Page images

tion of the various passages concerning baptism, is this. The internal disposition signified by the ceremony-.i. e. the determination to begin a new life according to Christian principles, was the essential condition demanded.

The external ceremony would be performed or omitted, would take place in a variety of manners, according to circumstances. In most cases, to be baptized, would mean some external application of water ; but probably, in many of the passages above mentioned, the word is used, not for the external symbol, but for the thing signified, i. e. admission into the Christian society. The names of such symbols are so used in all languages. In our universities, a man rejected as incompetent for a degree, is said to be plucked, because any of the masters present, when the grace is granted, may exclude the candidate by plucking the proctor's long sleeves. Xu gotovew, which literally expresses the putting up the hands, means election, in all manner forms.

Thus ψηφισμα signifies a decree, though pebbles, from the Greek name of which the word is derived, might not be employed to vote.

Some readers may have expected to find the words of Christ to Nicodemus, · Except a man be baptized of water and the spirit,' &c. &c., in the preceding collection of passages. But in regard to those words it should be observed that at the time when they were uttered the Christian baptism of the present question had not been instituted. Whatever is there said of water must have been understood according to the practice well known

among the Jews. The same uncertainty therefore must remain in regard to the method of using the water which has been shown to exist in all the preceding passages.

Now, the existence of all these doubts is an unquestionable fact ; what conclusion are we to draw ? Unquestionably this: that whatever has been left in this state of doubt cannot be considered as a matter of vital importance in Christianity. The contrary supposition is opposed to every clear notion of the character of God which we derive from the spirit of the New Testament.

Shall we then give up the practice of baptism? I answer, let every one employ it or not as his feelings and notions may lead him. But let all enlightened Christians endeavour to dispel the widely extended superstition, which makes people look on baptism as a charm which may fail of effect by any inaccuracy in the manner of using it, and the omission of which endangers the soul even of infants. We have no directions similar to the accurate prescriptions of the books of Magic. Minute directions have not only been omitted, but every thing relating to the method of baptism has been left in a state of positive obscurity and confusion. Christians who consider such things as essential, and, as such, expect to find them in the Scripture, if their minds are not subdued by superstition, are greatly and painfully perplexed. This cannot happen by accident, or from an oversight of the founder of Christianity. If Christians cannot satisfactorily find what they look for as essential, they should conclude that the supposition, under which they search, is wrong. Nature supplies man with every thing necessary to life; would Grace be more niggardly, and deceitful ?

The next question may be, How does all this affect the point of infant baptism? I think it is the only view that justifies it. Since the application of water is only a sign of admission into the body Christians; since baptism is not a charm in which a supernatural change is to follow an external action, in the order of cause and effect; since the application of water is not necessarily simultaneous with the real or spiritual baptism, i. e. the voluntary dedication to God's service under the guidance of Christ; and, lastly, since the latter can take place at any time, with or without any external ceremony; the ceremony of baptism may be used with advantage during infancy; or, to speak more correctly, and according to result of the foregoing examination, it should be used in infancy, or never. The baptism of grownup people implies a belief of a necessity, which, as we have seen, is disproved by the vagueness of the New Testament on that point. From every thing we have observed, we must avoid encouraging such a belief as, one which is erroneous and mischievous. But the practice of infant baptism, once cleared of the superstitious notions which are connected with it, may have an actual moral effect on the parents and other persons connected, through them, with the infant; and a prospective utility in regard to the infant itself.

A child who, on the first dawning of reason, should learn that he has been solemnly devoted (baptized : See the sense of the word, Matt. xx. 22, 23, as explained above,) to God as one who, from his birth, was intended to be a disciple of Christ, will naturally wish to become acquainted with that great and glorious Saviour of mankind; and if the parents know how to present a true picture of him to the opening mind, its first affections will be fixed on that perfect model of humanity. This will be the true regeneration, the true new birth of the infant, into the moral, the mental, the spiritual world, out of the mere animal existence to which the will of the flesh, brought it, not only unconscious of a higher destination, but the most helpless and wretched being among the tribes of the mere animal creation.

ut sævis projectus ab undis Navita, nudus, humi infans, indigus omni

ut æquum est Cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum.-Lucret. V. 224. et seq.

Vitali auxilio.

The postponement of baptism 'to an adult age is morally dangerous ; and the danger increases in proportion to the superstitious notions entertained of its efficacy, by the persons who intend to receive it. The expectancy of a charm which can wash away past sins, naturally encourages the commission of sins. Even if this degree of danger should be escaped, it is difficult not to incur that of moral negligence, during a period when the mind thinks itself still unengaged to fulfil the full duty of a Christian. Even confirmation (putting aside the hierarchical trick which derives its efficacy from the hands of the bishop) is frequently found to have a similar effect on many among the uneducated classes. During the early ages that infant baptism had not become a general practice, there was a very prevalent feeling that it was prudent to defer that supposed method of restoring innocence, till the passions of youth had had full sway. St. Augustin expressly tells us, in his Confessions, that this was the advice of his mother's Christian friends, in regard to himself. Most people, indeed, delayed baptism to their dying hour, in order that the unlimited efficacy of that charm should not be wasted on a few moral stains. 'This was the case of Constantine, called the Great, the murderer of his eldest son, and of his own wife : a man, who, in the pursuit of exclusive empire, despised the laws of religion, as well as those of common humanity; but who, especially as he advanced in age, showed the highest degree of superstition and puerile vanity, and, as it happens not unfrequently to the thoroughly superstitious and ignorant, found confidence and repose in the methods of priestly delusion. He was solemnly baptized when dying; and declared upon coming out of the fount, that he felt himself totally relieved from the impressions of guilt, and blessed again with the unsuspecting serenity of infantine innocence.

