A Guide to the Holy Sacraments in a Series of Lectures on the Baptismal Service, Delivered in Trinity Church, New Haven, Preparatory to Confirmation.
By Harry Croswell.
New Haven: G.B. Bassett and Co., 1857.
"In Adam all die."--I Corinthians xv: 22.
Agreeably to the plan proposed in our Introduction, we now proceed to treat of the first question in our programme: What doctrine is taught in the first exhortation in the baptismal service, (both for infants and adults,) with regard to the natural condition of every person born into the world?
This question is easily solved. For while the Christian world (as it is called in courtesy) is distracted by doubts and difficulties on the subject of original sin, and natural depravity, the Church speaks a plain and explicit language on these, as on all other doctrines of revealed religion.
The doctrine taught in this first exhortation in the baptismal service, is this:--that "all men are conceived and born in sin;" and to show the natural connection between this original corruption and the commission of actual sin, it is added, "and that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and they who are in the flesh cannot please God, but live in sin, committing many actual transgressions." The distinction here made between original and actual sin, is obvious. [17/18] The one is a sinful nature, inherited by our descent from Adam, and called in one of the prayers in the baptismal office, "the old Adam;" the other is a sinful practice, growing out of the corrupt affections thus inherited.
This is a fundamental doctrine; and it is for this reason that it is made to occupy so prominent a place in the order of the Christian system. In this incipient step, this initiatory sacrament, at the very entrance of the Church of God, the applicant for admission is plainly taught, that "all men are conceived and born in sin," and that he, in common with all his race, is not only by nature prone to sin, but is an actual transgressor in the sight of God. And this doctrine, thus prominently expressed in the beginning, is borne along through all the offices of the Church. It is not confined to the technicalities of an Article,--though, in this case, the Article itself is not liable, like some others, to misconstruction,--but it is among the first rudiments of instruction, the Catechumen being taught the doctrine in almost every possible form of expression, and especially in the acknowledgment that we are "by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath." And it constitutes the principal burden of all the confessions and prayers throughout our daily ritual.
In the General Confession, we acknowledge, in reference to our natural corruption, that "there is no health in us;" and in view of our actual transgressions, we cry for mercy, as "miserable offenders." [18/19] In the Litany, from the opening invocation to the concluding benediction, we have little else than confessions of sinfulness and supplications for mercy and forgiveness. In a large portion of the Collects we find the same characteristics, and especially in one of those for Ash-Wednesday, where we employ such language as this: "Mercifully forgive us our trespasses; receive and comfort us, who are grieved and wearied with the burden of our sins." And again where we acknowledge we "are vile earth and miserable sinners." And finally, in the Communion office, where "we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness." To transcribe at large from the Liturgy is needless. But these brief citations and references are sufficient to show the happy and edifying manner in which the Church instils into the hearts of her people, the sentiments and principles which form the groundwork of her whole system. What she inculcates at the baptismal font, she repeats in her Catechism, and continues throughout all her offices and standards. Finally, summing up the whole in her IXth article, "Of Original or Birth-Sin;" "Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk,) but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person [19/20] born into this world it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated."
We have thus answered the question which forms the basis of our present lecture. This answer has been drawn from the exhortation in the baptismal office, which has been found in perfect agreement with all the other offices and standards of the Church, and shows what her doctrine is with regard to the condition of every person born into the world. That it is a fundamental doctrine, all will at once concede; and that it is of the first importance, as to its practical tendencies, must be equally manifest; for no one can be expected to seek the way of salvation until he feels his need. None but the sick will call for the physician. Man must be convinced of his sin before he will inquire, with due anxiety, after a remedy for his malady. The importance of the doctrine, then, demands a further investigation, and we are bound to inquire whether the Church is sustained in her views by the testimony of Scripture? In pursuing this investigation, it cannot be expected or desired that we should cite even a tithe of the hundreds of passages which plainly assert this doctrine. It will be quite sufficient to refer to a few only of the more prominent of this class of passages. When, for example, we hear King Solomon, in his dedication prayer, acknowledging what his father David so often expresses in the Book of Psalms, that "there is no man that sinneth not." And when [20/21] we hear the Apostle declaring, that "the Scripture hath concluded all under sin," we are prepared to find, throughout the sacred volume, the most conclusive evidence of man's natural depravity. In these Scriptures, the symptoms of this sinful nature are indeed represented under a great variety of forms and similitudes; but they are all designed and well calculated to impress upon the heart a thorough conviction, that "all men are conceived and born in sin."
(1.) In the first place, the Scriptures represent the unrenewed man as spiritually Mind; and this blindness is manifested in ignorance of the perfections of God. These perfections are written everywhere, riot only in the Book of Revelation, but in all the works of Creation and Providence. Indeed, there is not a human being who is not a living monument and witness of the power, and wisdom and goodness of God. But against all this testimony the unrenewed man willingly closes his eyes. It awakens no gratitude, no adoration, no love, no devotion. While he affects to see and know everything, he is absolutely groping in thick darkness. And if thus blind to the attributes of God, it is no wonder if he is ignorant of himself. He is blind to his own imperfections. His vision is so obscure, that while he greatly magnifies the faults of his fellow men, he remains almost wholly unconscious that he is equally involved in guilt. And what is worse, he is ignorant of his own danger. [21/22] While he flatters himself that he is pursuing a safe and judicious course, he is in fact blindly pressing on in the downward road to destruction. An awful precipice is before him. And yet he approaches, with heedless steps, to the very brink of that precipice. A friendly voice may warn him of his danger; but he turns a deaf ear to that voice. A guardian hand may be stretched out to arrest his progress; but he spurns the proffered protection. No higher evidence of spiritual blindness can be adduced; and hence, so far as this symptom is concerned, the Scriptures fully sustain the doctrine of the Church, that "all men are conceived and born in sin."
