Errors of the Times
DELIVERED TO THE
CLERGY OF THE DIOCESE OF CONNECTICUT,
HOLDEN IN CHRIST CHURCH, IN THE CITY OF HARTFORD,
June 13, 1843.
RT. REV. THOMAS C. BROWNELL, D. D. LL. D.
BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE.
MY BRETHREN OF THE CLERGY:
It has generally been my custom to append to my annual address any remarks which I might wish to make to you, on subjects of Christian doctrine, or upon the state of the Church.
Only on three former occasions, have I felt myself called upon to present my views in the more formal shape of a Charge.
The remarks to which I would now ask your attention, were originally designed as a part of my usual address, but they have extended so far beyond my first intention, and the subjects to which they relate seem to me so deserving of your special consideration, that I have thought it expedient to present them in a more distinct and impressive form.
In the statement which I shall hereafter present to you, pursuant to the provisions of the VIII Canon of 1841, when taken in connection with the Parochial Reports which will also be laid before you, you will find abundant reason to be thankful to the great Head of the Church, for the measure of peace, union, and prosperity, which he has been pleased to extend to this portion of his vineyard. I trust that a like favorable estimate may be formed of the condition of every portion of the Church, throughout our country; and, moreover, that this external prosperity has everywhere been accompanied with the richer blessings of spiritual life, and growth in grace.
But, Brethren, though we have great cause to be thankful that God has been thus gracious to his Church, it is no time for supineness, or for relaxation of vigilance in her cause. On the contrary, our present position calls for especial watchfulness; that, as individuals, our hearts and lives be conformed to the spirit of the Gospel, and that, as members of the true Catholic Church, we be earnest in our endeavors and unceasing in our prayers for that [3/4] Church, that "the foot of pride come not nigh to hurt it, nor the hand of the ungodly to cast it down."
Periods of hostility and persecution demand a double portion of self-government, as well as of zealous exertion. Perhaps there has been no time, since the organization of our branch of the Church in this country, when so general and so violent a hostility has been arrayed against it. I judge from the general tone and temper of the dissenting Press, and on the presumption that it affords a fair indication of the spirit of the religious communions which support it. Week after week, we may read columns of misrepresentation and abuse, poured out from its various periodicals, against the Church of our affections, and calls upon all the incongruous sects to unite in a general crusade against "Popery, Puseyism, and Prelacy."
For some fifteen years past, our portion of the Church in this Diocese, and perhaps generally throughout our country, had enjoyed a period of comparative peace and rest; and, under our system of equal laws, and mutual toleration, we had fondly hoped that the spirit of Christian charity might abound more and more. But we are now constrained to witness the melancholy disappointment of our hopes. I know not whether this unhappy change has been produced by an observation of the union and prosperity of the Church, while the different denominations which surround her have been split into an increasing multitude of sects;--some of which have run into the wildest fanaticism; some of which have fallen into the most fatal heresies; and some of which are arrayed in bitter hostility against each other. I know not whether it is but a revival of that austere spirit of Puritanism which warred against the Church at the time of the Reformation, which received a new hue of prejudice at the period of the American Revolution, and which has been aroused into fresh hostility by discussions recently commenced at an English University, and which are supposed to be peculiarly subversive of its principles. Whatever may be the cause, the fact seems evident, that the Episcopal Church is about to sustain a vigorous assault from the various sects of dissenters; while, at the same time, the partizans of the Romish Church, the common enemies of all Protestants, are watching the onset with a vigilant eye; fomenting the hostility, and using the same Jesuitical arts, which that Church formerly [4/5] tried in England, to "divide and conquer," and thus break down the only portion of Protestantism which they view with alarm.
But, my Brethren, though the circumstances of the times demand our special watchfulness and zeal, we may still trust in God, and possess our souls in patience. The winds may roar, the rains may descend, the storms may beat violently, but they can never injure that house which is founded upon a rock.
It has ever been my desire, Brethren, to promote peace and love among all Christian men. You will be able to bear me witness that, in our private intercourse, as well as in the performance of my public duties, I have evinced no disposition to widen the breach between the Church and the religious denominations which surround us; much less to cast a deeper hue on the slight shades of difference which tincture the views of different members of our own household of faith.
If, on the present occasion, I proceed to the consideration of some topics of a more controversial character, and to speak more freely concerning the ERRORS OF THE TIMES, you are not to ascribe it to any change in my feelings, or my views of duty, but to the altered circumstances in which we are placed.
It is happy for us, my Brethren that we have, in our Book of Common Prayer, a standard of faith and worship, conformable to scripture, and agreeable to the practice of the Church in the earliest and purest ages of Christianity. It will be the object of the present discourse to recommend to you a strict adherence to this standard; shunning, on the one hand, those corruptions and superstitions of the Church of Rome, which it was so carefully framed to avoid, and equally rejecting, on the other hand, the errors connected with ultra-Protestantism, and all the extravagances which have recently sprung from it.
The Holy Scriptures, as they were interpreted by the Church during the first two centuries after the ascension of the Saviour, not as they may chance to be interpreted by the wayward fancies of individuals, constitute the only sure basis for us to rest upon.
On this point, originated the first great error in the progress of the Reformation; an error which has been the fruitful source of discord, and heresy, and schism, in all succeeding ages.
It is not wonderful that the pure Church, established by the Saviour and his apostles, should have become encumbered with [5/6] many superstitions, and tinctured with many errors, in its progress through the mutations of many centuries. The natural perversity of the human heart, among its professors, the influence of heathen philosophy and heathen idolatry which surrounded it, the dark ages of ignorance and violence through which it passed, the corrupting influence of its connection with worldly monarchs, and the insidious arts of an ambitious and usurping hierarchy, all concurred to oppress its worship with a load of superstitious observances, and to surround its doctrines with a mass of errors, which required the purifying efficacy of a thorough Reformation.
But what were the great principles upon which this Reformation should be conducted? Should the entire fabric of the existing Church, as well as its errors, be demolished and abandoned; and new Churches established, upon a platform, such as the ingenuity of a Luther, a Calvin, or a Zuinglius might devise? Or, should the existing Church be preserved;--purified from its corruptions, freed from its superstitions, and restored to the integrity and perfection of the primitive ages? Through the good Providence of God, the latter process was happily accomplished, in the Church of England, from which we are descended. The former course was adopted, (partly from the supposed necessity of the case,) in the reformation of the continental Churches.
The Romish Church had been accustomed to defend her errors by the authority of vague traditions, having their origin in the obscurity of the dark ages, or in the selfish cunning of her hierarchy. The continental Reformers went to the extreme of rejecting all tradition, and church authority, even though they pertained to primitive times, and were calculated to illustrate and harmonize the doctrines of the Gospel. The Reformers of the Church of England, while they maintained the supreme authority and the sufficiency of the Scriptures, and rejected such traditions as inculcated articles of faith in addition to what they contained, yet received with respectful veneration all those catholic and primitive usages of the Church which were in accordance with Scripture, and paid a due regard to the testimony of those holy men of early times, whose writings were peculiarly calculated to throw light upon the doctrines of the Saviour and the Apostles, and to show us how those doctrines were received and carried into practice in the primitive ages. This course is in accordance with the dictates [6/7] of reason and common sense. In the investigation of any fact, especially if it pertain to remote antiquity, the first rule of evidence requires that we should examine it by the light of contemporary history. And, though the English Reformers ascribed no Popish infallibility to the Church, or to the early Fathers, yet, as the instruction they afforded came from sources where the truth was likely to be well understood, at a time when there was no motive to pervert it, and when the Holy Spirit seems to have been more abundantly shed upon the Church and upon its ministers, for the establishment of the Christian faith, they felt bound to receive that instruction, and to take it as a most useful guide, in all doubtful questions relating to the interpretation of the Scriptures, as well as to the rites and ceremonies which properly pertained to the Church.
