Boston: But Ye Are Sanctified

[This is the first of a series on sanctification by Thomas Boston.]

1 CORINTHIANS 6:11.—But ye are sanctified—by the Spirit of our God.

IN this verse the apostle tells the believing Corinthians.

1. What some of them sometime were, such, viz. as those, ver. 9, 10. ‘fornicators, idolators, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners;’ even the worst and grossest sinners, who therefore could have nothing to move God to sanctify them.

2. What they now all were, viz. the true believers among them; they were ‘washed.’ Though some of them in their natural state were more unclean and vile than others, yet they all needed to be, and accordingly were washed,
(1.) In sanctification, whereby sin itself is gradually carried out of the heart and life, and grace planted therein, and actuated and advanced. This is done by the Spirit of God, who is holy, and makes the elect holy.
(2.) In justification, whereby the guilt of sin is removed, and the soul clothed with a perfect righteousness. This is done ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus;’ i. e. by the merits and blood of Christ, through Christ apprehended by faith. The apostle’s order of stating these two will be considered afterwards.
The doctrine of the text is as follows, viz.

DOCT. ‘All that are effectually called, are freely sanctified by the Spirit of Christ.’
In treating of this subject, I shall shew,
I. The general notion of sanctification.
II. More particularly inquire into the nature of it.
III. Deduce some inferences.

I. I will lay before you the general nature of sanctification. It imports three things.

1. Separation, or setting apart to a holy use or service.—Thus the bread and wine in the sacrament are sanctified, and thus Aaron and his sons were sanctified. And thus the sanctification of the Spirit, is the Lord’s taking one out of the corrupt mass of mankind lying in wickedness, and setting him apart for himself, Psal. 4:3. So that holiness is God’s mark and seal set on a soul, testifying it to be his in a peculiar manner, Eph. 1:13.

2. Purification, or taking away of pollution. Thus people are called to sanctify themselves. There is a natural impurity and filthiness that every soul naturally is sunk in, 2 Cor. 7:1. They are loathsome in the sight of God, all over defiled with filthy lusts. Sanctification is the Spirit’s cleansing of the soul from its impurities; breaking the reign of sin, working out sin from the heart and life, as the spring doth the mud cast into it.

3. Preparation, whereby a thing or person is made fit for use or service. Thus our food is sanctified by the word and prayer. Naturally we are unfit for God’s service; sanctification fits us for it, 2 Tim. 2:21. What use are we for in the world, if not for God? But the unsanctified soul is not meet for his use: but the Lord loathes them, and their services too, as one would do liquor in a foul vessel.

Boston, T. (1848). The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1. (S. M‘Millan, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 653–654). Aberdeen: George and Robert King.

Foote: Repentance Should Be Your Daily Work

You see, then, the nature of true repentance; you see how different it is from the flimsy restraints, the unbelieving and fruitless mental horrors, the outward mortifications and observances, the professed sorrow without real amendment, and the self-righteous feelings and doings which are substituted for the atonement of Christ, or for the justifying grace of faith—and, in short, from the various delusions which, under the name of penance, are imposed on superstitious Romanists, or which, under the name of repentance, pass current with too many among ourselves. It is not enough, however, to have learned the correct theory of repentance: you must yourselves be true penitents. Think again of the absolute necessity of this. Listen attentively to the words of Christ himself, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Inquire, I beseech you, whether you have repented or not. Consider whether you have undergone the change which repentance implies—whether the gospel, brought home to your souls by the power of the Holy Ghost, have humbled, and saved, and reformed you. However it may have been heretofore with you, in order that you may be stirred up to renewed exercises, or brought to the first exercise of repentance, carefully use the means which, under God, are calculated to make you truly contrite. Compare your character with the law of God; for, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Study deeply the wondrous display, at once of the evil of sin, and of the love of God, given in the atonement of his Son: and look to God for pardon and purification.

“God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent;” he therefore commandeth all of you to repent, and that whatever may be your state. You all need repentance. Those of you who have already repented and believed the gospel, still need to repent, as well as to believe. Repentance should be your daily work; for, what a mixture of imperfection is there in your whole character! Nay, so far is it from being the case that repentance is not a proper exercise for those who are in a state of favour with God, that, whatever convictions of a certain kind may be felt before (as we have already seen), repentance unto life does not, and cannot come but along with the reception of the divine favour; and it is after God has forgiven sinners, that their contrition is most deep and most ingenuous. “I will establish my covenant with thee: and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: that thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God.” Let, then, his reconciled people humble themselves greatly before him at this time.

But surely those of you who have never yet repented, are especially called on, by this passage, to repent and turn to the Lord. And, if you feel, and are ready to acknowledge that you ought to do so, what do you think will be the best time for it? Do you say, “When we are near the grave,” or, “When we are sick,” or, “A year hence,” or, “To-morrow?” Put not off this concern even till to-morrow. You may not live to see to-morrow: or, though you live long, you may still think that you have no leisure, and that there is no danger; and you may still feel altogether averse from serious consideration. Think if you can by any possibility provide for your safety, if your days be numbered while you are yet impenitent. Whither can you haste for security? to whom can you look for help? what swiftness can convey you beyond the reach of danger? what power can resist omnipotence? what stratagem can elude omniscience? what darkness can conceal you from God’s eye? what arguments can prove that you ought not to suffer? what multitudes, joining hand in hand, can cause you to pass unpunished? How can you but perish, if you do not repent? How can you escape, if you neglect the great salvation? It is only now that true repentance is possible: it is only now that is the accepted time, and now that is the day of salvation. Now God is willing to receive the worst of you into favour, if you come to him in the way of his appointment. Now, then, before your consciences, be entirely seared, and your evil habits be irrevocably confirmed, and your faculties be impaired, and stupor seize you, and terror freeze you, and your eyes close on the things of time, and your ears shut to the calls of mercy: now—before you retire in self-righteous complacency, or thoughtless indifference, or sullen despair, to lay you down and die: now—before you be prematurely plucked off the tree, like green fruit, or fall down into perdition by the inevitable progress of corruption, as rotten fruit drops to the ground by its own weight: now—before the hour come when you shall find no place for repentance, though you seek it carefully with tears: now—while the Father of mercies waits for you, and the Son of his love pleads with you, and the Spirit of grace strives with you, and the voice of the preacher calls to you, and your own bosoms, it may be, respond with at least some faint echo to the call, and so many favourable circumstances occur which may never occur again: now, suffer an adequate conviction of your guilt, misery, and danger, to come home to you, and welcome, at the same time, the message of salvation. “Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud, for the Lord hath spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death and make it gross darkness.” Now, not only form the purpose in God’s strength, but carry it into immediate execution. Let joy be occasioned in heaven among the angels of God by your present repentance. Let the purpose, too, so far accomplished, be yet ever present to your minds for its more full accomplishment. Leave it not behind you here, as if all were done. Carry it in your breasts to your homes. Bear it along with you through life. Let your hearts be always tender; and walk ever softly before the Lord. Thus, though you sow in tears, you shall reap in joy. The Lord will put off your sackcloth, and gird you with gladness; and the trials of your faith and the sorrows of your penitence, shall be forgotten in the fruition of heavenly sight, and in the triumphs of a blessed eternity.

Foote, J. (1849). Lectures on the Gospel according to Luke (Second Edition, Vol. 2, pp. 449–451). Edinburgh; London: John Johnstone.

Foote: Repentance..Redeemer..Gift

Genuine repentance, farther, cannot be without faith in the Redeemer. Without this, repentance can only be the sorrow of the world that worketh death. Natural convictions of sin may, and indeed must, arise before there is any true religion: but, in order to convictions of that kind being of any use, there must be a discovery of the way of pardon; and in order to their issuing in repentance unto salvation, there must be an actual apprehension, or laying hold of that pardon. Now, the gospel scheme clearly teaches that the divine mercy flows to sinners through the meritorious obedience and death of Christ, by faith. Hence, repentance is neither the ground of forgiveness, nor the means of obtaining it. They greatly err who speak, or think, of making atonement for their sins by repentance; or, of being forgiven for Christ’s sake through repentance. All the atonement which ever can be made for sin, is made already, and made by Jesus Christ: and he is “set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” Repentance unto life, being a particular description of the saving change, comes in the way of the knowledge and belief of the truth: it neither goes before, nor tarries long behind, the reception of the gospel; but it comes in immediate connexion with it. The Christian preacher, therefore, testifies both “repentance towards God, and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, nothing but the believing view, the actual apprehension of the love of God in Christ, can excite feelings of genuine, holy, filial contrition. As long as God is looked on as an enemy, there can be no adequate feeling of the baseness of offending him; but when he is seen to be a friend and a reconciled Father, then sin, which is committed against him, is seen to be exceedingly vile and abominable. It is right that the law should be preached in all its terrors, that the tremendous consequences of sin should be dwelt on in all their bearings, and that remorse should be felt in all its bitterness: but these are only like the messenger of the wilderness preparing the way for the Messenger of the covenant; these are useful to alarm the conscience, but they cannot pacify, or purify it; these may sweep away the refuges of lies, but they cannot conduct to a place of safety; these may shake the heart, but they cannot soften it. Something more is necessary to turn into repentance unto life that first repentance, of which it is difficult to know how it may terminate. Something more is wanting to melt down the soul into true contrition, to effect a permanent and decided change on the mind itself, to draw off the affections from the love of sin, and to operate as a constant and sweetly constraining motive to outward reformation; and that is found in the gospel—that is felt in the grace of God which bringeth salvation—that is received in the reception of pardon—that is clearly seen in the believing looking unto Jesus, even Jesus crucified for our sins. According to Zechariah, it is in looking to Him whom they have pierced, that sinners mourn aright. This union of repentance with faith and love is finely illustrated in the case of the woman who was a sinner: “She brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at Jesus’ feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”—“And he said unto the woman, Thy sins are forgiven,”—“Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

To all this let there be added the consideration that true repentance is the gift of God. Nature cannot produce such fruit Conscience, if not utterly seared, may be stung with remorse; fear, the companion of guilt, may agitate the mind which still clings to its idols; and the determined dwelling of a man’s own thoughts on his state, or the faithful warnings of his monitor, may excite an apprehension of coming wrath, but it is only the Author of our nature that can renovate it; it is only the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost that can root out the love of sin, and implant the love of holiness. Speaking of Jesus who was crucified, Peter says (Acts 5:31), “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Let this be habitually remembered, so that when the duty of repentance is placed before us, we may also look on it as a grace, and when we are commanded to repent and turn ourselves from all our transgressions, we may betake ourselves to God in the prayer, “Turn thou us and we shall be turned, for thou art the Lord our God.”

Foote, J. (1849). Lectures on the Gospel according to Luke (Second Edition, Vol. 2, pp. 447–449). Edinburgh; London: John Johnstone.

Foote: The Necessity of Genuine Repentance

But there is one other lesson from this passage, on which I am especially desirous of fixing your attention, namely, the necessity of genuine repentance. Our Lord himself here says twice, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Consider, then, what is implied in repentance unto salvation; and seek to become possessed of it.

It implies, and indeed chiefly consists in, a change of mind. So the original word employed here exactly signifies. It mainly consists in an inward and radical change. It is true that Christian penitence corrects outward crimes; but then, it has that good effect chiefly by its having made a lodgement in the inner man, and having produced a decided revolution there. It traces the polluted streams to the fountain; it detects the origin of the evil in the disordered state of the soul, and it comes along with the discovery and the rectification of the blindness of the understanding, the perversion of the will, and the disaffection of the heart. It is plain that there may be some outward amendment, where there is no such inward change; that a regard to reputation, worldly interest, and various other inadequate considerations, may produce a restraint on actual habits of sin, where the heart is still hankering after them; that actions may be good, as to their letter and matter, but bad as to their spirit and motives; and that his acquaintances may be pleased, and look on a man as a reformed man, when God considers him as still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. Hence the Psalmist, in his desire after repentance, begins at the source, confessing that he was “shapen in iniquity, and conceived in sin,” and applying for a thorough inward change, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Thus, though repentance has other characteristics, it is, when traced up to its first principles, essentially the same with the great saving change called regeneration, and conversion.

But more particularly, true repentance implies a conviction of sin—a conviction not merely of the fact of sin, but of the evil of sin—of its unreasonable, base, odious, and defiling nature—of its exceeding sinfulness. It implies grief on account of sin, and a hatred of it;—not merely in reference to its painful consequences (though that view of it is not to be excluded), but in reference to its own enormity. That man has obviously not truly repented of his profligate habits, who is sorry, only because they have ruined his health, or substance, or character, and who would have continued quite easy in his mind, if none of these disagreeable consequences had followed. So, in general, that is not true repentance, which is only a hatred and a dread of hell, and not a hatred and a dread of sinning—only a regret that a man has disregarded his own happiness, and not a regret that he has been guilty of the baseness and ingratitude of disregarding God. The true penitent says, “Against thee,” O Lord, “thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” It implies, too, actual reformation. Who would believe that man to be sincere, who, having injured a person, came repeatedly to express his sorrow, but always persevered in the same conduct? But the life of some people seems to be a perpetual struggle between conscience and vice, or carelessness—a perpetual alternation of a certain kind of repenting, and of actual sinning. Such repentance is spurious and useless. There is an inseparable connexion between true repentance and actual reformation. “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”—“Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.”

Foote, J. (1849). Lectures on the Gospel according to Luke (Second Edition, Vol. 2, pp. 445–447). Edinburgh; London: John Johnstone.

Robert Traill: Profess Our Faith By Deeds

The profession of our faith is made by deed. A man that cannot speak may make a profession of his faith. He cannot make it by words, but he may make it otherwise; I acknowledge not so easy, for the tongue is man’s glory.

