I AM to speak to you this day of the offices appointed by the Church for the ministration of the sacrament of Baptism; and may God the Holy Ghost, through whose gracious influences upon our souls we were in that holy sacrament regenerated, be with us, that the Gospel propounded in this ordinance may be blessed to us, so that we may be more and more zealous to make our calling and election sure!
For Baptism, the Church of England provides us with three offices:--I. The Ministration of Public Baptism of Infants, to be used in Church; II. The Ministration of Private Baptism of Children in Houses; III. The Ministration of Baptism to such as are of Riper Years, and able to answer for themselves.
The first office is the basis of the other two; the two latter differing from it only in those matters of detail which the alteration of circumstances requires. To the Ministration of Public Baptism of Infants I shall, therefore, chiefly direct your attention, only incidentally making observations on the other offices.
And here we must commence with a few remarks on the practice of baptizing infants, as the Baptism of Infants is nowhere commanded in Scripture. The Baptism of Infants is rather the necessary result of two great doctrines, which none except heretics are found to deny; viz. that all men are conceived and born in sin; and that the inward and spiritual grace which is conveyed to the soul by the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of this sacrament, is a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness. In other words, if you believe in original sin, and if you believe that regeneration is the grace of Baptism, from this faith Infant Baptism follows as a matter of course. If you do not believe these facts, why do you bring your infants to be baptized at all? If men deny either of these facts,--either original sin, or the regenerating grace of Baptism, they can only protect themselves against the charge of superstition, by producing some express command in Scripture for the Baptism of Infants. So inconsistent are those persons who deny either the doctrine of original sin, or the doctrine of regeneration, and yet resort to Infant Baptism! But the question assumes a very different shape with us Catholic and orthodox Christians, who believe in these fundamental verities of the Bible. If our children are born under the curse of original sin; if one by one they come into the world under the Divine curse; if no one so born can escape the penalty of original sin, except through union with Christ our Saviour; and if "as many of us as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ;" if, as the Apostle says, "we are buried with Him in Baptism';" if, as St. Peter teaches us, "Baptism doth also now save us,--which, of course, it can only do by uniting us to Christ, the only Saviour; if these things be so, the Christian parent asks, not "Must I, am I commanded to bring my infant to Baptism?" but, "May I, am I permitted?" And joyful is the sound to him of his Saviour's words, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not." An ample permission! But how are they, not as yet capable of faith, to come to Jesus except through Baptism? When our Lord gave His command, that nations should be taught and baptized, because He did not exclude infants, we may argue that He intended to include them; since the Jews, in baptizing converts, baptized the children as well as adults; and to Jews who would so understand Him our Lord spake: and in like manner, when we read of the Apostles baptizing households, we may conclude that they did what their successors also have done ever since,--that they baptized the infants; for if they had not baptized infants, their omission so to do would have been expressly recorded in what was written for the instruction of Jews as well as Gentiles. So easy is it to find authority from Scripture for what we do in this respect, if our action is the result of our faith in the two great scriptural doctrines to which we have referred: whereas, by the absence of an express command, heretics, who deny the facts of original sin, and of regeneration as the grace of Baptism, are justly censured for superstition when they bring their infants to the font, although, on the faith of the Church, infants so brought are received.
The immense importance attached by the Church to the administration of this sacrament appears from this, that she pronounces upon the fate of the infants thus baptized: "It is certain, by God's word, that children which are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are undoubtedly saved." [See Rubric at the end of the Office.] What comfort, what holy joy do Christian parents derive from this assurance! The perils of infancy are so many, that no believer will delay the Baptism of his infant longer than he can help. He is aware that the law of election, the law by which God elects some persons and not others, is undiscoverable to us: but one mark of election is Baptism; and how vast the consolation, if our infant die, to know for certain that he has received the sign, and has gone into the next world an elect infant! What may be the fate of other infants we know not; we only know that they were born into this world under a curse, and God hath not so ordered events as visibly to remove the curse from them: and therefore, they who were born into this world in original sin, have, with the curse of original sin, gone into the next world. But the Church of England, herein differing from the Romish assembly of Trent, pronounces nothing whatever on their condition. She is content (assuming as she does the regeneration of every infant that is baptized) with saying, "It is certain by God's word that children which are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are undoubtedly saved."
