By Horace Bushnell
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP OF CHILDREN.
THESE "saints and faithful brethren," it will be seen, include young children; for the apostle makes a distribution of them afterwards, in the third chapter of the epistle, addressing the class of wives, the class of husbands, the class of fathers, the class of servants, the class of masters, and, among all these, the class of children--"Children obey your parents in all things; for this is well pleasing unto the Lord." The Epistle to the Ephesians, too, is inscribed, in the same way--"to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ;" and this, again, makes a like distribution; addressing the classes of husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, servants, and masters, all as being included in the church at Ephesus--"children obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; for this is the first commandment with promise." Where also it is made clear that he is speaking to quite young children; for he turns immediately to the fathers, exhorting them to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are children so young, therefore, as to be subjects of nurture, and yet are addressed among the faithful brethren.
The explanation, then, is not that such children were believers, in the sense of being converts entered into the fold by an adult experience, and distinguished from other children not thus converted. When Lydia speaks of herself as one adjudged to be "faithful," it is probably in this sense. But when Titus, in ordaining elders, is directed to choose such as have "faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly," it would be very singular, if he was permitted to ordain only such as have all their children thus formally converted. Paul obviously means that the elders shall be such as are under no scandal on account of their families; whose children are growing up in the Christian way and grace; sober, well-behaved, hopefully Christian children. We can see, too, in the language employed, that Paul includes the Colossian and Ephesian children among the faithful brethren of the two cities, in this more presumptive or merely anticipative way. For when he says, "children obey your parents in the Lord," it is not "children in the Lord," or "children obey in the Lord, your parents," but it is "obey them who are parents in the Lord;" as if their very parentage itself, in the flesh, were a parentage also in the Spirit, communicating both a personal and a Christian life. So, also, when the parents are required to give a nurture in the Lord, we may see that the children are expected to be grown as saints and faithfuls, and to be presumptively in the Lord, apart from all expectations and processes of adult conversion.
And it was out of such uses that the term "faithful" grew into the peculiar kind of church use, in which it denotes all the supposed members of the Christian body, whether adults, or only baptized children; as, for example, in that very ancient inscription cited by Buonarotti, where the child "two years, one month, and twenty-five days old," is described as lying among his Christian kinsmen--"a faithful among faithfuls." The very language supposes a membership in the church, or among the faithful brethren, by virtue of baptism and mere Christian nurture; such as on the footing of strict individualism, held by our Baptist brethren, could never even be thought of.
What I propose then, at the present time, is a full and careful discussion of this great subject, the church membership of baptized children.
And as it has fallen out, in the extreme individualism of our modern era, that multitudes are unable to conceive it as being any thing less than a kind of absurdity, or self-evident monstrosity, I shall be obliged to show the nature and kind of this membership.
As it is very commonly disrespected on the ground of its practical insignificance, I must also show the reasons why it should exist.
And then, since it is to the same extent, disowned as a rightful part of the true church economy, I must also establish the fact of its existence.
1. I am to show the nature and extent of this membership.
All those classes of Christian disciples who practice infant baptism conceive it, of course, to have a certain common character with adult baptism, and so to create a supposed, or somehow supposable membership in the church. And yet they often have it as a question, suppressed, or openly put without satisfaction --"who is a member of Christ's body, but one who is able to act and choose for himself, and in that manner to believe?" Many preachers, too, quite pass over the fact of any assignable reality in this relationship, publishing a call of salvation that practically ignores it as having any meaning at all; addressing young persons and children who have been baptized, in a way that as steadily and unqualifiedly assumes their unregenerate state, as if they were the children of heathenism. The opposers of infant baptism are bolder and more positive, of course, insisting always on the manifest absurdity of this nondescript, unintelligible, unintelligent membership; which makes a child a church member, not to be a voter nor a subject of discipline; which puts the initiatory rite of faith upon him, when he does not believe any thing, or even know there is anything to believe; creating thus a membership that has no rational meaning and no sound verity, but supposes a faith that does not exist, and constitutes a relationship that brings into no relation.
