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Question. Who gave you that name ?” “ Answer. My godfathers and godmothers in my baptism ; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."
I shall postpone my observations relating to the appointment of sponsors to a subsequent part of this letter, and, at present, restrict them to the latter clauses of the answer, viz. that in baptism the child, who is supposed to give the answer, was “made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.”
And first, I observe, that the arrangement of these particulars would, in my opinion, have accorded more with the suggestions of nature, order, and propriety, as well as the general tenor of Scripture, had the first two specified benefits, here alleged to be imparted to infants in their baptism, been placed in a reversed order. The invariable language of the New Testament relative to these points is, that such as have been made partakers of the blessings of the Gospel are born again of the Spirit, have become members of Christ by faith, and that being thus made children of God and disciples of his Son, they become heirs of everlasting life. I shall not, however, at present, enter into the relative merits of these two arrangements, but merely observe, that the order of the Catechism appears neither in the public nor private “Ministrations of Baptism”
inserted in the Common Prayer, nor, indeed, do the words “member of Christ” occur at all in either of them. Nevertheless, as every real child of God is also a member of Christ and an heir of glory, I shall confine my attention chiefly to the former of these three designations. And the first question of inquiry will accordingly be, “Whether, independently of a special revelation from heaven, it can be lawfully affirmed respecting any infant duly baptized, that by such baptism he was constituted a child of God, in the Scripture sense of this designation ?” This question can only, of course, be satisfactorily determined by an appeal to the New Testament. This is the Statute-Book of christian law, and, I presume, it may be safely affirmed, that it recognises no extraneous or independent authority. By this Statute-Book all ecclesiastical institutes, laws, and regulations ought to be framed and should be tested ; and there can be no appeal from it, except to the adjudications of the great day. And as it is the Statute-Book of the kingdom of God, to which all men are required by him to submit, so no “adjudged cases of their own can possess any weight in that kingdom, except only as they are in strict accordance with the laws of the same; and, of course, absolutely speaking, none at all as authorities.
I am sure your Grace will also admit, that an appeal to the laws of God, in any case affecting
religion, should be made with the greatest solemnity, and that those laws themselves, when ascertained, should be conscientiously, implicitly, and promptly obeyed: that, consequently, if any thing be found in the creeds, or other formularies of a christian church, contrary to the express language and plain import of the Statute-Book, such religious community is bound to bring them into exact conformity with it.
Under these impressions, I proceed to cite from the New Testament some of those passages which have, more or less, direct reference to the Answer just quoted from the Church Catechism ; and I shall confine myself, as already intimated, chiefly to the consideration of those which refer to that touching and dignified relation into which all real Christians-i. e. all Christians in the New Testament sense of the designation, are introduced,-I mean, that of children of God!
Your Grace need not be informed, that the spiritual nativity, by which an individual enters into the relation in question, is represented by our Lord, himself, as essential to salvation.* If, then, any consideration whatever can impress the mind with the transcendent importance of the subject before us, surely this is that consideration; I shall, therefore, introduce my proposed quotations, with the words of our Lord to which I have just adverted, as they are found in the narrative of his conversation with Nicodemus, in the third chapter of the Gospel by John.“ Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And again, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” His repetition of this truth, and the peculiar emphasis with which it was, in each instance, expressed, evidently show the high importance which our Lord, himself, attached to it, and how solicitous he was, that it should duly impress, not only the mind of Nicodemus, but, likewise, the minds of all persons, who should, afterwards, either hear or read the narrative,
* John iii. 3 and 5.
To a moral or spiritual change which, according to our Lord's own declaration, involves man's eternal happiness, it is reasonable to expect there would be, in the New Testament, repeated reference; especially as to the evidences by which such change may be certainly, or satisfactorily ascertained. Accordingly, it will be seen from the following quotations, that such reasonable expectation has been fully answered.
“As many as received him, [i.e. Jesus Christ] to them gave he power (or privilege] to become the sons of God, even to them who believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John i. 12, 13.
“ Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." Gal. iii. 26.
“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” James i. 18.
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” 1 Peter i. 23.
The above passages of Scripture, your Grace will have perceived, relate to the divine agency and instrumentality concerned in this change. The following describe some of the evidences by which the children of God are ascertained and made manifest.
“ As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Rom. viii. 14.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Ibid. verse 16.
“ Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Fatber.” Gal. iv. 6.
“ As then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” Ibid. ver. 29.
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” 1 Jobn iii. 1.
“ Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he