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brating the passover, who had not submitted to circumcision, we meet with no reply but precarious inferences, and general reasoning.
However plausible their mode of arguing may appear, the impartial reader will easily perceive it fails in the main point; which is, to establish that specific difference betwixt the case they except out of their list of tolerated errors, and those which they admit, which shall justify this opposite treatment. Thus when they ask whether God has not "commanded baptism; whether it is not the believer's duty to be found in it ;" (Booth's Apol. p. 128.) it is manifest that the same reasons might be urged against bearing with any imperfection in our fellow Christian whatever; for which of these, we ask, is not inconsistent with some command, and a violation, in a greater or less degree, of some duty; with this difference indeed, that many of the imperfections which Christian churches are necessitated to bear with, are seated in the will, while the case before us involves merely an unintentional mistake. "It is not every one," says Mr. Booth," that is received of Jesus Christ, who is entitled to communion at his table; but such, and only such, as revere his authority, submit to his ordinances, and obey the laws of his house." This is the most formal attempt which that writer has made to specify the difference betwixt the case of the abettors of infant baptism, and others; for which reason, the reader will excuse my directing his attention to it for a few moments. We are indebted to him, in the first place, for a new discovery in theology; we should not have suspected, but for his assertion, that there could be a description of persons whom Christ has received, who neither revere his authority, submit to his ordinances, nor obey his laws. How Mr. Booth acquired this information we know not; but certainly in our Saviour's time it was otherwise. "Then are ye my disciples," said he, "if ye do whatsoever I have commanded you." I congratulate the public on the prudence evinced by the venerable author, in not publish-ing the names of these highly privileged individuals, who have proved their title to heaven, to his satisfaction, without reverence, submission, or obedience; wishing his example had been imitated in this particular by the authors of the wonderful conversions of malefactors, many of whom I fear belong to this new sect.
This singular description, however, I scarcely need remind the reader, is designed to characterize Baptists in opposition to Padobaptists; and were it not the production of a man whom I highly revere, I should comment upon it with the severity it deserves. Suffice it to remark, that to mistake the meaning of a statute, is one thing, not to reverence the legislator, another; that he cannot submit with a good conscience to an ordinance, who is not ap
prised of its existence; and that a blind obedience, even to divine laws, would be far from constituting a reasonable service. Every conscientious adherent to infant baptism reveres the authority of Christ, not less than a Baptist, and is distinguished by a spirit of submission and obedience to every known part of his will; and as this is all to which a Baptist can pretend, and far more than many, who without scruple are tolerated in our churches, can boast, we are as far as ever from ascertaining the specific difference betwixt the case of the Pædobaptist, and other instances of error supposed to be entitled to indulgence. In spite of Mr. Booth's marvellous definition, reverence, submission and obedience, are such essential features in the character of a Christian, that he who was judged to be destitute of them, in their substance and reality, would instantly forfeit that character; while to possess them in perfection, is among the brightest acquisitions of eternity. It should be remembered too, that the general principles of morality are not less the laws of Christ, than positive rites, and if we credit Prophets and Apostles, much to be preferred in comparison; so that it must be acknowledged, that he who is deficient in attention to these, while he is more exemplary in discharging the former than a baptized Christian, (a very frequent case,) stands higher in the scale of obedience. So equivocal is the line of separation here attempted.
When the necessity of tolerating imperfection is once admitted, there remains no point at which it can consistently stop, till it is extended to every gradation of error, the habitual maintenance of which is compatible with a state of salvation. The reason is, that it is absolutely impossible to define that species of error, so situated as not to preclude its possessor from divine acceptance, although it forfeits his title to the full exercise of Christian charity. The Baptists who contend for confining the Lord's supper to themselves, imagine they have found such an error in the practice of initiating infants into the Christian church. But it is observable that they can reduce it to no class, nor define it by any general idea; and when we urge them with the apostolic injunction, to bear with each other's infirmities, they have nothing to reply, but merely that St. Paul is not speaking of baptism, which is true, because one thing is not another; but it behoves them to shew that the principle he establishes does not include this case, and here they are silent.
If we impartially examine the reasons on which we rest the toleration of any supposed error, we shall find they invariably coincide with the idea of its not being fundamental. If it be alleged, for example, that the error in question relates to a subject less clearly revealed than some others, what is this but to insinuate
the ease with which an honest inquirer may mistake respecting it? If the little practical influence it is likely to exert, is alleged as a plea for forbearance, the force of such a remark rests entirely on the assumption of an indissoluble connexion betwixt a state of salvation, and a certain character, which the opinion in question is supposed not to destroy. If we allege the example of eminently pious men, who have embraced it, we infer from analogy the actual safety of the person by whom it is held; and in short, it is impossible to construct an argument for the exercise of mutual forbearance, but what proceeds upon this principle; a principle which pervades the reasoning of our opponents on every other occasion, except this of strict communion, which they make an insulated case, capriciously exempting it from the arbitration of all the general rules of Scripture, as well as from the maxims to which, in all other instances, they are attached.
