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depreciating the spiritual and internal; the system of my opponent does both.
Thus I have endeavored to examine with the utmost care and impartiality, whatever our author has advanced, in order to prove the necessary connexion betwixt the two positive ordinances under consideration. My apology for extending the discussion to a length tedious, it is feared, to the reader, is that this is the point on which the whole controversy hinges. As far as its real merits are concerned, I might therefore be excused from pursuing the subject farther. If the arguments of Mr. Kinghorn, on this head, are satisfactorily refuted, and the contradictions and absurdities into which he has fallen, laid open to the reader, he is already sufficiently answered. That he has taken different ground from his venerable predecessor, will not be disputed. He has argued from premises, and adopted principles, to which that excellent person made no approach. Mr. Booth, whatever was his success, remained on terra firma; our author has attempted a fight beyond “the diurnal orb," but approaching too near the sun, his pinions are melted; and his fall will be conspicuous, in exact proportion to the elevation to which he has aspired. He was determined to give the controversy a new and imposing aspect; and conscious that the practice which he undertook to defend, had been hitherto rested on no very distinct basis, he determined to dig deep for a foundation, and in so doing, has disturbed the most received opinions, and endangered the most momentous truths. Were I permitted to prognosticate his fate, I should say that his paradoxical mode of defence, whatever applause it may meet with at present, will, in the end, be of infinite injury to the cause; and his treatise, like the little book in the Apocalypse, be “ sweet in the mouth, and bitter in the belly."
But though what has already been advanced, may be considered as comprehending all that is essential in the controversy ; as he has thought fit to introduce other topics, the reader is requested to exercise his patience, while we reply to his most important observations, on each of these : after which we shall endeavor to show the futility of the answer he has attempted, to the principal arguments adduced in favor of our practice.
THE COLLATERAL TOPICS INTRODUCED BY MR. KINGHORN,
The charge of dispensing with a Christian ordinance, considered.
AMONG the various objections to the system we wish to see universally adopted in our churches, there is none more frequently insisted upon, than that of its implying a right to dispense with a command of Christ.* Though the treatise on terms of communion, contains a clear answer to this accusation, yet as it is again brought forward by our author, with unabated confidence, a füller reply may be deemed requisite.
This writer supposes that the expression “dispensing power” so often used in this controversy, was first suggested by the conduct of Charles the Second, in granting indulgence to the dissenters beyond the allowance of law, a measure which was afterwards adopted for similar purposes, by James his successor. It is surprising a person of Mr. Kinghorn's acknowledged learning, should fall into such an error ; that he should not know that the doctrine of dispensation, was familiar to preceding ages, and was the subject of much subtle disquisition, and of many refined distinctions among legal writers. It is impossible but that he must have read in ecclesiastical history, of the power of dispensation assumed by the Pope, which formed a principle branch of the papal revenue, and the exertion of which, was regulated by the dictates of the most artful policy. He cannot surely have forgotten, that the refusal to exercise this prerogative, when it was demanded in order to gratify the capricious passions of Henry the Eighth, was the immediate occasion of the reformation in England.
* Here the following question deserves our serious regard, first, ‘Hare we any right to dispense with a clear command of Christ ?'—Baptism a Term of Communion, p. 90.
The power of dispensation, is the power of setting aside the law in a particular instance. It may be exerted by the legislature, or by the executive branch of government, under certain regulations, and to a certain extent, previously settled, and provided for, by the original constitution of the state. As the operation of law is general, and the actions to which it applies are susceptible of endless modifications and varieties, some such power may be occasionally requisite to adapt it more perfectly to unexpected emergencies, and by a deviation from the letter, to secure its spirit and design. There is one circumstance, however, which is invariably attached to the exercise of this prerogative, which shows the impropriety of making it the ground of accusation, in the present controversy. It always implies a known, and conscious departure from the law. He who claims a dispensing power, asserts his right to deviate from the letter of legal enactments; but whoever merely misinterprets their meaning, and on that account applies them to a case which they were not designed to comprehend, or neglects to carry them into execution within their proper sphere ; (as his conduct is consistent with the utmost reverence for the law,) is at a great remove from exerting a dispensing power. He betrays his ignorance, but usurps nothing.
