THE THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES,
I Must begin this paper with an apology. My subject may seem at first sight dry, dull, and uninteresting. But I ask my readers to believe that it is not so in reality. There are few points about which it is so important for English Churchmen to have clear and correct views, as about the nature, position, and authority of the Thirtynine Articles.
Marriage settlements and wills are not very lively leading. Like all carefully-drawn legal documents, they are extremely unattractive to general readers. The language seems cramped and old-fashioned; the amount of verbiage and circumlocution in them appears positively astounding: yet none but a child or a fool would evei dare to say that wills and marriage settlements are of no use. The happiness of whole families often turns upon the meaning of their contents. It is even so with the Thirty-nine Articles. Dry, and dull, and uninteresting as they may appear to some, they are in one sense the backbone of the Church of England. Surely some knowledge of them ought to be sought after by every sensible and intelligent member of our Communion.
Who is the "true Churchman "? That is a question which is shaking the Established Church of England to the very centre, and will shake it a good deal more, 1 suspect, before the end of the world comes. It is becoming a very largo and serious question, and one which imperatively demands an answer.
It is not enough to say that everybody who goes to church is a "true Churchman." That reply, I think, will content nobody. There are scores of people occupying our pews and benches every Sunday, who know nothing whatever about religion. They could not tell you, if life depended on it, what they believe or don't believe, hold or don't hold, think or don't think, about any doctrine of Christianity. They are totally in the dark about the whole subject. Politics they know, and business they know, and science perhaps they know, and possibly they know something about the amusements of this world. But as to the composition of a " true Churchman's" creed, they can tell you nothing whatever. They "go to church" on Sundays; and that is all. Surely this will never do! Ignorance, complete ignorance, can never be the qualification of a true Churchman.
But perhaps it is enough to say that everybody who goes to church, and is zealous and earnest in his religion, is a "true Churchman"? That is a very wide question, and opens up an entirely new line of thought. But I fear it will not land us in any satisfactory conclusion. "Earnestness" is the attribute of men of the most opposite and contradictory creeds. "Earnestness" is the character of religionists who arc as wide apart as black and white, light, and darkness, bitter and sweet, hot and cold.—You see it outside the Church of England. The Mohametans who overran the rotten Churches of Africa and Western Asia, crying, "the Koran or the sword,"—the Hindoo Fakir, who stands on one leg for twenty years, or throws himself under the car of Juggernaut,—the Jesuit, who saps and mines, and compasses sea and land to make one proselyte, —the Mormonite, who crosses half the globe to die in the Salt Lake city, and calls Joe Smith a prophet,—all these undeniably were and are earnest men.—You see it inside the Church of England at this very day. The Ritualist, the Rationalist, the Evangelical,—all are in earnest. Mr. Maconochie and Dr. M'Neile,—Dean Stanley and Archdeacon Denison,—Mr. Bennett, of Frome, and Mr. Daniel Wilson, in London,—all are, or were during their lives, unquestionably earnest men. Yet every one knows that their differences are grave, wide, deep, and irreconcilable. Surely this will never do. Earnestness alone is no proof that a man is a true Churchman. The devil is in earnest. Infidels are in earnest. Deists are in earnest. Socinians are in earnest. Papists are in earnest. Pharisees were in earnest. Sadducees were in earnest. Earnestness alone proves nothing more than this,—that a man has a good deal of steam and energy and "go" about him, and will not go to sleep. But it certainly does not prove that a man is a "true Churchman." What is the man earnest about? This is the question that ought to be asked, and deserves to be answered.
Once for all, I must protest against the modern notion, that it does not matter the least what religious opinions a man holds, so long as he is " earnest" about them,—that one creed is just as good as another,—and that all "earnest" men will somehow or other at last find themselves in heaven I cannot hold such an opinion, so long as 1 believe that the Bible is a revelation from God. I would extend to eveiyone the widest liberty and toleration. I abhor the idea of persecuting any one for his opinions. I would "think and let think." But so long as I have breath in my body, I shall always contend that there is such a thing as revealed truth,—that men may find out what truth is if they will honestly seek for it,—and that mere earnestness and zeal, without Scriptural knowledge, will never give any one comfort in life, peace in death, or boldness in the day of judgment.
But how are we to find out who is the "true Churchman," some one will ask me? Men complain with good reason that they feel puzzled, perplexed, embarrassed, bewildered, posed, and mystified by the question, nationalists, liitualists, and Evangelicals, all call themselves "Churchmen." Who is right ?—The name " Churchman" is bandied about from side to side, like a shuttlecock, and men lay claim to it who on many points are diametrically opposed to one another. Now how arc we to settle the question? What are we to believe? What are we to think? How shall we distinguish the good coin from the bad? In one word, is there any test, any legal, authorized test of a true Churchman?
My answer to all these inquiries is short, plain, and most decided. I assert confidently that the Church of England has provided a test of true Churchmanship, an.l one that is recognized by the law of the land. This test is to be found in "the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion." I say, furthermore, that the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion form a test which any plain man can easily understand, if he will only give his mind to a study of them. An honest examination of these Articles will show any one at this day who is the best, the truest, the most genuine style of Churchman. To exhibit the authority, nature, and characteristics of the Thirty-nine Articles, is the simple object for which I seud forth the paper which is now in the reader's hands.
I. Now, first of all, tvhat are the Thirty-nine Articles? This is a question which many will be ready to ask, and one to which it is absolutely necessary to return an answer. It is a melancholy fact, explain it as we may, that for the last 200 years the Articles have fallen into great and undeserved neglect. Thousands and myriads of Churchmen, I am fully persuaded, have never read them, never even looked at them, and of course know nothing whatever of their contents. I make no apology therefore for beginning with that which every Churchman ought to know. I will briefly state what the Thirty-nine Articles are.
The Thirty-nine Articles are a brief and condensed statement, under thirty-nine heads or propositions, of what the Church of England regards as the chief doctrines which her members ought to hold and believe. They were, most of them, gathered by our Reformers out of Holy Scripture. They were carefully packed up and summarized in the most accurate and precise language, of which every word was delicately weighed, and had a special meaning. Some of the Articles are positive, and declare directly what the Church of England regards as Bible truth and worthy of belief. Some of them are negative, and declare what the Church of England considers erroneous and unworthy of credence. Some few of them are simple statements of the Church's judgment on points which were somewhat controverted, even among Protestants, 300 years ago, and on which Churchmen might need an expression of opinion. Such is the document commonly called the Thirty-nine Articles; and all who wish to read it will find it at the end of every properly printed Prayer-book. At all events any Prayer-book which does not contain the Articles, is a most imperfect, mutilated, and barely honest copy of the Liturgy.
When and by whom were these Articles first drawn up? They were first composed by our Reformers in the days of that admirable young King, Edward the Sixth. Who had the chief hand in the work, history does not reveal; but there is every reason to believe that Cranmer and Ridley, our two most learned martyrs, had more to do with it than any. When first sent forth, they were fortytwo in number. Afterwards, when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, they were reduced by Archbishop Parker and his helpers, of whom Bishop Jewell was probably the chief, to their present number, with a few unimportant alterations. They were finally confirmed aud ratified by Crown, Convocation, and Parliament, in the year 1571, and from 1571 down to this day not a single word in them has been altered.
The object for which the Articles were drawn up is clearly stated in the title of them, which any one will find Jii a proper Prayer-book. They are called "Articles agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both provinces, and the whole clergy, in the Convocation holden at London in the year 1562, for avoiding of diversities of opinion, and for the establishment of consent touching true religion." About the real, plain, honest meaning of this title, I think there ought to be no doubt. It proves that the Thirty-nine Articles are intended to be "the Church cf England's Confession of faith." Every well organized Church throughout Christendom has its Confession of faith: that is, it has a carefully composed statement cf the main things in rehgion which it considers its members ought to believe. Every reading man knows this. The Augsburg Confession, the Creed of Pope Pius IV., the Decrees of the Council of Trent, the Westminstei Confession, are documents with which every student oi ecclesiastical history is familiar. Common sense shows the necessity and convenience of such Confessions. In a fallen world like this the terms of membership in any ecclesiastical corporation must be written down in black and white, or else the whole body is liable to fall into disorder and confusion. Every member of a Church ought to be able to render a reason of his membership, and to say what are the great principles of his Church. To do this his Church supplies him with a short creed, manual, or Confession, to which at any time he may refer inquirers. This was the object of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. They were intended to be "the Churchman's Confession of his faith."
The substance of the Thirty-nine Articles is a point on which I shall say but little at present, because 1 propose to dwell on it by and by. Let it suffice to say that they contain most admirable, terse, clear statements of Scriptural truth, according to the judgment of our Reformers, on almost every point in the Christian religion. The titles speak for themselves :.—
A Table of the Articles.
14. 15. 16.
Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
Of Christ the Son of (rod
Of His going down into Hell
Of His resurrection
Of the Holy Ghost
Of the Sufficiency of the Scrip-
Of the Old Testament
Of the Three Creeds
Of Original or Birth-sin
Of Good Works
Of Works before Justification
Of Works of Supererogation
Of Christ alone without Sin
Of Sin after Baptism
Of Predestination and Election
Of obtaining Salvation by
Of the Church
Of the Authority of the Church
Of the Authority of General
22. Of Purgatory
23. Of ministering in the Congre
24. Of Speaking in the Congrega
25. Of the Sacraments
2G. Of the Unworthiness of Ministers
2". Of Baptism
28. Of the Lord's Supper
2!). Of the wicked which cat not the Body of Christ
30. Of both kinds
31. Of Christ's one Oblation
32. Of the Marriage of Priests
33. Of Excommunicate Persons
34. Of the Traditions of tho
35. Of Homilies
36. Of Consecrating of Ministers
37. Of Civil Magistrates
38. Of Christian Men's Goods
39. Of a Christian Man's Oath
Some of these points are handled in a more firm, strong, and decided manner than others, and the curiously different tone of the Articles, according to their subject-matter, is a matter on which I shall have more to say by and by. But taking them for all in all, as a Church's statement of things to be believed, I think that no Church on earth has a better "Confession of faith" than the Church of England. I have no wish to find fault with other Churches. God forbid! We have faults and defects enough to keep us humble within the Anglican Communion. But alter carefully examining other Confessions of faith, I find none which seem comparable to our own. Some Confessions are too long. Some go into particulars too much. Some define what had better be left undefined, and shut up sharply what had better be left a little open. For a combination of fulness, boldness, clearness, brevity, moderation, and wisdom, I Cud no Confession which comes near the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England.*
So much for what we mean when we talk of the Thirt\Tnine Articles. For dwelling so much on the point, I shall make little apology. The intrinsic importance of it, and the singular ignorance of most Churchmen about it, aro my best excuse. The times we live in make it imperatively necessary to look up and ventilate these old questions. The perilous position of the Church of England requires all her sons to spread light and information. Ho that would know what a true Churchman is, must bo content to begin by rinding out what is meant by "the Thirty-nine Articles."
