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tismal-water exalted into an affair of such infinite importance, the mind is naturally shocked: it rises with indignation against the monstrous absurdity and even impiety of such tenets; and (which is but too common to human nature) the transports of zeal hurry it into the opposite extreme :-to depreciate and run down, a rite so unduly magnified; and, whilst pulling it from the high rank it had usurped in religion, to cast it quite out, and to allow it no use nor place in it at all.
The middle-way betwixt these two extremes is that which is here chosen. It can with no reason be imagined, that a God of infinite mercy, who hateth nothing that he hath made, will permit the having, or the wanting, the ceremony of baptismal-water, to determine finally and irrevocably the everlasting state of a dying infant: or, that for the neglect of this ceremonial washing, (which yet the infant could in no wise help) it shall be doomed to everlasting torments amongst devils and apostate spirits. This be far from the AlMIGHTY JUDGE !
The baptism that saves,* (or, that at all profits any, whether infant or adult) is not the external washing, but the answer of a good conscience ; or the pious and devout sentiments with which the ceremony is performed. In persons adult, the religious and sincere affections with which they consecrate themselves to God; and in infants, the
# 1 Pet. iii, 21.
unfeigned piety; the gratitude and the faith, with which their parents deyote them to him. The mere ceremony of applying water is comparatively of little moment.
But, that the Baptism of Infants, is a rite ordained of God, and a rite of great advantage and use in religion, the following treatise, it is hoped, will show: in which it is considered, rather as a standing token, than as a proper instrument or mean, of God's mercy and grace to us; a perpetual memorial instituted in the church, signifying to believers God's readiness to pour down his spirit upon them, and his blessing upon their offspring; not properly a canal (as some affect to talk) by which these are conveyed to us.
The argument from antiquity; or apostolic tradition, has not, perhaps, been often presented to the public, in so contracted and clear a light as its importance deserves. It is, principally for the sake of this, and to represent the moral purposes of Infant Baptism, that the ensuing tract appears.
If sentiments, on the future state of dying Infants, may here be thought by some, too freely expressed, they may, it is hoped, be admitted as conjectures at least, upon an interesting subject ; upon which however the Baptism of Infants has no essential dependance; that resting securely upon other considerations, whatever force be allowed to these.
The author delights not in controversy, nor intends to engage in any, on the subject of these papers, having seldom seen good arising from altercations of this kind : but the light in which the argument is here set having been approved by several, to whose judgment he owes great deference, it is here presented to public view. As far as it speaks truth, may the God of truth succeed it! To his favour it is commended; and to the attentive perusal of the candid and sincere.
BAPTISM OF INFANTS, fe.
A general view of the several dispensations of
religion with respect to INFANTS.
FROM the exactest observations, it appears, that of those who are born into the world, scarce a third part attain to the age even of one year. Thousands of infants every day languish under grievous distempers; are tortured, convulsed, and in piteous agonies give up the ghost.—This, at first, seems a very strange dispensation; hardly reconcileable with the wisdom and justice, much less, with the goodness and mercy of God. It is scarce possible not to ask-how comes it to pass, that millions of harmless babes, in whose frame is displayed such infinite skill; who are formed with capacities of such exalted attainments, both intellectual and moral; with capacities of an happiness evergrowing, and everlasting, in the knowledge, imitation and enjoyment of God :- How comes it to pass, that they only thus glance, upon the coasts of life ; are just brought into the world with exquisite pains, moan away a few weeks of misery and disease upon it, and then in terrible convulsions, fall victims to death! What light has God cast upon this dark scene of his provi. dence? Has he left it quite covered with impe.
netrable clouds ? And, where the interest and comfort of so great a part of his intelligent creation are deeply concerned, has he given no intimations which may be a solid ground of hope? It can never be supposed.
There are four dispensations, under which religion has principally subsisted since the fall, viz. the dispensation of the Light of Nature, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, and the Christian. Now, each of these casts some light upon this awful scene, and administers some hope as to suffering and dying infants. Let it then be inquired :
First. What judgment doth reason, or the LIGHT OF NATURE, pass upon their case? There are but two ways, in which reason can account for this procedure of providence, viz. by supposing these suffering infants to have existed in some former state; or that they will exist in some future.
Some have imagined, that they have existed and misbehaved in a former state of being; and that their sufferings in the present, are a correction or punishment for evils done there. This the Plaionic philosophy taught: and it seems to have been an opinion not uncommon amongst the Jews, in the days of our Saviour. Concerning the man that was born blind, the disciples, therefore, ask him
master who did sin ; this man, or his parents ; that he was born blind.* But, this præexistence of infants, being a matter of absolute uncertainty, unsupported by any solid or probable grounds, reason derives its principal satisfaction, from the supposition of their existence in a state after death. There, the Almighty Rewarder can give them pleasures and entertainments abundantly to counterbalance the sufferings of their present state.
John ix. 2.