Mr. M. But ought we not to stir ourselves up with regard to parental duties? and, if so, must we not necessarily insist on the dedication of children to God, and upon baptism as the acceptable way of signifying it, and the powerful means of helping us to perform our duties?
Dr. D. Surely we ought; and in doing it we have the satisfaction to know that we are laboring for something more than to establish a mode of applying an ordinance. In urging the baptism of children, if we do it not for the sake of the ordinance, but for the things which it signifies and promotes, we advance the cause of piety in the parents.
Mr. M. Would that some one would blow a trumpet in the churches on this subject. I do feel that if parents would appreciate the influence of such a state of heart as would lead them to offer their children to God in baptism, as an expression of their previous and subsequent views and feelings toward their children, we should see a new state of things in the rising generation. How striking it is that the Old Testament closes with such a passage as that last verse of Malachi. It is the promontory of the Old Testament, looking across the coming ages, yearning toward the new dispensation, and, as it were, making signals, concerning the forerunner of that new era, with those words: "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." May we not conclude that this is God's most acceptable way of effecting the revival of religion from one period to another?
Dr. D. I have no doubt of it.
Mr. M. I spoke to our good Deacon Goodenow about it, lately; but he said he had a great horror of a controversy about baptism, and he was afraid that, to say much upon this subject, would involve us in one. I told him that I would not be for reflecting upon other denominations; that my motto, with regard to them and us, is, "Live, and let live." I would only appeal to our own people, and encourage them to take up the subject afresh, in a spiritual manner; that is, to dwell upon the privilege and duty of being in covenant relations, with our children, to God, baptism being the ordinance of ratification, and its memorial.
Dr. D. Your reference to controversy about baptism makes me think of one which I listened to in a rail-road station, last winter, while waiting in a snow-storm, several hours, for the cars. Two students of divinity, as I took them to be, were discussing their respective tenets with regard to baptism. I was reading a book, but could not help hearing what they said. One was decrying infant baptism as a "rag of Popery," "the last relic of Rome in Protestantism," "a device of Satan to fill up the church with unconverted members," and much more to that effect.
His friend, in reply, undertook to give his impressions of immersion. He spoke of India-rubber bathing-dresses;—a tank in which he saw two or three men and as many women, one of them a young lady, immersed, to his apparent disgust;—of Elder some one breaking the ice at some cape on New Year's Sabbath, and immersing several carriages full of females, who went back dripping wet, to the carriages, and rode an eighth of a mile to the vestry;—of several females immersed, in a southern State, going into a creek with white garments, and with white fillets about their heads, and coming out yellow; and he asked his fellow whether infant baptism could be any worse than such things.
Mr. M. What did his friend say?
Dr. D. O, it was the common talk on both sides, painful and revolting. I could not help saying to them, as the cars were coming up, and we were parting, "But, if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another."
Mr. M. They probably left each other as little convinced of the opposite opinions, respectively, as when they began.
Dr. D. More confirmed and set against each other's views, I have no question. There has been far too much of this. Ridicule and sarcasm are Satan's favorite weapons. Good people ought not to use them against each other, whatever be the temptation. Perhaps, as human nature chooses variety, and we are differently affected by different presentations of truth, men must be divided into sects; but intolerance, bigotry, exclusiveness, in us or in others, cannot stand before the spirit of the age. We may work better, divided into denominations, forbearing with one another, and loving one another in Christ, and for his sake.
Mr. M. Are you often called upon by persons who are troubled on the subject of baptism?
Dr. D. I do not spend much time in discussing the mode. When a young person is troubled on the subject, I am always careful, first of all, to find out whether there is any secret bias, for any reason, toward another denomination; in which case, I pause at once; for you might argue forever in vain. There is iron on board the ship, which controls the needle in the compass. I always make it easy and pleasant for such to follow their evident inclination and wishes.
Mr. M. Are they generally ready to go?
Dr. D. No, they say they do not like strict communion; but I cannot help them. I will not be a sectarian, even for infant baptism.
Mr. M. Are you in favor of admitting people to our church who do not believe in infant baptism?
Dr. D. Young people, who say that their minds are not made up on the subject, or those who have not had their attention directed to it, cannot be required to signify their cordial assent to it; but it is enough if they are not opposed. In the case of parents who steadfastly decline to practise infant baptism, after waiting a proper time to instruct them, I advise them to join another denomination more in accordance with their views. We do better to be apart, and it is no reflection upon either side to say this. A Paedobaptist church ought to maintain its principles by requiring assent to its standard of faith; yet, where there is no church of a different denomination, within convenient distance, I surely would not exclude a child of God from the Lord's Supper for differences of opinion and practice about baptism. I would admit, by special vote, to occasional, or even to stated communion, in such a case.
Mr. M. Do you ever re-baptize?
Dr. D. Where a person was baptized with water, in the name of the Trinity, by an authorized person, of any denomination, I would not re-baptize. The alleged heterodox or immoral character of the administrator, at the time of baptism, does not invalidate it; otherwise, one might be baptized many times, and, the administrators proving unworthy, the subject could never get baptized. Christ would never let his ordinances depend thus upon uncertainties. Let a person but recognize his baptism, if performed in infancy, by entering publicly into covenant with God, and that will be sufficient. I endeavor to show people how wrong it is to lay undue stress on the ordinance, forgetting whether they have that which is signified by it, and which alone gives it value.
Mr. M. True, sir, but it has its importance, and stress is to be laid upon the due observance of it.
Dr. D. I mean that where I find the conditions of valid baptism complied with, I try to turn away the thoughts from any superstitious or ceremonial dependence upon the sacramental act. You remember the answer in the catechism to the question, "How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?"
Mr. M. How I used to say that, at my mother's knee, with my hands folded behind me, to keep them still: "The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his spirit in them that by faith receive them."
Dr. D. I was thinking, the other day, and not for the first time, by any means, what a noble man was Paul. He was unwilling that people should call themselves after him, as their leader, and therefore he was glad to leave the act of baptizing to his associates. Some, however, infer from this that he disparages baptism. "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel." Baptism, in its place, has its importance, and so has preaching; but whether he should be the baptizer, or delegate the administration to Silas, or Mark, was not of so much consequence as that he should preach. How he put things in their right places, according to their proportions, exalting the great, vital things, sinking others to their subordinate, though useful, spheres, and becoming all things to all men to save them. With his contempt of formalism, I hardly know of a greater trial of patience than he must have had in consenting to circumcise Timothy. He there shut the window-shutters, and lighted an exhausted lamp, for a time, though he knew the sun was up, to gratify some who had not opened their eyes to the morning. How far from a contentious, ambitious spirit, was he, even with his intense convictions. There are many good people, in all communions, who are longing for the time when all the old walls of separation between true Christians will have as many gates in them, at least, as heaven has,—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. But I rejoice even in our liberty, if we choose to exercise it, of separation, without molestation, though we lose much good to ourselves, and much influence, and, in times of general religious interest, it leads to early discussions about modes and forms. How many times have I seen a growing attention to religion in a community checked by debates and discussions as to ordinances.
Mr. M. If more pains were taken to instruct our own people as to the oneness of the ancient and the Christian church, and to show them how the consecration of children is a part of religion, as reestablished by the Most High, it seems to me great good would follow.
Dr. D. If you will draw out your thoughts on the subject, and let me see them, we may prepare something which may be useful. You view the subject on the popular, practical side. Let us see what the results are to which you have come.
Having agreed to make the effort at my leisure, I may report hereafter as to my success. And now I will ask my reader's attention to an interesting letter, which, on my return home, I found awaiting me.
TERMS OF COMMUNION.
Him first to love, great right and reason is, Who first to us our life and being gave; And after, when we fared had amisse, Us wretches from the second death did save; And last, the food of life, which now we have, Even He himselfe, in his dear sacrament, To feede our hungry soules, unto us lent.
Then next to love our brethren, that were made Of that selfe mould, and that self maker's hand, That we; and to the same againe shall fade Where they shall have like heritage of land, However here on higher steps we stand; Which also were with selfe-same price redeemed That we;—however of us light esteemed.
SPENSER.—"An Hymne of Heavenly Love."
MY DEAR BROTHER: Here we are, at our journey's end. We have had a most romantic journey, arriving in health, though wayworn, much of our ride having been in wagons. My wife says, Give my love to brother, and tell him of the scene at "the hill Mizar." Your letter, which we found awaiting us, made her think that you would be deeply interested in the story. This, by and by.
[Footnote 6: As we.]
[Footnote 7: The grave.]
As we were leaving C., one morning, in the great mail-wagon, a man and his wife, with an infant in her arms, took seats with us, bound far beyond our own home. The parents had been delayed by the birth of the child during the journey from New York. They proved to be truly excellent people, and they made our journey with them very agreeable.
The father, Mr. Blair, had been greatly tried during his stay at the hotel where his wife was sick. There was only one church in the village. The administration of the Lord's Supper occurring while he was there, he went to avail himself of a stranger's privilege at the table of Christ. He found, however, that the ordinance was not to be administered till the afternoon, and, moreover, the hymn-book, and some things in the sermon, disclosed to him that the church was one which closed its doors against communicants who had not been baptized by immersion, on profession of their faith.
