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or a Gentile came and professed a desire for this rite, and when he publicly submitted to it, his doing so amounted to an open renunciation of Judaism or of heathenism, and to an open adjoining of himself to the flock of Christ. Bear in mind the circumstances of that period, and you will readily perceive how improbable it was that any should come and receive baptism who were not in reality desirous to give up all for the sake of Christ. Baptism in those days exposed to unrelenting hostility and persecution for Christ's sake; the result was that, generally speaking, the administration of the ordinance was much more closely connected with the presence of the Spirit's grace than when, in a more established state of the Christian Church, it is a ceremony which exposes its recipient to no kind of persecution or reproach.
Baptism, then, is the door of admission into the visible Church of Christ. If you were to go to some distant tribe of heathens,
and preach amongst them, for the first time, the unsearchable riches of Christ; and if the preaching was to be blessed, so that one and another declared a willingness to renounce idolatrous practices and embrace the religion of Jesus, you would tell them at once that, as a sign of their profession, they must submit to be baptized, and that baptism would be the visible token of their admission into the fold of Christ's Church.
Baptism, however, is more than this; it is more than a mere external symbol which certifies to the recipient his outward admission to membership with Christ's Church ; it is a channel through which grace may be communicated. Here we must not attempt to penetrate too narrowly into the hidden and secret things, which belong only to the Lord our God. I do not pretend to explain how it is that this or the other sacrament becomes a vehicle for the communication of grace, but the circumstance that Christ has appointed this rite is sufficient
to determine the point that baptism is a mean of grace, through which spiritual blessing may be earnestly sought by faithful supplication.
Here, however, it will be asked, What is the nature of the blessing which may be looked for from the use of this ordinance ? I reply to that question by saying, that I cannot assign any limit whatever to the blessing which God may be pleased to convey through the ordinance of baptism. God acts as a sovereign Lord: He may be pleased, in answer to the prayer of faith, to employ this instrumentally to convey the highest spiritual blessing of which man can be the recipient. In the exercise of His sovereign grace, and according to the purpose of His own will, He may connect the faithful use of this ordinance with the bestowment of spiritual regeneration in its highest and most comprehensive sense; and, believing that God may so far honour His own ordinance as thus to make it the vehicle of
blessings so transcendent, it is plainly man's part to use it in faith and hope, with earnest prayer and supplication, not unmingled with hearty praise and thanksgiving.
At the same time, whilst admitting all this, I feel equally bound to reject, as antiscriptural and most pernicious teaching, the doctrine either that spiritual regeneration can be effected only through baptisın, or that spiritual regeneration is a result which always follows upon baptism ; either of these tenets we reject, as opposed to revelation, derogatory to the honour of God, and flatly contradicted by daily experience. First of all, what do we mean by the term “spiritual regeneration ?” Does it signify nothing more than a change of state ? or does it imply a real change of heart and nature, which issues in a life devoted to the service of Christ ? Now, “regeneration” is a term which occurs only twice in the whole of Scripture; once in the 19th of Matthew and the 28th verse, where it has plainly
nothing whatever to do with baptism, and once in the 3d of Titus and the 5th verse, where, just as plainly, it has nothing whatever to do with the baptism of infants. But although the term “ regeneration” only occurs twice in Scripture, its equivalent terms occur frequently; those terms being, “ born again, “ born from above,” and “ born of God:” consequently, if we can find any clear definition of these terms, we may fairly accept that definition as applying equally to “spiritual regeneration.”
I appeal, then, to Scripture; and from the General Epistle of John I gather these broad and intelligible definitions of the term, -“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin ; for his seed remaineth in him : and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil.” 1 Again: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God;"9 “Whatsoever 1 1 John, iii. 9.
2 1 John, v. 1.