In the "Necessary Doctrine of a Christian Man," agreed upon by the whole Church of England, in the year 1543, it is declared that "All those things which were taught by the Apostles, and have been by an whole universal consent of the Church of Christ ever sith that time taught continually, and taken always for true, ought to be received, accepted, and kept, as a perfect doctrine Apostolic."
In the preface to the Ordinal, agreed upon in the year 1552, the three Orders of the ministry are continued, on the ground that "It is evident unto all men, diligently reading Holy Scripture and Ancient Authors, that from the Apostles' times there have been these Orders of ministers in Christ's Church." The "Homilies of the Church" frequently refer to the authority of the early Fathers, in confirmation of the doctrines they inculcate. And all the venerable champions of the English Reformation have concurred in these sentiments. They never thought of a general license to every man to act as the interpreter of Scripture, according to his own private fancy, nor of giving to every one an unlimited freedom to exercise his own private inventions, in matters of Church Reform.
The general exercise of private judgment, and of the freedom of the will, is indeed the natural and inalienable right of every man. But he is responsible to his God, and, in a minor degree, to his fellow-men, for the manner in which he exercises those faculties. He may not rightly set them up in opposition to the word of God. He may not rightly exercise them in a spirit of [7/8] vanity, of perversity, or of self-conceit. He may not rightly exercise them in a way injurious to the peace and order of society, nor without a due veneration for the judgment of the Church, and its ministry;--so far as that judgment is supported by primitive tradition and usage, and is in conformity to the divine Word. We deem him self-sufficient and conceited, who pays no respect to public opinion, even though that opinion may perhaps be founded on the caprice of the day. Much less is he to be commended who sets at nought the opinions of the wise and the good;--opinions which have stood the scrutiny of ages, and which have for centuries received the sanction of the universal Church.
It was under these views of the RIGHT OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT, that the Reformation of the Church of England was conducted, through many vicissitudes, and brought to a successful issue. The result is fully embodied in our BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER:--a standard of faith and worship which seems to be almost the only permanent religious monument of the Reformation, in Protestant Christendom. The Communions planted by Calvin and Zuinglius, have become deeply imbued with Socinianism and infidelity. Those founded by Luther and Melancthon, have been corrupted by Rationalism, and every species of "vain philosophy." The stern Church of John Knox has shared, to a great degree, a similar fate, and is, moreover rent by internal divisions. Has Puritanism enjoyed a happier destiny, either in Europe or in this country? Let the schisms, the heresies, the infidelity, the fanaticism, which have everywhere sprung up from its distractions, answer the question. The erroneous notions of the right of private judgment, under which all these Communions were established, have been constantly growing to greater and greater lengths of extravagance, till the tone of public sentiment on this subject is utterly perverted. Under this state of things, it seems to create but little horror, or even surprise, for a man to avow openly, that he is not a Christian. The sentiment is still more common, that it is a matter of entire indifference with what particular sect a man connects himself; nor is it thought a matter of much importance that he should unite with any Christian denomination, provided that he be sincere in his religion. The same state of public sentiment has afforded a strong stimulant to the aspirings of religious ambition, and the arts of hypocrisy. Learned Theologians have vied with ignorant [8/9] Fanatics and wicked Impostors, in founding and extending new sects of religionists. No metaphysical quibble appears too slight to obtain partizans; no extravagance too absurd to gain disciples, and no imposture too gross to secure believers.
In the midst of all this confusion, I need not tell you that there are numerous bodies of intelligent, humble and devoted Christians: but without any sufficient bond of union and stability;--the Bible alone, to the exclusion of all Church authority;--the Bible alone, "without note or comment," their only standard of faith; and the utmost liberty of private interpretation allowed and encouraged; it will not be surprising if they shall continue to be encroached upon, divided, weakened, and perhaps overrun, by the boldness of error, and the fanatical spirit of ignorance.
Surrounded by all this desolation, the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country appears as "an Oasis in the desert." Under the good providence of God, this happy result has been mainly effected by the conservative principle, already referred to, adopted by the English Reformers, and by the embodiment, in the Book of Common Prayer, of a standard of faith and worship, derived from the Scriptures, as interpreted and understood by the primitive Catholic Church. Let us, my Brethren, be duly thankful to God for the inestimable privileges we enjoy. Let us not ascribe them to any peculiar merit or worthiness in ourselves, but solely to the mercy of the divine Being in the dispensations of his providence and grace.
I have now to call your attention to another fruitful source of error, nearly related to that which I have just been discussing: I allude to the diversity of sentiment which has prevailed in regard
to THE NATURE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
We are surrounded by a multitude of distinct associations, professing to be Christian; a great portion of them refusing all communion with others, and each claiming to be more pure, more scriptural, and more holy than the rest. When the Reformers, on the continent of Europe, threw off the yoke of the Romish Hierarchy, none of the higher order of the clergy united in the measure. They therefore supposed themselves under the necessity of dispensing with that organization of the Christian Church which had prevailed from the time of the Apostles, and thought themselves at liberty to establish new religious associations, based upon such Platforms as the several leaders might devise.
 This license, which was at first attempted to be justified only by the necessity of the case, was subsequently defended by appeals to the authority of Scripture. The precedent then set, has been followed by constantly multiplying, and constantly widening departures from the Apostolic standard.
The English Reformers regarded the Church as a Divine Institution; established in its integrity by the Saviour and his Apostles, and unchangeable, in its essential characteristics, by any human authority. They found it corrupted, and encumbered by the inventions of men, and it was their great object to divest it of what was superfluous, to supply what was wanting, and to restore it to the simplicity and purity of the primitive ages.
Planted originally in Britain by one of the Apostles, or by some of the immediate successors of the Apostles, and there organized in its integrity, the Church of England became a true branch of the Apostolic Church. But in the course of centuries, the Papal power of Rome, through its intrigues with temporal rulers, and by its gradual usurpations, had extended its dominion through western Europe; and the Church of Britain became infected by its errors and superstitions, while, at the same time, it was oppressed by its exactions. The tyranny of that Power at length became so intolerable, that all estates of men united in throwing off its dominion. And though the Providence of God made use of the passions of an arbitrary and sensual monarch, in giving the first impetus to the Reformation, yet it was conducted, in its progress, by some of the purest Bishops and Martyrs whose labors have ever blessed the Church.
Errors of doctrine were corrected, ecclesiastical abuses were suppressed, superstitious observances were abolished, and the faith and worship of the Apostolic times were happily restored: and thus, preserving whatever was valuable in the ancient Creeds and Liturgies, the Reformers embodied the result of their labors in the scriptural doctrines, and offices of devotion, set forth in our Book of Common Prayer.
