Thomas N. Ralston, D.D.

IT is admitted by all who believe in the propriety of water baptism that believers in Christ, or all who are "the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus," are proper subjects of baptism; hence we deem it useless to stop a moment to present proof upon that subject. The question we propound is this, Are believers the only proper subjects of baptism? That the Baptist position upon this question is erroneous, we shall endeavor to show.
I. That the INFANT CHILDREN of believing parents are proper subjects of Christian baptism, is a plain, direct, and necessary inference from the express statute and appointment of God.
He who will believe nothing that is not formally declared, in so many words, in Scripture, must expunge from his creed a large portion of the important truths which are firmly believed by the entire body of orthodox Christians. It is admitted by every intelligent, unbiased mind that, in all the judicial proceedings of courts, and according to the acknowledged principles of sound logic, inferential testimony is often as satisfactory and convincing as direct proof possibly can be; therefore to discard or deny the validity of inferential testimony, is only to give evidence that we are governed in our opinions by the arbitrary impulse of blinded prejudice rather than the sober dictates of calm and correct reasoning. To illustrate this principle, we remark that the Scriptures nowhere, in direct terms, declare that God exists; yet who will not admit that the existence of God is abundantly established in the Bible by inferential testimony? There is no record in Scripture commanding sacrificial worship in the patriarchal age; yet who for a moment can doubt that this method of worship originated in divine appointment? There is no direct precept in the Bible changing the Sabbath to the first day of the week, yet the fact is generally recognized. Family prayer is admitted to be a duty, but where is direct precept for it? Similar observations might be made in reference to various other important religious obligations, which, though not directly enjoined, are acknowledged to rest on inferential testimony entirely satisfactory.

We will now proceed to show that infant baptism is established by inferential testimony deduced from the direct command of God. And, first, we remark that all law, to be obligatory upon the subject, must be enacted by a power having the right to command; and when thus enacted, it remains in force until the same authority by which it was enacted, or some other power of equal authority, shall repeal it. The truth of this position, we think, cannot be questioned. Now if it can be shown that the right of infants to membership in the Church of God was once established by direct enactment of Heaven, and that the right of baptism now pertains to all who are entitled to membership in the Church, it necessarily follows that infants are entitled to baptism, unless it can be shown that the divine enactment by which their membership in the Church was once recognized has been annulled by the authority of God.

That the premises in this argument may be rendered indubitable, we proceed, first, to show that infants were embraced in the Abrahamic covenant, and were by the appointment of God recognized as members of the Church established in the family of that patriarch, and signed and sealed as such by the rite of circumcision. God spoke thus to Abraham: "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. . . . 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 covenant." Gen. 17:10-14.

Upon this subject we consider it needless to multiply quotations. The point before us is a very plain one. The position we here take, we believe, is universally admitted. Indeed, it cannot be denied. It is this, that infants, both male and female, were admitted by the circumcision of the males into the covenant relation to God, as members of the Church of God, from the establishment of that Church in Abraham's family down to the coming of Christ.

II. We proceed, in the next place, to show that the covenant made with Abraham, and the Church established in his family on the basis of that covenant, were substantially THE SAME COVENANT AND THE SAME CHURCH more fully unfolded and continued under the gospel dispensation.

It is readily admitted that the gospel, as set forth in the New Testament, reveals a new dispensation of religion; but the question is, Does it exhibit an essentially new Church? We affirm that it does not.

What, we demand, constitutes the essential identity of the Church? Is it necessary that it be the same in every particular circumstance pertaining to it? Surely not. By this rule nothing belonging to this world preserves its identity for a single day; for all things about us are subject to continual mutations. The human body is constantly changing, yet the babe of a day old maintains its essential identity up to old age. A political government may undergo numerous important modifications, yet it may continue the identical government for a succession of years, or even for centuries; just so, the Church may preserve its essential identity while it passes through a variety of fortunes. The government of Great Britain, or of the United States, may experience a variety of changes it may change its chief ruler, its ministry, its administration, and measures of policy; yet still, while its constitution and governing power remain essentially the same, it is the same government.

With these general principles before us, we will examine the Scriptures touching the identity of the Church from the days of Abraham to the present time.

First, we notice the appellations given to the Church in ancient times. God styles the descendants of Abraham his "people," his "sheep," his "vine" or "vineyard," his "children," his "elect" or "chosen," his "own," his "sons and daughters," and his "Church." St. Stephen terms the Jewish people in the days of Moses the "Church": "This is he that was in the Church in the wilderness," etc. Acts 7:38. David uses similar language: "In the midst of the Church will I praise thee." Ps. 22:22. In confirmation of the same position, St. Paul says: "Unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them." Heb. 4:2. And again: "They did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ." 1 Cor. 10:4. And Christ says: "Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad." John 8:56.

