Jan 27, 2009

Howell on Regeneration II

Dr. Howell wrote an excellent book - "The Evils of Infant Baptism." In it he addresses the topic of "infantine regeneration" (pg. 91) and the method or way of salvation. Here are some excerpts from that work.

"Dr. A. Clarke therefore confidently says :—"Though infants have not, and cannot have actual faith, yet they are sanctified by being born of religious parents. They are already in some sense, within the limits of the church and covenant of promise." The Westminster Confession, however, is definite. Its language is :—"The visible church, which is also catholic, consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children ; and is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God." The Directory is still more explicit. It is there affirmed that the children of believers are "Born within the church, have by their birth inheritance in the covenant, and right to [baptism] the seal of it;" "that they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized." On this subject Mr. Baxter remarks :—" God hath made, and offered to the world a covenant of grace, and in it the pardon of sin to all true penitent believers, and power to become the sons of God, and heirs of heaven. This covenant is extended also to the seed of the faithful to give them the benefits suitable to their age, the parents dedicating them to God, and entering them into the covenant, and so God in Christ will be their God, and number them with his people." Mr. Baxter further says —"As children are made sinners and miserable by their parents without any act ot their own, so they are delivered out of it by the free grace of Christ, not through their own faith, but upon conditions performed by their parents." And still further. "Of those baptized in infancy, some do betimes receive the secret seeds of grace, winch by the blessing of a holy education is stirring in them according to their capacity, so that they never were actual ungodly persons!" The late Dr. Miller says:— "The children of professing christians are already in the church. They are born members. They are baptized because they were members. They receive the seal of the covenant because they are already in the covenant by virtue of their birth."

From these expositions we learn that, according to our pedobaptist brethren, the children of believers are born in the covenant of grace, and have, by right of birth, the enjoyment of all its blessings; are born members of the church, and by hereditary descent arc entitled to the privileges of membership in the house of God, and to the promises of salvation. These are prerogatives arising exclusively from, their hereditary relations. Their parents are holy. Therefore their children are holy. Of all such Dr. Hopkins says :—"The church receive and look upon them as holy. So they are as visibly holy, or as really holy in their view, as their parents are." (pg. 93)

Let now the great principle of justification by faith and the doctrines of infant baptism be compared. If you are justified by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, through grace, you are not justified by baptism, either in infancy, or at any other time ; and if you are justified by baptism, then you are not justified by faith. This conclusion is perfectly plain. These doctrines are therefore as opposite as darkness and light. They emphatically contradict and falsify each other.

Justification by faith, I have said, is a fundamental doctrine of the gospel. It is vital. It is "the faith once delivered 'to the saints." No system from which it is excluded, can ever be justly regarded as embodying the religion of Christ. It was taught by the apostles, and early ministers, constantly, forcibly, emphatically. It was cherished by the primitive churches. (pg. 102)

And Episcopalians and Methodists affirm that by baptism the new birth, the forgiveness of sins, and adoption, are all to the child, visibly signed and sealed. The child therefore in baptism, is pardoned of sin, is regenerated, is adopted, is received into the church, received into the favor of God, and saved. All this certainly involves justification, or the declaring the person innocent of crime. These Confessions teach, therefore, the justification of the sinner by baptism. Consequently on the doctrine of justification by faith, and the doctrines upon which they rest infant baptism, the Confessions, each and all of them, plainly, palpably, unmistakably contradict themselves. If you are justified, pardoned, and saved through grace by faith, and not by works, merit, or obedience of any kind, then you cannot be justified, pardoned, and saved by baptism. But it may be objected that infants are not capable of faith. Neither therefore, I answer, are they capable of baptism. They are saved by grace through Christ, and without baptism. Is baptism necessary to their salvation ? God forbid. Why then baptize them, since the act is without authority, and without benefit ? And especially why teach that baptism gives them pardon, regeneration, adoption, and salvation? (pg. 110)


"Nature of regeneration"

"..the relations of infant baptism to the doctrines of justification by faith, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are in many respects the same. In the preceding chapter we considered the former. We now proceed to examine the latter. This also is a vital topic. It must not be summarily dispatched. It is necessary to both your happiness, and your safety, that you should understand it. You may easily be misled. God forbid that any obstruction should be thrown in the way of your obtaining a full knowledge of all that concerns your everlasting life.

