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Church, and their original import or design, it is probable, would be gradually lost sight of. In proportion as this was the case, they would become susceptible of an indefinite meaning, and would act with all the force of indefiniteness on the imagination. The initiatory sacrament of Baptism must have been regarded in a light essentially different from the views of the Divine Legislator, when persons could be induced to defer it till the close of life, under the idea that it would be effectual for the remission of all their previous sins. This was indeed to make it the laver not of regeneration only, but of expiation also. But even by them who had more rational views of its nature, it is evident that this rite, which was supposed to occupy in the Christian Church, the place of circumcision under the Jewish dispensation, very soon began to be regarded in a light similar to that in which the abrogated ceremonies of the law were for a long time contended for by the Jewish con verts. The Christian would too naturally be induced to rest his confidence on a meritorious compliance with the positive law, and to glory in his Baptism, as the Jew formerly made circumcision his boast and security ; and the solemn declaration of the Apostle to the Galatians, might without impropriety have been referred to the former case, no less than to the latter : “ In Jesus Christ neither” baptism, nor the absence of baptism,“ availeth any thing, but faith which 66 wurketh by love."
Calvin, in his Institutes, adverts to those persons who attribute to the Sacraments latent virtues, which are no where repre
sented as communicated to them by the word of God, and who maintain that the sacraments of the new law justify and confer 6 grace, provided we do not obstruct their operation by any o mortal sin. With more than usual vehemence that great Reformer deprecates the fatal prevalence of this opinion. It is ' indeed,' he affirms, vidently diabolical : for by promising
justification without fa.. , it precipitates souls into destruction :
in the next place, by representing the sacraments as the cause - of justification, it envelops the minds of men, naturally too o much inclined to the earth, in gross superstition, leading them 6 to rest in the exhibition of a corporeal object rather than in . God himself. Of those two evils, I wish we had no such
ample experience, as to supersede the necessity of much proof.' B. IV. C. 14. $ 14.
How, then, shall we ascertain the original intent, the scriptural import, and the relative importance of Baptism? Is it not a remarkable circumstance, that with respect to an institute of such alleged necessity and vital efficacy, the New Testament should have allowed scope for so great a variety of dogmas ? . Not only the Church of England differs from the Church of
· Rome, and differs from herself on this subject; but, without the pale of the establishment, besides the three distinct divisions of the Baptists, the Pædobaptists, and the Quakers, we shall discover several subdivisions, whose opinions will, on examination, be found to differ essentially. Whether Baptism should be insisted on as a term of communion, or not; whether it should be administered on a profession of Christianity, or only after a probation of character; whether, with respect to children, it should be refused to the offspring of irreligious parents; whether faith in the parent, or in the adult, is necessary to constitute it valid; 'what stress is to be laid on the mode; and, lastly, whether the institute was designed by our Lord to be of perpetual obligation : these questions, which do not belong to speculative theology,but have all a bearing upon the practical discipline of the Church, are so many distinct subjects for investigation. Happily, or rather unhappily, however, the majority of persons are content to rest in some vague, hereditary notion upon these points; and thus, amid a wonderful variety of possible views, a certain degree of uniformity of practice is secured, at least within the limits of the réspectivé denominations.
Without pretending to go at all into the fundamental question, What constitutes Christian baptism ? we may perhaps be pardoned, if we suggest in conclusion a few considerations for the attention of those who have more leisure to pursue the inquiry. In the first place, whatever view be taken of Baptism, must it not be concéded on all sides, that as practised in Christian countries, it assumés an aspect extremely different from that of the primitive institute? Does Baptism, as an initiatory ritė, really convey the saidè meaning, or involve the same consequences, now, as attached to it in the days of the Apostles? Originally designed to be the symbol of a new dispensation of a purely spiritual character, it corresponded, as an external rité, at once with the peculiar genius of that dispensation, and with that visible and determinate change of profession, as well as of belief, which took place in either the Jewish, or the Heathen convert. It has indeed been considered, as the adoption into the Christian dispensation, of a ceremonial ritè, perfectly consonant with the habits, and intelligible to the feelings of the people among whom the Apostles were sent. The simplicity of our Lord's command, the briefness of the direction to “ go into all nations, baptizing them," would seem to show that the prescribed mode of discipling the Heathen, was previously familiar to the Apostles; while the use which St. Peter makes of the word in connexion with repentance, would lead one to suppošé, that in the minds of the multitude he 'addressed, being baptized into a new religion, was nearly synonymous with being converted from a false religion. In the iõstance alluded to, it is conversion and repentance, rather than regene
ration, which appear to be involved in Baptism. Bé this ás it may, it must we think be conceded, that Baptism, as practised by the Apostles in obedience to our Lord's command, had, from the circumstances of the case, a very different meaning, answered a different end, implied a very different change in the subject, from what are involved in the performance of the same rite in a professedly Christian country. It was, then, not only the appointed mode of profession, but an evidence of discipleship, universally recognised. In a Christian country, a compliance with the rite forms no sort of evidence of real faith. It may still be the law of Christian profession; but that profession will in too many cases amount to no more than a vague recognition of the general truth of the national religion. . Baptism can be no longer considered as an expression of character: the disciples of Christ must be distinguished by some other outward sign. We do not mean to insinuate that this forıms any argument against the permanent obligation of thë rite of Baptism; but the consideration has some weight in ascertaining the grounds of its importance.
