The Protestant Episcopal Tract Society
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
"LET us go to our Rector," said young Mr. Temple to his friend Henry D—; "let me tell my minister at once that I have a friend who desires instruction, or at least satisfaction, on some points of Christian doctrine, and that I do not like to rely in a matter of so much importance, upon my own acquaintance with these things. I am much afraid that, while we are ready enough to concur with the prophet Malachi, that 'the priest's lips should keep knowledge,' we are liable to forget the remainder of the passage, 'that the people should seek the law from his mouth.'"
Mr. Temple had experienced the inestimable advantages of an early and judicious religious education. His mother was the daughter of a devout and exemplary clergyman of the Church, and, not imagining that Christianity came from its Author's hand susceptible of continual improvements, like the inventions of mechanics, it had been her great solicitude to cherish his veneration for the pure word, and the primitive Church. In all matters of questionable practice or principle, she would say, "Inquire what is the mind of CHRIST: instead of expecting to learn this from the speculations and theories of contending sects, seek it in his own infallible doctrines, and in the writings and practice of his apostles." Thus instructed, he afforded an example of the combined influence of Christian docility, and Christian firmness.
Among the friends whose confidence his amiable deportment had procured for him, was the younger son of Mr. D—, a Quaker. Trained in the strictest observance of the moral principles and correct deportment which distinguish that society, he had not been so situated as to form a deep acquaintance with the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel; and it was owing rather to the favorable circumstances under which he had passed his early years, than to the power of CHRIST'S religion, that he had hitherto escaped the snares and vices by which youth is every where assailed. Few were the chapters of the sacred volume, which, at the age of twenty, he had found inclination or leisure to read. Still fewer had he heard in public religious assemblies, or in the exercises of family devotion. It being the plan of the divine Being to accomplish the most important and gracious purposes in his moral kingdom, through the agency of our own will and persevering application, whence could he have derived [3/4] such principles of faith as might control, and sanctify his conduct? It was controlled; but it was by the force of social affections, of early habits, of the fear of dishonor, of just views of his worldly interest; but not at all through love of the Son of GOD, nor through a realizing faith in him as the Saviour who purchased him with his own blood. Are these the features of a rare character? Nothing is more common in society. The spiritual safety, and the social virtues of multitudes who are most esteemed, have no surer foundation.
Mr. Temple accidentally ascertained that his friend had never been present during the worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and easily obtained his consent to accompany him on the following Sunday. They met again soon after having fulfilled this arrangement, and it was not without the most lively interest that Mr. Temple marked the impression which this novel scene had left upon the mind of the youth. It was so animating, so reverential, and,—contrasted with the formal and often silent, worshipping assemblies to which he had been accustomed,—it was so majestic, that it had imparted to him his first conceptions of religious awe. But he had admitted a needless apprehension of being observed; and imagined too much difficulty in accommodating himself to the successive exercises of prayer and praise, to allow of devotional excitement, or quiet enjoyment. After a little reflection, therefore, having previously acquainted himself with the stated order and principle of the worship, he determined to be present upon another occasion. This soon occurred; and the deep and hallowed emotion which was produced in him, can be described in no words so justly as in those of the patriarch Jacob: "Surely the LORD is in this place; how dreadful is this place!" The impressive portions of the sacred volume that were read, the sublime anthems of praise, the fervor of the petitions, the appropriate attitudes of the worshippers, the thrilling tones of the organ, all combined to inspire the reflection—"This is none other than the house of GOD, and this is the gate of heaven." And he felt at once that he should be more than a spectator of the devotions of others, as he discerned his endearing relation to the ever-present Deity.
Out of this occurrence grew, at length, the conversations which it is the object of these pages to relate. Mr. Temple, finding his friend's mind possessed with the prejudices usual with persons in his situation, and yet agitated with new and painful convictions of religious accountability, proposed to introduce him to the Rector of the church which he had visited; and at the second interview which took place, after some general observations upon the rise and progress of religion in the heart, Mr. D— made to some remark of the minister the following reply.
Mr. D. But if I were inclined to admit that outward ordinances could possibly be attended by spiritual benefits to the receiver, I think I never could be persuaded that they are not [4/5] regarded by your Church as involving consequences of an undue influence upon our salvation. You speak of sacraments, as if they were matters entitled to a man's serious attention, when he is inquiring what he must do to be saved.
Minister. And indeed if we do so, my young friend, I think that a slight examination of the sacred volume would convince you that such an estimation of them corresponds with the language and practice of the inspired ministers of CHRIST. It must be acknowledged that a portion of the Christian world seems prone to over-rate the spiritual efficacy of ordinances; but still more, in a kind of presumptuous unbelief, appear to forget the authority of GOD, and the suggestions of the HOLY GHOST. Observe now, while I turn to some of those passages in which our LORD and his apostles enjoined the practice of baptism upon the Christian world.—After his resurrection, JESUS had appointed to meet the eleven disciples upon a mountain in Galilee. And when they saw him there, they worshipped him. And JESUS said,—"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST."—You perceive that to the great original commission, delivered at this most interesting moment, to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature," there was immediately added the injunction to baptize them.—On the memorable day of Pentecost, when the multitude, astonished by the miraculous effusion of the Spirit, and convinced by the preaching of St. Peter, exclaimed, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" this holy apostle could find no admonition more stilted to the awakened and anxious state of their hearts than this:—"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of JESUS CHRIST for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the HOLY GHOST." "Then they that gladly received his word, were baptized."—Now let us see what is recorded of the Samaritans, under the ministry of another apostle: "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of GOD, and the name of JESUS CHRIST, they were baptized, both men and women."—Again: St. Philip, being supernaturally directed to meet and instruct a distinguished officer of the queen of Ethiopia, from the passage of Isaiah which he was requested to explain, "preached unto him JESUS." This took place, you see, as they were on their journey; and without waiting for its completion, as they came unto a certain water, they caused the chariot to stop, "and they went down both into the water, and he baptized him."—No sooner had Saul, who had been struck with blindness upon his journey to Damascus, received the imposition of the hands of Ananias, than he arose; and, notwithstanding the miraculous circumstances of his conversion, which, in correspondence with the present mode of reasoning and thinking in such matters, one might suppose would have rendered ordinary means of grace unnecessary, he "was baptized."—The preaching [5/6] of Paul and Silas, at midnight, converted the alarmed keeper of the prison, when he uttered the emphatic question which you were just now repeating, "What shall I do to be saved?" And it is expressly mentioned by the sacred historian, that the same hour of the night, "he was baptized, he and all his, straightway."
Mr. Temple. Well, I must acknowledge that I was not prepared to find this ordinance so uniformly alluded to at moments of deepest spiritual interest, and administered in the earliest stages of conviction and faith.
Min. Many more circumstances of a similar character might be mentioned; but these are sufficient to show that when the Church was under the more immediate and sensible guidance of the HOLY GHOST, the sacrament of Baptism was regarded as of primary importance, and that, identified with the commencement of the Christian life, it was the seal of its privileges, and the channel of some of its invaluable graces.
Mr. D. And do you imagine, my dear Sir, that there is any correspondence between the advantages which we can derive from being baptized, and the importance which seems to be given to it by these circumstances under which it was in the Apostles' days enjoined and administered?
Min. Yes. But the benefit which adults experience from this institution of CHRIST, must depend in a great measure upon their just apprehension of its nature and characteristics, of the necessity of its observance, of the privileges which belong to it, of the qualifications and mode of receiving it, and of the obligations which it imposes.
Mr. D. But do not your views of the subject represent baptism as not less efficacious than faith and repentance in purchasing our salvation?
Min. Take care, my friend, that while you are anxious to avoid assigning a dangerous influence to ordinances in the work of salvation, you do not attribute to other achievements of man, an efficacy not less inconsistent with the Christian scheme. St. Paul declared in the case to which we have already alluded, "Believe in the Lord JESUS CHRIST, and thou shalt be saved." This is no doubt the comprehensive condition of the sinner's pardon and safety. And, unless it were considered in connexion with the rest of the Gospel as a system, it might be mistaken for a meritorious condition, for the procuring cause of pardon.
Mr. D. Why, I have always supposed that faith was set forth in the Gospel as the great means of salvation!