II. I must now take up a question which is of great and serious importance. To prevent mistakes I shall state it as clearly and logically as I can. "What is the precise rank, authority, and-position of the Thirty-nine Articles? Are they, or are they not, the chief, foremost, primary, and principal test of true Churchmanship?"
My reasons for going into this point are as follows Some clergymen and laymen in the present day are fond of saying that the Prayer-book, and not the Articles, is the real measure and gauge of a Churchman. "The Prayerbook! the Prayer-book!" is the incessant cry of these people. "We want no other standard of doctrine but the Prayer-book."—Is it a controverted point about the Church? What says the Prayer-book ?—Is it a doctrine that is disputed? What says the Prayer-book ?—Is it the
• The famous historian Bingham, in his curious book on the French Protestant Church; quotes a remarkable testimony to the Articles ftom the French divine Le Moyne, a man of great note in his day:—"No Confession can be contrived more wisely than the English is, and the Articles of Faith were never collected with a moro just and reasonable discretion."—Bingham's Works, Oxf. Edit., vol. Xi p- 95.
effect of baptism, or the nature of the Lord's Supper, that is under discussion? What says the Prayer-book ?—To the Articles these gentlemen seem to have a peculiar dislike, an hydrophobic aversion. They seldom refer to them, unless perhaps to sneer at them as the "forty stripes save one." fhey never quote them, never bring them forward if they :an possibly help it. What intelligent observer of religious questions among Churchmen does not know perfectly well the class of men whom I have in view? They are to be found all over England. We meet them in newspapers and books. Wc hear them in pulpits and on platforms. They are ever thrusting on the public their favourite "Diana of the Ephesians,"—their darling notion that the Prayer-book, and not the Articles, is the test of a Churchman*
Now, with all respect to these worthy people, I venture to say that their favourite notion is as real an idol as the Ephesian " Diana" was of old. I shall try to show the reader that in exalting the Prayer-book above the Articles, they have taken up a position that cannot possible bo maintained. I shall try to show, by evidence that cannot be gainsayed, that the true state of the case is exactly the reverse of what they are so fond of proclaiming. I am not going to say anything against the Prayer-book. It is a matchless book of devotion. But I am going to say, and to prove, that the Articles, and not the Prayer-book, are the first, foremost, and principal test of a true Churchman.
• In a volume recently published, entitled "Studies in Modern Problems," edited by Air. Orby Shipley, a prominent place is assigned to a paper bearing the ominous title, "Abolition of the Articles." In the forty-eight pages of this paper much is said about the origin of tho Articles, and the Continental Reformers are not spoken of in favourable terms. But I cannot discover iu the paper the slightest proof "that the Articles are not the true test of a Churchman's soundness iu the faith. Nor can I discern any reason for the writer's wish to have subscription to the Articles abolished, ex-' t his dislike to Protestant doctrine.
I shall dismiss briefly four points that I might dwell upon at length, if it were worth while.
(a) I pass over the obvious suspiciousness of any Churchman ignoring the Articles, giving them the cold shoulder, and talking only about the Prayer-book, when he is speaking of the tests of a Churchman's religion. That many do so it is quite needless to say. Yet the fifth Canon, of 1604, contains the following words: "Whosoever shall hereafter affirm that any of the Thirty-nine Articles agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both provinces, in the Convocation holden at London in the year of our Lord God 1562, for avoiding diversities of opinion, and establishing of consent touching true religion, are in any part superstitious, or erroneous, or such as he may not with a good conscience subscribe unto, let him be excommunicated ipso facto, and not restored but only by the Archbishops, after his repentance and public revocation of such his wicked errors." Plain language that! Certain Churchmen who are fond of pelting Evangelical Churchmen with Canons would do well to remember that Canon.
(b) I pass over the implied insinuation that there is any contradiction between the Articles and the Prayer-book. Many talk and write as if there was. It is a notion unworthy of any one of common sense. The man who supposes that divines of such grace and learning as the Elizabethan Reformers, would ever with the same hands draw up Articles and a Prayer-book containing two different doctrines, must be in a strange state of mind! Reason itself points out that the Pniycr-book and Articles were meant to teach the same doctrines, and that no interpretation which makes them jar and contradict one anothei can be correct. Lord Chatham's famous dictum, that the Church of England has a Popish Liturgy, an Arminian clergy, and a Calvinistic set of Articles, was doubtless very smart, but it was not true.
(c) I rjass over the unreasonableness of setting nn a book of devotion, like tho Liturgy, as a better test of Churchmanship than a Confession of faith l.ke the Articles. Prayers, in the very nature of things, are compositions which are not so precisely framed and worded as cold, dry, dogmatic statements of doctrine. They are what the rhetorical speech of the Advocate is, compared to the cautiously-balanced decision of the Judge. "In the Prayerbook," says Dean Goode, " we have a collection of national formularies of devotion, written at a time when a large proportion of the people were inclined to Romanism, and at the same time compelled to attend the service of the national Churches,—and consequently carefully drawn up, so as to give as little offence as possible to Romish prejudices. Is such a book calculated to serve the purposes of a standard of faith ?"—" In the Articles," he adds, on the other hand, "we have a precise confession of faith on all the great points of Christian doctrine, drawn up in dogmatic propositions, as a test of doctrinal soundness for the clergy." The Liturgy is an excellent book. But to say that, in the nature of things it can serve the purpose of a standard of faith so well as the Articles, is absurd.
(d) I pass over the glaring foolishness of the common remark, that those who are fond of maintaining the primary authority of the Articles cast discredit upon the Creeds. The authors of this notable charge must surely have forgotten that one whole Article, the eighth, is devoted to the three Creeds! So far from the admirers of the Articles dishonouring and disparaging the Creeds, they arc specially bound to honour, reverence, and defend them. Such vague argumentation goes far to show that many who speak slightly of the Articles do not even know what the Articles contain! They "speak evil of things which they know not." (Jude 10.)
But I pass over all these points. I desire to go straight to the mark, and to give direct proofs of the position that I take up. What I delibeiately assert is, that, the Thirtynine Articles were always intended to be, and are at this day, the first, foremost, chief, and principal test of a Churchman, and that in this point of view there is nothing else that stands on a level with them. In proof of this assertion I shall now bring forward a few witnesses.
(1) My first witness shall be a very simple one. I mean the title of the Articles, which is prefixed to them in every complete and unmutilated Prayer-book. They are called, "Articles agreed upon for the avoiding of Diversities of Opinion, and for the stablishing of Consent touching true Religion." This title was first given to them by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the reiini of Edward VI., 1552: and afterwards given a second time by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, in Queen Elizabeth's reign, in 1562. I want no plainer lansruage than the words of this title. The man who tries to get away from it and evade it, is like a viper biting a file*
* Archbishop Parker's Correspondence, published in the Parkei Society's series, supplies remarkable evidence of the importance attached to the Thirty-nine Articles by the Elizabethan Reformers. This evidence will be found in a letter addressed to the Queen, by the Archbishop aud thirteen other Uishops, in which they pray her to facilitate the passing of a Bill through Parliament, for the conlirmation of the Articles. The reason why the Queen interposed any delay does not appear to hav< been any dislike to the Articles, but her characteristic Tudor jealous) of anything being done in Church or State which did not originate from herself. In short she affected to consider the initiation of a Bill affecting religion by the Commons, was au infringement of her ecclesiastical supremacy!
The reasons against delay which the Archbishop and Bishops pressed on the Queen's attention deserve special notice. They say,—"First, the matter itself tendeth to the glory of God, the advancement of true religion, and the salvation of Christian souls, and thcreforo ought principally, chiefly, and before all other things, to be sought.
"Secondly, in the book which is now desired to bo confirmed, are contained the principal Articles of Christian religion most agreeable to God's Word, publicly, since the beginning of your Majesty's reign, professed, and by your Highness' authority set forth and maintained,
(2) My second witness shall be the statute law of the realm. I refer to two Acts of Parliament. One is called the 13th of Elizabeth, cap. 12, and entitled "An Act for Ministers of the Church to be of sound religion." The other Act is called the 28th and 29th Victoria, cap. 122, and is entitled "An Act to Amend the Law as to the declarations and subscriptions to be made, and oaths to be taken by the Clergy," and was passed in the year 18Gf>.
The Act of Elizabeth, in the second section, declares, that " if any person ecclesiastical, or which shall have any ecclesiastical living, shall advisedly maintain or affirm any doctrine directly contrary or repugnant to any of the said Thirty-nine Articles; and being convicted before the Bishop of the diocese, or the Ordinary, or before the Queen's Commissioner in causes ecclesiastical, shall persist therein, or not revoke his error, or after such revocation affirm such untrue doctrine, such maintaining, or affirming, or persisting shall be just cause to deprive such person of his ecclesiastical functions; and it shall be lawful for the
"Thirdly, divers and sundry errors, and namely, such as have been in the realm wickedly and obstinately by the adversaries of the Gospel defended, are by the same Articles condemned.
"Fourthly, the approbation of these Articles by your Majesty shall be a very good mean to establish and confirm all your Majesty's subjects in one consent and unity of true doctrine, to the great quiet and safety of your Majesty and this free realm ; whereas now, for want of plain certainty of Articles of doctrine by law to be declared, great distraction and dissension of minds is at this present among your subjects." (Parker Correspondence, Parker Society, p. 293.)
Notwithstanding this letter, the prayer of the Bishops appears not to have been granted until the year 1571. It is only one among many illustrations of the immense difficulties which the Elizabethan Beformers had to contend with, in consequence of the arbitrary and self-willed character of their Sovereign. I venture the opinion that few English Monarchs have been so much over-praised and misunderstood as Elizabeth. I suspect the English Beformation would have been a far more perfect and complete work if the Qucon had allowed the Kijoricera to do all that they « anted to do. ,
Bishop of the diocese, or Ordinary, or such Commissioner to deprive such person."
Comment on the evidence of this witness is needless. There is no way of honestly evading the edge and point of thi yet unrepealed Act of Parliament. In. a decision of all the Judges, in the twenty-third year of Elizabeth, it was declared that the Act of 13 Elizabeth was made for avoiding a diversity of opinion, and that the "prevention of such diversity was the scope of the statute." (Coke's Institut. 1865.) The provisions of this Act of Elizabeth arj in full force at this very day, and form the basis of any proceedings against a clergyman in matters of religion.
The Act of the 2Sth and 2!)th of Victoria is even more remarkable, than the 13th of Elizabeth. The seventh section requires every person instituted to any living, on the first Lord's day in which he officiates in his church, "publicly and openly in the presence of his congregation, to read the whole Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and immediately after reading to make the declaration of assent to them."
Up to the year 1S65, we must remember, a clergyman was required to read over the whole Morning and Evening Service as well as the Articles, and then declare his assent and consent to the use of the Book of Common Prayer. This was dispensed with by the Act of Victoria. But the requirement to read the Thirty-nine Articles was carefully retained! The result is, that every beneficed clergyman in the Church of England has not only declared his assent to the Thirty-nine Articles, but has done it in the most public way, after reading them over before his congregation.