Our brethren of all the protestant denominations teach that we are regenerated by the Spirit of God; and they also teach that we are regenerated by baptism! Both these propositions cannot be true. This is self-evident, since they are in direct conflict with each otf er. By the word of God, we are instructed that, while, on the one hand, regeneration is a spiritual change wrought in the soul by the Holy Ghost, baptism, on the other, is merely an outward ordinance of our religion. The one is the work of God; the other is the work of man. Believers only, can be admitted to baptism; every believer is regenerate : consequently none but the regenerate can be lawfully baptized. Regeneration must then, as you perceive, come before baptism. And besides, the supposition that baptism is essential to regeneration, or ever produces it, is absurd. He who is regenerate is "born again," " born of God," " born of the Spirit," "quickened" into new life, has "Christ formed in him the hope of glory," and is "made a partaker of the divine nature." The moral image of God, lost by sin, in regeneration is restored to the soul. Is baptism, or any other ordinance, or all the ordinances together, competent to this great work? Why should it be effected in baptism rather than in any other Christian duty? Is it obtained by these, or by any similar acts? Then it is certainly, in part at least, the work of man. But can regeneration be so accomplished? The supposition is at war equally with reason, and the word of God. He only who created us originally, has power to renew, and so to change our nature that we shall be conformed to the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, enabled to love him supremely, to delight in his service, and to overcome all our corrupt propensities, and dispositions. Regeneration is one thing, and baptism is another and wholly different thing; nor are they, in any sense, dependent the one upon the other. How profoundly to be deprecated the fact that they should be confounded, and that, by any class of men, the latter should be substituted for the former! This deplorable evil, to all who truly love our Lord Jesus Christ, and have any just conceptions of the gospel, is matter of the deepest regret. Regeneration is essential to salvation. "Except a man be born again he can in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Ye must be born again." But he who has mistaken baptism for the new birth is never regenerated. How then can he be saved? (pg. 117-119)

The Calvinists had evidently a better comprehension of the doctrine than the other protestants. The Westminster Confession thus speaks :—God is pleased "effectually to call [men] by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh ; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good."

"I am gratified to say, however, that all these denominations, but especially those portions of them who have preserved their evangelical character, have gradually acquired, as they became better instructed in the word of God, more distinct and full conceptions of the work of the Spirit in regeneration, and especially Art. x., sect. 1. (pg. 122)

Here, it would seem, was an insuperable impediment. What was to be done? A most convenient discovery was now made and announced "to the world. It was an effectual remedy. It was found that infants do, by some unexplained and incomprehensible power of God imparted to them, really possess, truly exercise, and acceptably profess repentance of sin and faith in Christ, and are therefore, according to the conditions prescribed in the gospel, the proper subjects, and legally entitled to receive baptism! (pg. 160)

The ancients believed, moreover, that little children brought to baptism are endowed with the graces of repentance and faith, and have therefore the gospel preliminaries required for baptism! Do modern enlightened protestant pedobaptists credit this absurdity? The inquiry is worthy of our attention. (pg. 164)

"...holds that it is lawful to baptize those only who exercise repentance of sin, and faith in Christ; that infants do exercise repentance of sin, and faith in Christ; therefore it is lawful, and indeed obligatory, to baptize infants! (pg. 166)

J Calvin says :—"Though these graces [repentance and faith] have not yet been formed in them, the seeds of both are nevertheless planted in their hearts by the secret operations of the Spirit." The grace and benefit are therefore elective! But if they be hereditary how can they be elective? And if elective how can they be hereditary? These two theories are radically the opposites of each other, and never can be harmonized, unless, indeed, God has elected to salvation only the infants of believing parents, whose faith and election are the faith and election of their offspring ; in which case faith and election are propagated by natural generation, and no man can be saved whose parents before him were not believers in Christ. Thus does infant baptism overwhelm and destroy the scripture doctrine of Predestination! (167)