Min. Faith, no doubt, is spoken of as the great condition of obtaining eternal life through CHRIST; but it is never represented as the efficacious means by which the infinite justice of JEHOVAH receives atonement for the sins of the world; nor should it be regarded as furnishing an equivalent for that immeasurable glory and bliss, which GOD will for ever pour on the redeemed spirit. On the contrary, the pardon of sin is free; the gift of eternal [6/7] life is free; the whole mercy of heaven is free. The solemn promulgation, "Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, without money and without price," exhibits in one word, the gracious terms of CHRIST'S salvation. But even to that a condition must be annexed. The water of life is offered to them that thirst. Not that such a desire can constitute a meritorious claim, or a just price; but it is a necessary qualification; and in the same point of view, all the works of righteousness must be regarded; not only baptism, but even that justifying faith by which we take hold of the promises of the Gospel, being nothing more than such a filial trust in GOD, approbation of his will, and practical desire for his favor, as qualifies the soul for the enjoyment of heaven, while CHRIST alone could purchase it for a rebellious world, with the price of his own atoning blood.
Mr. T. How, Sir, shall we understand the distinction which our Saviour seems to have drawn between the importance of faith and baptism, in his address to his disciples immediately before his ascension into heaven, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned?"
Min. The unbeliever must perish, however obedient he might be to outward ordinances. The mere absence of faith involves his perdition. "He that believeth not is condemned already." But, on the other hand, we are not taught that faith alone will save a man; being without works, it is dead and entitled to no promise. And it was not said by CHRIST, he that believeth shall be saved; but "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."
Mr. D. All this really appears very plain and satisfactory, and presents a view of the subject so different from what I have hitherto entertained, or have thought it possible to derive from the Scriptures, that I cannot refrain from suspecting that I may have been wrong in other views of the matter. And if you will be so kind as to indulge me at some future time with more conversation on this subject, I may find, as I believe many have before me, that great confidence in the truth of opinions entertained, results rather from ignorance of the subject, than from the force of evidence in its behalf.
Min. With so much docility as you exhibit, my young friend, there can be little doubt, that through the divine blessing, you may arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Bearing in mind, that no portion of GOD's revealed will is unworthy of our most serious investigation, and that the Spirit is promised to every humble soul devoutly seeking it, to lead us into all truth, fail not earnestly to ask of GOD the light and aid of his grace. Much of the tenor of your future life, much of your fidelity in the great work of your salvation, may depend upon the convictions to which your mind may now be brought. I shall rejoice in being the instrument of assisting you in your religious [7/8] inquiries. Come to me at the same hour to-morrow, and I trust we shall be able to make some progress in our investigations.
Mr. T. Though from the early instructions of my good mother, I have avoided any perplexity arising from these considerations, which, in the estimation of some of my friends, seem to be involved in so strange an obscurity, yet I shall be both gratified and improved, if you will allow me to be present at the proposed interview; for I hold it to be not the least valuable of the Apostles' maxims, that we should "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear."
Min. I trust I shall be able to be punctual to the appointment.—GOD bless you.
Mr. D. Good morning, Sir.
Mr. D. I acknowledge, my dear Sir, that my thoughts have been much engrossed, though not satisfactorily, with the topics of our last conversation. All those views of the spiritual nature of CHRIST'S religion which I have been accustomed from my infancy to entertain,—all those convictions that outward ordinances and ceremonies in divine worship belong to a lower and less privileged dispensation,—seem to be invaded by the observations, and the portions of Scripture, which we heard from you yesterday; and although I believe that I have a sincere desire to arrive at a knowledge of the divine will, yet I am conscious of a solicitude to vindicate my former opinions and to detect fallacy in those which your Church inculcates.
Min. This, my friend, is one of the most common evidences of that pride which belongs to our fallen nature, and against which we can only successfully contend through divine strength. But I wish you to suggest to me, without restraint, all the difficulties which occur to you in connexion with the doctrine of the Church.
Mr. D. I hope, Sir, that my object is to obtain from you the instruction of which, through my former associations and habits, I am yet destitute: and for this purpose I should first understand, what, in your judgment, is the nature of the Sacrament of Baptism.
Min. It is the general definition of a Sacrament given by the Church, that "it is an outward and visible sign, ordained by CHRIST, of an inward and spiritual grace." And "the outward sign in baptism is water," and "the inward and spiritual grace is a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness;" that is, according to this authority, Baptism is regeneration.
Mr. T. Ah, that is a doctrine which contributes more than any other taught by our Church to give offence to other denominations!
 Mr. D. And is it possible, Sir, that the Episcopal Church teaches that every baptized person is converted?
Min. Not at all: nothing could be more inconsistent with the articles of our faith than such an opinion. But in applying the word "regeneration" not to conversion, (I suppose you use the term in the popular sense,) but to the Sacrament of Baptism, we use a language strictly in correspondence with our admirable and scriptural liturgy. In the prayer which precedes the sprinkling or immersion of the person, the Church asks of GOD that the child or adult coming to baptism, "may receive remission of sin by spiritual regeneration." And immediately after the use of the water, also, the Church returns thanks to GOD that "it hath pleased Him to regenerate" the baptized person "with his holy Spirit."—. But this use of the word "regeneration," which is only another term for being born again, did not originate with the framers of our liturgy. Our Saviour said to Nicodemus, who seems to have been inquiring the way of salvation, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of GOD." And as Nicodemus evidently did not understand the duty enjoined, the Redeemer merely explained by some amplification; "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of GOD." And St. Paul applies the word in the same sense, in the Epistle to Titus, where he speaks of "the washing of regeneration," as a distinct operation from "the renewing of the HOLY GHOST." In fact the use of the word "regeneration," as applicable to baptism, did not originate even with our Saviour; but was adopted by him from the Jews, who always baptized Gentiles when they became proselytes to the Mosaic covenant; and in consequence of the great change which the new religion occasioned in the condition and privileges of the converts, the Jews were in the habit of saying that they were "born again."
Mr. T. This was then no doubt the cause of our Saviour's astonishment that Nicodemus, "a master of Israel," did not at once apprehend what was meant by the phrase "being born again."
Min. There is of late a portion of the Christian world, who suppose the word "regeneration" to signify a different grace; and applying their meaning of the word to our use of it, perplex themselves, and reproach us. That I may be therefore perfectly intelligible in this conversation, and guard against a calumny injurious to our Christian name and usefulness, I wish you to understand me distinctly, while I disclaim the very erroneous opinion thus attributed to us. And perhaps I shall be least liable to be misunderstood, if I show you, in the first place, what baptismal regeneration is not. The Church and her ministers do not teach that baptism conveys the same spiritual grace as conversion. It is not meant that every person who has received the sacrament of baptism, thereby necessarily and universally experiences a transformation of character; a renewing [9/10] of the affections; nor a fitness for the kingdom of heaven; not an unconditional title to it. Although we use the word, as you have seen, in the scriptural sense, and speak of baptism as conferring regeneration, we do not intend to teach that it produces conversion. Regeneration and Conversion are not necessarily the same thing.
Mr. T. But is it not the case, that this term has been sometimes used unadvisedly, even by some Church writers, to denote a moral change?
Min. Yes, no doubt it has; in the same manner as when not used technically in reference to this sacrament, it is employed in a still looser sense to represent the renewal or improvement of any thing.
Mr. D. I am not surprised at that; for we may speak, I suppose, of the regeneration of a man's bodily constitution, if his health, which had been impaired, undergoes great improvement: and we may speak of the regeneration of the moral character of a whole nation, or of individuals, if their principles and conduct had at any time been sensibly improved. But is it not to be lamented, that the Church has employed a term to designate the effect of baptism, which is so liable to produce misapprehension, in consequence of the opposite sense which other denominations of Christians are accustomed to attach to it?
Min. Let us rather lament that our brethren of other denominations have used as convertible terms, "regeneration" and "renovation," which Scripture had employed to convey distinct notions: and which the Church, from the Scripture, has learned to employ as representing different stages or attainments in the Christian life.
Mr. T. Yes, but I do not perceive that the word "regeneration" is to be expunged from our ordinary vocabulary; for, in consequence of such a just and common use of it, it may convey, perhaps, a more distinct idea, as a technical term, when applied to baptism.
Mr. D. My want of acquaintance with the sense in which the Church uses the term "regeneration," caused me to interrupt you, when you were about to explain the NATURE AND DESIGN of the Sacrament of Baptism.
