Tracts for the Times/Tract 40

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Tracts for the Times by John Keble
Tract 40
25 June, 1834.
No. 40.]
[Price 2d.
(Ad Populum.)



No. III.

"Ye hear in the Gospel the express words of our Saviour Christ, that except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Whereby ye may perceive the great necessity of this Sacrament, where it may be had."—Office of Baptism for those of Riper Years."

During the summer, after the conversation last related, in which, as the reader may remember, we had been speaking of the Athanasian Creed, I was called away to a distance from home by the unexpected illness of a near relation, which became serious, and lasted so long as to keep me absent for two or three Sundays. The time of year was about Midsummer, and it so happened that one of the Sundays was the eighth after Trinity. Thinking over the first morning lesson of the day, as I sat watching by my kinsman's bedside, I was forcibly struck by the awful way, in which it appears to impress upon men the duty of separating themselves, in some way or other, from unbelievers. "Eat no bread, nor drink water, neither turn again by the way that thou camest:" that is, "however tired, hungry, and thirsty you may be, and however kind and pressing they may be, have nothing at all to say to them: do not even return the same road, but make yourself as strange among them as ever you can." Long and deeply, with my Bible in my hand, did I muse upon this history, and the more I thought, the more I was convinced, putting every thing together, that such as I have said is its true moral and meaning. I must own, however, that the train of thought was not altogether agreeable to me. I could not disengage myself from an unpleasant, though not a very distinct, conviction that this material part of piety, separation from the enemies of God, had not been sufficiently pressed on my people, in my course of parochial instruction. The thought came across my mind, "What if any of them now should go astray for want of due warning on that point, and should come to a bad end?" And I secretly determined with myself, in the silence of the sick room, that I would endeavour for the future to supply this great deficiency, and that until Church discipline can be restored again (which the Prayer Book teaches us to wish and pray for,) I would try to prevail on those who were most likely to be prevailed to act upon the principles of it, and establish something like it in their own houses: using a kind of holy reserve towards those who will not hear the Church. These thoughts occupied me that night during most of my waking hours; my patient happily sleeping soundly, and my anxiety about him of course growing less: and when towards morning I was relieved on my post as nurse, the same thoughts still haunted me in dreams. At last I settled into a sound slumber, and, as was not unnatural, overslept myself. I was awakened on the Monday morning, an hour after the usual time, by my friend's servant bringing a letter into my room, which I saw by the post-mark came from my own parish, but I could not at all recollect the hand writing. I opened it eagerly, not knowing what to expect, and read as follows:

"Honoured and dear Sir,

"I make bold to trouble you with a few lines, as I find on calling at the Parsonage that Mr. Mason is not yet well enough for you to leave him: which a little troubled me, for I wanted to ask your kind advice on a matter of some consequence, and I could do it much more comfortably by word of mouth. As it is, I must try and state my case to you by letter, hoping that I shall be able to make it plain, and knowing that you will excuse other defects, which will be many. The thing, Sir, is this: you have seen something of my nephew, young Philip Carey, the bricklayer of Amdale. For I remember, when he had some work in our parish, he went to you to buy a Bible, and you had some talk with him, and named him to me afterwards, seeming rather pleased with him; and indeed he is a steady, good tempered lad, though I say it that should not say it. Well, Sir, that Bible was intended for a present, he would not tell me then to whom, but I afterwards found that he had given it to a young woman named Vane, who was in service, where he last worked: and in short, there was a talk among the people, which I as a kinsman was one of the last to hear, that they were very soon going to be married. I was not very much surprised at this: but I own to you, Sir, I was more vexed than some of our people can well account for. Not that I have any thing to say against the young woman's conduct; indeed I believe she has always borne a good character, and is, as the world goes, very respectable: but I knew very well that her father had been for many years unsettled in his thoughts on religion—more, as I believed, of a Baptist than any thing else: and I thought to myself, if Letitia (for that is her name) is not very different from her father, how can the Church's blessing go along with such an union? and without the Church's blessing, how can they expect to be happy? So I made it my business to see my nephew, and asked him quietly, if no scruple of this sort had ever come into his mind; and a good deal passed between us, which I need not at present tire you with. However, the upshot was, we parted good friends, but both of the same mind as when we met. And on the Sunday I walked over to Amdale, and called on my sister Lucy, Philip's mother (his father died last year), and we had a long discourse, in which she seemed to think me strange and bigoted: but yet I hoped that what I had said would keep them from going on quite inconsiderately. So much the more was I disappointed at receiving a note from my sister this morning, begging me to order my matters so as to be at Amdale church at 10 o'clock next Saturday, they having fixed on that day for the wedding, and wishing me to give the young woman away. I can see, they quite reckon upon it, and I fear they will be very much affronted should I refuse. I conclude they hardly thought me quite in earnest in what I said to them. But though it will be a great grief to me to have them look unpleasant at me (for next to my own family, I have always delighted in my sister's), I seem to have made up my mind, unless you. Sir, should think differently, not to have any thing to do with this marriage; and I cannot help thinking they will one day thank me for it. I shall not now intrude on you with my reasons; but one line just to say yes or no would greatly oblige,

