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Baptism of Orphans

as reported by Charles Hodge

Copyright © 2000, All rights reserved.

What follows is a report from The Princeton Review volume 15, issue 3 (publication date: July 1843). Charles Hodge regularly wrote reviews of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. This one is entitled simply enough: "The General Assembly of 1843." The article runs from page 407 to 469. The excerpt below is taken from pages 422 and 423. We are posting this to show that Presbyterian and Reformed principles do not make the baptism of infants depend entirely on the family unit. Rather the infants of pagans being raised in a Christian orphanage should also be baptized. The issue is not some sort of "representative principle" in which the father is a "covenant head." The issue simply is whether this child is going to be discipled as a Christian. If the child is going to be so discipled and is still an infant, then the child should begin life in the covenant. The covenant of grace is with Christ and his church, not the family. Rev. Mark Horne


A memorial was presented from the Presbytery of Lodiana, respecting the baptism of the orphan children of heathen parents, to which the Assembly returned the following answer:

Dear Brethren–You have submitted to us questions respecting a subject, which, we have no doubt, is one of very great importance, in regard to the progress of religion among the heathen. We have seriously considered it, and give you here the result of our deliberations.

You present to us three questions, to which we reply, in the order in which the same are presented.

1. "Are all orphan children of heathen parents committed to the care of our mission, entitled to the benefit of the ordinance of baptism, without respect to their ages?"

We reply–certainly they are not. You must make the same distinction that you would make, if their parents were alive and members of the Christian church and desiring to have them baptized–the same distinction which is made in Christian countries. We add–let those children only be baptized, in every case, who are so committed to the mission, or other Christian tuition, as to secure effectually their entire religious education. On this point, great caution is necessary.

2. You ask, (on the presumption that the preceding question is answered in the negative,) "Are those only to be baptized who have not attained to years of discretion."

This question we answer in the affirmative.

3. Your third question is, in substance, as follows–"If those only who have not attained to years of discretion are to be baptized, at what age shall the federal right be supposed to cease, and personal responsibility to commence?"

Although it is not difficult to answer this question in accordance with the standards and the practice of the Presbyterian Church, yet the rule may frequently be found difficult of application.

Our answer to the question, however, is;–the officers of the Church must judge in each particular case, whether the proposed subject of baptism has arrived at years of discretion or not. We can adopt no other rule in our own practice, and we can recommend no other to you. We refer you to chap. ix. sec. 2, of our Directory for Worship.

If the person proposed to be baptized has acquired that maturity of mind, which renders him capable of making an intelligent profession of religion himself, he ought not to be baptized on the faith of another. Our Confession of Faith recognises the right to baptism of the infant children only of such parents as are members of the church. We do not doubt that in heathen countries, children of heathen parents ordinarily arrive at, what are called years of discretion, later than those who enjoy the advantages of Christian instruction in early life; but in a country where the religion of all consists in forms and ceremonies, great care should be taken that the Christian religion does not even appear to partake of the formality and emptiness of Mohammedanism and Paganism.

Copyright © 2000, All rights reserved.

1 Comment »

  1. This particular essentially resolved my problem, appreciate it!

    Comment by Lyndon Balloon — July 25, 2011 @ 10:33 am

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