He was strongly inclined to partake of the ordinance, without saying anything respecting his baptism. But, on the whole, he concluded that it would be respectful to intimate his situation to one of the church, peradventure they had a rule favorable to such a case as his, or, at least, had agreed to shut their eyes, and ask no questions, in such circumstances.
He, therefore, introduced himself to a venerable man, who, he inferred, was a deacon. He frankly told him who he was, and that he wished to partake of the Lord's Supper.
The good man said to him, "I am sorry that you said anything about it; but, so long as you have, I don't see how I can consistently encourage your partaking of the ordinance."
Stranger. On what ground, sir?
Deacon. Why, we do not hold you to have been baptized.
Stranger. I was baptized in infancy, by believing parents, and have been a professing Christian fifteen years.
Deacon. That is not believers' baptism, as we view it. The Lord's Supper, in our communion, is for baptized persons only. We hold to no baptism but by immersion.
Stranger. I certainly would not intrude, and I will not ask you to act inconsistently with your principles. But I am a wayfaring man. I have not had the opportunity to partake of the Lord's Supper for several months. The life and health of my wife have been remarkably preserved in this village. Here is the birthplace of my first-born, a place never to be forgotten by us. I wish to make a Bethel of it. I wish to come to my Saviour's table with my thanksgivings, and pay him my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble. I rejoiced when I heard that this was your sacramental Sabbath.
Deacon. Your church would not admit an unbaptized person to the Lord's table, however much he might plead for admission.
Stranger. O, my dear sir, how unfair that reasoning is. This is placing me on a level with one who rejects baptism. I profess to have been baptized to the best of my knowledge, and to have fulfilled the requirements of Christ. Should a man come to our church, and say, I have reason to believe that I have been baptized, though I cannot bring evidence to satisfy you, except so far as you have confidence in me, his case would be parallel with mine. Such a man we would not exclude.
Deacon. Perhaps we shall not agree, if we continue to discuss the point. I am sorry that our rules operate to your inconvenience. We wish to see everybody on New Testament ground, and we think that the surest way to bring them there is to stand there ourselves. By departing from the literal command to immerse, and by baptizing infants, the church of Christ became corrupted with traditions and human inventions. We are at the antipodes to all this; we refuse everything which is not in black and white on the surface of the Bible, and so we are the more consistent Protestants.
"Considering the day and the occasion," said my friend to us, "I forbore to argue, or to press the good man by asking him if the 'seventh-day Sabbath' people had not the advantage of him as to greater consistency in their Protestantism; or, whether the church-membership of females was anywhere in black and white on the surface of the Bible. As to his going to the antipodes, to get clear of Romish principles and practices, I was strongly tempted to say that, to avoid being one of the acids, it surely was not necessary, nor best, to become an alkali. But having often reflected how God uses one and another sect, and its set of principles and practices, to correct evils, by their sharp antagonism, and to restore a balance to ecclesiastical disorders by allowing some to go, for a while, to an opposite extreme, I did not find it in my heart to inveigh, nor to upbraid. It also seemed good to be in a land of liberty, where even Christians could, from a sense of duty to Christ, if they chose, fence out their acknowledged brethren and sisters from their table. There are great inconveniences, and, now and then, hardships, resulting from it; but our friends, of course, suppose that greater good, on the whole, than evil, is the consequence, apart from considerations of duty. But I know of a congregation, in a small place, who have had public worship for several years, but have not had the Lord's Supper administered, because they cannot agree as to terms of communion."
"Well," said I, "tell us what you did in the afternoon."
"In the afternoon," he continued, "I went to meeting, and, when the ordinance was to be administered, I took a seat in a pew alone. I watched to see which aisle the good deacon would serve, and concluded to sit there, so as not to seem clandestinely seeking from another deacon, who would not know me, my inhibited bread; for I wished to be honorable in the transaction, and, besides, I desired that my friend should see me, and, if he had changed his mind, give me the symbols. So I sat where he would pass, in a pew by myself, but he did not look at me."
"How did it make you feel?" said I.
"In some respects," said he, "I never enjoyed my thoughts more at the administration of the Supper. I had no feeling of resentment or ill-will. The exclusion of four fifths of the Christian family from the Lord's table by one portion of it, for such a reason, seemed to leave me in such good company, that I said to myself, 'They that be with us are more than they that be with them.' I rejoiced in Robert Hall, John Bunyan, and others like them. I thought of that interesting piece in Bunyan's works, 'Water Baptism no Bar to Communion.' I questioned whether this church and its sister churches would not hear a mild reproof from the lips of Christ,—'I was a stranger, and ye took me not in.' Certainly they could not say with Job, 'If I have eaten my morsel alone.' Using the table of Christ for a wall or bars against acknowledged Christians,—that table, that Supper, which, of all places and scenes, is most suggestive of communion and fellowship,—seemed to me so great a mistake, that I could not in charity regard it as a sin, because, as such, it would be so criminal. I always believed, before, that the mode of baptism was not essential to Christian fellowship; but that afternoon I saw it, I felt it; I worked out the sum myself, and saw the demonstration, I felt very happy in belonging to the great host of God's people who can commune together, however much they differ."
"While I was sitting there alone, put aside, one might say, by my brothers and sisters, whom I had, as it were, run in so cordially to meet, one thought came over me, as they were feasting with Christ, which made me weep. I thought of the possibility of being set aside in the great day. I said, to myself:
'I love to meet thy people now, Before thy face with them to bow, Though vilest of them all; But, can I bear the dreadful thought, What if my name should be left out When thou for them dost call?'"
"This did me good. Yet, while I was sitting there, I seemed to see the Saviour approach me, with a smile. His look seemed very significant, as though he would say, 'I understand it.' Those words came to my mind: 'Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and, when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.' I surely said and did this."
"Never before," said he, "had I such views of the condescension and gentleness of Christ toward us, erring creatures. Here was a church erring, it seemed to me, in a point which must peculiarly wound the heart of the Redeemer, whose last discourse with his disciples had this for its burden, that ye love one another. And yet there were, in that church, many with whom Christ was communing with a love that seemed to them unqualified. So he treats us all. I never had a greater flow of charity toward all my fellow-Christians than on that occasion. I resolved that I never would be a sectarian in anything, while I also felt more strongly than ever attached to my own views, and confident of their truthfulness, and in love with their beauty."
When he had finished his narration, his wife asked me what I thought with regard to her husband's proceedings. I asked her to state particularly what she had in mind. She then expressed a doubt whether it were proper for us to intrude upon fellow-Christians, when we know that their principles forbid their communing with us. She said that she remonstrated with her husband, as soon as he told her that the ordinance was not free to all evangelical Christians, and that she tried to dissuade him from appearing to obtrude himself. She did not view it as uncharitableness, but only as a denominational rule.
I asked her what her husband said in self-defence;—for we loved to hear her conversation.
She said that he turned it off by saying, "Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry."
She said that soon they experienced the utmost kindness from the members of that church, who, learning the occasion of their sojourn in the village, poured upon them their hospitality. Several wished to remove her to their dwellings. They had a "Busy Bee," and made up everything in an infant's wardrobe for her. She opened her travelling-bag, and took out a white enamelled paper semi-circular box, containing a pin-cushion, made of straw-colored satin, in the shape of a young moon, with these words tastefully printed in pins: "Welcome, little stranger!" She held it up to us in one hand, while with the other she wiped her eyes. Never, she said, had kindness affected her so much;—she believed that it hindered her in gaining strength, her feelings were so continually wrought upon by ingenious devices of loving-kindness. It became known that the husband had proposed to commune, and what the issue had been. This only served to make them all the more generous. They felt it deeply, and bore it as a necessity which they evidently regretted; but, with much self-respect, they refrained to make any apology, or explanation; "and, for this," said the wife, "I respected them." There was one elderly maiden-lady, however, who once was so far excited when the subject was alluded to, while several of them were sewing in the wife's room, that, after moving about in her chair, evidently struggling with her emotions, she ventured at last to say, "O, if I could get hold of that old fence, how I should love to shake it!" They all smiled; and one sensible and well-educated woman immediately gave a pleasant turn to the conversation.
I fully agreed with the wife in her very dignified and proper view of the whole subject. Is there not something extremely charming in the highly lady-like sentiments and expressions of a Christian woman, as contradistinguished from those of a gentleman? He, with all his urbanity, is apt to show the smallest possible vein of testiness, or, at least, the clouded look of high-bred sense of honor. It seems to me there is no power which woman exerts over us, in softening and humanizing our feelings, more beautiful and effectual, than in her delicate forbearance and charity in taking the kind view of an irritating subject, without compromise of principle, but just the view which reflection, and gentler moods, and the softening hand of time, invariably present. She arrives at it at once, by intuition; our slow and phlegmatic sense goes through a process of mistake and rectification, to reach it.
