From The Universalist Manual, or Book of Prayers by Menzies Rayner. (New York: P. Price, 1839)
There are many in the denomination of Universalists, who do not regard it as a duty incumbent on them, to offer up their children in the ordinance of water baptism, either by immersion or sprinkling; not finding in the Scriptures, as they think, any command or example, requiring, or commanding the same. But while they dissent, in this respect, from the general opinion of the Christian church, they cannot reasonably be supposed to entertain less affection for their offspring, or less solicitude for their spiritual welfare. Believing, as the Psalmist expresses it, that “children are a heritage of the Lord,” and a gift which cometh from him, they esteem it both a duty and a privilege, publicly to devote and dedicate them, as a free-will offering, to him, and to his service.
It has been thought that both in the Old and New Testaments indications are given of such an observance, sufficient to warrant the practice; and hence, in the denomination of Universalists, the custom of public dedication of children, by solemn prayer and thanksgiving, has obtained in many placed, and to a considerable extent. Indeed, the conduct of our blessed Saviour toward the little children that were brought to him, as particularly stated in Mark x. 13-16, is of itself an ample justification of such religious service and dedication. In compliance with this authoritative, and most endearing example of our Lord and Master, the following form is humbly submitted.
At the appointed time, the parents with their child (or children) may present themselves before the minister, who may address them on this wise: —
Beloved Brethren: It is the testimony of the Scriptures, that children are a heritage and gift that cometh from the Lord; and under the Jewish dispensation, children, and especially the first-born, were wont to be solemnly devoted to the God of Israel, and his blessings implored upon them. And although we are no longer under that law, and the yoke of the many irksome obseranves which it imposed, yet we are equally bound to offer and devote our children to God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who also is like the God and Father of all men, and to invoke for them his constant favour and benediction. The example of Jesus also testifies, how precious little children were in his sight; how lovely their innocence, and how worthy to be imitated. Hence the Evangelist tells us, “They brought young children to Christ that he should touch them, and his disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein: and he took them up in his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them.”
From this portion of the gospel testimony, we learn the great affection which Jesus entertained for the lambs of his flock: how he rebuked those who would have kept them from him: how he embraced and blessed them, and pronounced them heirs, and fit subjects of his kingdom; even that kingdom of grace and salvation, which, “in the dispensation of the fulness of times, shall gather together in one, all things in Christ;” making, of the universe, one blessed family.
Being thus persuaded of the good will, and the great and unceasing love of our heavenly Father toward his whole human offspring; and not doubting that he favourably regardeth this pious care in presenting this child [or these children] to be dedicated to his service, let us devoutly give thanks, and offer our fervent supplications unto him.
Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God, our heavenly Father, we give thee humble thanks that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace and faith in thee, as revealed in the gospel of thy Son, our Redeemer. Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us ever, more and more. Be pleased, we beseech thee, O Lord, graciously to look upon this child, whom we now offer and dedicate unto thee, in all humility and gratitude. Receive it, we pray thee, as thine own, and have it always in thy protection and holy keeping. Endue it with thy good spirit: council it with thy wisdom, in its journey through this mortal life, and save it with thine own free grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The minister then addressing himself especially to the parents, may say as follows: —
Dearly Beloved: Ye have brought this child here to be dedicated to him who gave it. Ye have prayed that God’s holy Spirit may rest upon and accompany it though life. You should, therefore, constantly bear in mind, that it is your most solemn and bounden duty, to endeavour that this child he brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Your counsels and your example are, in a great degree, the influences under which, in the providence of God, its mind and manners are to be moulded, and its character formed. Be careful, then, to instil into its young and growing mind, those salutary lessons of religion and morality which are found in the gospel of our salvation. And inasmuch as your teaching and your precepts, will usually be of little avail, if a corresponding practice does not accompany them, I entreat your to commend your counsels and admonitions, by a well-ordered life and conversation, thereby adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things, and walking worthy of the high vocation wherewith ye are called. And may you be of the number of those who are “the blessed of the Lord, and their children with them.”
The minister then taking the child in his arms, or having it conveniently placed, and its name given him, he repeating it in an audible voice, may say as follows:
N — We hereby dedicate thee, by solemn prayer and supplication, laying our hand upon thee [here the minister may lay his hand upon the head of the child] in imitation of the blessed Jesus; in his name, declaring thee blessed, and an heir of the kingdom of God. “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord life up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”
The minister then, returning the child to the parents, may conclude the service as follows, saying: —
Let us pray
Our Father who art in heaven, &c. [The whole of the Lord’s Prayer may here be said, the people audibly repeating the same with the minister, who may then further add:] O Lord, our heavenly Father, may the offering we have now made unto thee, in the dedication of this child, be acceptable in thy sight. Crown, we beseech thee, our imperfect devotions with thy heavenly benediction, and grant that these parents, and this child may be sanctified by thy grace, and received as thine own children by adoption: and may we all be a people to thy praise and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all evermore. Amen.