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In the latter part of the Lecture, Dr. Halley maintains the position that, the sacraments are significant rites-emblems of Divine truth --sacred signs of the evangelical doctrine-designed to illustrate, to enforce, or to commemorate the great and most important truths of the Gospel,' in opposition to those who regard them as the instrumental causes of salvation, and to those who view them as seals of salvation. Neither of these views, he endeavours to show, accords with the acknowledged character of the rites of the former dispensation; or is compatible with the apostolic doctrine of salvation by faith alone. His reasonings on both these points appear to us perfectly conclusive. The only ground on which the reasonableness of the Old Testament rites can be at all shown is, that they were signs of religious truths, the outward and perishable symbols of spiritual and everlasting verities; and that they were neither the means nor the attestations of inward religious vitality, is demonstrable from the fact that a man might observe them all, and yet not be a true Israelite, or a Jew inwardly and from the heart. With regard to the second position, all protestants will admit that with the doctrine of justification by faith, the popish doctrine of an opus operatum by means of the sacraments is at utter variance; but there are many who will be disposed to dispute the justice of Dr. Halley's charge, when he imputes the same consequence to the opinion that the sacrament is designed to be a seal to the worthy recipient of God's grace. To such, we re. commend the careful consideration of the following passage.
* If they are represented as seals or ratifications of saving blessings conferred upon the recipients, we have to inquire, In what sense is this representation to be understood ? They are assuredly not seals of spi. ritual blessings to those who do not spiritually receive them-not seals of deceit and delusion to unregenerate men. It must, therefore, be intended that the worthy observance of the sacrament, the observing of it with spiritual dispositions, is the obsignation of grace. And what is this but making the worthy reception, the good work of the man, the seal and assurance of eternal life, so that, instead of looking entirely and exclusively to Christ Jesus, to his spotless obedience and atoning sacri. fice, he is looking upon himself amidst the deceitfulness of his own heart, for seals and verifications of his own justification? The more simply and directly he fixes his attention upon the work of Christ, the more justly assured he becomes of his title to everlasting life. A sacrament in itself is no seal of pardon or salvation, because it may be unu orthily received. To call the worthy reception of it the seal of pardon or of sal. vation, is to exalt a good work to the high place of the witness of Christ's fidelity, or of his sufficiency, in saving believers, and so to reverence it not only as the arbiter of our own justification, but as the authentic verifier of the truth of Christ. Invited, every day and every hour of my life, to confide entirely on Christ, as able and willing to save
me, what have I to do but to accept the generous invitation in the full assurance of faith? Burdened with a sense of guilt, the message of the Gospel is to me the good news of great joy; and in the assurance of the truth of God, which I cordially believe, I can admit no seals or verifications other than his own testimony. A sacrament offers no assurance, Do word of encouragement to me in my unbelief; and in my belief the verbal and express assurance of God is the object of my faith; and that assurance is, that in Christ Jesus, my only Saviour, I have everlasting life. This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.' That record believed is its own demonstration, and no symbolical service can be either an attestation of its general truth, or a seal of its specific application to individuals. He that believeth hath the witness in himself. Besides, this doctrine of sealing God's grace to individuals by a sacrament can amount to no more than a hypothetical sealing-a sealing of God's grace upon the supposition that the person is already possessed of that grace; a seal which, to be of any worth, must be itself accredited or attested by the grace which yet it is said to seal or ratify. But what seals are these? The sacraments worthily received are said to be seals of an inward and spiritual grace, or of spiritual blessings consequent upon it; but that inward and spiritual grace is to us the only assurance of the worthy reception of the sacraments. The outward sign seals the inward grace, and the inward grace attests the outward sign. To this reductio ad absurdum may be brought the notion that the sacraments are seals of the favour of God to those who worthily receive them. The proper assurance, the great seal of the love of God to sinners, which every sinner may specifically apply to himself, is the gift of God's own Son, whom he hath given for the life of the world, and to this no other assurances-no minor seals—can add any confirmation. To introduce their aid is to cloud and obscure the only Object of faith in the justification of the ungodly.'—pp. 104-107.
