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difficulty of the baptismal language. The legal position of the Evangelicals was established. Henceforward no one could charge them with rejecting an opinion to which the law had required them to give their solemn assent and consent. We have said "the Church" advisedly. Great was the wailing, and loud the protest, that the Judicial Committee was not the Church: but all to no purpose. The Judicial Committee is by the law of the Church of England her Supreme Court, the voice by which alone she interprets, the final tribunal by which she judges heresy and every other spiritual cause. It is idle to talk of the modern origin of the Committee. The Supremacy had conferred on the Crown full jurisdiction over all spiritual causes and persons in the Court of Delegates. The Crown might have selected under that right the very members of the Judicial Committee to try Mr. Gorham: and the same authority which had established the Court of Delegates had substituted the Committee in its room. To deny the competency of the Judicial Committee to be the voice of the Church of England, is simply to deny the law and constitution of that Church; and is as absurd as it would be to repudiate the jurisdiction of the Queen's Bench upon the ground of some theory which would prefer a different tribunal. The ecclesiastical legitimacy of the Committee was triumphantly vindicated by Mr. Wilberforce and others, who seceded upon the principle that the highest Court of the Church of England was an institution not consistent with Catholic doctrine. They admitted, whilst they dissented from, the constitution of the English Church.
But now that the Church has sanctioned the legal title of the deniers of baptismal regeneration to be members of her communion, the further and very important question arises, whether it is right or expedient to retain the language of the baptismal office unchanged? It is impossible to evade this inquiry. The Court did not affix its own sense on the language of the service it simply declared that there was nothing in that language to compel it to expel from the communion of the Church those who expressly, and in terms, rejected baptismal regeneration. It virtually recognised that the authoritative documents of the Church of England do not admit, according to the natu ral meaning of words, of one harmonious interpretation: and thereupon wisely judged that any opinion sanctioned by the language of one of those documents might be lawfully held, however much it might be contradicted by that of another. It made the Church of England comprehensive of all the doctrines contained in all its formularies. Now, right and necessary as this decision may have been, the embarrassments which flow from it are great and manifest. The irreconcilable conflict between the separate
The Charitable Hypothesis.
parts of that whole to which every clergyman is required to pledge his unfeigned assent, is officially adınitted by the principle on which the decision proceeded : how, then, can the terms in which subscription is demanded at ordination be any longer justified? What can be more cruel towards tender consciences, and more injurious to good faith, than to insist on a declaration of consent to each single one of a collection of theological opinions, which even the Church herself does not pretend to reconcile together? Then, again, it is clear that the highest tribunal of the Church has given evangelical clergymen no relief in the use of the baptismal service. All that it has done in pronouncing them to be true sons of the Church, has been either to authorize them to attach a non-natural sense to the term “ regeneration,” or to give them liberty to dissent from the doctrine involved in prayers which they address to the Almighty. Either solution of the difficulty has been felt to be most unsatisfactory and distressing The
oft-disputed question, therefore, forcibly recurs, What is the doctrine contained in the baptismal service? “ The only plea,” says our author, “ set up in defence of its language by those who persist in vindicating it, notwithstanding the admission that their own view would, even in theory, and apart from the experience of the result, be averse to the use of such language, is the charitable hypothesis.” This plea, though elaborately defended by the evangelical Mr. Goode, our author, who apparently is an evangelical himself, proceeds to combat with great
agree with him in holding, that this plea will not successfully defend the language; but we think also, that he has not done justice to Mr. Goode's argument, or pointed out the real objection to it with sufficient force. If baptisın were to be administered at confirmation, when the candidate makes a voluntary and public confession of the Christian faith in the presence of God and the Church, Mr. Goode would be perfectly justified in availing himself of the charitable hypothesis, and there would be no reason why the baptized person should not be spoken of as a regenerated man and as a member of Christ. Indeed, our author virtually establishes the charitable hypothesis, when he quotes the Apostle Paul as calling those brethren who yet were guilty of the grossest sins. In fact, St. Paul's language is still stronger : he tells the Corinthians that they “ come behind in no gift.” Would it be possible to carry the charitable hypothesis farther? But, in truth, the capital, the fatal objection to the present baptismal service of the Church of England, is, that in no case of unconscious infants can we reasonably suppose that the spiritual grace therein implied has been obtained through the spiritual qualification of the recipient. If a spiritual effect
has been produced on the soul of the infant, it must have been produced wholly, on man's side, by the agency of the priest : his outward act has altered the mind of the baptized person without any consciousness of his own. This is a superstition which contradicts directly the very idea of Christianity; but it is also the essence of sacerdotalism. It is indisputable, that if the term “ regeneration” expresses any spiritual effect on the soul, the baptismal service countenances the sacramental system and the priestly theory. And precisely the same result follows also, if (as some High Churchmen, who hesitated to ascribe to the sprinkling of the baptismal water a transforming power on the soul, have imagined) the effect of baptism is limited to the washing away of original sin. This supposition implies that an infant, who had the misfortune of dying before baptism, necessarily retains the burden of original guilt, and, as Augustine and many others have believed, falls under eternal condemnation. How any person who had obtained the faintest insight into the meaning of the Christian religion could have brought himself to believe that God consigns an unconscious and helpless being to eternal happiness or eternal misery, according as an external and purely mechanical operation has been performed upon him by the instrumentality of others, is what we have never been able to conceive. But certainly, if life or death, and that for ever, depends upon an outward rite, without the slightest mental concurrence on the part of the recipient, the fundamental idea of a priesthood, the intervention of a human mediator between God and man, is established : sacerdotalism has gained its principle: it will have an easy victory over every other impediment.
