« PreviousContinue »
God; our fear to offend Him; and our delight in his commandments : it appears too in our endeavors, while we live, to be doing good; in our love for the disciples of Christ, in our respect for his ministers, and all his institutions ; in our thankfulness for his blessed gospel, and our charity towards all mankind, mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living."
The new Birth.
“ The sacrament of Baptism is neither an empty sign to them that be lieve, nor an effectual cause of grace to them that believe not.”
If the reader at the opening of this chapter is led to wonder, that in this walk about Zion, we linger so long before one of its gates, and still continue to gaze upward, trying to decipher the inscription upon the arch that stands over it, his wonder will cease when he recollects that our Saviour has said “ Strait is the gate and narrow is the way,
which lead. eth unto life; and few there be that find it.” Our wish is, that none may be led to miss their way to the eternal city, by the uncertain or equivocal use of a word.
We fully believe that every human creature, that enters Heaven's gate must be born again. The whole human race, without a single exception, are conceived and born in sinthey are unholy, outcasts from the divine family—and deserving the everlasting displeasure of Jehovah. Not one of these, therefore, can enjoy his favor, till the heart is changed, and the moral nature renewed. This change can be effected only through the operation of the Holy Spirit.
We have seen in the last chapter, that “ whatever various theories different Episcopalians have adopted in relation to the meaning of the term regenerate, by none of these theories, or by the holders of them, is denied the necessity of a new moral creation in the soul, effected by the power of the Holy Spirit, and having no necessary connection with the act of baptismal washing.
In the present chapter we are to show, that whatever ex. position be given to the meaning of the term regenerate, the
The Baptismal office for infants.
use of that term as it occurs in the prayer book, is not contradictory to the doctrines in the Bible. To the illustration of this proposition, we now invite the attention of the reader.
Objections raised against the manner in which the term regenerate is used in the prayer book, have special reference to the use of that term in the baptismal office for infants. For in relation to the service for adult baptism, and the office for confirmation, persons are spoken of there as “ regenerated,” from the fact that if they have the requisite qualifications to render them fit for the reception of these ordinances, they are in the state supposed—truly regenerate. “The public offices of a church must be in general terms. Neither the framers of the liturgy, nor the Priests who use it could speak positively of each baptized individual. Our Church, therefore, in the judgement and hope of charity, whilst admitting persons into the visible Church, by the visible sign, speaks of them also as admitted by spiritual grace into the invisible Church ; that is, it speaks generally of all the baptized, as being likewise regenerated."* Or, to use the language of a clerical friend to whom I am indebted for several valuable suggestions on this subject :-“ Our public services are formed as all public services must be, upon a presumed state of mind and character in the people uniting in them, and can make no allowance for exceptions. When the words of confession and thanksgiving are placed in the mouths of the people, though on every occasion there may be instances in which the language is insincere, yet we cannot bring down the words to meet the actual fact, but must insist upon a state of mind brought up to meet the language employed. I know not how any extemporaneous prayers in connection with ordinances, can take any other ground. This applies to our baptismal services.” We do not admit persons to adult baptism or confirmation, whom we do not consider as having exercised repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.' And we certainly ought to speak of such as being regenerated. The only plausible ground of objection to the use of this word in the prayer book, therefore, is where the term regenerate is applied to baptized infants.
* Christian Observer, vol. 16, p. 386.
Different expositions of the term Regenerate. In the baptismal office, the following language is used“Seeing now, dearly beloved brethern, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ's Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits, and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning.” And again “We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant by thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church.”
Now take any of the various theories that have been adopted in relation to the meaning and legitimate use of this term, and we think that the above language can be shown to be free from inconsistency.
For instance, if the theory be adopted, that regeneration as above used, means merely a change of state-or being brought visibly into covenant with God, no exception can be taken to the language of the baptismal office. For baptism is the divinely appointed rite of initiation into the christian covenant. According to this theory, the regeneration here spoken of, is external and ecclesiastical. Baptized children are said to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, because the whole economy and dispensation of the kingdom of Christ is managed by the Spirit of Christ. “Infants, therefore," to use the words of Bishop Hopkins, “are in baptism regenerated by the Holy Ghost, because the Holy Spirit of God appoints this ordinance to receive them unto the visible Church, which is the regenerate part and state of the world.”
Again : If regeneration be regarded as a term denoting all the benefits and privileges that are conveyed in the act of one's being brought into covenant with God—the new relation that he is thus made to sustain to Jehovah, the promises that thereby become appropriated to him-in short, all the advantages, spiritual and ecclesiastical—all the various influences, whatever they may be, which God intended should be imparted to those who enter into covenant with him, no exceptions can be taken as to the use of this term in the baptismal office. We, with many other christians, believe
* Bishop Hopkins' Works, vol. 2, p. 426.
Regeneration in the popular sense. that children ought to be dedicated to God in baptism. By this ordinance they are admitted into covenant with him, and by his appointment sealed as his children. We may thank him, therefore, for the whole work of mercy done and promised in this holy ordinance—a work, which according to this theory is denominated regeneration. And as they have been introduced into the covenant, in a way prescribed by the Holy Spirit, we may thank him, that by his Holy Spirit he has regenerated, or invested with the benefits of the covenant, the subject of that ordinance.
Once more : If regeneration be regarded as implying a change of heart, effected by the operation of the Holy Spirit accompanied by justification in the sight of God, and its necessary consequence—eternal salvation, we think the language of our service is still defensible.
To see this subject in its true light, it will be necessary to attend to the following considerations:
1. It must be remembered that the Episcopal Church takes for granted, that all infant children presented by believing sponsors are fit subjects for baptism, an ordinance by which they are introduced into the christian covenant.
2. It is evident that all who are rightly, that is, in accordance with God's will, brought through this ordinance into covenant with God, have conditionally ensured to them all the benefits of the covenant.
3. It is abundantly manisest that the principal blessing of this covenant is regeneration, or a new moral creation in the soul, which baptism itself symbolises or represents. Without this spiritual regeneration all the other blessings of the covenant will amount to nothing, but will only serve to heap up against the being placed under its bonds, “ wrath against the day of wrath.” If therefore the christian covenant entered into at baptism, secures the promise of any blessing, it is the promise of a renewal of heart-the change of the moral nature, by which we become the children of God.
4. There is no assurance, however, that this new moral creation, guarantied by the christian covenant, shall take place in the article of baptism.—“ Infants may not receive any apparent benefits from baptism at the moment in which the ordinance is administered, although a gracious God may even