Min. It is the seal of the Christian Covenant. (Rom. iv. 11.)
Mr. D. To you, my dear Sir, who have been so long familiar with the language and doctrines of Scripture, and to whom its metaphorical language really furnishes, as such language always should, more distinct ideas of the subject to be illustrated, it may be difficult to understand my embarrassment at almost every step of our progress. The nature of a covenant I understand: but the existence of a formal compact between GOD and his creatures, it is difficult for me to realize. That a covenant to be binding, should be sealed and ratified, I can of course acknowledge. But that, under the Christian dispensation, which I have often heard our teachers say, was especially designed to [10/11] abrogate all carnal ordinances, an outward and ceremonial seal of such a covenant should be deemed necessary, or attended with any advantage, I am at a loss now to perceive.
Min. I am fully aware, I assure you, of the difficulties which you may experience at such a moment from the circumstances of your education; and as my object is not to offer you an elaborate or systematic discussion of any points in theology, but merely, in correspondence with the leadings of a young mind, to attempt a familiar answer to such difficulties as have suggested themselves to you hitherto, I am gratified when I find you giving a direction to my remarks.—Whether our Maker could have provided for the permanent happiness of our race, without revealing the existence of a covenant between us; and whether that covenant might not have been made sufficiently efficient without a ceremonial seal, it cannot be important for us to inquire. What GOD can or might do for our benefit, is of all considerations the least profitable. What GOD will do,—what He has declared it to be his purpose to do in relation to us; and the conditions on which his purposed agency is ordained to depend; must interest us more deeply. If reason and faith could discern no spiritual privileges to result from baptism, it remains, notwithstanding, bound upon the conscience by a principle which can never be weakened or questioned—the duty of implicit submission to the wise and just authority of Almighty GOD. Through all his successive revelations, eternal life is represented as a free gift, which no achievement of the creature could ever purchase; to which no perfection of excellence in a being formed from the dust, could ever constitute a meritorious claim. Adam, and through him, his most remote posterity, forfeited their title to existence by the violation of a law which was intrinsically of the utmost insignificance. Gratitude to their Benefactor, was a propensity too natural in the uncorrupted bosom of the first pair to afford an infallible criterion of their fidelity. Benevolence toward each other, in the perfection of their pristine virtues and graces, was an impulse as resistless as it was delightful. But a prohibition in which they could discover no natural advantage to themselves, no necessary connexion with the service of GOD, was a pure, simple, but powerful test of faith. It addressed itself to the native pride of human reason. Man shrunk not from rebellion. GOD proved his justice and sovereignty. And the covenant of works, as it is usually denominated, the first form of divine government under which man existed, and through which the happiness and life of the human race were made to depend upon the perfection of their obedience, ceased for ever. In developing to the fallen and condemned world, after a lapse of many ages, a new dispensation, which in contrast with the characteristics of the last-mentioned system, is denominated a dispensation of grace, CHRIST proposes to us terms new, but not less imperative. These are either intrinsically necessary to our welfare, or arbitrarily [11/12] imposed as an acknowledgment on our part of GOD’s authority over us, and an evidence of our implicit submission. Baptism is of the latter description. And whatever collateral views of the subject, may tend to display the divine wisdom and goodness in the selection of such tests, GOD’S supreme and absolute authority to govern us, as his dependent and guilty creatures, is the single principle on which the necessity of baptism, or any other Christian ordinance rests.
Mr. T. All privileges, then, being forfeited by the violation of the first covenant, and no privileges belonging to us by natural right, every benefit that we can claim from Heaven, must be only in virtue of a new compact; and GOD's promises to man through CHRIST have not, so far as we know, an application to individuals, until sealed and ratified by them in baptism.
Mr. D. But may the necessity or expediency of entering into such engagements with the ALMIGHTY, be inferred from anything that we can perceive in our present condition?
Min. Certainly; when the circumstances of our condition are allowed to be illustrated by revelation: without which we should know as little of our moral state and prospects as the worshipper in Hindostan. Man "is of his own nature inclined to evil," as the 9th article of our Church teaches, "so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth GOD's wrath and damnation." Following the impulses of this nature, there is "no man that liveth and sinneth not;" and GOD pronounced, "The soul that sinneth it shall die"—"Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book." What can man do to avert such a doom? But JESUS CHRIST provides a way, not only so to satisfy divine justice as to deliver man from the everlasting penalty of his corruption and guilt, but also to admit him to a salvable state—to a title, prospect, and power, of obtaining life and happiness. In accomplishing this object, man is perfectly helpless and passive. The whole burden of atonement and reconciliation rested on the Saviour; between whom, as the voluntary representative of the whole human race, and the Almighty Father, exercising his essential attributes of sovereignty, holiness, love, and justice, a covenant is made, that a free pardon should be granted to man, together with a restoration to divine favor, sufficient succors of grace, and a promise of eternal life. That we may attain the benefit designed for us in this covenant, faith and repentance are necessary qualifications on our part. And as it is through the sanctifying operation of these truths, through the restraining force of such a law upon the conscience, that we are made conformable to the will of GOD, it is expedient that vows should be imposed upon us; it is necessary that as soon as we attain a knowledge of this covenant, we should approve, accept, and ratify it, and thus appropriate to ourselves individually, promises and privileges proffered in general to all mankind.
 Mr. T. It appears to me, that until we have done this, the Gospel may be compared to a deed, drawn for the conveyance of a valuable estate, but not executed. Baptism is the signing, and sealing, and delivering of the deed into the hands of the person to be benefited by it.
Mr. D. I must acknowledge that I do not discover why it should not have such an efficacy, if it please GOD to enjoin it.
Min. GOD's minister, acting in his name, and with authority delegated in the words of the Gospel which you have heard,—"Go ye into all the world and teach [make disciples of] all nations, baptizing them,"—admits us into covenant with our Maker, and thus we obtain a title to privileges to which naturally we possess no right or claim. In the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul writes to this effect;—"Abraham received the sign of circumcision, as a seal of the righteousness which GOD reckoned to him, (or attributed to him,) through his faith." The promise that the Messiah should spring from his loins, that he should be justified, though guilty, in consequence of his faith, and that his believing posterity also, should be entitled to the privileges of the covenant;—these promises were confirmed to each of GOD's chosen people of old by the seal of circumcision made upon their bodies. But as the covenant with Abraham was virtually the same as that which the Gospel covenant now is, baptism, the rite of initiation into the Christian Church, is possessed of the same efficacy—conveys similar benefits to its recipients now—that circumcision then did.
Mr. D. I hope I am not inclined to cavil, especially where GOD's revealed word is under consideration; but you just observed that the administration of this sacrament is not necessarily accompanied by any change of the qualities or principles of the soul. If baptism is actually the seal and ratification of the covenant between GOD and man, should we not be warranted in expecting that some immediate and sensible benefit would be found to result to us from it?
Min. The sacrament of baptism is a pledge and ratification of a change which has actually taken place,—not uniformly, it is true, in our dispositions—but in our moral condition and relation to GOD. A child to whom a wealthy benefactor conveys property to be employed in its education, is not immediately sensible of the benefit; but no man will for that reason reject or slight the endowment. Reason, which could never devise a mode of making atonement for sin, can torture us notwithstanding, by representations of its guilt and penalties. The adoption of the Christian faith, and even a hearty desire to be governed by its precepts, will neither secure us from temptation, nor preserve us altogether from the deplorable effects of human frailty. We might, therefore, notwithstanding the revelation of GOD's merciful designs toward us, continue in painful uncertainty concerning our own spiritual relation to him; and every proof of a remainder of weakness and corruption, would involve us in new [13/14] doubts of our individual interest in the promises. Now, the ordinance of baptism is an incontrovertible pledge, that from a state of universal condemnation, we are transplanted into a state of grace; from a condition in which a single transgression is death, to a state in which the penitent may be pardoned; from a condition in which the ALMIGHTY is represented only as a being of inflexible justice, to a state in which his compassion and long suffering and forgiveness are in constant exercise.
Mr. T. I believe, Sir, the idea is derived from a passage in St. Peter,—that the Church, viewed in relation to the condition of mankind in general, is like the ark of Noah surrounded by the floods which overwhelmed the whole impenitent world.
