« السابقةمتابعة »
al conviction, a variety of favorable circumstances usually contribute to bring it into contact with the mind, such as frequent intercourse, a favorable disposition towards the party which maintains it, habits of deference and respect, and gratitude for benefits received. The practice of confining the communion to our own denomination, seems studiously contrived to preclude us from these advantages, and to transfer them to the opposite side.
The policy of intolerance is exactly proportioned to the capacity of inspiring fear. The Church of Rome for many ages practised it, with infinite advantage, because she possessed ample means of intimidation. Her pride grew with her success, her intolerance with her pride; and she did not aspire to the lofty pretension of being the only true church till she saw monarchs at her feet, and held kingdoms in chains; till she was flushed with victory, giddy with her elevation, and drunk with the blood of the But what was policy in her, would be the height of infatuation in us, who are neither entitled by our situation, nor by our crimes, to aspire to this guilty preeminence. I am fully persuaded, that few of our brethren have duly reflected on the strong resemblance which subsists betwixt the pretensions of the Church of Rome, and the principles implied in strict communion; both equally intolerant, the one armed with pains and penalties, the other, I trust, disdaining such aid; the one the intolerance of power, the other of weakness.
From a full conviction that our views, as a denomination, correspond with the dictates of Scripture, it is impossible for me to entertain a doubt of their ultimate prevalence; but unless we retrace our steps, and cultivate a cordial union with our fellowChristians, I greatly question whether their success will in any degree be ascribable to our efforts. It is much more probable, that the light will arise in another quarter, from persons by whom we are unknown, but who, in consequence of an unction from the Holy One, are led to examine the Scripture with perfect impartiality, and in the ardor of their pursuit after truth, alike to overlook the misconduct of those who have opposed, and of those who have maintained it.
Happily, the final triumph of truth is not dependent on human modes of exhibition. Man is the recipient, not the author of it; it partakes of the nature of the Deity; it is His offspring, its indissoluble relation to whom is a surer pledge of its perpetuity and support, than finite power or policy. While we are at a certainty respecting the final issue, "the times and the seasons God hath put in his own power;" nor are we ever more liable to err, than when in surveying the purposes of God, we descend from the elevation of general views, to a minute specification of times and in
struments. How long the ordinance of baptism, in its purity and simplicity, may be doomed to neglect, it is not for us to conjecture; but of this we are fully persuaded, it will never be generally restored to the church through the medium of a party. This mode of procedure has been already sufficiently tried, and is found utterly ineffectual.
The labor bestowed upon these sheets has not arisen from an indifference to the interests of truth, but from a sincere wish to promote them, by disengaging it from the unnatural confinement in which it has been detained by the injudicious conduct of its advocates. How far the reasoning adduced, or the spirit displayed on this subject, is entitled to approbation, must be left to the judgement of the religious public. If any offence has been given by the appearance of unbecoming severity, it will give me real concern; and the more so, because there are not a few amongst our professed opponents in this controversy, to whom I look up with undissembled esteem and veneration.
Having omitted nothing which appeared essentially connected with the subject, I hasten to close this disquisition; previously to which, it may not be improper briefly to recall the attention to the principal topics of argument. We have endeavored to shew that the practice of strict communion derives no support from the supposed priority of baptism to the Lord's supper in the order of institution, which order is exactly the reverse; that it is not countenanced by the tenor of the Apostle's commission, nor by apostolic precedent, the spirit of which is in our favor, proceeding on prineiples totally dissimilar to the case under discussion; that the opposite practice is enforced by the obligations of Christian charity; that it is indubitably comprehended within the canon which enjoins forbearance towards mistaken brethren; that the system of our opponents unchurches every Pædobaptist community; that it rests on no general principle; that it attempts to establish an impossible medium; that it inflicts a punishment which is capricious and unjust; and finally, that by fomenting prejudice, and precluding the most effectual means of conviction, it defeats its own purpose.
Should the reasoning under any one of these heads be found to be conclusive, however it may fail in others, it will go far towards establishing our leading position, that no church has a right to establish terms of communion, which are not terms of salvation. With high consideration for the talents of many of my brethren who differ from me, I have yet no apprehension that the sum total of the argument admits a satisfactory reply.
A tender consideration of human imperfection is not merely the dictate of revelation, but the law of nature, exemplified in the most
striking manner, in the conduct of Him whom we all profess to follow. How wide the interval which separated His religious knowledge and attainments from that of His disciples; He, the fountain of illumination, they encompassed with infirmities. But did He recede from them on that account? No; He drew the bond of union closer, imparted successive streams of effulgence, till He incorporated His spirit with theirs, and elevated them into a nearer resemblance of himself. In imitating by our conduct towards our mistaken brethren this great exemplar, we cannot err. By walking together with them as far as we are agreed, our agreement will extend, our differences lessen, and love, which rejoiceth in the truth, will gradually open our hearts to higher and nobler inspirations.
