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We shall conclude this Number with a few remarks which bear especially on the two preceding subjects, and give illustration to their character.
We more than suspect that the primitive fathers gave too much encouragement to the notion, (and we are sure, that some of the moderns do,) that baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation, or, at least, generally connected with it. They did not distinguish with sufficient clearness the true spiritual church of Christ from its visible and professing members. But these are by no means identical. The visible church is said, in the nineteenth article, to be “a congregation of faithful men.” This is the true church, and the description is peculiar to it, though it be called visible. But in the twenty-sixth article it is said, the visible church has “ evil ever mingled with the good." These two should not be confounded. They are not the same. The visible church contains many of these holy persons, but not all of them. They all derive their doctrines from the visible church ; but they are not all necessarily in it, though they ought to be, generally speaking; and they will be in it when within their reach.
Baptism distinguishes the visible church,
Holiness distinguishes the true saints, though not always visible to us.
We will illustrate this matter by a few examples.-In Christ's family of twelve apostles, we find the visible church. But only eleven of these were its true members. One was “a devil,” though a professor and in the visible body. The apostles gathered a visible church, and thousands were made its members by baptism. But Simon Magus, Ananias, and Sapphira, were not its true spiritual members. And yet this church did not contain all the truly pious in Judea and its neighbourhood. For Cornelius was a truly holy man before he was baptised, and thus became a member of the visible church. prayers and alms” were testimonies, and God approved them. And our Lord announced Zaccheus a true son of Abraham, that is, a true child of God, before he was baptised. Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” are the real and only necessary requisites for an introduction into the spiritual acceptance of Christ. But still that faith, which divorces the soul from sin, and brings it into a saving union with Christ, being
always ready for every good work, will ever most readily embrace the first opportunity to become an open member of the visible church of God.
Every member of the visible church professes at his baptism “ faith and repentance,” in order that he
be baptised : and these are required by baptism. Every one therefore before he can be properly admitted to baptism, professes to be a true member of Christ Jesus, that is, a true believer in him. Though many that are baptised are not what they profess to be; yet, having been admitted on their profession, they are considered and treated as truly spiritual and faithful.
Hence then it is obvious, that every person, possessing “ faith and repentance,” who is admitted into the visible church, is actually a spiritual member of Christ's mystical body, before he is admitted into the visible church by baptism. But it is quite necessary for the purposes of the Gospel, that Christ should have a visible church established in the world : and as he has appointed a rite, introductory to it, it has become a matter of general necessity, that every true believer should enter into it by this door. His true members, therefore, are chiefly found in this visible church; it being the keeper of the book of God,—the pillar and ground of the truth,—the general medium of salvation to a sinful world,--the great source of spiritual instruction and edification. Hence then, though Cornelius, from his eminent devotion and fear of God, must needs have been accepted by him, when his “ alms went up for a memorial," yet this did not make it unnecessary nor inconsistent for him to hear from Peter's mouth, “words whereby he and his house should be saved." Though he was spiritually in a state of regeneration and salvation before, yet to be visibly planted in the true vine, is suitably called salvation. And we conceive that some such considerations as these, led the early Christian Fathers, at the first, to designate baptism Salvation; because saving doctrines were then openly and professedly embraced. Though the indistinctness of their ideas very soon drew them into an incautious and ambiguous mode of speaking upon the subject: and thus they afforded our modern writers a pretension for teaching destructive errors.
The truth and reality of this distinction between the
prayers and true and visible members of Christ, cannot scripturally be denied. Repentance and faith admit into the one community; and baptism, with a profession of these two prerequisites, admits into the other. The real kingdom of God consists of men “ born of water and of the Spirit.”
The early Christian Fathers, however, though they did not wholly deny the distinction, yet made so little of it, and spoke so fervidly of the introduction into the visible church, that many of our modern divines have been led by their representations to deny this essential distinction altogether. One reason why the Fathers spoke in such ambiguous language, was their peculiar situation. The Christian church was young; the nations were grossly idolatrous and lying in wickedness; the glory and mercies of the church of Christ appeared infinitely great ; there were strong temptations therefore for persons under conviction of the truth and necessity of believing the Christian religion, to conceal their belief and defer their baptism ;-these and many other things concurred in making the Fathers so warm and so peremptory on the subject of visible communion, that they scarcely could admit the possibility of salvation without baptism.
