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No. LIX. - JANUARY, 1850.
forens dix ART, I.-NOEL ON BAPTISM. Essay on Christian Baptism. By the Hon. and Rev. BAP
TIST W. Noel. London and New-York. 1849.*
The secession of Mr. Noel from the Established Church of England, on account of its union with the State, as well as its numerous corruptions both of doctrine and discipline, is justly regarded both in this country and in Europe as a significant event. More significant still is his frank and courageous adoption of Baptist sentiments. For these are not, as some would have us believe, mere sectarian notions, or trivial distinctions, having no relation to the great body of evangelical truth, or the practical working of our common Christianity. Were this the case, no earnest and comprehensive mind, like that of Mr. Noel, would attach to them the slightest importance, above all would make them the ground of a painful separation from his Pædobaptist brethren.
It is difficult, perhaps, in this country, thoroughly to appreciate the change, not merely of opinion and practice, but of position and influence, which such a movement involves. Mr. Noel is connected by birth and station with the aristocracy of England. He is the father of a large and interesting family, the members of which, in ordinary circumstances, might hope to intermarry with that aristocracy, who, with all
# The references in this article are to the London edition of Mr. Noel's work. A bandsome edition has just been published by Harper & Brothers, which is also issued with the imprint of Lewis Colby, and that of Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, The same impression, as we presume, has also been issued by E. H. Fletcher, with an Introduction by Dr. Dowling.
VOL. XV.-NO. LIX.
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their faults, are the best of their class in Europe, and contain among them some of the finest specimens of character. One of the chaplains of the Queen, at once amiable and gifted, of admirable address and great natural eloquence, he has been caressed by nearly all classes of the community, Churchmen as well as Dissenters, and entitled from his position and acquirements to the highest offices in the Church of his fathers. But much of all this he has voluntarily and deliberately abandoned, and cast himself without reserve among the Baptists, who, though they boast the names of Bunyan, Fuller, Foster and Hall, are yet in England one of the least of the tribes of Israel, and regarded with peculiar disfavor by the aristocracy of that country.
It was no light cause, we may be assured, which induced such a man, with all the prepossessions of early education, and all the influences of his position and connections, to make such a sacrifice. Nothing but principle, the deepest and strongest, can account for it. This, however, we are sure, will be conceded by all candid men. Few, we think, will venture to ascribe to prejudice of any kind, above all to sectarian influence, a change so great and decisive.
The reasons, therefore, which Mr. Noel, with all seriousness and candor, has given for such a step, ought to be examined in the same spirit. However much some may differ from him in the end, his two books, the one on the Union of the Church with the State, the other on Christian Baptism, demand their prayerful and candid attention.
The works of Mr. Noel are certainly written with great candor and intelligence. He makes no claims indeed to unusual depth and acumen; nor is his style remarkable either for originality or beauty. Nowhere does he seem ambitious of reputation as an author, or anxious about nicety or even elegance of expression. But he is honest, earnest and clear, with a certain air of dignity and grace, as natural as it is becoming. His style is plain, accurate and perspicuous, such as becomes a gentleman and a Christian minister, and withal remarkably well adapted to his purpose. He is uniformly serious and candid, is evidently master of his subject, and reasons fairly and logically. With the Word of God he is remarkably familiar, and applies it with great force and propriety. He never says a severe thing, unless absolutely compelled to do so by the necessity of the case, and then evermore in the spirit of Christian love. We have never seen a finer specimen of fair and conscientious reasoning than his Essay on Baptism. It does not contain a single
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harsh, unfair or ungenerous expression. Without any pre tensions to peculiar liberality, it is pervaded by a noble Christian tone, as rare as it is delightful. We are glad that he has written it. It will mark, we hope, an era in the discussion of the subject, which demands at the hands of our Pædobaptist brethren a more thorough and candid investigation.
The introduction of believers by the rite of baptism into the visible church marks the clear and impassable distinction between the church and the world. 56 My kingdom," says Christ, “is not of this world.” From this is deduced what is usually termed the spirituality of the church, a principle recognized by the great majority even of those evangelical Christians who practise infant baptism. This lies at the basis of all the reformatory movements of the churches in modern times. This, if they knew it, is involved in the Supremacy of Christ in his own realm, the battle-cry of the Free Church of Scotland, of the Free Church of the Canton Vaud, and of the Free Protestant Church of France. This, in fact, is the great ecclesiastical question of the age. Is the church free; is it a spiritual body; is it governed by spiritual laws; is it composed of intelligent disciples; is it, in reality, the body of Christ, and therefore animated by his soul ; is it divine in its origin, character and aim; is it the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, and is it thence separate from the world, and adapted, by the blessing of God, to the final regeneration of the race? This, we say, is the great social and religious question of the age. It enters into the very heart of all our polemical discussions ; it is destined to agitate the whole of Christendom. Protestantism, though yet imperfect in its development, is itself founded upon it. It was the regenerating word of the Reformation, though many of the Reformers themselves knew it not ; for the doctrine of justification by faith involves it, in fact expresses it. To be justified by faith alone excludes not only all formal and ritualistic churches, but all family, national and hereditary churches. Being the test stantis aut cadentis ecclesiæ, it determines the whole character not only of our theology, but of our ecclesiastical organization.
