John Brown of Haddington
A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion (Systematic Theology)
The infants of parents, one or both visible saints, have a right to baptism before the church. 1. Christ’s general charge to baptize all nations includes them, Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15-16, where the world and nations are opposed to the Jews, whose infants were circumcised. And certainly infants are included in nations. 2. The children of believers are in covenant with God, Gen 17:7; Acts 2:38-39; and therefore may enjoy the seal of that covenant which is competent for them,—for which no pre-examination of the subjects is necessarily required,—in which no eating or drinking are necessary,—and of the leading blessings represented in which they are capable, viz. union with Christ, justification, adoption, regeneration, and resurrection to everlasting life. 3. Infants in the Jewish church were admitted to circumcision, which represented much the same things as baptism, Gen 17:10-14. And it ought to be observed that Christ came not into the world to curtail the privileges of his church, but to enlarge them;—that infants are as capable of baptism as of circumcision;—and that baptism is represented as a circumcision, Col 2:11-12. 4. Infants, such as Christ could carry in his arms, are members of the kingdom of God, Matt 19:13; Mark 10:14. And if members, why deny them the primary seal of membership? 5. Infants of one or both believing parents are holy,—not by legitimacy, for that is not the point there handled; nor is the faith of at least one parent necessary to it;—but federally holy, as belonging to God, and separated to his service, 1 Cor 7:14. 6. Whole families were often baptized, as of Lydia, and of the jailor of Philippi, Acts 16:15,33; Stephanas of Corinth, 1 Cor 1:16, etc.; in which families, it ought to be presumed that there were infants, till the contrary be proved. 7. Infants of believing parents were baptized in all the primitive ages of the Christian church. Even Pelagius, whose learning was considerable, and who had travelled through a great part of the Christian world, and whose darling opinions powerfully tempted him to deny infant baptism, declares that he had never heard of any who denied infants’ right to baptism; and complains of the report of his denial of it as a vile slander cast upon him.
Objection I. “There is no express warrant in Scripture for baptizing infants.” Answer 1. There is an express command of God to circumcise infants; and there is equal reason to baptize them, Gen 17:10-14; Col 2:11-12. 2. There is a command to baptize nations, of which infants are a part, Matt 28:19. 3. There is a new covenant promise respecting the infants of believers, Acts 2:39; Acts 13:46. 4. There is no more express command or reason for observing the Christian Sabbath, nor for women’s partaking of the Lord’s Supper, than is for the baptism of infants.
Objection II. “We have no express instance of the baptism of infants in Scripture in the history of the church for about thirty years.” Answer 1. For almost two thousand years, from Abraham to John Baptist, we have not one instance of the circumcision of an infant on the eighth day. Will it therefore follow that no infants were circumcised, or none on the eighth day, all that time? There is no instance of baptism in the churches of Antioch, Iconium, Rome, Thessalonica, or Colosse. Were therefore none of their members baptized? It is not common for historians to give particular instances of that which is altogether common. 2. It is incumbent upon our opposers to produce instances of the refusal of baptism to the children of believing parents till they were capable to vow for themselves.
Objection III. “Infants can receive no benefits from baptism.” Answer 1. If parents can settle upon them an earthly inheritance, what can hinder God to settle upon them an heavenly felicity? What can hinder him to bestow upon them all the blessings represented in baptism? 2. If they received benefit by circumcision, why may they not receive as much from baptism? And can they not be laid under obligations to serve God by the one as well as by the other? Gal 5:3.
