CONVENTION OF THE DIOCESE.
MORTON AND GRISWOLD, PRINTERS.
THE analogy between the truths of nature and the truths of revelation is very strict. They have the same God for their author. Exactly alike are they the exponents of his character and of his purposes. Open to all men, they are intelligently and truly read by but few. To be understood aright, they must be approached by the same steps, and interpreted in the same spirit. Pride and presumption meet with as stern a rebuke in the one world, as in the other; and the secret of the Most High, whether in the department of nature, or of grace, is only revealed to the worshipper who is alike humble, earnest, teachable.
At this time of day, it were a poor and stale truism, to say, that, in nature, all the approaches to demonstration are by the rugged and modest paths of induction. In this department, any one who would produce authority, antiquity, or the opinion of the great and good, as adequate demonstration of the truth, would be regarded as beside himself. The facts--the facts, all we want are the facts!
Strange that TRUTH, in the religious world, till this hour, should too often be sought by other paths; or that doubts on any mind should exist, whether the INDUCTIVE is the only true method of investigation in the department of theology.
Worlds are the materials of induction in astronomy; flowers and plants in botany; and texts of Scripture in theology. The facts and the words of Divine Revelation are the only materials of an INDUCTIVE THEOLOGY. This [3/4] is the glorious and triumphant sense of the axiom of Chillingworth, "The Bible, the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants."
This once admitted, the place becomes fixed which opinion or theory is permitted to occupy--the legitimate office which it belongs to them to perform. There is no occasion to speak of it here, only in two connections:--What shall be done with the well ascertained facts of an induction as yet incomplete and insufficient? is it permissible to hold and promulgate the theory, to which they seem to point? and are we to teach, as known, or only to suggest as probable, the motive and design of the Divine Mind, in such and such an arrangement of facts? Of one of these we have, in nature, an example, in the question, Whether light, heat, electricity, galvanism, and magnetism, are different elements, or different manifestations of the same element? and, in the Scriptures, whether the text, I John v. 7, relative to the Three which bear record in heaven, be the strongest proof-text in favor of the doctrine of the Trinity, or no proof-text at all?
Of the other, in the question, supposing the moon to be of naked rock, unblessed with either air or water, whether it has inhabitants curiously fitted to the strange conditions of life in such a world, or whether it was made solely for the use of man, and to show forth the Creator's power and glory?
In religion, the question most nearly parallel to this, perhaps, is, What are the designs and uses of the Holy Sacraments? There are not clear and undisputed texts enough to establish a DOCTRINE of Baptism, inductively; Are there enough to furnish the materials of a probable THEORY? If so, what is that theory which is best reconcilable with all the facts in the case?
To a reflective student well acquainted with that complicated and stupendous fabric, THE SACRAMENTAL THEORY, and equally well acquainted with its Scriptural proof, nothing within the vast field of human speculation appears more monstrous than that theory, or more scanty and meagre than those proofs.
Open the New Testament. Is there so much as one discourse, or a single letter devoted to this subject? Had it presented itself to the mind of St. Paul, as to the minds of some modern theorists him had that scheme been at [4/5] once the foundation, the superstructures and the crowning glory of the Gospel, is it for one moment to be believed that not one letter--not one leading remark, not one fundamental axiom relative to that system should have escaped hint? We find the history of the sacraments--of their institution, and some notices of the apostolic practice under that institution, and here and there a remark perfectly casual and incidental, with regard to the design of these sacraments, and the benefits and blessings which may result from the due observance and proper use of them. But of that complicated, stupendous theory of the immediate efficacy of the sacraments, wrought out in the course of ages, by the ingenuity or perversity of man, the Bible contains not so much as one clear and satisfactory proof text.
The writers of the two centuries next following the age of the Apostles are equally silent upon the subject. The facts in the case, the customs of Christian people, practical and pious suggestions and counsels connected with them, constitute the sum and substance of all these venerable documents. The early apologists for the Gospel during the ages of persecution, were tar better employed than in weaving injurious theories.
