctrines He has brought to light. He has brought to light life and immortality; but, with immortal life, He has also brought to light eternal death; He has revealed the awful truth, that the soul never dies, never ceases to think and to be conscious, to be capable of happiness or misery; that when once a man is born into the world, neither time nor place, friend nor enemy, Angels nor devils, can touch the living principle within him; not even himself has any power over himself; but, as he has begun, so he must continue to exist on to eternity. He has taught us, that every child, from the {288} moment of his birth, has this prospect before him; also, that far from being sure of heaven, he is to be put on a trial, whether he will serve God or no; nay, not only on a trial, but on a trial not on even terms; not a trial to which he is equal, but with a strong propensity within him to the worst alternative, a tendency weighing him down to earth; so that of himself, he cannot serve God acceptably, or even repent of his unworthy service.

I say, if we knew only this, no thoughtful person could ever, without the greatest humiliation and terror, reflect on his being responsible for the existence of beings exposed to such miserable disadvantages. Surely, if we only knew the primary doctrines of the Gospel, viz., that man is a sinner by nature, and though redeemed by Christ, cannot turn to Christ of his own strength, I say, the cruelty of giving birth to poor infants, who should inherit our nature and receive from us the birthright of corruption, would be so great, that bowing the head to God's appointment, and believing it to be good and true, we could but conclude with the Apostles on one occasion, that "it were good not to marry." Our knowledge of the real condition of man in God's sight would surely lead to the breaking up of society, in proportion as it was sincerely and simply received; for what good were it to know that Christ has died for us, if we also knew that no one is by nature able to repent and believe, and knew nothing more? It would lead thoughtful men to think of their own personal salvation only, and thus to defraud Christ of the succession of believers, and the perpetual family of {289} Saints, which is to be the salt of the earth to the end of time and the full fruit of His passion.

It is true, there is another doctrine besides those which I have stated, viz., that Christ has not only died for sinners, but also vouchsafes from above the influences of grace, to enable them to love what by nature they cannot love, and to do what they cannot do—to believe and obey. But even this would not be enough to remove the alarm and distress of the Christian parent. For, though God mercifully gives His grace to enable men to believe in His Son, yet it is as certain as the truth of Scripture itself, that He does not give His grace to all, but to those to whom He will. If any word of Scripture be true, it is this—that there is an election, that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy," that some men are brought near unto God, and gifted with his regenerating grace, and others not; so that, although we knew ever so much concerning the gift of the Holy Ghost, as well as concerning the meritorious death of Christ, yet, that knowledge would not tend a whit more to reconcile religious men to what they must certainly consider the cruelty, and the personal responsibility of becoming a parent.

I would say, then, that if this were all we knew on the subject, no one of any seriousness could bear the thought of adding to this world's "children of wrath," except an express divine command obliged him to do so. If even a single deliberate act of sin be (as it is) a great and fearful matter, mortal and damnable, yet what is any sin, say blasphemy, murder, idolatry, even the {290} greatest, what would it be to the giving being to a soul intelligent, individual, accountable, fraught with all the sensibilities and affections which belong to human nature, capable of pain, immortal, and in due season manifesting a will incurably corrupt, and a heart at enmity with God, even though there were the chance that possibly it might be one of those who were elected for eternal life? There can be no doubt that if we know no more of the Gospel than I have hitherto mentioned, if we content ourselves with that half Gospel which is sometimes taken for the whole, none would be so selfish and so unfeeling as we, who could be content, for the sake of worldly comforts, a cheerful home, and the like, to surround ourselves with those, about whom, dearly as we loved them, and fervently as we might pray for them, we only knew thus much, that there was a chance—a chance of some sort that, perhaps, they might be in the number of the few whom Christ rescues from the curse of original sin.

Let us now see how His gracious words contained in the text remove the difficulty.