1. The outward attending on the means of grace is a profession of faith. Whoever they be that give but their bodily presence unto prayer and preaching of the word of God, and other institutions of Christ’s appointment, they profess their faith of the gospel. A great many are liars in so saying; for they profess what they have not, and God will judge them accordingly. There is more need to be afraid, than people commonly are aware of. It is the most dangerous employment that an unbeliever can be taken up in, to make a secure attendance on the means of faith, when the man knows in his own heart, that he neither hath faith, nor would have it.

2. People may and should make a profession of their faith in their conversations in their families. This is one part of Christian profession, that every one that has a family, that he is master or she is mistress of, are obliged to make profession of their faith there. The Christian conduct of a family is a very honourable way of professing faith. I will behave myself wisely, says David, in a perfect way: O when will thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect hearty, Psal. 101:2. Several good words he speaks there of his purpose of owning of God, and declaring his respect to him, by his conduct in his family.

3. People make a profession of their faith by joining to and embodying themselves with the church of Christ. If there were no more but twenty believers in a city, I am persuaded that within a little time these twenty believers would quickly scrape up acquaintance one with another, and would unite themselves in the profession of their faith. Shall we receive faith, this great gift, and the honour of so near a relation to God and Christ Jesus as faith brings us to, and shall we not own it? It is remarkable the apostle takes notice of this, 2 Cor. 9:13. They glorify God, says he, for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ. The word in the Greek is more emphatical; it is for the subjection or stooping of your profession to the gospel of Christ, and your acknowledgment of it. Pray what great subjection is there here? Is it so low a stooping for a man to make profession of his faith, that it must be called a stooping? Is it any wonder that the apostle called it stooping to be subject to the gospel, when he says, Rom. 10:3 that the proud self-justiciary will not submit to the righteousness of God? And it is the same word with subjection in the other place.

4. People make a profession of their faith by an holy conversation. A walk as it becometh the gospel, is a profession of our faith, an outward confession of it. All manner of godly conversation, and the adorning of the gospel of God our Saviour in all things, is what is required even of servants, Titus 2:10. But, say you, what will the gospel be adorned, is there an ornament added as it were to the gospel, by the faithfulness and obedience of a poor mean servant? Yes, says the Spirit of God, you are to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. We find it instructed in several very like things. There is the giving of charity to the relief of the saints: That is, says the apostle, by the experiment of this ministration, they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ: and you prove your subjection by your liberal distribution to your poor brethren. Nay, to bring the matter yet lower, and I cannot bring it much lower, and that is even in womens apparel: says the apostle, 1 Tim. 2:9. Likewise let women adorn themselves, not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the ornament of a Christian that seeks to adorn the gospel be good works, rather than the vanities of this world, that are utterly unbecoming the gospel; that the gospel never taught, and that it frequently rebukes; for these vanities always bring reproach upon it, and upon mens profession too.

5. The last profession of our faith is the last thing we can do; that is, dying in faith. After profession, and adorning our profession all manner of ways, as long as we live; in due time, when God calls us, we are to make profession of our faith in dying. There is a dying faith, as the apostle says of the Old Testament saints, Heb. 11:13. These all died in faith. They confessed themselves, all their life long, to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth; and in the same faith that they professed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth, in the same faith they died, and went to heaven. This is the noblest of all; and if it be not only dying in faith, but dying for the faith, it is so much the more amiable. The time of my departure is at hand, says the apostle, 2 Tim. 4:6, 7. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Well, had he no more to do with faith? No, but one bit. Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, &c. I will die in the expectation of the crown, I will have no more to do with faith. So Stephen, the first confessor, the first professor of faith by his blood, Acts 7:59. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. “I have confessed thy name before these enemies, and they are driving this soul of mine out of my body; now, Lord, receive it; I have believed on thee, I suffer for thy sake, I commit this expelled soul unto thy care and conduct; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Traill, R. (1810). The Works of Robert Traill (Vol. 3, pp. 10–12). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Robert Traill: No Justification In Our Holiness

After some Divines were being unjustly charged of antinomianism, Robert Traill wrote this letter originally “TO A MINISTER IN THE COUNTRY”.

“The party here suspected of Antinomianism, do confidently protest, before God, angels, and men, That they espouse no new doctrine about the grace of God and justification, and the other coincident points, but what the reformers at home and abroad did teach, and all the Protestant churches do own. And that in sum is: “That a law-condemned sinner is freely justified by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ; that he is justified only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by God of his free grace, and received by faith alone as an instrument; which faith is the gift of the same grace.” For guarding against licentiousness, they constantly teach, out of God’s word, “That without holiness no man can see God: That all that believe truly on Jesus Christ, as they are justified by the sprinkling of his blood, so are they sanctified by the effusion of his Spirit: that all that boast of their faith in Christ, and yet live after their own lusts, and the course of this world, have no true faith at all; but do, in their profession, and contradicting practice, blaspheme the name of God, and the doctrine of his grace; and continuing so, shall perish with a double destruction, beyond that of the openly profane, that make no profession.” And when they find any such in their communion, which is exceeding rarely, they cast them out as dead branches. They teach, “That as the daily study of sanctification is a necessary exercise to all that are in Christ; so the rule of their direction therein, is the holy spotless law of God in Christ’s hand: That the Holy Ghost is the beginner and advancer of this work, and faith in Jesus Christ the great mean thereof: That no man can be holy till he be in Christ, and united to him by faith; and that no man is truly in Christ, but he is thereby sanctified. They preach the law, to condemn all flesh out of Christ, and to shew thereby to people the necessity of betaking themselves to him for salvation.” See the savoury words of blessed Tindal, called the apostle of England, in his letter to John Frith, written Jan. 1533; Book of Martyrs, vol. 2. p. 308. “Expound the law truly, and open the veil of Moses, to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin, and damnable; and then as a faithful minister, set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of the water of him. And then shall your preaching be with power, and not as the hypocrites. And the Spirit of God shall work with you; and all consciences shall bear record unto you, and feel that it is so. And all doctrine that casteth a mist on these two, to shadow and hide them, I mean the law of God, and mercy of Christ; that resist you with all your power.” And so do we.

What is there in all this to be offended with? Is not this enough to vindicate our doctrine from any tendency to licentiousness? I am afraid, that there are some things wherein we differ more than they think fit yet to express. And I shall guess at them.

1. The first is about the imputed righteousness of Christ. This righteousness of Christ, in his active and passive obedience, hath been asserted by Protestant divines, to be not only the procuring and meritorious cause of our justification; for this the Papists own; but the matter; as the imputation of it is the form of our justification: though I think, that our logical terms are not so adapted for such divine mysteries. But whatever propriety or impropriety be in such school-terms, the common Protestant doctrine hath been, That a convinced sinner seeking justification, must have nothing in his eye but this righteousness of Christ, as God proposeth nothing else to him; and that God in justifying a sinner, accepts him in this righteousness only, when he imputes it to him.

Now, about the imputed righteousness of Christ some say, “That it belongs only to the person of Christ: he was under the law, and bound to keep it for himself; that he might be a fit Mediator, without spot or blemish. That it is a qualification in the Mediator, rather than a benefit acquired by him, to be communicated to his people.” For they will not allow “this personal righteousness of Christ so be imputed to us any otherwise than in the merit of it, as purchasing for us a more easy law of grace; in the observation whereof they place all our justifying righteousness:” understanding hereby “our own personal inherent holiness, and nothing else.” They hold, “That Christ died to merit this of the Father, viz. that we might be justified upon easier terms under the gospel, than those of the law of innocency. Instead of justification by perfect obedience, we are now to be justified by our own evangelical righteousness, made up of faith, repentance, and sincere obedience.” And if we hold not with them in this, they tell the world, we are enemies to evangelical holiness, slighting the practice of all good works, and allowing our hearers to live as they list. Thus they slander the preachers of free grace, because we do not place justification in our own inherent holiness; but in Christ’s perfect righteousness, imputed to us upon our believing in him. Which faith, we teach, purifies the heart, and always inclines to holiness of life. Neither do we hold any faith to be true and saving, that doth not shew, itself by good works; without which no man is, or can be justified, either in his own conscience, or before men. But it doth not hence follow, that we cannot be justified in the sight of God by faith only, as the apostle Paul asserts the latter, and the apostle James the former, in a good agreement.

2. There appears to be some difference, or misunderstanding of one another, about the true notion and nature of justifying faith. Divines commonly distinguish betwixt the direct act of faith, and the reflex act. The direct act is properly justifying and saving faith; by which a lost sinner comes to Christ, and relies upon him for salvation. The reflex act is the looking back of the soul upon a former act of faith. A rational creature can reflect upon his own acts, whether they be acts of reason, faith, or unbelief.

A direct act of saving faith, is that by which a lost sinner goes out of himself to Christ for help, relying upon him only for salvation. A reflex act ariseth from the sense that faith gives of its own inward act, upon a serious review. The truth and sincerity of which is further cleared up to the conscience, by the genuine fruits of an unfeigned faith, appearing to all men in our good lives, and holy conversation. But for as plain as these things be, yet we find we are frequently mistaken by others: and we wonder at the mistake; for we dare not ascribe to some learned and good men, the principles of ignorance, or wilfulness, from whence mistakes in plain cases usually proceed. When we do press sinners to come to Christ by a direct act of faith, consisting in an humble reliance upon him for mercy and pardon; they will understand us, whether we will or not, of a reflex act of faith, by which a man knows and believes, that his sins are pardoned, and that Christ is his: when they might easily know, that we mean no such thing. Mr Walter Marshall, in his excellent book, lately published, hath largely opened this, and the true controversy of this day, though it be eight or nine years since he died.”

Traill, R. (1810). The Works of Robert Traill (Vol. 1, pp. 256–259). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

John Lightfoot: If He Drinks Wine Pure

Ver. 27: Τὸ ποτήριον· The cup.] Bread was to be here at this supper by divine institution: but how came the wine to be here? and how much? and of what sort?

I. “A tradition. It is necessary that a man should cheer up his wife and his children for the feast. But how doth he cheer them up? With wine.” The same things are citedn in the Babylonian Talmud: “The Rabbins deliver,” say they, “that a man is obliged to cheer up his wife and his domestics in the feast; as it is said, ‘And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast.’ (Deut. 16:14). But how are they cheered up? With wine. R. Judah saith, ‘Men are cheered up with something agreeable to them; women, with that which is agreeable to them.’ That which is agreeable to men to rejoice them is wine. But what is that which is agreeable to women to cheer them? Rabh Joseph saith, ‘Dyed garments in Babylon, and linen garments in the land of Israel.’ ”

II. Four cups of wine were to be drunk up by every one: הכל חייבין בד׳ כוסות “All are obliged to four cups, men, women, and children: R. Judah saith, ‘But what have children to do with wine?’ But they give them wheat and nuts,’ ” &c.
The Jerusalem Talmudists give the reason of the number, in the place before quoted, at full. Some, according to the number of the four words made use of in the history of the redemption of Israel out of Egypt, וְהוֹצֵאתִי וְהַצַּלְתִּי וְגָאַלְתִּי וְלָקַחְתִּי And I will bring forth, and I will deliver, and I will redeem, and I will take: some, according to the number of the repetition of the word כּוֹס cup, in Gen. 40:11, 13, which is four times; some, according to the number of the four monarchies; some, according to the number of the four cups of vengeance which God shall give to the nations to drink, Jer. 25:15; 51:7; Psalm 11:6; 75:8. And according to the number of the four cups which God shall give Israel to drink, Psalm 23:5; 16:5; 116:13. כוס ישועות אשא תריין the cup of two salvations.

III. The measure of these cups is thus determined: ארבעה כוסות שאמרו ישנן רביעית יין באיטלקּי “Rabbi Chaia saith, Four cups contain an Italian quart of wine.’ ” And more exactly in the same place: “How much is the measure of a cup? אצבעיים על אצבעיי׳ על רום אצבע ומחצה ושליש אצבע Two fingers square, and one finger and a half, and a third part of a finger deep.” The same words you have in the Babylonian Talmud at the place before quoted, only with this difference, that instead of שליש אצבע the third part of a finger, there is חומש אצבע the fifth part of a finger.

IV. מצוה לצאת ביין אדום It is commanded, that he should perform this office with red wine. So the Babylonian, צריך שיהא בו טעם ומראה “It is necessary that it should taste, and look like wine.” The Gloss, שיהא אדום that it should be red.

V. שתאן חי יצא If he drinks wine pure, and not mingled with water, he hath performed his duty; but commonly they mingled water with it: hence, when there is mention of wine in the rubric of the feasts, they always use the word מזגו they mingle him a cup. Concerning that mingling, both Talmudists dispute in the forecited chapter of the Passover: which see. “The Rabbins have a tradition. Over wine which hath not water mingled with it they do not say that blessing, ‘Blessed be He that created the fruit of the vine;’ but, ‘Blessed be he that created the fruit of the tree.’ ” The Gloss, יינם חזק מאד Their wine was very strong, and not fit to be drunk without water,” &c. The Gemarists a little after: “The wise agree with R. Eleazar, ‘That one ought not to bless over the cup of blessing till water be mingled with it.’ ” The mingling of water with every cup was requisite for health, and the avoiding of drunkenness. We have before taken notice of a story of Rabban Gamaliel, who found and confessed some disorder of mind, and unfitness for serious buisness, by having drunk off an Italian quart of wine. These things being thus premised, concerning the paschal wine, we now return to observe this cup of our Saviour.

