« AnteriorContinuar »
the injunctions of Christ, and the dictates of his Spirit, propel us in opposite directions, we acknowledge ourselves unprepared.
In order to place this part of our subject in its strongest light, it is necessary to recur to what we have suggested before, respecting the twofold import of the Eucharist, that it is first a feast upon a sacrifice, in which we are actual partakers by faith of the body and blood of the Redeemer offered upon the cross.
Considered in this view, it is a federal rite, in which we receive the pledge of reconciliation, while we avouch the Lord to be our God, and surround his table as a part of his family. In its secondary import, it is intended as a solemn recognition of each other as members of Christ, and consequently, in the language of St. Paul, “ as one body, and one bread.” Now we either acknowledge Pedobaptists to be Christians, or we do not. If not, let us speak out without reserve, and justify their exclusion at once, upon a broad and consistent basis. But if we reject a sentiment so illiberal, why refuse to unite with them in an appointment which, as far as its social import is concert
erned, has no other object than to express that fraternal attachment which we actually feel? Why select as the line of demarkacion, the signal of disunion, that particular branch of worship which, if we credit the inspired writers, was ordained, in preference to every other, to be the symbol of Christian unity? That they are equally capable with ourselves of deriving the spiritual edification and improvement attached to this ordinance is implied in the acknowledgment of their being Christians; while with respect to its import as a social act, or an act of communion, it implies neither more nor less than a recognition of their claim to that title. It neither implies that they are baptized, nor the contrary ; it has no retrospective view to that ordinance whatever; it implies neither more nor less than that they are members of Christ, and the objects, consequently, of that fraternal attachment which our opponents themselves profess to feel.
The Practice of open Communion argued, from the express Injunction of Scripture respecting the Conduct to be maintained by sincere Christians who differ in their Religious Sentiments.
We are expressly commanded in the Scriptures to tolerate in the church those diversities of opinion which are not inconsistent with salvation. We learn from the New Testament that a diversity of views subsisted in the times of the apostles between the Jewish and gentile converts especially—the former retaining an attachment to the ancient law, and conceiving the most essential parts of it to be still in force; the latter, from correcter views, rejecting it altogether. Some declined the use of certain kinds of meat forbidden by Moses, which others partook of without scruple ; one man esteemed one day above another,” conscientiously observing the principal Jewish solemnities ; “ another esteemed every day alike.” Among the Jewish converts
very different sentiments were entertained on the subject of circumcision, which all appear to have observed, though upon different principles; the more enlightened, like St. Paul, from a solicitude to avoid unnecessary offence; the more superstitious, from persuasion of its intrinsic obligation; and some because they believed it impossible to be saved without it; by which they endangered, to say the least, the fundamental doctrine of justification by faith. Against the sentiment last mentioned we find St. Paul protesting with vehemence, and affirming, with all the authority of his office, that “if any man was circumcised" with such views, Christ“ profited him nothing;” but on no occasion proceeding to excommunication. The contention arising from the discussion of these points became so violent, that there appeared no method of terminating it but to depute Paul and Barnabas to go up to Jerusalem to consult the apostles, who, being solemnly convened on the occasion, issued the famous decree contained in the fifteenth of the Acts, by which the liberty of the gospel was confirmed, and the domineering spirit of Jewish zealots repressed. Though the success of this measure was great, it was not complete ; a contrariety of opinion and of practice prevailed in the church respecting Jewish ceremonies and observances, which considerably impaired its harmony. But instead of attempting to silence the remaining differences by interposing his authority, St. Paul enjoins mutual toleration. Him that is weak in faith receive ye, not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things ; another who is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth ; for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant ? unto his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up; for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."*
To the same purpose are the following injunctions in the next chapter :—“ We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Now the God of peace and consolation grant you to be like-minded one towards another, according to Jesus Christ that ye may with one mind and with one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”+ It cannot be denied that the passages we have adduced contain an apostolic canon for the regulation of the conduct of such Christians as agree in fundamentals, while they differ on points of subordinate importance : by this canon they are commanded to exercise a reciprocal toleration and indulgence, and on no account to proceed to an open rupture. In order to apply it to the question under consideration, it is only necessary to consider to what description of persons the rule extends. The persons we are commanded to receive are the weak in faith. From the context, as well as from other parts of his epistles, it is certain that St. Paul means to designate by that appellation sincere though erring Christians ; and in the instance then under con* Rom, aiy. 1--5,
† Rom. xv. 1, 6, 7.