The identity of the Jewish Church with that of the gospel is also manifest from the words of Christ to the Jews: "Therefore I say unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." Matt. 21:43. Read the whole parable upon which this text is the comment, and then say, What "kingdom" was to be "taken from" the Jews and "given" to the Gentiles? If it was not the Church, what else could it have been? The passage is susceptible of no other interpretation. The "kingdom of God" taken from the Jews was identical with the "kingdom" given to the Gentiles; hence the Jewish and Christian Churches are essentially the same.

St. Paul exhibits the Church of God under the emblem of an "olive-tree." This he borrows from Jeremiah, who, speaking of the Jewish Church, says: "The Lord called thy name, A green olive-tree, fair, and of goodly fruit; with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken." Jer. 11:16.

In reference to the rejection of the Jews and the admission of the Gentiles into the Church under the gospel, St. Paul comments as follows: "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive-tree, weft grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive-tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear; for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God; on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise, thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive-tree which is wild by nature, and weft grafted contrary to nature into a good olive-tree; how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive-tree." Rom. 11:15-24.

The scope of the apostle's reasoning is so plain here that it cannot be misunderstood by an intelligent, unbiased person. The Jews were originally embraced in Church relation with Abraham and the heads of the Jewish Church, who are represented as the "first-fruit" which was "holy", that is, they were consecrated, or set apart in a sacred Church relation, represented under the emblem of a "good olive-tree." From this tree they were "broken off because of unbelief." Into this same tree, or into the same covenant relation and Church privileges, the believing Gentiles were engrafted. But did this rejection of the unbelieving Jews destroy the primitive Church of God into which they had been taken? By no means. The unfruitful branches "were broken off," but the original stock remained. The "good olive-tree" yet stood firm, and into the same stock the Gentiles were engrafted.

The Gentile Church was formed, not by the planting of an original tree, not by a new Church organization from the foundation, but by the bringing of new materials upon the old foundation. The establishment of the Christian Church was not the erection of a new house. but the removal of "the middle wall of partition," that both Jews and Gentiles, according to God's original purpose and the promise made to Abraham, might dwell together as one "household of faith" in that same divinely constructed edifice which was "built upon the foundation," (not of the apostles alone, but) "of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone." Eph. 2:20.

Now, we demand, unless the New Testament Church is a continuation of the original Church established in the family of Abraham, essentially the same, though under a change of dispensation, how is it possible to place any sensible construction upon the language of St. Paul in the passage presented? We confidently affirm that the passage admits of no other interpretation; and if so, does it not follow that as infants were by divine appointment received into the Abrahamic Church, therefore they still retain the right of Church-membership derived from the original charter, and consequently they have a right to baptism. The only possible way to escape this conclusion will be to show that the law of God conferring upon infants, in the days of Abraham, the right to covenant and Church privileges has been repealed under the gospel; but this never has been, and, as we are sure, never can be done.

III. As another link in our chain of argument, we proceed to show that BAPTISM CAME IN THE ROOM OF CIRCUMCISION.

For one thing to be admitted as a substitute for or in the room of another, it is not necessary that they be the same in every particular and circumstance; for then the two would be identical, and the idea of substitution would be an absurdity. It is enough if they occupy the same essential position, and serve the same purpose in reference to their most important particulars.

That the sacrament of the "Supper" is in the room of the "Passover" will not be disputed. They are both feasts to be regularly kept up by the people of God; they both have a spiritual import expressed under emblems; they were both designed to assist the faith and promote the spiritual improvement of the worshipers; they both pointed to the same great sacrifice "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world;" yet they differed in various particulars, and these points of difference were precisely of such character as the nature of the two dispensations would naturally indicate.

The gospel is peculiarly contradistinguished from the Mosaic institute as well as from the patriarchal religion by its greater degree of mildness and the extension of its privileges; so it is with the "Supper" as compared with the "Passover." In the one, was the bloody offering of the slain lamb and the partaking of a full meal; in the other, is simply the contrite and believing heart with the "bread" and the "wine." The one is certainly done away; and the other, ordained in its room and stead, is to be perpetuated "alway," showing "the Lord's death till he come." The one looked through the dim distance to a Messiah to come; the other, to Calvary, to him who had already come, and died for the sins of the world.

As the "Lord's-supper" is related to the "Passover," just so is "baptism" to "circumcision." The analogy in the case is almost perfect. Baptism, as compared with circumcision, is milder in its requirements, and more extended in the application of its privileges. In the one, we see a bloody and painful rite; in the other, the pure fountain of baptismal water. In the one, the Jews only, as a nation, are concerned; in the other, the mission is to "all the world," to "every creature." In the one, the requirement only referred to males, and the eighth day was specifically designated as the time for the observance of the rite; in the other, both sexes were included, and all days, and times, and seasons, were alike sanctioned and allowed. Thus it appears that although baptism differed in several particulars from circumcision, yet, in all these points of difference, the change from the one to the other is only such as the peculiar characteristics of the gospel would naturally indicate.

But we now inquire for the evidence sustaining the position that baptism is in the room of circumcision.

They are seals and signs of the same covenant.