What then, is this infant membership? what conception can we take of it, which will justify its Christian dignity? A great many persons who are very sharp at this kind of criticism, appear to have never observed that creatures existing under conditions of growth, allow no such terms of classification as those do which are dead, and have no growth; such, for example, as stones, metals, and earths. They are certain that gold is not iron, and iron is not silver, and they suppose that they can class the growing and transitional creatures, that are separated by no absolute lines, in the same manner. They talk of colts and horses, lambs and sheep, and it, possibly, not once occurs to them, that they can never tell when the colt becomes a horse, or the lamb a sheep; and that about the most definite thing they can say, when pressed with that question, is that the colt is potentially a horse, the lamb a sheep, even from the first, having in itself this definite futurition; and, therefore, that, while horses and sheep are not all to be classed as colts and lambs, all colts and lambs may be classed as horses and sheep. And just so children are all men and women; and, if there is any law of futurition in them to justify it, may be fitly classed as believing men and women. And all the sharp arguments that go to cover their membership, as such, in the church, with absurdity, or turn it into derision, are just such arguments as the inventors could raise with equal point, to ridicule the horsehood and sheephood of the young animals just referred to. The propriety of this membership does not lie in what those infants can or can not believe, or do or do not believe, at some given time, as, for example, on the day of their baptism; but it lies in the covenant of promise, which makes their parents, parents in the Lord; their nurture, a nurture of the Lord; and so constitutes a force of futurition by which they are to grow up, imperceptibly, into "faithfuls among faithfuls," in Christ Jesus. Perhaps no one can tell when they become such, and it may be that some initiating touch of grace began to work inductively in them, by a process too delicate for human observation, even from their earliest infancy, or from their baptismal day. For there is a nurture of grace, as well as a grace of conversion; that for childhood, as this for the age of maturity, and one as sure and genuine as the other.
The conception, then, of this membership is, that it is a potentially real one; that it stands, for the present, in the faith of the parents and the promise which is to them and to their children, and that, on this ground, they may well enough be accounted believers, just as they are accounted potentially men and women. Then, as they come forward into maturity, it is to be assumed that they will come forward into faith, being grown in the nurture of faith, and will claim for themselves, the membership, into which they were before inserted.
Nor is this a case which has no analogies, that it should be held up as a mark of derision. It is generally supposed that our common law has some basis of common sense. And yet this body of law makes every infant child a citizen; requiring, as a point of public order, the whole constabulary and even military force of the state to come to the rescue, or the redress of his wrongs, when his person is seized or property invaded by conspiracy. This infant child can sue and be sued; for the court of chancery will appoint him a guardian, whose acts shall be the child's acts; and it shall be as if he were answering for his own education, dress, board, entertainments, and the damages done by his servants, precisely as if he were a man acting in his own cause. Doubtless it may sound very absurdly to call him a citizen. What can he do as a citizen? He can not vote, nor bear arms; he does not even know what these things mean, and yet he is a citizen. In one view, he votes, bears arms, legislates, even in his cradle; for the potentiality is in him, and the state takes him up in her arms, as it were, to own him as her citizen.
In a strongly related sense, it is, that the baptized child is a believer and a member of the church. There is no unreality in the position assigned him; for the futurition of God's promise is in him, and, by a kind of sublime anticipation, he is accepted in God's supernatural economy as a believer; even as the law accepts him, in the economy of society, to be a citizen. He is potentially both, and both is actually to be, in a way of transition so subtle and imperceptible that no one can tell, when he begins to be, either one, or the other.
Nor is it any objection that there might be some difficulty in the exercise of a regular church discipline over baptized children; or that if this can not be done, they are really not church members in any sense that ought to be implied in the terms. Is then a child no citizen, because he is not held responsible in the law in precisely the same manner as adults; responsible, in a private action, for slander; or responsible, in a public, for murder and treason? The church membership is, of course, to be qualified and shaded by the gradations of age; just as the law contrives to shade the progress of the citizen child into the citizen man. All the logical or theological bantering we hear, therefore, on one side or the other, showing that the child, being a church member, ought to be held subject to discipline; or, if he is not held subject to discipline, that he is really no church member, is without reason or any proper show of practical dignity.
It was proposed--
II. To show the reasons why this relation of infant membership should exist, or be appointed. And here it is very obvious--
First of all, that, if there is really no place in the church of God for infant children, then it must be said, and formally maintained, that there is none. And what could be worse in its effect on a child's feeling, than to find himself repelled from the brotherhood of God's elect, in that manner. What can the hapless creature think, either of himself or of God, when he is told that he is not old enough to be a Christian, or be owned by the Saviour as a disciple?