In truth, our Merciful Saviour has done much more for us than reveal the wonderful doctrines of the Gospel; He has enabled us to apply them. He has given us directions as well as doctrines, and while giving them has imparted to us especial encouragement and comfort. What an inactive useless world this would be, if the sun's light did not diffuse itself through the air and fall on all objects around us, enabling us to see earth and sky as well as the sun itself! Cannot we conceive nature so constituted that the sun appeared as a bright {291} spot in the heavens, while the heavens themselves were black as in the starlight, and the earth dark as night? Such would have been our religious state, had not our Lord applied and diversified and poured to and fro, in heat and light, those heavenly glories which are concentrated in Him. He would shine upon us from above in all His high attributes and offices, as the Prophet, Priest, and King of His elect; but how should we bring home His grace to ourselves? How indeed should we gain, and know we gain, an answer to our prayers—how secure the comfortable assurance that He loves us personally, and will change our hearts, which we feel to be so earthly, and wash away our sins, which we confess to be so manifold, unless He had given us Sacraments—means and pledges of grace—keys which open the treasure-house of mercy—ordinances in which we not only ask, but receive, and know we receive, all we can receive as accountable beings (not, indeed, the certainty of heaven, for we are still in the flesh), but the certainty of God's present favour, the certainty that He is reconciled to us, will work in us and with us all righteousness, will so supply our need, that henceforth we shall lack nothing for the completion and overflowing sanctification of our defective and sinful nature, but have all, and more than all that Adam ever had in his first purity, all that the highest Archangel or Seraph ever had, when on his trial whether he would stand or fall?

For instance, in the particular case I have been considering, our gracious Lord has done much more than tell us that some souls are elected to the mercies of redemption and others not. He has not left Christians {292} thus uncertain about their children. He has expressly assured us that children are in the number of his chosen; and, if you ask, whether all children, I reply, all children you can bring to Baptism, all children who are within reach of it. So literally has He fulfilled His promise: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money come ye buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price!" and again, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out." He has disclosed His secret election in a visible Sacrament, and thus enables Christians to bear to be, what otherwise they would necessarily shrink from being—parents. He relieves, my brethren, your anxious minds, anxious (as they must ever be) for your children's welfare, even after all the good promises of the Gospel, but unspeakably anxious before you understand how you are to be rid of the extreme responsibility of bestowing an eternal being upon sinful creatures whom you cannot change. With the tenderest feeling He removes your difficulty. He bids you bring them to Him from the first, and then take and educate them in His name. Like Pharaoh's daughter, He takes them up when you, their natural kin, have been forced to abandon them to inevitable death; and then He gives them back to you to nurse for his sake. "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God." [Mark x. 14.] Again in the text, "Whoso shall {293} receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me." Observe how He speaks, as if He would give you some great and urgent encouragement; not only does He give permission, but He promises a reward to those who dedicate children to Him. He not only bids us do the very thing we wish to do, but bestows on the doing it a second blessing. He promises that if we bring children to Him for His blessing, He will bless us for bringing them; if we receive them for His sake, He will make it as if we received Himself, which is the greatest reward He could give us. Thus, while we are engaged in this work of receiving children in His name, let us recollect, to our great comfort, that we are about no earthly toil; we are taking part in a joyful solemnity, in a blessed and holy ordinance, in which our Saviour Christ not only comes to them, but is spiritually received into our own souls.

These reflections arise on the first view of the subject. However, it may be objected, that, after all, numbers fall away from God, even with the advantages of Baptism, and if so, the birth of children is not a less awful subject of contemplation now than before, nay rather more so, inasmuch as a heavier doom awaits those who sin after grace given, than those who have not received it.

