Sunday, February 3, 2008

Warfield On Baptism

"THE question of the Subjects of Baptism is one of that class of problems the solution of which hangs upon a previous question. According as is our doctrine of the Church, so will be our doctrine of the Subjects of Baptism. If we believe, with the Church of Rome, that the Church is in such a sense the institute of salvation that none are united to Christ save through the instrumentality of her ordinances, then we shall inevitably determine the proper subjects of her ordinances in one way. If, on the other hand, we believe, with the Protestant bodies, that only those already united to Christ have right within His house and to its privileges, we shall inevitably determine them in another way. All Protestants should easily agree that only Christ’s children have a right to the ordinance of baptism. The cleavage in their ranks enters in only when we inquire how the external Church is to hold itself relatively to the recognition of the children of Christ. If we say that its attitude should be as exclusive as possible, and that it must receive as the children of Christ only those whom it is forced to recognize as such, then we shall inevitably narrow the circle of the subjects of baptism to the lowest limits. If, on the other hand, we say that its attitude should be as inclusive as possible, and that it should receive as the children of Christ all whom, in the judgment of charity, it may fairly recognize as such, then we shall naturally widen the circle of the subjects of baptism to far more ample limits. The former represents, broadly speaking, the Puritan idea of the Church, the latter the general Protestant doctrine. It is on the basis of the Puritan conception of the Church that the Baptists are led to exclude infants from baptism. For, if we are to demand anything like demonstrative evidence of actual participation in Christ before we baptize, no infant, who by reason of years is incapable of affording signs of his union with Christ, can be thought a proper subject of the rite.

The vice of this system, however, is that it attempts the impossible. No man can read the heart. As a consequence, it follows that no one, however rich his manifestation of Christian graces, is baptized on the basis of infallible knowledge of his relation to Christ. All baptism is inevitably administered on the basis not of knowledge but of presumption. And if we must baptize on presumption, the whole principle is yielded; and it would seem that we must baptize all whom we may fairly presume to be members of Christ’s body. In this state of the case, it is surely impracticable to assert that there can be but one ground on which a fair presumption of inclusion in Christ’s body can be erected, namely, personal profession of faith. Assuredly a human profession is no more solid basis to build upon than a divine promise. So soon, therefore, as it is fairly apprehended that we baptize on presumption and not on knowledge, it is inevitable that we shall baptize all those for whom we may, on any
grounds, fairly cherish a good presumption that they belong to God’s people — and this surely includes the infant children of believers, concerning the favor of God to whom there exist many precious promises on which pious parents, Baptists as fully as others, rest in devout faith.

To this solid proof of the rightful inclusion of the infant children of believers among the subjects of baptism, is added the unavoidable implication of the continuity of the Church of God, as it is taught in the Scriptures, from its beginning to its consummation; and of the undeniable inclusion within the bounds of this Church, in its pre-Christian form, as participants of its privileges, inclusive of the parallel rite of circumcision, of the infant children of the flock, with no subsequent hint of their exclusion. To this is added further the historical evidence of the prevalence in the Christian Church of the custom of baptizing the infant children of believers, from the earliest Christian ages down to to-day. The manner in which it is dealt with by Augustine and the Pelagians in their controversy, by Cyprian in his letter to Fidus, by Tertullian in his treatise on baptism, leaves no room for doubt that it was, at the time when each of these writers wrote, as universal and unquestioned a practice among Christians at large as it is to-day — while, wherever it was objected to, the objection seems to have rested on one or the other of two contrary errors, either on an overestimate of the effects of baptism or on an underestimate of the need of salvation for infants.

On such lines as these a convincing positive argument is capable of being set forth for infant baptism, to the support of which whatever obscure allusions to it may be found in the New Testament itself may then be summoned. And on these lines the argument has ordinarily been very successfully conducted, as may be seen by consulting the treatment of the subject in any of our standard works on systematic theology, as for example Dr. Charles Hodge’s. [450] It has occurred to me that additional support might be brought to the conclusions thus positively attained by observing the insufficiency of the case against infant baptism as argued by the best furnished opponents of that practice. There would seem no better way to exhibit this insufficiency than to subject the presentation of the arguments against infant baptism, as set forth by some confessedly important representative of its opponents, to a running analysis. I have selected for the purpose the statement given in Dr. A. H. Strong’s “Systematic Theology.” [451] What that eminently well-informed and judicious writer does not urge against infant baptism may well be believed to be confessedly of small comparative weight as an argument against the doctrine and practice. So that if we do not find the arguments he urges conclusive, we may well be content with the position we already occupy.

Dr. Strong opens the topic, “The Subjects of Baptism,” [452] with the statement that “the proper subjects of baptism are those only who give credible evidence that they have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, — or, in other words, have entered by faith into the communion of Christ’s death and resurrection” — a statement which if, like the ordinary language of the Scriptures, it is intended to have reference only to the adults to whom it is addressed, would be sufficiently unexceptionable; but which the “only” advertises us to suspect to be more inclusive in its purpose. This statement is followed at once by the organized “proof that only persons giving evidence of being regenerated are proper subjects of baptism.” This proof is derived:

(a) From the command and example of Christ and his apostles, which show: First, that those only are to be baptized who have previously been made disciples… Secondly, that those only are to be baptized who have previously repented and believed…

(b) From the nature of the church — as a company of regenerate persons…

(c) From the symbolism of the ordinance — as declaring a previous spiritual change in him who submits to it.

Each of these items is supported by Scripture texts, though some of them are no doubt sufficiently inapposite. As, for example, when only John 3:5 and Romans 6:13 — neither of which has anything to do with the visible Church — are quoted to prove that the visible Church (of which baptism is an ordinance) is “a company of regenerate persons”; or as when Matthew 28:19 is quoted to prove that baptism took place after the discipling, as if the words ran maqhteu>santev bapti>zete , whereas the passage, actually standing maqhteu>sante bapti>zontev , merely demands that the discipling shall be consummated in, shall be performed by means of baptism; or as when Acts 10:47, where the fact that the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit had come upon Cornelius is pleaded as reason why baptism should not be withheld from him, [453] and Romans 6:2-5, which only develops the spiritual implication of baptism, are made to serve as proofs that the symbolism of the ordinance declares always and constantly a “previous” spiritual change. Apart from the Scriptural evidence actually brought forward, moreover, the propositions, in the extreme form in which they are stated, cannot be supported by Scripture. The Scriptures do not teach that the external Church is a company of regenerate persons — the parable of the tares for example declares the opposite: though they represent that Church as the company of those who are presumably regenerate. They do not declare that baptism demonstrates a “previous” change — the case of Simon Magus, Acts 8:13, is enough to exhibit the contrary: though they represent the rite as symbolical of the inner cleansing presumed to be already present, and consequently as administered only on profession of faith."

Benjamin B. Warfield, STUDIES IN THEOLOGY (Volume IX) (Joseph Kreifels).


John D. Chitty said...

It's amazing how many are persuaded by the Baptists' seemingly surface-level presentation of Scripture in defense of their own position. Makes it all the easier to fool the unlearned, I suppose, with all due respect.

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