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which our first parents had forfeited, and to which we have no right; and leave us without help, to the poor degree of strength that remained to us in our fallen condition; the effect of which must have been, that had we done our best, as we were entitled to no reward from his justice, so it had been such a nothing, that we could have hoped for little, if any, from his bounty; and had we not done our best, as no man hath, we had no assurance, that even repentance would secure us from punishment. But what in strict justice he might have done, in his infinite goodness he hath not done. For the first covenant being broken by Adam, he hath entered into a new one with mankind, through Jesus Christ; in which he hath promised to free us, both from the mortality which our first parents had brought upon us, by restoring us to life again; and from the inability, by the powerful assistance of his Holy Spirit. Nay, further yet, he hath promised, (and without it the rest would have been of small use) that should we, notwithstanding his assistance, fail in our duty, when we might have performed it; as we have all failed, and made ourselves, by that means, "children of wrath," in the strictest and worst sense; yet, on the most equitable terms, he would still receive us to mercy anew. And thus, the Christian covenant, delivering us, if we are faithful to it, from every thing we had to fear, and bestowing on us every thing we could hope, brings us into a state so unspeakably different from our former, that it is justly expressed by being dead to that, and born into another. And this new birth being effected by the grace or goodness of God, external and internal, we the children of it are properly called "the children of "grace." Now, baptism is not only a sign of this grace; (as indeed it signifies very naturally the washing off both of our original corruption, and
our actual guilt) but the appointed way of entering into the covenant that entitles us to such grace; the "means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.”
Indeed the mere outward act of being baptized is, as St. Peter, in the words already mentioned, very truly expresses it, the mere "putting away "of the filth of the flesh;" unless it be made effectual to save us, as he teaches in the same place it must, by "the answer of a good conscience "towards God;"7 that is, by the sincere stipulation and engagement of "repentance, whereby we forsake sin; and faith, whereby we believe "the promises of God, made to us in that sacra"ment." For it is impossible that he should forgive us our past sins, unless we are sorry for them, and resolve to quit them; and it is as impossible that we should quit them effectually, unless a firm persuasion of his helping and rewarding us excite and support our endeavours. These two things therefore we see our Catechism justly mentions as necessary, in answer to the question, "What is required of persons to be baptized?” Both have been explained in their proper place, and therefore I enlarge on neither here.
But hence arises immediately another question : If these conditions are necessary, "why are infants baptized, when by reason of their tender age "they cannot perform them ?" And as this diffi culty appears to some a great one, I shall give a fuller solution of it than the shortness of a Catechism would easily permit. Repentance and faith are requisite, not before they are possible, but when they are possible. Repentance is what infants need not as yet, being clear of personal guilt; and happy would it be, were they never to need it. Faith, it may be reasonably presumed, by the
(7) 1 Pet. iii. 12.
security given for their Christian education, they will have as soon as they have occasion to exert it. And in the mean time, baptism may be very fitly administered; because God, on his part, can certainly express by it, both his removing at present, the disadvantages which they lie under by the sin of Adam; and his removing hereafter, on proper conditions, the disadvantages which they may come to lie under by their own sins. And though they cannot, on their parts, expressly promise to perform these conditions, yet they are not only bound to perform them, whether they promise it or not; but (which is the point that our Catechism insists on) their sureties promise for them, that they shall be made sensible, as soon as may be, that they are so bound; and ratify the engagements in their own persons; which, when they do, it then becomes complete. For it is by no means necessary, that a covenant should be executed, by both the parties to it, at just the same time: and as the Christian covenant is one of the greatest equity and favour, we cannot doubt, to speak in the language of our Liturgy, "but that God favourably alloweth the charitable "work of bringing infants to his holy baptism." For the promise of the covenant being expressly said to belong" to us and to our children," without any limitation of age; why should they not all, since they are to partake of the promise, partake also of the sign of it? especially, since the infants of the Jews were, by a solemn sign, entered into their covenant, and the infants of proselytes to the Jews, by this very sign, amongst others, of baptism. So that supposing the Apostles to imitate either of these examples, as they naturally would, unless they were forbid, which they were not; when they baptized (as the Scripture, with
(8) Acts ii. 39.
out making any exception, tells us they did) whole families at once; we cannot question but they baptized (as we know the primitive Christians, their successors, did) “little children” amongst the rest; concerning whom our Saviour says, that “of such is the kingdom of God;"1 and St. Paul says, "they are holy;" which they cannot be reputed, without entering into the Gospel covenant; and the only appointed way of entering into it is by baptism; which therefore is constantly represented in the New Testament as necessary to salvation.
Not that such converts, in ancient times, as were put to death for their faith, before they could be baptized, lost their reward for want of it. Not that such children of believers now, as die unbaptized by sudden illness, or unexpected accidents, or even by neglect, (since it is none of their own neglect) shall forfeit the advantages of baptism. This would be very contrary to the mercy and grace which abound through the whole of the Gospel dispensation. Nay, where the persons themselves do designedly, through mistaken notions, either delay their baptism, as the Anabaptists; or omit it entirely, as the Quakers; even of these it belongs to Christian charity not to judge hardly, as excluded from the Gospel covenant, if they die unbaptized; but to leave them to the equitable judgment of God. Both of them indeed err: and the latter especially have, one should think, as little excuse for their error as well can be; for surely there is no duty of Christianity which stands on a plainer foundation, than that of baptizing with water in the name of the holy Trinity. But still, since they solemnly declare, that they believe in Christ, and desire to obey his commands; and omit water baptism only because
(9) Acts xvi. 15, 33. (1) Mark x. 14. (2) 1 Cor. vii. 14
they cannot see it is commanded; we ought (if we have cause to think they speak truth) by no means to consider them in the same light with unbelievers.
But the wilful and the careless despisers of this ordinance; who, admitting it to be of God's appointment, neglect it notwithstanding; these are not to be looked on as within his covenant. And such as, though they do observe it for form's sake, treat it as an empty insignificant ceremony, are very unworthy of the benefits which it was intended to convey. And, bad as these things are, little better, if not worse, will be the case of those, who, acknowledging the solemn engagements into which they have entered by this sacrament, live without care to make them good. For to the only valuable purpose, of God's favour and eternal happiness," He is not a Christian, which is "one outwardly; neither is that baptism, which "is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian, "which is one inwardly; and baptism is that of "the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; "whose praise is not of men, but of God." 3
AS by the sacrament of Baptism we enter into the Christian covenant; so by that of the Lord's Supper we profess our thankful continuance in it; and therefore the first answer of our Catechism, concerning this ordinance, tells us, it was appointed for the continual remembrance of the
(3) Rom. ii. 28, 29.