It must therefore be allowed that the Fathers had strong ground for insisting on the necessity of baptism to salvation, though they appear to have been over-rigorous in this respect. But a much greater evil has been very unfairly drawn out of the language with which they described the efficacy of baptism. The baptised--the regenerate—the saved, have modernly become nearly synonymous phrases, and things of almost equal import. By this awful error the visible church is made the sole church of Christ; and every member admitted into it by baptism is viewed, of course, as nearly alike, regenerate and saved. The soft and tardy exceptions made to this sweeping assumption become nearly evanescent amidst a crowd of unconditional attestations.
It is true that the visible church cannot in practice allow the sanction of her authority, and the pronunciation of her blessing, to persons who do not by baptism enter her communion. Still it could never be wholly overlooked by the early church, that many spiritually minded catechumens, and others who never were of their order, must have been truly in union with Christ by faith, before they were baptised. Nor could it escape any really discerning person, that those who came to baptism, (as all were required to do,) not only professing, but also possessing faith and repentance, must have been in a safe state for heaven before their baptism : though that admission could not be made till after it, nor at all to those who declined baptism. But it scarcely appears that the Fathers withheld the admission only of regeneration and salvation from persons having faith and repentance without baptism; they withheld regeneration and salvation itself. And they appear to have considered baptism as a part of regeneration, or as necessarily productive of it. So that faith and repentance were not themselves viewed as the new birth, but faith, repentance, and baptism.
Our church does not pronounce persons to be regenerate before, but after they are baptised. Yet she most decidedly considers the first beginning of salvation to consist in repentance and faith : and she clearly withholds all admission of spiritual regeneration from all unholy members of the professing body
The primitive baptism, according to Christ's constitution, signed, sealed, testified, and represented the coming from Satan's kingdom into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Darkness and death occupied their former state and habitation ; but now light, holiness, and salvation. The visible turning point in this glorious transition, was baptism. All their blessings therefore were viewed as included in this ordinance; and every thing was figuratively ascribed unto it. It was therefore garnished, as we saw in our second Tract, with all the names and titles used in the New Testament to designate and describe the character, the security, and the privileges of God's children, even as far as salvation itself. And, indeed, when we consider that their light was heavenly, their joy divine, their holiness pure, and their prospect assured salvation and eternal glory,—and that they justly looked upon their baptism as the pledge of their spiritual marriage, as the token of their union with Christ, as the seal of their salvation, and the key to the kingdom of heaven,-when we consider all these circumstances, we may well forgive them for using, in this connexion, “fervid words," as Professor Pasey calls them, and for er. pressing “ thooghts that burn." Truly were persons in such a situation to “hold their peace,” we might almost say, “ the stones would cry oat.”
In order to understand more accurately the language of the Fathers, and more correctly to comprehend the nature, importance, and efficacy, as well as the general necessity of baptism, as appointed by our Lord, and practised in the primitive church, we will introduce a modern illustration of a baptism of exactly the same description as those of early times. We who are brought up under the visible banners of divine protection, and who have the cloud of the Almighty's presence continually over our tabernacle, can appreciate but very imperfectly the fearful distance and awful state of the heathens, while “ without hope and without God in the world :" nor can we fully enter into their peace and joy when suddenly “ called out of darkness into marvellous light.” But let us look at Gentile baptisms in India now, and we shall easily perceive how the ancient Fathers were led into the habit of speaking of baptism as regeneration, without supposing them to have mistaken or misunderstood the real difference between them; though mistakes on this important subject had very soon become the offspring of their incautious language.
When persons like ourselves see baptism daily administered without perceiving any visible effects flowing from it, they are extremely liable to undervalue baptism, and lose sight of its character as originally intended.* Now let us view a recent baptism under circumstances of a more primitive nature; and this will carry us back to the apostles' “ washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”-Respecting the public baptism of a Musselman, at Gurrackpore, the Rev. Mr. Wilkinson writes
“I hope he was baptised from above with the Holy
* We have the impression on our minds, that the late celebrated Robert Hall considered that baptism in certain cases might be dispensed with altogether, inasmuch as God's covenant blessings may be considered as virtually ratified and enjoyed in the constant attendance on Christian ordinances and open profession of the Christian name, without the visible symbol of Christ's church being received. Though we cannot think on this point with the renowned author of this opinion, it yet enables us to perceive how circumstances and situations may change men's views of the efficacy and importance of positive insti. tutions.