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Uncertainty in the Dogmas of Christianity.

(Continued from page 148.)

The Bishop says he does not venture to give a precise definition of what is meant by the word “regenerate,” but will offer a suggestion which may pave the way to a common understanding. This seems to say that he will offer an opinion in which all <<181>> parties may join by making mutual concessions. It does not, however, even appear that this is his real opinion on the subject. He proceeds to say that in different passages of Holy Scripture (meaning the New Testament), man is said to be born of water and of the Spirit.

The passage is so curious that I will transcribe it wholly. “To be born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God; to have been begotten again of God; to be born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible; to have been begotten again of God into a lively hope; to have been born of God and to sin not; to have been begotten of God and to keep himself.” (This he considers to be delivered in the New Testament, and to be “regeneration.”) “Now he who is born becomes thereby the son of him to whom he is born, by whom he is begotten; and therefore he who is born of God, or begotten of God, means, to be made a child of God; and regeneration, or the being born again, means, a person being made the child of a father whose child he was not before. Regeneration by baptism means, then, the being made by baptism a child of God, and, with reference to God’s no longer regarding him with displeasure, but with favour, a child of grace.”

Now, in this laboured explanation and defence of the meaning of the term “regenerate,” there are many things assumed which cannot be proved, and which are morally impossible. The words used cannot be taken in the natural meaning which they bear, and must be understood in some mystical sense. The child has been begotten by the will of man, but by the means provided by God for that purpose; when thus begotten and born, it cannot again be begotten and born. If it please God, he can alter the disposition of the child’s soul from bad to good; but that is not a regeneration; it is not thereby again begotten or born; and it leads to the inference that God had made a wicked soul and placed it in the child’s body, and afterwards corrected his work. Add to which that it is the soul which commits sin, the body and members are only the instruments. The mortal frame once formed, cannot again be formed without previously being dissolved.

Doubtless the Almighty could at his pleasure collect <<182>> the atoms of which it was composed, and reproduce the same materials into the same form, and by the same process,—which would indeed be a regeneration; but that is not what is meant by the term when applied to baptism. All the terms by which the ceremony is described are used to indicate a spiritual change, which is supposed to be effected by it in the recipient’s soul; and there is no evidence to support the assumption or to suppose the fact that any change takes place in any infant’s soul a few weeks after its entrance into the world, at which time generally the ceremony is performed. As to the assertion that it is thereby made a child of God, an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven, a member of Christ, it is no more than an invention to enhance the value of the ceremony; and the late discussion has decided that what is meant by the term regeneration is not necessarily the elect of baptism.

The Church of Rome has been censured for depriving her lay children of the perusal of the Bible, and her ecclesiastics of the exercise of their private judgment. She has given an interpretation of the mysteries of her doctrine which must be received by all;—she claims infallibility, which resides ex officio in the supreme Pontiff. That certainly is very tyrannical; but it has in a great measure preserved the unity of her doctrine: she has laid down a certain rule, from which there no appeal. The Reformers, when they threw off the papal yoke, took credit for their liberality in allowing the free study of the doctrine of their faith as set forth in the Gospel. They permitted and invited every one to exercise his own judgment on the mystic dogmas therein contained, and the consequence was soon apparent, and becomes every day more visible.

The Protestant Church has not any fixed rule for the explanation of its mysteries. Many theologians are laboured to elucidate them, each in his own way, but have rendered them more obscure.

The Bishop of Norwich declared “that, considering the number and nature of many of the propositions in the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, it is impossible that any numbers of individuals should view them all in the same light <<183>> therefore some latitude in subscribing to them is utterly unavoidable.”

The judgment delivered by the Chairman of the Judicial Committee, last July, was, that the whole of the Catechism required a charitable construction. The charitable construction is explained to be the same as a qualified construction, not strictly nor literally true.

The Bishop of London, in treating of baptismal regeneration, says: “A question may be properly raised as to the sense in which the term regeneration was used in the early church and by our own Reformers; but I do not understand how any clergyman who uses the office for baptism, without a breach of God’s faith, can deny that, in some sense or other, baptism is indeed the laver of regeneration.” (That which is true must be true in every sense.)

Bishop Pearson’s exposition is not very luminous. In treating of baptism, he says that it is an outward and visible sign indeed; but by it an invisible grace is signified, and the sign itself was instituted for the very purpose that it should confer that grace.

It is not the object of a sign to confer a grace, but to signify that the grace has been conferred; but by the above quotation it is affirmed that baptism actually conferred the grace, and necessarily is a sign of it. It seems the Bishop’s exposition is to be received with a charitable construction.

The Bishop of London says again (page 7): “I suppose that few among us will be found to deny that all who receive baptism worthily are, in some sense of the term, therein regenerated.”

Now I do not think that sufficient; they should take it in the sense that the Church uses the term, though the term certainly does not express the sense which is put upon it; and I believe that few will be found to maintain that the rite of baptism confers the benefits which are ascribed to it. I think every one will allow that the language of the Church on that subject is merely figurative of some blessing or benefit which the recipient is supposed to derive therefrom. It must not only receive a charitable construction, but be repudiated in its literal meaning; and then what remains but a simple ceremony? When the Church extols <<184>> the virtue of its effects, it cannot bring any evidence from the Gospel in support of the terms which are employed.

It appears that there is a party in the Church who are anxious for the further reformation of the reformed religion, and would “expunge from the Common Prayer-Book the Athanasian creed, the assertion of baptismal regeneration, some of the rubrics in the office of the Holy Communion, &c. Should the time unhappily ever come when such concessions shall be made, it will not be long before our venerable and scriptural liturgy is replaced for the second time by a ‘Directory for the Public Worship of God.’”

On this subject the Bishop quotes the opinion of the Rev. L. Newton: “As for your Liturgy, I am far from thinking it incapable of amendment; though, when I consider the spirit and temper of the present times, I dare not wish that the improvement should be attempted, lest the remedy should be worse than the disease.” In this opinion the Bishop coincides. He has declared that the Book of Common Prayer, contains a full exposition of the doctrine of the Church; still, it is capable of amendment. If there be any Jew who contemplates conversion, he had better wait till the amendment is made, so that he may not hereafter have to discard what must have cost him much trouble to reconcile to his mind. 

Now, let us consider what dogmas, are taught in the Catechism, but which the Judicial Committee say require a charitable construction, but which, every child is expected to know. The first question is, “What is your name?” The second is, “Who gave you that name?” to which the child must answer, “My godfather and godmother, at my baptism, when I was made a Member of Jesus Christ, a child of God, and inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” The construction must be charitable indeed that can lend to these phrases a shadow of truth. The child is taught to repeat these words when it has not reason to understand them in any other than their literal meaning; and, I believe, in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred, no effort is made to undeceive it. Bishop Beveridge admits that they are only figures of speech, when he explains that by baptism the <<185>> child is admitted into the Church, or kingdom of God upon earth; but except he submit to the government and the laws established in it, he forfeits all right and title to the kingdom of heaven. But he does not say that the child by baptism becomes a member of Christ, a child of God, and inheritor of his kingdom. Baptism, he says, puts us in the way to heaven, but unless we walk in that way we can never come thither, but the mere ceremony cannot have any effect on the child. The catechumen then states his belief, which is “in God the Father and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, who was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, descended into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, where he sitteth on the right hand of God.”

Now, the whole of this confession of faith requires “the charitable construction,” except the first member; but it is taught to the child without any explanation or modification, whilst the teacher must know in his heart that very little of it is literally true. All that relates to the Son of God (who is there called Jesus Christ), as such, is false and impossible, as the child will find when he is instructed that the Son is equal to the Father in power and glory. He will then either reject the doctrine altogether, or remain in the erroneous belief inculcated in his childhood, that a god was conceived by a woman of a spirit which proceeded from himself and his father; that he was born, suffered and died, rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Where is the teacher who will tell him that there is not anything that is literally true as to the Son of God? After having deceived the child in his infancy, they will let him live and die in his error.

(To be continued.)