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“ must be referred to its origin. So many and so great churches as now subsist, are that one church, founded by the Apostles, from which they all derive. Thus all are first, and apostolical, while they retain the relation of peace, the appellation of fraternity, and the symbol of hospitality ; which rights are regulated by no other principle, than the tradition of the same creed.” (Tertullian De Præscriptione Hereticorum, p. 209.-Lutetia Parisiorum, 1675.) Cyprian, comparing the church to the sun, affirms, that while she extends her rays through the whole world, it is yet one light, which is every where diffused; nor is the unity of the body separated : her exuberant fertility stretches her branches to the whole earth, she expands her streams most widely, yet the head and origin is one, and it is one mother that is so prolific. Who, says he, is so wicked and perfidious, who so maddened by the fury of discord, as to suppose it possible to divide, or attempt to divide the unity of God, the vestment of Christ, the church of God? He elsewhere expresses his conviction that he who does not hold the unity of the church, does not hold the faith. (De Unit. Ecc. pp. 110, 111.)
During the first centuries, the unity of the church was not a splendid visionary theory; it was practically exemplified in the habits of reciprocal communion, cultivated and maintained among orthodox societies, through every part of the globe.*
So repugnant, however, is the narrow, exclusive system which we are opposing, to that grand characteristic of the church, that its advocates profess themselves at a loss to comprehend its meaning, except in the arrogant and offensive sense, in which it is sometimes employed to vindicate the pretension of Roman Catholics and High Churchmen. “Is the unity of the church," Mr. Kinghorn asks, “destroyed by nothing but strict communion ?" (Baptism a Term of Communion, p. 101.) And suppose it be, what then? Will it follow that strict communion does not destroy it? Whether it has this effect or not, is the only inquiry; not whether something else may produce the same effect, in an equal degree. He adds, “is there any sense in which the church of God is, or can be considered as one, in this imperfect state, except in that which will include all those good men, who, from conscientious differences cannot unite together on earth ?” For the conduct of those good men who refuse to unite with us, unless we consent to the performance of rites which in our estimation are unscriptural and superstitious, they alone are responsible, but where nothing of this nature is prepared, as is the case in the present instance, to deem them personally disqualified for communion, and on that ground to refuse it, is totally repugnant to every conception of unity.
* See upon this branch of the subject, the admirable work of Dr. Mason, who, by a copious induction of ancient authorities, has indisputably established the fact, that every portion of the orthodox church formed one communion ; and most ably illustrated the mode of proceeding by which their union was maintained. "The depth and accuracy with which he has discussed the subject must be my apology for not entering into it more fully.
In the above passage, the author breaks his mysterious silence, and for the first time acknowledges that all good men are component parts of the church of God, and are consequently members of Christ's mystical body. But he who concedes this, unless he suppose the Scriptures repealed, must confess his obligation to regulate his treatment of those members, by the rules and maxims the New Testament enjoins; which prohibit the least degree of alienation, and assert the equal claim to regard, which each individual, as a part of the body, possesses; insomuch, that no language, except that which the Holy Ghost has employed, is sufficient adequately to represent that oneness of spirit, that perfect cooperation, that conjunction, or identity rather of interests and affections, which ought to penetrate and pervade the whole. All other unions of a moral nature, are, in reality, lax, feeble, and evanescent, compared with that which joins the members of Christ to each other, and to their Head. But will it be asserted that the practice of strict communion corresponds with these ideas? or that the treatment of the persons whom it excludes, is a practical exemplification of the conduct which the Christians at Corinth were commanded reciprocally to maintain ? It will not be pretended; and since these passages, which imperatively enjoin such a behavior on the members of Christ, and expressly and repeatedly assure us that his body is the church, are still in force, the above concession must either be retracted, or a practice so directly subversive of it, be relinquished. If a society, of what description it may be, has by mutual consent selected a ceremony as the symbol of their union, those individuals, who for the express purpose of marking their separation, refuse to perform the ceremony, have most unequivocally renounced that society ; and by parity of reason, since the joint celebration of the Lord's supper is established in the church as the discriminating token by which its members are to recognize each other, to refuse to join in it, is equivalent to an express declaration that the persons from whom we withdraw as personally disqualified, are not considered as parts of the church. It is acknowledged, however, in the foregoing passage, that all good men belong to it. But if so, they are also members of the body of Christ, and consequently entitled to exactly the same treatment as was enjoined on the Corinthians towards each other. But supposing, in consequence of minor differences of opinion, the latter had proceded to an open rupture of communion, and refused to unite in the celebration of the eucharist, will it be asserted that the pathetic and solemn injunctions of their inspired teacher would not have been violated by such a measure? The answer to this question is obvious, and its application to the point under discussion irresistible. The advocates of the exclusive system, on whatever side they turn, are surrounded and pressed with difficulties from which it is utterly impossible for them to escape. To affirm that Pædobaptism is of so malignant a tendency as to sever its patrons from the mystical body of Christ, is at once to impugn their hopes of salvation ; since the supposition of a vital efficacy imparted from Christ as the Head, which fails to constitute the subject of it a member, is equally unintelligible and unscriptural. The language adopted on this subject is confessedly figurative, but not on that account obscure. Its foundation is evidently laid in that derivation of spiritual life to the souls of the faithful, for which they are indebted to their union with the Saviour; for which reason, it would be the height of absurdity to refuse the application of the figure on an occasion which comprehends its whole import and meaning. We may therefore with confidence affirm, that all genuine believers are alike members of Christ's body. But if this be admitted, they are as much entitled to the benefit, not merely of admission into the church, but of all those benevolent sympathies and attentions prescribed in the preceding passages, as though they had been mentioned by name; since the only ground on which they are enforced, is the relation the objects of them are supposed to sustain to that body.
