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 Christ shall all be made alive."--I Cor. xv: 22.
What provision has been made by Divine goodness for changing the natural condition of man? and by what means are, we taught to avail ourselves of the benefits of this provision?
To the first branch of this inquiry, we find a ready and sufficient answer in the wonderful work of redemption. No sooner did man fall, than God interposed his merciful hand to deliver him from his lost and perilous condition. By sin, man had contracted a deadly malady, and incurred the penalty of death and everlasting destruction. But instantly, as it were, the Physician and the remedy were provided for the diseases of the sin-stricken soul. When God, in the beginning, declared to the tempter that the seed of the woman should bruise his head, he gave assurance, not only to our guilty progenitors, but to the whole fallen race, of the mighty deliverance which was, in fullness of time, to be wrought out through the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. And this deliverance, as we all know, was shadowed forth in all intervening ages, through [27/28] covenants, and types, and figures, and prophecies, till the time was fulfilled and the promised seed was sent, to work out the painful expiation on the Cross. From the first to the last, Christ was the author and finisher of this work. He trod the wine-press alone; and to Him alone belonged the victory, and the glory of the great deliverance. But it must be obvious that Christ did not finish the scheme of redemption, solely by offering up his body on the Cross. This was not the only provision made by divine goodness for changing the natural condition of man. No! Christ did not thus leave unfinished the work which the Father had given him to do. After saying to the weary and heavy laden sinner, Come unto me; and after commanding his disciples to suffer the little children to come unto him, he did not turn and leave these disciples to grope their way in doubt and darkness. He did not submit the question to their wisdom; he did not leave them to devise the mode by which they should accept his call or obey his command. After he had paid the ransom of his own blood for man's deliverance, he had much to do to provide, fully and completely, for his restoration. And what he did do is all recorded in the revelation of God, and is familiar to our ears. In the whole compass of this record there is not a word to warrant the blasphemous inference, that the "blood of the Covenant," shed by Christ on the Cross, was "an unholy" or ineffectual thing. On the contrary, this blood is everywhere represented as a perpetual [28/29] and everlasting seal of God's mercy. It was a seal never to be dispensed with, neglected, or forgotten It was to continue, in full force and efficacy, to the end of time, as a pledge and assurance to fallen man of the sacred nature of the divine institutions.
Hence we find, that when Christ, as a Sovereign, set up his kingdom on earth and required all men to become his subjects, he provided the very instruments by which their allegiance should be secured, and by which his protection should be pledged to them. When, as "the everlasting Father," he gathered a household of sons and daughters, he prescribed the indentures of adoption, by which they should be admitted to this high privilege, and enjoy all its precious benefits; and when, as a Great High Priest, he founded his Church, and invited all men to enter its sacred enclosures, he instituted, in the two sacraments, the visible ordinances by which they should become one with him in holy communion and fellowship. And to all these instruments and indentures, these sacraments were ordained to be the everlasting seals. They were not temporary or changeable, like human institutions, but were to be perpetuated always, to the end of the world. The subject was never to lose his citizenship, nor the child his relationship, nor the disciple of Christ his allegiance, except by voluntary forfeiture. And to prevent all possibility of failure in this beneficent design, and to cut off all occasion for error or mistake, He who was Head over all things to His [29/30] Church, appointed and set apart an order of men expressly to act as His embassadors, and to perform, in His name, what he could no longer do in person. They were to gather disciples from all nations, admit them into fellowship and communion, and administer to them the visible signs and seals of their profession. We need not spend our time in drawing out and exhibiting the minute details of this divine arrangement. There are no parts of the Scripture more plainly written, or better understood. We all know full well what the blessed Savior declared to Peter and the other disciples, about founding, establishing and sustaining his Church, and in what manner he instituted the sacraments,--the one as the door of admission into his household, and the other as the food and nourishment of the souls of his children. We know how he commissioned and charged the Apostles to go and teach, and baptize, and make disciples of all nations; and to administer the holy sacrament of his body and blood. And we know also how he commanded them to send others as they had been sent, and thus to continue their oversight and authority to the end of the world. All these things we know. The facts are familiar to us; and they are so plainly written, that it would be as needless to prove them as it would be presumptuous to deny them.
We perceive, then, what provision has been made by Divine goodness, for changing the natural condition of man. We find it in the great work of [30/31] redemption--in the full, complete, and all-sufficient atonement, made by the offering of Jesus Christ on the cross--for the sins of the world. We find it in the establishment of his Church, in the institution of the sacraments, and in the appointment of a perpetual ministry. When, therefore, he invites us to come unto Him and find rest for our souls, and when he commands the little children to be brought unto Him, he does not leave us in doubt as to the manner in which the invitation and the command are to be complied with. No! we find every thing prescribed with wonderful clearness and precision; and we are thus prepared to enter understandingly upon the second branch of our inquiry:--“By what means are we taught to avail ourselves of the benefits of this provision?"