Not until nearly one hundred years after the Church had rest from this great fight of affliction do we begin--in the great metaphysical controversialist of his age, St. Augustine--to discover the grand outline of this theory, in the position that Infant Baptism washes away original sin. About the same time, the curious speculative mind of the inquisitive Greek began to be employed upon similar niceties. Though, even in Cyril and Chrysostom, for every strain of rhetorical eulogy, agreeable to the manner und taste of the age, of the stupendous powers of the ministry, and the sublime mysteries of the sacraments, it were easy to find many of a literal and didactic character, not at all transcending the sober belief of their less declamatory predecessors. Only in this way is it possible to account for the almost flatly contradictory passages adduced from these fathers, by those who hold very unlike views as to the immediate efficacy of the sacraments. Long subsequently to the extinguishment of these great lights, did opinion and theory usurp the place of facts and truth, with regard to their true benefits.
The drift and plan of this argument, will not admit of an [5/6] induction of all the passages of Scripture on the whole subject of the sacraments. It suits the present purpose simply to adduce the very strongest proof texts, in reference to the design and efficacy of baptism. They are two, both relating to adult baptism. Of these, the first (Acts xxii. 16,) occurs incidentally in connection with the baptism of St. Paul: "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins;" which seems to imply that the washing away of all sin was to be expected in the very act. But it is certain that the power and dominion of sin in St. Paul was not then destroyed, or else we should never have been called upon to listen to the utterance of his heart-rending complaint, in the seventh of Romans. It is certain, also, that the guilt of sin had already been pardoned upon his repentance and faith, of which God gave him a most gracious token when he said, "Behold he prayeth," and when he sent the very messenger who used these words, to instruct, console, and baptize him. It must then, agreeably to the principles of a rigid induction, have been in some ceremonial, forensic, or sacramental sense alone, in which the sins even of the penitent and believing Paul were washed away in the act of baptism. To the same breadth, neither more or less, the same truth, in all time, may safely be affirmed.
The other text (1 Peter iii. 21,) is also introduced per fectly incidentally, not indeed in the line of narrative, but in connection with a very remote argument, and most obscure passage of Scripture. "The like figure whereunto Baptism doth now save us, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
"Baptism doth now save us." It seems a strong passage. And if we must interpret it literally, as some say we must the words relative to the elements in the other sacrament--This is my body--this is my blood;" and if one proof text, in the face of the whole tenor of Scripture, can prove such a doctrine, why then salvation, by water, in baptism, is proved. But if, in both these cases, the literal can no more he the true sense, than when it is said of God, that "He is a Rock," (Psalm xviii. 2, Matt. xvi. is,) why then we must seek the true sense, in that sound exegesis of the entire passage, which we apply to obscure sentences in any author of like antiquity. So interpreted, the passage teaches [6/7] that washing the body in pure water, without the answer of a good conscience, without faith in the resurrection of Christ avails nothing, but that Baptism admits into the Ark of Christ's Church, in order to salvation, in a manner exceedingly similar to that in which the family of Noah were received into the Ark, in order to salvation from the flood.
The various texts, "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," &c., (Mark xvi. 16,) are here omitted, inasmuch as, being connected expressly with faith, it is impossible to affirm whether the salvation promised stands connected with faith chiefly, or with baptism chiefly. They certainly cannot be adduced as proof texts of the sole benefit of baptism. Were it lawful in this connection to separate them at all, it must certainly be by affirming, not that he who is not baptized, but "he who believeth not, shall be damned."
And are these the only passages relative to Baptism? Is this all? Are these the only facts upon which so stupendous a scheme of sacramental grace has been constructed? Strange as the fact may seem, there is no more. This is all. Further than this the Scriptures are absolutely silent!
