« PreviousContinue »
dom from prejudice, and the being not chargeable with sin in act: all which may consist with a re maining necessity of conversion. But this comment is not consistent either with the letter, or with the spirit of the passage: not with the letter; because the said Greek word designates the very persons, of whom it was immediately spoken; and not with the spirit; be. cause otherwise, the words do not contain a satisfactory reason, of the rebuke addressed to the disciples.
The sense put on the passage quoted in the lecture, from 1 Cor. vii. 14-" Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy," has been rejected in two ways. They who are dissatisfied with that sense, and yet admit infant baptism, conceive of the text as meaning no more, than that the children of believers may be admitted to the ordinance, and to its attendant privileges. But the place presumes, that on such admission, they are "saints," in the sense in which the word is applied to believing adults. They who reject infant baptism, understand by the word no more, than that the children spoken of in the passage are legiti mate. This is quite wide of the design of the apostle: because the separation of the husband and the wife, which is the matter discouraged by him, would not have illegitimated the children, already born in wedlock.
Against the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, there has been supposed a formidable objection, in what is recorded of Simon the sorcerer, in the eighth chapter of the Acts. But let it be examined. On the supposition, either that he was an hypocrite in the whole of the transaction, or that, although it is said he "believed,' his faith was not that which justifies, his name has been improperly introduced on the present subject. None doubt, that many adults have been the subjects of baptism, without the necessary qualifications of grace; while there was nothing in their conversation or in their demeanour, detracting from their profession of faith; or offering a ground, on which they could have been rejected by those who administered the ordinance.
But it is here conceived, that there is nothing in the narrative, on the ground of which we can affirm, that Simon was not for awhile a subject of grace. We are told that he " believed;" without the intimation of any disqualifying circumstance in his belief. Not only so, he continued with Philip;" who must be supposed to have interpreted what he saw of him, as indicative of a sincere conversion. It was not until the arrival of St. Peter and St. John, that Simon perceived the practicability of a conveyance of the power of working miracles. On this, his former avarice returned; as we behold, in common life, the return of bad habits of various kinds, after they had been suspended for awhile by good desires. This representation is sustained by what follows. For although St. Peter says-" I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity;" yet he implies the admission of there having been religious sensibility in the past, when he expresses himself thus-" Repent of this thy wickedness, if perhaps the thought of thine heart"-that sin. gle thought, although doubtless not independently on the state of mind suggesting it-" may be forgiven thee." And further, when the offender replies-"Pray ye to the Lord for me," it seems to show, that how ever nature and sinful habit had in a single act overcome grace, this was not entirely and irrecoverably lost. Neither the character which this man had assumed before his conversion, nor the evil actions which ecclesiastical history charges on him after his relapse, are inconsistent with the view of the subject here taken. Many a man, after vacillating between virtue and vice, has settled down in the latter, in consequence of the detection of his faults; and the indignation which rises in his mind, against those who have been privy to them; and by whom he despairs of their being forgot
The position having been maintained, that the only places in which regeneration is mentioned connect it with the ordinance of baptism; there ought not to be overlooked, that the deniers of this doctrine contend for
there being the sense of the said metaphor, in other metaphors of the New Testament. One place brought to this effect, is where we are said to be "begotten again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."* This, it is here conceived, has no reference either to outward washing, or to an inward change. The resurrection of Christ is a ground of hope to us, no otherwise than as it is a pledge of our own resurrection to eternal life. It is held on both sides, that we became subject to death in Adam. And the strong figure of being again begotten to a lively hope [or hope of life] amounts to the same as its being said, that having died in Adam, we shall be made alive in Christ.
St. John says "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." The metaphor is repeated several times by the same apostle; and this is said to mean the same with regeneration. They are certainly not the same, as to the present question; which relates, not to the Christian character generally, but to the operation whereby it is begun. It is held on both sides, that whatever there may be of holiness in man, is not from nature, but to use the words of the Tenth Article of this Church-from "the grace of God by Christ, preventing" [or going before] "us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will." Although such spiritual good may be fitly called a heavenly birth, yet this has no bearing on the question, whether it may not be considered as taking place in a transaction, wherein the aids of the Holy Spirit are covenanted to the party, whether infant or adult. The maintainers of the present doctrine have great reason to lament, that they should be misunderstood by their opponents, as denying either the necessity of inward holiness, or the source from which alone it can proceed.
The doctrine of this dissertation being directly opposed to the opinion, that the subjects of infant ti. 3, 9.
* 1 Pet, i. 3.
baptism are under the wrath of God, until they be come also the subjects of a succeeding conversion; it may be proper to state the scriptural meaning of this substantive, and of its correlative verb-" to convert."
Neither of them is used in the New Testament, otherwise than as applied to a change either from heathenism to Christianity; or from a sinful state of mind or conduct, to its opposite. The substan tive appears only in acts, xv. 3; where we read of St. Paul and St. Barnabas, that "they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles." The verb, in its various inflections, is used in four passages-Matt. xiv. 15. -Matt. xviii. 3.*-Luke, xxxii. 32.-James, v. 19, 20. Doubtless, the true sense of these texts is contained in many others, under a variety of expression; and especially in all those, which call sinners to repentance. But such texts are not usually misapplied, to the support of the sentiment here rejected.
In the lecture, the primitive Church was mentioned, as testifying to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. That the fathers of the Church uniformly make use of language to this effect, is so generally conceded, as to dispense with the necessity of reciting passages from their works. The present author does not recollect a single instance of the opposite opinion, ascribed to any early writer; until, on reading Dr. Doddridge's postscript to his Sermons on Regeneration, he found this worthy and learned man acknowledging, that the fathers from about the middle of the second century, speak as here represented; but denying that this is universally the case. The only instance, however, which he alleges to the contrary, is from Clement
The repetitions in the other evangelists and in the Acts, of the passage of the Old Testament there quoted, 'are considered as making one with this place.
of Alexandria;* who, speaking of a sinful woman, holds out the hope of salvation to her, in the event of her being regenerated. Great was the surprise, at learning this solitary exception to the sense of antiquity; until, on consultation of the work of the Greek Father, he was perceived evidently to be speaking not of a baptized, but of a Jewish woman: which it is here supposed will be seen to be the meaning of Clement, on a reference to the place.t
When the language of the fathers is spoken of as uniform to the present point, it must be understood with the exception of their applying of the term "Regeneration," to the renewal of the visible universe; conformably to the use of the same word in Matt. xix. 28, as explained above. And the explanation which has been given of that text derives considerable weight from the passages now referred to, in the writings of the fathers.
So incorporated was the doctrine with the creed of the primitive Church; that when St. Austin introduced into theology some doctrines confessedly not taught by the fathers who went before him, he hesitated to pursue them into their consequences, in reference to the present subject, and at the expense of what he must have known to have been held always and every where. Under the pressure
Stromata, lib. ii.
Why should Dr. Doddridge have taken his stand from the middle of the second century? Justin, who wrote rather before that date, cannot be denied to have been express to the point, in his Apology: which, considering the reputation of the work, ought to be considered, not so much the ex-pression of the sense of an individual, as of that of the Church through bim. Even of the scanty remains of authors between the apostles and Justin, there are not wanting expressions to the same effect: and as for any thing militating with the sentiment, no such matter has ever been alleged.
In any mention which may be made of the aforesaid work of Dr. Doddridge, it is not intended to deny, that there is therein much edifying matter; nor to lessen the weight of it on any person's mind.