Such is the Church, Brethren, from which we derive our origin, and through which we trace back the perpetuity of our existence, and the regular Apostolic succession of our ministry, to the primitive Church of Christ. Happy had it been for the Christian world, if all the Protestant Churches of Europe had been enabled to [10/11] pursue the same unerring course! and, when the Dignitaries of the continental Churches refused to unite in the holy work of the Reformation, happy had it been for those Churches if their primitive organization had been preserved, and a continuance of their Ministerial succession had been sought from the Church of England! How many heresies and schisms, how many various forms of dissent, how much extravagance and fanaticism, how much uncharitableness, how much infidelity had thus been prevented!
The Church is the great instrument devised by infinite wisdom for the extension of God's mercies to mankind. It has been essentially the same, though modified by different dispensations, from the beginning of the world to the present time. Through it alone are tendered all the divine promises of grace and salvation to a ruined world. Its perpetuity was predicted by the Prophet Isaiah: "I will make an everlasting covenant with them; and their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed." The prophecy of Daniel is to the same purpose: "In the days of these Kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and it shall stand forever." The Saviour himself confirmed the same blessed covenant: "On this rock" says he, "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter that he may abide with you forever: even the Spirit of truth." "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
What means the wisdom and goodness of God may provide for the salvation of those who have never heard the Gospel, or of those whose ignorance or prejudice has induced them to reject it, is not for us to know. But the Revelation of God offers salvation only through the Church, and in the name of Jesus Christ. "Christ is the head of the body,--the Church." "If any man abide not in Christ, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned." In our office for baptism, we pray that the person to be baptized may be "washed and sanctified, with the Holy Ghost, that he, being delivered from God's wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ's Church; and being steadfast in faith, joyful [11/12] through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he may come to the land of everlasting life." Indeed, all the early Reformers seem to have concurred in the doctrine of the whole Catholic Church on this point. "Beyond the bosom of the Church" says Calvin, "no remission of sins is to be hoped for, nor any salvation." [* Calv. Instit. IV. C.] The Presbyterian Divines assembled at Westminster, declared the Church to be "the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation." [* Chap. XXV.]
But, my Brethren, are the hundred religious sects which exist in this country, from that arising out of the dreamy philosophy of the Transcendentalist, to that founded on the besotted ignorance and credulity of the Mormons, to be all counted as true Churches of Christ, to whom the promises pertain? Hardly one of them pretends to any regular descent or succession from Apostolic times. Most of them are professedly new religious denominations. Many of them have originated within our own days.
It does not fall within my present purpose to discuss the essential marks, or characteristics, of the true Apostolic Church. It is not my purpose to consider the nature, or the sinfulness of Schism. I intend not now to enquire how far any particular association may depart from the doctrines of the Gospel, or how far it may vary from the organization established by the Apostles, before it shall cease to be a true Church. Still less do I design to make out a case, in behalf of those who take it upon themselves to deviate from primitive truth and order, and to invent subtle distinctions between what is essential to the existence of a Church, and that which is necessary to its perfection. Though we are not to judge those who differ from us, it is not for us to apologize for any degree of error. To his own Master every one must stand or fall. But this we may safely affirm, that no man, or body of men, may rightfully depart, in any thing relating to the doctrine, the Ministry, and the Sacraments of the Church, from that standard which was established by Christ and his Apostles.
If the Christian religion itself was designed to be permanent, as no man can doubt, then all its requirements must be of perpetual obligation, [12/13] and all the fundamental institutions, through the instrumentality of which it was designed to be continued, must have the same unchanging perpetuity. There needs no express command, as some have maintained, to enforce their permanency. Unless there be a clear intimation that any Apostolic institution was designed to be of a temporary nature, it must be assumed to be a standing regulation of the Church. For if it be contended that any such regulation may be abandoned because it is not enjoined by express command, it may, with equal reason, be concluded that any point of christian doctrine may be renounced, where there is no special command for its observance; a course of reasoning which would lead to utter confusion in the faith and practice of the Church.
The Nicene Creed was the common faith of all Christendom, till within the last two or three hundred years. In this Creed, we express our belief in "One Catholic [universal] and Apostolic Church." The expression imports that there is but one Church--the Church organized and established by the Apostles; and any body of christians claiming an identity with this Church must show their derivation from it by regular succession, and must receive all the doctrines, and submit to all the permanent regulations which originally pertained to it.
The Church of England, and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, possess the attribute of unity, because the several parts are in union with each other, and because they all agree in communion with the Universal Church of Christ throughout the world. They are Catholic, because they acknowledge the perpetual existence of the "holy Catholic Church," receive its faith, and have never separated from it. They are Apostolic, because they were founded originally by one of the Apostles, or by the immediate successors of the Apostles, and incorporated, at their origin, with the whole body of the Church; because they have never been separated from it, since the first moment of their existence; and because their ministry is derived, by unbroken succession, from the Apostles themselves.
Of all the multitude of religious denominations which surround us (with the single exception of the Romanists) we alone lay any just claim to this Apostolic succession. On the contrary, most of the other denominations regard the idea with scorn and contempt, [13/14] and treat those who support it, with uncharitableness and reproaches. I shall not, on the present occasion, attempt any vindication of the Church, in regard to the divine institution of the Ministry, and its perpetuation by succession, through the order of Bishops. No doctrine is more universally received by the whole body of our Church; and I know not a single Clergyman who rejects it. But as, throughout all the denominations of dissenters, the public sentiment on this subject is so various, so loose, and in most instances so low, it may be well to refer to the better opinions which prevailed at the period of the Reformation.
The Ministry of the Christian Church originated, confessedly, with the Saviour and his Apostles, and it must be perpetuated by visible and spiritual derivation from them. Indeed, the divine institution and the absolute necessity of a regular ministry in the Church, has been the common sentiment of all Christendom, with the exception of a few fanatical or latitudinarian sects of these later times. St. Ignatius had declared that "without a ministry there is no Church." [*Ad Trail. c. 3.] St. Jerome had said that "a society which has no Clergy is not a Church." [* Hier. adv. Lucifer.] The apology for the confession of Augsburg declares that "the ministry of the word hath the commandment of God, and hath mighty promises." [* De usu Sacrament.] The "confession" of the Zuinglians asserts that "the original institution and office of ministers is most ancient, and from God himself: not a new or human appointment." [* Confess. Helvet. Cap. XVIII] Calvin maintains that "Christ so ordained the office of the ministry in the Church that, were it taken away, the Church would perish." [Calv. Instit. c. I. Sec. II.] And the Assembly of Divines at Westminster held the orthodox doctrine, that "to the Catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles and ordinances of God." [West. Confess. c. XXV. Art. III.]
But notwithstanding the authorities here cited, it is a well known fact that several leaders of the continental reformation were themselves but Laymen. Beza and Bullinger were never ordained. [* Gerdesii. Hist. tom. II. p. 79-83.] Calvin was probably in the same situation. And Luther and Zuinglius appear to have rested their ecclesiastical authority on the ground of an extraordinary mission. [* Fleury, liv. 126. s. 80.]
 The Independents rely upon popular election, as the sole foundation of a call to the Ministry.
