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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Robert Boyte C. Howell, D.D.
From The Evils of Infant Baptism, 1852
The doctrines upon which infant baptism rests, and the great fundamental principle of justification by faith, are in irreconcilable contradiction. They are throughout, the antagonists of each other. To them both, no church, nor individual, can consistently adhere. One or the other must, sooner or later, be abandoned. Their opposite characters indicate this result, and the history of the church, primitive, popish, and protestant, evinces that it is inevitable. Let the doctrines in question be separately stated, and compared.
The great fundamental principle of justification by faith is taught in the Word of God in terms perfectly full and explicit. We are, says an apostle, "being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood…to declare…his righteousness for the remission of sins…that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 3:24-26)
And "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1) Justification is the act of God by which he declares a man just and righteous. The justified are accepted, and approved, as if they had never sinned. This is an act of God's own free and sovereign grace, and therefore necessarily irrespective of any works or worthiness on the part of the justified. It is by faith, not as a meritorious agency to procure justification, but as the medium through which it is bestowed.
We are not justified for faith, as if it were of itself a sufficient righteousness, since faith no more than works can constitute such righteousness, but by faith through grace. "It is of faith, that it might be by grace;" faith being characterized by a peculiarity which harmonizes with grace, and which looks not to itself, but to Christ for righteousness and salvation. This, briefly, is justification by faith, as taught in the Word of God.
How shall we ascertain the doctrines of infant baptism? They are not made known to us in the Bible. Revelation is silent on that whole subject. We must, of course, rely upon the statements of Protestant Pedobaptists for our authority. With Papists, I have at present nothing to do. Dr. Wall is more definite on this topic than any other writer now before me. He says: "Most of the Pedobaptists go no further than St. Austin does. They hold that God by his Spirit, does, at the time of baptism, seal and apply to the infant that is there dedicated to him, the promises of the covenant of which he is capable, viz.: adoption, pardon of sins, [and] translation from the state of nature to that of grace." (Hist. Inf. Bap., vol. ii, p. 148)
The doctrines upon which infant baptism rests teach, therefore, that in that ordinance the child receives adoption, pardon, and translation into the state of grace, and of course, that he receives justification! Davenant, the Bishop of Salisbury, thus speaks on this subject: "The justification, regeneration, and adoption of little children baptized, confers upon them a state of salvation." (Letters to Dr. Ward, p. 25)
Archbishop Usher writes thus: "The branches of this reconciliation [received by infants in their baptism] are justification, and adoption." (Brief Method, &c.)
So teach all the other divines, and all the protestant Confessions of Faith and Catechisms. Infants are therefore, according to this doctrine, justified before God in baptism.
Let now the great principle of justification by faith and the doctrines of infant baptism be compared. If you are justified by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, through grace, you are not justified by baptism, either in infancy, or at any other time, and if you are justified by baptism, then you are not justified by faith. This conclusion is perfectly plain. These doctrines are therefore as opposite as darkness and light. They emphatically contradict and falsify each other.
Justification by faith, I have said, is a fundamental doctrine of the gospel. It is vital. It is "the faith once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3) No system from which it is excluded can ever be justly regarded as embodying the religion of Christ. It was taught by the apostles, and early ministers, constantly, forcibly, emphatically. It was cherished by the primitive churches as a priceless truth. How can we account for its abandonment by the professed followers of Jesus Christ?
There is, I answer, an inherent tendency in human nature, renewed though it may be, to pass from the substance to the forms of religion. The transition is so easy that it can only be prevented by perpetual vigilance. The influence of this propensity the early churches did not very long escape. Among the first of the corruptions they admitted and embraced, was the undue importance which became attached to religious ceremonials. They gradually exalted the rites above the doctrines of Christianity, while both were perverted and misapplied.
Baptism, especially, was imagined to possess great and peculiar virtues. Thus justification through grace by faith was ultimately displaced by justification through grace by baptism. Popery was the result, the doctrine of which, on this subject, is thus expressed by the Council of Trent: “Justification is by means of the sacraments, either originally infused into us, or subsequently increased, or when lost, again restored.” (Concil. Trid., Sess. vii., decret. Sacram., apud Moehler, p. 279) Thus the Christian world was plunged into darkness, which remained unbroken for a thousand years.
