Universalist views on baptism and dedication, 19th C.

As a follow up to this post, here are Universalist documents from the nineteenth century describing naming ceremonies (baptism and dedication).

1839: Universalist baptism and child dedication
1850: Universalist dedication/baptism
1872: Description of a Universalist naming ceremony
1895: Universalist naming ceremony


1839: Universalist baptism and child dedication

Menzies Rayner’s book of services met with favorable reviews when it was first published; the Universalist Union of Aug. 17, 1839, reprints excerpts of several of these reviews, and urges readers to buy and use the book. However, it is difficult to know how widely used the book actually was, and the review in the Universalist Union does seem to be responding to some resistance towards the book. In any case, the book does not seem to have remained in print very long. Before converting to Universalism, Rayner was an Episcopalian minister, and his services borrowed from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, with superimposed Universalist theology. Rayner spent several pages discussing his theology of Universalist baptism; I have omitted those pages here. After giving a “Proposed Form and Manner of Administering the Ordinance of Baptism” for adults, he gave his plan for both an infant baptismal ceremony, and a child dedication ceremony.

Menzies Rayner, The Universalist Manual: Or Book of Prayers and Other Religious Exercises (New York: P. Price, 1839), pp. 125 ff.:


The minister, either before or after sermon on the Sabbath, may desire the child, or children to be presented for baptism. Then going within the altar, he may begin the baptismal service, by offering some appropriate observations such as the following:—

Christian Friends and Brethren: Very gracious and endearing is the language of our Saviour, in relation to young children, as we find it recorded in the tenth chapter of the gospel by St. Mark. “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 to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God, Verily I say unto you, whosoever 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 upon them, and blessed them.”

St. Peter also, on the day of Pentecost, when under his preaching men were pricked in their hearts, and inquired what they should do, replied, and testified, saying, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins — For the promise is unto you, and to your children,” &c. We see by these scriptures, that the affection of our heavenly Father, and his covenant of promise, embrace little children. We also learn from other parts of the divine record, that in the days of the apostles, whole households, or families, were dedicated to the service of God in Christian baptism ; and which appears to have been done on the faith, and doubtless at the request of the parents, or governors of such households, on their conversion to Christianity. In imitation of which examples, this child is (or these children are, if more than one) now presented for baptism. Let us, therefore, invoke the divine blessing on this religious service.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast so loved the world of mankind, as to give thine only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, for their redemption and salvation: who was holy, harmless, and undefiled; who, when on earth, went about doing good, healing and delivering all that were oppressed. Who also, in the tenderness of his compassion, and his great benevolence, took little children into his arms, embraced and blessed them, declaring that of such is the kingdom of God; we beseech thee, heavenly Father, to receive and embrace in the arms of thy mercy and love, this present little child, whom we now publicly offer and dedicate unto thee. Shed upon him (or her) O Lord, the holy and purifying influences of Divine grace, emblematically set forth by the sprinkling of pure water. And if in thy good providence, the life of this child shall be prolonged to mature age, grant that he may be both disposed and enabled to honor the Name and the holy religion, into which he is now to be baptized: May he be an exemplary and useful member of the Christian Church, and richly enjoy its inestimable privileges and blessings, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The minister may then take the child into his hands, or, it being conveniently placed before him, and its name given, he (distinctly pronouncing the name) may discreetly pour, or sprinkle water upon the child, saying:—

I baptize thee, in the name of the Lord Jesus; and receive thee, as a lamb of the Christian flock, into the fold of Christ the great Shepherd, (here laying his hand upon the child he may continue, saying) and do pronounce thee blessed, in the name of the Lord, a member of his kingdom of gospel grace, and an heir of the kingdom of glory; according to the good pleasure, and the eternal purpose of God, our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Saviour. Amen.

The baptismal service may then be closed by some short advice to the parents concerning the bringing up of the child, and by devoutly, and unitedly repeating the Lord’s Prayer; or in such other way as the minister may think expedient.


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 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 the public dedication of children, by solemn prayer and thanksgiving, has obtained in many places, 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 then address them on this wise:—

Beloved Brethren: It is the testimony of the Scriptures, that children are a heritage and gift that cometh of 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 blessing implored upon them. And although we are no longer under that law, and the yoke of the many irksome observances which it imposed, yet are we 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 favor 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 to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of 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 favorably 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 to 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: counsel 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 through life. You should, therefore, constantly bear in mind, that it is your most solemn and bounden duty, to endeavor that this child be 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 instill 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 you 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 lift 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.


1850: Universalist dedication / baptism

The book of services from which this service was taken was published by a group of Universalist ministers along the Merrimac River in Massachusetts. The service was to be used both for baptism and dedication of children. For a baptism, after the child’s name is given it was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For a dedication, after the child’s name is given, it was dedicated to God “while yet unstained by sin.”

I. D. Williamson, The Universalist Church Companion: Prepared by the Merrimac River Ministerial Circle for the Use of Its Members and Others, rev. and enlarged ed. (Boston: A. Tompkins, 1850), pp. 110 ff.:


(The child should be presented by the parents, or, if an orphan, by near relatives.)

Pastor. — Our Saviour, when on earth, said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” His words are “the same yesterday, to-day, and forever;” and now, as then, he calls upon us to bring our children unto him, and assures us, that his blessing awaits them.

Beloved friends; you have brought this child here for solemn dedication, [or for baptism.] You thus signify your desire to bring up your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and to seek the Divine blessing in the performance of this sacred and important duty.

