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infant baptism, against which we are known to remonstrate. In short, they are disposed to attack our practice in any point rather than in that in which, if we are wrong, it is alone vulnerable, that of its being an expression of our approbation of Pedobaptists celebrating the Eucharist. In the same spirit, when they have once procured the exclusion of the obnoxious party from their assemblies, they are completely satisfied; their communion elsewhere gives them no concern, though it must be allowed, on the supposition of the pretended disqualification, that the evil remains in its full force. Nor are they ever known to remonstrate with them on this irregularity during its continuance; nor, should they afterward become converts to our doctrine, to recall it to their attention with a view to excite compunction and remorse ; so that this is perhaps the only sin for which men are never called to repentance, and of which no man has been known to repent. When our Lord dismissed the woman taken in adultery, though he did not proceed to judge her, he solemnly charged her to sin no more : the advocates for strict communion, when they dismiss Pedobaptists, give them no such charge; their language seems to be," Go, sin by yourselves, and we are satisfied.”
The inference I would deduce from these remarkable facts is, that they possess an internal conviction that the class of Christians whom they proscribe would be guilty of a great impropriety in declining to communicate in the sacramental elements; and that the union of Baptists with them in that solemnity, so far from being liable to the imputation of “partaking in other men's sins,” is not only lawful, but commendable.
On the Impossibility of reducing the Practice of Strict Communion to
any general Principle.
When a particular branch of conduct is so circumstanced as to be incapable of being deduced from some general rule, or of being resolved into some comprehensive principle founded on reason or revelation, we may be perfectly assured it is not obligatory. Whatever is matter of duty is a part of some whole, the relation of which is susceptible of proof, either by the express decision of Scripture, or by general reasoning; and a point of practice perfectly insulated and disjointed from the general system of duties, whatever support it may derive from prejudice, custom, or caprice, can never be satisfactorily vindicated. From want of attention to this axiom, both the world and the church have, in different periods, been overrun with innumerable forms of superstition and folly; to which the only effectual antidote is an appeal to principles. Unless I am much mistaken, the question under discussion will afford a striking exemplification of the justness of this remark. If it be found impossible to fix a medium between the toleration of all opinions in religion and the restriction of it to errors not fundamental,
the practice of exclusive communion must be abandoned, because it is neither more nor less than an attempt to establish such a medium. By errors not fundamental, I mean such as are admitted to consist with a state of grace and salvation ; such as are not supposed to prevent their abetters from being accepted of God. With such as contend for the indiscriminate admission of all doctrines, on the one hand, or with the abetters of rigid uniformity, who allow no latitude of sentiment, on the other, we have no concern; since we concur with our opponents in deprecating both these extremes ; and while we are tenacious of the “ truth as it is in Jesus,” we both admit that some indulgence to the mistakes and imperfections of the truly pious is due, from a regard to the dictates of inspiration and the nature of man. The only subject of controversy is, how far that forbearance is to be extended : we assert, to every diversity of judgment not incompatible with salvation ; they contend, that a difference of opinion on baptism is an excepted case. If the word of God had clearly and unequivocally made this exception, we should feel ourselves bound to admit it, upon the same principle on which we maintain the infallible certainty of revelation ; but when we press
for this decision, and request to be directed to the part of Scripture which for ever prohibits unbaptized persons from approaching the sacrament, in the same manner as the Jews were prohibited from celebrating the passover who had not submitted to circumcision, we meet with no reply but precarious inferences and general reasoning.
However plausible their mode of arguing may appear, the impartial reader will easily perceive it fails in the main point, which is, to establish that specific difference between the case they except out of their list of tolerated errors, and those which they admit, which shall justify this opposite treatment. Thus, when they ask whether God has not “ commanded baptism ; whether it is not the believer's duty to be found in it ;"* it is manifest that the same reasons might be urged against bearing with any imperfection in our fellow-christian whatever ; for which of these, we ask, is not inconsistent with some command, and a violation, in a greater or less degree, of some duty ? with this difference, indeed, that many of the imperfections which Christian churches are necessitated to bear with are seated in the will, while the case before us involves merely an unintentional mistake.
