Circumcision and Infant Baptism
Romans 4:9-12
Comes this blessedness then on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also?…

1. It looks a rational system to make sure of the thing signified ere you impress the sign. We read of this one convert and that other having believed and been baptized, and this should be the order with every grownup person. But mark how it fared with Abraham and his posterity. He believed and was circumcised; and it was laid down for a statute in Israel that all his children should be circumcised in infancy. In like manner, the first Christians believed and were baptized, and then their children. Express authority is needed to warrant a change; but it is not needed to warrant a continuation. It is this want of express authority which stamps on the opposite system a character of innovation. When once bidden to walk in a straight line, it does not require the successive impulse of new biddings, to make us persevere in it. But it would require a new bidding to justify our going off from the line. Had the mode of infant baptism sprung up as a new piece of sectarianism, it would not have escaped notice. But there is no record of its ever having entered amongst us as a novelty; and we have therefore the strongest reason for believing that it has come down in one uncontrolled tide of example and observation from the days of the apostles. And if they have not given us any authority for it, they at least, had it been wrong, and when they saw that whole families of discipleship were getting into this style of observation, would have interposed and lifted up the voice of their authority against it. But we read of no such interdict. We have therefore the testimony of apostolic silence in favour of infant baptism.

2. But is it not wrong when the sign and the thing signified do not go together? Yes. In the case of an adult the thing signified should precede the sign. But in the case of an infant the sign precedes the thing signified. The former has been impressed upon him by the will of his parent, and the latter remains to be worked within him by the care of his parent. If he do not put forth this care, he is in the fault. He is like the steward who is entrusted by his superior with the subscription of his name to a space of blank paper, on the understanding that it was to be filled up in a particular way, agreeable to the will of his lord; and, instead of doing so, has filled it up with matter of a different import altogether. The infant, with its mind unfilled and unfurnished, has been put by the God of providence into his hands; and after the baptism which he himself hath craved, it has been again made over to him with the signature of Christian discipleship, and, by his own consent, impressed upon it; and he, by failing to grave the characters of discipleship upon it, hath unworthily betrayed the trust that was reposed in him. The worthies of the Old Testament circumcised their children in infancy, and the mark of separation reminded them of their duty to rear them as a holy generation; and many a Hebrew parent was solemnised by this observance to say, like Joshua, that whatever others should do, he with all his house should fear the Lord; and this was the testimony of God to Abraham, that He knew him, that he would bring up his children after him in all the ways that he had himself been taught; and it was the commandment of God to His servants of old, that they should teach their children diligently of the loyalty and gratitude that should be rendered to the God of Israel. And if this be enough to rationalise the infant circumcision of the Jews, it is equally enough to rationalise the infant baptism of Christians. The parent of our day, who feels as he ought, will feel himself in conscience to be solemnly charged that the infant whom he has held up to the baptism of Christianity, he should bring up in the belief of Christianity. It is well that there should be one sacrament in behalf of the grownup disciple, for the solemn avowal of his Christianity before men, and the very participation of which binds more closely about his conscience all the duties and all the consistencies of the gospel. But it is also well that there should be another sacrament, the place of which in his history is at the period of his infancy, and the obligation of which is felt, not by his conscience still in embryo, but by the conscience of him whose business is to develop and to guard and to nurture its yet unawakened sensibilities. This is like removing baptism upward on a higher vantage ground. It is assigning for it a station of command and of custody at the very fountainhead of moral influence.

3. Baptism, viewed as a seal, marks the promise of God, to grant the righteousness of faith to him who is impressed by it; but, viewed as a sign, it marks the existence of this faith. But if it be not a true sign, it is not an obligatory seal. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. But he who is baptized and believes not shall be damned. It is not the circumcision which availeth, but a new creature. It is not the baptism which availeth, but the answer of a good conscience. God hath given a terrible demonstration of the utter Worthlessness of a sign that is deceitful, and hath let us know that on that event as a seal it is dissolved. When a whole circumcised nation lost the spirit, though they retained the letter of the ordinance, He swept it away. Beware, ye parents, who regularly hold up your children to the baptism of water, and make their baptism by the Holy Ghost no part of your concern or of your prayer — lest you thereby swell the judgments of the land, and bring down the sore displeasure of God upon your families.

(T. Chalmers, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

WEB: Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.

Circumcision -- Sacramental Efficacy and Infant Baptism
Top of Page
Top of Page