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§ 12. Efficacy of Baptism.
Doctrine of the Reformed Churches.
In the section which treats of the efficacy of the sacraments in general, it was shown that according to the Reformed Church the sacraments (1.) Are ordinances of divine appointment. (2.) That they are means of grace, and therefore are not to be undervalued or neglected. (3.) That their efficacy does not depend upon any virtue in them or in him by whom they are administered, but upon the attending influence of the Holy Spirit. (4.) That their efficacy is not tied to the time of their administration; and that they are not the exclusive channels of the spiritual benefits which they signify, so that such benefits can be received only through and in the use of the sacraments. We have by faith alone, and by the free gift of God, all that the sacraments are made the means of communicating. The same may be said of reading and hearing the Word of God: neither is to be neglected, because either, or one without the other, may be made effectual. The sacraments are not to be neglected or undervalued, because men can be saved without them. (5.) That, so far as adults are concerned, true, living faith in those who receive the sacraments is the indispensable condition of their saving or sanctifying influence.
All these positions are affirmed to be true of baptism as well as of the Lord’s Supper. Of the former the principal Reformed symbols use such language as the following: “Obsignantur hæc omnia baptismo. Nam intus regeneramur, purificamaur, et renovamur a Deo per Spiritum Sanctum: foris autem accipimus obsignationem maximorum donorum, in aqua, qua etiam maxima illa beneficia representantur, et veluti oculis nostris conspicienda proponuntur.”591591Confessio Helvetica posterior, XX; Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, p. 517.580
“Baptismus nobis testificandæ nostræ adoptioni datus, quoniam in eo inserimur Christi corpori, ut ejus sanguine abluti simul etiam ipsius Spiritu ad vitæ sanctimoniam renovemur.”592592Confessio Gallicana, Art. XXXV.; Ibid. p. 338.
“(Baptismi significatio) duas partes habet. Nam ibi remissio peccatorum, deinde spiritualis renovatio figuratur. . . . . Annon aliud aquæ tribuis nisi ut ablutionis tantum sit figura? Sic figuram esse sentio ut simul annexa sit veritas. Neque enim sua nobis dona pollicendo nos, Deus frustratur. Proinde et peccatorum veniam et vitæ novitatem offeri nobis in baptismo et recipi a nobis, certum est.”593593Catechismus Genevensis [V.], Niemeyer, pp. 162, 163.
“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 who receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church. The promises of the forgiveness of sins, 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 to God.”594594Thirty-nine Articles, XXVII.
The Heidelberg Catechism says: “Is then the external baptism of water, the washing away of sins? It is not: For the blood of Jesus Christ alone cleanses us from all sin. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of regeneration, and the washing away of sins? God speaks thus not without sufficient cause, not only that He may teach us, that just as pollution of the body is purged by water, so our sins are expiated by the blood and Spirit of Christ; but much more that He may assure us by this divine symbol and pledge, that we not less truly are cleansed from our sins by inward washing, than that we are purified by external and visible water.”595595Ques. 72 and 73, Niemeyer, pp. 445, 446.
The Consensus Tigurinus is the most carefully prepared and guarded statement of the doctrine of the Reformed Church which has come down from the age of the Reformation. It was drawn up to adjust the difficulties arising from the diverging views on this subject between Calvin and the clergy of Geneva on the one hand, and the Zwinglian clergy of Zurich on the other. In the ninth article it is said, “that although we distinguish, as is proper, between the sign and the things signified; yet we do not disjoin the truth from the signs: moreover all who embrace by faith the promises therein offered, spiritually receive Christ together 581with his spiritual gifts; and so those who before had been made partakers of Christ, continue and renew that participation.” In articles immediately following it is taught that regard is to be had, not to the naked signs, but to the promises annexed to them; that the signs without Christ are “inanes larvæ” that if any good be conferred by the sacraments, it is not from their proper inherent virtue; for it is God alone who acts through his Spirit Article sixteenth is in these words, “Præterea sedulo docemus, Deum non promiscue vim suam exerere in omnibus qui sacramenta recipiunt, sed tantum in electis. Nam quemadmodum non alios in fidem illuminat, quam quos preordinavit ad vitam: ita arcana Spiritus sui virtute efficit, ut percipiant electi quæ offerunt sacramenta.” Article nineteenth teaches that the benefits signified by the sacraments may be obtained without their use. Paul’s sins were remitted before he was baptized. Cornelius received the Spirit before he received the external sign of regeneration. In the twentieth article it is taught that the benefit of the sacraments is not confined to the time of their administration. God sometimes regenerates in their old age those who were baptized in infancy or youth.596596Niemeyer, pp. 194, 195.
In the Westminster Confession it is said: “Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance [baptism], yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized, are undoubtedly regenerated. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.”597597Chap. xxviii. §§ 5, 6.
Calvin controverts the Romish doctrine that the Sacraments of the New Testament have greater efficacy than those of the Old. “Nihilo splendidius de illis Apostolus quam de his loquitur, quum docet patres eandem nobiscum spiritualem escam manducasse; et escam illam Christum interpretatur.” (1 Cor. x. 3.) And again, in the same paragraph, “Nec vero baptismo nostro plus tribuere fas est, quam ipse alibi circumcisioni tribuit, quum vocat ‘sigillum justitiæ fidei.’ (Rom. iv. 11.) Quicquid ergo nobis hodie in sacramentis exhibetur, id in suis olim recipiebant Judæi, Christum scilicet cum spiritualibus suis divitiis. Quam habent nostra virtutem, 582eam quoque in suis sentiebant: ut scilicet essent illis divinæ erga se benevolentiæ sigilla in spem salutis æternæ.”598598Institutio, IV. xiv. 23, edit. Berlin, 1834, part ii. p. 364.
The doctrine of the Reformed Church, therefore, on the efficacy of baptism includes in the first place the rejection or denial of certain false doctrines on the subject. (1.) That baptism conveys grace “ex opere operato” in the sense which Romanists attach to those words, by any objective supernatural power belonging to the ordinance itself; or in virtue of the divine efficiency inherent in the word or promise of God connected with the sacrament. (2.) That the coöperation of the Spirit, to which the efficacy of the ordinance is due, always attends its administration, so that those who are baptized, in all cases, if unresisting, experience the remission of sins and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. (3.) That baptism was appointed to be the ordinary means or channel of conveying, in the first instance, the merits of Christ’s death and the saving influences of the Spirit, so that those benefits may not, except in extraordinary cases, be obtained before or without baptism.
