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A review of the baptismal controversy online

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tioned in the Fathers.^ And when we consider the com-
parative ease with which words in large use slide out of
one meaning into another, and contract in course of time

• See Chapter vi. • Chapter vii.

' This doctrine had not gained acceptance even in the days of
Peter Lombard, who asks, as if it were an absnrd supposition,
— " eed quis ddxerit eoe {infantes) accepiase fidem et charitcUem?*'
L. 4, dist 4.

'' Ubi tu ex veteribns certo edocebis habitus ant fidei ant spei ant
charitatis in qnibns potissimum sanctificatio consistit, infandi
parynlis in baptismoP" Ward, Disceptatio inter Ghitaker et
Ward, p. 203.

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1 86 Patristic Assertion of the Regeneration [Part I.

senses very diflFerent from their original ones, the suppo-
sition of a secondary sense involves nothing strange or
improbable. The history of language is full of instances
of this kind of change in the meaning of words ; and
though it might be objected with some appearance of
reason that the Fathers do not tell us of any secondary
sense in which they use the term here, it might be
replied also, not unreasonably, that it is not necessary for
the truth of the fact that they themselves should inform
us of it ; that when a difficulty occurs in a book, a letter,
or any kind of document, which can only be explained
by supposing that the writer uses a certain word in a
different sense from its original one, we do not wait for
the writer to tell us, before we give this explanation,
but do it upon our own authority, because, as reasonable
intelligent persons, we are judges of language, of its
difficulties, and of the mode of explaining them. But
then, if we . adopt this alternative of a secondary sense,
this statement of the Fathers becomes a totally different
statement from that which is wanted for a dogmatic pur-
pose. Ceasing to be the statement that all infants are
regenerate in baptism in the true sense, it is deprived of
the necessary condition of an article of the faith, as well
as of all peculiar theological interest; for those who
maintain the regeneration of all infants in baptism do not
profess to be concerned with any other sense of the term
than the true one.

4. On either then of the alternatives just mentioned,
either that the term regenerate is used or is not used in
its true sense in this Patristic statement, the claim of
this statement to be an article of the faith is alike dis-
posed of in the negative. But now another objection to
this claim arises, in consequence of this very alternative
of meaning under which we have been considering this
statement. For why were we obliged to make use of an

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Chap. XII.] of all Infants in Baptism. 1 8 7

altematiye ? Simply because the Fathers do not tell us
distinctly in what sense they do use the term "rege-
nerate^' in this statement. Did they expressly assert^
with the Schoolmen^ that an actual habit of goodness is
implanted in all infants in baptism ; or did they expressly
assert^ with the Anglican divines^ that only a faculty is
implanted; in either case we should know what they
meant^ and should treat their assertion accordingly in
one or the other of the two ways just mentioned. But
the truth is^ that the Fathers do not tell us in what
sense they do use this term in this statement. It is
evident that an explanation is wanted here ; for how can it
be said^ consistently with plain facts, that all infants are
made good in baptism ? The Fathers do not give this
explanation, and therefore leave us in doubt what they
mean by this statement.

Two great schools of divines accordingly, each pro-
fessing the character of zealous adherents and faithful
exponents of the Fathers, have given totally diflTerent
interpretations of this statement. The Schoolmen and
the Anglican divines both alike base their baptismal doc-
trine upon the Fathers ; both alike base their doctrine of
infant regeneration upon this particular assertion of the
Fathers ; but the Schoolmen confidently interpret this
assertion of the Fathers, viz. that all baptized infants are
regenerate, as meaning that all in&nts have actual good-
ness implanted in them in baptism ; the Anglican divines
as confidently deny this interpretation of it, and maintain
that it does not mean anything of the kind.^ The
Schoolmen expound the baptismal regeneration of the
Fathers, as meaning the infusion of the very habit of
goodness, the very virtues of faith, hope, and charity
themselves into every infant at baptism. The Anglicans

' Chapters vii. zi.


l88 Patristic Assertion of the Regeneration [Paet I.

