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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 cooperate 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 demarcation, 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
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 immersion 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 incompetence to comprehend the truths, or sustain the engagements, which they conceive it designed to exhibit. For the latter, they urge the well-known 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 pædobaptists. 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 judgement 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 judgement not baptized, is styled free communion. Strict communion is the general practice of our churches, though
the abettors 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
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.