Reluctant as I feel to trespass on the patience of the reader, by unnecessarily prolonging the discussion, I am anxious, if possible, to set the present argument in a still stronger light. I observe, therefore, that if it be contended that a certain opinion is so obnoxious as to justify the exclusion of its abettor from the privilege of Christian fellowship, it must be either on account of its involving a contradiction to the saving truth of the gospel, or on account of its injurious effects on the character. As those of our brethren to whom this reasoning is addressed, positively disclaim considering infant baptism in the former light, they will not attempt to vindicate the exclusion of Pædobaptists on that ground. In vindication of such a measure, they must allege the injurious effects it produces on the character of its abettors. Here, however, they have precluded themselves from the possibility of urging that the injury sustained is fatal, by the previous concession, that it does not involve a contradiction to saving truth. Could they, without cancelling that concession, urge the fatal nature of the influence in question, they would present an object to the mind sufficiently precise and determinate; an object which may be easily conceived, and accurately defined. But as things are now situated, they can at most only insist on such a kind and degree of deteriorating effect as is consistent with the spiritual safety of the party concerned; and as they are among the first to contend that every species of error is productive of injurious effects, it is incumbent upon them to point out some consequences worse in their kind, or more aggravated in degree, resulting from this particular error, than what may be fairly ascribed to the worst of those erroneous or defective views, which they are accustomed to tolerate. These injurious consequences must also occupy an intermediate place between two extremes; they must on the one hand be decidedly more serious
than can be supposed to result from the most crude, undigested, or discordant views, tolerated in regular Baptist churches, yet not of such a nature on the other, as to involve the danger of eternal perdition. Let them specify, if it be in their power, that ill influence on the character, which is the natural consequence of the tenet of infant sprinkling, considered per se, or independent of adventitious circumstances, and the operation of accidental causes, which justifies a treatment of its patrons, so different from what is given to the abettors of other errors. This malignant influence must, I repeat it, be the natural or necessary product of the practice of Padobaptism; because the simple avowal of this is deemed sufficient to incur the forfeiture of church privileges, without further time or inquiry. However vehemently the supporters of such a measure may declaim against it, or however triumphantly expose the principles on which it is founded, they have done nothing towards accomplishing their object, the vindication of strict communion; since the same mode of proceeding might be adopted towards any other misconception, or erroneous opinion; and if it may be forcibly expelled, as soon as it is confuted, there is an end to toleration. Toleration has no place, but in the presence of acknowledged imperfection. It is absolutely necessary for them, as they would vindicate their conduct to the satisfaction of reasonable men, to prove, that some specific deteriorating effect results from the practice of infant baptism, distinct from the malignant influence of error in general, and of those imperfections in particular, which are not inconsistent with salvation.
Though the opposition betwixt truth and error is equal in all cases; and the former always susceptible of proof, as well as the latter of confutation; all error is not opposed to the same truths; and hence arises a distinction betwixt such erroneous and imperfect views of religion, as, however they may, in their remoter consequences, impair, do not contradict the gospel testimony, and such as do. We lay this distinction, as the basis of that forbearance towards the mistakes and imperfections of good men, for which we plead; and as the case of our Pædobaptist brethren is clearly comprehended within that distinction, feel no scruple in admitting them to Christian fellowship. We are attached to that distinction, because it is both scriptural and intelligible; while the hypothesis of the strict Baptists, as they style themselves, is so replete with perplexity and confusion, that for my part, I absolutely despair of comprehending it. It proceeds upon the supposition of a certain medium between two extremes, which they have not even attempted to fix; and as the necessary consequence of this, their reasoning, if we choose to term it such, floats and undulates in such a manner, that it is extremely difficult to grasp
it. On the pernicious influence of error in general, we entertain no doubt; but we demand again and again, to have that precise injurious effect of infant sprinkling pointed out and evinced, which is more to be deprecated, than the probable result of those acknowledged imperfections to which they extend their indulgence. This must surely be deemed a reasonable requisition, though it is one with which they have not hitherto thought fit to comply.
The operation of speculative error on the mind is one of the profoundest secrets in nature, and to determine the precise quantity of evil resulting from it in any given case, (except the single one of its involving a denial of fundamental truth) transcends the capacity of human nature. We must, in order to form a correct judgement, be not only perfectly acquainted with the nature and tendency of the error in question, but also with the portion of attention it occupies, as well as the degree of zeal and attachment Iwith which it is embraced. We must determine the force of the counteracting principles, and how far it bears an affinity to the predominant failings of him who maintains it, how far it coalesces with the weaker parts of his moral constitution. These particulars, however, it is next to impossible to explore, when the inquiry respects ourselves; how much more to establish a scale which shall mark by just gradations, the malignant influence of erroneous conceptions on others. On the supposition of a formal denial of saving, essential truth, we feel no difficulty; we may determine, without hesitation, on the testimony of God, that it incurs a forfeiture of the blessings of the new and everlasting covenant, among which the communion of saints holds a distinguished place. But such a supposition is foreign to the present inquiry.
Instead of losing ourselves in a labyrinth of metaphysical subtleties, our only safe guide is an appeal to facts; and here we find from experience, that the sentiments of the Pædobaptist may consist with the highest attainments of piety, exhibited in modern times, with the most varied and elevated forms of moral grandeur, without impairing the zeal of missionaries, without impeding the march of confessors to their prisons, or of martyrs to the flames. We are willing to acknowledge, these tenets have produced muchmischief in communities and nations, who have confounded baptism with regeneration; but the mere belief of the title of infants to that ordinance, is a misconception respecting a positive institute, much less injurious, than if it affected the vital parts of Christianity. But be it what it may, we contend, that it is impossible, without a total disregard to truth and decency, to assert, that it is intrinsically and essentially more pernicious in its effects, than the numerous errors and imperfections, which the advocates of strict communion feel no scruple in tolerating, in the best organized