"Honoured and dear Sir,
"Your obliged and humble servant,
"Richard Nelson."

When I had read this letter, though I was grieved to think that my friend Richard, who had always lived such a quiet life, and with whom I had sometimes talked of the great happiness we both enjoyed—a rare happiness in these times—of belonging, each of us, to a family undivided in religious opinions: though, I say, I was grieved to think of Richard's being thus disturbed, yet I was on the whole more pleased for the thing to have befallen him than if it had happened to any other man in the parish, for reasons which the reader will easily guess. I wrote to him as he desired, not a long letter, but such as to show him that I heartily approved of his principles, and trusted to his discretion for applying them in the most effectual way. While I stayed with my relation, I heard no more of the matter, but I thought of it day and night, and wondered how it would turn out. The middle of the next week, my relation having nearly recovered, I returned home; and the first thing I did was to contrive a little job of walling, that I might have an excuse for sending to Richard Nelson. I saw at once, when he came into the room, that he had been going through a good deal; he looked anxious, though very calm and cheerful. The following conversation, or something very like it, passed between us, after I had given my orders about the work:—

"And how goes on this wedding, Richard?"

"Pretty much as I expected. Sir: we have had a good deal to say to each other about it, I, and my sister, and Mr. Vane; but though I spoke very plainly to them, they would not believe I was in earnest, till the very day before that intended for the marriage. And when they saw that I meant what I said, they were forced to put off the marriage, till a friend of theirs can be written to, and come, with whom it seems they had made an old engagement, that he should be the father at their wedding, if any one was, out of their two families. In the mean time I am sorry to say they look rather black on me; and not only they, but a many of the neighbours, too. But luckily I had made up my mind to that beforehand."

"They must look black upon me, too, then. For I should have done just the same, according to what I understand of the case. But I suppose you told them on what ground you went?"

"I did, Sir, as well as I could, in my plain way. I saw them all at different times, Mr. Vane, and my sister, and the two young people, and told them all the same thing; viz., that I look on marriage as a sacred thing; that the Church never meant her sacred things to be made common; that such would be the case, were a person in Letitia's state (for do you know, Sir, she is not yet even baptized,) to be admitted to Christian marriage; that the neglect of this rule is every day doing great mischief; and that, being as I am, Philip's Godfather, as well as his nearest relation, I was bound especially to do what I could to hinder him from the sin and the peril.

"And it was curious to me. Sir, in the midst of my vexation, to observe in what a different way the different persons I had to deal with received what I had to say. Each had his own objection, one to one part of my notions, and another to another. Mr. Vane thought it very strange that marriage should be made so purely a matter of Religion; my sister, I am sorry to say, was inclined to think very slightly of the difference between us and the Baptists; Philip was quite sure, that let him be once married, he should soon bring his wife to the same way of thinking as himself, (for to do him justice, he has no thought of leaving the Church;) and, as for the young woman, she said but little, but what she said, affected me more than all the rest; for she really seemed to think me unkind and cruel, in exposing and discrediting her, and making her out (so she said,) to be no Christian."

"I do not much wonder," said I, "at the young people; but I own I am a little surprised that Mr. Vane should utter a thought which appears to me so very shocking, as that marriage need, not be sanctified by Religion at all."

