Prayer Book Statements About Regeneration
Prayer-Book Statements About Regeneration
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”—John 3:3.
“This child is regenerate.”—Baptismal Service of the Church of England.
In this paper I have one simple object in view. I wish to throw light on certain expressions about “Regeneration” in the Baptismal Service of the Church of England.
The subject is one of no slight importance. The minds of many true Christians in the Church of England are troubled about it. They do not see the real meaning of our excellent Reformers in putting such language in a Prayer-book Service. They are perplexed and confounded by the bold and reckless assertions made by opponents of Evangelical Religion within the Church, and of Dissenters outside the Church, and, though not convinced, they find nothing to reply.
I propose in this paper to supply an answer to the common arguments in favour of “Baptismal Regeneration,” which are based on the Baptismal Service of the Prayer-book. I wish to show that in this, as in many other questions, the truth is not so entirely on one side, as many seem to suppose. Above all, I wish to show that it is possible to be a consistent, honest, thoughtful member of the Church of England, and yet not to hold the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration.
I propose in this paper to supply an answer to the common arguments in favour of “Baptismal Regeneration,” which are based on the Baptismal Service of the Prayer-book.
In considering this subject, I shall strictly confine myself to the one point at issue. I purposely avoid entering into the general question of the nature of Regeneration and the Scriptural warrant for infant baptism. I shall only make a few preliminary remarks by way of explanation, and to prevent mistakes about the meaning of words.
(1) My first remark is this: I believe that, according to Scripture, Regeneration is that great change of heart and character which is absolutely needful to man’s salvation.
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3.) Sometimes it is called conversion,—sometimes being made alive from the dead,—sometimes putting off the old man, and putting on the new,—sometimes a new creation,—sometimes being renewed,—sometimes being made partaker of the Divine nature. All these expressions of the Bible come to the same thing. They are all the same truth, only viewed from different points. They all describe that mighty, radical change of nature, which it is the special office of the Holy Ghost to give,—and without which no one can be saved.
I am aware that many do not allow “Regeneration” to be what I have here described it. They regard it as nothing more than an admission to Church privileges,—a change of state, and not a change of heart. But what plain text of Scripture can they show us in support of this view? I answer boldly,—“Not one.”*
(2) My second remark is this. I believe there is only one sure evidence, according to Scripture, of any one being a regenerate person. That evidence is the fruit that he brings forth in his heart and in his life.
. . . Of course I am aware that many divines maintain that we may call people “regenerate,” in whom none of the marks just described are seen, or ever were seen since they were born. They tell us, in short, that people may possess the gift of the Spirit, and the grace of Regeneration, when neither the gift nor the grace can be seen. Such a doctrine appears to me dangerous in the highest degree. It seems to my mind little better than Antinomianism.
(3) My third remark is this. I believe that Regeneration and baptism, according to Scripture, do not necessarily go together.
I see that people may be filled with the Holy Ghost, and have new hearts, without baptism, like John the Baptist and the penitent thief. I see also that people may be baptized, and yet remain in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity, like Simon Magus. Above all, I find St. Peter telling us expressly, that the baptism which “saves,” and whereby we are buried with Christ, and put on Christ, is not water-baptism only, whether infant or adult. It is “not” the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the “answer of a good conscience.” (1 Peter 3:21.)
It is well known that many people hold that baptism and Regeneration are inseparable; but there is a fatal absence of texts in support of this view. Sixteen times, at least, the new birth is mentioned in the New Testament.* “Regeneration” is a word used twice, but only once in the sense of a change of heart. “Born again,”—“born of God,”—“born of the Spirit,”—“begotten of God,” are expressions used frequently. Once the word “water” is joined with the words “born of the Spirit;” once the word “washing” is joined with the word “Regeneration;” twice believers are said to be born of the “Word of God,” the “Word of truth.” But it is a striking fact that there is not one text in Scripture which says distinctly and expressly that we are born again in baptism, and that every baptized person is necessarily regenerate!
(4) My fourth and last remark is this. I believe that according to Scripture, baptism has no more power to confer Regeneration on infants, ex opere operato, than it has upon grown-up people.
That infants ought to be solemnly and formally admitted into the Church under the New Testament, as well as under the Old, I make no question. The promise to the children of believers, and the behaviour of our Lord Jesus Christ to children, ought to encourage all believing parents to expect the greatest blessings in bringing their infants to be baptized. But beyond this I cannot go.
I am aware that many people think that infants must be regenerated in baptism, as a matter of course, because they put no bar in the way of grace, and must therefore receive the sacrament worthily. Once more I am obliged to say, there is a fatal absence of Scripture in defence of this view. The right of Christian infants to baptism is only through their parents. The precise effect of baptism on infants is never once stated in the New Testament. There is no description of a child’s baptism: and to say that children, born in sin, as all are, are in themselves worthy to receive grace, appears to me a near approach to the old heresy of Pelagianism.
