“A Minature History of Infant Baptism”
By David Benedict, 1813
[A portion of the chapter]
It is now proper that we should go back to the time when infant baptism began to gain some ground, and consider the causes which hastened its progress.
About the time that catechumen minors began to be baptized, the words of Christ, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God, were misapplied to baptism. This erroneous exposition led to an undue reliance on this sacred rite, and many began to extol its efficacy, in the most absurd and extravagant manner; and represented it as a sure and sovereign antidote to all the moral maladies of depraved nature. It could wash away original sin, and place in a state of certain and everlasting salvation, all to whom it was applied; and more than all this, all who died without it, whether infants or adults, were sure of eternal misery. These errors were not all introduced at once; it took some time to bring them to perfection. But while they were gaining ground, there was another error considerably prevalent, which produced an inconvenient collision with the former. Some held to a doctrine similar to the Armenian notion of falling from grace, and many were afraid that they should relapse into sin after their baptism, and thereby lose all its salutary benefits. This led Constantine and many others to defer their baptism till near the close of life. And this again led into the practice of pouring and sprinkling in baptism, instead of immersion, the then universally prevalent mode. These people who had deferred their baptism, were often suddenly alarmed
From Robert Robinson's History of Baptism, p. 269-282.
with the prospect of death. Sickness disabled them from 'going to the baptismal font, and misery was their portion if they died unbaptized, and in this painful dilemma, they made the best shift they could, and were sprinkled if they could not be immersed. But this inconvenience was of no long duration, for as soon as parents were made to believe that baptism was the laver of regeneration, they were careful that all their children should be washed in it, as soon as they were born, and their relapsing or rather continuing in sin was another affair.
We have now arrived at the period in which baptism was exalted to a most astonishing pre-eminence. Its efficacy was the constant theme of pulpit declaimers, and its praises were chanted by all who could sing. Laws were enacted, canons were made, and the most vigilant precautions were taken by popes and princes, and every order of ecclesiastics, by nurses and midwives, and every benevolent creature in christendom, that no human being, whether adult or infant, whether born or unborn, should depart to the world of spirits without this heavenly passport. Baptism, indeed, suffered violence, and the violent took it by force.
As this may seem a mere fanciful reverie, to those who have not studied this subject, I shall here quote verbatim, Mr. Robinson's account of the matter. The passage may be found in his History of Baptism, under the article Aspersion, where the authorities are quoted. "The absolute necessity of dipping in order to a valid baptism; and the indispensable necessity of baptism, in order to salvation, were two doctrines which clashed, and the collision kindled up a sort of war, between the warm bosoms of parents who had children, and the cold reasonings of monks, who had few sympathies. The doctrine was cruel, and the feelings of humanity revolted against it. Power may give law; but it is more than power can do to make unnatural laws sit easy in the minds of men.
"The clergy felt the inconvenience of this state of things, for they were obliged to attend any woman in labour at a moment's warning, night or day, in any season, at the most remote parts of their parishes, without the power of demanding any fee, whenever a case of necessity
required, and if they neglected their duty, they were severely punished.
"A great number of expedients were tried to remedy this evil; but for a long season nothing succeeded. There was a regular train of trials. At first, infants were baptized along with catechumens in public, by trine immersion, at two times in the year; when it was observed, that some died before the season for baptizing came, priests were empowered to baptize at any time, and in any place in case of sickness. When it was remarked that a priest was not always at hand, new canons empowered him to depute others to perform the ceremony, and midwives were licensed. It happened sometimes, while the midwife was baptizing a child not like to live many minutes, the mother was neglected and died. To prevent such accidents in future, it was decreed, that any body, licensed or unlicensed, a Jew or a degraded priest, a scullion or felon, might baptize. It fell out, sometimes, that a vessel large enough, or a quantity of water sufficient to dip an infant, could not be procured on a sudden; and while in the dead of the night, and perhaps in a severe frost, the assistants were running to borrow utensils, or to procure water, the ill-fated infant expired. In vain were laws made expressly to require pregnant women, to have every thing ready prepared, the laws of nature defied human control, the evil was incurable, and the anguish intolerable. Some infants died the moment they were born, others before, both unbaptized, and all for the comfort of the miserable mother, doomed like fiends to descend instantly to a place of torment."
[From David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 1813, Chapter 2, pp. 61-63; via Google Books on-line. The title has been changed. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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