According to that Holy and Everlasting Covenant of God, Established Between Himself and the Faithful, and Their Seed After Them, in Their Generations; Cleared Up in a Letter, Sent Unto a Worthy Friend of the Author, and Many Years Ago Written Touching that Subject.
By Thomas Shepard
Founder of Harvard University and Minister at Cambridge, New England
PUBLISHED AT THE EARNEST REQUEST OF MANY, FOR THE CONSOLATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT
BOTH OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN IN THE LORD.
"And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."—GEN. 17.7.
"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."—ACTS 2.39.
"Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy."—1 COR. 7.14.
CHEMNITIUS, that eminent light in the church of God, in those elaborate works of his against the Papists, (Exam. part ii. can. 14, de Baptismo,) hath this memorable saying, viz.:—
"It is not to be left free to the choice of those who have been baptized in infancy, when they come to be adult, whether or no they will have that confirmed which was done in their baptism; as though the covenant of grace, and testament of peace, which is offered and sealed up to little children in baptism, should then first begin to be established, when the consent of their will, when adult, is added thereunto; for from this wicked foundation the Anabaptists simply have taken away and condemned Pædobaptism; but such baptized little ones are to be admonished, as they grow up, what a covenant of grace and testament of peace it is, which God hath entered into with them in baptism, and by what promise of gratitude they have likewise obliged themselves unto obedience to God with the renouncing of the devil. And they are seriously to be exhorted that they render thanks to God for that wonderful great benefit, that they abide in that covenant of peace, and endeavor to fulfill that obligation, by mortifying sin, and setting upon newness of life, and that they do this freely and sincerely; or if they shall, through unthankfulness, depart from that covenant and engagement, that then they repent, and return to the covenant, and subject themselves again to that stipulated obedience. But as for them that shall do otherwise, the most severe comminations of the wrath and indignation of God are to be heaped up and set before them, unto which (saith he) excommunication is to be added, for these are the weapons of our warfare." (2 Cor. 10.)
TO THE READER.
CHRISTIAN READER: Might I have had mine own choice and desires granted, some other should have performed the task of a preface to the following treatise of my precious and much-honored father; but being put upon it by divers worthy friends, whom I knew not how to deny, I shall therefore humbly premise a word or two, in tenderness to the truth, and out of unfeigned love to those especially of Christ's poor sheep (however feeble or diseased) that either have been or may be in danger of going astray from so great a truth as is the subject of the ensuing discourse; being sincerely desirous that they may be restored, and from thence returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, and may in nothing be made a prey to him who is our great adversary, the devil, who walketh about, "seeking whom he may devour." For we should not be ignorant of his devices.
The enmity put by the Lord between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3.15) soon began to work, even in the infancy of the church, in the family of our first parents, as we see (Gen. 4.8) by the martyrdom of righteous Abel. No small portion of that fixed hatred and hostility of the old serpent hath ever since been discovered against the young ones of Christ's little flock. The multiplication of the children of Israel is the occasion why Pharaoh deals so wisely as we read; endeavoring first, by the midwives, secretly to destroy the male children; and after that, more openly by an edict, to drown them in his Egyptian waters; for which whatever his pretense might be, alleged Ex. 1.10, yet no doubt (as Calvin, on the place, somewhat that way hints) Satan had a design therein to cut off the name and posterity of Abraham, (who is the father of all them that believe, even of us all; "the father of many nations," Rom. 4.11,16,17,) and so to evacuate and annihilate the promise of God, even that great promise of his everlasting covenant, to be a God to him, and to his seed forever, in their generations. Hence also afterward we find this spite of the great accuser of the brethren vented against these poor little ones, in the forbidding them communion with the church of God in that worship which God had instituted, and which he had commanded his people by the hand of Moses and Aaron to observe; (Ex. 10.3,) "Let my people go," that "they may serve me," saith the Lord; but hard-hearted Pharaoh seems to scruple whether the young children are a part of the Lord's people, as appears by his question, (ver. 8,) "But who are they that shall go?" Moses pleads for the young as well as the old; for the sons and the daughters; (ver. 9;) but Pharaoh is of another apprehension and resolution, (ver. 10,11;) he will let the men go and serve the Lord, but not the little ones. Again: Haman, the Agagite, we find, is not satisfied with the destruction of the old generation of the Jews, but the little children of the church also are expressly mentioned, and designed to the same condemnation and massacre with their fathers. (Est. 3.13.)
And much more of the like nature might be alleged out of many records, both ecclesiastical and other, were it needful; the satanical delusions of those heretical Cataphrygians and Pepuzians of old, who were wont to mingle the Eucharist with the blood of an infant of a year old, (of whom Austin speaks, tom. vi. De Hæresibus ad Quodvultdeum,) are not unknown. Not here to insist on that instance of Herod's infanticide, (Matt. 2.16,17,) we need not so much wonder at Hazael's cruelty against the children of Israel, in slaying their young men with the sword, and dashing their children, and ripping up their women with child, (2 Kings 8.12,) seeing Satan hath many times prevailed with those who were church members, and of long standing in the house of God, even the parents themselves, to murder and sacrifice their infants and little ones, which were the Lord's children, and born unto the Lord. (Ezek. 16.20,21, etc.) Such an evil eye doth that great adversary of our comfort and salvation (seeing himself shut out of the kingdom of heaven) bear against these little ones, whom Christ hath taken in to himself, and concerning whom our Saviour professeth, that "of such is the kingdom of God." (Luke 18.16.) So doth he envy to see them in the arms of Christ, and blessed by him, and to have any room in his house, or so much as an external, visible interest in the covenant, with the initiatory seal and livery thereof. Baptism being the seal to all Christianity, it is Satan's policy, therefore, to strike at that, that in cashiering it, he may have at all. Hereunto tends his dealing with witches many times, (of which divers have spoken,) in causing them, when they become first his proselytes, solemnly to renounce the Trinity, (into the name of which they have been baptized,) especially their salvation by Christ; and saith Cooper, in his book entitled The Mystery of Witchcraft discovered, cap. vi. sec. 91, p. 1, in token thereof to disclaim their baptism.
An ill office and work then surely are they employed in, whose way and endeavors shall center in the accomplishing of that which Satan hath been so busily, and with such malignity, for so many ages undertaking; and no great thanks will such receive for that labor from the Lord Jesus another day. If Christ was so much displeased that his disciples rebuked those who brought their children to him, (Mark. 10.14,) and if the apostle Peter received so severe a check as we read, (Matt. 16.22,23,) for speaking that which had a tendency to take the Lord Jesus off from laying down the price of redemption, how much more then will he be now displeased if (after such rebuke and warning given) any shall attempt to keep from him, and deprive him of his redeemed, whom he hath purchased by so dear a price! so many, I mean, of his purchased ones as the number of the infants and children of believers (dead, and alive, and to be born) amounts unto. Why may we not believe that an exceeding great multitude of the sheep that shall be seen standing at the right hand of Jesus Christ, in the day of judgment, shall be a company of these lambs? As to withhold from Christ so great a part of his purchase (the labor of the Anabaptist) must needs be no other than highly anti-Christian, so to make good and recover the interest of Christ in such, and the glory which he obtains by them, according to the enlarged grant of the charter of his New Testament, (the scope and work of these few sheets,) is a service pleasing unto Christ, who out of the mouths of these babes and sucklings, even, perfecteth praise, (Matt. 21.15,16,) and so, I trust, will be acceptable to his people, who, whenas they must go down to the dust, and can not keep alive their own souls, yet may behold their seed succeeding them in the service and worship of God, being accounted to the Lord for a generation, (Ps. 22.28-31,)—vide Rivet in locum,—schismatically to refuse to hold ecclesiastical communion with so great a part of the church of Christ as the children of believers are, (in many places the major part thereof,) is a rigid and sinful separation, and gratifying the design of the Papists, (the greatest Separatists in the world,) as by and by may be further seen.
And indeed the Lord (avenging the quarrel of his covenant, wherein he hath always been exceeding jealous) hath manifested not a little of his anger and displeasure against those who have troubled these baptismal waters of the sanctuary. The awful and tremendous passages of Providence recorded in several histories, concerning the original and progress of Anabaptism, and relating to God's strange, judicial hand against so many of them that have been throughpaced therein, in delivering them up to spiritual judgments to believe lies, and to fall, step by step, into almost all sorts of heresies, and to the commission of the most abhorred impieties, and loathsome wickednesses, and outrages against the commands both of the first and second table, (as Luther, Bullinger, Calvin, Beza, and others generally and abundantly testify,) they are very observable, and not to be passed over slightly; and may make every honest and serious heart to tremble whenever he finds himself inclining to that path; to this purpose, and concerning Anabaptism in this our age, (beside many other authors I might cite,) read only Baxter's Plain Scripture Proof of Infants' Church Membership, pp. 138-152. And as in the dawning of the reformation, begun by those worthies of Christ in the last century, Anabaptism seems to be the Trojan horse whereby so great confusion did befall that Israel, and was such a Remora to that glorious work then begun in Germany, and other neighboring countries, so now, in the further progress of that reformation here in this our Israel, should Anabaptism likewise (especially accompanied with Donatism, its wonted concubine) brood and become the instrument or medium of our miseries and confusions, possibly then experience (a slow, but many times a sure and severe instructor) may help some at length to see farther into the mystery of this iniquity than now they do. For in truth it is not improbable that the man of sin, seeing he could not openly and at once ruin the reformed churches in the days of those famous servants of Christ before expressed, did attempt secretly and gradually to do it this way, viz., by first sending forth his emissaries among the churches, who might fill them with the smoke of Anabaptism, that so he might the more securely pass to and fro, being undiscerned in such a fog; whence what mischief was wrought, and what a hindrance those turbulent Anabaptists were to the kingdom of Jesus Christ in that age, (for that was the first time of their swarming, as the most judicious have observed,) by vilifying, reproaching, and decrying the ministry; crying up themselves as the most godly, spiritual, and perfect; judging the Old Testament to be but as an almanac out of date; denying Scripture consequences, giving false interpretations of Scripture, especially by allegories wresting the same to their own destruction; making and fomenting schisms and factions in the churches; denying the magistrates' coercive power in matters of religion; making their own fanatic spirit the supreme judge unto all kind of disorder, etc.,—the writings of the godly learned in those times do abundantly, even to amazement, inform us. And indeed the great consent and harmony between the main tenets of the Anabaptists and Papists in this point give not a little ground for holy jealousy too sadly to suspect at what back door it was that the Anabaptist first crept forth.