When the Pope granted a dispensation, enabling certain persons to marry, within the prohibited degrees, he sanctioned an acknowledged violation of the ecclesiastical canons; just as Charles the First, and James the Second, in their respective proclamations of indulgence to tender consciences, proceeded in direct opposition to existing statutes. But we are conscious of no such procedure; if we err, we err from ignorance. We contend that the law is in our favor ; and challenge our opponents to prove the contrary; we ask what prohibition we violate by the practice of admitting good men to communion, though they are not supposed to be baptized? This writer acknowledges there is none, but attempts to supply the defect by general reasoning, which appears to us inconclusive. Such is precisely the state of the dispute; not whether we have a right to depart from the law, but whether there be any law, to which our practice is opposed. We acknowledge the immersion of believers in the name of Christ, is a duty of perpetual obligation ; we are convinced of the same respecting the commemoration of our Saviour's passion. Both these duties we accordingly urge on the followers of Christ, by such arguments as the Scriptures supply; but when we are not so happy as to produce conviction, we admit then without scruple to the fellowship of the church, not because we conceive ourselves to possess a dispensing power, a pretension most foreign from our thoughts, but because we sincerely believe them entitled to it, by the tenor of the Christian covenant, and that we should be guilty of highly offending Christ by their refusal. The law which we are supposed to violate in this instance, we affirm is a mere human invention, a mere fiction of the brain, entirely unsupported by the word of God, which distinctly lays down two positive institutes, baptism and the Lord's supper, but suggests nothing from which we can conclude that they rest upon each other, rather than that the obligation of both, is founded on the express injunction of the legislator. It is our opponents, we assert, who in the total silence of Scripture have presumed to promulgate a law, to which they claim the submission, due only to the voice of God. Hence the charge of usurping a dispensing power is most preposterous, since it is incapable of being sustained for a moment, until it is demonstrated that the law is in their favor ; and when this is accomplished, we pledge ourselves to relinquish our practice immediately ; but till it is, to assume it as a medium of proof, is a palpable petitio principii, it is begging the question in debate.
We repeat again, what was observed in the former treatise, that this charge owes its plausibility entirely to the equivocal use of
As we do not insist upon baptism as a term of communion, we may be said quoad hoc, or so far, to dispense with it; just as our opponents may be said to dispense with that particular opinion, the doctrine of election for example, which, while they firmly adhere to it themselves, they refrain from attempting to force on the consciences of others; on which occasion a rigid Calvinist might with the same propriety exclaim that they are guilty of dispensing with the truth of God.
So remote is our practice from implying the claim of superiority to law, that it is in our view the necessary result of obedience to that comprehensive precept—"Receive ye one another, even as Christ has received you to the glory of the Father.” If the practice of toleration is admitted at all, it must have for its object some supposed deviation from truth, or failure of duty; and as there is no transgression where there is no law, and every such deviation must be opposed to a rule of action, if the forbearance exercised towards it, is assuming a dispensing power, the accusation equally lies against all parties, except such as insist upon an absolute uniformity. In every instance, he who declines insisting on an absolute rectitude of opinion or practice, as the term of union, is liable to the same charge as is adduced against the indulgence for which we are pleading. If the precise view which each individual entertains of the rule of faith and practice, is to be en
forced on every member as the condition of fellowship, the duty of " forbearing with each other” is annihilated; but if something short of this is insisted on, what is wanting to come up to the perfection of the rule, is in the sense of our opponents, dispensed with. Behold then the dispensing power rises in all its terrors; nor will it be possible to form a conception of an act of toleration where it is not included. Such is the inevitable consequence, if the charge is attached simply to our not insisting upon what we esteem a revealed duty ; but if it is sustained on the ground of the necessary dependance of one Christian rite upon another, it is plainly preposterous, since this is the very position we deny ; it forms the very gist of the dispute ; the proof which will at once consign it to oblivion. The objection, in this form, is nothing more than an enunciation, in other terms, of our actual practice.
In every controversy, the medium by which a disputed point is attempted to be disproved, should contain something distinct from the position itself, or no progress is made. There may be a shew of reasoning, but nothing more. It is also necessary, that the medium of proof, or confutation, should contain some proposition, about which both parties are agreed. But what is the case here? Our opponents object that we exercise a dispensing power. How does this appear? Because while we acknowledge baptism to be a duty, we do not invariably demand it as a preliminary to church fellowship. Now let me ask, is this statement any thing more than a mere definition, or description of the practice, which is the subject of debate; so that if an inquiry were made, what we mean by open communion, in what other terms, could the answer be couched? The intelligent reader will instantly perceive, that the medium of proof involves, neither more or less, than the proposition to be refuted. Perhaps they will reply, no ; you are guilty of dispensing with the law, not merely because baptism is a duty, but because the Head of the Church has made it an indispensable prerequisite to Christian fellowship. Here the medium is indeed sufficiently distinct from the proposition which it is intended to confute, but it is so far from being agreed upon between the parties, that it forms the very subject of debate. In other words, they take for granted the very position on which the controversy turns, and then convert their arbitrary assumption, into an argument. Thus in whatever light it is viewed, the odious imputation with which they attempt to load us, falls to the ground; and merely shews with what facility they can dispense with the rules of logic.
Near akin to this, is the charge of " sanctioning" a corruption of a Christian ordinance. But how the mere act of communion with a Christian brother, whose practice we judge to be erroneous