James Bowling Mozley.

A review of the baptismal controversy online

. (page 3 of 38)
Online LibraryJames Bowling MozleyA review of the baptismal controversy → online text (page 3 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

first controversy with the Anti-paedobaptists was con-
ducted with too much exasperation to lead to correct
theological decisions, and no quarter was allowed a sect
that had disgraced the Reformation by its excesses.
The Reformers had, too, on this question the natural fear
of concession which men have who feel the responsibiliiy
of the beginning of a movement, when the consequences
of a point yielded cannot be foreseen, and therefore admit
of being exaggerated. After reading and reflection,
theology moderated its claims on this head. The most
orthodox vmters used a diflFerent language ; and the second
Anti-psedobaptist controversy, which obliged our divines

2 Mark x. 14. » Matt, xviii. 3. < Acts ii. 39.

Digitized by


22 The Doctrine of Baptism so far [Part I.

to test their own arguments and re-examine the case^
while it issued in a clear defeat of the exclusive position
of one side^ extracted also the formal admission from the
other that infant baptism was not proved by Scripture,
nor therefore to be considered a necessary practice.'
"" Indeed, when we consider that Scripture only men-
tions adults as baptized at all, and only mentions
such conditions of baptism as adults can fulfil, it is not
perhaps too much to say that the aspect in which the
institution of baptism comes before us in Scripture, is
that of an institution primarily for adults, under the
operation of which infants would come, however naturally
and legitimately, still secondarily. Except, indeed, on
this supposition, it is difficult to account for the language
of the whole Church from the first, with respect to the
baptism of infants, in which there has always been a
reference to the adult condition of faiiliy as indirectly
and by a. fiction of Christian law) fulfilled by the baptized
infant. For why such a peculiar machinery of language,
why a reference to faith at all in the case of an infant,
but that it was felt that infant baptism was an offshoot
from adult, which, however valid, should still own a
connexion with the parent stock, and not set up wholly
for itself? This idea runs through even the doctrinal
language of antiquity, and especially do all the ancient
baptismal offices bear an unconscious witness to this

• The conclusion at which Wall arrives in his great work is
that PsBdobaptism sbonld be treated as an open question, which
is not to separate members of the same Church. The point on
which, as distinct from refuting the mistake, he censures the
conduct of the Anti-psedobaptists, is that they did 'not treat the
question as an open one, but a fundamental, leaving the com-
munion of the Church in consequence, whereas he would have
had them remain in the Church, adhering, if they could not be
dissuaded, to their own practice ; which was the line taken by
a portion of this school at its first rise. See Note 2.

Digitized by


Chap. II.] as cofUatned in Scripture. 23

apparent primary design in the institution of baptism.
The infant is admitted to baptism on the supposition
of faith and repentance : he is made to say^ that he
believes that he renounces the worlds and desires to be
baptized. But why this recourse to a supposition^ and
to an indirect admission of the infant upon the adult
ground instead of upon his own status as an infant^ if
it was not that the practice of infant baptism had to
be maintained in combination with the idea of an in-
stitution primarily for adults ? Even when the supposi-
tion was not expressed, as it was in the offices,' the
baptismal theory of the Church supplied it as the tacit
accompaniment even of the most naked administration
of the rite. The faith of the parent or sponsor stood for
that of the child : ^ if the child had neither, the faith of
the Church did the same; the infant never left the
ground of a supposed adult qualification, and the Church
has with remarkable caution, and in spite of much temp-
tation, never, to this day, ventured upon the step of a
total removal of the infant from the basis of the adult
in baptism. Our Church, accordingly, in her account
of the Sacrament of Baptism in the Catechism, treats it
primarily as an institution for adults, pronouncing faith
and repentance to be the conditions of baptism, — " that
which is required ol persons to be baptized.'' She then
introduces infants to the benefit of the sacrament, but
still through the medium of the adult conditions, not

* Mature reflection might have taught the Puritans of a former
day, and might still teach some objectors of onr own, that the
institution of sponsors is a witness rather against than for a
superstitions doctrine of baptism, as connecting the infant with
the conditions of an adnlt.