“ It is not every one,” says Mr. Booth, “ that is received of Jesus Christ who is entitled to communion at his table; but such, and only such, as revere his authority, submit to his ordinances, and obey the laws of his house." This is the most formal attempt which that writer has made to specify the difference between the case of the abetters of infant baptism and others; for which reason the reader will excuse my directing his attention to it for a few moments. We are indebted to him, in the first place, for a new discovery in theology. We should not have suspected, but for his assertion, that there could be a description of persons whom Christ has received, who neither revere his authority, submit to his ordinances, nor obey his laws. How Mr. Booth acquired this informa
Booth's Apology, p. 128.
tion we know not; but certainly in our Saviour's time it was otherwise. “ Then are ye my disciples," said he, “ if ye do whatsoever I have commanded you." I congratulate the public on the prudence evinced by the venerable author in not publishing the names of these highly privileged individuals, who have proved their title to heaven to his satisfaction, without reverence, submission, or obedience; wishing his example had been imitated, in this particular, by the authors of the wonderful conversions of malefactors, many of whom, I fear, belong to this new sect.
This singular description, however, I scarcely need remind the reader, is designed to characterize Baptists in opposition to Pedobaptists; and were it not the production of a man whom I highly revere, I should comment upon it with the severity it deserves. Suffice it to remark, that to mistake the meaning of a statute is one thing, not to reverence the legislator another ; that he cannot submit with a good conscience to an ordinance who is not apprized of its existence; and that a blind obedience, even to Divine laws, would be far from constituting a reasonable service. Every conscientious adherent to infant baptism reveres the authority of Christ not less than a Baptist, and is distinguished by a spirit of submission and obedience to every known part of his will; and as this is all to which a Baptist can pretend, and far more than many who, without scruple, are tolerated in our churches can boast, we are as far as ever from ascertaining the specific difference between the case of the Pedobaptist, and other instances of error supposed to be entitled to indulgence. In spite of Mr. Booth's marvellous definition, reverence, submission, and obedience are such essential features in the character of a Christian, that he who was judged to be destitute of them, in their substance and reality, would instantly forseit that character; while to possess them in perfection is among the brightest acquisitions of eternity. It should be remembered, too, that the general principles of morality are not less the laws of Christ than positive rites, and, if we credit prophets and apostles, much to be preferred in comparison ; so that it must be acknowledged that he who is deficient in attention to these, while he is more exemplary in discharging the former than a baptized Christian (a very frequent case), stands higher in the scale of obedience. So equivocal is the line of separation here attempted.
When the necessity of tolerating imperfection is once admitted, there remains no point at which it can consistently stop, till it is extended to every gradation of error, the habitual maintenance of which is compatible with a state of salvation. The reason is, that it is absolutely impossible to define that species of error so situated as not to preclude its possessor from Divine acceptance, although it forfeits his title to the full exercise of Christian charity. The Baptists, who contend for con'fining the Lord's Supper to themselves, imagine they have found such an error in the practice of initiating infants into the Christian church. But it is observable that they can reduce it to no class, nor define it by any general idea; and when we urge them with the apostolic injunction, to bear with each other's infirmities, they have nothing to reply, but
merely that St. Paul is not speaking of baptism, which is true, because one thing is not another; but it behooves them to show that the principle he establishes does not include this case, and here they are silent.
If we impartially examine the reasons on which we rest the toleration of any supposed error, we shall find they invariably coincide with the idea of its not being fundamental. If it be alleged, for example, that the error in question relates to a subject less clearly revealed than some others, what is this but to insinuate the ease with which an honest inquirer may mistake respecting it? If the little practical influence it is likely to exert is alleged as a plea for forbearance, the force of such a remark rests entirely on the assumption of an indissoluble connexion between a state of salvation and a certain character, which the opinion in question is supposed not to destroy. If we allege the example of eminently pious men who have embraced it, we infer from analogy the actual safety of the person by whom it is held; and, in short, it is impossible to construct an argument for the exercise of mutual forbearance, but what proceeds upon this principle; a principle which pervades the reasoning of our opponents on every other occasion, except this of strict communion, which they make an insulated case, capriciously exempting it from the arbitration of all the general rules of Scripture, as well as from the maxims to which, in all other instances, they are attached.