Again, it would be most remarkable, if Christianity, organizing a fold of grace and love, in the world and for it, had yet no place in the fold for children. It spreads its arms to say--"For God so loved the world," and even declares that publicans and harlots shall flock in, before the captious priests and princes of the day; and yet it has no place, we are told, for children; children are out of the category of grace I Jesus himself was a child, and went through all the phases and conditions of childhood, not to show any thing by that fact, as the Christian Fathers fondly supposed; he said, too, "Suffer little children," but this was only his human feeling; he had no official relationship to such, and no particular grace for them! They are all outside the salvation-fold, hardening there in the storm, till their choosing, refusing, desiring, sinning power is sufficiently unfolded to have a place assigned them within! Is this Christianity? Is it a preparation so clumsy, so little human, so imperfectly graduated to man as he is, that it has no place for a full sixth part of the human race; a part also to which the other five-sixths are bound, in the dearest ties of love and care, and all but compulsory expectation? It would seem that any Christian heart, meeting Christianity at this point, and surveying it with only a little natural feeling, would even be oppressed by the sense of some strange defect in it, as a grace for the world. In this view it gives to little children the heritage only of Cain, requiring them to be driven out from the presence of the Lord, and grow up there among the outside crew of aliens and enemies. Let no one be surprised that, under such treatment, they stiffen into alienated, wrathful men, ripened for wickedness, by the ranges of all but reprobate exclusion in which they have been classed.
Nor, again, is it any breach on their liberty, that children are entered into this qualified membership by their parents. What is it but a being entered into privilege? Is it a hard thing for human parents to enter their child into the lot of wealth and high society, and a station of family dignity, because it does not leave them to acquire the wealth and the position of honor in society, by their own original exertion, unassisted? When the order of the Cincinnati took their sons into the grand society of revolutionary honor with them, was it a breach on the liberty of the children? Or we may take another view of the question. The church of God is a school, and the members are disciples, or learners. Does not every parent choose the school for his children, giving them no choice in the matter, and taking it to be his own unquestionable right? This, too, on the ground that they are to have the benefit of his maturer judgment, and his more competent choice. Where then is the encroachment, when Christian parents baptize their child into the same discipleship with themselves, and set it in the school of Christ? It is only a part of their ordinary charge as parents, for it is given them to have the child in their own character, so to speak, and be themselves discipled with it and for it, (and why not it with them?) in all the honors and hopes of the heavenly kingdom.
Consider again the remarkable and certainly painful fact that, in the view which excludes infant baptism and the discipleship of children, the conversion itself of a parent operates a kind of dissolution in the family state, than which nothing could be more unnatural. It is much as if our process of naturalization in the state, were to naturalize the parents and not the children; leaving these to be foreigners still, and aliens. God's effectual calling is no such unnatural grace; it will never call the parents away from the children; to be themselves included in the great family of salvation, and look out, in their joy, to see their children fenced away! No--"The promise is to you and to your children;" not, to you without your children. Come in hither, then, ye guilty families of man, parents to be parents in the Lord, children to obey in the Lord, all to be circled by the common grace of life and the common fellowship of the saints. Why should we think that our Great Father who has been refusing, ever since the world began, to so much as put into any bird of the air, an instinct that will draw it away from its nest, may yet, as a matter of celestial mercy, be engaged by his Spirit, in the gathering of human parents away from their young!
It is a matter, too, of great consequence to parents, as respects their own fidelity in their office, that their children are not put away, by the Saviour, to hold rank with heathens outside of the fold, but are brought in with them, to be heirs together with them in the grace of life. What will justify, or will naturally produce, a more sullen remissness of duty in parents, than to feel that;, for the present, God has shut away, and is holding away their children, and that they are never to be disciples of the fold, till after they have been passed round into it, through long detours of estrangement and ripening guiltiness? If there is nothing better for them than to be converted just as heathens are, why should they, as parents, be greatly concerned for their own example, and the faithfulness of their training, when the conversion is to be every thing and will have power to remedy every defect?
How refreshing the contrast, when the children, given to God in baptism, are accounted members of the church with them, as being included in their faith, and having the seal of it upon them. They look upon it now as their privilege to be parents in the Lord. Their prayers, they understand, are to keep heaven open upon their house. Their aims are to be Christian. Their tastes and manners to be flavored by the Christian hope in which they live. There is to be a quickening element in the atmosphere they make. They will set all things upon a Christian footing for their children's sake; and their children, growing up in such nurture of the Lord, will, how certainly, unfold what their nurture itself has quickened.
It is still another consideration, that the church itself, having this infant membership in it, will unfold other aims and tempers, and exert a finer quality of power. It will not be a dry convention of simply grown up men and women; the men will, some of them, be fathers, the women mothers, and the children being also included, their tender brotherhood will make an element of common, consciously felt, gentleness for all. The parents will learn from the children quite as much as they teach, and will do their teaching fitly, just be cause they learn. The church prayers will have a certain paternity and maternity in them, and the children will feel the grace of these prayers warming always round them. Even the church life itself, two, or three, or more, generations deep, will be qualified by the grandfather and grandmother spirit, and the father and mother spirit, and the reverent manners of the little ones, and the whole volume of religious life will be unfolded thus, by taking into itself the whole volume of nature and family feeling.
