C. GOODRICH, PRINTER.
Reverend and Beloved Brethren:
THE topic to which I desire to call your attention, is the old and much disputed question of Baptismal Regeneration, which has lately attracted so much notice in our venerable Mother Church of England, and in our own, through the extraordinary interest excited by the case of Rev. Mr. Gorham against the Bishop of Exeter. It was my intention to have appended some remarks upon the subject, to my Address, when I had the pleasure of. meeting you at our last diocesan Convention. But believing, on further reflection, that its importance demanded a much more thorough treatment than I at first proposed, I thought it better to omit any allusion to it at that time, in order that I might present my opinion to you with the advantages of a fuller and more careful exposition.
The circumstances of this novel case are briefly as follows. The Rev. Mr. Gorham was presented to a living in the diocese of Exeter, and applied to be instituted accordingly. The Bishop required him to state his opinions on the point of regeneration in infant Baptism. The statement was not satisfactory, and the firm and fearless diocesan refused to institute him. There was no charge against Mr. Gorham for irregularity in the administration of the established forms of the Church. There was no impeachment of his general orthodoxy and soundness in the faith. His character and ministerial standing, in all other respects, were fair [3/4] and high. But because his theological theory upon the Baptismal office did not accord with what the Bishop believed to be the doctrine of the Church, he was rejected as disqualified to hold his living.
Being persuaded that his claims had been unjustly set aside, he instituted a suit in the Ecclesiastical Court of Arches, which has recently been decided in the Bishop's favor. An appeal has been taken from this decision, and the question will come up, for final adjudication, before the Sovereign in Chancery. By the twenty-fifth Statute of Hen. 8, c. 19. it is provided that "for lack of justice in the Archbishop's Courts, the party grieved may appeal to the King in Chancery, and upon every such appeal, a commission shall be directed under the great seal to such persons as shall be named by the King, whose sentence shall be definitive. These commissioners are usually some of the lords spiritual and temporal or both, and commonly one or more of the twelve judges, and one or more doctors of the civil law." [Burn's Ecclesiastical Law. Tit. Appeal. vol. 1. p. 61.] Meanwhile, the dispute excites intense solicitude, as well throughout the established Church, as amongst the various denominations of Christians who are styled, in England, Dissenters; being regarded as a struggle between the two great parties commonly known by the titles of High and Low Churchmen. And should the ultimate judgment be in favor of the Bishop's course, the result may be such as to impress a new aspect upon the Church, which a multitude of her warmest friends cannot anticipate without pain and apprehension.
It is solely on account of the practical bearing of this important controversy on ourselves, that I have thought it my duty to give it the most serious consideration. For it would be a great mistake to suppose that it only affects our Mother Church of England. On the contrary, it comes home to you, and to me, and to all our brethren. If the learned [4/5] and admired Bishop of Exeter be right in making this question a test for the admission of an otherwise worthy minister into his diocese, you cannot fail to perceive that it must be equally right for every other Bishop to do the same. And therefore, as one of the parties concerned, I ask for a hearing while the point at issue is still undetermined, under the fullest conviction that a graver inquiry has hardly arisen since the era of the Reformation.
In order to present a more satisfactory view of the whole subject, I shall first state briefly the three principal varieties of opinion on the baptismal regeneration of infants, which the Church has hitherto tolerated. Next, I shall place before you the arguments relied on by the class of divines to which Mr. Gorham is supposed to belong, and then you will be prepared to see distinctly the precise ground on which his doctrine has been condemned by the Bishop of Exeter and the learned judge of the Court of Arches. I shall afterwards examine whether this ground has not been left open by the Church to the liberty of individual opinion, and conclude with some considerations of duty and expediency, connected with the course of episcopal government and the welfare of the Church, which compel me, notwithstanding my high regard for the eminent attainments and ability of both these distinguished personages, to regret and dissent from their decision.
1. The prevailing doctrine amongst us as to the operative results of infant Baptism, in which I fully concur, is that which naturally arises from the language of our formularies; always remembering, however, that the term Regeneration in the Baptismal office imports, not a spiritual change of heart, but a spiritual change of relation, equivalent to adoption. The ground of the doctrine appears in the divine command, by which the children of Abraham, at the age of eight days only, were made parties to the covenant of God in the rite of Circumcision. With this must be connected the remarkable narration of St. Luke's Gospel, (xviii. 15.) where [4/5] we read that "they brought unto Jesus infants, that he would touch them; and when his disciples saw it, they rebuked 'them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." In the parallel passage of St. Mark's Gospel, we read that "he took the children up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." Now as this was unquestionably recorded for the instruction of the Church, we are authorized to believe that the Saviour still receives, with equal tenderness and favor, the little ones brought to Him in the holy Sacrament of Baptism. Therefore we hesitate not to teach that the infant, being dedicated to the Lord by faith, in the Ordinance of His own appointment, is graciously accepted as a party to His covenant of redemption, taken up, as it were, in His own sacred arms, and blessed by Him, with the remission of sin, and the pledge of all spiritual influences required for salvation. And thus, in Baptism, the infant is truly "regenerated" or "adopted" as a "member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. For being by nature born in sin and the child of wrath, he is hereby made the child of grace", according to our Catechism. Nevertheless, although this inestimable privilege is indeed a spiritual gift, and therefore the Church offers a thanksgiving to God that "He has regenerated the infant with His Holy Spirit," yet it does not imply that the recipient has undergone a "change of heart," or spiritual renovation of nature, equivalent to conversion. For this is a subsequent work, connected with the actual exercise of repentance and faith, and cannot take place, as a general rule, until the period when he shall be capable of believing and obeying the Gospel. Therefore, in infant Baptism, to use the words of Dr. Waterland, "Regeneration precedes, and renovation can only follow after, though infants may perhaps be found capable of receiving some seeds of internal grace, sooner than is commonly imagined." (Works, Vol. VI. p. 358.) For a full exposition of this view; [6/7] however, I may refer you to the second and third Lectures in my volume called "The Primitive Church, "where I have presented, substantially, the same doctrine which I suppose to be maintained by the Bishop of Exeter.
The second opinion, held by some, extends the benefits of infant regeneration, in all cases where the Sacrament is rightly administered, to a complete spiritual renovation of nature: the child being made, in the very act, a living temple of the Holy Ghost, and becoming a new creature in so excellent a sense, that the future aim of the Christian life is chiefly to be directed to the maintenance or recovery of baptismal purity. This notion, to my mind, seems quite untenable.
The third opinion considers the effects of infant Baptism to be various, according to circumstances: that the inward and spiritual grace does not always accompany the administration of the ordinance: that in the lowest sense of regeneration, the child is only made a member of the visible Church by a sacramental consecration: that in a higher sense, he can only be pronounced spiritually regenerate, by an assumption of the fact that the Holy Spirit has previously implanted a disposition to sanctity, which shall incline his heart, in due time, to repentance and faith: while the to - and full results of spiritual regeneration, in the highest sense, are confined to those who are of the number of the elect, which, of course, is the complete doctrine of the Calvinistic system. I do not know whether Mr. Gorham would subscribe to this statement throughout, but I suppose it probable that it would not differ, in any important respect, from his views of orthodoxy.
