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ON TERMS OF COMMUNION.
WHOEVER forms his ideas of the Church of Christ from an attentive perusal of the New Testament will perceive that unity is one of its essential characteristics; and that, though it be branched out into many distinct societies, it is still but one. The Church," says Cyprian, "is one which by reason of its fecundity is extended into a multitude, in the same manner as the rays of the sun, however numerous, constitute but one light; and the branches of a tree, however many, are attached to one trunk, which is supported by its tenacious root; and when various rivers flow from the same fountain, though number is diffused by the redundant supply of waters, unity is preserved in their origin." Nothing more abhorrent from the principles and maxims of the sacred oracles can be conceived, than the idea of a plurality of true churches, neither in actual communion with each other, nor in a capacity for such communion. Though this rending of the seamless garment of our Saviour, this schism in the members of his mystical body, is by far the greatest calamity which has befallen the Christian interest, and one of the most fatal effects of the great apostacy foretold by the sacred penmen, we have been so long familiarized to it as to be scarcely sensible of its enormity; nor does it excite surprise or concern in any degree proportioned to what would be felt by one who had contemplated the church in the first ages. Christian societies regarding each other with the jealousies of rival empires, each aiming to raise itself on the ruin of all others, making extravagant boasts of superior purity, generally in exact proportion to their departures from it, and scarcely deigning to acknowledge the possibility of obtaining salvation out of their pale, is the odious and disgusting spectacle which modern Christianity presents. The bond of charity, which unites the genuine followers of Christ in distinction from the world, is dissolved, and the very terms by which it was wont to be denoted, exclusively employed to express a predilection for a sect. The evils which result from this state of division are incalculable: it supplies infidels with their most plausible topics of invective; it hardens the consciences of the irreligious, weakens the hands of the good, impedes the efficacy of prayer, and is probably the principal obstruction to that ample effusion of the Spirit which is essential to the renovation of the world.
It is easier, however, it is confessed, to deplore the malady than to prescribe the cure: for however important the preservation of harmony and peace, the interests of truth and holiness are still more so; nor must we forget the order in which the races of the Spirit are arranged. VOL. I.-T
"The wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable." Peace should be anxiously sought, but always in subordination to purity, and therefore every attempt to reconcile the differences among Christians which involves the sacrifice of truth, or the least deliberate deviation from the revealed will of Christ, is spurious in its origin, and dangerous in its tendency. If communion with a Christian society cannot be had without a compliance with rites and usages which we deem idolatrous or superstitious, or without a surrender of that liberty in which we are commanded to stand fast, we must, as we value our allegiance, forego, however reluctantly, the advantages of such a union. Wherever purity and simplicity of worship are violated by the heterogeneous mixture of human inventions, we are not at liberty to comply with them for the sake of peace, because the first consideration in every act of worship is its correspondence with the revealed will of God, which will often justify us in declining the external communion of a church with which we cease not to cultivate a communion in spirit. It is one thing to decline a connexion with the members of a community absolutely, or simply because they belong to such a community, and another to join with them in practices which we deem superstitious and erroneous. In the latter instance, we cannot be said absolutely to refuse a connexion with the pious part of such societies; we decline it merely because it is clogged with conditions which render it impracticable. It is impossible for a Protestant dissenter, for example, without manifest inconsistency, to become a member of the established church; but to admit the members of that community to participate at the Lord's table, without demanding a formal renunciation of their peculiar sentiments, includes nothing contradictory or repugnant. The cases are totally distinct, and the reasons which would apply forcibly against the former would be irrelevant to the latter. In the first supposition, the dissenter, by an active concurrence in what he professes to disapprove, ceases to dissent; in the last no principle is violated, no practice is altered, no innovation is introduced.
