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.
"As a good soldier of Jesus Christ."--II Timothy ii: 3.
What is implied by the "sign of the Cross?" And what obligations are imposed on those who receive that sign in baptism?
The "sign of the Cross," in baptism, is a token of great significancy. And from the language employed, in connection with the ceremony of impressing this sign on the recipient's forehead, it will be seen that it implies an entire change and newness of character. "We receive this person into the congregation of Christ's flock, and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end." This language is figurative, but its meaning cannot be mistaken. The figure is militant, and is intended to show that baptism, like an enlistment or enrollment, places the recipient in a new condition, in which he [83/84] voluntarily assumes a new character. It is a condition and character in which he incurs responsibilities and obligations similar to those imposed on the soldier, who enrolls himself in the army of a military chief. The recipient turns away from, and abandons the servitude of his old masters, and engages himself to a new leader. And the change is as great and obvious as when the civilian becomes a military man, or the citizen a soldier. And the "sign of the Cross" is an appropriate token of his new profession. He enlists under it, as his standard and banner, and he thereby commits his cause to the Great Captain of his salvation, who has borne the Cross for him. He glories in this sign and badge of his discipleship. And he pledges himself to fight under it, manfully and faithfully, until the warfare is ended, and the final victory gained. So much is fairly implied in the "sign of the Cross" in baptism. The significancy of the figure is obvious. And it will be found, as we proceed to examine the other branch of our question, that it is not only strictly Scriptural, but that it constitutes one of the most beautiful and striking illustrations of the Christian character recorded in the sacred volume.
"What obligations are imposed on those who receive the sign of the Cross in baptism?" For an answer to this inquiry, we turn at once to the chapter from which our text is selected. The Apostle, addressing himself to his young son in the gospel, here draws out and defines the character and obligations [84/85] of a Christian soldier. "Thou, therefore, endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." Let us carefully scan this definition. We observe that the soldier, though interested like other men in the ordinary affairs of the world, and the general welfare of society, is nevertheless bound to avoid those pursuits which may entangle him, or divert his mind from the great business of his profession. To pursue the idea in detail. First--the soldier is detached from other men, and is united to a regular, organized, systematic and orderly body, subject to peculiar laws, regulations, and discipline, and governed by principles and views distinct from those which ordinarily sway mankind. Secondly--he is placed under a commander whose orders he is required to obey, to whose authority he is bound to submit, whose cause he is to maintain, whom he is to follow in every vicissitude of fortune, and to whom alone he is finally to look for his reward. And, thirdly--he cannot abandon the service in which he is employed but at his peril, he cannot tamper or hold any terms with the enemy, he must not shrink from danger, nor sleep at his post, but must, on the contrary, spend the whole time of his allotted service in watchfulness and vigilance, and meet every event with bravery and fortitude. And if these are among the distinguishing characteristics of a soldier, we [85/86] perceive at once that they are no less applicable to those who profess and call themselves Christians, who are enlisted under the banner of the Cross, and who have put on the badge of discipleship in the service of the Redeemer.
Would it not be well, then, for every person who has received this "sign of the Cross" in baptism, to test his Christian character by this standard? We are not to insist on the extreme ground, that the Christian can be wholly exempt from the cares of life, or that he is not bound to the performance of all his social and relative duties. This would be a species of fanaticism, for which neither the Scriptures nor the Church afford any warrant. But the plain and obvious rule is, that he must not suffer his heart to be estranged and ensnared by those concerns which interfere with his Christian duties. If he would please Him in whoso cause he is enlisted, he must not render a divided, or partial service, nor must he imagine, for a moment, that it is possible for him to serve two masters. He who assumes the name and badge of a Christian, is no longer the slave and servant of the world, but is detached and separated from every thing except its necessary and indispensable concerns.