expound it as only the endowment of the infant with a
new capacity {or goodness^ or a special assisting grace.
Bishop Bethell rejects the Scholastic interpretation as
unsound^ fantastic^ untenable, and contrary to plain ex-
perience. He condemns as irrational the idea of ^' habits
of faith aiid holiness being implanted in the soul by
literal creation ;"• he rejects the doctrine, that ''man
when he is baptized is endowed with justifying grace,
containing in it faith, hope, charity, and all the Christian
virtues,'' as an unauthorized ambitious conceit ; and con-
trasts with it, as representing the true meaning of the
Fathers, the doctrine of the Anglican School, that " the
grace conferred by baptism is a potential principle or
latent power, which must be developed by a right use of
the means of grace and by moral and religions disci*
pline.'' * '' We who maintain/' he says, '' that regenera-
tion is the inward and spiritual grace of baptism, do not
identify it with conversion, the renewal of the inward
frame, an entire change of mind, or a radical change in all
the parts and faculties of the soul ;" ' but only " consider
it as a change of state and relative condition, carrying
with it new privileges, capacities of action, and expecta-
tions." ^ That is to say, he rests his defence and justifi-
cation of the Patristic assertion of the regeneration of all
infants in baptism, upon the very ground that it does not
mean that which whole centuries of Schoolmen said it
did mean. Such are the two expositions given of the
same statement of antiquity by two great schools of
divines, alike professing to adopt and defend this state-

• P. 183. » P. 181. « Pref. p. 39. » Tp. 222. 223.

* We have indeed witnessed comparatively lately within onr own
Chnrch the conflict of these two ioterpretations of this statement
of the Fathers. Br. Pnsey, in his Tract on Baptism, charged the
Anglican School, or a portion of it, with holding " a mere ontward

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Chap. XII.] of all Infants in Baptism. 189

And if those disagree aboat the meaning of this state-
menty who agree in accepting the statement itself^ cer-
tainly those do not less differ as to the meaning, who
separate as to the statement. We see one large school
among ourselves disagreeing with the position that all
infants are regenerate in baptism became they understand
regeneration as implying actual goodness^ and so under-
standing it^ cannot acquiesce in this universal bestowal
of it, in the face of plain facts. We see another large
school agreeing with this statement because they dis'
owrt, this meaning which the other school attributes, de-
claring that the statement means something altogether

What is the natural conclusion, then, which is to be
drawn from the ambiguity of the Patristic assertion of the
regeneration of all infants in baptism, so forcibly and
plainly witnessed to by the opposite meanings which
schools even agreeing in the adoption of the statement
itself attach to it ? What but that a statement, of which

change of state or circumstances, or relation/' as what constitnted
baptismal regeneration. Bp. Bethell, on the other hand, in defend-
ing the Anglican School, fastened upon Dr. Pusey a near approxi-
mation to the Scholastic definition of that gift. The descriptions
which these two divines give of the nature of baptismal regenera-
tion do indeed radically differ ; and founded alike v^on this asser-
tion of the Fathers, these two treatises give totally different inter-
pretations of it. With Dr. Pusey, regeneration distinctly " com-
prehends change of heart and affections," with Bp. Bethell it as
distinctly does not. According to Dr. Pusey, we are in baptism
" both accounted and made righteous ;'* according to Bp. Bethell,
we are only endowed with " a potential principle," or the capacity
of becoming righteous. We have then in these two treatises, which
are the principal recent expositions of the baptismal language of
the Fathers, and which aim alike at a faithful explanation of this
particular statement of the Fathers, two interpretations of it so
distinct, that the same person might accept it in one of these
meanings and reject it in the other.

