In administering the rite of circumcision, it was customary to give a name to the child. This is evident from the circumstances attending the circumcision of John the Baptist, as related in the gospel according to Luke 1:59-64; and also those attending the circumcision of our blessed Saviour, as found recorded in the next chapter of the same gospel. The same practice probably existed, from the earliest period of the New Testament church, in the administration of baptism. It makes, however, no necessary, or even important part of the rite. A baptism administered without a name, would, of course, be just as valid as if one were announced; and there is nothing in the essential nature of the case, which would forbid a name given to a child in baptism being reconsidered and altered afterwards. Yet, inasmuch as a child, when baptized, is announced to the church as a new member, subject to its maternal watch and care, it ought, in common, for obvious reasons, to be introduced and known under some name, so that each child may be distinguished, and may receive its appropriate treatment. To introduce a nameless member into any society, would be both unreasonable and inconvenient.
Moreover, it is of great consequence, both to civil and religious society, that the birth and baptism of every child be recorded in regular church books. The formation of this record requires, it is evident, the use of a name; and after the name is adopted and recorded in this public register, it is plain that frequent alterations of the name, and tampering, in a corresponding manner, with the public register would lead to endless confusion and mischief. Thus we are conducted, by a very obvious train of reasoning, to the conclusion that the name announced in baptism ought, in general, to be carefully retained, without subtraction or addition. Sometimes, indeed, the civil law requires such registers to be made and preserved, in regard to every birth and baptism. Where this is the case, there is, evidently, an additional reason for adhering strictly to the name announced in baptism, recorded in the appropriate register, and thus brought under oYcial notice, and recorded as the property of the state. See a number of curious questions proposed and resolved, concerning the names imposed in baptism, in the Polilicæ Ecclesiasticæ of the learned Gisbertus Voetius, Tom. 1, pp. 714-24.
This unscriptural and pernicious doctrine is not confined to the Roman Catholics, in whose system it may without impropriety be said to be indigenous; but is also frequently found in the pulpits and manuals of some Protestants, in the midst of whose general principles it ought to be regarded as a poisonous exotic.
I. The doctrine referred to, as held by some Protestants, in its most objectionable form, appears to be this: that the spiritual change which the scriptures designate by the term regeneration, is always attendant upon, and effected by, the rite of baptism, when duly administered; that, on the one hand, every person, infant or adult, who has been baptized by an authorized minister, is a regenerated person; and that, on the other, every person who has not been baptized, however deep or mature his penitence and faith, is still unregenerate. In short, the position is, that the inward grace of regeneration always accompanies the outward sign of baptism; that they are inseparable; that the one cannot exist without the other; that he who has been thus regenerated, if he dies without falling from grace, is certainly saved; that baptism is essential to salvation; and that to call by the name of regeneration any moral change from the love of sin to the love of holiness, which takes place either before or after baptism, is unscriptural and absurd. This, as I understand them, is the doctrine maintained by Bishop Tomline, Bishop Marsh, Bishop Mant, and a number of other writers, of equal conspicuity, in the Church of England, and by not a few divines of the Protestant Episcopal Church in our own country.
This doctrine, I apprehend, is contrary to scripture; contrary to experience; contrary to the declared opinion of the most wise, pious, and venerated divines even of the Episcopal denomination; and adapted to generate the most dangerous errors with regard to Christian character, and the gospel plan of salvation.
1. It is contrary to scripture. Without regeneration, the scriptures declare, it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of heaven. But the penitent malefactor on the cross undoubtedly entered into the kingdom of heaven, if we are to credit our Lord's express declaration (Luke 23:43). Yet this penitent believing malefactor was never baptized: therefore he was regenerated without baptism; and of course, regeneration and baptism are not inseparably connected. Again, Simon Magus received the outward and visible ordinance of baptism, with unquestionable regularity, by an authorized administrator; yet who will venture to say, that he received the "inward and invisible grace" signified and represented in that ordinance? He was evidently from the beginning a hypocrite, and remained, after baptism, as before, "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (Acts 8:13-23). Therefore the outward and sensible sign, and the inward and invisible grace are not in all cases, or necessarily, connected.
Again, it is evident that the apostle Paul, Lydia, the Ethiopian eunuch, the Philippian jailor, etc., "believed with the heart," and were, consequently, brought into a state of acceptance with God before they were baptized; but we are told that as many as believe have been "born of God," and made the " sons of God" (John 1:12-13). Of course, regeneration may take place, in the case of adults, ought to take place, and in these cases, did take place, before baptism; and, consequently, is not the same thing with baptism, or inseparably connected with that rite. Once more: we are assured in scripture, that "he who is born of God, or regenerated, doth not commit sin (that is, deliberately or habitually), for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is "born of God;" and further, that "every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God;" and that "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1). But can it be said that this character belongs to all who are baptized? Or, that none who are unbaptized manifest that they possess it? Surely no one in his senses will venture to make the assertion. Therefore a man may be "born of God" before he is baptized, and, consequently, the administration of the outward ordinance, and that work of the Holy Spirit, called in the word of God regeneration, are not always connected.
