The practice of baptizing the children of God's people, is of essential service to the interests of religion.
1. It is a sensible and positive proof of two of the prominent doctrines of revelation, — the depravity of infants, and their need of grace. It is the natural tendency of things in this world, for men to deny and disbelieve the moral corruption of human nature altogether; and, especially, to maintain the spotless innocence of newborn infants. That such errors as these would undermine the very foundation of the gospel, is certain. The denial of human depravity necessarily terminates in the denial of divine mediation; and the denial of the depravity of infants, is but the first step to the maintenance of adult innocence. The history of the church, too, bears ample testimony to the fact, that all such abatements of total human corruption, has finally terminated in the most dangerous heresies. Now, in the baptism of infants, the sinfulness of their natures, and their need of divine grace, are strikingly exhibited, and put beyond the power of contradiction.
2. This practice also impresses on the minds of all, the great importance of the salvation of children. From mistaken views of the innocence of children, or from their inferiority in society, there is a very great tendency to neglect their souls altogether. Thus both the minister and his people are apt, in contemplating the larger forms of human existence around them, to overlook those smaller ones, every where diffused through their families and churches. We preach for adults — we pray for adults, but forget the children. We spend our lives, for the most part, in attempting to straighten the old and sturdy oaks of the forest, while we bestow but little attention upon the saplings and twigs by their side. But wherever the duty of baptizing children has been well understood, and uniformly practised, there their salvation has always been a matter of corresponding interest and effort.
3. The administration of this ordinance to infants, also strengthens the faith and increases the fidelity of parents. The salvation of his child, is that which should burden a parent's heart much more than any thing besides. His relationship to his child, his affection for him, his influence over him, all, should make him seek this object above every other. Now, in the baptism of his child, such parent has his duty defined, his work laid out before him, and the offer of divine help for its execution afforded. The parent may be regarded as properly enough entering into the following soliloquy: 'If my child were not depraved, why baptize him? If he needed not regeneration, why apply to him its sign? If grace were not offered him, why am I commanded to bring him to a gospel ordinance? And if God will not bless my efforts, why enter into covenant with me in behalf of my offspring?' Surely, no parent can possibly attend to this important duty, without feeling, in his own soul, his faith confirmed and his desires elevated.
4. Again. The baptism of the young, promotes the interests of the church, by securing for them a proper religious training. It secures this training in two ways: first, by the propinquity of baptized children to the church; and secondly, by the obligations this ordinance imposes. This end is effected by the propinquity of such children to the professing church. We have already shown, that they stand on the very threshold of the spiritual temple. They occupy a kind of nursery, in the very porch of the Christian community. This being the case, they are neither foreigners nor strangers; but the very seed and offspring of the kingdom of Christ. Their situation yields to them the very best advantages they could possibly have, for the attainment of Christian knowledge. They are like young Samuel, whom his mother dedicated to the Lord, and had raised in the very tabernacle itself.
All the doctrines and hopes of religion, its institutions and blessings, are all theirs by birthright. Over them piety sheds her constant and hallowed influence. Faith, with all her witnesses for the truth, is continually pleading with their hearts. The voice of the Redeemer, saying, 'Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven,' is continually rolling on their ears. For them, Hope is planting on the fair canopy of heaven an immortal star; and Charity, loveliest of the graces, is lightening in their tender countenances, the smiles of eternal joy, and spreading before them all the attractions of a life of holiness and peace. Thus circumstanced, how almost inevitable is the surrender of their youthful hearts to God.
But this practice also secures the religious training of the young, by the obligations it imposes. Obedience to divine commands is absolutely enjoined upon both those who administer and those who receive this ordinance. ' This is my covenant,' said God to Abraham, 'which ye shall keep.' And said Christ to his apostles, 'teach them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.' There is an obligation, therefore, imposed upon the church, as well as upon the parent, to inculcate upon the young disciple the lessons of Christianity. There is also an obligation resting upon the child to receive and practise such instructions. Now it is evident, that, under such circumstances as these, the religious training of the child would be as effectually secured, as in the nature of things it could be in this life.
