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Fulfilling all Righteousness












Printed by T. and J. Swords, No. 160 Pearl-Street



Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007


MATT. iii. 15
Jesus answering, said unto him, Suffer it to be so now;
for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.

WHEN John the Baptist, according to the predictions of the Prophets, was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, we are informed that he came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying to the people, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Awakened by his exhortations, they went out to him in great numbers, from Jerusalem and all Judea, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins, and declaring [3/4] their faith in the expected Messiah. Among others who approached, on this occasion was Jesus himself; for it is said, "He came from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him." The Baptist, who knew that his ministry was intended to be only preparatory to a higher dispensation, and who was very sensible of his own inferiority when compared to the Son of God, at first forbad him to descend to such an act of humiliation, saying, "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? But Jesus answering, said unto him, Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness"--As if he had said, Although I have no need of repentance and purification from sin, I, nevertheless, deem it expedient to acknowledge the wisdom of God, in sending thee to prepare my way. It becometh me to pay due respect unto every divine appointment; to bear testimony to the truth of thy baptism, and to be an example to others.

And if our blessed Lord (who was filled with the Holy Ghost, and who was perfectly free from the pollution of sin) was thus particularly careful to use all the means of [4/5] grace which God had appointed, and to perform every duty which he required of others; will not the direct and necessary inference be, that we should be studious to imitate his example, by punctually discharging not only every moral, but every ceremonial duty enjoined by our holy religion?

It shall, therefore, be the business of the following discourse to show in what manner we who enjoy the light of the Gospel are to proceed in our progress towards heaven; how we are to comply with all the injunctions of the Christian institution; in other words, "how we are to fulfil all righteousness."

And here, I shall go upon the supposition, that the Gospel is received as a system of religion founded upon, divine authority! so that every precept clearly inculcated in this Gospel becomes to us a matter of indispensable obligation. The will of God is the rule of human conduct, whether that will be signified to us by the voice of natural reason, or by that of immediate revelation from heaven. Some duties we are bound to perform, because they are consonant to the very nature of things, to the situation in which we are placed by our great [5/6] Creator, to the relation in which we stand to him and to our fellow-men; and some duties, on the other hand, derive all their binding force from the direct and positive injunction of him who created us, who has a right to demand our obedience in every instance, and to prescribe the terms upon which he will communicate his undeserved favours. It is a clear dictate of reason, that, in our intercourse with our neighbour, we ought to speak truth and to do justice. And if the Gospel be the word of God, we are equally obliged to comply with the institutions of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; for he who spoke with divine authority did absolutely command, that all nations should be baptized. in the name of the ever-blessed Trinity; and, with respect to the holy Communion, that bread and wine should be received in remembrance of him. The moral and the ceremonial law being both derived from the same authority, so far require from us the same attention and regard. God demands our obedience, not only as reasonable creatures, but as Christians, acknowledging the holy Scriptures to contain a declaration of the Divine will.

[7] In order, therefore, to fulfil all righteousness required by the Christian law, the first thing necessary is to obtain admission into the Church of Christ by the sacred ordinance of Baptism.

We are taught by the word of God, that in consequence of the violation of that covenant of mercy which was made with our first parents, man forfeited his title to the favour of his Maker, and lost his right to happiness and immortality; that his nature then became depraved, and that this depravity has descended to all succeeding generations. We farther learn, that our merciful Creator, in compassion to his fallen creatures, instituted a wonderful method of restoration through the mediation of Jesus Christ: that in the fulness of time, the Son of God assumed our nature, and came and published the glad tidings of salvation; calling men to repentance; inviting them to receive this dispensation of mercy; making the atonement requisite to satisfy the offended justice of the Almighty; and offering, on certain conditions, to renew the title of sinful mortals to happiness and glory in a future state of existence. Now, the mode which [7/8] he instituted to signify our admission into this new covenant of grace, is the solemn rite of being baptized with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This institution was intended to answer the same purpose under the Christian dispensation that circumcision did under the economy of Moses, and consequently is to be applied to infants as well as to those of riper age. Being a divine appointment, it takes us from a state of nature, and transplants us within the enclosure of the Christian Church; from the destitute condition of aliens, it puts us in possession of all the privileges of the Gospel-Kingdom: It is said, in the language of our Catechism, to make us members of Christ, that is, of his Body the Church; children of God, that is, by adoption into his family; inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, that is, having the right of heirs to the heavenly inheritance, into the complete possession of which we shall hereafter come, if we fulfil our stipulated engagements, by renouncing the devil and his works, believing the articles of the Christian faith, and keeping God's holy will and commandments all the days of our life.

