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.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches."--John xv: 5.
To what body are you united in baptism? Why is it called grafting into that body? And what are the chief benefits conferred by this union?
This question is founded on a figure which affords a still further and more striking illustration of the change wrought in the condition and character of every recipient of the sacrament of baptism. In baptism we are "grafted into the body of Christ's Church." And this term is synonymous with Christ's body, because the Church is represented in the Scriptures, and in our standards, as the living and visible, though mystical, body of Christ. And in the Catechism we are taught, that by baptism we are made "members of Christ." That is, we are united to a body of which Christ is the head, or, in other words, we become members of his body. This sufficiently denotes a change in the condition and character of the recipient. Baptism is called grafting, conformably to a Scriptural similitude of great beauty, which also shows the peculiar benefits conferred by this union.
 We turn, therefore, to this Scriptural illustration, premising that this figure of grafting is here employed by the Savior himself to explain the manner in which his disciples, being many, are one body. "I am the vine, ye are the branches," says the Savior. How then do the disciples of Christ become one body in him? How are they, as so many several branches, grafted into one vine? By turning to the great commission bestowed on the Apostles, at the moment of the Savior's ascension, we read the very act of incorporation by which this union is effected. "Go ye, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." We find no difficulty in understanding this language, because inspiration itself comes directly to our aid. It is only necessary to ask how the Apostles themselves understood this commission? What was their practice when they went forth to execute it? Take their very first act after the Holy Ghost had been so abundantly poured out upon them, on the day of Pentecost. How did they add to the Church, which, in Scripture language, is the standing and visible representation of the body of Christ; how did they engraft into this body--this vine--the first three thousand souls who gladly received the word? By baptism--"They that gladly received the word were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." And how, in all subsequent periods, did the Apostles bring disciples [96/97] into union with the body of Christ? In every instance it was by means of the same holy ordinance. So it was, as you will well recollect, with the Ethiopian eunuch. Nay, so it was with the great Apostle Paul himself. Baptism was the badge and seal of their discipleship. By baptism, they became one body in Christ. By baptism, they were as branches, engrafted into the living vine. Did not St. Paul so understand it? If not, what does he mean by saying that "as many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ?" What does he mean by speaking repeatedly of the disciples of Christ as being "buried with him in baptism?" These are indeed but idle words, if they do not show conclusively that disciples, being many, are engrafted in by baptism, and made one with Christ. But this being shown, we cannot but perceive that this union is a great privilege. For the Apostle himself declares "that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."
In view of this privilege, however, another consideration forces itself upon the mind. The union with the body of Christ, being once effected, how is that union to be so subsequently maintained as to insure all the benefits conferred by it? And here again, the Scriptures give us a ready answer. For in the whole compass of these Scriptures we find nothing so striking and convincing as the Savior's beautiful figure, by which he illustrates the nature of the union already formed. Here he shows how [97/98] closely every disciple is bound to his body, and what rich and abundant benefits are derived from this union. "I am the vine, ye are the branches." The idea is, that every branch engrafted into the stock, or, in other words, every disciple incorporated into the body of Christ, must draw from this certain source-all its nourishment, strength, support and life. For, says the Savior, pursuing the figure, "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit." But "severed from me, ye can do nothing." We see then, that the only way in which the disciples of Christ can maintain and enjoy the benefits of their union, is by faithfully abiding in him. "Abide in me, and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me."
And now, what is the plain, common-sense meaning of such language as this, taken in connection with the inquiry,--how is the disciple's union with Christ to be so maintained, as to secure all the benefits conferred by it? Is it reasonable to suppose that a union, formed through the instrumentality of a positive ordinance of God, can be continued and maintained by any means inferior in dignity or authority? Is it not obvious, that a work, commenced solely by divine power, must by the same power, and no other, be carried on to perfection? If God has appointed the proper channels for the conveyance of his grace to the disciple's soul, if that [98/99] disciple is grafted in, like a branch, to the vine, and if he is thence to draw the nutriment and support, by which alone he can live, who does not perceive what is meant by abiding in the vine? Who does not perceive the wickedness and folly of disturbing-, or interrupting or breaking up the beneficent order of this divine appointment? If it is impossible for the branch to bear fruit when severed from the vine, so is it equally impossible for the disciple to cherish the principles of holiness except he abide in Christ, by walking blamelessly and faithfully in all the ordinances of God.