The Quakers entirely reject a Ministry. And there are several other sects in our country who either adopt the same sentiment, or receive a Ministry professedly of human appointment. These are some of the melancholy effects which have resulted from an error, originating in the supposed necessity of the times, and which the pride of consistency has since attempted to defend by scriptural authority.
Now any usurpation of the sacred office is expressly forbidden by the divine word: "No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." Any supposed internal vocation rests on no firmer basis. Even Christ "glorified not himself to be made an High Priest;"--and when he set apart his Apostles to the ministry, he accompanied the solemnity with the words,--"As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." A popular election to the ministry derives not the least support from scripture. When the seven Deacons were named to that office, by the primitive believers, they were solemnly ordained by the Apostles. Timothy was sent to Ephesus, and Titus to Crete, with Apostolic authority, that they might "ordain Elders in every city." And no place can be found in the Sacred Records, where a company of believers took it upon themselves to set apart one of their number to the office of the Ministry. It remains, therefore, that there is no other scriptural foundation for the sacred Ministry than that which is contained in the divine commission of Christ to the Apostles. From them, the authority is derived, through the succession of Apostolic Bishops, down to the present time; thus fulfilling the blessed promise which accompanied that commission, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world." The Church of England, at the time of the Reformation, preserved this order of succession in its integrity, and, through that Church, it has descended to us in an unbroken line.
For fifteen hundred years, from the ascension of the Saviour, the fundamental principle of Apostolic succession in the order of Bishops, was recognized throughout the entire Christian world. The great continental Reformers had, at first, no dissatisfaction with Episcopacy. They sought only to be relieved from the tyranny of Rome, and the abuses she had sanctioned. They [15/16] applauded the Church of England, for retaining the primitive organization, and defended their own departure from it, only on the insufficient plea of necessity. "If they would give us such an hierarchy," says Calvin, [* De necess. Ed. Reform] "in which the Bishops did so rise above others, as that they would not refuse to be subject to Christ, and to depend on him as their only Head,--then, indeed, I should confess that there is no anathema of which those persons are not worthy, if any such there be, who would not reverence such an hierarchy, and submit to it with the utmost obedience." "If there be any" says Beza, "which you can hardly make me believe, who reject the whole order of Bishops, God forbid that any man of a sound mind, should assent to the madness of such persons." And speaking of the government of the Church of England by Bishops, he adds, "Let her enjoy that singular blessing of God, which I wish may ever be continued to her." [* Tract de Minist. Eccl. Grad. Cap. I. et. XVIII.] Luther declares that "if the Popish Bishops would cease to persecute the gospel, he would acknowledge them as Fathers, and willingly obey their authority," which, says he, "we find supported by the word of God." [* Chandler's appeal defended, p. 239.] Melancthon lays the blame on "the cruelty of the Popish Bishops" that the Episcopal polity was destroyed; which, says he, "we so earnestly desired to preserve." [* Chandler's appeal defended, p. 239.] And in writing to Cardinal Du Belay, Bishop of Paris, he expresses his wish that "the power of Bishops should be preserved." [* Fleury liv.134. s, 5.] The articles of Smalcald, [* Pars, II. art. 5.] drawn up by Luther, declare that "the Church can never be better governed and preserved, than when we all live under one head, Jesus Christ, and all Bishops equal in office, though unequal in gifts," &c. "The Apostles were equal, and afterwards the Bishops, in all christendom, until the Pope raised his head above all." The learned Blondel concludes his "Apology for the opinions of Jerome" with the following language: "By all that we have said to assert the rights of the Presbytery, we do not intend to invalidate the ancient and apostolical constitution of Episcopal pre-eminence. But we believe that wheresoever it is established, conformably to the ancient canons, it must be carefully preserved; and wheresoever, by some heat of contention, or otherwise, [16/17] it has been put down or violated, it ought to be reverently restored." [* Skinner’s Prim. truth and order, p. 250.] The celebrated Le Clerc, a divine of the Presbyterian establishment in Holland, expresses himself as follows:-- "I have always professed to believe that Episcopacy is of Apostolical institution;--that man had no right to change it in any place, unless it was impossible otherwise to reform the abuses that crept into christianity; that it was justly preserved in England, where the Reformation was practicable without altering it; and that, therefore, the Protestants in England and other places where there are Bishops, would do very ill to separate from that discipline." [* Bp. Pretyman's El. Christ. Theol. Vol. II. p. 400.] The learned Bogerman, President of the Synod of Dort, is known to have expressed himself to the same effect, when addressing the English Bishops who attended the meeting of that Assembly. Alluding to the happiness of the Church of England, in retaining a primitive Episcopacy;--"Nobis non licet esse tam beatis," was his emphatic declaration. Quotations might be multiplied, but enough has been already adduced, to demonstrate that the whole body of the early Reformers would have united in strongly condemning any departure from Episcopacy, as it now exists in England, and in this country.
The great men whom I have named, devoted their efforts to the foundation of Communions who have, in many respects, departed widely from the principles which they maintained. The doctrine of the Apostolic succession of the ministry, which had prevailed throughout the Christian Church, from the time of the Apostles themselves to the days of these Reformers, has fallen into utter disrepute among their successors. Perhaps there is no subject on which the dissenting denominations, and especially their Clergy, feel more sensitively, and evince more of intolerance and uncharitableness, than on the point in question. And yet there is no just reason why the principle of doing to others, as we would have them do to us, should be departed from in this case. If a regular ministerial succession, in the order of Bishops, be not conformable to Scripture, and to Apostolic usage, it follows, that Episcopacy is an unjustifiable usurpation. But if the doctrine be founded in truth, then it equally follows that a departure from the succession, and the maintaining of ministerial parity, are lamentable errors. [17/18] Now all men are responsible to God and to each other, for holding the truth in righteousness; but no man can be held responsible for the consequences which may flow from any truth thus maintained. Hence, a wide field is left open to us, in the providence of God, for the exercise of mutual toleration, and Christian charity.
Having concluded, Brethren, more hastily than I could have wished, the remarks which I had purposed, on the abuses of the right of private judgment, in matters of religion; and adverted to some of the errors which have prevailed in modern times, in regard to the Church of God, and its ministry; I have now to call your attention to some kindred errors which have been gaining ground, and now extensively prevail, in relation to the Sacraments which Christ has established in his Church. And as the errors which relate to the subject of BAPTISM, seem to be the most deeply seated in the public mind, and are the most injurious in their tendency, I shall confine myself chiefly to the consideration of that sacrament.
It seems always to have been the dictate of infinite wisdom, to make the Church the great medium for communicating divine grace, and the blessings of salvation to a sinful world. Under the Mosaic dispensation, all the descendants of Jewish parents were commanded to be initiated into the Church of God, in early infancy, by the bloody rite of circumcision. Under the better dispensation, introduced by the coming of the Messiah, the boundaries of the Church were greatly enlarged, and all mankind were called upon to become members of it, by being baptized with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. By this act they were to be received as members of Christ's family, and heirs of all the promises pertaining to that Covenant which was sealed with the Saviour's blood.