"Why, Sir," replied Richard Nelson, "he has been of late much out and about, talking with all sorts of people; and then he meddles with politics and elections, all rather in a wild way, and it brings him into strange company, and sets him on reading strange books. So he has picked up this notion among others, which I understand the French are very full of, as well as our Frenchified newspapers. But I should not have thought of arguing with him about it, it seems so absurd and shocking of itself, if I had not been afraid of his doing my nephew some harm by it; for Philip was in the room with us, of course listening eagerly to what passed. But I do not know" (interrupting himself,) "why I am troubling you, Sir, with this conversation."

"By all means go on, I beg of you. I am a little inquisitive to know what he could have to say for such a notion."

"His fancy was, as far as I could make it out, that the peace and order of the country is every thing. And if, said he, people can go on well, and be faithful and happy in marriage without any public religious service, why should it be urged on them by the law?"

"To which I suppose you answered, that there is another world as well as this; and it does not follow that things will turn out well in that, because to our short and dim sight they seem to go on in peace and order here."

"To be sure, Sir, that is very plain; but I do not think I went so deep. I took him straight to Scripture; for in that way I thought Philip would attend to me most. I put it to him in this way: if marriage is a different thing to a Christian from what it would be to any one else; if it is not only one of the greatest earthly blessings, but also a special and holy token, appointed by God to signify unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; then, to enter on it without prayer, or in any other but a religious way, must be almost as affronting to the Almighty, as if one profaned the Sacrament of His Son's body and blood. And again, since we are plainly told, that Christian men ought never to expect any blessing from God, except as members of His Son's body, (that is, I take it, as parts of His Church,) how can one help fearing to forfeit the whole of the blessing intended in matrimony, if one scornfully refuse it as offered by the Church? And I take it, that every man does reject it in God's sight, who, disliking it in his heart, submits to it merely because it is the law of the land. Thus I went on, not expecting to make any impression on Mr. Vane; indeed, I saw too clearly that he was sneering in his heart all the time, but he did not like to say much, for fear of turning Philip against him; who, as I rejoiced to perceive, entered very much into this part of my talk. And as we walked away to my sister's, he expressed to me some wonder that so pious a man as Mr. Vane should ever have approved of the notion of marrying by Justices of the Peace. 'But I assure you, uncle,' said he, 'that we none of us agree with him. My mother and Letitia would both of them be miserable if they thought the Church's blessing would be wanting on our union. And although I must acknowledge that I could wish some parts of the service omitted, yet it must be owned, on the whole, to be extremely beautiful; and I for my part,' he went on to say, 'never expect to see the day, when I shall take any dislike to the Church, for that or any other reason.'"

Here I interrupted Richard in his recital. "I do wish," I said, "that people who are so much wiser and more delicate than the Prayer Book, would look a little into their Bibles too. And when they have well reformed both, we shall see how purely the world will go on, the warnings of God being silenced, and the mistake corrected, which the Church has made, in speaking out plainly about fashionable and shameful sins."

My friend Richard smiled at my vehemence, and said, "To be sure, Sir, it is tolerably plain, (what I have often thought of the warnings of the Athanasian Creed also,) that the very repugnance which many men feel towards repeating them, is rather a proof of their usefulness and necessity, supposing the substance of them to be true. For it is plain, that people who shudder so much at repeating them after the Church, would never have courage to deliver the like warnings for themselves. And the same kind of remark may be made on the passages you now allude to in the Office for Matrimony. And thus people might be left to perish unwarned, through false delicacy, or false good-nature. I must say, that if I was a Clergyman, and felt, as I suppose I should feel, that such warnings ought to be given, I should feel most deeply obliged to the Prayer Book for putting words into my mouth, and commanding me to speak them. I would much rather have it so, than be left to form words of my own. I should feel it less painful to myself, and probably less annoying to others. And now that we are upon this subject; permit me, Sir, just to ask you, do you not think it would do much good, and correct what may perhaps be justly called the vulgar objections to the Marriage Service, if men would try to enter a little more into the spirit of the household stories, and family scenes in the Old Testament? The book of Ruth especially—can any one read it reverentially, and not learn a great deal of the difference between True and False Delicacy? You will feel my meaning, Sir, at once."

