Page images

ness and holiness, as is pleasing unto Him, and in following Christ in faith and obedience? Or does our conscience condemn us, and the spirit of the Lord convict us, of having broken our baptismal covenant, of having denied Christ, and turned ourselves aside, through want of faith, to the world and the service of Satan ? « Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Perfectly distinct from this baptismal vow was the so called exorcism, or formula of expulsion of the evil spirit, which was pronounced over the person to be baptized. We find the first certain traces of this no earlier than the second half of the third century, when the desire for that which was external, and gratifying the senses, and love for empty ceremony was daily increasing and becoming more prevalent in the ordinances of religion. They imagined that unbelievers were really and actually possessed by the evil spirit, and applied to the baptism of all heathens, as though the evil spirit dwelt in them bodily, the formula of exorcism which they were accustomed to use over those who were called demoniacs, or possessed. Neither the Scriptures, nor the early church, knew any thing of such notions; and we have therefore rightly given up this formula of exorcism at the baptism of our children, and use at this sacrament no other formula than that which the Lord himself has commanded, as we read in the words of our text, where the Redeemer says, “ Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son,

and of the Holy Ghost.” In these few words the Lord intended to express the essence of his whole divine work for the salvation of sinful men, the essence of the new covenant made by Him, namely, the relation of man's whole life to a God, who has revealed himself as a Father to fallen men through his Son, and has imparted to them his Spirit to regenerate and sanctify them. These words of our Lord were, therefore, peculiarly calculated to serve for the formula of baptism, in as far as by them was expressed the essence of the true

worship of God, as he has revealed himself to us by his Son, in a heart and life hallowed by His spirit.

III. Originally baptism was performed by a total immersion in water, whereby it was intended to signify the death and burial of the old man, and the resurrection of the new man to a divine life. This St Paul expresses, when he says, “ Know ye not that so many.

of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death ; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” It was only with sick persons, and where necessity required, that they departed from this form, and administered to them baptism by mere sprinkling in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as is now generally customary among us. There were indeed many narrow minded Christians who cleaved too strictly to the outward form, who considered such a baptism by sprinkling to be imperfect and invalid, but Bishop Cyprian impressively declares himself against such a superstitious fancy, by saying, “ In the sacraments of salvation, when necessity compels, and God gives his grace, the divine ordinance, although externally mutilated, conveys to the believer the whole. Or if any one believes that he has gained nothing, if he has only been sprinkled with the water of salvation, he must not be deceived, but if he recover his health, must be baptized again. But if those who have once been hallowed by the church's baptism cannot be baptized again, why should their faith and the grace of God be turned into sorrow?” As time advanced, the external ceremonies at holy baptism were constantly multiplied, in which men at first assuredly did not mean to increase the holiness of the sacrament by pomp and ceremonies, but only wished to express visibly to the senses the thoughts and feelings which filled the soul of the believer. But meanwhile they ran the risk of putting out of sight the real essence of the divine ordinance, by laying too great weight

on external customs, and this danger did not fail to come upon the church. According to the teaching of the gospel, the whole Christian church forms one spiritual priesthood. And, as in the Old Testament, anointing was the sign of consecration to the priesthood, this form was transferred to Christianity, and the newly baptized persons were anointed with an oil especially blessed for that purpose, in order thereby to indicate their consecration to the spiritual priesthood. About the middle of the third century, this custom appears to have become an essential part of the baptismal ceremony. In several churches, besides this anointing, a mixture of milk and honey was given to the baptized, partly as a visible representation, that, through baptism, they had become children of God, partly as a spiritual explanation of the promise of the land flowing with milk and honey, whereby was signified the heavenly country to which all the baptized belonged. Then they were received into the church with the first kiss of brotherhood, and the greeting of peace,-of peace with God, in whom they now had a share, together with all other Christians--and from this time they were entitled to greet other Christians with this sign of brotherhood.

Another custom, older than the anointing, which we have just mentioned, was the imposition of hands, accompanied by prayer, with which the ordinance of baptism was concluded, and which has continued down to our times. It was a mark of religious consecration, borrowed from the Jews, which was made use of in various instances. Whilst the apostles or heads of the church laid their hands upon the persons baptized, they called upon

the Lord that he would give his blessing on the sacred ordinance then completed, would bring to fulfilment the meaning conveyed by it, and pour his

the baptized. All this had reference to that chief thing, without which no one can be a Christian, the birth to a new life in God, the baptism of the Spirit, which was expressed to the senses by baptism with water. But in the course of the second century the false idea

spirit upon

gained ground, that the giving of the Holy Ghost was chiefly connected with the imposition of hands. Thus was this by degrees separated from baptism, and men, appealing to falsely interpreted passages of holy writ, believed that they must allow to the bishops alone the right of confirming the baptism already conferred by other ministers, by the imposition of their hands. Hence the bishops were obliged from time to time to travel over their dioceses, in order to give to the baptized what is entitled confirmation, which was afterwards exalted to a separate sacrament, as it still continues in the Romish church, where the bishop alone has the right to administer it.

IV. “ He who believeth and is baptized,” says the Lord, “ shall be saved.” As faith and baptism are constantly so closely connected together, men might reasonably hesitate to baptize infants, inasmuch as faith would with them be impossible. Neither has the Lord himself ordained infant baptism. As little also can we prove strictly and convincingly that the apostles baptized children, although we know that they baptized whole families, and we might justly suppose that there were children among them. But a number of texts, the express command of our Lord, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," the deeply felt need of receiving into purifying and hallowing communion with its Saviour the child conceived and born in sin, and to assure to him the blessings which a union with His church offers to him, the contemplation of the wonderful workings of the spirit of God on man, even in the earliest stages of his existence, a reference to the rite of circumcision in the Old Testament, by which the infant was, eight days after his birth, received into the divine covenant -all this and much beside speak too strongly for infant baptism, for us not to attribute its origin to apostolic times. Even the opposition which Tertullian, in the second century, raised against it, is a strong proof

that it had long been a practice in the church; and in the third century it was universally adopted.

The first passage, which appears to have direct reference to this subject, is to be found in Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons, in the second century. “ Christ," he says,

came to redeem all, all who are born again by him, infants, children, boys, youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, and became an infant to infants, sanctifying infants, he became a child among children, among youths a youth, in order to sanctify them, and at the same time to be to them an example of piety and obedience.” It is here especially important to observe that infants (infantes) are particularly distinguished from children (parouli), and, as such, are marked out as those whom the Lord sanctifies, in as far as they are born again through Him. It would be difficult to suppose that any thing but baptism is designated here under the new birth, especially as St Paul calls it “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” In this we find the essentially Christian idea, from which infant baptism must almost of its own accord have been developed, the more Christianity penetrated into domestic life, namely, that Christ had sanctified human nature from its earliest stage by the divine life which he revealed in it, and communicated to it, and seem consequently to be fully justified in consecrating our children, immediately on their entrance into this temporal existence, to their Redeemer by holy baptism, that their whole life may thereby become dedicated to the Lord.

On this account it was that in the third century Cyprian so earnestly urged, that the baptism of children should not be postponed, but performed immediately efter their birth, in order that the grace of God might not be for a moment withheld from them. anything," he writes, “ could bar men from the attainment of grace, it would be with those who were grown up and aged, their grievous sins. But if the grossest sinners, after they have attained to faith, receive for

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »