Witherow’s Responses To “Anabaptist Objections”

That infant baptism is the practice of all branches of the Christian church, with one solitary exception, is a well-known fact. That it has been the practice of the church of God for eighteen centuries is also beyond dispute. When one sect, therefore, ventures to differ in opinion from all other Christian churches, it should have very strong reasons to support it. But I was considering the objections which the Anabaptists advance against the administration of the ornaments, and then let all men judge whether they are sound and conclusive.

1. The first of these objections is founded on the baptism of Christ (Matt. 3:13–17). The fact that Christ was not baptized in childhood, but only when he entered on his ministry, some thirty years afterwards, is considered by many of the more ignorant class a strong proof against infant baptism. This will be short. At the time of Christ’s birth, the ordinance of baptism did not exist in the church of God. Circumcision was then the initiatory right, and Christ was circumcised (Luke 2:21). Thirty years afterwards, John was sent to baptize, and so soon as the opportunity presented itself, Christ submitted to the rite. But although His own disciples baptized during the Savior’s lifetime (John 4:1–2), yet it was not until the Lord had risen from the dead that Christian baptism was instituted (Matt. 28:19). The mere fact, therefore, that the Lord Jesus did not receive, in infancy, an ordinance that did not exist until after his death and resurrection, is no argument against infant baptism. One might as well argue against the circumcision of infants, on the ground that Abraham was not circumcised until he was 100 years of age.

2. Again, it is said that an infant cannot understand baptism, and eloquent pictures are sometimes drawn of the wrong inflicted on the poor unconscious babe which receives an ordinance of which it knows nothing, and is made party to a solemn transaction without any consent of its own.

It is admitted, readily, that a child at baptism does not understand the nature of the ordinance of which it is the subject, but that is no reason why it should not drive benefit thereby. He does not know the texture of of the clothes that cover it, and yet these clothes keep it warm. It does not understand the nature of its mother’s milk, and yet that milk sustains its life. The children that were brought to Jesus that he might touch them (Mark 10:13–16) did not understand the ceremony that was gone through on that occasion, and yet we cannot but believe that Christ did them good. An Anabaptist might have rebuked those mothers, and said to them, “take your children home, what is the good of it? What can they know about Christ blessing?” But Jesus would have shown him, what he did show the ignorant disciples, that with such conduct “he was indignant.” A divine purpose may be served, and good, by the administration of baptism to a child, while, at the same time, the child does not understand the ordinance. If our Anabaptist friends had seen a Jew, with a knife in hand, ready to perform on an infant of eight days old the right of circumcision, they would have attempted to dissuade him from his bloody work in some such way as this: “How can this poor babe know anything of a covenant made so many years ago? Why administer to it an ordinance that it does not understand? Why make it a party to such a solemn transaction without any consent of its own?” The Jew could scarcely hide his contempt for one so ignorant of the law and the prophets, as he would reply: “Beautiful reasoning, indeed, Gentile unbeliever! But with me it does not weigh one feather against the appointment of God.” Now we say the same. The baptized infant may be ignorant of the ordinance, but that does not, with us, weigh one feather against the appointment of God. Alexander Carson, an  Anabaptist writer, says, “I would baptize Satan himself, without the smallest scruple, had I a divine warrant.” Possessing, as we do, a divine warrant for baptizing the children of believers, we hesitate still less to administer the ordinance to an unconscious babe. Read more»

Thomas Witherow (1824–90) | I Will Build My Church: Selected Writings on Church Polity, Baptism, and the Sabbath, ed. Jonathan Gibson. Philadelphia: Westminster Seminary Press, 2021), 179–81.


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!