In our Book of Common Prayer, the Sacrament of Baptism is exhibited as one of the most interesting institutions of Christ. The privileges it confers, the blessings of which it is the instrument, and the duties which flow from it, all concur to endear it to our affections, and to impress its importance upon our consciences. And yet, my Brethren, perhaps there is no Christian duty which is so lightly esteemed by the multitude around us. The following language of the late President Dwight ( Sermon 156) presents but too true a delineation of the sentiments which prevail among the denomination to which he belonged. "It is not unusual," says he, [18/19] "for a minister of the Gospel to devote twenty-four sermons annually to the consideration of the Lord's Supper. On Baptism, at the same time, ministers rarely preach. Perhaps it is no unreasonable supposition that the subjects of this discourse ('Baptism--its reality and intention') are now, for the first time, brought out in the desk to the consideration of a great part of this audience. Why such a difference is made between two institutions of Christ, invested with the same authority, solemnity, and influence, I am unable to determine. But whatever may be the ground of this distinction, I am satisfied that it cannot be a good one. There is but too much reason to believe, that not only the persons, particularly the children, who have been baptized, but the parents also, are, in many instances, lamentably ignorant of the nature of this institution, the truths which it declares, the duties which it involves, and the privileges which it confers."
Again: "How many persons are now in this house, who have been dedicated to God by baptism in their infancy, and yet, who never thought of a single privilege, realized a single obligation, nor performed a single duty, created by this ordinance. It is perhaps questionable, whether some of them are not now ignorant whether they have been baptized or not!"
This is a pitiable account of the state of practical religion among one of the largest bodies of Christians in New England. And if we look abroad among the other dissenting denominations throughout our country, the prospect is little more encouraging.
To what causes are we to ascribe this general neglect of one of the most solemn institutions of the Saviour? It is certainly a wide departure from the standards of Faith adopted by the more early protestant Christians. Is it because all creeds and standards of Faith, other than "the Bible without note or comment," have been so generally decried in these later times? Doubtless this prevailing sentiment has not been without its influence. Perhaps, too, the evil may be traced, in part, to those erroneous opinions concerning the right of private judgment in religion, and concerning the nature of the Christian Church and its ministry, to which I have already adverted. But the great source and fountain of this undervaluing and neglect of the Sacrament of Baptism must be sought in those NEW VIEWS OF RELIGION, which have sprung up in our country within the last hundred years. I allude to what [19/20] was first called the "New-Light Theology;" introduced by Wesley, and Whitefield, and Edwards, and rapidly extended by their coadjutors. This theology appears to be a compound of excited feeling, with some of the subtleties of Calvinism; and its influence has now pervaded, in a greater or less degree, the general public mind of our country. According to the popular apprehension of this scheme, the essence of religion consists in a sudden change of heart, wrought by the operation of the Holy Ghost, without the instrumentality of means;--perceptible to the mind, but independent of the cooperation of those who are the subjects of it. [* Wesley did not adopt the Calvinistic dogma of "perseverance;" nor has it been maintained by his followers. It should also be added, that new views of this great change have recently been set forth among us, in which man is represented as the efficient agent in the work. The change is regarded as the exclusive act of his innate free agency, by which, according to the technical expression, he "gives himself up to God." The theory is yet in its nascent state, and may lead to more important developments. Yet under all modifications, the change is considered not the less sudden or entire, and is often compared to the twinkling of the eye, or a flash of lightning. There seems to be a natural desire in the heart of man to have the great work of his salvation effected in a moment, without leaving it dependant on "a patient continuance in well-doing." The change of state, in baptism, the change appointed by Christ, is indeed sudden, but the renovation of the heart is the business of the whole life--aided by the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit.] Connecting this experimental change with the Calvinistic doctrine of "perseverance in grace," the work of salvation is complete.
This is an absorbing view of religion, which swallows up every doctrine of the Gospel; whether it relates to faith or practice. There seems no further need of the aids of divine grace, nor of any of the instrumentalities which God has appointed for the salvation of men:--No need of a Church; no need of a ministry; no need of sacraments: The work is finished!
Doubtless there are many who would deny these consequences; and it is not for me to impute to any individual, sentiments which he expressly disavows. I may deem him inconsistent, though I have no right to call him insincere. But I appeal to the candid and enlightened observation of all, whether the practical operation of the theory be not such as I have described! How different is [20/21] all this from the doctrines and means of salvation set forth in the universal Church of Christ, for more than fifteen centuries!
[* "In the early days of New England," (says Tracy, " on the Great Awakening," p. 2) "none but Church members could hold any office, or vote at elections. This is often mentioned as evidence of the bigotry and domineering spirit of the Puritans; but unjustly. It was so, and always had been so, throughout the Christian world. Throughout Christian Europe, both Romish and Reformed, the practice was, to baptize all in infancy, and to consider them as members of the church, unless excommunicated. In childhood they were to be taught certain forms of faith and worship, after which they were admitted to the Lord's Supper; receiving Confirmation from the Bishop, where there were Bishops, and passing through an examination in the creeds and catechisms, where the government was Presbyterian. . . . Such an administration of the ordinances is in perfect harmony with the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, held by the Papists, and incorporated into the Liturgy of the Church of England. For if Baptism is Regeneration, why should not all baptized persons, not excommunicated, partake of the Lord's Supper? Where this doctrine was not held, as in Scotland, for example, its place might be supplied by the habit of hoping that each communicant was a regenerate person. But in order to render such hopes possible, it must be held that the difference between the regenerate and others is not apparent to men;--that regeneration, ordinarily at least, produces no apparent change, of which the teachers and rulers of the Church may expect to find evidence by examination; and that, therefore, they must regard every one as regenerate, unless some scandalous offence gives evidence to the contrary."]
The true economy of the Christian religion, regards men as by nature, the "children of wrath." It takes them from this state, which is called in scripture the "kingdom of Satan," and transfers them, by Baptism, into the family, household, and kingdom of the Saviour;--where they are called "children of God," "members of Christ," and "heirs of the kingdom of heaven." From adults, repentance and faith are required, as qualifications for Baptism; and from Infants, there is required a subsequent repentance and faith, which stands in the nature of a debt, and which they are bound to discharge when they come to years of discretion. After Baptism, the person is regarded as in a state of covenant relationship with God; becomes entitled to the aids of his Holy Spirit; and, through the instrumentalities provided in his Church, is daily set forward "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." This change of state, effected in Baptism, is called in scripture, and in the language of the Baptismal office, regeneration. The word has been uniformly used in this sense, throughout the Christian world, [21/22] till, within the last two or three centuries. But in our days it is popularly applied, almost exclusively, to designate the process already referred to, and which is sometimes called the "new birth," or a "change of heart." The use of the word, in a sense so different from its former acceptation, has led to a lamentable misunderstanding, and misrepresentation, of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, as held by our Church. It is probable, too, that another error has concurred in producing this misapprehension. The idea of "perseverance in grace" is popularly connected with that of a "change of heart," and it is hence inferred that if a person be regenerated in baptism, his salvation is secured. But the Church holds no such doctrine. It regards Baptism as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof."--But the grace vouchsafed in Baptism may be misimproved and lost, and the subsequent influences of the Holy Spirit may be resisted. Hence God has provided the instrumentality of his Church to aid men during their state of probation. And the Church herself has provided a system of discipline and nurture, to direct and assist her children in the great work of their salvation. For the young she has provided a Catechism of the chief articles of the Christian faith. By the rite of Confirmation, she calls all her members to the solemn consideration, and renewal of their vows of Baptism. On the Holy Sabbath, her divinely constituted Ministry expounds to them the way of salvation as revealed in the Gospel, and regularly dispenses to them the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, to be their "spiritual food and sustenance" during their pilgrimage on the earth. And after all this, it is to be feared that there will be but too many who will have received the grace of God in vain.