How then, Christian brother, does this agree with your present state and disposition? Is there any thing to indicate this change of character? Do you duly consider that you are detached from the world, and that you belong to a distinct and [86/87] organized body, whose laws, regulations and discipline are peculiar to itself, and whose principles and views are entirely different from those which ordinarily influence mankind? Do you look upon this body as so regular, orderly, and systematic, as to partake of none of that instability to which human systems are subject? Do you view it as so sacred and indivisible, that every attempt to rend or break it asunder would be a violation of your vows of fidelity? Are the laws, and regulations, and discipline of this body perfectly agreeable to your disposition and feelings? And is there nothing in the principles and views by which it is governed, contrary to your habits and propensities? These, you will perceive, are important inquiries. Because the idea of serving Christ, without giving up all inordinate attachment to the world, of promoting a cause to which you are not faithfully devoted, of engaging in a warfare to which the heart is averse, would be worse than absurd, it would be wicked and deceitful. If you would serve Christ acceptably, if you would acquit yourself as a faithful soldier of the Cross, if you would look forward with a reasonable hope of reward, you must know no other cause, no other object, no other rule of conduct, but such as he prescribes. If you are to fight the good fight of faith, if you are to lay hold of the hope of eternal life, you must not entangle or encumber yourself unnecessarily with the affairs of this life. Of these concerns, you must so far divest yourself that you may please him [87/88] who hath chosen you to be a soldier. Him who hath chosen you, or accepted your pledge. Do you duly consider of whom this is spoken? Do you reflect, that, by taking the name of Christ, and receiving the "sign of the Cross," you place yourself under the sole and exclusive command of the Great Captain of your salvation? Do you know and feel the danger of disobeying the least of his orders? Do you feel, as you ought, the weight of his authority, and the importance of the cause which he requires you to maintain? Are you sensible of your obligation to follow him through every change and vicissitude of life? And do you know that he alone can reward your fidelity, or punish your delinquency? These are also very important questions. For if you call Christ your Master, and receive his sign on your forehead, and still withhold your allegiance from him, rest assured, that so far from pleasing him who hath chosen you, you would only mock him with a show of fidelity, and draw down upon your head the utmost severity of his indignation.
But other questions arise out of our subject more important perhaps than these. What, for instance, would that soldier deserve who should abandon the service of his chief, and desert the standard under which he had pledged his honor and fidelity to contend? What penalty would be thought too severe for such a delinquent? By the common consent of mankind, persons of this description are deeply disgraced, and the crime of desertion, we well know, [88/89] is punished with the utmost severity by human laws. In what light then can we view those who prove deserters from the spiritual warfare? What shall we think of those who abandon the cause of such a master as Christ? A master to whom they are bound, by the most solemn of all obligations, in whom they have professed to believe, and whom they have promised to love and serve to the end of their lives? What judgment shall we form, in what language shall we speak of those who flee from such a master, and abandon such a cause? And if desertion be disgraceful, what shall be said of treason? What must that soldier deserve who is detected in tampering, or holding a secret correspondence with the enemy? What must be his punishment, if he be found engaged in bartering away the rights of his master, or exposing his cause to danger? The heaviest penalty that justice can inflict is sure to follow offences of this nature. And can spiritual treason be viewed as an offence of milder character? Can he who proves a traitor to Christ, who betrays his cause, and sells him to the enemy, can he be less culpable? Can justice frown with the less severity upon him, and can he expect to escape the penalty due to such a species of guilt? But although desertion and treason are offences of great magnitude, they are not the only means by which the unfaithful soldier may injure the cause of his master. The coward, who shrinks from danger, or the slothful sentinel, who sleeps upon his post, may either of [89/90] them bring defeat and disgrace upon a whole army, and involve themselves in ruinous and fatal consequences. And so may the disciples of Christ, by the like offences, produce the same unhappy effects. It is not sufficient for the follower of such a master, merely to avoid the crimes of desertion and treason. He must do more--his constant watchfulness is demanded--he must be active, vigilant, brave and resolute. He must always stand on the alert--he must remain faithful to the last, or he can neither gain the approbation of his Master, nor hope to reap the rich reward of his final victory.