And hence it is that in the controversies between the Protestants and the Papists, we shall generally and abundantly find the Papists denying the holiness of the infants of believers before baptism,—and how near of kin this is to Anabaptism the reader may easily guess,—and in like manner denying that great truth (as is afterward showed in this treatise, viz., that the covenant of God with Abraham, under the Old Testament, was the same for substance with what is now confirmed with us under the New Testament, etc., which (it is known) the Anabaptists also generally assert. Let me therefore propound a few instances this way, whereby we may see what patrons of Anabaptism the Papists are, in regard of those principles (I mean) and radical errors wherein the Papists and Anabaptists (although by divers of them upon the account of a diverse interest) symbolize and unite against the orthodox, and speak herein in a manner the same thing, (distinguishing always between the opinion and the person, and between some that are deceived, in other points orthodox and precious Christians, and others that are deceivers;) the main pillars of Anabaptism being no better than some of the old rotten studs and principles of Popery fetched at first from thence, in all likelihood, and so inclining thitherward again. The dialect of the Anabaptist is generally (and too much by some) understood, and therefore I forbear quotations out of their own writings; possibly some may not have so much taken notice of the like from the Papist, and therefore I shall briefly manifest the same by showing where we shall find some of the chief of those worthies that fought the Lord's battles against Antichrist, opposing and confuting them both therein. I will cite a few particulars this way among many the like which might be produced from several other eminent authors, holy, burning, and shining lights in the churches of Christ, who have been the Lord's witnesses against the darkness of that spiritual Egypt; and whose testimony in this matter concludes as strongly against the Anabaptists, having espoused those anti-Christian notions so nearly to themselves.
1. In those words of the covenant ("I will be a God to thee and thy seed after thee") neither life eternal is promised, nor remission of sins, but only a certain peculiar temporal protection, saith Bellarmine, (agreeing therein with the Anabaptist,) against whom herein we find Chamier pleading for us. (Panstrat. tom. iv. lib. 3, cap. 3, parag. 9,10, etc., and Rivet, on Gen. 17.11.) Again: we read (saith Bellarmine, the great Goliah of the Papists) that God promised unto Abraham, when he enjoined him circumcision, earthly matters only, according to the letter; that is, the propagation of a posterity, and the land of Palestine. Read Ames opposing him. (Bellarm. Enerv. tom. iii. lib. 1, chap. 4, thes. 9.)
2. Touching the perverse and Catabaptistical intent and meaning of that expression of the Papists, viz., that spiritual promises descend to us not by carnal generation, (as they call it, the very phrase of many Anabaptists, used in a way of derision of the grace of God,) but by spiritual regeneration, etc., (they are the words of Bellarmine and other Papists, cited and confuted by Ames and others,) read Ames, his answer thereto, Bell. Ener. tom. iii. lib. 2, cap. 1, thes. 5, (consonant to the judgment of the orthodox,) viz., we acknowledge indeed spiritual regeneration to be necessary to the solid participation of the promises; but that that regeneration is part of the promises, and belongs in a singular manner to the children of believers, the very form of the covenant manifestly declares. See likewise Chamier largely replying for us against Bellarmine, Stapleton, and others of the Papists, Panstrat. tom. iv. lib. 5. cap. 10, parag. 24-27, etc.
3. The sacraments of the old law (or Testament, saith Bellarmine) had no absolute promise of grace annexed, and the promises annexed to those old sacraments were fulfilled, although men did not believe. Read Ames against him, ibid. lib. 1, cap. 4, th. 5,7. Again: the Papists (saith Chemnit) hold that God, by the sacraments of the Old Testament, which had even the word of promise annexed, did exhibit and confer no grace to believers, which (saith he) is manifestly false; circumcision alone (which, as he showeth from Scripture, is called the seal of the righteousness of faith) demonstrateth as much. And thereupon he showeth the reason why the Papists so much urge that difference between the sacraments of the Old and New Testament, viz., because they endeavor by any manner of means to defend and stablish the opinion they have of their opus operatum. Chemnitij Exam. par 2, de sacram, sub canon. 2.
What a forcible engine of the man of sin this is, and of what vast concernment as to his interest, I need not here express, and what arrows of Anabaptism, drawn out of this very quiver, have been shot against the orthodox in this point, is known unto not a few.
Moreover, as to the comparison in Scripture made between the sacraments of the Old and New Testament, that in 1 Cor. 10.1-4 (among several other scriptures) is cited by Ames against Bellarmine, where the apostle speaks of our fathers being baptized in the sea, etc., thereby intimating our sacraments to be the same for substance with theirs; or sacramental signs and seals of one and the same spiritual grace, so that the covenant mercies, or promises of spiritual good, are the same to us as to them. Bellarmine opposeth this, (as doth the Anabaptist.) The fathers (saith he) are said to eat the same meat, not because ours and theirs was the same, but because they themselves, all of them, did eat the same; but that meat and drink were not sacraments; they had no promise annexed, etc. (Bell. Enerv. tom. iii. lib. 1, c. 4, th. 10, and Cham. Panstrat. tom. iv. l. 3, c. 2.)
4. The Scripture nowhere calls circumcision a seal, (saith Bellarmine to Rom. 4.,) unless it be in this place, where Abraham is spoken of, which is a manifest argument that circumcision was a seal unto Abraham alone. (Ames, ibid. c. 1, th. 12.) By this weapon, also fetched out of the armory of Antichrist, hath the Anabaptist not a little gratified the common adversary.
5. The Papists generally assert that the baptism of John was not the same for substance with the baptism of Christ, nor had the same efficacy as the baptism of Christ hath. Which tenet see confuted by Cartwright on the New Testament, (Matt. 3.11,) and by Ames, Bellar. Enerv. tom. iii. l. 2, c. 5, th. 1,2, etc., and Rivet, Cathol. orthod, tractat, iii. qu. 2, and Chemnit, Exam. part 2, de baptismo sub canon. 1, and Chamier, Panstrat t. iv. l. 5, c. 12. Still we see the harmony between the Papist and the Anabaptist. And hence we find likewise the Papist pleading for the rebaptizing of those who had received the baptism of John. (Chamier, ibid. cap. 13, parag. 35, etc.)
6. The Papists assert that laies [i.e., laymen] (as they call them, i.e., those that are not in office in the church) may in case administer baptism; yea, that not only men, but women, may do it. Read Ames, his confutation thereof, Bell. Enerv. tom. iii. l. 2, cap. 2, and Rivet against Baily, the Jesuit, Cathol. orthod, tractat. 3, qu. 7; add thereto Chamier's Panstrat. tom. iv. l. 5, cap. 14, de legitimo Baptismi ministro, where, among other passages, citing the thesis of Suarez, the Jesuit, viz., "that any body whosover, that can speak and wash, may be a sufficient minister of baptism, whether he be man or woman, believer or unbeliever, baptized or not baptized, if so be he know how to wash, and utter the words with a due intention, hæc assertio (saith the Jesuit) est omnino certa. But, saith Chamier, in the name of the orthodox, we teach the contrary, viz., that the right of conferring baptism belongs to those only who are public officers in the church, etc., which accordingly he there makes good against the Papists.
7. Baily, the Jesuit, (whom Rivet encountereth,) to the question between the orthodox and the Papists, viz., "whether the infants of believers are holy before baptism," he answereth roundly for them, no. (Rivet, Cath. Orthod. tract. 3, qu. 3.)
And touching that famous place controverted between ourselves and the Anabaptists, in regard of their wresting and perverting the sense of that scripture, 1 Cor. 7.14, ("Else were your children unclean, but now they are holy,") we may observe how they tread in the steps of the Papists that have gone before them therein, (as they likewise do in that noted scripture, Col. 2.11,12,) not allowing baptism to answer circumcision according to the mind and meaning of the Holy Ghost; wherein see Ames against them, Bel. enerv, tom. iii. l. 1, cap. 4, th. 13, and Rivet in Gen. 17. Exercit. 88, pag. 340, etc. Take a taste of that 1 Cor. 7., as followeth: Baily, (the Jesuit,) before cited, ibid. quest. 3, laboreth thus to avoid the dint of that text. The apostle (saith he) either speaks of a civil sanctification before men, that the infants should not be illegitimate, or bastards, or else of an instrumental sanctification, because that one shall procure the salvation of the other, etc.: the tike we find of Bellarmine's apprehension and judgment of the sense of that scripture. Such children (saith he) are said to be not (unclean,) that is, infamous and bastards, but (holy,) that is, legitimate, and free from civil ignominy. (Ames, ibid. lib. 2, c. 1, th. 6.) The Rhemists also very perniciously abuse this scripture, (and are not therein without their Antipedobaptistical followers;) blessed Cartwright excellently upon the place, in his confutation of their annotations on the New Testament, defends this cause of Christ against their Popish glosses.
It is (saith he) one thing (oftentimes in the Scripture) to be sanctified, and another to be holy: as for you, you err in both; for when it is said the unbelieving party is sanctified by the believing, it is not only meant, as you say, that the marriage is an occasion of the sanctification to the infidel party, but that the use of the infidel party in marriage company is sanctified or made holy and lawful unto the believing party; as meat and drink are said to be sanctified unto us by the word and prayer, (1 Tim. 4.5;) and as your interpretation here is short, so in the exposition of the holiness of the children which are begotten in this matrimony it is utterly false; and first it is to be observed that the apostle, speaking of the children, doth not (as you do) apply one word of them to both, saying that they are sanctified, but saith that they are holy; which is more than he had spoken before of the infidel party; for although our meat and drink be sanctified unto us, and that the use of them is holy to those which are holy, yet the meats and drinks themselves are not holy: if therefore you were short in the interpretation of sanctified, you fail much more in giving the same exposition unto the holiness of the children; for if the holiness here spoken of be not in the children when they are begotten and born of the parents, but come unto them afterward by baptism and faith, there groweth no sufficient comfort unto the faithful party to continue in marriage with the infidel, considering that occasion of holiness might come otherwise than by marriage. For that which is able to uphold the faithful in comfort and strength to abide in marriage with the infidel, is the knowledge that the children begotten in that marriage are in covenant, and are children of God's favor and grace, washed in Christ's blood, and sanctified by his Spirit; and if you will know what this holiness of children new born is, the apostle telleth you (Gal. 2.15) that it is (through the covenant) to be a Jew by nature, or birth; and if you will yet further understand what the holiness of children is, the apostle, in the same place, telleth you that it is not to be sinners by nature, as those which are born of the heathen, forasmuch as their sins who are in covenant are by Christ not reckoned unto them. And this doctrine of the holiness of the children which are born of the faithful, if you could not attain unto, it is so sensibly set forth unto you, that, unless together with the knowledge of the truth you are also bereaved of your common sense, you can not be ignorant of it; for how can you but understand that if the root be holy the branch is holy, (Rom. 11.16,) and if the first fruits be holy the whole crop is holy? All which privileges of children new born, sometime being proper to the Jews, are now our privileges as well as theirs; since we are grown into one body with them, (Eph. 2.15,) and being burgesses of the same heavenly city that they are, must needs have the same enfranchisement and prerogatives that they have; not that every one which is born under the covenant is holy, but that they are so to be taken of the church, until the contrary do manifestly appear, etc.
By the premises we may see, therefore, whence (even from that mother of harlots) probably this illegitimate birth, this anti-Christian flood of Anabaptism, hath issued forth; yea, and I also fear is like to be nursed, and maintained in its course, until God hath dried up those breasts and rivers of spiritual Babylon; in the mean while, Calvin's admonition touching Anabaptism may not be unseasonable: Merito debet nobis esse suspectum, quicquid a tala officina prodierit. (Opuscul. in Psychopannychia, p. 411, S.M.)
