Thursday, November 8, 2012

Henry Van Dyke on Infant Baptism

“Dr. Bushnell, in his admirable book on ‘Christian Nurture,’ does not put the case a whit too strongly when he says: ‘It is the very character and mark of all unchristian education to train up a child for future conversion.’ And he is no less correct when he adds, ‘The true idea of Christian education is that a child is to grow up a Christian, and never to know himself as being otherwise.’ These opposite aims will not only control the hopes of parents, and the instructions through which they seek to be realized, but they will make themselves felt with peculiar power in our treatment of children's faults. It must make a vast difference in our discipline whether we regard their shortcomings and misdoings as the lingering remains of sin in a young Christian, or as the living seeds of all evil in one who is still in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity. The assumption that they are already within the covenant, regenerate and holy, that grace is struggling in them for mastery over sin, will give a Divine tenderness to our rebukes. It will make us pray with them in the assurance that they are partakers with us of the same grace, even as we share with them in the same passions and infirmities. It will bring us together to Christ in the faith of the Syrophoenician woman, saying, ‘O Lord, have mercy upon us’ Our sympathy will be to the child the sign and seal of Divine mercy, and our kiss of reconciliation the sacrament of God's loving forgiveness. But if we assume that the faults we would correct are the evidences of their unregenerate state; if we constantly tell them that they are wicked, and drill into their tender souls the unevangelical falsehood that ‘God does not love naughty children;’ if we warn them continually that they are in great danger of growing up reprobates and are in perishing need of a new heart, — such religious training will discourage and harden their sensitive nature more effectually than the indiscriminate use of the rod. Even under the kindest personal treatment, multitudes of the children of the covenant are placed by the inexorable logic of the popular creed in the most anomalous and hopeless condition. They are taught to believe that the mark of the Lord Jesus is upon them, but that they are still excluded from His fold. They are bound by all the obligations of religion; but they are warned not to claim its privileges until they have undergone a change of whose nature they can form no clear conception, for which they can discover no necessity in their present simple and childlike religious experience, and the symptoms of which they are taught not to expect until that ill-defined period shall come when they will be ‘old enough to join the church.’
“The telling of experiences, the fixing of the time, the discovery of the causes, and the description of the process of conversion, have become, to a large extent, synonymous in the mind of the Church with the tests of piety and the evidences of Christian character; while the value or even the possibility of a true Christian experience running back into springs that are hidden and Divine, gradually developed, like a grain of mustard-seed, under the steady influence of Christian culture, and eluding by its very depth and pervading power all attempts to fix its times and seasons or describe the successive stages of its growth, is ignored, undervalued, and even condemned as unevangelical. Our children are afraid to claim their birthright privileges, because they have no experiences to tell, and can give no account of their conversion. Instead of being taught that they already belong to the Church, and that if they love the Saviour it is their privilege to come to His table as soon as they understand the meaning of the ordinance, they hear the changes rung about being converted and joining the Church; and getting their ideas of conversion from what they hear of the experience of adults brought into the Church from the world, they sadly number themselves with Christ's enemies, even while their hearts ache to be recognized among His friends.”
Van Dyke, Henry J., Lecture VII, The Church, Her Ministry and Sacraments (1890)

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