« PreviousContinue »
rational, comprehensive and free, a religion of spiritual forces, adapted at once to the regeneration of the individual and the regeneration of society. Christian baptism therefore indicates the necessity of a change of heart. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must be born
again.” Except a man be born of water
and of the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God." “ Buried with Christ in baptism." “ He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” In this way the rite is significant, on the part of the individual baptized, of a conscious moral change, an intelligent belief of the truth, a deliberate and hearty consecration to the service of God. A church constituted on such a principle excludes none from the ordinances of Christ or the privileges of his kingdom who ought to be excluded. It includes, or ought to include all the disciples of Christ, all the professed members of his mystical body.
On this ground, the question touching the nature and subjects of baptism is vital to the proper organization of the church. It enters into the very essence of the discussion as to the nature and design of Christ's kingdom on earth. It involves the great idea of what our friends in Scotland call “the Supreme Headship” of Christ, or the right of Christ to govern, by spiritual laws, in his own spiritual domain. For, “ the kingdom of Christ is not meat and drink,” not outward forms and usages, and especially earthly and secular arrangements, “but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” In a word, it is a government of souls, a kingdom or church of regenerated spirits ; whence men and women, born into this kingdom by the Spirit of God, are solemnly inducted into what we term the visible church, constructed on the basis of the former, by a solemn baptismal formula, expressive of their union to Christ, and consecration to his service.
The fact is, the real foundation principle of Baptist ecclesiastical polity, whether we have thoroughly realized it or not, is the freedom and spirituality of the church. The immersion of believers alone in the name of the Sacred Trinity is but the natural expression of this principle. So that we may say, with the apostle Paul: “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." By profession, at least, such show themselves Christians, and therefore legitimately entitled to all the privileges of church organization. We may forget or falsify our principles, but these principles themselves are Scriptural and consistent. They involve a sublime truth, and reveal it clearly and powerfully to the world. It is for this very reason that the primitive disciples are spoken of as those who are “ planted in the likeness of Christ's death ;" as “new creatures in Christ Jesus ;” as saved “ by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost;" as " a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” And certainly it is only in this way that the church in any age can become the “temple of the Lord,” the light and glory of the world.
But you forget, some one may remind us, the broad distinction between the church visible and the church invisible. By no means; for whatever that distinction may be, it is not one of essence, but of circumstances. The church invisible, in its purity and power, ought assuredly to be the basis and model of the church visible. Neither of them ought to be other than spiritual and free. To be perfect, both ought, as much as possible, to be conformed to Christ. In spirit, in form, or in action, neither the one nor the other can be too Christlike. They cannot be separated. The one indeed is more outward and less perfect than the other, and this from the necessities of the case; but they hold the same relations to each other that the soul does to the body, and therefore the more closely they are conformed the better for both.
What is the church? The body of Christ,--a body, while on earth, somewhat imperfect, now and then dyspeptic, so to speak,-wounded also both by friends and foes, yet still the body of Christ, with glorious and indefinite capacities of improvement, and ever animated, more or less, by the heart-impulses of the Son of God. It is composed therefore of believers. It is not formed, in an artificial way, by mere collocation or accretion of particles, that is to say, by the mere addition of individuals as such. It is not thus mechanical and formal in its nature-a mere lump of consolidated particles, which have no life in themselves. No, the church is vital, and grows by means of spiritual forces attracting and assimilating its materials, and forming them into an organization of living strength and beauty. Liable, like other organized bodies,
to chances and changes, and imperfect from the normal state in which it is found on earth, it is yet destined to entire and eternal perfection. It is not therefore a school or college for children or catechumens who may or may not become true and living Christians, but a church, an čxxanoia of selected and regenerated subjects.
The visible organization then, or what we call the church or churches, ought as far as possible to be conformed to this ideal, and admit to its membership none who do not give credible evidence of faith in Christ. « Dost thou believe on the Son of God with all thine heart?" ought to be put to every candidate for baptism, as it was put by Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch; and if, as in that instance, he can reply, with entire sincerity, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of, God,” then ought he to be baptized “into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Hence the force of the commission: “Go ye into all the world and teach (make disciples of, wasnteuoate, “ disciple or convert them to the faith, Bloomfield,) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
That children ought to be trained for Christ and his church no intelligent Baptist will deny. It is the privilege not only of all Christians, and of the church, in its collective capacity, to labor and pray for this end; but it is the special privilege and duty of every Christian parent to pray with and for his children, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and anticipate for them, on the ground of the Divine promise, the protection and blessing of God. But their solemn induction into the church, and their participation of gospel rites, baptism or the Lord's Supper, significant or symbolic of union to Christ and his church, is quite another thing. This privilege is reserved for believers ; and hence he waits until the members of his household, young or old, children or domestics, give credible evidence of faith in Christ, before he can encourage them to enter the church, by a solemn profession, or the observance of a significant Christian rite. As to those who die in infancy, he is willing to leave them in the hands of God, without the imaginary spiritual benefit derived from an external observance.
