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sensions, than the interests of truth languished ; until Mahometanism in the East, and Popery in the West, completed the work of deterioration, which the loss of primitive simplicity and love, combined with the spirit of intolerance, first commenced.
If the religion of Christ ever resumes her ancient lustre, and we are assured by the highest authority she will, it must be by retracing our steps, by reverting to the original principles on which, considered as a social institution, it was founded. We must go back to the simplicity of the first ages; we must learn to quit a subtle and disputatious theology, for a religion of love, emanating from a few divinely energetic principles, which pervade almost every page of inspiration, and demand nothing for their cordial reception and belief, besides a humble and contrite heart. Reserving to ourselves the utmost freedom of thought, in the interpretation of the sacred oracles, and pushing our inquiries, as far as our opportunities admit, into every department of revealed truth, we shall not dream of obtruding our precarious conclusions on others, as articles of faith ; but shall receive with open arms all who appear to “ love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity ;” and find a sufficient bond of union—a sufficient scope for all our sympathies, in the doctrine of the cross. If the Saviour appears to be loved, obeyed, and adored—if his blood is sprinkled on the conscience, and his spirit resides in the heart, why should we be dissatisfied ? we, who profess to be actuated by no other motive, to live to no other purpose, than the promotion of his interest.
If the kingdom of Christ, like the kingdoms of this world, admitted of local and discordant interests, and the possession of exclusive privileges; if it were a system of compromise between the selfish passions of individuals, and the promotion of the general good, the policy of conferring on one class of its subjects, certain advantages and immunities withheld from another, might be easily comprehended. But in this, as well as many other features, it essentially differs. Founded on the basis of a divine equality, its privileges are as free as air ; and there is not a single blessing which it proposes to bestow, but is held by the same tenure, and is capable of being possessed to the same extent, by every believ
The freedom which it confers, is of so high a character, and the dignity to which it elevates its subjects, as the sons of God, so transcendent, that whether they are “ Barbarians or Scythians, bond or free, male or female, they are from henceforth one in Christ Jesus.” In asserting the equal right which the Gentiles possessed, in common with the Jews, to all the privileges attached to the Christian profession, Peter founds his argument on this very principle. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as unto us, and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. In his apprehension, it was God, the Searcher of Hearts, who having by the collation of his Spirit, in his marvellous and sanctifying gifts, made no distinction betwixt the Gentiles and themselves, decided the controversy. If that great Apostle reasoned correctly on the subject, we have only to change the term Gentiles for Pædobaptists, or for any other denomination of sincere Christians, and the inference remains in its full force.
Among other attempts to deter us from pursuing a system established by such high authority, it is extraordinary that we should be reminded of the fearful responsibility we incur. To this topic Mr. Kinghorn has devoted a whole chapter. When it is recollected that we plead for the reception of none whom Christ has not received, for none whose hearts are not purified by faith, and who are not possessed of the same spirit, the communication of which was considered by St. Peter as a decisive proof that no difference was put between them and others by God himself, it is easy to determine where the danger lies. Were we to suffer ourselves to lose sight of these principles, and by discountenancing and repelling those whom he accepts, to dispute the validity of his seal, and subject to our miserable scrutiny, pretensions which have passed the ordeal, and received the sanction of him who “understandeth the heart,” we should have just reason to tremble for the consequences; and with all our esteem for the piety of many
of our opponents, we conceive it no injury or insult
, to put up
the prayer of our Lord for them—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
He who alters the terms of communion, changes the fundamental laws of Christ's kingdom. He assumes a legislative power, and ought, in order to justify that conduct, to exhibit his credentials, with a force and splendor of evidence, equal at least to those which attested the divine legation of Moses and the Prophets.
It has been frequently observed on this occasion, that every voluntary society possesses the power of determining on the qualifications of its members; and that for the same reason every church is authorized to enact such terms of admission as it shall see fit. This conclusion, however, is illogical and unfounded. There is little or no analogy betwixt the two cases. Human societies originate solely in the private views and inclinations of those who compose them; and as they are not founded on divine institution, so neither are they restricted with respect to the objects they are destined to pursue. The church is a society instituted by Heaven; it is the visible seat of that “ kingdom which God has set up;" the laws by which it is governed are of his prescribing, and the purposes which it is de signed to accomplish, are limited and ascertained by infinite
wisdom. When, therefore, from its analogy to other societies, it is inferred that it has an equal right to organize itself at its pleasure, nothing can be more fallacious; unless it be meant merely to assert its exemption from the operation of physical force, which is a view of the subject, with which we are not at present concerned. In every step of its proceedings, it is amenable to a higher than human tribunal; and on account of its freedom from external control, its obligation in foro conscientiæ, exactly to conform to the mandates of Revelation, is the more sacred and the more indispensable ; being loosened from every earthly tie, on purpose that it may be at liberty to “ follow the Lord whithersoever he goeth."
That these maxims, plain and obvious as they must appear, have been too often totally lost sight of, he who has the slightest acquaintance with ecclesiastical history must be aware; and to their complete abandonment, we are indebted for the introduction of strict communion.
