Project Canterbury

Baptismal Regeneration Briefly Defended and Explained


[no publisher]

Canandaigua, August 4th, 1818.

THE "Remarks on this subject formerly published as a little tract, having been controverted in a Sermon by the Rev. William Bacon, of Waterloo, lately printed, the author deems it expedient to submit the following additional remarks. They should have appeared before, but the sermon did not come to hand until within a few days.

1. The tract in question was written for the sole purpose of shewing a scriptural warrant for the use of the word "regenerate" in the baptismal service. Provided scripture authorises the application of the word to baptism, its meaning may be a subject of after decision. Whatever explanation will apply to such an application of the word in the Bible, must apply also to its similar application in the prayer-book.--Of course the purpose of the tract will be served, if Mr. B. finds scriptural warrant for this use of the term, whatever be his opinion of its signification.

2. A scriptural warrant for calling baptism regeneration, is actually admitted by Mr. B. He denies indeed, that baptism is meant by "washing of regeneration," (Tit. 3:5,) but he admits (p. 6) that the term new-birth, is "applied to both a change of heart, and to baptism by water," and the title of his sermon is "Regeneration, the new-birth." Of course regeneration is, equally with new-birth, an appellation of baptism.--Now, it matters not, whether he defend this appellation by the words "washing of regeneration," or "born of water," (John 3: 5,) since either is a scriptural warrant for the language of the prayer-book; to shew which was the sole purpose of the tract. It also matters not, whether he account baptismal regeneration to be only "figurative" of a change of heart, (p. 6) or to be the actual change of heart, or to be something different. Mr. B. doubtless uses figurative language in prayer and in preaching; and he surely could not object to the same in baptismal services. On his own principles then, Mr. B. could use these parts of the prayer-book.

3. Taking Mr. B. on his own ground, he had admitted a baptismal new-birth, but insists on another and higher regeneration of the heart. And (to leave disputes on mere words) what great difference from his view will be found in the doctrine of the tract; "baptised persons are regenerate, but they still pray for renewing grace"--"grant that as I have been born of water, I may also be born of the Spirit" ?--Mr. B. only can say what he means, by calling that part of his discourse which is particularly confined to Regeneration," an "answer" to the tract, just quoted!

These observations leave on ground yet uninjured the main assertions of the tract--that the prayer-book has scriptural warrant for calling baptism regeneration. What becomes of the subordinate parts of the tract, is of less importance. The following remarks however, will vindicate it from all that has yet appeared against it.

1. While Mr. B. admits, from John 3: 5, that baptism is called (figuratively) a new birth, he denies that the "washing of regeneration," (Tit. 3: 5) means baptism; he insists that it "means the same thing as 'renewing of the Holy Ghost.' For this he certainly can bring authorities. But authorities can be brought against him from his own denomination--Dr. McKnight, a very learned divine of the presbyterian church of Scotland, has this commentary on the words:--

"Through the bath of regeneration: Through baptism; called the bath of regeneration, not because any change in the nature of the baptised person is produced by baptism, but because it is an emblem of the purification of his soul from sin." "In the term regeneration, when joined with baptism, there is an allusion to the phraseology of the Jewish doctors, whom, when they admitted a proselyte into their church by baptism, always spake of him as one born again."--The "bath (or washing) of regeneration" is baptism, according to this able presbyterian divine.

2. Mr. B. objects to a distinction between regeneration, and born from above (p. 7) It is true that these words, born (again), born from above, and regeneration, are confounded in uninspired books. But in the inspired volume, a distinction may be observed. Regeneration means simple repetition of birth (or generation); born (or begotten) from from above, expresses, besides repetition, the heavenly nature of the generating influence; born, otherwise than at natural birth, means of course born again, and may imply simple repetition, or allude also to the heavenly influence, according to the circumstances under which it is applied. Thus, the term regeneration occurs in Titus 3: 5, where its application is to baptism. The term born (or begotten) from above, occurs in John 3: 3, 7, in both which places it alludes to change of heart. The term born (obviously born again) occurs in John 3: 5, where it is applied both to water or baptism, and to the Spirit or heavenly influence; and in John 3: 6,8, where it alludes to the Spirit only: also, in 1 Pet. 1 : 23, we find "born again;" but the idea of simple repetition is excluded by the expression "incorruptible seed," which determines it to apply to heavenly influence.--These are scriptural distinctions, however they be confounded (by writers of all denominations) out of scripture. It should be added, that the expression, "children of God," and the like, have also double applications; as will be seen immediately.

3. Altho' in p. 6, Mr. B. admits that scripture asserts a "figurative new birth" in baptism, yet at p. 11, he declares "baptism is not regeneration," as "every christian" "knows from experience." Is christian experience here set against scripture?--Christian experience (uninspired) is given for the right understanding of ourselves--not for the proof of doctrine.

But there is no contradiction between scripture and christian experience, if we admit baptismal regeneration, as well as a transforming (or, in common, but not scriptural language, a regeneration) of the heart and affections.--This will be seen on a review of the several theories of Baptismal Regeneration.

a. Dr. McKnight, as we saw above, speaks of baptism as emblematic regeneration. Mr. B. (p. 6,) agrees in this view, making it a figurative regeneration. Many other divines (some using the word regeneration, and some rejecting it,) agree that baptism is a sign or type of purification from sin.--As Isaac was once dead "in a figure" so baptised persons receive regeneration (of heart) in a figure, according to this theory. And, in this sense even, the prayer-book language is correct.