Such are some of the reasons, briefly and faintly presented, which determine, as I conceive, God's appointment of the great fact of an infant membership in his church. And yet the reasons, taken by themselves, are hardly a sufficient evidence of the fact. They set us in the mood of respect, and even put us in the expectation of it, but they leave the inquiry still upon our hands--
III. Whether the supposed infant membership is a real and true fact? That it is, may be seen from the following proofs:--
1. Those declarations of Scripture which assert or assume the fact. Thus, when the Saviour commands--"Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," it would be very singular if they could not come in with the disciples, when they may so freely come to the Master himself. And if Christ had been calling his disciples themselves into fraternity with him, what more could he have said for them, than that of such is the kingdom of heaven? Nor is it any objection, as respects the children, that, except a man be born again, he can not be entered into this kingdom; for potentially, at least they are thus born again; and so are as fitly to be counted citizens of the kingdom, as they are to be citizens of the state. Besides, there is still less in this objection, inasmuch as the kingdom of God, taken in its lower sense as identical with the church, is expressly likened by the Saviour to a net that gathers of every kind. And what again does it signify, as regards the apostolic ideas of this matter of infant membership, that the great apostle to the Gentiles, in at least two of his epistles to Christian churches, addresses, directly, children, as being included among the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus? I allege as proof,
2. The analogy of circumcision. This was given to be the seal of faith, and the church token, in that manner, of a godly seed. Baptism can certainly be the same, with as little difficulty, or as little charge of absurdity. True, they were not all Israel that were of Israel, and so all may not be Israel that are baptized. Enough that God gives the possibility, in both cases, in giving the rite itself; and then it is to be seen whether the parents will be parents in the Lord, as it is formally permitted them to be. Let the true point here be carefully observed; some kind of presumption must be given by God, in respect to the church position of children; for they must either be taken into the church. or else they must be excluded till they are old enough to be admitted on the ground of a religious experience--there is no other alternative. If they are excluded, then it is taken for granted, that they are to grow up as unbelievers and aliens, which is only their public consignment to evil. If they are taken to be in the faith, presumptively, as in the nurture of their parents, and so accepted, then every kind encouragement is given to them, and every pledge of divine help is graciously given to their parents. Which of the two methods is most consonant to nature, and worthiest of God's beneficence, it is not difficult to see. God, on his part, gives no presumption, either to the parents or their child, that he is to be only a transgressor and alien, but he gives the seal of the faith, as a pledge, to raise their expectation of what he will do for them, and to throw the blame of a godless childhood and youth, if such there is to be, on themselves.
3. The church connection of children is virtually assumed, as we may see, by the apostle Paul, when he teaches that the believing wife sanctifies the unbelieving husband, and the believing husband the unbelieving wife--"else were your children unclean, but now are they holy." He refers, in this matter, it is plain, to the effect of a parental faith, on the church position of children. He does not, of course, use the term "sanctify," in any spiritual sense, as affirming the regeneration of character in the children; but he alludes only to the church ideas of clean and unclean, affirming that the unclean state of a godless father, or mother, is so far taken away by the clean state of a godly mother, or father, that the children are accounted clean, or holy --so far holy, that is, that they are of the fold, and not aliens, or unclean foreigners without the fold, as the Jews were accustomed to regard all the uncircumcised races. One believing parent, he declares, puts the children in the church classification of believers.
4. All the reasons I have given for the observance of infant baptism, go to establish also the fact of infant membership in the church. And this holds good, especially of that which discovers the origin of the rite in proselyte baptism. For as foreigners, becoming proselytes, were baptized and so made clean, thus to be accounted natural born citizens, so Christ, reapplying the rite to a spiritual use, makes it the token of that regeneration which enters the soul into his heavenly kingdom, and gives a divine citizenship there. In which you may see how my comparison of infant membership in the church, to the well-known citizenship of infants in the state, is borne out by Christian authority itself. Their very baptism is the figure of their citizenship; wherein they are shown to be "fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God." Now it is to be conceded, as respects all these proofs from the Scripture, that the church membership of children is not formally asserted in them. According to a certain coarse way of judging, therefore, they are not as strong as they might be. And yet, in a more perceptive and really truer mode of judgment, they lack that kind of strength just because they have too much of another, which is deeper and more satisfactory, to suffer it. So familiar is the idea, to all Jewish minds, of a religious oneness in parents and their offspring, that a church institution of any kind, arranged to include parents and not their offspring, would even have been a shocking offense to the nation. Children were as much expected to be with their parents in their religion, as they were to be in their sustentation. Does any one doubt that children were citizens in the old theocracy? And yet I recollect no passage where that sort of membership with their parents is instituted, or formally asserted. And the reason, is that it is a fact too familiar, too close to the sentiment or sense of nature, to be asserted. We can even see for ourselves that they look upon religious faith itself as a kind of heir-loom ill the family, descending on the child by laws of family connexion, where it is not hindered by some bad fault in the manners and walk of the parents. Thus we hear even Paul himself, the man who knew as well as any other, and taught as powerfully, the significance of Christian faith, addressing his young brother Timothy, as having the greater confidence in his faith because it is hereditary--"When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice, and I am persuaded that in thee also." This unfeigned, this certainly true Christian faith, he conceives to have even leapt the gulf between the old religion and the new, and so to have come down upon him, through at least two generations of godly motherhood under the law and before the coming of Jesus. When such notions of family grace are familiar, what does it signify that the church membership of children is not formally asserted? How could that be instituted by an apostolic decree, which no apostle, or man, or woman, had ever thought could be otherwise?