In the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul, speaking of Abraham, says: "He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also; and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effort. . . . Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,)" Rom. 4:11-17.

The account here given of circumcision is susceptible of no sensible solution, unless we interpret it to teach that circumcision occupied, in connection with the ancient Church, precisely the same position that is filled by baptism under the gospel. It is here a sign and a seal, but of what? Was it a sign and seal of the Sinaitic covenant? Did it partake of the nature of the ceremonies of the Mosaic ritual? Did it merely ratify the divine promise to the Jews of the temporal mercies of Canaan? Surely no such construction is admissible. It sealed "the righteousness of faith," not that of the law; even the righteousness which Abraham had, "yet being uncircumcised." It was a seal of the covenant under which Abraham was "justified by faith," "that he might be the father of all who believe" under the gospel.

Was circumcision the initiatory rite of the Church in the days of Abraham and Moses? so was baptism in the days of Peter and of Paul. Was circumcision a sign or token of visible membership in the Church of God, and of covenant relation to him? so is baptism. Was circumcision an emblem of moral cleansing and purification? so is baptism. Did circumcision point to the remission of sins by the atonement of Christ, and to regeneration and sanctification by the Spirit? so does baptism. Circumcision, all admit, has passed away. It ceased as the gospel was established; but baptism now occupies the same position, means the same thing, seals the same covenant, the same righteousness, and is a pledge of the same spiritual benefits. If baptism be not in the room of circumcision, then we ask, Where is now the initiatory rite of the Church? where is the seal of "the righteousness of faith"? where is the external badge to distinguish the children of Abraham? They are not to be found; and the Church is left with no initiatory rite, no seal of the covenant, no external pledge, confirming to the children of Abraham the gracious promise of the glorious inheritance of the spiritual Canaan.

But it is said by some that "the Abrahamic covenant was only a Jewish grant, and promised only temporal mercies." This position is too unscriptural to be admitted. Adopt this theory, and what becomes of the promise to Abraham "I will make thee the father of many nations," and "in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed"? Does this language indicate merely temporal mercies to the Jews alone? No, verily; it embodies the great gospel charter of salvation to all the world upon the condition of faith in Christ. We urge the inquiry, What has become of the Abrahamic covenant? Shall we be told that it has passed away with "the law of commandments contained in ordinances," "Christ having nailed it to his cross?" St. Paul hath triumphantly refuted this position. Hear his language: "And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise." Gal. 3:17-18.

Now, we demand, what is the argument of the apostle here? He was maintaining against the Judaizing teachers that the Gentiles were embraced in the Abrahamic covenant, and consequently were entitled to the privileges of the gospel Church. But how does he reason? Plainly thus: The "covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ" was the covenant with "Abraham," which was confirmed by the "seal of circumcision." This covenant "the law cannot disannul;" and why? Because it did not take its existence from the law, but was given "to Abraham four hundred and thirty years" before the giving of the law; and as it did not derive its existence from the law, so neither can it be dependent on the law for the continuance of that existence. The law, with its shadows and ceremonies, may "wax old" and "vanish away," being fulfilled in Christ; but not so the Abrahamic covenant which preceded it. This covenant confirmed unto Abraham and his seed all the rich and endless blessings of the everlasting gospel. Of this covenant, circumcision was the seal up to the coming of Christ. Under the gospel, the seal is changed; circumcision is done away; it now "availeth nothing." But is the covenant disannulled? It stands in all its force; it has lost nothing of its importance and value. The Sinaitic covenant may perish, and with it the peculiar national and temporal immunities of the Jewish people; but while the oath of God stands firm, the Abrahamic covenant shall remain unshaken on its foundation, undiminished in its blessings, and undimmed in its luster. And this is the covenant by which the Church of God originally arose into being; it has been the great unfailing charter of that same Church in all ages, even from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to David, from David to Christ, and shall continue such, not only till the wandering and outcast tribes of God's ancient people shall be brought back with the "fullness of the Gentiles," and all nations shall be blessed in the Redeemer, but till the consummation of the last achievement of Heaven's redeeming scheme.

If, then, as we are compelled to admit, the Church, as to its essential identity, the covenant, confirming the chartered blessings of salvation, and the promise, securing to believers the heritage of eternal life, all remain unchanged, and these same blessings, once sealed and pledged by circumcision, are now sealed and pledged by baptism, does it not follow that baptism has taken the place of circumcision?

The argument here presented in favor of infant baptism may be briefly stated thus: The Church of God is essentially the same Church now that it was when God commanded that infants should be admitted into it as members. God has never authorized the repeal of that command; hence it is still in force; consequently, infants are now entitled to membership in the Church. But membership in the Church of God can now only be conferred through the initiatory rite of baptism; therefore, as infants are entitled to Church-membership, they have also a right to baptism.