In the second place the Reformed doctrine on this subject affirms, (1.) That baptism is a divine ordinance. (2.) That it is a means of grace to believers. (3.) That it is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. (4.) That the ordinance was intended to be of perpetual obligation, in the sense that all, not baptized in infancy, are required to submit to baptism as the divinely appointed way of publicly professing their faith in Christ and their allegiance to Him as their God and Saviour; and that all such professors of the true religion are bound to present their children for baptism as the divinely appointed way of consecrating them to God. (5.) That God, on his part, promises to grant the benefits signified in baptism to all adults who receive that sacrament in the exercise of faith, and to all infants who, when they arrive at maturity, remain faithful to the vows made in their name when they were baptized.
Proof of the Reformed Doctrine.
As to the affirmations included in the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning baptism, little need be said, as they are generally conceded. In all ages, since the apostolic, the tendency in the Church has been not to detract from the importance of the Christian sacraments, but unduly to exalt them. Nothing is plainer from the whole tenor of the New Testament than that the 583sacraments hold a place much below that of the truth. Whereas in all churches in a state of decay the reverse is the fact. The Jewish Church in the time of Christ, had become completely ritualistic. Rites and ceremonies had usurped the place of truth and holy living. A man might be proud, avaricious, unjust, and as our Lord expresses it, in every way a “child of the devil,” yet if punctilious in the observance of church rites and church festivals, he esteemed himself and was esteemed by others, a saint so holy as to be contaminated by fellowship or contact with those who were the true children of God. This was the form in which corruption entered the Christian Church soon after the age of the Apostles. This “mystery of iniquity” even in that age had begun to work, and when he that “did let” was taken out of the way, the evil was fully revealed, and the Christian Church became as thoroughly ritualistic as the Jewish Church had been when Christ came. The Reformation was in its essential character a protest against ritualism. It proclaimed salvation by a living faith which purified the heart, in opposition to the doctrine of salvation by rites and ceremonies. It insisted that religion was a matter of the heart, and therefore denounced as apostasy the Church returning to “weak and beggarly elements,” to observing “days, and months, and times, and years,” subjecting the people to “ordinances, touch not; taste not; handle not; which are all to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men.” Ritualism is a broad, smooth, and easy road to heaven, and is always crowded. It was much easier in Paul’s time to be a Jew outwardly than to be one inwardly; and circumcision of the flesh was a slight matter when compared to the circumcision of the heart. A theory which allows a man to be religious, without being holy; to serve both God and mammon; to gain heaven without renouncing the world, will never fail to find numerous supporters. That there is such a theory: that it has prevailed extensively and influentially in the Church; and that it is prevalent over a large part of Christendom, cannot be disputed. It does not follow, however, that all who are called ritualists, or who in fact attribute undue importance to external rites, are mere formalists. Many of them are, no doubt, not only sincere, but spiritual Christian men. This is no proof that the system is not false and evil, All Protestants cheerfully admit that many Romanists are holy men; but they no less strenuously denounce Romanism as an apostasy from the pure Gospel.
As the corruption of the Church of Rome consisted largely in 584making Christianity to consist in the punctual attendance on church rites; in teaching that the merits of Christ and the renewing of the Holy Ghost were conveyed in baptism even to unbelievers (i.e., to those destitute of saving faith); that when those blessings had been forfeited by sin, they could be restored by confession and absolution; that the eucharist is a true propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that, in short, the religion of Christ is purely ritualistic, its benefits being conferred through external rites, and in no other way, so that those rites were indispensably necessary to salvation; it would have been natural had the Reformers gone to the opposite extreme, and unduly depreciated the importance of the sacraments which Christ himself had appointed. From this extreme, however, they were mercifully preserved. They taught, first, that in one sense, —
Baptism is a Condition of Salvation.
This is included in the commission which Christ gave to the Apostles, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Matt. xvi. 15, 16.) Baptism, therefore, has the necessity of precept, not that of a means. Our Lord does not say that he that is unbaptized shall be damned. That denunciation falls only on those who believe not. In this respect baptism is analogous to confession. Christ attributes the same necessity to the latter as to the former. In Matthew x. 32, it is written, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” And St. Paul says (Rom. x. 9, 10), “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Confession does not make a man a Christian. It is the public avowal that he is a Christian; that he is a believer in Christ, in his divinity, in his incarnation, and in his being and doing all that He claimed to be, and that the Scriptures declare He did for us and our salvation. Such confession is a duty, a privilege, and a dictate of gratitude and loyalty, which cannot be repressed. His people will glory in confessing Him. While there is this desire and purpose to acknowledge Christ before men, due occasion for this confession may not he afforded, or it may be hindered by self-diffidence or ignorance. 585As our Lord intended not only to save men by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and thus to bring them into membership in his mystical body, but also to constitute a visible church to consist of all those who confessed Him to be their God and Saviour, He appointed an outward visible sign by which they should be known and enrolled among his people. This was in accordance with the example set in the Old Testament. When God determined to organize Abraham and his descendants into a visible church, to be the depository of the truth and the treasure-house of his gifts, he appointed circumcision to be the sign of the covenant and the badge of membership in the commonwealth of Israel. This also is according to the common usage in human society. When a foreigner wishes to become a citizen of another state, he is called upon to take an oath of allegiance to his adopted country. When a man is elected or appointed to an important office, he must be duly inaugurated, and take the oath of fidelity. The oath taken by the President of the United States does not make him President; it neither confers the right to the office, nor does it confer the qualifications for the proper discharge of its duties. Circumcision did not make a man a Jew. It gave him neither the knowledge nor the grace necessary to his being one of the true children of Israel. It was the appointed means of avowing that he was a Jew; it was the sign of his being included among the worshippers of the true God; and it secured for him the privileges of the theocracy. In like manner, baptism does not make a man a Christian. It is the appointed means of avowing that he is a Christian; it is the badge of his Christian profession before men, it secures for him the privileges of membership in the visible Church, and it is a pledge on the part of God that, if sincere and faithful, he shall partake of all the benefits of the redemption of Christ. It is only in this sense that the Reformed Church teaches the necessity of baptism. It has the necessity of a divine precept. It is the condition of salvation, in the same sense in which confession is, and in which circumcision was. The uncircumcised child was cut off from among the people. He forfeitcd his birthright. But he did not forfeit his salvation. The Apostle teaches us that if an uncircumcised man kept the law, his uncircumcision was counted for circumcision. To this the Jews objected by asking, What profit then is there in circumcision? Paul answered, Much every way. It is not useless, because not essential. The same is true of baptism. Although not the means of salvation or necessary to its attainment, its benefits are great and manifold.586
Baptism as a Duty.