7 " Frodest ergo non credentibas P Sed abest nt ego dicam non
credentes infantes. Credit in altero qni peccavit in altero ....
nnde crednnt P Qnomodo crednnt P Fide parentnm." Angnstine,
Serm. 294, c. 18, 19.

Digitized by



24 The Doctrine of Baptism so far [Part I.

upon iho gronnd of their own status as infants, — ^^ be-
cause they promise them both by their sureties^ which
promise when they come to age themselves are bound to
perform," •

It has been urged, indeed, that baptism and circum-
cision stand on the same ground as infant rites, but the
two ordinances differ considerably in the whole manner
and circumstances of their institution. Circumcision
was by the very form of its original institution a rite for
infants and adults equally. '^ This is My covenant which
ye shall keep between Me and you^ and thy seed after
thee j every man child among you shall be circumcised.
And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among
you, every man child in your generations.'* Adults and
infants then stood on equal ground with respect to cir-
cumcision by the very letter of Scripture. But when
Scripture describes the original institution of Christian
Baptism, it makes no mention of infants, and everything
relating to the rite is given in connexion with adults.

If this distinction in the original type of the institu-
tion be true, it would seem that practice has been in the
contrary direction to original type, has selected for the
field of growth not a first application but a second, and
has made an institution almost wholly for infants out of
an institution primarily for adults. But whether we
accept this distinction or not, it still remains true that
the practice of Infant Baptism is no essential part of the
original institution of baptism, but only the particular
shape it has taken in its practical working in the Christian

" This answer admits of two meanings, according to the kind of
anticipation to which we interpret it to apply ; whether the recep-
tion of the sacrament previous to the grace, or the reception of
the grace previoas to f nlfilment of the conditions of the grace. In
either case, however, the infant by the act of " promising " is asso-
ciated with the future adult.

Digitized by


Chap. II.] as contained in Scripture. 25

community. For some centuries even of Church prac-
tice there was by no means the same regularity on this
point that there is now^ and such passages as the cele-
brated one in Tertullian " Quid festinat innocens aatas/'
&c.^ and others^ though not admitting of the interpre-
tation which Anti-paadobaptists have given them, or
inconsistent even with the belief in the necessity of
infant baptism as the alternative of going without bap-
tism altogether, still show that the practical standard of
those times on this point was very different from that of
our own. Though the institution then has thus attained
so extensive a practical development in one direction,
this must not divert us from the original type of the
institution itself, which was neutral and open on this
point, leaving its own future working and mode of appli-
cation, so long as the substance was secure, to the natural
feeling and discretion of Christians.

Such being the state of the case, then, with respect to
the practice itself of infant baptism in Scripture, the
omission in Scripture of infant baptism, carries with it
the omission of infant regeneration by baptism. It is
possible indeed that without any express mention of
infant baptism, some Scriptural statement might still
prove the regeneration of infants if baptized. But no
such statement occurs. We find in Scripture a general
connexion of regeneration with baptism; but after thus
generally connecting this grace with this sacrament, and
mentioning faith and repentance as the conditions of
receiving this grace in the case of adults, the New Tes-
tament stops short, and does not inform us of the rela-
tions in which those stand to this sacrament, who from
tender age are incapable of fulfilling these conditions.

Various attempts have indeed been made to extract
fi^m this general language of Scripture, in which re-
generation figures as the grace of baptism, the particular

Digitized by



26 The Doctrine of Baptism so far [Part I.

result that imfanta are regenerate in baptism ; but none
with any success. This general language of Scripture
has, because it is general, appeared to some to be '' un-
limited/' and that baptism *'is the washing of regene-
ration/^ has been considered to imply in its very meaning
as a phrase or statement, that baptism is this to all who
are baptized.' But such a logical inference is plainly
untenable, because it cannot be maintained, and is not in
fact maintained by those who draw this very inference,
that everybody who is baptized is regenerate, whatever
be his personal state and condition. Indeed such a mode
of treating Scripture language proceeds upon a misap-
prehension altogether of the force of general or inde-
finite statement, which can connect a benefit with a
particular ordinance without following that connexion
into particulars. It may be true that we have no right
to '' restrain ^' such language, but neither on the other
hand have we the right to give it definite extension
beyond the cases of application which are given.