Now the office according to which the clergy of the Church of England administer this sacrament to infants may be divided into three parts.
The first consists of the preparation for Baptism. It is derived from an old office in the primitive Church, which was prepared for the admission of a convert into the order of Catechumens, in which order he frequently remained for some time previously to Baptism, when Baptism was administered to him as an adult. This office was blended with that of Baptism in the middle ages, when by the conversion of nations adult Baptism had become infrequent; and even in the office of Infant Baptism, the ceremonies of admitting a Catechumen were adopted. At the Reformation, our Church at first retained, but afterwards discontinued, the mystical and figurative rites, such as the giving of salt and the anointing with oil, which belonged to the original office of Catechumens, not in all, but in many of the primitive Churches; but she retained the ancient prayers and addresses.
The introductory part of the office relates first to the child which is brought to Baptism, and the congregation are reminded that all men are conceived and born in sin; which shows that infants are sinners, creatures involved in original sin: the congregation is also reminded that our Saviour Christ saith, "None can enter the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Ghost;" this sacrament thus being, as the Catechism teaches, generally necessary to salvation, they are then besought to call upon God, "that He will grant unto this child that thing which by nature he cannot have; that he may be baptized with water and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ's holy Church, and be made a lively member of the same." Then follow the two collects, through which the Church does what the congregation have just been exhorted to do; in the second of which, used in our Church long before the Reformation, we call upon God "for this infant," "that he, coming to Thy holy Baptism, may receive remission of his sins by spiritual regeneration:" the purport of both collects being, first, that God by His Holy Spirit would regenerate the infant, and then grant him the grace of perseverance; because, in spite of his regeneration, the Church knows that the child may perish everlastingly.
That portion of St. Mark's Gospel is then read, in which we have our Lord's command to His disciples, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God;" a passage which, on the principle before laid down, the Church produces, in order to show the Divine sanction she possesses for her practice of Infant Baptism.
In this place there is, of necessity, a variation between this office and that appointed to be used in the Baptism of such as are of riper years. There the Church appoints the commencement of the third chapter of St. John's Gospel to be read, in which our Lord instructs us that "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God;" that "except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." From which passage of Scripture the Church asserts her doctrine thus: "Ye hear from this Gospel the express words of our Saviour Christ, that except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, ho cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whereby ye may perceive the great necessity of Baptism, where it may be had: a fact further proved by reference to other Scriptures." Men who do not believe the promises of God made to us in this sacrament, refuse to receive this passage of St. John as referring to Baptism. But I am addressing-members of the Church, persons distinguished from heretics by the fact of their accepting Scripture in the sense of the Church; and they of course cannot entertain a doubt upon the subject: the Church most solemnly affirms, that when our blessed Saviour declares, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God, He declares the great necessity of Baptism; appropriating to Baptism what our Lord says of regeneration.
But Baptism is not conferred unconditionally either on adults or infants. The Catechism teaches us that it is required of persons to be baptized, that they have "repentance whereby they forsake sin, and faith whereby they stedfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that sacrament." If an adult, then, comes to holy Baptism without repentance, and without faith in the promises of God made to us in the sacrament of Baptism, he receives the sacrament unworthily, and is in a predicament similar to that in which any one is placed who receives unworthily the other holy sacrament; he receives it to his condemnation, and the prayer of charity is, "that the thought of his heart may be forgiven him."
On this account it is that certain questions are put to adult persons before they are baptized, to ascertain whether they have a good conscience towards God. The baptismal covenant was always made by question and answer, and this, too, in the apostolic age; for St. Peter calls Baptism the answer, or as the word rather signifies, the asking of or concerning a good conscience. [See Comber's Companion to the Temple, p. 189.]
