This section contains a reply to sundry objections, which are alleged against the doctrine: that baptism is the ordinary means of regeneration.
Whereas there are sundry objections alleged against this doctrine, not only by my opponent but also by others, which are calculated to perplex the minds of many, I consider it necessary to make the following statement of the same, with my answers:
Objection I. Jesus Christ is our only Saviour. Hence if we believe, that we are saved by baptism, we make that a Saviour, which is absurd.
Answer. When we teach that we are saved by baptism, we understand nothing else, than that Christ saves us ; for he has instituted it, and it is the means in his own hands, to effect our regeneration. According to this objection, it would be impossible, for God to employ any means in the salvation of a sinner ; lest the means be made a God, and a Saviour. Hence we must deny, that preaching the gospel is a means, lest the same may be made a God. This must be a wonderful philosophy, that God cannot save, or effect any thing by means ; unless we believe, that thereby they become a Saviour, and a God! This objection is every whit as absurd, as if I would say : because an author employs his pen, in writing; a book ; therefore the pen is the author!
Objection II. The scriptures declare, that we are regenerated by the word of God, as St, Peter says, 1 Epist. 1, 23; ‘Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.’ If the word of God, as this text sufficiently indicates, be the means, how then can baptism be the ordinary means? Hence one may be regenerated by the word, without baptism.
Answer. It is readily admitted, that the word of God is an auxiliary means. But this does not prove, that baptism is not the ordinary means ; nor that we may be regenerated as well without, as with it : unless it could be evinced, that it was impossible for an ordinary means to have its auxiliary. Without the word of God, we would know nothing of baptism, nor of its design, and value. By the word we are led to baptism, and by it we discover the divine promises, which are therein sealed ; so that it may not appear to us an unmeaning ceremony. Had it not been for the word, we should never have been baptised ourselves, nor would we have our offsprings dedicated to God by this sacrament. Now as the word leads us to baptism, and teaches us how to use it; hence it is therefore, also necessarily a means of regeneration. For that which leads me to the washing of regeneration, must be an auxiliary means of regeneration. Since the word shews me the divine promises in baptism ; so that I learn to believe them, and be saved ; hence in this respect the word is the means ; but this does not exclude, but rather includes baptism.
Obj III. If baptism was the ordinary means of grace, we should see more good fruits in those, who are baptised than what we do. Many of them live as wickedly as those, who are not baptised. If baptism be the washing of regeneration, why then are not all the baptised regenerated? This indicates, that baptism is not connected with any divine virtue.
Answer. This objection is popular, and with many it passes for an unanswerable argument. In one of the preceeding sections, it has been answered ; yet, I shall add the following:
1. Many whose children have been baptised, bestow no labour upon them, when they arrive at the age of maturity, to instruct them with respect to the use, and design of baptism; hence, as the good seed receives no nourishment, how can it be expected to prosper? Suppose an husbandman had planted a good seed, but neglected its cultivation ; noxious weeds overrun it, and prevent its fertility, could we conclude, that he spake the language of reason, if he vilified the seed, or denied its principle of procreation? We would say, he is beside himself. Although we do not hear sober men vilify the seed, they neglected to cultivate: but many after neglecting the religious education of their children, and finding them graceless; they like men bereft of the use of their reason, deny the divine virtue of baptism.
2. There are but few who believe, that baptism is the washing of regeneration. The clergy of the most of the Protestant denominations, are agreed in calling it an emblem, and representing it as not essential to salvation ; and thus sink it as low as possible, in the estimation of their hearers. Although, the Papists admit it to be a washing of regeneration ; but as they also maintain, that good works are necessary, to justify us before God it is evident, that they notwithstanding, doubt baptism to be a perfect laver of regeneration. For if baptism be a perfect washing of regeneration, why may I not always have access to it, when I have fallen? what need have I to be saved by legal works?
Now let us suppose, the great majority of ministers, of all denominations were agreed, to defame the divine authenticity of the sacred scriptures, by representing them to their hearers as not essentially necessary to be read ; and that it would be even dangerous to depend on them, as a rule of faith, and conduct: would it be rational to conclude, that the scriptures were no more than a shadow, because many people have them in their possessions, and are not benefited? Would not every man of discernment say, no marvel that the people are not benefitted by the scriptures ; when the clergy, by whom they are led, inspire them with the belief, that they are useless ; so that they become dilatory in perusing them, and regardless with respect to their promises, and precepts. What is the popular doctrine with respect to baptism? The learned degrade baptism with polished words, in a systematical form; whilst the unlearned vilify the same, in vulgar language. After having done all, to degrade this institution ; and to pluck from the minds of the people, every sacred promise, which God stipulated to them in it ; they then are the first, who with an affected sanctity, set up the melancholy complaint: there are but few good fruits to be discovered, in many of those, who are baptised!
Obj IV. It is a dangerous doctrine to teach people, that baptism is the means of regeneration, lest they will think: if they only be baptised, they are quite safe ; hence, they will indulge themselves in sin, without restraint.
Answer. Agreeable to this objection, it would also be dangerous to instruct the people, that God is good to all, and that he loves his enemies ; lest they should think, because he is so good, and kind, he will not punish us for our crimes; hence we may continue in sin. In short there is nothing, by which God manifests his Love, and Goodness towards sinners, but what may be liable to such an abuse, and against which such an objection may be alleged. What is the difference whether sinners believe the goodness, and mercy of God are manifested in baptism, or by any other means? for such as are determined to abuse the same will do it, at the peril of their own souls.
Obj. V. If baptism be the ordinary means of regeneration, then it must follow, that all those, who are not baptised will be damned. There are many thousands, who are unbaptised ; now, to suppose all such to be lost, is extremely uncharitable.
Answer. In this way I might also prove, that it is very uncharitable to teach, that whosoever does not believe in Jesus Christ shall be damned ; because there are many thousands, who do not believe, and many more have never heard his name. What Christian would presume to say, that faith in Jesus Christ, is not essential to salvation ; because it would be uncharitable to suppose all such as lost, who are destitute of it? In what manner God deals with the heathens, and others, who are unavoidably bereft of the gospel, and the sacraments; so as to extend his mercy, and benevolence to them all; so that they shall be without an excuse, if numbers of them be not saved, is a subject, on which I cannot say any thing in this little work. This only would I observe, that whereas God is impartial, he knows how to devise means in abundance, by which he may shew the heathens his salvation. Whatever dispensation he may have ordered to save heathens through Christ, does by no means interfere with the dispensation, under which we live. We cannot expect to be saved in any other way, than the one, that is revealed to us by the scriptures.