Min. Yes; it is easy to derive from that passage in the third chapter in the epistle to which you allude, a useful analogy. When all was seemingly serene and prosperous, and only the voice of the prophet intimated the existence of guilt and danger, Noah and his family entered into a vessel which his faith in a mysterious revelation had caused him to prepare; and while the providence of GOD rescued them from destruction, the unbelieving world was swallowed up in one common ruin. Baptism, the mode of entrance into the Christian Church, may seem as needless a precaution, as the entrance of Noah into the ark once did. But St. Peter admonishes us that as water was then instrumental in the temporal salvation of believers, so it is now a type of the means of our eternal salvation. Until we are admitted into the Church, we can derive no consolation from the revelation of GOD's gracious intentions toward mankind; because every spiritual privilege is represented as the reward of a true and living faith, and of conformity to ordinances as a test of such faith. But after we have been made members by baptism, we take the Gospel into our hands with an application to ourselves of every promise and consolation. Its right reception is at least the commencement of a spiritual work in us, and the promise is, that "He that has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of JESUS CHRIST." It is an act of faith, in which it must be acknowledged, we make a humble effort to unite ourselves with our Saviour; and the promise is, "Whosoever cometh unto me, I will in nowise cast out." We know that the faithful GOD gives us, in this pledge, a personal claim to all the benefits of CHRIST'S mediation:—that we may repent if we will, because "His grace is sufficient for us,"—that we may be pardoned upon repentance, because CHRIST, having purchased his Church with his own atoning blood, has made us "heirs of the grace of life." In a word, we know, that as through divine justice and our own unworthiness, we could not be saved in our natural state; through the power of the Redeemer's covenant we may, upon the attainment of faith and repentance.
Mr. D. I am glad to hear the last qualifying remark; for I believe it is a prevailing opinion that you are in the habit of [14/15] speaking, in your Church, as if little more than baptism were necessary to secure one's salvation.
Min. It is a strange and groundless misapprehension. Unquestionably we admit, that baptism could not save us in the Church without repentance. But repentance, possessing no atoning efficacy, derives its whole value in turning away the justice of GOD, from being a condition of salvation under the Gospel; and that is not, in the estimation of the Gospel, a genuine faith or acceptable repentance which does not produce obedience to GOD's appointments. Thus it must be seen, that, though we cannot flatter ourselves with the hope of having attained, in the reception of baptism, a sudden and sensible increase of the power of godliness, we have, undergone such a change in our spiritual condition and privileges, as warrants the expectation that it will prove a means of practical holiness.
Mr. T. I think, Sir, I have heard you mention several other characteristics of the nature and design of the sacrament of baptism, which left upon my mind a strong impression of the wisdom and fitness of the institution.
Min. There is, my dear Sir, much that may be said on this subject, in the way of illustration; but I am desirous to contract within as narrow a space as possible the various considerations that might be suggested, and I will therefore just mention some of the most instructive and scriptural, very briefly. Baptism is an emblem of that inward purity, which should distinguish those who are called to a knowledge of salvation through JESUS CHRIST. And it impressively represents, too, those sanctifying operations of GOD's Spirit by which we are made meet for the inheritance of the saints. The figure alluded to is frequently employed by the prophets. It was, moreover, practically exhibited in some providential occurrences which happened to the Jews. "All our fathers," said St. Paul, alluding to those sacramental dispensations, if I may call them so, which had distinguished the Jewish people, "were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was CHRIST." That it is also a sign of the implantation of a new principle of life, or in the words of our Church, "of a death unto sin, and of a new birth unto righteousness," is frequently asserted by the apostles. St. Paul writes to the Romans that "we are buried with CHRIST by baptism;" and to the Colossians, repeating the same remark, he adds, "in baptism we are also risen with Him through faith." CHRIST died, was buried, and rose again. Believers, in order to be united to him, are buried under the waters of baptism, as he was in the grave; in which is implied their death unto sin: and they are then raised again out of those waters in a new condition, with a new principle of spiritual life, as He rose from the tomb in a glorified body.
I must now, however, postpone any further conversation on [15/16] this subject to the following day, being under an engagement to visit and to baptize an unhappy young man, under sentence of death, in the county jail, whose history and late efforts for repentance have awakened in me a painful interest.
Mr. T. Ah! do you, Sir, visit Norton the pirate? His history I am told, is rather peculiarly distressing.
Min. It is so. But I have not time at present to communicate any of the incidents. I shall see you, however, tomorrow at the same hour.
Mr. T. and Mr. D. Good morning, Sir.
Min. It was with regret that I suspended so abruptly our last conversation, but the hour had arrived for my visit to poor Norton, who is commencing his spiritual life, almost at the moment in which his days are doomed to be violently cut off.
Mr. T. I am told that his life is but another proof of the truth of the maxim, that it is easier, not only to resist temptations to sin, but to practise the most austere virtues, than to endure the ordinary and almost invariable consequences of immoral conduct. Did you baptize him, Sir, during your last visit?
Min. No, I found him too much agitated with the anticipation of a most trying scene; and I am desirous, too, of employing the utmost opportunity which his situation will permit, to prove and mature his principles, before he enters upon so solemn an engagement with his offended Maker. His history is truly a mournful one. Respectable in point of natural capacity, feeling, and education, but with a temperament impetuous and intractable; he engaged, before he had numbered twenty years, in some visionary schemes of business in a town at a considerable distance from his father; and removed clandestinely to avoid the opposition which he had determined should be unavailing. He as precipitately attached himself to a young woman in the neighborhood of his new residence; and had been married but a few months, when he discovered the fallacy of his calculations of profit. Expenses were incurred and were inevitable, and he was allured to embark in a voyage and undertaking, which, occupying little more than a year, returned him to a home dishonored during his absence by the levity and imprudence, if not by the criminality of his wife. Frustrated in his plans, and sustained by no principles of practical religion, he desperately threw himself into the first vessel that was about to sail from that port; and but a few reverses and disappointments were necessary to give to the enterprise of the reckless crew the character of plunder on the ocean. Their transactions were certainly dark, perhaps sanguinary. Such a career is usually a short one [16/17] and before he had recovered from the stunning effect and rapid succession of his crime, apprehension, and trial, he found himself the doomed tenant of a dungeon, awaiting a speedy and ignominious death. Yesterday he met, for the first time after the lapse of two years, his aged father, who, broken down with shame and anguish, has travelled four hundred weary miles to hold a last interview with his guilty and wretched son. No words can adequately describe their meeting. It was about dusk when, as I was standing with him at a small grated window in the extremity of his deep and gloomy cell, we were informed that his father had arrived at the jail. In the conflict of his hope and shame, his consternation and reviving filial tenderness, he could make no reply; and moved not as he heard the steps of the old man, with a number of attendants, descending the stone stairs, and passing through the vaulted passages. At length the heavy iron door of the cell was opened. It was too dark distinctly to discern countenances; but he had moved his fettered limbs about half the length of the room, when his father met him. There was not a word spoken, but at the moment that he reached his father, he fell to the earth, and the only sound was that of the irons as they clashed upon his limbs. After a pause and a silence that could be felt, when at length the voice of his sobs had appeared to dissolve the paralyzing spell that bound his father and every spectator, the broken-hearted old man, stretching out his hand over the prostrate youth, said, "GOD be merciful to you, my son!" When the officers of the prison, with some others whom curiosity or sympathy had drawn to witness this scene, had retired, a short and broken conversation ensued. But neither being able to sustain himself after so severe a trial, they parted for the night, and the father returning to his lodgings, left me to soothe with prayer, and with such considerations as the Gospel can supply even to those most abandoned by earthly hope, the bosom of the guilty, but I trust penitent young man.
Mr. T. Poor victim of rashness and self-sufficiency!
Mr. D. Does he appear to have received religious instruction in his childhood?
Min. His father, I am informed by himself, would have trained him with the utmost solicitude in habits of piety, and he has thus escaped a self-reproach which must have rendered his present calamity insupportable. But the youth always slighted his admonitions, as the result of the over-anxious zeal of a well-meaning, but timid old man. We must, however, now return to the subject of our late conversations.
Mr. T. When we parted from you, you had, I think, been speaking of the nature and design of baptism.