The object being to have a good conscience, and the fact of having a good conscience being a sufficient qualification for Baptism, there can, of course, be no impediment to the reception of baptismal grace, presented on the part of infants; they are under the curse of original sin, to rescue them from which you bring them to Baptism; but they have no actual sin of which to repent, and though they have not faith, yet there is in them no evil heart of unbelief. But even with respect to infants, Baptism is not administered unconditionally; it is upon condition that after regeneration they will do their part towards the continual renovation of that nature in which the original "infection remaineth, yea, even in them that are regenerated," and to effect which the Holy Ghost is given to them; it is upon condition that as soon as they are capable of repentance and faith, they will repent and believe that the Church to which the power of the keys is confided administers to infants that sacrament of Baptism, which is a plenary absolution with regard to the past, and the commencement of grace with reference to the future. [Article IX.]
Previously to the administration of the sacrament, the sponsors of each child pledge themselves in the child's name, or rather the child through them pledges himself, to keep the terms of the Christian covenant. To this subject I shall return when I speak of the ordinance of Confirmation; proceeding now to the second part of the office, which relates to the administration of the sacrament itself.
This part of the office commences with certain short prayers in behalf of the person to be baptized, which are followed by a solemn appeal to God, "whose most dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ, shed out of his most precious side both water and blood;" and a prayer to Him, in the name of the congregation, that He would "sanctify this water," the water then in the font, to what purpose? "to the mystical washing away of sin;" and our God is entreated to grant, not only that this child, "now to be baptized therein," (that is, in the water sanctified "to the mystical washing away of sin") may receive the fulness of His grace at the time present, but also, (as the Church never forgets that he may fall finally from grace once given,) "may ever remain in the number of his faithful and elect children,"--that he may remain in the number of those among whom by Baptism he is placed. "Then the Priest shall take the child in his hands, and shall say to the Godfathers and Godmothers, Name this child. And then naming it after them, if they shall certify him that the child may well endure it, shall dip it in the water discreetly and warily." "But if they certify that the child is weak, it shall suffice to pour water upon it, saying, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Then the Minister is directed to make a cross upon the child's forehead, "in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue," what he has now by Baptism been made, "Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end."
Thus is the sacrament administered, cither by immersion or affusion,--the Church leaving this to our discretion; and thus is the baptized person signed with the sign of the cross. "When we receive any into the society of our religion," says Dean Comber, "it is certainly as lawful to declare it by a sign as by words. And surely there is no character or signature so universally known to be the mark of a Christian as the sign of the cross, which St. Paul puts for the cross itself; because the belief of a crucified Saviour is the proper article of this faith, distinguishing Christians from Jews, Turks, and all kinds of religion in the world."
The Minister, after this, proceeding to the close of the service, is directed to say of every baptized child, without any exception, "Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ's Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits; and with one accord make our prayers unto Him, that this child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning." This is done in the first instance by repeating the Lord's Prayer, that prayer which, being addressed to our Father which is in heaven, can only be properly used by those who are by Baptism made His children: and this is done in the next place by a thanksgiving prayer: "We yield Thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this infant," (the thanksgiving is used with reference to every baptized infant without exception,) "that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this infant with Thy Holy Spirit;" (not by water only, for water apart from the Spirit is useless; but by the Holy Spirit, who hath operated through the outward and visible sign:) "that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this infant with Thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for Thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into Thy Holy Church." The thanksgiving then taking the form of prayer, and the Church being ever mindful that from grace we may fall finally, we humbly beseech God "to grant that he," (the baptized child,) "being dead unto sin, and living unto righteousness, and being buried with Christ in His death, may avail himself of his baptismal privileges and spiritual powers, and crucify the old man, and utterly abolish the whole body of sin; and that as he is made partaker of the death of the Son of God," (for "know ye not," saith St. Paul, "that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death?") "that as he is made partaker of His death, he may be also partaker of His resurrection; so that finally, with the residue of God's holy Church, he may be an inheritor of the everlasting kingdom."