But justification by faith was restored at the Reformation. Noble efforts to give back to men this truth had previously been made by Tindall, and Wycliffe, and Huss, and others, but they all fell martyrs to their benevolent designs. All the denominations that then sprang out of popery, did not agree as to the details of religion; hence their separate organizations. But they all concurred in the doctrine of justification by faith, whether Lutheran, Calvinist, or Episcopalian. They each embodied it fully in their separate Confessions, and other standards.
And strange as it may appear, they also embodied in the same symbols, that opposite and contradictory system, infant baptism. Why they did this will more fully appear hereafter. I now speak of facts only. I am not attempting to account for them. Thus they threw together conflicting elements, which, as they had before done, gradually destroyed the blessings which had been gained. To the sublimest truths they united the rankest corruption. To the gospel of Christ they chained the main supports of Popery, ignorance, and worldly conformity. These facts are most readily demonstrated by reference to the standards themselves.
In the first place, I shall show that the Confessions of all the Protestant sects embody the doctrine of justification by faith. The Augsburg Confession is the symbol of Lutheranism. Its fourth article is in the following words: "They teach also that men cannot be justified before God by their own efforts, merits, or works, but are justified freely through Christ by faith, and are received into favor, and enjoy the remission of sins, through Christ, who by his death presented a satisfaction for sin." (Cox's Melancthon)
In full agreement with this is the Westminster Confession, which doctrinally is embraced by all classes of Calvinists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Independents, and others:
"Those whom God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting, and accepting their persons as righteous ; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone ; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they resting on him as their righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. Faith thus received, and resting on Christ, and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification." (West. Conf., ch. ii., sects. 1, 2)
The doctrine of the Episcopal Church in all its sects is contained in the eleventh of the Thirty-Nine Articles, in the following language: "We are accounted righteous before God only-for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our works or deservings. Therefore that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort."
Of the doctrine of the Methodist church in all its departments, the "Articles of Religion," in the Discipline, is the symbol. Their ninth article speaks thus: "We are accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for any of our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort."
These are the principal Confessions of Faith of all the Protestant sects, and we have now seen their teaching on this subject. If they are to be believed, we are justified before God, not by our own efforts, merits, or worthiness, not by anything done by us, or in us, not of course by baptism, or by any other act of obedience whatever, but alone through grace by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
How great, how vital, how evangelical, how infinitely important this truth! Who could have supposed that they would have inserted in each one of these very formularies any principle directly and plainly contradicting that already so fully and elaborately stated? Yet they did so. Infant baptism finds a place there, sustained by all the doctrines with which Popery had surrounded it. For proof in the premises we retrace these several Confessions.
The Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church is as follows: "They teach concerning baptism that it is necessary to salvation, because by baptism the grace of God is offered. Infants are to be baptized, who being brought to God, by baptism, are received into his favor." (Aug. Confess. Art. ix)
The Westminster Confession says:—" Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life." (Conf., ch. xxviii, sect. 1) “By the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred." (Conf., ch. xxviii, sect. 6)
The Thirty-Nine Articles teach thus:
"Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and .a mark of difference wherein Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth, whereby as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly, are engrafted into the church. The promise of the forgiveness of sins, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed…The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the church, as most agreeable to the institution of Christ." (Thirty-Nine Art., 27)
The Methodist Articles of Religion speak as follows: "Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized, but is also a sign of regeneration, or the new birth. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the church." (Discip., Art. of Relig., xvii)
Thus we have the teachings of all these Confessions on baptism. The summary may be embraced in a few words. Lutherans declare that baptism is necessary to salvation, and that by it infants are received into the favor of God, and saved. Presbyterians, with all their kindred sects, maintain that baptism is to the child a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his engrafting into Christ, of regeneration, and of the remission of sins, and that all these are by baptism not only offered to the child, but really exhibited and conferred upon him.