I now come to the point which forms the chief subject of this paper. That point is the true interpretation of some expressions in the Baptismal Service of the Church of England, which appear at first sight to contradict the view which I have been endeavouring to set forth on the subject of Regeneration.
It is asserted that the Prayer-book decidedly teaches the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration in the Baptismal Service.—It is said that the words of that service, “Seeing now that this child is regenerate,”—“We yield Thee hearty thanks, that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this child with Thy Holy Spirit,” admit of only one meaning. They are used, it is said, over every child that is baptized. They prove, it is said, beyond all question, that the Church of England maintains the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. They settle the point, it is said, and leave no room to doubt.
These are the statements I now propose to examine. Can they be proved, or can they not? I say unhesitatingly that they cannot, and I will proceed to give my reasons for saying so, if the reader will give me his patient attention.
It is asserted that the Prayer-book decidedly teaches the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration in the Baptismal Service.—It is said that the words of that service, “Seeing now that this child is regenerate,”—“We yield Thee hearty thanks, that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this child with Thy Holy Spirit,” admit of only one meaning.
. . . I am thoroughly persuaded that the views of Regeneration I maintain are the views of the Prayer-book, Articles, and Homilies of the Church of England, and I will endeavour to satisfy the reader that I have good reasons for saying so. The more I have searched into the subject, the more thoroughly convinced have I felt in my own mind that those who say the views I advocate are not “Church views,” are asserting what they cannot prove.
And now let me proceed to reply to the objection that the invariable Regeneration of all infants in baptism is proved to be the doctrine of the Church of England by the language of her Baptismal Service.
I. I answer then, first of all, that the mere quotation of two isolated expressions in one particular service in our Liturgy is not of itself sufficient.
It must be proved that the sense in which the objector takes these expressions is the correct one. It must also be shown that this sense will bear comparison with the other Services and formularies of the Church, and does not involve any contradiction. If this last point cannot be shown and proved, it is clear that the objector has put a wrong interpretation on the Baptismal Service, and does not understand the great principle on which all the Services of our Church are drawn up.
It is a most unsound method of reasoning to take one or two expressions out of a book which has been written as one great whole, to place a certain meaning on these expressions, and then refuse to inquire whether that meaning can be reconciled with the general spirit of the rest of the book. The beginning of every heresy and erroneous tenet in religion may be traced up to this kind of reasoning, and to unfair and partial quotations.
The beginning of every heresy and erroneous tenet in religion may be traced up to this kind of reasoning, and to unfair and partial quotations.
This is precisely the Roman Catholic’s argument when he wants to prove the doctrine of transubstantiation. “I read,” he says, “these plain words, ‘This is My body,—this is My blood.’ I want no more. I have nothing to do with your explanations and quotations from other parts of the Bible. Here is quite enough for me. The Lord Jesus Christ says, ‘This is My body.’ This settles the question.”
This again is precisely the Arian’s argument, when he wants to prove that the Lord Jesus Christ is inferior to the Father. “I read,” he says, “these plain words, ‘My Father is greater than I.’ ” It is in vain you tell him that there are other texts which show the Son to be equal with the Father, and give a different meaning to the one he has quoted. It matters not. He rests on the one single text that he has chosen to rest on, and he will hear nothing further.
This also is precisely the Socinian’s argument, when he wants to prove that Jesus Christ is only a man, and not God. “I read,” he tells us, “these plain words, ‘The man, Christ Jesus.’—Do not talk to me about other passages which contradict my view. All I know is, here are words which cannot be mistaken,—‘The man, Christ Jesus.’ ”
Now, without desiring to give offence, I must frankly say that I observe this kind of argument continually used in discussing the Church of England’s doctrine about Regeneration. People quote the words of our Baptismal Service, “Seeing now that this child is regenerate,” etc., as an unanswerable proof that the Church considers all baptized infants to be born again. They will not listen to anything else that is brought forward from other Services and formularies of the Church. They tell you they take their stand on the simple expression, “This child is regenerate.” The words are plain, they inform us! They settle the question incontrovertibly! They seem to doubt your honesty and good sense, if you are not at once convinced. And all this time they do not see that they are taking their stand on very dangerous ground, and putting a sword into the hand of the next Socinian, Arian, or Roman Catholic who happens to dispute with them.
A single quotation dragged out of a Service will not suffice.
I warn such people, if this paper falls in their hands, that this favourite argument will not do. A single quotation dragged out of a Service will not suffice. They must prove that the meaning they attach to it is consistent with the rest of the Prayer-book, and with the Articles and Homilies. They must not expound one place of the Prayer-book, any more than of the Bible, so as to make it repugnant to another. And this, whether they mean it or not, I firmly believe they are doing.