There are some who, though they grant the baptism of some children, yet utterly deny the continuance of that covenant mercy of God to their succeeding generations, though the church society whereof they were members be not dissolved, nor the surviving posterity so much as deserve to be, by the discipline of Christ in his church, excommunicated. This seems in truth to arise from their not acknowledging sufficiently, or not abiding by the true genuine grounds of the baptism of those whose right to baptism is acknowledged by them.
For the information (therefore) of the minds of the weak, and stablishing their hearts in this truth of God, according to the Scriptures, even in the doctrine of Pedobaptism, (a doctrine of so great concernment, and of so much comfort and encouragement, both to believing parents and their children, not in life only, but in death; whence it is that they only can be preserved against sorrowing when they fall asleep, as others do which have no hope,) this ensuing treatise is, at the earnest request of many worthy friends to the author of it, (of blessed memory,) now published; wherein we may see both, (1.) The membership of the children of church members proved to be of divine institution; and likewise, (2.) Among other things, the continuance of the membership of those children in particular churches, when they are grown up, even until they are excommunicated, unless there be a dissolution of the person by death, or of the church society,1 so that this latter is not a principle of innovation and apostasy; but as it was the judgment of the author of this following letter, (as is therein to be seen, and to manifest which was one special end of the printing thereof,) so was it the light which others have held forth, who in their time were stars not of the smallest magnitude, whom we have here seen sometimes shining with him at Christ's right hand, but are now set, and shining with that Sun of righteousness in another world.
That there is no cessation of the membership of a person in this or that particular church, (the church whereof he is a member continuing in being, together with the person himself,) unless it be by means of a church act intervening, is a truth of no small importance. And therefore, as for that notion which doth obtain with some, that in particular churches of Christ, walking in the order of the gospel, there are such as become ecclesiastically felones de se; that is, such church members, who, by their scandalous sin, do become their own executioners ecclesiastically, cutting themselves off from the church, so as that they thereby become actually non-members, and that the church hath no more power over them, either ecclesiastically to admonish them, or excommunicate them; this seems unto me to be but a human invention, and not of divine institution; yea, in truth, destructive to the order of the gospel. And therefore to apply it (as to members in full communion, so) to these children of the church whom we now speak of, is not of God; as may appear by these reasons following:—
1. Because it is unscriptural. In matters of God's worship a negative argument is conclusive; if that which is asserted be not contained in the Scripture expressly, or by due consequence therefrom, it is to be rejected. To the law and to the testimony.
The Scriptures alleged by some, and thought to favor this notion of felones de se, are only such as do but lay down before us the sins of some church members, and do not speak of the επιτιμια, (punishment or censure,) as it is called 2 Cor. 2.6, which in such cases is to be inflicted, and therefore are not ad rem; only that which seems to have most weight in it, and to which, therefore, I shall briefly reply, is that in Acts 8.21, "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter." Answer. I would not say that this text, propounded with reference to the children of the church that are not in full communion, is not apposite, because the text speaks of a member in full communion; though to say so much is accounted by some a sufficient answer to such Scripture arguments as conclude against felones de se, from church members that are in full communion (quatenus church members) to such church members as are not in full communion. But yet, having gained this fort, that what is in Scripture spoken of a member in full communion is applicable (as far as mere membership reacheth) to a member that is not in full communion, we may now the more easily proceed in the after discourse. To this scripture (then) alleged for children of the church not in full communion, by their sin, when adult, to become felones de se, as above said, I answer,—
(1.) That the objection from hence tends as much to frustrate the church act, or censure of excommunication upon members in full communion, and makes that ordinance of Christ vain and needless to the parents in full communion, as to these children. (2.) These words of the apostle Peter were indeed a dreadful admonition, and the apostle, being a church officer, did judge this sinner to deserve it for his simony; so that he was not (granting the cessation of his membership) felo de se. (3.) By (this matter) spoken of in the text, seems most properly to be meant (not church membership, but) the power of giving the Holy Ghost spoken of in the context, which power Simon Magus would have bought with money, and for which the apostle rebukes him; and therefore his not having part or lot in that matter, is to be understood directly with relation to that extraordinary power; the apostle would have him know that he should not share in such a power or privilege as that was. (4.) I would ask whether, if a member of a church be discovered not to have his heart right in the sight of God, but to be in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity, stand convict of simony, and the wickedness be so grossly aggravated as this scandal of Simon Magus was; I say, whether the church is not bound to bear witness against such an offender by inflicting some church censure (properly so taken) upon him. If it be said no, then may it not be questioned whether such a church would not as well tolerate any other pollutions and defilements in it whatsoever? the woful fruit whereof who is there that doth not easily perceive? On the other side, if it be said yes, that the church is to censure and authoritatively to put away from among themselves such a wicked person by excommunication, I then demand (if this notion of felo de se be right and sound) how they can excommunicate one who is a non-member before the church can pass the sentence of excommunication against him. Whether doth this scripture (Acts 8.21) give the church power over him by its discipline to censure him who already (as the objection speaks) hath cut himself off from being a church member; or whether the church hath any part in him who hath no part or lot in them, or in these matters.
2. Scripture example leads us to what is contrary to this felony spoken of; witness, under the Old Testament, Ishmael's being cast out by Abraham, who was the chief officer in that family church. So the incestuous person under the New Testament is not felo de se, though guilty of such a sin as was not so much as named among the Gentiles, (1 Cor. 5.1;) but there is a church act intervening his sin, and the cessation of his memberly communion with that church, viz., a delivering him (τοιουτον, such a one) unto Satan. Hence, as the church of Ephesus is commended for not bearing with them which are evil, (Rev. 2.2,) so the church of Thyatira is rebuked for suffering that woman Jezebel. (ver. 20.)
3. Because this notion of felo de se takes away the use of a ministerial judge in the church, in case of the offenses and scandals of this or that particular member of the church, to determine of the same. Supposing a person could ecclesiastically cut himself off from the church by his very act of sin, there would then be no room left for a competent judge to inquire into the crime whereof he is accused, and to make particular application of the rule to the case of the sinning brother, and pass sentence according to the true desert and nature of the offense. That God hath ordained a ministerial judge is plain, (Matt. 18.17;) if he neglect to hear the church, the church is to be heard; the phrase of our Saviour Christ implies judicial superiority on the church's part, and the inferiority and subjection of a part or member to that whole, etc.; but now this felony denieth this order which Christ hath established. Though a person deserve excommunication perhaps, yet it must appear that he do deserve it; neither doth his wickedness for which he deserves excommunication render him a non-member till he be excommunicated; and hence in this case is very considerable what is asserted by that deservedly famous divine, Mr. Cotton, in his book entitled The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, viz., though the jury have given up their judgment and verdict, yet the malefactor is not thereupon legally condemned, much less executed, but upon the sentence of the judge; in like sort here (saith he) though the brethren of the church do with one accord give up their vote and judgment for the censure of an offender, yet he is not thereby censured till upon the sentence of the presbytery.
4. Because the binding and loosing mentioned Matt. 16.19; the opening and shutting of the doors of the church by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, belong to the same power or subject; hence, therefore, as none may intrude himself, or can regularly be admitted or let into this or that particular church without a church act intervening, so none can be shut out and deprived of that membership therein (as above said) without an act of the same power intervening. Ejusdem potestatis est ligare et solvere, claudere et aperire. (Mr. Cotton's Keys, cap. vii. p. 45.)
5. Taken from Matt. 18.15-18, which command and institution leaves churches under a solemn obligation of duty, that when this offending brother or church member deserveth excommunication, that censure be duly inflicted on him, so as that thereby (viz., the sentence or censure passed against him, in case he will not hear the church) he must be to the church as a heathen man and a publican; so that it is not a matter of indifferency, (to be observed or not to be observed,) but after the steps taken (mentioned in verses 15,16) and the brother remain obstinate, it is Christ's charge that then that public process (ver. 17) be attended, whereby the offender becomes ecclesiastically bound, according to verse 18. Christ therefore requires a church act to intervene, as above said, and so the offender is not felo de se.
6. Because a scandalous member of a church, by virtue of Christ's institution, (Matt. 18.17,) is to be accounted not as a heathen and publican, but still a church brother if he will hear the church, this is clearly intimated in those words, (if he neglect to hear the church,) running conditionally, which suppose that if he will hear, he is not to be as a heathen; i.e., his membership shall not cease, notwithstanding the scandalous sin committed. Therefore by his wickedness and offense he is not felo de se.
7. Because this felony objected tends to render that ordinance of church censure and admonition laid down Matt. 18.15, etc., vain and useless, for the felo de se, by his sin, becoming a nonmember, and so no church brother; hence let a private member of the church go to tell him his fault, in the sense of the text, which is in order to more solemn church proceeding and judicature, in case he will not hear; or let the church require him in the name of Christ to hear, in such a church way as is there spoken of; he may tell them that he is no brother of the church, for he hath by his offense cut off himself, and therefore they have nothing to do with him; that that rule of Christ concerns only the brother, or the church member, not one that is out of the church, as he is, being felo de se, and therefore may say, (according to 1 Cor. 5.12,) "What have you to do to judge me that am without?" If his sin be not yet great enough to render him felo de se, and he suspect that therefore the church may have power over him, and is going about to bind him on earth, so that (being thereupon also bound in heaven) he shall become bound from an orderly entrance in at the doors of other sister churches without repentance first held forth to the acceptance of the church which he offended, it is then but to commit another fault, whereby he may be sure he shall be felo de se, and so he is beyond the church's reach, and this frustrates church discipline, and renders vain that ordinance of Christ above mentioned.
8. To deny the intervening of this church act of excommunication is to deny unto, and withhold from a person deserving to be cast out of the church, an ordinance and means which may be for the saving of his soul. (1 Cor. 5.4,5.) It is not enough to say that the felo de se makes himself no member, and so the church is freed from his communion, which would pollute it, as fully as if he were excommunicated; for God's means are not empty or vain means, and to think to reach the full end, but not in God's way, and by observing his means ordained, is neither Christian wisdom nor gospel policy; yea, to deny the application of this ordinance of excommunication to the offending brother is to deny a means for the salvation of his soul, and to deny a remedy for his repentance, and the healing and gaining of our brother again.
9. Because the Holy Ghost commands the church to judge them that are within, (1 Cor. 5.12,) "Do you not judge them that are within?" All that are within are subject to ecclesiastical judicature, and therefore can not by Scripture warrant be felones de se.
10. Because this notion of felones de se evacuates that power given of rebuking before all, (1 Tim. 5.20,) which is to be done without partiality, whether they be young or old, rich or poor, etc., (ver. 21,) and so likewise takes away that authority given of reproving with all long suffering, (2 Tim. 4.2,) leaves no room for obedience to that command (2 Thess. 3.15) of admonishing the offender as a brother, etc., add thereto that this notion of the felo de se supposeth some disobedience in a church member of an open, scandalous nature, against which God hath not provided the remedy of spiritual revenge in an ecclesiastical way, contrary to that 2 Cor. 10.6, where the apostle saith, "We have in readiness to revenge all disobedience," etc.; that this is spoken of church discipline is well cleared by that expression of worthy Mr. Cotton, viz., the apostle's revenge of disobedience by way of reproof in preaching doth not follow the people's obedience, but proceedeth, whether the people obey it or no; it was therefore their revenge of disobedience by way of censure in discipline, etc.
