« السابقةمتابعة »
ence on practice. But a doctrine which can have no possible influence on practice, is received with little or no examination; and to this must be imputed the facility with which it has been so generally admitted that baptism must necessarily and invariably precede an admission to the Lord's table. The wide circulation, however, of this doctrine, ought undoubtedly to have the effect of softening the severity of censure on that conduct (however singular it may appear,) which is its necessary result; such is that of the great majority of the Baptists, in confining their communion to those whom they deem baptized; wherein they act precisely on the same principle with all other Christians, who assume it for granted that baptism is an essential preliminary to the reception of the sacrament. The point on which they differ, is the nature of that institution; which we place in immersion, and of which we suppose rational and accountable agents the only fit subjects; this opinion, combined with the other generally received one, that none are entitled to receive the eucharist but such as have been baptized, leads inevitably to the practice which seems so singular, and gives so much offence-the restricting of communion to our own denomination. Let it be admitted that baptism is under all circumstances a necessary condition of church fellowship, and it is impossible for the Baptists to act otherwise. That their practice in this particular is harsh and illiberal, is freely admitted; but it is the infallible consequence of the opinion generally entertained respecting communion, conjoined with their peculiar views of the baptismal rite. The recollection of this may suffice to rebut the ridicule, and silence the clamor of those, who loudly condemn the Baptists for a proceeding, which, were they but to change their opinion on the subject of baptism, their own principles would compel them to adopt. They both concur in a common principle, from which the practice deemed so offensive is the necessary
Considered as an argumentum ad hominem, or an appeal to the avowed principles of our opponents, this reasoning may be sufficient to shield us from that severity of reproach to which we are often exposed, nor ought we to be censured for acting upon a system which is sanctioned by our accusers. Still it leaves the real merits of the question untouched; for the inquiry remains open, whether baptism is an indispensable pre-requisite to communion; in other words, whether they stand in such a relation to each other, that the involuntary neglect of the first, incurs a forfeiture of the title to the last.
The chief, I might say the only argument for the restricted plan of communion, is derived from the example of the Apostles, and the practice of the primitive church. It is alleged, with some ap
pearance of plausibility that the first duty enjoined on the primitive converts to Christianity was to be baptized, that no repeal of the law has taken place since, that the Apostles uniformly baptized their converts before they admitted them to the sacrament, and that during the first and purest ages, the church knew of no members who had not submitted to that rite; and that consequently, in declining a union with those, who, however estimable in other respects, we are obliged to consider as unbaptized, we are following the highest precedents, and treading in the hallowed steps of the inspired teachers of religion. Such, in a few words, is the sum and substance of their reasoning who are the advocates of strict communion; and as it approaches with a lofty and imposing air, and has prevailed with thousands, to embrace what appears to me a most serious error, we must bespeak the reader's patience, while we endeavor to sift it to the bottom, in order to expose its fallacy.
Precedent derived from the practice of inspired men is entitled to be regarded as law, in exact proportion as the spirit of it is copied, and the principle on which it proceeds is acted upon. If neglectful of these, we attend to the letter only, we shall be betrayed into the most serious mistakes, since there are a thousand actions recorded of the Apostles in the government of the church, which it would be the height of folly and presumption to imitate. Above all things, it is necessary, before we proceed to found a rule of action on precedent, carefully to investigate the circumstances under which it occurred, and the reasons on which it was founded. The Apostles, it is acknowledged, admitted none to the Lord's supper, but such as were previously baptized; but under what circumstances did they maintain this course? It was at a time, when a mistake respecting the will of the Supreme Legislator on the subject of baptism was impossible; it was while a diversity of opinion relating to it could not possibly subsist, because inspired men were at hand, ready to remove every doubt, and satisfy the mind of every honest inquirer. It was under circumstances, that must have convicted him who declined compliance with that ordinance of willful prevarication, and stubborn resistance to the delegates and representatives of Christ, who commissioned them to promulgate his laws, with an express assurance that "whoever rejected them, rejected him, and whoever received them, received him," and that to refuse to obey their word, exposed the offender to a severer doom, than was allotted to Sodom and Gomorrah. (Matt. 10: 14, 15.) Their instructions were too plain to be mistaken, their authority too sacred to be contemned by a professor of Christianity, without being guilty of daring impiety. In such a state of things, it may be asked, how could they have acted differently from
what they did? To have received into the church men who disputed their inspiration and despised their injunctions, would have been to betray their trust, and to renounce their pretensions as the living depositaries of the mind of Christ; to have admitted those who, believing their inspiration, yet refused a compliance with their orders, would have let into the church the most unheard of licentiousness, and polluted it, by incorporating with its members, the worst of men. Neither of these could be thought of, and no other alternative remained but to insist as a test of sincerity on a punctual compliance, with what was known and acknowledged as the apostolic doctrine. "We are of God," says St. John, “he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us; hereby we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." (1 hn 4: 6.) In short, the Apostles refused to impart the external privileges of the church to such as impugned their authority, or contemned their injunctions, which, whoever persisted in the neglect of baptism at that time, and in those circumstances, must necessarily have done.
