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.
Know ye not that to many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Romans, vi: 3.
We are to inquire, in this discourse: What is meant by being "regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Ghost," and in what sense does Baptism effect this regeneration?
This question derives its chief importance, in the present series of Lectures, from the frequent use of the terms regenerate and regeneration, in the baptismal service, and in the other offices and standards of the Church.
In answering it, let it be our first object to ascertain precisely what the Scriptures mean by the term. It will be observed that the word regeneration occurs but twice in the English translation of the Bible. In the first instance, in Matt, xix: 28, it obviously refers to the Resurrection--the new birth from the grave, or the final consummation, and the new birth of the world, when there shall be new heavens and a new earth, and when the bodies of the faithful shall be raised up to enjoy everlasting felicity and glory; for, taken in connection with the occasion, the language can have no other meaning. [37/38] Peter said to Jesus: "Behold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee! what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." In this place, therefore, it is obvious that the term has no particular bearing on our present subject. But in the other instance--Titus, iii: 5--it is directly in point, and serves to throw much light on the subject of our inquiry. It is here termed the "Washing of regeneration" and is coupled with the "renewing of the Holy Ghost;" "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and, renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior." But though these are the only instances in which the word regeneration occurs, there are, nevertheless, several cases where other terms are employed to express the same thing. For example, where such words are found as the new birth--or born anew--or born again--and especially in the well-remembered conversation of the Savior with Nicodemus, when Jesus declared to this learned Pharisee--"Except a man be born again, (or born from above,) he cannot see the kingdom of God." And when in answer to the inquiries of Nicodemus, he added, by way of explanation--"Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, [38/39] he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It was the same as if he had said, "ye must be regenerate and born anew of water and the Holy Ghost." From these instances, then, we are to learn the meaning of this scriptural language. How are we to understand the Savior? In what way is it probable that he intended the element of water should be employed in the work of regeneration? After he had stated, in general terms, the necessity of the new birth, for what purpose did he enter into these details? In connecting the element of water with the Holy Spirit, he doubtless intended to apprise his learned and distinguished pupil that the application of water had a higher, and more significant design, than in the ablutions of the Jewish Church. That it was to be employed, not only as an outward and visible sign, but as a sign of something inward and spiritual; a sign of the renewal of the heart; a sign of that inward change and renovation, without which no man could enter into the kingdom of Heaven. We might venture to give his language this construction, even though no other Scriptures were found to sustain it.
But we are not left to this necessity. The Apostle Paul, in the passage already cited from his epistle to Titus, has cleared away all doubt and difficulty. He marks distinctly the two several agents, necessary to the work of conversion. The application of water, he terms the washing of regeneration; and the application of the Spirit to the heart, [39/40] the renewing of the Holy Ghost; and he combines the two together, as operating, the one as the outward sign, and the other as the inward and spiritual grace. And this clearly explains the language of the Savior to Nicodemus, ye must be born again--ye must be born from above--ye must be born of water and of the Spirit—"except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
If such, then, is the true scriptural meaning of regeneration, or new birth, we may be sure that the Church, in all her offices and standards, wherever the same language is employed, intends to attach to it the same meaning. Hence we find that in her general instructions with regard to the two sacraments, she teaches that the word sacrament means "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace;" and that there are, necessarily, two parts in a sacrament: "the outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual grace." And in her particular instructions, with regard to Baptism, she teaches that water and the Holy Ghost are these two parts, or elements, through the instrumentality of which, the change is wrought, which she terms regeneration, or the new birth. And it is obvious that this must be a change, not only of the state and condition, but of the character and nature of the sinner. For if this were not so, her teaching would in no respect comport with the scriptural views already explained; and if she were to depart [40/41] in the slightest degree from the instructions of the Bible, her teaching would be utterly worthless.
Having thus been enabled, as we think, to ascertain the real Gospel meaning of the term 'regeneration,' or 'new birth,' it only remains to enter upon the second branch of our present inquiry: "In what sense does Baptism effect this regeneration?"
This is a very important inquiry; and in pursuing it, we shall doubtless find it necessary to examine somewhat minutely every part of the Baptismal Service, with other corresponding offices and standards of the Church. In doing this, it may be expedient to repeat, substantially, many of the passages cited in our last lecture. But if the effect should be to give us all a better understanding of the principles of our Church, the time employed may not, we trust, be spent in vain. "Baptism (says our XXVIIth article) is 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." And this teaching of the article is recognized throughout the Baptismal Service. In the first exhortation, for example, where the people are directed to pray that the persons or children presented for Baptism, may receive "that which by nature they cannot have," that they "may be baptized with water, and the [41/42] Holy Ghost, and be received into Christ's holy Church, and be made living members of the same."
This teaching seems to indicate with sufficient plainness, in what sense regeneration is effected by Baptism. It supposes that baptized persons are thereby brought into a NEW state, or condition; that they are transferred from a state of sin and condemnation, where they had no promises of help or pardon, to a state of grace, where the promises are sealed to them by the power and authority of the Holy Ghost. It supposes, also, a new character in the recipients. From rebels and outcasts, they are received into fellowship with, and are made living members of, Christ's Holy Church. And it further supposes a new nature, for they receive what by nature they cannot have, the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, with all its quickening and renovating powers.