Assuming, then, on the ground of the evident con-
nexion of the two in Scripture, that regeneration is re-
presented in Scripture as the grace of baptism, we must
bear in mind that what we are concerned with now is
another and a further question, relating to the recipients
of such grace. The grace of the sacrament is one thing,
who receive it is another. Supposing that baptism con-
veys regeneration to qualified persons, who these qualified
persons are, and in particxdar whether all in&nts are

• " Where the language of Holy Scripture is unlimited we are
not to restrain it. But Holy Scripture speaks universally ; it says
'The washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy
Ghost/ * bom of water and of the Spirit . . . .' Scripture pro-
nounces baptism absolutely to be ' the washing of regeneration and
renewal of the Holy Ghost ;' and what Scripture calls it it must
remain, at all times, and however applied to infants as well as to
adults." " Scriptural Views of Holy Baptism," p. 63.

Digitized by


Chap. II.] as contained in Scripture. 2 7

such, is altogether a farther question, which must be
decided by reference to the rules and conditions of the
institution of baptism^ so far as we are informed about
them. Consider the case of the other sacrament. The
assertion of the grace of the Eucharist does not imply
more than that a certain grace attaches to that sacra-
ment as such^ leaving the question who are the recipients
of such grace to subsequent decision.

There is indeed one theory according to which these
two positions are identical^ and the admission of the
grace of the Sacrament of Baptism is the simultaneous
admission that all infants are recipients of such grace ;
the theory, viz., which has been expressed in the dictum
" sacramenta semper suum effectum habere non ponenti
ohicem" It appears to some to follow logically from the
fact of a sacrament conferring grace at all, that it con-
fers it upon all who do not interpose any obstacle to the
reception of it ; it being assumed that infants do not or
cannot do this ; upon which theory it follows that the
particular position about infants is contained in the
general one about the grace of the sacrament. But can
we admit the correctness of such reasoning ? We can-
not, in the first place, assume that infants do not present
any fijbex to the reception of the grace of baptism, be-
cause they do not present the obex of personal sin:*
inasmuch as the doctrine of original sin represents them
as having, though physically unable to commit actual sin,
sin of some kind in them, which has been transmitted by
birth; as prior to baptism children of wrath, lying
under the Divine curse, and polluted by an internal
though undeveloped source of corruption. That beings
in this state are, on account of the absence of personal
sin, qualified for receiving the grace of baptism, cannot

* " Besponde prius qais ad baptismum innocens veniat, excepto
illo," Ac. Augustine contra Literas Petiliani, 1. 2, c. 101.

Digitized by


28 The Doctrine of Baptism so far [Part I.

be taken for granted^ unless it is so declared in Scrip-
ture. In the next place^ were it true that infants pre-
sented no obex to the reception of the grace of baptism,
we could not still infer with any certainty that such
a negative condition was qualification enough for this
grace ; because it must be remembered that the absence
of personal sin in infants is quite a different thing from
the same freedom in adults. The absence of personal
sin is in adults positive goodness, in infants it is only a
physical incapacity for action by reason of the immaturity
of nature. But that such a neutral condition as this is
an adequate qualification for the grace of baptism cannot
be assumed, unless it is so declared in Scripture.

The Sacrament of Baptism, then, admitted to possess
grace, it still depends upon the laws and conditions of the
institution of that sacrament who receive that grace.
Nor can this question of the recipients be decided by
logical inference from the first position; but it is a
question of fact to be settled by reference to the proper
sources of information on the subject^ We do not admit,
for example, that because the Sacrament of the Lord's
Supper confers grace, it therefore confers grace upon
infants. This inference does indeed appear to have pre-
vailed at one period, and to have dictated, even in the
West, an extensive practice of Infant Communion,*
which established itself permanently in the Eastern
Church; but it has not been generally acknowledged.
It is true that Baptism is an initiatory sacrament, but the
conditions of an initiatory sacrament can no more be
decided by such reasoning than those of another.