Thus we perceive in the principles and practice of our opponents, another glaring instance of gross violation, as well of the dictates of inspiration, as of the maxims of Christian antiquity ; both which concur in inculcating the doctrine of the absolute unity of the church, of its constituting Christ's mystical body, and of the horrible incongruity, I might almost say impiety, of attempting to establish a system, which represents a great majority of its members as personally disqualified for communion.
Once more, what foundation will they find in ancient precedents, for the peculiar distinction allotted to one particular ceremony, above every other, in consequence of which, they allow the cultivation of the most intimate religious intercourse, of the most perfect intercommunity in every branch of worship, with members of other denominations, providing they do not so far forget themselves, as to lose sight of their disputes at the Lord's table. The Holy Ghost informs us, that the end of Christ's death was to
gather into one the children of God, who were scattered abroad." It seems strange that one of the principal purposes of its celebra
tion, should be to scatter abroad those children of God, who are gathered together every where else. Be this as it may, we challenge these zealous champions of precedent, to produce the faintest vestige of such a practice in the ages of antiquity; or to direct us to a single nation, or sect, or individual, for an example of that capricious and arbitrary distinction attached to the eucharist, by which it is refused to an immense multitude, who are considered as entitled to every other mark of Christian fraternity.
These observations, we trust, will be amply sufficient to justify the assertion, that our opponents have violated, with respect to ecclesiastical economy, more maxims of antiquity, than any other sect upon record ; nor will the intelligent reader be at a loss to perceive, that the weight of this censure is little, if at all impaired, by their conformity in one particular, by their insisting upon baptism as a term of communion ; when it is recollected that the principles on which they found it, have no relation whatever to those on which it was maintained by the ancient Fathers. For the length to which this part of the discussion is extended, a natural and laudable anxiety to repel the charge of misrepresentation, will probably be deemed a sufficient apology.
BEFORE I put a final period to my part in this controversy, the attention of the reader is requested to a few miscellaneous remarks, which naturally arise out of the contemplation of the whole subject.
It is just matter of surprise, that the topic in debate should be regarded by any serious and intelligent Christian, as of small importance. Such a conclusion can only be ascribed to extreme inattention, or to the force of an inveterate, though perhaps latent prejudice, producing an unmerited predilection in favor of certain systems of ecclesiastical polity, which are incapable of sustaining the ordeal of inquiry. That those should shrink from the investi gation of such topics, who by receiving their religion from the hands of their superiors in a mass, have already relinquished the liberty of thinking for themselves, is no more than might well be expected. But to minds free and unfettered, accustomed to spurn the shackles of authority; and above all
, to Protestant Dissenters, whose peculiar boast, is the privilege of following in the organization of their churches, no other guide but the Scriptures—that such subjects should appear of little moment, is truly astonishing. The inquiry first in importance undoubtedly is, what is Christianity? What, supposing the truth of Scripture, is to be believed, and to be done, with a view to eternal life? Happily for the Christian world, there probably never was a time, when, in the solution of this question, so much unanimity was witnessed among the professors of serious piety, as at the present. Systems of religion, fundamentally erroneous, are falling fast into decay; while the subordinate points of difference, which do not affect the primary verities of Christianity, nor the ground of hope, are either consigned to oblivion, or are the subjects of temperate and amicable controversy; and in consequence of their subsiding to their proper level, the former appear in their just and natural magnitude.
Hence, in the present state of the church, externally considered, the evil most to be deplored is, the unnatural distance at which Christians stand from each other; the spirit of sects, the disposition to found their union on the "wood, hay, and stubble” of human inventions, or of disputable tenets, instead of building on the eternal rock, the “ faith once delivered to the saints.” They all profess to look forward to a period when these divisions will cease, and there will be one fold under one Shepherd. But while every denomination flatters itself with the persuasion of that fold being its own, the principal use to which the annunciations of prophecy are directed, is to supply a motive for redoubled exertions in the defence and extension of their respective peculiarities; and instead of hailing the dawn of a brighter day, as an event in which all are equally interested, there is reason to fear, it is too often considered, as destined to complete the triumph of a party.
If we consult the Scriptures, we shall be at no loss to perceive, that the unity of the church is not merely a doctrine most clearly revealed, but that its practical exemplification is one of the principal designs of the Christian dispensation. We are expressly told that our Saviour purposed by his death to “gather together in one, the children of God that were scattered abroad;" and for the accomplishment of this design he interceded during his last moments, in language which instructs us to consider it as the grand means of the conversion of the world. His prophetic anticipations were not disappointed; for while a visible unanimity prevailed among his followers, his cause every where triumphed: the concentrated zeal, the ardent co-operation of a comparative few, impelled by one spirit, and directed to one object, were more than a match for hostile myriads. No sooner was the bond of unity broken, by the prevalence of intestine quarrels and disa