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selves not to the distinguished writers, whom if we wished to convince or assist with materials of thought, wè ought to be furnished with more elaborate matter; but to more ordinary persons, who may catch a doubt from the speculations of others, and may also not be disinclined to take a fair suggestion along with them.
It is said, if such be the benefits of baptism, if infants be regenerated in it
, how happens it that in many of them when they are grown up, the signs of such a change are not more visible? A question keenly put, and which seems to reduce us to a necessity of giving up our first persuasion, unless we can give such a particular proof of it. The case, however, does not reduce itself to that dilemma. We hold it to be most dangerous to our own charity and humility, to be inclined to take up the cognizance of the state of others under a very precise rule, by signs of their regeneration; and that which is adverse to those duties in ourselves, cannot be sound in divinity. Let us be severe in examining our own state, and demand the truth of it: but to presume against others, because we do not see the marks of their Christian character written in language which we can understand, that therefore they are lost, is to judge where we are not required, and by an insufficient criterion. And further, since those who believe that infants are regenerated in baptism, may not think that if they live to years of moral agency, they will, by a necessary consequence, also lead a Christian life ; since they are not required to conceive of the first regeneration as either inducing a present habit of moral holiness, or as determining the formation of it, afterwards---it must appear that the benefit of baptism may to their conceptions be entire, even when actual holiness afterwards is not merely not visible, but where it absolutely does not exist. For unless they state it to be a part of their belief that sanctification once communicated in any degree is not only indelible but also progressive, and progressive into the habits of a good life in every instance, they may believe most consistently in the regenerating influence of baptism, and yet neither see the permanent and outward effects of it, nor expect to see them expressed in a Christian life. They do not commit a great error in reasoning who say, we see no signs to-day of any given event, and yet we think it happened yesterday. There is indeed a certain system of theology which makes the gift of grace once bestowed, necessarily efficacious to a good life. We are not now contencing either for or against that'system of theology, but we think we may assume it as a certain and very obvious position, that to argue backward from the absence not only of the real effect, but of the visible signs of grace, to the proposition that therefore grace has not been bestowed, is a part of that system, and is a mode of argument absolutely untenable in any other system; and therefore that
other men with the obligation of so reasoning, is, indirectly, to constrain them to the acceptance of that system. And to represent them as inconsistent if they do not so argue, is to make out their inconsistency by one principle taken from their own creed, and another principle which possibly is neither theirs, nor true in itself. We are wishing not to argue against that system, much less to inveigh against it, or those who hold it. Our knowledge of many eminent divines who have taught it, and of excellent men who have lived in it, forbids the thought, even if we had the disposition so to do. But in canvassing this point of baptismal regeneration, when we see that in order to obviate the force of those simple were to by our church into the mouth of every child that has been baptised, "Where was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inberitor of the kingdom of heaven, it is ate tempted either to reduce them to a sense below that of a real spiritual change, or to do away the plain atñrmative tenor of that proposition, by making it conditional and dependent upon the future life, it seems to us, that we see in this proceeding a mistake of the following nature :--either a determination of the sinse of a proposition in some way distinct from a perception of the
force of the terms of which it consists, or a determination of its senle through the medium of a questionable hypothesis, and an hypothesis which we cannot assume to have entered into the framing of the
position. In the first instance, we should separate the terms of position from its sense; in the second we should be arguing rough a system to the meaning of a proposition : which is itself n +st unsound, much more when the system is our own, the
pro another's. And therefore it should seem to us that the most correct view of the subject is to say, that since the obvious and in controvertible meaning of the words (for that meaning is incontrovertible which can be evaded only by the process we have descritted) is a meaning inconsistent with a certain hypothesis; and since the meaning of each proposition must stand good for itself
, and make against that which is inconsistent with it; therefore the words of the Baptismal service which we have quoted do oppose and contradict the hypothesis, and that therefore when the object is to enorce their meaning, the hypothesis must be silent and retire.
The inquiry, what is the extent and the specific nature of the benefits derived from Infant Baptism, if they are not such as to ensure future piety and obedience, is another cause which seems to have occasioned a doubt in the minds of some, who do not concide. in their general opinions with those to whom we have last alpded. This inquiry is not hard to be answered in a clear and postive way, if we are intent only upon a right perception of gendal Christian principles : exceedingly hard, perhaps impossible, to
answered, if we give the reins to an excursive curiosity, or press the question into terms of great rigour and preciseness. Looking at the whole dispensation of the Gospel, as a method for the restoration of man, we have one simple end, and one simple cause of that end, before us.. Dividing a little farther, we perceive that this gracious purpose is wrought out among the several individuals who are made partakers of it, under a great diversity of degrees in the benefit ; that the new creature is as various and multiform as that which was to be renewed; and that one man is no more exactly the same as another in the kingdom of grace, than in his first nature. Taking the individual for our subject, and judging of him, by the light of Scripture, the analogy of reason, and the most probable notices of the actual experience of things, we should say that this restoration takes place in him, not complete at once, but by many degrees of uncertain progress, according to the will of the great new Creator, and the improvement made under his gracious discipline. If we might so apply the words of the Apostle, they are descriptive of what we mean;" all these worketh that one and the same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.' The covenant of the Gospel is the offer of this restoration; some shall profit by it, and to others it will prove their greater condemnation, so far will they be from availing themselves of its truth, and its manifold assistance. Baptism is the beginning of this state of restoration, according to the positive terms of the covenant, Now it is easy to understand that nature, weak and corrupt in itself, is one state ; and the state of grace, with promise of pardon for sin, and aid of heavenly power continually at