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METHODIST QUARTERLY REVIEW.
ART. I.-INFANT BAPTISM AND CHURCH MEMBERSHIP.
1. Christian Nurture, by Dr. BUSHNELL. Hartford. 2. Childhood. Olin's Sermons. Harper & Brothers. 3. Childhood and the Church, by T. R. F. Mercein. A. D. F. Randolph, 1858. 4. Bertha and her Baptism, Boston : S. K. Whipple & Co. 1857. 5. The Teknobaptist Boston: John Wilson, Sen. 1857.
What is the relation of a human soul at the beginning of its immortality to Christ and his Church? This is the questio vexata to-day, both of theology and of Church order. It demands for its investigation and settlement the most strenuous action of the profoundest intellects and profoundest hearts. The Church is moving up to a common ground of faith and practice. The old banners that filled contending sects with fury are being cast aside, and the flag, made white in the blood of the Lamb, is glittering before the hosts of the redeemed, uniting under the great Captain of their salvation. In the midst of this crystalization, and because of it, springs up this radical question, full of importance ;: to many, full of difficulty: Shall the Church have only intelligent believers in its fold, or shall she carry the babes in her bosom? Shall she be an encamped army, made up of men of war, ever assailing, ever conquering the world, but never losing her martial style or force ? or shall she be a colony, armed and invading yet carrying in itself all the elements of its maturity, transformed by the working of these forces into a state, to be raised by a gradual but inevitable growth to a power in the earth, and in due time to the sole authority? How shall she treat those who are in their earliest infancy? Shall they be made, by her purposed neglect, to pass through the fires of Moloch that burn deadlier around our Christian homes than even in
FOURTH SERIES VOL. XI.-1
ancient heathendom, with certain death to all save the few who marvelously creep forth, scarred and maimed, compelled to bear the fruit of her sin through all their future being; or shall she put underneath and round about them from the dawn of their immortality her everlasting arms? To answer this question is the duty and destiny of the Church of to-day. There is to be a radical sifting and replacing of all her doctrine and discipline from this stand-point. The appearance of many essays within a few years, from the strongest exponents of the various opinions, clearly foretells and briefly foreruns the work of the Church for this and the coming generation.
The treatises named above are eminent types at once of the diversity and strength of these sentiments. Dr. Bushnell's work long since startled his communion with the boldness and force of its statements; but his apparent desire to reduce Calvinism and Socinianism to one amalgam has destroyed much of its influence. It reveals the conflict in himself rather than settles it in the general Church. Dr. Olin's is one of those masterly essays of his which seem to flash truth upon the intuitions, like John's writings, rather than make a broad, macadamized road for the logical understanding as Paul does, and as most minds pre-eminently need. It is therefore both satisfactory and unsatisfactory, showing you the truth as the eye sees the sun, but giving you no data by which you can reduce it to practice, either in formularies of doctrine or ceremonies of service. Bertha and her Baptism is an argument from the Calvinistic stand-point, admirably constructed in the narrative and conversational form, said to be by Dr. Adams, of Boston. The Teknobaptist is a very able argument, by a Baptist, in the form of a dialogue between a Calvinist, an Arminian, and a Baptist, the last, of course, conquering, though the Arminian, fortunately for his victor, represents the High Church rather than the Methodist view. The posthumous pamphlet of Mr. Mercein shows what service he would have done the Church, had he lived, in its great conflict for God and the truth. As we read its original thought, exquisite in statement and fiery with feeling, we can but exclaim,
“ Heu pietas, heu prisca fides, invictaque bello
Dextera.” Amid the contending ranks of ancient defenders and opponents of this doctrine, appears Arminianism, as set forth in the Methodist Church, and we design to show that her doctrine alone can satisfy the conditions of the problem, and that on the basis of the belief on which she builds her impregnable towers, and from which rush forth her unconquerable armies, every Church must stand, and carrying it out to its legitimate results, make all her children sharers in all its privileges, and responsible according to their measure for all its duties.
