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we rest the toleration of any supposed error, we shall find they invariably coincide with the idea of its not being fundamental. If it be alleged, for example, that the error in question relates to a subject less clearly revealed than some others, what is this but to insinuate the ease with which an honest inquirer may mistake respecting it? If the little practical influence it is likely to exert, is alleged as a plea for forbearance, the force of such a remark rests entirely on the assumption of an indissoluble connexion betwixt a state of salvation and a certain character, which the opinion in question is supposed not to destroy. If we allege the example of eminently pious men, who have embraced it, we infer from analogy the actual safety of the person by whom it is held ; and, in short, it is impossible to construct an argument for the exercise of mutual forbearance, but what proceeds upon this principle; a principle which pervades the reasoning of our opponents on every other occasion, except this of strict communion, which they make an insulated case, capriciously exempting it from the arbitration of all the general rules of scripture, as well as from the maxims to which, in all other instances, they are attached.
Reluctant as I feel to trespass on the patience of the reader, by unnecessarily prolonging the discussion, I am anxious, if possible, to set the present argument in a still stronger light. I observe, therefore, that if it be contended that a certain opinion is so obnoxious as to justify the exclusion of its abettors from the privilege of christian fellowship, it must be either on account of its involving a contradiction to the saving truth of the gospel, or on account of its injurious effects on the character. As those of our brethren to whom this reasoning is addressed, positively disclaim considering infant baptism in the former light, they will not attempt to vindicate the exclusion of pædobaptists on that ground. In vindication of such a measure, they must allege the injurious effects it produces on the character of its abettors. Here, however, they have precluded themselves from the possibility of urging that the injury sustained is fatal, by the previous concession that it does not involve a contradiction to saving truth. Could they, without cancelling that concession, urge the fatal nature of the influence in question, they would present an object to the mind sufficiently precise and determinate; an object which may be easily conceived, and accurately defined. But as things are now situated, they can, at most, only insist on such a kind and degree of deteriorating effect as is consistent with the spiritual safety of the party concerned; and as they are among the first to contend that every species of error is productive of injurious effects, it is incumbent upon them to point out some consequences worse in their kind, or more aggravated in degree, resulting from this particular error, than what may be fairly ascribed to the
worst of those erroneous or defective views, which they are accustomed to tolerate. These injurious consequences must also occupy an intermediate place between two extremes; they must, on the one hand, be decidedly more serious than can be supposed to result from the most crude, undigested, or discordant views, tolerated in regular baptist churches, yet not of such a nature on the other, as to involve the danger of eternal perdition. Let them specify, if it be in their power, that ill influence on the character which is the natural consequence of the tenet of infant sprinkling, , considered per se, or independent of adventitious circumstances, and the operation of accidental causes, which justifies a treatment of its patrons, so different from what is given to the abettors of other errors. This malignant influence must, I repeat it, be the natural or necessary product of the practice of pædobaptism; because the simple avowal of this is deemed sufficient to incur the forfeiture of church privileges, without further time or inquiry. However vehemently the supporters of such a measure may declaim against it, or however triumphantly expose the principles on which it is founded, they have done nothing towards accomplishing their object—the vindication of strict communion, since the same mode of proceeding might be adopted towards any other misconception, or erroneous opinion; and if it may be forcibly expelled, as soon as it is confuted, there is an end to toleration. Toleration has no place but in the presence of acknowledged imperfection. It is absolutely necessary for them, as they would vindicate their conduct to the satisfaction of reasonable men, to prove that some specific deteriorating effect results from the practice of infant baptism, distinct from the malignant influence of error in general, and of those imperfections in particular, which are not inconsistent with salvation.
Though the opposition betwixt truth and error is equal in all cases, and the former always susceptible of proof, as well as the latter of confutation, all error is not opposed to the same truths; and hence arises a distinction betwixt such erroneous and imperfect views of religion as, however they may, in their remoter consequences, impair, do not contradict the gospel testimony, and such as do. We lay this distinction as the basis of that forbearance towards the mistakes and imperfections of good men for which we plead; and, as the case of our pædobaptist brethren is clearly comprehended within that distinction, feel no scruple in admitting them to christian fellowship. We are attached to that distinction because it is both scriptural and intelligible; while the hypothesis of the strict baptists, as they style themselves, is so replete with perplexity and confusion, that, for my part, I absolutely despair of comprehending it. It proceeds upon the supposition of a certain medium between two extremes, which they have not even attempted to fix; and as the
necessary consequence of this, their reasoning, if we choose to term it such, floats and undulates in such a manner, that it is extremely difficult to grasp it. On the pernicious influence of error in general we entertain no doubt, but we demand, again and again, to have that precise injurious effect of infant sprinkling pointed out and evinced, which is more to be deprecated than the probable result of those acknowledged imperfections to which they extend their indulgence. This must surely be deemed a reasonable requisition, though it is one with which they have not hitherto thought fit to comply.
The operation of speculative error on the mind is one of the profoundest secrets in nature; and to determine the precise quantity of evil resulting from it in any given case, (except the single one of its involving a denial of fundamental truth,) transcends the capacity of human nature. We must, in order to form a correct judgement, be not only perfectly acquainted with the nature and tendency of the error in question, but also with the portion of attention it occupies, as well as the degree of zeal and attachment with which it is embraced. We must determine the force of the counteracting principles, and how far it bears an affinity to the predominant failings of him who maintains it; how far it coalesces with the weaker parts of his moral constitution. These particulars, however, it is next to impossible to explore, when the inquiry respects ourselves ; how much more