There is no need to produce further proof that the kingdom covers the whole profession of Christianity. A glance at the parables should settle this. But we have to see yet that it goes beyond even what we can properly call profession; that discipleship goes beyond this; the kingdom being indeed exactly commensurate with this last,- ideally, with the whole of the baptized.
And here I am reminded that in what I shall have to say I must speak contrary to the convictions of many beloved brethren, and seem, perhaps, even in speaking, to make light of these. I do not in the least, but sympathize fully with the strength of their feelings regarding the dishonour done to Christ, and the injury done to men's souls by views widely current as to baptism. Babylon the great has been built up by the use of bricks for stones, and slime for mortar, - the substitution of human manufacture for divine creation, - of a "sacramental host of God's elect" for those "baptized by one Spirit into one body." And in the hands of these builders baptism has been made to build up a "great house" with vessels to dishonour, from which we are called to purge ourselves if we would be "vessels unto honour" (2 Tim. 2:20, 21). Protest against this false ritualistic system can hardly go too far or be too strongly maintained.
Water Baptism is Not Baptism of the Holy Spirit
The baptism of water has been confounded with the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and infants have been supposed to be regenerated by it, and made partakers of a life that gave no sign, and bore no fruit for God, and but deluded those who trusted in it. Then, as they could not say that every one so baptized was fit for heaven, they had to send a large part of these man-made children of God to hell, and most of the rest to purgatory to be purified by fire there. While yet, without this baptismal regeneration, not even a little babe could go to heaven.
The fundamental error here is twofold: first, in confounding, as already said, the natural and the spiritual spheres. Water cannot cleanse a soul, nor impart spiritual life. It may be "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace," but not "a means whereby we receive the same." Secondly, in confounding heaven and the kingdom of heaven, or again, the kingdom of heaven and the Church. And from these last two, Protestantism has not in general, any more than Rome, escaped. The distinction between the two leaves a place of privilege and conditional blessing, which is not the Church, and yet which is not the world either, save as it is untrue to its character, and the principles of the world may leaven it. And this is what Scripture attests would happen, and history shows has happened. But man's unbelief cannot make the faithfulness of God without effect. The kingdom of heaven, with its message of peace and reconciliation, remains the testimony of a love which goes out to all, and would gather in to God wherever the will of man is not hardening itself in opposition. We do not, in fact, in Scripture meet with that long delay of baptism, and that preparation of catechumens, which came in as baptism itself came to be looked upon as reception into the Church, and the symbol of the full Christian state. In the New Testament the catechumens were inside, not outside, the sphere of discipleship. Instead of being kept waiting at the threshhold, the applicants were met with a generous and unsuspecting welcome. Three thousand were baptized on the day of Pentecost: how much preliminary instruction had they? And if, as at Samaria, a Simon Magus were received, with his heart not right in the sight of God, his reception had not defiled those tender arms of mercy which had been flung around him, and from which he had, as it were, to burst, to pursue the headlong path to everlasting ruin. I say, it is evident upon the face of Scripture, that baptism was not then fenced round, as many now would fence it round. It was a door, not carelessly, but readily and with a full heart, opened to the applicant for it. No question of Christ's heart, no "if thou wilt" was to be permitted.
But notice also, no hint of the Church of God is connected with this, its occurrence even in Acts 2:47 in the common version being a copyist's error. The doctrine of the Church was revealed to Paul much later, and he who "received of the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:23), as to the institution of the Supper, had no commission to baptize (chap. 1:17) In the first is involved the question of communion; in the second, the responsibility is only individual.
Baptism of Children
This wider character of the kingdom we see further in our Lord's words as to the little children brought to Him. "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," are words which become very plain when we have seen what the kingdom is. In these little ones is no resisting will, and divine love would lay hold upon them for its own. Once see that the kingdom is not heaven, but a SPIRIT of discipleship on earth, you can no more stumble at the thought of baptizing them than of taking them into your Sunday Schools. They belong, the Lord says, to His school at all times, and here He would meet them, put His hands on them, and bless them, as when on earth He did. The great arms of the Redeemer will not wait even for their final choice of Him to he made manifest, but would win them, prevail upon them by their tender clasp, mark them as His in His will, whatever even in the end may he their own. How precious is this thought of His, which then He turns to us to help carry out: "Bring them up," He says. "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).
They are His disciples, taken into His school, and to be brought up for Him. And who would, as such, reject them? Is it not because of the superstition which has been connected with the thought, and the confusion between the kingdom and the Church, that so many now reject the baptism of infants as a popish figment, while they would do for them gladly the very thing which baptism implies, and rightly think it any thing but popish?
Let its remember that baptism is not to take them to heaven as a charm, but to mark them as belonging to Christ's school on earth; that, as far as it goes, it is "baptism unto death," not life; burial, the putting the dead in death, where they belong; but in that touching confession of their need, baptizing them "unto Christ," "to His death," looking for all to come to them, not from the water, but from Christ, through His work for them, which we thus own. Find me in this one shred of popery or superstition, any one that will. It is only the sweet and suited, open and apparent action of One who says in it what He says of old: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven": words that charm our hearts, beloved brethren, and command our allegiance. This character of the kingdom, then, is a beautiful one, that it represents to us the very character of Him who is on the throne of it,- the grace that casts out none that come, that would fain receive all, even those who break away at last from its shelter. Yes, such is the love of Jesus; and to me, while I own the difference of the dispensation, and do not want to press uncertain analogies, yet it seems only the more suited that He, who in the days of law recognized the children of His people in the mark of circumcision, should now, in the grace that is come in with Christianity, not leave them without some corresponding mark. I am assured He has not done so; and the confusion and evil in His kingdom cannot affect the grace of it, or make it less certain that His kingdom it is. And when the limit of His patience has been reached, love it will he still that will act, the rod of iron will be the Shepherd's rod.
But we must now consider more attentively the distinction between the kingdom and the Church.