Over and above these more direct evidences, for the church membership of baptized children, there is still another kind of evidence to be adduced, which has, and very properly should have, much weight. I allude to the opinions of the church and her most qualified teachers, from the apostolic era downward. In one sense, the mere opinions of men regarding such a question are of little consequence. But where they coincide with the known practice of the church from the earliest times downward, and show the practice to be grounded in the same reasons of organic unity and presumptive grace that we are now asserting, they both show that our doctrine is no novelty, and contribute a powerful evidence in support of its original authenticity.
Thus I have cited already in support of infant baptism, passages from Justin Martyr, Ireneus, Tertullian, Origen, the Shepherd of Hermas, and others, which not only show the fact of infant baptism, but discover also, in their phraseology, the same views of church membership that I am now asserting. This whole view of infant membership, as it stood in the first three centuries of the church history, appears to be wet] summed up, both as regards the facts anid the reasons, in the following statement of Neander:--
"It is the idea of infant baptism that Christ, through the divine life which he imparted to, and revealed in, human nature, sanctified that germ from its earliest development. The child born in a Christian family was, when all things were as they should be, to have this advantage over others, that he did not come to Christianity out of heathenism or the sinful natural life, but from the first dawning of consciousness unfolded his powers under the imperceptible, preventing influences of a sanctifying, ennobling religion; that with the earliest germinations of the natural self-conscious life, another divine principle of life, transforming the nature, should be brought nigh to him, ere yet the ungodly principle could come into full activity, and the latter should at once, find here its powerful counterpoise. In such a life, the new birth was not to constitute a new crisis, beginning at some definable moment, but it was to begin imperceptibly, and so proceed through the whole life. Hence baptism, the visible sign of regeneration, was to be given to the child at the very outset: the child was to be consecrated to the Redeemer from the very beginning of its life."3
A more popular and practical view of Christianity, as seen in the domestic life of families, and one, at the same time, wholly coincident, is given by Cave:--
"Gregory Nazianzen peculiarly commends his mother, that not only she herself was consecrated to God, and brought up under a pious education, but that she conveyed it down, as a necessary inheritance, to her children; and it seems her daughter Gorgonia was so well seasoned with these holy principles, that she religiously walked in the steps of so good a pattern; and did not only reclaim her husband, but educated her children and nephews in the ways of religion, giving them an excellent example while she lived, and leaving this, as her last charge and request when she died. * * * This was the discipline under which Christians were brought up in those times. Religion was instilled into them betimes, which grew up and mixed itself with their ordinary labors and recreations. * * * * So that Jerome says, of the place where he lived, you could not go into the field, but you might hear the plowman at his hallelujahs, the mower at his hymns, and the vine-dresser singing David's Psalms."4
I can not answer for an exact agreement of my doctrine with that of Calvin. It must be sufficient that he recognizes the valid possibility of a regenerate character, existing long before it is formally developed, and the propriety of infant baptism as the initiatory rite of membership. He says:--
"Christ was sanctified from his earliest infancy, that he might sanctify in himself all his elect But how, it is inquired, are infants regenerated who have no knowledge either of good or evil? We reply that the work of God is not yet without existence because it is not observed or understood by us. Now it is certain that some infants are saved, and that they are previously regenerated by the Lord is beyond all doubt They are baptized into future repentance and faith; for though these graces have not yet been formed in them, the seeds of both are nevertheless implanted in their hearts by the secret operations of the Spirit."5
The mercurial mind of Baxter penetrates directly into all the subtleties of the question, asserting the organic unity of children who stand accepted in the covenant of their fathers; showing how regenerate character is to begin, seminally, in the children of them that believe, and get the start of sin by a kind of gracious anticipation; and so that, in this view, nurture and growth are God's way of unfolding grace in the church, as preaching and conversion are his method of grace with them that are without. Which three points are successively asserted in the following passages:--
"Q.--Why then are they baptized who can not covenant?