11. The notion of felo de se asserts the lawfulness of exclusion or shutting a church member out of the kingdom of heaven by none of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, viz., by the sin of this felon, or gives the managing of these keys, in a case which concerns the whole to act in, (for such is the non-communion of a member with the church,) into the hands solely of a private person; both which right reason doth plainly condemn.
12. Because, were the sin of a church member of as high and heinous a nature as heresy, nay, (which is more,) though the brother of a church should turn heretic, yet he is not immediately thereby a non-member, or felo de se; he is not presently to be rejected; but a first and second admonition must be applied, and in case of incorrigibleness then follows the ecclesiastical rejection spoken of Tit. 3.10; he must be rejected, but according to God's order, even the order of the gospel; for all things are to be done in order, (1 Cor. 14.40:) so when the apostle required the Corinthians to put away from among themselves that wicked person, it is to be understood of putting such away, and avoiding such, and withdrawing themselves from such, and having no company with such, etc. All in due season, and all according to the order of Christ, even according to that rule of delivering such a one unto Satan, as is expressed 1 Cor. 5., and suiting with that other command of Christ, (Matt. 18.,) according as the nature of the offense is more or less heinous, proportionably is the admonition to be applied, either in case the offense be at first private, but grows public and notorious by the impenitency and obstinacy of the offender; or in case the offense be at first rise of it public and notorious, still we have no allowance from Scripture to entertain or admit of the opinion of this ecclesiastical felony.
Having thus finished this discourse, I shall now very briefly acquaint the reader, in a word or two further, touching the following treatise, viz.: that it was written by the author's own hand, and not three months before the time of his dissolution, and sent to one who, before the receipt thereof, was not so clear in the point of infant baptism, but was hereby recovered and stablished in the truth, and died in the same faith as the letter did persuade him, (to use Mr. Fox his phrase in his Book of Martyrs, touching that excellent letter which Philpot, that glorious martyr, a little before his death also, wrote to a friend of his that was then a prisoner, upon this very subject of infant baptism, who was thereby converted from the error of his way, as is there to be seen—a letter exceeding well worth the reading and serious perusal by any, such especially as hesitate in this matter.) The reader may please further to mind that this was not intended by the reverend author for the public view, but was only a private answer sent to a special friend for his particular satisfaction, relating to some doubts mentioned in a letter of his to my father concerning this subject. Had he purposed to have written and printed off his thoughts to the world touching this article of baptism, I question not but he would have been more polite and curious; and the expectations of those who knew him thoroughly satisfied therein.
I would not detain the reader by any further preface of mine; and therefore, to conclude: May this, from one who is now in heaven, unto such as may have too far engaged against God's covenant mercies toward his and our poor children, sent indeed in a special manner unto such, have a rich and effectual blessing from the Father of lights and mercies, a better effect upon their hearts than that famous letter had of Elijah the prophet, upon Jehoram, to whom it was sent, (2 Chron. 21.12,)—written, it is thought, by divers, before his translation to heaven, but concealed until there was so fit a season for the presenting of it,—may this writing, (I say,) and in such a season also, have a better effect and fruit, even to bring them from the error of their way into the paths of truth and peace, and settle them and others more and more therein. That is the sincere desire of the publisher thereof, who is
Thine to serve thee in our Lord Jesus,
I. THOMAS SHEPARDIUS.
Anagram: Paradisus hostem?
HEU! Paradisus alit sanctis infantibus hostem?
Quos baptizari præcipit ipse Deus?
Quos Deus ambabus, clemens, amplectitur ulnis,
Non finet in gremio Tingier ille suo?
Annon pro sanctis Ecclesia (mater) habebit,
Quos sancti sanctos vox ait esse Dei?
Hoc Deus avertat. Non sic Shepardius olim,
Non sic, quæ moriens scripta reliquit, aiunt.
Non sic doctores celebrat quos sanctior ætas,
Anglia quos celebrat Prisca, simulque nova.
His utinam sanctis Deus ipse laboribus almam
E superis, clemens, suppeditaret opem!
Quâ sine, doctores non ulli, scripta nec ulla,
Errores possunt carnificare malos.
Jus confirmabas puerorum, Christe, tuorum
A gremio vellent cum revocare tuo;
Surgito, lactentesque tuos defendito ab hoste
Qui vellet laudes (—cunque) perire tuas.
JOHANNES WILSONUS, Senior.
II. THOMAS SHEPARD.
Anagram: O, a map's thresh'd.
Lo, here's a map, where we may see
Well threshed a heap of corn to be,
By Thomas Shepard's happy hand,
Which from the chaff pure wheat hath fanned:
The wheat is the church member's right,
(Both great and little ones,) to wit:
Unto the seal of baptism, all
That are within the gospel call;
I mean believers and their seed,
To whom the Lord hath promised
To be their God; and doth reveal
Their right to's covenant and the seal;
On whom through grace the blessing came
Of his dear servant Abraham.
Be they or Jews or Gentiles, now
No difference the Lord doth know.
The promise is to us and ours
As large, or larger; and God pours
His Spirit now as much, or more
Than ere he did on them before.
And if that they were circumcised,
Then we are now to be baptized;
Our babes must now no less than theirs
Be sealed, (as of his kingdom heirs;)
Christ calleth them his little ones,
And as his darlings he them owns,
Denouncing against them a woe
That are despisers of them who
Offend the least of them, and such
As do their interest in him grutch.
Crispus, with Gaius, Stephanas,
With others, were not all through grace
Baptized that of their household were?
And children who will doubt were there?
Then let us not to them deny,
Nor seem as if we did envy
The privilege which God from heaven
Hath through his grace and favor given.
Nor let us limit his good spirit
In application of Christ's merit;
Whose blood was shed for them, as well
As those who them in age excel;
If such be taught of God, who dare
Deny they his disciples are?
III. THOMAS SHEPARD.
Anagram: More hath pass'd.
MORE from this holy pen hath passed
The baptism to defend
Of infants that church members are
(If well you do attend)
Than any anti-Baptists can
With solidness confute.
I wish with all my heart that God
Will grant these labors fruit,
As good or better than the pains
By other godly taken;
That thereby all his precious saints
He would please to awaken,
That none may any more oppose
With zeal preposterous
The truth which God's most holy word
Commendeth unto us;
That who were less convinced by
This holy Shepard's voice,
Yet in his letter left behind
They may the more rejoice.
He was a shining light, indeed;
Few other such are left;
The Lord vouchsafe we be not by
Our sins of them bereft,
And pour down of his Spirit more
Upon his sons surviving,
That will be more and more unto
Truth's lovers a reviving.
IV. THOMAS SHEPARD.
Anagram: Arm'd as the shop.
ARMED (as the shop of God's good word
Doth weapons unto him afford,)
Defends the right of little ones,
Whom God in the church covenant owns
The children of his church among;
To whom his kingdom doth belong,
And therewithal the seal thereof,
Through his free mercy, grace, and love;
Yet are there some which them forbid
(As once his weak disciples did)
To come to Christ, and scruple make
Whether thereof they should partake.
But Christ was very angry for it;
As for such zeal, he did abhor it;
O, come, said he, and welcomed such
With tokens of affection much;
As if that they, and scarcely any
But such as they, might challenge any,
Or part or portion in his grace,
(So did his favor them embrace,)
His babes, his lambs, his little creatures
He calls them. As for such defeatures,
Christ they defeat as well as them
Whom they presume so to contemn.
This holy Shepard is like David,
From lion's mouth, and bear's, who saved
That little kid; whom God did crown
With great and singular renown;
And so this Shepard hath (no doubt)
A glorious crown his head about,
For all his labors, (and for this,)
In high and everlasting bliss.
And as the Lord doth honor him,
(For Christ his sake,) so his esteem
Both is and ought to be most rare
'Mongst them who Christ his followers are;
And O, how should we bless his name
That on his son he pours the same
Good spirit that was in the father,
Or doubles it upon him rather.
Lord, these epistles do thou bless!
And as thy truth they do confess,
So make them precious in the eyes
Of all that do thy gospel prize.
JOHN WILSON, Senior.
CHURCH MEMBERSHIP OF CHILDREN
CLEARED UP IN A LETTER IN ANSWER TO THE
DOUBTS OF A FRIEND.
WHEN we say that children are members by their parents' covenant, I would premise three things for explication.
1. That children of godly parents come to the fruition of their membership by their parents' covenant, but that which gives them their right and interest in this membership is God's covenant, whereby he engageth himself equally to be a God to them and to their seed. This I suppose is clear.
2. That according to the double seed, viz., (1.) Elect seed; (2.) Church seed; so there is a double covenant, (1.) External and outward; (2.) Internal and inward. And because the covenant makes the church, hence there is an inward and outward membership and church estate; there is an outward Jew and an inward Jew. (Rom. 2.28,29.) All are not Israel (i.e., the elect seed) that are of Israel, (i.e., the church seed, or in outward covenant,) to whom the apostle saith belongs the adoption, the covenant, and the promises; that is, the external adoption, whereby God accounts them his children, or the children of his house and family, the children of the church; and accordingly have the promises belonging to them in respect of outward dispensation, although they be not children by internal adoption, to whom belong the promises by effectual and special communication of saving grace. It is clearer than the day that many who are inwardly, or in respect of inward covenant, the children of the devil, are outwardly, or in respect of outward covenant, the children of God. Is. 1.2, "I have brought up children," and yet "rebellious;" and in the next verse they are called "my people," (i.e., by outward covenant,) and yet worse than the ox, or ass. Deut. 32.19,20, they are called sons, and yet provoking God to revengeful wrath; and children, and yet without faith. And look, as some may be externally dogs, and yet internally believers, (as the woman of Canaan, whom, in respect of outward covenant, Christ calls a dog, and the Jews who yet rejected him children, Matt. 15.26,) so many may be externally children, in respect of external covenant, and yet internally dogs and evil men; and we see that the purest churches of Christ are called saints, and faithful, and children of God, and yet many among them hypocrites and unbelievers; because they that, in respect of church estate, and outward covenant and profession, are outwardly or federally saints, are many times inwardly and really unsound. Hence, therefore, it is, that when we say that children are in covenant, and so church members, the meaning is, not that they are always in inward covenant, and inward church members, who enjoy the inward and saving benefits of the covenant, but that they are in external and outward covenant, and therefore outwardly church members, to whom belong some outward privileges of the covenant for their inward and eternal good.
These things being clear, I the rather make mention of them to undermine divers usual objections against the membership and covenant interest of children; as, that they have no saving grace many times; and that they make no actual profession of any grace, and that many of them degenerate and prove corrupt and wicked, etc.; for suppose all these, yet God may take them into outward covenant, (which is sufficient to make them the church seed, or members of the church,) although he doth not receive them into inward covenant, in bestowing upon them saving grace, or power to profess it; nay, though they degenerate and grow very corrupt afterward.
