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SELECT SUBJECTS IN THE LECTURES.
OF BAPTISMAL REGENERATION. *
Passages of Scripture.-Jewish Proselytism.-Other Passages. Passages objected.-Conversion.-Fathers.-This Church.-Ground of Defence of Infant Baptism.-Objec. tions.Novelty and Origin of the opposite Opinion.
THE importance of this subject, induces a further
illustration of it.
The word "regeneration" is used in two places in the New Testament-those quoted in the lecture from Tit. iii. 6; and Matt. xix. 28.
The former speaks of "the washing of regeneration:" and the original word, being a case either of a noun signifying the vessel in which washing is performed, or of another noun denoting the water used in washing; it has been contended, that there is no dependence on the former, as the sense of the place. It was intimated in the lecture, that the word may be translated "the laver." But whether the vessel or the water be intended, the difference does not essentially affect the argument.
The other place mentioned-"ye that have followed me in the regeneration"-is here conceived to have no
See Lecture I.
relation to the present subject. The verse is generally improperly pointed in our Bibles. The true sense of it is thus given correctly and eloquently by Dr. Doddridge, in his Family Expositor-" In the great renovation of all things, when all the children of God shall as it were, be born anew from their graves; when created nature shall put on its fairest forms to receive them; and the Son of Man, presiding over that august assembly, shall sit on the throne of his glory, exalted above the highest angels of God; you also, my faithful apostles, shall sit around me upon twelve radiant thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
The expression "born again," is used in two passages of Scripture John' iii. 3, 7; and 1 Pet. i. 23. The latter of these places has no bearing on the subject, being not especially connected with initiation to grace. But the former, in the expression of" born of water and of the spirit," creates a connexion between the operation of grace on the heart, and the rite of baptism the appointed way of making a profession of faith in the Redeemer; in contrariety to the false shame, which had brought Nicodemus to him under cover of the night, and was the fault to be reproved.
Unless this had been the matter, to which there was to be opposed the necessity of a new birth, no reason can be given for recording the circumstance of night: much less for its being again introduced in chapter nineteenth, verse thirty-eighth. For Nicodemus being mentioned again, he is recognized as the person "who at first came to Jesus by night:" perhaps to show the great change of character which had now taken place, in this member of the sanhedrim.
The association thus affirmed to be made, between the baptism of the spirit and the baptism of water, is much sustained by a custom anciently prevailing among the Jews, of applying the term "born again," to the receiving of a proselyte from heathenism; and of superadding baptism to circumcision, on such an occasion. And this explains what is said in the tenth verse-Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest
not these things?" Independently on the said custom, there seems to have been nothing in the Jewish law, demonstrating faulty ignorance in Nicodemus.
That there was the custom referred to, is thought. to be manifested by its being expressly testified in the Talmuds of the Jews: And in particular, their great doctor Maimonides is appealed to on this point. Some learned men, however, have denied that there is any evidence of a custom, interfering so essentially with their theological system.
The reasons of adopting the opinion thus denied, shall be concisely given. It explains the tenth verse of the chapter-"Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" The ground of which does not otherwise appear. The same may be said of the twelfth verse-"If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things." Further, it accounts for the gospel's opening with the narrative of John's baptizing, under circumstances indicating that it was no novel practice; although nothing of the kind is to be found in the Jewish ritual; or had obtained during the times to which the history of the Old Testament is confined. And yet, the priests and the Levites-sent, it would seem, by the sanhedrim-demanded of him-" Why baptizest. thou then, if thou be not that Christ, neither Elias," neither that prophet?" impliedly admitting, that there would be nothing unexpected, if his baptism were the admission of proselytes to the dispensation of the Messiah, according to their own ideas of it. It is admitted on the other side, that this appendage to Jewish proselytism, if not known in the evangelical age, came into use afterwards: so that the Jews must have taken it from the Christians; than which nothing is less likely.
There are not wanting in the classicks one or two references to the Jewish custom in question. Arrian, a stoick philosopher, in his notes on Epictetus,* distin
* Lib. ii, chap. 9.
guishes between the name of a Jew and the reality. The name was common, as that of a Syrian or an Egyptian. The reality is affirmed of one who is baptized and follows the sect. That the Greek word* means baptized, although admitting a less definite signification, appears from its being opposed to an unbaptized person:+ in the case of whom there is said to be a false profession.
Sallust also, in the fifth book of his history, giving an account of the religion of the Jews, containing a strange mixture of truth and prejudice, after mention. ing circumcision as a rite among them, and saying it was conformed to by converts, adds words which will at least bear the translation, expressive of their being dipt or plunged. And that this was in the mind of the historian, appears from its being connected with the condition of their renouncing of their country and their nearest relatives: such being the extreme to which the Jews are said to have carried the qualifications of an incorporation with them.
The most plausible objection to the antiquity of such baptism, is taken from there having been no mention made of it, either by Josephus or by Philo. The former of these authors has not given an account of the worship of the synagogues, established by Nehemiah and Ezra, on the return from the captivity; which however is received as an undeniable fact, on other evidence. It would be impossible to discover from the history of Josephus, that there were synagogues at any time within his country, except from his incidental mention of a synagogue-and that not often. Neither has he spoken of the distinction between the proselytes of righteousness and those of the gate: which yet, on the evidence of the Talmuds, is received by those who reject their testimony on the other subject. As to Philo, he is said to have been more occupied by the Platonick philosophy, than by the laws and the customs of his own country. The learned Dr. Cudworth says of him-"Though a Jew by nation, he was very igno
* Βεβαμμένος. † Παραβαπτισης.
rant of Jewish customs:" and similar remarks on him are made by others. It is even objected, that nothing is found in the Apocrypha, on the subject in question. The books in which, if in any, we might expect to find it, are those of the Maccabees; because of the lateness of the times to which they belong., But they are wholly occupied by the recital of wars; no mention being made in them, of there being such places as synagogues. In the canonical books, it cannot be reasonable to look for an account of a practice, supposed to have originated later than the times in which they were written: although after its origin, there pre. vailed the fancy of tracing the resemblances of it in very early circumstances of the Israelitish history-as in the command of Jacob to his family, recorded in Gen. xxxv. 2.
To the above texts, connecting baptism with regeneration-although not under the use of this termmay be mentioned, Eph. v. 26.-"That he might cleanse it" the Church]" with the washing of water, by the word." Here, the word is the mean by which the divine agent is said to work; and yet, it was with "the washing of water," as the sign accompanying the inward grace.
In the lecture, there was quoted the passage in the tenth chapter of the gospel of St. Mark, beginning at the fourteenth verse; which recites our Lord's commanding of the little children to be brought unto him, because" of such is the kingdom of God." Every consideration which applies this to the proof of the validity of the baptism of infants, seems also to prove, that they are thereby initiated into God's kingdom the Church, in a much higher sense than that of their being put into the way of instruction. But to guard against such a consequence, a forced construction is sometimes given to the Greek word translated "such:"* as if it only related to certain properties of infancy, not indicative of rectitude of mind-simplicity-free.