2. The doctrine before us is as contrary to experience as it is to scripture. "It is asserted," says an eminent divine of the Church of England, now living "It is asserted, that the spiritual change of heart called regeneration invariably takes place in the precise article of baptism. If this assertion be well founded, the spiritual change in question will invariably take place in every adult at the identical moment when he is baptized: that is to say, at the very instant when the hand of the priest brings his body in contact with the baptismal water; at that precise instant, his understanding begins to be illuminated, his will to be reformed, and his affections to be purified. Hitherto he has walked in darkness; but now, to use the scriptural phrase, he has passed from darkness to light. Hitherto he has been wrapped in a death-like sleep of trespasses and sins; but now he awakes, and rises from the dead, Christ himself giving him life. Hitherto he has been a chaos of vice, and ignorance, and spiritual confusion; the natural man receiving not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: but now he is created after God in righteousness and true holiness; being in Christ he is a 'new creature;' having become spiritual, the things of the Spirit of God are no longer foolishness to him; he knows them because they are spiritually discerned. Such are the emphatic terms in which regeneration is described by the inspired writers. What we have to do, therefore, I apprehend, is forthwith to inquire, whether every baptized adult, without a single exception, is invariably found to declare, that, in the precise article of baptism, his soul experienced a change analogous to that which is so unequivocally set forth in the above mentioned texts of scripture." We need not dwell long on the inquiry. The fact is notoriously not so. Nor does it diminish the difficulty, in admitting the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, to say, as the Arminian advocates of this doctrine invariably do say, that those who are once regenerated may fall from grace, and manifest a most unhallowed temper. This is not the question. The question is, does experience evince that every subject of baptism, who has reached an age capable of manifesting the Christian character, does, at the moment of receiving the baptismal water, show that he is the subject of that regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, by which "old things are passed away, and all things become new" in the Lord (1 Cor. 5:17)? No one who has a particle of intelligence or candour can imagine that any such fact exists; but if it does not, then the doctrine under consideration falls of course.
3. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is contrary to the declared opinion of the most pious, judicious, and venerable Protestant divines, including those of the very highest authority in the Church of England. Nothing can be more certain than that the mass of the English reformers distinctly taught that baptism is a sign only of regeneration, and that the thing signified might or might not accompany the administration of the outward ordinance, according as it was received worthily or otherwise. In support of this assertion, the most explicit quotations might be presented from the writings of those distinguished martyrs and prelates, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and Hooper; and after them from the writings of the eminent bishops, Jewell, Davenant, Hall, Usher, Reynolds, Leighton, Hopkins, Tillotson, Beveridge, Burnet, Secker, and a host of other divines of the English Church, of whose elevated character it would be little less than an insult to any intelligent reader to attempt to offer testimony. All these men declare, in the most solemn manner, against the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, in the sense which we are now considering. Indeed, I cannot call to mind a single writer of that church, from the time of Archbishop Cranmer to the present hour, who had the least claim to the character of an evangelical man, who did not repudiate the doctrine which I am now opposing; and not a few of them denounce it as popish, and adapted to subvert the whole system of vital and spiritual religion.
4. The last argument which I shall urge, against the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, is that it is adapted to generate the most fatal errors with regard to the gospel plan of salvation.
So far as this doctrine is believed, its native tendency is to beget a superstitious and unwarranted reliance on an external ordinance; to lower our estimate of that inward spiritual sanctification which constitutes the essence of the Christian character; in fact, to supersede the necessity of that spiritual change of heart, of which the scriptures speak so much, and for which the most holy and eminent servants of Christ have, in all ages, contended. The truth is, the doctrine now under consideration is the very same in substance, with the doctrine of the opus operatum of the Papists, which all evangelical Protestants have been opposing, for more than three hundred years, as a mischievous delusion. Accordingly, the popish character and fatal tendency of this error have been unreservedly acknowledged by many bishops, and other pious divines of the Church of England, as well as by many of the same denomination in this country.
Further, if regeneration, which is the commencement of holiness in the soul, is always communicated in baptism, then it follows as, indeed, those who entertain this doctrine distinctly avow that baptism invariably places its subject in a state of salvation; so that every baptized person who dies immediately after the administration of this sacrament, is infallibly sure of entering the kingdom of heaven. If this doctrine were fully believed, would not every thinking anxious parent refrain from having his child baptized in infancy, and reserve the ordinance for an hour of extremity, such as the approach of death, that it might serve as an unfailing passport to glory? Would it not be wise in every adult who may be brought to a knowledge of the Saviour, from Paganism, or from the world, to put off his baptism to the last hour of his life, that he might be sure of departing in safety? This is well known to have been one of the actual corruptions of the fourth century, growing out of the very error which I am now opposing. "It was the custom of many," says Dr. Mosheim, "in that century, to put off their baptism till the last hour; that thus immediately after receiving by this rite the remission of their sins, they might ascend pure and spotless to the mansions of life and immortality."