Now in this state of the case one side fills up the

omission of Scripture in one way, another in another.

Some fill up the void with the statement that infants, as

such, receive regenerating grace in baptism, upon the

2 Waterland on Infant Communion, voL vi. p. 41.

Digitized by


Chap. II.] as contained in Scripture. 29

ground that the infantine state in infants is an equivalent
to faith and repentance in adults. Others fill it up quite
differently, by converting the omission of the effect of
baptism upon infants, as such, into a denial of it. The
omission of Scripture is thus on both sides converted
into a statement, either affirmative or negative, which is
on either side to exceed the limits of the written word.
Those who put the infantine state in infants, and faith
and repentance in adults, on a par as conditions of baptism,
may assert something to which on abstiract grounds there
is no objection; still the important difference remains,
that Scripture does mention faith and repentance as con-
ditions of baptismal grace, and does not mention the
infantine state itself as such a condition. Those again
who deny all conditions but faith and repentance, can
allege that no others are mentioned in Scripture ; still the
important difference remains, that Scripture does not
deny, but only omit other conditions.

It is upon these two interpretations of Scripture that
the two great schools of doctrine on this subject, which
may, in broad terms, be called the school which preceded
the Beformation, and the school of the Reformation, have
been founded. The school which preceded the Beforma-
tion, comprehending the fathers and the schoolmen,
maintained that the infant, as such, was qualified for the
grace of baptism, the infantine state being considered an
equivalent in infants to faith and repentance in adults.'
And the basis of this position was a division between
infants and adults, that adults stood upon one ground
with respect to baptism, and infants upon another ; that
the grace of the sacrament was in the one case con-

' Though this position was modified in some quarters by a
limitation of the infant's benefit in baptism to the negative part of
lilie baptismal gift or remission of sin, as distinguished from the
positive or renovative. See Note 14.

Digitized by


30 The Doctrine of Baptism so far [Part I.

ditional, in the other unconditional. The divines of the
Beformation^ on the other hand^ discarded this double
principle, and insisted upon a simplification of the bap-
tismal scheme, which would bring the whole operation of
it under one law. They maintained that the grace of
baptism was always conditional, and that infants and
adults stood upon the same ground— one, and one only,
qualification of baptism being mentioned in Scripture,
viz. that of faith and repentance. Under this scheme,
then, the infant had to be connected with faith and re-
pentance, and brought under the head of an adult, before
he could be pronounced a partaker of baptismal grace.
And for this purpose two principal arrangements were
made, one that baptism was in the infantas case an antici-
patory rite, and was only attended by grace when its
recipient as an adult believed and repented; the other
that the certain seed of a future faith was implanted in
some infants by Divine grace previously to baptism,
which, counting for the actual grown quality, made them
at the time persons fit and qualified for the grace of
baptism. The latter is the theory of ''prevenient grace/'
which was not a gratuitous hypothesis of the Reformation
divines, proceeding from mere fancy, but an integral part
of a plan for the admission of the infant to the grace of
baptism, in consistency with alleged Scriptural rule and
law. Prevenient grace is by universal admission neces-
sary for the regeneration of adults in baptism, because
witiiout this prevenient grace they cannot have faith,
which is the condition of their regeneration. Prevenient
grace was, according to the Reformation divines, neces-
sary for the regeneration of infants as well, and for the
same reason, viz. because without it they could not have
faith — in their case a seminal faith.

The principle of this whole later scheme was equality
between the infant and adult in regard to baptism. Why,

Digitized by


Chap. II.] as contained in Scripture. 31

it was asked^ should infants be placed in so much more
advantageous a position than adults with respect to bap-
tism^ as that they should be certain of regeneration by
the simple fact of being baptized^ while adults have only
the same grace by the fulfilment of express conditions ?
Such ipso facto reception of the grace was not necessary
for the virtue and efficacy of the sacrament ; was it the
right or due of the infant partaker f Analogy seemed
rather to point to some dualizing rule which would
arrange a substantial identity of the terms of regenera-
tion, only differing according to the difference of age.

