BAPTISM is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rigtly are grafted into the Church; the promises of forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
BAPTISMUS non est tantum professionis signum, ac discriminis nota, qua Christiani a non Christianis discernantur, sed etiam est signum regenerationis, per quod, tanquam per instrumentum, recte Baptismum suscipientes, ecclesiæ inseruntur, promissiones de remissione peccatorum, atque adoptione nostra in filios Dei per Spiritum sanctum visibiliter obsignantur, fides confirmatur, et vi divinæ invocationis gratia augetur.
Baptismus parvulorum omnino in Ecclesia retinendus est, ut qui cum Christi institutione optime congruat.
Section I. — Definition of Doctrine.
IT is, unhappily, well known to every one, how much discord has arisen on the subject of baptismal grace. On the one side, men, perceiving that in Scripture the new birth of the Spirit is closely coupled with new birth by water, and that the ancient Church ever identified baptism with regeneration, have unhesitatingly taught that regeneration is the grace of baptism, never separated from it, but when the recipient places a bar against it by impenitence. On the other side, it has been observed, that the grace of regeneration is a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness; that it extends to an entire renewal of the moral nature of man, restoring him to the image of Him who created him; that no such change as this can be attributed to the washing with water; that such a change can only result from the influences of God’s Spirit, subduing the perverse will, and bringing the whole man into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and that, as a matter of fact and experience, the vast majority of the baptized never have undergone, and never do undergo, a change so momentous and unmistakable.
The difference of opinion has often been considered to depend on the different tenets of the opposing parties concerning predestination; the Calvinist denying that baptized infants are regenerate, because grace once given can never be forfeited; the anti-Calvinist explaining the apparent anomaly, that the baptized are often practically unregenerate, by saying that the grace has been given, but lost by unfaithfulness. Something beyond this, however, must be at the root of the disagreement; for St. Augustine, and a large number of zealous predestinarians, have held high doctrine on baptismal grace; whilst many, who reject the tenet of absolute predestination, have been as strongly opposed to the doctrine of baptism, which Augustine and many of his followers have allowed.
It is perhaps too much to say that the diversity is dependent on mere difference of definition. Yet accurate definition is no doubt very desirable; and it is probable that, if both parties understood either their own or their opponents’ principles better, they would find many more points of contact, and many fewer grounds of disagreement than at present. As it is, both sides see one important aspect of truth, and both perhaps often overlook its opposite, and equally necessary phase. On the one hand, the importance of training up children as heirs of immortality and recipients of the seed of life, is much and rightly insisted on; on the other side, too much overlooked. But again, the belief in the grace of baptism at times has led to some degree of formalism and neglect of spiritual vitality; whilst those who deny that grace have exhibited a greater zeal for conversion of souls from sin and error, because putting no trust on the supposed existence of a spark of grace derived to all professing Christians in the initiatory Sacrament.
May there not be a possibility of holding the truth which there is on both sides, without the error of either?
Baptism is confessedly an embracing the service of God, an enlisting into the army of Christ, to fight under His banner, the Cross. Every one, therefore, who is baptized, is thenceforth bound to be a faithful follower of Him whose soldier he has professed himself. But it is not God’s plan to entail responsibilities on us, without giving us the power to fulfil them. Hence naturally we might expect that, when He has called us to His service, He would furnish us with arms and strength to the contest. It is better therefore to begin with God’s gifts to us: for we can only give Him of His own: Ἐκ Διὸς ἀρχώμεσθα.
1. We know then, first of all, that God, in Christ, has made with man a covenant of grace. The terms of that covenant are on God’s part, that He, for Christ’s sake, not for our merit, freely, fully, graciously pours down upon undeserving sinners, (1) pardon of sin; (2) the aid of the Spirit; (3) in the end, everlasting life. All this is given us in Christ. No terms are in the first place required from us; for we have none to give. We have but to accept the offer of free pardon made to rebellious subjects, and, with pardon, of strength for the future to obey.
Now baptism is the formal act by which we are admitted into covenant with God. It is the embracing of God’s covenant of grace in Christ: in the case of adults, by their own deliberate choice; in the case of infants, by God’s merciful appointment, and according to the election of grace.
We cannot doubt of the truth of God’s promises. Hence we may be assured, that He will make good His covenant to all that are brought within the terms of it: i. e. to all who are baptized. Hence again, we infer that the promises to the baptized, and therefore the blessings of baptism, are: —
(1.) Pardon of sins.
(2.) The aid of the Spirit of God.
(3.) If not forfeited, everlasting life.
2. But, moreover, baptism is the engrafting into the Church, to which belong the covenant and the promises. The Church is the body of Christ; and Christ is its covenanted Head. Hence we see another relation consequent on baptism; namely, that we thereby become members of Christ. And indeed without this we could not receive the blessings of the covenant. For pardon and grace can only flow to us from Christ. It is in Him that God gives us both, — that God will give us everlasting life. “In Him is life.” “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”
So too, the Church is the family of God, as well as the body of Christ. Hence by baptism we become, not only members of the mystical body of the Lord, but adopted children of our heavenly Father. God thenceforward looks on us as united, according to covenant, to His Son, and hence as His children by grace; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Thus, in the language of the Catechism, we are made in baptism members of Christ, children of God, and therefore inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.
All this results from the nature of a covenant and the nature of the Church.
But here a great practical question has arisen, which it is of the utmost importance not to disregard. Does all this merely indicate a new outward federal relation of the baptized to God? or does it imply a spiritual change in the soul itself, and a moral change of disposition? A federal relation it undoubtedly points out; for the soul is by baptism taken into covenant in Christ. But a covenant on God’s part implies the faithfulness of the Covenanter. Hence, undoubtedly, baptism guarantees a spiritual change in the condition of the recipient. But we must not confound a spiritual change in the condition of the soul, with a moral change of the disposition and tempers. It is a great spiritual change to be received into Christ’s Church, to be counted as a child of God, to obtain remission of sins, and to have the aid and presence of the Spirit of God. But a moral change can only be the result of the soul’s profiting by the spiritual change. If the presence of the Sanctifier does not produce sanctification, no moral change has been effected. If the pleadings of the Spirit have been rejected, and the soul has remained unmoved under them, it cannot be said that there is a moral renovation of the character.
We may therefore define the internal grace of baptism to consist rather in the assured presence of the Renovator, than in the actual renovation of the heart. The latter is indeed the natural result of the influence of the former; but it requires also another element, namely, the yielding of the will of the recipient to the previous influences of the Sanctifier.
It is unnecessary to inquire here, whether the presence of God’s Spirit is not vouchsafed to others besides the baptized. We have instances of such in Cornelius, whose prayers and alms were accepted, whilst he was yet in ignorance of the Gospel; and upon whom the Holy Ghost fell, before he had received the baptism of water (Acts x. 4, 44, 47). The point to be remembered is this, that to the baptized the aid of the Spirit is promised by covenant; and therefore to them it is assured. Others may receive it, according to the will of God; but cannot claim it, according to His promise.