This is no far-fetched or strange conceit. It is the native fruit of the doctrine before us. Nay, if we suppose this pernicious theory to take full possession of the mind, would it not be natural that a tender parent should anxiously desire his child to die immediately after baptism; or even, in a desperate case, to compass its death, as infallibly for its eternal benefit? And, on the same principle, might we not pray for the death of every adult, immediately after he had received baptism, believing that then "to die would certainly be gain (Phil 1:21)?" In fine, I see not if the doctrine be true, that a regenerating and saving efficacy attends every regular baptism I see not how we can avoid the conclusion, that every pagan, whether child or adult, that can be seized by force, and however thoughtless, reluctant or profane, made to submit to the rite of baptism, is thereby infallibly made "a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven?"
These consequences, which appear to me demonstrably to flow from the theory in question, afford sufficient evidence that it is an unscriptural and pernicious error, even if no other means of refutation could be found.
It is not forgotten that language which seems, at first view, to countenance the doctrine which I am opposing, is found in some of the early fathers. Some of them employ terms which would imply, if interpreted literally, that baptism and regeneration were the same thing. But the reason of this is obvious. The Jews were accustomed to call the converts to their religion from the Gentiles little children, and their introduction into the Jewish church, a new birth, because they were brought, as it were, into a new moral world. Accordingly, circumcision is repeatedly called in scripture "the covenant," because it was the sign of the covenant. Afterwards, when baptism, as a Christian ordinance, became identified with the reception of the gospel, the early writers and preachers began to call this ordinance regeneration, and sometimes illumination, because every adult who was baptized, professed to be born of God, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. By a common figure of speech, they called the sign by the name of the thing signified. In the truly primitive times this language was harmless, and well understood; but as superstition increased, it gradually led to mischievous error, and became the parent of complicated and deplorable delusions.
II. But there is another view of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which is sometimes taken, and which, though less pernicious than that which has been examined, is still, I apprehend, fitted to mislead, and, of course, to do essential mischief. It is this: that baptism is that rite which marks and ratifies the introduction of its subject into the visible kingdom of Christ; that in this ordinance the baptized person is brought into a new state or relation to Christ, and his sacred family; and that this new state or relation is designated in the scripture by the term regeneration, being intended to express an ecclesiastical birth, that is, being "born" into the visible kingdom of the Redeemer. Those who entertain this opinion do not deny that there is a great moral change, wrought by the Spirit of God, which must pass upon every one, before he can be in a state of salvation. This they call conversion, renovation, etc.; but they tell us that the term "regeneration" ought not to be applied to this spiritual change; that it ought to be confined to that change of state and of relation to the visible kingdom of Christ which is constituted by baptism; so that a person, according to them, may be regenerated, that is, regularly introduced into the visible church, without being really born of the Spirit. This theory, though by no means so fatal in its tendency as the preceding, still appears to me liable to the following serious objections.
1. It makes an unauthorized use of an important theological term. It is vain to say, that, after giving fair notice of the sense in which we use a term, no misapprehension or harm can result from the constant use of it in that sense. The plea is insufficient. If the sense in question be an unusual and especially an unscriptural one, no one can estimate the mischief which may result from the use of it in that sense. Names are so closely connected with things, that it is of the utmost importance to preserve the nomenclature of theology from perversion and abuse. If the sense of the word "regeneration" which is embraced in this theory, were now by common consent admitted, it would give an entirely new aspect to all those passages of scripture in which either regeneration or baptism is mentioned, making some of them unmeaning, and others ridiculous; and render unintelligible, and in a great measure useless, if not delusive, nine-tenths of the best works on the subject of practical religion that have ever been written.
2. But there is a more serious objection. If men be told that every one who is baptized, is thereby regenerated "born of God," "born of the Spirit," made a "new creature in Christ" will not the mass of mankind, in spite of every precaution and explanation that can be employed, be likely to mistake on a fundamental point; to imagine that the disease of our nature is trivial, and that a trivial remedy for it will answer; to lay more stress than they ought upon an external rite; and to make a much lower estimate than they ought of the nature and necessity of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord?
After all, however, although the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, in the first and most objectionable sense, is known to be rejected by all the truly evangelical divines of the Church of England, and by the same class in the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country; yet it cannot be denied that something, to say the least, very like this doctrine is embodied in the baptismal service of that denomination on both sides of the Atlantic. The following specimens of its language will at once illustrate and confirm my meaning:
"Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ's church let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits, and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning." And again: "We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to, regenerate this infant by thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy church,'' etc. The same language is also repeated in the baptismal service for "those of riper years." They are represented as being "regenerated," as being "born again," and "made heirs of salvation," and as having "put on Christ."