II. I answer, in the next place, that to say all baptized infants are regenerate, because of the expressions in the Baptismal Service, is to contradict the great principle on which the whole Prayer-book is drawn up.
The principle of the Prayer-book is to suppose all members of the Church to be in reality what they are in profession,—to be true believers in Christ, to be sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
The principle of the Prayer-book is to suppose all members of the Church to be in reality what they are in profession,—to be true believers in Christ, to be sanctified by the Holy Ghost. The Prayer-book takes the highest standard of what a Christian ought to be, and is all through worded accordingly. The minister addresses those who assemble together for public worship as believers. The people who use the words the Liturgy puts into their mouths, are supposed to be believers.
The Prayer-book takes the highest standard of what a Christian ought to be, and is all through worded accordingly.
But those who drew up the Prayer-book never meant to assert that all who were members of the Church of England were actually and really true Christians. On the contrary, they tell us expressly in the Articles, that “in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good.” But they held that if forms of devotion were drawn up at all, they must be drawn up on the supposition that those who used them were real Christians, and not false ones. And in so doing I think they were quite right.
. . . those who drew up the Prayer-book never meant to assert that all who were members of the Church of England were actually and really true Christians.
A Liturgy for unbelievers and unconverted men would be absurd, and practically useless! The part of the congregation for whom it was meant would care little or nothing for any Liturgy at all. The holy and believing part of the congregation would find its language entirely unsuited to them.
Now this general principle of the Prayer-book is the principle on which the Baptismal Service is drawn up. It supposes those who bring their children to be baptized, to bring them as believers.
Now this general principle of the Prayer-book is the principle on which the Baptismal Service is drawn up. It supposes those who bring their children to be baptized, to bring them as believers. As the seed of godly parents and children of believers, their infants are baptized. As believers, the sponsors and parents are exhorted to pray that the child may be born again, and encouraged to lay hold on the promises. And as the child of believers the infant when baptized is pronounced “regenerate,” and thanks are given for it.
The principle which the Church lays down as an abstract principle is this,—that baptism when rightly and worthily received, is a means whereby we may receive inward and spiritual grace, even a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness.
The principle which the Church lays down as an abstract principle is this,—that baptism when rightly and worthily received, is a means whereby we may receive inward and spiritual grace, even a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness. That an infant may receive baptism “rightly” the Church of England unquestionably holds, though the way and manner of it may be a hidden thing to us; for as good Archbishop Usher beautifully remarks, “He that hath said of infants, to them belongs the kingdom of God, knows how to settle upon them the kingdom of heaven.” Her ministers cannot see the book of God’s election. They cannot see the hidden workings of the Holy Ghost. They cannot read the hearts of parents and sponsors. They can never say of any individual child, “This child is certainly receiving baptism unworthily.” And this being the case, the Church most wisely leans to the side of charity, assumes hopefully of each child that it receives baptism worthily, and uses language accordingly.
. . . this being the case, the Church most wisely leans to the side of charity, assumes hopefully of each child that it receives baptism worthily, and uses language accordingly.
The men who drew up our Baptismal Service, held that there was a connection between baptism and spiritual Regeneration, and they were right. They knew that there was nothing too high in the way of blessing to expect for the child of a believer. They knew that God might of His sovereign mercy give grace to any child before, or in, or at, or by the act of baptism. At all events they dared not undertake the responsibility of denying it in the case of any particular infant, and they therefore took the safer course, to express a charitable hope of all.
They knew that God might of His sovereign mercy give grace to any child before, or in, or at, or by the act of baptism.
They could not draw up two Services of baptism, one of a high standard of privilege, the other of a low one. They could not leave it to the option of a minister to decide when one should be used, and when the other. It would have made a minister’s position at the baptismal font a most invidious one; it would have exposed him to the risk of making painful mistakes; it would have required him to decide points which none but God can decide. They leaned to the side of charity. They drew up a form containing the highest standard of privilege and blessing, and required that in every case of infant baptism that form, and that only, should be used. And in so doing they acted in the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ’s remarkable words to the seventy disciples, “Into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again.” (Luke 10:5, 6.)
They leaned to the side of charity.
But as for maintaining that the ministerial act of baptizing a child did always necessarily convey Regeneration, and that every infant baptized was invariably born again, I believe it never entered into the thoughts of those who drew up the Prayer-book. In the judgment of charity and hope they supposed all to be regenerated in baptism, and used language accordingly. Whether any particular child was actually and really regenerated they left to be decided by its life and ways when it grew up. To say that the assertions of the Prayer-book Baptismal Service are to be taken for more than a charitable supposition, will be found, on close examination, to throw the whole Prayer-book into confusion.