The nature and scope of this argument will not admit of an historical inquiry into the origin of this theory--how much of it is to be ascribed to the superstitious and carnal observances of heathenism engrafted upon a purer and more spiritual faith--how much to the dreamy speculations of the Greek and Asiatic mind--how much to the adroitness of an hierarchy too soon departing from the simplicity of the Gospel, and readily availing themselves of so potent a means of lording it over God's heritage--or how much to the mere proneness of human nature to repose with self-righteous complacency on outward acts which man can do, rather than on inward grace which God alone can give.
Our object is to inquire how far the theory fits into the only place proper to a theory in an inductive investigation. In other words, does it better quadrate, than any other, with all the proved facts in the case, scanty and inadequate as they are to lead, of themselves, to any satisfactory general conclusions--does it accurately adapt itself to other well known and acknowledged facts--is it wholly uncontradicted by other truths, ascertained by other and independent lines of investigation; and is it more easily reconciled to [7/8] the general analogy of all truth, than any other which has been suggested?
In any other department of investigation, a theory which does not fulfil all these conditions, by all philosophic minds is regarded as mere hypothesis, or sheer conjecture. No prestige of antiquity--no universality of assent can redeem it from this sentence.
The imputation would be extremely unfair, that, in the sketch which is to be attempted of this theory, the denial is virtually included, that God never bestows his grace at the moment of baptism, or that to believers the sacraments do not always avail to the increase of grace. On the other hand, it is very freely admitted that, as a sovereign, God may be pleased to sanctify some infants from the moment o their baptism, as HE appears to have done Samuel and Timothy from their birth. Nor is it doubted that a penitent, believing, and loving reception of the Lord's Supper, is as much more honored a means of grace than the ordinary preaching of the word, as the solemnities of the sacramental season are more impressive than the ordinary solemnities of God's holy temple. The word preached and the sacraments administered are both ordinances of God. And little thanks are due to any who would affect to exalt the one at the expense of the other. It must be confessed that He who best knows the readiest avenues to the hearts of men, has judged wisely when he assigned to the Lord's Supper a place far beyond ordinary preaching, in its power to influence the affections of the truly penitent and believing soul.
But what is this theory? Stated in the most candid and least exaggerated manner, it seems to be, that whereas, the Eternal God, interposing for the recovery of a lost world, might, if it had so seemed good unto him, have wrought directly, and without any outward instrumentality, upon the hearts and consciences of men--turning them from the power of Satan unto God--transforming them from aliens into citizens, from children of wrath into children of adoption and grace--He has, for wise and sufficient reasons, some of them sufficiently manifest, and some hid in the secrecy of the divine mind, actually seen fit to tie himself down, in the accomplishment of this great and glorious end, not so much to the use of moral suasion and moral causes addressed to [8/9] the free agency and moral nature of man, as to sacramental means, effectual to the same end, but in a different, wonderful, mysterious, and sacramental manner, by which all infants baptized by a minister of apostolic succession, receive remission of original sin, and spiritual regeneration by the Holy Ghost; and all adults, in whose case no fatal impediment exists, in like manner receive remission of original and actual sin, and spiritual regeneration; and that either, thereafter, growing up, or falling into, actual sin, can receive forgiveness only in the Lord's Supper, and by absolution of God's minister appointed thereunto.
With the side issues whether these sacraments avail to give faith and repentance, where they are not, or salvation without them; or whether repentance and faith can avail to salvation without the sacraments, we have here nothing to do.
Enough for the inductive inquirer that not a sentence in the word of God connects baptism, in the case of infants, or the Lord's Supper, in any case, with the remission of sins. Baptism in adults is so connected only in the two instances above examined, in which no such inseparable efficacy is even intimated. And the Lord's Supper is often connected with the strengthening of faith, and the increase of the divine life in the soul, but not once with forgiveness of sins. All that large part of the theory which embraces the idea of ministerial grace, is utterly without a Scriptural foundation. The facts are altogether wanting either for induction, or for a theory to connect scattered and inadequate data, in a way approaching induction.
