A history of Infant-baptism, designed as a defence of the rite, was put forth early in the last century, by WILLIAM WALL, Vicar of Sboreham, Kent, in England. This work has obtained great celebrity; and its author received the thanks of the clergy bf England in Convocation assembled, and also the honor of Doctor of Divinity's degree from the University of Oxford -- So many were the obligations under which the Pedo-baptists felt themselves laid by his defence of their favorite doctrine! No Baptist has ever undertaken a history of the same subject. For some years past our reading has led us to the investigation of the rise and spread of infant-baptism, and, we have been called upon by brethren in different quarters of the United States to prepare its history. This we propose now to do, in a review of Dr. Wall's History of Infant-baptism; traversing his grounds and examining his conclusions; and also presenting other proofs and arguments calculated to lead the mind to a proper appreciation of the subject, and of the great issues involved in its adjustment.
Infant-baptism is intimately associated with interests of vital importance to the purity, harmony, and efficiency of the Redeemer's kingdom; and to the dearest and most sacred rights and privileges of man. By it millions of the human family every year are initiated into churches and made vassals to systems and establishments without their knowledge and consent. By this rite, all the national churches of the world have been sustained; and it is the means by which the Pope of Rome has marked and claimed as his subjects and slaves the millions that have composed his dominions. If infant-baptism be all that is claimed for it by the great majority of its advocates, then a visible church of Christ is no longer "a congregation of faithful men." It ceases to be "a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord, in order to the public worship of God, in such manner as they judge most acceptable to him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls." Infant-baptism teaches that individuals are born members of the church! Religious privileges are claimed to be hereditary, descending by the sanctions of Divine law from parents to their children; and consequently that membership and all the rights in the house of God are inherited by children as they inherit temporal estates! Dr. Miller, in his work on Baptism, published by the Presbyterian Tract and Sunday School Society, says: "Can it be, my friends, that when the stem is in the church, the branch is out of it? Can it be that when the parent is in the visible kingdom of the Redeemer, his offspring, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, have no connection with it? It is not so in any other society that the great moral Governor of the world ever formed. It is not so in civil society. Children are born citizens of the State in which their parents resided at the time of their birth. In virtue of their birth they are plenary citizens, bound by all the duties, and entitled to all the privileges of that relation, whenever they become capable of exercising them. From these duties they cannot be liberated. Of these privileges they cannot be deprived, but by the commission of crime. But why should this great principle be set aside in the church of God? Surely it is not less obvious or less powerful in grace than in nature. The analogies which pervade all the works and dispensations of God are too uniform and striking to be disregarded in an inquiry like the present." p. 8. Moral character, then, has nothing to do necessarily with the prerequisites of citizenship in the gospel kingdom; and hence, at this hour, according to infant-baptism, almost all the inhabitants of the civilized world are actual members of the visible church of Christ!
This rite, too, is supposed to confer far greater and more enduring blessings than mere membership in the church militant. The great majority of Pedo-baptists contend, that infants dying unbaptized will be driven away into everlasting punishment! -- that by baptism their souls are regenerated and their sins forgiven! Hence in some of the nominal christian nations, it is a penal offence against the State for parents to neglect the baptism of their children. In others, it is made the duty of the magistrate to take by force of arms, and to have baptism administered to, the children of such parents as conscientiously believe this rite to be a human invention. A great number of persons have been put to death for opposing infant-baptism; and every where, by the great mass of professing Christians, the Baptists are regarded as wickedly callous to the spiritual interests of their offspring; and for many ages they were esteemed as unworthy of life, and were pursued and persecuted as monsters of impiety: and even now, on the continent of Europe, they are suffering imprisonment and confiscation of goods -- inflicted by Protestants! The baptism of an adult is rarely, if ever, performed by the majority of those who profess to have received a commission from the Lord to disciple and baptize the nations. Comparatively few persons are now baptized upon their own profession of faith; the overwhelming mass are baptized in infancy.
For the reason of these opinions and practices, we look in vain to the Scriptures. In them, the church of the Redeemer stands exalted by the moral grandeur of its membership and the benign spirit of its principles. How, then, became the beauty of the gospel so marred? This question history alone can answer; and the annals of infant-baptism, written in lines of blood and folly, will reveal many of the mournful causes of those corruptions, and superstitions, and persecutions, which have brought reproach upon the name and now hinder the triumphs of our holy religion. History will vindicate the Bible from the suspicion of giving birth to the abominations, practical and theoretical, which we have mentioned; and demonstrate that they are the hideous production of ignorance and error, of darkness and perdition.