2. I am now, in the second place, to consider the arguments by which the class of divines, to which I presume he belongs, defend their opinion. And here it must be observed that the term regeneration is taken as susceptible of a two-fold signification, internal and external. If it be understood to mean an inward sanctification, (in which sense it is commonly employed by Calvinistic writers) then they [7/8] justify the baptismal service of the Church upon the hypothetic principle. Thus Rev. Mr. Scott, in his "Inquiry into the effects of Baptism," p. 142, saith, that "the Church supposes something which corresponds to sincerity:--supposes that the child will perform,--or, (what is perfectly possible) that it even now, through the grace of God, possesses a disposition which will lead it, as it becomes capable of so doing, to perform its vows; and, on the ground of this supposition, returns thanks to Almighty God that it hath pleased him to regenerate this infant with his Holy Spirit, and to receive him for his own child by adoption, as well as to incorporate him into his holy Church." This author argues very ingeniously, that in the case of adult Baptism, the Church pronounces the recipient to be regenerate on the supposition that he is sincere; because it is allowed by all that the Sacrament is not attended by any grace, if he comes to it without the proper disposition. And therefore, in the case of infants, it may be assumed that the regeneration is pronounced to be effected on the same ground. "The prayers offered," saith he, "are supposed to have been sincerely offered; the  promises made, it is presumed, will be performed; and, UPON THESE ASSUMPTIONS, the infant is spoken of as regenerated by God's Holy Spirit. But if these conditions fail; if the prayers have been offered in mere form; if the child, when l w comes to age, shows no disposition to keep his vows, then I feel myself warranted to conclude that the spiritual blessing dependent on such conditions, is, with regard to him, null and void; and that, although, having been admitted into the visible Church by the external sign of baptism with water, he needs not to be baptized again, yet without the baptism of the Holy Ghost, without spiritual regeneration, he never can be a member of the Church of Christ, (consisting of all true believers) or come to the kingdom of heaven." (ib. 145.)
The other line of argument proceeds on the ground that the term regeneration has not only a higher and spiritual [8/9] sense, but also a lower and merely ecclesiastical meaning. And for this, the same writer relies on the well-known work of the Bishop of Londonderry, Dr. Ezekiel Hopkins, who died towards the close of the seventeenth century, a hundred and fifty years before the rise of the present controversy.
"To be sanctified," saith this author, "imports, in the proper signification of it, no more than to be appointed, separated, or dedicated to God. "And so persons and places are often said to be consecrated and sanctified to the Lord in Scripture. But then there are two ways of dedication unto God--"the one external, by men; the other internal, and wrought by God himself."
"As there is this twofold dedication or separation, so there is also a twofold sanctification. There is an external, relative, or ecclesiastical sanctification, which is nothing else, but the devoting or giving up of a thing or person unto God, by those who have power so to do. There is an internal, real, and spiritual sanctification: and in this sense, a man is said to be sanctified, when the Holy Ghost cloth infuse into his soul the habits of divine grace, and maketh him partaker of the divine nature, whereby he is inwardly qualified to glorify God in a holy life."
In applying this distinction to Baptism, he lays down the two following propositions.
1. "Baptism is the immediate means of our external and relative sanctification unto God.--By this holy sacrament, all that are partakers of it are dedicated and separated unto him."
From this it follows, as he shows at large, "that those who are baptized, may, in this ecclesiastical sense, be truly called saints, the children of God, and members of Christ, 'and, thereupon, inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.' Doubtless, so far forth baptism is a means of sanctification, 'as it is the solemn admission of persons into the visible 'Church, as it separates them from the world, and from all false religions in it, and brings them out of the visible [9/10] kingdom of the devil, into the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ. But this is only a relative sanctity, not a real; and many such saints and sanctified men there are, who shall never "enter heaven; but by their wicked lives, forfeit and lose that blessed inheritance to which they were called.--And yet, to such saints as these all the ordinances of the Church are due, till, for their notorious wickedness, they be cut off from that body, by the sentence of excommunication. Such a baptismal regeneration as this must needs be acknowledged by all, that will not wilfully shut their eyes against the dear evidence of Scripture."
His second proposition is this:
2. "That Baptism is not so the means of an internal and real sanctification, as if all to whom it is administered, were thereby spiritually renewed and made partakers of the Holy Ghost in his saving graces." And after an argument to prove the assertion, he concludes by saying: "Therefore, I judge it unsound doctrine to affirm, that Baptism doth confer real sanctification upon all infants, as well as upon some adult persons, who are made partakers of it."
He then supposes it objected, that "the Church hath appointed a prayer in the office of Baptism, wherein we bless God that it bath pleased him to regenerate the baptized infant with his Holy Spirit." And he remarks upon it as follows: "To this I answer, that the baptismal regeneration of infants is external and ecclesiastical. They are regenerated, as they are incorporated into the Church of Christ; for this is called regeneration, Mat. xix. 28. Ye which have followed me in the regeneration--i. e. in planting my Church, which is the renewing of the world. To be admitted, therefore, by Baptism, into the Church of Christ, is to be admitted into the state of regeneration, or the renewing of all things."
"But how then are infants said, in Baptism, to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, if he doth not inwardly sanctify them in and by that ordinance? I answer, because the [10/11] whole economy and dispensation of the kingdom of Christ is managed by the Spirit of Christ: so that those who are internally sanctified, are regenerated by his effectual operation; and those who are only externally sanctified, are regenerated by his public institution. Infants, therefore, are in Baptism regenerated by the Holy Ghost, because the Holy Spirit of God appoints this ordinance to receive them into the visible Church, which is the regenerate part and state of the world."
"In this lower, external, and ecclesiastical sense," adds Mr. Scott, "we may affirm, unconditionally, the regeneration of all to whom Baptism is rightly administered. But in the higher and spiritual sense of the term, we can predicate regeneration of baptized persons, only hypothetically: namely, upon the supposition, in the case of adults, of their sincerity; and in the case of infants, of their possessing that disposition which shall lead them, when they become capable of it, to keep their baptismal vows." (Ib. 148-154.)
"That even infants are capable of receiving from God such a disposition as I have supposed," saith the same writer, (p. 235,) "seems to me as clear, as that they may and do, by nature, possess a contrary disposition. And that Almighty God may be pleased, in many instances, to communicate such grace, especially to the children of pious parents, presented to Baptism with devout and fervent prayers, I can readily hope and believe."
Here, then, we have the distinction which, although it is held by many who do not call themselves Calvinists, may yet be fairly traced to the Calvinistic doctrine of personal election. And Hooker himself admits the point very plainly, for, notwithstanding he saith that Baptism is, "to our sanctification here, a step that bath not any before it," he adds, in the very same sentence, that it may be "a seal perhaps, to the grace of election, before received." (Ecc. Pol. B. V.ch. ix. 4.) Thus, the word of the Lord addresses the prophet [11/12] Jeremiah, saying, "before thou earnest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee," (ch. 1, 5.) and hence there is, undoubtedly, in some cases, what Rev. Mr. Gorham has styled "praevenient grace," which may well be admitted to constitute an important difference in the spiritual results of the Sacrament of Baptism.