3. Because you may question what this outward covenant is, to which the seals are annexed, and under which we shall prove children are comprehended; and because the knowledge of it is exceeding useful and very pleasant, I shall therefore give a short taste of it, as a light to our after discourse, especially as it is considered in the largest extent of it. This outward covenant, therefore, consists chiefly of these three branches, or special promises:—
1. The Lord engageth himself to them, that they shall be called by his name, or his name shall be called upon them, as it is Is. 63.19. They shall be called the sons of God, (Hos. 1.10,) and the people of God, (Deut. 29.12,13;) thou becamest mine, (Ezek. 16.8.) They may not be his sons, and people, really and savingly, but God will honor them outwardly (at least) with this name and privilege; they shall bear his name, to be called so, and consequently to be accounted so by others, and to be reckoned as of the number of his visible church and people, just as one that adopts a young son; he tells the father, if he carry it well toward him, when he is grown up to years he shall possess the inheritance itself; but yet, in the mean while, he shall have this favor, to be called his son, and be of his family and household, and so be reckoned among the number of his sons. See Rom. 9.4.
2. The Lord promiseth that they shall, above all others in the world, have the means of doing them good, and of conveying of the special benefits of the covenant. Nay, they shall be set apart above all people in the world, to enjoy these special benefits of remission of sins, power against sin, eternal life, etc., and shall certainly have these, by these means, unless they refuse them; this is evident from these and such like scriptures and examples: What privilege hath the Jew? (saith the apostle, Rom. 3.1, and what advantage by circumcision, if by nature under wrath and sin? for upon that ground the apostle makes the question:) he answers, It is much every way, but chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God, i.e., the word, promises, covenant; which are the ordinary means of saving grace and eternal good: others hear the word, but these in outward covenant enjoy it by covenant and promise; and hence these, in the first place and principally, are sought after by these means; and therefore Christ forbids his disciples at first to go preach in the way of the Gentiles, (persons out of covenant,) but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, (Matt. 10.6;) and himself tells the woman of Canaan that he came not but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt. 15.24.) And although he bids his disciples go preach to all nations, yet (Acts 3.26) it is said, Unto you first hath he sent Christ, because you are children of the promise and covenant, (ver. 25;) repent therefore, and be converted. (ver. 19.) Do not resist or refuse Christ, for he hath first sent Christ to you, to bless you and turn you from your iniquities; and the promise is full and fair. (Rom. 11.23.) If they abide not in unbelief, (i.e., in refusing grace and Christ when offered,) they shall be grafted in, for God is able to do it, and will do it; and the reason why the Lord gave his people up to their own counsels, it was because "my people would none of me," after all the means God used for their good. (Ps. 81.11-13, and Deut. 7.6.) The Lord hath chosen you, above all people on the earth, to be a special people to himself, and thou art a holy people unto the Lord. How a holy people? By inward holiness? No, verily; for many of them were inwardly unholy, both parents and children; but thou art holy, i.e., thou art externally sanctified and set apart, by special means of holiness, to be a special people unto God. And therefore (Is. 5.7) the men of Judah are called God's pleasant plant; i.e., planted into the root and fatness of the church, and therefore had all means used for their further special good. (ver. 4.) "What could be done to my vineyard that hath not been done?" And hence it is, that though the word may come to heathens as well as church members, yet it comes not to them by way of covenant, as it doth to church members; nor have they any promise of mercy aforehand, as church members have; nor is it chiefly belonging to such, but unto the children of the covenant and the promise, as hath been said. And hence also it follows that God never cuts off the seed of his servants from the special benefits of the covenant, until they have had the means thereunto, and they have positively rejected those means; and hence the Jews (who are made the pattern of what God will do toward all Gentile churches, Rom. 11.) were never cast off till by positive unbelief they provoked the Lord to break them off by rejecting and refusing the means of their eternal peace.
3. The Lord promiseth that the seed of his people (indefinitely considered) shall have this heart (viz., which would refuse special grace and mercy) taken away, as well as means used for that end; this is evident from Deut. 30.6, "The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart and the heart of thy seed to love the Lord;" he will cut off the uncircumcision, and sin, and resistance of the heart against God; he will take away the stony heart; not indeed from all in outward covenant particularly, but from these indefinitely; so that there is no promise to do this for any out of the visible church, (though God of his sovereignty and free mercy sometimes doth so,) but the promise of this belongs indefinitely to those of his church, among whom usually and ordinarily he works this great work, leaving him to his own freeness of secret mercy, to work thus on whom he will, and when he will; in the mean while no man can exclude himself, or any others within this covenant, from hope of this mercy and grace, but may with comfort look and pray for it; for this is God's covenant, that the Redeemer shall come out of Sion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob, (Rom. 11.26,27;) for the covenant of God doth not only run thus, If thou believe and receive grace, thou shalt have it; but thus also, I will circumcise your heart, I will take away the stony heart, I will turn away ungodliness from you, I will enable to believe. And hence these three things follow from these things thus opened:—
1. That as the covenant runs not only thus, viz., "If thou believest though shalt be saved," but also, "I will enable to believe," so a man's entrance into covenant is not only by actual and personal profession of faith, (as some say,) because God's covenant runs a peg higher, viz., to make and enable some to believe, and so to make that profession.
2. That the very outward covenant is not merely conditional, but there is something absolute in it; and hence it follows that it is a great mistake of some who think that circumcision and baptism seal only conditionally, the outward covenant being, say they, merely conditional; for those three things mentioned in the outward covenant, you see, are in some respect absolute, and if the covenant was only conditional, then the Lord was no more in covenant with church members than with pagans and infidels; for it may be propounded conditionally to all such, that if they believe they shall be saved; but assuredly God's grace is a little more extensive to the one than to the other.
3. Hence you may see what circumcision once did, and baptism now seals unto; even to infants the seal is to confirm the covenant; the covenant is, that God (outwardly at least) owns them, and reckons them among his people and children within his visible church and kingdom, and that hereupon he will prune, and cut, and dress, and water them, and improve the means of their eternal good upon them, which good they shall have, unless they refuse in resisting the means; nay, that he will take away this refusing heart from among them indefinitely, so that though every one can not assure himself that he will do it particularly for this or that person, yet every one, through this promise, may hope and pray for the communication of this grace, and so feel it in time.
These things thus premised, to clear up the ensuing discourse, I shall now do two things. (1.) Leave a few grounds and reasons to prove that children are in church covenant, and so enjoy church membership by their parents. (2.) I shall then answer your scruples.
Argument 1. To the first. The truth of it is manifest by clearing up this proposition, viz., that one and the same covenant, which was made to Abraham in the Old Testament, is for substance the same with that in the New; and this under the New Testament the very same with that of Abraham's under the Old.
I say, for substance the same; for it is acknowledged that there was something proper and personal in Abraham's covenant, as to be a father of many nations; but this was not of the substance of the covenant, which belongs to all the covenanters, and unto which the seal of circumcision was set; for all Abraham's seed, neither in those nor these days, are the fathers of many nations, nor did circumcision seal it.
Again: it is confessed that the external administrations of this one and the same covenant are diverse; but still the covenant for substance is the same. For that old covenant was dispensed with other external signs, sacrifices, types, prophecies, than this under the new. There was something typical in Abraham's covenant concerning Canaan, a type of heaven; but yet the same covenant remains now with a more naked manner of dispensation, or promise of heaven. And hence it follows that, if it may appear that the covenant itself is one and the same now as then, then as now, then it will undeniably follow that, if the new covenant under the gospel be not a carnal covenant, no more was that; if the new covenant be not proper to Abraham's natural seed, no more was that which was made with Abraham; if the substance of that covenant was, "I will be a God to thee and thy seed," then this very covenant remains still under the gospel, it being one and the same with that; if, by virtue of that covenant, the children were made members of the church, and hence had a church privilege, and seal administered, then, the same covenant remaining the same, and in the same force and benefit, our children also are taken into the like membership. It remains therefore to prove that which all our divines have long since made good against the Papists, that the covenant then and now is for substance one and the same; or that the covenant made with Abraham was a gospel covenant, and this gospel covenant the same that was made with Abraham.
1. The covenant made with Abraham is renewed in the gospel, as to the main thing in it, viz., I will be their God, and they shall be my people, (Heb. 8.10; Jer. 31.33;) and though the seed be not expressed, yet it is understood, as it is Gen. 17.8, and if need be shall be proved hereafter.
2. Because Abraham's covenant is of gospel and eternal privileges; not proper therefore to him, and his fleshly posterity; for righteousness by faith was sealed up by circumcision, (Rom. 4.11,) which is a gospel privilege, and is the ground of all other privileges; and yet in Gen. 17.7, there is no expression of this righteousness by faith, but it is understood therefore in this, I will be their God. So the promise of eternal life and resurrection thereunto is wrapped up in this, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
3. Because there was never any covenant but it was either of grace or works; that of works on Mount Sinai, that of grace which was made with Abraham; and hence (Gal. 3.17) the covenant which was confirmed afore by Christ, the law four hundred and thirty years after can not disannul. And what was that covenant before? Surely it was the covenant of grace, because it was confirmed by Christ: and what was this covenant confirmed by Christ but the covenant made with Abraham? for of this the apostle speaks, (ver. 14,16,) and he calls it expressly by the name of gospel, or the gospel covenant. (ver. 8,9.)
4. Because, when God reneweth his promise and covenant made with Abraham with his people at the plains of Moab, (Deut. 30.6,) it runs in these words, viz.: "I will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed." Now, this is a gospel privilege and a gospel covenant, as appears by comparing this text with Rom. 10.8, wherein the righteousness of faith, or the gospel, is brought in speaking the words of this covenant, saying, "The word is nigh thee, in thy heart and mouth." (Deut. 30.11-14.) Now, if that place (Gen. 17.7) should be said to be obscure concerning the promise, (I will be a God to thy seed,) yet here in this place God speaks plainly, which by comparing the Scriptures is a gospel promise, and of a gospel privilege, and therefore to be preached by ministers of the gospel, and to be believed by the professors of it.
5. Because this promise (I will be a God to thee and thy seed) doth not belong to Abraham and his seed as after the flesh, or as lineally descended of Abraham, but as believers; and this is most evident Rom. 11., wherein it is said of the Jews, (1.) That they were broken off (made no people, no church) by unbelief. (ver. 20.) (2.) That by faith they shall be graffed in again. (ver. 23.) If, therefore, they were broken off the church by unbelief, then they stood as members of the church by faith; and if by faith they should be graffed in, then they stood by faith at first. Again: it is said, in this Rom. 11.28, that they are loved for the fathers' sakes, surely not as natural fathers, but as spiritual by faith; and hence (Neh. 9.8) it is expressly said, that God found Abraham faithful before him, and made a covenant with him.
Again: if the posterity of Abraham were members upon this ground only or chiefly, (viz., because they were lineally descended of Abraham, then Esau, Ishmael,) the Jews (Rom. 11.20) could never have been cast off from being members of the church, because they were always the natural offspring and posterity of Abraham. Hence, therefore, it follows that, if they were ingraffed in the church as believers, (the fathers as actually believing, the children as set apart by promise of God to be made to believe, and in their parents' faith accounted believers,) then all believers at this day have the same privilege, and the covenant then, being made only in respect of faith, must needs be gospel covenant, the same with God's covenant at this day. And hence, also, it follows that if they were members as believers, then not as members of that nation. They were not, therefore, members of the church, because they were descended of Abraham, and were in a national church, and were by generation Jews. Circumcision was a seal of righteousness by faith, (Rom. 4.11;) therefore they were sealed as believers.