hand, is another. And it is not difficult to understand, that infants are as capable of being translated into his better state as their elders; for since they have that, which we call their human nature within them, though its faculties be not yet unfolded ; and since it participates of those accidents in its present condition, which the fuller disclosure of itself will not vary, but only exhibit; there appears to be no more reason for doubting the capacity of regeneration in an infant, than there is in one of full years, nor have we any cause at all to doubt the need of it, in the one more than the other. The influence of a sanctifying power may as certainly be communicated to the infant mind as to another; the grant of release from its inherent corruption may be as certainly conveyed. Do we doubt in infants the principle of a corrupt nature :-We do not. Then by every analogy, since the abstract nature of contraries may be understood the one by the other, we have no cause to doubt the activity of that new principle, in such way and order, as it may be given; no cause, we mean, on account of the difficulty of conceiving it. Looking to all the accidents, we mean not fortuitous, but arranged accidents of
moral influence which make up the whole of life, we may apprehend with perfect consistency, how the use or abuse of conscience, and other moral powers, when they begin to act, the good or evil: of example, the benefit of instruction, the improvement of Christian communion, or the neglect of it, shall subsequently make such an arrangement among the several meinbers of a community, who had all of them the original grace bestowed, that we may despair of ever reducing each case by itself to its strict account, but may be contented with knowing the sum of the matter in this, as in many other instances, viz. with knowing the principles by which we and others may be made better or worse; by which we may improve or desolate our Christian hope; and we may leave the rest to His unerring wisdom and justice, in whose hands we and all our hopes are, protected by the mercy of the covenant under which we are placed. But in the observation of life we repeat it, that as there are infinite degrees of that faith and obedience which shall ultimately be made perfect in heaven, as we have no means of approach to discern the operation of that principle of life which yields them, our belief of its existence is not to be made dependent upon that which we may be able to see, but upon those large assurances of its co-operation with the members of the Christian church which are given in Scripture. And much less ought we to stay till we can state definitely, and under adequate terms, the very process of its influence, or measure by a rule and line the extent of the gift before we believe it to have been actually given.
Another cause which appears to have suggested a doubt, as to the sense of the church doctrine, is a doubt as to the meaning of a very emphatic passage of Scripture, supposed by some to be not necessarily applicable to baptism; the words in St. John's Gospel, •Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit,' &c. The intere pretation which would detach these words from any reference to baptism, is not our's. Moreover we think it not only an erroneous one, but so entirely groundless, so manifestly unsound, that we should have the most serious apprehensions of that judgment in the interpreting of Scripture which should follow such a latitude in it. The last commission of our Saviour to his apostles was, 'to make disciples in all nations, baptising them. The first actual preaching of the Gospel, on the day of Pentecost, was, 'Repent and be baptised every one of you,' The promise was, He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved.' And yet there is a doubt whether the text, except a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,' relate to that method of entering into his kingdom which our Saviour commanded, which by his apostles was applied, and to which the promise of salvation
is joined. We are unwilling to speak severely of any mistake; we should not speak truly, if we did not request any person who may entertain this surmise of interpretation, to consider it again. We think it has not the shadow of a foundation to rest úpon.But there are two authorities on this point much better than ours. The first is the authority of the Liturgy itself, in the Baptismal Service, where the regeneration by water and the Spirit, spoken of in the Gospel of St. John, is distinctly applied to baptism, the water to the baptismal water, the Spirit to the gift of the Spirit. And this very relation of the text to the baptismal rite is made the ground work of the service, and of the doctrine expressed in it. It is clear to demonstration, that the compilers of the Liturgy applied the text to the rite of baptism; and that they did so apply it, must be granted even by those who still may doubt, whether the same compilers understood the water and the Spirit,' to be always joined together. The other authority is that of Hooker, who speaks not only his own sense, but that of all antiquity also, in explaining those words of the Gospel to apply to the rite of baptism. His severity of animadversion upon those who would strain it to any other meaning is greater than any common mistake could have extorted from him. The expositors who had so strained it, in his time, seem to have added some degree of unfairness to their error. For he says of them, they had recourse to the disguise of a fact which they knew; and the fact was this, that of all the ancients there is not one to be named that ever did otherwise either expound or allege the place, than as implying external baptism.*
* The whole of his comment upon this licentious and deluding' exposition, as he considers it, may deserve the attention of every fair inquirer into the meaning of Scripture.
'For by water and the Spirit, we are in that place to understand (as they imagine) no more than if the Spirit alone had been mentioned, and water not spoken of. Which they think is plain, because elsewhere it is not improbable, that the Holy Ghost and fire do but signify the Holy Ghost in operation resembling fire; whereupon they con-, clude, that seeing fire in one place may be, therefore water in another place is, but a metaphor : Spirit, the interpretation thereof; and so the words do only mean, that onless a man be born again of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. I hold it for a most infallible rule in espositions of sacred Scripture, that where a literal construction will stand, the fartherest from the letter is commonly the worst. There is nothing more dangerous than this licentious and deluding art, which changeth the meaning of words, as alchymy doth or would do the substance of metals, maketh of any thing which it listeth, and bringeth in the end all truth to nothing. Or bowsoever such voluntary exercise or wit might be borne with, otherwise ; yet in places which usually serve, as this doth, concerning regeneration by water and the Holy Ghost, to be alleged for grounds and principles, less is permitted. To hide. the general consent of antiquity, agreeing in the literal interpretation, they cunningly affirm, that certain have taken those words as meant of material water, when they know that of all the ancients there is not one to be named that ever did otherwise, either expound or allege the place, than as implying external baptism. Shall that which hath always received this, and no other construction, be now disguised with the toy of novelty ? Must we needs at the only show of a critical conceit, without any more