To say that the assertions of the Prayer-book Baptismal Service are to be taken for more than a charitable supposition, will be found, on close examination, to throw the whole Prayer-book into confusion.
This is the only principle on which many of the Collects can be reasonably explained.
The Collect for the Epiphany says, “Grant that we who know Thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of Thy glorious God-head.”—Will any one tell us that the compilers of the Prayer-book meant to teach, that all who use the Prayer-book do know God by faith? Surely not.—The Collect for Sexagesima Sunday says, “O, Lord God, Who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do,” etc. Will any dare to say that these words could ever be literally true of all members of the Church of England? Are they not manifestly a charitable supposition?—The Collect for the Third Sunday after Trinity says, “We, to whom Thou hast given a hearty desire to pray,” etc. Who can have a doubt that this is a form of words, which is used by many of whom it could not strictly and truly be said for one minute? Who can fail to see in all these instances one uniform principle, the principle of charitably assuming that members of a Church are what they profess to be? The Church puts in the mouth of her worshipping people the sentiments and language they ought to use, and if they do not come up to her high standard, the fault is theirs, not hers. But to say that by adopting such expressions she stamps and accredits all her members as real and true Christians in the sight of God, would be manifestly absurd.
This is the only principle on which the Service for the Churching of Women can be interpreted.
Every woman for whom that Service is used, is spoken of as “the Lord’s servant,” and is required to answer that she “puts her trust in the Lord.” Yet who in his senses can doubt that such words are utterly inapplicable in the case of a great proportion of those who come to be churched? They are not “servants” of the Lord! They do not in any sense “put their trust” in Him! And who would dare to argue that the compilers of the Liturgy considered that all women who were churched did really trust in the Lord, merely because they used this language? The simple explanation is, that they drew up the Service on the same great principle which runs through the whole Prayer-book, the principle of charitable supposition.
The simple explanation is, that they drew up the Service on the same great principle which runs through the whole Prayer-book, the principle of charitable supposition.
This is the only principle on which the Service of Baptism for grown-up people can be interpreted.
In that Service the minister first prays that the person about to be baptized may have the Holy Spirit given to him and be born again. The Church cannot take upon herself to pronounce decidedly that he is born again, until he has witnessed a good confession, and shown his readiness to receive the seal of baptism. Then, after that prayer, he is called upon openly to profess repentance and faith before the minister and congregation, and that being done he is baptized. Then, and not till then, comes the declaration that the person baptized is “regenerate,” and he is born again and made an heir of everlasting salvation. But can these words be strictly and literally true if the person baptized is a hypocrite, and has all along professed that which he does not feel? Are not the words manifestly used on the charitable supposition that he has repented and does believe, and in no other sense at all? And is it not plain to every one that in the absence of this repentance and faith, the words used are a mere form, used, because the Church cannot draw up two forms, but not for a moment implying that inward and spiritual grace necessarily accompanies the outward sign, or that a “death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness” is necessarily conveyed to the soul? In short, the person baptized is pronounced regenerate upon the broad principle of the Prayer-book, that, in the Church-services people are charitably supposed to be what they profess to be.
In short, the person baptized is pronounced regenerate upon the broad principle of the Prayer-book, that, in the Church-services people are charitably supposed to be what they profess to be.
This is the only intelligible principle on which the Burial Service can be interpreted.
In that Service the person buried is spoken of as a “dear brother or sister.” It is said that it hath “pleased God of His great mercy to take to Himself his soul.” It is said, “We give Thee hearty thanks that it hath pleased Thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world.” It is said that “our hope is, this our brother rests in Christ.” Now what does all this mean? Did the compilers of the Prayer-book wish us to believe that all this was strictly and literally applicable to every individual member of the Church over whose body these words were read? Will any one look the Service honestly in the face and dare to say so? I cannot think it. The simple explanation of the Service is, that it was drawn up, like the rest, on the presumption that all members of a Church were what they professed to be. The key to the interpretation of it is the same great principle, the principle of charitable supposition.
The key to the interpretation of it is the same great principle, the principle of charitable supposition.
This is the only principle on which the Catechism can be interpreted.
In it every child is taught to say, “In baptism I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven;” and a little further on, “I learn to believe in God the Holy Ghost who sanctifieth me and all the elect people of God.” Now what does this mean? Did the Prayer-book writers intend to lay it down as an abstract principle that all baptized children are “sanctified” and all “elect”? Will any one in the present day stand forth and tell us that all the children in his parish are actually sanctified by the Holy Ghost? If he can, I can only say, that his parish is an exception, or else Bible words have no meaning. But I cannot yet believe that any one would say so. I believe there is but one explanation of all these expressions in the Catechism. They are the words of charitable supposition, and in no other sense can they be taken.
They are the words of charitable supposition, and in no other sense can they be taken.