(3) My third witness shall be the Royal Declaration prefixed to the Articles in 1628, by King Charles I. It is a document which will be found at length in every complete and unmutilated Prayor-book. It contains the following passage; " \Ye hold it most agreeable to this our Kingly office, and our own religious zeal, to conserve and maintain the Church committed to our charge, in unity of true religion, and in the bond of peace; and not to suffer unnecessary disputations, altercations, or questions to be raised, which may nourish faction both in the Church and Commonwealth. We have therefore, upon mature deliberation, and with the advice of so many of our Bishops as might conveniently be called together, thought fit to make this declaration following :—
"That the Articles of the Church of England (which have been allowed and authorized heretofore, and which our clergy generally have subscribed unto) do contain the true doctrine of the Church of England agreeable to God's Word: which we do therefore ratify and confirm, requiring all our loving subjects to continue in the uniform profession thereof, and prohibiting the least difference from the said Articles." Admirable words these! Well would it have been if the unhappy Monarch who put forth this declaration, had afterwards adhered more decidedly to the doctrine of the Articles, and not ruined himself and the Church by patronizing and supporting such men as Archbishop Laud.
(4) My fourth witness shall be a remarkable letter or circular issued by the Crown in 1721, entitled, "Directions to our Archbishops and Bishops for the preservation of unity in the Church and the purity of the Christian faith, particularly in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity." The charge given to the Bishops in these directions is as follows: "You shall, without delay, signify to the clergy of your several dioceses this our Royal command, which we require you to see duly published and decreed: viz., that no preacher whatsoever in his sermons or lectures do presume to deliver any other doctrines concerning the great and fundamental truths of our most holy religion, and particularly concerning the blessed Trinity, than what i»re contained in the Holy Scriptures, and are agreeable to the three Creeds and the Thirty-nine Articles of religion.'* The circular proceeds to direct the Bishops to put in forco the famous statute of Elizabeth already quoted. But not one word do we find about the Prayer-book, from beginning to end. Of course these "directions" have no binding force now, but as evidence of what men thought the test of Church religion in 1721, they are remarkable.
(5) My fifth witness shall be Thomas Rogers, Chaplain to Archbishop Bancroft, who published in 1G07 the first Exposition of the Articles which ever appeared. This book, we must remember, was written within forty years of the time when the Articles were finally ratified. It was a work of great authority at the time, and was dedicated to the Archbishop. In the preface to this work Rogers says:—
"The purpose of our Church is best known by the doctrine which she does profess: the doctrine by the TKL-ty-nine Articles established by Act of Parliament; the Articles by the words whereby they are expressed: and other doctrine than in the said Articles is contained, our Church neither hath nor holdeth, and other sense they cannot yield than their words do import."
Strong language that from an Archbishop's Chaplain! I heartily wish we had a few more Chaplains like him.
(6) My sixth and last evidence, for brevity's sake, I will give you all at once, in the words of five well-known Bishops of the Church, who have long passed away. They were men very unlike one another, and belonged to very different schools of thought. But their testimonies to the value and rightful position of the Articles are so curiously harmonious, that it is interesting to have them brought together.
(a) Let us hear then what great and good Bishop Hall says, in his work on "The Old Religion:" "The Church of England, in whose motherhood we have all come to pride ourselves, hath in much wisdom and piety delivered her judgment concerning all necessary points of religion, in so complete a body of divinity as all hearts may rest in. These we read, these we write under, as professing not their truth only, but their sufficiency also. The voice of God our Father, in His Scriptures, and, out of them, the voice of the Church our mother, in her Articles, is that which.must both guide and settle our resolutions. Whatsoever is beside these, is either private, or unnecessary, or uncertain." (Hall's Works, Oxford Edition, vol. ix. p. 308.)
(b) Let us hear next what Bishop Stillingfleet says in his " Unreasonableness of Separation :" "This we all say, that the doctrine of the Church of England is contained in the Thirty-nine Articles; and whatever the opinions of private persons may be, this is the standard by which the sense of our Church is to be taken." (London, 4to edition, p. 95. 1631.)
(c) Let us hear next what Bishop Burnet says: "The Thirty-nine Articles are the sum of our doctrines, and the confession of our faith." (Burnet on Articles, pref., p. 1, Oxford edition. 1831.)
(cZ) Let us hear next what Bishop Beveridge says, in the Preface to his great work on the Articles: "The Bishops and clergy of both provinces of this nation, in a Council held at London, 1562, agreed upon certain Articles of Religion, to the number of thirty-nine, which to this day remain the constant and settled doctrine of our Church; which, by an Act of Parliament of the 13th of Queen Elizabeth, 1571, all that are entrusted with any ecclesiastical preferments, are bound to subscribe to." (Beveridge on Articles, vol. i., p. 9, Oxford edition. 1840.)
(e) Let us hear, lastly, what Bishop Tomline says: "The Thirty-nine Articles are the criterion of the faith of the members of the Church of England." (" Elements of Theol.," vol. ii., p. 34. 1799.)
Such are the testimonies which I offer to the attention of my readers, in proof of my assertion that the Articles, mucb more than the Prayer-book, are the true test of Churchmanship. The title prefixed to the Articles by Cranmer and Parker;—the famous statutes of the 13th Elizabeth and 28th and 29th Victoria;—the Royal Declaration of Charles I., in 1G28;—the Royal Circular to the Bishops in 1721;—the express opinion of Rogers, Archbishop Bancroft's private chaplain ;—the deliberately expressed judgment of five such men as Hall, Stillingfleet, Burnet, Beveridge, and Tomline,—all these witnesses, taken together, supply a mass of evidence which to my eyes seem perfectly unanswerable. In the face of such evidence I dare not, as an honest man, refuse the conclusion, that the truest Churchman is the man who most truly agrees with the Thirty-nine Articles.
It would be easy to multiply witnesses, and to overload the subject with evidence. But in these matters enough is as good as a feast. Enough, probably, has been said to satisfy- any candid and impartial mind that the ground I have taken up about the Articles has not been taken up in vain. He that desires to go more deeply into the subject would do well to consult Dean Goode's writings about it, in a controversy which he held with the late Bishop of Exeter. In that remarkable controversy, I am bold to say, the Dean proved himself more than a match for the Bishop. (Goode's "Defence of Thirty-nine Articles, and Vindication of Defence." Hatchard. 1848.)
One remark I must make, in self-defence, before leaving this branch of my subject. I particularly request that no reader will misunderstand the jn-ounds I have been taking up. Let no one suppose that I think lightly of the Prayerbook, because I do not regard it as the Church of England's standard and test of truth. Nothing could be more erroneous than such an idea. In loyal love to the Prayer-book, and deep admiration of its contents, I give place to no man. Taken for all in all, as an uninspired work, it is an iucomparable book of devotion for the use of a Clu'istian congregation. This is a position I would defend anywhere and everywhere. But the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer was never intended to be the Church "s standard of doctrine in the same way that the Articles were. This was not meant to be its office; this was not the purpose for which it was compiled. It is a manual of public devotion: it is not a confession of faith. Let us love it, honour it, prize it, reverence it, admire it, use it. But let us not exalt it to the place which the Thirty-nine Articles alone can fill, and which common sense, statute law, and the express opinions of eminent divines unanimously agree in assigning to them. The Articles, far more than the Prayer-book, are the Church's standard of sound doctrine, and the real test of true Churchmanship*
III. One more point now remains to be considered, which is of so much importance that I dare not pass it by unnoticed. What the Articles are we have seen. What their position and authority is in the Church of England we have also seen. Ought we not now to see what are the great leading characteristics of the Articles? I think we ought, unless we mean to leave our subject unfinished. There are certain grand features in them, without descending into particulars, which stand out prominently, liko mountains in a landscape. What those features are wo ought to know. I shall therefore proceed to point them out to the reader, and try to impress them on his attention. If those who are induced to read thorn with attention, in consequence of this paper, are not struck with the singular distinctness and prominence of these leading features m the Articles, I shall be greatly mistaken. To my eyes they stand out in bold, clear, and sharply-cut relief. I ask the reader to give me his attention for a very few minutes, and I will show him what I mean.
* If any reader supposes that there is anything peculiar or extravagant in the position I take up about the authority of the Articles, as compared to the Prayer-book, I ask him to remember that Lord Hatherley, in his recent judgment in the famous "Voysey" case, takes up precisely the same ground. These are his words, as reported in the Guardian: "We have not, in this our decision, referred to any of the formularies of the Church, other than the Articles of Religion. We have been mindful of the authorities which have held that pious expressions of devotion are not to be taken as binding declarations of doctrine."
In commenting on this judgment, the Solicitor's Journal, which certainly is not the organ of any theological party, uses the following remarkable language: "The Judicial Committee have adhered to tho principles of previous decisions in their recent judgment. The Articles of religion, and those alone, are to be considered as the code of doctrine of the Church of England."
(1) Let us mark, then, for one thing, as we read the Articles, the stroug and decided language which they use in speaking of things which arc essential to salvation.
Concerning the nature of God and the Holy Trinity, —concerning the sufficiency and authority cf Scripture, —concerning the sinfulness and helplessness of natural man,—concerning justification by faith alone,—concerning the place and value of good works,—concerning salvation only by the name of Christ; concerning all these grand foundations of the Christian religion, it is hard to conceive language more decided, clear, distinct, ringing and trumpettoned than that of the Thirty-nine Articles. There is no doubtfulness, or hesitancy, or faultering, or timidity, or uncertainty, or compromise about their statements. There i.s no attempt to gratify undecided theologians by saying, "It is probably so,"—or, "Perhaps it may be so,"—or, "There are some grounds for thinking so,"—and all that sort of language which is so pleasing to what are called "broad" Christians. Nothing of the kind! On all the points I have named the Articles speak out boldly, roundly, frankly, and honestly, in a most unmistakable tone. "This is the Church of England's judgment," they seem to say, and "these are the views which every C'nurchman ought to hold."
1 ask special attention to this rjoint. We live in days
when many loudly declare that it is not right to be positive about anything in religion. The clergyman who dares to say of any theological question, "This is true, and that is false,—this is right, and thatis wrong,"—is pretty sure to be denounced as a narrow-minded, illiberal, uncharitable man. Nothing delights many Churchmen so much as to proclaim that they " belong to no party,"—that they are "moderate men,"—that they "hold no extreme views." Well! I only ask these Churchmen to settle matters with the Thirty-nine Articles, i want no clergyman to go a bit beyond the authoritative statements of his own Church; but I do want every clergyman not to fall below them. And I shall always maintain, publicly or privately, that to call any one an "extreme" man, or a "party" man, because his doctrinal views are in harmony with the bold, decided statements of the Articles, is neither just, nor fair, nor reasonable, nor consistent with common sense. Give me the clergyman who after reading the Articles to his congregation, and solemnly promising to abide by them, acts up to his promise, and speaks out boldly, decidedly, and unhesitatingly, like a man, about all the leading doctrines of Christianity. As for the clergyman who, after declaring his assent to the Articles, flinches from their doctrinal distinctness, and preaches hesitatingly, as if he hardly knew what he believed, I am sorry for him. He may be a charitable, a liberal, and a learned man, but he is not in the right j>lace in the pulpit of the Church of England.