It occurred to me to test this good lady's feelings a little further, by reading to her an item from a newspaper, which I had met with in the cars a few days before, and which I had transferred to my pocket. It had disturbed my equanimity a little. It was an extract from the annual circular letter of a conference of ministers to their churches, in one of the New England States, in 1855, in which mention was made of "the monstrous and soul-damning heresy of infant baptism."
I asked the lady how we ought to feel at such a demonstration. She said, "I presume I know how you gentlemen would be likely to feel and act under the impulse of the moment; but the true way to regard and treat it, as it seems to me, is, with pertinacious forgetfulness." She would not let it disturb her feelings; and she quoted George Herbert:
"Why should I feel another man's mistakes More than his sicknesses, or poverty? In love I should; but," &c.
Susan said that she was reminded of visits made to her mother's house, by some who would persuade her mother that she belonged to an "unbaptized church;" thus seeking to put in fear the children who were about to make a profession of religion. Her mother replied to these visitors, that there was far more apprehension in her own mind whether they themselves were properly baptized, if but one mode is valid.—As to Mr. Blair's effort to commune at that table, she said that she would never seek nor receive as a boon from men, that which her Saviour had purchased for her, and for them, with his own blood.
Our conversation was here interrupted by the exclamation of my wife, "Do look at that beautiful sight, that cascade, on the hill."
THE ROAD-SIDE BAPTISM.
How beautiful the water is! To me 'tis wondrous fair; No spot can ever lonely be, If water sparkle there. It hath a thousand tongues of mirth, Of grandeur, or delight, And every heart is gladder made When water greets the sight.
MRS. E.O. SMITH.
Sweet one! make haste, and know Him too; Thine own adopting Father love; That, like thine earliest dew, Thy dying sweets may prove.
We were about to turn a corner in a defile of the mountains, and a large perpendicular buttress of the ridge stood out, so as nearly to close up the road. It presented a surface of about twenty feet directly in front, as we drove up, and, from the top, which was nearly a hundred and twenty feet from the ground, a cascade fell into the air for about forty feet, and, without touching anything, became dishevelled, and disappeared in mist.
It was one of the most beautiful objects which I ever saw. It was pure white, relieved against the wet and very black rock. It waved to and fro in the air like a streamer; it had a slow pulse, lifting it and letting it drop, like the appearance of a waterfall seen from the window of a car in motion, only this was irregular and quite slow; it was soft and fleecy; it made no audible noise; it looked dangerous to see it fall from so great a height; but it was caught in the air, to your relief, as one who falls in his dream lights upon his soft bed. The lines of Gray, in his Bard, were suggested by the sight of this mountain, though not by any close resemblance:
"Loose his beard; his hoary hair Streamed like a meteor to the troubled air."
The ladies had other images suggested by it. One said, "It is a beautiful hand, waving Godspeed to us on our journey." That brought tears into the eyes of some of us, reminding us so of meetings and partings at home, and chording well with our pilgrim condition. We concluded to make response; and we tarried there.
The rock seemed to be full of water, oozing out from the seams, dripping over rich mosses, with jets, here and there, leaping into the light with a bound of a few inches, and quietly expiring among the thick weather-stains and lichens, as if satisfied with their brief existence. The little things made me think of the sweet souls of infants passing into time, and then immediately out of it. As we listened, we heard what Addison describes in his version of the twenty-third Psalm:
"And streams shall murmur all around."
The ladies took off their bonnets, and we our hats, and we stood under the cascade, looking up, and feeling, or fancying that we felt, the cool spray on our heads and faces. We drank of the rock, and we thought of that Rock which followed Israel. It seemed good to have such an image of Jesus as such a rock, with the strength of the hills in it, and with its inexhaustible springs, its beautiful entablature, its cool shadow, following a company through a desert. What thoughts and feelings did it give us respecting our adorable Immanuel, God with us. Dear Susan, looking up, said, "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I."
After invoking the blessing of God, and refreshing ourselves from our little store, our friends wandered away by themselves, and left us to enjoy the opportunity for prayer, which we supposed they also sought in withdrawing from us.
As they returned, the father had the little boy on his two hands, and, approaching me, he looked up to the cascade, and said, "'See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?'"
I was at no loss to understand the quotation and the request.
"Would you like to have the little one baptized here?" said I.
"We should," they both exclaimed. "We are going into a destitute place at the West, and there is no church, you tell us, within several miles of where we expect to live. It is very uncertain about our being able to procure baptism for the child there; and where could we enjoy the ordinance more, or make it more impressive upon our hearts, than here, so long as we have no house of God, which we remember, however, from 'the hill Mizar'?"
I told them that the experience of Philip and the eunuch, in the desert, was, just as likely as not, the same as ours. "See, here is water." The probability of its being a road-side spring, in a rock, or out of the earth, was greater than of its being a pool in the desert, large enough to immerse a man in it, leaving out of view the inconveniences of being bathed along the way. We have both gone "down out of the chariot," said I—(you would have smiled to see our great, strong, muddied wain)—and we have done what the literal Greek says they did, "went down to the water;" and when we start, we shall "come up from the water." But let us read 'the place of the Scripture' which the eunuch was reading when Philip joined him.
Susan took from her bag the blue velvet-covered Bible, which you gave her, unclasped it, and turned to the fifty-second chapter of Isaiah, at my request, and began to read. O, how soft and sweet was the sound of a female voice, repeating words of inspiration in that beautiful, solitary spot! The Scriptures had not been divided into chapters and verses for the eunuch, as for us, but we noticed that the last verse of the chapter preceding "the place of the Scripture which he read," not divided from it in his copy of Isaiah, was, "So shall he sprinkle many nations;" which, we thought, proved that the eunuch had had the idea of baptism suggested to him by those words; and quite as conclusively proving it, as "buried with him in baptism" proves immersion.
However, being agreed on all these points, we made no long discourse about them, but dwelt upon the Son of God as the Redeemer of Abraham's seed, and in whom all the promises of God, including those made to Abraham, are yea, and in him amen.
I said to my friends, "The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are about to write their several and joint names on this child's forehead.
"As a lamb has the owner's mark upon his side, this child is to be claimed by them, to be brought up for the service and glory of its redeeming God.
"You are to give him away, to be disposed of by the Most High. You are to be, for Him, what the mother of Moses was for Pharaoh's daughter—nurses to your own child. This dear child lay helpless and exposed, with all of us, to destruction; the Redeemer passed that way; he heard its cries: he had compassion upon it; he saved it from the condemning sentence of divine justice; and now he calls you, and says, 'Take this child, and bring it up for me, and I will give thee thy wages.' He does not commit the child to church, nor pastor, nor Sabbath-school, but to its own father and mother, who may and will avail themselves of all the appointed and the useful helps for its nurture and admonition in the Lord; but he looks to you, as having the chief and principal responsibility, to bring up this child for God.
"You covenant to lay your plans for this child, so that he may, by the surest means, live for God. To this end you will pray with him and for him; teach him what was done for him in baptism, and before, and afterwards; how God was beforehand with him, and was found of him who sought him not. He is to be trained up as a Christian child, with a view to his early conversion, and your great concern is not to be, how he may promote his private happiness, or yours, but how he may best serve God.
"To this end, you will, from the first, watch over all his moral faculties, and instil into him the principles of truth and uprightness; not letting him run loose among the vanities of the world, and feed upon its miserable, corrupted sentiments, and choose worldly and godless persons for his intimate associates, his manners and his habits being like a garden which runs to weeds, and his whole nature left to the perils of sin, trusting to some sudden act of conversion to bring him right; but you will rather be diligent to 'fill the water-pots with water,' and wait for Christ to turn it into wine. You intend, and you promise, that you will educate this child from the beginning with all that strictness of Christian principle which you would expect of him were he, in his infancy, to be a professing Christian, his duty being the same, and, consequently, yours toward him, whether he is regenerate or not,—one and the same law of God being our rule, irrespective of conditions.
"In all times of sickness and peril, you are to feel that this child is the Lord's, to be disposed of by him, without consulting you. If called to die and leave him, you will remember that you received him from God, that he belonged to God at first, and when he was placed in your care; and that God, who thus has the most perfect claim to him, will perfect that which concerns him, even if his parents are in the grave.
"And while you thus covenant with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, covenant with you, and with the child through you, to be the God of your seed, affording you special help in training the child, bestowing special blessings upon it tending to its spiritual good, having a particular regard for it as something lent to him, and belonging to you; while, in another sense, it is lent to you, and belongs to him; and he and you are to regard the child agreeably to this beautiful transmutation of ownership and loan. The baptism itself cannot save the child, any more than the Lord's Supper can save you; but it is among the first of means to promote the salvation of the child, not merely through its effect on you, or its remembered grace and goodness when the child can be made to appreciate it; but above all, and through all, and in all, it seals that covenant of a covenant-keeping God, assisting your efforts and those of the child,—that promise, I say, 'I will be his God, and he shall be my son.'"