I lay these things before any one who fancies that all children are regenerated in baptism, because of the expressions in the Prayer-book service, and I ask him to weigh them well. I am not to be moved from my ground by hard names, and bitter epithets, and insinuations that I am not a real Churchman. I am not to be shaken by scraps and sentences torn from their places, and thrust isolated and alone upon our notice. What I say is, that in interpreting the Baptismal Service of the Church we must be consistent.
What I say is, that in interpreting the Baptismal Service of the Church we must be consistent.
Men say that the view of the Service I maintain is “non-natural and dishonest.” I deny the charge altogether. I might retort it on many of those who make it. Whose view is most unnatural, I ask? Is it the view of the man who expounds the Baptismal Service on one principle, and the Burial Service on another?—or is it my view, which interprets all on one uniform and the same system?
I refuse to interpret one part of the Prayer-book on one principle, and another part on another.
We must be consistent I repeat. I refuse to interpret one part of the Prayer-book on one principle, and another part on another. The expressions to which I have been calling attention are either abstract dogmatic declarations, or charitable assumptions and suppositions. They cannot be both. And I now call upon those who hold all children to be invariably regenerated, because of strong expressions in the Baptismal Service, to carry out their principles honestly, fairly, fully, and consistently, if they can.
If all children are actually regenerated in baptism, because the Service says, “This child is regenerate,” then by parity of reasoning it follows that all people who use the Collect have faith, and a hearty desire to pray!—all women who are churched put their trust in the Lord!—all members of the Church who are buried are dear brethren, and we hope rest in Christ!—and all children who say the Catechism are sanctified by the Holy Ghost and are elect!—Consistency demands it. Fair interpretation of words demands it. There is not a jot of evidence to show that those are not really sanctified and elect who say the Catechism, if you once maintain that those are all actually “regenerated” over whom the words of the Baptismal Service have been used.
But if I am to be told that the children who use the Catechism are not necessarily all elect and sanctified, and that the people buried are not necessarily all resting in Christ, and that the language in both cases is that of charitable supposition, then I reply, in common fairness let us be allowed to take the language of the Baptismal Service in the same sense.
I see one uniform principle running through all the Prayer-book, through all the Offices, through all the devotional Formularies of the Church. That principle is the principle of charitable supposition.
I see one uniform principle running through all the Prayer-book, through all the Offices, through all the devotional Formularies of the Church. That principle is the principle of charitable supposition. Following that principle, I can make good sense and good divinity of every Service in the book. Without that principle I cannot. On that principle therefore I take my stand. If I say all baptized children are really, literally, and actually “regenerate,” because of certain words in the Baptismal Service, I contradict that principle. I believe our Services were meant to be consistent one with another, and not contradictory. I therefore cannot say so.
III. My next answer to those who say all baptized persons are regenerate, because of the Baptismal Service, is this,—that such a view would not agree with the Thirty-nine Articles.
Now I am aware that many have a very low opinion of the Articles. Many seem to know little about them, and to attach little weight to any quotation from them. “The Prayer-book! the Prayer-book!” is the watch-word of these people; “all we have to do with is, what does the Prayer-book say?”
I look upon the Thirty-nine Articles as the Church of England’s Confession of faith.
I disagree with such persons entirely. I look upon the Thirty-nine Articles as the Church of England’s Confession of faith. I believe the words of the declaration which prefaces them are strictly true, “That the Articles of the Church of England do contain the true doctrine of the Church of England,” and that any doctrine which does not entirely harmonize with those Articles is not the doctrine of the Church.
I honour and love the book of Common Prayer, but I do not call it the Church’s Confession of faith. I delight in it as an incomparable manual of public worship, but if I want to ascertain the deliberate judgment of the Church upon any point of doctrine, I turn first to the Articles. What would a Lutheran or Scotch Presbyterian say of me, if I judged his Church by his minister’s prayers, and did not judge it by the Augsburg or Westminster Confessions? I do not say this in order to disparage the Prayer-book, but to point out calmly what it really is. I want to place the Thirty-nine Articles in their proper position before the reader’s mind, and so to make him see the real value of what they say. It is a circumstance deeply to be regretted that the Articles are not more read and studied by members of the Church of England.
It is a circumstance deeply to be regretted that the Articles are not more read and studied by members of the Church of England.
I will now ask the reader of this paper to observe the striking prominence which the Articles everywhere give to the Bible as the only rule of faith.
The Sixth Article says, that “Whatsoever is not read in Holy Scripture, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite and necessary to salvation.” The Eighth says, that the “Three Creeds ought thoroughly to be believed and received, for they may be proved by most certain warrant of Holy Scripture.” The Twentieth says, that “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another.” The Twenty-first says, that “things ordained by General Councils as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.” The Twenty-second condemns certain Romish doctrines, because they “are grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but are rather repugnant to the Word of God.” The Twenty-eighth condemns transubstantiation, because it “cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture.” The Thirty-fourth says, that traditions and ceremonies of the Church may be changed, so long as “nothing be ordained against God’s Word.”
