Mr. Aitken’s system may be briefly stated:—
“Spiritual life and forgiveness, or salvation, are communicated by faith, or in accordance with faith; where a man has repented fully, and, crying to God for salvation, goes out of self for it and believes in the atonement. But divine life or regeneration is quite another thing, possessed by few, communicated and sustained by the sacraments, but which is possessed only in the degree in which, by personal efforts, we die to self. This is the portion of an elect few who form the bride of Christ (not His spouse), the Church of the firstborn, who will reign with Him. We get the Spirit of adoption on receiving salvation; but we are born of God only by baptism, and thus, if it be developed by our own will or efforts, we are united to God and become God-men, not in the same degree but in the same manner as Christ.”
All this is pursued out as a system with various adjuncts needless to mention, with a neglect of scripture or indeed proof of any kind, which ignorant assumption or uncommon self-confidence alone could account for. Those are in a nearer relationship to Christ, he says, who are in the Church (the Establishment), though dead in trespasses and sins, than a saved person who has spiritual life outside it. The baptized child receives life and is in a state of grace provisionally by special favour, though he has not faith; but in point of fact he always loses it, though he need not, and then is saved by faith, but is not regenerate. How this is afterwards procured does not clearly appear, and is not stated in the volume already out. Self-denial and sacraments are his general idea; but as baptism is the one for giving life and he cannot be baptized over again, we are left in the dark. You may ask but never expect proof of the difference between spiritual and divine life. Evangelicals are complained of who treat salvation as the end, and it is affirmed that we cannot have spiritual life and forgiveness, which are by faith alone, without being sure of it. Again, a separatist cannot have divine life or be of the bride of Christ, though he is of the body by baptism in spite of himself, for that tie is indissoluble. A man may lose spiritual life and salvation, but he cannot cease to be a member of Christ’s body, and he is lost all the same. He reads “Ye are they who have followed me in the regeneration.”
The real energy which Mr. A. has to press salvation, from what he had before he had adopted all this, while pandering to the prejudices of the priestly caste, takes effect on others. In Nehush-tan he taught that the idol—justification by faith—must be destroyed. Now he writes this and “Tractarianism:” only, he says, Tractarians themselves are evidently in a state of nature and lost. The theory of persons possessing the Spirit of adoption and not yet born of God is as unscriptural as can be. “We are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” … “and because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” “We have received not the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God,” &c. These passages (Gal. 3 and Rom. 8) upset the whole system at once and altogether, based as it is on our being saved and having the Spirit of adoption, but not being really born of God, or sons, this coming sacramentally, that by faith. His notion is that we receive sacramentally divine life from Christ. But John says, “To as many as received him, to them gave he power (or privilege) to become sons of God, even to as many as believed in his name, which were born… of God.” … “Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace,” that is, of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
If we take the figure of baptism, the statement that it is regeneration, while salvation is by faith, is overthrown by scripture. “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” &c. “According to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration” “The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth also now save us.” Nor can it be alleged that this is the provisional salvation tacked to it in the case of infants, for adults are in question. It is the merest bubble of his own mind for one acquainted with scripture. His own prayer-book denies such distinctions. The prayer is that the infant may obtain remission of his sins by spiritual regeneration. Nor will the allegation that salvation is provisionally attached to it for infants hold good, for it is asked equally in baptism for riper years. It is prayed that they also may receive “remission of their sins by spiritual regeneration.” And to this John 3 is applied, which speaks of being born of the Spirit, and just as Peter who tells the repentant Jews to be baptized for the remission of their sins.
That we are made God-men is neither more nor less than an abominable blasphemy; and as to being made partakers of the divine nature, the apostle does not say a word of baptism but of exceeding great and precious promises whereby we are so made. The whole work is full of unscriptural inventions.
On the other hand, I agree that it is terrible to make salvation, in the sense of being safe, the end of all. I agree that fasting and self-denial are excellent in their place; but all these distinctions of divine life and spiritual life, and subjection to ordinances as if the means of life come from the vagaries of the human mind or worse, not from God.
The rest of the passage in Titus 3 shews that the distinction of eternal life and regeneration is unknown to scripture. “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by faith, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Here eternal life, justification by faith, regeneration, salvation, are all brought together in a way that makes Mr. A.’s reasoning hopelessly untenable. There might be conversions; because, while adding all his nonsense about sacraments, he preaches (though in an Arminian way) repentance toward God and salvation by faith in Christ— indeed as to the last with much more positive reality than the evangelicals.