We named the little boy, PHILIP, as a memorial of the road-side baptism. We stood under the shadow of that great rock, and worshipped Abraham's God. "Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not." The voice of prayer was joined by chimes and symphonies from trickling rills, and the freshening breeze in a silver-leaved maple, leaning at an angle of thirty-five degrees, just above us in the rock, all as quiet as the dear infant's breathing; while, now and then, the sudden flapping and rushing of birds' wings made the monotone around us more soothing.
From a little jet of water, that formed an arc of about an inch, as it burst into life and then disappeared in a great moss-bed, I caught my palm full, and laid it upon the unconscious head.
The little hands were suddenly lifted and dropped, as though a slight shock had been experienced, then a smile played round the mouth, and the sleep seemed deeper.
And will God in very deed dwell on earth? Will the adorable Trinity be present at such a scene as this? Present! "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." He will not appoint this ordinance, and fail to be present; the God of redemption is a party to that transaction by which an immortal soul, with an existence commensurate with his own, is consecrated to him by its natural guardians, acting in the place of God, and for the child, and joining them in covenant.
"Shall we ever forget this?" said the husband to his wife, as we were riding along that beautiful afternoon.
"Never," said she; but she added, sensible woman as she was, "the beauty and sentiment of the place seemed to me nothing, compared with the privilege of covenanting with God, and having him covenant with us for the child. After all," said she, "I would have been glad to have had the baptism in our little church at home, and to have secured good Mrs. Maberry's prayers, and those of our church, for the child, at its baptism. I must write to her, and get her to tell the Maternal Association about it, and ask them not to forget little Philip."
"What would you have named it," said my wife, "had it been a girl?"
"O," said she, smiling, "I was thinking on the hill, that, if it had been a girl, I should have called it Candace, for the Ethiopian queen."
"And Canda, for shortness and sweetness, I suppose," said her husband, his eyes twinkling and sparkling with love, as he looked at her, and from her upon us.
"He's a sweet little thing, you know he is," said the mother, burying her face in the child's bosom, and giving it something between a good long smell and a good long kiss, or both; a thing which mothers alone know exactly how to do.
"Suppose," said I, "that, instead of little Philip, it had been you, sir, and Mrs. Blair, who had needed to be baptized.
"Here you are, on a journey. You do not know that you will be able to avail yourselves of religious ordinances, in your new home, for a long time to come; and, besides, regarding baptism not merely as a profession of religion, but as an act of Almighty God, sealing you with his appointed sign of the covenant, you have strong desires to receive it, here in this 'way unto Gaza, which is desert,' from my hands.
"'See, here is water,' in rich abundance. But, alas! there is no pond, nor pool, no lake, nor river!"
"Even if there were," said my wife to Mrs. Blair, "I should shudder to have you venture into untried waters, in this lonely place. Fear, at least, would prevent any peace of mind, or satisfying enjoyment."
"'What doth hinder me to be baptized?' you would properly say to me," I continued. "'O,' my reply could be, 'the water is not in an available shape. Had we time to scoop out a tank in the earth, or make a stone baptistery in the rock, then you might be 'buried with him by baptism into death.' But it is impossible. This living fountain of waters in the mountain, full and overflowing though it be, does not allow of Christian baptism. Besides, as to suitable apparel, and all the necessary arrangements for comfort, not to say propriety,—you see that baptism, here is out of the question.'"
"Do you think," said Mrs. Blair, "that the Head of the church has appointed any such invariable mode of administering baptism,—one that cannot be applied in numerous cases?"
I said to her, "I cannot believe it. The genius of Christianity seems opposed to it. Let all who will, use immersion; we love them still, and rejoice in their liberty, but I cannot agree that it was the New Testament method. Even had it been, I should expect that the rule would be flexible enough to meet cases of necessity."
"I was thinking," said Mr. Blair, "that, at least, four fifths of all the people of God have gone to heaven unbaptized, if immersion is the only valid mode of baptism. This is rather a serious thing, if the solemn words, 'He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved,' look only to baptism by immersion. It seems to me," he added, "that the providence of God would have brought in some great reformation from so calamitous an error in the church, if it were an error. Some Luther, or Calvin, or Knox, or some John Baptist, would have been raised up, as in other emergencies, to bring the church back to her duty."
"How clearly," said I, "does that seem to prove that all the people of God have, as Paul says, 'One Lord, one faith, one baptism,' however variant their modes of worship and administration may be."
"How many baptized children, from Christian families," said my wife, "are gathered together in heaven! I cannot think of them as the unfortunate subjects of a superstitious or corrupt observance, at the hands of the ministers of Jesus, in all ages of the world. There must seem to them, as they increase in knowledge, a beautiful fitness in their having had those adorable names inscribed upon them, with God's own initiatory seal of his covenant. What loving-kindness it must appear to them, that God gave them the ordinance of baptism, and became their God! How it will stand out before their minds as a principal illustration of being saved by grace!"
"And then, again," said Mr. Blair, "think of the millions of children in heaven who were not baptized,—saved, the most of them, from heathen and pagan lands. How 'the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.' Baptism is not an austere law. There is nothing austere or rigid, in any sense, connected with it; but it makes me think of the water itself, scattered in so many beautiful and pliable forms all over the earth, in fountains, water-falls, dew, rain-drops; and, when it cannot 'stand before His cold,' it comes down softly upon us, in crystal asteroids and all the geometrical forms of snow. I love to think that God has associated that beautiful element, the water, with religion. And now it does not seem accordant with the works and ways of Him, of whom we say, 'How great is his goodness, how great is his beauty,' to make one obdurate mode of bringing the water in connection with us essential to an ordinance, whose element seems everywhere to shun preciseness."
"Water is certainly a beautiful emblem of open communion," said one of the ladies. "It must be conscious, one would think, of violence done to its ubiquitous nature, to be made the occasion of separating beloved friends, at the Table whose symbolized Blood has made them one in Christ."
But we had to part. I told them that my wife and I would certainly be sponsors for little Philip, in the best sense; we would make a record of its history, thus far, among our family memorials; tell our children about him, and charge them in after life to inquire for him, and lose no opportunity of doing him good. Though, as to that, I could not help saying, no one knows in this world who will be benefactor or beneficiary.
"Our children will always be interested in each other," said his wife, "for their parents' sake."
"Can we not sing a hymn?" said the husband.
We found that our voices made a quartet. Susan was ready with her beautiful contralto, Mrs. Blair sung the soprano, Mr. Blair the tenor, and I the base.
THE BAPTISMAL HYMN.
"Lord, what our ears have heard, Our eyes delighted trace— Thy love, in long succession shown, To Zion's chosen race.
"Our children thou dost claim, And mark them out for thine; Ten thousand blessings to thy name For goodness so divine.
"Thee, let the fathers own, And thee, the sons adore, Joined to the Lord in solemn vows, To be forgot no more.
"Thy covenant may they keep, And bless the happy bands Which closer still engage their hearts, To honor thy commands.
"How great thy mercies, Lord! How plenteous is thy grace! Which, in the promise of thy love, Includes our rising race.
"Our offspring, still thy care, Shall own their fathers' God; To latest times thy blessings share, And sound thy praise abroad."
We saw them and their baggage on board the wagon that was to take them over to the river; we waved our farewell, and sent our kisses; and, just as they were turning a corner which hid them from our view, the father stood up in the wagon, and held little Philip as high as he could (the mother, of course, reaching up her arms to hold them both fast), as though to catch the last benediction. The long, flowing white dress of the child gave the picture a waving, vanishing effect, reminding us of our first sight of the cascade, which, with the whole transaction to which it gave occasion, has taken a permanent place in our sleeping and waking dreams.
THE CHILDREN OF THE CHURCH.
Go, now, ye that are men, and serve the Lord.—PHARAOH.
We will go with our young, and with our old, with our sons, and with our daughters.—MOSES.
Hosanna to the Son of David.—THE CHILDREN IN THE TEMPLE.
The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee.—PSALM 102:28.
The reader will now be introduced, in imagination, to a seat in the window of a country parsonage, with honeysuckle-vines trained over an arched lattice-work that spans the window. There are several large maples in the yard, which is a grass-plot, where six gentlemen are enjoying pleasant conversation, and are seated at their ease, some in chairs, and the rest on a sofa, which, at the suggestion of a kind lady, they had lifted from its place in the parlor to the yard.
They are all of them pastors of churches, met, for social intercourse and friendly counsel, at the house of one of their number, with their wives, who are also together by themselves, in a pleasant room on the north side of the house, and into whose sayings and doings these husbands will, no doubt, be disposed to make, in due time, suitable inquiry.
Those wonderful little elves, the humming-birds, are frequent visitors to those honeysuckles, under which I have placed my reader to be a listener. How many vibrations those little wings make in a minute, how so long a bill can have subtractive force sufficient to get anything from the flower, how, when obtained, that product is conveyed to the throat, and where these creatures build their nests, and whither they migrate, are questions which will, perhaps, divert attention from everything else for a time, especially if the reader has escaped for a season from a large city, and is one of those who there "dwell in courts." Perhaps, therefore, he will choose to refresh himself, in silent contemplation, in this arbor; and I will make true report of all that transpires in the yard.
