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such a question as the following, and not to such an unfair one as we have just noticed :
“ Are we to esteem a baptised person to be truly regenerate, till, by a sound conversion, we behold this life of faith in him ?
To say in answer, that “he is regenerate in the judgment of faith and charity," and that we are earnestly to believe that he is “ a child of God by promise,” may do in the celebration of ordinances, because of the impossibility of adopting any other mode of proceeding : but, will this be sufficient or suitable, when we come to the personal application of the blessings claimed ? We believe not. The very hinge of the question seems to be this,in the admission of members the church must be content with the profession ; but if any one claims the spiritual privileges and blessings attached to real membership, we must of necessity insist upon character. Spiritual blessings do not properly belong to profession, but to character. If, then, we even allow baptised persons, who have no Christian evidence of a renewed heart to assume, in virtue of their baptism, that its spiritual blessings belong to them, what is it that we do? We help forward their deception, we shield their consciences from conviction, and to no small extent we contribute to their undoing. If it be replied, that we only allow this “ in the judgment of charity," and say only, that he is “a child of God by promise;" then we must ask, what do these expressions mean? In this connexion they can have no meaning whatever, being wholly misapplied. In the application of spiritual blessings to individuals, what has the judgment of charity to do? What is required here is judgment according to truth. It must be an award according to the truth and facts of the individual case.
If the same characters were to come before us as came before Christ, and claim their relationship to Abraham, or to Christ by baptism, should we be justified in speaking to them about the judgment of charity, and of our belief, that they were the children of God by promise, when their character evidenced them to be of their “ father, the Devil ?” Surely not.
To exhibit this subject more plainly, we may use the logical terms, ABSTRACT and concrete.
The first we may apply to the church, when she administers her ordinances, in which administration the profession is accepted as evidence of the intention of the heart, and of the incipient formation of a gracious character. To this transaction “the judgment of faith and charity" duly applies : we give the professor credit, and thus hypothetically acknowledge and treat him as a child of God.
But now this person having been admitted among the people of God, by the solemn pledge of “ repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” must be dealt with in a different way: the transaction now passes into the concrete, where nothing can be allowed but character, for character is always supposed to be attached to the profession made. If a person asks, “ What doth hinder me to be baptised ? and what doth hinder me to go to heaven ?” the answer will be the same in both cases: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” He replies, “ I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” On this profession we baptise him, and were he to die in the very act of being baptised, we should have the same hope of his salvation as we have of the sincerity of his faith.
But if he should live, grow up to maturity, and live, like a vast mass of professing
Christians, in the sinful indulgences both of flesh and spirit, are we to allow him to consider himself a regenerate character, and are we to deal with him as such? And yet, according to the notion of this writer, we see not how this can be avoided. There seems to be no remedy for this evil, which
presses hard on both sides, but to resort to the HYPOTHETICAL character of regeneration in baptism. “ The judgment of charity,” itself is in reality hypothetical : it is in fact the very thing itself. For what does charity, in this case refer to? Doubtless to the profession made, to the repentance and faith pledged by the candidate; or, in other words, to the existence of that spirituality of principle which is always included in true faith in Christ Jesus. As such the church receives him, and accordingly pronounces, that he is numbered among the children of God and heirs of salvation. But suppose, this baptised person were to show afterwards such anti-christian spirit as Simon Magus did, we should, in such case, instantly perceive that our hypothesis was erroneous, that our charity was misplaced, and the pronunciation of our Christian benedictions misapplied, that in fact, they do not belong to such a character : he has “neither part nor
lot in the matter,”-that he is no child of God, no member of Christ, and is not an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. If it be asserted, that even such a person as Simon Magus, having been baptised, must be viewed and treated as a child of God by promise," so long as he remains a professed member of Christ's church : to this we reply, that we are not now speaking of excommunication, but of the truth of his regeneration, that is, whether his self-deceived profession, as it now appears to be, was really attended by true spiritual regeneration. We are now supposing ourselves to be standing as ambassadors for Christ; and in such a situation we must deal with men according to their character. We must judge charitably, indeed ; but if our charity does not turn upon character, but on assumed privileges, in right of baptism, we betray our trust and contribute to the ruin of men's souls.
A stand, therefore, ought to be made, we are convinced, against such a system; as the mischief that it is calculated to do is tremendous. Men are aided (however, the design may be otherwise) in their delusion! An idea, awful beyond measure ! Human nature itself leads to the deception. It is fond of it. And every mode of instruction, which opens a way to spiritual privileges, without a Christian character in the claimant, is resorted to as an opiate
a balm, which will not break his heart, but compose his fears and feelings, and induce him to trust, even withott evidence, that all is well.