(2) Let us mark, in the next place, as we read the Articles, their studied moderation about things nonessential to salvation-, and things about which good Christian men may differ.
About sin after baptism,—about predestination and election,—about the definition of the Church,—about the ministry,—about the ceremonies and rights of every particular or national Church,—about all these points it ia most striking to observe the calm, gentle, tender, conciliatory tone which runs throughout the Articles; a tone the more remarkable when contrasted with the firm and decided language on essential points, to which I have just been referring.
It is clear as daylight to my mind, that the authors of the Articles intended to admit the possibility of difference on the points which I have just been enumerating. They saw the possibility of men differing about predestination and election, as Fletcher and Toplady did. How cautious are their statements, and how carefully guarded and fenced!—They believed that there might be Churches differently organized to our own, that there might be many good Christian ministers who were not Episcopalians, and many useful rites and ceremonies of worship unlike those of the Church of England. They take care to say nothing which could possibly give offence.—They scrupulously avoid condemning and denouncing other Churches and other Christians. In short, their maxim seems to have been "in nccessariis im'das, in non-necesaarlis libcrtiuj, in omnibus caritas."
I greatly admire this moderation in non-essentials. I heartily wish that the spirit of it had been more acted upon in days gone by, by the rulers of the Church of England. To the blind intolerance and fanaticism of days gone by, to the insane and senseless wish to cram Episcopacy and Liturgy down the throats of every man by force, and excommunicate him if he would not swallow them,—to this we owe an immense proportion of our English Dissent. And the root of all this has been departure from the spirit of the Thirty-nine Articles.
I frankly own that I belong to a school in the Church of England, which is incorrectly and unfairly called "low." And why are we called so? Simply because we will not condemn every Church which is not governed by Bishops, simply because we will not denounce every one as greatly in error who worships without a surplice and a Prayerbook! But I venture to tell our accusers that their charges fall very lightly on us. When they can prove that our standard is not the standard of the Thirty-nine Articles,—when they can show that we take lower ground than our own Church takes in her authorized Confession of faith, then we will allow there is something in what they say against us. But till they can do that, and they have not done it yet, I tell them that wo shall remain unmoved. We may be called "low" Churchmen, but we are 'true."
(3) Let us mark, in the next place, as we read the Articles, their wise, discreet, and wcll-lalanced statements about the Sacraments. They declare plainly the Divine authority of Baptism and the Lord's Supper They use high and reverend language about them both, as means of grace, " by the which God doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but strengthen and confirm our faith in Him."
But after saying all this, it is most instructive to observe how carefully the Articles repudiate the Romish doctrine of grace being imparted by the Sacraments "ex opere opevato." "The Sacraments," says the Twenty-fifth Article, were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation."
Now if there is any one thing that is laid to the charge of us Evangelical clergy, it is this,—that we deny sacramental grace. "Excellent, worthy, hard-working men," we are sometimes called; "but unhappily they do not hold right Church views about the Sacraments."—Men who talk in this manner are talking rashly, and saying what they cannot prove. Evangelical clergymen yield to none in willingness to give rightful honour to Baptism and the Lord's Supper. All we say is, that grace is not tied to the Sacraments, and that a man may receive them, and be none the better for it. And what is all this but the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles?
(4) Let us mark, in the fourth place, as we read the Articles, the thoroughly Protestant spirit which runs throughout them, and the boldness of their language about Romish error.
What says the Nineteenth Article? "The Church of Rome hath erred, not only in living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith."
What says the Twenty-second Article ?" The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardons, worshipping and adoration, as well of images as of reliques, and also of invocation of saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God."
What says the Twenty-fourth Article? It forbids the Romish custom of having public prayers, and ministering the Sacraments in Latin.
What says the Twenty-fifth Article? It declares that the five Romish sacraments of confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony, and extreme unction, are not to be accounted sacraments of the Gospel.
What says the Twenty-eighth Article? It declares that " transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions." It also declares that "the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped."
What says the Thirtieth Article ?" The cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay-people."
What saith the Thirty-first Article ?" The sacrifices of masses, in which it was commonly said the priest did offer Christ for the quick and dead, to have remission of
pain and guilt, were blasphemous fables and. dangerous deceit."
What says the Thirty-second Article ?" Bishops, priests, and deacons are not commanded by God's law to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage."
What, says the Thirty-seventh Article ?" The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England."
Now what shall we say to all this? Nine times over the Thirty-nine Articles condemn, in plain and unmistakable language, the leading doctrines of the Church of Rome, and declare in favour of what must be called Protestant views. And yet men dare to tell us that wo Evangelical clergymen have no right to denounce Popery, —that it is very wrong and very uncharitable to be so hot in favour of Protestantism,—that Romanism is a pretty good sort of thing,—and that by making such a piece of work about Popery, and Protestantism, and Ritualism, and semi-Popery, we are only troubling the country and doing more harm than good. Well! I am content to point to the Thirty-nine Articles. There is my apology! There, is my defence! I will take up no other ground at present. I will not say, as I might do, that Popery is an imscriptural system, which every free nation ought to dread, and every Bible-reading Christian of any nation ought to oppose. I simply point to the Thirty-nine Articles. I ask any one to explain how any English clergyman can be acting consistently, if he does not oppose, denounce, expose, and resist Popery in every shape, either within the Church or without. Other Christians may do as they please, and countenance Popery if they like. But so long as the Articles stand unrepealed and unaltered, it is the bounden duty of every clergyman of the Church of England to oppose Popery.
(5) Let us mark, in the last place, as we read the Articles, the unvarying reverence with whichthey always speak of Holy Scripture. The inspiration of the Bible, no doubt, is never distinctly asserted. It is evidently taken for granted as a first principle, which need not be proved. But if constant references to Scripture, and constant appeals to the authority of Scripture, as God's Word, are allowed to prove anything, in no document does the Bible receive more honour than in the Articles.
The Sixth Article declares that "Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, and that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite and necessary to salvation."
The Eighth Article says that " the three Creeds ought thoroughly to be believed and received, for they may bo proved by most certain warranty of Holy Scripture."
The Twentieth Article says, "It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another."
The Twenty-first Article says that " things ordained by General Councils as necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it be declared that they be taken from Holy Scripture."
The Twenty-second Article condemns certain Romish functions, " because they are grounded on no warranty of Scripture, but are rather repugnant to the Word of God."
The Twenty-eighth Article condemns Transubstantiation, "because it cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture."
The Thirty-fourth Article says that "traditions and ceremonies of the Church may be changed, so long as nothing is ordained against God's Word."
Now I see in all this abundant proof that the Bible is the rule of faith in the Church of England, and that no doctrine is " Church doctrine" which cannot be reconciled with Gotfs Word. I see a complete answer to those who tell us that we make an idol of the Bible, and that wo ought to go to the voice of the Church and to the Prayeibook for direction. I see that any sense placed on anv part of the Prayer-book which is not reconcilable with Scripture, must be a mistake, and ought not to be received. I see, above all, that all who pour contempt on the Bible, as an uninspired, imperfect, defective Book, which ought not to be believed, if it contradicts " modern thought," are taking up ground which is at variance with the Church's own confession of faith. They may be clever, liberal, scientific, and confident; but they are contradicting the Articles, and they are not sound Churchmen.
Such are the leading features, in my judgment, of the Thirty-nine Articles. I commend them to the attention of my readers, and ask that they may be carefully weighed. No doubt men may say that the Articles admit of more than one interpretation, and that my interpretation is not the correct one. My reply to all this is short and simple. I ask in what sense the Reformers who drew up the Articles meant them to be interpreted? Let men answer that. It is an acknowledged axiom in interpreting all public documents, such as treaties, covenants, wills, articles of faith, and religious formularies, that in any case of doubt or dispute the true sense is the sense of those who drew them up and imposed them. Waterland and Sanderson have abundantly shown that. Upon this principle I take my stand. I only want the Thirty-nine Articles to be interpreted in the sense in which the Reformers first imposed them, and I believe it impossible to avoid the conclusion you arrive at. That conclusion is, that the Thirty-nine Articles are in general tone, temper, spirit, intention, and meaning, eminently Protestant and eminently Evangelical.
And now I draw my subject to a conclusion. I have shown the reader, to the best of my ability, what the Articles are,—what is the position and authority which they hold in the Church of England,—and what are the leading features of their contents. It only remains for me to point out a few practical conclusions, which I venture to think are peculiarly suited to the times.
(1) In the first place, I ask every Churchman who reads this paper to read the Thirty-nine Articles regularly at least once every year, and to make himself thoroughly familiar with their contents.
It is not a reading age, I fear. Newspapers, and periodicals, and shilling novels absorb the greater part of the time given to reading. I am sorry for it. If I could only reach the ear of all thinking lay Churchmen, I should like to say, "Do read your Articles." As for clergymen, if I had my own way I would require them to read the Articles publicly in church once every year.
Ignorance, I am compelled to say, is one of the grand dangers of members of the Church of England. The bulk of her people neither know, nor understand, nor seem to care about the inside of any of the great religious questions of the day. Presbyterians know their system. Baptists, Independents, and Methodists know theirs. Papists are all trained controversialists. Churchmen alone, as a body, are generally very ignorant of their own Church, and all its privileges, doctrines, and history. Not one in twenty could tell you why he is a Churchman.
Let us cast aside this reproach. Let all Churchmen awake and rub their eyes, and begin to read up their own Church and its doctrines. And if any man wants to know where to begin, I advise him to begin with the Thirty-nine Articles*
* The best book for any one to study who wants to go thoroughly into the subject of the Articles, is a volume by the late Dr. Boultbee, Head of St. John's Hall, Highbury, entitled "The Theology of th« Church of England." (Longmans.)
(2) Iii the second place, I ask all who read this paper to teach the Thirty-nine Articles to all young people who are yet of an age to be taught. It is a burning shame that the Articles are not made an essential part of the system of every school connected with the Church of England, whether for high or low, for rich or poor.
I do not say this without reason. It is a simple fact, that the beginning of any clear doctrinal views I have ever attained myself, was reading up the Articles at Eton, for the Newcastle Scholarship, and attending a lecture at Christ Church, Oxford, on the Articles, by a college tutor. I shall always thank God for what I learned then. Before that time I really knew nothing systematically of Christianity. I knew not what came first or what last. I had a religion without order in my head. What I found good myself I commend to others. If you love young people's souls and would ground them, and stablish them, and arm them against error betimes, take care that you teach them not only the Catechism, but also the Articles.