All these quotations make it perfectly certain that the Bible is the sole rule of faith in the Church of England, and that nothing is a doctrine of the Church which cannot be entirely reconciled with the Word of God.
And I see here a complete answer to those who say we make an idol of the Bible, and tell us we ought to go first to the Prayer-book, or to the opinion of the primitive Church! I see also that any meaning placed upon any part of the Prayer-book which at all disagrees with the Bible, and cannot be proved by the Bible, must be an incorrect meaning. I am not to listen to any interpretation of any Service in the Liturgy, which cannot be thoroughly reconciled with Scripture. It may sound very plausible. It may be defended very speciously. But does it in any way jar with plain texts in the Bible? If it does, there is a mistake somewhere. There is a flaw in the interpretation. On the very face of it, it is incorrect. It is utterly absurd to suppose that the founders of our Church would assert the supremacy of Scripture seven or eight times over, and then draw up a service in the Prayer-book at all inconsistent with Scripture! And unless the doctrine that all children baptized are necessarily regenerated in baptism, can first be shown to be in the Bible, it is a mere waste of time to begin any discussion of the subject by talking of the Prayer-book.
All these quotations make it perfectly certain that the Bible is the sole rule of faith in the Church of England, and that nothing is a doctrine of the Church which cannot be entirely reconciled with the Word of God.
I ask the reader, in the next place, to observe what the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth Articles say. The Twenty-fifth speaks generally of sacraments; and it says of them, both of baptism and of the Lord’s Supper, “In such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation.” The Twenty-sixth speaks of the unworthiness of ministers not hindering the effect of the sacraments. It says, “Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, or the grace of God’s gifts diminished, from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments.” Here we have a broad general principle twice asserted. The benefit of either sacrament is clearly confined to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive it. The Romish notion of all alike getting good from it, ex opere operato, is with equal clearness pointed at and rejected. Now can this be reconciled with the doctrine that all who are baptized are at once invariably regenerated? I say decidedly that it cannot.
Here we have a broad general principle twice asserted. The benefit of either sacrament is clearly confined to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive it.
I ask the reader, in the next place, to observe the language of the Article about baptism, the Twenty-seventh. It says, “Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that are not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises 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 baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.” Nothing can be more striking than the wise caution of all this language, when contrasted with the statements about baptism with which our ears are continually assailed in this day. There is not a word said which might lead us to suppose that a different principle is to be applied to the baptism of infants, from that which has been already laid down about all sacraments, in the Twenty-fifth Article. We are left to the inevitable conclusion that in all cases worthy reception is essential to the full efficacy of the sacrament. There is not a word said about a great inward and spiritual blessing invariably and necessarily attending the baptism of an infant. There is a perfect silence on that head, and a most speaking silence too. Surely a doctrine involving such immense and important consequences as the universal spiritual regeneration of all infants in baptism, would never have been passed over in entire silence, if it had been the doctrine of the Church. The authors of the Articles unquestionably knew the importance of the document they were drawing up. Unquestionably they weighed well every word and every statement they put down on paper. And yet they are perfectly silent on the subject! That silence is like the occasional silence of Scripture, a great fact, and one which can never be got over.
We are left to the inevitable conclusion that in all cases worthy reception is essential to the full efficacy of the sacrament.
I ask the reader, in the next place, to observe what the Thirteenth Article says. It tells us that “Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of His Spirit are not pleasant to God,” etc. Here we are plainly taught that works may be done by men before grace and the Spirit are given to them, and this too by baptized members of the Church, for it is for them that the Articles are drawn up! But how can this be reconciled with the notion that all baptized persons are necessarily regenerated? How can any person be regenerated without having the “grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Spirit”? There is only one view on which the Article can be reasonably explained. That view is the simple one, that many baptized people are not regenerate, have no grace and no indwelling of the Spirit, and that it is their case before they are born again and converted, which is here described.
The last Article I will ask the reader to observe is the Seventeenth. The subject of that Article is Predestination and Election. It is a subject which many people dislike exceedingly, and are ready to stop their ears whenever it is mentioned. I acknowledge freely that it is a deep subject. But there stands the Article! It cannot be denied that it forms part of our Church’s Confession of faith. Whether men like it or not, they must not talk as if it did not exist, in discussing the subject of the Church’s doctrines. The Article begins with laying down the great truth that God “hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation.” It then proceeds to describe the calling of these persons by God’s Spirit, and the consequences of that calling; “They through grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works, and at length by God’s mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.”