And Episcopalians and Methodists affirm that by baptism the new birth, the forgiveness of sins, and adoption, are all to the child, visibly signed and sealed. The child therefore in baptism, is pardoned of sin, is regenerated, is adopted, is received into the church, received into the favor of God, and saved.
All this certainly involves justification, or the declaring the person innocent of crime. These Confessions teach, therefore, the justification of the sinner by baptism. Consequently on the doctrine of justification by faith, and the doctrines upon which they rest infant baptism, the Confessions, each and all of them, plainly, palpably, unmistakably contradict themselves.
If you are justified, pardoned, and saved through grace by faith, and not by works, merit, or obedience of any kind, then you cannot be justified, pardoned, and saved by baptism. But it may be objected that infants are not capable of faith. Neither therefore, I answer, are they capable of baptism. They are saved by grace through Christ, and without baptism. Is baptism necessary to their salvation? God forbid. Why then baptize them, since the act is without authority, and without benefit? And especially why teach that baptism gives them pardon, regeneration, adoption, and salvation?
Do I deal unjustly with these several sects when I thus represent them as in collision with themselves? Their inconsistencies on this point have been noticed and condemned by others as well as Baptists. Moehler, a Catholic priest, and recently Professor of Divinity in Munich, one of the most eminent Roman Catholic scholars of the age, says:
"At the commencement of the Reformation, Luther and Melancthon evinced on the matter the most decided opposition to the Catholic Church; and the internal ground of their opposition lay entirely in their one-sided conception of the justification of man before God. Hereby especially the communication of really sanctifying graces by means of the sacraments was thrown into the background, nay even totally called in question.
"The highest point to which they could rise was the one-sided view of the sacraments considered as pledges of the truth of the divine promises for the forgiveness of sins. The sacraments accordingly were to have no other destination than to make the faithful receiver assured that his debt of sins was remitted, and to console and quiet him.
"So mean a conception of the sacraments necessarily led to the view that they operate only through faith in the divine promise of the forgiveness of sins. It was only in course of the disputes with the fanatics, as Luther called them, or with the Sacramentarians, that the reformers of Wittenberg approximated again to the doctrine of the [Papal] church. Already the Confession of Augsburg expresses itself, though indefinitely enough, yet still in a manner to enable Catholics to declare themselves tolerably satisfied with it.
"By degrees the Lutherans [and all other Protestants] again adopted the entire notion of the opus operatum, although they continue even down to the present day to protest against it.
"Thus in course of time no important difference [in the premises] inherent in the nature of things, could be pointed out" between Catholics and Protestants. (Symbolism, pp. 282-285)
This testimony from an enemy is true. Still, Protestants of all classes in their sermons and their conversations from the pulpit and the press continue to protest that they do not attribute to baptism any justifying or saving power. And do they not? I have fairly recited the very words of their Confessions of Faith! Do they believe these Confessions? Let us turn to some of their standard writers, and see how they express themselves on this subject.
Henry, the distinguished Presbyterian commentator, says (among which, of course, must be embraced justification):
"The gospel contains not only a doctrine, but a covenant, and by baptism we are brought into that covenant. Baptism wrests the keys of the heart out of the hand of the strong man armed, that the possession may be surrendered to him whose right it is. The water of baptism is designed for our cleansing from the spots and defilements of the flesh. In baptism our names are engraven upon the breastplate of the High Priest. This, then, is the efficacy of baptism; it is putting the child's name into the gospel grant. We are baptized into Christ's death, that is, God doth in that ordinance seal, confirm, and make over to us, all the benefits of the death of Christ." (Treat. on Bapt.)