Now this fact, that baptism, from the very nature of the covenant, carries with it an assurance of pardon for sins, of adoption into the Church, and of aid from the Spirit, is sufficient to warrant the term, “Baptismal Regeneration.” Birth into the Church and adoption into the family of God, remission of original sins in infants, and of all past sins in worthily receiving adults, and the gift of the Spirit to renew and sanctify, comprise the elements of the new birth, the germ of spiritual life. Hence they are called by the Church “Spiritual Regeneration.” Yet, as God’s gifts of grace are not compulsory, it follows that the baptized, by his own perverseness, may reject them all. Whether then he received baptism in infancy or in maturity, if he has not profited by its blessings, he has never received such a renovation of heart and nature that he can be called practically regenerate. Nay! his heart is unregenerate, although his outward state and his covenanted privileges be never so great. He yet needs conversion and renewal of spirit. And hence it comes to pass, that many of our greatest divines (e. g. Hammond, J. Taylor, Beveridge), who held distinctly the doctrine of baptismal grace, or baptismal regeneration, yet constantly spoke of some of the baptized as still unregenerate; because, though God could not be supposed to have failed to make good His promise to them, yet they had not yielded to His Spirit’s gracious influences; and so their hearts had never been renewed “after the image of Him that created them;” and they had continued in darkness and in the bondage of corruption, though “called to the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
If we take this as the explanation of the great doctrine in question, we may see at once: —
1. That the absence of practical results, and of anything like practical spiritual life in many of the baptized, is not to be accounted for merely and solely by the theory that such have early fallen away from grace and from a state of holiness once effected; for from the first they may never have yielded to the gracious workings of the Spirit, and so real practical holiness may never have been produced.
2. Nor, again, must it be accounted for by the hypothesis, that their regeneration is in a state of abeyance, until their own will rises to meet and cooperate with the grace bestowed upon them. For this hypothesis seems to savour of Semi-pelagianism, making the will, as it were, an independent agent, coordinate and equally efficient with the Holy Spirit; and allowing it a spontaneous movement towards good. Whereas, sound evangelical truth will teach us to consider the will utterly incapable of moving towards holiness, till first quickened to it by the grace of God.
3. But the real solution of the difficulty will appear to be, that, though God never failed of His promise, and though the aid and presence of His Spirit were ever vouchsafed to the recipients of baptism, yet their wills had never yielded to be renewed by it; and therefore, though subjects of the grace of God, they had never brought forth the fruits of holiness. Yet all baptized persons, though not personally sanctified, have a relative holiness: For, —
1. They are members of the Church, which is holy; branches therefore of the true Vine, even if they are fruitless branches, and so withering and dying. They have a covenanted relation to, and a spiritual union with Christ, who is the Head of His Body mystical.
2. They are adopted into the family of God; and, though they be from the first rebellious and prodigal sons, yet they have a covenanted title to be regarded as children, and moreover, if they return from their wanderings, to be received and welcomed as children.
3. They have been solemnly set apart and dedicated to God, consecrated to be temples of the Holy Ghost: and as such, have a real, even though it may be a rejected presence of the Spirit assured to them. That presence will, if they cultivate and obey it, truly sanctify them, but, if not cultivated, but resisted, it will leave them in unfruitfulness.
A distinction must be drawn between adult and infant recipients.
1. In the case of adults, faith and repentance are necessary prerequisites; and without them we must not expect the blessings of the Sacrament. But then the reason why these graces are requisite is not because they contribute their share to the production of the grace of baptism. That would be to derogate from the free gift of God, and from the bounty of the Giver. On the contrary, we must ever esteem the grace of God to be free and unmerited, and not attracted to us by any good which is in us. It is not the active quality of our faith which makes us worthy recipients. That would be to make faith a fellow-worker with, and in itself inde pendent of the Spirit of God; which is closely bordering on Semi-pelagian heresy. But, though our faith cannot be of that meritorious character, that it should elicit grace from above, yet our impenitence and unbelief are permitted to act as obstacles to the free-working of the grace of God; and, by our own obstinacy and hardness of heart, we may “quench the Spirit.”
Hence, that there may be no impediment to their regeneration, a believing and penitent spirit must be cultivated in those who are to be baptized; lest, like Simon Magus, they receive the washing of water, but still remain, as regards their hearts and consciences, “in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.”
2. Concerning infants the case is different. Active faith in them is not possible; nor is it even to be desired. It is not the active character of his faith which seems to qualify the adult. It is rather, that it implies and assures an absence of that repelling obstinacy and hard-heartedness which makes sinners reject the mercy of the Lord.
The very helplessness of infants is, in this case, their protection. We cannot too much remember, that God’s gifts come from Him and not from us; from His mercy, not our merits, our faith, or our obedience. The only obstacle which infants can offer to grace, is the taint of original corruption. But to say that original sin is a bar to receiving remission of original sin (which is one chief grace of this Sacrament), is a positive contradiction in terms.
Again, the theory that the faith of parents or of sponsors is necessary to give effect to baptism in infants, is not to be maintained for an instant. This were to cross the whole principle of evangelical mercy. It would be to make the child’s salvation hinge on its parent’s faithfulness. It would make God’s grace contingent, not even on the merits of the recipient, but actually on the merits of the recipient’s friends. Sponsors, after all, are probably of human institution, and therefore cannot affect a divine ordinance. And this theory does sadly derogate from the grace of God, which acts ever freely and spontaneously; and grievously magnifies the office of human faith, which is humbly to receive mercy, not arrogantly to deserve it.
Once more, the theory that infants have need of a “prevenient act of grace,” to make them meet for remission of sins, is evidently founded on a low appreciation of God’s pardoning love. The very thing which makes them meet for pardon, is their helpless sinfulness. This is their very plea for mercy; and cannot therefore be the bar opposed to it. If they were not sinful, they would need neither pardon nor grace. Active hostility and wilful obstinacy they cannot exhibit. And God’s mercy in Christ extends to the pardon of all sinners, who do not wilfully reject it. Hence the Church has ever held, that there is nothing in the character of infants (whose sinfulness is inevitable, and not wilfully contracted) which can offer an insuperable obstacle to receiving the grace of remission of sin, or the aid of the Spirit of God.
But, though it be true that infants can, at the time of their baptism, oppose no obstacle, lest they should receive pardon and grace; and though therefore, in case of their death before actual sin, we believe in the certainty of their salvation; yet we must bear in mind, that the pardon of sin and the aid of the Spirit, assured (and therefore surely given) at baptism, will not have produced an entire change of their nature, eradicating the propensity to sin, and new creating a sanctified heart. The grace of the Spirit, we may believe, will, as the reason opens and the will developes, plead with their spirits, prompt them to good and warn them from evil; and, if not resisted, will doubtless lead them daily onwards in progressive holiness. But the power too to resist, which they did not possess in infancy, will daily increase with their increasing reason and activity; and their actual and internal sanctification will result only from an obedient yielding to the grace of the Sanctifier; and will be utterly abortive, if, through sinful propensities and sinful indulgence of them, that grace be stifled, disregarded, or abused.
Thus, though we may not define the grace of the Spirit, vouchsafed in infant baptism, to be a “mere potential principle,” and, until it be stirred up, “dormant and inactive;” yet we may define it, so as to understand that its active operations are only to be expected when the dawning reason and rising will themselves become active and intelligent; and that anything like a real moral renovation of disposition and character can only be looked for, where the adolescent will does not resist and quench the gracious influences of the Spirit of God, but suffers itself to be moulded and quickened into a state of subjection to the good pleasure of the Lord, and of likeness to the character of Christ.
Yet this need not prevent us from believing that the aid of the Spirit has been vouchsafed, even to those who have never profited by it. It is possible for a branch to be grafted into a vine, and a stream of nourishment to flow from the root to it; and yet, if a knot or obstacle exist in the branch, the life of the vine may never reach the engrafted member; from no fault in the parent stem, but from the hardening of the bough itself. It is in like manner possible, that the infant grafted into the true Vine, a member of the Body mystical of Christ, may, through its own fault as it grows to maturity, fail of deriving grace from the life of the Spirit, and yet there be no unfaithfulness on the part of the Giver, no want of liberality in the Fountain of goodness. And this seems sufficiently to account for the well-known and familiar fact, that so many millions of baptized Christians grow up to manhood with no profit from their baptism, and when grown up, can be considered, in their spiritual condition, as no better, if not worse, than heathen men: except, at least, that they are in the formal covenant of grace, and are therefore admitted to its outward ordinances; have probably from time to time the Spirit’s warnings and pleadings; and have the assurance too, that, on their repentance and conversion God will ever receive them to His mercy, and welcome them as prodigal sons returning to their Father, as sheep coming back to the Shepherd of their souls.