. . . just as all baptized people are not elect, justified, and sanctified, so also all baptized people are not regenerated.
Now all I ask the reader to consider is this, did the writers of the Articles mean to say that these persons were a separate and distinct class from those who were “regenerated,” or not? We must think so, if we consider baptism is always accompanied by Regeneration. The things spoken of in this description are things of which multitudes of baptized persons know nothing at all. I do not, however, believe that such an idea over entered into the minds of those who wrote the Articles. I believe that they looked on Election, Justification, Adoption, and Regeneration, as the peculiar privileges of a certain number, but not of all members of the visible Church; and that just as all baptized people are not elect, justified, and sanctified, so also all baptized people are not regenerated. Very striking is the difference between the language of the Article which treats of baptism, and the Article which treats of election. In the former we find the cautious general statement, that in baptism “the promises of our adoption to be the sons of God are visibly signed and sealed.” In the latter we find the broad assertion that the elect “be made the sons of God by adoption.”
Such is the doctrine of the Articles. If Regeneration be what the Catechism describes it, “a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness,” I cannot find the slightest ground in the Articles for the notion that all baptized persons are necessarily regenerate. There is an absence of any direct assertion of such a doctrine. There are several passages which appear completely inconsistent with it. I cannot suppose that the Articles and Liturgy were meant to be contrary one to the other. The men who drew up the Thirty-nine Articles in 1562, were the men who compiled the Prayer-book in 1549. They drew up the Articles with a certain and distinct knowledge of the contents of the Prayer-book. Yet the interpretation of the Baptismal Service I am contending against would make the one formulary contradictory to the other. The conclusion I come to is clear and decided,—such an interpretation cannot be correct.
I cannot suppose that the Articles and Liturgy were meant to be contrary one to the other.
IV. My last answer to those who say that all baptized persons are necessarily regenerated, because of the wording of the Baptismal Service, is this,—such a doctrine would make the Prayer-book disagree with the Homilies of the Church of England.
The Homilies are not liked by some persons any more than the Thirty-nine Articles. No doubt they are human compositions, and therefore not perfect; no doubt they contain words and expressions here and there which might be amended; but, after all, the members of the Church of England are bound to recollect that the Thirty-fifth Article expressly asserts that the Homilies contain “a godly and wholesome doctrine.” Whatever their deficiencies may be, the general tone of their doctrine is clear and unmistakable. And any interpretation of the Prayer-book Services which makes those Services inconsistent with the Homilies must, on the very face of it, be an incorrect interpretation.
Let me then call the reader’s attention to the following passages in the Homilies:
In the Homily of Charity there are the following passages:
“What thing can we wish so good for us as the heavenly Father to reckon and take us for His children? And this shall we be sure of, saith Christ, if we love every man without exception. And if we do otherwise, saith He, we be no better than the Pharisees, publicans, and heathens, and shall have our reward with them, that is to be shut out from the number of God’s chosen children, and from His everlasting inheritance in heaven.” And again: “He that beareth a good heart and mind, and useth well his tongue and deeds unto every man, friend or foe, he may know thereby that he hath charity. And then he is sure also that Almighty God taketh him for His dearly-beloved son; as Saint John saith, hereby manifestly are known the children of God from the children of the devil; for whosoever doth not love his brother belongeth not unto God.”
In the Homily of Almsdeeds there is this passage: “God of His mercy and special favour towards them whom He hath appointed to everlasting salvation, hath so offered His grace especially, and they have so received it faithfully, that, although by reason of their sinful living outwardly they seemed before to have been the children of wrath and perdition,—yet now, the Spirit of God working mightily in them, unto obedience to God’s will and commandments, they declare by their outward deeds and life, in the showing of mercy and charity—which cannot come but of the Spirit of God and His especial grace—that they are the undoubted children of God, appointed to everlasting life. And so, as by their wickedness and ungodly living they showed themselves, according to the judgment of men, which follow the outward appearance, to be reprobates and castaways, so now by their obedience unto God’s holy will, and by their mercifulness and tender pity,—wherein they show themselves to be like unto God, who is the Fountain and Spring of all mercy,—they declare openly and manifestly unto the sight of men that they are the sons of God, and elect of Him unto salvation.”
