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comprehended within the terms of salvation. In thus attempting to form an estimate of the magnitude of the mistakes and misconceptions of our fellow-christians in a moral view, for the purpose of regulating our treatment of them, we are justified by the highest authority; and the only rational inquiry seems to be, whether infant baptism is really more criminal than those acknowledged imperfections which are allowed to be proper objects of Christian forbearance. If it be affirmed that it is, we request our opponents to reconcile this assertion with the high encomiums they are wont to bestow on Pedobaptists, many of whom they feel no hesitation in classing, on other occasions, with the most eminent saints upon earth. That they are perfectly exempt from blame we are not contending; but this strange combination of vice and virtue in the same persons, by which they are at once justly excluded from the church as criminal and extolled as saints, is perfectly incomprehensible. The advocates of this doctrine attempt to conceal its deformity, by employing an attenuated and ambiguous phraseology, and instead of speaking of Pedobaptists in the terms their system demands, are fond of applying the epithets irregular, disorderly, &c. to their conduct. Still the question returns-Is this imputed irregularity innocent or criminal? If the former, why punish it at all? If the latter, surely the punishment should be proportioned to the guilt; and if it exceed the measure awarded to offences equally aggravated, we must either pronounce it unjust, or confound the distinction of right and wrong. But if the forfeiture of all the privileges attached to Christian society is incurred merely by infant baptism, while numerous imperfections, both in sentiment and practice, are tolerated in the same church, it cannot be denied that the former is treated with more severity than the latter. If it be more criminal, such treatment is just; but if a Doddridge and a Leighton were not, even in the judgment of our opponents, necessarily more criminal in the sight of God than the most imperfect of those whom they retain in their communion, it is neither just in itself, nor upon their own principles.
If we consider the matter in another light, the measure under consideration will appear equally incapable of vindication. As it is unquestionably of the nature of punishment, so the infliction of every species of punishment is out of place which has no tendency to reform the offender, or to benefit others by his example, which are its only legitimate ends. Whatever is besides these purposes is a useless waste of suffering, equally condemned by the dictates of reason and religion. The application of this principle to the case before us is extremely obvious.
I am far from thinking lightly of the spiritual power with which Christ has armed his church. It is a high and mysterious one, which has no parallel on earth. Nothing in the order of means is equally adapted to awaken compunction in the guilty, with spiritual censures impartially administered. The sentence of excommunication in particular, harmonizing with the dictates of conscience, and re-echoed by her voice, is truly terrible; it is the voice of God, speaking through its legitimate organ, which he who despises or neglects ranks with
"heathen men and publicans," joins the synagogue of Satan, and takes his lot with an unbelieving world, doomed to perdition. Excommunication is a sword which, strong in its apparent weakness, and the sharper and more efficacious for being divested of all sensible and exterior envelopements, lights immediately on the spirit, and inflicts a wound which no balm can cure, no ointment can mollify, but which must continue to ulcerate and burn, till healed by the blood of atonement, applied by penitence and prayer. In no instance is that axiom more fully verified, "The weakness of God is stronger than men, and the foolishness of God is wiser than men," than in the discipline of his church. By encumbering it with foreign aid, they have robbed it of its real strength; by calling in the aid of temporal pains and penalties, they have removed it from the spirit to the flesh, from its contact with eternity to unite it to secular interests; and, as the corruption of the best things is the worst, have rendered it the scandal and reproach of our holy religion.
While it retains its character as a spiritual ordinance, it is the chief bulwark against the disorders which threaten to overturn religion, the very nerve of virtue, and, next to the preaching of the Cross, the principal antidote to the "corruptions that are in the world through lust." Discipline in a church occupies the place of laws in a state; and as a kingdom, however excellent its constitution, will inevitably sink into a state of extreme wretchedness, in which laws are either not enacted or not duly administered; so a church which pays no attention to discipline will dither fall into confusion, or into a state so much worse that little or nothing will remain worth regulating. The right of inflicting censures, and of proceeding in extreme cases to excommunication, is an essential branch of that power with which the church is endowed, and bears the same relation to discipline that the administration of criminal justice bears to the general principles of government. When this right is exerted in upholding the "faith once delivered to the saints," or enforcing a conscientious regard to the laws of Christ, it maintains its proper place, and is highly beneficial. Its cognizance of doctrine is justified by apostolic authority; "a heretic, after two or three admonitions, reject:" nor is it to any purpose to urge the difference between ancient heretics and modern, or that to pretend to distinguish truth from error is a practical assumption of infallibility. While the truth of the gospel remains, a fundamental contradiction to it is possible and the difficulty of determining what is so must be exactly proportioned to the difficulty of ascertaining the import of revelation, which he who affirms to be insurmountable ascribes to it such an obscurity as must defeat its primary purpose.
