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CHAP. X.

On the Contrariety of the Maxims and Sentiments

of the Advocates of Strict Communion, to those which prevailed in the early Ages ; in which the Innovation imputed to them by the Author, is vindicated from the Charge of Misrepresentation.

In order to comprehend the true state of the question, as it respects the practice of christian antiquity, it may be convenient to distribute it into three periods; the first including the time during which correct sentiments on the subject of baptism universally prevailed; the second, that in which a gradual transition was made from the practice of adult to that of infant baptism; the third, the period in which the latter obtained a general and almost undisputed ascendency.

On the first of these periods little need be said. Where there are no dissimilar elements, there can be no mixture; and therefore to affirm that the practice we are contending for, was unknown in the earliest ages of the christian church, is little more than an identical proposition. While no demur or dispute subsisted respecting either the form, or the application of the baptismal rite, a punctual compliance with it was expected and enforced by the presidents of christian societies, for precisely the same reason which suggested a similar mode of proceeding to the apostles. It was a part of the will of Christ, in the interpretation of which, no division of opinions subsisted among the faithful.

The next period is that, during which an innovation was gradually introduced, by extending the ceremony in question to infants--a period which, from the commencement of the third, unto the close of the fourth, probably comprehended the space of two centuries. Supposing the modern practice to have been first introduced towards the end of the second, or the beginning of the third century, which corresponds to the time at which it is distinctly noticed by Tertullian, the first writer who explicitly mentions it, we cannot suppose a shorter space was requisite to procure it that complete establishment and ascendency, which it possessed in the time of St. Austin. During that long interval there must have been some who still adhered to the primitive practice, and others who favoured and adopted the more recent innovations; there must, in other words, have been baptists and pædobaptists cotemporary with each other. What became of that portion of the ancient church which refused to adopt the baptism of infants? Did they separate from their brethren in order to form distinct and exclusive societies? Of this, not the faintest trace or vestige is to be found in ecclesiastical history; and the supposition is completely confuted, by the concurrent testimony of ancient writers to the universal incorporation of orthodox christians into one grand community. We challenge our opponents to produce the shadow of evidence in favour of the existence, during that long tract of time, of a single society, of which adult baptism was the distinguishing characteristic. Tertullian, it is acknowledged, is the first who distinctly and unequivocally adverts to the contrary practice : and as he expresses disapprobation of it at the same time, without the remotest intimation of the

propriety of making it the ground of separation, he must be allowed to form one instance of the practice of mixed communion; and unless we are disposed to assert that the modern innovation in the rite of baptism supplanted the original ordinance at once, multitudes must have been in precisely the same situation. We well know that in the latter period of his life, he did secede from the orthodox catholic church; but we are equally certain, that he was moved to this measure, not by his disapprobation of infant baptism, but solely by his attachment to the Montanists.

We, therefore, offer our opponents the alternative, either of affirming that the transition from the primitive to the modern usage, was sudden and instantaneous, in opposition to all that observation

suggests respecting the operations of mind, or of acknowledging that, for two centuries, the predecessors of the present baptists unanimously approved and practised a mixed communion-a communion in which baptists and pædobaptists united in the same societies.

Thus it appears that the system we are advocating, instead of being, as Booth and Kinghorn assert, a “ modern invention,” was introduced as early as it was possible—as early as the dissimilar materials existed, of which the combination under discussion is formed. It is evident, that no sooner did a difference of opinion on the subject of baptism arise, than the system of forbearance recommended itself at once to all who adhered to the sentiments of the modern baptists, throughout every part of the world; and that it is the opposite principle which has to contend with all the odium and suspicion attached to recent innovations.

When we descend to the third period, we are presented with a new scene. After the commencement of the fourth century, down to the æra of the Reformation, the baptism of infants was firmly established, and prevailed to such an extent, that few traces of the ordinance, in its primitive state, are to be discerned. Many of the Waldenses, however, are judged, with great appearance of evidence, to have held opinions on that subject coincident with those by which we, as a denomination, are distinguished. By their persecutors of the Romish community they are usually stigmatized and reproached for holding the anabaptist heresy; while it appears, on the contrary, that there were not wanting some amongst them who practised the baptism of infants.* These opposite statements, exhibited with equal confidence, on this obscure branch of ecclesiastical history, are best reconciled and accounted for, by supposing them divided in their sentiments on that particular. No indication, however, is discoverable of a rupture in external communion having occurred on that account; and, from the acknowledged difficulty of ascertaining the separate existence of baptist societies during the middle ages, and until the period of the Reformation, the necessary inference is, either that there were none, during that interval, who adhered to the primitive institute, or, as is far more probable, that they were mingled and incorporated with persons of another persuasion.

Hence it is manifest that the concurrent testimonies of the fathers of the three or four first

* See The History of the Baptists, by Mr. Ivimey, in which this subject is discussed with much care and impartiality. To those who wish for information respecting many curious and important circumstances, connected with the progress of the baptist opinions, I would earnestly recommend the perusal of that valuable work; for which the public at large, and our own denomination in particular, are much indebted to the pious and laborious author.

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