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mode of procedure has been already sufficiently tried, and is found utterly ineffectual.
The labour bestowed upon these sheets has not arisen from an indifference to the interests of truth, but from a sincere wish to promote them, by disengaging it from the unnatural confinement in which it has been detained by the injudicious conduct of its advocates. How far the reasoning adduced or the spirit displayed on this subject is entitled to approbation must be left to the judgment of the religious public. If any offence has been given by the appearance of unbecoming severity, it will give me real concern; and the more so because there are not a few among our professed opponents in this controversy to whom I look up with undissembled esteem and veneration.
Having omitted nothing which appeared essentially connected with the subject, I hasten to close this disquisition; previously to which it may not be improper briefly to recall the attention to the principal topics of argument. We have endeavoured to show that the practice of strict communion derives no support from the supposed priority of baptism to the Lord's Supper in the order of institution, which order is exactly the reverse; that it is not countenanced by the tenor of the apostles' commission, nor by apostolic precedent, the spirit of which is in our favour, proceeding on principles totally dissimilar to the case under discussion; that the opposite practice is enforced by the obligations of Christian charity; that it is indubitably comprehended within the canon which enjoins forbearance towards mistaken brethren; that the system of our opponents unchurches every Pedobaptist community; that it rests on no general principle; that it attempts to establish an impossible medium; that it inflicts a punishment which is capricious and unjust; and finally, that by fomenting prejudice and precluding the most effectual means of conviction, it defeats its own purpose.
Should the reasoning under any one of these heads be found to be conclusive, however it may fail in others, it will go far towards establishing our leading position, that no church has a right to establish terms of communion which are not terms of salvation. With high consideration of the talents of many of my brethren who differ from me, I have yet no apprehension that the sum total of the argument admits a satisfactory reply.
A tender consideration of human imperfection is not merely the dictate of revelation, but the law of nature, exemplified in the most striking manner in the conduct of Him whom we all profess to follow. How wide the interval which separated his religious knowledge and attainments from that of his disciples; he, the fountain of illumination, they encompassed with infirmities! But did he recede from them on that account? No: he drew the bond of union closer, imparted successive streams of effulgence, till he incorporated his spirit with theirs, and elevated them into a nearer resemblance of himself. In imitating by our conduct towards our mistaken brethren this great exemplar, we cannot err. By walking together with them as far as we are agreed, our agreement will extend, our differences lessen, and love, which
rejoiceth in the truth, will gradually open our hearts to higher and nobler inspirations.
Might we indulge a hope that not only our denomination, but every other description of Christians, would act upon these principles, we should hail the dawn of a brighter day, and consider it as a nearer approach to the ultimate triumph of the church than the annals of time have yet recorded. In the accomplishment of our Saviour's prayer, we should behold a demonstration of the divinity of his mission, which the most impious could not resist; we should behold in the church a peaceful haven, inviting us to retire from the tossings and perils of this unquiet ocean to a sacred enclosure, a sequestered spot, which the storms and tempests of the world were not permitted to invade.
"Intus aquæ dulces, vivoque sedilia saxo:
'The genius of the gospel, let once for all be remembered, is not ceremonial but spiritual, consisting, not in meats or drinks, or outward observances, but in the cultivation of such interior graces as compose the essence of virtue, perfect the character, and purify the heart, These form the soul of religion; all the rest are but her terrestrial attire, which she will lay aside when she passes the threshold of eternity. When, therefore, the obligations of humility and love come into competition with a punctual observance of external rites, the genius of religion will easily determine to which we should incline: but when the question is, not whether we shall attend to them ourselves, but whether we shall enforce them on others, the answer is still more ready. All attempts to urge men forward, even in the right path, beyond the measure of their light, are impracticable in our situation, if they were lawful; and unlawful, if they were practicable. Augment their light, conciliate their affections, and they will follow of their own accord.