That all this is indicated in the teaching of the Church, we may safely assert; for in all the subsequent prayers which she directs her people to offer in behalf of those who are baptized, there is a full recognition of the same sentiments and principles. And it would be absurd to suppose that the Church would embody, in her forms of devotion, supplications for blessings which she could never hope to enjoy; but in such inconsistency the Church has not involved herself. In the prayers in the Baptismal Service, she conveys the same lessons which she teaches in her article and other standards. She [42/43] prays, for example, that in the same manner that God saved Noah and his family from perishing by the flood, he may so rescue the sinner, by receiving him into the Church, which is fitly compared to the Ark. Recurring also to the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan, which she considers as the sanctification of the element of water to the mystical washing away of sin, she prays that the person or child presented for Baptism, may be washed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, delivered from the wrath of God, received into the Ark of Christ's Church, and, after a life of faith, hope, and charity, may come to the land of everlasting life. And she further prays, that the child or person coming to Holy Baptism, may receive remission of sin, by spiritual regeneration, and may enjoy the everlasting benediction of heavenly washing, and come to God's eternal kingdom. These are strong and significant expressions, and indicate, as plainly as language can indicate, newness, not only of condition and character, but of nature also. And the same ideas are conveyed in the exhortation that follows the Gospel, where the people are next instructed to pray that the Holy Spirit may be given to the child or person presented for Baptism, that he may be born again, and made an heir of everlasting salvation. But this change, and newness of condition, character and nature, are perhaps even more distinctly indicated in the short petitions which follow the promises of the sponsors. In the figures [43/44] employed, that the old Adam in the child or person, may be so buried, that the new man may be raised up; and that all sinful affections may die in him, and all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him, we have a lively representation of the same change; and finally, in the consecrating prayer, where God is solemnly invoked to sanctify the water to the mystical washing away of sin, that the child or person to be baptized therein, may receive the fullness of his grace, and ever remain in the number of his faithful children, we are prepared for her grateful thanksgiving, that God hath been graciously pleased to regenerate such baptized child with his Holy Spirit, to receive him for his own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into his Holy Church.
And if this teaching of the Article is thus carried out in the Baptismal Service, it will also be found in the catechetical instruction of the Church. The Catechumen is not only 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," but he is also taught, that while water is "the outward visible sign," the "inward and spiritual grace" is "a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness;" for, being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace."
Thus we perceive how the Church, in all her offices and standards, conforms to the scriptural [44/45] meaning of the term regeneration, or new birth; and we can be at no loss to understand in what sense she believes that Baptism effects this regeneration.
But in bringing the inquiry to this conclusion, we are not to conceal the fact that the views of the Church, on the subject of what is called Baptismal regeneration, have been sadly misrepresented. The doctrine itself has been made a subject of sharp controversy, and, as in all contested points, both sides have done the subject injustice. On one hand it is claimed that there is no such doctrine, either in the Bible or the Prayer Book; on the other, it is contended that the doctrine is not only taught, both by the Scriptures and the Church, but that it is all in all in the scheme of salvation; that it is not only the beginning of the Christian life, but is also the finishing and ending of everything required of man for the salvation of his soul. Now it must be obvious, that both of these parties misrepresent and wrong the Church. That the Bible teaches the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and that the Church follows its teaching, we have already seen. But because, as both the Bible and Prayer Book affirm that the sinner, in Baptism, is regenerated, and born anew of water and the Holy Ghost, because his condition, and character, and nature, are changed, does it therefore follow, as a necessary consequence, that every baptized person will certainly come to salvation? Surely, the Church teaches no such thing; nor does she so learn the teaching of the [45/46] Bible, especially with regard to those who, having come to years of discretion, are able to know and understand the terms and conditions of their Christian covenant. No! there is not, in the whole compass of the Word of God, nor in the standards of the Church, a single covenant or promise, that is not accompanied by conditions essential to its saving efficacy. Take, for example, the Baptismal Covenant. It is said that in Baptism, the recipient is "made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven." And it is further said, 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 wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace?" True* but do we not know that, in answer to the question: "What is required of persons to be baptized?" these conditions are expressly demanded: "Repentance, whereby they forsake sin, and Faith, whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God, made to them in that sacrament?" And do we not also know that the very article which plainly teaches the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, does as plainly set forth the conditions on which alone the grace imparted in the sacrament of Baptism, may become effectual to salvation?" Faith is confirmed, (says this article,) and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God."
We see, then, precisely what the Church does teach, on this great and important doctrine. It is [46/47] not pretended, as you must perceive, that any such grace is given in Baptism, as may secure unconditionally, the salvation of the impenitent, the unbelieving, or the disobedient. On the contrary, it is shown that all the benefits and privileges of that holy ordinance may be forfeited and lost by the negligence, or misconduct, or perverseness, of the recipient. His incorporation into Christ, may be nullified. The member of Christ may become a dead and fruitless branch, deserving only to be lopped off and cast into the devouring flame. His adoption into the household of God may be abrogated. The child of God may become an outcast and prodigal, and may render himself no more worthy to be called a son. His heavenly inheritance may be forfeited; the seals of his title-deed may be torn away; the handwriting of the covenant obliterated; and the treasures of the kingdom forever lost.
And now, having taken this DOCTRINAL view of the Baptismal service, we are prepared to devote our inquiries, in the remainder of the series, to the great practical lessons connected with the subject. In doing this, we shall address you as baptized persons who have received the sign and seal of regeneration, who have been admitted into the Ark of Christ's Church, who have been engrafted into the body of Christ, who have been adopted into the household and family of God, and who have entered into a solemn covenant for a heavenly inheritance. And it will be our aim and object to show how, by [47/48] God's help, you may so live, that you may safely pass the waves of this troublesome world, and finally come to the land of everlasting life.
Like Noah's weary dove,
That soar’d the earth around,
But not a resting-place above
The cheerless waters found;
O cease, my wandering soul,
On restless wings to roam;
All the wide world, to either pole,
Has not for thee a home.
Behold the Ark of God,
Behold the open door;
Hasten to gain that dear abode,
And rove, my soul, no more.