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A DIALOGUE

BETWEEN A MINISTER AND HIS PARISHIONER,

CONCERNING THE

HALF-WAY

COVENANT.

Parishioner. Sir, I am dissatisfied with a part of your public conduct, and am come to open my mind freely to you, if you will be so kind as to allow me an opportunity.

Minister. Sir, I am now at leisure, and at your service, and your honest frankness gives me pleasure. Between you and me alone, to let me know the objections you have against any part of my conduct, is to act a friendly part. It is more kind and Christian-like, than to keep your thoughts to yourself, to engender a secret disaffection in your heart; and you may be quite assured, that not only now, but in all future times, I shall with pleasure listen to any objections against my public administrations proposed in a friendly, candid manner; and will be ready to be set right, wherein I am wrong; or to let you know the reasons of my conduct. For, next to the light of God's countenance, and the approbation of my own conscience, I prize the good opinion of my fellow-men ; and particularly, I greatly prize the testimony of the consciences of my own people in my behalf. To your conscience, therefore, I am now willing to approve myself. Open your mind without the least reserve.

P. I have lately moved into the parish. I had owned the covenant in the town I came from; my other children have been baptized; we have now another child for baptism, and I hear you refuse to baptize the children of any but those who are in full communion. This gives me pain.

M. I cannoť give you' pain, without feeling pain myself. But you would not desire that I should go counter to the will of my Lord and Master, while acting in his name, as his min

ister; nor would this be a likely means to obtain a blessing for your child. And if I am warranted by the gospel of Christ to baptize your child, you are very sensible my reputation, and every worldly interest, will join to prompt me to it. You will easily make a convert of me to your opinion, if you can point out one text of Scripture to justify that common practice.

P. I have not studied the point. I cannot mention any texts of Scripture ; but it is the custom where I was born and brought up; and I knew not but that it was the custom every where, until I moved into this parish.

M. No, sir, it is not the custom every where; it was not the custom where I was born and brought up; and there are many churches in the country that are not in the practice. At the first settling of New England, there was, so far as I know, not one church that allowed baptism to the children of any but those whose parents were, one or both, in full communion. About forty years after the first church was formed, this custom was brought in by a synod that met at Boston, 1662. Many ministers and churches zealously opposed it at the time, and even to this day the custom is not become universal ; and of late a considerable number of churches, who had adopted the practice, have laid it aside. It is not practised at all in the church of Scotland, as I have been informed by a reverend gentleman of an established reputation, who has lately been invited, and who has removed from thence, to the presidency of New Jersey College. And it is certain the confession of faith, catechisms, and directory of the church of Scotland, make no mention of it; neither is the practice mentioned in the Saybrook platform, which has been generally received by the churches in Connecticut; for the council which met at Say. brook did not see cause to adopt that practice, although it had been introduced by the synod at Boston. But if you had not studied the point before you owned the covenant; and if you took it for granted, that it was right, merely from education; yet you are able to let me know in what views, and from what views, and from what motives you owned the covenant; as I suppose you meant to act conscientiously.

P. It was the common opinion that none ought to join in full communion, and come to the Lord's table, but those that were godly, that had on a wedding garment, lest coming unworthily, they eat and drink damnation to themselves. But it was thought that graceless persons might own the covenant, and have their children baptized; and this was my opinion, and I acted on these principles.

M. Yes, sir, and I suppose the generality of people in the

country that own the covenant, in these times, act on these principles. But it was not so from the beginning. The synod in 1662, who first brought in the practice, were not in this scheme. It was known and owned, and publicly declared on all hands, in the time of it, “that the synod did acknowledge, that there ought to be true saving faith in the parent, according to the judgment of rational charity, or else the child ought not to be baptized.*

P. But, sir, I am surprised! Is this true? Was this really the opinion of those who first brought in this practice ?

M. It is true, it was indeed their opinion, if we may give credit to their own declarations. No man who was for this practice, perhaps, was of more note than the Rev. Dr. Increase Mather, of Boston, who was a member of the synod, and afterwards wrote in defence of this practice; and no author can in more express language declare his sentiments. These are his own words, in a pamphlet, entitled, “A Discourse concerning the Subject of Baptism, wherein the present Controversies that are agitated in the New England Churches, are from Scripture and Reason modestly inquired into.” “In the fifth place, it may be alleged, that the persons in question either have, to the judgment of charity, a justifying faith, or not. If not, they, and consequently their children, are not baptizable. If they have, then they are forthwith admissible to the Lord's supper. Answer. .