Even the absurd practice of employing sponsors—that practice which, in connexion with the orthodox doctrine, implies the acknowledgment of the insuperable objection which the unconsciousness of the principal contracting party presents might be retained with advantage. It would be indeed affecting and sublime, to see some respected friends of the parents engaging solemnly to be second fathers and mothers to the child. This would be really a spiritual relationship to all the parties concerned. I would of course have the sponsors present. The proxies of proxies, almost universally employed in the Church of England, is a kind of double-distilled absurdity. Rational grounds of friendly connections, of what might well be called relationships by choice, should be established, and multiplied as much as possible. Our social nature admits them, and pure Christianity, the religion which considers mankind as one family, is most ready to adopt them.

The practice of making the parents themselves sponsors for their children, is the most positive and solemn recognition of the erroneous notion from which the supposed necessity of sponsors arose; namely, the idea that a moral engagement is necessary to give efficacy to the supposed charm, and that such an engagement can be made in the name of an unconscious child.



( Continued from page 561.) Having considered, at some length, the arguments usually adduced in favour of an Established Religion in alliance with the State, it remains for us to notice the objections which are made to such an Establishment by those who dissent from it.

The first, and most important, of these is, that it confers on the chief magistrate an authority in religious affairs which belongs only to Christ, consituting the head of the Government the head of the Church. Of the Christian Church Christ is the only legitimate head, deriving the authority he claimed from God : it is, therefore, an unjustifiable usurpation of spiritual power in any temporal prince to assume ecclesiastical supremacy-such a supremacy not being sanctioned by divine prescription, and incapable, from its very nature, of being conferred by any civil compact, or institution merely human. Could it be proved that a whole people had, at any time, by common consent, and by solemn league and covenant, invested their sovereign with full power to govern the Church as well as the State, even this unanimous consent of a whole nation would not confer upon the monarch a legitimate right to exercise such a power, since his subjects could not justly bestow it: this right belonging solely to the Deity, to whom alone man is responsible in religious matters; his responsibility necessarily arising out of the relation in which he stands to God, as the creature of his formation, so that it is incapable of being transferred to any other person, except by divine appointment, without a direct and fearful violation of the solemn duty every human being owes to his Maker. Spiritual power, however, has seldom, if ever, been conferred on princes by the consent of even a majority of their subjects—it has generally been a double usurpation, an usurpation of the rights belonging to man, as well as of those belonging to God. This truth is written on the page of Ecclesiastical History in characters too strong to render it questionable; and a most striking confirmation of it is afforded by the origin and progress of the Church of England up to the period when it was established in its present form.

It is a well known fact, that at the commencement of the reign of Henry VIII. this kingdom acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope, the king himself having written a book against Luther, for which the Roman Pontiff conferred upon him the title of Defender of the Faith—a title which, with admirable inconsistency, it may here be observed, has ever since been retained by the Kings and Queens of England, though some of the most important articles of that faith, in support of which Henry's book was written, (being a defence of the Seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church), have been rejected by them as unscriptural: no sooner, however, had the Pope refused to sanction the divorce of the licentious monarch from his lawful wife, than he renounced the supremacy of the head of the Catholic Church, and procured an act of parliament, by which he was himself declared to be sole and supreme head of the Church of England. Other acts, of a still more despotic nature, were soon passed, by which all ecclesiastical authority was transferred to the king; in the exercise of which he suppressed the monasteries and abbies, augmenting his revenue by the immense profits arising from the rents of the lands, and the sale of the effects belonging to them, and, at the same time, greatly curtailed the incomes of the richest sees, appropriating to himself and his courtiers a large portion of the landed property from which they arose.

In the exercise of the same authority, enlarged and confirmed, he sent circular letters to the Bishops, forbidding all preaching through the kingdom, till he had published certain articles of religion, which, afterwards framed by himself, his subjects were required to receive; the heaviest penalties being denounced against all who refused submission to them. He further issued injunctions to regulate the behaviour of the clergy, whom he denied all power in ecclesiastical affairs; and he finally published, under the sanction of parliament, a statute, ‘for the abolishing of diversity of opinions in certain articles concerning the Christian religion, which was ordered to be read once a quarter in all churches, and to be enforced by the most dreadful punishments ; in reference to which it has been significantly and appropriately termed, the bloody statute.' Now, it cannot be supposed that all this spiritual authority was voluntarily conceded to the king by the unanimous consent of the whole nation, or that, in sanctioning the usurpation of it by this despotic monarch, the parliament acted in strict conformity with the wishes of the people : a great majority of them, as well as of the clergy, being, doubtless, still Čatholics in principle. In the reign of a tyrannic prince, parliaments are generally subservient to his will, and seldom speak the voice of the nation: nor can we suppose it to have been otherwise at this period of our history, when the power of the Crown was much

« PreviousContinue »