(3) In the third place, I advise all who read this paper to test all ChurcJimanship by the test of the Articles. Be not carried away by those who talk of "nice Church views," "Catholic ceremonies," "holy, earnest parish priests," and the like. Try all that is preached and taught by one simple measure,—does it or does it not agree with the Articles? You have an undoubted right to do this, and no English clergyman has any right to object to your doing it. Say to him, if he does object, "You publicly read and subscribed to the Articles when you accepted your cure of souls. Do you or do you not abide by your subscription?"
This is the simple ground we take up in the various Societies which, amidst much abuse, obloquy, and opposi. tion, are labouring to maintain the Protestant character of the Church of England. They are not intolerant, whatever some may please to say. They do not want to narrow the limits of our Church. But we do say that any one who holds preferment in the Church of England ought to be bound by the laws of the Church of England, so long as those laws are unrepealed. Repeal the Act of Parliament called the 13th of Elizabeth, and cast out the Thirty-nine Articles, and we will cease to oppose Ritualism, and will concede that a Churchman may be anything, or everything, in opinion. But so long as things are as they are, we say we have a right to demand that respect should be paid to the Articles.
(4) Finally, let me advise every Churchman who values his soul never to he ashamed of tlve great leading doctrines which arc so nobly set forth in the Articles.
Never mind if people call you extreme, party-spirited, going too far, puritanical, ultra-Methodist, and the like.— Ask them if they have ever read the first nineteen Articled of their own Church. Tell them, so long as you are a Churchman, you will never be ashamed of holding Church doctrine, and that you know what Church doctrine is, if they do not.
; Remember, above all, that nothing but clear, distinct views of doctrine, such views as you will find in the Articles, will ever give you peace while you live, and comfort when you die.
"Earnestness " is a fine, vague, high-sounding term, and is very beautiful to look at and talk about, when wc arc well, and happy, and prosperous. But when the ster n realities of life break in upon us, and we are in trouble,— when the valley of death looms in sight, and the cold river must be crossed,—in seasons like those, we want something better than mere "earnestness" to support our souls. Oh, no! it is cold comfort then, as our feet touch the chill waters, to be told, "Never mind! Be in earnest! Take comfort! Only be in earnest!"—It will never, never do! We want then to know if God is our God, if Christ is our Christ, if we have the Spirit within us, if our sins are pardoned, if our souls arc justified, if our hearts are changed, if our faith is genuine and real. "Earnestness" will not be enough then. It will prove a mere fine weather religion. Nothing, in short, will do in that solemn hour but clear, distinct doctrine, embraced by our inward man, and made our own. "Earnestness" then proves nothing but a dream. Doctrines such as those set forth in the Articles are the only doctrines which are life, and health, and strength, and peace. Let us never be ashamed of laying hold of them, maintaining them, and making them our own. Those doctrines are the religion of the Bible and of the Church of EnnlanJ!
There is perhaps no subject in Christianity about which such difference of opinion exists as the sacrament of Baptism. The very name recalls to one's mind an endless list of strifes, disputes, heart-burnings, controversies, and divisions.
It is a subject moreover on which even eminent Christians have long been greatly divided. Praying, Biblereading, holy men, who can agree on all other points, find themselves hopelessly divided about baptism. The fall of man has affected the understanding as well as the will. Fallen indeed must human nature be when millions who agree about sin, and Christ, and grace, are as the poles asunder about baptism.
I propose in the following pages to offer a few remarks on this disputed subject. I am not vain enough to suppose that I can throw any light on a controversy which so many great and good men have handled in vain. But. I know that every additional witness is useful in a disputed case. I wish to» strengthen the hands of those I agree with, and to show them that we have no reason to be ashamed of our opinions. I wish to suggest a few things for the consideration of those I do not agree with, and to show them that the Scriptural argument in this matter is not, as some suppose, all on one side.
There are four points which I propose to examine in considering the subject:—
I. What Baptism is,—its nature.
II. In what manner Baptism should be administered,— its mode.
III. Who ought to be Baptized,—its subjects.
IV. What place Baptism ought to occupy in religion,—. its true position.
If I can supply a satisfactory answer to these four questions, I feel that I shall have contributed something to the clearing of many minds.
I. Let us consider first the nature of Baptism,—what is it?
(1) Baptism is an ordinance appointed by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the continual admission of fresh members into His visible Church. In the army every new soldier is formally added to the muster-roll of his regiment. In a school every new scholar is formally entered on the books of the school. And every Christian begins his Church-membership by being baptized*
(2) Baptism is an ordinance of great simplicity. The outward part or sign is water, administered in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, or in the name of Christ. The inward part, or thing signified, is that washing in the blood of Christ, and inward cleansing
• This is a point which ought to be carefully noticed. Here lies the one simple reason why the children of Baptists, or any other unhaptized persons, cannot have the Burial Service of the Prayer-book read over them, when they are buried. It is a service expressly intended for members of the professing Church. An unbaptized person is not such a member. There is, therefore, no Service that we can read. To suppose that we pronounce any opinion on a man's state of soul and consider him lost, because we read no Service over him, is simply absurd! We pronounce no opinion at all. He may be in paradise with the penitent thief for anything we know. His soul after death is not affected either by reading a Servic« <ir by not reading one. The plain reason is we have nothing to read J
of the heart by the Holy Ghost, without which no one can be saved. The 27th Article of the Church of England says rightly,—"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."
(3) Baptism is an ordinance on which we may confidently expect the highest blessings, when it is rightly used. It is unreasonable to suppose that the Lord Jesus^ the Great Head of the Church, would solemnly appoint an ordinance which was to be as useless to the soul as a mere human enrolment or an act of civil registration. The sacrament we are considering is not a mere man-made appointment, but an institution appointed by the King of kings. When faith and prayer accompany baptism, and a diligent use of Scriptural means follows it, we are justified in looking for much spiritual blessing. Without faith and prayer baptism becomes a mere form.
(4) Baptism is an ordinance which is expressly named in the New Testament about eighty times. Almost the last words of our Lord Jesus Christ were a command to baptize: "Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. xxviii. 19.) We find Peter saying on the day of Pentecost,—" Repent and be baptized every one of you;"—and asking in the house of Cornelius,—"Can any man forbid water, that these should net be baptized?" (Acts ii. 38; x. 4-7.) We find St. Paul was not only baptized himself, but baptized disciples wherever he went. To say, as some do, in the face of these texts, that baptism is an institution of no importance, is to pour contempt on the Bible. To say, as others do, that baptism is only a thing of the heart* and not an outward ordinance at
• I am quite aware that the whole body of Christians called Friends, or Quakers, reject water-baptism, and allow of no baptism except the all, is to say that which seems flatly contradictory to the Bible.
(5) Baptism is an ordinance which, according to Scripture, a man may receive, and yet get no good from it. Can any one doubt that Judas Iscariot, Simon Magus, Ananias and Sapphira, Demas, Hymenseus, Philetus, and Nicolas, were all baptized people? Yet what benefit did they receive from baptism? Clearly, for anything that we can see, none at all! Their hearts were "not right in the sight of God." (Acts viii. 21.) They remained "dead in trespasses and sins," and were "dead while they lived." (Ephes. ii. 1 ; 1 TzQ. v. 6.)
(6) Baptism is an ordinance which in Apostolic times went together with the first beginnings of a man's religion. In the very day that many of the early Christians repented and believed, in that very day they were baptized. Baptism was the expression of their new-born faith, and the starting-point in their Christianity. No wonder that in such cases it was regarded as the vehicle of all spiritual blessings. The Scriptural expressions," buried with Christ in baptism "—" putting on Christ in baptism "—" baptism doth also save us "—would be full of deep meaning to such persons. (Rom. vi. 4; Col. ii. 12; Gal. iii. 27; 1 Pet. iii. 21.) They would exactly tally with their experience. But to apply such expressions indiscriminately to the baptism of infants in our own day is, in my judgment, unreasonable and unfair. It is an application of Scripture which, I believe was never intended.
inward baptism of the heart. To their own Master they must stand or fall. I am not their Judge. The grace, faith, and holiness of many Quakers aro beyond all question. They are simple matters of fact. Christians like Mrs. Fry and J. J. Gurney most evidently had received the Holy Ghost, and would reflect honour on any Church. Would God that many baptized Christians were like them! But the best people are fallible at their best. How people, so sensible and well-read as many Quakers have been and are, can possibly refuse to see water-baptism in Scripture, as an ordinance obligatory on all professing Christians, is a problem which I cannot pretend to solve. It passes my understanding. I can only suppose that God allows the Quakers to be a perpetual testimony against Romish views of water-baptism, and a standing witness to the Churches that God can, in some cases, give grace without the use of any sacraments at all 1
(7) Baptism is an ordinance which a man may never receive, and yet be a true Christian and be saved. The case of the penitent thief is sufficient to prove this. Here was a man who repented, believed, was converted, and gave evidence of true grace, if any one ever did. We read of no one else to whom such marvellous words were addressed as the famous sentence, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." (Luke xxiii. 42.) And yet there is not the slightest proof that this man was ever baptized at all! Without baptism and the Lord's Supper he received the highest spiritual blessings while he lived, and was with Christ in paradise when he died! To assert, in the face of such a case, that baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation is something monstrous. To say that baptism is the only means of regeneration, and that all who die unbaptized are lost for ever, is to say that which cannot be proved by Scripture, and is revolting to common sense.
I leave this part of my subject here. I commend the seven propositions which I have laid down to the serious attention of all who wish to obtain clear views about Baptism. In considering the two Sacraments of the Christian religion, I hold it to be of primary importance to put away from us the vagueness and mysteriousness with which too many surround them. Above all, let us be careful that we believe neither more nor less about them than we can prove by plain texts of Scripture.
There is a Baptism which is absolutely necessary to salvation, beyond all question. There is a Baptism without which no one, whether old or young, has ever gone to heaven. But what baptism is this? It is not the baptism of xvaicr, but the inward baptism which the Holy Ghost gives to the heart. It is not a baptism which any man can offer, whether ordained or unordained. It is the baptism which it is the special privilege of the Lord Jesus Christ to give to all His mystical members. It is not a baptism which man's eye can see, but an invisible operation on the inward nature. "Baptism," says St. Peter, "saves us." But what baptism does he tell us he means? Not the washing of water," not the putting away the filth of the flesh." (1 Peter iii. 21.) "By one spirit are we all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. xii. 13.) It is the peculiar prerogative of the Lord Jesus to give this inward and spiritual baptism. "He it is," said John the Baptist, "which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." (John i. 33.)
Let us take heed that we know something of this saving baptism, the inward baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without this it signifies little what we think about the baptism of water. No man, whether High Churchman or Low Churchman, Baptist or Episcopalian, no man was ever yet saved without the baptism of the Holy Ghost. It is a weighty and true saying of the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in the reign of Edward VI.,—" By the baptism of water we are received into the outward Church of God: by the baptism of the Spirit into the inward." (Bucer, on John i. 33.)