This language is differently interpreted, by the Episcopal ministers who employ it, according to the opinion which they adopt with regard to baptism. Those who coincide in opinion with Bishop Mant, and others of similar sentiments, make no scruple of avowing, that these expressions literally import, what they fully believe, that every one who is duly baptized is, in and by that rite, born of the Spirit, and brought into a state of grace and salvation. A second class of interpreters, however, consider this language of the liturgy as merely importing that the person baptized is brought into a new state, or a new relation to the visible church. While a third class, although they acknowledge that the language before us, literally interpreted, does certainly express more than a mere visible relation, even the participation of truly spiritual and saving blessings; yet say, that they can conscientiously employ it, because a liturgy intended for general use, ought to be, and must be, constructed upon the principle, that those who come to receive its offices are all to be considered as sincere, and as having a right, in the sight of God, to the ordinance for which they apply! And thus it happens, that those who reject as popish and delusive the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, as taught by Mant, and those who concur with him, feel no difficulty in publicly and solemnly repeating this language, every time they administer the ordinance of baptism.
It is not for one of another communion to interpose between the consciences of Episcopal ministers, and the import of their public formularies. In fidelity to my own principles, however, and as a warning to those of my own church who may be assailed by the proselytizing efforts of some of this denomination, I may be permitted to say, that if I believed with Bishop Mant, and his associates in sentiment, the language of the baptismal service would be entirely to my taste; but if not, I could not, on any account, conscientiously employ it. It would not satisfy me to be told, that the language of one of the Thirty-Nine Articles, and some of the language found in the Book of Homilies, bears a different aspect. This is, no doubt, true. Still this does not remove or alter the language of the baptismal service. There it stands, a distress and a snare to thousands of good men, who acknowledge that they could wish it otherwise but dare not modify it in the smallest jot or tittle. Had I no other objection to ministering in the Church of England, or in the corresponding denomination in this country, this part of the liturgy would alone be an insurmountable one. I could not consent continually to employ language which, however explained or counteracted, is so directly adapted to deceive in a most vital point of practical religion. I could not allow myself to sanction by adoption and use, language which, however explained and counteracted in my own ministry, I knew to be presented and urged by many around me in its literal import, and declared to be the only true doctrine of the church.
As to the plea that a liturgy must necessarily be constructed upon the principle that all who come to its offices must be presumed to be sincere, and be solemnly assured, in the name of God, that they are so, nothing can be more delusive. Cannot scriptural truth be as plainly stated, and as wisely guarded in a liturgical composition as in any other? Our Methodist brethren have a prescribed form for baptism; and so far as I recollect its language, they have succeeded, without apparent difficulty, in making it at once instructive, solemn, appropriate, and unexceptionable. And I have heard Presbyterian ministers a thousand times tell their hearers, with as much distinctness in administering sacraments, as in ordinary preaching, that "the sacraments become effectual to salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them."
But it may be asked, what kind or degree of efficacy do Presbyterians consider as connected with baptism? Do they suppose that there is any beneficial influence, physical or moral, in all cases, connected with the due administration of this sacrament? I answer, none at all. They suppose that the washing with water in this ordinance is an emblem and a sign of precious benefits; that it holds forth certain great truths, which are the glory of the Christian covenant, and the joy of the Christians's heart; that it is a seal affixed by God to his covenant with his people, whereby he certified his purposes of grace, and pledges his blessing to all who receive it with a living faith; nay, that it is the seal of valuable outward privileges, even to those who are not then, or at any other time, "born of the Spirit;" that, as a solemn rite appointed by Christ, it is adapted to make a solemn impression on the serious mind; but that when it is administered to the persons, or the offspring of those who are entirely destitute of faith, there is no pledge or certainty that it will be accompanied with any blessing. They receive the water, but not the Spirit. They are engrafted into the visible church, but not into the spiritual body of Christ, and are, after baptism, just as they were before,like Simon the Sorcerer, "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (Acts 8:23).
It is well known that the Presbyterian church differs from the Episcopal in regard to the subject announced at the head of this note. We differ in two respects. First, in not requiring or encouraging the appearance of any other sponsors, in the baptism of children, than the parents,when they are living and qualified to present themselves in this character; and secondly, in not requiring, or even admitting, any godfathers or godmothers at all in cases of adult baptism. My object in the remarks which I am about to make on this subject is not to impugn either the principles or practice of our Episcopal brethren; but simply to state, for the instruction of the members of our own church, why we cannot think or act with them in relation to this matter.
It is curious to observe the several steps by which the use of sponsors, as now established in the Romish and some Protestant churches, reached its present form. Within the first five or six hundred years after Christ, there is no evidence that children were ever presented for baptism by any other persons than their parents, provided those parents were living, and were professing Christians. When some persons in the time of Augustine (who flourished toward the close of the fourth, and beginning of the fifth century), contended that it was not lawful, in any case, for any excepting their natural parents to offer children in baptism; that learned and pious father opposed them, and gave it as his opinion that, in extraordinary cases, as, for example, when the parents were dead; when they were not professing Christians; when they cruelly forsook and exposed their offspring; and when masters had young slaves committed to their charge; in these cases (and the pious father mentions no others), he maintains that any professing Christians, who should be willing to undertake the benevolent charge, might with propriety, take these children, offer them in baptism, and become responsible for their Christian education. This, every one will perceive, is in strict conformity with the principles maintained in the foregoing essay, and with the doctrine and habits of the Presbyterian church.
The learned Bingham, an Episcopal divine of great learning, seems to have taken unwearied pains, in his Ecclesiastical Antiquities,to collect every scrap of testimony within his reach, in favour of the early origin of sponsors. But he utterly fails of producing even plausible evidence to that amount; and at length candidly acknowledges that, in the early ages, parents were, in all ordinary cases, the presenters and sureties for their own children; and that children were presented by others only in extraordinary cases, such as those already alluded to. It is true, indeed, that some writers, more sanguine than discriminating, have quoted Dionysius, Tertullian, and Cyril of Alexandria, as affording countenance to the use of sponsors in early times. Not one of those writers, however, has written a sentence which favours the use of any other sponsors than parents, when they were in life, and of a proper character to offer their children for the sacramental seal in question. Even Dionysius, whose language has, at first view, some appearance of favouring such sponsors; yet, when carefully examined, will be found to speak only of sponsors who undertook to train up in the Christian religion some of the children of pagans who were delivered, for this purpose, into the hands of these benevolent sureties, by their unbelieving parents. But this, surely, is not inconsistent with what has been said. And, after all, the writings of this very Dionysius are given up by the learned Wall, and by the still more learned and illustrious Archbishop Usher, as a "gross and impudent forgery," unworthy of the least credit.
It was not until the council of Mentz, in the ninth century, that the Church of Rome forbade the appearance of parents as sponsors for their own children, and required that this service be surrendered to other hands.
Mention is made, by Cyril, in the fifth century, and by Fulgentius in the sixth, of sponsors in some peculiar cases of adult baptism. When adults, about to be baptized, were dumb, or under the power of delirium, through disease, and of course unable to speak for themselves, or to make the usual profession; in such cases it was customary for some friend or friends to answer for them, and to bear testimony to their good character, and to the fact of their having before expressed a desire to be baptized. For this, there was, undoubtedly, some reason; and the same thing might, with propriety, in conceivable circumstances be done now. From this, however, there was a transition soon made to the use of sponsors in all cases of adult baptism. This latter, however, was upon a different principle from the former. When adults had the gifts of speech and reason, and were able to answer for themselves, the sponsors provided for such never answered or professed for them. This was invariably done by the adult himself. Their only business, as it would appear, was to be a kind of curator or guardian of the spiritual life of the persons baptized. This office was generally fulfilled, in each church, by the deacons when adult males were baptized; and by the deaconesses when females came forward to receive this ordinance.
Among the pious Waldenses and Albigenses, in the middle ages, no other sponsors than parents seem to have been in common use. In one of their catechisms, as preserved by Perrin, and Morland, they ask, "By whom ought children to be presented in baptism?" Answer, "By their parents, or by any others who may be inspired with this charity:" which is evidently intended to mean, as other documents respecting them show, that where the parents were dead, or absent, or could not act, other pious professors of religion might take their places.
According to one of the canons of the Church of England, "parents are not to be urged to be present when their children are baptized, nor to be permitted to stand as sponsors for their own children." In the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country, parents "shall be admitted as sponsors if it be desired." But in both countries it is required that there be godfathers and godmothers for all adults, as well as for infants.
The baptismal service of the Methodist Church in the United States, for infants, does not recognize the use of any sponsors at all, excepting the parents, or whatever other "friends" may present them.
It is plain then, that the early history of the church, as well as the word of God, abundantly sustains the doctrine and practice of the Presbyterian church in this matter. We maintain that as the right of the children of believers to baptism flows from the membership and faith of their parents according to the flesh, so those parents, if living, are the only proper persons to present them for the reception of this covenant seal. If, however, their proper parents, on any account, cannot do this, they may, upon our principles, with propriety, be presented by any professed believers, who, quoad hoc, adopt them as their children, and are willing to engage, as parents, to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).
If, indeed, nothing else were contended for in this case than that, when believing parents have pious and peculiar friends who are willing to unite with them in engagements to educate their children in the true religion, such friends might be permitted to stand with them, there might not be so much to condemn. Even then the solemn question might be asked; "Who hath required this at your hand?" (Isa. 1:12). But when the system is to set aside parents; to require that others take their places, and make engagements which they alone, for the most part, are qualified to make; and when, in pursuance of this system, thousands are daily making engagements which they never think of fulfilling, and in most cases, notoriously have it not in their power to fulfill, and, indeed, feel no special obligation to fulfil; we are constrained to regard it as a human invention, having no warrant whatever, either from the word of God or primitive usage; and as adapted, on a variety of accounts, to generate evil, much evil, rather than good.