Again, substantially the same argument may be stated in another form, thus: The Abrahamic covenant and that of the gospel are the same; God once ordained that all, upon entering upon this covenant relation with him, should receive the sign and seal of circumcision. What was once confirmed by the sign and seal of circumcision is now by divine appointment confirmed by the sign and seal of baptism; therefore baptism has come in the room of circumcision. Infants by divine appointment had a right to circumcision; but baptism having come in the room of circumcision, therefore they have a right to baptism. Again, the Church of God is essentially one in all ages. God has enacted that infants constitute a part of that one Church, and that enactment has never been repealed; therefore infants are still a part of that Church. All who compose the Church have a right to all its ordinances which they are capable of receiving; but baptism is an ordinance of the Church which infants are capable of receiving; therefore infants have a right to baptism.

IV. We now proceed to examine some plain passages of Scripture found in the New Testament, bearing upon the question before us.

The opposers of infant baptism have clamored long and loud for some "explicit warrant" for this practice. "Baptism," say they, "is a positive institute, therefore we cannot admit the application of this ordinance to infants without a 'Thus saith the Lord.' Bring us a direct command from the Bible, or a plain statement of the fact that the apostles baptized infants, and then we will admit them to the ordinance."

Suppose we were to admit that Christ has not, in so many words, explicitly commanded the baptism of infants, and that it is not directly authorized by any unquestionable apostolic example, would the propriety of infant baptism be thereby disproved? Are we to reject from our creed and practice every thing for which we cannot produce an express Scripture warrant? Some observations have already been made on this point, but a few additional remarks seem to he pertinent in this connection. The masterly production of the Rev. Peter Edwards on Baptism, with all who will read it, sets the question here under review forever at rest. He demonstrates most conclusively the fallacy of the Baptists in their reasoning on the subject of "explicit warrant" for infant baptism.

The substance of the reply to this subterfuge of the Baptists may be briefly stated thus: The argument proves too much; therefore nothing. Any reasoning which proves what all admit to be false must be fallacious, and cannot in fairness be adopted by any party. All concede the propriety of admitting females to the communion of the "Lord's-supper," and yet the same argument here urged against infant baptism would most unquestionably exclude them. Female communion is as destitute of any "explicit warrant" from Scripture as infant baptism can be supposed to be, even by its opponents.

Mr. Edwards affirms: "1. That, according to the principles and reasoning of the Baptists, a woman, however qualified, can have no right at all to the Lord's-table. 2. That the Baptists, in opposing infant baptism and defending female communion, do shift their ground, contradict themselves, and prevaricate most pitifully. 3. That, according to their principles and mode of reasoning, God had no Church in this world for at least fifteen hundred years.

We remark that it is admitted by all that both baptism and the Lord's-supper are positive institutes; hence it is obvious that any reasoning against infant baptism, founded on the fact that it is a positive institute, will be equally applicable to the Lord's-supper. Now we affirm that it is impossible to prove, the right of females to the Lord's-supper by "explicit warrant." This never has been, and never can be done; yet all admit that they have that right. If, then, they have that right without "explicit warrant," how can we reject infants from baptism, another positive institute, merely for the lack of an "explicit warrant"? In other words, if the right of infants to baptism and the right of females to communion are both proved by the same mode of reasoning, we cannot, without manifest inconsistency, admit female communion and reject infant baptism. But female communion can only be proved by inferential testimony; hence, it follows that, if infant baptism can be proved by a similar kind of testimony, if we admit the one, we must also admit the other.

Although the proof of infant baptism, already presented, or which may yet be exhibited, may not be of that class strictly comprehended by the term "explicit warrant," yet we maintain that it is equally satisfactory and convincing.

1.  We now call attention to our Savior's language in reference to infants: "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." (Mark 10:13-16.) Again, we read, "And 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." (Luke 9:47-48.) And, again, it is recorded, "And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them; but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer 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, shall in no wise enter therein." (Luke 16:15-17.)

  1. Our first remark in reference to these passages is, that there can be no doubt that these were real infants that were brought to Christ; that is, infants in regard to age. This is plain from the fact that our Lord "took them up in his arms."
  2. To receive one in the name of Christ is to receive him as belonging to Christ, as in covenant relation and visible union with him; as a member of that body, or Church, of which he is the head.
  3. The phrase, "kingdom of God," here evidently means the Church of God on earth, and not the heavenly state. This is clear from the fact that it cannot be said of all children that they are members of the Church in heaven; for they might live to maturity, die in their sins, and perish everlastingly. Hence, children are here recognized as members of the gospel Church on earth by our Lord himself.
  4. The phrase "of such is the kingdom of God," or "of heaven," as St. Matthew records it (Matt. 19:13-15), cannot, as some suppose, mean merely that "the kingdom of heaven" is composed of persons of a child-like disposition. Such construction would reduce our Lord's reasoning to nonsense; for how can the fact that adults of a child-like disposition are members of the Church, or belong to the "kingdom of heaven," furnish any reason why children - infants - should be brought to Christ for his blessing? But if infants have a covenant relation to Christ, as connected with his gospel Church on earth, then there is propriety in saying: "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." The reason for suffering infants to come to Christ must not be found in others, but in the infants themselves; for the Savior has placed it there.
  5. As it is manifest, according to the most obvious construction of our Savior's language, that he here recognizes infants as connected with the gospel Church, it follows that they are entitled to baptism.
2. St. Paul affirms that "all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (1 Cor. 10:1-2.)