Thus much for the first argument, wherein I have been the larger, because much light is let in by it, to answer divers mistakes. I shall name the rest with more brevity.
Argument 2. If it was the curse of Gentiles to be strangers to the covenants of promise (made with the Jews) before they became the churches of God, then by being churches this curse is removed: and hence (Eph. 2.12,13) the apostle saith they were strangers to the covenant and commonwealth of Israel, but are not so now. If you say that the Ephesians were in covenant, but not their seed, and so they were not strangers, I answer, that the apostle doth not set out their cursed estate merely because they were without any covenant, but because they were strangers to that covenant of promise which the Israelites had; for if their children had it not, they were then as without covenant, so without God and without hope, as pagans are, which is notoriously cross to the current of all Scripture, as may afterward appear.
Argument 3. The apostle expressly saith, "Your children are holy," (1 Cor. 7.14;) and if federally holy, then of the church, (for real holiness can not be here meant,) and in the covenant of it; even as it is said, (Deut. 7.6,) Thou art "a holy people unto the Lord thy God," few of which number were really and savingly holy; but they were all so federally, or by covenant, and so became God's special church or people.
If you say that this holiness is meant of matrimonial holiness, viz., that your children are not bastards, but legitimate, the answer is easy; for upon this interpretation the apostle's answer should be false; for then, if one of the parents had not been a believer, and so by his believing sanctified his unbelieving wife, their children must have been bastards; whereas you know that their children had not been in that sense unclean or illegitimate, although neither of them were believers; for the apostle's dispute is plain, viz., that, if the believing husband did not sanctify his unbelieving wife, then were your children unclean, i.e., say you, bastards; but it is evident that children may be in this sense clean, and yet no faith in either parent to sanctify one another to their particular use, unless you will say that all children of heathens are bastards, because neither of the parents believe.
Argument 4. Rom. 11.17, "The Jews are cut off from the fatness of the olive tree, and the Gentiles put in, or ingraffed in their room." Now, this ingraffing is not into Christ by saving faith, for it is impossible that such should ever be broken off who are once in; it must therefore be meant of their ingraffing into the external state of the visible church, and the fatness and privileges thereof, of which church Christ is the external and political head, into whom (in this respect) they are ingraffed by external visible faith and covenant. Hence thus I reason: that if the Jews and their children were ingraffed members of the church, then the Gentile churches ingraffed into the same state, and coming in their room, are, together with their children, members of the church; when the Jews hereafter shall be called, they shall be ingraffed in as they were before, them and their seed. (ver. 23.) In the mean while the apostle puts no difference between the present ingraffing of the Gentiles now and of theirs past, or to come, and therefore they and their seed are ingraffed members now.
Argument 5. Because there is the same inward cause moving God to take in the children of believing church members into the church and covenant now, to be of the number of his people, as there was for taking the Jews and their children; for the only cause why the Lord took in the Jews and their children thus, was his love and free grace and mercy. Deut. 4.37, "Because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed;" which choosing is not by eternal election, or choosing to glory, for many of their seed never came to glory, but unto this privilege, to be his people above all others in outward covenant with him; which is exceeding great love, if you remember what hath been said of the branches of this outward covenant and visible church estate. And hence, (Deut. 10.15,) "because the Lord had a delight in thy fathers," hence he chose their seed above all people, as at that day, viz., to be his people; so that I do from hence fully believe that either God's love is in these days of his gospel less unto his people and servants than in the days of the Old Testament, or, if it be as great, that then the same love respects the seed of his people now as then it did. And therefore, if then because he loved them he chose their seed to be of his church, so in these days, because he loveth us, he chooseth our seed to be of his church also.
Argument 6. Because our Saviour speaks plainly of all children who are brought to him, that of such is the kingdom of heaven; and none are ordinarily heirs of the kingdom of glory but such as are of God's visible church and kingdom here. The objections against this place I think not worth confuting, because I hope enough is said to clear up this first particular, to prove the children of confederate believers to be in covenant, and church members.
I now proceed to the second thing, viz., to answer your objections.
Objection 1. If children (say you) be members, as it was in Abraham's covenant, then wives and servants, and all the household, are to be taken in; for so it was Gen. 17. and Gen. 35.2,3; and then what churches shall we have but such as you fear God will be weary of and angry with?
Answer. Churches at first (by your own confession) were in families, where therefore God's grace did the more abound by how much the less it did abound abroad. And hence Abraham's family and household was a church of God: but yet consider withal that all were not of this family church, merely because they were of the family or household, but because they were godly, or the children of such as were godly in the family; for Abraham's servants and household were such as he could and did command to keep the way of the Lord, and so were obedient to God in him, (Gen. 18.19;) and we see they did obey, and did receive that new, strange, and painful sign of circumcision, about the nature and use of which, no doubt he first instructed them; and in the place you mention, (Gen. 35.4,) they "gave to Jacob all their strange gods and earrings" to worship God more purely. And it is evident (Ex. 12.45) that every one in the family had not to do with the seals of the church, and therefore now not of the church, though of the family; for a foreigner or hired servant was not to eat of the passover, nor was every one who was bought with money to eat of it until they were circumcised, (ver. 44,) nor were any such to be circumcised until they were willing and desirous to eat the passover, and that unto the Lord; then, indeed, they and theirs were first to be circumcised, (ver. 48;) and although this be not expressly set down (Gen. 17.) in Abraham's family, yet I doubt not but that as one scripture gives light unto another, so this scripture in Exodus shows the mind of God in the first beginning of the church, as well as in these times: if, therefore, the servants who were godly in the family were only to be circumcised, and their children born in the house with them, then this example is no way leading to corrupt churches, as you fear it will, but rather the contrary, that if proselyte servants then were received into the church together with their seed, much more are they received now; and if they did not defile the church then, neither should we think that they will do so now.
And, I beseech you, consider of it, that God was then as careful of keeping his church holy as in these days, especially in the first constitution of it, as in this of Abraham's. (Gen. 17.) And hence God was as much provoked by their unholiness then as by any unholiness now. (1 Pet. 1.16.) Suppose, therefore, (as you imagine,) that all the household, whether profane or holy, were to be received into the covenant, and so to the seal of it, do you think that this course of admitting all profane persons then would not make the Lord soon weary of, and angry with, those family churches, as well as of national or congregational, now, upon the like supposition? If, therefore, any servants born in the house, or hired, were admitted, surely they were not such unholy ones, whom the Lord could not but be as much angry with then as now; but they were godly and holy, at least in outward profession, upon which ground the Lord commanded them to be circumcised.
I know there are some, and very holy and learned also, who think that if any godly man undertakes to be as a father to an adopted pagan or Indian, that such a one, not grown up to years, is, from the example in Gen. 17., to be received into the covenant of the church, and the seal of it; and I confess I yet see no convicting argument against it, if it could be proved that some servants bought with Abraham's money were such, and were under years; but I see as yet no convicting argument for this assertion from this example, and therefore I stick to the former answer, and see no reason from any rule of charity but to believe that all those in Abraham's family were either visibly godly or the children of such, to whom circumcision belongs, and consequently might as well partake of church membership as Abraham himself; which sort of servants, in these days, may as well be admitted to church membership without fear of defiling the church as their masters themselves.
Objection 2. If children (say you) be members, then all children, good and bad, must be received, as Jacob and Esau, etc.
Answer. Why not? For if there be any strength in this argument, it holds as strongly against the admission of professing visible believers; where, though all are externally and federally holy, yet some, yea, many, yea, the greatest part of such, may be inwardly bad, and as profane in their hearts as Esau; and must we therefore refuse them to be church members because many of them may be inwardly bad? Verily, there must then never be churches of God in this world. So it is among children: they are all outwardly holy, yet many of them may be inwardly unholy, like Esau: must we not, therefore, accept them to membership? It is a miserable mistake to think that inward, real holiness is the only ground of admission into church membership, as some Anabaptists dispute; but it is federal holiness, whether externally professed, as in grown persons, or graciously promised unto their seed.
Reply 1. But you here reply, If so, then they are of the church when they are grown up, and profane until they are cast out; and to take in profane is sinful. (Ezek. 44.)
Answer. It is very true; for it is herein just as it is in admitting professing believers; they may prove profane, and continue so in church membership until they are cast out; but is this therefore any ground to keep out those who are personally holy by their own profession? No, verily; why, then should such as are parentally and federally holy be kept out from church membership because they may prove profane, and being profane must remain church members till they be cast out.
Reply 2. But then (you say) they must be church members though their parents themselves and the whole church be unwilling thereunto, even as (say you) a man that marrieth a woman, her children must be his, and he be a father to them, though he, and she, and they should say he shall not be a father-in-law [step-father] to them.
Answer. This similitude of marriage doth neither prove nor illustrate the thing; for the relation between father and such children is absolute and natural, and hence continues though they say he shall not be their father, and though he profess he will not; but the relation founded upon church covenant between member and member is not natural, nor only and always absolute, but also conditional, which condition not being kept, the relation may be and is usually broken; for look, as the Jews were not so absolutely God's people, but, if they did in time reject the gospel, they were to be cast off, and indeed are so at this day, (Rom. 2.25; Hosea 2.2; Acts 13.46,51,) so it is with all Gentile churches, and the members thereof; and as for that which you last say, that they may refuse their parents' covenant at age as well as own it, and so may members go out at pleasure, which is disorder, I answer, that the like may be said of such members as come in by personal profession, for they may renounce their own covenant with God and the church: one may do so, and so may twenty; yet, though this be wickedness and disorder, yet the church may proceed against them, and so it may against their children, who are bound to own the covenant made with God, and of God with them in their parents, as well as any church members are to own their own covenant by their own personal profession. What disorder, therefore, will come in as you conceive this way, will come in by your own way, and what course you should take to heal the one, by the same you may heal the other.
Objection 3. If children (say you) be members, then their seed successively, until they be either dissolved or excommunicated; and if so, then what churches shall we have?
Answer. 1. What churches shall we have? Truly, not always churches of angels and saints, but mixed with many chaffy hypocrites, and ofttimes profane persons. But still I say this objection holds as firm against gathering churches of visible professing believers; for God knows what churches we may have of them, even heaps of hypocrites and profane persons, for I know not what can give us hope of their not apostatizing, but only God's promise to be a God to them and to preserve them; and truly the same promise being made to their seed gives me as much ground of faith to hope well of churches rising out of the seed of the godly, as of the professing parents themselves. I know one may have more experimental charity concerning some few professing the fear of God; but my church charity is equal about them, especially considering that those whom God receives into church covenant, he doth not only take them to be a people to him, but to establish them to be such, viz., for time to come. And hence God is said to establish his covenant with Isaac, not Ishmael, who was to be rejected, (Gen. 17.19,) and God is said to gather them into covenant, to establish them to be a people, both young and old, present posterity and that which was to come. (Deut. 29.11-15.)
