« PreviousContinue »
5. When Christ says, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven," he, in these words, gives the reason why little children should be brought to him for his blessing. By the king. dom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, which is the same, is meant the visible kingdom of Christ in this world, or his church; in which sense, this phrase is most cominonly used by Christ. What he here declares, therefore, is, that such children as these that is, the children of his friends, who believe in him — belong to his kingdom, and are to be members of his visible church, and to be with their parents numbered among the redeemed.
This declaration of our Savior sets the children of believing parents under the gospel in the same situation in which the children of the visible members of the ancient church, in the family and posterity of Abraham, were placed. Such were introduced with their parents into that church and kingdom, and were as real members of it as their parents. But they cannot enter into this kingdom of God, the visible church of Christ, in any way but by being baptized with water; therefore, this is as proper, important, and necessary, as was the circumcision of children, under the covenant made with Abraham. If children of visible believers are to be considered as having a right to be visible members of the kingdom of God, and to be treated as such, in which light Christ has set them in those words, then they are to be introduced to this visible standing in this church and kingdom, by the only door which Christ has fixed and opened for this, which is, by being baptized with water, in the name of the sacred Trinity; or being born of water.
In sum, what Christ said and did on this occasion is entirely conformable to the institution in the covenant with Abraham, and the practice of the church of Israel respecting children; and is really an approbation of it, and a manifestation of his will, that the children of his disciples, and members of his visible church, should be considered and treated as the children of Abraham and his posterity were, as being in the same covenant and kingdom with their parents.
What the apostle Paul says to the church of Christ at Corinth, and particular members of it, respecting their children, is an evidence that they had the same station and character in the Christian church which they had in the church before the incarnation of Christ. “ Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." (1 Cor. vii. 14.)
Here it is asserted, that the children of believing parents, even if one of them be a believer, are holy. The meaning of the word holy, here, is doubtless plain and determinate, and will appear so, when properly considered and compared with other parts of the Bible. Is it not certain that this word, especially in the New Testament, when applied to a moral agent, denotes a moral character, and means real holiness, or the appearance of real holiness, in the view and judgment of those persons who are to form a judgment of their moral character, and treat them accordingly? This is the same with visible holiness; that is, real holiness in the sight and judgment of men, who are to judge and act upon it. To be visibly holy, is to be really holy in appearance to men, so far as they can, or have a right to judge; and is a sufficient warrant for them to consider and treat them who have this visibility of real holiness, as if they were in fact really holy, though this visibility, or the signs and evidence by which they are to judge, be not infallibly connected with real holiness.
In this sense, all the members of the apostolic churches were holy. They were, therefore, called " holy brethren," and SAINTS, which is the same word in the original, by which the character of children of believers is here expressed, and might be translated, “ Else were your children unclean; but now are they saints.” This is an epithet common to all who were baptized and received into the churches, professing faith in Christ, and entering into covenant with him and with each other, to obey his laws, and to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were thus called saints, or holy, and considered and treated as being really such, because they had that appearance in the sight of men, according to the rules by which they were to judge and act in their treatment of them, and not because they infallibly knew they were real saints. They were visibly real saints, according to the marks and evidence, and the appearance they made in the sight of men, by which Christ had ordered them to judge and act. Thus they were visible saints.
All the members of every church were so. They were baptized and received as members of the church, as appearing to be real saints, which is meant by a visible saint. Al who were not real saints, or really holy in the sight of Christ, which was true of some, were hypocrites, and not what they professed and appeared to men to be. In this case the fault was wholly in them, who made an appearance and profession not agreeable to the truth; and not theirs who acted according to the rules which Christ has prescribed, in forming a charitable judgment of them, and receiving them as being really holy, and friends to Christ.
In this sense, the children of the believer are holy, or saints. Christ has put this character upon them, and directed his people to consider and receive them as such; which character is derived wholly from the believing parent. If the parent of the children be a visible saint, or holy person, that is, appears to men to be a real saint, the children are visible saints, or holy, also; that is, they have the appearance and character of real saints, as really as their parents, and are to be treated as such until this appearance ceases.
How this appearance and visibility may cease, and on what ground it is derived to children from their parents, will be more particularly considered in the sequel.
It has been said that the unbelieving parent is sanctified, according to this text, which is the same with being made holy. Such parent is, therefore, here represented to be as holy as the children; consequently the latter are no more, and in no other sense, holy than the former, according to these words.
ANSWER. No one can suppose that to be sanctified, and to be holy, do here express the same character, or that the unbelieving parent is asserted to be holy in precisely the same sense in which the children of believers are holy. Therefore, the unbelieving parent being said to be sanctified by, in, or to, the believing parent, whatever this may mean, does not in the least determine what is the character of the children, which is expressed by their being called holy, and is as consistent with their being asserted to be really holy, in the sense which has been now explained, as it is with their being holy in any other sense. And it is to be considered whether the sense here given be not the most natural, consistent sense, and whether any other sense, which is consistent and unforced, has ever yet been mentioned, or can be suggested.
