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where the opposite system is incapable of being introduced with a perfect unanimity; in consequence of which, it frequently happens that the constitution of the church continues to sanction strict communion, while the sentiments of a vast majority of its members are decidedly in favor of a contrary system; and in opposition to the usage which obtains on other occasions, the private sentiments of the few, are made to regulate and control the conduct of the many. Where, it may be asked, is the propriety, where the justice of such a mode of proceeding? Whatever respect may be due to the conscientious though erroneous scruples of an upright mind, it is not easy to perceive why these should be permitted to prescribe to the better judgement of those whom we must necessarily consider as more enlightened.
As the majority, convinced as they are supposed to be, of the right of all genuine Christians to communion, must necessarily regard the dissentients as being in error, it deserves to be considered in what manner error ought to be treated. Ought it to be the object of toleration, or should it be invested with dominion ? Surely all it can reasonably claim, is the former ; but when in deference to it, the far greater part of a society refrain from acting agreeably to their avowed principles, and consent to withhold from another class of their fellow Christians, what they consider as their undoubted right, they cannot be said merely to tolerate the error in question ; no, they in reality place it on the throne--they prostrate themselves before it. Yet, strange as it may appear, such is at present the conduct of Baptist societies. While there remains the smallest scantling of members averse to open communion, the doors, in compliance with their scruples, continue shut, and Pædobaptist candidates, however excellent, or however numerous, are excluded.
Thus the intolerance of one class of Christians is not only indulged, but pampered and caressed, while the religious profession of another is treated as a nullity. The incongruity of this mode of proceeding is also extremely obvious in another view. The admission of members in our societies, it is well known, is determined by a majority of suffrages, where the minority is expected, and that most reasonably, quietly to acquiesce in the decision of the majority. But in the case under present consideration, where strict communion is practised in a church, the majority of whose members are of a contrary persuasion, the eligibility, not of an individual, but of a whole class of individuals, to an indefinite extent, is virtually determined by the judgement of the smaller, in opposition to the larger party.
The injustice of such an arrangement will perhaps be admitted ; but how, it will be asked, can it be remedied? Would it be proper to exclude such as feel it impossible, with a good conscience, to commune with Pædobaptists, in order to make room for the latter ? Nothing is more remote from our intention. Without inflicting the slightest wound on those amiable and exemplary persons who scruple the lawfulness of that measure, the remedy appears equally simple and obvious.
Whenever there is a decided majority in a church, whose views are in unison with those which we are attempting to recommend, let them throw down the barriers, and admit pious Pædobaptists without hesitation ; and let those whose principles deter them from joining in such a communion, receive the Lord's Supper apart, retaining at the same time, all their rights and privileges unimpaired. By this simple expedient, the views of all the parties will be met; the majority will exert their prerogative, and act consistently with their avowed principles; the Pædobaptists will obtain their rights ; and the abettors of ict communion will enjoy that state of separation and seclusion which they covet. By this means a silent revolution may be effected in our churches, unstained by a particle of violence, or of injustice. But while the present plan is pursued, while we are waiting for the last sands of intolerance to run out, the domination of error and injustice may be prolonged to an interminable period, since of all creatures, bigotry is the most tenacious of life.
Sudden and violent reformations are not only seldom lasting, but the mischief which results, and the disgust they excite, often produce a reaction, which confirms and perpetuates the evil they attempt to eradicate. For this reason, great prudence and moderation are requisite in every effort to meliorate the state of public bodies. He who aspires to remove their prejudices, must treat them with tenderness and respect, urging them to no step, for which they are not fully prepared, by a mature and widely extended conviction of its propriety; for no innovations, however desirable in themselves, will be permanently beneficial, the stability and perpetuity of which is not guaranteed by the previous illumination of those by whom they are adopted.
Having devoted more time and attention to the present controversy already than many are disposed to think it entitled to, it is by no means my intention to renew it, conceiving it a contemptible ambition to determine to have the last word, which is nothing less than to aspire at a pre-eminence in pertinacity. Resting with perfect confidence on the truth, and consequently on the ultimate triumph of the principles which I have attempted to defend, the detection of incidental mistakes, and the exposure of minor errors, will not disturb my repose, however justly they may awaken a feeling of regret, that the powers of the advocate were not more commensurate with the merits of the cause.
If the author has been, on any occasion, betrayed in the ardor of debate, into language which the reader may deem disrespectful to his opponent, it will give him real concern. He knows none whose character entitles him to higher esteem ; nor is he insensible to the value of those expressions of personal regard with which Mr. Kinghorn has honored him, nor of that general mildness and urbanity, which is at once the character of his mind, and of his performance. Aware of the tendency of controversy to alienate the parties from each other who engage in it, it is matter of regret on that account, and on that only, that it was my lot to meet with an antagonist in Mr. Kinghorn. In every other respect, it is a fortunate circumstance for the cause of truth; for while his temper affords a security from that virulence, and those personalities, which are the opprobrium of theological debate, his talents ensure his doing justice to his cause, perhaps beyond any other person of the same persuasion. A very different performance in many respects was anticipated, it is true; nor could the extraordinary assertions, not to say adventurous paradoxes he has hazarded, fail to excite surprise ; although his character exempts him from the suspicion of that arrogance ceit in which they usually originate. They are rather to be ascribed to a dissatisfaction (which he dares not pretend to conceal) with former apologists; and a determination, if possible, to compass the same object by a different route. The intelligent reader will probably be of opinion, that he has attempted to give an air of originality to what was not susceptible of it; and that aiming to enrich and sup port a most meagre and barren thesis, by new arguments, he is re duced to the same necessity as the Israelites, of “making bricks without straw."
Having already made the porch too large for the building, one additional remark only is submitted to the attention of the reader,
previous to his entrance on the following discussion. The little suiccess which has attended our exhibition of the doctrine of baptism, continued now for many generations, deserves the serious consideration of every intelligent Baptist. With all our efforts, with all the advantage of overwhelming evidence (as appears to me) in favor of our sentiments, the prospect of their reception, (to say nothing of established churches, where there are peculiar impediments to be encountered), the prospect of their reception by dissenting communities, is as distant as ever ; and it may be doubted whether, since the recent revival of religion, our progress is in a fair proportion to that of other denominations. It may be possible to assign the second causes of this remarkable event; but as second causes are always subservient to the intentions of the first, it deserves our serious consideration, whether we are not laboring under the sensible frown of the great Head of the Church; and “is there not a cause?” A visible inferiority to other Christians in zeal and piety will scarcely be imputed ; nor have we been left destitute of that competent measure of learning and talent, requisite to the support of our doctrines. The cause of our failure then is not to be looked for in that quarter. But though we have not“ drank with the drunken," if we have unwittingly “beaten our fellow servants," by assuming a dominion over their conscience; if we have severed ourselves from the members of Christ, and under pretence of preserving the purity of Christian ordinances, violated the Christian spirit; if we have betrayed a lamentable want of that “ love which is the fulfilling of the law," by denying a place in our churches to those who belong to the "church of the first-born,” and straitening their avenue, till it has become narrower than the way to heaven ; we may easily account for all that has followed, and have more occasion to be surprised at the compassionate Redeemer's bearing with our infirmities, than at his not bestowing a signal blessing on our labors.