They [the Anabaptists] say that those that should be christened, must first believe, and then be christened. Children, they say, cannot believe, for faith is gotten by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. So children cannot have faith, say the Anabaptists. Wherefore they say that infants should not be christened. To this reason I answer and say that children may have faith, although they have it not by hearing, yet they have faith by the infusion of the Holy Ghost, as the holy prophets had, and many holy men in the old law had. Also faith is the gift of God and the Work of the Holy Ghost. Who should let [hinder] God to give his gifts where he will, seeing faith is the gift of God? He may give faith as well to children as to old men. Faith also is the work of God, and not of man, of man's will or reason. Who will let God to work where he lists ? Therefore it is not impossible for children to have faith, as these Anabaptists falsely suppose." "God regardeth no persons, but giveth his gifts without all regard of persons. A child, or an old man, he counteth as a person in scripture. Wherefore it followeth plainly that he giveth not faith to an old man, or denieth faith to a child, because he is a child, for then God should regard persons, which he doth not." "And when they [the Anabaptists] say they must express faith before they be christened, what will they do with deaf and dumb men, that get not faith by hearing, nor express their faith by words? Will they exclude them from baptism, and condemn them to hell-pit?" "Christ took little children in his arms and blessed them, and said, 'Of such is the kingdom of heaven.' Here are tokens that God loved these children, that they pleased him, and that they had faith, for without faith no man can please God." (pg. 171, 172)

We believe all infants are saved unconditionally through the application to them, by the Holy Ghost, of the redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter whether they are in the church or out of the church, whether they are baptized or unbaptized, whether they are the children of believers or unbelievers, of heathens, mohammedans, or Christians, their everlasting blessedness is equally, and in all cases, secure. These, and all other such like circumstances, are irrelevant, and never can affect their relations with Christ. Consequently they can have no bearing upon their future destiny. Every child dying in infancy is saved. This is the doctrine of the Baptist denomination. Not of a few only, nor of our churches, and people, of the present day alone. It is the doctrine which has been invariably held by us in all countries, and in every age. It is the doctrine taught by the word of God. Having thus stated our position, I proceed at once, to the proofs of its truth.

Infant salvation is guaranteed, in the first place, by the nature of the divine government. (pg. 175, 176)

"They (infants) are not impenitent, or rebellious. They have not rejected Christ. They are clearly included in his mediation, since "by his righteousness the free gift came upon all men to justification." (pg. 181)

"from the great enemy, eternal death; secondly, that there was hope for them, since they were all redeemed by Christ, that they should enjoy eternal life; and thirdly, that they should possess the heavenly land, of which the earthly Canaan was a type. These are the grounds upon which our Hearenly Father offers comfort to their parents, and exhorts them to subdue their sorrows. Their children had been foully murdered. The jealousy of the king had, with bloody and relentless violence, torn them from their bosoms. By this means, however, they had gone speedily, and safely, to eternal life. I have selected and laid before you these instances of infant salvation recorded in the word of God, and have drawn them from the children of the good and the pious, such as David ; from the children of the idolatrous and wicked, such as Jeroboam ; and from the children of all classes, such as were the bereaved parents "in Bethlehem, and all the coasts thereof," in order to prove to you that all infants are saved, without any regard to the character of their parents, or the circumstances under which they were removed from the present life.

We have now seen that all children who die in infancy, are saved by the grace of God; that they are saved through the redemption of Jesus Christ; that this redemption is applied to them personally, and directly, by the Holy Ghost; and that we have many instances of their salvation recorded in God's word; it remains only to be proved that their salvation is unconditional.

They are involved, it is true, on account of their connection with Adam, in the consequences of his fall. (pg. 187)

There is but one way of salvation. Infants are saved in the same way that all others of the redeemed are saved, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. (pg. 197)

The baptism instituted by Jesus Christ teaches us, I have said, important lessons. 'It holds up to our view incessantly, Jesus as our only Saviour ; it instructs us that he gave his life for our life, and that the great acts by which we are redeemed, were his death, burial, and resurrection. This redemption is made ours personally, by the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. We are one with Christ by faith. For this reason in Christ's death for sin, we died; in his burial, we were buried; in his resurrection, we were raised up; and in his victory we are glorious conquerors. All this we are regarded by the Father as having done, not in ourselves, but in Christ, since what he as our representative did/or us, is justly regarded as having been done by us. For Christ's sake, therefore, he pardons, sanctifies, adopts, and crowns us with eternal salvation. In this form occurred the acts of our redemption; this is the form of our spiritual change, a death to sin, a burial to the world, and a resurrection to a new life; and this, as the apostles repeatedly declare, is therefore the form of our baptism. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also we are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised him from the dead." In baptism, therefore, those great truths are ever before the mind that constitute the sum of the gospel. How, then, can a Baptist ever become a Unitarian, a Universalist, a legalist, or a cold formalist ? As a Baptist he never can. Our very baptism teaches us salvation by grace, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. But what does infant baptism teach? Nothing, that is salutary. Absolutely nothing."