One of these pastors, Mr. A., has been reading to his brethren, for their judgment as to the soundness of his views, a sermon, not yet preached, on the relation of baptized children to the church. We will call him, and two of the ministers who agreed with his views, by their initials, respectively, which consisted of the first three letters of the alphabet; while the three who dissented from them had, as initials to their names, letters remote from these. Neither Messrs. A., B., and C., nor Messrs. R., S., and T., had had any previous concert or comparison of views on this interesting subject; but they found themselves thus arrayed on different sides of the question.
Omitting the sermon that gave occasion to the discussion which follows, a few lines only will put us in possession of the whole subject. I give the opening paragraph:
"It is held by all who practise infant baptism, that the children of believers have a peculiar relation to the church. That relation is very generally expressed by the word membership. We have treatises, by the most orthodox divines, on the church-membership of the children of believers; which children they freely call members of the Christian church; and, in catechisms and confessions of faith, the church of Christ is declared to consist of such as are in covenant relations with God, and their offspring."
The sermon being finished, Mr. R. was first called upon by the chairman, Mr. C., for his remarks. The question, as stated by the chairman, was, Are the children of believers, in any sense, members of the church? If so, what is it? and, if not, what relation to the church do they sustain?
Mr. R. I presume that brother A. does not wish us to take up time with criticisms upon his style. He seeks to know our views with regard to the subject of the sermon. I am compelled to say, at once, that I differ from the views expressed by the reader, if he means by the terms, members and membership, which he employs, all which they would convey to the majority of hearers. But I noticed that when he, and those excellent men whom he quotes, come to define what they mean by members, and membership, in this connection, they make explanations, and qualifications, and also protestations, showing that no one can be, in their view, a member of the spiritual, or, what is called the invisible, church of Christ, without repentance and faith. Rightly understood, therefore, they are free from any just imputation of making unscriptural terms of membership in the kingdom of Christ. And, perhaps, when those of us who dissent from some of their propositions, fully understand the limitations which the writers themselves affix to their use of terms, no great discrepancy will be found to exist.
It admits of a question, therefore, in my view, whether the terms members and membership, as applied to children, really mean that which these writers themselves intend to convey by them; for certainly they do not mean all which their readers at first suppose. The terms in question require a great deal of explanation, which a term, if possible, ought never to need. And, after all has been said, a wrong impression is conveyed to the minds of many, while opponents gain undue advantage in arguing against that which, for substance, all the friends of infant baptism cordially maintain.
If Br. A. is asked, "In what sense are children members of the church," he resorts, for illustration, to citizenship, and to the sisterhood in the church itself, to show how children and females may be members of the community, and, in the case of females, may belong to the church, while yet their privileges and functions are limited. So, he says, the children of believers are a component part of God's church, not entitled to the use of all its privileges till they are renewed by the Spirit of God, yet so related by the sovereign appointment of God to those who are members, as to be, in a subordinate sense, a part of the church.
Could the friends of infant baptism agree on some term, which would express their common belief with regard to the relation of believers' children to the church, better than member, I think it must have a happy effect in promoting harmony of views and feelings, and take away from others the grounds of several present objections.
It was here agreed that, instead of the question going round to each in turn, the conversation should be free, subject to the rule of the chairman.
Mr. A., the reader, then said that he should be glad to learn from his Br. R. precisely what his views were of the relation of baptized children to the church. "Let us see," he said, "how far we are agreed as to the actual nature of this relation."
"Well, then," said Mr. R., "I will begin with this:
"They are the children of God's friends. We all know how God reminds Israel of their relation to Abraham, his friend, tells them they are beloved for the fathers' sakes, and he remembers his covenant with those friends of his, their fathers, when provoked by the children's sins. Toward the child of one who loves God (not merely a church-member, but a friend of God), I suppose there are affections on the part of God, of which our own feelings toward the child of a dear Christian friend are a representation. This love to the child of his friend, I always thought, is the great element in that arrangement of the Most High which we call the Abrahamic covenant; for he who made us, knew how much a love for our children, on the part of others, draws us together, and what bonds are constituted and strengthened between men through their children; and that one great means of promoting love to Him would be, his manifesting special love and care for the offspring of those who love him. God has a people, friends; and the children of such are the children of his dearly-beloved friends. In this we are all agreed."
"Certainly," said Mr. A., "but you will go further than this, I presume."
Mr. R. Yes, Mr. Chairman. One thing more is true of them:
They are the principal source of the church's increase. The selection of Abraham, with a view to make of his lineage, the banks, within whose defensive influences grace should find helps in making its way in this ungodly world, had reference, I believe, to that power of hereditary family influence, which has not ceased, and will not cease, to the end of time. It is beautiful and affecting to see that recognition of our free agency, and that unwillingness ever to interfere with it, which leads the Most High to fall in with the principles of our nature established by himself, in placing his chief reliance on the natural love of parents for their offspring to contribute, by far, the larger part of those who shall be converted. In this arrangement and expectation do we not find the deep roots of infant baptism? which thus appears to be neither Jewish nor Gentile, but grows out of our nature itself, which also requires, which demands, some rite, a symbolic sign and seal. God made the children of Adam partakers with him of his curse; so that the parental and filial relation was, from the beginning made a stream to bear along the consequences of the first transgression. No new thing, therefore, was instituted when God, in calling Abraham, appointed the parental and filial relation to bear, on its deep and mighty stream, the most powerful means of godliness in all coming generations. How little do we think of this, Mr. Chairman, and brethren; how apt we are to neglect this great arrangement of divine providence and grace,—the perpetuation of the church, chiefly by means of the parental and filial relation. But, if such be the divine appointment, and the children of believers are therefore the most hopeful sources of the church's increase, of course they may be said to belong to the church, in a peculiar sense, but without being "members."
Mr. A. I think you are coming on very well toward my ground. I certainly agree with you thus far.
Mr. R. If I am not taking up too much time, Mr. Chairman, I should like to proceed a little further, in order to do full justice to my views. If I am found to agree with Br. A., it will be just as pleasant as though he agreed with me.
Chairman. Please to proceed. Two things which are equal to the same thing, are equal to each other.
Mr. R. I will, then, say, once more:
The children of believers are the subjects of preeminent privileges and blessings. Special promises are made to them from love to their parents; great advantages are theirs, directly and indirectly, from their relation to those who are the true worshippers of God; forbearance, long suffering, the remembrance of consecrations and vows, prevail with God, oftentimes, in their behalf when they have broken their father's commandment and forsaken the law of their mother. No words of tenderness, in any relation of life,—said Mr. R., turning to the Psalms,—surpass those, in which are described the feelings of God toward the rebellious sons of Abraham: "But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not; yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath." "For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant." God still remembers Abraham, his servant, in the person of every father and mother who loves him, and is steadfast in his covenant; and "the generation of the upright shall be blessed." Mistakes in family government, growing out of wrong principles, too great reliance upon future conversion, and the neglect of that moral training which is essential to the best development of religious character, and, indeed, without which religious character is often a melancholy distortion, or sadly defective, may be followed by their natural consequences; and we cannot complain,—for God works no miracle, nor turns aside any great law, in favor of our misconduct; yet it remains true that all who love and serve him, and command their children and households to fear the Lord, enforcing it in all the proper ways of government, discipline, example, and the right observance of religious ordinances, public and private, may expect peculiar blessings upon their offspring.
One of the youngest of the company, the father of one young child, here inquired, if the speaker would have us infer that the conversion of such children is to be looked for as a matter of course.
Mr. R. Ordinarily, they will grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to be followers of Christ; the proportion of persons baptized on admission to the church, will become small; a healthful tone of religious feeling will pervade our churches; less and less reliance will be placed on startling measures, on splendid talents, on novelties, to promote the cause of religion; but Christian families will extend like the cultivated fields of different proprietors, whose green and flowering hedges, instead of stone walls, mingle all into one landscape. "And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever." "And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places." "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children." Such, I believe, is sure to be the manner of the church's prosperity, and therefore the children who are to be the subjects of these inestimable blessings must be said, in some sense, to belong to the church, they being the objects of special regard with the church and with God. Br. A. agrees with me in all this, I presume.
Mr. A. Entirely; or, rather, you agree with me.
"Now, Br. A.," said an earnest man of the company,—who, however, immediately checked himself, and bowed to Mr. R., and said, "I dare say, Mr. Chairman, that Br. R. was going to put the very question which I intended to ask."
Mr. R. Proceed, Br. S. I owe an apology for speaking so much.
Mr. S. Will Br. A., Mr. Chairman, please to tell us why he feels obliged to call these children "members of the church?"
