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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 betwixt right and wrong, by referring all to conscience. That, apart from human judgements, 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 abettors 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 pædobaptists. 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 pædobaptists 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 inclosure. 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 pædobaptism, 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 pædobaptist 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 pædobaptist 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 infant baptism, against which we are known to remonstrate. In short, they are disposed to attack our practice in any point, rather than in that in which, if we are wrong, it is alone vulnerable, that of its being an expression of our approbation of pædobaptists celebrating the eucharist. In the same spirit, when they have once procured the exclusion of the obnoxious party from their assemblies, they are completely satisfied; their communion elsewhere gives them no concern, though it must be allowed, on the supposition of the pretended disqualification, that the evil remains in its full force. Nor are they ever known to remonstrate with them on this irregularity during its continuance; nor, should they afterwards become converts to our doctrine, to recall it to their attention, with a view to excite compunction and remorse; so that this is perhaps the only sin for which men are never called to repentance, and of which no man has been known to repent. When our Lord dismissed the woman taken in adultery, though he did not proceed to judge her, he solemnly charged her to sin no more: the advocates for strict communion, when they dismiss pædobaptists, give them no such charge; their language seems to be,—“Go, sin by yourselves, and we are satisfied.”
The inference I would deduce from these remarkable facts is, that they possess an internal conviction that the class of christians whom they proscribe, would be guilty of a great impropriety in declining to communicate in the sacramental elements; and that the union of baptists with them in that solemnity, so far from being liable to the imputation of “partaking in other men's sins,” is not only lawful, but commendable.
On the Impossibility of reducing the Practice of
Strict Communion to any general Principle.
When a particular branch of conduct is so circumstanced as to be incapable of being deduced from some general rule, or of being resolved into some comprehensive principle, founded on reason or revelation, we may be perfectly assured it is not obligatory. Whatever is matter of duty, is a part of some whole, the relation of which is susceptible of proof, either by the express decision of scripture, or by general reasoning; and a point of practice perfectly insulated, and disjointed from