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The argument from authority, however, when fairly stated, is entirely in our favor; nor would it be easy to assign an example of bolder deviation from the universal practice of the Christian church, than the conduct of our opponents supplies. They are the only persons in the world of whom we have either heard or read, who contend for the exclusion of genuine Christians from the Lord's table; who ever attempted to distinguish them into two classes, such as are entitled to commemorate their Saviour's death, and such as are excluded from that privilege. In what page of the voluminous records of the Church is such a distinction to be traced? Or what intimation shall we find in Scripture of an intention to create such an invidious disparity among the members of the same body? Did it ever enter the conception of any but Baptists, that a right to the sign could be separated from the thing signified; or that there could be a description of persons interested in all the blessings of the Christian covenant, yet not entitled to partake of its sacraments and seals?
In the judgement of all religious communities besides, and in every period of the Church, excommunication or exclusion has been considered as a stigma, never to be inflicted but on men of ill lives, or on the abettors of heresy and schism; and though innumerable instances have occurred, in which the best of men have in fact been excluded, they were either accused of fundamental error, or adjudged on account of their obstinate resistance to the authority of the Church, to have forfeited the privileges of Christians. They were not excommunicated under the character of mistaken brethren, which is the light in which we profess to consider Pædobaptists, but as incurable heretics and schismatics. The Puritans were expelled the Church of England on the same principle; and although at the Restoration, a vindictive spirit was unquestionably the chief motive to those disgraceful proceedings, yet the pretensions of ecclesiastical authority were carried so high in those unhappy times, as to furnish the pretext for considering them as contumacious contemners of the power, and disturbers of the peace of the Church. In the whole course of ecclesiastical proceedings, no maxim was more fully recognized than that the sword of excommunication cut asunder the ties of fraternity, and consigned the offender, unless he repented, to hopeless perdition.
In some dissenting societies also, it is true, creeds are established which every candidate for admission is expected to subscribe; and though these summaries of Christian doctrine frequently contain articles, which, admitting them to be true, are not fundamental, they were originally deemed such by their fabricators, or supposed at least to be accompanied with such a plenitude of evidence as no sincere inquirer could resist; and they are continued. under the same persuasion.
The right of rejecting those whom Christ has received; of refusing the communion of eminently holy men, on account of unessential differences of opinion, is not the avowed tenet of any sect or community in Christendom, with the exception of the majority of the Baptists, who, while they are at variance with the whole world on a point of such magnitude, are loud in accusing their brethren of singularity. If we have presumed to resist the current of opinion, it is on a subject of no practical moment; it respects an obscure and neglected corner of theology; while their singularity is replete with the most alarming consequences, destroys at once the unity of the Church, and pronounces a sentence of excommunication on the whole Christian world.
Having without disguise exhibited in their full force the reasoning of the advocates of strict communion, and replied to it in the best manner we are able, it must be left to the impartial reader to determine on which side the evidence preponderates; of which he will be able to judge more completely, when we have stated at large the grounds of the opposite practice, which we have reserved for the second part of this treatise; where we shall have an opportunity of noticing some minor objections, which could not be so conveniently adverted to in the former.
THE POSITIVE GROUNDS ON WHICH WE JUSTIFY THE PRACTICE OF MIXED COMMUNION.
Free communion urged, from the obligation of brotherly love.