Having brought our inquiry to this conclusion--having shown to what body the recipient of baptism is united--why it is called grafting into that body--and what are the chief benefits conferred by this union, it will best comport with the object of these lectures, to go on and show in what way the nominal disciple of Christ may totally forfeit all his baptismal privileges. We take the broad ground then, that he who, after having been engrafted into the body of Christ, willingly neglects or discards the instituted means of grace, does so at his peril. And for this assertion, we have the authority of our Lord's own language: "Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, is taken away." "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." This tells the whole melancholy story. We see that every disciple who is [99/100] severed from the living body, to which he has been united in baptism, is cast off from the only sure source of nourishment, and strength, and support, and life itself. He is a withered branch, fit only for the fires of destruction. And if this be so, we readily perceive for what practical purposes our subject may be employed. No other inducement can be required to set every disciple of Christ upon a heart-searching inquisition into his present condition, and his prospects for the future.
If you, brethren, being many, have been made one body in Christ--if you, as so many branches, have been grafted into the vine, by one of the divine ordinances, it is important to know whether this union has been inviolably maintained, by a faithful adherence to the other institutions of God, and whether you may reasonably hope to secure its final and everlasting benefits. You must very lightly esteem the blessed privileges of your discipleship, if you do not sensibly feel the importance of this inquiry. We should be slow to believe that any man can look with so little interest on the bond by which he is incorporated into the body of Christ.
Availing yourselves then of the Scriptural illustrations here exhibited, go, Christian disciples, to the inquest, and when it is finished, let an awakened conscience decide whether your present condition is one in which it would be desirable to remain, or safe to be found, at your future and final inquest. If you believe the Savior when he says that your [100/101] faithfully abiding in him, through his own holy ordinances, is absolutely essential to your life and growth in godliness, and that severed from him you can do nothing, you must perceive, at once, the dangerous consequences of tearing yourselves from your allegiance. You must be sensible, that a reckless and violent disruption of the tie that binds you to Christ must prove fatal to your soul. You must understand the enormity of the sin of apostacy, and the deadly nature of that schism which rends the sacred body of your Lord. You must and will realize the full meaning of the terrible denunciation with which the Savior closes his parable. You must and will feel the withering-touch, and the devouring flame of God's displeasure. But apostacy is a sin so gross, schism is so plainly forbidden, that you may repel with indignation the very idea, that you can, by any possibility, bring yourselves under the condemnation due to such offences. You may say, and you will truly say, that nothing but the wildest fanaticism, or the most deplorable ignorance, can lead any man, willingly and wilfully, to break up his covenant relationship with Christ, or tear himself, like an unfruitful branch, from that blessed vine, whence alone the soul can draw its life-giving nutriment. Be it so. But suppose all external appearances be fair--suppose there be no violent disruption of the bond? Do you not know that the inquest must reach much farther and deeper than this? If, by the terms of your discipleship, you are [101/102] incorporated into the body of Christ--if you are thereby engrafted into the vine--it is most natural to expect that the members will partake of the nature of the body, and that the branches will imbibe all the essential qualities of the vine. Nothing can be more reasonable than such an expectation. A real, close and intimate union with Christ, must suppose some affinity of character--some strong resemblance in temper and disposition--in purpose and practice. If, then, the Savior's life be not exemplified in the character, conduct and pursuits of the disciple, there must be some defect, some failure, some departure, which may lead to the most destructive consequences. To this point must you bring the inquest, if you would understand your true condition.
But you ask, perhaps, whether it can be expected that weak and imperfect creatures, such as the disciples of Christ must necessarily be, can exhibit in their lives any thing like a faithful transcript of his example? or whether they may not substitute some thing else for this holy living? or whether faith may not possess such a wonder-working power as to usurp the place of all the other Christian graces, even of love and obedience? The answer to the latter inquiry is short, and is furnished by the Apostle's own hand, with reference to his own case: "though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." No! Christian disciple, you can substitute nothing for those peculiar graces which your blessed Master [102/103] exhibited in his life. And suppose you cannot equal his example in degree, is this any reason why you should not imitate and conform to it, so far as an imperfect copy can resemble a perfect original? Be not deceived by excuses of this nature. You plead that you cannot, at all times, effectually resist the temptations of the adversary. True--there may be situations and circumstances, when you are unprepared to meet him, and totally unguarded against his attacks. You are liable, daily and hourly, to be deceived and deluded by his treacherous arts. But this is very different from an easy compliance with his maxims--a readiness to open your arms and your hearts to receive him--to yield to his suggestions--to listen to his promises--and, at last, to fall down and worship him. Admit that it is common to fall into sin. Does it follow, that you may continue in it willingly, or persist in it wilfully, without forfeiting your hold on the life-giving spirit of Christ?