When the unbelieving parent is said to be sanctified by, or to, the believer, the meaning is plain and easy, viz., that the believer may live in such a connection, consistent with maintaining a Christian character, and the unbeliever may, to such a degree, answer the ends of that relation to the believer, as to be improved by the latter to the holy purposes of true religion. Thus the unbeliever is sanctified to the believer, as every kind of food and every creature of God is sanctified to such, by the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim. iv. 5.) Therefore, the children of such parents are holy; they derive their character from the believing, holy parent, and not from the unbeliever; which could not be the case if the unbeliever were not sanctified by, or to, the believer, in the sense above explained. Who does not see the difference between the unbeliever being sanctified by, in, or to, the believer, and the children of the believer being consequently holy? The latter, according to the use of the word in the New Testament, denotes a moral character, and fixes it on the children; the former has no respect to the moral character of the unbeliever, but of the believing parent, from whom that of the children is derived.
According to this view of the words under consideration, the children of believers and members of Christian churches are to be considered, and were considered, by Christ and his apostles and the primitive churches, as having the same character with their believing parents, — just as the children of parents in the Abrahamic church were considered and treated, viz., as being in the same covenant, and having the same character, with their parents. The children of Abraham and of Israel, when more particularly formed into a church, - and they renewed and entered into covenant at Mount Sinai, after they had greatly apostatized during their long servitude in Egypt, — were denominated, by God, “a holy nation, and a holy people;” and all their children were included in this covenant, as has been shown, and this epithet was applied to them as much as to their parents. The seal of the covenant was, therefore, applied to them, by which they were visibly separated and distinguished from all other people as a holy nation, both parents and children.
Is not this sufficient evidence that it was the will of Christ that the churches erected by the apostles should make no alteration with respect to children, from that which took place in the church formed in the family of Abraham, but they are to have the same character and privileges with them? How contrary is this to a supposed repeal of the institution by which children were received into covenant with their parents, and had the seal of it applied to them, in the family of Abraham!
And if the children of believers be holy, in the sense explained, and were so in the apostolic churches, are they not the proper subjects of baptism? Who can forbid water that they should not be baptized ?
It may be added, that, consistent with these words thus understood, this apostle treated and addressed the children of believing parents as being numbered with the saints, and so as saints. He addresses his epistle to the church at Ephesus, and to that at Colosse, to the saints at Ephesus, and at Colosse, and to no other persons; and he speaks to such, and no others, in those, and in all his epistles. Yet here we find him particularly addressing and exhorting children, as included in the church, and among the saints: “ Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Children, obey your parents in all things; for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” (Eph. vi. 1. Col. iii. 20.)
Other passages in the New Testament have been often
mentioned by writers on this subject, in support of the baptism of the children of believers; but it is not thought needful particularly to consider them here, since these which have been brought into view are supposed sufficient to show that it is the will of Christ that the institution of a church in the family of Abraham, so far as it respects children, including them with their parents and applying the seal of the covenant to them, should not be repealed under the gospel.
4. That the apostolic churches and primitive Christians did admit their children to baptism, as proper subjects of it, is argued from the general and almost universal practice of it, in all ages since from that time. This is a fact which writers on this subject have abundantly proved. From writings now extant, it appears that infant baptism was practised in the Christian churches in the second, third, and fourth centuries; and it was asserted, by writers in the church in those ages, that it had been the universal practice from the days of the apostles, and not one person appears to have denied it, or to suggest that it was not thus handed down as an institution of Christ; and it appears to have been the common practice in Christian churches for above a thousand years, at least, and it is, to this day, the general practice in the Christian world. If this were not the practice of the first Christian churches, formed by the apostles, it seems impossible that it should be introduced at so early an age, as the universal practice, without opposition by any one church or person as an innovation, and contrary to the practice of the primitive churches, and without any account or notice given when it was done, and by whom, and by whom it was opposed. Various heresies took place in the churches, soon after the apostles' days, by which Christians were divided in their sentiments and practice in many things, of which we have the history handed down to us, informed when and by whom they were introduced. And learned men, - who took pains to inform themselves, and were under advantages to do it, - who lived in the early ages of the church, have given a particular account of the heresies which had arisen among Christians in different parts of the world, and at different times; but they never mention infant baptism as one of them, nor the omission or denial of it, as a Christian institution, by any church or single person who practised the baptism of any with water. By those heresies, professing Christians were divided into parties, and became spies upon each other; and if they had not all been agreed in baptizing infants, and it had not been the universal practice before those divisions rose, but was introduced afterwards, it would have been impossible that they should all agree in it,