2. God was as holy and as exactly requiring holiness from the Jewish church as well as from Christian churches: now, do you think that the covenant which then wrapped up the Jews' children into church membership was a highway of profaneness and unholiness in the members thereof, and of defiling and polluting God's church? or was it a way and means of holiness, and to keep them from being profane? To affirm the first is something blasphemous and very false, for it is expressly said, (Jer. 13.11,) that "as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so he caused the whole house of Israel (not grown men only) to cleave to him, that they might be to him a people, (which was by covenant,) and for a name, for a praise, and for a glory." God's name, glory, praise, was the end, and the covenant was the means hereunto; and therefore it was no way or means of unholiness in that church; but if you say it was a means of holiness, why then should we fear the polluting of churches by the same covenant, which we have proved wraps in our seed also? Indeed, they did prove universally profane in the Jewish church; so they may in ours; but shall man's wickedness in abusing God's grace, and forsaking his covenant, tie the hands or heart of God's free grace from taking such into covenant? What though some did not believe? saith the apostle, (Rom. 3.3,4,) "Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid."
3. Suppose they do prove profane and corrupt churches; yet even then, when they are corrupt, they are such churches where ordinarily God gathers out his elect, and out of which (till purer are gathered, or these wholly rejected) there can not be expected ordinarily any salvation; for so saith our Saviour, "Salvation is of the Jews," (John 4.22,) even in that very corrupt and worst estate of the church that ever it was in.
Objection 4. If children be members, then they must come to the Lord's supper; for you know no difference between member and member in point of privilege, unless they be under some sin.
Answer. 1. Yes, verily, there is a plain difference between member and member (though professing believers) in point of privilege, though they lie under no sin; for a man may speak and prophesy in the church, not women. A company of men may make a church, and so receive in and cast out of the church, but not women, though professing saints.
2. All grown men are not to be admitted (though professing believers) to the Lord's supper: my reason is, a man may believe in Christ, and yet be very ignorant of the nature, use, and ends of the Lord's supper: now, such may be baptized as soon as ever faith appears, (Mark 16.16,) but they may not be admitted to the Lord's supper, because they will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, if they through their ignorance can not discern the Lord's body. I know no reason but ignorant persons may be as well suspended from the use of this privilege, though they be true believers, (for faith may consist with much ignorance,) as well as distracted persons, who, notwithstanding, may be believers also.
3. If, therefore, children be able to examine themselves and discern the Lord's body, they may then eat; and herein there is no difference in this privilege between member and member.
4. Children not being usually able to examine themselves, nor discern the Lord's body, hence they are not to be admitted to the use of this privilege; and yet they may be such members as may enjoy the benefit of other privileges, even that of baptism; for baptism seals up our first entrance into the covenant. This first entrance is not always by personal profession of faith, but by God's promise of working, or of vouchsafing the means of working of it: now, children (as is proved) being under this covenant, (as we see all the posterity also of Abraham was,) hence, though children can not profess faith, nor actually examine themselves, yet they may receive, and must receive, baptism, being already under God's covenant; but because the Lord's supper doth not seal up this first entrance and first right to the covenant, but our growth and fruition of the covenant, hence this act on our part is required to participate in this, which the apostle calls self-examination, and the act of taking and eating Christ, and of discerning the Lord's body, and of doing this in remembrance of Christ, which every baptized person and church member is not always able to do. A child may receive a promise aforehand of a rich estate given him, and this promise sealed up to him, his father receiving it for him; but it is not fit that he should be put to the actual improvement and fruition of that estate until he is grown up, understands himself, and knows how to do it: so it is here; the sacrament of the Lord's supper requires ability, (1.) To take Christ as our own; (2.) To eat Christ; that is, to take fruition of him; the which acts of faith God doth not require of all those immediately who are wrapped up in covenant with him.
Objection 1. But here you say that that examination (1 Cor. 11.) is required of all that be members, and that at all times, as well as at their first coming to the Lord's supper.
Answer. This examination is indeed required of all those members who should partake of the Lord's supper, but it is not required (as you seem to say) of every one to make him a member, so that none can be a member but him that is able to examine himself; for God's covenant to work faith, and to give power to examine one's self afterward, may make some as truly members as those who are able to act and express their faith. Now, I have proved that God's covenant is aforehand given to children; and to give them the seal of their first entrance into it many years after is as vile a thing as for them that are able and fit to examine themselves to have this sacrament of the Lord's supper denied or delayed till many years after.
Objection 2. But you say, It is left to every one's conscience to examine himself, not that others should examine them, and consequently, if children be members, then it must be left upon their conscience.
Answer. We know in our own consciences that children usually can not examine themselves: now, if the elders and the church are bound to see Christ's rules observed by others, and if this examination be the rule that all must walk by who participate here, then they must not suffer such young ones, no, nor persons grown up and entered in by personal profession, to receive this seal as they know are unable thus to do. I think, if churches should degenerate in these days, this course of discipline should be attended (especially by the elders) toward any of their members, which way soever they have entered, whether by their own or by their parents' covenant. And I have oft feared that there is some need already of it, even toward some who enter by their own covenant, and may have faith, but are miserably to seek in the nature, use, and ends of the Lord's supper, and consequently unfit to discern of Christ's body, and so to come to that sacrament.
Objection 5. If children may be members, and yet not come to the Lord's supper, then it may come to pass that a whole church may be a church, and yet not have the Lord's supper, or ought not to have it.
Answer. 1. So there may; for a church may be a true church, and yet want the benefit of some one or more of God's ordinances, sometimes pastors, sometimes elders, sometimes seals.
2. A church of professing believers may degenerate, and turn profane, and sottish, and so have no just right to the seals; and their officers may leave them, and so have no use of the seals; yet I suppose it is a church of Christ still, though degenerate, though unfit to enjoy seals: will you therefore think the way of their membership unlawful, viz., by professing their faith, because such a rare thing as this may happen? Why, then, should you think the way of children's membership unlawful, because of the like rarity in such a dark and gloomy state of them as you mention?
Objection 6. If children be members, then there will be many in the church who are not saints by calling, nor faithful in Christ Jesus, which ought not to be if the church could see it; hut these may be too plainly seen.
Answer. 1. I do think it is true that poor children may be and are looked upon with too many dejected thoughts of unbelief, despising of them as children of wrath by nature, and not with such high thoughts of faith as children and sons of God by promise, as I have shown. And I think herein is our great sin, as it was in Christ's own disciples, who were the first that we read of that would not have little children brought unto him, for which he rebuked them, showing their privilege; and for want of which faith in God's promise about our children, certainly God smites and forsakes many of our children.
2. If, therefore, you think that church members must consist only of saints by calling, so that your meaning is, such saints as are so by outward and personal profession, from the call of the gospel, are only to be church members, this is an error; for, (1.) You know that they who define a church to be a number of visible saints, they usually put this phrase in, "and their seed," who may not profess faith perhaps as their fathers do, and you shall find that the Israel of God, under the Old Testament, are all of them said to be adopted, (Rom. 9.4,) chosen, and called, (Is. 41.8,9,) and faithful, (Is. 1.21,) and yet we know they were not all so by personal profession, but in respect of their joint federation and the outward covenant of God with them. (2.) The outward covenant is not always first entered into by personal profession of faith, but by God's covenant of promise to work, or to use the means to work faith. Hence it undeniably follows that as many may be in church covenant before they profess faith personally, so many may be members of the church without this profession of faith; for this covenant of working faith (as hath been formerly explained) doth not only belong to the Jews, but to Gentile churches also, and believers, as hath been proved, and might further be confirmed.
Objection. But say you, If we saw hypocrites, we were to cast them out as well as profane persons; and we see no grace in many children, and therefore they must not be received in.
Answer. 1. If you see children of whom you can not say that they are faithful personally, yet they may be faithful federally, (as hath been showed,) for they may lie under God's covenant of begetting faith by some means in them, and then you are not to cast them out, but accept them, as God doth.
2. The children of godly parents, though they do not manifest faith in the gospel, yet they are to be accounted of God's church until they positively reject the gospel, either in themselves or in their parents; and therefore God did never go about to cast off the Jews and their seed, until they put forth positive unbelief; the Lord promised to give them the means of faith, and did so; and when Christ was come, and the gospel sent first unto them for their good, the Lord herein fulfilled his covenant mercy, as toward his beloved people; but when they rejected these means, and cast off Christ and his gospel, then (Rom. 11.) they were broken off, and not before. Now, hypocrites are such as profess Christ in words, and yet deny Christ in deed. (Titus 1.16; 2 Tim. 3.5.) Hence they are such as positively refuse Christ; hence the case of children in whom no positive unbelief appears is not the same with this of hypocrites or profane persons; and when young children shall grow positively such, I know not but they may be dealt with as any other members for any such like offense.
Thus you see an answer to your six objections. In the end of your paper there are two questions, which I suppose may not a little trouble against their baptism and membership. To these briefly.
Question 1. What good (say you) is it either for a wicked or an elect child, till he be converted, to be in the church? or what good may any have by being in the church, till they can profit by what they enjoy?
Answer. 1. The apostle puts the like case, and gives you an answer, (Rom. 3.1,2,) "What advantage hath the Jew? and what profit is there of circumcision?" What use or profit could the infants then make of their church covenant, membership, or seal, who understood none of these things? Do you think the Lord exposed his holy ordinances then unto contempt, and is more careful that they may be profitably used now? Was there no good by circumcision? Yea, saith the apostle, much every way.
2. What profit is it to persons grown up to years, and yet secretly hypocrites, who enter into the church by profession of the faith? You will say there is good and profit in respect of the privileges themselves, but, they abusing them, they had, in this respect, better have been without them, because they bring hereby upon themselves greater condemnation. The same say I of children, whom God receives into his church by promise and covenant of doing them good, although at present they may not be so sensible of this good.
3. To speak plainly, the good they get by being thus enriched is wonderful. And here there is more need of a treatise than of a letter, to clear up the benefits from all scruples arising by being in outward covenant in church fellowship, even unto infants. I confess I find little said by writers upon this subject, and I believe the doubts against children's baptism, as they arise by blindness in this particular, so I think that God suffers that opinion to take place, that by such darkness he may bring out light in this particular. I will only hint unto you some few of my many thoughts, which have long exercised me for many years in this thing. The good by children's membership, especially when sealed, is in four things.
