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spicuous, in exact proportion to the elevation to which he has aspired. He was determined to give the controversy a new and imposing aspect; and conscious that the practice which he undertook to defend had been hitherto rested on no very distinct basis, he determined to dig deep for a foundation, and in so doing, has disturbed the most received opinions, and endangered the most momentous truths. Were I permitted to prognosticate his fate, I should say that his paradoxical mode of defence, whatever applause it may meet with at present, will, in the end, be of infinite injury to the cause; and his treatise, like the little book in the Apocalypse, be “sweet in the mouth, and bitter in the belly.”
But though what has already been advanced, may be considered as comprehending all that is essential in the controversy; as he has thought fit to introduce other topics, the reader is requested to exercise his patience, while we reply to his most important observation, on each of these; after which we shall endeavour to shew the futility of the answer he has attempted to the principal arguments adduced in favour of our practice.
THE COLLATERAL TOPICS INTRODUCED BY MR. KINGHORN
The Charge of dispensing with a Christian Ordi
Among the various objections to the system we wish to see universally adopted in our churches, there is none more frequently insisted upon than that of its implying a right to dispense with a command of Christ.* Though the treatise on the Terms of Communion contains a clear answer to this accusation, yet, as it is again brought forward by our author, with unabated confidence, a fuller reply may be deemed requisite.
This writer supposes that the expression pensing power,” so often used in this controversy, was first suggested by the conduct of Charles the Second, in granting indulgence to the dissenters beyond the allowance of law, a measure which was afterwards adopted, for similar purposes, by James, his successor. It is surprising a person of Mr. Kinghorn's acknowledged learning should fall into such an error; that he should not know that the doctrine of dispensation was familiar to preceding ages, and was the subject of much subtle disquisition, and of many refined distinctions among legal writers. It is impossible but that he must have read, in ecclesiastical history, of the power of dispensation assumed by the pope, which formed a principal branch of the papal revenue, and the exertion of which was regulated by the dictates of the most artful policy. He cannot, surely, have forgotten that the refusal to exercise this prerogative, when it was demanded in order to gratify the capricious passions of Henry the Eighth, was the immediate occasion of the Reformation in England.
* Here the following question deserves our serious regard, first, "Have we any right to dispense with a clear command of Christ ?” -Baptism a Term of Communion, p. 90.
The power of dispensation is the power of setting aside the law in a particular instance. It may be exerted by the legislature, or by the executive branch of government, under certain regulations, and to a certain extent, previously settled and provided for by the original constitution of the state. As the operation of law is general, and the actions to which it applies are susceptible of endless modifications and varieties, some such
power may be occasionally requisite to adapt it more perfectly to unexpected emergencies, and, by a deviation from the letter, to secure its spirit and design. There is one circumstance, however, which is invariably attached to the exercise of this prerogative, which shews the impropriety of making it the ground of accusation in the present controversy. It always implies a known and conscious departure from the law. He who claims a dispensing power, asserts his right to deviate from the letter of legal enactments; but whoever merely misinterprets their meaning, and, on that account, applies them to a case which they were not designed to comprehend, or neglects to carry them into execution within their proper sphere, (as his conduct is consistent with the utmost reverence for the law,) is at a great remove from exerting a dispensing power. He betrays his ignorance, but usurps nothing.
When the pope granted a dispensation, enabling certain persons to marry within the prohibited degrees, he sanctioned an acknowledged violation of the ecclesiastical canons; just as Charles the First and James the Second, in their respective proclamations of indulgence to tender consciences, proceeded in direct opposition to existing statutes. But we are conscious of no such procedure; if we err, we err from ignorance. We contend that the law is in our favour, and challenge our opponents to prove the contrary; we ask what prohibition