But in declining the communion of modern Pædobaptists, however eminent their piety, there is really nothing analogous to their method of proceeding. The resemblance fails in its most essential features. In repelling an unbaptized person from their communion, supposing such a one to have presented himself, they would have rejected the violator of a known precept; he whom we refuse, is at most chargeable only with mistaking it. The former must either have neglected an acknowledged precept, and thus evinced a mind destitute of principle, or he must have set the authority of the Apostles at defiance, and thus have classed with parties of the worst description. Our Pædobaptist brethren are exposed to neither of these charges; convince them that it is their duty to be baptized, in the method which we approve, and they stand ready, many of them at least we cannot doubt, stand ready to perform it; convince them that it is a necessary inference from the correct interpretation of the apostolic commission, and they will without hesitation bow to that authority.
The most rigid Baptist will probably admit that, however clear and irresistible the evidence of his sentiments may appear to himself, there are those whom it fails to convince, and some of them at least illustrious examples of piety; men who would tremble at the thought of deliberately violating the least of the commands of Christ or of his Apostles; men whose character and principles, consequently, form a striking contrast with those of the persons, whom it is allowed the Apostles would have repelled. But to separate ourselves from the best of men, because the Apostles would have withdrawn from the worst, to confound the broadest
moral distinctions, by awarding the same treatment to involuntary and conscientious error, which they were prepared to inflict on stubborn and wilful disobedience, is certainly a very curious method of following apostolic precedent. "The letter killeth," says St. Paul," the spirit maketh alive." Whether the contrariety of these was ever more strongly marked, than by such a method of imitating the Apostles, let the reader judge.
For the clearer illustration of this point, let us suppose a case. A person proposes himself as a candidate for admission to a Baptist church. The minister inquires into his views of the ordinance of baptism, and respectfully asks whether he is convinced of the divine authority of the rite which was administered to him in his infancy. He confesses he is not, that on mature deliberation and inquiry he considers it as a human invention. On his thus avowing his conviction, he is urged to confess Christ before men, by a prompt compliance with what he is satisfied is a part of his revealed will; he hesitates, he refuses, alleging that it is not essential to salvation, that it is a mere external rite, and that some of the holiest men have died in the neglect of it. Here is a parallel case to that of a person who should have declined the ordinance of baptism in primitive times; and in entire consistence with the principles which we are maintaining, we have no hesitation in affirming, that the individual in question is disqualified for Christian communion. To receive him under such circumstances, would be sanctioning the want of principle, and pouring contempt on the Christian precepts. Yet the conduct we have now supposed would be less criminal than to have shrunk from baptism in the apostolic age, because, the evidence by which our views are supported, though sufficient for every practical purpose, is decidedly inferior to that which accompanied their first promulgation; the utmost that we can pretend, is a very high probability; the primitive converts possessed an absolute certainty. Now, since we are prepared to visit an inferior degree of delinquency to that which would have insured the rejection of a candidate by the Apostles, with the same severity, how preposterous is it to charge us with departing from apostolical precedent! In the same circumstances, or in circumstances nearly the same, we are ready instantly to act the same part; let the circumstances be essentially varied, and our proceeding is proportionably different. The Apostles refused the communion of such, and such only, as were insincere," who held the truth in unrighteousness," avowing their conviction of one system, and acting upon another; and wherever similar indications display themselves, we do precisely the same. They admitted the weak and erroneous, providing their errors were not of a nature subversive of Christianity; and so do we.
They tolerated men whose sentiments differed from their own, providing they did not rear the standard of revolt, by a deliberate resistance to the only infallible authority; and such precisely is the course we pursue. We bear with those who mistake the dictates of inspiration, in points which are not essential; but with none who wilfully contradict, or neglect them. In the government of the church, as far as our means of information reach, the immediate ambassadors of Christ appear to have set us an example of much gentleness and mildness, to have exercised a tender consideration of human imperfection, and to have reserved all their severity for a contumacious rejection of their guidance, and disdain of their instructions. And wherever these features appear, we humbly tread in their steps; being as little disposed as they, to countenance or receive those who impugn their inspiration, or censure their decisions.
They were certainly strangers to that scheme of ecclesiastical polity, which proposes to divide the mystical body of Christ into two parts, one consisting of such as enjoy communion with him, the other of such as are entitled to commune with each other. In no part of their writings, is the faintest vestige to be discerned of that state of things, of which our opponents are enamored, where a vast majority of sincere Christians are deemed disqualified for Christian fellowship, and while their pretensions to acceptance with God, and a title to eternal life, are undisputed, are yet to be kept in a state of seclusion from the visible church. Had they in any part of their Epistles appeared to broach such a doctrine; had they lavished high encomiums on the faith and piety of those with whom they refused to associate at the Lord's supper, our astonishment at sentiments so singular and so eccentric, would have been such, that scarce any conceivable uniformity of manuscripts or of versions, could have accredited the passages that contained them. That the primitive church was composed of professed believers, and none debarred from its privileges, but such whose faith was essentially erroneous, or their character doubtful, is a matter of fact which appears on the very surface of the inspired records, and was probably never called in question, in any age or country, until an opposite principle was avowed and acted by the modern Baptists, who appropriate its title and its immunities to themselves, while with strange inconsistency they proclaim their conviction, that the persons whom they exclude are indisputably in possession of its interior and spiritual privileges. For this portentous separation of the internal from the outward and visible privileges of Christianity; for confining the latter to a mere handful of such as have "obtained like precious faith with themselves," in vain will they seek for support in the example of