We readily admit that the baptism here spoken of by the apostle was not the Christian baptism, distinctively so called; yet it was a scriptural baptism, so recognized by the inspired apostle. Turn now to Exodus, the twelfth chapter, and you will find that these "fathers" who were "baptized unto Moses," embraced "six hundred thousand men, beside children, and a mixed multitude." These "children," of course, embraced children of all ages, infants, as well as older children; for the Israelites took all their households with them. Here, then, we have recorded in the New Testament one clear example of infant baptism. The fact cannot be denied. We do not, however, rely upon this example of infant baptism as furnishing our proof of that ordinance in the Christian Church; we only refer to it as a refutation of the oft-repeated boast that there is no example of infant baptism recorded in the Bible.

3. We know not how to construe our Lord's grand commission to his apostles without finding in it an express command to baptize infants.

This commission has been more than once quoted for different purposes. We will not here repeat it. It is enough to say that in this commission the apostles are commanded to "disciple and baptize all nations." That the word  here rendered "teach," means to "proselyte," or to "disciple," no scholar will deny.  As the text is rendered in our version, Matthew is made to be guilty of a tautology inconsistent with his character as a writer. Christ is said to command the apostles to "teach all nations;" and then, in the next verse, to repeat the same command, "teaching them," etc. In the Greek of this text there is no tautology. In the nineteenth verse, the word used by the apostle means, as we have said, "disciple all nations," or make proselytes of them. In the twentieth verse Matthew does not use the same word he had used in the nineteenth verse, but didaschontes, from didasko, to teach. The import of the command is, "Go disciple all nations;" but how? Plainly, by first "baptizing them;" and then, as they may be able to receive it, "teaching them," etc.

4. Now, the question with which we are directly concerned is this: Are infants included as a part of the "all nations" here mentioned? Most assuredly, we reply, they are; for it takes both sexes, all classes, all conditions, and all ages, to constitute the nation. But the apostles were commanded to "baptize all nations," and infants are a part of "all nations;" therefore, the apostles were commanded to baptize infants.

The logical conclusion here arrived at cannot be escaped by entering the plea that, "as infants are incapable of being taught, hence they ought not to be baptized." It would be fallacious reasoning to argue that because there are impediments in the way of executing one command, therefore it is wrong to obey another command in the way of which there are no impediments.

The apostles could neither "go into all the world" at once, nor "preach to every creature" at once. There were impediments in the way. The plain, common-sense construction is this: all divine commands, and all parts of the apostles' commission, should be obeyed just as soon and as fully as the nature and circumstances of the case admit. No impediment in reference to one duty can release from obligation in reference to another.

How, we ask, may we reasonably suppose the apostles would understand this commission? They were all Jews, strongly prejudiced in favor of the religion and customs of their nation. For centuries past that people had been familiar with a religion whose uniform polity, and that too originating in divine appointment, had recognized infants with their parents as members of the Church, the only Church God had ever organized in the world. They were familiar also with the custom of inducting Gentile proselytes, the children, with their parents into the Church by the same sacred rite. How, then, we repeat, would they naturally construe the terms of their commission? Would they ever dream that they were to "disciple" only the adult portion of "all nations"? Had they been told that children were no longer to dwell with their parents in covenant and Church relation to God, would not their Jewish training and prejudice have revolted at the idea?

That the apostles could have understood their mission as not including the infants as a part of the "nations," we believe to be a moral impossibility. If this be so, the Savior knew it when he gave the commission; then it will follow either that Christ intentionally deceived the apostles, or he gave them authority to "disciple," or admit into Church relation the infants of believing parents. The former supposition is impossible, therefore the latter must be true; and if so, we cannot escape the conclusion that we have here a divine command for the baptism of the infant children of believing parents.

5. We now notice the proceedings of the apostles in the execution of their commission.

In his sermon at Pentecost, St. Peter opened the gospel kingdom to the Jews. After having instructed his convicted hearers to "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins," promising them "the gift of the Holy Ghost," he gives, as a reason for their compliance, the following fact: "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." (Acts 2:38-39.).

We now inquire, does this passage contain any intimation that infants are to be recognized as sustaining any connection with the gospel Church? That we may understand this text, we must know to what promise the apostle refers. As a clue to this inquiry, we remark that it must be some promise in which, first, the Jews and their children were specially interested; secondly, it must be some promise in which the Gentiles were also interested, and to which they were to be called. Where shall we find such a promise?