In answering this inquiry, it is our intention, as in every other case, to test the teaching of the Church, in her offices and standards, by the infallible authority of Scripture.
On turning to the first exhortation in the baptismal service, we find the plain declaration, as the language of Jesus Christ himself, that "none can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Ghost." Hence we are instructed to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, to grant to the persons presented at the font, "that which by nature they cannot have; that they may be baptized with water and the Holy Ghost, and received [31/32] into Christ's holy Church, and be made lively members of the same." And the prayers which follow are framed in strict accordance with this direction. In the first Collect we find some beautiful and striking illustrations of the sentiment conveyed in the exhortation. The Church of God is compared to the Ark, by which Noah and his family were saved from perishing. The passing of the children of Israel through the Red Sea, is also said to have been a figurative representation of holy baptism; and further, that the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan, was a sanctification of water to the mystical washing away of sin; and hence these illustrations are thus summed up in humble prayer to God: "We beseech thee for thine infinite mercies, that thou wilt mercifully look upon these, thy servants; wash them and sanctify them with the Holy Ghost, that they, being delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the Ark of Christ's Church; and being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally they may come to the land of everlasting life." And in the second collect, the same sentiments are somewhat condensed: "We call upon Thee for these persons, that they, coming to Thy holy baptism, may receive remission of their sins by spiritual regeneration." And further, "that these persons may enjoy the everlasting benediction of thy heavenly washing, and may come to the eternal Kingdom which Thou [32/33] hast promised by Christ our Lord." These illustrations, it will be perceived, are all founded on scriptural similitudes. But the Church does not rest here. In each of the offices for baptism, the very passages are cited in full which sustain these illustrations. In the office for infants, the Gospel taken from St. Mark is designed, as the rubric declares, "for the better instructing of the people in the grounds of infant baptism." This gives peculiar significance to the endearing language and action of our Savior: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God." "And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them." And in the office for adults, the Gospel taken from St. John, relates the interview and colloquy of the Savior with Nicodemus, in which he declares explicitly: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." And in further explanation of his meaning, "except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." And besides these citations, the exhortation which follows this last Gospel alludes to other passages, designed to show the necessity of baptism, "where it may be had"--as well as the benefits to be derived from it. For example, the great commission bestowed upon the Apostles by the Savior--"Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized [33/34] shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned." And again, the language of the Apostle Peter, when upon his first preaching of the Gospel, many were pricked at the heart, and said to him and the rest of the Apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" replied and said unto them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Thus sustained, therefore, by the Scriptures, the Church carries out the same sentiment through the whole baptismal service, and in all her other standards. In the short exhortation after baptism, the child or the adult is recognized as being "regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ's Church." And in the concluding thanksgiving, in the office for infants, the sentiment is fully and clearly expressed: "We yield Thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this infant with Thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for Thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into Thy holy Church." And so in the other standards of the Church, she employs a plain and explicit language. In the Catechism, the child is taught to say that in baptism, he "was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven." And further, that "the inward and spiritual grace" in baptism is, "a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness; for, being by nature born in sin, and the children of [33/34] wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace." And in perfect accordance with all this, is the xxvuth article--Of Baptism: "Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly, are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption, to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased, by virtue of prayer to God."
Here, then, we find a ready answer to the second branch of our inquiry. We learn by what means the Church teaches us to avail ourselves of the benefits of the provision made by Divine goodness for changing the natural condition of man. Here stands the blood-stained cross, on which the redemption of the world was wrought out by the painful sacrifice of Christ. Here, in his flowing blood, see the pledge and assurance of deliverance from the bondage of sin and death; and, beside all this, behold your Sovereign setting up his kingdom on earth, and offering to your acceptance the instruments of allegiance and fidelity. Behold your everlasting Father, gathering his household of sons and daughters, and inviting you to subscribe your hand to the covenant of adoption, and become members of his blessed family! Behold your great High Priest, [35/36] founding his Church, and throwing open its sacred enclosures!" Behold the Ark of God; behold the open door!"--and hear the invitation to the weary and heavy-laden soul to enter in and be at rest. Listen to the solemn institution of the Sacramental Seals, by which you may become one in communion and fellowship in this emancipated brotherhood. Read the commission by which the ministers of this exalted High Priest are sent forth to dispense these seals to the penitent and contrite sinner. And then, when these ministers come and address themselves to you--and when they invite and urge you to accept the terms of discipleship--and become subjects of a kingdom whose foundation shall never fail, and children of a family which shall never be scattered abroad, and members of a Church which shall stand secure, in the promise of God, to the end of time, and then reign and triumph forever under its great and exalted High Priest--will you not lend an attentive ear? Will you not pause and reflect? Will you not be persuaded to avail yourselves of the means which God has graciously provided for your escape from condemnation?
"The spirit in our hearts
Is whispering, sinner, come;
The Bride, the Church of Christ, proclaims
To all his children--come!
Yes, whosoever will,
Oh I let him freely come--
And freely drink the stream of life;
Tis Jesus bids him come!"