The Reformed Church teaches that baptism is a duty. If a man wishes to be and to be regarded as a disciple of Christ, he is bound to be baptized. If he wishes to consecrate his children to God, he is bound to do it in the way of his appointment. This is plain, —
1. From the command of Christ. If He directed the Apostles to make disciples by baptizing them, He thereby commanded those who claimed to be disciples to submit to baptism. After such a command, the refusal to be baptized, unless that refusal arises from mistake of the nature of the command or through ignorance, is tantamount to refusing to be a disciple at all.
2. This is further plain from the conduct of the Apostles Under the first sermon preached by the Apostle Peter after the effusion of the Spirit, multitudes were “pricked in their heart,” and Peter “said unto them, Repent and be baptized.” “Then they that gladly received the Word were baptized.” When Philip preached the Word in Samaria, those who believed were baptized, both men and women; and when he was sent to join the “man of Ethiopia,” and “preached unto him,” in that short discourse, probably less than an hour long, he must have insisted on the duty of baptism, for the man said, “Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized.” It is not probable that a minister of our day in his first brief discourse with an inquirer would urge upon him the duty of being baptized. As soon as Cornelius received the Spirit, Peter ordered water to be brought that he might be baptized. When Ananias came to Paul who was blind from his vision of the glory of Christ, he at once baptized him. And Paul himself, as soon as the jailer in Philippi professed his faith, baptized him and his straightway. It is obvious, therefore, that the Apostles regarded baptism as an imperative duty binding on all those who professed to be the disciples of Christ.
3. This is still further plain from the uniform practice of the Christian Church in all ages and in all parts of the world. All Christians have felt themselves bound by the authority of Christ to confess Him before men in the ordinance of baptism. It is incredible that they should be mistaken in such a matter as this; that they should regard an external rite as universally obligatory, if it had not in fact been enjoined by their divine Master. Those, therefore, who look upon baptism as an unimportant ceremony which may be neglected with impunity, are acting in opposition to the convictions of the Apostles as manifested by their 587conduct, and to the faith of the Church universal. It is not good for a man to have the people of God of all ages against him.
4. The duty of baptism may be argued from its manifold advantages. In the first place, it is a great honour and distinction. If among men it is a coveted distinction to wear the badge of the Legion of Honour, it is a far more desirable distinction to wear the badge of disciples of Christ, to be enrolled among his professed followers, and to be marked as belonging to Him and not to the world. In the second place, those who are baptized, unless they renounce their privilege, are members of the visible Church. The visible Church is an institution of God; it is his treasure-house. The Church under the new dispensation has great advantage over the ancient theocracy, and yet the Apostle speaks in glowing terms of the privileges of the Jews. “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” (Rom. ix. 4.) Notwithstanding, when in 2 Corinthians iii. 6-11, he compares the two dispensations, he says, “If the ministration of death, written and encrraven in stones, was glorious, . . . . how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious? . . . . For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” This contrast between the Old and New Economies is presented in still stronger terms throughout the Epistle to the Galatians, and in that to the Hebrews. In Galatians he makes Hagar the slave the symbol of the one, and Sarah the free woman the symbol of the other. And in Hebrews the Mosaic economy, with its temples, sacrifices, priesthood, and ritual, is declared to be the unsubstantial shadow, of which the gospel dispensation is the substance. If, then, it was such a distinction to belong to the old theocracy, what, in the view of Paul, must be the honour and blessedness of membership in the Christian Church.
Membership in the visible Church is not only a great honour, it is a great advantage. To the Church are committed the oracles of God. It is the depository of that truth which is able to make men wise unto salvation. It is the divinely appointed instrumentality for preserving and communicating that truth. Every one admits that it is a blessing to be born in a Christian, instead of in a heathen land. It is no less obviously true that it is a blessing to be within the pale of the Church and not cast out into the world. It is good to have the vows of God upon us. It is good to be under the watch and care of the people of God. It is good 588to have a special claim upon their prayers and upon their efforts to bring us into, or keep us in the paths of salvation. And above all, it is good to be of the number of those to whom God has made a special promise of grace and salvation. For the promise is unto us and to our children. It is a great evil to be “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise.” They, therefore, sin against God and their own souls who neglect the command to be baptized in the name of the Lord and those parents sin grievously against the souls of their children who neglect to consecrate them to God in the ordinance of baptism. Do let the little ones have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life, even if they afterwards choose to erase them. Being thus enrolled may be the means of their salvation.
Baptism as a Means of Grace.
The Reformed Church teaches that baptism is a means of grace.
1. It is a sign. It signifies the great truths that the soul is cleansed from the guilt of sin by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, and purified from its pollution by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. The Bible teaches that God sanctifies and saves men through the truth; that the Spirit works with and by the truth in conveying to men the benefits of redemption. It matters not whether that truth be brought before the mind by hearing or reading it, or in the use of significant divinely appointed emblems. The fact and the method of the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt, were as clearly taught in the sacrament of the Passover, as in the written words of Moses. So the fundamental truths just mentioned are as clearly and impressively taught in the sacrament of baptism, as in the discourses of our blessed Lord himself. It is, therefore, just as intelligible how the Spirit makes the truth signified in baptism the means of sanctification, as how he makes that same truth, as read or heard, an effectual means of salvation. The Spirit does not always coöperate with the truth as heard, to make it a means of grace; neither does He always attend the administration of baptism, with his sanctifying and saving power.
