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WHETHER the Writer of the following pages has acted judiciously in noticing the anonymous author of the Plea, &c. it is not for him to determine. He was certainly not induced to reply, by any apprehension that the arguments of his opponent would produce much effect on candid and enlightened minds; but he recollected that what is not answered, is often deemed unanswerable. He has confined himself, as the reader will perceive, to that branch of the controversy which relates to the baptism of John; the consideration of the remaining parts will more properly occur, in reply to a work which is already announced to the public, by a person of distinguished reputation.* With an answer to that publication, it is the decided resolution of this Author to terminate his part of the controversy.
Leicester, Feb. 14, 1816.
* Rev. Joseph Kinghorn. The reply to his work, published in 1818, is the next article in this compilation.-ED.
BAPTISM OF JOHN,
THOUGH the author of the "Plea for Primitive Communion" has not thought fit to annex his name to that publication, as truth alone is the legitimate object of controversy, his claim to attention may be justly considered as little, if at all, impaired by that omission. Religious inquiry is an affair of principles, not of persons; and under whatever shape an author chooses to present himself to the public, he is entitled to notice in proportion to the force of his conceptions, and the candor of his spirit. How far the author under present consideration is possessed of these qualities, must be left to the judgement of an impartial public.
As he has confined nearly his whole attention to the question of the identity of John's baptism with the ordinance now in force, without pretending to enter into the general merits of the controversy, and this is a question which admits of separate discussion, and is in itself of some moment, the following pages will be devoted to a defence of the sentiments which have been already advanced on that subject.
Previously to this, however, the patience of the reader is entreated for a few moments, while we endeavor clearly to state the bearing of this question on the controversy with which it has been connected. It was in deference to the sentiments of his opponents, rather than his own, that the author was induced to bestow so much attention upon it in his former treatise, persuaded as he is, that its connexion with the point in debate is casual and incidental, rather than real and intrinsic; since the only possible advantage to the cause of mixed communion resulting from its decision, is the overthrow of an argument most feebly constructed. To be convinced of this, it is only necessary to remember that the
admission of what our opponents contend for, would merely prove that the ordinance of baptism was promulgated at an earlier period than the Lord's supper. But in determining a question of duty resulting from positive laws, the era of their promulgation is a consideration totally foreign; we have merely to consider what is enjoined, and to what description of persons or things the regulation applies, without troubling ourselves to inquire into the chronological order of its enactment. In the details of civil life, no man thinks of regulating his actions by an appeal to the respective dates of the existing laws, but solely by a regard to their just interpretation; and were it once admitted as a maxim, that the particular law latest enacted must invariably be last obeyed, the affairs of mankind would fall into utter confusion. It would be the highest presumption to pretend to penetrate so far into the breast of the legislator, and into reasons of state, as to form a conjecture on the comparative importance of our duties, or the respective relations which they bear to each other, by an appeal to the distinct periods in which the laws were promulgated; nor is there any absurdity in supposing it possible, that for the wisest purposes the law which is last enacted may prescribe the performance of an action antecedently to a different one enjoined by a prior enactment. Besides, the most extensive branch of the system of rules which is in force in this, and perhaps in most other countries, arises out of immemorial customs, which it would baffle the profoundest antiquarian to trace to their origin; whence it is evident that the principle in question is necessarily excluded from the widest department of legal obligations. It is a principle as repugnant to the nature of divine, as it is to human legislation. It appears from the history of the patriarchs, that sacrificial rites were ordained much earlier than circumcision; but no sooner was the latter enjoined, than it demanded the earliest attention, and the offerings prescribed on the birth of a child did not precede, but were subsequent to, the ceremony of circumcision.
In the case of moral obligations, no one pretends that their reciprocal relation and dependance is to be ascertained by an appeal to the distinct periods of their institution: their co-existence with human nature precludes the possibility of applying such a test; and he who consults impartially the dictates of conscience, confirmed and enlightened by revelation, will seldom feel himself embarrassed with respect either to the nature or the order of his duties.
In the case of positive duties, that is, such as result entirely from the revealed will of God, and with respect to which the voice of nature is silent, how far they are so inseparably linked together as to form a moral whole, in such a manner that the omission of
one part renders an attention to the other a nullity, must depend
Before we proceed to notice the objections of the author of the "Plea" to the statements which have been made on the subject of John's baptism, it will be necessary briefly to recapitulate the grounds on which it was affirmed to be essentially distinct from the ordinance now in use. To such as have not perused the former treatise, the discussion would scarcely be intelligible without it; to such as have, it is possible some particulars may be presented in a clearer light.
The attentive reader of the New Testament will not fail to have remarked, that the rite performed by John is rarely, if ever, introduced without the addition of some explanatory phrase or epithet, intended apparently to distinguish it from every preceding or subsequent religious observance. Thus it is sometimes denominated the 'baptism of John,' on other occasions baptism in water,' and the 'baptism of repentance,' but is never expressed in the absolute form in which the mention of Christian baptism invariably occurs. When the twelve disciples at Ephesus are asked into what (i. e. into what profession) they were baptized, they reply, Into the baptism of John.' Though innumerable persons were baptized by St. Paul, we read of no such expression as the baptism of Paul; on the contrary, in his epistle to the Corinthians he expresses a sort of pious horror at the very idea of such a supposition. Whoever considers the extreme precision which the inspired historians maintain in the choice of the terms employed to represent religious ordinances, will perceive this circumstance to possess considerable weight.
It derives much additional strength however from reflecting that John's baptism is not only distinctly characterized in the evangelical naratives, but that he himself contrasts it with a superior one, which he directs his hearers to expect at the hand of the