"A.--As children are made sinners and miserable by the parents, without any act of their own, so they are delivered out of it by the free grace of Christ, upon a condition performed by their parents. Else they who are visibly born in sin and misery should have no certain or visible way of remedy. Nature maketh them, as it were, parts of their parents, or so near as causeth their sin and misery. And this nearness supposed, God, by his free grace, hath put it in the power of the parents to accept for them the blessings of the covenant, and to enter them into the covenant of God, the parents' will being instead of their own, who have yet no will to choose for themselves."6
"Of those baptized in infancy, some do betimes receive the secret seeds of grace, which, by the blessings of a holy education, is stirring in them according to their capacity, and working them to God by actual desires, and working them from all known sill, and entertaining further grace, and turning them into actual acquaintance with Christ, as soon as they arrive at full natural capacity, so that they never were actual ungodly persons."7
"Ungodly parents do serve the devil so effectually, in the first impressions on their children's minds, that it is more than magistrates and ministers and all reforming means can afterwards do to recover them from that sin to God. Whereas, if you would first engage their hearts to God by a religious education, piety would then have all those advantages that sin hath now. (Prov. xxii. 6.) The language which you teach them to speak when they are children, they will use all their life after, if they live with those that use it. And so the opinions which they first receive, and the customs which they are used to at first are very hardly changed afterwards. I doubt not to affirm, that a godly education is God's first and ordinary appointed means, for the begetting of actual faith and other graces in the children of believers. Many have received grace before; but they can not sooner have actual faith, repentance, love, or any grace than they may have reason itself, in act and exercise. And the preaching of the word by public ministers, is not the first ordinary means of grace, to any but those that were graceless till they come to hear such preaching; that is, to those on whom the first appointed means hath been neglected or proved vain; * * * * therefore it is apparent that the ordinary appointed means for the first actual grace, is parents' godly instruction and education of their children. And public preaching is appointed for the conversion of those only that have missed the blessing of the first appointed means."8
Our New England fathers, coming out as they did from a mode of church economy which made Christian piety itself to be scarcely more than baptism, and passing through great struggles to settle a scheme of church order that should recognize the strict individuality of persons, and the essential personality of spiritual regeneration, fell off for a time, as they naturally might, into a denial of the great underlying principles and facts on which the membership of baptized children in the church must ever be rested. In the Cambridge Platform of 1649, they asserted a view of membership, by which it was to be rigidly confined to such as appear to be renewed persons. Meantime none were allowed to be qualified as voters in the commonwealth, except in the Hartford and Providence colonies, who were not members of the church--the same principle with which they had been familiar in England. The result was, under their individualizing scheme of membership, that they began to find, as soon as their sons were grown to manhood, that many of them, even though baptized, were, in fact, aliens in the state. They could not vote in the state, and, having no pretense of faith, could not baptize their children, not being in the church themselves. Another synod was convened A.D. 1662, to find some way of relieving these difficulties. And they hit upon the rather strange expedient of a half-membership, allowing all baptized persons who live reputably, and give a speculative assent to the gospel, to be so far members that they may be voters and have their children baptized. This decision was stoutly opposed by some of the ablest men in the synod, and great debates followed. And yet as the facts were reported by Cotton Mather, these three positions were' asserted and agreed to on all hands--even though the scheme adopted had no systematic and practical agreement with them, or ground of reason in them.
1. That the children of Christian parents, trained in a Christian way, often grow up as spiritually renewed persons, and must indeed be accounted true disciples of Christ, until some evidence conclusive to the contrary is given by their conduct.
"Children of the covenant have frequently the beginning of grace wrought in them in younger years, as Scripture and experience show. Instance Joseph, Samuel, David, Solomon, Abijah, Josiah, Daniel, John Baptist, Timothy. Hence this sort of persons, [baptized persons] showing nothing to the contrary, art, in charity, or to ecclesiastical reputation, visible believers."9
2. That baptism supposes an initial state of piety, or some right beginning, in which the child is prepared unto good, by causes prior to his own will.
"We are to distinguish between faith and the hopeful beginning of it, the charitable judgment whereof runs upon a great latitude, and faith in the special exercise of it, unto the visible discovery whereof, more experienced operations are to be inquired after. The words of Dr. Ames are: 'Children are not to be admitted to partake of all church privileges, till first increase of faith do appear, but from those which belong to the beginning of faith and entrance into the church they are not to be excluded.'"10
3. That there is a kind of individualism which runs only to evil; that the church is designed to be an organic, vital, grace-giving power, and thus a nursery of spiritual life to its children.