2. Baptism is a seal or pledge. When God promised to Noah that He would never again drown the world in a deluge, He set the rainbow in the heavens as a pledge of the promise which He had made. When he promised to Abraham to be a God to him and to his seed after him, He appointed circumcision as the seal and pledge of that promise. So when He promised to save men 589by the blood of Christ and by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, he appointed baptism to be, not only the sign, but also the seal and pledge of those exceeding great and precious promises. No believer in the Bible can look on the rainbow without having his faith strengthened in the promise that a deluge shall never again destroy the earth. No pious Jew could witness the rite of circumcision administered, or advert to that sign in his own person, without an increased confidence that Jehovah was his God. And no Christian can recall his own baptism, or witness the baptism of others, without having his faith strengthened in the great promises of redemption. Every time the ordinance of baptism is administered in our presence, we hear anew the voice from heaven proclaiming, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin;” “He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
3. Baptism, however, is not only a sign and seal; it is also a means of grace, because in it the blessings which it signifies are conveyed, and the promises of which it is the seal, are assured or fulfilled to those who are baptized, provided they believe. The Word of God is declared to be the wisdom and power of God to salvation; it is the means used by the Holy Spirit in conferring on men the benefits of redemption. Of course all who merely hear or read the Word of God are not saved; neither do all who receive the baptism of water experience the baptism of the Holy Ghost; but this is not inconsistent with the Word’s being the means of salvation, or with baptism’s being the washing of regeneration. Our Lord says we are sanctified by the truth. Paul says we put on Christ in baptism (Gal. iii. 27). When a man receives the Gospel with a true faith, he receives the blessings which the Gospel promises; when he receives baptism in the exercise of faith, he receives the benefits of which baptism is the sign and seal. Unless the recipient of this sacrament be insincere, baptism is an act of faith, it is an act in which and by which he receives and appropriates the offered benefits of the redemption of Christ. And, therefore, to baptism may be properly attributed all that in the Scriptures is attributed to faith. Baptism washes away sin (Acts xxii. 16); it unites to Christ and makes us the sons of God (Gal. iii. 26, 27); we arc therein buried with Christ (Rom. vi. 3); it is (according to one interpretation of Titus iii. 5) the washing of regeneration. But all this is said on the assumption that it is what it purports to be, an act of faith. The gospel of our salvation is, to those who believe not, a 590savour of death unto death. Circumcision to the unbelieving Jew was uncircumcision. Baptism, without faith, is without effect. Such being the case, it is plain that baptism is as truly a means of grace as the Word. It conveys truth to the mind; it confirms the promise of God; and it is the means in the hands of the Spirit of conveying to believers the benefits of redemption. Hence it is a grievous mistake and a great sin to neglect or undervalue it.
All this is plain so far as adults are concerned. But if the saving benefits of baptism are suspended on the condition of faith in the recipient, what benefit can there be in the baptism of infants? To this it may be answered, —
1. That it is the commandment of God. This should be enough. It might as well be asked what benefit could there be in the circumcision of infants under the law. Paul tells us that the benefit to them as well as to others was much every way. It secured their membership in the commonwealth of Israel, which was a greater honour and privilege than the highest peerage on earth. So baptism secures the membership of infants in the visible Church of God, which is a still greater distinction and blessing.
2. Infants are the objects of Christ’s redemption. They are capable of receiving all its benefits. Those benefits are promised to them on the same conditions on which they are promised to their parents. It is not every one who says Lord, Lord, who shall enter into the kingdom of God. It is not every baptized adult who is saved; nor are all those who are baptized in infancy made partakers of salvation. But baptism signs, seals, and actually conveys its benefits to all its subjects, whether infants or adults, who keep the covenant of which it is the sign. As a believer who recalls some promise of the Scriptures which he has read or heard, receives the full benefit of that promise; so the infant when arrived at maturity receives the full benefit of baptism, if he believes in the promises signified and sealed to him in that ordinance. Baptism, therefore, benefits infants just as it does adults, and on the same condition.
It does not follow from this that the benefits of redemption may not be conferred on infants at the time of their baptism. That is in the hands of God. What is to hinder the imputation to them of the righteousness of Christ, or their receiving the renewing of the Holy Ghost, so that their whole nature may be developed in a state of reconciliation with God? Doubtless this often occurs but whether it does or not, their baptism stands good; it assures them of salvation if they do not renounce their baptismal covenant.591
Different meanings are attached to the words baptismal regeneration. It has been already stated, in a preceding chapter, that by regeneration is sometimes meant an external change, — translation from the world, as the kingdom of darkness, into the Church, as the kingdom of light. In this sense it implies no subjective change. Sometimes it means the life-long process by which a soul is more and more transformed into the image of God. Sometimes it means the whole process which takes place in the consciousness when a sinner turns from sin through Christ unto God. It is then synonymous with conversion. In our day, in ordinary theological language, it means that supernatural change effected by the Spirit of God by which a soul is made spiritually alive. “You hath He quickened ἐζωοποίησε),” (see Eph. ii. 1, 5), says the Apostle to the Ephesians. In their former state they were dead in trespasses and sins. Their regeneration consisted in their being made spiritually alive; or, in their having the principle of a new spiritual life imparted to them. Such being the diversity of meaning attached to the word in question, the phrase baptismal regeneration may be understood in very different senses. The sense in which it is to be here taken is that in which, as is believed, it is generally understood. According to the faith of the Church universal, Greek, Latin, and Protestant, all men since the fall are born in a state of sin and condemnation — spiritually dead. It is a wide-spread belief that when baptism is administered to new-born infants, they are regenerated inwardly by the Holy Spirit; they are so born again as to become the children of God and heirs of his kingdom. The word, however, includes more than simply the renewing of the soul. Prior to baptism, according to the Catechism of the Church of England, infants are in a state of sin and the children of wrath; by baptism they are said to be made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. In other words, in baptism the blessings signified in that ordinance are conveyed to the soul of the infant. Those blessings are the cleansing from guilt by the blood of Christ, and purification from pollution by the renewing of the Holy Ghost.
The doctrine of baptismal regeneration, in this sense of the term, has been very extensively held in the Church. The passages of Scripture relied upon for its support, are principally the following: John iii. 5, “Except a man be born of water and of 592the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Our Lord is understood in these words to teach the necessity of baptism to salvation. But none of the fallen family of man can be saved without “the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,” and “sanctification of the Spirit;” if baptism saves the soul, it must be by communicating to it those blessings; or, in other words, those blessings must attend its administration. The principal support of this interpretation is tradition. It has been handed down from age to age in the Church, until its authority seems firmly established. It may be remarked in reference to this passage, —
1. That if it be admitted that the words “born of water” are to be understood of baptism, the passage docs not prove the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. It asserts the necessity of baptism to admission into the kingdom of God, just as our Lord insists on the necessity of the public confession of his name. Confession is not a means of salvation. It does not convey the benefits of Christ’s redemption. It is a duty which Christ imposes on all who desire to be confessed by Him in the last day. The Reformed acknowledge that baptism has this necessity of precept.