For, we all know, that, notwithstanding all these glorious things, which are spoken of them, to which Br. A. has also referred, not one baptized child of a true believer can be, really, a member of the church, in regular standing, till he, like the unbaptized heathen convert, has repented of his sins and believed on the Lord Jesus. All the promises and privileges appertaining to his relationship as a child of a believer, promote, and make more certain, his repentance and faith; and therefore, if asked, "What profit, then, hath circumcision, and its substitute, infant baptism?" we can reply, "Much every way;" but it never stood, and never can stand, in the place of justification by free grace through the personal exercise of faith in the Redeemer.
Mr. C. But I wish to ask, in the name of Br. A., and for my own sake, what objection there is to retaining the name, member, in this connection?
Mr S. My answer is, it is the occasion of great stumbling to those who reject infant baptism, and are confirmed in rejecting it, by misapprehending the views and feelings of many who use the term in an objectionable sense.
The discussion now became animated. Mr. S. said that he had a further objection. It leads many, who use it erroneously, into perplexing and fruitless positions. Assuming that the children are members of the church, they discuss the question, as the sermon has stated, Of what church are they members? Some reply, Of the church to which their parents belong. Others say nay, but of the church universal. Then they feel it incumbent upon them to provide some means of discipline for these so-called members. In case they grow up, and neglect to come with their parents to the Lord's Supper, must they not be disciplined? Some insist that discipline, in some of its forms, must be administered, and, in certain cases, excommunication must take place.
Mr. T. I know it, and I wonder at it. I should like to ask, who has deputed to any church the power to say when the divine forbearance with a child of the covenant has come to an end? Does it terminate at the age of twenty-one in the case of male children, and at eighteen in the case of females? David, when a full-grown man, plead the covenant of God with his mother: "O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid." Or, does it cease on the child's leaving the parental roof for another place of residence? Or, on entering upon the married state? Or, upon the commission of some great act of outward transgression, shall we pronounce the covenant to be dissolved? Do we not see that we are meddling with a divine prerogative, if we assume to act in such cases? Expostulations, warnings, entreaties, from parents, pastor, brethren of the church, may always be in place; but further than these we cannot proceed.
"Perhaps, too," said Mr. R., "if discipline were to fall anywhere, it might more justly descend on the parents of such a child."
Mr. T. The seeming mockery of a church punishing a youth for the neglect of that which he himself never promised to do, would most likely have the effect to drive him to a returnless distance from the church, extinguishing the last ray of hope as to his conversion. A fit parallel to such proposed church-discipline of children, is found in the practice, which was not uncommon, twenty-five years ago, in a region of our country where great religious excitements prevailed for some time, when it was publicly recommended, in preaching and from the press, that parents who had labored in vain for the conversion of children, should, in certain cases, punish them, to make them submit to God.
Mr. D. Is it possible?
Mr. T. Yes, sir; and the records of those times furnish instances in which this was done. Of such means of grace, I am happy to say, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
Mr. S. Nor shall we probably ever see young people disciplined by the churches, for not repenting and believing the Gospel. It is insisted on as theoretically proper, but they have never ventured to carry it out in practice.
Mr. C., the chairman, said, "Brethren, there is strong authority in favor of the sermon. Since you have been talking, I have been looking over Dr. Hopkins's works, to find this passage, which, if you please, I will read. Dr. Hopkins says:
"Though under the milder dispensation of the Gospel, no one is to be put to death for rejecting Christ and the Gospel, even though he were before this a member of the visible church, yet he is to be cut off, and cast out of the visible kingdom of Christ. And every child in the church, who grows up in disobedience to Christ, and, in this most important concern, will not obey his parents, is thus to be rejected and cut off, after all proper means are used by his parents, and the church, to reclaim him, and bring him to his duty. Such an event will be viewed by Christian parents as worse than death, and is suited to be a constant, strong motive to concern, prayer, and fidelity, respecting their children, and their education; and it tends to have an equally desirable effect upon children, and must greatly impress the hearts of those who are in any degree considerate and serious."
Again: "When the children arrive at an age in which they are capable of acting for themselves in matters of religion, and making a profession of their adherence to the Christian faith, and practice, and coming to the Lord's Supper, if they neglect and refuse to do this, and act contrary to the commands of Christ in any other respect, all proper means are to be used, and methods taken, to bring them to repentance, and to do their duty as Christians, and, if they cannot be reclaimed, but continue impenitent and unreformed, they are to be rejected and cast out of the church, as other adult members are who persist in disobedience to Christ."
[Footnote 8: Hopkins's Works (1852), vol. ii., pp. 158, 176.]
"Such words, from such a source," said Mr. C., "are entitled to great consideration."
"But," said Mr. S., "here is a passage from his own theological instructor, President Edwards:
"It is asked,' he says, 'why these children, that were born in the covenant, are not cast out when, in adult age, they make no profession.' He replies, 'They are not cast out, because it is a matter held in suspense whether they do cordially consent to the covenant or not; or whether their making no profession does not arise from some other cause; and none are to be excommunicated without some positive evidence against them.'"
"My dear sir," said Mr. A., "Mr. Edwards is there speaking of those who merely refuse to own the covenant, without being guilty of scandalous sin."
Mr. S. It is evident, nevertheless, that Hopkins goes further than he, and requires that those who, at years of full responsibility, refuse to own the covenant, shall be cut off. Modern writers on this subject, while insisting on the church-membership of children, draw back from this position, and are more in harmony with what, it seems to me, may be said to be the general sense of the churches on this subject. I feel glad, when reading such passages as those from Hopkins, that we have liberty of opinion, and are not compelled to swear by the words of any master. I bow to such a divine as Dr. Hopkins, but he fails to satisfy me that he is right in these views of church-discipline for children.
Mr. R., who was the oldest man of the company, now returned to the discussion, and said: "It is clear that one cannot be dispossessed of that which he never possessed, except as in the case of a minor, who may have his claim to a future possession wrested from him. Of what is a child of the covenant, allowing him to be, while a child, a member of the church,—of what is he in possession? Not of full communion, not of access to the Lord's table, not of the right to a voice in the call and settlement of a pastor, nor in any other church act. From what, then, is he turned out by being cut off? He has never arrived at anything from which he can be separated, except the covenant of God with him through his parents, and its attendant privileges of watch and care. If, then, we excommunicate an unconverted child, we can only declare the covenant of God with him, henceforth, to be null and void,—an assumption from which, probably, Christian parents and ministers would shrink. The same long-suffering God, who bears and forbears with ourselves, we shall be disposed to feel, is the God of this recreant child, and no good man would dare to pronounce the child to be separated from the mercies of 'the God of patience and hope.' One who, being in a church, breaks a covenant to which he assented, may be a just subject for discipline, even to excommunication; but, all the promises of God to the child being wholly free, conditioned, at first, upon his parents' relation to God, all the disability which the child seems capable of receiving, is, that the promises made to him he must fail, by his own fault, to receive. Who will declare even his prospect of their fulfilment to be terminated at any given time? Much more, who will undertake to divest him of things which he never had? The church-membership, from which you profess to expel him, does not yet exist in his case; he has not reached it. All the church-membership of which, if any, he has been possessed, is, his hopeful relation to God and his people through a parent. To excommunicate a child from this would be a strange procedure."
Mr. A. That is the strongest thing which I have heard on that side. I must confess (said he, rising and leaning against one of the maples) that I am a little staggered.
But Mr. B. came to reinforce his faltering brother.
"Here," said he, "is the Cambridge Platform. You will all be willing to hear from that source."
"Let us hear," said two or three voices.
Mr. B. read as follows:
"The like trial (examination) is to be required from such members of the church as were born in the same, or received their membership, and were baptized in their infancy or minority, by virtue of the covenant of their parents, when, being grown up unto years of discretion, they shall desire to be made partakers of the Lord's Supper; unto which, because holy things must not be given to the unworthy, therefore it is requisite that these, as well as others, should come to their trial and examination, and manifest their faith and repentance by an open profession thereof before they are received to the Lord's Supper, and otherwise not to be admitted thereunto. Yet those church-members that were so born, or received in their childhood, before they are capable of being made partakers of full communion, have many privileges which others, not church-members, have not; they are in covenant with God, have the seal thereof upon them, namely, baptism; and so, if not regenerated, yet are in a more hopeful way of attaining regenerating grace, and all the spiritual blessings both of the covenant and seal; they are also under church-watch, and consequently subject to the reprehensions, admonitions, and censures thereof, for their healing and amendment, as need shall require."
[Footnote 9: Cambridge Platform, chap. iii. 7.]
Mr. R. Now, please, Br. B., what does all that prove?
Mr. B. Why, it proves that, in the judgment of the Cambridge Platform, the children of church-members are members of the churches.
Mr. R. It shows that the Cambridge Platform calls them members; but it gives us no proof that they are properly called members. A great deal in that extract, I undertake to say, will command the cordial assent of all who practise infant baptism, if we except the use of the term members. It shows that, as to coming into the company of true believers, and being one of them, the only way is through repentance and faith,—a way common to the unbaptized. The only advantage, but one which is exceedingly great and precious on the part of the believer's children, being, that they "have many privileges," and "are in a more hopeful way of attaining regenerating grace." But the term membership does not express their relation to the church before they are converted.