Hence arises a question, how far we are justified in repelling from our communion those from whom we differ on matters confessedly not essential to salvation, when that communion is accompanied with no innovation in the rites of worship, merely on account of a diversity of sentiment on other subjects. In other words, are we at liberty, or are we not, to walk with our Christian brethren, as far as we are agreed, or must we renounce their fellowship on account of error allowed not to be fundamental, although nothing is proposed to be done, or omitted, in such acts of communion, which would not equally be done, or omitted, on the supposition of their absence. Such is the precise state of the question which it is my intention to discuss in these pages; and it may possibly contribute to its elucidation to observe, that the true idea of Christian communion is by no means confined to a joint participation of the Lord's Supper. He who in the words of the apostles' creed expresses his belief in the communion of saints, adverts to much more than is comprehended in one particular act. In an intelligent assent to that article is comprehended the total of that sympathy and affection, with all its natural expressions and effects, by which the followers of
Christ are united, in consequence of their union with their Head, and their joint share in the common salvation. The kiss of charity in the apostolic age, the right hand of fellowship, a share in the oblations of the church, a commendatory epistle attesting the exemplary character of the bearer, uniting in social prayer, the employment of the term brother or sister to denote spiritual consanguinity, were all considered in the purest ages as tokens of communion; a term which is never applied in the New Testament exclusively to the Lord's Supper. When it is used in connexion with that rite, it is employed, not to denote the fellowship of Christians, but the spiritual participation of the body and blood of Christ.*
When we engage a Christian brother to present supplications to God in our behalf it cannot be doubted that we have fellowship with him, not less real or spiritual than at the Lord's table. From these considerations it is natural to infer, that no scruple ought to be entertained respecting the lawfulness of uniting to commemorate our Saviour's death with those with whom we feel ourselves at liberty to join in every other branch of religious worship. Where no attempt is made to obscure its import, or impair its simplicity, by the introduction of human ceremonies, but it is proposed to be celebrated in the manner which we apprehend to be perfectly consonant to the mind of Christ, it would seem less reasonable to refuse to co-operate in this branch of religion than in any other, because it is appointed to be a memorial of the greatest instance of love that was ever exhibited, as well as the principal pledge of Christian fraternity. It must appear surprising that the rite which of all others is most adapted to cement mutual attachment, and which is in a great measure appointed for that purpose, should be fixed upon as the line of demarkation, the impassable barrier, to separate and disjoin the followers of Christ. He who admits his fellow-christians to share in every other spiritual privilege, while he prohibits his approach to the Lord's table, entertains a view of that institution diametrically opposite to what has usually prevailed; he must consider it not so much in the light of a commemoration of his Saviour's death and passion, as a religious test, designed to ascertain and establish an agreement in points not fundamental. According to this notion of it, it is no longer a symbol of our common Christianity, it is the badge and criterion of a party, a mark of discrimination applied to distinguish the nicer shades of difference among Christians. How far either Scripture or reason can be adduced in support of such a view of the subject, it will be the business of the following pages to inquire.
In the mean while it will be necessary, in order to render the argument perfectly intelligible, to premise a few words respecting the particular controversy on which the ensuing observations are meant especially to bear. Few of my readers probably require to be informed, that there is a class of Christians pretty widely diffused through these realms, who deny the validity of infant baptism, considering it as a human invention, not countenanced by the Scriptures, nor by the practice of the first and purest ages. Besides their denial of the right of infants to baptism, they also contend for the exclusive validity of im
* 1 Cor. x. 16.