After those things which used to be performed in the paschal supper, as is before related, these are moreover added by Maimonides: “Then he washeth his hands, ומברך ברכת המזון and blesseth the blessing of the meat” [that is, gives thanks after meat], “over the third cup of wine, and drinks it up.” That cup was commonly called כוס הברכה the cup of blessing; אכסא דברכתא in the Talmudic dialect. כוס של ברכה ברכת המזון The cup of blessing is when they give thanks after supper, saith the Gloss on Babyl. Berac. Where also in the text many things are mentioned of this cup: “Ten things are spoken of the cup of blessing. הרחה ושטיפה Washing and cleansing:” [that is, to wash the inside and outside, namely, that nothing should remain of the wine of the former cups]. חי “Let pure wine” be poured into the cup, and water mingled with it there. ומלא “Let it be full: עיטור the crowning;” that is, as the Gemara, “by the disciples.” While he is doing this, let the disciples stand about him in a crown or ring. עיטוף The veiling; that is, “as Rabh Papa, he veils himself and sits down; as R. Issai, he spreads a handkerchief on his head. נוטלו בשתי ידיו He takes up the cup in both hands, but puts it into his right hand; he lifts it from the table, fixeth his eyes upon it, &c. Some say he imparts it (as a gift) to his family.”

Which of these rites our Saviour made use of, we do not inquire; the cup certainly was the same with the “cup of blessing:” namely, when, according to the custom, after having eaten the farewell morsel of the lamb, there was now an end of supper, and thanks were to be given over the third cup after meat, he takes that cup, and after having returned thanks, as is probable, for the meat, both according to the custom, and his office, he instituted this for a cup of eucharist or thanksgiving; Τὸ ποτήριον τῆς εὐλογίας ὃ εὐλογοῦμεν, The cup of blessing which we bless, 1 Cor. 10:16. Hence it is that Luke and Paul say that he took the cup “after supper;” that is, that cup which closed up the supper.

It must not be passed by, that when he instituted the eucharistical cup, he said, “This is my blood of the new testament,” as Matthew and Mark: nay, as Luke and Paul, “This cup is the new testament in my blood.” Not only the seal of the covenant, but the sanction of the new covenant: the end of the Mosaical economy, and the confirming of a new one. The confirmation of the old covenant was by the blood of bulls and goats, Exod. 24, Heb. 9, because blood was still to be shed: the confirmation of the new was by a cup of wine; because, under the new testament, there was no further shedding of blood. As it is here said of the cup, “This cup is the new testament in my blood,” so it might be said of the cup of blood (Exod. 24:8), “That cup was the old testament in the blood of Christ.” There, all the articles of that covenant being read over, Moses sprinkled all the people with blood, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which God hath made with you:” and thus that old covenant or testimony was confirmed. In like manner, Christ having published all the articles of the new covenant, he takes the cup of wine, and gives them to drink, and saith, “This is the new testament in my blood:” and thus the new covenant is established.

There was, besides, a fourth cup, of which our author speaks also; “Then he mingled a fourth cup, and over it he finished the Hallel; and adds, moreover, the blessing of the hymn, ברכת השיר which is, ‘Let all thy works praise thee, O Lord,’ &c.; and saith, ‘Blessed is He that created the fruit of the vine;’ and afterward he tastes of nothing more that night,” &c. ‘Finisheth the Hallel;’ that is, he begins there where he left off before, to wit, at the beginning of Psalm 115, and goes on to the end of Psalm 118.

Whether Christ made use of this cup also, we do not dispute; it is certain he used the hymn, as the evangelist tells us, ὑμνήσαντες, when they had sung a hymn, at the thirtieth verse. We meet with the very same word הימנון in Midras Tillim.


Lightfoot, J. (2010). A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Matthew-1 Corinthians, Matthew-Mark (Vol. 2, pp. 350–353). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Herman Witsius: Moses Is Not The Covenant of Works

“We are not, however, to imagine, that the doctrine of the covenant of works was repeated, in order to set up again such a covenant with the Israelites, in which they were to seek for righteousness and salvation. For we have already proved, book i. chap. ix. sect. 20. that this could not possibly be renewed in that manner with a sinner, on account of the justice and truth of God, and the nature of the covenant of works, which admits of no pardon of sin. See also Hornbeck, Theol. Pract., tom. ii. p. 10. Besides, if the Israelites were taught to seek salvation by the works of the law, then the law had been contrary to the promise made to the fathers many ages before. But now says the apostle, Gal. 3:17: “The covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” The Israelites were, therefore, thus put in mind of the covenant of works, in order to convince them of their sin and misery, to drive them out of themselves, to show them the necessity of a satisfaction, and to compel them to Christ. And so their being thus brought to a remembrance of the covenant of works tended to promote the covenant of grace.

Fourthly, There likewise accompanied this giving of the law the repetition of some things belonging to the covenant of grace. For, that God should propose a covenant of friendship to sinful man, call himself his God, (at least in the sense it was said to the elect in Israel), take to himself any people, separated from others, for his peculiar treasure, assign to them the land of Canaan as a pledge of heaven, promise his grace to those that love him and keep his commandments, and circumscribe the vengeance denounced against disciples within certain bounds, and the like; these things manifestly discover a covenant of grace: and without supposing the suretiship of the Messiah, it could not, consistently with the divine justice and truth, be proposed to man a sinner. Judiciously says Calvin on Exod. 19:17: “By these words we are taught, that these prodigies or signs were not given to drive the people from the presence of God; nor were they struck with any terror, to exasperate their minds with a hatred of instruction; but that the covenant of God was no less lovely than awful. For they are commanded to go and meet God, to present themselves with a ready affection of soul to obey him. Which could not be, unless they had heard something in the law besides precepts and threatenings.” See also Tilenus Syntagm, pt. i. disp. xxxiii. § 18, 19, 20, 28, 29.

Having premised these observations, I answer to the question. The covenant made with Israel at Mount Sinai was not formally the covenant of works. 1st. Because that cannot be renewed with the sinner, in such a sense as to say, if, for the future, thou shalt perfectly perform every instance of obedience, thou shalt be justified by that, according to the covenant of works. For by this, the pardon of former sins would be pre-supposed, which the covenant of works excludes. 2dly. Because God did not require perfect obedience from Israel, as a condition of this covenant, as a cause of claiming the reward; but sincere obedience, as an evidence of reverence and gratitude. 3dly. Because it did not conclude Israel under the curse, in the sense peculiar to the covenant of works, where all hope of pardon was cut off, if they sinned but in the lead instance.”1

“And that covenant is so really abrogated, that it can on no account be renewed. For, should we imagine God saying to man, “If, for the future, thou canst perfectly keep my law, thou shalt thereby acquire a right to eternal life,” God would not by such words renew this very covenant of works; for sin is now pre-supposed to exist, which is contrary to that perfection of obedience which the covenant of works requires. God would therefore transact here with man on a different condition, whereby, forgiving the former sin, he would prescribe a condition of an obedience less perfect than that which he stipulated by the covenant of works; which, excluding all sin, knew nothing of forgiveness of sin. Nay, such a transaction would be so far from a renewal of the covenant of works, that it would rather manifestly destroy it; for the penal sanction makes a part of that covenant, whereby God threatened the sinner with death: so that, if he forgave him without a due satisfaction, he would act contrary to the covenant and his own truth.”2

1.Witsius, H. (1837). The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity. (W. Crookshank, Trans.) (Vol. 2, pp. 188–189). London: T. Tegg & Son.

2. Witsius, H. (1837). The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity. (W. Crookshank, Trans.) (Vol. 1, p. 132). London: T. Tegg & Son.

For Thy Love Is Better Than Wine


For thy love is better than wine.—Wine is the highest of the luxuries of earth, and is here used to comprehend them all; even as the ‘banquet of wine’ at which Esther entertained her consort and king was obviously a feast of the choicest delicacies, ‘the banquet which she had prepared,’ though wine alone is expressed. The love referred to is not simply the everlasting love of the Lord Jesus Christ to his Church, but is rather the enjoyment of that love in its free communication, when the soul tastes and sees that the Lord is good; for it is the experience of the love that is characterized as excellent above all earthly delights. ‘In whom though now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ Neither is it the future enjoyment of Christ’s love in heaven, but the present enjoyment of His love on earth, that is better than all the joys of earth together—‘thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and wine increased.’ Without corn and without wine, the bride of Christ rejoices more in His love than in all abundance: ‘Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither fruit shall be in the vine, the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation’ (Hab. 3:17, 18). Nor is it simply that the love is purer and more lasting, and therefore better; but at the moment, and in reference to mere delight, divine love is better far than wine. More cheering and reviving to the sorrowful or the fainting soul than strong drink to him that is ready to perish, or wine to him that is of a heavy heart, is the love of Christ in the believer, when he drinks and forgets his poverty and remembers his misery no more. More also in the season of gladness than wine to the animal spirits, is the love of Christ exhilarating to the spiritual man, and, through the inward spirit, to the entire person in mind and body; making men forget adversity, making them forget prosperity, by the overflowing of its joys. Yea, Bride of the Lamb, if thy Lord fills thine earthly cup, and thine eye is so fixed on the giver as to overlook the gift; if, captivated with His beauty, and ‘counting all things loss for his excellence,’ the wine is spilt in thy hand; the world will mock thee, for they see not Him who replenished the cup, but the King will never forget the devotion of thy heart, when deed rather than word declared, ‘Thy love is better than wine.’

The love here commended is specially the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given to us; and when the Holy Ghost was thus given of old to the afflicted Bride of Christ, their enemies saw it and said, ‘These men are full of new wine;’ yet wine of earth it was not, but ‘love better than wine.’ To the believer the command is issued, ‘Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit,’ because the Spirit inebriates not, yet exhilarates and overcomes the soul. One single luxury alone did Christ create during his whole sojourn on earth, it was in the first of all his miracles, and that luxury was wine—better wine doubtless than earth had ever tasted. At the marriage in Cana of Galilee, he thus manifested forth His glory as the Bridegroom of the Church; and while the governor of the feast, arrested with its surpassing excellence, exclaimed, ‘Thou hast kept the good wine until now,’ his disciples through the miracle believed on the Lord, and the inward language of their hearts was, ‘Thy love is better than wine.’ At his first marriage supper on earth, the Bridegroom made the wine for the children of the bridechamber; at his last supper he opened the emblem, by explaining that the true vine is Himself, and the juice of its grapes his own most precious blood; that love cannot go beyond laying down the life, and that his life-blood is the good wine kept until now, the love better than wine.—How sad thy case, O reader, if thy highest joy transcend not the wine of earth; because when that is drunk with all its poisoned sweets, then ‘in the hand of the Lord there is a cup full of mixture, its wine red, and the dregs thereof shalt thou wring out and drink for ever.’”

Stuart, A. M. (1869). The Song of Songs: An Exposition of the Song of Solomon (pp. 98–100). Philadelphia: Wm. S. Rentoul.(Commentary on Song 1:2)

James Bannerman: The Christian Sabbath


WE have now brought to a close our argument on the subject of Church power in reference to public worship viewed generally. Following out the order of discussion already indicated, we have next to consider the question of when and how often public worship is statedly to be celebrated. If public worship be a standing ordinance in the Church, and a perpetual duty binding on its members, it necessarily follows that a certain proportion of time must be specially set apart and employed in the observance of it. Apart altogether from any positive appointment in the matter, it is the office of natural reason, when it teaches men the duty of worship, to teach them at the same time to give a certain portion of their time to the discharge of the duty. What proportion of time is to be so employed, and when the season for the duty is to recur, are questions which natural reason may be unable distinctly to answer. But the light of nature itself dictates the necessity of setting apart a certain proportion of time for the worship of God,—founded as the duty of worship is in the necessary relation subsisting between the creature and the Creator.

But while natural reason dictates the duty of employing a certain proportion of our time in the worship of God, the question of when and how often the duty is to be discharged is one that belongs to God to determine. The length of time to be set apart for the duty, and the frequency of its return, are matters of positive appointment connected with His own worship, which, like other positive provisions for it, remain for God and not for man to dictate. We believe that the precise length of time to be set apart for ordinary worship, and also the interval between the recurrence of such seasons, have been fixed by God in that septenary division of time which He instituted for man in the beginning, and in the arbitrary singling out of one whole day in seven to be a holy Sabbath unto Himself. In the institution of the Sabbath there was an arbitrary appointment of God grafted upon a natural duty; and hence the ordinance itself partakes of the character both of a moral and of a positive duty. It is of considerable importance in the argument, to distinguish clearly what belongs to it in the one character, and what belongs to it in the other. In so far as it recognises and embodies the obligation of devoting our time, more or less in amount, and at more or less frequent intervals, to the worship of God, it is a duty which the law of nature, apart from any positive appointment, enjoins. In so far as it defines this obligation as the duty to devote one whole day in seven, and a particular day in the week as the Sabbath, to the purposes of devotion, it must be regarded as a positive institution superinduced upon a natural one. The duty of setting apart some portion or other of our time to the worship of God, is a duty founded in the relation of a creature to his Creator, as much as the obligation of worship itself, and not to be set aside or changed any more than you could set aside or change that relation. The duty, on the other hand, of setting apart a seventh and not a sixth portion of the week, and fixing its return on the first or last day of the seven, rather than any other, is an appointment of a positive kind, determined by God on good and sufficient principles connected with the circumstances of man, but yet principles which, in so far as we know, might in other circumstances have led to another determination. In so far as it is a moral duty, founded on the very nature of man as God’s creature, and demanding some proportion of his time to be employed in worship, it could not be altered. In so far as it is a positive duty, founded in the circumstances of man, and demanding the seventh portion of the week, and the first or last day of it to be so employed, it might, in so far as we can understand, have been different from what it is.