5. This practice also elevates the standard of piety in a church. This it does in at least three ways. First, by promoting the religion of the family. It awakens a deeper interest in the bosom of parents about the salvation of their offspring. It causes them to expect more, to undertake more. The consequence of this will be greater attainments of personal piety among parents themselves — more prayerfulness — more self-denial — more frequent fastings, and greater uniformity and consistency of deportment. And as he, who is most busy at home is most apt to be industrious abroad, so the domestic labors and piety of the parent, will but prepare him for entering into more extensive fields of usefulness and duty. But this end is also attained, by uniting and harmonizing the entire efforts of the whole church, in promoting the salvation of her children. From this field of enterprise no believer in Pædobaptism can feel himself excused: — the obligation is an universal one, the duty is common. The necessary consequence of this will be, the originating of all those schemes and plans, by which the minds of children may be reached and well indoctrinated in the truths of the gospel. Parents will teach at home — the Pastor and Elders will visit and catechise — Infant and Sabbath Schools will be gotten up and supported — ordinary schools and academics will be established on Christian principles — and every possible instrument wielded, in order to secure an object so grand and so obligatory. Now, in the carrying forward of such a work as this, consists the very vitality of religion in a church. A stagnant religion can have no existence. Piety is active and benevolent in her very nature. The more, therefore, that a church is usefully employed, the more vigorous will be the exercises of grace among her members. Nor will the good work terminate with the immediate children of the church. Christians would become, under such circumstances, 'nursing fathers and mothers' to the offspring of unbelieving parents. They would be ready to feel for wretchedness, wherever it existed; and thus to diffuse their prayers, their sympathies, and their alms, over the whole world. The other way in which this practice would accomplish the end contemplated is, by furnishing candidates for admission into the church with the most eminent qualifications. Being born and raised in the very nursery of piety, and enjoying the very best opportunities for the improvement of the mind, and the cultivation of the heart, the children of the church would not only be early introduced into full membership, but would come in with advantages for a pious life, which no others could possibly enjoy.
6. This practice also renders the preaching of the gospel more efficient. One of the greatest evils with which the ministry has to contend is, the encountering of that opposition which arises from the ignorance, stupidity, prejudices, errors, and profligacy, which result from the neglect of domestic training. To enlighten a mind long enshrouded in the grossest ignorance, to awaken a conscience long seared in stupidity and sin, to bend a will long accustomed to its own control, to purify affections polluted with the grossest indulgences, to unfetter a soul manacled and chained in impiety, thus to transform the very image of Satan into that of Christ, is a work as discouraging as it is difficult. The filling of the house of God with such hearers as these, is but to render preaching a most hopeless task. It is like sending for the physician when the patient is in the very agony of death. It is to expect reformation, when the principle to be reformed is itself almost entirely annihilated by a course of abandoned profligacy. It is but to tempt God, and require miracles. In this case, the ministry becomes almost an insupportable burden, and is likely to be attended with little or no success. On the contrary, where parents have been faithful in the discharge of their duty, and where, by his early baptism, the youth has been placed under the inspection and control of the church, the work of pulpit instruction becomes both easy and pleasant. In such cases, the conscience is tender, the heart impressible, and the disposition tractable. Long accustomed to venerate his spiritual teacher, the young man esteems him as a father and loves him as a friend. He values his counsels and receives his instructions. His place in the church is agreeable and easy; and every thing connected with religion has, to the view of his mind, a lovely aspect, and exerts upon him a softening influence. The triumphs of the gospel, under such circumstances, must always be great and glorious. The work of saving men is much more than half accomplished in the family. Thus, while the pulpit upholds and sustains the piety of the family, in its turn the latter upholds and sustains that of the pulpit.
7. Another advantage which this practice renders the church is, that it offers the greatest possible inducement to unbelievers to embrace religion. The command to them is like that to Noah, 'Come thou and all thy house into the ark.' The same covenant that embraces the parent, is also extended to the children; the same seal by which grace is offered and confirmed to him, is likewise applied to his offspring. When, therefore, an ungodly father sees, on the one hand, the great injury he is rendering his family, through his impenitence and unbelief; and on the other, the great advantage he may be to them by becoming truly pious; how irresistible are the reasons that thus operate upon his mind? And how powerful must be those appeals, from the sacred desk, to such parents, which represent them as placed in the fearful alternatives, of either bearing their children along with them to hell; or lifting them up by their faith to the abodes of blessedness! What parent's heart can be steeled to such entreaties and motives as these?
Samuel Jones Cassels, Lectures on Pædobaptism (1834), Lecture 12: The Reception of Children into Church-Membership