Notice how Dr. Howell makes the reception of the new life to be the result of a prior forsaking of sin. Death to sin precedes life. In other words, "repentance unto life."

"A believer makes in his baptism a solemn profession of his faith. He has avowed his belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, in whose name that ordinance was administered; in " the freeness of the Father's love, the all-sufficient atonement of the Son, and the regenerating and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit;" and he has recognized his obligations, in all things according to the divine word, to walk with the people of God, in newness of life. Nor can he ever renounce these tenets without at the same time, renouncing his baptism. His baptism also implants all the strongest motives to holy living, since it was his own voluntary act, in which he declared himself dead to sin, buried to the world, and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Such a separation was then pledged between him and sinful things, as is found between the dead and the living. Even the common desire to maintain consistency of character, bears in favor of the Christian life, since he has been publicly and solemnly baptized. Such are his professions, and declarations, and their practical influence, the benefit of all which, in infant baptism is totally lost. The child professes nothing, promises nothing, feels nothing. (pgs. 290, 291)

Christ designs to convert the world; it is to be done by the gospel... (pg. 293)

But how is this amazing moral revolution to be achieved? How are the hearts of all men, now so corrupt, so obdurate, so fixed in sin, to be changed, and brought to love and worship the Saviour? There is but one power capable of producing this result. It is the simple unadulterated gospel of Christ. Reason cannot do it. Philosophy cannot do it. Civilization cannot do it. The forms and ceremonies of religion, apart from its vitality, cannot do it. Nothing can do it." (pg. 294)

"...but the cross of Christ...This alone has power to bend the stubborn will to obedience, and melt the frozen heart to love." The lost children of men are to be taught that, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." They will receive the message. They will believe it. They will embrace the Redeemer, and live. (Observe how Dr. Howell puts faith before regeneration here - SG) Nor will they "henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again." The remedy provided in the gospel is effectual. "It has been tried by the experience of eighteen hundred years, and has never failed in a single instance. Its efficacy has been proved by human beings of all ages," from the youthful penitent "to the sinner a hundred years old. All climates have witnessed its power. From the ice-bound cliffs of Greenland to the banks of the voluptuous Ganges, the simple story of Christ crucified has turned men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Its effect has been the same with men of the most dissimilar conditions." It has alike elevated and purified the degraded and abandoned, "and the dwellers in the palaces of kings. It has been equally sovereign amidst the scattered inhabitants of the forest, and the crowded population of the metropolis. Everywhere, and at all times, it has been, and still is, and ever must be, 'the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.' "

Such are the designs of our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel, and such is the power by which they are to be executed. The church, we have before seen, is the appointed instrumentality by which these purposes of grace are to be accomplished. Is she ready for her exalted mission? The nations are in her presence. They are covered with misery and death. In her hands is the power by which they are to be delivered and saved. The command from heaven is sounding in her ears, "Preach the gospel to evfery creature." Each day that obedience is delayed, hurries thousands down to irrecoverable destruction! What is she doing? Springing forward to the duty? Grappling with the powers of darkness? Hurling back the hosts of iniquity? Proclaiming Jesus Christ the deliverer? Alas, no! She has ingloriously turned away from her mission! She has indeed, herself become worldly, and corrupt. She is engaged almost solely, in theological conflicts with her fellow-disciples! She is quarrelling about fictions! She has abandoned the nations to perish in their sins! Infant baptism, like the touch of a torpedo, has benumbed all her powers. What to her are the designs of Christ in the conversion of the world? She is, for the present at least, incapable of their execution!

Infant baptism retards the designs of Christ in the conversion of the world, by placing Baptists and Pedo-baptists in conflict with each other. Endless controversies occupy the time, and powers, of the very men who are under infinite obligations to be united in heart, and harmoniously to co-operate in this enterprise of love. Nor is the battle which has been proceeding during so many centuries, relaxing in any degree. It is becoming each day, more and more warm..." (pg. 295, 296)

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