But, thank God, there is not one word in the New Testament which in the slightest degree sanctions so terrible a doctrine: we are spared the pain, to say the least, of seeing the Christian Scriptures contradicting their own ideal of Christianity. The origin of the mischief is plain. The doctrine of the baptismal service is true: the unconsciousness of the infant is the real fons mali
. The baptismal service is founded on Scripture; but its application to an unconscious infant is destitute of any express Scriptural warrant. Scripture knows nothing of the baptism of infants. There is absolutely not a single trace of it to be found in the New Testament. There are passages
may conciled with it, if the practice can only be proved to have existed; but there is not one word which asserts its existence. Nay more, it may be urged that 1 Cor. vii. 14, is incompatible with the supposition that infant baptism was then practised at Corinth. The Apostle in this passage seeks to remove the scruples of those Christian partners in mixed marriages, who
believed that a conjugal union with a heathen was a state profane and unholy in God's sight. He reassures them by an argument founded on a reductio ad absurdum. You admit, says he, that your children are holy; then be persuaded that the marriage from which that sanctity was derived is holy also. For, were it otherwise; if, as you imagine, the marriage is unholy, then it would follow that the children that are the fruits of it would be unclean and unholy also ; whereas you know and admit the reverse; you confess them to be holy. It is absolutely indispensable for the validity of this argument, that the sanctity of the children should have been exclusively derived from the sanctity of the marriage; for on no other hypothesis could the sanctity of the children have furnished a proof of the sanctity of the marriage. Had the children been baptized, they would have been holy in their own right, as members of Christ; and a father, who had had his children baptized, would have effectually demolished the Apostle's reasoning by the simple reply, that the holiness of his children, as members of Christ's Church, was no reason for his thinking the marriage holy, or his not putting away his unbelieving wife. Many, indeed, have explained the term holy as meaning, “ have been admitted to baptisin,” making the verse say, that if the faith of the believing partner had not sanctified the marriage, the children would not have been admitted to baptism, whereas they had been baptized. But this is to re-write Scripture, not to interpret it.
History confirms the inference drawn from the sacred volume. Infant baptism cannot be clearly traced higher than the middle of the second century; and even then it was not universal. Some, indeed, have argued that in the silence of Scripture it is fair to presume that a custom whose existence is seen in the second century must have descended from the Apostles; but the presumption is wholly the other way. Baptism appears in the New Testament avowedly as the rite whereby converts were incorporated into the Christian society: the burden of the proof is entirely on those who affirm its applicability to those whose minds are incapable of any conscious act of faith. The example of circumcision is appealed to as justifying the practice. We do not doubt that this example had, as it deserved, immense influence in causing the extension of baptism to infants; and we are quite willing to accept it as an authority for the institution, provided that the two rites are placed upon the same level. The authority is valid, provided it is not pressed beyond the identity of the analogy. Circumcision dedicated the child to God, brought him under covenant with God, and was a sign and pledge that he should receive, from time to time, such blessings as were suited to his capacity and circumstances. Infant baptism may be and is a repetition of all these things. But no one ever asserted that circumcision renewed a child's mind at eight days old; nor that its omission would have made him liable to eternal perdition. Circumcision, therefore, is a warrant only for an external
, though holy, relation being established towards God by infant baptism. The truth, then, is clear. The language of Scripture regarding baptism implies the spiritual act of faith in the recipients. When infant baptism is now spoken of, the necessary modification must accordingly be made in applying language used by Scripture concerning Spiritual baptism only. Inextricable confusion has been the inevitable consequence when language used of adults, of persons possessed of intelligence, and capable of spiritual acts, was gratuitously applied to unconscious infants; and it cannot be a matter for wonder, that a totally new conception of the ordinance should have been created by such a perversion. So great was the difficulty felt to be by Luther, who retained infant baptism, and assumed that the language used of baptism in Scripture applied to the baptized infant, that in order to fence out priestly superstition, he imagined that God, who bestowed regeneration, bestowed also, by a direct miraculous act, that intelligent faith which the spiritual nature of Christianity demanded. Our age is not likely to acquiesce in such a solution ; but it bears witness to the just perception which Luther had of the impossibility of applying to infants, without a modification somewhere, the Scriptural language regarding baptism.
The non-recognition of the fact that the external rite of infant baptism is not the baptism spoken of in Scripture is the source of the palpable weakness of English Low-Churchmen in the discussion of this question. They have reason and religion on their side; but in the appeal to Scripture, they are undeniably worsted by their opponents. No shift will ever help them. The advantage possessed by the High-Church party rests on the assumption that what is said of baptism in Scripture may be equally said of the infant baptism practised by the Church of England; and nothing but a denial of their complete identity will or can strip them of this advantage. Evangelicals are afraid of looking at the truth in the face. They are hampered by a superstitious feeling about infant baptism: they are afraid of discrediting it, in spite of the many excellent reasons which justify its adoption; and they are still more afraid of saying that the baptism of the Church of England is not identical with the Spiritual baptism of the Apostles. So long as they refuse to admit the real truth, so long must they be content to carry on this all-important controversy at a fearful disadvantage; and so long must they continue to experience the bitter consequences