Again, you plead that you cannot renounce the world as the Savior renounced it. There are many cares which you cannot lay aside. There are enjoyments and recreations of which you almost unavoidably participate. And is this any reason why you should so eagerly covet its riches, and pursue its pomps and vanities, and conform to its maxims and customs, and fashions, as to violate, not only the Spirit, but the very letter of the bond of your discipleship?
 And again, because the Christian is not now required to surrender his life for his religion, is this a reason why you should not mortify your unholy passions, and crucify your sinful appetites? Is this a reason why you should not die unto sin, that you may rise again unto righteousness, and live in Christ, both here and hereafter? Because you cannot equal your Savior's perfect example in degree, will you therefore excuse yourselves from any effort to bring your copy into some near resemblance of the original?
Every such excuse would be worse than idle. Instead of resting in self-deception, then, let every disciple of Christ sit calmly down, with the fair record of his Master's life before him--let him carefully compare his daily walk and conversation with this perfect example--let him ascertain how far he can discover any resemblance between the one and the other--and then let him seriously meditate on the result. Such an exercise would certainly be profitable. For although it might call up many a blush to the cheek, and give to the heart a severe touch of compunction, it would, nevertheless, like the painful probings of the skillful surgeon, prove in the end healthful and salutary. Where would the worldly-minded disciple find, in such a comparison, any thing to fosterer gratify his self-complacency? Where would he find, in the Savior's example, a single trait of selfishness? or any indication of that love of wealth which absorbs every other passion--renders [104/105] the heart callous--blunts all the finer feelings, and gives a sordid cast to every transaction? Where would he look for an instance of extortion? Where would he detect his great exemplar turning from his Father's business, and devising means for laying up a perishing treasure on earth? Or could he search, with better hope of success, for any evidence of unholy ambition? where would he find a trait, of one aspiring thought, or word, or deed? Where could he trace a record of self-exaltation? And surely he would not expect to find any warrant in such an example for sensual gratification--nothing to give countenance to luxury or extravagance, or to the habits of frivolous or corrupting diversion. He would never see the Savior participating of the pleasures and vanities of the world. He, who came to deny himself--to suffer hardships and privations--to endure persecutions and trials--and to give his life a ransom for sinners--could never be found grovelling in sensuality, or leading his followers into the slightest conformity to the degrading practices of self-indulgence. No such trace could be found in the whole record of the Savior's life.
With what profitable reflections, then, might every disciple of Christ rise from such an exercise as this! How would many a self-deceiver find himself rebuked--not only for acts of bold disobedience--not only for the more gross departures from the example of his Master--but for those lighter shades of sin, for which his self-love has sought out many [105/106] excuses! How would the smooth dissembler--the formal hypocrite--the slanderer--the whisperer--the calumniator--the censorious--the malicious and the revengeful, blush for shame! How would the smitten conscience long for some deeper shade of concealment, to hide the result of such a comparison!
Brethren, disciples of Christ, are you now ready to go to the inquest? Availing yourselves of these Scriptural illustrations, will you now settle the question with your consciences, whether, in your present condition, you could safely meet your future and final inquest? Is the bond of discipleship, by which you are incorporated into the body of Christ, an unbroken bond? If it be not absolutely forfeited by apostacy or schism, is it impaired in any degree by unfaithfulness or negligence? Do the members retain their sameness, their identity, their affinity? Or is the resemblance so completely lost, that they must be finally rejected? Are you abiding in the vine? Are you drawing nourishment and vigor, through the instituted channels, from this life-giving source? Are you consequently bearing much fruit? Are the works of holiness clustering round your sound and healthy branches? Or do you feel some premonitions of withering and decay? Is there danger, from present appearances, that the branch may be severed, and finally given over to the devouring flame?
Disciple of Christ--baptized member of his body--engrafted branch of a living vine--be faithful to [106/107] the vows of your Christian covenant! And when your probation shall be brought to a close, and eternity shall reveal the issue, then may you be found among the blessed number who shall constitute but one body in your glorified Redeemer!
'Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed;
The motion of a hidden fire,
That trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear;
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.
Prayer is the Christian's vital breath,
The Christian's native air,
The watch-word at the gate of death;
He enters heaven with prayer."