In the Homily for Whit-Sunday, I read the following passages: “It is the Holy Ghost, and no other thing, that doth quicken the minds of men, stirring up good and godly motions in their hearts, which are agreeable to the will and commandment of God, such as otherwise of their own crooked and perverse nature they should never have. That which is born of the flesh, saith Christ, is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. As who should say, man of his own nature is fleshly and carnal, corrupt and naught, sinful and disobedient to God, without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or godly notion, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds. As for the works of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly motions,—if he have any at all in him,—they proceed only of the Holy Ghost, who is the only worker of our sanctification, and maketh us new men in Christ Jesus. Did not God’s Holy Spirit work in the child David, when from a poor shepherd he became a princely prophet? Did not God’s Holy Spirit miraculously work in Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, when of a proud publican he became a humble and lowly evangelist? And who can choose but marvel to consider that Peter should become, of a simple fisher, a chief and mighty Apostle? Paul of a cruel and bloody persecutor, to teach the Gentiles? Such is the power of the Holy Ghost to regenerate men, and, as it were, to bring them forth anew, so that they shall be nothing like the men that they were before. Neither doth He think it sufficient inwardly to work the spiritual and new birth of man unless He do also dwell and abide in him.—Oh, what comfort is this to the heart of a true Christian, to think that the Holy Ghost dwelleth within him!”
And then comes the following passage, which I request the reader specially to observe: “How shall I know that the Holy Ghost is within me? some men perchance will say: Forsooth, as the tree is known by his fruit, so is also the Holy Ghost. The fruits of the Holy Ghost, according to the mind of St. Paul, are these: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance, etc. Contrariwise the deeds of the flesh are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, wantonness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, debate, emulation, wrath, contention, sedition, heresy, envy, murder, drunkenness, gluttony, and such like. Here is now that glass wherein thou must behold thyself, and discern whether thou have the Holy Ghost within thee or the spirit of the flesh. If thou see that thy works he virtuous and good, consonant to the prescribed rule of God’s Word, savouring and tasting not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, then assure thyself that thou art endued with the Holy Ghost; otherwise, in thinking well of thyself, thou dost nothing but deceive thyself.”—Once more: “To conclude and make an end, ye shall briefly take this short lesson: wheresoever ye find the spirit of arrogance and pride, the spirit of envy, hatred, contention, cruelty, murder, extortion, witchcraft, necromancy, etc., assure yourselves that there is the spirit of the devil, and not of God, albeit they pretend outwardly to the world never so much holiness. For as the Gospel teacheth us, the Spirit of Jesus is a good spirit, an holy spirit, a sweet spirit, a lowly spirit, a merciful spirit, full of charity and love, full of forgiveness and pity, not rendering evil for evil, extremity for extremity, but overcoming evil with good, and remitting all offence even from the heart. According to which rule, if any man live uprightly, of him it may safely be pronounced that he hath the Holy Ghost within him: if not, than it is a plain token that he doth usurp the name of the Holy Ghost in vain.”
I lay these passages before the reader in their naked simplicity. I will not weary him with long comments upon them. In fact none are needed. Two things, I think, are abundantly evident. One is, that in the judgment of the Homilies, no men are the “undoubted children of God” and “sons of God,” and elect unto salvation, unless it is proved by their charity and good works. The other is, that no man has the Holy Ghost within him, in the judgment of the Homilies, except he brings forth the fruits of the Spirit in his life.
These Homilies were put forth by authority, in the year 1562, and appointed to be read in churches in order to supply the deficiency of good preaching, and when they had been once read, they were to be “repeated and read again.” And yet according to the interpretation of the Baptismal Service I am contending against, these Homilies contradict the Prayer-book!
But all this is flatly contradictory to the doctrine of those who say that all baptized persons are necessarily regenerate. They tell us that all people are made the children of God by virtue of their baptism, whatever be their manner of living, and must be addressed as such all their lives; and that all people have the grace of the Holy Ghost within them by virtue of their baptism, and must be considered “regenerate,” whatever fruits they may be bringing forth in their daily habits and conversation. According to this, the Homilies say one thing and the Prayer-book says another! I leave the reader to judge whether it is in the least degree probable this can be the case. These Homilies were put forth by authority, in the year 1562, and appointed to be read in churches in order to supply the deficiency of good preaching, and when they had been once read, they were to be “repeated and read again.” And yet according to the interpretation of the Baptismal Service I am contending against, these Homilies contradict the Prayer-book! Surely it is difficult to avoid the conclusion which I most unhesitatingly come to myself, that a system of interpreting the Baptismal Service which sets the Prayer-book at variance with the Homilies, as well as with the Articles, must be incorrect.
Surely it is difficult to avoid the conclusion which I most unhesitatingly come to myself, that a system of interpreting the Baptismal Service which sets the Prayer-book at variance with the Homilies, as well as with the Articles, must be incorrect.
I leave the subject of the Church of England’s views about Regeneration here. I wish I could have spoken of it more shortly. But I have been anxious to meet the objections drawn from the Baptismal Service fully, openly, and face to face. I have not a doubt in my own mind as to the true doctrine of the Church in the question. But many, I know, have been troubled and perplexed about it, and few appear to me to see the matter as clearly as they might. And it is to supply such persons with information, as well as to meet the arguments of adversaries, that I have gone into the question so fully as I have.
~J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion, 130–152.