Whilst, however, we agree with Dr. Halley in his reasoning here, we think he has laid down his position somewhat too absolutely and sweepingly. He has affirmed it as dictum simpliciter, whereas we think he was only entitled to affirm it as dictum secundum quid. In other words, whilst we agree with him in repudiating the idea that by either of the Sacraments God's grace is sealed or attested to us, we are not prepared to admit that there is no sense in which these can be called sealing ordinances. The sacraments appear to us to possess a threefold design according as they are viewed as symbols, as signs, or as seals. Under the first aspect they are designed to exhibit divine truth ; under the second, to indicate the submission of the recipient to the authority of the Divine Author of that truth; and under the third, to confirm and strengthen the recipient in his confidence in the truth which they exhibit. All these purposes the sacraments rightly observed, we take it, do answer, and all of them we believe they were designed by our Lord to answer. If the last two be excluded, and their sole design be
held to be the exhibition of truth, we cannot see why the observance of them by persons alone should have been enjoined. For aught we can see to the contrary the lesson of baptism, for instance, which Dr. Halley says is merely 'the sign of purification,' that is, as we understand him, the emblem of the gospel doctrine of purification, might have been taught by the washing of cups and platters, or any other material objects, quite as well as by the baptism of persons; in the same way as the doctrine of purification was signified under the former dispensation. The specification that this ordinance as well as that of the Lord's Supper is to be observed only in reference to persons, seems to us to prove that both must have, beyond their symbolical character, a significancy in respect of the personal relations and interests of those by whom they are observed.
Lecture III. enters upon the quæstio vexata of Jewish proselyte baptism ; of the existence of which, anterior to the birth of Christ, Dr. H. is a decided advocate.Besides the testimony of the Talmudists—in this case, he contends, worthy of credit, as it respects a mere custom of their nation, and one which they had not the slightest conceivable reason to feign, had it not really existed among them—the reasons he urges are the readiness with which men of all parties in Judea resorted to the baptism of John without seeming to view it as a new thing; our Lord's expressed surprise in his conversation with Nicodemus, that a master in Israel should not know what was meant by being born of water and the Spirit—a surprise which Dr. Halley thinks would not have been felt had not there been some prevalent usage of their nation to illustrate these words, and this usage he thinks was proselyte baptism; the dispute about puri. fying between John's disciples and the Jews (John üï. 25, 26), as indicating that the nature of baptism was fully understood by the Jews; the address of Peter to the assembled crowds of foreign Jews on the day of Pentecost, in all of whom he must have presumed upon an acquaintance with the meaning of baptism, when, without explaining it, he said, “Repent and be baptised every one of you ;' and some confirmatory passages from Arrian and Josephus. Dr. Halley has conducted his inquiry with great firmness and ability, and we feel bound to say that, whilst the subject is involved in much uncertainty, we think the evidence, so far as it goes, manifestly in favour of the side he has espoused. At the same time, some of his arguments are such as we cannot assent to. Especially do we differ from him in his remarks on our Lord's conversation with Nicodemus. His argument, as we understand it, runs thus: Nicodemus ought to have understood clearly what our Lord meant by a man's being born again by water and the Spirit; but he could not do this unless there had been some custom of his nation which these words express; and supposing proselyte baptism to have been practised, he would have had in it the custom required, for by being born again the Jews understood the man’s becoming a proselyte, and by being born again of water, nothing can be meant but being baptised. Now it strikes us that on this reasoning Nicodemus is made out to be one of the most stupid and turbid of mortals, not only unworthy of the honours of a master of Israel, but not fit to occupy a stool in the class of the most unskilful of the rabbis. If it were a Jewish custom to baptise proselytes, if a man on becoming a proselyte was familiarly said by the Jews to be born again, and if to be born again by water can mean nothing but to become a proselyte by baptism, on