templation, persons whose organs were not yet attempered to the blaze of gospel light and liberty, but who still clong to certain legal usages and distinctions, which more comprehensive views of revelation would have taught them to discard. The term weak is employed by the same writer in his epistle to the Corinthians to denote an erroneous conscience, founded on a false persuasion of a certain power and efficacy attached to idols, of which they are really destitute. * For himself," he tells us, he knew that an idol was nothing, but every one was not possessed of that knowledge; for some with conscience of the idol, with an interior conviction of its power, eat of the sacrifice, as a thing offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” In the chapter whence these words are quoted the term weak occurs not less than five times, and in each instance is used as synonymous with erroncous. I have insisted the more on this particular in order to obviate a misconception which may arise from the acknowledged ambiguity of the word weuk, which might be supposed to intend, not a mistaken or erring mind, but a mind not sufficiently confirmed in the truth to which it assents. The certainty of its comprehending the case of error being once admitted, it is not necessary to multiply words to evince its bearing on the present controversy; all that remains to be considered is the principle on which toleration is enforced, which every impartial reader must perceive is the assumption that the errors and mistakes to be tolerated are not fundamental, not of such a nature, in other words, as to prevent those who maintain them from being accepted with God. "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him.” What can this mean but that the error in question, to whichsoever side it be imputed, was of a description not to exclude its abetter from being an accepted servant of God, who, as he at present bears with his infirmity, is well able, whenever he pleases, to correct and remove it? He further proceeds to urge a spirit of forbearance from a consideration of the perfect integrity with which both parties maintained their respective opinions. Both were equally conscientious, and therefore neither deserved to be treated with severity. “Wherefore receive ye one another,” he adds,
even as Christ has received you to the glory of the Father.” When he thus commands Christians to receive each other, and enforces that duty by the example of Christ, it surely requires little penetration to perceive that the practice enjoined ought to be commensurate to that example, and that this precept obliges us to receive all whom Christ has received. To interpret it otherwise is to suppose the example irrelevant, and at once to annihilate the principle on which the injunction is founded.
Having paved the way to the conclusion to which we would conduct the reader, we have only to remark, that in order to determine how far these apostolic injunctions oblige us to tolerate the supposed error of our Pedobaptist brethren, we have merely to consider whether it necessarily excludes them from being of the number of those whom Christ has received to the glory of the Father, whether it be possible
to hold it with Christian sincerity, and finally, whether its abetters will stand or fall in the eternal judgment.
If these questions are answered in the way which Christian candour irresistibly suggests, and which the judgment of our opponents approves, they conclude in favour of the admission of Pedobaptists to communion, not less forcibly than if they had been mentioned by name; and all attempts to evade them must prove futile and abortive. If it be asserted, on the contrary, that a mistake on the subject of baptism is not comprehended in the above description, the passages adduced must be acknowledged irrelevant, and the whole controversy assumes a new aspect.