“The Baptists,” Mr. Kinghorn informs us, consider themselves as holding up to notice one neglected truth.” (Baptism a Term of Communion, p. 69.). Whether they have adopted a mode of proceeding the most likely to accomplish their object, may be justly doubted. Independently, however, of any such consideration, it is the principle, thus distinctly avowed, to which we object-the principle of organizing a church with a specific view to the propagation of some particular truth ; which is a perversion of the original end and design of Christian societies. Nothing, it is certain, was more remote from the views of their first founders, who aimed at nothing less than to render them the general depositaries of the “faith once delivered to the saints ;" and for this purpose carefully inculcated the whole “ truth as it is in Jesus," along with the duty of preserving it incorrupt and entire; without the most distant intimation that it was their province to watch over one department, with more vigilance than another ; least of all was it their design to recommend, as the object of preference, an external ceremony, the nature of which was destined to become a subject of debate among Christians.
Let each denomination pursue this plan—let each fix upon the promotion of some one truth, as the specific object of its exertions, and the effect will soon appear, not only in extending the spirit of disunion, but in the injury which the interests of truth itself will sustain. Every denomination will exhibit some portion of it, in a distorted and mutilated form; none will be in possession of the whole, and the result will be something like the confusion of Babel, where every man spoke in a separate dialect. As the beauty of truth consists chiefly in the harmony and proportion of its several parts, it is as impossible to display it to advantage in fragments, as to give a just idea of a noble and majestic structure, by exhibiting a single brick.
What is the consequence which must be expected from teaching an illiterate assembly that the principal design of their union is to extend the practice of a particular ceremony, but to invest it with an undue importance in their eyes, and by tempting them to look upon themselves as Christians of a higher order, to foster an overweening self conceit, to generate selfish passions, and to encourage ambitious projects. Accustomed to give themselves a decided preference above others, to treat with practical contempt the religious pretensions of the best and wisest of men, and to live in an element of separation and exclusion, it would be astonishing indeed, if their humility were not impaired, and the more delicate sympathies of Christian affection almost extinguished. In the situation in which they have placed themselves, they are reduced to a necessity of performing continually those operations, which other denominations reserve for the last extremity; they are familiarized to the infliction of the most formidable sentence, that the church is empowered to pass, and to that excision of the members of Christ from the body, to which others proceed with fear and trembling.
It is freely admitted that there are seasons, when it is the duty of a Christian society, to bend its particular attention to the exhibition and defence of a neglected branch of truth, in order to supply an antidote to the errors by which it may be attempted to be corrupted. There is no fundamental doctrine, which we may not be called upon in an especial manner to maintain, and fortify in its
But to make this the specific object of the constitution of a church, is totally different; it is to contract its views, and limit its efforts, in a manner utterly inconsistent with the design of its institution, which is to exhibit both the theory and practice of Christianity, in all its plenitude and extent.
An exception however must be made, where the truth which is said to be neglected, is fundamental. The assertion and vindication of such a truth, is equivalent to the maintenance of Christianity itself, which in common with every other system, is incapable of surviving the destruction of its vital parts. Hence the Reformers were justified in laying the doctrine of justification by faith, as the basis of the reformed religion, because the formal denial of that truth, is incompatible with the existence of a church. But where religious communities have been founded on refined speculations, or on some particular mode of explaining and interpreting disputable tenets the most mischievous consequences have resulted. The people, usually denominated Quakers, set out with the
professed design of exhibiting the doctrine of the Spirit, which they chose to consider as a neglected truth, and the consequence has been such a distortion of that momentous doctrine, as has probably contributed not a little to subject it to contempt. The Sandemanians profess to constitute their societies with an express view to the revival of certain neglected truths; and the effect, as far as their efforts have succeded, has been the extinction of vital piety. The High Calvinists, or to speak more properly, the Antinomians, are loud and clamorous in prosessing their solicitude to revive a certain class of neglected truths, and the result of their labor has been to corrupt the few truths they possess, and to consign others of equal importance, to contempt and oblivion. In each of these instances, by detaching particular portions from the system to which it belongs, the continuity of truth has been broken, and that vital communication between its respective parts on which its life and vigor depend, interrupted.
It was reserved for our opponents to pursue the same system under a new form, by selecting the ceremony of baptism as their distinguishing symbol, and to degrade the Christian profession, in our apprehension, by placing it in the due administration of the element of water.
Where, it is natural to ask, (though it is an inferior consideration) where is the policy of such a proceeding? What tendency has it to recommend and propagate the rite, about which such zeal is exerted, and such solicitude expressed. Will the insisting on it as a term of communion, give it any additional evidence, or invest it with supernumerary charms? Will it be better relished and received, for its approaching in the form of an exaction, than if it was intrusted to the force of argument and persuasion? Were it permitted to have recourse to intimidation, in the concerns of religion, where are our means and resources; where shall we look for that splendor of reputation, that command of emolument and power, which shall render a state of separation from Baptist societies, an intolerable grievance? Let us learn to think soberly of ourselves, and not endeavor to enforce the justest principles by means foreign to their nature; nor by substituting an impotent menace instead of argument, subject them to reprobation and ridicule.
Mr. Kinghorn gives it as his decided opinion that for a Pædobaptist statedly to attend the ministry of a Baptist, is a dereliction of principle. A great gulf ought, in his apprehension, to be fixed between the two denominations. But how is it possible, on this system, to indulge the hope of effecting a revolution in the public mind, when all the usual channels of communication are cut off, and the means of rational conviction laid under an interdict? If the hearers of both denominations, are bound to confine their at