The time, then, to be specially dedicated to Divine service, like some of the other provisions for worship, has something in it of a natural institution; and, like all the other provisions of worship, it has something in it also of a positive ordinance. Is the time thus set apart by arbitrary appointment of God for His worship designed to be a standing and perpetual institution in His Church—an ordinance of permanent and universal obligation? Is the Sabbath the exclusive appointment made by God as to the times and seasons of worship; or are there other days also binding on the conscience and obedience of the members of the Church? What is the office of the Church in the exercise of the power committed to it in regard to the time for public worship? These questions it is deeply important for us to be enabled to answer; and to the consideration of them we are naturally brought at this point in the order of our discussions. We have found public worship to be a permanent ordinance of God in His Church. Is the Sabbath, or the time for public worship, no less an ordinance of Divine and permanent obligation? To this subject we shall direct our attention in the first place. Is the Sabbath the only day set apart by God for His ordinary worship, and the only day which the Church has a right to ordain the observance of for that end? or are there other days also holy, and also to be set apart by the Church as stated and ordinary seasons for worship? To the consideration of this further subject we shall address ourselves in the second place.

In proceeding to consider the question of the Divine and permanent obligation of the Sabbath as the season set apart for worship, it is impossible for us to do more than state in the briefest possible manner the heads of argument in the discussion. To attempt to go further in such a wide and varied field, would be utterly inconsistent with the limits prescribed to us. All that we can do is, to lay down a few leading principles of a general nature applicable to the subject.

I. That the institution of the Sabbath had no reference to any temporary purpose or any special people, but was founded on a reason or ground of permanent and universal obligation, is manifest from the nature and circumstances of its appointment at first.

The Sabbath, as at first enjoined on man, was no part of a temporary or local economy. It was on man in the catholic and unalterable character of God’s creature, and not on man as Jew or Gentile, as the subject of a limited and transient dispensation, that the day of weekly rest was enjoined. Time, as forming a portion of the existence of the Eternal God, was all equally and alike holy to Him; time, as forming a portion of the days of the lifetime of unfallen man, was all equally and alike good to him for the purpose of worshipping His Creator. And when one particular day in the week, viewing it as a brief part of the everlasting existence of God, was singled out by God Himself that He might bless and sanctify it, and Himself rest on that day from His work of creation; when the same day, viewing it as a season in the earthly existence of man, was made in this manner holy and blessed to him; it was an ordinance in which not the Jews only, but all mankind, are equally interested,—an ordinance to man as the rational and moral creature of God, and not as the subject of any local or temporary obligation. A Sabbath so instituted had no connection with any peculiar economy, under which a portion of the human race afterwards came to be placed; but plainly belonged to that relationship into which man, as the creature of God, fresh from His almighty hand, entered in the hour of his creation. There were, indeed, two great laws given to man at first, fundamental and appropriate to the twofold relation into which at his creation he was introduced; the first bearing on his relation to God, the second on his relation to his fellows of the same race. At the creation man entered into relation with God as his Maker,—the relation of creatureship, to endure unaltered throughout every generation of the creature; and as fundamental and appropriate to that connection, God appointed the ordinance of the seventh day of worship as the very condition on which it was to subsist and be maintained. At the creation also man entered for the first time into relationship with his fellow-creature of the same race,—a relationship also destined to endure throughout all the changes and dispensations appointed for man as a social being; and as fundamental and appropriate to this connection, God ordained the law of marriage as the basis of all the subsequent intercourse of man with man. The one as lying at the foundation of all his relations with God, and the other as lying at the foundation of all his relations with his fellow-men, were alike laws appointed for him as man, and appropriate and essential to him in his twofold capacity as destined to hold intercourse with God, and as destined to hold intercourse with his fellow-men. The law of the Sabbath not less than the law of marriage was given to man, and not to any race or period of men; and coeval with man’s entrance into being, they are destined to endure and be binding while he has his existence on the earth.

There is no possibility of getting rid of this argument for the Divine and permanent obligation of the Sabbath, except either by denying the credibility and authenticity of the narrative of its institution in Genesis, or else by interpreting it so as to warrant the conclusion that it was appointed not at the creation, but subsequently to the Israelites in the wilderness. With those who deny the historical veracity of the book of Genesis this is not the place to enter into any argument. With those, again, who, like Paley, hold that the narrative of Genesis, admitted to be authentic and credible, is not to be interpreted as if it recorded the first institution of the Sabbath, but only as speaking of it by anticipation; and that the first appointment of the law of the Sabbath is really recorded in Exodus, in connection with the gathering of the manna by the Israelites in the desert; with this second class of objectors a very brief argument is all that is necessary. In the first place, unless extreme violence is to be done to the express statements of Genesis, it must be admitted that it is not in the way of anticipating an event to take place two thousand years afterwards, but in the way of recording an event occurring at the moment, that it speaks of God blessing and sanctifying and resting on the seventh day after the six previous days of creation. In the second place, the narrative in Exodus which speaks of the Israelites gathering a double portion of the manna on the sixth day, and none on the seventh, cannot, on any sound or sober principles of interpretation, be regarded in any other light than as a reference to the Sabbath, not as an institution then for the first time appointed, but rather as an ordinance well known and familiar. In the third place, the promulgation of the law at Sinai, embodying as it did the sabbatical ordinance, seems to imply the previous acquaintance of the Israelites with the appointment. And in the fourth place, the division of time into weeks of seven days, prevalent long before among the patriarchs, seems no less to point to the previous existence of the Sabbath as the seventh day rest. Such considerations as these seem distinctly to demonstrate that the narrative of Genesis as to the appointment of the Sabbath is not the history of an event which did not take place until hundreds of years afterwards, but the history of an event which took place at the creation. And if so, there is no way of escape from the conclusion, that the Sabbath appointed to man in the beginning had no connection with any temporary or local dispensation, but was given to man as the creature of God, to be the fundamental law of his worship; and that as such it is an ordinance binding upon men in every age, and under all the circumstances and changes of their being on earth.

II. That the ordinance of the Sabbath is one of universal and everlasting obligation, may be evinced from the place assigned to that ordinance in the moral law, reasserted and promulgated afresh at Sinai.

That the moral law embodied in the Ten Commandments was totally distinct from the political and ceremonial law appointed for the Israelites, is abundantly obvious. The one, as the law of right and wrong—as the expression of that unchangeable obligation which lies upon every human creature at all times—had been in force from the beginning, and was destined to continue in force to the end; the other, as embodying the political and ritual observances characteristic of Israel as a nation or Church, and intended to serve a temporary purpose until a better dispensation was brought in, had not previously any authority, and was designed to give place to the Gospel. Between these two laws there was a broad and indelible line of distinction, marking out the one as of local and temporary, the other as of universal and permanent obligation. There are four marks that may be mentioned as separating between the moral law of the Ten Commandments, of universal and perpetual authority, and the ceremonial and political law of the Israelites, of limited and local obligation.

1st. The manner of the promulgation of the Ten Commandments at Sinai indicated a difference between them and the ceremonial appointments of Israel. They were uttered by the voice of God Himself amid the most sublime indications of the presence and supremacy of Jehovah, in the hearing of all Israel, who trembled exceedingly as God spake to them all the words of His law. They were addressed directly to the people, not conveyed to them indirectly through Moses. They were graven by the finger of God Himself on the tables of stone. “These words,” said Moses to the people, after solemnly rehearsing to them the Ten Commandments shortly before his death, “these words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice; and He added no more: and He wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.” None of these things can be said of any of the ceremonial or political commandments given to Israel. These latter were communicated to Moses personally, and written by him in a book. It cannot be doubted that, in an age when truth was so much taught by signs and significant actions, the striking difference in the manner of their promulgation was designed by God to call the attention of the Israelites to the still more striking difference between the laws themselves: the one being of everlasting and universal authority; the other being only local and temporary in its obligation.

2d. The manner of the preservation of the Ten Commandments, no less than that of their promulgation, indicated the marked and solemn difference put between them and the ceremonial and political laws of the Israelites. They were deposited, as the only possession it held, in the ark of the covenant; that ark with its contents was placed within the veil, in the holiest of all; to look into the ark where the law was contained, was, as the men of Bethshemesh found, visited with death; day by day the mercy-seat over the ark was wet and sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifices; and above the mercy-seat, guarding the law beneath, was the cloud of Divine glory that indicated the presence of Jehovah. In all these jealous and peculiar precautions employed about the preservation of the law of the Ten Commandments, it is not difficult to read the lesson of the deep and indelible distinction drawn between it and the ceremonial commandments of the Jews. Was it, after having been once broken at the hands of man and written afresh by the finger of God, withdrawn from human eye, shut up in the ark of the covenant under the peril of death to him who should look upon it, and placed within the most holy place, to which none but the high priest once a year found entrance? This was indeed the high and holy law of God, which men had once broken; which never was again to be intrusted to sinners as a means of life, but to be withdrawn from their sight because they were unworthy to look upon it, and reserved only until a better man might be found to keep it and make it honourable. Were the ark and the mercy-seat over the law day by day moistened and sprinkled with the shed blood of the sacrifices offered continually? It was the law of God, whose inviolable holiness and unsullied justice still demanded blood because of the transgression of it, and waited until the hour when more than mortal blood, so long typically shed, was actually to be poured out in vindication of its claims. Did the living and burning glory of Jehovah keep watch above the spot where that law was deposited? It was the law of the Lord, whose unalterable and everlasting authority was guarded and sanctioned by all His perfections. In the significant circumstances that marked its preservation, we read the truth of the wide and essential distinction between the law of the Ten Commandments and the political and ceremonial commandments of Israel.

3d. The manner of the vindication of the law contained in the Ten Commandments demonstrates the difference between that law and the ceremonial ordinances of the Jews. Christ came in the fulness of time to abolish the one, and to evince their utter vanity; Christ came in the fulness of time to obey and confirm and vindicate the other. The very same revelation of the Son of God in the flesh to set up a kingdom and a Church that cannot be moved, which demonstrated that the one set of laws were temporary and limited in their force, and neither designed nor fitted to be permanent or universal, served at the same time to demonstrate that the other set of laws were of perpetual and unalterable obligation, eternally binding in their substance on all moral and intelligent beings. The ceremonial laws of the Jews were promulgated, observed, and obeyed throughout the nation; serving, until the manifestation of Christ, the local and temporary purpose of types pointing to the introduction of a future and higher economy by which they were to be displaced. The moral law, embodied in the Ten Commandments, was laid up in hiding within the ark, as no longer to be promulgated for man to keep as the means of life to his soul, but waiting there until the day came when their hiding-place was to be laid open, and the veil that concealed them rent in twain, and when they themselves should be brought forth to be fulfilled and vindicated and honoured by the obedience and death of the Son of God. That death did virtually abolish and put dishonour upon the ritual and carnal commandments of a worn-out and bygone dispensation. It no less confirmed and magnified the law of the Ten Commandments, as a law that could not be altered or abolished, even although the Son of God should die to fulfil it.

4th. The very nature of the law of the Ten Commandments, and the reasons out of which that law originated, demonstrate the difference between it and the ceremonial and temporary commandments given to Israel. This is not less obviously the case with the reasons given for the law of the Sabbath as in the case of the rest; and it is with the Sabbath ordinance that we have at present to do. The reasons rising out of the nature of the institution, by which its obligation is enforced, are such as to be in no respect peculiar to any one time or any one nation, but, on the contrary, reasons adapted to all times and all nations. The threefold reason given for the observance of the seventh day’s rest in the fourth commandment is the very same as was given at the creation, and is adapted to man as man, the creature of God, wherever found, and under whatever dispensation. The example of God, or the Divine rest,—the “blessing the Sabbath,” or making it a blessing to His creature,—the “hallowing it,” or setting it apart to man for sacred purposes,—these are no limited and temporary reasons rendering the Sabbath-day binding on one nation, and not other branches of the human race, or making it of authority at one time and not at another. They plainly point to a universal permanent obligation, such as the nature or reasons of the ceremonial observance of Israel could not indicate. Such marks of distinction as these between the institution of the Ten Commandments and the institution of Judaical observances, sufficiently demonstrate that the moral law of the former is of general and permanent authority, while the ceremonial law of the latter was meant to be local and temporary in its obligation.

III. That the ordinance of the Sabbath was designed to be of perpetual obligation is demonstrated by statements of Scripture, which expressly intimate the continuance of the ordinance after the Jewish Sabbath was abolished.

In the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, for example, the prophet is prophesying of Gospel times, when the merely Jewish Sabbath should be no longer in force; and yet he speaks with marked and repeated emphasis of the blessing upon the man who should “keep the Sabbath from polluting it,”—language which can have no meaning at all except in reference to the Christian Sabbath which was to succeed the Jewish. In like manner, our Lord speaks of the observance of the Sabbath as still to be kept up at a time when all mere Jewish institutions were abrogated and no longer binding. “Pray ye,” says He in speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, which was to take place forty years after the rites of the Jewish Church were done away with; “pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day.” The language of our Lord in this passage very obviously implies, that just as certainly as there would be winter, so certainly there would be a Sabbath at that time; and that it was a blessing to be entreated for, that the Christians might not be forced to flee during the inclemency of the one season or during the sacredness of the other.

IV. The weekly Sabbath, or season for worship, has, since the resurrection of Christ, been transferred from the last to the first day of the week.