The whole service concludes with a godly admonition to the Godfathers and Godmothers, impressing upon them the solemn engagements into which they have entered, and warning them of their consequent duties.
The prayer and thanksgiving to which I have called your special attention are used also in the Office for the Private Baptism of Children in Houses. With the exception of the Lord's Prayer, this is the only prayer especially enjoined. we are to use as many of the others "as the time and present exigence will suffer;" but this thanksgiving prayer we must invariably use,--no option, no latitude is permitted. For every child that is baptized, we must give hearty thanks to our most merciful Father, that it hath pleased Him to regenerate this child with His Holy Spirit. It seems that the Church was providentially guided to insist upon this, lest any doubt should exist as to the fact, that every infant, whether baptized in the church or in a house, in public or in private, is in his Baptism regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
This great doctrine, indeed, lies at the very foundation of Christianity: the amount of evil resulting from the fact, that some who profess and call themselves Christians are unbelievers as to this eternal truth, is incalculable. How unequivocally it is asserted in our baptismal offices you have heard: and every Clergyman, when, according to the technical term, he reads in, declares "his unfeigned assent and consent to all and every thing contained and prescribed in and by the book entituled the Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the Use of the Church of England, together with the Psalter, or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in Churches; and the Form or Manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons."
Therefore it would appear, that any one who denies the regeneration of all infants in holy Baptism, if he ministers in the Church of England, ventures publicly to declare his unfeigned assent and consent to that which in his heart he denies.
But it is notorious that some persons do officiate among us, that we do hear that asserted sometimes in the pulpit of the Church of England, which is in direct opposition to what the Church teaches in the Baptismal Office, and indeed in her every office: and, as we must not judge harshly of such persons, we must suppose that there is some non-natural sense in which they understand the Baptismal Office, which renders it possible for them to declare on the one hand their "unfeigned assent and consent to all and every thing contained and prescribed in and by "the Baptismal Office; while they venture to assail and malign, and represent as Papists, those who preach the doctrine of the Church, according to the plain, natural, simple, and scriptural sense of the Prayer Book.
Let us consider, briefly, the manner in which some persons evade the plain sense of the Church. This is done in one of two ways: some admit that those who are regenerated, are regenerated in Baptism; but then they say, that of infants baptized, some are, but some are not, regenerated; so that in the Office of Baptism they return God thanks for that it hath pleased Him to regenerate with His Holy Spirit the infant just baptized; they declare of every infant, without exception, that he is regenerate; they admit that all children which are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are undoubtedly saved; and yet all the while they hold that the regeneration of the child, whose regeneration they pronounce as having occurred, and for whose regeneration they return God thanks, is nevertheless problematical!--it may or may not be, they only hope it is; and because they hope it, they pronounce it to be a fact. Surely, if ever there were a quibble upon words, if ever words were unfairly interpreted, and a non-natural sense put upon a whole office, of such offence these persons are guilty!--what ideas they can have of thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God, it is not easy to conceive.
Other persons meet the difficulty, which, indeed, if they did not seek to evade the doctrine of the Church, would be no difficulty, by denying that Baptism is at any time the means of regeneration to infants; although it is hard to understand how we can say of children not regenerated that they shall undoubtedly be saved: and then they go on gratuitously to assert, that provision is merely made in Baptism for the occurrence of regeneration at some future time, when the specified conditions of regeneration are fulfilled. And so they actually return God thanks for that it hath pleased Him to regenerate an infant just baptized, when they know, according to their heresy, that regeneration has not taken place, but only hope that it will take place hereafter. The equivocation here is so marvellous, it seems so nearly blasphemy to thank God for having done what we believe He has not done, that the conscience must be gradually hardened before recourse can be had to such a subterfuge as this.
Some are more bold: they deny the doctrine of the Church; and, to meet their own views, they alter the words of the Baptismal Office: but while by so doing they commit a sin, in that they have solemnly declared that they will conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England; and betray consciousness of heresy, in that they make the Church yield to their judgment, instead of bending their judgment to the Church; still they do not escape the difficulty; for their unrevoked declaration must rise up in judgment against them, that "to all and every thing contained in and prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer," with reference to the administration of the sacraments, of which Baptism is one, "they give their unfeigned assent and consent."