Professor Charles Hodge, one of the Theological Instructors at Princeton, says: "We are baptized in order that we should die with him, [Christ] i. e., that we should be united to him in his death, and partakers of his benefits. This baptism unto repentance, Matt. 3:11, is baptism in order to repentance; baptism unto the remission of sins, Mark 1:4, that remission of sins may be obtained." (Comm. on Rom. vi., 8)
Bishop Bedell says: "This I yield to my Lord of Sarum most willingly, that the justification, and adoption which children have in baptism is not univoce [univocally] the same with that which adults have. And this I likewise do yield to you, that it is vera solutio reatus, et veraciter, et in rei veritate performed in all the like emphatical forms, etc." (Letters to Dr. Ward, Letter 161)
Bishop Burnet says: "Here, then, is the inward effect of baptism; it is a death to sin, and a new life in Christ." and "We are not only baptized into one body, but also saved by baptism." (Expos. Thirty-Nine Arts., pp. 896, 898)
The Episcopal Catechism affirms that the child is by his "baptism, made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."
These are the expositions of standard writers among Pedobaptists themselves, of all classes, explanatory of the efficacy of baptism as taught in their Confessions. They effectually shield me from the charge of misrepresentation, and at the same time evince that their doctrine is such, in the language of Moehler, as "to enable Catholics to declare themselves tolerably satisfied with it."
They inculcate, as do their Confessions, justification by faith, and also justification by baptism. Thus they contradict in one place what they teach in another. But Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Methodists, do not surely believe these baptismal doctrines! Many of them, I admit, earnestly deny it! Gladly would we credit their disavowals. But we take up their standards, catechisms, and writers of authority, and there, word for word, are the passages I have recited, and much, very much more of the same character.
They deny that they believe their doctrines, and yet they continue to publish them to the world as expressing truly their faith. From the pulpit and from the press they disclaim and repudiate them, but when called to the sacred altar, in their vows of office, they solemnly declare before God and men, that they do believe them "ex animo!" [sincerely; from the heart].
What now shall we say? They deny; they affirm; they again deny; and again affirm! The same contradictions which so strikingly mark their Confessions and Catechisms; we find pervading all their teachings, and practice! I lament these facts, but they are so natural to their position, that from them there seems to be, without changing their ecclesiastical relations, no way of escape.
We now turn to consider briefly, the results of the condition of things submitted. They are evil, and evil only. Look over the Protestant Christian world as it exists at the present moment, and you will find that infant baptism is again rapidly expelling, as it did in early times, the doctrine of justification by faith from the churches.
Among the Lutherans of Germany, the Calvinists in continental Europe, the Episcopalians in England, and others—I speak of them as communities—the baptism of infants is observed with the utmost carefulness, but justification by faith has no practical influence whatever. It is still in their Confessions, but it has been banished from their pulpits, from their hearts, and from the faith of their people. Justification by faith they receive from the Bible. Infant baptism and its accompanying doctrines, they receive from Popery. The former is of God. The latter is of men. They cannot continue to exist together.
All those churches, now regarded as evangelical, will, sooner or later, give up justification by faith, or they will give up infant baptism. What has been will be again. "Coming events cast their shadows before." Justification by faith from one direction, and the doctrines of infant baptism from the other, like opposing currents in the ocean, meet and form a whirlpool, in which no church exposed to its violence can long survive.
We have now seen the doctrine of justification by faith, and the principles of infant baptism, and contrasting them, have found that they are wholly contradictory and irreconcilable. We have seen that it was infant baptism mainly, which expelled the doctrine of justification by faith from the early churches, and brought on Popery, by which the world was shrouded in darkness for a thousand years. We have seen through what providential agency this great doctrine was restored, and how it became the central principle of the Reformation. We have seen that though justification by faith is embodied in all the Protestant Confessions, Catechisms, and other formularies, it is placed in them side by side with infant baptism, and its doctrines, and that, as elsewhere, they reciprocally contradict, refute, and nullify each other.
We have seen, in the history of Protestantism, the practical results of uniting these conflicting elements, and have found that they cannot exist together, but that the destruction of this fundamental doctrine is the inevitable result of maintaining infant baptism. And we have seen that the tendency of all the other protestant sects is in the same direction, and that they also, must ultimately abandon practically, if not professedly, either justification by faith, or infant baptism, with the principles upon which it is maintained, and defended. It is now demonstrated fully, that the doctrines, upon which infant baptism rests, contradict the great fundamental principle of justification by faith. It is therefore, in all its bearings and influences, an alarming and most disastrous evil.