"Indeed," said I, "I do; and although I am not aware that I ever before heard it said in so many words, yet, I should imagine it must have been silently experienced by every right-minded reader. And if it should turn out, that the spirit of that Book is exactly the same with the spirit of our Marriage Service, who would desire a more complete vindication of it? But pray let us go back to your story, which I beg pardon for having interrupted. You were on the way to your sister, Mrs. Carey's; and I think you told me, that you found it very hard to make her so much as understand your objection to the marriage, or how any one could possibly imagine Baptists, as such, to be aliens to the Church."

"Yes! she was quite positive at first, that I must have some view of my own, some worldly purpose, in 'setting my head' against the match. As long as she had this fancy, she would not even listen to my arguments: and as it was, I believe she did but half hear them. I did not indeed trouble her with many: for I thought that two or three plain texts, with the interpretation confirmed by a little unquestionable history, might and ought to be sufficient."

"Let me just guess, what line you probably took with her. I suppose you first pointed out to her, that our Saviour's praises are made to individuals, not simply as believing and repenting, but as joining themselves, by faith and repentance, to the Church which He was founding through his Apostles. For instance, you might perhaps put her in mind, that our Saviour in His prayer before His sufferings, in ch. xvii. of St. John, plainly had an eye to the command he purposed to give them, when he was going to be taken out of their sight: which command we read in the last three verses of St. Matthew. The prayer was "not for the Apostles alone, but for all who should believe on Him through their word: that they all might be one." For whom was this prayer offered? Not for all who any how should believe in Christ, but "for them who should believe on Him through the word of the Apostles:" i. e. for the very same persons described in the other text: "Go ye and teach (or, as it is in the margin, make Disciples, or Christians, of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." Those whom he had before prayed for, he here in effect orders to be taught or made Disciples, by persons having Apostolical authority. But these very same Disciples are to be one and all baptized. For our Lord's words are quite express: "Make Christians of them by baptizing them;" so that if we are to go by these words, it is quite plain that persons unbaptized cannot properly be called Christians: and if we compare the same words with the other text, it seems very doubtful whether such persons are included in the meaning of our Saviour's gracious intercession: which is surely a point to be deeply considered. Do you quite understand me, Richard?"

"Yes, Sir, I believe I do. Those are some of the places in Scripture, which I turned to and begged my sister Lucy to consider. But of course. Sir, I could not reason on them so exactly as you have now done. There was another place too, which I begged her to think a good deal of, which must needs, I think, sound very awful to those who are inclined to make light of Baptism: I mean what was said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It seems to me. Sir, that in speaking those words, our Saviour, who knew what he would do, must have borne in mind his purpose of causing water to be what it is made in the Sacrament of Baptism, the outward and visible sign of our new birth, and admission into His Church". I put the substance of the two places side by side in this way.

St. John iii. 5.   St. Matt, xxviii. 19.
If you would enter into the kingdom of God, you must be born of water and of the Spirit. If you would be a Disciple, or Christian, you must be baptized by Apostolical authority in the name of the Holy Trinity.

What made me stronger in this opinion, was observing the like argument in our Divine Master's language, when speaking of the other Holy Sacrament. As thus: for I wrote the four places down, to make my meaning plain to the very eye.

St. John vi. 53.   St. Matt. xxvi. 28.
If you would have life in you, you must eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood. If you would eat Christ's body and drink his blood, you must take and eat the bread, and drink of the cup, blessed by those who have authority to bless it, in remembrance of Him.

"I hope, Sir, you will not think that I am using the Bible too freely: but I must own, to me it is very convincing, when I see one part of our Saviour's discourses thus pointing as it were to another, and both so thoroughly agreeing with the known customs of the early Church, as I have always understood these do.

"For it is now some few years, Sir, since I began to think on this subject, and what few doubts I had, were very much settled by a book which you kindly spared me from your Lending Library. I think it was called 'A conference of two men on the subject of Infant Baptism.' And it showed to my thinking most clearly, the opinion of the Church on that subject, in times when they must have known what the very Apostles used to do.

