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nominal thing, a shadow, a nullity. If you decide to admit them to the sacrament, except where open sin shows that the child has lost the grace imparted in infancy, who shall sit in judgment on the question of moral fitness? Some boys of seven or eight years of age will fight, and lie, and swear. Will you invite them, or even suffer them to come to the sacramental table? Certainly not. Will you arraign them before the Church for trial? Will you admit or exclude the evidence of other boys of eight years? If the fond mother appears for the defense, and contradicts the testimony that has been given against her darlings, declaring with tearful or blazing eyes that she is confident that her children never do such things, how will you dispose of the question of fact? How deeply will you investigate the question of mental development? When you arraign two boys of the same age for the same offense, and decide that the one may still be admitted to the sacrament because he knew no better, while the other, being more mature in mind, must be excluded, will you be able to explain your verdict to the satisfaction of both families? Will not the parents of the one cry out against your partiality, and say that your action would not be what it is if they were not poor, and the others rich? Will not the others arise in measureless indignation and withdraw from the Church, because you have formally declared that their boy is not as bright as their neighbor's? To assume that little children, by virtue of their birth or their baptism, are members of the local organization, is either to establish a thing in words, and make it nothing in reality, or to found a Church whose ranks will be liable to be filled up with members without spirituality or even outward correctness of life; members who are scarce "under the law,” to say nothing of grace. It is not uncharitable toward those Churches which have tried the birthright principle, to say that it has not worked well for the cause of true piety.
We confess a doubt in regard to our author's meaning on one important point. He says:
Children are related to the Church spiritually, really, vitally. When our Lord said, "of such is the kingdom of heaven," he affirmed a spiritual relation. He did not predicate their membership in his kingdom of the simple fact of their baptism, or their circumcision, but of their being redeemed children. Their relation to the "kingdom" arose from their relation to the King, and it
applied to all children as such. If children have a spiritual relation to Christ, their relation to his Church is that of spiritual members. Baptism is only the sign and seal of membership; the spiritual relation, which is the real one, precedes the emblematic and the conventional, and is the moral ground of the latter.-Page 209.
Now we believe this most firmly. But if children, with or without baptism, are spiritual members of the Church of Christ, baptism does not create, but merely recognizes that membership. This too we believe, and so does our author. Our book of Discipline inculcates the same view: "We hold that all children, by virtue of the unconditional benefits of the atonement, are members of the kingdom of God, and therefore graciously entitled to baptism."-Discipline, p. 38. Three centuries ago, Henry Bullinger, one of the first reformers, stated the thought thus: "To be short, [we baptize infants] because we believe that God of his mere grace and mercy in the blood of Jesus Christ hath cleansed and adopted them, and appointed them to be heirs of eternal life. We therefore, baptizing infants for these causes, do abundantly testify that there is not first given unto them in baptism, but that there is sealed and confirmed which they had before." (Quoted by Dr. H., p. 167.) But what is that membership which baptism does not create, but recognizes? Only one answer can be given: it is a membership in the great Church of Christ which is composed of those, and those alone, whose names are "written in heaven" as the heirs of life. But the infant before baptism was not a Methodist, a Presbyterian, nor an Episcopalian; and as baptism only recognizes that which already existed, the rite does not make him a member of any local organization. Dr. Hibbard, if we do not mistake his meaning, labors to establish some kind of a membership in the local Church to which the child's parents belong, or where it was baptized. We think that when the child arrives at years of understanding, and gives evidence of genuine piety and of a willingness to comply with Church rules, he may claim a place among the people of God; and so he might had he been a heathen, and cast upon the Church an unbaptized foundling. In either case he has no real membership in the Methodist Church, or any other, till he has satisfied the proper authorities in regard to his loyalty to the fundamental doctrines and the discipline of the Church.
Our theory may be stated thus: There is a general Church of Christ, composed of all who have through grace a title to heaven. Some of these are believers; others are little children too young to be required to believe, yet in a state of salvation because Jesus died for them, and they have not forfeited the grace bestowed. All who are now in a state of acceptance with God really belong to this body, whether their names are enrolled in Church registers or not. All not in a state of acceptance are not members of this general Church, however high their names may stand on the earthly records. The denominations are related to the general Church much as the army stands in relation to the state. They are the regiments of the Church militant, the organizations of those who are able to bear arms, and who are banded together for discipline, for safety, and for duty. When the patriot father goes to the field, the infant which he leaves at home is as truly a member of the state as he is himself; but where would be the gain if we call the son a soldier now, when he can neither drill, nor march, nor fight, when military discipline is inapplicable, and military duty impossible? If we put down his name on the roster his place there is purely nominal, and the whole proceeding useless.
