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THE FUNDAMENTAL POSITION ; OR, THE SUPPOSED NECESSARY
CONNEXION BETWEEN THE TWO POSITIVE INSTITUTES OF CHRISTIANITY EXAMINED.
Remarks on Mr. Kinghorn's statement of the Controversy.
Perfectly concurring in opinion with Mr. Kinghorn, that it is of importance that the point in debate be fairly stated, a few remarks designed to show in what respects his statement is inaccurate, or defective, will not be deemed irrelevant. He justly observes that the question, and the only question, is whether those who are acknowledged to be unbaptized ought to come to the Lord's table. After stating the sentiments of the Pædobaptists, he proceeds to observe that the “ Baptists act on a different plan ; they think that baptism ought to be administered to those only who profess repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; and that it should be administered to them on such profession by immersion. And then, and not before, they consider such persons properly qualified, according to the New Testament, for the reception of the Lord's supper." The last position Mr. Kinghorn is aware is not maintained by the Baptists as such, but by part of them only; it may be doubted whether it be the sentiment of the majority. Why then identify the advocates of strict communion with the body, as though the abettors of a contrary practice were too inconsiderable to be mentioned, or were not entitled to be considered as Baptists?
It is but just however to remark, that this disposition to enlarge the number of his partizans, is not peculiar to this writer. Mr. Booth, when engaged in defending a thesis, about which the Baptists had long been divided, chose, in the same spirit, to denominate his performance “ An Apology for the Baptists.'
Our Author proceeds to observe, “Here arises a controversy between the two parties, not only respecting baptism, but also respecting their conduct to each other on the subject of communion.” Where, let me ask, are the traces to be found of this imaginary controversy betwixt Baptists and Pædobaptists on that subject? That they have been often engaged in acrimonious disputes with each other on the point of baptism, is certain; but of the history of this strange debate about terms of communion, the public are totally ignorant. What are the names of the parties engaged, • and to what publications did it give birth? This author had informed us at the distance of a few lines, that the Pædobaptists in general believe that none ought to come to the Lord's table who are not baptized. If this is correct, we may indeed easily conceive of their being offended with us for deeming them unbaptized; but how our refusal to admit them to communion should become the subject of debate, is utterly mysterious. Did they, in contradiction to the fundamental laws of reasoning, attempt to persuade us to act in contradiction to the principles agreed upon by both parties? The supposition is impossible. The truth is-nor could the writer be ignorant of it—that the dispute respecting communion existed in our own denomination, and in that only.
An attempt is made to represent the advocates of mixed communion as divided among themselves, and as resting the vindication of their conduct on opposite grounds. In stating their views, Mr. Kinghorn observes, " that as their Pædobaptist brethren think themselves baptized, they are willing to admit them on that ground, since they do not object to baptism itself, but only differ from others in the circunstances of the ordinance."
“Some,” he adıls, “ lay down a still wider principle, that baptism has no connexion withi church communion; and that in forming a Christian church, the question ought not to be, are these Christians who wish to unite in church-fellowship baptized, whatever that term is considered as meaning—but are they, as far as we can judge, real Christians." (" Baptisin a Term of Communion," p. 11, 12.)
Of this diversity in the mode of defending our practice, the writer of these pages confesses himself totally ignorant; and whatever prejudices our cause may sustain, it has not yet been injured by that which results from intestine dissension. Different modes of expression may have been adopted by different writers, but a perfect accordance of principle, a coincidence in the reasons alleged for our practice, has pervaded our apologies. We have not, like our opponents, professed to take new ground ;* we have not constructed defences so totally dissimilar as the publications of a Booth and a Kinghorn, where the argument which is placed in the very front by the former, is by the latter abandoned as untenable. It is easy to perceive that the alleged disagreement in our principles is a mere phantom. While we universally maintain the nullity of infant baptism, the persuasion which our Pædobaptist brethren entertain of their being baptized, can never be mistaken for baptism, and they, consequently, cannot be received in the character of baptized persons. Our constant practice of administering immersion to such, on a change of sentiment, would on that supposition convict us at once of being Anabaptists. It is not then under any idea that they have really partaken of that ordinance, more than the people called Quakers, that we admit them to our communion; but in the character of sincere though mistaken Christians, who have evinced even with respect to the particular in which we deem them erroneous, no disposition to treat a Christian rite with levity or neglect; and if there are those who would refuse to commune with such as reject the ordinance altogether, it is because they suspect them of such a disposition. As there can be no degrees in nothing, they are not so weak as to suppose that one class is in reality more baptized than the other ; but one is supposed to mistake the nature of an institute, which the other avowedly neglects. In this case, he who is prepared to believe that the omission of Christian baptism, from a notion of its not being designed for perpetuity, may consist with that deference to divine authority which is essential to a Christian, will receive both without hesitation; he who is incapable of extending his candor so far, will make a distinction ; he will admit the Pædobaptist, while he rejects the person who purposely omits the ceremony altogether. Whichever measure we adopt, we act on the same principle, and merely apply it with more or less extent, according to the comprehension of our charity. If we supposed there were a necessary, unalterable connexion between the two positive Christian institutes, so that none were qualified for communion who had not been previously baptized, we could not hesitate for a moment respecting the refusal of Pædobaptists, without renouncing the principles of our denomination. On the other hand, if among such as are supposed to be equally unbaptized, we admit some and reject others, this difference must be derived, not from the consideration of baptism, but of personal character ; in other words, from our supposing ourselves to possess that evidence of the piety of the party accepted, which is deficient in the other. Hence it is manifest, that nothing can be more simple and intelligible than the principles on which we proceed, which are of such a nature as to preclude every other diversity of opinion, except what regards their application in particular instances.
