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AS ESTABLISHED BY THE CONSENT OF THE ANCIENT CHURCH, AND
CONTRASTED WITH THE SYSTEMS OF MODERN SCHOOLS.
What-sparkles in that lucid food
Is water, by gross mortals ey'd :
CHRISTIAN Year. Holy Baptism.
Every pious and well instructed member of our Church will in the abstract acknowledge, that in examining whether any doctrine be a portion of revealed truth, the one subject of inquiry must be, whether it be contained in Holy Scripture; and that in this investigation, while, in proportion to the fulness of the evidence, he defers to the interpretations handed down to us through the early Church, so also must he lay aside all reference to the supposed influence of such doctrine, the supposed religious character of those who held it at any given time, and the like.
Any right-minded person, I say, will readily acknowledge this in the abstract ; for to judge of doctrines by their supposed influence upon men's hearts, would imply that we know much more of our own nature, and what is necessary or conducive to
VOL. II. P. 11.-NO. 67.
its restoration, than we do: it would be like setting about to heal ourselves, instead of receiving with implicit faith and confidence whatever the Great Physician of our souls has provided for us. The real state of the case is indeed just the contrary of what this habit would imply. We can, in truth, know little or nothing of the efficacy of any doctrine but what we have ourselves believed and experienced. Even in matters of our own experience we may easily deceive ourselves, and ascribe our spiritual progress exclusively to the reception of the one or the other truth, whereas it has depended upon a number of combining causes which God has ordered for our good, upon a great variety of means by which God has been drawing us to Himself, whereof we have seized upon one or two of the principal only. In other cases we may be altogether mistaken. Thus, to take a published instance ; a person now living has said of himself that “ he had "read himself into infidelity, so he was enabled to read himself “ out of it.” As if mere diligent study could restore any one who had fallen from the faith! Whereas, without considering what circumstances, beside the reading of infidel books, led him to infidelity, or what commencing unsoundness led him to follow up the reading of infidel books, on which he was not competent to judge ;-the very fact of reading at one time infidel, at another Christian, writings, implies that the frame of mind was different at each time; so that by his own account, other causes must have combined both to his fall, and his restoration. Again, he himself incidentally shows that, though a sceptic, he still continued to exercise considerable self-denial, for the welfare of others : so that among the instruments of his restored faith, may have been one which he omitted, that his benevolence, like that of Cornelius, and the prayers of those, whom he benefited, went up as a memorial before God'. But if we can be mistaken, even as to the influence of what we have tried, much more assuredly must we, in spiritual matters, be in ignorance of what we have not tried. We may have some intimation with
1 Knox's Correspondence, t. ii. p. 586, 7. “ It has often struck me that
probably this good man was rewarded for his fraternal piety by his providen“ tial conversion to Christianity."
EFFECT OF DIVINE TRUTH,
regard to such questions, whether of doctrine or of practice, from the experience of good men ; but so far from being judges about them, it will often happen that precisely what we are most inclined to disparage, will be that which is most needful for us. For, since all religious truth or practice is a corrective or purifier of our natural tendencies, we shall generally be in ignorance beforehand, what will so correct or purify them. Our own palate is disordered, our own eye dimmed: until God then has restored, by His means, our spiritual taste, or our spiritual rision, we should select for ourselves very blindly or undistinguishingly. In matter of fact, the Christian creed has been repeatedly pared down, as every one knows, in consequence of men's expunging beforehand, what they thought prejudicial to the effect of the other portions of Scripture truth. Thus, early Heretics objected to the truth of the human nature of Christ: against the Reformers it was urged, that the doctrine of " justification by “faith only” was opposed to sanctification and holiness : Luther (although he afterwards repented,) excepted against God's teaching by St. James, and called his Epistle an “ Epistle of straw :" fanatics of all ages have rejected the use of both Sacraments : stated or premeditated prayer has been regarded as mere formality, and the like. And in these or similar cases, when at a distance, we can readily see how some wrong tendency of mind suggested all these objections, and how the very truth or practice objected to, would have furnished the antidote which the case needed. We can see, e. g. how stated or fixed prayer would have disciplined the mind, how a form would have tended to make the subjects of prayer more complete: for we ourselves have felt, how, by the prayers which the Church has put into our mouths, we have been taught to pray for blessings, our need of which we might not have perceived, or which we might have thought it presumption to pray for. And this is a sort of witness placed in our hands, to testify to us, how in other cases also we ought with thankful deference to endeavour to incorporate into the frame of our own minds each portion of the system which God has ordained for us, not daring to call any thing of little moment, which He has allowed to enter into it; much less presuming to “call that common, which God bath cleansed," or to imagine that, because we cannot see its effects, or should think it likely to be injurious, it may not be both healthful and essential.