[9] It does not become us, therefore, to waste our time in disputing whether Baptism be absolutely necessary to salvation or not. Far be it from weak and sinful man to presume to limit the mercy of God, or to say what allowance he may or may not be pleased to make for the ignorance or the prejudice of his creatures. Our great business is diligently and seriously to inquire, Has he who has an indisputable right to dispense his favours upon his own terms, prescribed this particular mode of our entering into a covenant of mercy with him? Is it in our power to comply with what he has required? Have we, then, a right "to claim his mercy, while we refuse to adopt the appointed means of obtaining it? He may dispense with his own appointments, whenever it seemeth good to his infinite wisdom; but to do so, in us would be extreme presumption. By grace are we saved--saved from the power of sin in this life, and from its sad effects hereafter. When everlasting salvation is the prize of our high calling, let us be persuaded never to cavil at any of the injunctions of the Almighty, but in all cases implicitly to obey. When Naaman the [9/10] Syrian came to the Prophet Elisha, to be cured of his leprosy, he was commanded to go and dip seven times in the river Jordan. When the ten men who were lepers, for the same purpose, made their application to our Lord, they were directed, as the law required to go and show themselves to the priests. Now, in both these instances, had the diseased persons insisted upon having a cure effected merely by the speaking of a word with divine authority; had they refused to employ the external means prescribed, they never would have been relieved from their dreadful malady.


But to proceed; according to the order of our Church, in the course of fulfilling all righteousness, the next step is to go to the holy rite of Confirmation. This sacred ordinance is celebrated, in order that they who were baptized in infancy may, with due solemnity, take upon themselves the vows that were made in their name at their baptism; and also that by the prayers and benediction of Christ's authorized Minister, they who are confirmed, at whatever age they may have been previously baptized, may be supplied with fresh strength from [10/11] on high to enable them to run and not be weary in the way of God's commandments. We find, that in the days of the Apostles, the laying on of hands constantly succeeded the administration of Baptism. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, reckons Baptism and the laying on of hands among the principles of the doctrine of Christ. And, we are informed, when the people of Samaria had received the word of God by the preaching of Philip the Deacon, and were baptized by him; the Apostles, Peter and John, went down to them, and prayed for them, and laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. In consequence of this apostolic practice, the performance of the office of Confirmation has ever been deemed one of the duties which are peculiarly Episcopal; it has always been confined to the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles not indeed in their extraordinary gifts and miraculous powers, but merely in the ordinary government of the Church. Philip the Deacon, was authorized to preach and baptize; but it was necessary for an Apostle to go down to administer Confirmation.

Examine the office, as it stands in our [11/12] Book of Common Prayer; and, surely, the propriety and utility of it must be evident to every unprejudiced mind. What can have a more direct tendency to make religious impressions deep and permanent upon the minds of the young? And is it not a matter of the highest importance, at that early period of life, to give the mind a due direction? They are just stepping forth into a dangerous world, where enemies on every side stand ready to assail them. And may it not be reasonably expected, that their making themselves, in the first instance, well acquainted with the principles of Christianity; and then coming forward in the most public and solemn manner to ratify and confirm those engagements by which they stand bound to renounce the devil and his works, to believe the word of God, and to keep his commandments--may it not be expected, that these solemn transactions will prove a powerful restraint from vice, and incitement to virtue and piety? that God will listen to the prayers of the Pastors of his Church and of his Christian people, imploring him to send down upon those who come to be confirmed, the Holy Ghost the [12/13] Comforter, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness? and, that the young will thus go forth to the discharge of their duty, abundantly supplied with heavenly assistance? Rest assured, that the regular administration and devout reception of this holy ordinance will have a blessed effect in promoting the cause of Christianity in general; and the prosperity of our own Church in particular.