1. In respect of God. God shows hereby the riches of his grace toward them, in taking them to be his people; in adopting them to be his children; in preventing them with many special promises aforehand of doing them good; by all which the Lord doth, as it were, prevent Satan, in wooing their hearts, as it were, so soon to draw them to him before he can actually stir to draw their souls from him. So that I beseech you, consider; suppose they can not as yet understand, and so make profit by all this; yet is it not good for them, or for any of us, to partake of God's grace before we know how to make use of it? Is it not good for God to be good to them that are evil? Is it not good for God to glorify and make manifest his grace to man, though man knows not how to make use of his grace? Was it not rich grace for Christ to wash Peter's feet, and yet he not know at present what it meant, only, (saith Christ,) "thou shalt know it afterward"? Is it not good for God to give life to us, and to let us be born in such and such a place of the gospel where it is preached, and to lay in mercy aforehand for us, before we know how to be thankful, or know how to use any of these outward mercies? And is it no mercy or favor to have so much spiritual mercy bestowed on children aforehand, before they can be thankful or make use thereof? (Deut. 7.6,7.) The choosing of them to be his people above all other people, (which you know was from the womb,) it is called God's setting his love upon them, and the reason of this love (ver. 8) is said to be because God loved them; this love was not electing and peculiar love, (for thousands of these perished and went to hell,) but it was his external, adopting love, to choose them to be his people, and to improve all means for their good, and to give them the good of all those means unless they refuse, and to give indefinitely among them, and particularly to many of them, such hearts as that they shall not be able to refuse the good of those means, (as hath been showed formerly;) this is love; great love and mercy; not shown or promised to any who are not of the visible church throughout the whole world. By which God is glorified, and let him be so, though we can not see how to profit by it when it first breaks out. Have not you profited much by considering God's preventing grace, long before you understood how to make use of it? Hath not God received much glory from you for it? Hath this grace then, think you, been unprofitably spent on God's part? No, verily. The case is the same here; David blesseth God for being his God from his mother's belly, and from the womb, (Ps. 22.9,10,) and God's grace is shown through this expression. (Is. 46.3.)
2. There is much good hereby in respect of the parents; for suppose the children can not profit by it, yet parents may; and it is in respect of them very much that God looks upon their children, thus to receive them into covenant. (Deut. 4.37.) For, (1.) Parents may hereby see and wonder at the riches of God's grace, to become a God not only to themselves, but to take in their seed also, whose good they prize as their own, and as if done to themselves; hence Abraham fell down upon his face adoring God, when he heard of this covenant. (Gen. 17.) See also how Moses aggravates this love in the eyes of all that had eyes to see. (Deut. 10.14,15.) (2.) Hereby God gives parents some comfortable hope of their children's salvation, because they be within the pale of the visible church; for as out of the visible church (where the ordinary means of salvation be) there is ordinarily no salvation. (Acts 2.47.) So, if children were not of Christ's visible church and kingdom, we could not hope for their salvation, no more than of pagans or Turks; for if they be without God, they are without hope, (Eph. 2.12;) and to be without hope of such, to whom God hath made such promises of salvation not given to pagans, nor proper to Abraham, is very hard, and horrid to imagine; for the promise runs universally, that "the seed of the upright (whether Jews or Gentiles) shall be blessed." (Ps. 112.1,2. Prov. 20.7.) (3.) Hereby parents are stirred up the more earnestly to pray for them, because God's covenant and promise is so large toward them, at which prayer looks, and by which it wrestles with God; and hence we find that Moses and others, they use this argument in their prayers: "O God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," etc. (4.) Hereby they may not only hope and pray, but are encouraged to believe concerning their children and the rest of those who are in covenant among them, that God will do them good, as they conclude mercy to the remnant, forgiveness of their sins, with faith upon this ground, "Thou wilt remember the truth to Jacob, and thy mercy to Abraham, sworn unto our fathers in days of old." (Micah 7.18,20.) This, indeed, is the children's faith for themselves and their children; but so it may be a ground of parents' faith. And if we pray for our children, why should we doubt (leaving only secrets to God) if we see them die before they reject the gospel positively? I see no reason for any man to doubt of the salvation of his child if he dies, or that God will not do good to his child in time if he lives. (5.) This stirs up their hearts to be the more sincerely holy, and keep in with God, because of their children; and to educate them with more care and watchfulness, because they are the Lord's children as well as theirs; they are not common, but holy vessels, and therefore let them see that they be not defiled; and hence we find that when God exhorts to any duty of holiness in Scripture, he oft makes this the ground of it, "I am your God;" and hence God aggravates their sin in offering their children to Molech, (Ezek. 16.,) because they were his children, that should have been better used.
3. In respect of themselves the good is very great. (1.) It is a special means to prevent sin. (Deut. 29.) I make this covenant, not only with him that is present, but with your seed also, who are not here, (ver. 15,) lest there should be among you man or woman, family or tribe, whose heart turns away from God, and lest there should be a root of gall and wormwood; and indeed it mightily works on the heart to think, Shall I, whom God hath chosen to be his, be my own, or be the devil's, or be my lusts'? etc. (2.) It is a strong motive and engagement upon them to forsake sin, even the uncircumcision and sin of their hearts, as is evident, Deut. 10.15,16. The Lord had a delight to choose the seed of your fathers, even you, to be his people, as it is this day: what follows? "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your hearts, and be no more stiff necked." (3.) It is a special help, as to avert their hearts from sin, so to convert and turn them to God, and to make them look toward God, that he would turn them, when perhaps they are without any hope (in other respects) of mercy, or of being able by any means they can use to turn themselves; this is evident, Acts 3.19, with ver. 25. Repent and be converted, for you are the children of the covenant which God made with our fathers; this draws their hearts, when they see how God calls them to return. (Jer. 3.22.) Come unto me, ye backsliding children, etc.: we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God. When backsliding Ephraim could not convert himself, he cries unto God, "O, turn me, and I shall be turned, for thou art the Lord my God," (Jer. 31.18,) which places can not be meant of being their God only by internal covenant, in giving to them the special benefits of the covenant, for then they should be in covenant with God, and have remission of all their sins, etc., before they were turned, or before faith; and therefore it is meant of being a God in outward and external church covenant, which is no small motive and loadstone to believe. And although many do not believe, and will not be turned, yet this covenant is a high privilege and great favor, fit in itself to draw to God, though many believe not; and hence the apostle saith that the privilege of the Jews is great in having God's oracles (which contain God's covenant) committed to them, though some believe not, which unbelief makes not (he saith) the faith of God, i.e., God's promise or covenant, of none effect, or an ineffectual and fruitless covenant; for this word of God's covenant shall take some effect among some such as are in it; which therefore is a privilege, though many perish, as is evident, Rom. 9.4,6. (4.) It is a special means of binding them fast to God when they are turned. Jer. 13.11, "As the girdle cleaveth unto a man, so have I caused the whole house of Israel to cleave unto me, that they may be for a name and glory." Deut. 30.20, "Thou shalt cleave unto him, because he is thy life, and the length of thy days;" he was not their life spiritually and savingly, (for many thus exhorted were dead and in their sins,) but federally, or in outward covenant. (5.) If they shall forsake and break loose from God, and from the bond of his covenant, and have (as much as in them lies) cast themselves out of covenant by their own perfidiousness and breach of covenant, that one would think now there is no more hope, yet it is a special means to encourage their hearts to return again, even when they seem to be utterly cast off; and therefore it is said, (Jer. 3.1,) "Though thou hast committed whoredom with many lovers, (whereby the covenant was broken,) yet return unto me;" so, (Deut. 4.,) if when you are scattered among the nations, and shall serve wood and stone, and be in great tribulation, if from thence thou seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, he will not forsake thee; and what is the reason of it? viz., his remembrance of the covenant with their fathers, for so it is Deut. 4.27-31. But I forbear to name more such things as these which come by outward covenant to inchurched members.
4. In respect of others their good is very great; for, (1.) Now they may enjoy the special watch and care of the whole church, which otherwise they must want. (2.) They hereby have the more fervent prayers of others for their good; and hence (Rom. 9.1-3) we see how Paul upon this ground had great zeal in his prayers for the Jews, not only because his countrymen, but especially because to them did belong the adoption and covenants, and they had gracious fathers, etc. So, (Ps. 89.49,) "Lord, remember thy former loving kindnesses, which are sworn to David in truth." And hence we see Moses oft pleads and prevails with God in prayer for the sinning Israelites, viz., "O, remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
Now, I pray you, lay all these things together, and then see whether you have any cause to say, What profit is there by covenant and church membership of persons not yet able to profess the faith of Jesus Christ?
Question 2. You say, when families were churches, all of the family were of the church, and when a nation was a church, all that were of that nation were of that church; but now, believers being matter of the church, what if none were admitted till they can hold forth visible faith? would not many of these things be more clear?
Answer. In these words there is a threefold mistake.
1. That all of the family and nation in former times were of the church: this is false; for God never took any to be his church but as they were believers, at least externally, in that nation. I say believers; which either are professed believers, or promised believers, such as by outward covenant shall have the means to be made believers in that nation; and hence you have heard that the nation of the Jews stood by faith, and were broken off by unbelief; and if any rejected the covenant, as Ishmael and Esau, they were not of that church, though they did and might dwell in that nation, as doubtless thousands did.
2. You think that visible personal faith only makes the church, and members of it; which is an error, as may appear from many things already said; for children may be in God's account professors of the faith parentally as well as personally; i.e., in the profession of their parents as well as in their own. And hence you shall find that the covenant God entered into with the parents of church members personally, the children are said to have that covenant made with them many hundred years after. See, for this purpose, among hundreds, these few scriptures, Haggai 2.5. In Haggai's time God is said to make a covenant with them then when they came out of Egypt, (which was not personally, but parentally;) so, (Hos. 12.4,5,) when God entered into covenant with Jacob at Bethel, God is said to speak with us who lived many years after; and hence the children many years after challenge God's covenant with them, which was made with their fathers for them. (Micah 7.19,20.) Hence, also, those children are said to come to Christ who were not able to come themselves, but only were brought in the arms of others to Christ. It is a known thing among men, that a father may receive a gift or legacy given to him and his heirs, and he and his heirs are bound to perform the condition of the covenant and promise by which it is conveyed, and that the child doth this in his father.
3. You think that if men only grown up and able to profess faith should be of the church, then all things would be more clear about children. Truly, I believe the quite contrary, upon the grounds before laid down; for, (1.) Hereby pollution of the church shall not be avoided, but rather introduced, to exclude children from a holy-making covenant, as we have proved. (2.) Hereby that good and benefit of their covenant should be lost (not gained) by excluding them out of covenant until they can personally profess and make use of the covenant. The wisdom of man furthers not the righteousness of God. And here let me conclude with the naked profession of my faith to you in this point, which is a bulwark of defense against all that is said by Anabaptists against baptizing of infants.
(1.) That the children of professing believers are in the same covenant God made with Abraham: Abraham was a father of many nations, and not of one nation only; and hence the same covenant made with him and the believing Israel in that nation, the same covenant is made with all his believing seed in all other nations. (2.) That baptism is a seal of our first entrance and admission into covenant; and therefore is to be immediately applied to children of believing parents as soon as ever they be in covenant, and that is as soon as they become the visible seed of the faithful, for so the covenant to Abraham runs, ("I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed,") not only his elect seed, but church seed, (as hath been showed,) not only of his seed in that one nation, but in all nations.
These two things I can not tell how to avoid the light of, they are so dear; and the ignorance of these makes so many Anabaptists, (as they are called,) and I never yet met with any thing written by them (and much I have read) that was of any considerable weight to overthrow these. But I forget myself, and trouble you: my prayer is, and shall be, that the Lord would give you understanding in all these things.
1. Instances hereof see in the preface to the act of the synod held at Boston, 1662, touching baptism and consociation of churches.