II. Let us now consider the mode of Baptism. In rvhat xvay ought it to be administered?
This is a point on which a wide difference of opinion prevails. Some Christians maintain strongly that complete immersion in water is absolutely necessary and essential to make a valid baptism. They hold that no person is really baptized unless he is entirely "dipped," and covered over with water. Others, on the contrary, maintain with equal decision that immersion is not necessary at all, and that sprinkling, or pouring a small quantity of water on the person baptized, fulfils all the requirements of Christ.
My own opinion is distinct arid decided, that Scripture leaves the point an open question. I can find nothing in the Bible to warrant the assertion that either dipping, or pouring, or sprinkling, is essential to baptism. I believe it would be impossible to prove that either way of baptizing is exclusively right, or that either is downright wrong. So long as water is used in the name of the Trinity, the precise mode of administering the ordinanco is left an open question.
This is the view adopted by the Church of EnglandThe Baptismal Service expressly sanctions "dipping" in the most plain terms* To say, as many Baptists do, that the Church of England is opposed to baptism by immersion, is a melancholy proof of the ignorance in which many Dissenters live. Thousands, I am afraid, find fault with the Prayer-book without having ever examined its contents! If anyone wishes to be baptized by " dipping" in the Church of England, let him understand that the parish clergyman is just as ready to dip him as the Baptist minister, and that he may be baptized by " immersion" in church as well as in chapel.
There is a large body of Christians, however, who are not satisfied with this moderate view of the question. They will have it that baptism by dipping or immersion is the only Scriptural baptism. They say that all the persons whose baptism we read of in the Bible were "dipped." They hold, in short, that where there is no immersion there is no baptism.
I fear it is almost waste of time to attempt to say anything on this much-disputed question. So much has been written on both sides without effect, during the last two hundred years, that I cannot hope to throw any new light on the subject. The utmost that I shall try to do is to suggest a few considerations to any whose minds are in doubt. I only ask them to remember that I do not say that baptism by " dipping" is positively wrong. All I say is, that it is not absolutely necessary, and is not absolutely commanded in Scripture.
* The rubric of the Prayer-book sa Infants says,—"If the godfather aaJr^J^nWher shall CSjijfy to "tlfe/^. priest that the child may well endireffi be shal|Jjp"-*^the water" discreetly and warily." / ^ THEOLOGICAL
SEMINARY A'EW \OV*>j
I ask, then, any doubting mind to consider whether it is in the least probable that all the cases of baptism described in Scripture were cases of complete immersion? The three thousand baptized in one day at the feast of Pentecost (Acts ii. 41),—the jailer at Philippi suddenly baptized at midnight in prison (Acts xvi. 33)—is it at all likely or probable that they were all "dipped"? To my own mind, trying to take an impartial view, it seems in the highest degree improbable. Let those believe it who can.
I ask any one to consider, furthermore, whether it is at all probable that a mode of baptism would have been enjoined as necessary, which in some climates is impracticable? At the North and South Poles, for example, the temperature, for many months, is many degrees below freezing point. In Tropical countries, on the other hand, water is often so extremely scarce that it is almost impossible to find enough for common drinking purposes. Now will any maintain that in such climates there can be no baptism without "immersion "? Will any one tell us that in such climates it is really necessary that every candidate for baptism should be completely "dipped"? Let those believe it who can.
I ask any one to consider, further, whether it is at all probable that a mode of baptism would have been enjoined which, in some conditions of health, is simply impossible. There are thousands of persons whose lungs and general constitution are in so delicate a state that total immersion in water and especially in cold water, would be certain death to thom. Now will any maintain that such persons ought to he debarred from baptism unless they are "dipped "? Let those believe it who can.
I ask any one to consider, further, whether it is probable that a mode of baptizing would be enjoined, which in many countries would practically exclude women from baptism. The sensitiveness, and strictness of Eastern nations about the treatment of their wives and daughters are notorious facts. There are many parts of the world in which women are so completely separated and secluded from the other sex, that there is the greatest difficulty in even speaking to them about religion. To talk of such an ordinance as baptizing them by "immersion" would, in hundreds of cases, be perfectly absurd. The feeliugs of fathers, husbands, and brothers, however personally disposed to Christian teaching, would be revolted by tho mention of it. And will any one maintain that such women are to be left unbaptized altogether because they cannot be " dipped "? Let those believe it who can.
I believe I might well leave the subject of the mode of haptism at this point. But there are two favourite arguments which the advocates of immersion are constantly bringing forward, about which I think it right to say something.
(a) One of these favourite arguments is based on the meaning of the Greek word in the New Testament, which we translate " to baptize" It is constantly asserted that this word can mean nothing else but dipping, or complete "immersion." The reply to this argument is short and isimple. The assertion is utterly destitute of foundation. Those who are best acquainted with New Testament Greek are decidedly of opinion that to baptize means " to wash or cleanse with water," but whether by immersion or not must be entirely decided by the context. We read in St. Luke (xi. 38) that when our Lord dined with a certain Pharisee "the Pharisee marvelled that He had not
first washed before dinner." "It may surprise some readers, perhaps, to hear that these words would have been rendered more literally, "that He had not first been baptized before dinner."—Yet it is evident to common sense that the Pharisee could not have expected our Lord to immerse or dip Himself over head in water before dining! It simply means that he expected Him to perform some ablution, or to pour water over His hands, before the meal. But if this is so, what becomes of the argument that to baptize always means complete "immersion"? It is cut from under the feet of the advocate of "dipping," and to reason further about it is mere waste of time.
(b) Another favourite argument in favour of baptism by immersion is drawn from the expression "buried with Christ in baptism," which St. Paul uses on two occasions. (Rom. vi. 4; Col. ii. 12.) It is asserted that going down into the water of baptism, and being completely " dipped" under it, is an exact figure of Christ's burial and coming up out of the grave, and represents our union with Christ and participation in all the benefits of His death and resurrection. But unfortunately for this argument there is no proof whatever that Christ's burial was a going down into a hole dug in the ground. On the contrary, it is far more probable that His grave was a cave cut out of the side of a rock, like that of Lazarus, and on a level with the surrounding ground. Such, at least, was the common mode of burying round Jerusalem. At this rate there is no resemblance whatever between going down into a bath, or baptistry, and the burial of our Lord. The actions are not like one another. That by profession of a lively faith in Christ at baptism a believer declares his union with Christ, both in His death and resurrection, is undoubtedly true. But to say that in "going down into the water" he is burying his body, just as his Master's body was burieil in the grave, is to say what cannot be proved.
In saying ail this I should be very sorry to be mistaken. God forbid that I should wound the feelings of any brother who has conscientious scruples on this subject, and prefers baptism by dipping to baptism by sprinkling. I condemn him not. To his own Master he stands or falls. He that conscientiously prefers dipping may be dipped in the Church of England, and have all his children dipped if he pleases. What I contend for is liberty. I find no certain law laid down as to the mode in which baptism is to be administered, so long as water is used in the name of the Trinity. Let every man be persuaded in his own mind. He that sprinkles or simply pours water in baptism has no right to excommunicate him that dips;—and he that dips has no right to excommunicato him that sprinkles or pours water. Neither of them can possibly prove that the other is entirely wrong.
I leave this part of my subject here. Whatever some may think, I am content to regard the precise mode of baptizing as a thing indifferent, as a thing on which every one may use his liberty. I firmly believe that this liberty was intended of God. It is in keeping with many other things in the Christian dispensation. I find nothing precise laid down in the New Testament about ceremonies, or vestments, or liturgies, or church music, or the shape of churches, or the hours of service, or the quantity of bread and wine to be used at the Lord's Supper, or the position and attitude of communicants. On all these points I see a liberal discretion allowed to the Church of Christ. So long as things are "done to edifying," the principle of the New Testament is to allow a wide liberty.
I hold firmly, myself, that the validity and benefit of baptism do not depend on the quantity of water employed, but on the state of heart in which the sacrament is used. Those who insist on every grown-up person being plunged over head in a baptistry, and those who insist on splashing an immense handful of water in the face of every tender infant they receive into the Church »t the font, arc both alike, in my judgment, greatly mistaken. Both are attaching far more importance to the quantity of water used than I can find warranted in Scripture. It has been well said by a great divine,—" A little drop of water may serve to seal the fulness of Divine grace in baptizing as well as a small piece of bread and the least tasting of wine in the Holy Supper." (Witsius Econ : Fed: 1. 4, ch. xvi. 30.) To that opinion I entirely subscribe.
III. Let us next consider the subjects of Baptism. To whom ought baptism to be administered?
It is impossible to handle this branch of the question without coming into direct collision with the opinions of others. But I hope it is possible to handle it in a kindly and temperate spirit. At any rate it is no use to avoid discussion for fear of offending Baptists. Disputed points in theology are never likely to be settled unless men on both sides will say out plainly what they think, and give their reasons for their opinions. To avoid the subject, because it is a controversial one, is neither honest nor wise. A clergyman has no right to complain that his parishioners become Baptists, if he never instructs them about infant baptism.
I begin by laying it down as a point almost undisputed, that all grown-up converts at Missionary stations among the heathen ought to be baptized. As soon as they embrace the Gospel and make a credible profession of repentance and faith in Christ, they ought at once to receive baptism. This is the doctrine and practice of Episcopal, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and Independent Missionaries, just as much as it is the doctrine of Baptists. Let there be no mistake on this point. To talk, as some Baptists do, of " believer's baptism," as if it was a kind of baptism peculiar to their own body, is simply nonsense! Believer's baptism is known and practised in every successful Protestant mission throughout the world.
But I now go a step further. I lay it down as a Christian truth that the children of all professing Christians have a right to baptism, if their parents require it, as well as their parents. Of course the children of professed unbelievers and heathen have no title to baptism, so long as they aro under the charge of their parents. But the children of professing Christians are in an entirely different position. If their fathers and mothers offer them to be baptized, the Church ought to receive them in baptism, and has no right to refuse them.
It is precisely at this point that the grave division of opinion exists between the body of Christians called Baptists aud the greater part of Christians throughout the world. The Baptist asserts that no one ought to be baptized who does not make a personal profession of repentance and faith, and that as children cannot do this they ought not to be baptized. I think that this assertion is not borne out by Scripture, and I shall proceed to give the reasons why I think so. I believe it can be shown that the children of professing Christians have a right to baptism, and that it is a complete mistake not to baptize them.
Let me remind the reader at the outset, that the question under consideration is not the Baptismal Service of the Church of England. Whether that service is right or wrong,—whether it is useful to have godfathers and godmothers,—are not the points in dispute. It is mere waste of time to say anything about them.* The question before us is simply whether infant baptism is right in principle. That it is right is held by Presbyterians, Independents, ;.nd Methodists, who use no Prayer-book, just as stoutly as it is by Churchmen. To the consideration of this one question I shall strictly confine myself. There is not the slightest necessary connection between the Liturgy and infant baptism. I heartily wish that some people would remember this. To insist on dragging in the Liturgy, and mixing it up with the abstract question of infant baptism, is not a sign of good logic, fairness, or common sense.
