Monday, May 9, 2011

The Baptismal Service

Editor’s Note: The following passages are taken from the Reverend Dyson Hague’s The Protestantism of the Prayer Book, which was published by the Church Association in the late nineteenth century in a revised and enlarged edition for English readers with a preface by the first Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend J. C. Ryle. Dyson Hague was an Evangelical minister in the Church of England in Canada. He was also Professor of Liturgics and Ecclesiology at Wycliffe College in Toronto. Hague wrote at a time when the Church of England and her overseas branches were racked by controversy over the doctrine and liturgical usages of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

With the publication of the Tracts for the Times in the 1830s the Tractarians had undertaken the self-appointed task of changing the identity of the Church of England. They imposed a new meaning upon the 1662 Prayer Book, reinterpreting it in what they described as “a Catholic sense”. They engaged in a “microscopic search” for “words and phrases, devotional and rubrical,” that might serve “to establish an interpretation of the Prayer Book, unknown to its authors, and to three centuries of Christian life and thought.” No part of the Prayer Book was neglected in this search but the Baptismal Offices received particular attention. The Tractarians would claim that the Prayer Book taught the doctrine of baptismal regeneration as taught by the Roman Catholic Church.

Hague wrote not only to defend the Protestant character of the 1662 Prayer Book but also to allay the uneasiness of his fellow Evangelicals with the Prayer Book. A similar controversy had raged in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States over the 1789 Book of Common Prayer. Evangelical Episcopalians had developed qualms about using its Baptismal Offices. They initially sought to persuade the General Convention to revise the 1789 Prayer Book—to adopt an alternative form or alternative wording in the Baptismal Offices that they could use in place of the form and wording of the Prayer Book. Those sympathetic to Tractarian principles by this time had come to dominate the General Convention and were not open to any proposal for revision of the Prayer Book.

The Assistant Bishop of Kentucky, the Right Reverend George David Cummins, became convinced by a pamphlet then in circulation that the American Prayer Book did indeed contain “the germs of Romanism.” Cummins would resign his office and leave the Protestant Episcopal Church. He would form the Reformed Episcopal Church with other Evangelicals who like himself had concluded that they could not in good conscience remain any longer in the Protestant Episcopal Church.

Among Hague’s works are The Church of England before the Reformation; The Story of the English Book of Common Prayer: its Origin and Developments; and Through the Prayer Book: an Exposition of its Teaching and Language: the Origins and Contents of Its Services. Hague was a major contributor to The Fundamentals.

Having dwelt sufficiently upon the outward form, let us proceed now to the doctrinal expressions of the service. Though it is hardly within the purpose of this work to offer explanations upon controverted points of theology, it may not be out of place to dwell for a little space upon those expressions which have, to so many Protestant minds, offered most serious difficulty, the words, "seeing that this child is regenerate," & c.

But the reader must distinctly understand that the difficulty of these words and the Popery of these words are two entirely different things. Difficult they are; Popish they are not. They are found in a service compiled by men flatly opposed to Popery, and if any interpretation can be given to them but the Roman, it must be given. They are words, moreover, which are found elsewhere in ultra-Protestant formularies, and employed by men of must Protestant prejudices. They are precisely similar, for instance, to those employed by one whom no one ever suspected of Popish proclivities, John Calvin, in his catechism; [1] and they may be employed by any who really believe in the power of God to receive as His own disciples the little infants.

They are, moreover, words similar to those which are used by most ultra-Evangelicals to illustrate the baptismal blessing.

In a book lately written by the Rev. Andrew Murray, who is, I believe, a Presbyterian minister, author of "Abide in Christ," "With Christ," and other works, it is said: "Not only are the children when grown up, but even from the birth, to be partakers of the covenant." "The promise is not held in abeyance to wait for the child's faith, but is given to the father's faith in the assurance that the child's faith will follow." "The promise of God is no empty word, though our unbelief may make it of none effect. In His purpose the water and the spirit are inseparably united; ‘What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’; let not a parent's unbelief rest content with the water without the spirit." And throughout the whole work similar reasoning is to be found. The expressions, therefore, of our baptismal service can no more be adduced in themselves as indications of the lingering Romanism of the Prayer Book, than the expressions employed by John Calvin and Mr. Murray could be brought forward as proofs of the Popish tendency of their works. Certain it is that in the baptismal service of the Church of England the Roman doctrine of baptismal regeneration is not taught. In proof of this four facts may be