Reluctant as I feel to trespass on the patience of the reader, by unnecessarily prolonging the discussion, I am anxious, if possible, to set the present argument in a still stronger light. I observe, therefore, that if it be contended that a certain opinion is so obnoxious as to justify the exclusion of its abetters from the privilege of Christian fellowship, it must be either on account of its involving a contradiction to the saving truth of the gospel, or on account of its injurious effects on the character. As those of our brethren to whom this reasoning is addressed positively disclaim considering infant baptism in the former light, they will not attempt to vindicate the exclusion of Pedobaptists on that ground. In vindication of such a measure, they must allege the injurious effects it produces on the character of its abetters. Here, however, they have precluded themselves from the possibility of urging that the injury sustained is fatal, by the previous concession that it does not involve a contradiction to saving truth. Could they, without cancelling that concession, urge the fatal nature of the influence in question, they would present an object to the mind sufficiently precise and determinate ; an object which may be easily conceived and accurately defined. But as things are now situated, they can, at most, only insist on such a kind and degree of deteriorating effect as is consistent with the spiritual safety of the party concerned ; and as they are among the first to contend that every species of error is productive of injurious effects, it is incumbent upon them to point out soine consequences worse in their kind, or more aggravated in degree, resulting from this particular error, than what may be fairly ascribed to the worst of those erroneous or defective views which they are accustomed to tolerate. These injurious consequences must also occupy an intermediate place
between two extremes ; they must, on the one hand, be decidedly more serious than can be supposed to result from the most crude, undigested, or discordant views tolerated in regular Baptist churches, yet not of such a nature, on the other, as to involve the danger of eternal perdition. Let them specisy, if it be in their power, that ill influence on the character which is the natural consequence of the tenet of infant-sprinkling, considered per se, or independent of adventitious circumstances, and the operation of accidental causes, which justifies a treatment of its patrons so different from what is given to the abetters of other errors. This malignant influence must, I repeat it, be the natural or necessary product of the practice of pedobaptism ; because the siinple avowal of this is deemed sufficient to incur the forfeiture of church privileges, without further time or inquiry. However vehemently the supporters of such a measure may declaim against it, or however triumphantly expose the principles on which it is founded, they have done nothing towards accomplishing their object—the vindication of strict communion, since the same mode of proceeding might be adopted towards any other misconception, or erroneous opinion; and if it may be forcibly expelled as soon as it is confuted, there is an end to toleration. Toleration has no place but in the presence of acknowledged imperfection. It is absolutely necessary for them, as they would vindicate their conduct to the satisfaction of reasonable men, to prove that some specific deteriorating effect results from the practice of infant baptism, distinct from the malignant influence of error in general, and of those imperfections in particular which are not inconsistent with salvation.
Though the opposition between truth and error is equal in all cases, and the former always susceptible of proof, as well as the latter of confutation, all error is not opposed to the same truths; and hence arises a distinction between such erroneous and imperfect views of religion as, however they may in their remoter consequences impair, do not contradict the gospel testimony, and such as do. We lay this distinction as the basis of that forbearance towards the mistakes and imperfections of good men for which we plead ; and, as the case of our Pedobaptist brethren is clearly comprehended within that distinction, feel no scruple in admitting them to Christian fellowship. We are attached to that distinction because it is both scriptural and intelligible; while the hypothesis of the strict Baptists, as they style themselves, is so replete with perplexity and confusion, that, for my part, I absolutely despair of comprehending it. It proceeds upon the supposition of a certain medium between two extremes, which they have not even attempted to fix; and as the necessary consequence of this, their reasoning, if we choose to term it such, floats and undulates in such a manner, that it is extremely difficult to grasp it. On the pernicious influence of error in general we entertain no doubt, but we demand, again and again, to have that precise injurious effect of infant-sprinkling pointed out and evinced, which is more to be deprecated than the probable result of those acknowledged imperfections to which they extend their indulgence. This must surely be deemed a reasonable requisition, though it is one with which they have not hitherto thought fit to comply.