Might we indulge a hope, that not only our denomination, but every other description of Christians, would act upon these principles, we should hail the dawn of a brighter day, and consider it as a nearer approach to the ultimate triumph of the church, than the annals of time have yet recorded. In the accomplishment of our Saviour's prayer, we should behold a demonstration of the divinity of His mission, which the most impious could not resist; we should behold in the church a peaceful haven, inviting us to retire from the tossings and perils of this unquiet ocean, to a sacred inclosure, a sequestered spot, which the storms and tempests of the world were not permitted to invade.
"Intus aquæ dulces, vivoque sedilia saxo ;
The genius of the gospel, let it once for all be remembered, is not ceremonial, but spiritual, consisting not in meats or drinks, or outward observances, but in the cultivation of such interior graces, as compose the essence of virtue, perfect the character, and purify the heart. These form the soul of religion; all the rest are but her terrestrial attire, which she will lay aside when she passes the threshold of eternity. When, therefore, the obligations of humility and love come into competition with a punctual observance of external rites, the genius of religion will easily determine to which we should incline; but when the question is not, whether we shall attend to them ourselves, but whether we shall enforce them on others, the answer is still more ready. All attempts to urge men forward even in the right path, beyond the measure of their light, are impracticable in our situation, if they were lawful; and unlawful, if they were practicable. Augment their light, conciliate their affections, and they will follow of their own accord.
AN objection to the hypothesis which assigns the origin of Christian baptism to the commission which the Apostles received at our Lord's resurrection, may possibly be urged from the baptisms performed by his disciples during his personal ministry; and as no notice is taken of that circumstance in the body of the work, I beg leave to submit the following observations to the reader. We are informed by one of the evangelists, that Christ, by the instrumentality of his disciples, at one period "made and baptized more disciples than John." (John iv. 1.) The following remarks may possibly cast some light on this subject.
1. A divine commission was given to the son of Zechariah, to announce the speedy manifestation of the Messiah; or which is equivalent, to declare that "the Kingdom of God was at hand;" with an injunction solemnly to immerse in water as many, as, in consequence of that intelligence, professed repentance and reformation of life; and as he was the only person who had been known to initiate his disciples by that rite, it was natural for him to be distinguished by the appellation of the Baptist, or the Immerser. The Scriptures are totally silent respecting any commission to baptize apart from his. It is by no means certain, however, that he was the only person who performed that ceremony; indeed, when we consider the prodigious multitudes who flocked to him, the "inhabitants of Jerusalem, Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan," it seems scarcely practicable; he most probably employed coadjutors, though the practice having originated with him, it was foreign to the purpose of the evangelists to notice that circumstance.
2. Our Lord, who had already evinced the profoundest respect to his mission, by receiving baptism at his hands, was, in consequence of his being the Messiah, undoubtedly authorized personally to perform any religious rite or office which was at that time in force, as well as to delegate to others the power of performing it; and as immersion in token of repentance and preparation for the Kingdom of God, then at hand, was an important branch of the religion then obligatory, it was with the greatest propriety that he not only submitted to it himself, but authorized his disciples to perform it. This, however, is by no means sufficient to constitute a distinct rite or ordinance; and since it was not accompanied with
a distinct confession of faith, nor possessed any distinct signification, it could not be considered as originating a new institution, but as a mere co-operation with his forerunner in one and the same work.
3. We have already shewn at large, that the principal difference betwixt John's baptism, and that which the Apostles were commissioned to perform after our Saviour's ascension, consisted in the former not being celebrated in the name of Jesus. But there is just as much difficulty in supposing it performed by his disciples in that name, during his abode on earth, as by his forerunner. It would have equally defeated the purpose of that caution which he uniformly maintained; and it is absurd to suppose, that he would strictly charge his disciples to tell no man that he was the Christ, while he authorized them to disclose that very secret to the mixed multitude, as often as they baptized; nor could the use of his name, in that ordinance, be separated from such a disclosure.
4. In addition to this, it must be remembered, that John, and our Lord (by the hands of his disciples) both baptized at the same period; their ministry was contemporary. Now if we assert, that our Lord enjoined one confession of faith in baptism, and John another, we shall have different dispensations of religion subsisting at the same time, and must suppose the people were under an obligation to believe one thing, as the disciples of John, and another, as the disciples of Christ. But this it is impossible to admit. There is unquestionably at all seasons, a perfect harmony in the economies of religion, so that two different ones are never in force at one and the same time. The first ceases when the next succeeds, just as Judaism was abolished by Christianity, and the Patriarchal dispensation superseded by Judaism. Unless we are prepared to assert, that the dispensations of religion are not obligatory, one light in which they must be considered, is that of different laws, or codes of law; but it is essential to the nature of laws, that the new one, except it be merely declaratory, invariably repeals the old. In whatever particular it differs, it necessarily abolishes or annuls the former. But as John continued to baptize by divine authority, at the same time with the disciples of our Saviour, it is evident, his institution was not superseded. Consequently, it was of such a nature, that it could subsist in conjunction with the baptisms performed by our Lord, through the hands of his Apostles. But for the reason already alleged, this could not have been the case, unless it had been one and the same thing. The inference I wish to deduce from the whole, is, that the baptisms celebrated by Christ's disciples during his personal ministry, in no respect differed from John's either in the action itself, or in the import, but were merely a joint execution of the same work; agreeably to