Section II. — Scriptural Proof.
HAVING thus defined the doctrine, we may proceed to consider the Scriptural evidence for its truth.
I. First, let us see what aid we can derive from the old Testament, and from Jewish rites and language.
1. It is an acknowledged fact, that circumcision among the Jews was the typical and corresponding rite to baptism in the Church. It admitted into the Mosaic covenant; as baptism admits into the Christian. It was given to Abraham for that very end, that it might be the initiatory rite, the seal and token of the covenant between God and the posterity of Abraham. (See Gen. xvii. 9‒14; Acts vii. 8.) The person who had received circumcision, was a partaker of God’s promises to the Israelites. (See Exod. xii. 48.) The person who neglected it, was to be cut off from the people (Gen. xvii. 14; Exod. iv. 24, &c.) St. Paul himself draws the parallel between this Jewish rite and the Christian rite of baptism; which latter he calls “circumcision made without hands” (Col. ii. 11, 12). And from his language it is plain that the parallel altogether holds good, allowing for this important difference, that circumcision admitted to a legal or carnal covenant, baptism admits to a spiritual covenant.
2. In addition to circumcision, thus given by God, it is well known that the Jews, in admitting proselytes from heathenism, ever added a form of washing, or baptism. They baptized all, men, women, and children, of any proselyted family; and then they esteemed them as new-born from their Gentile heathenism into the Church or family of Israel. The language which they used concerning such, was very remarkable. “If any one become a proselyte, he is like a child new-born.” “The gentile that is made a proselyte, and the servant that is made free, behold, he is like a child new-born; and all those relations which he had while either a gentile or a servant, they now cease from being so.” Nay! they even taught that men might legally marry those who had been their former relations; though, for edification and propriety, it was forbidden.
This well accounts for the way in which the Jews understood the baptism of John. They knew that baptism implied admission into a new covenant or faith; and when he baptized, they thought he did so because the age of Messias was come, and that he himself must be either the Messiah, or else Elias, who was to prepare the way for Him. (See John i. 19, 25.) Those, too, who were baptized of him, came confessing their sins, because in the baptism of proselytes it had been always the custom to examine into the spirit and motives of the converts, before they were admitted to the rite of initiation.
Our Lord was ever pleased to adapt His teaching and ordinances to the habits and understanding of the people whom He taught. The Lord’s Prayer is a collection from familiar Jewish forms. The cup in the Lord’s Supper was taken from the wine-cups used, by ordinary custom, at the ancient Passover, one of which was called “the cup of blessing.” These were but human institutions; yet our gracious Saviour, stooping to man’s infirmities, sanctioned with His approval, and sanctified with His blessing, things which before had but earthly authority. There can be little, or no doubt, that it was so with baptism. Washing was a common mode of typical purification, in use on all occasions with the Jews: especially it was ordained for the ceremonial purification of proselytes. And accordingly, our Lord adopts and authorizes it, as the means for the admission of proselytes or converts from Judaism or heathenism into the Gospel and the Church: for admitting to a participation of the covenant of grace, as circumcision had admitted to the covenant of works.
Circumcision then, and Jewish baptism, were both types and precursors of Christian baptism; and from the signification and use of them we may infer somewhat concerning the signification and use of baptism.
3. Besides these, there were certain great events in old Testament history to which the Apostles point as typical of baptism, especially the ark of Noah, and the passage of the Red Sea. In the ark of Noah, God’s chosen people were saved, so as by water, from the destruction of a perishing world. The ark was, as it were, the body of the Church, in which all who entered it might be safe. To this, St. Peter tells us, baptism is the counterpart (ἀντίτυτον) (1 Pet. iii. 21); because by baptism we have access to the Church, and to that salvation which God has ordained in the Church.
4. The passage of the Red Sea was the first step of the Israelites from the land of their bondage. Before they passed it, they were slaves; after they had passed it, they were free, their enemies were overthrown, and they were delivered. Yet it was a passage, not into Canaan, but into the wilderness; deliverance from inevitable bondage, but not deliverance from fighting and toil. They had yet forty years to wander, before the passage of Jordan should lead them into rest. In these forty years’ wanderings they had contests, temptations, and dangers. Though saved from Pharaoh, their disobedience and unbelief overthrew most of them in the wilderness; and but few of those who had passed through the sea, ever reached the home of their inheritance. St. Paul (1 Cor. x. 1‒12) sets this before us, as a type of Christian baptism and Christian life. Baptism is to us a rite ordained for our deliverance, — deliverance from sin and the slavery of sin; but it is only our first step in the course of our profession; and if we, like the Israelites, though bathed in the waters and fed from the manna and the rock, yet lust, and murmur, and tempt Christ, and commit idolatry and impurity, we must expect to fall under the power of the serpent, to be destroyed of the destroyer, and never to enter into that promised land, which is nevertheless the inheritance prepared for us of God.
II. Baptism then is admission into the Christian covenant, as circumcision was admission into the Jewish covenant. Now a covenant implies two parties, and certain stipulations. In the case of enemies it requires a mediator. In the old covenant, the parties were God and the Jews: the Mediator was Moses: the stipulations were, “This do:” and then the promise was, “Thou shalt live.” The whole dispensation was worldly and legal. It had no promise of eternal life, but only of temporal prosperity. It had no sacrifice which could take away sin (Heb. x. 4). It had no assurance of the aid of the Spirit of God.
But the new covenant is widely different: a covenant of grace, not a covenant of works; not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. Its promises are not earthly, but heavenly. Its Mediator is not Moses, but Jesus Christ. In Him there is forgiveness of sins. From Him flows the Spirit of grace. By Him is an everlasting inheritance. And so God Himself describes the blessings to those within the new covenant to be, that He would be “merciful to their unrighteousness,” and no more remember their sins; and that He would “put His laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts” (Heb. viii. 10, 12).
We may see at once therefore, wherein circumcision and baptism differ; why neither remission of sins nor spiritual aid were promised to the recipients of the former; why both are promised to the recipients of the latter. Neither could belong to a covenant of works; neither could flow from their Mediator Moses. Both are parts of the covenant of grace; both flow to us from our Mediator Christ. In short, God’s part in the new covenant is this: He assures to us pardon, the Spirit, life eternal. This, however, involves a response on our parts. We promise renunciation of sin, faith in the Gospel, obedience to the commands. This is the covenant between God and man, made in Christ. But God’s part must come first. We cannot move a step till He gives us life. We are helpless, but in His strength. Hence God must first move to give us grace, before we can move to do Him service. He will not break His part of the covenant. He will not keep back His promise. Therefore, when we are baptized, being received into the covenant, we may be sure that God will give us, 1, pardon in Christ, 2, help through Christ: if we reject both, we shall fail of the final promise, which is, 3, eternal life. But the failure will be from us, not from Him: from our will not responding to His motions; from our spirit not yielding to the influence of His Spirit; not from a keeping back on His part of pardon or grace. All this seems to be the necessary result of the striking of a covenant, which is done at the baptismal font, between us and God.