"These things, in my plain way, I tried to point out to my sister; and I was in hopes to have convinced her, that wilfully to remain unbaptized is a more grievous sin than the generality of Dissenters (aye, and a great many Churchmen) imagine. I thought, when our Lord so distinctly affirmed, that one must be born of water and the Spirit, before one could even "enter into God's kingdom," it was not too much to ask of a Christian man, that he should not marry such a person, considering what the Holy Spirit has said by St. Paul to all Christians, that if they marry, they must marry "in the Lord;" that is to say, must select such persons as make part of the body of Christ, considering too what strict charges were given to the Israelites of old time, not to make marriages with the heathen and unbelievers. I thought to myself, and I put it strongly to my sister, how can I, with these convictions, with the Scriptures lying open before me, and as I think distinctly forbidding such things, how can I be helper to such a union? how can I come to God's altar, and present my relation there to Him, and beg His blessing on an act which in my conscience I believe to be sinful, and most provoking to Him? In short, I told them it was out of the question; and if they would put themselves in my place for a moment, they would see that it must be so."

"I should like to know what the young man thought, as he stood by and heard all this."

"Oh, Sir, I could see that he was very uneasy; he made two or three endeavours to break in upon us with some remarks of his own: but I was steady in not permitting him till I had stated my own view, so as to give it a fair chance. When I had finished, and was going away, leaving my sister, as it seemed to me, more puzzled than convinced by what had been said, Philip came close up to me, and said, in the tone of a man more or less vexed, 'You mistake me quite, uncle, if you think I have any notion of leaving the Church, because I am proposing to marry one who is not yet a Churchwoman. I like the Church as well as ever. I was born and bred in it, and hope to die in it; nay, and by this very engagement of mine, I expect to do good service to the Church. For I shall be very much disappointed indeed, if Letitia be not very soon prevailed on to be baptized, and conform, after she becomes my wife.'

"I told him, if such was indeed her mind, the matter might in no long time be settled to the satisfaction of us all. He had only to wait till that happy change, which he so confidently looked for, had taken place, and I would most gladly attend him as he desired. At this he looked a little disconcerted, and it was plain enough that he had been mistaking what he only wished, for what was likely to happen. So I just asked him one question, whether he thought himself wiser and steadier than Solomon? He very likely (said I), when he permitted himself first to form an attachment to a heathen, expected to bring her over to the faith and worship of the one true God; but it ended in his becoming himself an idolater. Indeed, God's warnings to his ancient people, not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, every where go upon the notion, that the corrupting side in such unions will be commonly too strong for that which was originally right. How can it be otherwise, while human nature is corrupt, and when the aid of Divine Grace is forfeited by men's presumptuously running themselves into a state of continual temptation? And, I added, what I have more than once heard from those who have read modern history, that the same kind of result is there also visible enough, attending on the like profane marriages among those who call themselves Christians. I ventured to mention one example, which had occurred to myself, in such little reading as I have had time for in that line—the example of one whom I deeply honour and reverence—you will guess that I mean King Charles the Martyr. I do not know whether I am right, but it has always seemed to me, that the one great error of his Majesty's life was his being "unequally yoked" with a person of another creed,—a person with whom I suppose he could not well pray, although, as we happen to know for certain, he prayed constantly for her conversion. His own faith to be sure was unstained; but we know what evil ensued to his family and kingdom; and perhaps many of his own calamities might be traced to the same cause. Now if that just and good king cannot be excused for such a marriage, what can be said for an ordinary Christian, should he run into the like danger? What is 'tempting God, if this be not?' Thus I ran on; but Philip evidently paid little attention to me. He seemed to be making up his mind that I was prejudiced, and that it was no use his listening at all. So I went away for the present, hoping before long to have an opportunity of speaking to him when he was more willing to hear."

"I thought," said I, "that you told me just now of your having conversed with the young woman herself: did I mistake you? or was that at another time?"