AN objection to the hypothesis which assigns the origin of Christian baptism to the commission which the apostles received at our Lord's resurrection, may possibly be urged from the baptisms performed by his disciples during his personal ministry; and as no notice is taken of that circumstance in the body of the work, I beg leave to submit the following observations to the reader :-We are informed by one of the evangelists, that Christ, by the instrumentality of his disciples, at one period "made and baptized more disciples than John."* The following remarks may possibly cast some light on this subject :—
* John iv. 1.
1. A Divine commission was given to the son of Zechariah to announce the speedy manifestation of the Messiah; or, which is equivalent, to declare that "the kingdom of God was at hand," with an injunction solemnly to immerse in water as many as, in consequence of that intelligence, professed repentance and reformation of life; and as he was the only person who had been known to initiate his disciples by that rite, it was natural for him to be distinguished by the appellation of the Baptist, or the Immerser. The Scriptures are totally silent respecting any mission to baptize apart from his. It is by no means certain, however, that he was the only person who performed that ceremony; indeed, when we consider the prodigious multitudes who flocked to him, the "inhabitants of Jerusalem, Judea, and all the region round about Jordan," it seems scarcely practicable: he most probably employed coadjutors, though, the practice having originated with him, it was foreign to the purpose of the evangelists to notice that circumstance.
2. Our Lord, who had already evinced the profoundest respect to his mission by receiving baptism at his hands, was, in consequence of his being the Messiah, undoubtedly authorized personally to perform any religious rite or office which was at that time in force, as well as to delegate to others the power of performing it; and as immersion, in token of repentance and preparation for the kingdom of God, then at hand, was an important branch of the religion then obligatory, it was with the greatest propriety that he not only submitted to it himself, but authorized his disciples to perform it. This, however, is by no means sufficient to constitute a distinct rite or ordinance; and since it was not accompanied with a distinct signification, it could not be considered as originating a new constitution, but as a mere co-operation with his forerunner in one and the same work.
3. We have already shown at large that the principal difference between John's baptism and that which the apostles were commissioned to perform after our Saviour's ascension consisted in the former not being celebrated in the name of Jesus. But there is just as much difficulty in supposing it performed by his disciples in that name, during his abode on earth, as by his forerunner. It would have equally defeated the purpose of that caution which he uniformly maintained; and it is absurd to suppose that he would strictly charge his disciples to tell no man that he was the Christ, while he authorized them to disclose that very secret to the mixed multitude as often as they baptized; nor could the use of his name in that ordinance be separated from such a disclosure.
4. In addition to this, it must be remembered that John and our Lord (by the hands of his disciples) both baptized at the same period: their ministry was contemporary. Now if we assert that our Lord enjoined one confession of faith in baptism, and John another, we shall have different dispensations of religion subsisting at the same time, and must suppose the people were under an obligation to believe one thing as the disciples of John, and another as the disciples of Christ. But this it is impossible to admit. There is unquestionably, at all seasons, a perfect harmony in the economies of religion, so that two different
ones are never in force at one and the same time. The first ceases when the next succeeds, just as Judaism was abolished by Christianity, and the patriarchal dispensation superseded by Judaism. Unless we are prepared to assert that the dispensations of religion are not obligatory, one light in which they must be considered is that of different laws, or codes of law; but it is essential to the nature of laws that the new one, except it be merely declaratory, invariably repeals the old. In whatever particular it differs, it necessarily abolishes or annuls the former. But as John continued to baptize by Divine authority at the same time with the disciples of our Saviour, it is evident his institution was not superseded; consequently, it was of such a nature that it could subsist in conjunction with the baptism performed by our Lord through the hands of his apostles. But, for the reason already alleged, this could not have been the case, unless it had been one and the same thing. The inference I wish to deduce from the whole is, that the baptisms celebrated by Christ's disciples during his personal ministry in no respect differed from John's, either in the action itself or in the import, but were merely a joint execution of the same work; agreeably to which, we find a perfect identity in the language which our Saviour enjoined his disciples to use, and in the preaching of John: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand." Whatever information our Lord imparted to his disciples beyond that which was communicated by his forerunner (which we all know was much) was given in detached portions, at distinct intervals, and was never imbodied or incorporated with any positive institution till after his ascension, which may be considered as the commencement of the Christian dispensation in its strictest sense.