But this objection surely brings us to a very different question. What I have been saying comes to this:—that a child seems by its very nature, which is corrupt and ungodly, to complain of those parents who gave it him; I mean, seems to do so in the parents' estimation, when they think of him. Their tender love towards {294} him is humbled and distressed by this thought: "This dear and helpless object of our affection is a sinner through his parents, shapen in iniquity, conceived in sin, born a child of wrath." Now, I conceive this dreadful thought is at once removed, directly it is known that they who gave him his natural being may also bring him to a second birth, in which original sin is washed away, and such influences of grace given and promised as make it a child's own fault, if he, in the event, fails of receiving an eternal inheritance of blessedness in God's presence. They undo their own original injury. Now that Christ receives us in our infancy, no one has any ground for complaining of his fallen nature. He receives by birth a curse, but by Baptism a blessing, and the blessing is the greater; and to murmur now against his condition is all one with murmuring against his being created at all, his being created as a responsible being, which is a murmuring, not against man, but against God; for though it was man who has made our nature inclined to evil, yet, that we are beings on a trial, with moral natures, a power to do right or wrong, and a capacity of happiness or misery, is not man's work, but the Creator's. Thus parents being allowed to bestow a second birth upon their offspring, henceforth do but share and are sheltered in His responsibility (if I may dare so to speak), who is ever "justified in His sayings, and overcomes when He is judged."

However, it may be asked, how this applies to the case of the heathen? They cannot bring their children to Baptism, therefore they do incur the responsibility of {295} giving being to souls who live and die in the wrath of God. I answer, that a man cannot be responsible for that about which he is altogether ignorant. The heathen have no knowledge of the real state of mankind, and therefore they can have none of the duties which arise out of that knowledge. None of us, not even Christians, know fully our own condition, and the consequences of our actions; else, doubtless, we should be too much overpowered to act at all. Did we see the complete consequences of any one sin, did we see how it spreads by the contagion of example and influence through the world, how many souls it injures, and what its eternal effects are, doubtless we should become speechless and motionless, as though we saw the flames of hell fire. Enough light is given us to direct us, and to make us responsible beings, not so much as to overwhelm us. We are not told the secret of our guilty nature, till we are told the means to escape from it; we are not told of God's fearful wrath, till we are told of His love in Christ. The heathen do not know of Baptism, but they do not know of original sin; for God would allot fear, faith, and hope to all men, despair to none. Again, the heathen know nothing of the eternity of future punishment, yet our Lord, in His account of the judgment, when "all nations" shall be gathered before Him, does not except them from the risk of it. They know neither of eternal death nor eternal life. Let us leave the case of the heathen, about which nothing has been revealed to us; they are in the hand of God, the righteous and merciful God; "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" [Gen. xviii. 25.] {296}

But further, it may be objected that though Baptism is vouchsafed to the children of Christian parents, yet we are expressly assured that the few, not the many, shall be saved; so that the gift, however great, does not remove the difficulty in our way, or make it less of a risk to bring into existence those who are more likely to be among the wretched many than the blessed few. But, surely, this is a misconception of our Saviour's words. Where does He say that only few of the children of His sincere followers shall be saved? He says, indeed, that there will be but few out of the whole multitude of the regenerate; and the greater number of them, as we know too well, are disobedient to their calling. No wonder if their children turn out like themselves, and live to this world. But, because the mass of men abuse their privileges, which we see they do, and because we dare not entertain any sanguine hopes of the children of careless parents, how does this prove that those who do live in God's faith and fear, and are labouring and tending to be in the number of the elect few, may not cherish the confidence that their children, in like manner, will in due season obey God's calling, yield to his Holy Spirit, "be made like the image of his Only-begotten Son, walk religiously in good works," and at length attain to everlasting glory? Solomon, even under the Law, assures us that, if "a child be trained up in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it." [Prov. xxii. 6.] Much more (please God) will this be true, where the parents' prayers and the children's training are preceded by the grant of so {297} great and present a benefit as regenerating Baptism; much more, when His Son has so graciously made the little children patterns to grown men, declaring that then, and then only, we become true members of His Kingdom when we become like them, and when, in sign of His favour "He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them." Let a man consider how much is contained in the declaration, that God "hath not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation;" [1 Thess. v. 9.] and he will feel that he may safely trust his children to their Lord and Saviour—reluctance being no longer a serious prudence, but an unbelieving and unthankful jealousy, and the care of them no burdensome nor sorrowful toil, though an anxious one, but a labour of love, a joyful service done to Christ.