The doctrine, then, of Baptismal Regeneration (rightly understood) may have a very important station in God's scheme of salvation, although many of us may not understand its relation to the rest of that dispensation, and those who do not believe it, cannot understand it. For this is the method of God's teaching throughout; “ first believe and then you shall understand '." And this may be said, in Christian warning, against those hard words, in which Christians sometimes allow themselves; as, "the deadening doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration ;" language which can only serve to darken the truth to those who use it, and which is by so much the more dangerous, since all Christians believe that Regeneration sometimes accompanies Baptism. Since also Baptismal Regeneration was the doctrine of the Universal Church of Christ in its holiest ages, and our own Reformers (to whom, on other points, men are wont to appeal as having been highly gifted with God's Holy Spirit) retained this doctrine, it would seem to require but little modesty in a private Christian, not to feel so confident in his own judgment, as to denounce, in terms so unmeasured, what may after all be the teaching of God; “lest haply he be found to fight against God."
Others again, holding rightly the necessity of Regeneration for every one descended of Adam, would strongly set forth this necessity; but whether God have ordinarily annexed this gift to Baptism, this they would have passed over as a difficult or curious question. They bid men to examine themselves whether they have the fruits of regeneration ; if not, to pray that they be regenerate. “ This absolute necessity of regeneration,” they say, “ is
I“We are not therefore ashamed of the Gospel of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, “ because miscreants in scorn have upbraided us, that the highest point of our “ wisdom is, Believe. That which is true, and neither can be discerned by “sense nor concluded by mere natural principles, must have principles of “ revealed truth whereupon to build itself, and an habit of faith in us, where" with principles of that kind are apprehended.”—Hooker, 1. v. $ 63.
AND UNESSENTIAL TRUTHS OF THE GOSPEL.
" the cardinal point; this is what we practically want for rousing
men to the sense of their danger, and for the saving of their souls: what privileges may have been bestowed upon them in • Baptism, or, in a happier state of the Christian Church, might “not only be then universally bestowed, but be realized in life, " is of lesser moment : regeneration, and the necessity thereof, is “the kernel; these and other questions about outward ordinances, " are but the husk only : regeneration and justification by faith " only' are the key-stones of the whole fabric." I would, by the way, protest against such illustrations, whereby men, too commonly, embolden themselves to call any portion of God's institution for our salvation,“ husk," or shell," or the like : let it seem to us never so external, it can in no stage of the Christian course be dispensed with, which these similitudes would imply. Rather, if we use any image, we might better speak of the whole Gospel as an elixir of immortality, whereof sone ingredients may be more powerful than the rest, but the efficacy of the whole depends upon the attemperament of the several portions; and we, who formed neither our own souls, nor this cure for them, dare not speak slightingly of the necessity of any portion. Doubtless there are truths, which in one sense (comparatively speaking) may be called the great truths of Christianity, as embodying in them a larger portion of the counsel of God, and exhibiting more fully His attributes of holiness and love. Better perhaps, and more Scripturally might we speak of the truth,-the Gospel itself; yet there is no evil in that other expression, if intended solely as the language of thankfulness for the great instances of His mercy therein conveyed. If used, on the other hand, I will not say disparagingly, but-as in any way conveying an impression that other doctrines are not in their place essential, or that we can assign to each truth its class or place in the Divine economy, or weigh its value, or measure its importance, then are we again forgetting our own relation to God, and from the corner of His world in which we are placed, would fain judge of the order and correspondencies and harmonies of things, which can only be seen or judged of, from the centre, which is God Himself. We cannot, without great danger, speak