The term, regeneration, therefore, appears to be interpreted in a twofold sense by our divines. In its higher and spiritual sense, it is used to signify a moral and internal change. Thus, in the Homily for Whitsunday, we read, "Such is the power of the Holy Ghost to REGENERATE men, and, as it were, to bring them forth anew, so that they shall be nothing like the men that they were before." So Bishop Latimer saith, Except a man be barn again from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God. He must have REGENERATION: and what is this regeneration? It is not to be christened in water, (as these firebrands expound it) and nothing else. How is it to be expounded then? Saith St. Peter, We be born again. How? Not by a moral seed but by an immortal. What is the immortal seed? By the word of the living God. By the word of God preached and opened. Thus cometh in our new birth." So Bishop Davenant: As to the term REGENERATED, or born again, I do not call one who is enlightened or breathed upon by any motion of the Holy Spirit, regenerated; but him who is raised from a death of sin, and quickened by the all-powerful operation of that Spirit. On the other hand, I call him unregenerate, who has not yet attained to this spiritual quickening, however he may have been affected by some preceding operation of the Holy Spirit." (Treatise on Justification, translated by Rev. Josiah Allport, Vol. 2. p. 265.) So Bishop Beveridge: "When a man believes in Christ, the second Adam, and so is made a member of his body, he is quickened and animated by his Spirit, which being the principle of a new life in him, he thereby becomes a new creature,--and therefore is properly said to be born again, [12/13] not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. His whole nature is changed--He hath a new set of thoughts and affections--and whereas other men are born only of the flesh, such a one is REGENERATE OR BORN AGAIN OF THE SPIRIT.--Hence all such are called the sons of God, and are REALLY SO." (Works, Vol. 1. p. 609--610.) So the learned Jos. Mede: REGENERATION, Or new birth, consists of these two parts,' repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,-that is, the whole mystery of regeneration, whereby a man becomes the child of God, and a member of the kingdom of heaven." (Discourses, p. 30.) So the Rev. Dr. Barrow represents "REGENERATION to be a spiritual change, effected by the influence of the Holy Spirit, on the mind, the will, and the affections of an adult sinner." (Works, Vol. 2, Sermon 34.) And so Archbishop Tillotson's Sermon on Galatians, vi. 15. "After many strugglings and conflicts with their lusts, and the strong bias of evil habits, this resolution, assisted by the grace of God, does effectually prevail, and make a real change both in the temper of their minds, and the course of their lives, and when that is done, and not before, they are said to be REGENERATE."
Besides this higher and spiritual sense, however, we have also seen that the word regeneration is used in a lower, symbolical and sacramental signification; from which it would follow, that a man may be called regenerate in one sense, while he is unregenerate in another. And to show that this lower meaning of the word regeneration is not confined to the Calvinistic school, I shall add a statement of Dr. Waterland, which is entitled to a most respectful consideration.
"The name or notion" (viz. of baptismal regeneration) was probably not altogether new in our Lord's time," saith this learned writer, "for the Jews had been used to admit converts from heathenism into the Jewish Church, by a baptism of their own; and they called the admission or reception of such converts by the name of regeneration, or [13/14] new birth, as it was somewhat like bringing them into a new world. Such proselytes were considered as dead to their former state of darkness, and born anew to light, liberty and privileges, among the children of Israel, and within the Church of God. The figure was easy, natural and affecting; and therefore our Lord was pleased, in his conference with Nicodemus, to adopt the same kind of language, applying it to the case of admitting converts both from Judaism and Paganism, into Christianity, transferring and sanctifying the rile, the figure and the name, to higher and holier, but still, similar purposes." (Works, Vol. VI. p. 344.)
Again, saith the same able author, As the Holy Spirit consecrates and sanctifies the waters of Baptism, giving them an outward and relative holiness, so he consecrates the persons also in an outward and relative sense, whether good or bad, by a sacred dedication of them to the worship and service of the whole Trinity; which consecration is forever binding, and has its effect, either to the salvation of the parties if they repent and amend, or to their greater damnation if they do not." (Ib. p. 361.) Here we have the idea of regeneration in the ancient sense of sacramental consecration, without any immediate operation of internal grace upon the receiver. And somewhat similar is the popular meaning employed by the world, when a people, groaning under a despotic government, cast off their chains and adopt a free constitution, and are forthwith termed "regenerated." For this is perfectly understood to signify a regeneration to a new sphere of outward rights and privileges; and no one supposes it to imply a moral or internal change.
Nor is this variety of acceptation peculiar to the word in question, since the term HOLINESS bears a like twofold meaning in the Scriptures. Thus, in the Old Testament, holiness is ascribed to every thing and person which had been formally dedicated to the service of the Almighty. The tabernacle, the table of the shew-bread, the golden candlestick, the [14/15] anointing oil, the garments of the priesthood, Mount Zion, the city of Jerusalem,--all were called holy, in this sense of external and relative consecration, and in the same sense, the whole people of Israel were styled the holy seed, and the holy people. But when their spiritual state in the sight of God was in question, the language employed was quite the contrary. For now we find them currently denounced as disobedient, rebellious, idolatrous, unclean, and abominable. Here, therefore, we see a similar paradox. The same people are pronounced, at the same time, holy and unholy. And yet there is no inconsistency whatever, when the twofold aspect of the subject is properly understood: since they were, indeed, holy at all times, with respect to their external and formal consecration to God, as His covenant people, in the rite of circumcision; while yet, in heart and life, they were too often unholy, and, for the most part, deserving only of His wrath and condemnation.
It is admitted, on all sides, as the general rule, that the grace of the Sacrament is not tied to the administration of the Sacrament. A single passage from St. Augustine presents this point in so striking and plain an aspect, that it may be well to cite it at large. [Nec immerito recte intelligitur, quamvis ipsos baptismum Christi habere fateamur, hareticos non accipere vel schismaticos Spiritum-Sanctum, nisi dum compagini adhaeserint unitatis per consortium caritatis.--Et ne putaretur consequens esse, ut quisquis baptismum Trinitatis habuerit, habeat etiam Spiritum-Sanctum, propterea etiam in ipsa unitate facta est tanta distinctio, ut inveniamus quondam baptizatos Spiritum-Sanctum postea meruisse, cum ad illos in Samariam venissent apostoli, quibus absentibus fuerant baptizati; alios autem, quod singulare occurit exemplum, eum ante baptismum percepisse; sicut loquente Petro, Cornelia et eis qui cum illo erant, superna potestate concessum est. &c.--Cur igitur modo sic, modo autem sic, nisi ne aliquid hinc humanae superbiae, sed totem divina gratis potestatique tribuatur? Haec itaque distinctio inter et accentionem baptismi, acceptionem Spiritus-sancti, satis nos instruit, at habere hos continuo Spiritum-Sanctum putemus, quos habere baptismum non negamus. S. Augustini op. Tom. 5 p. 762, 2.)] "It is rightly understood," saith [15/16] he, "that although we confess heretics and schismatics to have the Baptism of Christ, yet they do not receive the Holy Spirit, unless they adhere to the bond of unity, through the communion of charity," (that is, as he else where explains it, unless they return to the communion of the Church.) "And lest it should be thought," continues he, that whoever has the Baptism of the Trinity, must also have the Holy Spirit, therefore even in that unity itself," (namely, the unity of the Church,) "so great a distinction is made, that we find certain persons baptized, who received the Holy Spirit afterwards, as was the case of those in Samaria, baptized in the absence of the apostles, and to whom they came. But others, of whom a singular example occurs, received Him before Baptism, for while Peter was yet speaking, the gift was granted by divine power to Cornelius, and those who were with him." Some other examples are adduced by St. Augustine, and then he concludes as follows: "Why, therefore, is this recorded, now in one order, and then in another, unless it be, that nothing is to be granted to human pride, but all attributed to the divine grace and power? Hence this distinction, between the reception of Baptism and the reception of the Holy Ghost, instructs us sufficiently, that we may not suppose the Holy Spirit to be given immediately to those whom we confess to be baptized."