2. The phrase “kingdom of God” sometimes means heaven, the future state of blessedness; sometimes the external or visible Church, as consisting of those who profess to acknowledge Christ as their king; and sometimes the invisible Church, consisting of those in and over whom Christ actually reigns. At other times the phrase is used comprehensively as including, without discriminating, these several ideas. In this last sense the conditions of admission into the kingdom of God are the conditions of discipleship, and the conditions of discipleship are baptism and inward regeneration; precisely as under the old dispensation, for a man to become truly a Jew it was necessary that he should be circumcised and believe the true religion as then revealed. But this does not imply that circumcision of the flesh was circumcision of the heart; or that the latter uniformly attended the former. Neither does our Lord’s language in John iii. 5, even, if understood of baptism, imply that the inward grace uniformly attends the outward ordinance. John the Baptist (Matt. iii. 11, 12) made a marked distinction, not only between his baptism and Christian baptism, but between baptism with water and baptism of the Holy Ghost. He could administer the former, Christ only could impart the latter. The two were not necessarily connected. A man might receive the one and not the other. Thousands did then, and do now, receive baptism with water who did not, and do not experience the renewing of the Holy Ghost.593
3. There is no necessity for assuming that there is any reference in John iii. 5, to external baptism. The passage may be explained after the analogy suggested by what is said in Matthew iii. 11. There it is said that Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. No one understands this of literal fire. Fire was one of the familiar Scriptural emblems of purification. (Is. iv. 4; Jer. v. 14; Mal. iii. 2; Acts ii. 3.) To baptize with fire, was to effect a real, and not merely an outward purification. According to this analogy, to be born of water and of the Spirit, is to experience a cleansing of the soul analogous to that effected for the body by water. This is the interpretation generally adopted by the Reformed theologians. It is in accordance, not only with the passage in Matthew iii. 11, but with the general usage of Scripture. In that usage the sign and the thing signified are often united, often interchanged, the one being used for the other. Water, essential to the existence of all living creatures on the face of the earth, not only the means of cleansing and refreshment, but also one of the elements of life, is familiarly used for the divine blessing, and especially for the saving, sanctifying, refreshing, and sustaining influences of the Holy Spirit. Thus in the gracious invitation of the prophet, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” (Is. lv. 1.) Before in chapter xii. 3, he had said, “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” Isaiah xxxv. 6, “In the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” Isaiah xliv. 3, “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty.” Ezekiel xxxvi. 25, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” Jeremiah ii. 13, God says, My people “have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.” Zechariah xiv. 8, “Living waters shall go out from Jerusalem.” (Compare Ezekiel xlvii. 1-5.) Our Lord said to the woman of Samaria, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” (John iv. 10.) On another occasion, he said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living waters. But this he spake of the Spirit.” (John vii. 37, 38.) Revelation xxi. 6, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” xxii. 17, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” It would be a sad mistake to understand by water in all these passages, the physical element, or even sacramental water. When God promises to sprinkle clean 594water upon us, He promises the renewing of the Holy Ghost; and when Christ says, we must be born of water, He explains it by saying, we must be born of the Spirit.
That our Lord, in John iii. 5, does not make baptism essential to admission into the kingdom of God, but regeneration by the Spirit, is the more probable, because Christian baptism was not instituted when the words there recorded were uttered. It is impossible that Nicodemus, or any who heard those words, could understand them of that sacrament. Christ, however, intended to be understood. He intended that Nicodemus should understand what was necessary to his salvation. He was accustomed to hear the sanctifying influence of God’s grace called water; he knew what the Scriptures meant by being washed with clean water; and it was easy for him to understand that being “born of water” meant to be purified; but he could not know that it meant baptism. To make the passage refer to the baptism of John is out of the question, although sustained by the authority of Grotius, Episcopius, Bengel, Neander, Baumgarten-Crusius, Hofman, and others. The baptism of John was confined to the Jews. It admitted no man to the kingdom of Christ. Our Lord is laying down the conditions of salvation for all men, and therefore cannot be understood to refer to a baptism of which the Gentiles were not partakers, and of which, in the vast majority of cases, they had never heard.599599That the baptism of John was not Christian baptism would seem plain, (1.) Because it belonged to the old dispensation. The Christian Church was not yet established. (2.) It bound no man to faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. (3.) He baptized all Judea, but all the people in Judea, pharisees and others, were not thereby made professing Christians. (4.) It was a baptism simply unto repentance, as a preparation for the coming of Christ. (5.) Those who were baptized by John were rebaptized when they professed to become Christians. Of the multitudes converted on the day of Pentecost and immediately after, many no doubt have been baptized by John, and yet they were baptized anew. And according to the interpretation, almost universally received in our day, of Acts xix. 1-6, Paul baptized in Ephesus “certain disciples” in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who had already been baptized by John.
Another argument on this subject is derived from the fact that in the sixth and eighth verses of this chapter, where our Lord insists on the necessity of regeneration, he says nothing of being born of water. It is simply regeneration by the Spirit that He declares to be necessary. It cannot be supposed that one doctrine is taught in the fifth verse and another in the sixth and eighth verses; the former teaching that baptism and the renewing of the Holy Ghost are both necessary, and the latter insisting only on a new birth by the Spirit. If the two passages teach the same doctrine, then the fifth verse must teach that being born of 595water and being born of the Spirit are one and the same thing; the one expression being figurative, and the other literal, precisely as in Matthew iii. 11, where the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire are spoken of.
Again, if “born of water” means baptism, and “born of the Spirit,” spiritual regeneration, then the two things are distinct. Accordingly Lücke says that being “born of water” is a figurative expression for repentance, which must precede regeneration by the Spirit. “The spirit of wisdom flees the sinful soul,” as is said in the Book of Wisdom. Only the pure in heart can see God, our Lord himself teaches, and therefore Lücke argues only those who truly repent are susceptible of regeneration.600600Commentar über das Evangelium des Johannes, von Dr. Friedrich Lücke, Professor der Theologie zu Göttingen, 3d edit. Bonn, 1840; part i. p. 522. This disjoining the two things as distinct is natural, if the one refers to baptism and the other to inward regeneration, and therefore would indicate that regeneration is not by baptism, contrary to the doctrine of the advocates of baptismal regeneration. Hengstenberg also makes the two things distinct. Water, he says, signifies the remission of sins; this is effected in baptism; the new-birth by the Spirit follows after, which, in his view, is a slow process.601601Das Evangelium des heiligen Johannes erläutert, von E. W. Hengstenberg; Berlin, 1861, vol. i. pp. 186-189.
All the arguments against the doctrine in question drawn from the general teachings of the Bible are, of course, arguments against the traditionary interpretation of this particular passage.
