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"What charter hath Christ given the church to bind men up to, more than himself hath done? or to exclude those from her society who may be admitted into heaven? Will Christ ever thank men at the great day for keeping such out from communion with his church, whom he will vouchsafe not only crowns of glory to, but it may be aureole too, if there be any such things there? The grand commission the apostles were sent out with was only to teach what Christ had commanded them. Not the least intimation of any power given them to impose or require any thing beyond what himself had spoken to them, or they were directed to by the immediate guidance of the Spirit of God."
THE love of controversy was in no degree the motive for writing the following sheets. Controversy the writer considers as an evil, though often a necessary one. It is to be deprecated when it is directed to minute or frivolous objects, or when it is managed in such a manner as to call forth malevolent passions. He hopes the ensuing treatise will be found free from both these objections, and that, as the subject must be allowed to be of some importance, so the spirit in which it is handled is not chargeable with any material departure from the Christian temper. If the author has expressed himself on some occasions with considerable confidence, he trusts the reader will impute it, not to a forgetfulness of his personal deficiencies, but to the cause he has undertaken to support. The divided state of the Christian world has long been the subject of painful reflection; and if his feeble efforts might be the means 'of uniting a small portion only of it in closer ties, he will feel himself amply rewarded.
The practice of incorporating private opinions and human inventions with the constitution of a church, and with the terms of communion, has long appeared to him untenable in its principle, and pernicious in its effects. There is no position in the whole compass of theology of the truth of which he feels a stronger persuasion than that no man, or set of men are entitled to prescribe, as an indispensable condition of communion, what the New Testament has not enjoined as a condition of salvation. To establish this position is the principal object of the following work; and though it is more immediately occupied in the discussion of a case which respects the Baptists and Pedobaptists, that case is attempted to be decided entirely upon the principle now mentioned, and is no more than the application of it to a particular instance.
The writer is persuaded that a departure from this principle in the denomination to which he belongs has been extremely injurious, not only to the credit and prosperity of that particular body (which is a very subordinate consideration), but to the general interests of truth; and that but for the obstruction arising from that quarter, the views they entertain of one of the sacraments would have obtained a more extensive prevalence. By keeping themselves in a state of separation and seclusion from other Christians, they have not only evinced an inattention to some of the most important injunctions of Scripture, but have raised up an invincible barrier to the propagation of their sentiments beyond the precincts of their own party.
It has been insinuated that the author has taken an unfair advantage of his opponents, by choosing to bring forward this disquisition just at the moment when we have to lament the loss of a person whose judgment would have disposed, and his abilities enabled him to do ample justice to the opposite side of the question. He can assure his readers that none entertained a higher veneration for Mr. Fuller than himself, notwithstanding their difference of sentiment on this subject; and that when he entered on this discussion, it was with the fullest expectation of having his opposition to encounter. At that time his state of health, though not good, was such as suggested a hope that the event was very distant which we all deplore. Having been led to mention this affecting circumstance, I cannot refrain from expressing in a few words the sentiments of affectionate veneration with which I also regarded that excellent person while living, and cherish his memory now that he is no more; a man whose sagacity enabled him to penetrate to the depths of every subject he explored, whose conceptions were so powerful and luminous that what was recondite and original appeared familiar; what was intricate, easy and perspicuous in his hands; equally successful in enforcing the practical, in stating the theoretical, and discussing the polemical branches of theology; without the advantage of early education, he rose to high distinction among the religious writers of his day, and in the midst of a most active and laborious life, left monuments of his piety and genius which will survive to distant posterity. Were I making his eulogium I should necessarily dwell on the spotless integrity of his private life, his fidelity and friendship, his neglect of self-interest, his ardent attachment to truth, and especially the series of unceasing labours and exertions in superintending the mission to India, to which he most probably fell a victim. He had nothing feeble or undecisive in his character, but to every undertaking in which he engaged he brought all the powers of his understanding, all the energies of his heart; and if he were less distinguished by the comprehension than the acumen and solidity of his thoughts; less eminent for the gentler graces than for stern integrity and native grandeur of mind, we have only to remember the necessary limitations of human excellence. While he endeared himself to his denomination by a long course of most useful labour; by his excellent works on the Socinian and Deistical controversies, as well as his devotion to the cause of missions, he laid the world under lasting obligations. Though he was known to profess different views from the writer on the subject under present discussion, it may be inferred from a decisive fact, which it is not necessary to record, that his attachment to them was not very strong, nor his conviction probably very powerful. Be this as it may, his sanction of the practice of exclusive communion has no doubt contributed in no small degree to recommend it to the denomination of which he was so distinguished an ornament. They who are the first to disclaim human authority in the affairs of religion, are not always least susceptible of its influence.
It is observable, also, that bodies of men are very slow in changing their opinions, which, with some inconveniences, is productive of this
advantage, that truth undergoes a severer investigation, and her conquests are the more permanent for being gradually acquired. On this account the writer is not so sanguine as to expect his performance will occasion any sudden revolution in the sentiments and practice of the class of Christians more immediately concerned; if, along with other causes, it ultimately contribute to so desirable an issue, he will be satisfied.
It may not be improper to assign the reason for not noticing the treatise of the celebrated Mr. Robinson, of Cambridge, on the same subject. It is not because he is insensible to the ingenuity and beauty of that performance, as well as of the other works of that original and extraordinary writer; but because it rests on principles more lax and latitudinarian than it is in his power conscientiously to adopt; Mr. R. not having adverted, as far as he perceives, to the distinction of fundamentals, but constructed his plea for toleration* in such a manner as to comprehend all the varieties of religious belief.
The only author I have professed to answer is the late venerable Booth, his treatise being generally considered by our opponents as the ablest defence of their hypothesis.
I have only to add, that I commit the following treatise to the candour of the public, and the blessing of God, hoping that, as it is designed not to excite but to allay animosities, not to widen but to heal the breaches among Christians, it will meet with the indulgence due to good intentions, however feebly executed.
*The intelligent reader will understand me to refer, not to civil toleration by the state, but to that which is exercised by religious societies.