Perhaps the easiest way to deal with the cases mentioned by S. Augustine, on the part of those who, like myself, usually confine the term regeneration to the grace received in Baptism, is to call them exceptions to the general rule. And yet, even so, there is an awkward question involved in these facts. Take the case, for example, of Simon the magician, baptized by the deacon Philip, whom the apostles afterwards assured, (Acts, viii. 21), that he had neither part nor lot in the matter, "because his heart was not right in the sight of God," and advised him to repent if perhaps be might be forgiven. Now suppose him to have repented and to have been [16/17] forgiven, When was he regenerated? At the time of his Baptism? If so, then there must be a Sacramental regeneration without inward and spiritual grace. Or at the time of his repentance? If so, then there must be a spiritual regeneration, separated, perhaps, by a long period of years, from the administration of the Sacrament. In answering such questions, the hypothesis of the bishop of Londonderry, which, as I think, is substantially endorsed by Dr. Waterland, seems to me absolutely indispensable. The term regeneration must be allowed sometimes to have a twofold sense, the outward, relative and ecclesiastical sense, and the inward, real and spiritual meaning. The Church, both in the case of adults and in that of infants, assumes that all is right, and pronounces them alike regenerate. And this is perfectly consistent, because, if we are not allowed to make this assumption, we could not administer the Sacrament at all, unless we had, in every case, a special revelation. But whether they do always receive the grace of sanctifying regeneration, along with their sacramental regeneration, Who can tell but the Searcher of hearts? We have a right to suppose that all adults who seem to us prepared, are so. And we have the same right to suppose that all infants are equally fit, because we can see no difference. But can any man prove that there is no difference? Was there no difference in the sight of God between the infant Jeremiah, "sanctified before his birth," and the infant Judas, the "Son of perdition, "though both were equally entitled to receive circumcision on the eighth day?
Besides these general arguments, which may he advanced on the side of Mr. Gorham, and which are certainly not destitute of weight and ingenuity, there was another line of justification largely insisted on by his Counsel, derived from the fact, that the Reformers were Calvinists, and could not have intended that the Articles and formularies of the Church should he construed so as to exclude themselves. This argument, however, the Judge set aside, as entirely irrelevant, [17/18] saying, that "even though these learned persons did embrace Calvinistic principles to the extent alleged, those Calvinistic principles embraced by them cannot go to the interpretation of the Articles and Services, which speak for themselves, and require no such assistance; their language being precise and determinate." The position here advanced, I shall examine at large hereafter.
3. Presuming, my Rev. brethren, that you are now fully possessed of the substantial merits of the controversy, I come to the opinion delivered by the Court of Arches, as given by "The English Churchman."
"The Bishop of Exeter," saith the learned Judge, "imputed to Mr. Gorham that he held and avowed opinions on the subject of the efficacy of Baptism which were opposed to the doctrines of the Church, as set forth in the formula. Mr. Gorham denied this, and contended that his opinions were in exact conformity with those of the Church of England, as contained in her Articles, and in perfect accordance with the intentions of the formula of the Church." From this it is manifest that Mr. Gorham neither intended to impugn the doctrine of the Church, nor to depart from its true intepretation, but honestly believed that his opinions were entirely consistent with the real meaning of the terms employed.
To prove that he was in error, however, the learned Judge relied on the following passage, being the fifteenth answer to the questions of the Bishop of Exeter. "Our Church holds," saith Mr. Gorham, "and I hold, that no spiritual grace is conveyed in baptism, except to worthy recipients, and as infants are by nature unworthy recipients, being born in sin and the children of wrath, they cannot receive any benefit from baptism, except there shall have been a praevenient act of grace to make them worthy. Baptism is the sign or seal, either of the grace already given, or of the repentance and faith which are stipulated and must be hereafter exercised. "
 And then, after summing up the argument, the judgment of the Court concludes as follows:
"The points which have to be decided are--
"1. Does the Church of England hold the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration in the case of infants?
"2. Does Mr. Gorham hold this doctrine?
"It is quite clear from the Formularies of the Church, that children do receive spiritual regeneration in Baptism. It is also evident from the whole tenor of his examination and from his counsel's argument, that Mr. Gorham does not hold this doctrine. He asserts that children must receive a 'praevenient act of grace' to make them worthy recipients of baptism, otherwise they receive no benefit at their baptism. The Bishop of Exeter has consequently shown sufficient cause for refusing to institute Mr. Gorham to the living of Brampford Speke. "
On receiving notice from Mr. Gorham's counsel that an appeal would be immediately entered from the decision of the Court, the learned Judge replied: "Of course I expected that there would be an appeal, or I should have called to my assistance the Chancellor of the diocese to have acted as my assessor, for I feel that so important a case is too much for the decision of a single individual, seeing the bearing that it may have upon the interests and welfare of the Church." In this latter opinion, all must agree, and I have quoted it in corroboration of my own judgment, already expressed, that the decision deeply concerns "the interests and welfare of the Church, "and that it is the duty of her bishops and clergy, every where, to form, so far as they may, a just opinion on the merits of the question.
Now the ground of the learned Judge's decision seems narrowed to the single point above stated, namely, that Mr. Gorham does not hold the doctrine of spiritual regeneration in the baptism of infants, because he assumes the necessity of a praevenient act of grace, to make them worthy. But I have not been able to perceive how this proves that he [19/20] does not hold the doctrine. He expressly declares .that he does hold the spiritual regeneration of infants in Baptism, as the Church holds it, and even derives from the Articles of the Church the argument which he advances for the necessity of praevenient grace, for the very purpose of reconciling the service and the Articles together. For, first, the twenty-fifth Article states that the Sacraments have a wholesome effect or operation on such only as "worthily receive the same." The twenty-seventh Article expressly limits the benefits of Baptism to those "who receive it rightly." And the ninth Article, saith that "Original sin is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam," and that "in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation." Infants, therefore, being by nature unworthy to receive the Sacrament of Baptism, must he made worthy by grace. And when they receive this praevenient grace, he holds that they become spiritually regenerate in Baptism, as truly as the eminent Bishop who rejected him. How is this shown to be contrary to the doctrine of the Church? Certainly it is in strict accordance with her doctrines in all other cases of Sacramental administration. The adult receives no benefit in Baptism without the "praevenient grace" of spiritual renovation or conversion, which is called regeneration in the Homily for Whitsunday, by Latimer, Davenant, Beveridge, Mede, Barrow and Tillotson, as already shown. For the term is used with considerable latitude by our best divines, and yet without any disparagement of its strict theological application to regeneration in Baptism. In like manner precisely, St. Paul speaks of circumcision as a spiritual change of heart, (Rom. 11, 28,) "For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in then letter, whose praise is not of men but of God." And yet, the apostle did not mean by this to disparage the rite of [20/21] circumcision, or to make light of its benefits as an ordinance of divine institution. According to the current language of these divines, in which they are sustained by the passage in the Homily, the adult is first regenerated in heart, in order that he may be afterwards formally and fully regenerated in Baptism. And if this prmvenient act of grace be required in the Baptism of adults, why may not some measure of preparatory grace be required in the case of infants? The result of the Baptism is declared to be the same in both, namely, that they are now "born of water and the Spirit," formally and fully regenerate, and adopted as the children of God. How then is Mr. Gorham regarded as denying the result in the case of infants, merely because he believes that Baptism in the adult, and Baptism in the infant, rest on the same fundamental principle, that No SACRAMENT HAS ITS TRUE EFFECT, UNLESS THE RECIPIENT BE IN A STATE OF GRACE, AT THE TIME OF ITS ADMINISTRATION?