Another passage on which special reliance is placed as a support of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is Titus, iii. 5. The Apostle there says, God saves us “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” By “the washing of regeneration” is understood baptism; and the Apostle is understood to assert two things, first, that baptism is necessary to salvation; and second, that baptism is, or is the means of, regeneration. It is, as the commentators say, the causa medians of an inward change of heart; or, as Bishop Ellicott says: “The genitive παλιγγενεσίας apparently marks the attribute or inseparable accompaniments of the λουτρόν, thus falling under the general head of the possessive genitive.”602602A Critical and Grammatical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, with a revised Translation. By Rt. Rev. Charles J. Ellicott, D. D., Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, Andover, 1865, p. 213. On this interpretation it may he remarked, —
I. That, taking the words λουτρὸν παλιγγενεσίας by themselves, 596they may have the meaning attached to them. They may mean that baptism is the cause or means of regeneration; or, that regeneration is its inseparable accompaniment. But this is very far from proving that they either have or can have that sense in this connection.
2. Admitting that these words are to be understood of baptismal regeneration, they do not teach that regeneration is inseparably connected with baptism. When Paul speaks of the “gospel of your salvation,” he does not mean to say that salvation is inseparable from the mere hearing of the Gospel. When he says, “Faith cometh by hearing,” he does not mean that all who hear believe. When our Lord says, We are sanctified by the truth, He does not teach that the truth always has this sanctifying efficacy. The Bible teaches that the Word does not profit unless “mixed with faith in them that” hear it. So St. Paul teaches that baptism does not effect our union with Christ, or secure the remission of sins, or the gift of the Spirit, unless it be, and because it is an act of faith. This Bishop Ellicott admits. He says we must remember “that St. Paul speaks of baptism on the supposition that it was no mere observance, but that it was a sacrament in which all that was inward properly and completely accompanied all that was outward.”
3. Still, admitting that the words refer to baptism, they may just as fairly be explained ‘Baptism which is the sign and seal of regeneration,’ as ‘Baptism which is the means or invariable antecedent of regeneration.’ The construction indicates the intimate relation between the two nouns, without determining what that relation is, whether it be that of cause and effect, or of a sign and the thing signified. Calvin’s comment, “partam a Christo salutem baptismus nobis obsignat,”603603In Novum Testamentum Commentari, edit. Berlin, 1831, vol. vi. p. 360. is therefore fully justified.
4. There are, however, strong reasons for denying that there is any reference to baptism as an external rite in this passage.
First, the genitive παλιγγενεσίας may be the simple genitive of apposition; ‘the washing which is regeneration.’ There are two kinds of washing, the outward and the inward. We are saved by that washing which is regeneration, namely, the renewing of the Holy Ghost. The latter clause being exegetical of the former. This interpretation is simple and natural. It does no violence to the meaning of the words or to the construction of the passage.
Secondly, if the latter clause be not exegetical, it must
be accessary. It must express something new, something not expressed 597by the former
clause. The Apostle would then be made to say, We are saved by the washing of regeneration,
and also by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. Which amounts to saying, We are saved
by regeneration and by regeneration. This argument can only be met by making regeneration
mean the commencement, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, the progress and development
of the new life. But this is contrary to the analogy between this passage and that
in John iii. 5.604604 Bishop Ellicott refers to “the able treatise on this text
by Waterland, a tract which, though extending only to thirty pages, will be found
to include and to supersede much that has been written on this subject.” The treatise
thus commended furnishes an excellent illustration of the difficulty of those understanding
each other, who differ seriously in their modes of thinking and in their use of
terms. To Waterland himself, and to those who agree with him in his theory of religion
and in his use of words, this tract doubtless appears well ordered and consistent;
by the majority of evangelical Christians of our day it can hardly fail to be regarded
as full of confusion and contradictions. (This treatise may be found in Waterland;
Works, edit. Oxford, 1843, vol. iv. pp. 425-458.) Waterland begins by saying,
(1.) That Titus iii. 5, teaches that under the Christian dispensation, God saves
men “by the sacrament of Christian baptism, considered in both its parts, the outward
visible sign, which is water, and the inward things signified and exhibited, namely,
a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness, therein wrought by the Holy
Spirit of God.” (Page 427.) (2.) The passage distinctly speaks both of a regeneration,
and of a renovation, as two things, and both of them wrought ordinarily in one and
the same baptism, here called the layer of regeneration and of renewing. (3.) “Regeneration,” he says, “passively considered,
is but another name for the new birth of a Christian:
and that new birth, in general, means a spiritual change wrought upon any person,
by the Holy Spirit in the use of baptism; whereby he is translated from his natural
state in Adam, to a spiritual state in Christ.” (Page 429.) Most persons in our
day would understand this to mean that regeneration is a subjective change in the
state of the soul; a change from spiritual death to spiritual life. This, however,
is afterwards denied. Regeneration is not a change of mind. It is a change of state.
It is a change in the relation which the sinner bears to God. “A translation from
the curse of Adam into the grace of Christ. This change, translation, or adoption,
carries in it many Christian blessings and privileges, but all reducible to two,
namely, remission of sins (absolute or conditional), and a covenant claim, for the
time being, to eternal happiness.” (Page 433.) “Regeneration on the part of the
grantor, God Almighty, means admission or adoption into sonship or spiritual citizenship:
and on the part of the grantee, namely, man, it means his birth, or entrance into
that state of sonship, or citizenship.” (Page 432.) In this sense regeneration implies
no subjective change. The soul remains precisely in the same inward state in which
it was before. Adoption does not change a man’s inward state. Waterland, therefore,
maintains that Simon Magus was regenerated although it did him no good, leaving
him in “the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” Sonship was granted
him, but he did not accept it. He did not, however, need a second regeneration,
but only to repent, then his regeneration or adoption in baptism would take effect.
(Pages 442-444.) In this sense also he teaches that renovation or “the renewing
of the Holy Ghost,” must precede baptism, as well as attend and follow it. It must
precede it to produce faith and repentance, without which regeneration or adoption
does no good. (Page 434.) In infants, “their innocence and incapacity are to them
instead of repentance, which they do not need, and of actual faith which they cannot
have.” (Page 439.) Infant baptism, however, effects no inward or subjective change.