Objection IV. “Faith and repentance, and the profession thereof, are required as prerequisites of baptism.” Answer. If infants can be saved, what hinders them to have the habits of faith and repentance? And as for the profession of them, it is only required of adult persons. Children derive their right to baptism from their immediate parents. 1. If they derived their right to baptism from their mediate parents, the children of some, if not all Heathens and Mahometans, would have a right to it, because of their descent from some pious ancestor. Nevertheless they are represented as aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, without Christ, and having no hope, and without God in the world, 1 Cor 7:14; Eph 2:12. 2. If infants derive their right to baptism from mediate parents, they must either derive it from their most remote ancestor; and then all must be baptized as descended from pious Noah, Enoch, etc. Or the extent of the derivation of that right must be fixed; which it no where is in Scripture. If it be pretended that it extends to a thousand generations, then all the infants of heathens have a right to it; as perhaps none of them are, or ever will be at the distance of three hundred generations from Noah, Abraham, etc. If that right extend to a thousand generations, how can the curse of God lie on the children of wicked men to the third and fourth generation? Or how could the Jews have been unchurched, when scarcely in the sixtieth generation from Abraham, in whom they were taken into covenant with God? 3. Notwithstanding the eminent piety of their ancestors, the infants of the Jews that lived in the apostolic age were unchurched along with their immediate parents. But why, unless the sin of these immediate parents had procured it? Rom 11:16,20.4. Children are rendered federally holy through the faith of their immediate father or mother, 1 Cor 7:14. 5. The children of wicked parents are by God, in his word, declared cursed, Deut 28:18. But how can they, who are visibly cursed by God, have a visible right to the seal of his promise and blessing? No infants, but such as are immediately descended from one or both parents, visible believers, have any right to baptism before the church. 1. Since they derive their right from their immediate parents, it must either be derived from their being baptized, or from their being visible believers. It cannot be derived from their baptism, as that becomes null and void if they be wicked, Rom 2:25. It is quite absurd to allege, that no more is here meant than that circumcision is unprofitable to justify men, except they keep the law: for in that respect it would be unprofitable though millions of good works attended it, Gal 3:10; Gal 2:16; Rom 3:20. 2. Parents’ right of access to the Lord’s table, and their infants’ right to baptism, stand or fall together. Such church-members as have offended by one or a few scandalous steps in their conversation, have their right continued; but they are disqualified to use it till their offence be removed. But such as appear unholy in the general tenor of their practice, manifest that they have no right at all; and consequently their children have none. In vain it is pretended, that the Holy Ghost may enter into the heart of an infant who is descended from parents both of them manifestly wicked: for though he should, yet that child’s right before God to baptism could never be manifested to the church till it could profess and act for itself. 3. The children of parents visibly wicked are declaratively cursed by God, Deut 28:18. How then can he allow them in baptism to be solemnly declared visibly blessed? James 3:10-11. 4. Such as have no discernible evidence of their being within God’s covenant of grace, as is the case with the infants of wicked parents, can have no visible claim to the seal of it. Though these parents had been baptized, nay regularly baptized, yet if their baptism profit not themselves, how can it profit their seed?5. Faith and repentance are required in parents, to render their children federally holy and admissible to baptism, 1 Cor 7:14; Acts 2:38-39. 6. None but such as are visible believers have any mark of God’s being their God and the God of their seed, Gen 17:7; Jer 31:33. 7. If the children of manifestly ungodly parents have any real right to baptism, the church ought to put them into possession of it. But what could be done in this matter? The parents are incapable to educate these children in a Christian manner. It would be but a solemn mockery of God to bring them under vows relative to it, while their practice continues an habitual contradiction to them.—It would be no better to lay these vows on a sponsor, who could not, or would not, have the children under his power. 8. Baptizing the infants of parents manifestly wicked, renders that solemn ordinance altogether common, and declares those church-members that are not visible saints; and so makes the church a society not separated from the world,—contrary to John 18:36; 1 Pet 2:5,9; Eph 2:12,19-20; 1 John 5:19; Rom 9:29. 9. If wicked parents have no right to baptism themselves, and their children derive their right from them, as has been proved, the children of such parents can have no right to it, 10. The faithful exclusion of the infants of wicked parents from baptism has a remarkable tendency to promote the ends of the gospel, which calls men to unite with Christ by faith, and so deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly. Parents would not be hardened in their wickedness, by an unlawful admission of them to sealing ordinances. None would be tempted to believe themselves true Christians, merely on account of their being baptized. Hearers of the gospel would not be tempted to indulge themselves in ignorance and wickedness, in hopes of having their infants baptized notwithstanding. Baptism would not be reckoned less solemn than the Lord’s Supper, or profaned as a common thing.