mersion in that ordinance, in distinction from the sprinkling or pouring of water. In support of the former, they allege the total silence of Scripture respecting the baptism of infants, together with their incompetency to comprehend the truths, or sustain the engagements, which they conceive it designed to exhibit. For the latter, they urge the wellknown import of the original word employed to express the baptismal rite, which they allege cannot, without the most unnatural violence, be understood to command any thing less than an immersion of the whole body. The class of Christians whose sentiments I am relating, are usually known by the appellation of Baptists; in contradistinction from whom all other Christians may properly be denominated Pedobaptists. It is not my intention to enter into a defence of their peculiar tenets, though they have my unqualified approbation; but merely to state them for the information of my readers. It must be obvious that in the judgment of the Baptists, such as have only received the baptismal rite in their infancy must be deemed in reality unbaptized; for this is only a different mode of expressing their conviction of the invalidity of infant sprinkling. On this ground they have for the most part confined their communion to persons of their own persuasion, in which, illiberal as it may appear, they are supported by the general practice of the Christian world, which, whatever diversities of opinion may have prevailed, has generally concurred in insisting upon baptism as an indispensable prerequisite to the Lord's table. The effect which has resulted in this particular case has indeed been singular, but it has arisen from a rigid adherence to a principle, almost universally adopted, that baptism is, under all circumstances, a necessary prerequisite to the Lord's Supper. The practice we are now specifying has usually been termed strict communion, while the opposite practice of admitting sincere Christians to the Eucharist, though in our judgment not baptized, is styled free communion. Strict communion is the general practice of our churches, though the abetters of the opposite opinion are rapidly increasing both in numbers and in respectability. The humble hope of casting some additional light on a subject which appears to me of no trivial importance is my only motive for composing this treatise, in which it will be necessary to attempt the establishment of principles sufficiently comprehensive to decide other questions in ecclesiastical polity, besides those which concern the present controversy. I am greatly mistaken if it be possible to bring it to a satisfactory issue, without adverting to topics in which the Christian world are not less interested than the Baptists. If the conclusions we shall endeavour to establish, appear on impartial inquiry to be well founded, it will follow that serious errors respecting terms of communion have prevailed to a wide extent in the Christian church. It will be my anxious endeavour, in the progress of this discussion, to avoid whatever is calculated to irritate; and, instead of acting the part of a pleader, to advance no argument which has not been well weighed, and of whose validity I am not perfectly convinced. The inquiry will be pursued under two parts: in the first, I shall consider the arguments in favour of strict communion; in the second, state, with all possible brevity, the evidence by which we attempt to sustain the opposite practice.
ARGUMENTS FOR STRICT COMMUNION CONSIDERED.
IN reviewing the arguments which are usually urged for the practice of strict communion, or the exclusion of unbaptized persons from the Lord's table, I shall chiefly confine myself to the examination of such as are adduced by the venerable Mr. Booth, in his treatise styled “An Apology for the Baptists," because he is not only held in the highest esteem by the whole denomination, but is allowed by his partisans to have exhibited the full force of their cause. He writes on the subject under discussion with all his constitutional ardour and confidence; which, supported by the spotless integrity and elevated sanctity of the man, have contributed, more perhaps than any other cause, to fortify the Baptists in their prevailing practice. I trust the free strictures which it will be necessary to make on his performance, will not be deemed inconsistent with a sincere veneration for his character, which I should be sorry to see treated with the unsparing ridicule and banter with which he has assailed Mr. Bunyan, a name equally dear to genius and to piety. The reader will not expect me to follow him in his declamatory excursions, or in those miscellaneous quotations, often irrelevant, which the extent of his reading has supplied: it will suffice if I carefully examine his arguments, without omitting a single consideration on which he could be supposed to lay a stress.
The argument from the Order of Time in which Baptism and the Lord's Supper are supposed to have been instituted.
One of the principal pleas in favour of strict communion is derived from the supposed priority of the institution of baptism to the Lord's Supper. "That baptism was an ordinance of God," say our opponents, "that submission to it was required, that it was administered to multitudes before the sacred supper was heard of, are undeniable facts. There never was a time since the ministry of our Lord's successors, in which it was not the duty of repenting and believing sinners to be baptized. The venerable John, the twelve apostles, and the Son of God incarnate, all united in commanding baptism, at a time when it would have been impious to have eaten bread, and drank wine, as an ordinance of divine worship. Baptism, therefore, had the priority in point of institution; which is a presumptive evidence that it has, and ever will have, a prior claim to our obedience. So under the ancient economy sacrifices and circumcision were appointed and practised in the patriarchal ages: in the time of Moses, the paschal feast, and