But I am the more at a loss to comprehend the censure attached to this doctrine of Mr. Gorham, because, if there is any universal truth belonging to Christianity in its application to mankind, this is surely entitled to be so esteemed. Not only in every administration of the Sacraments, but in every act of religious obedience, in every good word and work, without exception, the preventing (or praevenient) grace of God is absolutely necessary. Why the proposition should be thought so inconsistent with the efficacy of the Sacrament in the case of infant Baptism, I cannot discover. That the Holy Spirit will prepare us by His grace for the due reception of every commanded ordinance, and the due performance of every duty, is a constant subject of our supplications; and if it must be supposed that no grace could be vouchsafed to our little ones, in answer to our prayers, until they are actually baptized, it must be by virtue of some law of which the Church knows nothing. Grace before Baptism, Grace in Baptism, Grace after Baptism, is implored by the very language of our Service. Grace to prepare, Grace to adopt, and [21/22] Grace through the whole subsequent course of life, in order to attain the ultimate end of that adoption. "For by Grace" saith the apostle, "ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."
Here, therefore, I am constrained to say, that in the sentence of the Judge, I can perceive no connection between the premises and the conclusion. The premises are, that Mr. Gorham asserts the necessity of a praevenient act of grace to make infants worthy recipients of Baptism. The conclusion is, that he does not hold the doctrine of the Church, which declares that children, in Baptism, receive spiritual regeneration. But surely the learned Judge cannot mean to say, that the requiring of the favour of God as a condition necessary to our becoming His adopted children, is equivalent to a denial that we can be adopted at all. If Mr. Gorham had said, that a praevenient act of grace is required to make infants worthy recipients of Baptism, and that such grace could not be given in answer to prayer, then the conclusion would have followed legitimately. But as the matter appears to me, the judgment, in its present form, is a complete non-sequitur, and has no ground to rest on.
The other branch of Mr. Gorham's defence, however, in which his counsel shewed that the Reformers and their successors, in the times of Edward and Elizabeth, and the main body of the Church of England up to the reign of Charles I., were Calvinists in doctrine, and hence, that the services which they framed could not have been intended to bear any sense inconsistent with Calvinism, seems to me deserving of a very different reception from that which it received at the hands of the learned Judge. For he dismissed it as unworthy of consideration. The opinions of the reformers he calls private opinions. "They have no public bearing," saith he, and can have no public effect: they can throw no light upon the subject. If the words to be considered were doubtful and ambiguous, and could not be construed by reference to any other of the services of the Church, or by any other [22/23] of the public acts of the Church, then, indeed, it would be right and proper to advert to the opinions of those persons; but so long as the Articles and Services of the Church are reconcilable, and not only reconcilable but necessarily consistent with the literal interpretation of the words, we are not at liberty to put any private interpretation upon them."
In the general principle here asserted, no man of sound judgment could refuse his acquiescence. But when the learned Judge looks at the facts, and finds that the construction which he puts upon the language of the Church is at variance with that which the framers of the formularies were known to entertain, and which their successors avowed for several generations, is it fair to conclude that his interpretation is the only one of which they are properly susceptible? True, he calls these reformers private persons, and their opinions, private opinions. But is it so? On the contrary, were they not public persons, bound, by their official station, to govern the Church, and therefore authorized to guide the judgment of others in this very thing? Were not their opinions official opinions? Were not their acts official acts? Was it not an express part of their public duty to examine the theological views of the clergy ordained by them, in the whole circle of subjects, of which this baptismal question is apart? Was not their exposition a cotemporaneous exposition? And is it not a well established maxim of law, that such expositions are the most worthy of confidence?
Moreover, it should be remembered that the terms used in the Articles and Services, on which this controversy turns, are the technical terms of theology, employed by theologians of the 16th century, and in order to ascertain their meaning, the professed theologians of the time must be consulted. For theology is a science, as much as law or medicine. And the Archbishops, Bishops, Doctors of Divinity holding seats in the Universities, and other official personages in the Church, have the same authority to settle the [23/24] meaning of her formularies, that Judges of Secular Courts possess, to fix the true sense of Statutes, and regulate the practice under them.
Thirdly, it must be observed that there is a great distinction between the design of secular legislatures in enacting a law, and the design of the Reformers in restoring and purifying the Christian system. For earthly law concerns itself only with acts, while the Church has to regulate and guard doctrines. Of these doctrines, some concern the essential principles of religious faith, and are therefore FUNDAMENTAL; but others are matters of opinion, in which it is the object of the law-makers to secure a certain measure of public uniformity for the sake of public order, and along with this, to allow of a prudent variety of sentiment, for the very purpose of comprehending as large a circle of general acquit. escence from the minds of men as possible, that offence in lesser matters might be avoided, and the great interests of the faith be the better secured. Of this, the learned Judge has himself enlarged upon a noted example, in the phraseology of the seventeenth Article, concerning which he truly observes, that it leaves the whole Calvinistic controversy open, notwithstanding it professes to treat the very point of Predestination, on which that controversy turned. And why? Because the various opinions entertained upon the subject were not fundamental to the faith, and the reformers thought it best to allow a difference of sentiment, when it could do no harm to any vital principle. Hence they chose to state the matter so that neither party could be alienated from the Church. They used such language as might be made to accord with all the shades of existing sentiment. They designed to tolerate those varieties of opinion, by a wise and charitable latitude, and avoided purposely all needless interference with the free choice of ministerial discretion. And such toleration, on such a subject, was clearly a dictate of principle and duty, for which their successors have cause, if for nothing else, to hold their memory in affectionate veneration,
 On this point, then, there can be no dispute. But if this be granted, must not the argument of Mr. Gorham's Counsel be granted also? For how should the intention to tolerate both the opinions of Calvin and the opinions of his opposers, be available, if the services of the Church were so framed as to take all liberty away? Was it designed that a Calvinist in every thing else, must cease to be a Calvinist when he used the Offices of Baptism? This would evidently have been inconsistent and absurd. And therefore, if it be allowed, as it surely must be, that the reformers purposely framed the Articles so as to comprehend both Calvinists and (as we now call them) Arminians, must it not be allowed that the Baptismal Office was also framed with a view to the same diversity, so as to permit, lawfully, of either interpretation?
In order to place this important part of the question in its true light, it may be well to ask, What was the great object of the English Reformation? And the answer is obvious. It was to purify the Church from the errors and corruptions of Popery, and restore it to its primitive state, according to the infallible authority of the Scriptures, as they were interpreted by the best lights of Christian antiquity. The mighty work had been commenced in England more than a century before, by Wickliff, and had been put down by the strong hand of power. But now it had begun, under happier auspices, in Germany, France and Switzerland, and considerable progress had been made several years previous to the time, when the English reformers found their way opened, by the Providence of God. It was surely natural that Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, and their colleagues, should look to their immediate predecessors on the Continent, with interest and affection, as leaders and champions in the same sacred cause. And it was a spontaneous dictate of sympathy, as well as a plain maxim of prudence, to accord in sentiment with their friends, to avoid all unnecessary causes of [25/26] dissension, and to present, if possible, an united front to the common enemy.