THAT we are commanded, in terms the most absolute, to cultivate a sincere and warm attachment to the members of Christ's body, and that no branch of Christian duty is inculcated more frequently, or with more force, will be admitted without controversy. Our Lord instructs us to consider it as the principal mark or feature by which his followers are to be distinguished in every age. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another. As I have loved you, ye ought also to love one another;" whence it is evident, that the pattern we are to follow, is, the love which Christ bore to his Church, which is undoubtedly extended indiscriminately to every member. The cultivation of this disposition is affirmed to be one of the most essential objects of the Christian revelation, as well as the most precious fruit of that faith by which it is embraced. "Seeing," says St. Peter, "ye have purified your hearts by obeying the truth unto an unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." Agreeably to which, the beloved disciple affirms it to be the chief evidence of our being in a state of grace and salvation. "By this we know that we are passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Let it also be remembered, that the mode in which we are commanded to exhibit and express this most eminent grace of the Spirit, is the preservation of union, a careful avoidance of every temper and practice which might produce alienation and division. To this purpose, St. Paul reminds us of that union which subsists betwixt the several parts of the body, the harmony with which its respective functions are carried on, where the noblest organ is incapable of dispensing with the action of the meanest, together with that quick feeling of sympathy which pervades the whole; all which, he tells us, is contrived and adjusted to prevent a schism in the body. In applying this illustration to the subject before us, it is impossible not to perceive, that when one part of Christ's mystical body refuses
to co-operate with another in a principal spiritual function, such as communing at the Lord's table, that very evil subsists against which we are so anxiously guarded; and what is more extraordinary, subsists upon the principle we are opposing, by divine appointment. In the last prayer our Saviour uttered, in which he expressly includes all who should hereafter believe, he earnestly intreats that they may be all one, even as he and his Father were one, that the world might be furnished with a convincing evidence of his mission. For some ages the object of that prayer was realized, in the harmony which prevailed amongst Christians, whose religion was a bond of union, more strict and tender than the ties of consanguinity; and with the appellation of brethren, they associated all the sentiments of endearment that relation implied. To see men of the most contrary character and habits, the learned and the rude, the most polished and the most uncultivated, the inhabitants of countries alienated from each other by institutions the most repugnant, and by contests the most violent, forgetting their ancient animosity, and blending into one mass, at the command of a person whom they had never seen, and who had ceased to be an inhabitant of this world, was an astonishing spectacle. Such a sudden assimilation of the most discordant materials, such love issuing from hearts naturally selfish, and giving birth to a new race and progeny, could be ascribed to nothing but a divine interposition; it was an experimental proof of the commencement of that kingdom of God, that celestial economy, by which the powers of the future world are imparted to the present. When we turn from contemplating this, to the practice under consideration, we see an opposite phenomenon; a sect of Christians coming to an open rupture and separation in point of communion with the whole Christian world; and we ask, whether it be possible to reconcile such a conduct with the import of our Saviour's prayer. If it is not, it must be condemned as antichristian, unless we hesitate to affirm, that whatever is repugnant to the mind of Christ, merits that appellation. Let it be remembered too, that though the prayer we have adduced was uttered by him who possessed a perfect knowledge of futurity, and was thoroughly apprised of the diversities of sentiment which would arise among his followers, he was not deterred by that consideration from comprehending in this his desire of union, all who should hereafter believe on his
Whatever attachment our opponents may profess to those whom they exclude, their behavior, it must be acknowledged, is so ill adapted to accredit their professions, that in the eyes of the world, who judge by sensible appearances, and are strangers to subtle distinctions, such a proceeding will inevitably be considered
as a practical declaration, that the persons from whom they separate, are not Christians. There is no reason to doubt that the precepts of the gospel on this, as well as every other breach of morals, are to be interpreted on a liberal scale; and that when they enjoin any particular disposition in general terms, we must consider the injunction as comprehending all its natural demonstrations, all its genuine expressions. But to refuse the communion of sincere Christians, is not a natural expression of Christian love, but so diametrically opposite, that we may fairly put it to the conscience of those who contend for such a measure, whether they find it possible to carry it into execution without an inward struggle, without feeling emotions of sorrow and concern. It is to inflict a wound on the very heart of charity, for no fault, for none at least of which the offender is conscious, for none which such treatment has the remotest tendency to correct; and if this is not being guilty of "beating our fellow servant," we must despair of ascertaining the meaning of terms.
Were the children of the same parent, in consequence of the different construction they put on a disputed clause in their father's will, to refuse to eat at the same table, or to drink out of the same cup, it would be ridiculous for them to pretend that their attachment to each other remained undiminished; nor is it less so for Christians to assert that their withdrawing from communion with their brethren, is no interruption to their mutual harmony and affection. It is a serious and awful interruption, and will ever be considered in that light as long as the interior sentiments of the mind continue to be interpreted by their natural signs. I have known more instances than one, of good men complaining of the uneasiness, I might say the anguish, they felt on those occasions, when they witnessed some of their most intimate friends, persons of exalted piety, compelled, after joining in the other branches of worship, to withdraw from the Lord's table, as though "they had no part or lot in the matter." We have been accustomed to conceive that the dictates of the Holy Ghost were always in harmony with His operations, the precepts of the gospel with its spirit; and that nothing was enjoined as matter of duty on Christians, which offered violence to the best feelings of the renewed heart. We have always supposed, that by the law of Christ, we were called to mortify the old man only with his affections and lusts; but if the doctrine of our opponents be true, we shall be frequently summoned to the strange discipline of repressing the movements of Christian charity; and the practice of quenching the Spirit, instead of being regarded with horror, will become on many occasions an indispensable duty. For this new and unheard of conflict, in which the injunctions of Christ, and the dictates of his Spirit, pro