"The way of the Anabaptists, to admit none to membership and baptism but adult professors, is the straitest way; one would think it should be a way of great purity; but experience hath shewed that it has been an inlet unto great corruption. If we do not keep in the way of a converting, grace-giving covenant, and keep persons under those church dispensations wherein grace is given, the church will die of a lingering though not violent death. The Lord hath not set up churches only that a few old Christians may keep one another warm while they live, and then carry away the church with them when they die; no, but that they might with all care, and with all the obligations and advantages to that care that may be, nurse still successively another generation of subjects to our Lord, that may stand up ill his kingdom when they are gone."11
Under this half-way covenant, and probably in part because of it, practical religion fell into a state of great debility. The churches lost their spirituality, and had well nigh lost the idea of spiritual life itself; when at length the Great Revival, under Whitefield and Edwards, inaugurated and brought up to its highest intensity the new era of individualism--the same overwrought, misapplied scheme of personal experience in religion, which has continued with some modifications to the present day. It is a religion that begins explosively, raises high frames, carries little or no expansion, and after the campaign is over, subsides into a torpor. Considered as a distinct era, introduced by Edwards, and extended and caricatured by his cotemporaries, it has one great merit, and one great defect. The merit is that it displaced an era of dead formality, and brought in the demand of a truly supernatural experience. The defect is, that it has cast a type of religious individualism, intense beyond any former example. It makes nothing of the family, and the church, and the organic powers God has constituted as vehicles of grace. It takes every man as if he had existed alone; presumes that he is unreconciled to God until he has undergone some sudden and explosive experience in adult years, or after the age of reason; demands that experience. and only when it is reached, allows the subject to be an heir of life. Then, on the other side, or that of the Spirit of God, the very act or ictus by which the change is wrought is isolated or individualized, so as to stand in no connection with any other of God's means or causes--an epiphany, in which God leaps from the stars, or some place above, to do a work apart from all system, or connection with his other works. Religion is thus a kind of transcendental matter, which belongs on the outside of life, and has no part in the laws by which life is organized--a miraculous epidemic, a fire-ball shot from the moon, something holy, because it is from God, but so extraordinary, so out of place, that it can not suffer any vital connection with the ties, and causes, and forms, and habits, which constitute the frame of our history. Hence the desultory, hard, violent, and often extravagant or erratic character it manifests. Hlence, in part, the dreary years of decay and darkness, that interspace our months of excitement and victory.
Even Edwards himself, fifteen years after the Great Revival, began to be oppressed with sorrowful convictions of some great defect in the matter and mode of it, confessing his doubt whether "the greater part of supposed converts give reason, by their conversation, to suppose that they continue converts;" protesting, also, his special confidence in the fruits of family religion in terms like these--
"Every Christian family ought to be, as it were, a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules. And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual."12
Dr. Hopkins, a pupil of Edwards, had probably been turned by suggestions from him, to a consideration of the importance of family nurture and piety, as connected with the propagation of religion; and, as if to supply some defect in this direction, he occupied sixty pages in his System of Divinity, with a careful discussion of the "nature and design of infant baptism." In this article, he goes even beyond the notion of a presumptive piety in the children baptized, and says:--"The church receive and look upon them as holy, and those who shall be saved. So they are as visibly holy, or as really holy, in their view, as their parents are."13
How far his theory of conversion would compel him to isolate the act of God by which the spiritual renovation of a soul is wrought, I will not undertake to decide. Enough, that he asserts an organic connection of character between parents and children, as effectual for good as for evil; nay, that they may as truly, and in the same sense, transmit holiness as they transmit existence. Thus, after asserting, not more clearly or decidedly than I have done, the impossibility that parents should spiritually renew their children, considered as acting by themselves, he says:
"But it does not follow from this, that God has not so constituted the covenant of grace, that holiness shall be communicated, by Him, to the children, in consequence of the faithful endeavors of their parents; so that, in this sense, and by virtue of such a constitution, they do by their faithful endeavors convey saving blessings to their children. In this way they give existence to their children. God produces their existence by his own Almighty energy; but, by the constitution he has established, they receive their existence from their parents, or by their means. By an established constitution, parents convey moral depravity to their children. And if God has been pleased to make a constitution and appoint a way, in his covenant of grace with man, by which pious parents may convey and communicate moral rectitude or holiness to their children, they, by using the appointed means, do it as really and effectually as they communicate existence to them. In this sense, therefore, they may convey and give holiness and salvation to their children."14
Dr. Witherspoon, a cotemporary of Dr. Hopkins, held opinions on this subject that were in a high degree coincident, though presented in a more popular and less doctrinal shape. He says:--
"I will not enlarge on some refined remarks of persons as distinguished for learning as piety, some of whom have supposed that they [children] are capable of receiving impressions of desire and aversion, and even of moral temper, particularly of love or hatred, its the first year of their lives. * * * When the gospel comes to a people that have long sitten in darkness, there may be numerous converts of all ages; but when the gospel has long been preached, in plenty and purity, andl ordinances regularly administered, few but those who are called in early life are called at all. A very judicious and pious writer, Richard Baxter, is of opinion that in a regular state of the church, and a tolerable measure of faithfulness and purity in its officers, family instruction and government are the usual means of conversion, public ordinances of edification. This seems agreeable to the language of Scripture; for we are told that God hath set in the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, (not for converting sinners, but) for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."15
From all these citations, which could be multiplied without limit, it will be seen that the children of Christian parents have been looked upon as being heirs of the parental faith, and presumptively included in that faith; and so, either with or without a distinct assertion of the proper church membership of children, such opinions have been held in all ages respecting them, as make the denial of their membership a clear impropriety and even a kind of offense against nature.