But the subjects of predestination, election and reprobation, with their attendant doctrines of irresistible grace and final perseverance, which have so long been distinguished by the title of Calvinism, were not involved in the controversy with Rome. They had their rise in the contest of Augustin against the Pelagian heresy, in the fifth century; and from that time, they were generally professed, to a large extent, by the most influential theologians of the western empire. They formed a part, accordingly, of the famous Summa of Thomas Aquinas; and Luther, amongst the reformers, having been, himself; a monk of the Augustinian order, adopted them. But Calvin, in his first celebrated work called the Christian Institutes, carried them farther than any of his predecessors; and from the immense success of his treatise, and the extraordinary influence of his labours, they have ever since borne his name. Thus, every thing conspired to give them credit in the age of the Reformation. The great leaders of the English movement had no doubt of their truth, and although, happily, they kept their authoritative system within the bounds of the primitive Church, warned by the disorders which had been experienced on the Continent through the fanatical extravagance of Antinomianism, yet it is historically certain that the Calvinistic theology held undisputed possession of the general mind, until the reign of Charles I., when the persecution of the Remonstrants in Holland, and still more, the antipathy of the ecclesiastical rulers to every thing which savoured of Puritanism, gave a new direction to the religious feeling of the nation. The melancholy fate of Archbishop Laud, and soon after, of his royal master, followed by the stern government of Oliver Cromwell, cast a cloud of odium on the Westminster Confession of Faith, which had been framed, under the authority of the parliament, upon the Calvinistic platform; and the. Restoration of Charles II. which raised the Church again to [26/27] her lawful place, was naturally succeeded by a spirit of almost universal hostility to the system of her enemies. From that period, Calvinism has lost its former hold, and Arminianism has supplanted it. But still, a certain proportion of the English clergy, as well as of our own, have retained a preference for the old theology, and no attempt has yet been successfully made to deprive them of the right, which they have fairly inherited from the founders of the Reformation.
The historical proofs which establish the credit of Calvinism in the earlier period of the reformed Church of England, need not be many, but I think them perfectly decisive.
First, I shall refer to the fact, mentioned by the learned Judge himself; that Calvin's Institutes were established as a text book at both the Universities. Next, I shall cite the Lambeth Articles, adopted by a council of bishops and divines at the palace of Lambeth, under Archbishop Whitgift, Nov. 20, 1595, and sent down to the University of Cambridge, in order to quiet a dispute which had arisen on the doctrine of predestination. They are in the following terms:
"1. God hath from eternity predestinated certain persons to life, and hath reprobated certain persons to death."
"2. The moving or efficient cause of predestination unto life is not the foresight of faith, or of perseverance, or of good works, or of any thing that is in the persons predestinated, but the alone will of God's good pleasure."
"3. The predestinate are a pre-determined and certain number, which can neither be lessened nor increased."
"4. Such as are not predestinated to salvation shall inevitably be condemned on account of their sins."
"5. The true, lively, and justifying faith, and the Spirit of God justifying, is not extinguished, cloth not utterly fail, loth not vanish away in the elect, either finally or totally."
"6. A true believer, that is, one who is endued with justifying faith, is certified by the full assurance of faith that [27/28] his sins are forgiven, and that he shall be everlastingly saved by Christ."
"7. Saving grace is not allowed, is not imparted, is not granted to all men, by which they may be saved, if they will."
"8. No man is able to come to Christ, unless it be given him, and unless the Father draw him; and all men are not drawn by the Father, that they may come to his Son."
"9. It is not in the will or power of every man to be saved."
Now the Articles of the Church were first put forth in the reign of Edward, A. D. 1552. They were slightly modified in the early part of the reign of Elizabeth, A. D. 1562. And they were again revised, and finally settled in their present form, A. D. 1571. But the Office for infant Baptism had been established long before. And therefore the Lambeth Articles, being set forth twenty-four years later than the fixed system of the Church, shew decisively the opinion then entertained by her dignitaries, that her baptismal formularies were not only susceptible of, but ought to be subjected to, a thoroughly Calvinistic interpretation. Queen Elizabeth, however, thought differently, and the judgment of her bishops was not suffered to prevail.
I shall cite, in the third place, the opinion of the celebrated Hooker, whose great work on Ecclesiastical Polity was published, the first four books before, and the fifth book two years after, the Lambeth Articles. Here we shall also find the system of Calvin, but somewhat modified.
"1. That God haul predestinated certain men, not all men. 2. That the cause moving him thereunto was not the foresight of any virtue in us at all. 3. That to him the number of his elect is definitely known. 4. That it cannot be but their sins must condemn them to whom the purpose of his saving mercy doth not extend. 5. That to God's foreknown elect final continuance of grace is given. [28/29] 6. That inward grace whereby to be saved, is deservedly not given to all men. 7. That no man cometh unto Christ, whom God by the inward Spirit of his grace draweth not. 8. And that it is. not in every, no, not in any man's own mere ability, freedom and power, to be saved, no man's salvation being possible without grace." (Appendix to the 5th Book of Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, Keble's Edition, Vol. 2, p. 752.) In the course of the same treatise, he approves the doctrine of St. Augustin, whose "latter judgment was, that the whole body of mankind, in the view of God's eternal knowledge, lay universally polluted with sin, worthy of condemnation and death; that over the mass of corruption there passed two acts of the will of God: an act of favour, liberality and grace, choosing part to be made partakers of everlasting glory; and an act of justice, forsaking the rest, and adjudging them to endless perdition--these, vessels of wrath, those, vessels of mercy--which mercy is to God's elect so peculiar that to them and to none else (for their number is definitely known, and can neither be increased nor diminished) it allotteth immortality and all things thereto appertaining; them it predestinateth, it calleth, justifieth, glorifieth them, it poureth voluntarily that Spirit into their hearts, which Spirit so given is the root of their very first desires and motions tending to immortality: as for others on whom such grace is not bestowed, there is justly assigned, and immutably to every one of them, the lot of eternal condemnation." (Ib. 730.)
And although, in all this, there is no express mention made of infants, yet we find the same "judicious Hooker" plainly including them in a passage, where he approves the sense of antiquity in these words: "And seeing all the ancient Fathers of the Church of Christ have evermore with uniform consent agreed, that reprobation presupposeth foreseen sin as a most just cause whereupon it groundeth itself: SIN AT THE LEAST ORIGINAL in them whose portion of eternal punishment is easiest, as they [29/30] that suffer but the ONLY loss of the joys of heaven," (which is the case of those dying in infancy without baptism, according to the schoolmen,) "sin of several degrees in them whose plagues accordingly by the same act of reprobation were proportioned: let us not in this case, of all others, remove the limits and bounds which our fathers before us have set." (Ib. p. 72S.)
The fourth proof which may be adduced to establish the former credit of the Calvinistic system, is furnished by the fact, that King James sent five of the most eminent theologians in the Kingdom, to assist at the famous Synod of Dort, A. D. 1618, viz. Carleton, Bishop of Landaff; Hall and Davenant, both afterwards bishops, and of great celebrity as authors; Ward, master of Sydney Sussex College, and Balcanqual, who subsequently became Dean of Rochester. These deputies were all of accord with the decrees of the Synod in doctrine, but being anonymously accused, some time after their return, of having been unfaithful to their own Church in the question of discipline, they repelled the charge, and publickly set forth their unanimous declaration that their whole course was in conformity to her standards. The conclusion of their defence is in these words: "And as, in that Synod, our special care and perpetual endeavour was, to guide our judgment by that sound doctrine which we had received from the Church of England; so were we far, and ever shall be, from usurping our Mother's authority;--yet remaining ourselves nevertheless resolved, that whatsoever was there assented unto, and subscribed by us concerning the five Articles, either in the joint Synodical judgment, or in our particular collegiate suffrage--is not only warrantable by the Holy Scriptures, but also conformable to the received doctrine of our said venerable Mother; which we are ready to maintain and justify against all gainsayers, whensoever we shall be thereunto called by lawful authority." (Life of Bishop Davenant by Rev. Josiah Allport, prefixed to his translation of the Exposition [30/31] of St. Paul's epistle to the Colossians, p. xxx.) I need not add that the five Articles of the Synod of Dort here referred to, were in strict agreement with the Calvinistic System.
