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to establish a scale which shall mark, by just gradations, the malignant influence of erroneous conceptions on others ! On the supposition of a formal denial of saving, essential truth, we feel no difficulty; we may determine, without hesitation, on the testimony of God, that it incurs a forfeiture of the blessings of the new and everlasting covenant, among which the communion of saints holds a distinguished place. But such a supposition is foreign to the present inquiry.
Instead of losing ourselves in a labyrinth of metaphysical subtleties, our only safe guide is an appeal to facts; and here we find, from experience, that the sentiments of the pædobaptist may consist with the highest attainments of piety exhibited in modern times; with the most varied and elevated forms of moral grandeur, without impairing the zeal of missionaries, without impeding the march of confessors to their prisons, or of martyrs to the flames. We are willing to acknowledge these tenets have produced much mischief in communities and nations, who have confounded baptism with regeneration ; but the mere belief of the title of infants to that ordinance, is a misconception respecting a positive institute, much less injurious than if it affected the vital parts of christianity. But be it what it may, we contend that it is impossible, without a total disregard of truth and decency, to assert that it is intrinsically and essentially more pernicious in its effects than the numerous errors and imperfections which the advocates of strict communion feel no scruple in tolerating in the best organized churches. It is but justice to add, that few or none have attempted to prove that it is so; but have satisfied themselves with a certain vague and loose declamation, better adapted to inflame prejudice, than to produce light or conviction.
In the government of the church, there is a choice of three modes of procedure, each consistent with itself, though not equally compatible with the dictates of reason or scripture. We may either open the doors to persons of all sentiments and persuasions who maintain the messiahship of Christ; or insist upon an absolute uniformity of
or limit the necessity of agreement to articles deemed fundamental, leaving subordinate points to the exercise of private judgement. The strict baptists have feigned to themselves a fourth, of which it is not less difficult to form a clear and consistent conception, than of a fourth dimension. They have pursued the clew by which other inquirers have been conducted, till they arrived at a certain point, when they refused to proceed a step farther, without being able to assign a single reason for stopping, which would not equally prove they had already proceeded too far. They have attempted an incongruous mixture of liberal principles with a particular act of intolerance; and these, like the iron and clay in the feet of Nebuchadnezzar's image, will not mix. Hence all that
want of coherence and system in their mode of reasoning, which might be expected in a defence not of a theory, so properly, as of a capricious sally of prejudice.
Before I close this part of the subject, I must just remark the sensible chagrin which the venerable Booth betrays at our insisting on the distinction betwixt fundamentals and non-fundamentals in religion, and the singular manner in which he attempts to evade its force. After observing that we are wont, in defence of our practice, to plead that the points at issue are not fundamental“ Not fundamental !” he indignantly exclaims, “not essential! But in what sense is submission to baptism not essential ? To our justifying righteousness, our acceptance with God, or our interest in his favour? So is the Lord's supper, and so is every part of our obedience. They (the friends of open communion) will readily allow that an interest in the divine favour is not obtained by miserable sinners, but granted by the eternal Sovereign : and that acceptance with the High and Holy God is not on conditions performed by us, but in consideration of the vicarious obedience, and propitiatory sufferings of the great Emanuel.”
“ To the pure, all things are pure.” In the mind of Mr. Booth, nothing was associated with this language, I am persuaded, but impressions of piety and devotion ; though its unguarded texture and ambiguous tendency are too manifest. For
my own part, I am at a loss to put any other construction upon it than this; either that faith and repentance are in no respect conditions of salvation, or that adult baptism is of equal necessity and importance. When it is asked — What is essential to salvation ? the gospel constitution is presupposed, the great facts in christianity assumed ; and the true import of the inquiry is— What is essential to a personal interest in the blessings secured by the former, in the felicity of which the latter are the basis ? in which light, to reply—The atonement and righteousness of Christ, is egregious trifling, because being things out of ourselves, though the only preliminary basis of human hope, it is absurd to confound them with the characteristic difference betwixt such as are saved, and such as perish. When, in like manner, an inquiry arises — What is fundamental in religion? as we must be supposed by religion to intend a system of doctrines to be believed, and of duties to be performed, to direct us to the vicarious obedience of Christ, not as a necessary object of belief, but as a transaction absolute and complete in itself, and to pass over in silence the inherent distinction of character, the faith with its renovating influence to which the promise of life is attached, is, to speak in the mildest terms, to reply in a manner quite irrelevant; and when to this is joined, even by implication, a denial of the existence of such a distinction, we are conducted to the brink of a precipice. The denial of this is
the very core of antinomianism, to which it is painful to see so able a writer, and so excellent a man as Mr. Booth, make the slightest approach. We would seriously ask whether it be intended to deny that the belief of any doctrines, or the infusion of any principles or dispositions whatever, is essential to future happiness ; if this be intended, it supersedes the use and necessity of every
branch of internal religion. If it is not, we ask, Are correct views on the subject of baptism to be classed among those doctrines ?
Had we been contending for an indulgence towards such as are convinced of the obligation of believers' baptism, but refuse to act up to their convictions, and shrink from the cross, some parts of the expostulation we have quoted might be considered as pertinent; but to attempt to explain away a distinction, the most important in theology, the only centre of harmony, the only basis of peace and concord, and the grand bulwark opposed to the sophistry of the church of Rome, is a humiliating instance of the temerity and imprudence incident to the best of men. The Jesuit Twiss, in that controversy with the protestants which gave occasion to the inimitable defence of their principles by the immortal Chillingworth, betrayed the same impatience with our author at this distinction, though in perfect consistence with the doctrines of a church which pretends, by an appeal to an infallible tribunal, to decide every controversy, and to preclude every doubt.