In the same spirit the apostle earnestly presses on the Philippians the obligation of maintaining an uninterrupted harmony, and of cultivating a fraternal affection to each other, even while he is contemplating the possibility of their entertaining different apprehensions respecting truth and duty. After proposing himself as an example of the renunciation of legal hopes, and the serious study of perfection, he adds, “Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, as many as have obtained correct and enlarged views of the gospel, be thus minded ; and if in any thing we are otherwise minded, or rather differently minded, possessing different views and apprehensions on certain subjects, God will reveal this even unto you.* Nevertheless, wherein we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing." Here the case of a diversity of sentiment arising among Christians is distinctly assumed, and the proper remedy suggested, which is not the exercise of a compulsory power, much less a separation of communion, but the ardent pursuit of Christian piety, accompanied with an humble dependence on divine teaching, which, it may reasonably be expected, will in due time correct the errors and imperfections of sincere believers. The conduct to be maintained in the mean while was a cordial cooperation in every branch of worship and of practice, with respect to which they were agreed, without attempting to effect a unanimity by force; and this is precisely the conduct which we contend should be maintained towards our Pedobaptist brethren. If they can be repelled from the Lord's table without violating both the letter and the spirit of the preceding and of similar admonitions, we are prepared, however reluctantly, to acquiesce in their exclusion ; but if they cannot, it deserves the serious consideration of the advocates of that measure, how they can reconcile the palpable infringement of such precepts with the scrupulous adherence to the dictates of Scripture to which they make such loud pretensions.
It will surely not be denied that the precepts of the gospel are entitled to at least as much reverence as apostolical precedents, when it is remembered that the language of the former, as is befitting laws, is clear and determinate, while inferences deduced from the latter are frequently subject to debate ; not to rem
emark, that if we consider the spirit of Scripture precedent, it will be found entirely in our favour.
* See an admirable criticism on this passage in Bishop Horsley's Sermons, where the word ētspWsx which is the key to the whole passage, is most happily elucidated.- Vol. ii. p. 358.
When the abetters of exclusive communion are pressed with the conclusions resulting from the passages we have quoted, and others of a similar tendency, their usual answer is, that the inspired writers make no mention of baptism on these occasions, and that no allusion is had to a diversity of opinion on the positive institutions of the gospel ; which is perfectly true, and perfectly foreign to the purpose for which it is alleged; for the question at issue is not, What were the individual errors we are commanded to tolerate; but, What is the ground on which that measure is enforced, and whether it be sufficiently comprehensive to include the Pedobaptists? That it is so, that they are actually included, can only be denied by affirming that they are precluded from divine acceptance, since it is precisely on that ground that St. Paul rests the plea of toleration. To object to the application of a general principle to a particular case, that it is not the identical one which first occasioned its enunciation, is egregious trifling, and would go to the subversion of all general principles whatever, and consequently put an end to all reasoning. When a doubtful point in morality is to be decided by an appeal to a general principle, it is an essential property of such a principle to extend to more particulars than one ; since, if it did not, it would cease to be a principle, and the point in question would be left to be decided by itself; and if not self-evident, could admit of no decision whatever. When Nadab and Abihu, intoxicated with wine, offered strange fire upon the altar, and were struck with instant death for their presumption, Moses, by Divine command, prescribed the following general rule for the worship of God: “ I will be sanctified of all them that draw nigh unto me, and before all the people will I be glorified.” Who can be at a loss to perceive the absurdity of limiting that precept to the prohibition of intoxication, the crime which occasioned its first promulgation, instead of extending it to every instance of levity and impiety in an approach to the Divine Majesty ? My consciousness of the extreme weight of prejudice which the truth has to encounter, together with the inaptitude of many who are most interested in this controversy to ascend to first principles, is my only apology for insisting upon a point so obvious ; choosing rather to hazard the contempt of the wise than not to impress conviction on the vulgar.
With such as admit the possibility of Pedobaptists being saved there remains, in my apprehension, no alternative, but either to receive thein into their communion without scruple, as comprehended within the apostolic canon, or to affirm that decision to be founded on erroneous grounds; which at once removes the controversy to a superior tribunal, where they and the apostle must implead each other. Let us, however, briefly examine certain distinctions they have recourse to, in order to elude the force of these passages. In the first place, it has been alleged, that though we are commanded to receive our mistaken brethren, we are not instructed to receive them at the Lord's table, or into the external communion of the church; and that such injunctions are, consequently, irrelevant to the inquiry respecting the right of persons of a similar character to those external privileges of which they make