(2.) But intimately connected with this symptom, the Scriptures exhibit another. The natural man is represented as alienated from God. The Apostle describes the unrenewed Gentiles as "having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." Indeed such is the natural condition of men, that they are in truth aliens from the Commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. And this symptom is too manifest to be mistaken. Man, in his original purity, was qualified for sweet and continual communion with his heavenly Father; but the moment he fell from his innocence, he fled from the face of his Maker. It was the instinctive prompting of his guilty nature. He could no longer endure the eye [22/23] of perfect holiness, and shrunk away, abashed and ashamed, at the approach of his Creator. And in this state of alienation, as the Scriptures teach, does he remain until renewed in the spirit of his mind. He seeks not the communion of God, he delights not in his presence, he dreads the sound of his voice and the light of his countenance. In the exhibition of this symptom, then, does the Scripture still further sustain the doctrine avowed in the first exhortation in the baptismal service.
(3.) But to put the question beyond all controversy, it is only necessary to recur to one other, among many, of the symptoms imputed to the natural man in the Scriptures. He is represented as corrupt and depraved. That "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," is the general testimony of God's holy word. It is not to be supposed, however, that all the fruits of a sinful nature are to be found growing rank and unchecked in the principles and practice of every unrenewed man. The Scriptures enumerate many vices and transgressions of which he may not be guilty, and very many evil propensities and passions which he may not indulge. It is true that there may be those who carry out, in every thought, and word and deed, the full measure of iniquity; who glory in their shame, and bear about, in reckless temerity, every mark of the loathsome leprosy of sin. But these are extreme, and probably rare cases. The evidence of natural depravity and corruption may [23/24] not lie upon the surface, nor exhibit itself in the more gross and abominable offences which the sacred word imputes to the degenerate race of man. It may require thorough investigation, and deep probing to detect the latent symptoms of disease, and to discover the signs of that infection of nature, which, according to the language of the Church, doth remain in every creature. But sufficient does lie upon the surface to show that man is corrupt and depraved, and that he is so far gone from original righteousness, that he falls far short of that standard of holiness and perfection which the divine law requires.
And thus we perceive the perfect agreement between the standards of our Church and the holy Scriptures, in exhibiting our real condition by nature. In both, the unrenewed man is represented as spiritually blind and ignorant; as alienated from God; as corrupt and depraved, and under condemnation.
And this, as we have already said, is a fundamental doctrine; and it is for this reason that we follow the order of the teaching of the Church, and place it in the very foreground of our present course of instruction. By first establishing the truth of this doctrine, we take the only effectual method of awakening a direct and personal interest in the lessons which are to follow. We wish to bring you more immediately to realize your own individual share in the general guilt and corruption of your race. We wish to bring you to a deep and thorough conviction of your [24/25] sinfulness. We wish to bring you to confess, with heartfelt contrition, what thousands of humble sinners have confessed, in all ages, and what you confess with your lips in your daily devotions, that you have erred and strayed from the ways of God; that you have offended against his holy laws, and that there is no health in you. Nay, we hope you may be constrained, by the overwhelming burden of your guilt, to adopt the very language of the poor prodigal, after he had experimentally learnt his deplorable condition: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee. For when you are thus convinced, and thus humbled under a sense of your sinfulness, the object which we have in view will be more than half accomplished. Knowing your real personal condition, feeling your necessities, the diseases of the soul being made apparent, and your danger being perfectly understood, we may trust to the dictates of your common sense and common prudence, directed by the Spirit of God, as to the propriety of seeking a remedy. Like the sick man who knows his disease, you will be ready to follow the prescriptions of the physician. Or, like the captive or bond-slave, who feels the galling of his chains, you will fly to the deliverer who comes to set you free. It were an easy matter, when once convinced of your own personal sinfulness, when satisfied that you are among the great mass who are very far gone from original righteousness, and that there is something in your very nature that deserves [25/26] God's wrath and damnation; it were an easy matter, I say, when convinced of this, to persuade you to seek the things which belong to your everlasting peace. It would be strange indeed, if, on seeing the pit of destruction before you, you did not recoil with horror and endeavor to flee from the wrath to come. It would be strange indeed, if, on feeling the impending danger of your condition, you did not awake from the slumber of death, and seek the way of life eternal. And may we not hope, that among those who are here present, some may be thus sensible of their perilous state? May we not hope that some one, at least, is already awakened to a due measure of anxiety on the subject of the soul's salvation? Fellow sinner! may we thus interpret your mental exercises at this moment? And are you anxious to know what God has done to redeem you from the curse and condemnation of original transgression? And are you equally anxious to know what you must do to render this redemption available to your eternal salvation? These are questions which we design, by the help of God, to answer in due course.And may God so direct us by His good Spirit in this work, and so incline your ears to hear and your heart to feel, that our labor may not be in vain in the Lord!