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Hence arises a question, how far we are justified in repelling from our communion those, from whom we differ on matters confessedly not essential to salvation, when that communion is accompanied with no innovation in the rites of worship, merely on account of diversity of sentiment on other subjects. In other words, are we at liberty, or are we not, to walk with our Christian brethren as far as we are agreed, or must we renounce their fellowship on account of error allowed not to be fundamental, although nothing is proposed to be done, or omitted, in such acts of communion, which would not equally be done, or omitted, on the supposition of their absence? Such is the precise state of the question which it is my intention to discuss in these pages; and it may possibly contribute to its elucidation to observe, that the true idea of Christian communion is by no means confined to a joint participation of the Lord's supper. He who in the words of the Apostle's creed expresses his belief in the communion of saints, adverts to much more than is comprehended in one particular act. In an intelligent assent to that article, is comprehended the total of that sympathy and affection, with all its natural expressions and effects, by which the followers of Christ are united, in consequence of their union with their head, and their joint share in the common salvation. The kiss of charity in the apostolic age, the right hand of fellowship, a share in the oblations of the church, a commendatory epistle attesting the exemplary character of the bearer, uniting in social prayer, the employment of the term brother or sister to denote spiritual consanguinity, were all considered in the purest ages as tokens of communion; a term which is never applied in the New Testament exclusively to the Lord's supper. When it is used in connexion with that rite, it is employed, not to denote the fellowship of Christians, but the spiritual participation of the body and blood of Christ. (1 Cor. x. 16.)
When we engage a Christian brother to present supplications to God in our behalf, it cannot be doubted that we have fellowship with him, not less real or spiritual than at the Lord's table. From these considerations it is natural to infer, that no scruple ought to be entertained respecting the lawfulness of uniting to commemorate our Saviour's death, with those with whom we feel ourselves at liberty to join in every other branch of religious worship. Where no attempt is made to obscure its import, or impair its simplicity, by the introduction of human ceremonies, but it is proposed to be celebrated in the manner which we apprehend to be perfectly consonant to the mind of Christ, it would seem less reasonable to refuse to co-operate in this branch of religion than in any other, because it is appointed to be a memorial of the greatest instance of love that was ever exhibited, as well as the principal pledge of
Christian fraternity. It must appear surprising, that the rite which of all others is most adapted to cement mutual attachment, and which is in a great measure appointed for that purpose, should be fixed upon as the line of demarcation, the impassable barrier, to separate and disjoin the followers of Christ. He who admits his fellow Christian to share in every other spiritual privilege, while he prohibits his approach to the Lord's table, entertains a view of that institution, diametrically opposite to what has usually prevailed; he must consider it not so much in the light of a commemoration of his Saviour's death and passion, as a religious test, designed to ascertain and establish an agreement in points not fundamental. According to this notion of it, it is no longer a symbol of our common Christianity, it is the badge and criterion of a party, a mark of discrimination applied to distinguish the nicer shades of difference among Christians. How far either Scripture or reason can be adduced in support of such a view of the subject, it will be the business of the following pages to inquire.
In the mean while, it will be necessary, in order to render the argument perfectly intelligible, to premise a few words, respecting the particular controversy on which the ensuing observations are meant especially to bear. Few of my readers probably require to be informed, that there is a class of Christians pretty widely diffused through these realms, who deny the validity of infant-baptisin, considering it as a human invention, not countenanced by the Scriptures, nor by the practice of the first and purest ages. Besides their denial of the right of infants to baptism, they also contend for the exclusive validity of immersion in that ordinance, in distinction from the sprinkling or pouring of water. In support of the former, they allege the total silence of Scripture respecting the baptism of infants, together with their incompetence to comprehend the truths, or sustain the engagements, which they conceive it designed to exhibit. For the latter, they urge the well-known import of the original word employed to express the baptismal rite, which they allege cannot, without the most unnatural violence, be understood to command any thing less than an immersion of the whole body. The class of Christians whose sentiments I am relating, are usually known by the appellation of Baptists; in contradistinction from whom, all other Christians may properly be denominated Pædobaptists. It is not my intention to enter into a defence of their peculiar tenets, though they have my unqualified approbation; but merely to state them for the information of my readers. It must be obvious that in the judgement of the Baptists, such as have only received the baptismal rite in their infancy must be deemed in reality unbaptized; for this is only a different mode of expressing their conviction of the invalidity of infant-sprinkling.