Lastly, it may still be asked what encouragement after all has been gained through Christian Baptism, which we should not have had without it, since it seems the children's hopes are to be ultimately rested not on the Sacrament administered, but on the parents' faith and prayers and careful training of them. These means, it may be objected, might and would have been used by religious men, even though they had known only of Christ's merits and gifts without direction how to convey and apply them to individuals; they would have prayed and been careful then, and so gained grace for their children, and they can do no more now. But can you indeed thus argue? What! is there no difference between asking and receiving?—for prayer is an asking and Baptism is a receiving. Is there no {298} difference between a chance and a certainty? How many infants die in their childhood! is it no difference to know that a child is gone to heaven, or that he has died as he was born? But supposing a child lives, is not regeneration a real gain? does not it renew our nature, exalt us in the scale of being, give us additional powers, open upon us untold blessings, and moreover brighten in an extreme degree the prospect of our salvation, if religious training follows? I will say more. Many men die without any signs of confirmed holiness, or formed character one way or the other. We know, indeed, that privileges not improved will save no one; but we do not know, we cannot pronounce, whether in souls where there is but a little strength, yet much conflict, and much repentance, their regeneration may not, as in the case with children, avail them hereafter in some secret manner which, with our present knowledge, we cannot speak about or imagine. Surely it is not a slight benefit to have been "made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted of the heavenly gift and the powers of the world to come." [Heb. vi. 4,5.]

Now, I trust that these considerations may suffice, through God's grace, to open on you a more serious view of the subject treated of, than is often taken even by those who are not without religious thoughts upon it. I fear, indeed, that most men, though they profess and have a regard for religion, yet have very low and contracted notions of the dignity of their station as Christians. To be a Christian is one of the most wondrous and awful gifts in the world. It is, in one {299} sense, to be higher than Angel or Archangel. If we have any portion of an enlightened faith, we shall understand that our state, as members of Christ's Church, is full of mystery. What so mysterious as to be born, as we are, under God's wrath? What so mysterious as to be redeemed by the death of the Son of God made flesh? What so mysterious as to receive the virtue of that death one by one through Sacraments? What so mysterious as to be able to teach and train each other in good or evil? When a man at all enters into such thoughts, how is his view changed about the birth of children! in what a different light do his duties, as a parent, break upon him! The notion entertained by most men seems to be, that it is a pleasant thing to have a home;—this is what would be called an innocent and praiseworthy reason for marrying;—that a wife and family are comforts. And the highest view a number of persons take is, that it is decent and respectable to be a married man; that it gives a man a station in society, and settles him. All this is true. Doubtless wife and children are blessings from God: and it is praiseworthy and right to be domestic, and to live in orderly and honourable habits. But a man who limits his view to these thoughts, who does not look at marriage and at the birth of children as something of a much higher and more heavenly nature than any thing we see, who does not discern in Holy Matrimony a divine ordinance, shadowing out the union between Christ and the Church, and does not associate the birth of children with the Ordinance of their new birth, such a {300} one, I can only say, has very carnal views. It is well to go on labouring, year after year, for the bread that perisheth; and if we are well off in the world, to take interest and pleasure in our families rather than to seek amusements out of doors; it is very well, but it is not religion; and let us endeavour to make our feelings towards them more and more religious. Let us beware of aiming at nothing higher than their being educated well for this world, their forming respectable connections, succeeding in their callings, and settling well. Let us never think we have absolved ourselves from the responsibility of being their parents, till we have brought them to Christ, as in Baptism, so by religious training. Let us bear in mind ever to pray for their eternal salvation; let us "watch for their souls as those who must give account." Let us remember that salvation does not come as a matter of course; that Baptism, though administered to them once and long since, is never past, always lives in them as a blessing or as a burden: and that though we may cherish a joyful confidence that "He who hath begun a good work in them will perform it," then only have we a right to cherish it, when we are doing our part towards fulfilling it.

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