I shall again observe, that in our progress of fulfilling all righteousness we must proceed, in the next place, to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. By Baptism we are initiated into the Christian profession; at Confirmation we ratify our baptismal vows; and in the Communion we declare our steadfast continuance in that holy profession. This sacred ordinance, you well know, was instituted to keep up the remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and to signify the fellowship, which subsists among his disciples. This is the highest act of Christian devotion, and the benefits resulting to us from a proper performance of it are [13/14] proportionably great. While we are devoutly showing forth the Lord's death till he come, we strengthen our faith by meditating on the wonderful work of redemption through a suffering Saviour; we animate our hope by commemorating the love of God in Christ Jesus; we are more closely united in the bonds of charity; for the bread which we break is the communion of the Body of Christ--the communion of all the members of his mystical body, the Church, in mutual good offices, and in the partaking of the same blessings.

In the primitive days of Christianity, Baptism and Confirmation always led to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper: to receive the former without being desirous of receiving the latter, would have been deemed, at that time, a great absurdity. Whatever may be the cause of the too common neglect of this great Christian duty in the present day (whether it proceed from unreasonable timidity, from the cares or the pleasures of this world, or from absolute unbelief), our Church has forewarned us, that such excuses are not to be accepted and allowed before God. It is, no doubt, a service of great [14/15] solemnity: Serious preparation is necessary, in order to render us welcome guests at the Lord's Table. Let it, then, be deeply impressed upon our hearts, that God has given a clear and positive precept; that it is in our power to yield obedience to his command; that the only sure way to secure the performance of a good work is to enter upon it immediately; that now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation; but, in this transitory scene of things, an opportunity once lost may never be recovered. If we, at present, perversely stifle a good inclination that was rising in our bosoms, we know not whether God will not be provoked to give us up hereafter to a hardened heart of unbelief.

The great design of all the institutions of our religion is to train us up for the enjoyment of immortal bliss in the mansions of glory. And is it not, my Brethren, your earnest desire to come at last to the enjoyment of this heavenly felicity? Why, then, would you neglect any of the instituted means of attaining it? Why should you absent yourselves from the Holy Communion? It will be said, perhaps, "We are not worthy to approach the Lord's Table, [15/16] and become partakers of that most solemn ordinance." But, if you are afraid to meet your Lord in the solemnities of his Church here upon earth, how will you endure to meet him at the day of judgment in the glories of his celestial kingdom? The proper inquiry is, Are you seriously desirous of becoming more worthy; more and more holy, in all manner of conversation? If this be the case, what means can be more effectual for the accomplishment of this good purpose, than a regular and devout reception of the Supper of the Lord? When can we ask the forgiveness of our sins with a more reasonable expectation of success, than when we are offering up before God the memorial of that great sacrifice which was made to atone for the guilt of mankind? When can we more reasonably hope for plentiful effusions of divine grace and benediction to enable us to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, than when we are commemorating the wonderful love of Christ in dying for our sins; than when we are pleading the merits of our Redeemer's intercession, through whom alone every good and perfect gift is bestowed upon the children of [16/17] men? Let, therefore, no frivolous excuse detain you from the performance of your bounden duty. Strive to imitate your Lord's example; and endeavour, as it becometh you, to fulfil all righteousness.

But, let it ever be remembered, that the positive institutions of our religion look beyond themselves, and are intended to produce in us those dispositions of mind which are necessary to prepare us for the enjoyment of the bliss of heaven. While the Christian employs the instrument, let him never lose sight of the great end which it was designed to serve. The grace of God that bringeth salvation; in other words, the dispensation of the Gospel, requires us, indeed, to preserve ourselves blameless, by complying with every ordinance; but, at the same time, it teaches us that the end of the commandment is justice and charity--the denying of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.