So far is this theory from agreeing with other, better known facts, or cohering well with the whole analogy of faith, the strongest objections to it are to be drawn from this quarter. Passages almost without number connect remission of sin with repentance and faith--and the implantation and increase of a new spiritual nature with the work of the Holy Ghost operating through the truth--whilst the silence is profound upon the subject of sacramental grace aside from repentance and faith, and aside from the ordinary operation of the Holy Spirit. There is place, then, for a theory, connecting together the few significant facts which point to the blessedness of the sacraments but no room for a theory of sacramental grace, there not being so much as one fact looking in that direction.
 THE COVENANT THEORY is the only one which meets all the facts, and answers all the exigencies of the case, which tallies well with all other parts of the system of divine truth; and so far from being incumbered with difficulties, serves to explain, Illustrate, and confirm the entire circle of truth, arrived at by whatever other various collateral methods of investigation.
This theory is placed in its just and true position both in relation to the fall and recovery of man, and the connection which subsists between the sacraments and the remission of sin, in the following manner:--Before the foundation of the world, a Covenant was entered into between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, for the pardon and salvation of man yet to be created, yet to fall, and thereafter to require such an almighty and all-merciful interposition. This is the Covenant of Grace, well ordered in all things and sure, of which Jesus is the glorious Mediator, and his blood the one, only, great effectual seal.
In this superior covenant man figures as the object of all its gracious provisions, but does not appear at all as a party. But in process of time a subordinate, but strictly collateral Covenant was entered into, in which man stands forth conspicuously as one of the parties; and the three persons of the adorable Trinity, in their various offices of Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, as the other party. In its first, limited, local, temporary, and carnal manifestation it is known as the Abrahamic Covenant. In its final, universal, and unbloody character, it is known as the New, or Gospel Covenant. In both forms, of necessity, it has the same object salvation of men--the same Mediator, even the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world--and the same conditions, repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus, together with a full purpose of leading a new life--but different seals. Under the Old Covenant, Circumcision and the Passover. Under the New Covenant, Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
If this theory be correct, whatsoever can be affirmed of the efficacy of Circumcision, the same and no more (unless expressly revealed) can be affirmed of Baptism. But not one word is said, in the Old Testament, of the efficacy of Circumcision in connection with the remission of original sin; nor of the efficacy of the Passover, in procuring the [10/11] pardon of sins after Circumcision. Sacramental Grace was a theory wholly unknown to Moses and the prophets: but Covenant blessings they well understood and highly appreciated.
The fact is, Jewish Rites and Christian Sacraments never were designed as seals of the gift, but only as seals of the promise of the gift. Indeed, a seal of a gift is a sort of contradiction in terms. The gift is its own best seal. It needs no other. But whatsoever is contingent, whatsoever is promised does need a seal. And, what a world of controversy had been saved, if theological terms had never deviated from this simplicity of fact!
In this connection it may not be unworthy of remark, that so far is the idea of Sacramental Grace from being traceable to the New Testament, that the word Sacrament does not even occur there--it is altogether of Latin origin--meaning an oath. The word Communion does indeed occur, (1 Cor. x. 16,) but not in its technical meaning, but in the sense of fellowship with Christ, or with each other, or both, by receiving together the bread and wine at the Lord's Table. The word Covenant, however, is of frequent occurrence, and in the same connection in three of the Evangelists, (Matt. xxvi. 28, Mark xiv. 24, and Luke xxii. 20,) declaring the wine in the Lord's Supper to be: "This cup, the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." (Luke xxii. 20.) This is the more remarkable as the Covenant, in neither case, is mentioned in connection with the bread, but only with the wine, as if alluding to the fact that wine and blood were more suitable as seals. It is also remarkable that the passage in St. Luke seems expository of those in the other Evangelists--it reading there, "my blood of the new covenant"--here, "the cup, the new covenant in my blood," as if to discountenance the idea of the literal meaning of" blood" in either passage, and to confirm the idea of a covenant sealed in blood, of which the cup is a perpetual memorial. And the same passage quoted by St. Paul in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, 25th verse, is guardedly quoted in the same words: "This cup is the new testament (covenant) in my blood."