Were it otherwise, still they would find the doctrine haunting them in every office of the Church; for all the services of the Church are framed upon the principle that we become by baptism a privileged race, and that by sin we may forfeit those privileges; that the Spirit of God may be taken from us, and that from grace we may finally fall even in our last hour.
In holy Scripture, we find the word regeneration used twice, and only twice. It is used by our Lord in the nineteenth of St. Matthew, as descriptive of the now state of things which He had introduced,--the new dispensation generally: it is used in our text, where it undoubtedly means Baptism, which the Apostle calls the "washing of regeneration." "We have referred before to the third chapter of St. John, where our Lord declares, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." But though the word is not of frequent occurrence in Scripture., the thing which the word implies is very often alluded to. The Church says, that by Baptism we are incorporated into the body of Christ, and so made members of Him who is the mystical head of the body; and for saying this we have the authority of St. Paul, 1 Cor. xii. 13, "By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." The Church teaches that Baptism confers remission of sins: "Arise," said Ananias to St. Paul, as we read in the twenty-second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, 16th verse, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins." "Repent, and be baptized," said St. Peter to the Jews, as we read in the second chapter of the Acts, and the 38th verse, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins." The Church teaches that the gift of the Holy Spirit first comes to the soul through the instrumentality of Baptism, and saith St. Peter, "Be baptized, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost." "We," saith St. Paul, 1 Cor. xii. 13, "being baptized into one body, have been made all to drink of one Spirit." The body is the body of Christ, and we then, having been by Baptism admitted into the mystical body, have partaken of that Spirit by which the body, in conjunction with the Head, is animated. The Church teaches that in Baptism we are made children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. "Ye are all," saith St. Paul, in Galatians iii. 26, 27, "the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." And, "if children," he remarks, in the sixth chapter to the Romans, and the 17th verse, "then heirs'; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." It is on this principle that the Apostles, in their Epistles, uniformly address the whole body of believers as privileged persons, persons under grace: those who have not been by Baptism engrafted into the mystical body, are addressed as "aliens," "strangers," "foreigners;" but those who are baptized are saluted as "fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God," "sons of God," and "joint-heirs with Christ" of "an eternal inheritance." The Epistles are addressed to men who, having been regenerated, because baptized, possessed the ability, through the grace that was in them, to do what God directed them to do. To Christians there are no exhortations with reference to regeneration; but the exhortations are innumerable by which they are called upon to be spiritually renewed; they are exhorted to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind. The inward man is said to be renewed day by day. When Christians have once fallen off, their restoration is called, not regenerating, but renewing them to repentance. we have no power to regenerate ourselves; this is the work of God alone; but being regenerated, we are required to co-operate with the Spirit of God in our renovation. Regeneration is a mystical change in our condition in the sight of God; renovation is a change of conduct: regeneration is the commencement, and renovation the progress or consummation of our spiritual life: renovation is the fulfilment on our part, through the grace of the Spirit imparted to us at Baptism, of those conditions upon which regeneration took place: regeneration is an object of faith only; we perceive no immediate effects resulting from it; it is a mystery; we believe that a blessing is conferred, though we see it not, though we feel it not, because on the due application of the means God has promised it: but renovation is visible; we are conscious of the change when we are converted or renewed, and the alteration in our conduct is apparent to others: regeneration is the initiatory operation of grace upon the soul; renovation the gradual change of our inward frame and disposition.
From this you may perceive in part the distinction which is to be made between regeneration and renovation and conversion; you perceive why, after thanking God for the regeneration of an infant, the Church addresses the sponsors, in order to secure, as far as possible, the due use of the grace thus given; you see why we should always pray in the spirit of the Collect for Christmas day, that being regenerate, we may be daily renewed by the Holy Ghost.