But if we duly regard the hypothetical character of baptismal regeneration and baptismal privileges, and endeavour to manage this matter wisely, we shall find that we are not in "bondage " in this case, as it respects our instruction and addresses to our people. BAPTISM ITSELF demands and implicitly enforces the necessity of a Christian character. It is all spiritual character throughout the service. But if so, it must be character, then and there PROFESSED, which is all that can be proceeded upon ; and on this account, it becomes supposed or hypothetical. But is not character in this view every thing in baptism? What is “ that repentance whereby we forsake sin, and faith, whereby we steadfastly believe the promises of God made to us in that sacrament ?” Do we not find here the root and foundation of all holiness and Christian charàcter ? And what is that “godly and Christian life,”
which is insisted upon ? Is not this character ? And if it was not engaged and promised, could the baptised be pronounced regenerate ?" By no means; and when itis not exibited, can such be viewed as regenerate ? If the evidence of regeneration fails, how can regeneration itself be considered as having taken place ?
We are not bound, therefore, by our church, to go one step farther than fact and Christian character will conduct
Nay, if we would show ourselves honest and faithful sons, we are bound not to go farther. Our church, as we have seen, pronounces all her blessings upon a profession of faith and practice, which she supposes to be real ; yea, upon a pledge and prospect of character. Had this pledge and prospect been withheld, she could not, she would not have pronounced her blessings. Hence then arises an argument, which seems to be irresistible,—That as she HERSELF Acts, so she expects and requires all her sons to act. And as she suspends her blessings on CHAkACter, her faithful ministers must do the same. They must not, they ought not, they are bound not, to buoy men up with hopes and expectations which their church does not warrant. The baptised lay before the church their testimonials of character; and by these they gain admission among her sons, and are called by their name, saints of God. But it is the minister's duty and office to examine their future conduct, and to probe their character. If he finds a defect of character, a want of what has been promised and professed, he is bound by his office to withhold the blessings promised, until he sees some evidence of the character to which the promises were hypothetically made. The promise from the first was attached to character, made up of “repentance, faith,” and “a holy life;" and a lack of character is a lack of blessings : -if no character, no promise,—they stand or fall together.
It does not, indeed, belong to a private minister, by his own authority alone, to excommunicate, or to do many other things respecting the discipline of the church : but that minister, who allows persons to assume and appropriate to themselves the privileges of true Christians, without affording evidence of a Christian spirit and conduct, violates the principles, neutralizes the intentions, and well nigh razes the very foundation of his own church. He evidently handles the word of God deceitfully, and acts unfaithfully to the church and to the souls committed to his charge, by suffering them to build their hopes on a false foundation; for it is surely a false ground that people build upon, when they attach blessings to profession and not to character. 'What a monstrous thing it would have been in Peter, had he said to Simon Magus, “you have been baptised, and you are therefore become, in the view of the church, a regenerate person, a child of God. by promise,' however improper your present temper and spirit may be !” But, instead of doing this, Peter instantly denounced his hypocrisy, and withheld the hypothetically promised blessings - Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter.” And why? His character was rotten,_" Thine heart is not right in the sight of God.” The “heart” then, we see was demanded: it was expected, required, and pledged; but being found absent Peter told him at once, that a curse, and not a blessing, rested on him.
A variety of opinions will, of course, be held by ministers, as to what constitutes a satisfactory evidence with respect to character. But though a difference here be unavoidable, it is yet very necessary to be aware, and to be convinced of this,-that he who preaches peace to vicious or worldly persons, on the footing of their “ baptismal privileges," forsakes the very first principle on which his own church is built. These privileges were awarded to them at their baptism, not absolutely, but conditionally; on the condition of faith, repentance, and a holy life. If, then, the condition on which the whole was at first suspended, be subsequently found wanting, all is wanting. Since, then, the church unites her admission of regeneration in baptism, with professed repentance, faith and holiness, we act the part of traitors, and not of faithful administrators of her duties, when we sever these two things, which she has united. But if it be said, Since hypocrites and worldlings profess a holy religion, though they do not practice it, are we not to allow them still to be holy and regenerate, and so to call them? We answer, certainly not. The church did not admit them as hypocrites, nor as worldlings, but as. penitent and believing persons, resolving to lead a godly life: and as such, and as such only, she acknowledges them. If, therefore, we allow men to assume privileges under a false character, we entirely depart from and subvert the