I know there are some, whose views perhaps are tinctured with the theology I have referred to, who would willingly soften, or explain away the language of our baptismal office. But after all I have heard and read, I believe there is but little real difference of sentiment among Churchmen on this subject, and that it has been mainly "a dispute about words." However amiable it may be to desire to make the doctrine more acceptable to dissenters, the effort must be unavailing. The fundamental principle of their theology stands directly opposed to it.
 At the Savoy Conference in 1661, the Puritans brought forward an objection to the following words in the baptismal office for Infants:--"We thank thee, &c. that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant by the Holy Spirit,"--alleging that the words contained "a disputable point." But the reply of the Bishops was sustained, as the doctrine of the Church;--"Seeing that God's Sacraments have their effects, where the receiver doth not (ponere obicem,) put any bar against them, which children cannot do, we may say in faith, of every child that is baptized, that it is regenerated by God's Holy Spirit." [* Cardwell's Conferences, p. 356.] The true doctrine of the Church is, that the regeneration of the Infant is not affected by any arbitrary decree of election, nor does it depend on the faith, or the prayers, or the intention of the Minister, or of the sponsors, but on the positive institution and promises of Christ; by which, and by which alone, the Sacrament of Baptism, as well as that of the Lord's Supper, will always prove efficacious, unless hindered by the unworthiness of the receiver. [* The XXVI article of the Church declares that the Sacraments "be effectual because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men." And in perfect accordance with this, is the following article of the Westminster Confession of Faith:--"The grace which is exhibited in, or by the Sacraments, is not conferred by any power in them: Neither doth the efficacy of a Sacrament depend upon the piety, or intention of him that doth administer it; but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of Institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers."--This article was adopted, word for word, in the "New England Confession of Faith," adopted by the Elders and Messengers of the Churches assembled in Boston, May 12th, 1660. See Chauncey's State of Religion, p. 246.]
The language of our Prayer Book is not to be tortured, or to be explained away in accommodation to Romanism, or to Puritanism; but is to receive a common sense and honest interpretation. The late Mr. Simeon, of Cambridge, was far from being a High-Churchman, and yet he frankly sustains the true interpretation of the Baptismal office. "If we appeal" says he, "to the Holy Scriptures, they certainly doe, in a very remarkable way, accord with the expressions used in our Liturgy." St. Paul says (Gal. iii. 27,) "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." Here we see the meaning of the expression, "baptized [23/24] into Christ." It includes all that had been initiated into the Christian religion by the rite of baptism; and of them universally does the Apostle say, "they have put on Christ." Does not this very strongly countenance the idea which our Reformers entertained, that the remission of our sins, and regeneration of our souls, is attendant on the baptismal rite?
It is not a little remarkable that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration should be regarded as so obnoxious, by all classes of dissenters, while, at the same time, it is the authoritative teaching of all the chief protestant denominations in the world. This fact demonstrates the little regard which is paid by these denominations to Church authority, or to the standards of their faith;--the latitude which is given to the right of private judgment, and the wide spread influence of the "new light theology."
It may well be questioned, indeed, whether the great mass of dissenters know much about their authoritative standards; and whether, even their Teachers, are not mainly governed, in their interpretation of scripture, by their own private judgment, or by the tone of public sentiment which may prevail for the time being, rather than by any deference to Church authority.
Under these circumstances, it may not be amiss to cite a few passages from the writings of the principal continental Reformers, and from the standards of some of the principal protestant denominations, as an illustration of the departure from sound doctrine, which is spreading wider and wider every year.
Luther, the great advocate of the doctrine of Justification by Faith, thus expresses himself in commenting on Gal. iii. 27. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."--"This is not done by any change of vestments, nor by any law of works, but by the new birth and renewal which takes place in baptism; as St. Paul says, 'according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration,' &c. For besides that they are regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit to heavenly righteousness and everlasting life in Baptism, there is kindled a new life and flame; there arise new and holy affections; fear, trust in God, hope; there ariseth a new will. Wherefore evangelically to put on Christ, is not to put on a law of works, but an inestimable gift; viz, remission of sins, righteousness, peace, consolation, joy in the Holy Ghost, salvation, and Christ himself."
 The doctrine of Calvin, on this subject, is not less explicit than that of Luther. The following is cited from his Institutes of the Christian Religion, (B. IV. c. 15.)-- "Baptism is a sign of initiation, by which we are admitted into the Society of the Church, in order that being incorporated into Christ, we may be numbered among the children of God. It is proposed to us by the Lord, as a symbol and token of our purification; or to express my meaning more fully, it resembles a legal instrument properly attested, by which he assures us that all our sins are cancelled, effaced, and obliterated, so that they will never appear in his sight, or come into his remembrance, or be imputed unto us. For he commands all who believe, to be baptized for the remission of their sins. Therefore those who have imagined that baptism is nothing more than a mark or sign by which we profess our religion before men, as soldiers wear the insignia of their sovereign as a mark of their profession, have not considered that which was the principal thing in baptism; which is, that we ought to receive it with this promise, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' We ought to conclude that at whatever time we are baptized, we are washed and purified for the whole of life. Whenever we have fallen, therefore, we must recur to the remembrance of baptism, and arm our minds with the consideration of it, that we may be always certified and assured of the remission of sins. . . . The last advantage which our faith receives from baptism, is the certain testimony it affords us, that we are not only engrafted into the life and death of Christ, but are so united as to be partakers in all his benefits. For this reason he dedicated and sanctified Baptism in his own body that he might have it in common with us, as a most firm bond of the union and society which he has condescended to form with us; so that Paul proves from it, that we are the children of God, because we have put on Christ in baptism. . . . It is a principle sufficiently known and acknowledged by all the faithful, that the right consideration of sacramental signs consists not merely in the external ceremonies, but that it chiefly depends on the promise and the spiritual mysteries which the Lord has appointed those ceremonies to represent. Whoever, therefore, wishes to be fully informed of the meaning of baptism, and what baptism is, must not fix his attention on the element and the outward spectacle, but must rather elevate his thoughts to the promises of God [25/26] which are offered to us in it, and to those internal and spiritual things which it represents to us."
Thus these great Reformers still maintained the doctrine of the universal Church, on the subject of baptismal regeneration, and expressed themselves in language similar to that of St. Augustine, who lived a thousand years before them. "The renovation, after the image of God," says St. Augustine, "is not effected in a moment, like regeneration in baptism; which is done in a moment by the remission of sins."
If we come down to modern times, we find in the Confession of Faith of the Dutch Reformed Church this declaration:--"Christ has commanded all those that are his to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; thereby signifying to us, that as water washeth away all the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is seen on the body of the baptized when sprinkled upon it, so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul and cleanse it of its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath unto children of God."