Between these extreme positions then, that of dogma-
tically claiming for infants, as such, the grace of regene-
ration in baptism, and that of dogmaticaUy denying it to
infants as such, a middle course is open, viz. that of
leaving the omission in Scripture as it stands, and
acquiescing in an absence of positive doctrine on the

The regeneration of infants, as such, in baptism may
be seen to be a position supplementary to and additional
to Scripture, the more clearly, perhaps, if for the term
regeneration, the association of which with infants custom
has rendered so familiar, we substitute justification. The
substitution of this term makes no difference to the
reasoning in the present case, because justification, or the
Divine act by which sin ceases to be imputed to us, is an
integral part of regeneration ; so that, on the supposition
that infants, as such, are regenerate, they are also justified
in baptism.^ But the doctrine of Scripture is that we are

* Note 3.

• " Justifioatio eat revera regeneratio." Luther, Op. i p. 388.

" Begeneration is the spiritaal grace of baptism in reference to
the change in oorselyes, whereas justification is the spiritnal grace
of baptism in reference to onr reconciliation with God." Bp.
Marsh's second Letter to Simeon, p. 20.

Digitized by


32 The Doctrine of Baptism so far [Part I.

justified by faiih ; and though some interpret this &ith as
including works^ and others reject this interpretation^ all
agree in accepting as the condition of justification men-
tioned in Scripture^ an act or state of mind which^ we
know, can belong only to adults, and of which infants are
incapable. Most persons would indeed, I think, admit
that justification without &ith was a strange notion, on
being first placed before them; and that it carried a
difficulty with it as not being in the line of Scripture
language. Nor could they well help this impression,
because Scripture only contemplates forgiveness as apply-
ing to the actual sins of moral agents who are capable of
faith, and therefore cannot be pardoned without it ; the
application of which forgiveness, therefore, to the case of
those who, as not being moral agents, are capable neither
of actual sin nor faith, is a position supplementary to
Scripture ; though it is a position which has the sanction
of antiquity, which filled up the void in Scripture with
the positive statement of the justification of all infants in

Luther was vastly perplexed by the difficulty of recon-
ciling infant justification in baptism with his own great
doctrine of justification by fedth, and in order to meet it
went almost to the extravagant length of asserting that
infants had literal and actual faith excited in them by an
act of Divine power, to qualify them for justification in
the sacrament.' The Wittemberg Conference drew a
more moderate assertion from him of their endowment
with ''a faith according to their capacity and measure;^' '
but the true existence of faith in the infant was still
insisted on as the essential condition of his justification,
and many Lutherans for a long time clung to the older

« Note 4.

7 " Initium qnoddam fidei in inf antibns extare, Becondum ipsoram
mensuram et modnlum.'' Bucer, AngL Script., p. 656.

Digitized by


Chap. II.] as containedin Scripture. 33

language of their founder.* The great controversies on
justification in our own Church have all along assumed
faith, in the narrower or larger sense, as the condition of
man^s justification; the case of those who from natural
immaturity cannot possess faith, being either left out of
the calculation altogether or treated as an exceptional
case, which God provides for in an extraordinary manner.
"God is the donor, ^* says Waterland, *'and He can
dispense the grace to some without faith as to infants,
and to others without baptism, as to martyrs principally,
and to catechumens prevented by extremities ; but still
the ordinary rule is first to dispense it upon a true and
lively faith, sealed with the stipulations mutually passed
in baptism.^' ^ In&nt justification is here regarded as an
exceptional appendage to the regular Divine method, and
the want of faith is put on the same ground as the want
of baptism, as a want, viz., which in certain cases is
supplied in an extraordinary way.

This want in infants, then, of express Scriptural quali-
fication for justification applies equally to that of which
justification is an integral part, viz. to their regeneration,
which, without fiEath and repentance, is a supplement to
Scripture, as is their justification without either.

Not that by the expression, " supplement of Scripture,^'
it is meant that such a supplement is presumptuous, or

Online LibraryJames Bowling MozleyA review of the baptismal controversy → online text (page 3 of 38)