The fifth proof may be derived from the work of Bishop Burnet on the thirty-nine Articles, published nearly a hundred years later, after Arminianism had become the favorite doctrine of the English Clergy. Yet he sets forth the argument for Calvinism at large, declines to give his own opinion in favour of either, and leaves it to the choice of the ministry to take whichever they prefer, with perfect toleration, considering that such was the design of the reformers themselves. And this he plainly declares in his History of the Reformation, (Vol. 3. p. 221) where, speaking of the first set of Articles in the reign of Edward VI., he says expressly: "Thus was the doctrine of the Church cast into a short and plain form; in which they took care both to establish the positive Articles of religion, and to cut off the errors formerly introduced in the time of popery, or of late broached by the Anabaptists and enthusiasts of Germany; avoiding the niceties of schoolmen, or the peremptoriness of the writers of controversy, LEAVING IN MATTERS THAT ARE MORE JUSTLY CONTROVERTIBLE, A LIBERTY TO DIVINES TO FOLLOW THEIR PRIVATE OPINIONS, WITHOUT THEREBY DISTURBING THE PEACE OF THE CHURCH."
The sixth proof is presented, with great force to my mind, in the historical fact, that the Puritan party in the reign of Elizabeth, made no objection to the term regeneration, nor to any thing else in the Baptismal Service or the Catechism; which belongs to the present question. This was particularly evident at the celebrated Conference of Hampton Court, held before King James, A. D. 1604. And it is the more to be observed, because there were other matters in the form for the administration of that Sacrament, namely, the sponsors, and the sign of the cross, which they censured severely. (See Neale's History of the Puritans, p. 230 of Harper's Ed. 1844.) I do not see how we can account for [31/32] this on any other ground than that already stated. The truth is that there was then no controversy between the two parties on the subject to which the learned bishop of Exeter attaches so much importance. The Churchmen and the Puritans, however divided on points of form and discipline, agreed well enough in the Calvinistic system of the doctrines of Grace, and in their Sacramental theory, until a much later period; and no man would have dreamed of rejecting a clergyman, at that day, merely because he held the views of Rev. Mr. Gorham.
The seventh proof is involved in the unquestionable fact, that the Church, notwithstanding the turning of the tide in favour of Arminianism, and the many strong censures of Calvinism put forth by her divines since the time of the Restoration, has never been supposed to authorize the refusal of Holy Orders to any man, on account of his particular opinions concerning the doctrines of grace. On the contrary, it has been universally understood, as Bishop Burnet represents it, that in strictness, her truly primitive plan did not insist upon `either what we now call the Arminian system, or the Calvinistic; that her ministers were at liberty to take which theory they pleased, or to leave them both, as being perhaps equally liable to the charge of attempting to be wise, beyond what was written; so that all the varieties of sentiment consistent with fundamental orthodoxy, were intended to be tolerated, and freely allowed amongst them. And I must frankly say that there is nothing, in my humble judgment, more worthy not only of our admiration, but of our gratitude to the over-ruling Providence of God, than the wise and reasonable latitude thus allowed, in subjects of so deep and inscrutable a character. To charge our whole system, as some have done, with intentional ambiguity, is neither just nor fair. Against all the great heresies of past ages, the Liturgy, Offices and Articles, taken together, were clear and positive. In the cardinal doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the agency of the Holy Spirit, the [32/33] canon and supreme authority of Scripture, the corruption of our nature by the fall, the preventing and co-operating grace of God essential to our recovery, Justification by faith, good works as the fruit and evidence of that faith, the Sacraments, the Church and the Apostolic ministry, there was no room left for doubt or prevarication. Arianism, Sabellianism, Socinianism, Apollinarianism, Pelagianism, Antinomianism, together with the corruptions of Popery and the modern forms of religious anarchy and fanaticism, were carefully excluded. But there were other subjects on which good and orthodox men did and might lawfully differ. There were parts of St. Paul's epistles which St. Peter had declared were hard to be understood. There were questions which belonged to the secret things of God, on which it was best not to define too rigidly. There were disputes even in the apostles' days, with regard to which, Christians were told that they must not judge their brethren, but endeavour to be persuaded in their own mind. The Church of Rome herself, with all her boasted infallibility, had left many questions open to controversy amongst her doctors, and the pontiff who called himself the vicar of Christ had been appealed to for ages in order to settle them, and yet in vain. Why, then, should not the reformed Church of England leave, designedly, a reasonable latitude on subjects, whose very nature seemed to forbid the effort to determine them with dogmatic certainty? Why should she depart, needlessly, from the wise toleration of the primitive Church; by rigidly defining what might be left free, without any risk of serious error? Such a course might have suited the founders of a sect; but a far more elevated, large and comprehensive plan was demanded for the noble work of restoring the old paths, and commending the ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church to the confidence and love of a powerful and enlightened nation.
The conclusion, to my own mind, seems perfectly plain: that along with a sufficiently precise and extensive system of positive doctrine, from which none of her ministry are at [33/34] liberty to deviate, the Church designed to leave a certain latitude to individual opinion on the deep and mysterious subjects connected with the doctrines of grace, which latitude is itself a LAW OF TOLERATION, not to be now set aside without a serious wrong to a large body of her clergy. And therefore I am compelled to dissent from the judgment of the eminent bishop of Exeter, and from that of the Court of Arches, because it virtually over-rules the system of the Church, and takes away the very privilege which was intended to be conferred, and which has actually been enjoyed for three centuries together.
I am far from denying, however, the right of every bishop to examine the theological soundness of a presbyter who is presented to him for admission into his diocese i whether such presentment be made by the patron of the benefice, as in England, or by the election of the Vestry, as amongst ourselves. This right cannot be controverted, without abolishing the distinctive character of a bishop, as the Overseer of his diocese, under the special obligation to banish and drive away from it all "erroneous and strange doctrines." But I do not see how so serious a function of the episcopate can be safely exercised, except it be in strict subordination to the established law of the Church, defining only what her standards have defined, enjoining only what they require, paying due regard to the precedents set by the old masters in Israel, and leaving free to individual opinion all that their wisdom has allowed to the discretion of the ministry. If we go beyond this, we assume the power of making law, whereas our duty is only to administer it. And the inevitable result would be, not the increase of unity and strength, but the commencement of a polemic strife; which would end, most probably, in a total rupture of the ecclesiastical bonds, whose gentle force now so happily unites the Church together.
That such would be the consequence in our venerable Mother Church, it would perhaps,. be unbecoming in me to [34/35] say, though I must be permitted to declare that I should regard the experiment with fearful apprehension. But I am surely justified in putting the question to my immediate brethren, How would this perilous novelty work amongst ourselves? Our episcopal rights are the same as those of the admired bishop of Exeter. If he has acted in this matter only in accordance to his official duty, there is nothing to prevent us from imitating his example. Our bishops, however, it is well known, are divided in sentiment, on the doctrines of grace, and the spiritual character of infant baptismal regeneration. Hitherto, like the prelates of England, we have followed the course of indulgent toleration towards the clergy, taking it for granted that they were sufficiently sound and orthodox in the main, until some formal complaint was made against them. But suppose one of our body to pursue the track laid down for us in the case of Rev. Mr. Gorham. Suppose the rejected clergyman to have the bishop presented for trial, on the charge of official oppression, or usurpation of false prerogative, amounting to a virtual violation of the Constitution and Canons. Suppose our Court of Bishops to be at variance on the meaning of the Baptismal Office, and to imagine themselves, like the English Judge, obliged to decide the question on the ground that either the one or the other interpretation is the sole doctrine of the Church, instead of the true idea, (according to my humble judgment) that the Church tolerates both interpretations, and allows a full liberty of individual opinion on the whole class of questions to which the case belongs. What must be the consequence, with our notions and habits of ecclesiastical freedom? I verily believe that such an occurrence would set the Church in a flame which no human effort could extinguish. It would need a special interposition of Providence to keep the bishops and the clergy from an open and formal separation. And the nature of the quarrel would be such, that if a separation took place, it must forever remain a disputed point, [35/36] which was the Church, and which was the Schismatic party.