The Baptists, to escape the consequence that would result to their system by the admission that the apostle here referred to the great promise connected with the Abrahamic covenant, have entered the plea that the allusion of St. Peter, in this place, is exclusively to the promise of Joel 2:28-29, which he had quoted in the commencement of his discourse. It is true that, so far as the effusion of the Holy Spirit is concerned, the promise of Joel had already been referred to as recording the prediction whose fulfillment had just been witnessed. But in the thirty-ninth verse the apostle refers to a promise, not to explain the fact of the miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost, but to encourage his convicted and distressed hearers to "repent and be baptized." The word "for," in the commencement of the thirty-ninth verse, connects directly, not with the promise of Joel, but with the preceding verse, "Repent and be baptized," etc. Why should they "repent and be baptized?" "For (gar because) 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."

It is most certain that the direct reference of the apostle must have been to some other promise than that of Joel; for he (Joel) refers only to adults, while Peter says "to you," adults, and to "your children." The inspired apostle could not have blundered. He must have referred to a promise containing all the items included in his specifications. If no such promise could be found, we should certainly be puzzled to vindicate the accuracy of the apostle>s quotation; but as it is, nothing but blinded prejudice in favor of a theory can hide from our view the promise in question.

After reading the language of Peter in this place, we have only to turn to Genesis, the seventeenth chapter, and beginning at the seventh verse, we may find the noted promise quoted by the apostle in almost the exact words, and embracing the specifications in full. St. Peter says, "unto you and to your children." The promise reads (Gen. 17:7), "To be a God unto thee and unto thy seed after thee." There is here a complete harmony in phraseology. In the one we read, "unto thee and thy seed;" in the other, "unto you and to your children." But there is not only a correspondence in terms, but also in subject-matter; each refers to the great covenant of grace, and also to a rite of initiation into the Church under that covenant. In the one that rite was circumcision; in the other, baptism.

Look at the circumstances of the speaker and hearers on this memorable occasion, and how is it possible that either the one or the others could have understood these terms, "thee and thy seed," "you and your children" in any other sense than that of implying parents and their infants? That the words in Genesis, where the promise is issued, embraced infants, Baptists themselves will not deny; and if so, Peter could not have quoted that promise in so nearly the exact words, and then change it in its import in a matter so sacred to the heart of every Jew as was the covenant Church relation of his children, without a word of comment concerning that change, or even an intimation that it had been made. And stranger still is the hypothesis that the prejudiced and bigoted people, who were ever ready to "wrangle for a rite, quarrel for a fast, and almost fight for a new moon," could have so quiescently witnessed the excision of their infant children from the covenant Church of God, and yet not a murmur from their lips be heard on the subject, either at Pentecost, when Peter first announced baptism as the rite of initiation under the new dispensation, or at any time subsequently, amid all their Judaizing clamors! The supposition is incredible. Then, we demand, do we not here find, in the words of the apostle, a satisfactory Scripture warrant for infant baptism?

If it be contended that "the promise here is not to infant children, but only to adult posterity," to this we reply that such a construction is contradicted by the fact in the case. The Jews always understood it as applying to their infants at eight days old, and practiced upon it accordingly for centuries.

Again, if it be said that "the latter clause of St. Peter's address 'even as many as the Lord our God shall call' limits the promise exclusively to the 'called,' and consequently it could not embrace infants," to this we reply that the apostle makes no such limit. Those whom he addressed were the actually "called." In reference to them he says, "the promise is to you." But he does not stop; he goes on "and to your children;" that is, the children of those addressed. The plain construction of the language is this: "The promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off," and to their children, "even as many as the Lord our God shall call," and' to their children.

The promise was, unquestionably, that embraced in the Abrahamic covenant, extending the gospel tender of salvation to the Gentiles who were "afar off," and who were to be "called," with their children, into communion and covenant fellowship with the Jews and their children, in the bosom of that same original Church of God, from which the Jews, as a nation, for their unbelief, were now to be "broken off," as unfruitful "branches" of the "good olive-tree."

Therefore we have the most indubitable evidence from the passage under review that infants, under the new economy, are placed in the same relation to baptism as they were to circumcision under the old. The language of Peter is almost precisely the same as that of the promise referred to in Genesis. In the one place the promise is connected with circumcision, and all who shared the promise received the rite. In the other place, the promise is connected with baptism, and all who share the promise should receive the rite. But infants are connected with the promise in both instances; and from Abraham up to Christ they shared, with their parents, the rite of circumcision. Hence it is clear that, as infants are still, as much as ever, connected with the same covenant promise, they are entitled to Christian baptism.

6. The baptism of several households, under the apostolic administration, will, when the several instances are closely examined, furnish strong ground for believing that the apostles baptized the children with the parents, upon the conversion of the latter. In the cases of "household" baptism recorded, we do not claim that there were certainly infants in any of those families. There may or may not have been, so far as we have any direct evidence. We think it probable that there were. But what we do claim in reference to this subject is, that the apostles seem to have acted upon the principle that parents were to bring their children with them into the Church, according to the long-established Jewish practice.

The first case of this kind to which we refer, is that of Lydia and her household. "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshiped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there." (Acts 16:14-15.).

