« AnteriorContinua »
inherent in man's nature, and therefore universal and permanent, is, we know, a fundamental fact in the faith of a Christian; and can only be denied, by calling into question one of the most important and distinguishing doctrines of true religion. The stain of sin confessedly adheres to all mankind; introduced by the offence of Adam, it has vitiated his whole progeny; and we inherit from him, independently of our own actual transgressions, a nature corrupted and prone to ill, and as such, impure and unfit for heaven and happiness. And no other spiritual stain of like universality existing, to this, it might fairly be presumed, that a rite expressive of purification, and of universal and perpetual obligation, in a religion essentially spiritual, and recognizing the existence of the evil, was intended to refer. And this becomes yet more probable, when we reflect, that without any especial reference to the notion of the impurity of sin, to obviate generally the evils resulting from the transgression of the first Adam, was one declared purpose of the incarnation of the second.
But what seems to put it beyond doubt, so far as the words of institution are concerned, that the stain of sin, original or actual, is that of which Christian Baptism either effects or represents the purification, is the declaration of our Lord accompanying the institution, and recorded by St. Mark, that he who believeth and is baptized shall be saved. That salvation is here, in the direct and obvious construction of the words, attributed to Baptism, is undeniable: nor do the attempts which have been made to weaken or evade the force of this text, appear to have impaired the value of its testimony on this particular point. It does not at least seem to me, that the freest admission of the importance of faith, as a requisite for Baptism, or the condition of receiving the benefits annexed to it, can at all affect the just claims of Baptism itself, when rightly administered. It will after all be correct to say of Baptism, that it saves us, though it should be made manifest that it does so, only upon the supposition of our possessing the requisite qualifications; whether of faith, or of repentance, or whatever else may be necessary to fit us for a due and availing reception of the sacrament. Into the examination of this question, however, I do not on the present occasion feel called upon to enter. Without controverting the necessity of belief in competent subjects to give efficacy to the outward administration of the rite, I may be permitted to take the words in their direct and obvious meaning, as declaring that to Baptism, salvation of some sort is in some way annexed ; and then the only question will be, to what the salvation spoken of by our Lord refers. And here again, the removal of mere danger to the body being inconceivable as the end of the institution, we are of necessity led to the expectation of some spiritual benefit, as the distinguishing feature of the salvation alluded to; that is, to salvation from sin; the great and permanent benefit of the manifestation of Him, who came on earth to save sinners; the special inducement held out by our Lord himselfd to repentance and acceptance of the Gospel ; the only real evil
and danger to which an immortal spirit is exposed. And this salvation implying, not only a liberation from the penalties of actual transgression, but the removal of every obstacle to our final happiness, must include the abolition of that stain of original guilt by which the nature of man has since the Fall been rendered, without some such deliverance or purification, unfitted for, and incapable of, the spiritual reward of righteousness. The inference from the nature of the action of Baptism might perhaps seem to point more especially to the removal of the taint of original sin; that from the words of St. Mark, to the forgiveness of actual offences ; but as any purification would be imperfect, which left the stain of actual transgression adhering to us, so no salvation would be complete, which left us still burdened with the load of hereditary enmity to God.
Spiritual purification, therefore, consisting in the remission of sin, and including, not only the forgiveness of actual transgression, but deliverance from the effects of hereditary corruption, may safely be considered as the primary benefit and grace of Christian Baptism, as deduced from the natural significancy of the rite, the words of institution, and the peculiar character of the religion of which it forms a part.
These conclusions, we may now observe, derive important confirmation from the consideration of the conventional character and meaning of the rite in other religions. In these, the idea most immediately connected with the various external washings and sprinklings, universally prevalent among the nations of antiquity, was that of the removal of moral stains and disqualifications, whether real or imaginary. As applied to this purpose, their use was so familiar both to Jewish and Roman minds, that it was employed by Pilate, to efface the stain he was about to incur by an act of deliberate injustice; and for similar purposes it was appointed in the various legal ablutions of the Mosaic economy,
and resorted to under almost every system of Gentile superstition. On such occasions it was clearly in every case typical, or representative of some other change than a mere bodily cleansing; that