The difference between the two theories, Sacramental and Covenant, is immense. To the former, in Infant Baptism, is ascribed the remission of original sin and [11/12] spiritual regeneration. The latter is silent as to an inward and spiritual grace, at the moment, but eloquent with regard to its transferring the infant from the kingdom of darkness into that of God's dear Son, and thus constituting him by promise and covenant title, the "Child of God, the heir of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."
But the difference between the two theories can be made to stand out with greater prominence, by selecting an example from the creed of those who make most of the Sacramental theory, and who regard Matrimony as a Sacrament. If that theory were true, then, there being no impediment, the benediction of the Priest ought, invariably, to impart all conjugal graces, fidelity, mutual tenderness, forbearance and love, and all those domestic virtues which dignify, exalt, and bless the human race in the most sacred of the domestic relations. If so, most strange it is that Scotland, England, and our own highly favored land, should so much more abound in these blessed influences, without the benediction of the Priest, than Ireland, France, and Italy, with that benediction. But Matrimony, if not a Sacrament, is a sacred religious Covenant. And doubtful as its efficacy is, as a Sacrament, how great is its blessed ness as a Covenant. Unsanctified as the matrimonial heart of a nation may be, if the Matrimonial Covenant, in the main, be held sacred; it is the basis and bond of all our social and domestic affections. The ties which connect husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters--the tenure and descent of estates--the obligations of duty, the yearnings of affections the indissoluble links of blood and of kindred, all flow from this one covenant relation--and wholly aside from the immediate efficacy of the benediction of the Priest! Just so, there is not only an utter lack of scriptural facts, and reliable arguments; but also of any other ascertainable facts, in favor of the Sacra mental theory. There is no more evidence that all the infants in Italy were washed clean from all taint of original sin, in the waters of Baptism, by the life which is led before Matrimony, than there is by the life afterwards led, that conjugal grace was imparted by the benediction of the Priest. And whatever doubt there maybe with regard to the immediate inward efficacy of Baptism, of the blessedness of a Covenant relation to God, who can doubt? The privilege of being no longer considered or treated as an alien, but "as [12/13] a fellow-citizen of the saints and of the household of God?" The mercy of having a Covenant title to the promises, and a right (a free yet blood-bought right) to the pardon of sin and the salvation of the soul, upon a cordial compliance with the reasonable conditions of the Gospel, who can estimate? The Matrimonial Covenant, old as the garden of Eden, is not more necessary to the physical, social, and domestic relations of life, than the Baptismal Covenant is to all the moral, religious, and Church relations of our race.
In Baptism, even when inward grace is not at the moment communicated, great and inestimable benefits are conferred. A new relation is opened and confirmed, "with God the Father, who hath made us and all the world; with God the Son, who hath redeemed us and all mankind; and with God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth us and all the people of God." The promises before vague and general, is now rendered specific, individual, and most emphatic. It consists of two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie--his word and his covenant--his promise and his oath--his word given and his promise sealed, in order that we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us in the Gospel.
It is very observable that St. Paul calls up this very question of the efficacy of Circumcision, and disposes of it without affirming one of the points of the Sacramental theory. To the questions, "What advantage, then, hath the Jew, or what profit is there of Circumcision?" what would have been more natural than to have made answer agreeably to that theory, had St. Paul entertained it? In his reply, however, he only alleges its covenant benefits, "Much every way, chiefly, because that, unto them were committed the oracles of God."--Rom. iii. 2. And further on, (Rom. ix. 4,) "Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises," not one word of the remission of sin, or of a new nature. So far from it, as if for ever to foreclose the question of invariable grace, (Rom. ii. 28, 29,) he declares that "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that Circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who 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."