There are two sources of evidence from which the argument for this change is drawn:—1. There are very significant indications in the Old Testament Scriptures of such a change being intended. The Jewish Sabbath was the seventh day from the beginning of the work of creation by God; and the Christian Sabbath, now substituted in its place, is the following day, or the eighth, counting from the same commencement. Now it is a very striking and interesting fact, illustrated by a vast variety of different passages in the Old Testament Scriptures, that there are distinct intimations of the intention of God to exalt the eighth day above the seventh, and to transfer the honour which the seventh had attained among the days of the week to the eighth, or the following day. It is impossible, without a very ample quotation of passages, to give anything like an adequate idea of the force of the evidence for the change of the Sabbath from the last to the first day of the week, derived from those typical and prophetic intimations of the intention of God in Gospel days to prefer the eighth day above the seventh, and to signalize the day of Christ’s resurrection, when He entered into rest, above the day of His own finishing of the work of creation, when He Himself entered into rest. The evidence is given in much detail, and with great effect, in the late Mr. Robert Haldane’s Dissertation on the Sanctification of the Sabbath. One or two examples taken from his work may suffice. The rite of circumcision was to be administered to children only on the eighth day. This was a standing ordinance in the Jewish Church. But we know that circumcision was “the seal of the righteousness of faith,”—the everlasting righteousness to be accomplished and brought in by Christ. That righteousness was actually brought in on the eighth day, or the day of Christ’s resurrection; and the sign of circumcision in the Jewish Church long pointed out the very day when the type was to be fulfilled. Again, on the eighth day of their age animals were to be accepted in sacrifice,—plainly pointing to that day, honoured above all the rest, when in His resurrection Christ was publicly accepted as the sacrifice of His people. Yet, again, on the eighth day the consecration of the High Priest in the Jewish Church was completed,—another token of the honour to be put on that day when the High Priest of His people arose from the dead, and was consecrated for evermore. Still further, it was on the eighth day the cleansing of the leprosy took place,—another sign still, pointing to the preference to be given to the day when Christ finished His atoning work, and cleansed His people from their sin. Once more, it was not until the eighth day that the first-born of cattle which belonged to the Lord were given to Him,—another indication of the mysterious honour awaiting that day of the week when “the first-born from the dead” was received by His Father.

In short, through the whole typical system and the prophetical Scriptures, the recurrence of the number eight, in connection with some mysterious preference to be given to it in that coming dispensation, in which all the types and prophecies were to find their fulfilment, is most frequent and marked. It is hardly possible to adopt any kind of interpretation which will not refer this to the day of Christ’s resurrection, and which does not see in it a foreshadowing of the superior honour about to be put in Gospel days on the eighth day above the seventh. That this could refer to nothing except the honour which the seventh had so long enjoyed as the Sabbath of the Lord, seems to be very obvious; and the conclusion appears to be unavoidable, that there is a studied exhibition in type and prophecy throughout the whole of the ancient economy of the great truth that the seventh day, in the fulness of time, was to yield its place and its honours to the eighth, and that the Sabbath was to be transferred from the one to the other. They all point to the introduction on earth of a more glorious exhibition of the Divine character in connection with redemption than any connected with creation; and they indicate that the seventh day, so long linked to the remembrance of creation, was to yield its honours to the eighth day, as linked with the memory of redemption.

2. The change of the Sabbath from the last to the first day of the week is demonstrated by Scripture examples. That there is no precept expressly appointing the change, and enjoining the observance of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath, is freely admitted. But it is a general principle, which cannot be denied, that Scripture example in regard to any duty, when it is the example of inspired men, and not referable to their extraordinary office or character, is as binding as Scripture precept. And that we have such examples in the New Testament, sufficient to demonstrate the authoritative change of the Sabbath from the last to the first day of the week, must be apparent to every attentive reader of it. We have the example of Christ, in His repeated and solemn appearances to His assembled disciples after His resurrection on the first day of the week; we have the stated meeting of the Churches under inspired and apostolic direction on the same day; we have the weekly contributions made by the congregations assembled on the first day of the week; we have the distinguishing name given to it of the Lord’s day. All this is sufficient to establish a Scripture precedent for the change of the day, of equal authority with an express injunction.

V. The permanent and perpetual obligation of the Sabbatic ordinance is not affected by the change of the day on which it is observed.

Were we not able to prove that a change in the particular day for the observance of the Sabbath was intended and authorized, the only effect of this want of proof would be, not to exempt us from the keeping of a Sabbath, but to throw us back on the last day of the week as the season for its observance. But there is abundant proof, from inspired and authoritative example, for the change; and that change does not in the least affect the perpetuity of the ordinance. It is a change in what belongs to the Sabbath as a positive ordinance, and not in what belongs to it as a moral duty. That a certain portion of our time, more or less, is to be set apart for the worship of God, is one of those duties dictated by a consideration of the very relation in which as creatures we stand to God; and in this respect we could not conceive of the ordinance being changed. But that the last day of the week instead of any other day should be appointed for worship, is a matter of positive institution not affecting the essence of the ordinance any more than the positive law which at one time made death the penalty of a breach of the fourth commandment in Israel, and which “the Lord of the Sabbath” may alter for sufficient reason, without affecting the permanence or the perpetual obligation of the institution. That such a sufficient reason has occurred in the superior glory of the finished work of Christ over that of creation to justify and require the change, few men who understand what that work is will be disposed to deny.

There are three Sabbaths referred to in Scripture, each excelling the other in glory as they occur in their order, because each one as it occurs comprehends, as it were, all the former. There is the Sabbath of creation, when God the Father rested from His work of power, and called upon man to enter with Him into rest, and to rejoice with Him in that finished work, because it was good. There is the Sabbath of redemption,—not superseding but embracing the former,—when God the Son rested from His work of grace, and once more invited man to enter with Him into rest, and rejoice with Him in the finished work, that, in a higher sense than in the former case, because it was creation restored, was also very good. And there is the Sabbath of glory yet to come, not superseding the former two, but embracing and comprehending both, when, creation restored and redemption completed, and both continued in glory, God the Spirit shall enter into His rest, and shall call upon His saints to rest with Him also, rejoicing together through eternity in the last and highest Sabbath of God.

(Bannerman, J. (1868). The Church of Christ: a treatise on the nature, powers, ordinances, discipline, and government of the Christian Church (Vol. 1, pp. 392–405). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.)

James Bannerman: Ecclesiasctical Holidays


WE have had before us of late the subject of the one great distinction which has been drawn by God Himself between the times and seasons appointed for man on the earth,—the distinction, namely, between that one-seventh portion of the week which He made holy and set apart from the rest for the purpose of His own worship, and those six-sevenths of the week which He did not so sanctify or set apart, but gave to man for his ordinary uses. We believe that there is ample warrant in Scripture for saying that this distinction is not of human invention, but of God’s positive command; that it was appointed at the creation as the fundamental law that was to regulate the intercourse of God and man; that it was dictated to men, not as the subjects of any peculiar or temporary dispensation, but as the creatures of God under all dispensations; that as such it is of permanent and universal obligation, destined to cease only with the existence of man on the earth; and that, even after his earthly existence is terminated, this Sabbath, suited to his present character here, shall be done away with, only because it shall be merged into the Sabbath of God in heaven. In reference to the ordinance of the Sabbath as the time marked out by God Himself for worship, it is the office of the Church, just as in regard to every other Divine ordinance, simply to administer the appointment of its Divine Head, to accept of it in all its fulness, integrity, and simplicity, as it comes from His hands, and to carry it into effect for the purposes He has designed by it, without addition or alteration by ecclesiastical authority.

This ordinance, which makes holy an entire day in seven, and sets it apart for God, is of God’s own appointment. He who in the beginning divided the day from the night, and set His signs in the heavens to measure out the seasons of man on the earth, has also separated one day in the week from the rest, to be a sign between Him and His creatures, and to be sanctified to them as the season of worship. This separation of one portion of time from another, and this consecration of one day, returning every seven, above the rest, was the sovereign act of God, who alone has the right or the power to divide between day and day, and to stamp the character of holiness upon one more than upon another. And the question here meets us,—and it is both an important and an interesting one,—whether or not the Sabbath, thus enjoined and set apart by God for the worship of the Church, is the only season so preferred above the rest; whether or not there are other solemnities of a similar character and authority to be observed by His people; and more especially whether the Church, by its own appointment, may ordain days to be kept holy in the stated and usual order of its worship? In other words, is there any ground to allege that there are other holy days besides the weekly Sabbath of binding and permanent obligation in the Church? or is there warrant in Scripture to believe that the Church has a right to ordain days of its own authority as regular and periodical solemnities, in addition to the Sabbath, and similarly obligatory on the conscience and obedience of its members? The question of the right of the Church to appoint holidays and fast days as part and parcel of her ordinary worship, and to impose the observance of them in addition to the keeping of the Sabbath, is one of the most important in the department of the exercise of Church power in connection with the worship of God.

There can be no doubt that, whether the power belongs to the Church or not of appointing fasts and holidays, the liberty to exercise that power was very early claimed by the Christian Church; and a multitude of days, unknown to Scripture and destitute of all Scriptural authority, were, very soon after the apostolic age, observed and honoured by Christians. The introduction of anniversary days, set apart for special purposes of devotion, was one of the earliest examples of the observance or appointment of uncommanded rites and ceremonies finding its way into the Christian society. Days consecrated to the memory of particular events in the history of our Lord’s life and sufferings, and death, and resurrection, were early introduced and solemnized; and next in order, and following rapidly after them, we find the introduction of days dedicated to the remembrance of apostles, and saints, and martyrs,—a practice which, growing apace, at length filled the year with saints’ days, and has crowded the calendar of the Romish Church with an untold number of fasts, and feasts, and superstitions.

It is not difficult, perhaps, to trace back the origin of the superstitious reverence for days not appointed in Scripture to a practice of which we find traces even in the New Testament history. God Himself, by His express appointment, had ordained days of religious solemnities for the Jewish Church over and above the weekly Sabbath,—“days, and weeks, and years,”—the parts and elements of an outward typical and ceremonial economy. There was an interval of transition between the time when that economy was really cancelled by the resurrection of Christ and the time when it practically ceased to be regarded, during which its ceremonies, although no longer binding on the conscience, yet continued to be kept up and observed by the Jewish converts, ever prone to cling to the customs of their fathers,—a practice which was permitted by the apostles out of indulgence to their feelings and associations, although not enjoined as necessary to true Gospel obedience.

It was in accommodation to these habits and prejudices of the Jews that the practice of circumcision, for example, although legally abolished in the Christian Church, was for a time permitted to be continued as a matter of concession to their weak consciences; and that in one particular case—that, namely, of Timothy, we even find Paul actually ordering the rite to be performed, in order to avoid offence to his countrymen. And it is precisely on the same footing, during the transition interval between the disuse of the Mosaic and the full establishment of the Christian economy, that we find the observance of Jewish feasts and holidays placed. The observance of these days belonged to the elements of a ceremonial law, abrogated by the death of Christ; and yet the keeping of these seasons was permitted for a short time to reign still in the Christian Church among the Jewish converts, in accommodation to their weak consciences, and as a matter of indulgence, but not of necessity or obligation to them. In regard to the observance of such days, the conscience was free: if kept, it was a matter of gratification to the feelings and habits of those who kept them; if not kept, it was because those who did not keep them found no profit and no duty in the observance. For, in express reference to such voluntary observance or non-observance of these seasons, the Apostle Paul says: “One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” But it can hardly be doubted that it was this permission given to individuals to keep or not to keep, as they felt it to be for their personal edification, these holidays of the Jewish Church that had been abrogated, that, through mistake and misapplication of the indulgence, was developed in after ages into the practice of the Church by its own authority enforcing the observance of fast and feast days upon all its members. Under the direction of the Apostles, and in the practice of the apostolic Church, the observance of Jewish days was a matter of permission to weak consciences, and not of command to the consciences of all,—a practice optional to individuals who felt they could use it aright, and not binding upon others. With the rapid inroad of human conceptions and superstitions into the primitive Church, the practice was converted from an individual permission to a general enactment binding upon all; and the observance of religious days, instead of being left outside of the Church as a matter of indulgence to individuals, was brought into the Church as part of its ordinary worship, and made binding on all its members indiscriminately.

It is important, then, to examine into the foundation or warrant for Church power when exercised in such a manner. We have already seen that the one distinction which separates one day in seven from others for worship is a distinction made by Divine appointment, and fitted and intended to be binding upon man universally and permanently. Is there any other distinction of days in a similar manner binding in connection with the worship by man of his Maker? In addition to the weekly Sabbath, are there any other days which the Church may by its own authority ordain as part of or necessary to the ordinary worship of God, and which the members of the Church are bound to regard as similarly holy? Now, in order distinctly to apprehend and to keep in view the real point in dispute between the advocates and the opponents of ecclesiastical days, whether fast days or feast days, there are two preliminary remarks that it is important to make.

First, The question in debate between the friends and enemies of ecclesiastical holidays does not turn on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of private days set apart by individuals for their personal use and edification in the service of God, whether in the way of fasting or of thanksgiving. That such private and personal appointments may be lawful and profitable, it is neither our business nor our inclination to deny. If it be admitted that the duty of fasting, on occasions when sin committed or judgment incurred may call for humiliation and prayer of a special kind, is warranted by Scripture precept or example, then it would be difficult to deny that the individual so called upon to fast and pray may lawfully set apart a special time for the duty, whether that time be a portion or the whole of any particular day. Or, again, if it be admitted that the duty of thanksgiving for special mercies enjoyed, or special judgments averted or removed, be warranted by Scripture, it seems to be impossible not also to admit that the individual who desires so to pour out his heart to God may lawfully set apart a special time for the duty. In either case, the duty, once admitted to be binding, carries with it the warrant for setting aside from other employments or avocations a certain time for the performance of it. The rule laid down by the apostle in regard to those Jewish Christians, who desired to devote their ancient days of religious service under a former and worn-out economy to religious purposes under the Gospel economy, is plainly applicable here: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind: he that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, unto the Lord he doth not regard it.” His convictions and his practice are not binding upon other men; his own conscience, when fully persuaded, is a warrant and justification in the matter to himself. It is a voluntary observance, and not obligatory upon other men in other circumstances.