Mr. B. (After a pause.) I do not know but you are right.
Mr. C., the remaining advocate of the sermon, said, "Let me refresh your memories with the famous case quoted in Morton's New England Memorial. He says:
"'The two ministers there (Salem, 1629), being seriously studious of reformation, they considered the state of their children, together with their parents, concerning which letters did pass between Mr. Higginson (of Salem) and Mr. Brewster, the reverend elder of the church of Plymouth; and they did agree in their judgments, namely, concerning the church-membership of the children with their parents, and that baptism was a seal of their membership; only, when they were adult, they being not scandalous, they were to be examined by the church officers, and upon their approbation of their fitness, and upon the children's public and personally owning of the covenant, they were to be received unto the Lord's Supper. Accordingly, Mr. Higginson's eldest son, being about fifteen years of age, was owned to have been received a member together with his parents, and being privately examined by the pastor, Mr. Skelton (the other minister of Salem), about his knowledge in the principles of religion, he did present him before the church when the Lord's Supper was to be administered, and, the child then publicly and personally owning the covenant of the God of his father, he was admitted unto the Lord's Supper, it being there professedly owned, according to 1 Cor. 7:14, that the children of the church are holy unto the Lord, as well as their parents.'"
Mr. R. stood up, and, with an animated look and manner, but with a very pleasant voice, said:
"What, now, my good brother, did these good ministers do, with this youth, more or less than we all do for the children of our pastoral charge?
"Of what practical use was his so-called infant 'church-membership,' in addition to his being, as we all hold, a child of the covenant?"
They made no reply for a little while, till at last Mr. A. said:
"Well, Br. R., what names would you substitute for members and membership?"
Mr. R. "THE CHILDREN OF THE CHURCH;" for you have it in the last sentence of the extract which you read from Morton;—the true, the most appropriate, and, in every respect, the best name for those who are so ambiguously called members.
Mr. B. There is great beauty and sweetness in that name, I confess,—"the children of the church," "the church's children."
Mr. R. A father never, except for concealment, says, "a member of my family," when "a child" is meant. The term members, besides being equivocal, and requiring explanation, is not so good as "children of the church," an expression which includes and covers all that any would claim for "infant church-members."
Mr. C. I confess, I like Br. R.'s views and proposition. If, by calling the offspring of believers, "the children of the church," we, by implication, abridged any of their privileges, or if, by calling them church-members, we believed that they acquired rights and privileges not otherwise appertaining to them, we ought to prefer the words member and membership; but it is not so. No one of the writers cited,—and the proofs we all know could be extended by quoting from other authors,—claims the right of a child to full communion, except upon evidence, in his "trial and examination," that he is regenerate. Indeed, the only use to which the terms member and membership seem to be applied, is, in furnishing some ground for urging the discipline and excommunication of the child. This, though urged by some, is urged in vain.
Mr. R. Other terms, in connection with members and membership, have been proposed, such as members in minority, members in suspension, future members; but all in vain. The children of believers are certainly the children of the church, and such I devoutly hope and pray they may come to be called.
Mr. A. Seeing that the use of the term member keeps before our minds a theoretical, hard necessity, from which every one shrinks, I think I will alter my sermon so far as to dismiss the term, and, with it, all sense of inconsistency in neglected obligations as to disciplining these young "members."
"Well, Br. A.," said Mr. B., "I will join you in submission."
"So will I," said Mr. C. "How good it is to be convinced, and to give up one's own will; is it not?"
"It ought to be," said Mr. A., "to those whose great business it is to preach submission. But I think we did not differ at first, except as to the use of terms."
Mr. T. I wish to make a confession. Though I have always been of Br. R.'s opinion, I have felt it to be invidious, and, for several reasons, disagreeable, to call a meeting of "the children of the church,"—making a distinction between them and the other children of my pastoral charge. Am I correct in such views and feelings?
"Come, Mr. Chairman," said Mr. A., "we have not paid you sufficient deference, I fear; for we have hardly kept order, in addressing one another, and not through you. Now, please to speak for us, and tell us what you think of Br. T.'s difficulty."
Mr. C. I have sinned with you, as to keeping order, if there has been any transgression; but I have been so much interested and instructed, that I forgot my preeminence over you. But to Br. T., I would say, There is a church; and it means something, and something of infinite importance. All our labors have this for their end, to make men qualified for worthy church-membership, on earth, and in heaven,—the conditions of admission here and there, as we hold, being essentially the same. This church, which we thus build up, has children, call them what we may, the objects of God's peculiar love. On that topic I need not dwell. We ought to pay some marks of special regard to these children, for God has done so. As to its being invidious, it is not more invidious than to address our congregations as partly Christians, and partly unconverted; or to invite the unconverted to meetings especially designed for them. Meetings of the children of my church, called by me, and addressed by me, never fail to make very deep impressions upon the young, upon their parents, upon other children, and upon the parents of those children. Another form of effecting the same desirable ends, is, to call meetings of parents in the church, and their children, and to address the parents and the children in sight and hearing of each other. In doing so, if there are any parents in the church who are withholding their children from baptism, we have the best of opportunities to conciliate their feelings to the ordinance of baptism. We all know how little is effected in our minds by abstract reasoning upon any subject, where the feelings are deeply concerned; close argument, invincible logic, absolute demonstrations, and all measures seemingly intended to coerce the will, excite resistance, and confirm us in our prejudices. But open to a parent, who has doubts on the subject, its inestimable benefits to all concerned, and he will be more disposed to see the grounds for it, and the abundant proofs of its divine authority, which the atmosphere of pure reason had not sufficient power of refraction to make him apprehend.
Mr. S. I thank the chairman heartily for those remarks. May I add a leaf from my observation? I have noticed that in such meetings of parents, in the church, and their children, good influences sometimes reach those who are pursuing the mistaken course of withholding their children from baptism, under the plea that they can consecrate their children to God as well without baptism, as with it. They need to learn the spiritual power which God has vested in the sacraments of his own appointment, and to be disabused of the notion that the baptism of a child is, from beginning to end, merely a human act, of which God is only a spectator;—they need to feel that baptism is something conferred upon a child by God; and not merely a sign, but a seal.
"Yes," said Mr. R., "it is an ordinance of God, and the neglect of it is not merely a failure to obtain blessings, but a disregard of a divine ordinance; not merely the withholding a sign of allegiance, but the loss of a seal,—the government seal, not ours, which God would affix to the intercourse between himself and our souls. If we, pastors, feel this deeply, and so perceive the design of God in bestowing baptism upon the children of his people, we shall convey to the hearts and minds of doubting Christian parents, persuasive influences, which will succeed where arguments and appeals, based on mere proofs and obligations, have failed."
Mr. A. It is gratifying, now, to think that these things, and others like them, may be done without calling the children "members of the church." Except discipline, it is obvious that everything in the way of watchfulness may be done for them as children of the church, which it would be proper, or even possible to do, if they were counted as members.
Mr. R. I am aware of the analogy which many, who plead for the term members, seek to carry out between the Old and the New Testament church, making children members of the Christian church, because the church in ancient days included the children. But it seems to me that there is the same difference, now and formerly, between the relation of children to the church, that there is between the relation of the whole religious community, now and formerly, to the church of God. Formerly, all the members of the religious community were, by their association under the same belief and worship, members of the church. To make the case with us parallel, our whole Christian community ought to be members of the church. No examination or discrimination should be used; to belong to the Christian community should constitute church-membership.
But this, we know, is not the case. God chooses now to make up his visible church not as formerly, but of those who give credible evidence of regeneration. They who worship with us, but do not profess to be Christians, are hopeful subjects of effort and prayer, whom we expect to receive hereafter to the visible church, on profession of their faith.
As the Christian church is constituted differently from the Jewish church, in this respect, discrimination and separation taking place between the members of a Christian congregation, have we not analogical reason to infer that it may also be thus with regard to children?—who once, indeed, were members of the church of God, but, under the dispensation of the Spirit, they fall, with other unconverted members of the congregation, out of membership in the church.
Mr. C. And yet, Br. R., the fall is not far, nor hurtful. They are entitled to all the privileges, and they enjoy, or should enjoy, all the care and effort, which they would have under a different name. Only they do not come to the Lord's Supper, as a matter of course, as they did to the Passover.
Mr. S. Suppose that the legislature should incorporate a fish-market, and cede to the proprietors fifteen square miles of the sea, within which they should have the privilege of taking fish. All the fish, within those fifteen miles of salt water, might be said to belong to the market; yet every one of them must be taken by hook and line ere his belonging to the market is of any practicable value. So the children of the church may be said to belong to the church, and are to constitute her chief resource. Rivers, and other distant or neighboring waters, would also send fish to that market, even if they were "far off;" but it is from the bay at her doors that the market would derive her principal supplies. I do not see that children are members of the church, any further than those fishes belong to that market. Go there when you will, you see the stalls filled from those adjacent waters; supplies are continually coming in; they are, in a sense, secured to the market by a covenant; yet every fish is caught and handled, before he has anything like membership in that market, as really as though he swam and were caught in Baffin's Bay;—only he is now far more likely to be caught, and, in a sense, he already belongs to the market by the seal of the state.