Will you earnestly and faithfully seek the virtue and happiness of this child?

ANS. — I will.

P. — Will you endeavor to instruct him (or her) in the principles of the religion of Christ, that he (or she) may be led to remember his (or her) Creator in the days of his (or her) youth?

ANS. — I will.

P. — Will you exhort him (or her) to keep God’s holy commandments, and walk continually in the way of truth and duty?

Ans. — I will.

P. — May God give you strength so to do. Then, should all your efforts prove fruitless, you will not feel the guilt of negligence, or the bitterness of remorse. But should your labors be crowned with success, great will be your reward.

What is the name of this child ?

Ans. ———

P. — A. B., child of innocence, emblem of purity, and image of thy Maker; “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, in the morning of life, while yet unstained with sin, we present thee, a living offering, a lamb without blemish, to the good Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. Amen.

(If Baptism is preferred, say as follows:)

P. — A. B., I baptize thee in the name of the Father, thy Creator and Preserver, and of the Son, thy Redeemer and Saviour, and of the Holy Spirit, thy Comforter and Sanctifier. The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. Amen.

Let us pray.

O thou God of power, of wisdom, and of love; from thee we have received our life and all its blessings. Thou art the infinite fountain of good; and all our springs of happiness are in thee. May the smiles of thy providence, and the richer gifts of thy wisdom, grace, and truth, rest upon this child now dedicated (by baptism) unto thee.

We pray thee, O Lord, grant thy blessing upon thy servants, to whom thou hast intrusted this child, to be educated as thine. Be pleased to direct and guide them aright in the discharge of this important duty; and may the great Shepherd of Israel crown their labors with success.

Bless thou all now before thee. Grant us the knowledge of thee, and thy grace. May we walk in all virtue and godliness, while on earth, and at last be united around thy throne, in heaven. Amen.


1872: Description of a Universalist naming ceremony

In a section on Children’s Sunday in The Myrtle, vol. 22, no. 10, July 6, 1872 (Boston: Universalist Publishing House), a report on how Children’s Sunday was observed in various Universalist churches, appeared the following report from Hartford, Connecticut:

“Rose Sunday” was celebrated at the Universalist church in Hartford in a very interesting and impressive manner. About twenty children were baptized, and the pastor, the Rev. Mr. Skinner, delivered an appropriate sermon from Luke, ninth chapter, 47th and 48th verses. At the conclusion of the christening, Mr. Skinner, in accordance with his usual pleasing custom, presented to each of the baptized little ones a fragrant rosebud. Excellent music was furnished at intervals by the choir, under the direction of Mr. S. T. Bissell, and the entire service was one of pleasure and profit. In the evening a creditable Sunday School concert was held, a large audience being present. The floral decorations were exceedingly tasteful and were greatly admired. Besides bouquets, pyramids, rustic stands filled with trailing vines, &c , there was a large and elegant star placed above and behind the pulpit, and said tube one of the richest floral pieces ever seen in this city. A touching feature was a memorial arch of beautiful flowers, bearing the names of Gracie and Mattie, and erected to the memory of Grace Barnes and Mattie Smith, two little ones who have died since their baptism a year ago….


1895: Universalist naming ceremony

This service for infant baptism comes from a book of services published by the Universalist Publishing House; the book appears to have had fairly wide use among Universalist congregations of the day. There was only a service for baptism, with no mention of child dedications; the baptism is carried out in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Book of Prayer for the Church and the Home; with Selections from the Psalms, revised edition (Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1894/1895):


When the Child has been brought forward to the Altar, the Minister may read as follows, from the Gospel of St. Mark:

They brought young children to Christ, that he should touch them; and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever 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 upon them, and blessed them.

He may then use the following, or some other suitable Exhortation:

My brethren, in our treatment and regard of children, we ought to partake of the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should by no means despise or neglect them ; but by gentleness and watchful care, do all that we can to bring them into the fold of the Good Shepherd. That God may bless our efforts in so doing, let us now pray.

Then may be offered the following Prayer:

Almighty and most merciful God, we give thanks unto thee, that by thy goodness we have been brought to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and to faith in him. We bless thee for the kind and encouraging words which he spoke, and for his tender compassion towards those whom he came to save ; that he did not suffer little children to be driven away from his presence, but took them in his arms and blessed them. And now that we have brought to thy altar this little one, we pray that thou wilt guide and direct us, while we consecrate him to thee and to thy service. Wilt thou grant that this Baptism of Water may be the type and the earnest of the purifying influences of thy Holy Spirit, by which alone the soul can be regenerated and saved. This we do humbly ask, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

The Minister may then say to the Parents or Guardians of the Child:

By the act of bringing this Child here at this time, you express in the most solemn manner your desire and resolve to instruct him in the gospel of Christ, and in every way to do what lieth in you to enable him to resist sinful inclinations and to keep God’s holy will and commandments.

Then the Minister shall take the Child into his arms, and shall say to the Parents or Guardians:

Name this Child.

Naming the Child, he shall apply the water, saying:

I baptize thee, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Then shall follow this Benediction:

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bless and shelter thee; and through his Son, and by his Holy Spirit, aid thee in infirmities, comfort thee in sorrow, guide thee into all truth, and at length receive thee into his heavenly presence. Amen.

In Choirs, or places where they sing, here shall follow (unannounced) an appropriate Hymn. After which, the Benediction:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *