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Uncertainty in the Dogmas of Christianity.

To the Editor of the Occident.

Sir:—It is allowed that the dogmas of the Christian religion are to be received with “a charitable construction,” that is to say as “not strictly true;” but it is not often that we are told in what degree they are to be modified. In fact it would appear that the Church has not any fixed standard of orthodoxy. This <<145>> has been strongly exemplified in the recent Gorham case, where the Bishop of Exeter had declared the opinion held by Dr. Gorham on the subject of Baptism, to be heretical, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has declared them to be orthodox, and not to be deemed an objection to his holding the cure of souls. The Bishop of London, who supports the Bishop of Exeter, has, in a charge to the Clergy in his Diocese, brought forward the arguments on which he founds the opinion of Dr. Gorham’s errors. He shows that the Church teaches that by the sacrament of baptism, the recipients are regenerated and receive the forgiveness of sins, the new nature, adoption into the family of God, the being made members of Christ, children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. Dr. Gorham, on the other hand, contends that these benefits are not conferred by the rite of baptism, but must be bestowed, if at all, by an act of Praevenient Grace that baptism is so far an effectual sign of God’s grace bestowed beforehand. According to this doctrine, the rite does not bestow any benefit, but is merely an outward sign that such benefit is supposed to have been received, and reducing it to a mere ceremony of no value, not being essential to salvation, unless accompanied by the benefit of an act of grace, which may be bestowed at, on, or after baptism, or wholly withheld.

Will Dr. Gorham, after the opinion to which he has arrived, ever perform the ceremony of baptism, which, he says must be ineffectual without a praevenient act of grace, which, in the case of an infant who is a few weeks old, he cannot be assured of? If he does, is it not a mockery of his God, and a shameful imposition on the parents of the child, who believe that by the performance of the rite their child has been absolved from sin, and received those benefits, which he says are only conferred by an act of grace?

The Bishop of London remarks, that only the least objectionable parts of Dr. Gorham’s doctrine are referred to in the report of the Privy Council, in which the more important errors are passed over in silence, a silence on which the Bishop congratulates himself, since, if it does not condemn the errors, it does not sanction. them but although the report does not expressly condemn <<146>> them, the Queen, by declaring that Dr. G. is not unworthy of exercising the cure of souls, has tacitly sanctioned them. Dr. G. has publicly avowed his opinions, which have as publicly been censured by the Ecclesiastical Court, and it is highly disgraceful to the Judicial Committee, if they did not consider all the available evidence which could bear on a case which was brought before them for adjudication; and they are still more culpable if, having before them the expression of opinions “precisely and dogmatically opposed to the doctrine of the Church,” they did not visit them with the severest censure.

The whole of this litigation has inflicted a deep, and I think irreparable, injury on the Anglican Church; but speaking as a Jew, I view it as an additional safeguard to the lukewarm and wavering among us; for however little they may be inclined to investigate the warrants for the veracity of Christianity, they cannot shut their eyes to the fact that one of the principal dogmas of the Church had been attacked with impunity by one of her ministers. The same reasoning which shows the rite of baptism not to be of any efficacy for the object to which it was directed, will make the sacrament of confirmation equally useless; since there is no certainty that the advantages which arc supposed by it to have been received in baptism, and which it is the object of the sacrament to confirm, have really been received.

In attempting to define the real doctrine of the Church as to the effect of baptism, we are referred to Bishop Beveridge, who says: “Although our blessed Saviour saith to Nicodemus that except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, yet he does not say, that every one who is so born shall inherit eternal life. It is true, that all who are baptized, or born of water and the Spirit, are thereby admitted into the kingdom of God upon earth; but except they submit to the government, and obey the laws established in it, they forfeit all right and title to the kingdom of heaven.” Now this opinion certainly favours the teaching of Dr. Gorham; inasmuch as it asserts the inefficacy of baptism by itself; but it insists on the necessity of baptism, without which all other merits will not insure salvation.

“One baptism for the remission of sin.”—Now when applied to infants, what sin can there be to require remission? But the Church tells us that every one is born with the taint of the original sin, and deserves God’s wrath and damnation; therefore the necessity of baptism to cleanse the newly born infant from it. But how impious is the doctrine that God has created a soul, and sent it into the world in a state that merits damnation, and that He should have instituted a ceremony to expiate a sin which He had infected it with! when it is most natural to believe the soul to have been created pure, and that the sin which may afterwards subject the man to punishment has been incurred by his inclinations and his passions. But this dogma being assumed, the necessity of pardon for an unintentional and an imaginary sin was inculcated; this pardon was to be conferred by the ceremony of baptism, to which Jesus is said to refer when he spoke of a man being born of water and the Spirit. Since then the idea has been amplified, and the rite, independent of the pardon of sin, is said to confer on the recipient a new nature: adoption into the family of God, the being made a member of Christ, a child of God, and inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. These splendid benefits of baptism cannot be taken in the literal sense, nor perhaps in any other sense; they have not even the merit of being figurative expressions, used to inculcate the practice of virtue, making us in some sense the children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, in the reward which virtue will receive, seeing that they are applied to children, and made dependent on their future conduct.

The Christian theology represents the Son as begotten, not created, and as “the only begotten;” but how then can the baptized infants be the children of God? how can they be said to be members of Christ?

Father and son are correlative terms. The second Person of the Trinity, and the children of God as made by baptism are all in the same position.

The practice of baptism was not instituted by Jesus; John baptized his followers and preached repentance; but we do not find that he prescribed it as having any efficacy to salvation. Ablution was a prevalent custom among the Jews, who meditated repentance, and was used on many other occasions.

The Bishop observes that the controversy which has so long been going on respecting the efficacy of baptism, has arisen from the different meanings which have been attached to the word re­generation. It is very strange that the Church should employ a word which was capable of different meanings, and yet not have declared the precise meaning in which she used it. The term re­generation in its strictest sense means reproduced, and is applied to baptism as indicative of a change in the nature or disposition supposed to take place in the being who undergoes the rite; but a change in the disposition of the subject is not a reproduction; the implanting of a new nature in the human frame infers, that the old nature has been expelled, and therefore has not had the effect of cleansing the old, but of supplying a new nature; consequently it is not true that in baptism the recipient is re­generated, nor can it be said that he is born of water and the Spirit, nor born again. (John iii. 3.)

(To be continued.)