It is hardly necessary to add, in closing this subject, that if children baptized are so far accepted as members of the Christian church, it must be a great fault and a most hurtful dereliction of duty that nothing is practically made of this membership, and that really it passes for a thing of no significance. The rite is appointed because it has a meaning and a value, and then, when it is passed, it is treated in a way that even indicates the possible absurdity of it. That the children will see any thing in such a mode of practice is impossible. And it requires but the smallest possible perception, to see that the rite will, in this manner, be regularly sinking into discredit, till it is quite done away, and the value it might have in the church is lost. To accomplish all that is needed to give full effect to the rite--
Baptized children ought to be enrolled by name in the catalogue of each church, as composing a distinct class of candidate, or catechumen-members; and to see that they are held in expectancy, thus, by the church, as presumptively one with them in the faith they profess.
Then, when they come forward to acknowledge their baptism, and assume the covenant in their own choice, they ought not to be received as converts from the world, as if they were heathens coming into the fold, but there should be a distinction preserved, such as makes due account of their previous qualified membership; a form of assumption tendered in place of a confession--something answering to the Lutheran confirmation, passed without a bishop's hands.
Children, as soon as they are well out of their infancy, ought to be taken also to the stated meetings of fellowship and prayer, drawn into all the moods of worship, praise, supplication, reproof, as being rightfully concerned in them, on the score of their membership. There ought to be a great deal made of singing too in such meetings, that they may join their voices and play into expression their own tribute of feeling and Christian sentiment
Whenever there are orphan children, that have been baptized, the church ought to look after them, as being members; see, if possible, that they are not neglected, but trained up in a Christian manner; provided, if need be, with a godly fatherhood and motherhood in the church itself; led into the church and out into the world, as disciples beloved according to their years.
Meantime, it is a matter of prime significance that the Christian father and mother should live so as to indicate a sense of their privilege and responsibility; even as Abraham did when he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. It is one thing to live for a family of children, as if they were going possibly to be converted, and a very different to live for them as church members, training them into their holy profession; one thing to have them about as strangers to the covenant of promise, and another to have them about as heirs of the same promise, growing up into it, to fulfill the seal of faith already upon them. One great reason why the children of Christian parents turn out so badly is, that they are taken to be the world, and the manner and spirit of the house are brought down to be of the world too, and partly for their sake. Take them as disciples of Jesus, to be carefully trained for Him; prepared to no mere worldly tastes, and fashions, and pleasures, but kept in purity, saved from the world, and led forth under all tender examples of obedience and godly living; and it will be strange if that nurture of the Lord does not show them growing up in the faith, to be sons and daughters, indeed, of the Lord Almighty.
 Neander's Church History, Torrey's translation, pp. 311, 312.
 Primitive Christianity, pp. 173, 174.
 Ins. cap. xvi. § 17, 18, 20.
 Teacher of Householders, fol., vol. ii., p. 135.
 Confirmation, fol., vol. iv., p. 267.
 Christian Directory, vol. ii., cap. 6, § 4, fol. p. 516.
 Magnalia, book v., fol. p. 72.
 Magnalia, book v., fol. p 77.
 Magnalia, book v., fol. p. 81. 187
 Vol. i., p. 90.
 Vol. ii. p. 319.
 Pages 334, 335.
 Witherspoon, vol. ii., pp. 395, 397.