It leaves the soul in the same condition, not in the same state or relative position
in which it was before. On page 433, in stating the difference between regeneration
and renovation, the renewing of the Holy Ghost, he says, “Regeneration is itself
a kind of renewal; but then it is of the spiritual state considered at large; whereas
renovation is a “renewal of heart or mind,” a “renewal, namely, of the inward frame,
or disposition of the man.” In proof of this difference between regeneration and
renovation he says: ‘Regeneration may be granted and received (as in infants) where
that renovation has no place at all, for the time being: and therefore, most certainly,
the notions are very distinct.” Baptismal regeneration, therefore, involves no change
“of heart or mind,” no change “of the inward frame or disposition.” On page 443,
in justifying the assumption that Simon Magus was regenerated by his baptism, he
makes the benefits of baptism merely outward. He says that “As the Holy Spirit consecrates
and sanctifies the waters of baptism, giving them an outward and relative holiness:
so He consecrates the persons also in an outward and relative sense, whether good
or bad, by a sacred dedication of them to the worship and service of the whole Trinity:
which consecration is forever binding, and has its effect; either to the salvation
of the parties, if they repent and amend, or to their greater damnation if they
Thus we have three, if not four different definitions of regeneration mixed up together in this treatise, and interchanged one for the other to suit emergencies. First, the word is taken in the sense which it now usually bears. It is the new birth, a change of heart, the commencement of spiritual life in the soul; a change from a state of spiritual death to that of spiritual life. The Christian is said to be the subject of three births. “Once he is born into the natural life, born of Adam; once he is born into the spiritual life, born of water and the Spirit; and once also into a life of glory, born of the resurrection at the last day.” (Page 432.) In this sense regeneration and renovation differ as the commencement and the development of life differ; or, as in ordinary language, regeneration and the life-long process of sanctification differ. Secondly, regeneration is made to mean “the death unto sin.” Romanists teach that in baptism there is the removal of sin both as to its guilt and power, and an infusion of new habits of grace. Waterland, on page 427, appears to confine it to the death of sin, which on page 439 he explains by the words “plenary remission.” In words already quoted, God saves us “by the sacrament of Christian baptism considered in both its parts, the outward visible sign, which is water, and the inward things signified and exhibited, namely, a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.” It will be observed he says “inward things,” a death and a new birth, which he after distinguishes as regeneration and renovation. In baptism, therefore, we have simply “remission of sin,” renovation precedes and follows it. Thirdly, he makes baptism to confer a covenant claim to the privileges or blessings all included under the heads of remission of sins and a title to eternal happiness. These are granted to adults conditionally, i.e., provided they have faith and repentance; and to infants absolutely, because in their case innocence supplies the place of faith and repentance. This implies no subjective change. It is simply adoption, such as Paul says, in Romans ix. 4, pertained to the Jews as a nation. And fourthly, be teaches that baptism confers on the recipient, whether good or bad, an outward and relative holiness, by consecrating him to the worship and service of God. (Page 443.)
It would thus appear that every theory of baptism, whether Romanist or Protestant, High Church or Low Church, Evangelical or Ritual, can find support in this treatise. If the clear headed Bishop Ellicott has a clew through this labyrinth, he would do well to impart it to the public. The great characteristic of a large and representative class of the earned theologians of the Church of England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was that they derived their theology from the Bible through the medium of the Fathers. Whereas the theologians of the Continent drew their doctrines immediately from the Bible; and this makes the difference between biblical and patristical Christianity the difference, to common eyes, between twilight and noon.
Thirdly, if the doctrine of baptismal regeneration can be shown to be thoroughly anti-scriptural, then it cannot be taught in Titus iii. 5. If any passage admit of two interpretations, one opposed to the analogy of Scripture, and the other in harmony with it, we are bound to adopt the latter.
The same remark applies to Acts xxii. 16, where it is recorded that Ananias said to Paul, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” If it were the clear doctrine of the Bible that baptism does wash away sin, that 599such ablution can be effected in no other way, then we should be forced to admit that Paul’s sins had not been remitted until he was baptized. But as this would contradict the plainest teachings of Scripture; as Paul himself says that God called him by his grace, and made him a true Christian by revealing his Son in him, by opening his eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, which revelation attended the vision he had on his way to Damascus; and as the effect of that spiritual revelation was to transform his whole nature and lead him to fall to the ground, and say, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” no one can believe that he was under the wrath and curse of God, during the three days which intervened between his conversion and his baptism. He did not receive baptism in order that his sins should be washed away; but as the sign and pledge of their forgiveness on the part of God. He was to be assured of his forgiveness in the ordinance of baptism; just as a Gentile proselyte to Judaism was assured of his acceptance as one of the people of God, by the rite of circumcision; but circumcision did not make him a child of God. This passage is perfectly parallel to Acts ii. 38, where it is said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.” The remission of sins was that to which baptism was related; that of which it was the sign and seal. John’s baptism was εἰς μετάνοιαν unto repentance. This does not mean that his baptism made men penitent. But it was a confession on the part of those who received it, that they needed repentance, and it bound them to turn from their sins unto God. In Luke iii. 3, it is said, John came “preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” No man understands this to mean that his baptism secured the remission, or the washing away, of sin in the experience of all the multitude who flocked to his baptism. Neither does the Bible anywhere teach that Christian baptism effects either pardon or regeneration in those still out of Christ.
Direct Arguments against the Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration.
It has been shown in the note on the preceding page that the word regeneration in the phrase “baptismal regeneration,” is used in very different senses. The sense usually attached to it, in our day, is that inward change in the state of the soul wrought by the Holy Spirit, by which it passes from death unto life; by which it is born again so as to become a child of God and an heir 600of eternal life. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is the doctrine that this inward saving change is effected in baptism, so that those who are baptized are the subjects of that new birth which Christ declares to be necessary to salvation; and those who are not baptized have not experienced that new birth and are not in a state of salvation.
1. The first, the most obvious, and the most decisive argument against this doctrine is, that, so far as any work or act of the sinner is concerned, the Bible everywhere teaches that the only indispensable condition of salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John iii. 14-16.) “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (ver. 36). “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John vi. 35.) “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (ver. 40). “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John xi. 25, 26.) These are the words of Jesus. This is the gospel which the Apostles preached, going everywhere and saying to every sinner whom they met, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” (Acts xvi. 31.) “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (1 John v. 1.) “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (ver. 5.) Heaven and earth shall pass away, but these words can never pass away. No man may add to them, or detract from them. Whosoever believes on the Son hath everlasting life. This stands firm. It matters not to what Church he may belong; it matters not whether he be Jew or Gentile, bond or free, learned or unlearned, good or bad, baptized or unbaptized whosoever believes shall be saved.
Not every one, however, who says he believes is a true believer; not every one who believes as the devils believe; but he who has that faith which works by love and purifies the heart, the precious faith of God’s elect, every such believer is sure of 601eternal life. It does not follow from this that faith stands alone, that obedience is not necessary. But obedience is the fruit of faith. He that does not obey, does not believe. For any one, therefore, to say that although a man truly believes the record God has given of his Son, yet that he is not a Christian, unless he belongs to some particular church organization, unless he is baptized with water, unless he comes to the Lord’s table, contradicts not the general teaching of the Bible only, but the fundamental principle of the gospel method of salvation. Even Gabriel would not dare to shut the gates of paradise on the thief converted on the cross, because he had not been baptized.