In the apostolic church, there was no such rite as that which under this name has been long established in the Romish communion as a sacrament, and adopted in some Protestant churches as a solemnity, in their view, if not commanded, yet as both expressive and edifying. It is not intended in this note to record a sentence condemnatory of those who think proper to employ the rite in question: but only to state with brevity some of the reasons why the fathers of the Presbyterian church thought proper to exclude it from their ritual; and why their sons, to the present hour, have persisted in the same course.
1. We find no foundation for this rite in the word of God. Indeed our Episcopal brethren, and other Protestants who employ it, do not pretend to find any direct warrant for it in scripture. All they have to allege, which bears the least resemblance to any such practice, is the statement recorded in Acts 8:14-17: "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost." That there is here a reference to the extraordinary or miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, and these conferred by extraordinary officers, is so perfectly apparent, that it is no wonder the advocates of confirmation do not press it as proof of their point. The only wonder is, that they ever mention it as affording the most remote countenance to their practice.
The diligent reader of scripture will find four kinds, or occasions of laying on hands recounted in the New Testament. The first, by Christ himself, to express an authoritative benediction, Matt. 19:15, Mark 10:16; the second, in the healing of diseases, Mark 16:18, Acts 28:8; the third, in conferring the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, Acts 8:17, 19:6; and the fourth, in setting apart persons to sacred office, Acts 6:6, 13:3, 1 Tim. 4:14. The venerable Dr. Owen, in his commentary on Heb. 6:2, expresses the opinion that the laying on of hands there spoken of is to be considered as belonging to the third class of cases, and, of course, as referring to the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. Others have supposed that it rather belongs to the fourth example above enumerated, and therefore applies to the ordination of ministers. But there is not a syllable or hint in the whole New Testament which looks like such a laying on of hands as that for which the advocates of confirmation contend.
2. Quite as little support for Confirmation can be found in the purest and best periods of uninspired antiquity. Towards the close of the second century, several uncommanded and superstitious additions had been made to the ordinance of baptism. Among these were anointing with oil, in avowed imitation of the Jewish manner of consecration; administering to the baptized individual a mixture of milk and honey as the symbol of his childhood in a new life, and as a pledge of that heavenly Canaan, with all its advantages and happiness, to which the hopes of the baptized were directed; the laying on of the hands of the minister officiating in baptism, for imparting the Holy Spirit; to all which may be added, that immediately after the close of this century, we find the practice of exorcism introduced as a preliminary to baptism, and as a means of expelling all evil spirits from the candidate for this ordinance. These superstitious additions were made to succeed each other in the following order: exorcism; confession; renunciation; baptism; chrismation, or anointing with oil, which was done in the form of a cross; and finally, the laying on of hands, or confirmation, which immediately followed the anointing with oil, and the administration of the simple element above mentioned.
"As soon as we are baptized," says Tertullian, "we are anointed with the blessed unction." And he adds, "This unction is according to the Jewish dispensation, wherein the high priest was anointed with oil out of a horn." The laying on of hands, or confirmation, immediately followed the unction. "As soon as we come from the baptismal laver," says Tertullian, "we are anointed, and then hands are imposed." This was considered as essential to the completion of the ordinance. "We do not receive the Holy Ghost," says the same father, "in baptism, but being purified by the water, we are prepared for the Holy Ghost, and by the laying on of hands, the soul is illuminated by the Spirit." The exorcism, then, the anointing with oil, the sign of the cross, the imposition of hands for conveying the Holy Spirit, and the administration of milk and honey to the candidate, were all human additions to baptism, which came in about the same time, and ought, in our opinion, to be regarded very much in the same light with a great variety of other additions to the institutions of Christ, which, though well meant, and not destitute of expressiveness, are yet wholly unauthorized by the King and Head of the church.
3. When the practice of the laying on of hands, as an ordinary part of the baptismal service, was added by human invention to that ordinance, it always immediately followed the application of water, and the anointing with oil. "As soon as we come from the baptismal laver," says Tertullian, "we are anointed, and then hands are laid on." And it is further acknowledged by all, that everyone who was competent to baptize, was equally competent to lay on hands. The two things always went together; or rather formed parts of the baptismal ordinance, which was not thought to be consummated without the imposition of hands by him who had applied the water and the unction. And this continued to be the case, throughout the greater part of the church, for the first three hundred years. Then the term bishop signified the pastor or overseer of a flock or congregation. Every pastor was a bishop, as had been the case in apostolic times. And then, in ordinary cases, none but the bishop or pastor of each church, administered baptism. Of course, he only laid on hands. But afterwards, in the progress of corruption, when Prelacy was gradually brought in, it became customary, for the sake of doing greater honour to the prelates, to reserve this imposition of hands to them, as a part of their official prerogative. Jerome expressly declares, that the committing this benediction wholly to the bishops, was done "rather in honour of the priesthood, than from necessity imposed by any law" (Dialog. Adv. Lucifer). Even now, throughout the Greek Church, this rite is administered, for the most part, in close connection with baptism, and is dispensed by any priest who is empowered to baptize. In like manner, in the Lutheran and other German churches, in which confirmation is retained, it is administered by every pastor. Still, even when confined to prelates, this imposition of hands was not, in ordinary cases, long separated from the baptism: for the children were commonly carried to the bishop to have his hands laid upon them as soon as convenient. After a while, however, it became customary to separate the two things much more widely. Confirmation, or the laying on of the bishop's hands, began to be postponed for a number of years, according to circumstances; until, at length, it was often left till the arrival of adult age, and even, in some cases, till the decline of life. All these progressive steps evidently marked a mere human invention, for which there is no divine appointment or warrant whatever.