We live in a very inquisitive and captious age. Far be it from any sincere advocate of the Gospel to fetter the reason of man, or attempt to discountenance the utmost [17/18] freedom of decent inquiry. Truth, simple, uniform, and permanent, shrinks not from the strictest examination; her merits will come forth more conspicuous from every trial. But let us never lose sight of this important reality, that the powers of the human mind, however extensive, must necessarily be limited--finite can never comprehend infinity. Let reason, by a process of candid and diligent investigation, examine the evidences of the truth of the Gospel; And if reason declare that this Gospel produces sufficient proofs of its divine authority; that it contains the word of God directing mankind to the attainment of everlasting salvation; then, let this divine word, in every instance, be the guide of our conduct; let it be quick and powerful, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. What though this Gospel contain some doctrines which are mysterious, and enjoin some observances which derive all their force and efficacy merely from the positive appointment of the Almighty; may not the all-wise God declare many truths, [18/19] to the comprehension of which the human understanding is not competent? Has not he from whom all good things do come, a right to prescribe the terms upon which he will dispense his blessings?

Let your light, therefore, so shine before a gainsaying world, that they may see your good works, and be induced to glorify your Father who is in heaven. Let the waters of Baptism lead to the thing signified, the internal purification of heart and spirit. Let the solemn ratification of your baptismal vows at the time of Confirmation, prove a perpetual restraint from every vicious indulgence. Let the stated reception of the Holy Communion produce in you habitual penitence of mind, increasing faith in God's mercy through Christ, and a never-ceasing desire to live in love and charity with all men. Thus shall we be enabled with truth to say of our Church, In the purity of her morals, the King's daughter is all-glorious within; and with respect to her external ceremonies, her clothing is of wrought gold. Strive, as well as pray for the peace and happiness of Jerusalem. They who thus love her, shall prosper--they shall prosper [19/20] in the sweet consolations of the Holy Spirit in this world; and, in a future state of existence, they shall prosper in a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.


A summary of the arguments in favor of Infant Baptism was drawn up, in the beginning of the last century, by a pious advocate for the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, nearly in the following words:

Infants were admitted into the Jewish Church as members of the same, by the then sacramental sign or seal of Circumcision.

The Jewish and Christian Churches are in substance the same. And as in the Jewish Church none could, in a covenant way, be admitted into it but by Circumcision, the seal of the Covenant, and badge of the Church; so, under the Gospel Dispensation, none can in a regular way be admitted into the Christian Church but by Baptism, the Gospel seal of the same covenant, and badge of the Christian Church.

The Church-membership of infants was a substantial privilege conveyed by the covenant made with Abraham to the Jewish Church, which was founded on that covenant.

Christ, by his coming, did not intend to take away any substantial privileges which his Church enjoyed before, but to enlarge them.

The alteration of the initiative sign makes no alteration in the thing signified or sealed by it.

By an equitable interpretation of many texts in the New Testament, it appears that infants have now, under the Gospel Dispensation, the same privileges continued to them which they had under the Mosaic Dispensation; [21/22] and, therefore, there is now the same equitable reason to be given for their Baptism that there was for their Circumcision.

In the Jewish Church, before our Saviour's time, children and strangers were baptized as well as circumcised.

Since Baptism was a known custom in the Jewish Church, and since our Saviour was pleased to perpetuate this custom, as the standing initiative sacrament of the Christian Church, it is highly to be presumed, that his intention, according to the established usage, was to have it applied to infants, as well as to others.

If we moreover, consider, that it has ever, till of late, been the practice of the Christian Church to baptize their children, it amounts to a proof so demonstrative that infants have a right to Baptism, that, for my part, I must confess that I have never yet seen any sufficient arguments, neither can I frame any to myself so ponderous, as to weigh down what I have here produced for it.


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