To this view of the subject belong the questions and answers made at Baptism. The Church recounts God’s promise, “to receive the person baptized, to release him of his sins, to sanctify him with the Holy Ghost, to give him the kingdom of Heaven, and everlasting life:” and adds, “which promise He, for His part, will most surely keep and perform.” But then she goes on to require, that the person to be baptized (or his sureties, if he be an infant) shall respond to God’s promises, by engaging to fulfil his part of the covenant, namely, to renounce the devil, to believe all the articles of the Christian faith, and obediently to keep God’s commandments. This custom has existed from the very earliest times. It is mentioned by Tertullian (who wrote but a hundred years after the Apostles) as having prevailed in the Church, by immemorial tradition. The ancients very generally understood St. Peter to allude to this, in the famous passage concerning the ark of Noah (1 Pet. iii. 21). There, having spoken of the deliverance of Noah and his family from the deluge, which overwhelmed the wicked, he goes on to say, that baptism is the counterpart of (ἀντίτυτον, that which actually corresponds with and resembles) the ark. For, as the ark saved Noah, so baptism saves us. But then, lest it should appear as if he taught baptism to act as a charm or incantation, ex opere operato, he adds, “not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.” That is to say, the mere washing with water will not save the soul. It is the appointed ordinance for bringing the soul into the ark of the Church, into covenant with God, and therefore into a state of salvation. God’s Spirit and blessing too are assured to its recipients. But, in order that it may be a truly saving ordinance, the conscience of the recipient must respond to the mercy of God; just as the catechumen is required to make answer to the interrogations then proposed to him. “The answer of a good conscience” most probably alludes to the pledge given by the baptized in reply to the questions; but it seems still farther to indicate, that as the lips then move in answer to the questions of the minister, so, if the ordinance is to be truly life-giving, the heart of the respondent must move in obedience to the grace received by it, must spring up in response to the good motions of the Spirit of God.
To return then to what was said above; God’s part in the covenant is to give, (1) pardon or remission of sins, (2) the aid of the Spirit, and (3) (in the end, and our part of the covenant not being violated) eternal life. Now these are just the blessings which are not only the obvious promises of the baptismal covenant, but which moreover Scripture couples immediately with the actual rite of baptism.
1. Remission of sins is promised to the baptized.
Even John the Baptist preached “the baptism of repentance, for the remission of sins” (Mark i. 4); although he constantly pointed to “One mightier than himself, who should baptize with the Holy Ghost” (Mark i. 7, 8). But Christian baptism is far more distinctly spoken of as bringing this grace with it. St. Peter told the multitude convinced by his preaching, to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins” (Acts ii. 38). Ananias bade Saul of Tarsus, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts xxii. 16). In allusion to this doctrine of God’s pardoning love, assured to those who come for it in baptism, we find St. Paul mentioning, as one of the requisites for drawing near to God through our great High Priest, that we should have “our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. x. 22). Again he tells us, that Christ cleanses the Church “by the washing of water” (Eph. v. 25, 26). And when he reminds the Corinthians of their past lives of sin and impurity, he comforts them by adding, “But ye have been washed, but ye have been sanctified,” &c. (1 Cor. vi. 11). In which passage, it is true, that “washed” may be to be taken figuratively; yet at least the figure is borrowed from baptism, and the more literal and obvious interpretation of it would apply it directly to baptism. In another place, we find, “the washing of regeneration” put as the correlative of justification (see Tit. iii. 5, 7). According to such words of Scripture, the Constantinopolitan Creed contains the clause, “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins;” where, although some lay all the stress on the word “one” as intended to prohibit the iteration of baptism, yet it cannot be denied, that the words “for the remission of sins” indicate the belief of the council that that grace was annexed to baptism, a belief which the fathers of that council repeatedly have expressed in those works of theirs which have come down to us.
2. The aid of the Holy Spirit is promised to the baptized. This is the express declaration of St. Peter in the passage just quoted. “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” And lest it should be thought that this meant but the temporary, miraculous gifts of the Spirit, he continues, “for the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts ii. 38, 39).
It is scarcely necessary to add proofs to so plain a statement; yet we find direct evidence in the history of the Acts, that the presence of the Spirit accompanied the administration of baptism. Thus, in the case of Cornelius and his household, who had received the Holy Ghost by direct effusion from above, St. Peter immediately enjoined, that baptism should be administered to them, that the outward rite should not be wanting to whom the inward grace was already given (Acts x. 47, 48). Certain Ephesian converts had not received the Holy Ghost. St. Paul, finding this to be the case, then asked them, “Unto what they were baptized?” and they said, “Unto John’s baptism.” Whereupon, the Apostle enjoined them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; and when they had been so baptized, he laid his hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost (Acts xix. 2, 6). It is probably true that, in both these instances, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were given; yet the connection between the gift of the Spirit and the Sacrament of baptism is plainly pointed out by them; confirming the doctrine which the words of St. Peter so distinctly have laid down.
3. Eternal life is promised to the baptized.
Here indeed we must qualify the promise. Eternal life is not so much a present gift, as a future contingency. It is a treasure laid up for us; not a deposit committed to us. Both pardon and grace may be forfeited; yet they are present possessions. Heaven is not a present possession, but a promised inheritance. Still it is part of the promise of the covenant, and therefore one of the blessings of the baptized. The very commission to admit into the covenant by baptism expressed this.
The Apostles were to make disciples of (μαθητεύσατε) all nations (Matt, xxviii. 19). The Gospel was to be preached to every creature. He that so believed it as to be baptized, was to be saved; he that disbelieved and rejected it, was to be damned (Mark xvi. 15, 16). Salvation then was promised us to follow on belief and baptism; where plainly we must understand, not eternal life, but the way to life — a state of salvation. So it is said that “the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved” (τοὺς σωζομένους): the Lord, that is, brought into His Church by baptism all those who were being saved, or placed in the way of salvation. And so St. Peter says, that, like the ark of Noah, “baptism doth now save us” (1 Pet. iii. 21). In all such passages (and many might be added looking the same way) baptism is declared to be a saving ordinance: salvation appears to be attached to it. Yet it is evident, from the whole tenor of Scripture, that the title to such salvation is defeasible; that the promise of eternal life, though sure on God’s part, may be made of none effect by us; so that, “a promise being left us of entering into His rest, we may come short of it.”
Yet thus we see that, as we are admitted to covenant by baptism, so baptism has the promise, 1, of pardon; 2, of spiritual aid; 3, of everlasting life.
III. The Ark then, into which we are thus admitted by baptism, is the Church. The Church is the great company of baptized Christians, the number of those who are within the covenant.
Here we have another relation to consider; the baptized not only embraces the covenant, but he is formally grafted into the Church. Now the Church in Scripture is called, 1, the Body of Christ; 2, the Household or Family of God; 3, the Kingdom of Heaven.
1. Christians therefore by baptism are made members of the Body of Christ.
St. Paul tells us, that the Church is one Body of which Christ is the Head, and all Christians the different members (1 Cor. vi. 15, xii. 12‒27. Eph. iv. 15, 16. Col. ii. 19). “Ye,” he says, addressing the whole Church of Corinth, “are the Body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Cor. xii. 27). And he shows us how we become members of that Body, when he says, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body” (1 Cor. xii. 13). By a very similar figure our Lord calls Himself the Vine, and His disciples the branches; and as St. Paul tells us that the Body of the Church derives strength and vigour from the Head (Eph. iv. 16), so our Lord says that the branches of the Vine derive life and nourishment from the Vine (John xv. 1‒8). Yet it is plain enough that, in both the Lord’s and His Apostle’s teaching, it is not meant that none but the devout believer can be a member of Christ; for St. Paul reasons with the Corinthians against causing divisions in the one Body, and so losing the blessing of belonging to it (1 Cor. xii.) and against making their bodies, which are members of Christ, to become members of an harlot, and so liable to be destroyed (1 Cor. vi. 13‒20). And our blessed Lord explains to His hearers, that those branches of the true Vine which do not bear fruit, or do not abide in Him, shall be cast forth and withered and burned (John xv. 2, 6).