The first fact is this:—

That after the baptismal service was completed it was eulogized by Peter Martyr, one of the most uncompromising Protestants of the Reformation age, a man summoned by Archbishop Cranmer to aid in the work of reforming the Church of England, and declared by Archbishop Parker to be one "who had sustained constant labours in the defence of evangelical truth against the Papists." This eulogy is possessed of more than ordinary importance, for it occurs in one of the most important publications bearing upon the baptismal controversy, viz., a letter of this Peter Martyr, Regius Divinity Professor in Oxford in 1552, preserved in the archives of the ecclesiastical library in Zurich and edited by Goode, written to his friend Bullinger just after the completion of the Second Prayer Book of Edward the Sixth. In this letter, speaking of the Prayer Book as then published. Martyr states: "For all things are removed from it which could nourish superstition." Then, almost immediately afterwards, he mentions as one of the doctrines, like that of the real presence, which would bring with it superstitions, the doctrine that grace is invariably conferred in the sacraments, that is, the Romish doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Since, therefore, in Martyr's opinion the doctrine that grace is invariably conferred by the sacraments brings with it superstitions, and Martyr testified that all things are removed from the Prayer Book that could nourish superstitions, it is certain that in the mind of those who were identified with Martyr's views, viz., the Reformers, the doctrine of the invariable spiritual regeneration of infants in baptism (the Tractarian doctrine of baptismal regeneration) is not the teaching of the Book of Common Prayer. It is, moreover, most significant, as pointed out by Goode, that the leading Reformers held the evangelical view with Peter Martyr, as opposed to the Romish, and that when the Articles were afterwards published to abolish controversy and determine the true teaching of the Church of England, the phraseology of the Article on baptism was the phraseology of Peter Martyr, and the views of the sacrament the views of the party with which he was connected, and not the views of the Romish party.

The second fact is this:—

That among all the controversies raised by the early Puritans about the baptismal services, none was ever raised about the doctrine of regeneration as taught in it. This fact, which is pointed out by Boultbee in his exposition of the Articles, though apparently insignificant, and not generally known, is, to the careful observer, most important. These men were, as everybody is aware, the most uncompromising, and often the most unreasonable, opponents of everything that savoured of Papistry. Beneath their searching scrutiny a mole-hill of Churchiness was magnified into a mountain of Romanism. They would have destroyed even the very formula and materials of Rome, not because they were wrong, but because they were Roman. Yet these men, amidst all their objections, never so much as raised a whisper against the expressions of the baptismal service, or everdreamed of exhibiting the words, "this child is regenerate," as a proof of lingering Romanism.

The third fact is this:—

That there is so striking a difference between the Articles of the Church of England in 1536, the Church's first effort in the way of doctrinal reform, and the Articles of 1553, in their treatment of the doctrine of baptism, as to make it clear that the Reformers intended to discard the Romish doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Indeed, no stronger proof of the soundness and legitimacy, from a Church standpoint, of the position of those who deny the Tractarian doctrine of baptismal regeneration can be offered than a comparison of the Articles of 1536 and our present Articles, Homilies, and Catechism. We have presented in these Articles of 1536 the spectacle of a Church trying to rid itself of Romanism, yet ignorant of evangelical truth. The very fact of their publication, though at such a date, speaks volumes for their Protestantism, for the "Roma lacuta est, causa finita est" doctrine was just as true then as now, and ten times more practical. But of course they are full of Romish errors, and many doctrines afterwards discarded are there plainly set forth. In the Article on baptism, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is clearly taught, and were it the doctrinal standard of to-day the position of Pusey and the Tractarian school would be demonstrated and established beyond cavil. It begins by asserting that people must of necessity believe all those things which hath, by the whole consent of the Church, been always approved, received, and used in the sacrament of baptism; that it was instituted by Christ, &c. ; that it is offered unto all men, as well as to infants such as have the use of reason, that by baptism they shall have remission of sins, and the grace and favour of God, according to the saying of Christ: Whosoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved ; and continues by arguing at great length, that the promise of grace and everlasting life (which promise is adjoined to this sacrament of baptism) pertaineth not only unto such as have the use of reason, but also to infants, innocents, and children ; and that they ought, therefore, and must needs be baptized; and that by the sacrament of baptism they do also obtain remission of their sins, the grace and favour of God, and be made thereby the very sons and children of God; that infants must needs be christened because they be born in original sin, which sin must needs be remitted, which cannot be done but by the sacrament of baptism, whereby they receive the Hoiy Ghost, which exerciseth His grace and efficacy in them, and cleanseth and purifieth them from sin by His most secret virtue and operation." And much more to the same effect.

The contrast to the present teaching of the C'hurch in the twenty-seventh Article is remarkable. In the Article of 1536 baptism is declared to be the bestower of the Holy Ghost, and this in the most unqualified terms. It is Rome's "ex opere operato" theory most clearly. In our Article baptism is said to be the sign and seal of regeneration, and the qualifying expressions are carefully added : And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation." "They that receive baptism rightly," &c. In the First Book of Articles the baptism of infants and their sacramental remission of sins and regeneration occupies an extremely prominent part and place. In the Article of to-day instead of this there is the qualified statement that the baptism of young infants is, in anywise, to be retained as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

This fact may at first sight appear trivial, but to the careful observer it is profoundly significant, and throws strong light on the interpretation of the baptismal service.