Second, The controversy between the advocates and opponents of ecclesiastical holidays does not turn on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the Church, by its own authority, setting apart occasional days of fasting or thanksgiving, as emergencies in the dealings of God with the Church may warrant or demand. There is a wide difference between what it is lawful for the Church to do on those occasions when God in His providence may be calling its members to weeping and humiliation, or summoning them to special joy and thanksgiving, and what it is lawful for the Church to do in the way of setting up a standing ordinary part of its permanent worship. In the examples given us in Scripture of such practices, and in the general principles there laid down in regard to such matters, we believe that the Church has Divine warrant for the duty both of fasting and thanksgiving, when on special occasions there may be a call to that effect in the providence of God addressed to her, and that, not less collectively than individually, it may be right and profitable, on an emergency, to join in such special observances; and if it be a duty, then the duty carries with it the warrant for the Church to order and regulate the circumstances necessary for its performance. In other words, the duty of occasional fasting laid upon the Church justifies the Church in setting apart a fixed time, whether it be a part or the whole of a day, for the duty; and the obligation of occasional thanksgiving warrants, in like manner, the appointment of a season for thanksgiving. But there is a wide difference between this and the appointment of days warranted by no such emergency, but set apart as themselves holy, and constituting a stated and permanent part of ordinary religious worship, in virtue of the authority of the Church, and binding upon all its members. The occasional, as contradistinguished from the permanent and universal use of a day for special religious services, can give no holiness to it above other days; and the extraordinary, as contradistinguished from the ordinary use of such days, can make them no constituent part of the stated worship of God. The special call which warrants the appointment of occasional days of religious service, sufficiently excludes the idea either of any holiness belonging to the day in itself, or in its appropriation, or of such extraordinary appointments forming any part of the ordinary worship of the Church, as if they were essential to it. It is not with the appointment of special days of fasting or thanksgiving that our present argument has to do.

There are two elements that enter into the notion of ecclesiastical holidays. First, they are public and general appointments, made binding by the ordinance of the Church upon all its members, and not merely private anniversaries of a voluntary kind, which each man individually may find it to be right or profitable for himself personally to observe; and second, they are stated and permanent appointments by the Church, recurring as regularly in religious service as the weekly Sabbath, and constituting part of ordinary worship, and not merely occasional and extraordinary appointments. These two elements seem plainly to belong to the idea of ecclesiastical holidays, properly so called, and must be taken along with us in our argument. Are such holidays, then, lawful or unlawful, when appointed by ecclesiastical authority? What are the limits set to the power of the Church in this matter? If we apply to the case of ecclesiastical holidays those general principles, which more than once we have already seen so distinctly to set limits to the exercise of Church power in other matters, we shall find that such holidays have no Scriptural warrant, and that the assumption of power on the part of the Church in their appointment is unlawful. “There is no day,” says the Directory for Public Worship, sanctioned by our Church; “there is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the Gospel but the Lord’s Day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called holy days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued. Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for public fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to His people.”

I. Scripture, as the rule for the exercise of Church power, forbids the appointment of ecclesiastical holidays.

Under the Gospel dispensation, and within the New Testament, it cannot be pretended that there is any countenance to be found for the binding obligation of any sacred day except the weekly Sabbath. During Old Testament times, indeed, it was different; and typical days, as well as typical ordinances and typical persons, are to be found in the Jewish Church. But such days were abrogated, in so far as they had any authoritative force to command the obedience of Christians, when the ancient economy was abrogated. Nor can it be alleged that there is anything in the New Testament beyond a bare permission to the Jewish converts to use such days, and that granted only in accommodation to their weak consciences, and for no more than a time. They were matters of permission, not of commandment, and in this character suited only to the transition interval between the legal abrogation of the Jewish economy and its practical disuse. But while the former use of holidays in the Old Testament Church cannot be pleaded in their favour as making them lawful or binding at the present day, there are at least three passages of Scripture that may be referred to as very emphatically discountenancing such ecclesiastical appointments.

1st, The very terms of the grand Sabbatical law, as announced in the fourth commandment, seem very emphatically to mark out the Sabbath itself as the only day statedly to be separated from other days for the peculiar service of God, and withdrawn, in the ordinary practice of the Church, from common and secular avocations. This is not obscurely intimated in the very language instituting the ordinance: “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” The boundary line drawn around that portion of time given to man for his secular and necessary avocations is here as sharply and distinctly marked as the boundary line drawn around the portion of time appropriated to God. And it seems to be very decisively indicated, that the seventh part of the week, and neither more nor less, was to be secluded from the rest and appointed for religious worship, as the general and ordinary law for the division of man’s time; and that the remainder, consisting of six-sevenths, as the customary and common rule, was to be reserved entire for the ordinary and needful work of man in this life. Ecclesiastical holidays traverse and permanently encroach upon this grand principle laid down in the fourth commandment; and they must therefore be held to be clearly discountenanced by it.

2d, The Apostle Paul very distinctly includes holidays among the number of the things belonging to the bondage of a former dispensation, not to be considered binding upon those who had entered into the freedom of the Gospel. In his Epistle to the Galatians, much of which is directed to the object of vindicating the liberty wherewith Christ has made his people free through the Gospel, he rebukes the Church of Galatia for the importance they attached to the requirements of the legal dispensation, and among these to the observance of holidays. “Ye observe,” says he, “days and months, and times and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” And in the context it is not difficult to gather the twofold ground on which the apostle condemned such observances. First of all, he grounds his condemnation of ecclesiastical days on the fact that, in attaching importance to them, and regarding them as ordinary parts of the service due to God, the Galatians, like “children, were in bondage under the elements (στοιχεια) of the world;” in other words, he stigmatizes these appointments of days and seasons as rudimentary observances suited to the infancy of the Church, but only fetters to it now, when it ought to have arrived at spiritual manhood. And again, he characterizes them as “the weak and beggarly elements (or rudiments) whereunto the Galatians desired again to be in bondage.” They were the empty and outward appointments of a carnal and worn-out dispensation.

3d, In the Epistle to the Colossians the same apostle comes forth with a no less emphatic condemnation of Church holidays. Referring to the marvellous fulness of those privileges which in Christ and with Him belong to every believer, the apostle condemns the value put on the observance or non-observance of mere outward ceremonies. “Let no man judge you,” says Paul, “in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holiday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.” And here, too, he assigns a twofold reason for the warning and admonition. Such things were but types, under a former economy, of the very blessings which Christians now enjoyed through the Gospel; and these blessings themselves being now bestowed, the mere typical representations of them were done away; “which are a shadow of things to come, but the body (or substance) is of Christ.” And still further, such ordinances, whatever authority they once had, were now but human appointments, from which it was the very object of the Gospel to emancipate them. “Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world,2 why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (touch not, taste not, etc.), after the commandments and doctrines of men?” Judging by such statements as these, we seem to be inevitably shut up to the inference, that Scripture, as the rule for the use and limitation of Church power, forbids its exercise in the way of appointing ecclesiastical holidays.

II. The authority of Christ, as the source of Church power, limits it so as to exclude the right of appointing ecclesiastical holidays.

It is never to be forgotten, that all worship on the part of man addressed to God is an act done unto God. It is an acknowledgment of His authority as having opened up the way and appointed the manner for sinners to approach Him, and a religious expression of their homage to that authority. This is more especially apparent in regard to the positive institutions or parts of worship. Such institutions are used by us in worship, simply because God has appointed them; and in the use of these, and not of others, we do homage to God, as having the authority both to require the worship at our hands, and to regulate the forms and institutions of it. All this is abundantly obvious in the case of the Sabbath itself. In keeping the last day of the week as a day of religious observance, the Jews, by the very act, expressed their religious acknowledgment of God, who had appointed it, and did an act of worship to Him as its author, in the character of the one Creator who made the heavens and the earth. In keeping the first day of the week now, Christians, by the very act, recognise Christ as the author of it, and do an act of religious homage to Him as the one Redeemer, who on that day rose from the dead, and secured the salvation of His people. By keeping the last day of the week holy, the Jews, by the very act, adored one God, the Creator of all. In keeping the first day of the week holy, Christians, by the very act, adore one Saviour, the Redeemer of all. Though there were no other service rendered on the Sabbath, and though our lips were silent and our tongues expressed no articulate praise, the single act of keeping the first day of the week holy would be an act of religious homage to the authority, and of solemn adoration to the person, of Christ. The observance of that day above the rest, as part of the ordinary worship of the Church, is an act of adoration to Christ, as much as a hymn in His praise would be an expression of adoration to Christ. And who does not see, that upon the very same principle the observance of holidays appointed by the Church, as ordinary and stated parts of Divine worship, is an expression of religious homage to man, who is the author of the appointment,—an unlawful acknowledgment of human or ecclesiastical authority in an act of worship. In keeping, after a religious sort, a day that has no authority but man’s, we are paying a religious homage to that authority; we are bowing down, in the very act of our observance of the day as part of worship, not to Christ, who has not appointed it, but to the Church, which has. We are keeping the season holy, not to God, but to man.

Such uncommanded seasons, observed in religious worship as a part of it, cannot but be an unlawful encroachment upon the authority of Christ. They are instituted, not in His name, but in man’s. They are kept, not in His name, but in the Church’s name. They are holy, and honoured as holy, not because of His authority, but because of ecclesiastical authority. They are an expression of religious homage addressed, not to the Divine Master, but to His human servant. If they are acts of worship at all, they are the worship, not of Christ the Saviour, but of the Church’s ordinance and authority. In this point of view, the observance, after a religious manner, of human or ecclesiastical days is a daring interference with the sole authority of Him who is the Divine Head of the Church, to be adored in it, and the Divine Head of ordinances, to be adored through them. The authority of Christ as the Divine source of Church power, forbids the exercise of it in such a manner as to dishonour Himself; it forbids the appointment by it of holidays in worship, other than He has appointed.

III. The liberty and edification of Christ’s people, the grand aim and end of Church power, are inconsistent with that exercise of it which ordains ecclesiastical holidays.

In drawing near to God in holy things, as emphatically as in other matters, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” It is of the very essence of acceptable worship, that men “be fully persuaded in their own minds,” and that the conscience, out of a sense of duty, lend its free and willing consent to the acts of worship, as authorized and required by that God who has a right to bind the conscience, and to lay upon it the sense of obligation. The appointment of ecclesiastical holidays, as parts of worship addressed to God, is inconsistent with the right exercise of conscience in the matter; and that whether the conscience is offended and grieved by the introduction of human and uncommanded ordinances in Divine service, or whether the conscience, deluded and ignorant as to the sin, has no sense of the injury and wrong done to it. In the one case,—if the conscience is hurt and aggrieved by the imposition, in a matter so nearly concerning it as God’s worship, of unwarranted and uncommanded rites, and is forced, although wounded and offended, to submit against its felt conviction, it is plain that here there can be no liberty left to it at all, but that its Christian rights and freedom in the very matter of approaching to God are trampled under foot. The oppression upon the conscience in such a case is both great and painfully felt. But even in the other case,—when the conscience is not forced to stifle its own convictions, because no convictions of the wrong done to it are felt,—when, knowing them to be no more than human or ecclesiastical ordinances, they are yet made use of in God’s worship at the bidding of the Church, without any feeling of being offended by the unlawful imposition, still Christian liberty is taken away not the less, and the conscience is enthralled as much, or rather all the more, because it is unconscious of the thraldom. That the conscience should be taught and trained, in a matter of conscience, to yield a passive and unconscious submission,—that in the very worship of God the conscience should be instructed to own the obligation, not of God’s authority, but of man’s,—that the act of religious service should be a homage, done, not to Christ, but to the Church,—this is to destroy true and intelligent liberty of conscience; and the deed is all the worse, and not the better, because the conscience is made to feel no wrong, but rather to love the yoke that binds it. It matters not whether, in the appointment and observance of human and uncommanded days, as part of God’s worship, by ecclesiastical authority, the conscience of those on whom they are enforced feels the chain or not. In either case, the imposition is inconsistent with the true liberty wherewith Christ has made His people free.

IV. The true nature of Church power, as exclusively spiritual, excludes the imposition of holidays as stated and ordinary parts of worship.

The controversy with the friends of uncommanded ordinances, such as ecclesiastical holidays, in Divine worship, is very much the controversy which the Apostle Paul so strenuously maintained with the Judaizers of his day, who sought to bring into the spirituality and simplicity of the Gospel Church the carnal observances of a carnal economy that had been abrogated. For the Church to appoint and enforce such days, is a departure from the spirituality of that dispensation which is emphatically the dispensation of the Spirit; and a step, and no small one, backward in the direction of that fleshly system that had been done away with. There were under that former economy holy places, more sacred to God and more acceptable in His sight than others. There were holy seasons, in which more than in others the presence of God was enjoyed, and the prayers of His worshippers were effectual. There was a formal consecration of places and times, by which the Jews were taught and warranted to connect the presence of God more particularly with one spot of earth and with certain seasons than with others. The Israelites had Jerusalem and the temple there, with its solemn feasts and sacred seasons; and these more especially and peculiarly were “holiness to the Lord.” Such outward and ceremonial holiness of places and times has been done away, and is unknown under the Gospel. “Neither at Jerusalem, nor in the Temple, do men now worship the Father.” There is no sacred spot on earth now, where we must take our shoes from off our feet, because it is, above all others, the dwelling-place of God. There is no temple on earth or in heaven consecrated to Jehovah and made holy by His presence, save the temple of Christ’s glorified body, and the temple of each believer’s soul. “The true worshippers now worship the Father in spirit as well as in truth.” It is a spiritual service, linked to no altar, and chained to no place of prayer. And if there be yet one day in seven holier than others,—if the Sabbath, and that alone, is a time sacred to God, that ordinance of holiness had neither its birth nor its kindred with the ceremonial holy days of an outward economy. It had a higher origin and a loftier character; it was the resting time of God, when He finished His mighty work of creation, long before the Jewish dispensation was appointed; and, holier still, it was the resting time of Christ when He rose from His work of toil and blood, and entered into His rest when that dispensation was abrogated.