* Readers who wish to examine the true meaning of the Baptismal Service, are requested to read the paper in this volume, called "I'rayer Book Statements about Regeneration."
Let me clear the way, furthermore, by observing that I will not be drawn away from the real point at issue by the ludicrous descriptions which Baptists often give of the abiwe of infant baptism. No doubt it is easy for popular writers and preachers among the Baptists, to draw a vivid picture of an ignorant, prayerless couple of peasants, bringing an unconscious infant to bo sprinkled at the font by a careless sporting parson! It is easy to finish off the picture by saying, "What good can infant baptism do?" Such pictures are very amusing perhaps, but they are no argument against the principle of infant baptism. The abuse of a thing is no proof that it ought to be disused and is wrong. Moreover, those who live in glass-houses had better not throw stones. Strange pictures might be drawn of what happens sometimes in chapels at adult baptisms! But I forbear. I want the reader to look not at pictures but at Scriptural principles.
Let me now supply a few simple reasons why I hold, in common with all Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Independents throughout the world, that infant baptism is a right thing, and that in denying baptism to children the Baptists are mistaken. The reasons are as follows.
(a) Children were admitted into the Old Testament Church by a formal ordinance, from the time of Abraham downwards. That ordinance was circumcision. It was an ordinance which God himself appointed, and the neglect of which was denounced as a great sin. It was an ordinance about which the highest language is used in the New Testament. St. Paid calls it "a seal of the righteousness of faith." (Rom. ii. 4.) Now if children 'vera considered to be capable of admission into the Church by an ordinance in the Old Testament, it is difficult to see why they cannot be admitted in the New. The general tendency of the Gospel is to increase men's spiritual privileges and not to diminish them. Nothing, I believe, would astonish a Jewish convert so much as to tell him his children could not be baptized!" If they are fit to receive circumcision," he would reply, " why are they not fit to receive baptism?" And my own firm conviction has long been that no Baptist could give him an answer. In fact I never heard of a converted Jew becoming a Baptist, and I never saw an argument against infant baptism that might not have been equally directed sgainst infant circumcision. No man, I suppose, in his sober senses, would presume to say that infant circumcision was wrong.
(6) The baptism of children is nowherc forbidden in the New Testament. There is not a single text, from Matthew to Revelation, which either directly or indirectly hints that infants should not be baptized. Some, perhaps, may see little in this silence. To my mind it is a silence full of meaning and instruction. The first Christians, be it remembered, were many of them by birth Jews. They had been accustomed in the Jewish Church, before their conversion, to have their children admitted into churchmembership by a solemn ordinance, as a matter of course. Without a distinct prohibition from our Lord Jesus Christ. they would naturally go on with the same system of proceeding, and bring their children to be baptized. But we find no such prohibition t That absence of a prohibition, to my mind, speaks volumes. It satisfies mo that no change was intended by Christ about children. If He had intended a change He would have said something to teach it. But He says not a word! That very silence is, to my mind, a most powerful and convincing argument. As God commanded Old Testament children to be circumcised, so God intends New Testament children to be baptized.
(c) The baptism of households is specially mentioned in the New Testament. We read in the Acts that Lydia was haptized "and her household," and that the jailer of Philippi "was haptized: he and all his." (Acts xvi. 15,33.) We read in the Epistle to the Corinthians that St. Paul baptized "the household of Stephanas." (1 Cor. i. 16.) Now what meaning would any one attach to these expressions, if be had no theory to maintain, and could view them dispassionately? Would he not explain the "household " to include young as well as old,—children as well as grown-up people? Who doubts when he reads the words of Joseph in Genesis,—" take food for the famine of your households" (Gen. xlii. 33); or,—" take your father and your households and come unto me" (Gen. xlv. 18), that children are included? Who can possibly deny that when God said to Noah, "Come thou and all thy house into the ark," He meant Noah's sons ? (Gen. vii. 1.) For my own part I cannot see how these questions can be answered without establishing the principle of infant baptism. Admitting most fully that it is not directly said that St . Paul baptized little children, it seems to my mind the highest probability that the "households" he baptized comprised children as well as grown-up people.
(d) The behaviour of our Lord Jesus Christ to little 1 children, as recorded in the Gospels, is very peculiar and
full of meaning. The well-known passage in St. Mark is an instance of what I mean. "They brought young children * to Him, that He should touch them: and His disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I
* In the parallel passage in St. Luke's Gospel the word "infants" is used, and the Greek word so rendered can only be used of infants too young to speak or be called intelligent.
say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, anu blessed them." (Mark x. 13—16.)
Now I do not pretend for a moment to say that this passage is a direct proof of infant baptism. It is nothing of the kind. But I do say that it supplies a curious answer to some of the arguments in common use among those who object to infant baptism. That infants are capable of receiving some benefit from our Lord, that the conduct of those who would have kept them from Him was wrong in our Lord's eyes, that He was ready and willing to bless them, even when they were too young to understand what He said or did,—all these things stand out as clearly as if written with a sunbeam! A direct argument in favour of infant baptism the passage certainly is not. But a stronger indirect testimony it seems to me impossible to conceive.
I might easily add to these arguments. I might strengthen the position I have taken up by several considerations which seem to me to deserve very serious attention.
I might show, from the writings of old Dr. Lightfoot, that the baptism of little children was a practice with which the Jews were perfectly familiar. When proselytes were received into the Jewish Church by baptism, before our Lord Jesus Christ came, their infants were received, and baptized with them, as a matter of course.
I might show that infant baptism was uniformly practised by all the early Christians. Every Christian writer of any repute during the first 1,500 years after Christ, with the single exception perhaps of Tertullian, speaks of infant baptism as a custom which the Church has always maintained.
I might show that the vast majority of eminent Christians from the period of the Protestant Keformation down to the present day, have maintained the right of infants to be baptized. Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, and all the Continental Reformers,—Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, and all the English Reformers,—the great body of all the English Puritans,—the whole of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Independent, and Methodist Churches of the present day,—are all of one mind on this point. They all hold infant baptism!
But I will not weary the reader by going over this ground. I will proceed to notice two arguments which are commonly used against infant baptism, and are thought by some to be unanswerable. Whether they really are so I will leave the reader to judge.
(1) The first favourite argument against infant baptism is the entire absence of any direct text or precept in its favour in the New Testament. "Show me a plain text," says many a Baptist, "commanding me to baptize little children. Without a plain text the thing ought not to be done."
I reply, for one thing, that the absence of any text about infant baptism is, to my mind, one of the strongest evidences in its favour. That infants were formally admitted into the Church by an outward ordinance, for 1800 years before Christ came, is a fact that cannot be denied. Now if He had meant to change the practice, and exclude infants from baptism, I should expect to find some plain text about it. But I find none, and therefore I conclude that there was to be no alteration and no change. The very absence of any direct command, on which the Baptists lay such stress, is, in reality, one of the strongest arguments against them! No change and therefore no text!
But I reply, for another thing, that the absence of some plain text or command is not a sufficient argument against infant baptism. There are not a few things which can be proved and inferred from Scripture, though they are not plainly and directly taught. Let the Baptist show us a single plain text which directly warrants the admission of women to the Lord's Supper.—Let him show us one which directly teaches the keeping of the Sabbath on the first day of the week instead of the seventh.—Let him show us one which directly forbids gambling. Any wellinstructed Baptist knows that it cannot be done. But, surely if this is the case, there is an end of this famous argument against infant baptism! It falls to the ground.
(2) The second favourite argument against infant baptism is the inability of infants to repent and believe. "What can be more monstrous," says many a Baptist, "than to administer an ordinance to an unconscious babe? It cannot possibly know anything of repentance and faith, and therefore it ought not to be baptized. The Scripture says, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;' and,' Repent, and be baptized.'" (Mark xvi. 16; Acts ii. 38.)
In reply to this argument, I ask to be shown a single text which says that nobody ought to be baptized until he repents and believes. I shall ask in vain. The texts just quoted prove conclusively that grown up people who repent and believe when Missionaries preach the Gospel to them, ought at once to be baptized. But they do not prove that their children ought not to be baptized together with them, even though they are too young to believe. I find St. Paul baptized "the household of Stephanas" (1 Cor. i. 16); but I do not find a word about their telieving at the time of their baptism. The truth is that the often-quoted texts, " He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,"—and "Eepent ye, and be baptized," will never carry the weight that Baptists lay upon them. To assert that they forbid any one to be baptized unless he repents and believes, is to put a meaning on the words which they were never meant to bear. They leave the whole question of infants entirely out of sight. The text " nobody shall be baptized except he repents and believes." would no doubt have been a very conclusive one. Eat such a text cannot be found!
After all, will anyone tell us that an intelligent profession of repentance and faith is absolutely necessary to salvation? Would even the most rigid Baptist say that because infants cannot believe, all infants must bo damned? Yet our Lord said plainly, " He that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark xvi. 16.)—Will any man pretend to say that infants cannot receive grace and the Holy Ghost? John the Baptist, we know, was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb. (Luke i. 15.)— Will anyone dare to tell us that infants cannot be elect,— cannot be in the covenant,—cannot be members of Christ, -—cannot be children of God,—cannot have new hearts,— cannot be born again,—cannot go to heaven when they die ?—These are solemn and serious questions. I cannot believe that any well-informed Baptist would give them any but one answer. Yet surely those who may be members of the glorious Church above, may be admitted to the Church below! Those who are washed with the blood of Christ, may surely be washed with the water of baptism! Those who can be capable of being baptized with the Holy Ghost, may surely be baptized with water! Let these things be calmly weighed. I have seen many arguments against infant baptism, which, traced to their logical conclusion, are arguments against infant salvation, and condemn all infants to eternal ruin!
I leave this part of my subject here. I am almost ashamed of having said so much about it. But the times in which we live are my plea and justification. I do not write so much to convince Baptists, as to establish and confirm Churchmen. I have often been surprised to see how ignorant some Churchmen are of the grounds on which infant baptism may be defended. If I have done anything to show Churchmen the strength of their own position, I feel that I shall not have written in vain.
IV. Let us now consider, in the last place, what position baptism ought to hold in our religion.
This is a point of great importance. In matters of opinion man is ever liable to go into extremes. Iu nothing does this tendency appear so strongly as in the matter of religion. In no part of religion is man in so much danger of erring, either on the right hand or tho left, as about the Sacraments. In order to arrive at a settled judgment about baptism, we must beware both of the error of defect, and of the error of excess.
We must beware, for one thing, of despising baptism. This is the error of defect. Many in the present day seem to regard it with perfect indifference. They pass it by, and give it no place or position in their religion. Because, in many cases, it seems to confer no benefit, they appear to jump to the conclusion that it can confer none. They care nothing if baptism is never named in tho sermon. They dislike to have it publicly administered iu the congregation. In short, they seem to regard the whole subject of baptism as a troublesome question, which they are determined to let alone. They are neither satisfied with it, nor without it.