I. I do readily acknowledge, that as it is only a justifying faith which giveth right to baptism before God, so it is the profession or visibility of this faith that giveth right thereunto before the church. Some have maintained that a dogmatical historical faith, or a faith of assent to the truth of the gospel, doth entitle to baptism; but the common Protestant doctrine against the Papists speaketh otherwise. Though a man should believe all that the Holy Scriptures say concerning God and Christ, yet, if he doth not consent with his heart, that this God shall be his God, and this Christ his Savior, he hath not right to baptism in the sight of God; or if he doth not profess such a consent, (which is implied in the proposition before us, when it is said concerning the persons in question, that they gave up themselves to the Lord, he cannot justly claim baptism. In most churches in the world, men own the creed, (called the apostles',) before baptism. Now, therein they say, I believe in God, and not only I believe God, namely, with a faith of assent

See a Defence of the Answer and Arguments of the Synod, etc., against the reply made by the Rev. Mr. John Davenport, Pastor of the Church at New Haven. Preface, p. 23, 24.

only in the understanding. Now, to believe in God, implieth a consent of the will, choosing this God for my God. And considering that in baptism there is a profession of repentance for past transgressions, and an engagement to walk in newness of life for time to come, (Mark i. 4. 2 Pet. i. 9;) and that it cometh in the room of circumcision, which was a seal of the righteousness of faith, (Rom. iv. 11;) and that thereby remission of sins is sealed, (Acts ii. 38;) which remission is not promised to any faith but justifying ; also that baptism is said to save, (1 Pet. iii. 21;) and they that are baptized are said to be in Christ, (Gal. iii. 27,) and to have communion with Christ in respect of his death and resurrection, (Rom. vi. 4, 5. Col. ii. 12;) I say, from these and many the like considerations, I am fully persuaded that it is not a mere historical, but justifying faith, which giveth right to baptism."

These are his words, and they are as plain and express as could be desired.

P. But if this was in fact the case, I cannot conceive what room there was for the half-way covenant; for such persons might consistently profess to comply with the whole covenant, and not stop half way in practice, but come up to all ordinances.

M. You are right in this observation. Persons so qualified, who have been brought up under the light of the gospel from their infancy, by pious parents and godly ministers, and now adult, and become godly themselves, professing and practising accordingly, are, in a judgment of rational charity, as fit for the Lord's table, as to offer their children in baptism. Nor is it merely a privilege they may claim, to come to the Lord's sup per along with their Christian brethren, and join with them in commemorating the death of Christ; but it is their indispensable duty. They are bound to do it by the express command of Christ, (Luke xxii. 19;) “This do in remembrance of me." And to neglect it is practically to renounce the authority of Jesus Christ. And is it right for ministers to teach the disciples of Christ to live in the breach of the least of his commands?

P. But what would Dr. Mather say to this?

M. You may hear, for these are his words: “It will not follow that these persons are immediately to be admitted to the Lord's table, or to the privileges of full communion; for more full and satisfactory evidences of regeneration and of Christian proficiency are requisite in order to admission to the Lord's table than in order to baptism.” And if you will read Mather's Magnalia, you will see that they insisted on initial grace in order to baptism, but supposed greater attainments necessary in

order to the Lord's supper. But if that command of Christ is binding on weak Christians, who are indeed real Christians, (Luke xxii. 19,) to say they are not to be admitted to the Lord's table, is to say it is not lawful they should obey the command of Christ. So this half-way covenant, while it teaches for doctrine the commandment of men, sets aside the command of Christ.

P. I am in the same opinion; nor can I see any room for the half-way covenant on Mather's scheme. But I have heard that Stoddard's scheme favors the present practice.

M. This is a mistake. Mr. Stoddard, of Northampton, never practised the half way; that is, he never admitted any to have baptism for their children but those who were in full communion ; and he expressly declares, that those who have been baptized in infaucy, and owned their covenant, are obliged in duty to come to the Lord's table. Yea, he

says, “ It is a scandal if they do not, and the church may call them to an account for their neglect. It is a visible contempt cast upon the ordinance." He held the Lord's supper to be a converting ordinance, and that unconverted men, knowing themselves to be such, might lawfully come. And that it was as lawful to come to the Lord's supper as to haptism ; so that there was no room for any half-way covenant or half-way practice, on his scheme ; for unconverted men, knowing themselves to be such, may, on his scheme, come not only half way, but to all ordinances, and to one as well as to another.

P. I never heard of these things till now, and I know not what to think or what to say. It seems as if the half-way covenant and the half-way practice could not be made consistent on any scheme.

M. If the covenant owned is the covenant of grace, and if the parent acts understandingly and honestly in the affair, he is a good man, he has a right before God to baptism for his children, and an equal right to the Lord's supper ; yea, that eommand of Christ, in Luke xxii. 19, renders it his indispensable duty to attend the Lord's supper.*

But if the covenant owned is not the covenant of grace, those who have owned it have, in the sight of God, no right to either of those ordi

• Under the Jewish dispensation it was lawful for an Israelite, not hindered by any external impediment, voluntarily to absent himself from the passover, if he was ceremonially unclean. But under the gospel, an Israelite indeed, of sufficient age and understanding, and not hindered by any natural impediment, may not voluntarily absent himself from the Lord's supper, unless disqualified by spiritual uncleanness, by his own personal wickedness unrepented of, or for which he has not made gospel satisfaction. And such a one is equally unfit to offer his child in baptism. (Num. ix. 13. Matt. v. 23, 24.)

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