In this brief account notice several particulars:

  1. "Lydia" and "her household" were baptized.
  2. Various particulars are specified in reference to the piety and conversion of Lydia. She  "worshiped God," she "heard" the apostles, "the Lord opened" her "heart," she "attended unto the things spoken," she said, "If ye have judged me to be faithful," etc.
  3. There is not one word in reference to the piety or conversion of Lydia's household.

Now, if her "household" consisted of adults, why so many items about her conversion, and not a syllable in reference to the conversion of her "household"? Admit that her household were children who were baptized on the faith of their parent, and all is natural and easy; otherwise it is inexplicable.

Another case of household baptism is that of the jailer and his house. (Acts 17:30-35.)

  1. When the jailer, convicted and trembling, inquired, "Sirs, What must I do to be saved?" the apostle replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." No intimation that faith was required of his house. How natural this, if the apostle intended that his children were to be admitted to the Church by baptism on the faith of their father! But if his house Consisted of adults who were to act for themselves, the language seems inappropriate, and not sufficiently explicit for the occasion.
  2. 2. The jailer "was baptized, he and all his, straightway." Yet there is not a word about faith being required of any but the jailer. If it be objected that the apostle spoke the word to "all that were in the house," and that the jailer "rejoiced, believing in God with all his house," hence they were all adults, to this we reply, although it be admitted that there were adult members of the "house" who heard the word and "rejoiced, believing in God," in company with the jailer, yet this does not necessarily exclude infants from being also embraced in the "house," and being baptized. It is not said that none received baptism, but such as heard, believed, and rejoiced. The record of the baptism is in a separate verse, and simply states that the jailer "was baptized, he and all his, straightway." Here there is no restriction of baptism to such as believed. Nor is there any proof that all the "house" believed. It cannot be disputed that the phrase translated, "and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house," might have been more accurately rendered thus, "and he, believing in God, rejoiced with (or over) all his house." Hence, there is still no proof that all the "house" were adults; but there is explicit testimony that the jailer and all his were baptized.

Several other "household" baptisms are mentioned in the New Testament; but enough has been said to show that the style of the apostles, in speaking of the baptism of parents and their households, is perfectly natural, and such as we might reasonably expect, if they proceeded on the principle of receiving children with their parents into the Church; but if otherwise, the apostles' account of their own administration was well calculated to mislead the Jewish mind.

V. The historical argument for infant baptism we consider entirely conclusive and satisfactory.

Tertullian, who lived about two hundred years after the birth of Christ, is the first man of whom Church-history furnishes any account who, in any shape, opposed infant baptism. But when we notice his reasons for opposing it, his opposition is an argument rather for than against it. He had imbibed the superstitious notion that "baptism was accompanied with the remission of all past sins, and that sins committed after baptism were peculiarly dangerous." On this ground, and this alone, he advises the postponement of baptism, not only in the case of infants, but also in that of young persons generally, and even young widowers and widows, till they advance to a mature and settled state of life, beyond the period of youthful passion and temptation; and numbers who embraced the same error actually deferred their baptism till old age or a death-bed.

The next opponents of infant baptism of whom we hear were the followers of Peter de Bruis, in France, about twelve hundred years after Christ. These were an inconsiderable fraction of the Albigenses, who had departed from the faith of that body. But they opposed infant baptism on the ground that they considered infants incapable of salvation.

The next society of Anti-pedobaptists, and, indeed, the first who advocated the tenets of modern Baptists on the subject, arose in Germany, in the sixteenth century; thus it appears that for at least fifteen hundred years there was no society of Christians heard of who opposed infant baptism on the ground of its wanting apostolic authority.

On the other hand, the positive testimony for infant baptism is indubitable. Origen, a Greek father of the third century, speaks as follows: "According to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants, when, if there were nothing in infants which needed forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem to be superfluous."

Again, "For this cause it was that the Church received an order from the apostles to give baptism even to infants."

Cyprian, a Latin father of the third century, presided over a council of sixty-six bishops, held at Carthage. Fidus, a country pastor, inquired of this council, not whether infant baptism was proper, but whether, as in circumcision, it ought to be always deferred till the child was eight days old? The following is Cyprian's reply: "Cyprian, and the rest of the bishops who were present in the council, sixty-six in number, to Fidus, our brother, greeting: As to the case of infants whereas you judge that they must not be baptized within two or three days after they are born, and that the rule of circumcision is to be observed, that no one should be baptized and sanctified before the eighth day after he is born, we were all in the council of a very different opinion. As for what you thought proper to be done, no one was of your mind; but we all rather judged that the mercy and grace of God is to be denied to no human being that is born. This, therefore, dear brother, was our opinion in the council: that we ought not to hinder any person from baptism and the grace of God, who is merciful and kind to us all. And this rule, as it holds for all, we think more especially to be observed in reference to infants, even to those newly born." (Cyprian, Epist. 66.) Here, then, we have the unanimous decision of a council of sixty-six bishops, not mooting the question whether infant baptism was the universal practice of the Church (that is taken for granted), but whether it is necessary to postpone it till the eighth day.