Objection I. “All the infants of Christians are within God’s covenant.” Answer. Will that infer that the manifest enemies of God, who have nothing but the name of Christians, or their children, are within God’s covenant? Has Christ a confederacy with Satan, when he is but called an angel of light?
Objection II. “Children ought never to suffer for their parents’ sins.” Answer 1. Must then all the infants of heathens, who are born as innocent as those of Christians, be baptized? 2. If no children ought to be excluded from admission to the church for their parents’ sins, the Jews must still be the peculiar people of God, as well as in the days of Moses, David, etc. 3. Does not God, in manifold instances, visit the iniquities of the parents on their children, Exod 20:5? 4. The withholding baptism from the infants of wicked parents is no proper punishment of these infants; but a not giving them that to which they have no right, and which, if given them, would do them no good, but hurt. 5. If magistrates may take occasion to execute both father and son, who were guilty of preceding treason,—from the father’s continued repetition of his treason, why may not God justly take occasion, from the wickedness of parents, to punish their children as themselves deserve by their original sin? 6. Must all children, even of Christians, be put into possession of inheritances to which their parents never had any right: or which they had prodigally squandered away? How absurd and wicked the pretence!
Objection III. “The heresy and impiety of wicked parents never excluded their children from circumcision.” Answer 1. If heresy do not exclude men from baptism, neither will atheism, 1 John 2:22. 2. If no heresy or profaneness exclude men from baptism, why did John Baptist and Peter the Apostle, require repentance as a prerequisite of it, Matt 3:2,6,8; Luke 3:3,7-14; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19. 3. Where is the proof that the infants of Hebrews, who were notoriously profane, were admissible to circumcision? Did God allow those parents to be sustained members of his church, whom he cutoff from his people, and did not suffer to live on his earth, Deut 17:12; Num 15:30,35-36? Had the infants of the profane contemners of the promised land any circumcision allowed them, till, as adult persons, they received it in their own right? And where is the evidence that Joshua circumcised any that were heretical or profane, Num 14; Josh 5?
Objection IV. “John baptized every person that offered himself to his baptism.” Answer 1. Must then all Heathens and Mahometans be baptized, if they offer themselves to it? 2. John does not appear to have baptized so much as one, but on proper evidence of repentance of former sins, Matt 3:2,6-12; Luke 3:3,7-14. 3. He did not baptize the profane Pharisees or Sadducees, Luke 7:30.
Objection V. “God calls the children of the idolatrous Jews his children, Ezek 16:20.” Answer. Perhaps these children were God’s peculiar property, being first born, Exod 13:12-13; Num 3:13; Num 8:17; or, they may be called his children in the same sense as the silver and gold, corn and wine, flax and wool, are called His, Hag 2:8; Ezek 16:17-19; Hos 2:5,8-9.
Objection VI. “If only the infants of visible believers be allowed baptism, then whole families and parishes will be paganized. Nay, as we have no rule to state who are visible believers, many infants of Christians will be robbed of baptism.” Answer 1. It is no honour for Christ to have profane persons, similar to brutes and devils, openly reputed his members. Answer 2. God’s word is a sufficient rule for distinguishing professors from the profane, 2 Tim 3:15-17. Answer 3. None can be visible believers, who have no appearance of faith in their practice: for true Christians are known by their fruits, Matt 7:17,20; Gal 5:16-24.
Objection VII. “Though many parents be wicked and scandalous, yet they were made Christians by their baptism.” Answer. As a single scandal in parents does not necessarily infer their being destitute of the grace of God, their children may have a right to baptism, though these parents, until their scandal be purged, be disqualified from presenting them. But when parents, by their habitual behaviour, manifest themselves graceless,—their being once baptized can no more avail their children, than it avails those of a prodigal that their father had once a rich estate.