It is agreed on all sides, that Baptism is the rite of initiation into the Christian Church. The real question between the Pædo. baptists and the Antipædobaptists, is, whether children, and, among Pædobaptists themselves, what children, are to be considered as capable of, or entitled to, initiation into the visible Church. The latter point must be determined by the views they respectively take of the ordinance, as expressive of a simply external, or of a spiritual relation to the Church of Christ." But, confining ourselves to that general definition of Baptisin, on which all parties are agreed, it must be acknowledged, that the initiation of Jews and of Heathens into the visible Church, then existing in the form of a real voluntary association of true believers, and the initiation of nominal Christians, either on their presentation by Christian parents, or on their profession of faith, into a particular congregation, or a national establishment, considering either as a part of the visible church,--though the term Baptisin be allowed to designate both transactions with equal propriety, cannot be considered as identical.
The importance of Baptism must ultimately rest either on its claims as a duty, or on its efficacy as a privilege. Viewed under the former aspect, it is generally supposed to rest on a positive law, by which every intelligent subject of that, law is bound to implicit obedience. In this case, it should seemn to admit of no relaxation on the ground of immaturity of character, in the professed or nominal Christian. And indeed, not to urge the practice of the fore-runner of our Lord, the Apostles appear to liave received to Christian Baptism, whoever oflered themselves, whether under the influence of conviction, or that of fear; and though, as in the instance of the eunuch, they doubtless endeavoured to secure an intelligent compliance with the ordinance, as an expression of faith and obedience, we do not read, that in any case they refused to admit a person to Christian Baptism. They could have instituted no inquiry into the individual character of the three thousand converts of one day. Nor does it appear that they ever intimated to Simon Magus, or to any other insincere or unconverted person, that his Baptism was invalidated by a want of real repentance or of faith. If these had been requisite to constitute Baptism a duty, or to render its performance valid, surely iteration of Baptism would, in the case of such unhappy discoveries, have received the sanction of apostolic direction or precedent. But if Baptism relates principally to the profession of Christianity, the nature of the duty becomes materially modified. It will then remain to examine with what propriety the terms law and command, as founded simply on our Lord's direction to the Apostles in evangelizing the Heathen, can be used in their absolute sense, as importing a universally binding obligation of fearful importance, when the original institution is neither couched in the form, nor attended with the sanctions of a law; unless that sanction is included in the promise of our Saviour's presence with his faithful ministers to the end of the world. As a law, Baptism seems only to be directly imposed on the Christian minister, or still more so on the evangelist, or missionary, who, in carrying the Gospel into heathen lands, is fulfilling the letter as well as the spirit of his Saviour's commission, and is occupying the very office and attitude of the Apostles themselves.
Let us then consider Baptism with respect to its efficacy as a privilege, in which light it appears to be primarily regarded by the Church of England, as a means of grace; or, to adopt Hooker's words, as a means conditional which God requireth in them unto whom he imparteth grace. We incline to think that the perpetual obligation and real importance of the Christian institute, must ultimately rest on its sacramental character. In this point of view, it inay be claimed alike by all men, though, ia its spiritual efficacy, the true believer, or the children of true believers, may be the only participants. It may then be considered as legitimately performed, like other ordinances of religion, in a melancholy number of instances in which the effectual benefit is lost. It would seem to be valid in every case in which it served to admit to a profession of Christianity, while yet the character of that profession would materially affect the availing efftcacy of the rite as a means conditional on the part of those who were engaged in its performance.
In thus divesting Baptism of the stern attribute of positive
law, as well as of that great store' of strange and wondrous properties which have been attributed to it by the superstition of darker ages; we are not aware that we detract any thing from its true scriptural importance. We are guilty only of reducing it to a level, in point of authority and conditional efficacy; with the other ordinances of Christianity. Wherefore,' says Calvin,
let us abide by this conclusion, that the office of the sacraments " is precisely the same as that of the word of God.” Surely, upon this basis it may safely rest. We cannot, we dare not be lieve, that the child of a profligate parent, thoughtlessly presented at the baptismal font, and it is not satire, but fact-as thoughtlessly sprinkled and crossed by the Romish priest, or, it may be, irreligious Protestant minister, is one whit the purer in sou), or the safer in condition, for the ecclesiastical rite; or that the pious Quaker, or the individual who conscientiously believes that the obligation of Baptism is not perpetual, is left to the uncovenanted mércies of God! What but bigotry and horrible delusion can result from such a belief, in the minds of an unintelligent multitude ! Christianity is not a code of positive laws, or a system of ceremonial observances : its whole message is CHRIST; its import, salvation. We believe, in regard to Baptism, that it will prove availing, just so far as those dispositions of which it is employed as the outward expression, are found to have a real existence in the individual. To those who, upon repentance, “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, for the remission, “ of sins," we believe it was effectual, so far as that repentance of which it was the sign, was genuine, and no farther. The Baptist who now employs this rite as significant of a death unto sin, and a burial unto this world, will surely be accepted only as, he is the subject of that sentimental change which it bespeaks : while in the case of the pious member of the Established Church, or of a Pædobaptist congregation, who regards Baptism no less than circumcision formerly, as the seal of a covenant in which his children are included the sign of a relation in which they stand to the visible Church, in consequence of the faith or religious profession of their parents, and who in this view dedicates his offspring to God in Baptism, as a means conditional of securing his promised grace; it will, surely, prove no less availing, in pro-. portion as that faith is intelligent and sincere from which the outward expression derives all its value and significance. For Sacraments, we again repeat the words of Hooker, 'contain in
themselves no vital force or efficacy; they are not physical, but moral instruments of salvation, duties of service and of wor. ship. All receive not the grace of God which receive the sa
craments of his grace, Like all the other ordinances of religion, they are ? moral instruments, the use whereof is in our Vol. II, N. S.