Let us not be suspected of ascribing the sentiments and practices alluded to above to all the adherents of infant-baptism. Far from it. There are whole denominations who baptize infants, but who loathe and detest many of these things, looking upon them with a contempt as sovereign and supreme as our own. But among such, infant baptism is little else than the solemn sprinkling of water in children's faces in the name of the Trinity. True, they call it dedication to God, giving the seal of the covenant, and by other pompous and high sounding appellations, which mean very little, if any thing at all, when fully explained; and are calculated rather to provoke a smile than any serious remark. These denominations do not believe that baptism regenerates infants, or in any way improves their moral condition; and the most they can plead in behalf of the rite is, that it can do no harm; or, that it binds parents to train their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; as if that were not an obligation independent of all ceremonial observances, as binding from the birth of the first infant to the present time, as it was possible to be made by the chords of parental affection and the mandate of the Almighty -- as if Baptists were not as much bound by the requisition, and could as well observe it, as the Pedobaptists! But history proves that this system of infant-baptism is a novelty, that its advocates are few and comparatively modern; and that except in the naked article, that infants should be baptized, this system can claim but little affinity, as it bears scarcely any resemblance, to that great tree of infant baptizers whose roots have been striking downward for centuries, and whose branches have shut out from nations the sunlight of the gospel. We are to judge of infant-baptism, not by its exceptions -- by the few who are entitled to some degree of credit for decency and propriety of sentiment in their reasons for its administration -- but by the mass of its defenders; and especially ought its merits to be determined by reference to those ages and countries where it flourished almost without an opponent in all the pride of its strength.
An argument for the truth of infant-baptism has been derived by Dr. Wall from its general prevalence; and a distinguished advocate of the system has recently said,"that this rite has commanded the firm belief of almost the whole of Christianity in all ages; not of the ignorant and superstitious only, or chiefly; but of the wise and good -- of those who have taken the Bible as their only infallible rule of faith and practice. The overwhelming mass of those who have diligently sought to know their duty, as connected with this interesting subject, have understood the Scriptures to teach, that the children of believing parents ought to be baptized. The exceptions to this are less than one to a thousand. The opposers of this doctrine, compared even with Protestant Christendom, are a mere handfull. Now, if the Bible be a plain book, easily to be understood on all important points, how could the great majority of Bible readers believe that it taught what it does not? How unaccountable has been the infatuation of almost the whole Christian world, on the supposition that this doctrine is false and absurd."1
Whenever it is fairly shown that a doctrine has always and every where been received as scriptural by the mass of pious, intelligent, and careful readers of the Bible, we frankly confess that it presents to our mind a most powerful presumption of its truth; and whether adduced by Papist or Protestant, we feel no disposition to disparage its force. The Bible was given to be read and understood by men, which would not be true, if the great majority of its most careful and critica1 readers -- unswayed by other motives than to learn what it teaches and to obey what it enjoins -- were wholly to mistake its requisitions in relation to one of the most important ordinances of the gospel. If it were made to appear, then, that there has been perfect unanimity among the Pedo-baptists, present and past, in their affirmations respecting the Bible authority for infant-baptism; or even if it were shown, that there had been a general concurrence of views among them on this subject, we should regard their cause as presenting a most formidable front to the boldest opponent; and for one, we should almost tremble to raise a finger against it.