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igo Patristic Assertion of the Regeneration [Part I.

the meaning is not clear, is not in a fit state for dogmatic
use ? Do the Fathers mean by regeneration in this state-
ment a gift which does imply actaal goodness, or a gift
which does not imply it? These are two fundamentally
different meanings; they are contradictory meanings.
If we do not know then whether this Patristic state-
ment is to be understood in the one or the other, it
is a statement to which we cannot be required to

For if the Church wants to impose a truth she must
first, both according to the law of reason and her own
law, express the truth which she wants to impose. In the
first place, this has been invariably the practice of the
Church. She has never imposed particular articles of be-
lief by means of dubious statements, which only included
those articles within a wider area of meaning, and did not
singly express them. Defective expression has, on the
contrary, been amended, the indistinctness cleared up,
and the particular truth been specified before it has been
enforced. Thus when the term "God/* which had
undoubtedly been used in Scripture in a sense short of
absolute Deity, was found insufficient to express the
Divinity of our Lord, she added the term '^consub-
stantial '^ to it ; and when the Catholic statement of the
Incarnation was found not sufficient to express our Lord^s
Unity of Person, she made the latter specific addition.
Her practice has thus never been to impose unexpressed
meanings, but always to express particularly the meaning
which was intended, before she imposed it. She did this
undoubtedly in the cases mentioned, not so much out of
justice to subscribers as to protect herself; but without
going into her reasons, — though we may remark, by the
way, that the former is a duty as incumbent upon her as
the latter, — it is sufficient to observe the fact of her uni-
form practice.

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C HAP. XII.] of all Infants in Baptism. 1 9 1

We receive indeed and subscribe to a whole class of doc-
trinal statements, of which the meaning is in this sense
unknown, that we have no clear and distinct idea of the
truths themselves which those statements declare. The
doctrinal statements which declare the Trinity, the Incar-
nation, the Atonement, have no distinct meaning in the
sense of a meaning which is clearly comprehensible by us,
and for this reason, that the nature of the truths which
they express is such that no distinct idea can be formed
of them, such as can be subjected to our intellectual grasp.
But this is altogether a different case from the one before
us. Those statements are not ambigtiovs, though their
meaning is in this sense indistinct ; because this indis-
tinctness does not arise from any defect of expression,
but from the mysterious nature of the truths expressed ;
which truths being incomprehensible, the statements are
still decisive, and not open to any double interpretation.
But the statement with which we are here concerned, is
an ambiguous statement admitting of two totally different
intelligible and distinct meanings, according to the inter-
pretation which is put upon it.

Formularies of faith, again, sometimes contain state-
ments which are designedly made ambiguous, in order to
include different senses of and modes of entertaining par-
ticular truths, so as to admit of the subscription of dif-
ferent schools. But statements which are designedly
ambiguous, i.e. constructed so as to cover a certain
area of meaning, not co-extensive with one sense of a
truth, but including several, are ambiguous relatively to
one or other of the particular senses they cover, but in
themselves they are not at all ambiguous ; for the inclu-
sive area is as distinct and apparent as the specific one, the
larger area is as express as the less, and speaks for itself
to the subscriber. But statements which are ambiguous
not from design but from the loose and undefined nature

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192 Patristic Assertion of the Regeneration [Part I.

of the terms employed in them^ are ambiguous in them-
selves and ambiguous to subscribers.

The uniform practice of the Churchy then, is against the
imposition of statements as articles of f aith^ of which the
meaning is ambiguous and undecided. But we need
hardly appeal to precedent in such a case as this. The
great court of the Church Catholic is originally bound by
those plain elementary rules and principles to which all
tribunals are tied^ that impose confessions^ oaths^ or de-
clarations upon men ; and especially by the rule which re-
quires that in imposing any article of practice or belief, we
should specify what the article which we impose is. No
considerations can supersede the imperative law of jus-
tice and reason, that when we are required to subscribe a
proposition, we should know what it is which we are
subscribing to. This is one of those first principles,
which are supposed in all compacts and agreements, bonds
and engagements, civil and religious.