what principle does Dr. Halley account for Nicodemus being so inconceivably dull as not to comprehend language which on this shewing must have been as familiar to every Jew as ‘household words’? To us it appears clear that our author, in his zeal to press this passage into his service, has been so exceedingly over-pressing, that he has rendered it unfit to do duty in his cause. In adducing this argument, he has made certain assumptions, none of which he can well dispense with, but all of which we think are false. The first is, that our Lord could not justly express surprise that Nicodemus, a master in Israel, should not understand his words unless there were some custom in the nation to which these words referred. Now, as already hinted to us, it appears on the other hand quite evident that had our Lord referred to a mere national custom when he spoke of a man's being born again of water, he could not have grounded his surprise at the ignorance of Nicodemus on the circumstance, that the latter was a master in Israel, for such ignorance would have been unworthy of any Jew. His doing so shows that there was something deeper in his words than what merely met the ear, but not so deep as that a rabbishould have felt any difficulty in apprehending it. It is well known that a great part of a rabbi's fame arose from his ability to ‘understand a proverb (a parable) and the interpretation, the words of the wise and their dark sayings;’ and that when rabbis met, their occupation not unfrequently was to propound such to each other for solution, whilst on all occasions they conversed together in a sort of highly figurative style, of which they alone had the proper key. Now our Lord was a Rabbi, and so was Nicodemus, and when the latter came to learn from Christ himself his doctrines, the latter divulged it in language of the same kind as Nicodemus would have used to him had their respective positions been reversed. Our Lord’s words, then, must be held as figurative here; but the figure is one which a Jewish rabbi, familiar with such modes of phraseology and with the language of the Old Testament, should have had no difficulty in understanding. Hence our Lord's reproach.
Dr. Halley further assumes, and here he is not singular, that Nicodemus really did not comprehend our Lord's words, and that his almost puerile question, 'How can a man be born when he is old ?' was a bona fide expression of helpless ignorance. We have more respect for the intelligence of the worthy rabbi than to give in to such an idea. A very little acquaintance with the forms of Oriental controversy, or discussional conversation, will serve to convince any reader, that in this question the ruler expressed not his ignorance of our Lord's meaning, but his dissent from his doctrine, or at least his doubt of it. The drift of his rejoinder we take to be, 'I can understand how such a change as you speak of is necessary for one who has never been spiritually born at all; but that a man who is old, that a man who was born into the kingdom of heaven when he entered the world, and has all his life long continued in it, that such an one should be told he requires regeneration seems to me absurd and unreasonable. To this our Lord rejoins by reaffirming his former assertion with an explanatory addition to the effect that his doctrine was, that let a man's position by natural descent be what it might, a spiritual change was further necessary before he could be saved. Still Nicodemus expresses his polite dissent by asking, 'How can these things be?' and it is in reply to this that our Lord addresses to him the implied rebuke contained in the words, 'Art thou a master in Israel,' &c. As a learned Jew he ought to have understood his own scriptures better than to call in question such a doctrine. In what follows, our Lord, we think, plainly shows that he did not regard Nicodemus as ignorant of his meaning so much as opposed to his doctrine, for while he shows the utmost anxiety to convince the rabbi, he offers not one word of explanation of what he had said, but goes on to assert in solemn terms his own authority as a divinely commissioned teacher, and his perfect certainty of the truth of what he affirmed; after which, dropping the style of figurative speech in which their conversation had commenced, he proceeds to announce to Nicodemus, in plain terms, the way of salvation through himself as the Son of God. Whatever, therefore, may be built upon the supposed ignorance of Nicodemus in this conversation, we must regard as resting upon a very doubtful basis.
But the most important assumption made by Dr. Halley in his reasoning ou this passage is, that by being 'born of water' nothing else can be meant than being baptised with water. No