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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 95. To whom is baptism to be administered?

A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to Him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.

1. As an instance of the misapplication and abuse of the sacred ordinance of baptism, the author of the Protestant publishes, in that excellent work, a description sent him by a correspondent, of the ceremony of the baptism of a bell, which took place at Naples. A noble lord was god-father to the bell, and a lady of quality was god-mother. Most of the prayers said on the occasion, ended with the following words: 'That Thou wouldst be pleased to rinse, purify, sanctify, and consecrate these bells with Thy heavenly benediction.' The following were the words of consecration: 'Let the sign be consecrated and sanctified, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' The bishop then turning to the people, said, 'The bell's name is Mary.' He had previously demanded of the god-father and god-mother, what name they would have put upon the bell, and the lady gave it this name.

2. A careless parent one evening entered Murray M'Cheyne's house, and asked him to come with him to baptize a dying child. He knew that neither this man nor his wife ever entered the door of a church; but he rose and went with him to the miserable dwelling. There an infant lay, apparently dying, and many of the female neighbours, equally depraved with the parents, stood round. He came forward to where the child was, and spoke to the parents of their ungodly state, and fearful guilt before God, and concluded by showing them that, in such circumstances, he would consider it sinful in him to administer baptism to their infant. They said, 'You might at least do it for the sake of the poor child.' He told them that it was not baptism that saved a soul, and that out of true concern for themselves, he must not do as they wished. The friends around the bed then joined the parents in upbraiding him as having no pity on the poor infant's soul! He stood among them still, and showed them that it was they who had been thus cruel to their child; and then lifted up his voice in solemn warning, and left the house amidst their ignorant reproaches.

3. A parish minister, preaching in the presence of Philip Henry and his family, and many of his friends being present, was earnestly cautioning people not to go to nonconformist meeting-places, and used this as an argument against it, 'that they were baptized into the Church of England.' Philip Henry's catholic charity could not well digest this monopolizing of the great ordinance of baptism, and thought it time to bear his testimony against such narrow principles, of which he ever expressed his dislike in all parties and persuasions. Accordingly he took the next opportunity that offered itself publicly to baptize a child, and desired the congregation to bear witness, 'that he did not baptize that child into the Church of England, nor into the Church of Scotland, nor into the church of the dissenters, nor into the church at Broad-Oak, where he was a minister, but into the visible catholic church of Jesus Christ.'

4. 'An assembly of sixty-six pastors,' says Joseph Milner, 'men who had stood the trial of a grievous persecution, and sound in the faith, was called by Cyprian, in the year 253 of the Christian era, to decide, not whether infants should be baptized at all, but whether it should be done immediately, or on the eighth day. If infant baptism had been an innovation, it must have been now of considerable standing. The disputes about Easter show that such an innovation must have formed a remarkable era in the church. It is impossible to account for the silence of all antiquity, but on the footing that it had once been allowed, and that infant baptism was the practice of the first churches.'

This material is taken from THE SHORTER CATECHISM ILLUSTRATED by John Whitecross revised and republished by the Banner of Truth Trust edition 1968 and reproduced with their permission.

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