To a person unfamiliar with this subject, it might well [13/14] appear very strange how the question of the efficacy of Baptism, should ever become involved with the question, in what sense the doctrine of Election is true. But, a moment's reflection will show that a sincere believer in unconditional personal election, cannot believe in the invariable efficacy of Baptism; since, agreeably to his preconceived opinion, it can at most be true in the case of the Elect.
But the questions are brought closely in contact at another point: the meaning of the Greek word for Church, is, "called out of," and for the Elect, is, "chosen out of." Only a shade of difference can be discerned between these terms. And if it can be shown that called, chosen, saints, are all terms used in the New Testament, technically to designate the whole body of professed Christians, interchangeably with each other, and seldom with any intensiveness, in reference to either one term or another--no mean evidence is produced that whatever are the benefits of Election, the same, neither more nor less, are the benefits of Church membership or Baptism--and whatever may be the benefits of Baptism, such are the benefits of Election.
Now, if it can be proved that the revealed and primitive doctrine of Election, is not at all an election of individuals to eternal life, but only of bodies of people to certain privileges, in order to eternal life--as is conclusively proved in Mr. Faben's great work upon this subject--then it follows that Baptism does not confer inward grace, but only covenant blessings in order to the gift and the increase of grace, and to final salvation. It is, at any rate, evident that the one doctrine expands or limits, explains and modifies the other doctrine. The baptized are not benefitted by baptism, aside from repentance and faith--the elect are not benefitted by their election, "unless they give diligence to make their calling and election sure." They are baptized into the privileges, to which, by the grace of God, they have been elected; but whether their spiritual nature is made holier, and exalted to an immortal life thereby, depends upon their making a right use of these privileges.
The argument for or against a theory or an opinion, from its alleged moral or immoral tendency, is too often used in a very censurable and invidious way, greatly to its prejudice; for rightly used, what argument can be more conclusive? If the Sacramental theory exerts always and every where, an influence injurious to morals and dangerous [14/15] to immortal souls, it cannot be the truth of God, since, under no circumstances can He be the minister of sin. It is here fearlessly affirmed that the stupendous system of fraud and force, which domineered for ages over so large a portion of Europe, based on the theory of sacramental grace, and interwoven and consolidated by the cognate and almost inseparable doctrines of the pseudo-sacrament of penance, of auricular confession and priestly absolution, have been the direct and prolific cause of the low state of morals and religion in France, Spain, and Italy, and wherever else they have been rigorously and relentlessly enforced.
And this is said with a frank and cordial admission that these opinions have been entertained and administered, by men of extraordinary purity of character, and fervor of piety. The fact is, to the child-like, the pure, the amiable, and the good, almost any class of opinions, baptized with the name of religion, will be regarded only in those points of view in which they can appear attractive, and will be administered only in a way that is wise, guarded, and beneficent. And it is as freely and frankly admitted that sections of the Sacramental theory to amiable visionaries, do seem to emit a more than human light and glory. The washing of a new-born babe, all sinful and polluted as it comes into the world, with a little pure water, into the image of a sinless cherub before the throne of God--the reinstating of a lapsed and conscience-stricken penitent into the favor of God, by the word of absolution of a mortal man, in one point of view do seem wonderfully calculated to penetrate alike the soul of the parent, of the penitent and of the priest, with the profoundest sentiments of adoration, wonder, gratitude, and humility. With the good, we have no doubt it is often so. But, then, what are we say to the influence over poor human nature of the corollaries of these propositions--of the cringing and slavish subserviency of the penitent in the hands of his confessor--or the pride, caprice, cruelty, and tyranny of many a priest in wielding a power so tremendous? And if after all, a gift so great, so wonderful, so inestimable, may be as easily lost as found, and as easily recovered as lost, who does not see that the emotions proper to the one case and to the other, will soon degenerate into the poor mockery of a seeming religion for stage effect?