On this ground we maintain that the solemn induction of believers alone into the visible church by the rite of baptism defines the separation of the church from the world, and discovers, in a most expressive way, the rational and spiritual nature of Christianity. For, unlike Judaism, or any other system of local, national or formal religion, Christianity is
he Spirith again,"cart.
rational, comprehensive and free, a religion of spiritual forces, adapted at once to the regeneration of the individual and the regeneration of society. Christian baptism therefore indicates the necessity of a change of heart. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must be born again.” “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” “Buried with Christ in baptism.” “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” In this way the rite is significant, on the part of the individual baptized, of a conscious moral change, an intelligent belief of the truth, a deliberate and hearty consecration to the service of God. A church constituted on such a principle excludes none from the ordinances of Christ or the privileges of his kingdom who ought to be excluded. It includes, or ought to include all the disciples of Christ, all the professed members of his mystical body.
On this ground, the question touching the nature and subjects of baptism is vital to the proper organization of the church. It enters into the very essence of the discussion as to the nature and design of Christ's kingdom on earth. It involves the great idea of what our friends in Scotland call 6 the Supreme Headship" of Christ, or the right of Christ to govern, by spiritual laws, in his own spiritual domain. For, “ the kingdom of Christ is not meat and drink,” not outward forms and usages, and especially earthly and secular arrangements, “but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." In a word, it is a government of souls, a kingdom or church of regenerated spirits; whence men and women, born into this kingdom by the Spirit of God, are solemnly inducted into what we term the visible church, constructed on the basis of the former, by a solemn baptismal formula, expressive of their union to Christ, and consecration to his service.
The fact is, the real foundation principle of Baptist ecclesiastical polity, whether we have thoroughly realized it or not, is the freedom and spirituality of the church. The immersion of believers alone in the name of the Sacred Trinity is but the natural expression of this principle. So that we may say, with the apostle Paul : “ As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." By profession, at least, such show themselves Christians, and therefore legitimately entitled to all the privileges of church organization. We may forget or falsify our principles, but these principles themselves are Scriptural and consistent. They involve a sublime truth, and reveal it clearly and powerfully to the
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world. It is for this very reason that the primitive disciples are spoken of as those who are “ planted in the likeness of Christ's death ;" as “new creatures in Christ Jesus ;” as saved “ by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost;" as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” And certainly it is only in this way that the church in any age can become the " temple of the Lord," the light and glory of the world.
But you forget, some one may remind us, the broad distinction between the church visible and the church invisible. By no means; for whatever that distinction may be, it is not one of essence, but of circumstances. The church invisible, in its purity and power, ought assuredly to be the basis and model of the church visible. Neither of them ought to be other than spiritual and free. To be perfect, both ought, as much as possible, to be conformed to Christ. In spirit, in form, or in action, neither the one nor the other can be too Christlike. They cannot be separated. The one indeed is more outward and less perfect than the other, and this from the necessities of the case; but they hold the same relations to each other that the soul does to the body, and therefore the more closely they are conformed the better for both. ; What is the church? The body of Christ, _a body, while on earth, somewhat imperfect, now and then dyspeptic, so to speak,-wounded also both by friends and foes, yet still the body of Christ, with glorious and indefinite capacities of improvement, and ever animated, more or less, by the heart-impulses of the Son of God. It is composed therefore of believers. It is not formed, in an artificial way, by mere collocation or accretion of particles, that is to say, by the mere addition of individuals as such. It is not thus mechanical and formal in its nature—a mere lump of consolidated particles, which have no life in themselves. No, the church is vital, and grows by means of spiritual forces attracting and assimilating its materials, and forming them into an organization of living strength and beauty. Liable, like other organized bodies, to chances and changes, and imperfect from the normal state in which it is found on earth, it is yet destined to entire and eternal perfection. It is not therefore a school or college for children or catechumens who may or may not become true and living Christians, but a church, an čxxanoia of selected and regenerated subjects. Fir The visible organization then, or what we call the church or churches, ought as far as possible to be conformed to this ideal, and admit to its membership none who do not give