Min. In recurring again to your inquiries on this subject, I should first remind you that the Church is to be regarded as a SOCIETY, of which JESUS CHRIST is the head; that we are told "CHRIST loved the Church, and gave himself for it;" and that [17/18] baptism is the consecrated means of initiating members into that society.
Mr. D. How little I have reflected upon the import of such portions of Scripture! Indeed I should say, how very imperfect my acquaintance with the volume itself, and how indistinct my conceptions of its contents!
Min. Our Saviour and his apostles appear to have employed the utmost ingenuity, in illustrating the nature of the Church, which is often denominated 'the kingdom of GOD.' It is compared to a net, which contained fishes of various sorts, both bad and good. It is compared to a field in which tares were sown together with the good seed. But all the metaphors employed, represent it to be a visible body. It is herein a mixed, imperfect, and probationary state, but entitled to great privileges and glory hereafter. In allusion to its visible and most intelligible character, that of a Society, I observed to you, that baptism is the consecrated means of initiating members into that society, the Church, of which CHRIST is the divine head. It appears to have been fully organized immediately after the ascension of the Saviour. It is known by three certain characteristics, the Word, the Ministry, and the Sacraments. All the promises of GOD through CHRIST, are its inheritance. It shall never fail to exist. CHRIST has declared that he will be with it to the end of the world; and that even then, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We may justly expect that some valuable privileges shall belong to membership in such an association. This is distinctly asserted by St. Peter: "Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of JESUS CHRIST, for the remission of sins."
Mr. D. Can there be so distinct a declaration, that the remission of sins might be expected as one of the privileges to be attained by a believer, in baptism?
Min. Yes, you will find the words in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, 38th verse; and the Apostle, in the next words, declares no less distinctly another benefit to be derived from it—"and ye shall receive," said he, "the gift of the HOLY GHOST."
Mr. T. When I consider the explicit and emphatic language of Scripture on this subject, I am at a loss to account for the variety of opinions which, I am told, exist in the Christian world in relation to it. And as we appear in our Church to have guarded the doctrine with sufficient care from those abuses apprehended by our brethren, the disrespect with which a divine ordinance is regarded by many, appears to proceed from a blind and unwarranted prejudice.
Min. The matter may, perhaps, be easily developed. Since the prevalence among so many Christian denominations of those peculiar views of the Gospel which are denominated Calvinistic, there are many who imagine that the grace of GOD is irresistible, and therefore infer that if it were given to every man in baptism, [18/19] every baptized person would necessarily be sanctified and saved. The Church, using the language of Scripture, has always taught that we may "resist the HOLY GHOST," that we may "quench the Spirit," that we may "harden our hearts," and thereby forfeit the grace conferred in baptism. Those, however, who maintain the doctrine of irresistible grace, must, in regard to their system, deny that the gift of the HOLY GHOST is conferred in baptism; and the esteem and veneration which we should extend to those institutions of the Gospel, has been much diminished.
Mr. T. They, however, admit I believe, that common grace accompanies all men who receive this ordinance: and it is only special grace which they deny to be the privilege of baptism.
Min. Yes, but my dear friend, where is the warrant in GOD’s word, for drawing distinctions of this nature between the operations of his Spirit? Can we imagine that the ALMIGHTY has employed a language calculated to mock and delude us? When we have read of the sufficiency of the Spirit's operations to enable us to triumph over every temptation, and to reach the perfection of Christian virtue, shall we be told that these are special gifts, designed exclusively for the favorites of Heaven, and that there are multitudes to whom no promise nor claim to them was ever given? When we have read of the universality of the gifts of grace, that they are "given to every man to profit withal;" that they were the great privilege of the Saviour's blood, purchased for every frail and guilty child of Adam; that He is "no respecter of persons;" shall we be told that such a promise only comprehends the gift of common grace, which is by no means adequate to the entire sanctification of our nature, and to our effectual salvation? Does not this attribute to the ALMIGHTY dealings with us equally deceptive, cruel, and treacherous? Can I be consoled by an assurance that the grace of GOD is my inheritance through CHRIST, if I must afterward be persuaded that it may be no more than such an inferior degree of it, as must prove insufficient to sustain me in my trials and sorrows?
Mr. T. The idea, I confess, is shocking. Any modification of it is painful: and yet I cannot perceive, but that it is inevitably involved with any and every form, under which the gloomy system of Calvinism can be presented. I know nothing more delusive, than the idea that some of the dark features of that system may be adopted, without involving the necessity of embracing the whole. It appears to me that they are inseparably connected; that they must stand or fall together; and that nothing can be more unmeaning, than the phrase so often used to propitiate public sentiment, which is prone to revolt from those offensive views of the Deity, than the phrase a moderate Calvinist. If it conveys any distinct idea, it only implies one who is inconsistent with himself, and who shrinks from some of the just and legitimate consequences of his doctrine.
 Min. I am afraid that there is too much truth in your remarks. But in addition to the evidence afforded by the passage of St. Peter, of the spiritual benefit resulting from baptism, there is a strong inference to be drawn from the transaction between St. Paul and his converts at Ephesus. "Finding certain disciples" there, "he said unto them, Have ye received the HOLY GHOST since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any HOLY GHOST. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on CHRIST JESUS. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord JESUS. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the HOLY GHOST came on them."
Mr. D. What then was the baptism which our Saviour himself received?
Min. Not Christian baptism, which you recollect was not at that time instituted; not the rite of initiation into the Christian Church; but merely a Jewish ceremony figurative of inward cleansing, and, as administered by John, designed to be typical of that repentance which constituted the fittest preparation for receiving the truths of the Gospel, when they should be promulgated by CHRIST; and it was only submitted to by Him as circumcision was, that he might be an example to us of the duty of conforming to ordinances, though he needed not their sanctifying operation, and might show how it behoveth us "to fulfil all righteousness."
Mr. D. But may not this doctrine give rise to a dilemma respecting the necessity of the ordinance? If the gift of the HOLY GHOST is solely the privilege of baptism, how can adults acquire without it, or before they have received it, that faith and repentance which can alone qualify them to be worthy recipients? Or if your Church teaches that before men have become members of the body of CHRIST, they may enjoy such spiritual succors as are sufficient to produce in them the most illustrious Christian virtues—penitence, love, and faith; do you not represent the ordinance of baptism to be an unmeaning ceremony—not at all necessary to the spiritual life?
Min. The Church has scriptural authority, for teaching that there are preventing (that is, anticipating or forerunning) influences of the HOLY GHOST. These are not withheld until the rite of baptism is conferred, for it is only through their divine aid that we are enabled to attain the indispensable qualifications for it. While St. Peter preached to the Gentiles at Cesarea, "the HOLY GHOST fell on all them which heard the word," and its sacred gifts were obvious and mighty. Now, modern notions of CHRIST'S religion, to which, my young friend, your opinions have hitherto been necessarily conformable, would probably lead persons to imagine that in such a case, the form, might with [20/21] safety be dispensed with, where the substance had unquestionably been secured. But the Apostle's inference was an opposite one; and he demanded, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized which have received the HOLY GHOST as well as we? And he commanded" those upon whom the HOLY GHOST had already fallen, "to be baptized," notwithstanding, "in the name of the LORD."
Mr. T. Although GOD is not bound to adhere to the use of any particular ordinances, we are. And no gifts or graces which we enjoy, can justify our neglect of positive commands: and I should suppose, Sir, without the scriptural authority which you have so satisfactorily furnished for the doctrine of the Church, it would be only rational to believe that CHRIST, having purchased for us a title to become members of his Church by baptism, imparts to us, through the same acquired right, all those preparatory graces which are necessary to qualify us for its benefits.
Min. Let me, however, not only repeat the important consideration, that baptized persons do not necessarily enjoy such sanctifying operations of grace as render them, in all cases, true and acceptable children of GOD; but also add, that a spiritual character, an experience of the living power of religion, is the fruit of a long and persevering exercise of the grace imparted in our regeneration. We are first babes in CHRIST, and gradually attain the measure of the stature of perfect men. And the reason why baptized persons do not always manifest the fruits of the covenant into which GOD has condescended to enter with them, may be inferred from the exhortations of the Apostle, not to resist 'the HOLY GHOST,' nor 'quench the Spirit,' without which not a step can be taken in the divine life. Although a title to its sanctifying influences, is one of the privileges conferred in baptismal regeneration, those influences may remain inert, insensible, and unprofitable. The heir of the Spirit which is imparted in CHRIST JESUS, may continue dead in Sin, and may perish in his iniquity, while all the rich graces of the HOLY GHOST are waiting for his acceptance of them.