Let it be our wisdom, then, my reverend brethren, to eschew this dangerous novelty, under the firm conviction that if it be at all encouraged, it can produce nothing else but interminable bitterness and discord. Where the Church has spoken plainly, indeed, we must insist on conformity, as well because we believe her system to be the best exposition of the Word of God, as because, without such conformity, even our external union would be impossible. But let us not forget that in the system of the Church, as in the Bible, there are some points of doubtful disputation, where a certain diversity of sentiment is unavoidable, and where, for that very reason, such diversity must and ought to be allowed. There never was a Church on earth, where questions of such a.nature were thought to so strict a definition, that there was no room left for license of opinion. To such inevitable controversies, therefore, we should apply the good old maxim, "In essentials, merry; in non-essentials, LIBERTY; in all things, CHARITY." The same freedom of opinion which the bishops claim for themselves, they must grant, with all kindliness, to their ministerial brethren. We must avoid the temper of dogmatism and denunciation, because other men may not think as we do, on matters which the Church has not positively defined. And we must remember, that if we would enjoy the inestimable blessing of substantial Christian union, we must seek it through that Spirit which descends from the God of peace and love; which desires to impose no new burden, which frames no new yoke for the conscience of our fellows; but rather delights to see every man, so long as he breaks not the rules of established uniformity, standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free.
I have only to add, in conclusion, that I am perfectly aware of the apparent discrepancy between some parts of the argument which I have here presented on behalf of Mr. Gorham, and the statement of my own sentiments in my [36/37] Lectures on the Primitive Church, to which I have already referred. This discrepancy, however, is apparent only. My individual opinions have undergone no change, and in those lectures, which were chiefly intended for the benefit of the Laity, I was under no inducement to set forth any other. Nor do I perceive any serious difference in the substantial doctrine of the Church, on either hypothesis. The grace of God connected with Baptismal regeneration, is the special sacramental grace which seals the remission of sin, and the adoption into Christ. And this remains the same, whether we do or do not suppose, that some other operation of the Spirit is vouchsafed to the infant previously. I allow, indeed, with Hooker, as the general rule, that this grace, given in Baptism, is the first pulse of spiritual life in the soul, but it is not stated as a rule to which there may not be many exceptions. Moreover, it may and should be remembered, that just as God has to perform a wondrous work for the embryo in the womb, before He imparts the first pulse of life to it, so the Holy Spirit, for aught we can tell, may have a correspondent work of praevenient grace to perform, before life is imparted in the regeneration of Baptism. It is true that I have confined, in those lectures, the term regeneration to the sacrament, not only because I prefer that course, as the more clear and simple mode of explaining the doctrine of the Church, but also, because my design did not require me to notice the latitude with which the word has been used by many of our divines, of whom, while I regret the looseness of their phraseology, it is but small justice to say, that they were far greater and better men than I. Lastly, however, I consider these different views as matters, not of saving faith, but of theological speculation. And while I am far from being a Calvinist, and do not profess to sympathize with the school of Mr. Gorham, yet I have a high sense of the zeal and usefulness of the class of ministers to which I suppose him to belong; and I should heartily despise myself if I could suffer my own choice in theological opinion to [37/38] interfere with my defence of his rights, as a faithful representative of the doctrine held by our reformers.
Nor can I consent to regard the matter as a party question, although I am sorry to perceive that it is so regarded generally. For let this novel kind of episcopal regimen be once introduced into favour, and it will be found that there are two swords in the Church. The assault made upon the one hand, against those who are accused of being too partial to Geneva, will be quickly followed on the other side, and with much stronger reason, by a correspondent attack upon those who are suspected of being too fond of Rome. For my own part, I cannot contemplate the result of such a change, in the hitherto kind and indulgent administration of our bishops, without at least attempting to warn my brethren, in time to avert the danger. True, they are the official judges of the clergy, and when the unwelcome task is cast upon them, I would be far from desiring that they should shrink from the firm performance of their painful, but necessary duty. But to become accusers and judges too, when there is no such stern necessity imposed upon them, would be a sad declension from the proper character of their office, and the slightest approach to a novelty like this, should be resisted by us all, as a grievous error.
I must be further indulged in avowing the pain and reluctance with which I have published my dissent from the decision of a prelate, for whose brilliant talents, untiring energy, and fearless courage, I have long entertained the liveliest admiration. My apology must be found in the sense of duty to that Church to which he, in a very exalted, and I, in a very humble sphere, are both bound, by the same form of consecration. Sure I am that his motives have been pure and conscientious. And I trust to his Christian magnanimity that he will at least grant me the benefit of the same charitable construction, should he favour these pages with a perusal. To an ordinary man, a mistake in such a point might be a serious matter. But he has more than [38/39] reputation enough to sustain him under the charge, (which, after all, is no great reproach,) that he has been misled, for once, into a false position. And the learned Judge, I am sure, would readily forgive me for saying, that if the Bishop of Exeter may err in a point which belongs to his own official rights, it is by no means surprising that a Layman, however elevated his attainments, ability and rank may be, should fall into the same misapprehension.
May the Spirit of divine wisdom deliver His people from this novel and agitating controversy, by leading the minds of all concerned to approve and cherish the ancient lines of kindly toleration. We cannot improve the system of the Church. We cannot safely assume, and we ought not to desire, any enlargement of the episcopal prerogative, in requiring our clergy to subscribe to the theological opinions of their diocesan, where the uniform course of all our predecessors, justified by the primitive practice, has left them free. The age in which we live is perhaps less likely to endure such an innovation, than any other which the world has beheld, since the apostolic day. The authority of a bishop now, can only be acknowledged, when it is clear from all reasonable doubt, based on unquestionable precedent, and manifestly employed to edify the Church in the good old ways of established principle. To be less tolerant than our ancestors--to reject what the great reformers of English theology admitted--to place a restriction on the clergy never known before--to devise a new chain for the liberty of ministerial conscience--a measure of such a character can never produce any thing but resistance and revolution, in the growing license of the nineteenth century. I believe that the attempt would have been an error at any time, for the reasons already assigned. But in a time like our own, it seems, in my humble judgment, that the hope of any beneficial result from such a course, must rest on something very like the expectation of a miracle.
I trust, however, in the mercy of God, that our venerable [39/40] Mother Church will be relieved from all impending danger on this score, by the ultimate decision of the controversy, And it is my earnest prayer that truth and charity may prevail; that the whole Church may prosper in the unity of love and peace; and that the glorious Gospel may be proclaimed in all its pure and saving power, without hindrance from inevitable diversities of opinion on minor points of doubtful disputation. In this supplication, I am sure that all good men can agree. And in the blessed result, I would fain hope that the bishop of Exeter and I, though widely distant in judgment, in rank and in influence, may yet have abundant cause to "rejoice together."