The sign is called by the name of the thing signified. The cut in the flesh is called God's covenant; and the covenant is, "I will be thy God." That the child was not circumcised before the eighth day,—teacheth us that God hath not tied salvation to the sacrament; for it had been a hard thing in the Lord to defer it an hour if the child had perished without it. This answereth the fear of some good ones, and the false boldness of some bad ones, in these days, touching children that die without baptism; for God is no worse to us under the Gospel, than he was to them under the law; neither less able to save now without baptism, then he was in those days without circumcision, the seed of the faithful.
This grace was not then free, and now bound; then more, and now less; then stronger, and now weaker: far be it from us so to dream. David's child died before the eighth day, he yet for all that judged it not damned, neither cried out for it as he did for Absalom that was circumcised, but said that he should go to it.—See—plainly that salvation is not tied to baptism, as some imagine. Again, " He that heareth my word," saith Christ, "and believeth in him that sent me, shall be saved," and cannot be damned, (John v. 24;) but this may one do before he be baptized; therefore before a man be baptized he may stand in a state of salvation.
The assumption is evident in the eunuch (Acts viii.) and others.—Forty years (circumcision) was omitted in the wilderness, and yet hard to say, whosoever died was damned; since God in that omission intended no cruelty, but mercy and pity to his people. How do not these men consider that they put life and death, salvation and damnation, into the hand of a mortal man; that if he be disposed for malice to the parents to hurt the child, so far hurt it, as to damn it for ever out of the
, and company of all faithful. kingdom of God
O fearful doctrine! fearful to all parents, injurious to thousands of poor infants, and blasphemous against the bottomless mercy of a sweet and tender Father, who hath said, "I will be thy God, and thy child's," not adding any condition of baptism, if it cannot be had as it ought.—Are covenants made by sacraments, or only sealed by them? Did not the primitive Christians examine those of riper years in the faith, before they baptized them? Why so, I pray,— but that they might show it was the covenant, not the seal; their faith, not the sacrament, which chiefly was to be regarded; though the seal also in no case is to be neglected, much less contemned. How many in times past deferred their baptism for many years? as Constantine, Nazianzen, and others, not therein doing well as they ought, but yet evidently showing the faith of the church then, that God without baptism is able to save, and hath not tied his grace to any sign. If he can save men of years, why not infants ?—But, blessed be God, that hath neither thus enthralled his grace, nor taught his church in his word, but quite contrary; as we see in his telling Abraham his covenant reached to his seed, and by deferring the seal of the same, to wit, circumcision to the eighth day; which he never would have done if the want of it simply had been damnation.
Conclude we therefore with St. Austin, that, The invisible sanctification may be without the visible sign; with Bernard, that, Not want, but contempt of baptism hurteth; and even with Lombard himself, The grace of God is not tied to the sacraments.
-- Bishop Gervase Babington, cited in Unknown Author, Conferences of the Reformers and Divines of the Early English Church, on the Doctrines of the Oxford Tractarians; held in the Province of Canterbury, in the Spring of the Year 1841 (London: Seeley and Burnside, 1841), 121, 122.