He who contends that no agreement in doctrine is essential to communion must, if he understands himself, either mean to assert that Christianity contains no fundamental truths, or that it is not necessary that a member of a church should be a Christian. The first of these positions sets aside the necessity of faith altogether; the last is a contradiction in terms. For these reasons, it is required that the operation of discipline should extend to speculative errors, no less than to practical
enormities. But since it is not pretended that Pedobaptists are heretics, it is evident that they are not subject to the cognizance of the church under that character. As they differ from us merely in the interpretation of a particular precept, while they avow the same deference to the legislator, the proper antidote to their error is calm, dispassionate argument, not the exercise of power. Let us present the evidence on which our practice is grounded to the greatest advantage, to which the display of a conciliating spirit will contribute more than a little but to proceed with a high hand, and attempt to terminate the dispute by authority, involves an utter misconception of the true nature and object of discipline, which is never to decide what is doubtful, to elucidate what is obscure, but to promulgate the sentence which the immutable laws of Christ have provided, with the design, in the first place, of exciting compunction in the breast of the offender, and next of profiting others by his example. The solemn decision of a Christian assembly, that an individual has forfeited his right to spiritual privileges, and is henceforth consigned to the kingdom of Satan, is an awful proceeding, only inferior in terror to the sentence of the last day.
But what is it which renders it so formidable? It is its accordance with the moral nature of man, its harmony with the dictates of conscience, which gives it all its force. When, on the contrary, the pious inquirer is satisfied with his own conduct, viewing it with approbation and complacency; when he is fortified, as in the present instance, by the example of a great majority of the Christian world, who are ready to receive him with open arms, and to applaud him for the very practice which has provoked it, how vain is it to expect that his exclusion from a particular church will operate a change! When he learns, too, that his supposed error is not pretended to be fatal, but such as may be held with a good conscience, and with faith unfeigned, and is actually held by some of the best of men, it is easy to foresee what sentiments he will feel towards the authors of such a measure, and how little he will be prepared to examine impartially the evidence of that particular opinion which has occasioned it. Such a proceeding, not having the remotest tendency to inform or to alarm the conscience, is ineffectual to every purpose of discipline; and as it professedly comprises nothing of the nature of argument, no light can be derived from it, towards the elucidation of a controverted question. It interposes by authority, instead of reason, where authority can avail nothing, and reason is all in all and while it is contemptible as an instrument employed to compel unanimity, its power of exciting prejudice and disgust is unrivalled. Such are the mischiefs resulting from confounding together the provinces of discipline and of argument; and since the practice which we have ventured to oppose, if it has any meaning, is intended to operate as a punishment, without answering one of the ends for which it is inflicted, it is high time it was consigned to oblivion.
There is another consideration, sufficiently related to the part of the subject before us to justify my introducing it here, as I would wish to avoid the unnecessary multiplication of divisions. Whatever criminality attaches to the practice of free communion must entirely consist in
sanctioning the improper conduct of the parties with whom we unite; and if it be wrong to join with Pedobaptists at the Lord's table, it must be still more so in them to celebrate it. When an action allowed in itself to be innocent or commendable becomes improper as performed in conjunction with another, that impropriety must result solely from the moral incompetence to that action of the party associated. Thus, in the instance before us, it must be assumed that Pedobaptists are morally culpable in approaching the sacred symbols, or the attempt to criminate us for sanctioning them in that practice would be ridiculous. As it is allowed that every baptized believer not only may partake, but ought to partake, of that spiritual repast, his uniting with Pedobaptists on that occasion is liable to objection on no other ground than that it may be considered as intimating his approbation of their conduct in that particular. Upon the principles of our opponents, their approach is not only sinful, but sinful to such a degree as to communicate a moral taint to what, in other circumstances, would be deemed an act of obedience. Here the first question that arises is,-Are the advocates of infant baptism criminal in approaching the Lord's table?