Mr. D. I think, Sir, you repeated an expression of St. Peter a few moments ago, in which he speaks of the remission of sins as one of the privileges of baptism.
Min. Yes, that from the second chapter of the book of Acts. Upon the great and memorable day of Pentecost, the admirable discourse of St. Peter upon the occasion, together with the incontestible miracle, wrought astonishing convictions among those who were witnesses, "and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." Their consciences were fearfully awakened, and they "said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of JESUS CHRIST for the remission of sins." It is not possible to believe that any delusive hopes, any seductive prospects [21/22] of spiritual advantage, could be held out by the inspired apostles to the new converts at such a moment. The same privilege was distinctly affirmed by Ananias, immediately after the miraculous conversion of St. Paul: "And now why tarriest thou," said the inspired preacher; "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the LORD."
Mr. T. Will you be so kind, Sir, as to define the term "original sin?"
Min. That guilt of the world, for which the everlasting atonement was made by the Son of GOD, is distinguished into original and actual. The definition of the term "original sin," as it is employed in the Articles of the Church, should be carefully considered. "Original sin" has no reference to the conduct, but, "is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man,—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 born into the world it,"—this corrupt nature,—"deserveth GOD's wrath and damnation." For that criminal action of Adam, whereby he violated GOD's covenant with him, we are not more accountable or punishable than we are for the sins of each other. But, as the offspring of Adam, we derive a nature liable to all his infirmities and vicious propensities; and, after his transgression and fall, he could no more impart to us an uncontaminated moral nature, than a brute could impart the nature of man, or man the nature of an angel. And, if it were equitable, that before his posterity had been called into existence he should contract for their enjoyment of privileges, upon certain conditions, to be performed by himself; then also is it just, that when he had failed in the fulfilment of the condition, we should be deprived of the benefit to which we could possess no other, no intrinsic title or claim. However, GOD did not leave us to experience, without a remedy, the consequences of natural corruption, which is called "original sin." Forgiveness of subsequent wilful transgressions is extended to the penitent believer, not only in baptism, but whensoever afterward he shall turn to CHRIST with the fruits of a living faith. But it is among the primary, especial privileges of baptism to deliver us from that guilt which belongs to our state of natural condemnation.
Mr. D. But do you not admit that the same privileges—remission of sin, both original and actual, together with spiritual succors—may be granted to those that were never baptized?
Min. Yes;—but I am under the necessity of postponing further reply to this inquiry until our next interview, when I hope to show you, that "mercy and truth meet together" in the doctrines of the Church, as in the bosom of her divine LORD.
Mr. D. I shall be anxious for the hour of our meeting again.
 Mr. Temple. Before we renew the conversation which is the special object of our visit at this time, will you allow me, my dear Sir, to ask if you have been able again to see the young man, with whose history you so deeply interested us yesterday?
Min. Yes, my friend; and with very mingled emotions of grief and joy I administered to him then the sacrament of baptism. That I rejoiced over a sinner affording evidences of repentance, and receiving the authorized pledges of pardoning mercy and restored grace, you will not doubt. To grieve that even repentance has come too late to rescue the victim of irreligion and passion from their ruinous consequences in this world was scarcely less unavoidable. But it is by the exhibition of such warnings, that divine Providence would admonish and sanctify those who have never yet strayed in the paths of vice. Remember, we are all accountable for a due improvement of them. The baptism of this unhappy young man was, at such a moment, peculiarly affecting. Painful as the visits of his father must necessarily have been, they had relieved his mind of a burden of apprehension, and he became tranquillized for more devout communion with his Father in heaven. I found him, yesterday evening, comparatively calm, reading his Bible, and able, as he feels himself standing on the fearful verge of eternity, to embrace and avow with grateful warmth the principles which alone can sustain him in such a situation, or shed a single beam into the dreary abyss before him. The sacred rite, divested of all the circumstances which tell upon the imagination, was yet powerfully impressive and dignified, as the consecrated act of sealing a saving covenant, between JEHOVAH and a sin-ruined soul. The dim light—not struggling through the storied windows of a cathedral, to disclose, in solemn gloom, its long drawn aisles and clustered columns—but obstructed by the massive grating of a single casement, scarcely sufficed to show the rude walls of the low and vaulted cell, in which his guilt awaits its doom. No sculptured font was there, nor priestly robes, nor responsive choir. But fettered, and kneeling upon the floor of his dungeon, while two or three officers of the prison attended, he received, with bitter tears and stifled groans, the mystic token of cleansing, of forgiveness, and of life eternal. A stern, though just decree, "holds his body bound." But to his stricken conscience the Gospel announces: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." The violated law declares, "The wages of sin is death." The atoning Mediator whispers: 'When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; and in the valley of the shadow of death my rod and staff shall be with thy contrite spirit.' In fact, I have never seen the [23/24] freeness, and richness, and redeeming mercy of the Gospel, in more powerful contrast than was there exhibited, with the desolating, vile, and deadly effects of sin.
Mr. T. He has yet more than a month of probation allotted him; and we may hope, that before the end of that period, his Christian privileges will have imparted to him a more discerning faith, and a more comfortable assurance.
Mr. D. Let us now resume our proposed topic of conversation.—I had inquired, whether the Church admits that remission of sin, both original and actual, together with spiritual succors, may be granted to those that were never baptized.
Min. To this I reply, that we confidently trust so. The Church teaches, in her Catechism, that sacraments are "generally necessary to salvation;"—that is, necessary where they may be had. But there are obstacles to conformity—such as, the absence of the priesthood, or residence in a pagan land—which are known to be sometimes insurmountable: and the prejudices of education, which, in other cases, effectually bar the mind against the force of truth and the just appreciation of evidence, may, also, we trust, where no malicious hostility against the Gospel exists, be regarded with compassion. We rejoice in believing that, through the mediation of CHRIST, all men will be judged according to the law under which they have lived; and that, even those invincible prejudices which so often keep men from the ordinances of their Saviour, through divine mercy will not be allowed to withhold from them certain benefits to which they had acquired no covenant title.
Mr. T. May not such a doctrine, Sir, benevolent as it is, awaken in the mind of Christians an inquiry similar in its import to that which St. Paul has put in the mouth a Jew, in his Epistle to the Romans: "What advantage, then, hath the Jew, or what profit is there of circumcision?" I mean to say, it may occur to the minds of some persons to ask, If we may be both pardoned and sanctified without baptism, do you not make it appear that the mere indulgence of his prejudices is sufficient, to render a man's spiritual state as safe out of the Church as in it?
Min. No, my friend, for as we are never capable of ascertaining, while we continue in error in any particular, that our search of truth has been faithful,—that our prejudices were honest and dispassionate, and our ignorance invincible,—and therefore whether our error will be pardoned by GOD; on the other hand in the devout and faithful use of means, WE ARE SURE that we shall be accepted by him. But there are other advantages resulting from this ordinance. A participation of the benefits procured for its members through the intercessions of the Church, is a privilege conferred exclusively in the sacrament of baptism; And no man who relies upon the strong and explicit promises of ALMIGHTY GOD to the prayer of faith, especially where two or three are gathered together in the name of CHRIST, can lightly esteem this consideration. United no less by common wants [24/25] than by common duties, the society of believers every where send forth the most devout petitions for each other's welfare. They whom mountains and oceans divide, between whom strange customs and languages create a more insurmountable barrier, invoke upon each other, notwithstanding, the providential and redeeming mercies of their common LORD.
Mr. T. Really, I cannot imagine that any idea can be much more consolatory; nor indeed that most means of obtaining mercy are more efficacious. If, trusting to the efficacy of prayer, I should be comforted and sustained by the assurance that a single devout friend would earnestly and perseveringly intercede for me in his closet with GOD, much greater should be my reliance upon the power of the devotion of many devout friends, assembled in the name and presence of the Redeemer.