 And it is not too much to say that the Sacramental theory is wholly fragmentary and incomplete, and utterly valueless without its attendant and necessarily affiliated doctrines of auricular confession and priestly absolution. Hence the agonizing struggle between duty and conscience on the one band, and consistency and tendency on the other, in the case of those who believe in the invariable efficacy of Baptism, and try to reject compulsory confession and priestly absolution. Surely that cannot be the correct theory which, when embraced in whole, reduces the glory of all lands, in a social, civil, moral, and religious point of view, to that condition of degradation, shame, and misery, in which we see Italy involved--and places otherwise shrewd and amiable men, who receive the theory but in part, upon that barren isthmus between superstition and infidelity, where so many have for ever lost the soundness of their creed, the consistency of their character, and their sense of the obligation of the most solemn engagements.
The Covenant theory, on the other hand, is very strongly confirmed by its decided moral and sacred influences; coinciding most accurately with all the other hallowed influences of the Gospel. It combines favor with duty, privileges with accountability, offered mercy with threatened retribution, precisely in the manner and in the proportions and dependencies which belong to every other just view of the plan of salvation. It is a blessed thing to be a baptized Christian, but a most fearful thing to remain so, merely as to the body, unless the soul is baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. It is a wonderful mercy that we are permitted to bring our little children, that they may be adopted into the family of God, but an awful mockery, if it be not our purpose and our effort to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It exalts to heaven, in point of privileges, to have the Covenant of Grace sealed to us and to our children; but it will thrust down to hell in point of just retribution, if we do not comply with the terms of the Covenant, by repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
But many of these ideas may, perhaps, be more affectingly unfolded, by an attempt, in conclusion, to turn this argument into a Charge. Suffer me then, dear brethren, to consider myself, with you, as having it in charge from the great Head of the Church, to remember and strenuously [16/17] maintain that "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so 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 or necessary to salvation"--Art. VI. Let us remember that this extends to all facts, to all doctrines, to all divine institutions: but there is not one passage where the theory of Sacramental Grace can be read, nor one text by which it can be proved. And that we are fully authorized to hand over that, and every other theory, to the province of opinion, with regard to which there ought to be within certain limits, abundant license given.
I charge you, then, to give to this distinction the mature thought, and thereupon the well-defined place in your minds and in your practice, which justly belongs to it, between doctrines to be believed and theories and opinions to be entertained and speculated upon, as more or less probable. Salvation by grace, through faith, not by works of righteousness, nor by efficacy of the sacraments, is God's truth, to be believed and experienced at the peril of the soul, and is to be contended for even to the death. But the relation which the Baptism of infants has to that salvation, is a point not revealed. It is a legitimate subject of speculation. Within certain limits, one mind is at liberty to construct the Sacramental theory; another, the Covenant theory; and within those limits neither has any right to judge another. Nay, no matter how far outside of these limits either may diverge, neither has any right to misrepresent or denounce another. The law in such cases most evidently is: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." To his own master each must stand or fall. But though, in such discussions, there is no point where we have a right to misrepresent or denounce, there is a point where we have a perfect right, and where it is our bounden duty respectfully, yet firmly, to protest and resist. And it is precisely there, where a theory, claiming to render insufficient facts with regard to one point, more clear and intelligible, stands contradicted by other and plainer facts, and those of higher and more vital import; or where the theory, madly reduced to practice, virtually frustrates the grace of God. On both these grounds the Sacramental theory is to be protested against and firmly resisted, since it virtually discharges the [17/18] Holy Ghost from his glorious office in the renewal and sanctification of the soul, and makes a man his own saviour, or at most, by the he of another mortal,, the priest, to whom he confesses, and of whom he receives absolution. But in our resistance to such errors, we shoul4 never forget that they are entertained by our brethren, and that the only mode, and the only spirit in which they can be successfully resisted, is that which will win upon their confidence, con their kind regards, and bring them back to the truth by the cords of love. He who injures the truth does badly, hut, he who violates charity does far worse.