When the rank of an article of the faith, then, is
claimed for this statement, I remark, as I have done
already, first, that this is a special and subordinate state-
ment of the Fathers, distinct from their principal
baptismal statement, which is a general one ; secondly,
that this statement cannot be proved by Scripture, a
consideration which singly disposes of this claim ; thirdly,
that it appears in no creed or declaration of any Greneral
Coimcil ; fourthly, that it is untrue, and opposed to plain
and certain facts, i/the principal term in it is understood
in its true sense, in which sense it 'ttivisi be understood in
a statement pretending to be an article of the faith ; but
fifthly and lastly, I remark that this statement is am-
biguous, and that we do not know what it means, and
what it intends to assert. Were there no other weak
point in its case, against the universality of this Patristic
statement we must set ofif its amhiguity, as a fundamental

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Chap, XIL] of all Infants in Baptism. 193

constitutional defect in its position. We are unable to
ascertain what we should be subscribing to in subscribing
to this statement. We cannot obtain a satisfactory
answer to this first question, which is in the nature of the
case preliminary to ^ assent. On consulting authorities,
we find contradictory interpretations. The ambiguity of
this statement is indeed a thing generally observed, but
the conclusion which follows unavoidably from it, should
be observed also, that it is unfitted by such ambiguity
for dogmatic use. Because to an article of the faith, in
the legal eye of the Church, adequate expression is as
necessary as universality ; it is as essential that it should
be known in what there is general concurrence, as that
there should he general concurrence.


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The difficulties relating to the doctrine of the regeneration
of all infants in baptism, arise from two different sources.
One is the meaning of the term " regenerate,'' the diffi-
culties arising from which have been discussed in the
preceding chapters. The other is the doctrine of pre-
destination. These two sources of difficulty on this
subject are distinct and independent of each other. Did
no doctrine of predestination exist, the sense of the term
"regeiisrate'^ would still create those difficulties which
have been mentioned. But in addition to the sense of
the term, another remarkable phenomenon must now be
taken into account, and that is the toleration by antiquity
of the doctrine just mentioned.

Tlie doctrine of predestination no more conflicts with
the doctrine of baptismal grace generally stated, than it
does with the grace of the other sacrament; for the
certainty of the end is not incompatible with the necessity
of the means. And for this reason it does not disagree
with the Scriptural doctrine of baptismal regeneration;
for Scripture only refers generally to the grace of the
sacrament, and lays down no fixed class of recipients.
But when the doctrine of baptismal regeneration goes
beyond Scripture, and pronounces all baptized infants to
be recipients of this grace, the doctiine of predestination
comes into collision with it, as we shall see by simply
ascertaining what these two doctrines respectively mean.

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Augustinianism. 195

For in confronting one of these doctrines with the
other in order to ascertain whether they are compatible
with each other or not, the first thing we have to do is
to place the real mecmings of the two properly before us.
Any two sets of words as such may be held together, for
verbal statements apart from their meanings are in no
way opposed to each other, but doctrines cannot be
embraced together, which are contradictory in meaning.

First, then, what do we mean by regeneration ? No-
body pretends to say that the whole of that grace which
is necessary for a man through life, is received in the
single moment of baptism; by regeneration, however,
we certainly mean admission to a state of grace enabling
the individual to attain salvation. Some give the term a
much higher meaning, including in the signification of
it not only the power to attain holiness and salvation, but
actual holiness itself; but all agree that regeneration in
its true sense implies at the least that power. This is
expressed in the common description of baptism as a
covenant, in which God gives on His part all the grace
that is necessary for the attainment of eternal life,
leaving to the individual on his part the responsibility of
availing himself of the power. " Baptism,^' says Hooker,
'^ implieth a covenant or league between God and man,
wherein as God doth bestow presently remission of sins,
bindmg also Himself to add in process of time what grace
soever shall be further necessary for the attainment of
everlasting life ; so every baptized soul," * &c. " The
regeneration of infants," says Thomdike, '' consists in
the habitual assistance of God's Spirit, the e£fects whereof
are to appear in making them ahle to perform that which
their Christianity requires at their hands." ^ ''To all
persons," says Barrow, '* by the holy mystery of baptism

* Eccl. PoL V. Ixiv. 4. * Laws of Church, b. iii. c. viii. § 25.