2. It is plain that baptism cannot be the ordinary means of regeneration, or the channel of conveying in the first instance the benefits of redemption to the souls of men, because, in the case of adults, faith and repentance are the conditions of baptism. But faith and repentance, according to the Scriptures, are the fruits of regeneration. He who exercises repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is in a state of salvation before baptism and therefore in a state of regeneration. Regeneration consequently precedes baptism, and cannot be its effect, according to the ordinance of God. That the Apostles did require the profession of faith and repentance before baptism, cannot be denied. This is plain, not only from their recorded practice but also from the nature of the ordinance. Baptism is a profession of faith in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; not of a faith to be obtained through the ordinance, but of a faith already entertained. When the Eunuch applied to Philip for baptism, he said: “If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest.” Of those who heard Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost it is said, “they that gladly received his word were baptized.” (Acts ii. 41.) On this point, however, there can be no dispute. The only way in which Romanists and Romanizers evade this argument, is by denying that faith and repentance are the fruits of the Spirit, or of regeneration. They are in their view not gracious, but natural works, works done before regeneration; works which leave the soul in a state of perdition. But in this they contradict the express words of Christ, who says, whosoever believes shall be saved. And, in contradicting Christ, they contradict the whole Bible.
3. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration, in the sense above explained, is opposed to the whole nature of true religion as set forth in the Scriptures. The two great errors against which 602the Gospel, as taught by Christ and unfolded by his Apostles, was directed; were first the doctrine of human merit; the merit of good works, the doctrine that men are to be saved on the ground of their own character or conduct; and the second was ritualism, the doctrine of the necessity and inherent supernatural virtue of external rites and ceremonies. Our Lord taught that men were saved by looking to Him as the dying Hebrews in the wilderness were saved by looking to the brazen serpent. He further taught that unless a man, no matter how punctilious in observing the ceremonial law, was born of the Spirit, he could not enter into the kingdom of God. And the great burden of apostolic teaching was first, that we are saved, not by works but by faith, not for our own righteousness, but on the ground of the righteousness of Christ; and secondly, that religion is a matter of the heart, not of ritual or ceremonial observances. The Jews of that day taught that no uncircumcised man could be saved. Romanists and Romanizers teach that no unbaptized person, whether infant or adult, is saved. The Jews taught that “no circumcised person ever entered hell,” provided he remained within the pale of the theocracy. Romanists and Romanizers say that no baptized person is ever lost, provided he remains within the pale of the Roman Church. The Jews believed that circumcision secured its benefits, not only as a seal of the covenant, but from its own sanctifying power. This was only one aspect of the doctrine of salvation by works, against which the sacred writers so earnestly protested. “He is not a Jew,” says St. Paul, “which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom. ii. 28, 29.) The doctrine of the Bible, therefore, is that he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, but that he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and the baptism which saves the soul is not baptism with water, but the baptism of the heart by the Holy Ghost. This doctrine of salvation by rites was, in the view of the Apostles, a much lower form of doctrine, more thoroughly Judaic, than the doctrine of salvation by works of righteousness.
It is evident that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, as held by Romanists and their followers, changes the whole nature of religion. It makes mere external observances the conditions of salvation, assuming that outward rites are exclusively the channels through which the benefits of redemption are conveyed to the 603souls of men. It excludes from the hope of heaven men who truly believe, repent, and lead a holy life; and it assures those of their title to eternal life, who are unrenewed and unsanctified.
1. A fourth argument against the doctrine under consideration, is derived from the analogy between the Word and sacraments everywhere presented in the Bible. God, it is said, saves men by preaching; the gospel is declared to be the power of God unto salvation; faith is said to come by hearing: we are begotten by the Word: we are sanctified by the truth. No Christian, whether Romanist or Protestant, believes that all who hear the Gospel are saved; that it is always the vehicle of conveying the saving and sanctifying influences of the Spirit. Why then should it be assumed, because we are said to be united to Christ by baptism, or to wash away our sins in that ordinance, either that baptism “ex opere operato” produces these effects, or that the Spirit always attends its administration with his saving influences.
5. Again, all Christians admit that multitudes of the baptized come short of eternal life, but no regenerated soul is ever lost. Our Lord in teaching that none but those who are born of the Spirit, enter into the kingdom of heaven, thereby teaches that those who are thus new-born are certainly saved. This is included also in his repeated declarations, that those who believe in Him have eternal life; being partakers of his life, if He lives they shall live also. And the Apostle, in Romans viii. 30, expressly declares that all the regenerate are saved. Whom God predestinates, he says, them He also calls (regenerates), and whom He calls, them he also justifies; and whom He justifies, them he also glorifies. If baptism, therefore, is, in all ordinary cases, attended by the regeneration of the soul, then all the baptized will be saved. If they are not made the heirs of salvation, they are not made the subjects of regeneration.
6. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is contradicted by the facts of experience. Regeneration is no slight matter. It is a new birth; a new creation; a resurrection front spiritual death to spiritual life. It is a change, wrought by the exceeding greatness of God’s power, analogous to that which was wrought in Christ, when He was raised from the dead, and exalted to the right hand of the majesty on high. It cannot therefore remain without visible effect. It controls the whole inward and outward life of its subject, so that he becomes a new man in Christ Jesus. The mass of those baptized, however, exhibit no evidence of any such change. There is no apparent difference between them and 604the unbaptized. The whole population of Europe, speaking in general terms, are baptized. Are they all regenerated? Then regeneration amounts to nothing. This doctrine, therefore, utterly degrades regeneration, the precious life-giving gift of the Holy Spirit. To say that those who receive regeneration by baptism in infancy fall away; that the principle of life imparted to them, being uncherished, remains undeveloped, is no satisfactory answer to this argument. Life, especially the life of God in the soul, is not thus powerless. To say that a dead body is restored to life, when it exhibits no evidence of vitality; or, that a dead tree is made alive which puts forth no foliage and bears no fruit, is to say that it is alive and yet dead. It is true that a seed may have a principle of life in it which remains long undeveloped, but unfolds itself when placed under the normal conditions of growth. But the normal conditions of growth of the principle of spiritual life in an infant, are the development of the intelligence and the presence of the truth. If these conditions occur, the growth of the germ of spiritual life is certain. It is to be remembered that that germ is the Holy Spirit, who has life in Himself, and gives life to all in whom He dwells. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is contradicted by facts. The baptized as a body remain unchanged in heart and life.
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