Chrysostom, a Greek father of the fourth century, speaks of infant baptism thus: "But our circumcision I mean the grace of baptism has no determinate time as that (meaning circumcision) had, but one that is in the very beginning of his age, or one that is in the middle of it, or one that is in his old age, may receive this circumcision made without hands" (Hom. 40, in Genesin.)

Augustine, one of the most learned men of his time, who flourished a little more than three centuries after the apostles, had a controversy with Pelagius, a very learned heretic, about original sin. Origen wrote to Pelagius thus: "Why are infants baptized for the remission of sins if they have no sin?" To which Pelagius replies thus: "Baptism ought to be administered to infants with the same sacramental words which are used in the case of adult persons." "Men slander me as if I denied the sacrament of baptism to infants." "I never heard of any, not even the most impious heretic, who denied baptism to infants; for who can be so impious as to hinder infants from being baptized?"

Again, Augustine, referring to the Pelagians, says: "Since they grant that infants must be baptized, as not being able to resist the authority of the whole Church, which was doubtless delivered by our Lord and his apostles, they must grant that they stand in need of the benefit of the Mediator." Again, he remarks, "The custom of our mother-Church in baptizing infants must not be disregarded, nor accounted needless, nor believed to be any thing else than an ordinance delivered to us from the apostles."

Here, then, is Augustine, familiar with the writings of all the fathers before him, a man of unsurpassed erudition in his day, and Pelagius, a man of great talents and learning, who had enriched his mind with information gathered from extensive travel these men both testify that they never saw or heard of one, whether Christian or heretic, who denied the baptism of infants! They lived only about three hundred years after Christ. Can it be that they were ignorant as to the facts, or that they designedly deceived the world? And if not, what, but the most invincible prejudice, can prevent any one from believing that infant baptism had been the universal practice of the Church from the days of the apostles?

We have presented, from Church-history, but a brief outline of the testimony that might be adduced in favor of infant baptism; but to the unprejudiced mind we think it amounts to evidence of the most conclusive and satisfactory character. To our mind it carries irresistible conviction. In three centuries from the apostles' time, many changes had occurred in the Church many abuses had entered but that so important and so serious a change as the introduction of infant baptism should have been made so soon, and become the universal practice of the Church, and yet no one ever hear, or read, or speak of the marvelous revolution is utterly incredible.

In the language of an excellent writer (Dr. Miller), we add, that "when Origen, Cyprian, and Chrysostom, declare not only that the baptism of infants was the universal and unopposed practice of the Church in their respective times and places of residence; and when men of so much acquaintance with all preceding writers, and so much knowledge of all Christendom, as Augustine and Pelagius, declared that they never heard of any one who claimed to be a Christian, either orthodox or heretic, who did not maintain and practice infant baptism to suppose, in the face of such testimony, that the practice of infant baptism crept in as an unwarranted innovation between their time and that of the apostles, without the smallest notice of the change having ever reached their ears, I must be allowed to say, of all incredible suppositions, this is one of the most incredible. He who can believe this must, it appears to me, be prepared to make a sacrifice of all historical evidence at the shrine of blind and deaf prejudice."

But infant baptism can well afford to dispense with all this historic testimony, and its foundation remain firm and unshaken. It grounds its authority upon the appointment of God, in connection with the everlasting covenant with "Abraham and his seed," and the explicit law of God, embracing infants as members of his Church. The same Church still exists the same law was never annulled. But Christ and his apostles fully recognized both the real identity of the Church and the right of infants, under the new dispensation, to share the benefits of the same abiding covenant of grace. The promise and oath of God can never fail; and while these remain unchanged, infants, with their believing parents, shall ever share in all the rights, privileges, and benefits of the glorious kingdom of Him in whom "all the families of the earth shall be blessed."


  1. Should we reject every thing in religion for which we cannot find an express precept?
  2. What kind of testimony is often as satisfactory as direct proof?
  3. How can it be shown that infants, by express command of God, were admitted into his Church?
  4. How can it be proved that the Abrahamic covenant and the gospel covenant are the same?
  5. How can it be proved by the testimony of Christ that the gospel Church and that established in the family of Abraham are the same?
  6. And how by the testimony of St. Paul?
  7. How can it be proved that baptism came in the room of circumcision?
  8. Wherein do these two rites agree, and wherein do they differ?
  9. Of what was circumcision the sign and seal?
  10. And of what is baptism the sign and seal?
  11. How is it proved that the Abrahamic covenant did not pass away with the Mosaic ritual?
  12. How is it shown that infant baptism necessarily follows from the admission of the identity of the Abrahamic Church with that of the gospel?
  13. What is the argument from our Savior's language in reference to infants?
  14. How is it proved that infants were baptized unto Moses?
  15. How is infant baptism proved from the apostolic commission?
  16. And how from Peter's language on the day of Pentecost?
  17. And how from household baptisms?
  18. And how from Church-history?
  19. Is the argument from Scripture alone conclusive and satisfactory?