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Nothing but an absolute despair of giving a satisfactory reply to the arguments drawn from this quarter, could have tempted Mr. Booth to quarrel with a distinction so justly dear to all protestants; and it is no small presumption of the justness of our sentiments, that the attempt to refute them is found to require that subversion of the most received axioms in theology, together with the strange paradox, that while much more than we suppose is necessary to communion, nothing is essential to salvation. In consideration, however, of the embarrassment of our opponents, we feel it easy to overlook the effusions of their discontent; but as it is not usual to consult the enemy on the choice of weapons, we shall continue to employ such as we find most efficacious, though they may not be the most pleasant to the touch.
The Impolicy of the Practice of Strict Communion
In the affairs of religion and morality, where a divine authority is interposed, the first and chief attention is due to its dictates, which we are not permitted to violate in the least instance, though we proposed, by such violation, to promote the interests of religion itself. She scorns to be indebted, even for conquest, to a foreign force: “the weapons of her warfare are not carnal.” We have, on this account, carefully abstained from urging the imprudence of the measure we have ventured to propose, from an apprehension that we might be suspected of attempting to bias the suffrage of our readers, by considerations and motives disproportioned to the majesty of revealed truth. But having, as I trust, sufficiently shewn that the practice of strict communion derives no support from that quarter, the way is open for the introduction of a few remarks on the natural tendency and effect of the two opposite systems. I would just premise that I hope no offence will be given to pædobaptists, by denominating their sentiments on the subject of baptism erroneous, as though it were expected that our assertion should be accepted for proof. It is designed as a simple statement of my opinion, and is assumed as the basis of my reasoning with my stricter brethren.
Truth and error, as they are essentially opposite in their nature, so the causes to which they are indebted for their perpetuity and triumph, are not
Whatever retards a spirit of inquiry, is favourable to error; whatever promotes it, to truth. But nothing, it will be acknowledged, has a greater tendency to obstruct the exercise of free inquiry, than the spirit and feeling of a party. Let a doctrine, however erroneous, become a party distinction, and it is at once intrenched in interests and attachments which make it extremely difficult for the most powerful artillery of reason to dislodge it. It becomes a point of honour in the leaders of such parties, which is from thence communicated to their followers, to defend and support their respective peculiarities to the last; and, as a natural consequence, to shut their ears against all the pleas and remonstrances by which they are assailed. Even the wisest and best of men are seldom aware how much they are susceptible of this sort of influence; and while the offer of a world would be insufficient to engage them to recant a known truth, or to subscribe an acknowledged error, they are often retained in a willing captivity to prejudices and opinions which have no other support, and which, if they could lose sight of party feelings, they would almost instantly abandon. To what other cause can we ascribe the attachment of Fenelon and of Pascal, men of exalted genius and undoubted piety, to the doctrine of transubstantiation, and other innumerable absurdities of the church of Rome? It is this alone which has ensured a sort of immortality to those hideous productions of the human mind, the shapeless abortions of night and darkness, which reason, left to itself, would have crushed in the moment of their birth.
It is observable that scientific truths make their way in the world with much more ease and rapidity than religious. No sooner is a philosophical opinion promulgated, than it undergoes at first a severe and rigorous scrutiny; and if it is found to coincide with the results of experiment, it is speedily adopted, and quietly takes its place among the improvements of the age. Every acquisition of this kind is considered as a common property; as an accession to the general stores of mental opulence. Thus the knowledge of nature, the further it advances from its head, not only enlarges its channel by the accession of tributary streams, but gradually purifies itself from the mixture of error. If we search for the reason of the facility with which scientific improvements established themselves in preference to religious, we shall find in it the absence of combination, in there being no class of men closely united, who have an interest, real or imaginary, in obstructing their progress. We hear, it is true, of parties in the republic of letters; but if such language is not to be considered as entirely allusive and metaphorical, the ties which unite them are so slight and feeble, compared to those which attach to religious societies, as scarcely to deserve the name, The spirit of party was much more sensibly felt in the ancient schools of philosophy than in the modern, on account of philosophical inquiries embracing a class of subjects which are now considered as no longer belonging to its province. Before revelation appeared, whatever is most deeply interesting in the contemplation of God, of man, or of a future state, fell under the cognizance of philosophy; and hence it was cultivated with no inconsiderable portion of that moral
sensibility, that solicitude and alternation of hope and fear, respecting an invisible state, which are now absorbed by the gospel. From that time the departments of theology and philosophy have become totally distinct, and the genius of the former free and unfettered.
In religious inquiries, few feel themselves at liberty to follow, without restraint, the light of evidence, and the guidance of truth, in consequence of some previous engagement with a party; and, though the attachment to it might originally be purely voluntary, and still continues such, the natural love of consistency, the fear of shame, together with other motives sufficiently obvious, powerfully contribute to perpetuate and confirm it. When an attachment to the fundamental truths of religion is the basis of the alliance, the steadiness, constancy, and perseverance it produces, are of the utmost advantage; and hence we admire the wisdom of Christ in employing and consecrating the social nature of man in the formation of a church. It is utterly impossible to calculate the benefits of the publicity and support which christianity derives from that source; nor will it be doubted that the intrepidity evinced in confessing the most obnoxious truths, and enduring all the indignities and sufferings which result from their promulgation, is, in a great measure, to be ascribed to the same cause. The concentration of the wills and efforts of christians rendered the church a powerful antagonist to the world. But