On this ground they have for the most part confined their communion to persons of their own persuasion, in which, illiberal as it may appear, they are supported by the general practice of the Christian world, which, whatever diversities of opinion may have prevailed, have generally concurred in insisting upon baptism as an indispensable prerequisite to the Lord's table. The effect which has resulted in this particular case has indeed been singular, but it has arisen from a rigid adherence to a principle almost universally adopted, that baptism is, under all circumstances, a necessary prerequisite to the Lord's supper. The practice we are now specifying has usually been termed strict communion, while the opposite practice of admitting sincere Christians to the eucharist, though in our judgement not baptized, is styled free communion. Strict communion is the general practice of our churches, though the abettors of the opposite opinion are rapidly increasing both in numbers and in respectability. The humble hope of casting some additional light on a subject which appears to me of no trivial importance, is my only motive for composing this treatise, in which it will be necessary to attempt the establishment of principles sufficiently comprehensive to decide other questions in ecclesiastical polity, besides those which concern the present controversy. I am greatly mistaken if it be possible to bring it to a satisfactory issue, without adverting to topics in which the Christian world are not less interested than the Baptists. If the conclusions we shall endeavour to establish, appear on impartial inquiry to be well founded, it will follow that serious errors respecting terms of communion have prevailed to a wide extent in the Christian church. It will be my anxious endeavour, in the progress of this discussion, to avoid whatever is calculated to irritate; and instead of acting the part of a pleader, to advance no argument which has not been well weighed, and of whose validity I am not perfectly convinced. The inquiry will be pursued under two parts; in the first, I shall consider the arguments in favor of strict communion; in the second, state with all possible brevity the evidence by which we attempt to sustain the opposite practice.
ARGUMENTS FOR STRICT COMMUNION CONsidered.
IN reviewing the arguments which are usually urged for the practice of strict communion, or the exclusion of unbaptized persons from the Lord's table, I shall chiefly confine myself to the examination of such as are adduced by the venerable Mr. Booth, in his treatise styled "An Apology for the Baptists," because he is not only held in the highest esteem by the whole denomination, but is allowed by his partizans to have exhibited the full force of their cause. He writes on the subject under discussion, with all his constitutional ardor and confidence, which, supported by the spotless integrity and elevated sanctity of the man, have contributed, more perhaps than any other cause, to fortify the Baptists in their prevailing practice. I trust the free strictures which it will be necessary to make on this performance, will not be deemed inconsistent with a sincere veneration for his character, which I should be sorry to see treated with the unsparing ridicule and banter, with which he has assailed Mr. Bunyan, a name equally dear to genius and to piety. The reader will not expect me to follow him in his declamatory excursions, or in those miscellaneous quotations, often irrelevant, which the extent of his reading has supplied: it will suffice if I carefully examine his arguments, without omitting a single consideration on which he could be supposed to lay a stress.
The argument from the order of time in which Baptism and the Lord's supper are supposed to have been instituted.
One of the principal pleas in favor of strict communion is derived from the supposed priority of the institution of baptism to the Lord's supper. "That baptism was an ordinance of God," say our opponents, "that submission to it was required, that it was administered to multitudes before the sacred supper was heard of, are undeniable facts. There never was a time since the minis
try of our Lord's 's successors, in which it was not the duty of repenting and believing sinners to be baptized. The venerable John, the twelve Apostles, and the Son of God incarnate, all united in commanding baptism, at a time when it would have been impious to have eaten bread, and drank wine, as an ordinance of
divine worship. Baptism, therefore, had the priority in point of institution, which is a presumptive evidence that it has, and ever will have, a prior claim to our obedience. So under the ancient economy, sacrifices and circumcision were appointed and practised in the patriarchal ages: in the time of Moses, the paschal feast, and burning incense in the holy place, were appointed by the God of Israel. But the two former being prior in point of institution, always had the priority in point of administration." (Booth's Apol. p. 41.)
As this is a leading argument, and will go far towards determining the point at issue, the reader will excuse the examination of it being extended to some length. It proceeds obviously entirely on a matter of fact, which it assumes as undeniable, the priority in point of time of the institution of Christian baptism, to that of the Lord's supper; and this again rests on another assumption, which is the identity of John's baptism with that of our Lord. If it should clearly appear that these were two distinct institutes, the argument will be reversed, and it will be evident that the eucharist was appointed and celebrated before Christian baptism existed. Let me request the reader not to be startled at the paradoxical air of this assertion, but to lend an impartial attention to the following reasons.
1. The commission to baptize all nations, which was executed by the Apostles after our Saviour's resurrection, originated in his express command; John's baptism, it is evident, had no such origin. John had baptized for some time before he knew him: it is certain then, that he did not receive his commission from him. "And I knew him not," saith he, "but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water." If the manifesting Christ to Israel was the end and design of John's mission, he must have been in a previons state of obscurity; not in a situation to act the part of a legislator by enacting laws or establishing rites. John uniformly ascribes his commission, not to Christ, but the Father, so that to assert his baptism to be a Christian institute, is not to interpret, but to contradict him. "And I knew him not," is his language, "but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God." It was not till he had accredited his mission, by many miracles, and other demonstrations of a preternatural power and wisdom, that our Lord proceeded to modify religion by new institutions, of which the eucharist is the first example. But a Christian ordinance not founded on the authority of Christ, not the effect, but the means of his manifestation, and