4. The rite of confirmation is superfluous. As it was plainly a human invention, so it is unnecessary, and answers no purpose which is not quite as well, to say the least, provided for in the Presbyterian Church, which rejects it. It is said to be desirable that there should be some transaction or solemnity by which young people who have been baptized in their infancy, may be called to recognize their religious obligations, and, as it were, to take upon themselves the profession and the vows made on their behalf in baptism. Granted. There can be no doubt that such a solemnity is both reasonable in itself, and edifying in its tendency. But have we not just such a solemnity in the Lord's Supper; an ordinance divinely instituted; an ordinance on which all are qualified to attend, and ought to attend, who are qualified to take on themselves, in any scriptural or rational sense, their baptismal obligations; an ordinance, in fact, specifically intended, among other things, to answer this very purpose: that is, the purpose of making a personal acknowledgment and profession of the truth, the service, and the hopes of Christ. Have we not, I say, in the sacramental supper just such a solemnity as we need for the end in question simple, rational, scriptural, and to which all our children may come, just as soon as they are prepared in any form to confess Christ before men? We do not need confirmation, then, for the purpose for which it is professed to be desired. We have something better (because appointed of God), quite as expressive, more solemn, and free from certain objectionable features which are now to be mentioned.
5. Finally, we reject the rite of confirmation in our church, because in addition to all the reasons which have been mentioned, we consider the formula prescribed for its administration in the Church of England, and substantially adopted by the Episcopal Church in this country, as liable to the most serious objections. We do not think it a duty in any form to practice a rite which the Saviour never appointed; but our repugnance is greatly increased by the language with which the rite in question is administered by those who employ it. In the "Order of Confirmation," as prescribed and used in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, the following language occurs. Before the act of laying on hands, the officiating bishop, in his prayer, repeats the following language: "Almighty and ever living God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants, by water and the HOLY GHOST, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins," etc., etc. And again, in another prayer, after the act of confirmation is completed, he speaks to the Searcher of hearts thus: "We make our humble supplications unto thee for these thy servants, upon whom, after the example of thy holy apostles, we have now laid our hands; to certify them by this sign of thy favour and gracious goodness towards them," etc. And also, in the act of laying on hands, assuming that all who are kneeling before him already have the holy sanctifying Spirit of Christ, he prays that they "may all daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more."
Such is the language addressed to large circles of young people of both sexes, many of whom there is every reason to fear, are very far from having been "born of the Spirit," in the Bible sense of that phrase; nay, some of whom manifest so little seriousness, that any pastor of enlightened piety would be pained to see them at a communion table; yet the bishop pronounces them all and he appeals to heaven for the truth of his sentence he pronounces them all regenerate, not only by water, but also by the HOLY GHOST; certifies to them, in the name of God, that they are objects of the divine "favour," and declares that, being already in a state of grace and favour with God, they are called to "grow in grace;" to "increase in the Holy Spirit more and more."
There are many who have long regarded, and who now regard this language not only with regret, but with shuddering, as adapted to cherish false hopes nay, to deceive and destroy souls by wholesale. I must again say, that if there were no other obstacle to my consenting to minister in the Protestant Episcopal Church, this alone would be an insurmountable one. For it must come home to the conscience and the feelings, not of the bishop only, but of every pastor in that church who has, from time to time, a circle of beloved youth to present for confirmation. It is vain to say that the church presumes that all who come are sincere, and of course born of the Spirit, and in a state of favour with God. This is the very point of our objection. She so presumes, and undertakes to "certify" them of it. Presbyterian ministers do not, dare not, use such language. They do not and dare not, undertake to "certify" to any number of the most mature and exemplary communicants that ever gathered round a sacramental table, that they are all in a state of grace and salvation, and that they have nothing to do but to "follow on," and "increase in the Holy Spirit."
Nor is it a sufficient answer, I repeat, to say, that a liturgy, being a fixed composition, cannot be so constructed as to discriminate between different characters. This is denied. Every enlightened and faithful minister of whatever denomination, who is at liberty to employ such language as he approves, knows how to express himself, both in prayer and preaching, in discriminating and expressive terms; and how to avoid modes of expression adapted to deceive and betray uuwary souls. It is surely not impracticable to address the largest and most promiscuous assembly in a manner which though not adapted to the precise case of every individual shall be at least free from error, free from everything of a deceptive and ensnaring character. Our Methodist brethren, it was before remarked, have a prescribed liturgical form for baptism; which they have rendered sufficiently discriminating, and at the same time unexceptionably safe. And, what is not unworthy of notice in this place, though the liturgy of the Protestant Episcopal church is evidently the model which, to a certain extent, they have kept before them in constructing their own, they have wisely discarded altogether the ceremony of confirmation from their ritual.
