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THE difficulties connected with the Baptismal service of the Church of England appear, when its history is traced, to arise less from the service itself than from the sentiments which men bring to its consideration. If those individuals who object to its language had lived at the time when the Book of Common Prayer was compiled, it is more than probable they would never have entertained their present objections. Among the reformers of that period there was happily no difference of opinion respecting the sacramental nature of baptism. The German divines were unanimous in sentiment with our own on the subject; and the views of Zuingle and Calvin had not as yet reached this country. The return of the English divines from the continent, whither they had been driven by the persecutions of Mary, is the period from which we must date their first introduction among us; and, as its consequence, the rise of the Puritan school of divinity,―a school differing so widely from that of the reformers of the age preceding, as to lead ultimately to the proscription of the Book of Common Prayer in the days of the Commonwealth. The age which followed the Restoration, though ennobled by the writings of
Taylor, Barrow, South, and a host of divines, who had been trained to habits of devotion and piety by the trials and persecutions of that period, was succeeded by the Revolution; and with it by an almost universal decay of vital godliness throughout the land. The revival of true religion in the latter part of the last and the beginning of the present century, is, under God, to be attributed to the zealous labours of men who, though differing from the Puritans in some points, were in general great admirers of their doctrinal and practical writings, and might, perhaps, on the whole, be regarded as belonging to their school of divinity. This circumstance may serve to explain, how many members of the Church of England, who have received their doctrinal views, as well as religious principles, from the labours and writings of these excellent men, should find in the service of the Church to which they belong, statements that, in their view at least, are opposed to the doctrines of the Reformation; and that present to their mind the same points of objection as to the Non-conformist divines at the Savoy Conference.
Moreover, their objections appear to them to derive additional confirmation from the circumstance, that their force is also fully admitted by the great body of Protestants of the present day. Without impugning their conscientiousness in entertaining these objections, or attributing their conduct to any other motive than a paramount regard for the interests of spiritual religion, it will at least be allowed,
that such sentiments appear less natural and consistent in them, than in those who may be regarded as the natural descendants and representatives of the Puritans. It may therefore serve to remove the influence which this partial manifestation of Protestant opinion has over the minds of some, as well as prevent the inference being drawn from it which is commonly made,—that the Church of England retains the errors of Romanism, in opposition to the fundamental doctrines of the Reformation,-if, in pointing out the distinctive principles of the Church of England on this subject, the agreement of those principles with the recorded sentiments of Luther and Melancthon those great luminaries of the Reformation-should at the same time be also set forth. This will accordingly be done in the notes to the following introductory remarks.
I. The Nature of holy Baptism.
The view of the Church on this subject is best illustrated in the Order of Baptism for such as are of riper years.' In the rubric prefixed to that service it is enjoined "that due care be taken to examine" the candidates for baptism, "whether they be sufficiently instructed in the principles of the Christian religion, and that they be exhorted to prepare themselves with prayers and fastings for the receiving of this holy sacrament." And
throughout the service it is also presumed that the persons about to be baptised do, in desiring that sacrament," truly repent and come unto Christ by faith." But, notwithstanding these qualifications, they are, in the estimation of the Church, still in a state of nature; and in her exhortation the congregation are besought to call upon God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ (which they accordingly do in the two subsequent collects), that “ he will grant to these persons that which by nature they cannot have; that they may be baptised with water and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ's holy Church, and be made lively members of the same."
In the exhortation, founded upon our Lord's discourse with Nicodemus and other passages of the New Testament, in which the great necessity of the sacrament of baptism, "where it may be had," together with the benefit to be reaped from it, are pointed out, the congregation are then encouraged to believe that our Saviour Christ will favourably receive these persons present, truly repenting and coming to him by faith; that he will grant them remission of their sins, and bestow upon them the Holy Ghost; and that he will give them the blessing of eternal life, and make them partakers of his everlasting kingdom. Upon this persuasion of God's good-will towards them, the congregation are urged to pray on their behalf, that he will give them his Holy Spirit, that they may be born again, and be made heirs of everlasting