So in regard to infants in the Church. They are citizens of the heavenly state, and may in time be its warriors. But at this present hour they can bear no part in the operations of the Church; they cannot adopt its faith; they cannot be subject to its laws; their spiritual safety as infants is in no wise dependent on its organization. When their reason dawns the Church will have a high and holy duty to perform, in teaching them the things of God. They are members of the "general assembly and Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven." But to enroll them in infancy as members of the Methodist or any other Church would either create a nominal and therefore useless membership, or else, by conferring a real one so far as ecclesiastical law can do it, load the Church down with manifold embarrassments, and surround it with dangers to its spirituality and efficiency.
The Discipline of our Church goes as far in this direction. as we can go scripturally and safely. In defining the relation of baptized children to the Church, it declares that before their
baptism they were "members of the kingdom of God," and that by their baptism they are "placed in visible covenant relation to God, and under the special care and supervision of the Church." It then asks the question, "What shall be done for the baptized children of our Church?" The answer explains the whole force and value of the relation which the Church assigns them. 1. Their names are to be carefully registered.
2. At the age of ten years or earlier, the preacher in charge shall organize the baptized children of the Church into classes, and appoint suitable leaders, (male or female,) whose duty it shall be to meet them in class once a week, and instruct them in the nature, design, and obligations of baptism, and the truths of religion necessary to make them "wise unto salvation;" urge them to give regular attendance upon the means of grace; advise, exhort, and encourage them to an immediate consecration of their hearts and lives to God, and inquire into the state of their religious experience; provided, that children unbaptized are not to be excluded from these classes.
3. Whenever they shall have attained an age sufficient to understand the obligations of religion, and shall give evidence of a desire to flee from the wrath to come and to be saved from their sins, their names may, with their consent, be enrolled on the list of probationers; and if they shall continue to give evidence of a principle and habit of piety, they may be admitted into full membership in our Church, on the recommendation of a leader with whom they have met at least six months in class, by publicly assenting before the Church to the baptismal covenant, and also the usual questions on doctrine and discipline.-Disc., pp. 39, 40.
These provisions for our children and youth are eminently wise and scriptural. Classes are to be formed for the especial benefit of the "baptized children of the Church;" and the language of the Discipline assumes that they will attend, as a thing of course. We imagine, however, that when the plan becomes incorporated into the regular operations of our Churches, it will soon be found that attendance is a voluntary thing on the part of the child. It is clear that parental authority may be rightly exercised to prevent neglect of the public worship of God, or of the Sabbath school; nevertheless it is not so clear that it will be wise to compel the child, willing or unwilling, to attend the new class.
Advice, exhortation, earnest entreaty may be in place; but mere authority is of doubtful utility in the case. Practically, the disciplinary arrangement will assume this shape: classes
will be formed, and all the children of the Sabbath-school and the congregation will be invited to attend, and "encouraged to make an entire consecration of their hearts and lives to God." Conversing with each member of the class, the leader is to learn "the state of their religious experience," and instruct, warn, and encourage, as individual cases require. Those whose declarations and whose lives give "evidence of a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins," become eligible to the preliminary Church membership of probation. Desiring to take this additional step, they are received as probationers, and according to universal usage among us, as we understand it, are admitted to the sacrament of baptism if not previously baptized, and to the table of the Lord. Nevertheless, they are not yet members of the Church in the full sense of the term, but are merely accepted as hopeful candidates for that relation. Employing all the means of grace to which access is thus given them, and continuing faithful to God and their duty "for at least six months" longer, "giving evidence of a principle and habit of piety," they are eligible to full membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
We hold that these provisions of the Discipline are wise and right, in perfect accordance with the spirit of the Gospel, and in the highest degree calculated to foster early piety. Thus the whole attitude of the Church toward the child is one of invitation and encouragement; the privileges given meet every need and every desire of the awakening mind, and at the same time the heart is not lulled into a false rest by a virtual assurance that the work of grace is already completed, however unconscious the soul may be of the fact. For the youngest lamb of the flock a warm fold is prepared. The smallest child whose heart is touched by the Spirit of God finds a hearty welcome and guidance and protection, and a plain path leading to a full participation in all the privileges of God's people. At every step "the Spirit and the Bride," and he "that heareth, say, Come." And we doubt whether more than this can be done, without danger of making membership in the Church a matter of birthright or of baptism, irrespective of a genuine experience in the things of God. Certainly we ought to do no less.