I was asked a question tonight about Jonathan Edwards Resolution 42
Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this 12th day of January, 1722–23.
Jonathan Edwards, Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn and Harry S. Stout, vol. 16, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1998), 756. My friend found this a bit confusing. First, he didn’t understand how Edwards had made any vows having been baptized as an infant. The answer to that question is found in the text of the resolution. He is referring to his own willing acceptance of those vows “when I was received into the communion of the church.”
Second, he was unaware of the practice. This comes in part from lightness with which we commonly think of our baptism. Compare that to Luther’s observation, “It is true, then, that there is no higher, greater, better vow than the baptismal vow. Or could anything greater be vowed than to cast out all sin, to die, to hate this life and to become holy?” Martin Luther, Luther’s Catechetical Writings: God’s Call to Repentance, Faith and Prayer, trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. I, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1907), 325. Moreover, in common baptist practice which I have seen, there is no promise made to renounce sin, the flesh, and the devil, but rather a profession of repentance. I think that such promises are implied in true repentance. But yet, I simply don’t recall being taught that making the public profession imposes any duty to conform to the profession. I am not saying it is not there; rather, I am saying it is not made explicit.
Compare that to this observation from Thomas Manton in a sermon entitled, “How Ought We to Improve Our Baptism.”
Baptism is a perpetual bond upon us, obliging us to repentance, and a holy life. (Rom. 6:4.)—Therefore the scripture often reasoneth from it; as, Rom. 6:2: “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” He argueth not ab impossibili, but ab incongruo; not “from what is impossible,” but “what will misbecome” our renewed estate, which we profess to enter into by baptism; which is a vowed death to sin, and a bond wherewith we bind our souls to new obedience. So elsewhere: “If ye then be risen with Christ,” (in the import and signification of baptism,) “seek the things which are above.” And again: “Ye are dead, mortify therefore,” &c. Once more: “Put off all these, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” (Col. 3:1, 3, 5, 8, 9.) And in many other places the apostle argueth from the baptismal engagement to the effect intended and signified thereby.
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 96. He continues onto note that should be stray from our vow, our vow will be a witness against us:
If we have been baptized, and lived directly contrary to our baptismal vow, as if we were in covenant with the devil, the world, and the flesh, rather than with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what will become of us in the judgment?
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 97.
The question of baptismal vows is a reference point in much Puritan writing. For instance
All of us have vowed in baptism to fight against the world, and the devil, and the main enemy of all that is within us, that is, our flesh. We could not be hurt by them. We betray ourselves, as Samson betrayed himself to Delilah. Those that are baptized, and especially that have renewed their vows by solemn fasting, and renewed their covenant in taking the communion, as there are none of us all but have vowed against our corruptions and sins in baptism, and have renewed their solemn vows in the communion and in public fasting. Well, when we go about to strengthen our corruptions, and the corruptions of the times in the places where we live, what do we go about? To build the walls of Jericho again. What do we go about, but to strengthen that that God hath cursed? There is nothing under heaven so cursed as this corruption of ours, that is the cause of all the curses of the creatures, of all the curses that ever were, or shall be, even to the last curse: ‘Go, ye cursed, to eternal destruction,’ Mat. 25:41. This pride, and sensuality, and secret atheism and infidelity that we cherish, and love more than our own souls, this is that that many go about to build, and oppose all the ways that are used to pull down Jericho, and hate nothing so heartily as the motions of God’s Spirit, and the means that God’s Spirit hath sanctified to pull down these walls of Jericho.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 7 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1864), 28.