Min. It is a consideration which we can carry along with us under all circumstances. Are we distant, not only from the domestic circle, but from the temple and the communion of saints? we are not forgotten by them. Do we pursue our lonely path in the wilderness, or encounter perils on the ocean? in every climate and in every tongue, the voices of the faithful intercede in our behalf; and at every moment, from some region of the earth, a countless multitude is addressing the throne, that the arm of GOD's gracious providence should be stretched out in our defence. Do we contend with sorrows and trials, are we desponding under the secret conflict with passions and temptations? at a thousand altars, the atoning blood of JESUS is pleaded to take away our guilt. Ten thousand priests exclaim within their consecrated temples, "We pray thee help thy servants whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood." And can it be that no spiritual graces, or providential defence, should be expected to arise from membership in the great congregation of saints? Can you consent, my young friend, to remain an alien from this holy and universal society, contented with the sympathy and intercession extended to those who are "strangers to the covenant of promise," or who are "living without GOD in the world?"
Mr. D. I should be sorry to feel that I could not be moved by such considerations. Grounded on the authority of GOD's word, they appear to me most affecting.
Mr. T. But we are bound together in our Church, by a still more interesting ordinance,—that of the Lord's Supper.
Min. Yes, and the privilege of participating in that sacrament belongs exclusively to those who have been admitted into the Church by baptism. But that is a subject which would divert us too far from the more particular object of our present conversation, and if our friend is desirous of information respecting it, I can put into his hands a remarkably valuable little tract on the Lord's Supper, which is as scriptural in its doctrine, as it in judicious, forcible, and devout in its mode of expounding it. But [25/26] I am anxious to direct Mr. D's attention to the qualifications required of those who would be baptized.
Mr. D. After what I have already heard from you, Sir, divesting the subject of much that is, no doubt, the result of popular ignorance and misapprehension, and apparently, as I must admit, establishing your opinions on the basis of scriptural authority, the topic of the qualifications for baptism will interest me deeply.
Min. No point can be stated in fewer and simpler words. When the Eunuch of Ethiopia inquired of St. Philip, who had preached JESUS to him, if there were any obstacle to his being baptized, Philip answered, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that JESUS CHRIST is the Son of GOD." Upon this confession he was immediately baptized. And in answer to the convicted jailer's inquiry of St. Paul, What must I do to be saved? the Apostle merely declared —Believe—"Believe on the Lord JESUS CHRIST, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." And he "was baptized, he and all his, straightway." The Church in her Catechism, (which I may for a moment pause to recommend you, as containing a singularly accurate, comprehensive, and scriptural outline of Christian doctrines,) teaches in answer to the question, "What is required of persons to be baptized?" that "Repentance, whereby they forsake sin; and faith, whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of GOD made to them in that sacrament," are the qualifications demanded.—In the Apostle's reply, repentance and other Christian graces are supposed to be comprehended in a true and living faith, from which they invariably and necessarily flow, and therefore faith alone is named by him.
Mr. D. When the Jailer's household is spoken of in the last case alluded to by you, as no peculiar exceptions are intimated, and as "he and all his" are expressly named, should we understand that his family consisted of the various descriptions of persons usually found in a household and that there were not only women and domestics, but that there were children also?
Min. No reason can be assigned for an opposite opinion.
Mr. D. But have you other authority for the practice of infant baptism?
Min. Certainly; the express injunction of the Almighty that the children of believing parents should be placed in a covenant relation to him, Gen. xvii. and Deut. xxix. 10, 11, 12. There is a case upon record in the fourth chapter of Exodus, of Moses' being threatened with sickness and death, for the omission with regard to his own child. It was the privilege of children among the Jews to be admitted into covenant with GOD. This is no where disputed. That baptism succeeds in the place of circumcision, as an initiatory rite, is as universally conceded by those who practise the ordinance at all. That the Christian dispensation is at least not narrower, and more rigorous in its exactions than the Jewish, [26/27] it is the very spirit of the Gospel to inculcate. And therefore from the first organization of the Church, it has in every age been its principle and practice to admit infants to the sacrament of baptism. "Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not," said our blessed Redeemer, "for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Mr. T. But do not they who oppose the admission of infants into covenant with GOD, maintain that it should be denied them, because of their inability to exercise that faith which the Gospel demands as a qualification for baptism?
Min. They do so; but they might with as much reason and justice maintain that infants are incapable of being SAVED, because faith is, under the Gospel, the qualification for obtaining eternal life. Faith and repentance are required as qualifications, only of those who are capable of exercising them. Neither the wisdom nor the mercy of GOD has ever permitted him to insist upon conditions of his favor, which his creatures are not able to perform. Children, under the penalty attaching to them as the offspring of Adam and inheritors of a corrupt nature, are liable to death before they have become capable of the exercise of faith; and therefore in the case of infants, the faith of the parent, in bringing to baptism, is accepted, that it may be dispensed with in the child; and the infant's innocence of actual transgression renders the demand of repentance inapplicable and void.
Mr. T. But would it not have been the means of our escape from some perplexity, if our Saviour had given express directions in this matter?
Min. It would be difficult to prove that he has not been explicit in enjoining it. It is the acknowledged fact that infants among the Jews were admitted members of the Church of GOD; and that CHRIST addressing that people, heretofore accustomed to admit infants into covenant with GOD, ordained that "all nations" shall "be baptized." Do not children compose a large proportion of every nation? The apostles are said to have baptized families; and the sacred historians do not except the children of the household. St. Peter, inculcating the ordinance of baptism upon the assembly in Jerusalem, that they might receive remission of their sins, and the gift of the HOLY GHOST, declares to them, that "the promise is to them and TO THEIR CHILDREN." This is not an exclusion of the infants of the persons addressed! And unless infants are comprehended in the promise, the Apostle's exhortation would amount to this, "Hitherto, under the Mosaic dispensation, your children as well as yourselves have enjoyed covenant privileges. But I exhort you to embrace this new religion, of which it is the disadvantageous characteristic that although you yourselves may enter by it into covenant with GOD, the condition of your children shall be no better than that of the Pagans." Need we ask what would have been the probable effect of such an argument upon the Jews?
 Mr. D. A proposed departure from the known and authorized usage would have required an express injunction.
Min. Yes, and it is not pretended that any such exists. To those that maintain that nothing less than an express injunction in so many words, can warrant the admission of infants to the privileges of the sacrament of baptism, we reply, that there is no such express and verbal injunction, for the admission of women to the sacrament of the eucharist; nor for the observance of the first day instead of the seventh, as the day of sacred rest and solemnities among Christians. But in each case the privilege and duty are sufficiently comprehended in the general instructions. Every doctrine of Christianity has been at some period the subject of controversial discussion, and a plea for rending the unity of the Church. The sacrament of baptism has been made to participate in the conflicts. But the prevailing opinion of the Christian world seems at length to have established itself on the safe ground of the explicit language of Scripture, illustrated by the analogy of Mosaic institutions, and the practice of the apostles and the primitive Church.
Mr. D. Does not the Protestant Episcopal Church act in opposition to the practice of the apostles, in prohibiting baptism by immersion?
Min. The Protestant Episcopal Church, so far from prohibiting baptism by immersion, expressly enacts in the rubric for the administration of that ordinance, that the minister shall either "dip" the person or child baptized in water, "or pour water upon him;" and instances are constantly occurring of the administration of the ordinance by immersion, where early impressions, or other circumstances, have led to preference of that mode. I have myself baptized a man by immersion, in this city.
Mr. T. But as our Saviour was baptized in the river Jordan, and the practice of the apostles appears to have been to administer this sacrament by immersion of the whole body, should we not regret that the same mode is not now more generally employed in the Christian world?