Another expression of Holy Scripture, concerning the union of the Christian to his Saviour, is especially applied by St. Paul to baptism: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ,” (Χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε, put on Christ as a garment). And again, referring to his favourite figure of the Head and the Body, he tells the Christian Church that they are complete, “in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands” . . . . “buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col. ii. 10‒12. Comp. Rom. vi. 3, 4).
On such authority it is that the Church has ever taught its children to say, that in baptism they were made “members of Christ;” that is, members of that mystical Body of which Christ is the Head, and to which He communicates grace and strength, as the head communicates vigour to the body, or the vine sends forth life and strength into its several branches.
The question, which has been raised, whether this union be real and vital, or merely formal and federal, seems altogether inadmissible. It is plainly real and life-giving, except the fault of the individual renders it ineffectual. The branch grafted into the Vine is really united to it; yet it may fail of deriving life from it. Though it die, it will still be a dead branch. Then, indeed, it may be, that its attachment to the Vine cannot be strictly called vital union. Yet all the language of our Lord and of St. Paul shows, that the members of Christ, the branches of the Vine, are really privileged to draw life and strength from Him, and may surely receive that life and strength, unless they reject or disregard it. (See John xv. 4. Eph. iv. 16, 17. Col. ii. 18, 19). If they reject or disregard it, they will then, but by their own fault, lose the benefit of membership, and in the end be cut off (John xv. 6). 2.
The Church is also called the Household or Family of God (Gal. vi. 10. Eph. ii. 19; iii. 15).
Accordingly, when persons are baptized into the faith of Christ, they are said to be made children of God; and that, by right of their union with Christ, who is the true only-begotten Son of God. Thus the Apostle tells us, that all who have embraced the faith of the Gospel are made children of God; because they put on Christ in baptism. “Ye are all the children of God by the faith in Jesus Christ (διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ): for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal. iii. 26, 27. Compare iv. 5).
Hence the Church says, that in baptism we are made, not only “members of Christ,” but also “children of God.” Baptism is the seal of our adoption. We are brought into God’s family, God’s household, the Church; and thus “to all, who receive Him, does Christ give power to become the sons of God” (John i. 12). Yet here again we must make the same reservation. Though the baptized have a covenanted title to be God’s children, and hence are permitted to approach Him as their Father; there is nothing which says that they shall not be prodigals, that they shall not even “go astray from the womb,” and so lose all the privileges and blessings of sonship. As there may be an union to the true Vine, which, because the branch draws not its own nourishment, ends in cutting off and casting into the fire; so there may be a sonship, which leads only to disinheriting.
If the privileges vouchsafed in baptism be profited by, the sonship will be real, living, lasting. If the privileges be neglected or despised, the sonship will become but nominal, and to be done away. For, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they” only are the true “sons of God” (Rom. viii. 14). “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother ” (1 John iii. 10).
3. The Church is called a kingdom, “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. iii. 2; v. 19, &c. &c.) It is the spiritual reign of Christ upon earth; the Israel, of which He is the King.
Accordingly, all Christians by baptism are admitted into the earthly kingdom of Christ; and “except a man be born again of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into this kingdom” (John iii. 5). The baptized then are the subjects of Christ here. They may prove rebellious subjects, and so be cast out of the kingdom, but still they are enrolled among His subjects; and if they are faithful, they shall continue His subjects in the eternal kingdom of His glory.
Nay! this right results to them from another title, namely, that they are sons. “If children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. viii. 17). And so the Church, having taught us that we are “children of God,” teaches us also, that we are “inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.” We are “begotten again to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us” (1 Pet. i. 3, 4). Yet heirs may be disinherited. The inheritance is sure; but the heirs may be prodigal. And, as the branch may wither, and the child may be an outcast, so the heir may be cut off, and the inheritance never be attained.
4. There is one more character of the Church to which we may refer, namely, that it is set apart to be a temple of the Spirit of God.
St. Paul describes the whole Church as “fitly framed together, growing into an holy temple in the Lord;” and speaks of individual Christians, as “builded together” in it, so that the whole should become “an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. ii. 21, 22. Comp. 1 Pet. ii. 5). So again, he calls the whole Corinthian Church “the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. vi. 16). Hence the individual Christian, when brought into the Church, becomes a portion of that sacred building, which is consecrated for the Spirit to dwell in.
But moreover, St. Paul speaks of Christians as in like manner set apart to be individually God’s temples; and urges this upon them, as a motive why they should keep their bodies holy, and not pollute them with sin; lest they should defile the temple of God, and be destroyed for desecrating so sacred an abode. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. iii. 16, 17). “Flee fornication. . . . . What, know ye not that vour body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?” &c. (1 Cor. vi. 18, 19).
This seems to teach us, that, as the whole Church is God’s temple, so every member of the Church is consecrated to be a temple of the Holy Ghost, — as a member of Christ, so a temple of the Spirit. But, as unholiness will defile the member of Christ, and spoil the blessedness of membership, so sin will pollute the temple of God, and bring destruction, rather than salvation, on such as walk after the flesh, not after the Spirit. The Holy Ghost, if not repelled, will come and dwell with, and sanctify every member of the Church; but if dishonoured, not only may He take His flight, but the guilt will be aggravated by the holiness of the heavenly Visitor, thus driven from His dwelling-place.
IV. We come, lastly, to speak of what has been most commonly called the special grace of baptism, namely, Regeneration or the new birth.
We have indeed anticipated the consideration of this already. If by baptism we are all made “members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven,” then are we new born in baptism; for therein we are joined to Christ, cut out of the wild olive-tree, and grafted into the good tree, born into the Church, into the family of God, as children of our Father which is in heaven. Moreover, if then the Spirit of God becomes our assured guest and present help, the first germ of spiritual life must be ours: and this is all that is meant by new birth.
The theology of later days, among the Zuinglians and Calvinists, but still more among the Arminians, has attached a different sense to regeneration; identifying it with conversion or renovation, and denying its existence, except in such persons as attain to a state of true sanctification. Enough has already been said in the way of definition. It is merely needful here to show, that as Scripture assigns certain graces to baptism, so it speaks of those graces under the name of regeneration. In John iii. our Lord especially seems to refer to the Jewish language concerning the baptism of proselytes. Of them the Jews were wont to say, that at their baptism they were born anew, and had entered on a new life. So our Lord says of proselytes to the Gospel or Kingdom, that “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (ver. 5). And when Nicodemus expresses his astonishment, our Lord says, “Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?” (ver. 10): as though the language of his own nation and of the masters in it might have taught him some understanding of the words of Christ. The Calvinistic divines have followed the Zuinglians, in denying that baptism is here alluded to at all. They think, that, by “water and the Spirit,” we must understand only “the Spirit which washes as with water.” But it is a strong argument against this interpretation, which is brought by Hooker, and was before him admitted by Zuingle, that “of all the ancients there is not one to be named, that ever did otherwise expound or allege the place than of external baptism.” “When the letter of the law hath two things plainly and expressly specified, water and the Spirit; water, as a duty required on our parts, the Spirit, as a gift which God bestoweth; there is danger in presuming so to interpret it, as if the clause which concerneth ourselves were more than needeth. We may by such rare expositions attain perhaps to be thought witty, but with ill advice.”
Confirmatory of the meaning of these words of our Lord is that expression of St Paul where he speaks of us as “saved by the washing of regeneration,” λοῦτρον παλιγγενεσίας, (Tit. iii. 5); a passage which, like the last, the whole ancient Church understood of the laver of baptism.
