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WHETHER the writer of the following pages has acted judiciously in noticing the anonymous author of the Plea, &c. it is not for him to determine. He was certainly not induced to reply by any apprehension that the arguments of his opponent would produce much effect on candid and enlightened minds : but he recollected that what is not answered is often deemed unanswerable. He has confined himself, as the reader will perceive, to that branch of the controversy which relates to the baptism of John; the consideration of the remaining parts will more properly occur in reply to a work which is already announced to the public by a person of distinguished reputation. With an answer to that publication it is the decided resolution of this author to terminate his part of the controversy.
LEICESTER, February 14, 1816.
BAPTISM OF JOHN.
THOUGH the author of the “ Plea for Primitive Communion” has not thought fit to annex his name to that publication, as truth alone is the legitimate object of controversy, his claim to attention may be justly considered as little, if at all, impaired by that omission. Religious inquiry is an affair of principles, not of persons; and under whatever shape an author chooses to present himself to the public, he is entitled to notice in proportion to the force of his conceptions and the candour of his spirit. How far the author under present consideration is possessed of these qualities must be left to the judgment of an impartial public.
As he has confined nearly his whole attention to the question of the identity of John's baptism with the ordinance now in force, without pretending to enter into the general merits of the controversy, and this is a question which admits of separate discussion, and is in itself of some moment, the following pages will be devoted to a defence of the sentiments which have been already advanced on that subject.
Previously to this, however, the patience of the reader is entreated for a few moments, while we endeavour clearly to state the bearing of this question on the controversy with which it has been connected. It was in deference to the sentiments of his opponents, rather than his own, that the author was induced to bestow so much attention upon it in his former treatise, persuaded as he is that its connexion with the point in debate is casual and incidental, rather than real and intrinsic ; since the only possible advantage to the cause of mixed communion, resulting from its decision, is the overthrow of an argument most feebly constructed. To be convinced of this, it is only necessary to remember that the admission of what our opponents contend for would merely prove that the ordinance of baptism was promulgated at an earlier period than the Lord's Supper. But in determining a question of duty resulting from positive laws, the era of their promulgation is a consideration totally foreign; we have merely to consider what is enjoined, and to what description of persons or things the regulation applies, without troubling ourselves to inquire into the chronological order of its enactment. In the details of civil life, no man thinks of regulating his actions
by an appeal to the respective dates of the existing laws, but solely by a regard to their just interpretation; and were it once admitted as a maxim that the particular law latest enacted must invariably be last obeyed, the affairs of mankind would fall into utter confusion. It would be the highest presumption to pretend to penetrate so far into the breast of the legislator, and into reasons of state, as to form a conjecture on the comparative importance of our duties, or the respective relations which they bear to each other, by an appeal to the distinct periods in which the laws were promulgated; nor is there any absurdity in supposing it possible that, for the wisest purposes, the law which is last enacted may prescribe the performance of an action antecedently to a different one enjoined by a prior enactment. Besides, the most extensive branch of the system of rules which is in force in this, and perhaps in most other countries, arises out of immemorial customs, which it would baffle the profoundest antiquarian to trace to their origin ; whence it is evident that the principle in question is necessarily excluded from the widest department of legal obligations. It is a principle as repug. nant to the nature of Divine as it is to human legislation. It appears from the history of the patriarchs, that sacrificial rites were ordained much earlier than circumcision, but no sooner was the latter enjoined, than it demanded the earliest attention ; and the offerings prescribed on the birth of a child did not precede but were subsequent to the ceremony of circumcision.
In the case of moral obligations, no one pretends that their reciprocal relation and dependence is to be ascertained by an appeal to the distinct periods of their institution : their co-existence with human nature precludes the possibility of applying such a test; and he who consults impartially the dictates of conscience, confirmed and enlightened by revelation, will seldom feel himself embarrassed with respect either to the nature or the order of his duties.
In the case of positive duties, that is, such as result entirely from the revealed will of God, and with respect to which the voice of nature is silent, how far they are so inseparably linked together as to form a moral whole, in such a manner that the omission of one part renders an attention to the other a nullity, must depend entirely on the language of the institute. To attempt to establish any conclusion where that is silent is at once to incur the censure justly attached to the application of hypothesis in the interpretation of positive laws, with this additi aggravation, that the hypothesis adopted on the present occasion is at least as precarious and unfounded as the worst of those by which the advocates of infant baptism have attempted to vindicate their practice. With unparalleled inconsistency, while the champions of strict communion affect on the subject of baptism the utmost veneration for the letter of Scripture, they are driven in support of their sentiments to appeal, not to what is enjoined—not to a syllable of Scripture, but to a chronological deduction of positive rites ; a hard necessity surely, and the more so when it will appear in the sequel that this their forlorn post is untenable.
Before we proceed to notice the objections of the author of the Plea