Other divines, while they admit that baptism is all this, insist that it is also something more. We are "baptised into one body by the Spirit," (1 Cor. 12: 13.) Into what "one body?" the (mystical body of Christ; that is, the church. And there is but "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5) into that church.--On this authority we must admit, that, when the minister performs the baptismal ordinance, the Spirit adds his sanction. Of course the ordinance is a spiritual ordinance; and baptism regeneration is a spiritual regeneration.--Thus far we have scriptural foundation; the superstructure added has been various.

b. Certain able divines maintain, that baptismal regeneration being spiritual, it must be identical with that new-birth in which transforming grace is infused into the soul. But they make it the mere germ of sanctification, which may be kept torpid by our resistance of the Spirit, or become active by our being led by the Spirit. Of course, subsequent grace is as essential in this theory as any theology can make it.--In the case of hypocrites coming to baptism, regenerating grace is not imparted (Christ. Obs. No. 178, p. 620): Of course even this theory is hypothetical.--The only argument for identifying baptismal and inward (or moral) regeneration, is their being often called by the same name in scripture, but this is a very insecure argument.

c. In violent opposition to the above theory, is one, which, in fact, differs little from it. Scripture associates baptism, with regeneration, with being born of the Spirit, with renewing of the Holy Ghost. They can be associated (it is argued) only in sincere persons; of course, regeneration is asserted of those baptised person only who are (or become) truly pious. While therefore the connection of baptism with regeneration is maintained, it is presumed that there be in the case no hypocrisy or want of piety.--This theory (also hypothetical) though safe in practice, and received by many excellent men, makes baptism to be, sometimes the "washing of regeneration," and sometimes "washing without regeneration;"--if the one be baptism, how can the other be the same?

d. Perhaps the following view will meet all difficulties:--we shall state it at length.--Admission to the church-estate is a birth; for persons in the church as said to be children (or born) of God. Thus Moses says of the Israelites, "the church in the wilderness,"--"ye are the children of the Lord your God;" (Deut. 14: 1)--he excludes none of the people. St. Paul likewise speaks of the Galatians (4:5) as having received "the adoption of sons;" which he explains afterwards (4: 31) as their being "children of the free woman," or church, the spouse of Christ; and yet he speaks of them as not fully changed in heart, "my little children of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you" (4: 19).--To enter the church therefore, is to become, in some sense, "children of the Lord our God;" it is to receive an "adoption of sons." Very natural then is the language of our Saviour, that we must be "born" of water before we enter into the "kingdom of God" (upon earth); as also that of St. Paul, the "washing of regeneration."--The outward adoption to the earthly church, is, however, very different from the inward adoption to the heavenly church. And the two births must of course be different.

Both the adoptions or births are attributed to the Spirit; "by one Spirit we are all baptized," or born of water; "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God." In the latter case, the Spirit works by moral influences on our spirit. In the former, he does not.--The Spirit operated in men to produce inspiration; and yet Balaam was a wicked man. The Spirit was given to men for miraculous powers; and yet a man might "remove mountains, be a prophet, speak with the tongues of men and angels, and be nothing." (1 Cor. 13:) The Spirit was bestowed when the apostles were ordained. (John 20:22); "receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose soever sins ye remit, &c.; that is, they received a commission or separation from the Spirit--were set apart by Him to the priestly office. So Aaron was set apart by anointing, and the Levitical priesthood, in him; which rite signified spiritual designation. Christian ministers have always been set apart by laying on of hands; and thus the commission, "receive the Holy Ghost" continues "to the end of the world." And yet, among both Jewish and Christian priests, (having this separation of the Spirit) there have been bad men. Of course, among the "diversities of operations" of the Spirit, there are some which do not imply his moral influence on the heart.

Apply this to baptism, and difficulties vanish. Baptism is a separating ordinance: the Holy Spirit, through his minister, separates us from the world, and adopts us into the "one body" of Christ. By this adoption we become "sons of the free woman," the church (Gal. 4 : 31) and, of course, sons of Him who is her "Husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name," (Isa. 54: 5.)

This adoption or regeneration however, brings us only to that field in which both tares and wheat grow together until the harvest. The church, although one, has several enclosures; which were typified in the Mosaic tabernacle. The tabernacle represented heaven; (Heb. 9: 24) the holy of holies, or inner chamber, being the immediate dwelling-place of God; the holy place, or outer chamber, being for the priests: The court, which did not represent heaven, was for all Israel. The whole represents the one church in heaven and on earth. By baptism, we are separated from the world to the general body of Israel, in the court of the tabernacle; we are adopted, or born again, into that family of which it is said "ye are the children of the Lord your God" (Deut 14 : 1). By being "born of the Spirit," or "renewed by the Holy Ghost," or "conformed to the image of God's Son," we are fitted to come to the "church (the tabernacle-chamber) of the first-born," who were sanctified to God," (Numb. 3: 12) in the holy place; by this sanctification, our "names are written in heaven," and we are made "priests unto God."

If neither of the above theories be accounted true, there will remain but two courses:--Either,

To reject all baptismal regeneration;--but then we reject our Saviour's words "born (again) of water," and those of St. Paul, "washing of regeneration,"--although the Presbyterian church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Dutch church, the American Presbyterian church, the Methodist church, agree, with the Episcopal church, in accounting baptism to be, either figuratively or literally, regeneration:--Or else, our course must be,

To admit baptismal regeneration as a mystery; revealed in scripture, but not to be explained by men.


Canandaigua, August 4th, 1818.

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