So much has been said already concerning our becoming children of God, clothed in Christ, and members of Christ, — concerning our being buried with Christ and rising again with Him, — concerning our being baptized into the Church by the Spirit of God, (see Gal. iii. 26, 27. Rom. vi. 4. Col. ii. 12. 1 Cor. xii. 13), all bearing on the subject of our new birth, that it is scarcely necessary to do more than again refer to such expressions here, in confirmation of the just cited passages, which distinctly speak of being born again in baptism.
I have purposely delayed this part of the subject to the last; because here we meet with the chief difficulty and the greatest diversity of opinions. Many, who perhaps will concede that baptism admits to covenant with God and to the Church of Christ, and therefore to a participation in the blessings of the covenant, namely, remission of sins, the aid of the Spirit, and the promise of eternal life, will yet refuse to call these blessings by the name of regeneration. To them that name bears a deeper signification. It implies renovation of the whole man, or, in the school-language, an infused habit of grace. We so naturally identify the thing signified with the name by which we have been used to signify it, that we almost as readily part with a truth, as with the word by which we have known that truth. It is like the name of one dear to us, dear almost as the bearer of that name.
At all events, then, let us understand, that it is the word in which the difference lies, rather than the substance. Let us remember, that regeneration is itself a figure of speech. I do not mean, that the birth of the Spirit is an unreality. God forbid! it is as real as, if not more real than, natural birth. But when we call it a birth, or regeneration, we adopt natural images to express spiritual truths. In figures there is always a likeness, but not an identity, between the image and that which it represents. Now the term or figure, regeneration, has been applied in various languages to many things. We saw that the Jews applied it to the manumission of a slave, to the conversion and reception into their Church of a proselyte. Heathens too have used like terms, to express initiation into their mysteries, and the like. But it is obvious, that a much greater change than any of these takes place in the condition of a person who is grafted into the Christian Church, pardoned of his sins, and with the grace of the Spirit bestowed to quicken him. And hence, with great propriety, such a person may be said to be new-born. However, the fathers often used glowing terms of the blessings thus given to the baptized; so that it might be easy to suppose that witli them regeneration signified far more than this, and involved of a certainty newness of life and sanctification of heart. The schoolmen followed to its consequences the language which had been used by their predecessors; making it to include an entire eradication of original corruption, and an infused habit of holiness in the heart. Thus the term “regeneration” came to signify far more than its original force implied; and hence Zuingle, and after him the Calvinists, and still more strongly the Arminians, adopting the scholastic view of regeneration, saw clearly that such an extent of grace was not the grace of baptism, and were so led to deny that regeneration took place in baptism at all, and to assign it to a different, and generally subsequent, period of life.
No little difficulty again may probably have arisen from want of observing that the figure, regeneration, may not unreasonably have a twofold significance. For first, it may be used of the time when the new-creating grace is bestowed upon us, secondly, it may be applied to the hearty reception of that grace by the subject of it, and to the springing up and growth of it in his heart and life. So, the person baptized may be said to be new-born, because the quickening Spirit is given to him; and yet, afterwards, the same person may be called unregenerate, because the life of the Spirit (rejected and uncultivated) has never grown up in him. This we have already seen in the language of St. Paul. In one place he says, we are all made children of God by being baptized into the faith of Christ (Gal. iii. 26, 27). In another, that only they can truly be called sons of God, who are led by the Spirit of God (Rom. viii. 14).
Does not the very same reasoning explain the often objected language of St. John? He it is who records the discourse in which the Lord Jesus tells us that a man must “be born again of water and of the Spirit,” — a passage which all antiquity expounded of the new birth of baptism. Yet he too tells us, that “he who is born of God sinneth not” (1 John iii. 9); and that faith is the evidence of new birth; for that “he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John v. 1). He too tells us, that in “this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (1 John iii. 10). The distinction between the one and the other set of passages seems still the same — the distinction namely between the germ and the expanded blossom — between the principle calculated to produce holiness, and the actual renewal and sanctification of the heart.
We may add, that the different objects in view in the different passages explain the difference in the use of terms. Our Lord was instructing Nicodemus how a man must first come to Him and be admitted into His kingdom; and so He points out to him baptism by water, to be accompanied by its covenanted grace of God’s Holy Spirit. St. John, on the contrary, was plainly combating the errors of certain heretics, who prided themselves on their Gnosis or illumination, and who claimed to be born of God, though neglecting holiness and the fruits of the Spirit. The Apostle therefore tells them, that real new birth showed itself in a renewal of the heart, that a sound faith and an active obedience manifested the true sons of God, and that to pretend to know God, and yet not to keep His commandments was to act the part of a liar and dissembler (1 John ii. 3, 4, G, 22; iii. 7‒10, 24; iv. 2; v. 1, 2, 4).
It is said, probably with justice, that the past tenses, used by St. John, show that he meant to speak, not only of those who had once been regenerate, but of those who yet retained their new life of the Spirit, and had not fallen away from it by sin. Yet it seems to me, that, apart from all questions of grammatical nicety, it may be correct enough to admit the doctrine of regeneration in baptism, in the acceptation already expounded; and yet, to say that regenerate Christians, true children of God, live a life of faith, overcome the world, and keep themselves by the Spirit from the commission of wilful sin. And this will exactly explain the language of St. John: and will furnish an unfailing key to those passages which seem to differ with each other, because some speak of us as born anew in baptism, whilst others deny the grace of regeneration to any but such as walk after the Spirit, and live the life of the Spirit.
V. Some objections considered.
The chief objections which have been made to the statements of the Church concerning baptismal grace, apply to an imaginary view of the subject, rather than to that stated in the foregoing pages.
1. On the hypothesis that “regeneration” always means a real change or renovation of the moral character, a conversion of the heart from sin to godliness, it is urged that such grace cannot be given in baptism. As a matter of fact, we see a large proportion of baptized infants growing up with no sign that their natural corruption has been subdued, and a new heart created within them. If all the change, that is to be looked for in our souls, be such as we see daily exhibited in the life of the baptized, then we must sadly dilute and explain away the language of the Scriptures concerning the new birth, the new creation, the regenerate and converted soul. The belief that this language applies merely to what takes place in baptism, is calculated to lower our standard of Christian holiness and our estimate of the effects of the operations of the Spirit. In our actual experience we know that many mere formalists have taken shelter under the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, satisfied to believe that all the necessary change had passed upon them then, and that they need look for no more.
I am fully prepared to go all lengths with those who would protest against such mere heartless formalism as this. But such protest applies to a totally different view of the doctrine of baptism from that which has been taken above. It is a most important truth that, if we would enter into the kingdom, we must undergo a great moral change of heart and nature; and it is most true, that many have grown up from baptism, and gone down to the grave, without ever undergoing such a change. Such (as has been already observed) are practically unregenerate. Still they may have had given them all the grace which has been above defined to be the grace of baptism. Yet, though God made good His promise, they may never have embraced it. He may, at baptism, have received them to His Church and favour, and have bestowed on them the grace of His Spirit. Yet they may never have responded to the grace, never have yielded to the influence, and so never have profited by the aid of the Spirit. Though grafted into the Vine, they drew no life from it. They were dead branches, and in the end were to be burned.
Still the grace which they derived from their baptism may be correctly called regeneration; because, if it had been accepted, instead of being rejected, it would have gone on springing up in them, as a well of life. The new creation, like the natural creation, is progressive. Strong men are first helpless infants. A particular period must be fixed, as the moment of birth. None can be so truly pointed out, as that when first by covenant the Spirit is given, and the soul is counted in Christ, and not in Adam. Now that period is baptism. It is the starting-post of the Christian race; the seed-time of spiritual growth; the moment when the Spirit of God breathes into the nostrils the breath of life. Yet it by no means is meant, that the race always is run, because he who should run it is at the starting-post; nor that the seed grows up, because it is then sown; nor even that the infant quickens into life, because God’s Spirit is there to kindle it. And if it be so, still it is but the first beginning of life. The new creation goes on through life. It is first the seed, then the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear (Mark iv. 28). Thus Luther, whilst admirably stating his views of baptismal grace, observes, that the grace of baptism is not a thing transient and confined to the moment, but which, if cultivated, remains and renovates through the whole course of life.