* Who would expect to find that a book entitled “ An Apology for the Baptists,” chiefly consists of a severe reprehension of the principles and practices of a respectable part of that body?
*"The reader who is acquainted with the 'Apology for the Baptists,' written by the late venerable Abraham Booth, will find that in the following pages I have taken ground somewhat different from his. I have adopted rather a different mode of defence."-Baptism a Term of Communion, p. 8.
He who mistakes the nature of a positive institute, is in a different predicament of error from him who avowedly rejects it altogether ; the imperfection which claims toleration in our Pædobaptist brethren, is different in its nature from that which attaches to such as are disposed to set the ordinance aside. It is very possible therefore, that some may be willing to extend their indulgence to what appears to them the least of two errors, while they refuse toleration to the greater, and on this ground admit a Pædobaptist
, while they scruple to receive him who does not even profess to be baptized. But in making such a distinction, no intelligent Baptist would be moved by the consideration of one of these parties being baptized, and the other not, (for this would be admitting the validity of infant baptism,) but solely by the different estimate he made of the magnitude of the respective errors. Some would probably consider each of them consistent with a credible profession of Christianity; others might form a less favorable judgement. In this case the parties would act differently, while they maintained the same principle, and adjusted their practice by the same rule.* It is somewhat extraordinary, that, after stating the principle on which my Treatise on Communion was founded, Mr. Kinghorn makes his first appeal to the Pædobaptists, and asks whether they are prepared to acknowledge that baptism and the Lord's supper have no connexion. To what purpose is a question referred to a class of persons, who as far as concerns the interior regulation of their churches, have no interest in the inquiry ; on whose practice it can have no influence, and who are supposed by both the parties concerned, to be in an error respecting the institution itself, which has given occasion to the discussion. The confidence with which he anticipates their favorable suffrage, appears however to be ill founded ; and if the Evangelical Magazine for 1803 is supposed to have insinuated sentiments congenial with his own, the author of the review of the present controversy in the same publication, distinctly and explicitly expressed his approbation of the treatise “ On Terms of Communion.” I have no doubt the result of an accurate and extensive inquiry into the prevailing sentiments of such as adhere to infant baptism would be found opposed to his doctrine; and that such of them as might object to the admission of a member avowedly unbaptized, would be actuated by the consideration of the magnitude of the error, and not by the conviction of a specific and essential connexion betwixt the two ordinances in question. In other words, they would decide on the case upon principles common to the advocates of mixed communion.
* The above remarks may enable the reader to judge of the justice with which Mr. Kinghorn asserts or insinuates our total disagreement respecting the fundamental principle on which we justify our practice. "Among the Baptists," he says, " who plead for mixed communion, I apprehend few will be found who would fairly take Mr. Hall's principle in all its consequences. In general they palliate, and plead that many good men think themselves baptized, and they are willing to accept them on that footing, leaving it to their own consciences to decide whether they had received such baptism as the word of God required; and they will hardly admit the possibility of any case occurring which should require their acting on a wider principle. And bere also, as far as my knowledge and observation have extended, I believe the cases are very few in which the position would be fairly and boldly adopted, that Christian communion ought to be held with those who deny altogether the obligation to attend to Christian baptism.”—p. 15. My opportunities of knowing the sentiments of the liberal part of the Baptists must be supposed to be at least equal to Mr. Kinghorn's; yet I have not heard a single objection from them against the general principle. Exceptions have been made (as might be expected) to particular parts, but none whatever to the fundamental position of the treatise. The reason he assigns for supposing that many would not adopt the general principle in its full extent, is inconclusive. To refuse the communion of such as denied the obligation of baptism altogether, provid. ing that error was deemed of such magnitude as to induce a suspicion of the piety of the party, would not be to contradict the principle in the smallest degree; and I am persuaded that amongst the advocates of mixed communion the refusal would proceed on no other ground. It is one thing to reject a general principle, and another to differ about the application of it to particular cases.
His pretence for calling in such a host of disputants is that he may “clear the field,” which in my hurnble opinion will be best accomplished by confining the debate within its proper limits; regarding it agreeably to its true nature, as a controversy which concerns our own denomination alone, without attempting to extort a verdict from persons who have not been placed in a situation to invite their attention to the subject. Fortunately for them, they are under no temptation to treat their fellow-Christians with indignity; whether they would have maintained the stern inflexibility which is prepared to sacrifice the communion of saints, to an unfounded hypothesis, must be left to conjecture. We indulge a hope that they would have hesitated long ere they admitted a doctrine which draws after it such consequences, that they would have judged of the tree by its fruits, and have discovered some better mode of signalizing their allegiance to Christ, than by the excision of his members. The tenet to which we are opposed, produces an effect so contrary to what the genius of the gospel teaches us to anticipate, and so repugnant to the noblest feelings of the heart, as to form a presumption against it which nothing can surmount, but the utmost force and splendor of evidence. How far it is from possessing such support, or even that preponderation in the scale of ar