Now, I only ask such persons to consider gravely, whether their attitude of mind is justified by Scripture. Let them remember our Lord's distinct and precise command to "baptize," when He left His disciples alone in the world. Let them remember the invariable practice of the Apostles, wherever they went preaching the Gospel. Let them mark the language used about baptism in several places in the Epistles. Now is it likely,—is it probable,—is it agreeable to reason and common sense that baptism can be safely regarded as a dropped subject, and quietly laid on the shelf? Surely, I think these questions cau only receive one answer.
It is simply unreasonable to suppose that the Great Head of the Church would burden His people in all ages with an empty, powerless, unprofitable institution. It is ridiculous to suppose His Apostles would speak as they do about baptism, if in no case, and under no circumstances, could it be of any use or help to man's soul. Let these things bo calmly weighed. Let us take heed, lest in fleeing from blind superstition, we are found equally blind in another way, and pour contempt on an appointment of Christ.
Wo must beware, for another thing, of malting an idol of baptism. This is the error of excess. Many in the present day exalt baptism to a position which nothing in Scripture can possibly justify. If they hold infant baptism, they will tell you that the grace of tho Holy Ghost invariably accompanies the administration of the ordinance,—that in every case, a seed of Divine life is implanted in the heart, to which all subsequent religious movement must be traced,—and that all baptized children are, as a matter of course, born again, and made partakers of the Holy Ghost!—If they do not hold infant baptism, they will tell you that to go down into the water with a profession of faith and repentance is the very turning-point in a man's religion,—that until we have gone down into the water we are nothing,—and that w4ien we have gone clown into the water, we have taken the first step toward heaven! It is notorious that manv High Churchmen and Baptists hold these opinions, though not all. And I say that, although they may not mean it, they are practically making an idol of baptism.
I ask all persons who hold these exceedingly high and lofty views of baptism, to consider seriously what warrant they have in the Bible for their opinions. To quote texts in which the greatest privileges and blessings are connected with baptism, is not enough. What we want are plain texts which show that these blessings and privileges are alivays and invariably conferred. The question to be settled is not whether a child may be born again and receive grace in baptism, but whether all children are born again, and receive grace when they are baptized.— The question is not whether an adult may " put on Christ" when he goes down into the water, but whether all do as a matter of course. Surely these things demand grave and calm consideration !—It is positively wearisome to read the sweeping and illogical assertions which are often made upon this subject. To tell us, for example, that our Lord's famous words to Nicodemus (John iii. 5), teach anything more than the general necessity of being " born of water and the Spirit," is an insult to common sense. Whether all persons baptized are "born of water and the Spirit" is another question altogether, and one which the test never touches at all. To assert that it is taught; in the text, is just as illogical as the common assertion of the Baptist, when he tells you that because Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,"—therefore nobody ought to be baptized until he believes!
The right position of baptism can only be decided by a careful observation of the language of Scripture about it. Let a man read the New Testament honestly and impartially for himself. Let him come to the reading of it with an unprejudiced, fair, and unbiassed mind. Let him not bring with him preconceived ideas, and a blind reverence for the opinion of any uninspired writing, of any man, or of any set of men. Let him simply ask the question,—" What does Scripture teach about baptism, and its place in Christian theology ?"—and I have little doubt as to the concluijn he will come to. He will neither trample baptism under his feet, nor exalt it ov»r his head.
(a) He will find that baptism is frequently mentioned, and yet not so frequently as to lead us to think that it in the very first, chief, and foremost thing in Christianity. In fourteen out of twenty-one Epistles, baptism is not even named^. In five out of the remaining seven, it is only mentioned once. In one of the remaining two, it is only mentioned twice. In the two pastoral Epistles to Timothy it is not mentioned at all. There is, in short, only tone Epistle, viz., the first to the Corinthians, in which baptism is even named on more thau two occasions. And singularly enough, this is the very Epistle iu which St. Paul says, "1 thank God that I baptized none of you,"— and "Christ sent me not be baptize, but to preach the Gospel." (1 Cor. i. 14, 17.)
(b) He will find that baptism is spoken of with deep reverence, and in close connection with the highest privileges and blessings. Baptized people are said to be ," buried with Christ,"—to have "put on Christ,"—to have "risen again,"—and even (by straining a doubtful text) to have the "washing of regeneration." But he will also find that Judas Iscariot, Ananias and Sapphira, Simon Magus, and others, were baptized, and yet gave no evidence of having been born again. He will also see that in the first Epistle of John, people "born of God" are said to have certain marks and characteristics which myriads of baptized persons never possess at any period of their lives. (1 John ii. 29; iii. 9; v. 1, 4, 18.) And not least, he will find St. Peter declaring that the baptism which saves is " not the putting away the filth of the body," the mere washing of the body, but the "answer of a good conscience." (1 Peter iii. 21.)
(c) Finally, he will discover that while baptism is frequently spoken of in the New Testament, there are other subjects which are spoken of much more frequently. Faith, hope, charity, God's grace, Christ's offices, the work of the Holy Ghost, redemption, justification, the nature of Christian holiness,—all these are points about which he will find far more than about baptism. Above all, he will find, if he marks the language of Scripture about the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision, that the value of God's ordinances depends entirely on the spirit in which they are received, and tho heart of the receiver, "la Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love,—but a new creature." (Gal. v. 6; vi. 15.) "He is not a Jew, 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.)
It only remains for me now to say a few words by way of practical conclusion to the whole paper. The nature, manner, subjects, and position of baptism have heen severally considered. Let me now show the reader the special lessons to which I think attention ought to be directed.
(1) For one thing, I wish to urge on all who study the much disputed subject of baptism, the importance of aiming at simple views of this sacrament. The dim, hazy, swelling words, which are often used by writers ahout baptism, have been fruitful sources of strange and unscriptural views of the ordinance. Poets, and hymncomposers, and Romish theologians, have flooded the world with so much high-flown and rhapsodical language on the point, that the minds of many have been thoroughly swamped and confounded. Thousands have imbibed notions about baptism from poetry, without knowing it, for which they can show no warrant in God's Word. Milton's "Paradise Lost," is the sole parent of many a currentview of Satan's agency; and uninspired poetry is the sole parent of many a man's views of baptism in the present day.
Once for all, let me entreat every reader of this paper to hold no doctrine about baptism which is not plainly taught in God's Word. Let him beware of maintaining any theory, however plausible, which cannot be supported by Scripture. In religion, it matters nothing who says a thing, or how beautifully he says it. The only question we ought to ask is this,—" Is it written iu the Bible? what saith the Lord?"
(2) For another thing, I wish to urge on many of my fellow-churchmen the dangerous tendency of extravagantly high views of the efficacy of baptism. I have no wish to conceal my meaning. I refer to those Churchmen who maintain that grace invariably accompanies baptism, and that all baptized infants are in baptism born again. I ask such persons, in all courtesy and brotherly kindness, to consider seriously the dangerous tendency of their views, and the consequences which logically result from them.
They seem to me, and to many others, to degrade a holy ordinance appointed by Christ into a mere charm, which is to act mechanically, like a medicine, acting on the body, without any movement of a man's heart or soul. Surely this is dangerous!
They encourage the notion that it matters nothing in what manner of spirit people bring their children to be baptized. It signifies nothing whether they come with faith, and prayer, and solemn feelings, or whether they come careless, prayerless, godless, and ignorant as heathens! The effect, we are told, is always the same in all cases! In all cases, we are told, the infant is born again the moment it i.s baptized, although it has no right to baptism at all, except as the child of Christian parents. Surely this is dangerous!
They help forward the perilous and soul-ruining delusion that a man may have grace in his heart, while it cannot be seen in his life. Multitudes of our worshippers have not a spark of religious life or grace about them. And yet we are told that they must all be addressed as regenerate, or possessors of grace, because they have been baptized! Surely this is dangerous!
Now I firmly believe that hundreds of excellent Churchmen have never fully considered the points which I have just brought forward. I ask them to do so. For tho honour of the Hoi}7 Ghost, for the honour of Christ's holy sacraments, I invite them to consider seriously the tendency of their views. Sure am I that there is only one safe ground to take up in stating the effects of baptism, and that is the old ground stated by our Lord: "Every tree is known by his own fruit." (Luke vi. 44.) When baptism is used profanely and carelessly, we have no right to expect a blessing to follow it, any more than we expect it for a careless recipient of the Lord's Supper. When no grace can be seen in a man's life, we have no right to say that he is regenerate and received grace in baptism.
(3) For another thing, I wish to urge on all Baptists who may happen to read this paper, the duty of moderation in stating their views of baptism, and of those who disagree with them. I say this with sorrow. I respect many members of the Baptist community, and I believe they are men and women whom I shall meet in heaven. But when I mark the extravagantly violent language which some Baptists use against infant baptism, I cannot help feeling that they may be justly requested to judge more moderately of those witb whom they disagree.
Does the Baptist mean to say that his peculiar views of baptism are needful to salvation, and that nobody will be saved who holds that infants ought to be baptized? I cannot think that any intelligent Baptist in his senses would assert this. At this rate he would shut out of heaven the whole Church of England, all the Methodists, all the Presbyterians, and all the Independents! At this rate Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Baxter, Owen, Wesley, Whitfield, and Chalmers, are all lost! They all firmly maintained infant baptism, and therefore they are all in hell! I cannot believe that any Baptist would say anything so monstrous and absurd.
Does the Baptist mean to say that his peculiar views ot baptism are necessary to a high degree of grace and holineas? Will he undertake to assert that Baptists have always been the most eminent Christians in the world, and are so at this day? If he does make this asseition. he may be fairly asked to give some proof of it. But he cannot do so. He may show us, no doubt, many Baptists who are excellent Christians. But he will find it hard to prove that they are one bit better than some of the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Independents, and Methodists, who all hold that infants ought to be baptized.
Now, surely, if the peculiar opinions of the Baptists are neither necessary to salvation nor to eminent holiness, we may fairly ask Baptists to be moderate in their language about those who disagree with them. Let them, by all means, maintain their own peculiar views, if they think they have discovered a " more excellent way." Let them use their liberty and be fully persuaded in their own minds. The narrow way to heaven is wide enough for believers of every name and denomination. But for the sake of peace and charity, let me entreat Baptists to exercise moderation in their judgment of others.
(4) In the last place I wish to urge on all Christians the immense importance of giving to each part of Christianity its proper proportion and value, but nothing more. Let us beware of wresting things from their right places, and putting that which is second first, and that which is first second. Let us give all due honour to baptism and the Lord's Supper, as sacraments ordained by Christ Himself. But let us never forget that, like every outward ordinance, their benefit depends entirely on the manner in which they are received. Above all, let us never forget that while a man may be baptized, like Judas, and yet never be saved, so also a man may never be baptized, like the penitent thief, and yet may be saved.—The things 'needful to salvation are an interest in Christ's atoning 1 blood, and the presence of the Holy Ghost in the heart and life. He that is wrong on these two points will get no benefit from his baptism, whether he is baptized as an infant or grown up. He will find at the last day that he is wrong for evermore.