"That was just as I was going away: I passed by accident through the room where she was, and we had a very few words together. It was plain at once, by her manner, that she considered me personally unkind in what I had been saying of her to my sister. I begged her to bear with me, considering that I was so much older, and that I could have nothing at heart but my nephew's good; and I put her in mind of two or three things which had passed, such as I thought would be most apt to pacify and soothe her when she remembered them; and then I begged her seriously to consider, not at present whether I was right or no in my opinion of the necessity of Baptism, but, supposing I thought myself right, how could I act otherwise than I was doing? Which, I asked, is the truer charity? to let people go on unbaptized and unsanctified, for fear of paining them;—to treat them as if they were quite safe, when, if you will believe our Saviour, you must believe they have not yet even entered into the Church and Kingdom of God,—or to show them that you feel in earnest for their danger; to remind them what sentence the Church would pass on them, should they die in their present condition? She would not, in that case, allow them Christian burial. Why? Evidently, because she thinks them not members of Christ's body; not entitled by covenant to those promises, the rehearsing of which over the grave are in her mind a part of Christian burial. I believe and obey the Church; and if it was the nearest and dearest relation I have, I should count it kindness, not cruelty, to treat him as she would have him treated; to 'have compassion on him, making a difference,' and so try to bring him, with an humble and penitent heart, to our Saviour's Baptism in good time.

"This was the tone of what I said to her; but I had hardly time for so much as this: however, as she is naturally good tempered and candid, she seemed to take it pretty well."

"I should like to know," said I, "whether she has ever expressed any wish for Baptism. A person who thinks of it, but is as yet irresolute, may be regarded, I should think, in a different light from one who distinctly slights and disparages it; more like one of the beginners in Christianity, who were called in old time Catechumens. Whereas, those who indulge in scorn, and make themselves easy in such a condition, show the very temper of the worst heretics. Have you any notion to which of these two classes the young woman you are speaking of rather belongs?"

"I should not suppose she had ever thought much of the matter, until of late, that the question has been started by this proposed wedding. What thoughts she has, I should fear, are rather of the scornful kind. She has been used to hear people say, under breath, perhaps, but not the less emphatically for that, something like what Naaman the Syrian said, 'May I not wash elsewhere and be clean?' with plenty of hints about superstition and Popery, and other words of the like sound."

"It is too likely; one has heard of late of too much of that kind among the Baptists, and among others who agree with them in slighting the ancient Church. And worse consequences even than the contempt of Baptism follow, I fear, too often. Persons become generally irreverent towards religion altogether. A proud common sense, as it calls itself, usurps the place of that humility which befits a creature and a sinner in judging of his duties towards God. Nothing is cordially believed which is not theoretically understood: nothing carefully and reverently practised, of which the use is not perceived. And thus the religion of our time is in danger of dwindling down to a wretched kind of political decency: and where, of all parties, is the change going on most rapidly? Among those who left the Apostolical Church because 'it was not spiritual enough' for them!"

"And yet, Sir, is there any thing so strange in that? Our blessed Lord joined the two together,—the high, mysterious, and spiritual, doctrine of the Trinity, with the no less mysterious communication of grace by water Baptism. They who begin by being so bold as to despise the water, which He commanded to be used, it is very natural, as far as I see, that they should end by despising the word which He commanded to be spoken,—the sacred name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."

"It is indeed but too natural, like all the other steps which men make down the broad way which leads to perdition. But it is some kind of satisfaction to me to find, that quiet thoughtful laymen see the danger, as well as we who are of the clergy. And I suppose we shall be pretty well agreed upon the remedy, namely, to do what little we can towards reviving among men the knowledge and love of the ancient Church."

"Ah, Sir, if that might be! But a Christian must not despond about the Church, nor the meanest Christian of being made useful, in his place, towards the highest ends. I will not therefore indulge in forebodings; but will rather try again what I can do with the opportunity which Providence has put in my way. I certainly will do nothing to countenance this marriage; and if I cannot prevent it, at least some part of what I say may rise up in some of their minds some day, and may help them to truer and better thoughts. But you must help me, Sir, with your advice, and (may I be so bold?) with your prayers."

"It is my bounden duty, Richard," said I, as I shook him by the hand at parting. "And take this Scripture home for your comfort; that if a man humbly 'cast his bread upon the waters,'—if he trust his Maker with it in earnest, he shall 'find it after many days.'"

The Feast of St. James.

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