There is something mysteriously sublime in that peculiar holiness which distinguishes the Sabbath as the only holy day known under the Gospel dispensation, marked out as it is from all time, since time itself began to be numbered; and connecting, as it seems intended to do, the narrow section of time which belongs to the history of this world with that eternity into which it is about to be merged. For the ordinance of the Lord’s Day shall bear witness to His resurrection, as the ordinance of the Lord’s Table speaks of His death, “till He come again.” It was the Sabbath of God the Father at the creation,—a day of His eternal subsistence let down from heaven, and inserted among the days that then began to be counted on the unfallen earth. It was the Sabbath of God the Son at the redemption,—another day of heavenly rest let down from on high, and inserted amid the days of evil and sorrow which this fallen world had so long numbered,—a day on which the Redeemer rested and was refreshed, when His work was done. And now the Sabbath day both of creation and redemption awaits the development of the Divine dispensations, and points forward to a higher, so surely coming, when the earthly day shall be taken up into the heavenly, and become the Sabbath of God the Holy Ghost,—when He too shall rest from His special work, as the Father and the Son rested before, and shall repose and be refreshed in the contemplation and enjoyment, throughout eternity, of His finished work of grace and spiritual renovation.


Bannerman, J. (1868). The Church of Christ: a treatise on the nature, powers, ordinances, discipline, and government of the Christian Church (Vol. 1, pp. 406–420). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

James Bannerman: The Efficacy of Infant Baptism


The efficacy of Baptism in the case of adults may be understood’ from what has been already said of the nature of the Sacraments in general. Baptism, like the Lord’s Supper, is a sign and seal of a federal engagement between the receiver and Christ. It presupposes the existence of justifying and saving grace in the person baptized; and it seals or attests that grace to the soul, in this manner becoming the means of further grace.

There is a meaning in the fact that the person receiving the Sacrament has a part to perform in the ordinance,—that in the Lord’s Supper he personally takes and partakes of the elements of bread and wine, and that in Baptism he personally submits himself to and receives the sprinkling of water. In both Sacraments there is a personal act on the part of the participator, which has its spiritual meaning, which cannot and ought not to be overlooked in the transaction. That act forms the link that connects the receiver of the ordinance with the ordinance itself; and the spiritual faith embodied in the act forms the link which connects his soul with the covenant blessings which the ordinance represents. The Sacrament is a seal, then, of more than the covenant generally; it is a seal of the covenant in its appropriation by the believer to himself personally in the ordinance.

There are some theologians indeed who in their explanation of the Sacraments make them seals of the covenant in general, and not seals of the believer’s own personal interest in the covenant. They make the Sacraments attestations vouching for God’s promises of grace at large, but not vouching for those promises as appropriated by the believer and realized in the experience of the worthy receiver of the Sacrament. This explanation of the Sacraments, however, is, I think, much too narrow and limited. It overlooks the personal act of the receiver in the Sacrament, and the spiritual meaning of that act. It disowns or neglects as not essential to the ordinance, the part which the participator has to perform, when in the case of the Lord’s Supper he personally takes of the bread and wine, or when in the case of Baptism he personally presents himself to be sprinkled with water in the name of the Trinity. There is a spiritual meaning in these personal acts not to be overlooked in our explanation of the Sacraments, and essential to a right understanding of them. These personal acts constitute the part performed by the believer in the covenant transaction between him and Christ in the ordinance, and are necessary to make up the covenant. And the Sacrament, as a seal, is applicable to that part of the covenant transaction by which the believer appropriated the blessing to himself, not less than to that other part of the covenant transaction by which Christ exhibits or makes offer of the promise of grace to the believer. In other words, the Sacrament is not merely a seal of the covenant offered, or exhibited, or declared in general, but a seal of the covenant appropriated by the believer in particular, and, through means of his own spiritual act in the ordinance as well as Christ’s, received in his personal experience.

In the case of Baptism administered to a believing adult, his own personal part in the ordinance, when he presents himself to the sprinkling of water, is the sign of that spiritual act of his through which the blessings of justification and regeneration, represented in the Sacrament, have previously become his; and Baptism is to him a seal not merely of these blessings as exhibited and promised in the covenant generally, but of these blessings realized and enjoyed by himself. Through the channel of his faith, and by means of the Spirit in the ordinance, Baptism becomes a seal in his justification and regeneration, and so a means of grace and spiritual blessing to his soul.

Such is the efficacy of Baptism administered to an adult believer. What is the virtue or efficacy of the ordinance when administered to infants incapable of faith, although not incapable of being made partakers in the grace which the Spirit confers? In entering on the consideration of this delicate and difficult subject, it is necessary, in order to clear our way to it, to lay down one or two preliminary propositions of much importance in the discussion.

First, The proper and true type of Baptism, as a Sacrament in the Church of Christ, is the Baptism of adults, and not the Baptism of infants. In consequence of the altered circumstances of the Christian Church at present, as compared with the era when Baptism was first appointed, we are apt to overlook this truth. The growth and prevalence of the visible Church, and the comparative fewness of the instances of adult conversion to an outward profession of Christianity amongst us, have led to the Baptism of infants being almost the only Baptism with which we are familiar. The very opposite of this was witnessed in the Church of Christ at first. And the true type of Baptism, from examining which we are to gather our notions of its nature and efficacy, is to be found in the adult Baptisms of the early days of Christianity, and not in the only Baptism commonly practised now in the professing Church, the Baptism of infants. It is of very great importance, in dealing with the question of the nature and efficacy of Baptism, to remember this. Both among the enemies and the friends of infant Baptism the neglect of this distinction has been the occasion of numberless errors in regard to the import and effects of the Sacrament. Men have judged of the nature and efficacy of Baptism from the type of the ordinance, as exhibited in the case of baptized adults. They have reversed the legitimate order of the argument, and argued from the case of infants to that of adults, and not from the case of adults to that of infants. It is abundantly obvious that adult Baptism is the rule, and infant Baptism the exceptional case; and we must take our idea of the ordinance in its nature and effects not from the exception, but from the rule. The ordinance of Baptism is no more to be judged of from its ministration to children, than is the ordinance of preaching to be judged of from its ministration to children. The Sacrament in its complete features and perfect character is to be witnessed in the case of those subjects of it whose moral and intellectual nature has been fully developed and is entire, and not in the case of those subjects of it whose moral and intellectual being is no more than rudimental and in embryo. Infants are subjects of Baptism in so far as, and no farther than their spiritual and intellectual nature permits of it. And it is an error, abundant illustration of which could be given from the writings both of the advocates and opponents of infant Baptism, to make Baptism applicable in the same sense and to the same extent to infants and to adults, and to form our notions and frame our theory of the Sacrament from its character as exhibited in the case of infants. It is very plain, and very important to remember, that the only true and complete type of Baptism is found in the instance of those subjects of it who are capable both of faith and repentance, not in the instance of those subjects of it who are not capable of either. The Bible model of Baptism is adult Baptism, and not infant.

Second, The virtue of infant Baptism, whatever that may be, is not more mysterious than the virtue ascribed to adult Baptism, although it may have the appearance of being so. It is a very common idea, that the difficulty in framing an explanation of the efficacy of Baptism in the case of infants, is peculiar to the ordinance in its administration to them, and does not attach to it in its administration to adults. I believe that this is not the case. There may be greater difficulty in gathering from the statements of Scripture what the virtue of Baptism really is in its application to infants, than in ascertaining what it is in its application to adults. But to explain the supernatural virtue itself is just as difficult in the one case as in the other, and simply from this reason, that it is supernatural. Up to a certain point it is easy enough to explain the efficacy of adult Baptism, but beyond that fixed point it is impossible to explain it. That point is where the natural efficacy of the ordinance passes into the supernatural efficacy. There is a certain natural influence which Baptism, as expressive of certain spiritual truths, and through means of these truths, is fitted to exert upon the adult, because he is a moral and intelligent being, with his faculties developed and complete. And this natural influence of Baptism, through means of the truths expressed by it, cannot be exerted upon the infant, because, although he is a moral and intelligent being, his faculties are not developed or complete. As a sign of spiritual truths understood by the adult, and not understood by the infant, Baptism has a certain natural effect on the one and not on the other, which it is not difficult to explain. But this effect is moral or natural, and not, properly speaking, the sacramental efficacy that is peculiar to the ordinance. The sacramental efficacy peculiar to the ordinance is not natural, but supernatural,—an efficacy not belonging to it from its moral character, but belonging to it in consequence of the presence and power of the Spirit of God in the ordinance. This distinctive efficacy of Baptism as a Sacrament, we cannot understand or explain, either in the case of adults or the case of infants. It is a supernatural effect of a gracious kind, wrought by the Spirit of God in connection with the ordinance; and because it is supernatural, it is not more and not less a mystery in the case of infants than in the case of adults.

The supernatural efficacy connected with Baptism, and owing to the presence of the Spirit of God with the ordinance, is an efficacy competent to infants as much as to adults. Even upon their unconscious natures the Spirit is free to work His work of grace, not less than upon the natures of adults whose understandings and hearts are consciously consenting to the work. The work of regeneration by the Holy Ghost is a work which it is as easy for Him to accomplish upon the infant of days as upon the man of mature age,—upon the child who enjoys but the rudiments of his moral and intellectual life, as upon the adult whose moral and intellectual powers are co-operating in and consenting to the gracious change. But broadly marked although the regeneration of the infant and the regeneration of the adult be, by the absence in the one instance, and the presence in the other, of a capacity moral and intellectual for faith and repentance, yet it is never to be lost sight of or forgotten that the work is the work of the Spirit of God, and not to be explained on any natural principle either in the former case or in the latter. The presence of his complete and perfect intellectual and moral powers in the case of the baptized adult, and the exercise of those powers in connection with the truths represented and signified in the Sacrament, afford no adequate explanation of the sacramental grace or efficacy connected with the ordinance in consequence of the power of the Spirit in it. At this point we have got beyond the limits of the natural, and into the region of the supernatural; and it is not more and not less supernatural in the case of infants than in the case of adults. Sacramental grace, properly so called, is a mystery of which there is no explanation, except that it is the grace of the Spirit of God. Admit that this grace is conveyed in any given case through the channel of Baptism to the believing adult, and you admit a mystery, which the presence and active exercise of his moral and intellectual powers do not in the least explain. Admit that this grace is conveyed in any given case through the channel of Baptism to the infant incapable of believing, and you admit a mystery too, but one not more mysterious than the former, and not more difficult to explain, from the absence or incapacity of his moral and intellectual faculties. In one word, the efficacy of infant Baptism, whatever that may be shown from Scripture to be, is not more mysterious than the sacramental virtue ascribed to adult Baptism.

Bearing in mind these preliminary remarks, what, I ask, are the effects of Baptism in so far as regards infants baptized? I do not pause at present in order to examine into the nature and benefit of the ordinance in so far as regards parents, who, in the exercise of a parent’s right to represent their unconscious children, claim the administration of the ordinance for their offspring. In acting as the substitute for the infant, who cannot act for itself, in the solemn federal transaction between it and Christ,—in becoming a party in its name to the covenant made between the baptized infant and its Saviour through the ordinance,—the parent comes under a very great and solemn obligation on behalf of the child, thus pledged and given to the Redeemer through the parent’s deed and not its own. But passing by this, let us confine our attention to the case of the infant, and proceed to inquire what are the benefits and efficacy of Baptism to the infant participators in the ordinance? In the case of adults, we know that Baptism is fitted and designed not to confer faith, but rather to confirm it,—not to originate grace, but to increase it,—not to effect that inward change of regeneration by which we are numbered with the children of God, or that outward change of justification by which we are accepted of Him, but to seal these blessings before bestowed. With adults, Baptism is not regeneration or justification, but the seal of both to the regenerated and justified man. And in the case of infants, the Sacrament cannot be regarded as accomplishing without their faith, what in the case of adults with their faith, it fails to accomplish. In other words, infant Baptism is not infant regeneration or justification, any more than in the instance of adults. The Baptism with water to a child is not the same thing as the birth by the Spirit. It is not a supernatural charm. It is not a magic spell to confer the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Ghost. Sacraments in the case of infants, as in the case of adults, have no mysterious and supernatural power of their own to impart, by the bare administration of them, spiritual life. Let us endeavour to understand what are the effects of Baptism in the case of infants.