If then a person has been baptized, but still remains with his carnal nature unrenewed; we are not to conclude that God was unfaithful, though the man has been unfruitful. But we are still to look upon that person as practically unregenerate; and we ought to try to bring him to conversion of heart, to a real change of soul and spirit. We may indeed still hope, that God’s Spirit, promised in baptism, will be ever ready to aid him, when he does not continue obstinately to resist. But we must look, that “Christ should again be formed in him,” — that he should “be converted and become as a little child,” before we can pronounce that he is a true son of God. It has been the custom of the Church to call such a change, when wrought after baptism, not regeneration, but conversion or renewal; but the practical effect is the same: namely, that at conversion that change is really and practically wrought upon the soul, which actually was not produced at baptism, but which, except for his own fault, would have been wrought by the Spirit assured to the baptized.
2. Another objection is drawn from the Calvinistic scheme. Baptismal grace is supposed to contradict the doctrine of final perseverance. The Calvinistic scheme teaches, that grace is always irresistible, and that grace once given always abides. The soul, once in a state of grace, is always in a state of grace. If therefore grace was given at baptism, it can never fail.
The most rigid form of Calvinism might make this inevitable. Yet very high predestinarians have thought otherwise. Augustine held that persons might be predestinated to grace, but not to perseverance; nay, that they might be ordained to persevere for a time, yet not to the end. Calvin himself does not seem to have held his doctrine of perseverance so rigidly as to make it impossible that God should give some degree of aid to such as reject it. At all events, many, who have followed him a great way in his predestinarianism, have believed that grace might be given in baptism, yet rejected and forfeited by sin. Of such was our own Hooker, and many other of our most eminent divines. It has been already shown, that the more extreme and exaggerated forms of the doctrine of final perseverance are not sanctioned by our own formularies, nor, it is believed, by the word of God. (See Art. XVI.)
3. A third objection is, that all the promises of God are to faith; that it is by faith we embrace Christ, and through faith receive the Spirit of God; that therefore to make baptism the means of receiving grace, is to put it in the place of faith.
It is undoubtedly true that an adult should not come to baptism without faith; and that, if he comes in an unbelieving spirit, he cannot expect to find grace in the Sacrament. But the objection, to the extent to which it has been urged, would magnify the office of faith beyond all reason, and utterly beside the teaching of Scripture. It cannot be that faith is requisite before any grace can be given; for it is quite certain, that there can be no faith unless grace has first been given to generate faith. Otherwise we are inevitably Pelagians. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” Therefore, it is quite clear, that there must be some quickening from the Spirit, before there can be any faith. To magnify faith, so as to make it essential to the first reception of grace, is to take away “the free gift of God.” If God cannot give till we believe, His gift is not free, coming down from the bounty of Him “who giveth liberally and upbraideth not,” but is attracted (that we say not merited) by our faith.
Besides, this would go near to damn all infants. They cannot have faith. Yet unless they be regenerated, they are not within the promise of eternal life (John iii. 3, 5). This is Calvin’s argument against impugners of infant baptism. Infants, he contends, must be capable of regeneration, though they are not capable of faith; else they could not receive purgation from innate corruption. “How,” ask they, “can infants be regenerate who know neither good nor evil?” We reply, “God’s work is not of none effect, though not down to our understanding. It is clear, that infants who are saved, must first be regenerate. For, if they bear a corrupt nature from their mother’s womb, they must be purged of it before entering God’s kingdom, where nothing entereth, polluted, or defiled.”
Luther, who of all men spoke most earnestly of the importance of faith and its office in justifying, uses still stronger language in condemnation of this opinion. He complains, that Papists and Anabaptists conspire together against the Church of God, “making God’s work to hinge on man’s worthiness. For so the Anabaptists teach, that baptism is nothing, unless the person baptized be believing. From such a principle,” he says, “it needs must follow that all God’s works are nothing, unless the recipient be good. Baptism is the work of God; but a bad man maketh that it is not the work of God.” We may add, though not subscribe to, his vehement conclusion, “Who sees not in such Anabaptists, not men possessed, but demons possessed by worse demons?”
4. A fourth objection is as follows. In the case of adults it is admitted that baptismal grace will not be bestowed on such recipients as come in an unbelieving and impenitent spirit. But if there be already repentance and faith, there must be already regeneration, and therefore regeneration cannot be given in baptism.
Here again the misunderstanding results from difference of definition. The Church calls the grace of baptism by the name of regeneration, for reasons already specified; but she does not deny that God may work in the souls of men previously to their baptism; nay! she does not deny that there may be true spiritual life in them before baptism. But that spiritual life she does not call the new birth, till it is manifested in the Sacrament of regeneration. We must remember that the terms new birth and regeneration are images borrowed from natural objects, and applied to spiritual objects. In nature, we believe life to exist in the infant before it is born, — life too of the same kind as its life after birth. Nay! if there be no life before it is born, there will be none after it is born. So, the unbaptized may not be altogether destitute of spiritual life; yet the actual birth may be considered as taking place at baptism; when there is not only life, but life apparent, life proclaimed to the world; when the soul receives the seal of adoption, is counted in the family of God, and not only partakes of God’s grace and mercy, but has a covenanted assurance and title to it.
5. One more objection we may notice. It is said that Sacraments and all outward ordinances are but the husk and shell: the life of God in the soul is the kernel and valuable part of religion. Let us regard the latter, and then we may throw the former away.
But we may reply, that He who has made the kernel, has made too the husk and the shell. In the natural creation, He has ordered that no seed shall grow to maturity if the husk and shell are untimely stripped off from it. If we have a treasure in earthen vessels, we may not rashly break the vessels, lest the treasure be lost. In God’s kingdom of nature, he has created for man a body as well as a spirit; we must not think to insure the life of the spirit by disregarding and despising the body. Such conduct seems precisely that of Naaman the Syrian, who refused to bathe in the waters of Jordan, as seeing no natural virtue in them to heal his leprosy. But had he persisted in his refusal, he would have returned to Syria a leper as he came. It was not the waters of Jordan that healed him: it is not the water of baptism which heals us. But God appointed both them and it; and to despise His appointment may be to forfeit His grace.
6. There is indeed one difficulty which I cannot solve, which Scripture has not solved. How is it, that if God’s Spirit is given to every infant baptized, some profit by the gift, and others profit not? It cannot be that God is faithful to His promise in one case and not in others. Nor again, can we believe that there is some inherent merit and excellence in the one child, but not in the other. This is one of the deep things of God, — of the secret things which belong to the Lord our God. Why one heart responds to the calls of grace, one steadily resists them, we inquire in vain. If we gain a step in the inquiry, we only find a new inquiry beyond it. The Calvinistic theory cuts the knot; but it leaves harder knots uncut. It is safer to admit the difficulty, — to acknowledge the impotence of our own intellects to disentangle it, — and humbly to rest satisfied with adoring, reverent, trusting, patient faith. We may feel assured concerning our God, that, though clouds and darkness are round about Him, yet righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His seat.
