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Sponsor is the particular member of the body, presented by the Parent, and approved by the Church, to which the Church commits her own responsibility of training up the Infant for God.
Let the same blessed charity interpret the usage of the Church in calling upon Sponsors to undertake their interesting charge. And did the masters of slaves, the voluntary guardians of orphans, and the holy virgins kindly under-take the charitable office of being Sponsors to destitute Infants in that day, and is it a less charitable office for Christians to undertake the same kind responsibility at this ? Were unprotected slaves, parentless Infants, and Children exposed to perish, the subjects of holy concern to these primitive believers, and are the Infants of professing Christians at this day, who, but for the interference of some real believer in Christ, are likely to be brought up in nothing better than the formality, and vanity, and worldly-mindedness of their Parents, not equally the subjects of the charitable consideration of Christian Sponsors at this ? what is this but the commonest exercise of charity ? " In all this there is nothing else done (as Augustine well remarks) than what is written in the Gospel, when our Lord asked who was neighbour to him that was wounded by thieves, and left half dead in the road ? and it was answered, “He that shewed mercy on him.”
Let us consider the undertaking of the Sponsor
in this same light as our Church does, consistently with the view entertained by the Church of old, as a “charitable act, a kind expression of Christian love, consulting the best interests of the Child baptised, and we shall approach the consideration of our subject with the spirit that it demands.
But first, it is incumbent on us to remark the too general negligence of those who undertake this solemn office. And here, My Dear Friend, I find myself so deeply involved in this general charge of neglect, that were not the cause of truth paramount to that of private feeling, a sense of my own negligence would induce me to be wholly silent on this subject. But I must indeed acknowledge, not only that “I am not better than my Fathers," i but that Tamar is “ more righteous than I:"2 and I would be so far from taking refuge under the broad shield of universal delinquency, that as our return to what is right must be individual before it can be general, so I am desirous that my particular share in the commission of this evil may meet with its particular share of reparation. And it is my fervent prayer, that a ten-fold clearer view of the advantages of Baptism than I entertain, and a ten-fold deeper impression of the mischiefs which result from our neglect of them than I feel, may be entertained and felt by every mem
1 1 Kings xix. 4.
2 Gen. xxxviii. 26.
ber of our Established Church; that a proportionate degree of reparation may be made to our Church, by the increased vigilance and more active superintendence of her Sponsors, and thus her children become really possessed of the spiritual blessings which are their unquestionable birthright.
May I therefore assume, and lament the fact as indisputable, that the duties of this solemn office of Sponsor, have sunk into general desuetude among
That some consider the mere undertaking of the duty in private, or at the font, as all that the office demands—that some politely comply with it as the receipt of a compliment—that others accept the offer, or make it, as an earnest of subsequent favorable testamentary dispositions towards the baptised and that even those who deem the promises they have made for the Child as important, yet show a very inadequate sense of this importance by any after attention they may bestow on their charge. Nay, is it not yet further notorious, that many conscientious Churchmen hesitate to undertake the office of Sponsor at all, under their impression of the weight of the duties, the performance of which it implies; and that such can only be persuaded to become Sponsors to children of decidedly pious Parents, under the condition often expressed, and oftener implied, that the Parents will be responsible for the education of the Child, and thus disengage them
from the due discharge of their office? In these different ways, whether from ignorance, fashion, or, shall I say, mistaken principle, it is but too evident that the office of Sponsor becomes a dead letter, a name without a thing.
Or put the case in another way: let it be supposed that Parents as generally required of the Godfathers and Godmothers of their Children, the serious performance of the duties which so solemn a name imports, as they are at present negligent in making such requirement. That “after” the “ promise made by Christ,” their Infant should “ also faithfully for his part, promise by his Sureties (until he come of age to take it upon himself) that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God's holy word, and obediently keep his commandments : " and that before their entrance upon such office, a solemn engagement were required of the Sponsors, that they would periodically examine their charge, as to his religious progress, and generally interest themselves in his spiritual welfare, more especially remembering him in their prayers. Could we, in the utmost latitude of charity, believe that such offer would be generally acceptable ? rather as Sponsors now act, would not such a requirement, viz. to discharge the duties of the office, be the most certain inducement with such Sponsors to decline the acceptance of it?
To what a lamentable state then, is the office
of Sponsor reduced among us, when it is generally undertaken on the assumption that it is a sinecure; and when even conscientious men engage in it, on the condition that the Parents are virtually responsible for the charge, while they themselves are free from the obligation of their own promises and vows.
But can we subscribe to this decision of good and pious men on this subject ? are they not attending more to their fears than their faith? and is this the line of conduct which faith demands of them in our present juncture of spiritual depression ? By whom shall Jacob arise,”1 if those, who are most eminently qualified to assist hini, shrink in the hour of difficulty, appalled by a mischief, the very extent of which should form one of their strongest motives to exertion ? To whom can spiritual responsibility be reasonably confided but to spiritual men ? If Baptism be any thing more than a ceremony, who shall rightly appreciate its value, and teach others rightly to appreciate it, but spiritual men ? Who shall practically confute that wide wasting position, that “ every externally baptised person is necessarily regenerated ;” but the man, who practically shows, that it is the wildest enthusiasm to expect the end without using the means; and that to instruct a Child that he is enjoying the privilege of " a member of Christ, the child
1 Amos vii. 5.