In the larger Catechism established by the assembly of Divines at Westminster, Baptism is defined to be "A sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing of water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his spirit." The Platform or Confession of Faith agreed upon at Saybrook, and adopted by the General Assembly at New Haven, though established at a somewhat later period, still recognizes the same doctrine. It defines Baptism to be "A Sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace, of his engrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life."
From the foregoing extracts, we cannot fail to perceive a remarkable similarity in the standards of all the principal denominations of Protestant Christians, concerning the nature and efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism. In general, the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration is expressed as strongly, in the standards of the dissenters, as in that of the Church to which we belong. Indeed, [26/27] this had ever been the doctrine of the universal Church of Christ, from the days of the Apostles to the period of the Reformation. And though it may have been rejected by some of the ephemeral sects which have arisen since that time; though it may have been denied, or held in abeyance, by many of the early Puritans, it is not yet excluded from the Creeds of the principal denominations of Christians in this country, and is only practically repudiated, under the pervading influence of the "New-Light doctrines" of the last hundred years.
The early Fathers of New England brought with them the stern and sober principles of Calvinism; yet they were themselves not a little tinctured with the fanaticism of their times.
But in the process of half a century, their Calvinism had lost much of its asperity, and their fanaticism had greatly moderated in its extravagances. [* "As the good people who planted the country died, and the new generation came on," says Trumbull, who was himself of the New-Light School, "there was a sensible decline as to the life and power of godliness. The generation which succeeded, were not in general so eminent and distinguished in their zeal, and strictness of morals, as their Fathers. The third and fourth generations became still more generally inattentive to their spiritual concerns, and manifested a greater declension from the purity and zeal of their ancestors." Hist., Vol. II, p. 135.] How far this mitigation may be ascribed to the peaceable possession of their field of action, and the absence of exciting causes, and how far it may have been occasioned by the admixture among them of Church of England men, who conformed to their ecclesiastical regulations, it is impossible to determine; but it seems to be an unquestionable fact, that their doctrinal views were steadily assimilating to the doctrinal views of the parent Church from which they had severed themselves. And at the end of one hundred years from the first landing at Plymouth, though still adhering to their ecclesiastical organization, their religious views, in other respects, seem not to have greatly differed from those of the Church of England. So early as the year 1662, a Synod was holden under the appointment of the general Court of Massachusetts, in which it was decided that persons baptized in infancy, "understanding the doctrine of faith, and publicly professing their assent thereunto; not scandalous in life, and solemnly owning the covenant before the Church, wherein they give [27/28] up themselves and their children to the Lord, and subject themselves to the government of Christ in the Church, their children are to be baptized." This decision was immediately adopted by many of the Churches in the Colony, and the practice under it soon became general. In 1664, the General Court of Connecticut recommended to the Churches within their jurisdiction, the adoption of a regulation similar to that established by the Synod of Massachusetts; and further "that all the children of the Church be accepted and accounted real members of the Church; and that the Church exercise a due Christian care and watch over them; and that when they are grown up, being examined by the officer, in the face of the Church, if it appear in the judgment of charity, that they be duly qualified to participate in that great ordinance of the Lord's Supper, by their being able to examine themselves and discern the Lord's body, such persons be admitted to full communion." [* Trumbull, Hist. Conn. Vol. I, p. 312.] After opposition by some of the ministers and Churches, the recommendations of the Legislature were generally adopted. At a general Court holden at New Haven, October, 1708, the Platform agreed upon at Saybrook, in September of the same year, was fully approved; and it was further ordained that all the Churches within this Government, that are, or shall be, thus united in doctrine, worship and discipline, be, and for the future shall be owned and acknowledged established by law." [* Ibid. p. 486.]
At the same time, it was declared to be "sufficient that a Church acknowledge the Scriptures to be the Word of God, the perfect and only rule of faith and practice: and own, either the doctrinal parts of those commonly called the Articles of the Church of England, or the Confession, or Catechisms, shorter or longer, compiled by the Assembly at Westminster, or the Confession agreed on at the Savoy."
Under the influence of such sentiments, it is not wonderful that our Fathers of those times should regard the new theology, and the new measures which were introduced a few years afterwards, and especially the fanatical spirit and the extravagances with which they were accompanied, with strong abhorrence and dismay. Resolutions of ecclesiastical associations and legislative assemblies, were fulminated against them; while those who propagated them [28/29] were stigmatized as "Antinomians," "Disorganizers," and "Fanatics."
[*The Rev. Dr. Chauncey, of Boston, though a believer in the reality of the "work of grace" which was in progress, presents us a very striking view of "the things of a bad and dangerous tendency" which accompanied that work. He also gives us a brief account of the measures which were taken to avert the impending dangers. Among these is a Proclamation of the Government of Connecticut for a general fast, to be holden in April 1743, to deprecate the anger of God for the prevailing sins. Among these sins are enumerated a "spirit of error, disorder, bitterness, uncharitableness, censoriousness, divisions, contentions, separations, and confusions in the Churches." He also presents us a "Testimony" of the pastors of the Churches in the province of Massachusetts, held the same year, against the errors of the times. "As to errors in doctrine," say they, `"we observe that some in our land look upon what are called secret impulses upon their minds, without due regard to the written word, as the rule of their conduct; that none are converted but such as know they are converted, and the time when; that assurance is of the essence of faith; that sanctification is no evidence of justification; with other Antinomian and Famalistical errors." "As to disorders in practice," they reckon the innovations of itinerant clergymen and lay-exhorters among the chief. They also censure converts to the new doctrines for presuming to judge the hearts of their brethren, and especially of their ministers, and condemning them as "Arminians," "blind," and "unconverted." They condemn the extravagant manifestations of terror under "convictions," and undue raptures at receiving "light;" and the noise and disorders which frequently characterized the meetings for public worship.
The following resolution was passed by the general association of Connecticut, in June 1745.
"Whereas, there has of late years been many errors in doctrine, and disorders in practice, prevailing in the Churches in this land, which seem to have a threatening aspect upon the Churches; and whereas Mr. George Whitefield has been the promoter, or at least the faulty occasion of many of these errors and disorders; this association think it needful for them to declare, that if the said Mr. Whitefield should make his progress through this government, it would by no means be advisable for any of our ministers to admit him into their pulpits, or for any of our people to attend his administrations."--Trumbull, Vol. II. p. 190.]
On the other hand, the "Old Lights" were not less bitterly denounced as "Arminians," and "Formalists." Yet the new views of religion rapidly extended their influence; not only among the Congregationalists of New England, but among the Presbyterians of the Middle and Southern States, and were destined to a signal triumph. In both bodies, indeed, schisms and dissensions were created; which were hardly yet healed, when they have broken out again in our own day; under the appellations [29/30] of the "Old" and "New Schools," of Presbyterianism, and the "Old" and " New Theology" of the Congregationalists, with the appropriate "Measures" which pertain to each system. If a comparison be made between the state of morals and religion for the last hundred years, (taking into account the multiplication of sects which have sprung up, and the dissensions which have prevailed,) and that which existed during the hundred years preceding them, we shall be able to form a just estimate of the effects which have been produced by this great religious revolution.