- Inheritance, be it observed, implies not certainty of possession, but the possibility of being disinherited. Thus St. Paul: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it” (Heb. iv. 1). There may be a promise of future blessing, which may be forfeited by sin (Comp. Heb. xii. 15, 16, 28). ↑
- [A change of the spirit is a different thing from a change in the spirit, and yet each is a spiritual change. — J. W.] ↑
- Hooker (though rather practical and devotional, than formal and logical in his statements) seems to say much the same as I have said in the text. “Baptism is a Sacrament which God hath instituted in His Church, to the end that they which receive the same might be incorporated into Christ, and so through His precious merit obtain as well that saving grace of imputation which taketh away all former guiltiness, as also that infused Divine virtue of the Holy Ghost, which giveth to the powers of the soul their first disposition towards future newness of life.” — Eccl. Pol. V. ix. 2.Waterland more accurately defines the distinction (in the case especially of infant baptism) between the grace given in baptism, called regeneration, and the effects of it when cultivated in the heart and life, called renovation. “Regeneration is a kind of renewal, but then it is of the spiritual state considered at large; whereas renovation seems to mean a more particular kind of renewal, namely, of the inward frame or disposition of the man. . . . Regeneration may be granted and received (as in infants) where that renovation has yet no place at all for the time being.” Again, “Regeneration and renovation differ in respect to the effective cause or agency; for one is the work of the Spirit in the use of water, that is of the Spirit singly, since water really does nothing, is no agent at all; but the other is the work of the Spirit and the man together.” Again, “It may reasonably be presumed that from the time of their new birth by water and the Spirit (which at that very moment is a renewal of their state to Godward) the renewing also of their heart may come gradually in, with their first dawnings of reason, in such measure as they shall be capable of: in a way to us imperceptible, but known to that Divine Spirit who regenerates them, and whose temple thenceforth they are, till they defile themselves with actual and grievous sin. In this case it is to be noticed that regeneration precedes, and renovation commonly follows after.” — Waterland, On Regeneration. Bishop Bethell appears to adopt the same view: “Regeneration is a spiritual grace, and, in a certain sense, every spiritual grace may be said to be moral, because it effects a change in a man’s moral nature. But the word Moral, to speak more properly, implies choice, and consciousness, and self-action, and faculties or dispositions expanding themselves into habits; and hence moral graces or virtues are, as Waterland expresses himself, ‘the joint work of the Spirit and the man.’” — Doctrine of Regeneration in Baptism. Fifth Edition, p. 247. I must venture to say that, agreeing fully in the general statement of all these passages, I should rather speak of the “yielding of the man’s will to the Spirit of God,” than of “the joint work of the Spirit and the man.” The latter sounds to me too much like a claim of independence for weak and sinful humanity. ↑
- Whether the Spirit ever finally leaves in this life the soul which has been consecrated to Him, and utterly ceases to plead with it, is a question too hard to answer. God’s covenant is to give His Spirit; and if we do not drive Him away, he will abide with us forever, and lead us daily onward. Thus our baptism may be called a life-long work. Even when resisted and grieved, we may hope that He does not soon “take His everlasting flight.” Yet we cannot say that there may be no period of impenitence, when God shall swear in His wrath, “My Spirit shall no longer plead.” ↑
- That is to say, beyond the fact that, without an act of faith on the part of parents or sponsors, infants would not come to baptism at all. ↑
- It is quite another question how far any but the children of Christians and believers are proper subjects of baptism. This may be the case from God’s appointment, not because of an imputation to the infant of the parent’s fitness for grace. ↑
- The principal heads or divisions of the subject considered in this section are: — I. The light to be derived from the old Testament. II. Baptism considered as admitting us to a Covenant; involving a promise, 1, of pardon; 2, of spiritual aid; 3, of eternal life. III. Baptism considered as admitting to the Church; which is, 1, the Body of Christ; 2, the Family of God; 3, the Kingdom of Heaven; 4, the Temple of the Holy Ghost. IV. Baptism, as related to spiritual regeneration. V. Objections considered and answered. ↑
- See Lightfoot, H. H. on John iii. 3. ↑
- See at length Lightfoot, H. H. on Matt. iii. 6. See also Wall, On Infant Baptism, Introduction, passim. ↑
- Lightfoot, on Matt. vi. 9. ↑
- Lightfoot, on Matt. xxvi. 27. ↑
- See some reflections on this subject, Art. VII. sect. II. p. 197. ↑
- De Coron. Milit. c. 3. ↑
- See Cave, Primitive Christianity, pt. I. ch. X. p. 315; Bingham, H. E. Bk. XI. ch. VII. sect. 3; Neander, Church History, I. sect. III. ↑
- Ὠι καὶ ἡμᾶς ἀντίτυτον νῦν σώζει βάπτισμα. ↑
- ἐπερώτημα properly signifies question or questioning. So the Vulgate, conscientiæ bonæ interrogatio in Deum; which is too literal to be intelligible. We must probably understand a metonymy of question for answer. So the Syriac renders it, “Not when you confess God in a pure conscience.” So the fathers evidently interpret it, as Tertullian: Anima responsione sancitur. — De Resurrect. c. 48. So more modern interpreters, for the most part, e. g. Erasmus: Quo fit, ut bona conscientia respondent apud Deum. And Beza: Stipulatio bonæ conscientiæ apud Deum. ↑
- Calvin, Institut. IV. xvi. 25. ↑
- Opera, Tom. I. fol. 60, De Baptismo. ↑
- Hooker, Bk. V. sect. 58. ↑
- Ibid. sect. 59. ↑
- We may especially compare St. Paul’s teaching, that we are buried with Christ, and raised again with Him in baptism (Rom. vi. 4. Col. ii. 12), with St. Peter’s teaching, that “God hath begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. i. 3). St. Paul’s exhortation consequent on such doctrine is, “If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above” (Col. iii. 1). St. Peter’s is, “Laying aside all malice, &c., as newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. ii. 1, 2). ↑
- e. g. πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ. — 1 John iii. 6. The exposition of this passage by St. Jerome, and reflections upon it, may be found under Art. XVI. ↑
- De Sacramento Baptism, Op. Tom. I. p. 72. The marginal heading is Baptismus durat per vitam. ↑
- We must not, however, deny that true renovation or conversion is at times the immediate effect of God’s grace given in infancy. John the Baptist was not the only one that ever was “sanctified from his mother’s womb.” Nor would our Lord have said concerning children, that “of such is the kingdom of heaven,” if they were never both the subjects of God’s renewing grace, and themselves obedient to that grace. Too generally, alas! the dew of God’s Spirit is early wiped from the heart. But there have been many pious men, who have grown up from childhood in the faith and fear of God; many of whom we read in the lives of God’s servants; some whom we ourselves have been privileged to know and esteem. ↑
- See his statements under Art. XVI. ↑
- Institut. IV. xvi. 17. ↑
- Præfatio in Epist. ad Galat. Opera, Tom. V. p. 271. One school of divines amongst us is supposed to insist very much on this necessity of faith, as though without it God could not act. I am sure the better instructed and more pious among them would shrink from any such extreme statement. Let me instance the justly venerated names of Cecil, Scott, Wilberforce, Simeon. They, and such as they, may have used language unlike the Church’s language on holy baptism, but I feel no doubt they would have repudiated the language which Luther, in the text, quotes as the arguments of the Anabaptists. To speak of one of them; Mr. Simeon’s views of baptism do not appear to have been very distinctly propounded. Perhaps he varied a little in his views at different times. I hardly see any difference between many of his statements and my own. In his Sermons on the Holy Spirit, indeed, he asserted that “Baptism was a change of state, but not a change of nature;” but this probably meant no more than a denial that baptism necessarily involved an actual moral change, a real internal renovation; for in his sermons on the Liturgy he has expressed himself in terms almost as clear in favour of properly explained baptismal grace as any of the Fathers or Anglican reformers could have used. — See Excellency of the Liturgy, Sermon II. ↑