Min. We read, it is true, that CHRIST "went up out of the water," but it may have been poured or sprinkled upon him, he standing in the stream. Nothing to the contrary is asserted. Neither is 'immersion' necessarily implied in the words which in the original signify baptism; as they may be translated, with equal propriety, either 'dipping' or 'sprinkling.' It can scarcely be thought that the quantity of the element employed can affect the validity of the sacrament; especially as there is no injunction on record even indirectly touching the matter. That which is not prescribed, either expressly or by necessary implication, may safely be deemed a non-essential in a sacrament. But if we are obliged to conform to apostolic practice in all particulars, accidental or ceremonial, then should we infer that immersion in a large appropriate vessel within the walls of a dwelling or church, is not a valid baptism. In all seasons [28/29] and climates, and in all exigencies arising from infirmity, or extreme illness, immersion in a river will then alone avail. Can it be supposed that the three thousand persons converted by the preaching of St. Peter were all thus baptized in a single day? Or that at midnight, and in the very hour of the tumult produced by the miraculous shaking of the prison, the jailer and his family accompanied St. Paul to the river side? With equal justice may it be maintained that the administration of the Lord's supper is invalid, unless it be commemorated in the evening, in an upper chamber, and when the communicants had previously partaken together of a meal. Who would not admit that such a requisition was unwarrantably rigorous? There are no doubt observances essential to the validity of this sacrament. These CHRIST has expressly commanded. "Go YE," said JESUS to the eleven, and through them to those whom they should send,—"Go YE and teach all nations, baptizing them, in the name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST." And upon another occasion, he said, "Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit," &c. Here, then, we have all that the Saviour taught or recognised in relation to the administration of the ordinance;—the element, water; the name of the Trinity; and a competent authority in the administration. Why should we regard any other forms as essential?
Mr. T. How, Sir, should we understand the passage in which John declares that the Messiah should baptize "with the HOLY GHOST and with fire?"
Min. Only as predicting a miraculous event, which took place on the day of Pentecost, when the HOLY GHOST, under the symbol of "cloven tongues like as of fire," sat upon each of the assembled disciples.
Mr. D. Most earnestly do I desire to appreciate justly the instructions you have so kindly afforded us. Much, I confess, is entirely adverse to my former opinions and feelings. But as they, whether true or false, were imbibed without serious and candid investigation, and were grounded rather upon the authority of others, than upon my own knowledge of the Scriptures I cannot but apprehend, after what I have now learned from you, that they were erroneous.
Min. Fail not, my young friend, in reflecting upon the principles which I have endeavored to maintain, fervently to invoke that Spirit which was promised as our guide into all truth. Be suspicious of the influence of prejudice, pride of character, and that inertness of mind which causes one to revolt from the trouble of abandoning one set of principles, and of acting at variance with our former associations, upon the adoption of another system. But consider, that the whole tenor of GOD'S dispensations to man, from the prohibition of a particular fruit in Paradise onward, is analogous to the doctrine in relation to sacraments; that the practice of the primitive Church, and of the Church in every nation and age, unquestionably corresponds [29/30] with it; that both from the nature of the observances recommended, and from the weight of their sanction, if it be an error, it is apparently on the safe side; that the opinion hostile to sacraments is of modern date, and confined to a comparatively small body of Christians; and that it was the Saviour himself who replied to one devoutly inquiring the way of salvation, "Except a man be born of WATER, and of the SPIRIT, he cannot enter the kingdom of GOD."
FROM BISHOP SEABURY'S SERMONS.
THE natural quality of water, in cleansing the body from external defilements, made it a fit emblem to represent the cleansing of the soul from the defilements of sin. This use the Holy Spirit of GOD has made of it in the Bible, enabling us, by those ideas which we get from our bodily senses, to form some conception of spiritual matters, of which we can form no ideas but by analogy. By baptism, then, we are taught, that as the body is made pure by washing with water; so is the soul made pure by the pardoning mercy of GOD, and the sanctification of the HOLY SPIRIT.
In all religions, washing with water, to signify the inward purity of the heart, has been thought a necessary preparation for the worship of GOD. The practice stands on this great truth, that the purity of the divine nature cannot accept the prayers and offerings of men defiled by sin. The universality of the practice is, in truth, a universal confession that all men are sinners, and unfit, without forgiveness, to approach GOD in religious worship.
That this was the meaning of the various purifications by water, under the law of Moses, appears from this circumstance, that however pure the body was from external pollution, he who had contracted any legal defilement was unfit for the public offices of religion, till he had cleansed himself by legal ablution. It was not, therefore, to get rid of the defilement of the body, that these ablutions were ordered, but to point out and represent that purity of soul, which was necessary to render both themselves and their worship acceptable to Him, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and with whom no unclean thing can dwell. The mind of holy David seems to have been deeply impressed with this sentiment, when he said, "I will wash my hands in innocency, O LORD, and so will I go to thine altar;" implying, that guilt was an improper attendant to the altar of GOD; that, therefore, innocency must be preserved, or guilt must be removed to make us fit to worship the fountain of purity.
From hence the transition was not so great but that the human mind could easily follow it, to make washing with water the expression or outward emblem of repentance or conversion [30/31] of the heart from former evil practices to a virtuous and holy life. And, as persons in this state of repentance renounced, of course, the vices and wicked tempers which proceed from the suggestions of the evil one, eminently so called, and gave themselves up to be governed by the principles of virtue and goodness, which can only proceed from the Spirit of GOD; the process was not difficult to lead the mind to consider baptism as the sacrament of initiation into the Church or family of GOD, which implied repentance of all past sin, faith in the mercy and promises of GOD, the denial of every thing contrary to his will, and obedience to all his commandments, or holiness of life. This is properly a NEW BIRTH, or nature; "Old things are past away, and all things are become new." And, as this change of heart,—these good resolutions and purposes, can proceed only from the Spirit of GOD, the mind is led to consider and look to the energy and operation of the HOLY SPIRIT, as the giver of that repentance and faith; or of that new life which baptism supposes, and of which it is the emblem or representation.
That the Jews universally baptized those proselytes from heathenism who conformed to their law, is attested by their best authors. Nor did they think those proselytes were fully admitted into their nation and church, till the rite of baptism was superadded to the sacrament of circumcision. And this baptism, they administered to all proselytes, male and female, and to their children.
There is a remarkable circumstance related by St. John, respecting baptism among the Jews, which shows that they not only expected Elias, or one of the old prophets, would rise from the dead, and come to visit them, at the time of Messiah's appearance; but that a particular baptism would then be instituted, either by that prophet, or Messiah, and that it would extend even to the Jews themselves. The messengers sent by the Pharisees to John Baptist, to know what character he assumed, whether that of Elias or Messiah, finding he disclaimed both, that is, in the sense in which they made the inquiry, asked with some earnestness, "Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that CHRIST, nor Elias, neither that prophet?" But, at his baptizing Jews who came to him they showed no surprise, as they most certainly would have done, had they not expected that conduct from Elias and Messiah, when they should appear. Nor do we find that even the Pharisees, the strictest sect of the Jews, ever brought any accusation against CHRIST on account of the baptism administered by him. For, that he did institute a baptism distinct from that of John, and administer it by the hands of his apostles, we have the most direct testimony.
The disciples, therefore, could be at no loss what to understand by the command to baptize, when it was given them. They knew the custom of their own nation was to baptize, at least, all proselytes,—they had been witnesses of the baptism of [31/32] John, for some of them had been his disciples,—they expected, in common with their countrymen, that Messiah would institute a baptism peculiar to himself, and they had been once sent by him to preach and to administer it. With what words that baptism was administered we are not told: nor was there any direction given then, nor in CHRIST'S last commission to them, respecting the manner of administration.
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Baptism being a figure of inward purity, or of cleansing the soul from sin, it cannot be supposed that the quantity of water adds to the validity or efficacy of the sacrament. That it does not, will, I think, follow from what our Saviour said to Peter, when he washed the feet of his disciples,—"He that is washed, needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit." That this saying of CHRIST did not relate merely to bodily cleanliness is plain, from his remark to the same disciple, upon his objecting to CHRIST'S doing so servile an office for him,—"If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me." That washing, therefore, was not only an instance of humility in CHRIST, and an example of it to his apostles; but it was figurative of internal and spiritual cleansing. For how should washing the feet make the whole body clean, unless it be in a figurative and mystical sense? I conclude, therefore, that the effects of baptism, which is a figurative washing, are not confined to immersion of the whole body; but that this sacred rite may be also validly performed by pouring water on the subject of it, by a minister duly authorized, and using the form of words which CHRIST has appointed.
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CHRIST has determined this point [the continuance of the commission given by him to his apostles to teach and baptize all nations] in the most precise manner. "Lo," said he "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." To the end of the world, therefore, is this commission to continue. To the end of the world, the Gospel is to be preached to all nations; and they who become converts to it, are to be baptized in the name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST, and taught to observe all things whatsoever CHRIST has commanded. To the end of the world, then, men will be obliged to submit to this baptism, and hear and do all the commandments of CHRIST.