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196 Augustintantsm. [Part I.

duly initiated into Christianity, the grace of the Holy
Spirit is commanicated, enabling them to perform the
conditions of virtue and piety which they undertake, and
continually watching over them for the accomplishment
of these purposes. ... A competency of grace and
spiritual assistance is really imparted to every man,
qualifying him to do what God requires/'* Bishop
Bethell defines regeneration as '' a change of state and
relative condition, accompanied with an earnest or first
principle of new life, and a promise of such spiritual
power as may enable the recipient to continue in this state
of salvation, and to carry on that moral and practical
change which this mystical change implies and requires."
But I need not quote authorities on a point universally
agreed on, and always assumed rather than expressed in
all allusions to regeneration.

This being one of the two doctrines, then, viz. that all
infants are at baptism admitted into a state or condition
of ability to attain salvation, and have the pledge given
them that they will, as they grow up and throughout life,
receive grace sufficient for this purpose, — this being one
of the two doctrines, let us now turn our attention to
the other, with which it is to be confronted.

The Augustinian doctrine of Predestination divides
the world into two portions, one of which is from all
eternity, and antecedently to all action of the individuals
themselves, predestinated to eternal life ; the other
without exception is left to eternal damnation. Both of
these are originally in the same state, they are in massa
perditionis, as the Augustinian phrase is, in massa peccati ;
that is to say, they are both by birth in a condition of
moral impotence, and utterly unable to lead that course
of life which will secure their salvation; but one is

• Sermon 72.

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C HAP. XIII. ] Augusttniantsm. 197

antecedently to all life and conduct rescued out of this
state^ the other is antecedently to all life and conduct left
in it. The individuals who compose the one division are
endowed with irresistible grace^ and final perseverance,
which not only enable but cause them to act aright, and
to act aright up to the end of life ; from the other these
gifts which are absolutely necessary for salvation are
withheld. This section, therefore, labours under a total
inability from the very moment of birth to attain salvation.
The uniformity of the result of failure in an arbitrarily
constituted class proves of itself unequivocally the absence
of power to succeed. But besides this, an issue which is
certain antecedently to all the acts and behaviour of a
man implies in its very idea the impossibility of being
avoided by him. It is true that some certainty may be
a certainty to the Divine Mind, and yet a contingency in
itself; for if the Divine Mind foresees an event as con-
tingent, and simply following upon certain conduct which
might have been avoided, such an event is not the less
contingent in itself because it is certain from all eternity
to God. But if the certainty of an event exists prior to
all conduct of the individual, the event is not only certain
to God, but unavoidable by man ; because existing as it
does prior to all human conduct, it plainly is not caused
by it.

One whole section of mankind, therefore, according to
the Augustinian scheme, labours from the very moment
of birth under a total inability to attain salvation. For
those who compose this section are without such grace as
is absolutely necessary for salvation; they are without
this grace because they are not included within the decree
of predestination; and the very comer-stone of the
Augustinian doctrine is, that inclusion or non-inclusion
within the decree of predestination is anterior to all acts
of the individual. The inability, therefore, of those who

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1 98 Augustiniantsm. [Part I.

compose this section of mankind to attain salvation, is
like any other case of natural deprivation, in which persons
are, to begin with, without certain faculties or resources
which are necessary to gain particular objects.

The question then is, whether those #ho labour under
an absolute and perpetual inability to attain salvation,
can at the same time possess the power from the moment
of their baptism to attain salvation ? It must be seen
that this is a contradiction in terms, and therefore that
the Augustinian scheme is inconsistent with the regene-
ration of all infants in baptism, if regeneration includes
what it has been defined as at the very least including.
Were the area of predestination coincident indeed with
that of baptism^ the two schemes would be consistent ;
but, inasmuch as the two areas intersect each other, the
two schemes can only be made consistent by supposing
that the same person can antecedently to all action of his
own be excluded from eternal life^ and at the same time
be endowed with grace enabling him to attain it; that
the same person can want a grace which is necessary for
salvation, and at the same time have grace sufficient for
salvation ; that the same person can be left from birth in
the old Adam^ in massa perditionis, and in massa peccati,
i.e. in his old corrupt nature, and at the same time
endowed with the new nature.

If regeneration, therefore, implies according to Hooker

Online LibraryJames Bowling MozleyA review of the baptismal controversy → online text (page 16 of 38)