The practical importance of this great truth is at once apparent, when we have regard to the education of our children. How different must be the training of that child, whom we address as a Christian child, and warn that he has had a gift conferred upon him which he may lose; but which, by endeavouring to do his duty in that station of life in which he is placed, he will retain to his great and endless comfort; from the education of that other child, which is told that it can do nothing that is good, until it has received a special call from God! How different the training of a child taught to regard itself as a Christian, and under grace, from the education of that other child, who is instructed to regard itself as little better than a heathen!
And observe, too, the difference which this doctrine must occasion in the nature of our addresses from the pulpit. Our doctrine being that of the Apostles, the character of our addresses must be the same as theirs. Were I addressing, not a baptized people, but a congregation of Jews or heathens, I should have to tell them of their lost and perishing condition, in consequence, not only of their actual sins, but of original sin,--a state from which they could not extricate themselves; I should have to tell them that, born under a curse, under that curse they must remain, under its sentence die, unless they could obtain part in the everlasting covenant between God the Father and his co-eternal Son; I should have to excite in them a desire to partake of this covenant, and then to tell them of Baptism, the appointed instrument through which men are grafted into Christ; I should have to speak to them of repentance and faith, the conditions without which Baptism may not be administered to adults; I should have to-tell them of preventing grace, that grace which goes before man in every good thought and work: and on their telling me that faith and repentance exist within them, I should conclude that there was sufficient internal evidence that God willed their election, and should administer to them the sacrament of Baptism.
But how different is the mode of my address, when I am appointed to speak unto you, my beloved brethren, who were long since admitted into the fold of Christ, the great Shepherd of souls. Born in sin, and under sentence of condemnation, you were baptized in your infancy, and at that time translated, by God's free unmerited mercy, from a state of nature, in which you could have had no title to the privileges of the Gospel, into a state of salvation, wherein is promised to you pardon and peace and everlasting life, if you lead a life of repentance and faith: you were then made members of that family, that holy society, which Christ hath separated from the world; the guilt of your original sin was washed away, although the infection remaineth still; the merits of that atonement which Christ has effected for the sins of the world, were then applied to your souls; you were once, and once for all, regenerated; the seed of grace was sown in your souls.
But does it follow that because seed is sown, it must of necessity be productive? Grace is given to profit withal; if care be not taken that grace shall be renewed by frequent recourse to the means of grace, and grace preserved by the cultivation of godliness, the grace once given will be given in vain. It is because the grace given in Baptism is so often unproductive, that men become sceptical as to the donation of grace at all in the Sacrament of Baptism; they argue, that, when grace produces no fruit, it is a proof that it was never conferred. It is asked, why is it conferred, if it is never to be used? We answer by asking why so many hundreds of infants are born into the world who live not for a single hour? They breathe for an hour and then die: we cannot give any reason why, at the peril of a mother's life, a human being should come into this world barely to breathe and then to depart from it; but because its life is apparently useless, are we to contend that life was never conferred upon it?
Seed, we know, is often sown, and is unproductive. It has frequently happened that whole woods in America have been consumed by fire. After a little while, a new crop of trees is seen to spring up of a species entirely distinct from that which has been consumed. Of this crop the seeds were buried in the earth, though by some counteracting external circumstances their vegetation was prevented. The counteracting circumstances being removed, and the increased temperature caused by the conflagration forming a natural hot-bed, they spring up. Precisely so it is with the grace given in Baptism. That grace being duly cultivated by the prayers and holy training of parents and sponsors, and afterwards by the baptized person himself, is productive of a godly life; but if neglected, uncultivated, kept down by the counteraction of indolence or vice, it lies dormant: but remove the counteracting forces, let vicious habits be broken, let the soul be watered by the tears of repentance and warmed by faith, and the grace will even yet become productive, twenty, thirty, or even an hundred fold.