The fourth fact is this: —

That throughout the whole of the Prayer Book expressions are found which clearly prove that the Church frames the language of many of her services upon what is commonly called the principle of charitable assumption. The services are drawn up upon the supposition of faith in those who are addressed by them in other words, that the participants in the Church services are in reality what they are declared to be. Without this principle many of the expressions in the Catechism, the Collects, the Burial Service, and other offices, cannot be understood. If then it is a fact that this principle obtains throughout the Prayer Book, there is no reason why it should not be found in the baptismal service; and it is evident then that the Reformers, holding as they did strong Calvinistic doctrines with regard to the salvation of the elect, and the perpetuity of faith in them, could not compile formularies which taught the very Romish doctrines they were drawn up to protest against and destroy. Believing as they did that infants may be spiritually regenerate, and believing most certainly that all infants are not spiritually regenerate, and therefore could not be spiritually regenerated in baptism, it is clear that the language of the service, "this child is regenerate," was intended to bear an hypothetical interpretation. This seems borne out by the fact that in the very prayer in which the priest gives God thanks for the regeneration of the infant, he almost immediately afterwards prays that "finally, with the residue of God's holy Church, he maybe an inheritor of God's everlasting kingdom," which proves that from the standpoint of the Reformation age, the statement about regeneration was generic and presumptive, not a positive judgment with regard to each particular infant. The teaching of the catechism that infants are bound to perform the promises made by their sureties when they come to age, a statement that is in flat opposition to the Romish doctrine of invariable spiritual regeneration, and is honoured by a special anathema against it from the Church of Rome in the Council of Trent, [2] also bears out the principle of hypothetical explanation. In fact it seems from a consideration of the known views of the Reformers, and the literal statements of the Articles and Services, that on the one hand the teaching of the Church is plainly this, that the blessing of newness of life and spiritual regeneration is possible alike to adult and infant. As Samuel was the child of God from infancy, and John the Baptist filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb, so is it possible for God now to settle on even new-born infants the fulness of His grace. Since, therefore, it is as impossible for the Church to discern which are not to be recipients of this blessing as to discern which are, she charitably uses the only language that is scripturally possible in connection with baptism. On the other hand, while the regeneration in the highest sense, though possible, is in many cases in adults and in all cases in infants the charitable language of faith and "expectative" hope, a relative change has always taken place. All children brought into a covenant state of grace by baptism, as the Jews of old by circumcision, and all adults likewise who have professed their faith, are relatively, that is as far as covenant privilege, and responsibility goes, and as far as a dispensation of grace is concerned, "members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven." But as all circumcised were not circumcised in heart, Romans ii. 28-29, so all baptized are not necessarily baptized of the Spirit because baptized with water. Acts viii. 21-23. It is perfectly right, therefore, to address those as unregenerate, that is in the spiritual sense, from the pulpit, who are without any signs of spiritual life, even though they have been publicly pronounced regenerate at the font.

Could not the expressions of the Church of England baptismal service have been applied to Simon Magus on his baptism ? Certainly they could have. And yet, notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that St. Peter was justified in addressing him as one who had still need of a change of heart and newness of life. "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right in the sight of God." Numberless quotations from the greatest and most authoritative teachers of the Church of England could be collected to prove that this view, as opposed to the Romish doctrine of baptismal regeneration, has been the commonly accepted interpretation of the language of the Prayer Book in the baptismal service.[3] It is a fact that the principle of hypothetical interpretation was evidently intended by the Church to obtain in the case of the Collects, the Catechism, and the Burial Service. It is also a fact that a great number of most learned, pious, and representative Churchmen have united to declare that the principle of the prayer in these general cases is the principle of interpretation that must be applied to the words, "this child is regenerate," in the baptismal service.

It is evident, therefore, to thoughtful minds that hasty expressions of opinion as to the Romanism of this service are entirely inconsiderate. They are too frequently the utterances of ignorant and prejudiced men whose judgment is crude, and knowledge shallow; men who consider it a blemish that anything should be found in the service which needs an explanation. Such persons forget apparently that the whole of the Word of God abounds with expressions which require most careful investigation and studied explanation. And no expressions, perhaps, in the Word of God are more difficult of correct explanation than the expressions of the Prayer Book with regard to baptism. See Rom. vi., Col. ii. 12, I Peter iii. 21, Acts xxii. 16.

In fact, enlarging Origen's sagacious remark, as quoted by Butler in his Analogy, that he who believes the Scripture to have proceeded from Him who is the author of nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in it as are found in the constitution of nature ; we may say also: he who finds difficulties in those very Scriptures which were given by the Holy Ghost for the illumination of mankind, may expect more difficulties in compilations which, however beautiful and complete, were still drawn up by the hands of fallible men.

One thing, however, we confidently affirm to the student of the Prayer Book: difficulties he will find, but Popery never.

[1] See Mozley on the Baptismal Controversy, Part ii, Chap. vii. [On the Internet at:; and]
[2] See Bungener's " History- of the Council of Trent," page 29. [On the Internet at: and] The 14th Anathema on Baptism anathrmatizes those who maintain that persons baptized in infancy should, when they come of age, be asked whether they are willing to ratify the promise made in their name.
[3] I would heartily commend to my fellow Churchmen the work of Dean Goode on Baptism. [On the Internet at:] The argument is somewhat involved and lengthy, but when once mastered it convinces the reader that the Romish doctrine of baptismal regeneration never was, and never can be, with the Prayer Book untampered with, the doctrine of the Church of England.

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