Mr. A., the reader of the sermon, not having much ideality, but much plain good sense, yet taking everything literally at first, and from his own honesty supposing that all figures of speech are to be cashed, as it were, for what they purport on their face, immediately challenged his brother to carry out the illustration. He asked him whether the constant passage, in and out, of fishes from and beyond the ceded fifteen miles, allowed of any resemblance, in the migratory creatures, to the children of the church, who are born and remain in the limits of the church, and are designated, individually, by virtue of their parentage.
Mr. S. replied, that he did not mean to make a comparison to satisfy all the points of the case, and he hoped that the brethren would take it with due allowance.
Mr. T. said that he had thought of this illustration: "All the young male children of the Levites might be said to be members of the priesthood. They certainly 'belonged' to the priesthood. But no one of them could officiate till he had complied with certain conditions, nor if he was the subject of certain disabilities. He believed that the children of God's people have, by the grace of God, as really a presumptive relation, by future membership, to the church of Christ, as an infant Levite boy had to sacred offices; prayer, with the child, as well as for it, and faithful training, with a spiritual use of God's appointed ordinances, constitute, he was persuaded, as good reason to hope that the child of a true believer will become a Christian, and that, too, early in life, as that the young son of Levi would minister in the levitical office."
"O," said Mr. B., "how many cases there are which seem to disprove that. You will be obliged to reflect severely on some good people as parents, if you take so strong ground."
Mr. T. I do not despair of a child whose parents, or parent, has really covenanted with God for him, even though the child be long a wanderer from the fold.
But it is the same now with Abraham's spiritual seed as it was with his natural posterity,—neglect on the part of parents may work a forfeiture of the covenant promises; failure in family government, above all things, may frustrate every good influence which would otherwise have had a powerful effect in the conversion of the child. The sons of Eli were not well governed; Esau was evidently of an undisciplined spirit. With regard to the children of several good men, in the Bible, it may be inferred, that the public engagements of the fathers hindered them from bestowing needful attention upon their sons. The only thing derogatory to the prophet Samuel, of which we are informed, is, that his sons were vile. With regard to certain cases of mournful wickedness, on the part of the children of eminently good men, it will be found that some of these men, occupying, perhaps, important stations of a public nature, such as the Christian ministry, were so engrossed in their public duties as not to give sufficient time and attention to their own families; which is a great shame and folly in any father of a family. In vain do we plead the covenant promises, if we neglect covenant duties. Grace is not hereditary in any sense that compromises our free agency; its subjects are born "not of blood;" there are many of the children of the kingdom who will be cast out into outer darkness, but among them, we may venture to say, will not be found those whose parents diligently sought their moral and religious culture in the exercise of a strict, judicious, affectionate, prayerful, watch and care, praying with them in secret, which, it seems to me, is, perhaps, the most powerful of all the means which a parent can use to influence the moral and religious character of a child.
"Is it not a mournful inconsistency," said Mr. R., "for us to be laboring and spending our strength and lives for the conversion and salvation of others, and not be equally zealous for the souls of the children whom God has given us?"
Mr. C. Our habits of seclusion and study may operate to make us reserved, moody, and so repulsive, to our own children. We ought to be interested in their every-day affairs, and watch for opportunities to form their opinions, on moral as well as religious subjects, and be as kind and assiduous to them, certainly, as we endeavor to be to other children.
* * * * *
What more could these good men have said, with regard to the subject, had they concluded to adopt the terms "member" and "membership," to express the relation of children to the church? They were not conscious of omitting or diminishing one privilege or blessing to which the children of the church are entitled; everything which the most strenuous advocates of "infant church-membership," so called, mention as accruing to them, they claimed in their behalf. Did infant church-membership admit to the Lord's Supper, as it did to the passover, the children would now, with propriety, be said to be "members of the church." But, inasmuch as, under the Christian dispensation, they cannot come to the sacrament which distinguishes between the regenerate and the unregenerate, without a change of heart, they, and all those who are associated with the church in general acts of worship, and in Christian privileges, but are not converted persons, are, alike, under the Christian system, removed from outward membership—only, that the children of the church have privileges and promises which go far to increase the probability of their future church-membership, and directly to prepare them for that sacred relation.
"THE CHILDREN OF THE CHURCH," then, is the sufficient name by which it seems desirable that the children of believers should be designated. And, instead of using the term "church-membership," applied to them, we shall include everything which is properly theirs, we shall lose nothing, we shall prevent great misunderstanding, and liability to perversion, by substituting the "Relation of Baptized Children to the Church," whenever we wish to express the peculiar and most precious connection which they hold, in the arrangements of divine grace, with the covenant people of God.
The mother, in her office, holds the key Of the soul; and she it is who stamps the coin Of character, and makes the being, who would be a savage But for her gentle cares, a Christian man. —Then, crown her Queen o' the world.
The pastors now adjourned their session under the maples, and repaired to the room where their wives were sitting. The ladies had finished their deliberations, and had been strolling in the woods. But they, too, had been engaged, like their husbands, in conversation about their children, and the children of the church. "Maternal Associations" had been the chief topic. They had discussed their advantages, and had considered objections to them. The result was, that they had unanimously agreed to promote such associations in their respective churches. Their influence on young mothers, in helping them to train their children, affording them the results of experience gained by others; the privilege of stating difficult and trying cases for advice, of praying together for their children, of having those mothers, during the intervals of their monthly meetings, pray for the children of their sisters, and sometimes, specially, for a child in peculiar need of prayer, commended these associations to their judgment and affections. One lady referred to the possible disclosure of family secrets, at such meetings, which it was unpleasant to hear, and to the undesirableness of revealing the faults of a child. They agreed that these things should never be done, and that it was easy to avoid them by employing a friend, if necessary, to state the case, hypothetically, so as to conceal its connection with any member of the circle. The ladies had gone so far as to adopt a little manual, for their respective circles, which they submitted to their husbands for criticism. One of the gentlemen read it, as follows:
"Maternal Associations are designed for mutual instruction and consultation, in connection with united prayer. Subjects for reading and discussion relate chiefly to the physical, mental, moral, and religious training of children. Some individual is usually prepared at each meeting to give method and tone to the conversation, which might otherwise become desultory. The faults of children who are known to the members are not made the subject of remark; but cases of difficulty are so presented as to avoid individual exposure. Associations conducted on these principles are found to be greatly beneficial.
"CONSTITUTION OF——CHURCH MATERNAL ASSOCIATION.
"Impressed with a sense of our entire dependence upon the Holy Spirit to aid us in training up our children in the way they should go, and hoping to obtain the blessing of such as fear the Lord and speak often to one another, we, the subscribers, do unitedly pledge ourselves to meet at stated seasons for prayer and mutual counsel in reference to our maternal duties and responsibilities. With a view to this object, we adopt the following constitution:
"ARTICLE I. This circle shall be called the 'Maternal Association of——Church;' any member of which, sustaining the maternal relation, may become a member by subscribing this constitution. Other individuals, sustaining the same relation, may be admitted to membership by a vote of two thirds of the members present.
"ART. II. The monthly meetings of this Association shall be held on the——of the month.
"ART. III. The quarterly meetings in January, April, July, and October, shall be held on the last Wednesday of the month, when the members shall be allowed to bring to the place of meeting such of their children as may be under the age of twelve years, and they shall be considered members of the Association. The exercises at these meetings shall be such as shall seem best calculated to instruct the minds and interest the feelings of the children who may be present.
"ART. IV. At each quarterly meeting there shall be a small contribution by the children for benevolent purposes.
"ART. V. The time appropriated for each meeting shall not exceed one hour and a half, and shall be exclusively devoted to the object of the Association. Every monthly meeting shall be opened by prayer and reading a portion of Scripture, which may be followed by reading such other matter as relates to the interests of the Association, or by conversation tending to promote maternal faithfulness and piety. These exercises may be interspersed with singing the songs of Zion, and with humble and importunate prayer, that God would glorify himself in the early conversion of the children of the Association, that they may become eminently useful in the church of Christ. It is desirable that the last meeting in the year be spent in reading the Scriptures and in prayer.
"ART. VI. Every member of the Association shall be considered as sacredly bound to pray for her children daily, and with them as often as circumstances will permit; and to give them from time to time the best religious instruction of which she is capable.
"ART. VII. It shall be the duty of every member to qualify herself, by daily reading, prayer, and self-discipline, to discharge faithfully the arduous duties of a Christian mother; and she shall be requested to give with freedom such hints upon the various subjects brought before the Association as her own observation and experience may suggest.
"ART. VIII. When any mother is removed by death, it shall be the special duty of the Association to regard with peculiar interest the spiritual welfare of her children, and to evince this interest by a continued remembrance of them in their prayers, by inviting them to attend quarterly meetings, and by such tokens of sympathy and kindness as their circumstances may render proper.