The baptism of an unconscious child may seem to some a beautiful and appropriate act, and possibly it might possess this character, were it only of Divine appointment, and significant of nothing more than a desire, on the part of the parent, or sponsor, to consecrate the child to God, on the same ground that he would consecrate a bell, a pulpit or a church; but as an ordinance of the Christian institution, and taken in its true Scriptural import and design, baptism can have neither beauty nor significance in such a case ex-. cept as a formal induction into the visible church. If it signifies, as Dr. Bushnell claims, that the child is a Christian, or is to grow up a Christian, never knowing a conversion, beyond the initial regeneration which it receives from the family organism, or it, as the Papal, and almost all the State Churches in the world, Episcopal, Presby
terian, Lutheran and Greek, claim, it actually confers regeneration, ex opere operato, and so constitutes the child “an heir of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven”all very well. There is meaning in that, however preposterous the supposition upon which it is founded. But to take the rite, significant of union to Christ and his church, or if you please, significant of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and apply it to an unconscious child, or a conscious unconverted adult, is an abuse of the ordinance. It confounds all just distinctions, and nullifies, so far as its influence extends, the separation of the church from the world. This, too, in all ages, has been its ultimate practical effect.
There are those indeed who deny this, and hold the rite as a simple consecration, having no kind of reference to church membership or anything of the kind. Many such are intelligent and pious, and it may be, see some good in infant baptism; but they have lost the true meaning of the rite, and have only to regain that, and take a single step further, to become intelligent, consistent Baptists. Indeed at heart they are Baptists, but only somewhat in error as to the meaning of the ordinance. They believe in the spirituality of the church, and the reality of regeneration as a Divine change, a change, too, associated with repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and have no sympathy with the ritualism of the Papal and Episcopal Churches. Why then should they not restore baptism to its appropriate place, as really significant of an inward change, and a new, spiritual relation, and thus become Baptists out and out? Mr. Noel has done this, in a noble, consistent manner, and we commend his example to the imitation of our evangelical Pædobaptist brethren, who desire that there should be among all Christians “one Lord, one faith, one baptism."
Having established, in his own mind, the great principle of the freedom and spirituality of the church, and on this ground rejected the alliance of Church and State, Mr. Noel, in the prosecution of his inquiries, found that he must advance to Baptist sentiments. He perceived clearly that they are taught in the Bible, and are but the necessary development of the positions which he had previously assumed. Hence, as in the case of nearly all who have seceded, on evangelical grounds, from the Established Church of England, he could not be satisfied till he had himself obeyed the command of Christ, by accepting immersion in the name of the Trinity.
During his ministry among the Episcopalians he had taken the propriety of infant baptism for granted. Indeed, “an indefinite fear of the conclusions to which he might come,” led him to avoid the study of the question,-a condition of mind similar to that of thousands. But on seceding from “ the Establishment,” he felt himself compelled to take it up ab initio. This he was enabled to do, in a calm, prayerful, candid manner. He examined, as he informs us in his preface, each passage of Scripture upon the subject which came in his way, and the evidence thus furnished convinced him that “repentance and faith ought to precede baptism.” This course, some may say, was unphilosophical ; for infant baptism has a basis in the nature of things, in the very constitution of man, and the design of the family organization,“ prepared as a mould ” to receive the child and bring it into relation and fellowship with God! But we submit, whether it was not eminently Scriptural, and as to the philosophy of the thing, that will depend upon the practical result of the whole. It is a poor way to come to the investigation of the Scriptures upon any point, with a preformed theory or notion, even if it be a philosophical one, and attempt to find what God never put there. Mr. Noel has great reverence for the teachings of the Word, and prefers evidently to submit his mind, unbiased, to its sacred guidance.
“ The reasons,” he adds in his preface, “ assigned by the Anglican Catechism, why an infant should be baptized without repentance and faith, are very unsatisfactory. As soon then as I had settled my mind upon the union of the churches with the State, I turned my attention to this question.
To prevent any undue bias from “ such a partial, one-sided investigation,” as some are conscious of making themselves, and thence uniformly suspect in others, Mr. Noel resolved to confine his inquiries to the Scriptures and the writings of those who defend infant baptism. “ Not having read a single Baptist work or tract,” he tells us with candor, “I publish the following work as an independent testimony to the exclusive right of believers to Christian baptism."
In this feature consists the principal value of the work. We have met with more critical discussions of the subject by Baptist writers, but none more clear, more candid and convincing. Mr. Noel doubtless would have enriched his volume by a perusal of Baptist writers, and especially by extending his inquiries among the German critics, with whom he does not seem familiar; perhaps also he might have corrected, by this means, some slight mistakes, in the interpretation of particular passages of Scripture, into which he has inadvertently