The advocates of confirmation, as a separate ecclesiastical rite, seldom fail of quoting Calvin as expressing an opinion decisively in favour of it. This is doing great injustice to that illustrious man. Calvin directly and warmly opposes the idea of confirmation being considered as a distinct ordinance, claiming divine authority in the church of God. This he reprobates; and especially the practice of confining the administration of it to prelates; but adds, "that he has no objection to parents bringing their children to their minister, at the close of childhood, or the commencement of adolescence, to be examined according to the catechism in common use, and then, for the sake of greater dignity and reverence, closing the ceremony by the imposition of hands. "Such imposition of hands," therefore, says he, "as is simply connected with benediction, I highly approve, and wish it were now restored to its primitive use, uncorrupted by superstition." (Institutes, Book 4, chapter 19, sect. 4). But what serves to throw light on Calvin's real sentiments on this whole subject is that, in commenting on Acts 8:17, he reproaches the Papists for pressing that passage into the support of their sacrament of confirmation; and not only asserts but proves, that the laying on of hands there spoken of, relates not at all to the ordinary and sanctifying, but to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which have long since ceased in the church; and, of course, that the passage in question ought never to be quoted in favour of confirmation, or of any other permanent rite in the Christian church.
It has been sometimes ignorantly, and most erroneously asserted that the Westminster Assembly of divines, in putting to vote, whether baptism should be performed by sprinkling or immersion, carried it in favour of sprinkling, by majority of one only. This is wholly incorrect. The facts were these. When the committee which had been charged with preparing a directory for the worship of God brought in their report, they had spoken of the mode of baptism thus: "It is lawful and sufficient to sprinkle the child." To this Dr. Lightfoot, among others, objected; not because he doubted of the entire sufficiency of sprinkling; for he decidedly preferred sprinkling to immersion; but because he thought there was an impropriety in pronouncing that mode lawful only, when no one present had any doubts of its being so, and when almost all preferred it. Others seemed to think, that by saying nothing about dipping, that mode was meant to be excluded, as not a lawful mode. This they did not wish to pronounce. When, therefore, the clause, as originally reported, was put to vote, there were twenty-five votes in favour of it, and twenty-four against it. After this vote, a motion was made and carried, that it be recommitted. The next day, when the committee reported, and when some of the members still seemed unwilling to exclude all mention of dipping, Dr. Lightfoot remarked, that to say that pouring or sprinkling was lawful, would be "all one as saying, that it was lawful to use bread and wine in the Lord's Supper." He, therefore, moved that the clause in the "Directory respecting the mode of baptism, be expressed thus:
"Then the minister is to demand the name of the child, which being told him, he is to say (calling the child by his name)
"I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
"As he pronounceth these words, he is to baptize the child with water, which, for the manner of doing it, is not only lawful, but sufficient, and most expedient to be, by pouring, or sprinkling of the water on the face of the child, without adding any other ceremony." This was carried. See Lightfoot's Life, prefixed to the first volume of his Works (folio edition), p. 4; compared with Neal's History of the Puritans, Vol. 2, pp. 106-07; compared with the Appendix, No. 2 (quarto edition), where the Directory, as finally passed, is given at full length.
We do not learn, precisely, either from Lightfoot's biographer (who was no other than the indefatigable Strype), or from Neal, by what vote the clause, as moved by Lightfoot, was finally adopted; but Neal expressly tells us, that "the Directory passed the Assembly with great unanimity."
From this statement, it is evident that the question which was carried in the Assembly, by a majority of one, was not whether affusion or sprinkling was a lawful mode of baptism; but whether all mention of dipping, as one of the lawful modes should be omitted. This, in an early stage of the discussion, was carried, by a majority of one in the affirmative. But it would seem that the clause, as finally adopted, which certainly was far more decisive in favour of sprinkling or affusion, was passed "with great unanimity." At any rate, nothing can be more evident, than that the clause as it originally stood, being carried by one vote only, and afterwards, when recommitted, and so altered as to be much stronger in favour of sprinkling, and then adopted without difficulty, the common statement of this matter by our Baptist brethren is an entire misrepresentation.
1. Faber's Sermons, Vol. I, pp. 145-46.
2. An evangelical and deeply conscientious minister of the Episcopal Church, who, after struggling for some time with the most distressing scruples, as to this very feature in the baptismal service, ventured to alter a few words, was forthwith given to understand that such liberties would not be tolerated, and was soon constrained to withdraw from the Episcopal communion.
3.[Obviously the Methodists of Miller's day were considerably different from contemporary Methodists in the U.S.]
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