صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

precedent of the early ages, that it is the duty of believers, without exception, to be immersed in the name of Jesus? So do we. Are they disposed to look upon such as have neglected, whether from inattention or prejudice, to perform this duty, as mistaken christians? We also consider them in the same light. In what respect then are we guilty of dispensing with divine laws ? Merely because we are incapable of perceiving that an involuntary mistake on this subject, disqualifies for christian communion. But how extremely unjust to load us, on that account, with the charge of assuming a dispensing power, when the only ground on which we maintain our opinion, whether true or false, is our conviction that it is founded on a legitimate interpretation of the oracles of God. The dispute is not concerning their authority, but their meaning; and we dispense with baptism in no other sense, than that of denying it to be in all cases essential to communion; in which, whether we are mistaken or not, is a point open to controversy; but to be guilty first of a misnomer in defining our sentiments, and afterwards to convert an odious and erroneous appellation into an argument, is the height of injustice.

With what propriety our practice is compared to that of the church of Rome, in confining the communion to one kind, the intelligent reader will be at no loss to perceive.* In that, as in various

* “ It must, I think, be acknowledged,” says Mr. Booth, even by our brethren themselves, that we have as good a

1

other instances, that church, in order to raise the dignity of the priesthood, assumes a power of mutilating a divine ordinance. We are chargeable with no mutilation, nor presume in the smallest particular to innovate in the celebration of either sacraments; we merely refuse to acknowledge that dependence, one upon the other, on which the confidence of our opponents is so ill sustained by the silence of scripture.

We will close this part of the discussion by remarking that there is a happy equivocation in the word dispense, which has contributed not a little to its introduction into the present controversy. It may either mean that we do not insist upon baptism as an indispensable condition of communion, in which sense the charge is true, but nothing to the purpose, since it is a mere statement, in other words, of our actual practice: or it may intend that we knowingly and deliberately deviate from the injunctions of scripture; a serious accusation, which requires not to be asserted, but proved.

warrant for omitting an essential branch of an ordinance, or to reverse the order in which the constituent parts of an ordinance were originally administered, as we have to lay aside a divine institution, or to change the order in which two different appointments were first fixed. And if so, were a reformed and converted catholic, still retaining the popish error of communion in one kind only, desirous of having fellowship with our brethren at the Lord's table, they must, if they would act consistently, on their present hypothesis, admit him to partake of the bread, though, from a principle of conscience, he absolutely refused the wine in that sacred institution."-Booth's Apology, p. 51.

SECTION IV.

Our supposed Opposition to the Universal Suffrages

of the Church, considered.

In admitting to our communion those whom we esteem unbaptized, we are accused of a presumptuous departure from the sentiments of all parties and denominations throughout the christian world, who, however they may have differed upon other subjects, have unanimously concurred in considering baptism as a necessary preliminary to communion. *

• This charge is urged with much declamatory vehemence by Mr. Booth, in his Apology:"A sentiment so peculiar, and a conduct so uncommon,” he says, “ in regard to this institution, ought to be well supported by the testimony of the Holy Ghost. For were all the christian churches now in the world asked, except those few who plead for free communion, whether they thought it lawful to admit unbaptized believers to fellowship at the Lord's table, there is reason to believe they would readily unite in the declaration of Paul, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God that were before us. Yes, considering the novelty of their sentiments and conduct, and what a contradiction they are to the faith and order of the whole christian church; considering that it never was disputed, as far as I can learn, prior to the sixteenth century, by orthodox or heterodox, by papist or protestant, whether unbaptized believers should be admitted to the Lord's table, they all agreeing in the contrary practice, however much they differed in matters of equal importance; it may be reasonably expected, and it is by us justly demanded, that the truth of their sentiment, and the rectitude of their conduct, should be proved, fully proved, from the records of inspiration.”—Booth's Apology, p. 43.

The first remark which occurs on this mode of reasoning is, that it is merely an argumentum ad verecundiam, an attempt to overawe by the weight of authority, without pretending to enter into the merits of the controversy.

It assumes for its basis the impossibility of the universal prevalence of error, which if it be once admitted, all hopes of extending the boundaries of knowledge must be relinquished. My next observation is, that it comes with peculiar infelicity from the members of a sect, who upon a subject of much greater moment have presumed to relinquish the precedent, and arraign the practice of the whole christian world, as far at least as they have been exhibited in these

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

later ages.

“Quis tulerit Gracchos, de seditione querentes?"

After setting an example of revolt, it is too late for them to inculcate the duty of submission.

The question of the necessary dependence of communion on baptism, being of no practical moment whatever in any other circumstances than our own, it is not to be wondered at, if it has never been subjected to scrutiny; since cases of conscience, among which this inquiry may be classed, are rarely if ever investigated until circumstances occur which render their discussion necessary. But as infant sprinkling is valid in the esteem of all but the baptists, and there is no pretence for considering the latter as unbaptized, it is not easy to conceive what motive could exist for

making it an object of serious attention. That crude and erroneous conceptions should prevail upon questions, the decision of which could have no influence on practice, will not surprise those who reflect, that truth has been usually elicited by controversy, and that on subjects of too great importance to be entirely overlooked, opinions have prevailed to a great extent, which are now universally exploded. Though the employment of coercion in the affairs of conscience, is equally repugnant to the dictates of reason and of scripture, it was for ages successively resorted to by every party in its turn; nor was it till towards the close of the seventeenth century that the principle of toleration was established on a broad and scientific basis, by the immortal writings of Milton and Locke. These reflections are obvious; but there are others which tend more immediately to annihilate the objection under consideration. It is well known that from a very early period the most extravagant notions prevailed in the church with respect to the efficacy of baptism, and its absolute necessity in order to attain salvation. The descent of the human mind from the spirit to the letter, from what is vital and intellectual, to what is ritual and external in religion, is the true source of idolatry and superstition in all the multifarious forms they have assumed; and as it began early to corrupt the religion of nature, or more properly of patriarchal tradition, so it soon obscured the lustre, and destroyed the simplicity of the christian

« السابقةمتابعة »