With special emphasis would I charge you to be upon your guard, lest any favorite theory should assume in the minds of any of you, the importance of a great truth, or occupy a too prominent place in your preaching to the exclusion of great, revealed, and saving doctrines. If any one theory more than another has a tendency to do this, it is the theory of Sacramental Grace. But whether it be this theory in full or in part, or any other mere theory of the mode in which the Holy Spirit changes, renews, and sanctifies the souls of men--the great danger is, that, if perpetually harped upon, it will shut out the Holy Ghost from his own pulpit and his own word--his grand office, his great work will be forgotten; the life of God in the soul of man will expire; and "a form of godliness without the power thereof," will altogether usurp its place. Dear brethren! you can never insist too much upon what a great thing it is for your people to be "renewed in the spirit of their mind be transformed by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost into the "image of Christ," and to he made like unto him." The experience, the exercises, the struggles, the victories, of' the new inner life, carried on and perfected by a divine influence, are themes too vast and momentous to give place to the vain theories of man, as to the beginnings or the methods of that work.
Again I charge you, so to explain, defend, and administer the Holy Sacraments, as to prove to all men that you are profoundly impressed with their exceeding preciousness. Remind your hearers, that it is a dangerous and awful thing to receive them in a thoughtless, or irreverent manner. That they are only a savour of life unto life, to those who, with, deep repentance, a lively faith, and full purpose of [18/19] leading a holy life, receive them as Christ has ordained, and this Church requires; and that to the unworthy receiver, they are only a savour of death unto death.
Let the whole tone and tenor of your preaching be directed to these two great ends, to convince your people of the miserable condition they are in by reason of sin, and that there is no other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ alone. That, when thus convinced, and when they can truly say that they do "earnestly repent them of their sins, and are in love and charity with their neighbors, and intend to lead a new life"--that then, and not till then, you can cordially exhort them, "to draw near with faith, and take these holy sacraments to their comfort."
Finally, make the Covenant theory the basis of your most constant and urgent appeals, both to parents and children. To parents, that having consecrated their children to God agreeably to the provisions of that divine covenant, they are no longer permitted to treat them as if they belonged to themselves, or to the world; and that therefore the maxims which should govern their education, are not selfish or worldly maxims--but the unselfish and unworldly maxims of the Gospel. That the inconsistency is flagrant, the guilt enormous, of expecting to insure for their children all the benefits of the covenant, without practising any of its self-denials, or performing any of its duties.
Urge upon the children under your charge the solemn obligations of the Baptismal Covenant--that they are bound to the service of the Redeemer, not only by that common, irresistible tie, "Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price," but by a tie, not stronger, for stronger there cannot be, but more intimate and individual--the tie of early, special, entire dedication. Make them, if by the grace of God you possibly can, make them feel that! all the promises of God in Christ Jesus are theirs, not only by word, but by covenant; not only by oath, but by an oath sealed in their baptism--that all the privileges of the Church are theirs--the prayers of God's people, the watch care of God's ministers, the solicitude and sympathy of God's elect, the services of his sanctuary, the ordinances of his temple, the communion of his table--all the directions, assistances, and comforts of his Holy Spirit--all are theirs, and they are Christ's, and Christ is God's: but that all this is true, only [19/20] upon their fulfilling the conditions of this Covenant. All will be forever lost to them, if they do not repent and believe the Gospel, and if they are not renewed in the spirit of their minds; and if, in their case, the most glorious provision of the New Covenant on God's part, is not fulfilled. "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to roe a people."--Heb. viii: 10.
The glory of the true Israel, do long obscured, will never be restored, Brethren, till we all teach and practise the same things--so far, at least, as the fallen state of man, the efficacy of the atonement, the glorious work of the Holy Spirit, in the renewal and sanctification of the human heart, and the religious training of our children, agreeably to the provisions of the Baptismal Covenant, are concerned. That day, as perhaps we cannot hasten--God forbid that we should hinder--and let us at least wait for it in humble patience, with confiding trust, and with fervent prayer. Amen.