But have the Pedo-baptists uttered one voice in relation to infant-baptism? Have they all testified the same things? Have their declarations respecting the scriptural warrant for their practice been uncontradictory and harmonious? No -- emphatically NO! God has confounded the language of the builders of this moral Babel, and every variety of speech -- confused, discordant, and contradictory -- has been uttered upon the subject. Some of them say, that infant-baptism is taught in the Bible; others, that it is not, that tradition teaches it. Those who contend that the Scriptures authorize it, cannot agree where the passages in its favor are to be found; and if we take all their statements in the case as equally worthy of credit, then all the authority for it in the word of God, is a vagrant warrant, constantly wandering from place to place in the Bible, and never to be overtaken by turning over its leaves! No Pedo-baptist has ever adduced a passage sufficiently obvious to satisfy the consciences of his brethren. Every text of Scripture ever brought to prove this doctrine, bas been shown by Pedo-baptists themselves not to prove it at all! WE CHALLENGE THE PRODUCTION OF ONE EXCEPTION. With their own hands they have pulled down their own temple, not leaving one stone upon another. They have torn up its very foundations. Indeed, until the days of the great Genevan Reformer, the Pedo-baptists with united voices testified, that the Scriptures required a profession or faith and repentance of every candidate of baptism; and not even the most helpless infant was admitted to the ordinance without a solemn renunciation of the world and avowal of faith in Jesus Christ, made by it through its Sponsors. If the testimony of the religious world, therefore, proves any thing, it proves that the Bible teaches, that professed believers are the only proper subjects of baptism. So the great mass of Christians do now and have ever declared. This was a point undisputed, until the days of John Calvin.
The advocates of infant-baptism find great difficulty in fixing upon the period of its commencement. It is a matter on which a great diversity of sentiment exists. They agree only in affirming, that the point of time when the foundations of this system were laid is to be found somewhere in the long lapse of ages intervening between the call of Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, and the third century of the Christian era, when certain Africans were laboring to engraft upon the institutions of the New Testament the wildest vagaries, of superstition. All Pedo-baptists agree that baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ; yet not one of them pretends that the most eagle optics with which any man was ever blessed, are adequate to the perception of infant-baptism in the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists, if these writings be examined without extraneous helps. They are constrained to confess that infants and baptism are distinct words, no where joined together in the New Testament. GOD HAS PUT THEM ASUNDER. Hence the most lynx-eyed Pedo-baptists have to obtain lights outside of the New Testament to enable them to perceive even an aparition of their doctrine on its sacred pages. Some obtain their lights on this and some on the other side of the Apostolic age. One party tells us that infant-baptism was general in the third, or at least in the fourth century; that history gives no account of its origin this side of the Apostles; and, therefore, it must be taught in the New Testament! But another party, aware that this is enchanted ground, and conscious if such reasoning be admitted, it would clothe with divine sanction all the most important mummeries and inventions of the papacy, utterly reject it; and passing nearly nineteen centuries beyond the Apostles, on the plains of Mamre, they create such a flood of refulgence in favor of their doctrine out of the command of God to Abraham in relation to circumcision, as to feel that they need no light whatever from the New Testament. Hence they not only admit the silence of the New Testament, but rejoice in that silence! Dr. Miller, in the tract before cited, says: "Instead of our Baptist brethren having a right to call upon us to find a direct warrant in the New Testament, in favor of infant membership, we have a right to call upon them to produce a direct warrant for the great and sudden change which they allege took place. If it be, as they say, that the New Testament is silent on this subject, this very silence is quite sufficient to destroy their cause, and to establish ours.2 How wonderful the ear that catches the sounds of silence! How sweet to one, blessed with such a rare possession, must be the music of stillness, echoed by the hills of nonentity! To such persons, of course, the silence of the New Testament is as the voice of many waters in favor of infant-baptism!
But Dr. Wall seemed to think that the days of Abraham were too remote to suit the exigencies of infant-baptism. He and a host with him appear to be of opinion, that rays emitted from such a distance fall too feebly upon the New Testament to impart much light or heat to their favorite system. Hence they travel down the pathway of centuries, and fix upon an indefinite point of time subsequent to Moses and anterior to the Messiah's advent, when some one first perpetrated the folly and wickedness of baptizing a proselyte to the Jewish religion; and by means of this human invention, they fancy that they are able to see infant baptism practised by John the Baptist, the Apostles, and all primitive ministers; and from them spreading out over all nations, through all generations, to the present time! But this theory has one capital defect at least -- it has no foundation! Proselyte baptism, before the days of Messiah, did not exist. But more of this hereafter. In this practice, according to Dr. Wall was laid the foundation of infant-baptism. With that, then, is our first business; and we are content to commence the history of infant-baptism with it, and leave the issue with the candid of every persuasion.
1. Dr. Rice, in his Debate with Mr. [Alexander] Campbell.
2. Page 35. ==========
[The Western Baptist Review, Frankfort, KY, December, 1845, pp. 121-127. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
A History of Infant Baptism Volume III, by William Wall, 1844 edition.
More on Baptists: Various Subjects
Baptist HIstory Homepage