Such are the obligations imposed on those who receive the sign of the Cross in baptism. Be this then the test of your Christian character. You bear on your forehead "the sign of the Cross." Your name has been enrolled among the soldiers and servants of Christ. You belong, as by enlistment, to the great army of which he alone is the chief. All this you will readily admit. But how are you discharging the obligations implied in this pledge? How are you carrying out the rule of duty enjoined by the Apostle? Having taken this first step, have you now come to a stand, as if you had nothing more to do, as if this were the beginning and the ending of the requirements of the gospel? A conclusion more unreasonable, or more unsafe, could hardly be conceived. Unless you can stand forth, openly and manfully, before the world, not only as the enrolled disciples of Christ, but as active soldiers [90/91] and servants in his cause, you will do nothing for his glory, nor for the attainment of the rewards which he has promised to his faithful followers. We will not say how far such a course may partake of the qualities, or deserve the name, of desertion, or treason, or cowardice. But one thing we can say, and must say, it is not constancy, nor fidelity, nor courage. And all these things are necessary, according to the teaching of the Bible and Prayer-Book, to the completion of the Christian character. In forming an estimate, therefore, of your own claims to this character, you will gain nothing by saying that you are not hostile to the cause of Christ, that you would not, for worlds, be found in the ranks of his enemy. What you may thus deem a negative good, is, in fact, a positive evil. That is, such is the declaration of Christ himself--for he says, "he that is not for me is against me." Hence, you will perceive-that he allows of no neutral or middle ground. It is the plain import of his own language, that every one who is not openly and actively engaged in his service, is considered as his enemy. Apply this, then, to your own case. Look back to the period when you was admitted, by the solemn rites of the Church, into the army of the living God, when the "sign of the Cross" was impressed upon your brow, and when your fidelity, as a soldier and servant, was pledged to your divine Master, and ask yourself how the intermediate space has been filled up. Has it been generally occupied by [91/92] pursuits in no respect subservient to your Master's cause? Do you search almost in vain for instances in which the great duties of religion have duly engaged your attention, while you find every scene crowded with incidents calculated to show how faithfully you have served the world? Can you call to your recollection but a few cases of active and effective obedience, while transgressions and negligences press upon the memory in overwhelming numbers? Nay, more than this, have you not sometimes virtually promoted the designs of the enemy, by yielding to an improper solicitation, or by acquiescing in a suggestion contrary to the spirit of the gospel, or by assenting to a false and unfounded maxim, or by giving way to an unchristian temper, or by indulging an unholy passion? And are you not conscious that you have followed pursuits, or engaged in pleasures, vain and corrupting in themselves, and unworthy of the Christian name?
If this be so--or if, through inactivity, or sloth, or a want of fortitude and resolution, you have suffered the enemy to make his advances, and to raise his impious hands against the very citadel of your faith, and the only source of your eternal hopes, you must perceive, by whatever name you may choose to call the delinquency, that you have departed widely from that beginning which was made at the baptismal font. And you may be assured that it is only by retracing your steps, and changing your course of life, and returning to your duty, that you [92/93] can hope for present safety, and secure the final reward of good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
We admonish you, therefore, at the first opportunity, to renew, and ratify, and confirm the vows made at your baptism, and again to resolve, by the help of God, to run such a steady and honorable course, that all the world may see that you are not ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, that you will fight manfully under his banner, against sin, the world and the devil, and that you will continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto your life's end.
"O, in the morn of life, when youth,
With vital ardor glows,
And shines on all the fairest charms
That beauty can disclose;
Deep in thy soul, before its powers
Are yet by vice enslaved,
Be thy Creator's glorious Name,
And character engraved:
Ere yet the shades of sorrow cloud
The sunshine of thy days;
And cares and toils, in endless round,
Encompass all thy ways;
Ere yet thy heart the woes of age,
With vain regret, deplore,
And sadly muse on former joys,
That now return no more.
True wisdom, early sought and gained,
In age will give thee rest:
O then, improve the morn of life,
To make its evening blest."