Every other system either falls into the absurdity of baptismal regeneration, or the equal absurdity that this ordinance is no ordinance; that it is no seal of the inward state of the receiver, but of that of some other person, as a father or mother, who have no more right to impose this upon their child in consequence of their faith, than the child has to impose it on them in consequence of its faith, supposing, as is not unusual, that he is converted before his parents are. They go farther, and say that this baptism does not constitute its recipient a member of the Church, but only “a child of the Church," an incomprehensible term. Says the author of Bertha and her Baptism : “ We all know that not one baptized child of a true believer can be really a member of the Church in regular standing till he, like an unbaptized heathen convert, has repented of his sins and believed on the Lord Jesus.” Such statements destroy the very doctrine they are set to defend. If it has no surer foothold, the common sense of the Church will soon abandon it. Let us carefully consider the Arminian view of the Gospel as applied to this ordinance.
We grant that baptism is the seal of a spiritual condition. It is the stamp which God requires us to affix to those he has made his own. It is the symbol, upon the body, of the work he has effected in the soul that occupies it. Thus we concede everything essential in the Baptist's idea of baptism. It is no mere christening, or consecration, or parental duty or desire, but the ordinance of Scripture properly applied to appropriate subjects. We grant also that this ordinance, as the Baptists claim that it should, places its recipient, whatever be his age or state of development, within the Church. It is as initiative and influential upon the infant as upon the most intelligent of mature converts. We claim that they are appropriate subjects for baptism and membership on the ground of their gracious condition in Christ, and therefore that they have a right to it, and all the relations and duties that follow it.
We claim that this right was conceded to them by the apostolic Church, as Scripture, tradition, and the necessities of the case, abundantly show; and finally we shall show that every excuse for neglecting it is more than answered by the uniform action of every one in other cases that involve the same difficulties with which the Baptist sentiment has unnaturally invested this duty. Thus we hope to prove that this ordinance agrees with the instincts of our nature, the fullness of the atonement, and the design of Christ in organizing his Church, and therefore, if properly embraced as a doctrine, and faithfully carried out in practice, it will remove every difference of opinion and procedure among Christian Churches on this point, and contribute greatly to their perfect union. A little child shall lead the great sections of the Church to its desired communion in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.
Let us consider the most important of these statements first. Baptism is the right of the infant because of his inward state of acceptance with God through the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every child when born into this world is born into a dispensation of grace. Whether in heathen or Christian lands, no child of Adam is without the application of that blood of sprinkling and regeneration. He is born virtually a Christian. To all, says the same God and Saviour that spoke to Jeremiah: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.” Some persons in our land who have given themselves over to the mystery of iniquity that worketh here, have had sent upon them a strong delusion that they should believe the lie that human beings can be born slaves. This is but the residuum of the fundamental idea of all monarchies and aristocracies that have distorted and destroyed humanity. Our great Declaration embodies in human law the opposite and Divine idea, long before declared in the Bible to be the corner-stone of the government of God—the perfect equality and liberty of every soul. This viper is crushed beneath its haughty foot before monarchist abroad and slaveocrat at home, in that great sentence yet to go out unto the ends of the world as the basis of all society, “ All men are created free and equal." What is true in humanitarian and political philosophy, is the more true in spiritual science and law, and every Church creed ought to start with this statement, “All souls are created free and equal.” Some are not born slaves, as saith the Calvinist, following the adult and voluntary condition of their parents. They are not born free, to be instantly enslaved by an irresistible power, and only in rare cases to escape, by God's special decree, that everlasting bondage, as saith the soi-doisant “New England” theologian. They are not born independent of Christ, gracelessly, licentiously free, as saith the Rationalist. But as every one, in spite of the momentary judicial perversion of the truth into a lie, is born entirely free and equal under our constitution, so into that greater state into which every human soul is born, and to which he owes allegiance, whether he acknowledge it or not, into the invisible but none the less present and potent Church of Christ, is every son of Adam born, and born free and Christian. This may be called assumption and the proof demanded. Consider