I. Baptism, in the case of all infants baptized, gives to them an interest in the Church of Christ, as its members.

Circumcision gave to infants in other days a place in the ancient Church as its members; and they grew up within its pale entitled to all its outward privileges and rights, needing no other admission in after life. And what circumcision did during the time when it was in force, that Baptism does now in regard to infants baptized. It constitutes the door of admission into that visible Church of God on earth of which the parent himself is a member; and the baptized one grows up within the pale of its distinctive communion, needing no other admission, marked off at least outwardly from a world that has no interest in God, and having a right to the enjoyment of privileges which, as an outward provision for His own in this earth, God has given to them and not to the world. And this of itself is no small privilege, outward and temporal though it be, and not inward and spiritual. That outward provision of the means of grace, which has been given to the visible Church in this world for its establishment and benefit, is always represented in Scripture as a gift of Christ to His people, not to be undervalued or despised because it comes short, in those who enjoy it, of a saving blessing, but rather to be accounted exceeding great and precious. It is a gift of Christ to His Church which is of such worth and moment that the giving of it is spoken of in the Word of God as one of the great purposes for which the Saviour ascended up on high. “When He ascended up on high,” says the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians,—“when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” That outward provision of ordinances and means of grace for the visible Church, the bestowment of which is thus represented as one of the grand objects for which Christ left this world and ascended to the Father, must be to that Church of no ordinary importance and value. It is a right to this provision of outward ordinances and means of grace which the baptized infant receives, when by his Baptism he becomes formally a member of the visible Church; and growing up in the use and enjoyment of them, the benefit to him, although short of a saving benefit, is beyond all price. Baptism as the sign of membership and the passport to the infant into the sanctuary of the visible Church, does not bestow the saving blessing, but brings him in after life into contact with the blessing; it does not constitute him a member of the kingdom of heaven, but it brings him to the very door, and bids him there knock and it shall be opened unto him.

II. Baptism, in the case of all infants baptized, gives them a right of property in the covenant of grace; which may in after life, by means of their personal faith, be supplemented by a right of possession.

In regard to this matter, I would have recourse again to a distinction, which in other discussions we have found it necessary to adopt, and which has more than once helped us to clear our way to a right understanding of the question in debate. A man may have a right of property in an estate, and yet a stranger may be in possession of it; and he may require to add to his right of property a right of possession, acquired by making good the former in a court of law, before the stranger is extruded, and he himself introduced into the enjoyment of the inheritance. Now, to apply this distinction to the case in hand, a right of property in the blessings of the covenant of grace is conferred by the gift and promise of God, made over to every man who hears the Gospel message addressed to him. “And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” This right of property in the blessings of the covenant of grace, belonging to every man, is written down in these words. The charter which every man has, bearing in it inscribed his right of property to these blessings, is the revealed Word of God. This is the first and superior title. But in itself it is incomplete, and inadequate to put him into the personal possession of his heritage. It requires to be supplemented by another title, before he can actually enjoy the salvation so made over to him by right of property, and certified by God’s word and promise. To his right of property there must be added a right of possession; and this latter is obtained by means of his own personal act of faith, appropriating to himself the salvation before made over to him. The Word of God addressed to him, giving him a right of property in the blessings of the covenant, and his faith receiving that Word, giving him a right of possession, complete the full and perfect title to the blessing; and both together admit him to the enjoyment of it. There are many, who have the right of property in the covenant of grace, who never complete their title by seeking for themselves a right of possession in it. The Word of God giving the one, is not supplemented by the faith in that Word which would confer the other; and hence they are never put in actual possession of the salvation of which they are invited to partake.

Now, what the Word of God addressed to the intelligent and responsible adult is, that Baptism is when administered to the unconscious and irresponsible infant. The word of God’s promise, giving a right of property in His covenant to all who hear it, cannot penetrate the silent ear, nor reach the unconscious spirit of the little child. That word cannot convey to its mind the glad tidings of its covenant right to God’s grace. But is it therefore denied that right, which adults have by the hearing of the ear and the perception of the understanding, in connection with the word of promise addressed to them? Not so. If the outward word that speaks the promise of God cannot pierce to its dormant spirit,—sleeping in the germ of its moral and intellectual being,—the outward sign, that represents the promises of God, can be impressed upon it, giving to the unconscious infant, as the word gives to the intelligent adult, a right of property in the blessing of the covenant. And that is much. The infant, sprinkled with the water of that Baptism which is a sign of the covenant, has—even as the adult addressed with the word of the covenant has—a right of property in the blessings which the covenant contains; and in after life he may, by his own personal act, supplement his right of property by a right of possession obtained through faith. When the period of infancy is passed and he is a child no longer, he bears about with him, in virtue of his Baptism, a right of property in the promise of his God; and laying his hand upon that right, and pleading it with God in faith, he may add to it the right of possession, and so enter into the full enjoyment of the salvation that he requires for his soul. The written or preached Word cannot speak to the mute and insensible infant, as it speaks to the hearing ear and understanding mind of the adult, making over to him in conscious possession a right of property in the blessings of the everlasting covenant. But the little one is not thereby shut out from all interest in the covenant. The outward sign suited to his state of infancy, the outward mark impressed upon his outward person, when the significant Word were in vain addressed to his ear, have been given by God in gracious condescension to supply to him the want of that Word heard and understood. By the act of Baptism, suited and appropriate to his wholly sensitive condition of being and life, his name is put into the covenant with his God. And after years may witness the infant,—then an infant no more,—reading in faith his name there, and with the charter of his right in his hand making good his right, not of property merely, but of personal possession in all the blessings which are written in it.
Baptism, then, in the case of all baptized infants, gives them a right of property in the covenant of grace; which may in after life, by means of their personal faith, be supplemented by a right of possession, so that they shall enter into the full enjoyment of all the blessings of the covenant. The benefits of Baptism in the case of infants are not fully experienced by them until in after years they add to Baptism their personal faith, thereby really making out a complete title, not only to the property, but also to the possession of salvation. In this respect there is an obvious distinction between the Baptism of infants and the Baptism of adults. Infants are not capable of faith and repentance; and Baptism can be to infants no seal of the blessings which these stand connected with, at the time of its administration. But it may become a seal of such blessings afterwards, when the child has grown to years of intelligence, and has superinduced upon his Baptism a personal act of faith, and thereby become possessed of the salvation which he had not before. In such a case, he can look back upon his Baptism with water, administered in the days of his unconscious infancy; and through the faith that he has subsequently received, that Baptism which his own memory cannot recall, and to which his own consciousness at the time was a stranger, becomes to him a seal of his now found salvation. In adults it is otherwise; and the difference is appropriate to their condition as adults. Baptism to the believing adult is a seal at the moment of his interest in the covenant of grace; a sensible attestation of the blessings of justification and regeneration, of which at the time he is in possession, through the exercise of his faith contemporaneously with his Baptism. In the case of the adult, Baptism is a present seal in connection with the faith which he presently has. In the case of the infant, it is a prospective seal in connection with the faith which he has not at the moment, but which he may have afterwards. The full enjoyment of the benefits of the ordinance the adult experiences at the moment of its administration, in virtue of the faith which at the moment makes him a partaker in the blessings of the covenant. The full enjoyment of the benefits of the ordinance the infant cannot experience at the moment of its administration, in virtue of his incapacity of faith; but it may be experienced afterwards, when, in consequence of his newly formed faith in Christ, he too is made partaker of the covenant, and can look back in believing confidence on his former Baptism as a seal. “The efficacy of Baptism,” says the Confession of Faith, “is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will in His appointed time.”

III. There seems to be reason for inferring that, in the case of infants regenerated in infancy, Baptism is ordinarily connected with that regeneration.

To all infants without exception, Baptism, as we have already asserted, gives an interest in the Church of Christ as its members. To all infants without exception, Baptism, as we have also already asserted, gives a right of property in the covenant of grace, which may, by their personal faith in after life, be completed by a right of possession, so that they shall enter on the full enjoyment of all the blessings sealed to them by their previous Baptism. And beyond these two positions, in so far as infants are concerned, it is perhaps hazardous to go, in the absence of any very explicit Scripture evidence; and certainly, in going further, it were the reverse of wisdom to dogmatize. But I think that there is some reason to add to these positions the third one, which I have just announced, namely, that in the case of infants regenerated in infancy, Baptism is ordinarily connected with such regeneration. I would limit myself to the case of baptized infants regenerated in infancy,—a class of course to be distinguished broadly from baptized infants who never at any time in their lives experience a saving change; and also to be distinguished from baptized infants who experience that change, not in infancy, but in maturer years. There are these three cases, plainly to be distinguished from one another. There are, first, those infants baptized with an outward Baptism who never at any period come to know a saving change of state or nature. To such Baptism may be an ordinance giving them a place in the visible Church, and giving them also a right of property in the covenant of grace, never completed by a right of possession, and therefore given to them in vain; but it can be nothing more. There are, secondly, those infants baptized with water in infancy, but not regenerated in infancy by the Spirit of God, whose saving change of state and nature is experienced by them in after life. To such Baptism is an ordinance giving them a place in the visible Church, and giving them also a right of property in the covenant, at the moment of its administration; and in after years, when born again by the Spirit through faith, Baptism becomes to them, in addition, the seal, as it had previously been the sign, of the covenant,—their right of property having been completed by the right of possession, and the Sacrament, although long past, having become in consequence a present grace to their souls. But there are, thirdly, those infants baptized with water in infancy and also regenerated in infancy; and with regard to them I think there is reason to believe that this Baptism with water stands connected ordinarily with the Baptism of the Spirit.

That many an infant is sanctified and called by God even from its mother’s womb, and undergoes, while yet incapable of faith or repentance, that blessed change of nature which is wrought by the Spirit of God, there can be no reason to doubt. There are multitudes born into this world who die ere their infancy is past,—who open their unconscious eyes upon the light only to shut them again ere they have gazed their fill,—and who, in the brief moment of their earthly being, know nothing of life save the sorrow which marks both its beginning and its close. And with regard to such infants dying in infancy, there is a blessed hope, which the Scriptures give us to entertain, that they are not lost but saved,—that they suffer, and sorrow, and die here from their interest in Adam’s sin, but that, not knowing sin by their own personal act or thought, they are redeemed through their interest in Christ’s righteousness. But saved though infants dying in infancy may be, yet there is no exemption, even in their case, from the universal law of God’s spiritual dispensation towards men, that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Within the brief hour of an infant’s life, and ere the unconscious babe passes through the avenue of death into the Divine presence, must that mighty change of regeneration be undergone, which none but the Spirit of God can work; and among the rudiments of its intellectual and moral life, sleeping in the germ, there must be planted the seed of that higher life, which in heaven is destined to expand and endure through all eternity. And where, in the brief history of the young life and early death of these baptized little ones, shall we say that this mysterious work is wrought? At what moment, rather than another, is this regeneration by the Spirit accomplished? We dare not limit the free Spirit of God. The beginning of the life that comes from Him may be contemporaneous with the commencement of natural life in the infant, or it may be contemporaneous with its close. The Spirit of God is free to do His own work at His own time. But in the appointment of an ordinance to signify and represent that very work,—in the command to administer that ordinance as a sign to the little infant during the brief hour of its earthly life and ere it passes into eternity, there does seem to me some ground to believe that in such a case, of infants regenerated in infancy, the sign is meant to be connected with the thing signified,—that the moment of its Baptism is the appointed moment of its regeneration too,—and that, ordinarily, its birth by water and its birth by the Spirit of God are bound in one. It is Baptism which gives the baptized infant a right of property in the blessings of the covenant of grace; and when the infant is placed,—not from its own fault,—in such circumstances as to bar the possibility of its completing its title to those blessings by seeking through its personal faith a right of possession in them also, then it is consistent with the analogy of God’s appointments in other departments of His Church, that in such extraordinary cases the absence of a right of possession should not exclude from the blessings, but that the right of property alone should avail to secure them; or in other words, that in the case of infants regenerated and dying in infancy, their Baptism should coincide with their regeneration.

I do not wish to speak dogmatically on such a question as this, when Scripture has given us so little light to enable us to read the truth with certainty. But in the particular case of infants regenerated in infancy, there does seem to be some reason to believe, that the washing with water in virtue of God’s own appointment stands ordinarily connected with the renewing of nature by God’s own Spirit. In the instance of believing adults, regeneration is linked inseparably with the Word believed. In connection with the Word,—although the Spirit of God is free to work without it,—He does His mysterious work of regeneration upon the adult’s nature. But that Word cannot profit the little infant who is to die ere his eyes can look upon it. The Spirit of God cannot, therefore, do His gracious work of spiritual renewal and cleansing on the unconscious babe in connection with the Word believed. But there is another ordinance adapted to the infant nature, which needs to be regenerated ere it passes into another state of being. There is another ordinance, not the Word, which we are commanded to administer to the babe, incapable of receiving or profiting by the Word. There is the Baptism with water, expressive of that very regeneration which, before the little one shall pass from us to eternity, its unconscious nature must undergo. And when the infant carries with it to the tomb the sign of the covenant, administered in faith, shall we not say that with the sign, and mysteriously linked to it, there was also the thing that was signified; and that in such a case of a dying babe regenerated in infancy, the laver of Baptism was the laver of regeneration too? In the sign of the covenant thus administered to the child, and linked, as we believe, in such a case to a new and spiritual life, there is a ground of hope and consolation to a bereaved but Christian parent beyond all price. There is a joy at its birth, which none but a mother can feel, when it is said unto her that a man-child is born into the world; and there is a bitter sorrow at its early death, which none but a mother can know, when she is called upon to resign the little one whom she brought forth in sorrow, and to give it to the dust in sorrow deeper still. And when a Christian mother has been called upon thus to weep at the open grave of many of her infants, ere it close in peace upon herself, it is an unspeakable consolation for her to know, that the little one, whom she took from off her bosom to lay in the tomb, was indeed signed with the sign of a Christian Baptism; and that in its case the Baptism with water and the Baptism with the Spirit were bound up in one.

“Oh when a mother meets on high
The babe she lost in infancy,
Hath she not then for pains and fears,
The day of woe, the watchful night,
For all her sorrows, all her tears,
An over-payment of delight?”

(Bannerman, J. (1868). The Church of Christ: a treatise on the nature, powers, ordinances, discipline, and government of the Christian Church (Vol. 2, pp. 106–121). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.)