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BAPTISM, as used by our church, involves or implies a spiritual covenant or mutual stipulation between God and the persons baptised. Its blessings, therefore, must necessarily be hypothetical.
From our previous discussion we derived this conclusion,--that the sacrament, and the heart required by it, are not always united, and that the ordinance may be received without any beneficial effect; and therefore that baptism is not regeneration, nor necessarily connected with it. Though the requirements and promises of the covenant, as we have seen, always implied and supposed a regenerate state of soul and mind in Abraham and his seed, yet it did not always meet, in fact, with that state of mind : for it was often wanting, not only before, but also after the sacrament was administered. But we do not, as God does not, speak of the sacraments as they are too often received by men, but as they were and are intended and appointed to be received by him who has prescribed them. In this view then we may say, that baptism is the introduction into the Christian covenant.
This notion of baptism seems to be admitted on all hands, however persons may differ in their ideas respecting its efficacy and importance. The church of England clearly views it in this light. We shall now consider the nature and requirements, the form and the working of this I. Baptism viewed as a covenant.
It evidently bears this character in our church. In our articles and formularies we may very distinctly perceive all the characteristics of a covenant. We have
Baptism as the “ instrument," -
The proceeding throughout bearing the character of a covenant,-and
Suitable admonitions grounded on the faith of it.
1. The instrument.
Baptism is a sign and seal of a public engagement. This is the doctrine of the 27th Article :-“Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened; but it is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby as b, an instrument they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the church; the promise of forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.” The same view is given in the 25th Article :“ Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession : but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him.' The sacraments were not ordained,—but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation : but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as St. Paul saith." And in the 26th Article, we have these words :-“ Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their (ministers) wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such, as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered into them ; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.”
On the above extracts we may observe, that sacraments
Tokens of Christian men's profession,
Means by which he worketh invisibly in us; and that baptism is
A sign of profession and of regeneration,
A signature of God's promises of adoption and pardon,
An instrument by which we are ingrafted into the church,
2. The parties,-God and the candidate.
All the baptismal offices, and the office for confirmation, appear to hold forth the same view of baptism, that is, as the door of entrance into the covenant of grace : at least, they contain all the essential requisites of a covenant admission. For though the office of “ private baptism” may seem to form an exception, inasmuch as it pronounces baptism to be valid and efficacious, although it be administered without the usually required sponsors, yet we can scarcely view it as any exception to the general requisites implied in the covenant. It may be true, that the Second Charles's “commissioners," who introduced the admission of regeneration without express sponsion, went farther in their own private judgments, than the church before their time authorised, yet we are still inclined to think that it may be fairly reduced to the same thing
It is, in the first place, only viewed as a matter which “ need shall compel" the parents to, under the apprehension of the child's danger ;--secondly, the needful engagement for the child seems to be implied, as Hooker supposes, on the part of those who desire to have it thus privately baptised. Otherwise, as Bishop Burnet remarks, in allusion to the earliest custom, it may be doubted whether it be a legitimate baptism ;-and, thirdly, this presumption of sponsion seems to be acted upon on the part of the church ; because, should the child live, it is to be brought into the congregation, where the usual requirements are afforded on the child's behalf. It must still be admitted that the declaration,--that “the congre
gation may be certified of the true form of baptism by him privately before used,”-seems not to look towards the engagements, but the “form" of baptism. Nevertheless, as the exception at most appears in fairness to apply only to infants dying in their infancy, we can have no wish to dispute the assumed efficacy of baptism, so far as they are concerned. Only we must protest against the exception being drawn in as the rule for other cases not analogous.
This being premised, we would observe respecting the parties, that the offices suppose and assert, that the Almighty God and the unbaptised and unregenerate person, have been at enmity, and are now about to become friends. And the church and her ministers are hereby exhibited as the friends of both, to negociate and effect a public reconciliation. God is addressed and prayed to as ever ready, and willing to embrace “ in the arms of his mercy" all that with true repentance and faith come unto him. And the candidate is treated as a person fully aware of the evil and corruption of his nature, and of the divine displeasure under which he lives while in a state of nature; and as one earnestly desirous of becoming the friend of God, and of being admitted into his holy church as an openly professed disciple.
3. The church.
"The visible church of Christ," says the 19th Article, " is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."
Here we have the church of Christ “a congregation of faithful men.” This church is “ the pillar and ground of the truth,” or the conservator of God's pure word, which it faithfully preaches to the world, and it administers the sacraments by his authority and in his name to those who desire to become its members.
4. The process.
“ Chosen witnesses" are present to testify the solemn vow, promise and profession, which the persons baptised now make with God, before the congregation, assembled to behold this important transaction the transaction of an immortal soul surrendering itself up to the divine Saviour, by " an everlasting covenant” which is never to be