How consistently, then, my brethren, can we call upon you to be converted and renewed: if you will do your part, God is with you; He is in you, and will do His part in the covenant which He has made with your soul. Turn yourselves to Him, and you shall be turned by Him; if you will draw nigh unto God, God will draw nigh unto you: you can draw nigh to God; He has conferred upon you the ability to do so in your Baptism; and, therefore, when we address any of you who are not converted, we may ask you, why will you die? If yours be a spiritual death, the fault is your own: you can, any one of 'you can, be saved if you will; you can arise and amend your lives if you will. To call upon baptized Christians to be regenerated is incorrect language, and worse than incorrect, because it leads them to forget the power given them in Baptism; but to call upon them to be converted, to turn themselves unto the Lord, that the Lord may turn their hearts, and so renew them by the Holy Ghost, this is language both correct and intelligible. Are there any persons here, who have brought reproach upon that name which they in baptism received? who have rebelled against that God and Father, that Lord and Saviour, that Holy Spirit and Sanctifier, to whose service they once were consecrated in Baptism? Are there any who view the cross of Christ with indifference, disregarding their interest in it, or doubting its efficacy,--doing despite to that Spirit which took possession of their souls at Baptism, and expelling Him from that temple in which He seeks to dwell and to shed His grace, His consolations, and His joys? Are there any who are rejecting, for the transitory, corrupting, unsatisfying, perishing pleasures of sin, their inheritance in heaven, the crown of glory, the bliss of immortality, the joys of God's presence, the beatific vision? Oh! repent, confess with deep sorrow your base ingratitude and guilt; renounce your sins; return to God relying on the merits of His Son; pray to Him for the renewing power of the Holy Ghost, to transform your affections, to abolish the body of sin which enslaves you, to endow you with heavenly graces, and to advance you in all virtue and godliness of living. Repent, that you may be converted; or you will sink into worse condemnation than even the heathen, who though he too has violated every dictate of reason, every remonstrance of conscience, and every secret monition of God's Spirit, never sinned against covenanted grace, never trampled under foot the Son of God, never despised the blood of the covenant, never spurned from him a title to Heaven.
If this be a warning which in consistency with the Scriptural doctrine of regeneration we are called upon to give to such as are falling from grace, let us turn, at the same time, to speak words of comfort to those timid spirits, who are neglecting to use the grace which is accorded to them, from distrust of the mercy of God. Remember, my brethren, you who are not living in any habitual or deadly sin, that you are to walk, not by your feelings, but by faith. Believe that God has adopted you as his children: it is a fact that He has so done; and then take comfort to your souls by considering what an affectionate father, perfect in love, would do as regards his child upon earth. As such a father would act by his child, so will God act by your soul. Would such a parent be extreme to mark what is done amiss? Would he not love the child, who, though often culpable, still wishes to please him? Even suppose the child to offend so as to deserve punishment, the infliction of punishment would be no proof of the withdrawal of the parent's love, but the very reverse; the proof of a father's not caring for us is, that we are "without chastisement." It is not for every little offence that a father turns his child out of his house; neither will our heavenly Father: "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth; and if ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" If with all your shortcomings and downfallings, you are honestly endeavouring as dutiful children to serve a kind and merciful Father, you are still objects of his care; and there is one at his right hand who is to us our All in All, our elder brother, Jesus Christ the righteous, to be your advocate and to plead your cause. Fear not then, ye who are true of heart, but have filial confidence in your heavenly Father. Be sure He loves you, even while He chastens you. Approach Him with reverential boldness; cast out servile fear; you are not a slave but a child; tell your heavenly Father of your faults; tell Him of your difficulties; tell Him your desires; open your whole heart and soul to Him; for as you love the prattling of your little ones, so does your Father which is in heaven, He who permits you, awful as He is in Himself, to approach with the word, Abba, Father, on your lips, delight to hear the prayers and supplications of those who are in Christ one with Himself. To distrust Him is sin. Tell Him all you desire in prayer: serve Him by doing with all your might what your hand findeth to do; do homage to Him as your King as well as your Father, your paternal sovereign in the high services of his sanctuary: and with confidence draw nigh to Him when He spreads his feast before you on his holy table,--where He who was given to die for your sins, is offered to you as your spiritual food and sustenance.