Be it remembered, that our controversy with them respects the ordinance of baptism only, which we suppose them to have misconceived, and that it has no relation to the only remaining positive institute. Believing, as many of them unquestionably do, that they are as truly baptized as ourselves, and there being no controversy between us on the subject of the Eucharist, it is impossible for them, even on the principles of our opponents, to entertain the least scruple respecting the obligation of attending to that ordinance. Admitting it possible for them to believe what they uniformly and invariably profess, they cannot fail of being fully convinced that it is their duty to communicate. Under these circumstances, ought they to communicate, or ought they not? If we answer in the negative, we must affirm that men ought not to pursue that course which, after the most mature deliberation, the unhesitating dictates of conscience suggest; which would go to obliterate and annul the only immediate rule of human action. Nor can it be objected with truth that the tendency of this reasoning is to destroy the absolute difference between right and wrong, by referring all to conscience. That apart from human judgments there is an intrinsic moral difference in actions we freely admit, and hence results the previous obligation of informing the mind by a diligent attention to the dictates of reason and religion, and of delaying to act till we have sufficient light; but in entire consistence with this, we affirm that where there is no hesitation the criterion of immediate duty is the suggestion of conscience, whatever guilt may have been previously incurred by the neglect of serious and impartial inquiry. That this, under the modifications already specified, is the only criterion is sufficiently evident from the impossibility of conceiving any other. If it lead (as it easily may from the neglect of the previous inquiry already mentioned) to a deviation from absolute rectitude, we must not concur in the action in which such deviation is involved.
To apply these principles to the case before us. Whatever blame
we may be disposed to attribute to the abetters of infant baptism on the score of previous inattention or prejudice, as there is nothing in their principles to cause them to hesitate respecting the obligation of the Eucharist, it is unquestionably their immediate duty to celebrate it; they would be guilty of a deliberate and wilful offence were they to neglect it. And as it is their duty to act thus, in compliance with the dictates of conscience, we cannot be guilty of sanctioning what is evil in them by the approbation implied in joint participation. As far as they are concerned the case seems clear, and no sanction is given to criminal conduct. It remains to be considered only how the action is situated with respect to ourselves; and here the decision is still more easy, for the action to which we are invited is not only consistent with rectitude, but would be allowed by all parties to be an instance of obedience, but for the concurrence of Pedobaptists. Thus much may suffice in answer to the first question, respecting the supposed criminality of the act of communion as performed by the advocates of infant baptism,-a criminality which must be assumed as the sole basis of the charges adduced against the practice we are defending.
When we reflect that the whole of our opponents' reasoning turns upon the disqualification of Pedobaptists for the Lord's Supper, it is surprising that we rarely if ever find them contemplate the subject in that light, or advert to the criminality of breaking down that sacred enclosure. The subordinate agents are severely censured, the principal offenders scarcely noticed, and if my reader be disposed to gratify his curiosity by making a collection of all the uncandid strictures which have been passed upon the advocates of pedobaptism, it is more than probable the charge of profaning the Lord's Supper would not be found among the number. Yet this is the original sin; this the epidemic evil, as widely diffused as the existence of Pedobaptist communities: and if it be of such a nature as to attach a portion of guilt to whatever comes into contact with it, it must, considering its extensive prevalence, be one of the most crying enormities. It is an evil which has spread much wider than the sacrifice of the mass: it is a pollution which (with the exception of one sect only) attaches to all flesh, and is unblushingly avowed by the professors of Christianity in every part of the universe. And, what is most surprising, the only persons who have discovered it, instead of lifting up their voice, maintain a profound silence; and, while they are sufficiently liberal in their censures on the popular error respecting baptism, are not heard to breathe a murmur against this erroneous abuse. In truth, they are so little impressed with it that they decline urging it even where the mention of it would seem unavoidable. When they are rebuking us for joining with our Pedobaptist brethren in partaking of a sacrament for which they are supposed to want the due qualifications, it is not their presumption in approaching on which they insist, as might be reasonably expected; on that subject they are silent, while they vehemently inveigh against the imaginary countenance we afford to the neglect of baptism. Thus they persist in construing our conduct, not into an approval of that act of communion in which we are engaged, but into a tacit submission of the validity of