The Church to which we belong has been transplanted from England to this country, chiefly within the more recent period; and has been rapidly increased, by accessions from those portions of the community who have become wearied with perpetual agitations and changes, and have sought for repose and stability in our scriptural standard of faith, and our primitive forms of worship. Built up of such materials, it need not be surprising if some of our religious views should be tinctured by the prevailing opinions which surround us. Perhaps the most desolating of all evils which have sprung out of the revolution referred to, relate to the sentiments entertained (by those who have embraced its principles) concerning the nature of Baptism, and the religious education of children. Whatever vague generalities may be uttered concerning the duty of Baptism, it is but too commonly regarded as a mere ceremonial observance,--a mere sign, unaccompanied by anything signified. Practically, there is an utter unbelief in its sacramental efficacy. And the pious nurture of children, whether baptized or not, (so far at least as their religious state is concerned,) is considered of no avail; until, some time during life, they shall become subjects of the "new birth;"--converted by a sudden "change of heart," of which they have a distinct consciousness, and in which they are entirely passive. Though in reading the Scriptures, baptized persons are represented as members of the "family" and "household" of Christ; as "fellow citizens with the saints;" as "members of Christ," "children of God," and "heirs of the kingdom of heaven;" as having "put on Christ" by baptism; and as being "buried with him in baptism;" yet these are all regarded by those who are imbued with the New Theology, as mere figurative modes of expression, from which they derive no distinct conception of the real efficacy of the sacrament. The great idea of the "new heart" swallows up all concern [30/31] for the sacramental and ordinary means of grace; and regarding all human efforts as of no avail in effecting this consummation, their hopes or their despair, depend solely on the sovereign grace of God. They seem to have no just conception of the nature of that visible, though spiritual kingdom, which Christ came to establish upon earth, as the means of our preparation for Heaven;--a kingdom designed for effecting a union between God and man through the medium of the incarnate Son of God; and that the sacrament of Baptism has been instituted for the special purpose of admitting men into this kingdom, and to a participation in all the means of sanctification and salvation which pertain to it.
Brethren, if the influence of such sentiments shall be found yet to linger in the minds of any members of our Church, let them be assured that they have their origin in metaphysical subtilties, or the "traditions of men;" and not in the simplicity of the Scriptures nor the language of our Prayer Book. Let them be assured that those who are sacramentally baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, become by that act, (not in name only, but in deed and in truth,) "members of Christ," "children of God," and "heirs of the kingdom of heaven;" that by the renunciation of the dominion of Satan, and their adoption into the kingdom of Christ, they are restored to a state of favour with God, and brought within the sphere of the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. And this is not to be regarded as a mere temporary act, but as the initiation into an abiding state. On this ground, the apostles exhorted their baptized converts to count themselves "dead unto sin, and alive unto God;" and on this ground it is that all baptized persons, at the present day, may be encouraged to address their prayers to their Father in Heaven, in the confidence of a gracious audience; that they may be exhorted to confess to him their daily transgressions, and to supplicate his divine forgiveness; and that they may pray to be renewed, day by day, in the spirit of their minds, through the covenanted aids of the Holy Ghost.
It is on this sure ground, too, that parents may be encouraged to bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." They should raise their own minds to the high and gracious relationship in which their children are placed; and the first sentiment impressed upon their youthful hearts should be that [31/32] they are in very deed, "Children of God." As they increase in stature and in wisdom, and become capable of comprehending so high a mystery, they should be made to understand that, in the Sacrament of Baptism, they received "the spirit of adoption" by which they are enabled to address God, as their Father, to regard Christ, as their Brother, as well as Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost, as their indwelling companion and Sanctifier. They should be taught to regard their bodies as temples of God; that the Spirit of God dwelleth in them, and is ever ready to guide, quicken and assist them, in their duties; unless, through their own depravity, and perseverance in sin, they obstinately resist, or quench, or grieve away the heavenly Guest. [* Luther regarded Baptismal regeneration as the true ground of Justification by Faith. "Believe on the warrant of your Baptism" says he. "You are grafted into Christ; claim your position. You have the Spirit, you are children of God; do not live as if you belonged to the devil." This was his invariable language; with this he shook the Seven Hills.--Maurice's Kingdom of Christ, p. 255.]
My Brethren;--God, in his Word, has revealed to us sublime ideas of the nature and import of this Holy Sacrament.
Let us never be guilty of degrading them, by regarding it as a mere ceremony, a fiction, a solemn mockery, of no practical use or efficacy! Rather let us strive to be duly sensible of our own high privileges as children of God, as well as Ministers of Christ, and of the awful responsibilities which these relationships impose on us.
It had been my purpose to address to you a few remarks on the subject of the Lord's Supper, and the errors which prevail in regard to the nature and import of this Holy Sacrament; but I have already encroached so much upon your time, that I must hasten to a conclusion.
Brethren, I am aware that the plainness of speech which has characterized this discourse, will bring upon me the imputation of uncharitableness, by those who dissent from my opinions. I am not conscious of any such feeling, and it has been my desire to express myself with proper christian courtesy. But charity consists not in the suppression of important truths, nor in overlooking important errors. It is sufficient that we entertain kindly feelings towards those whom we believe to be in error, and adhere to [32/33] the great law of equity by doing to others as we would have them do to us. The views which I have presented in relation to the right of private judgment in matters of religion, in regard to the nature and constitution of the Christian Church, its ministry and Sacraments, are widely different from the opinions held by many wise and good men around us. I question not their intelligence, or their piety. I would judge no man. I would unchurch no man. I would decide nothing concerning the efficacy of a Ministry which I may deem to be invalid, nor concerning the benefits which may be attendant on irregular or defective ministrations. It is the prerogative of God alone, who knows what allowance may be made for ignorance, pride or prejudice, to determine what shall be the consequences to any man, of the errors he commits,--whether those errors be voluntary, or involuntary. But, my Brethren, it is the duty of all men to seek the truth, and to maintain it. And, for ourselves, it has been made our special care "with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines, contrary to God's Word." Errors in religion, whether they relate to the theory, or to the practice of it, are not only hazardous to those who embrace them, but they are injurious to the cause of religion itself. All the writings of Infidels have, perhaps, done less to injure the cause of Christianity, than the heresies and schisms which have rent the Church, the multiplicity of sects which have arisen, and the hatred, the fanaticism, and the extravagances by which they have been attended.
In the midst of all these evils, the sure word of God is our only refuge; the true Church of God is our only ark of safety. The Word of God, and the Church of God, as they were understood in the earlier and purer ages of Christianity; as they were interpreted by the Reformers of the Church of England; and as the spirit of both is embodied in our Book of Common Prayer. The thousand systems of doctrine, devised by the subtilty of Metaphysicians, the thousand religious schemes emanating from the fancies of zealots, have vanished, or are rapidly passing away. The Prayer Book has stood the scrutiny of ages. It is the safe bulwark, erected under the Providence of God, and sustained by his goodness, against the disorganization and fanaticism of sects, on [33/34] the one hand, and against the tyranny and superstition of Romanism on the other. Its doctrines have received the sanction of the true Catholic Church, from the time of the Apostles; its Prayers have been used and hallowed by a long line of saints and martyrs; and it now stands secure, as the only enduring monument of the Protestant Reformation.