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I am utterly at a loss to reconcile these diserepancies. Is it that they consider less attention to truth, a less exact correspondence betwixt the language and the sentiments, requisite in addressing the Deity than in discoursing with their fellow mortals? Or is it not more candid to suppose that devotion elevates them to a higher region, where they breathe the freer air, and look down upon the petty subtleties of a thorny, disputatious theology, with a just and sovereign contempt?
The Exclusion of Pædobaptists from the Lord's
Table considered as a Punishment.
The refusal of the eucharist to a professor of christianity can be justified only on the ground of his supposed criminality ; of his embracing heretical sentiments, or living a vicious life. As the sentence of exclusion is the severest the church can inflict, and as no punishment is just, but in proportion to the degree of preceding delinquency, it follows of course that he who incurs the total privation of church-privileges, must be considered eminently in the light of an offender. When the incestuous person was separated from the church at Corinth, it was regarded by St. Paul as a punishment, and that of no ordinary magnitude :
Sufficient,” said he, “is this punishment, which was inflicted of many." Nor is there any difference, with respect to the present inquiry, betwixt the refusal of a candidate, and the expulsion of a member; since nothing will justify the former of these measures, which might not be equally alleged in vindication of the latter. Both amount to a declaration of the parties being unworthy to communicate. The language held by our opponents is sufficiently decisive on this head :-“It is not everyone,” says Mr. Booth, “that is received of Jesus Christ, who is entitled to communion at his table ; but such, and such only, as revere his authority, submit to his ordinances, and obey the laws of his house."* Hence, to be consistent with themselves, they must impute to pædobaptists universally, a degree of delinquency equal to that which attaches to the most flagrant breaches of morality; and deem them equally guilty, in the sight of God, with those unjust persons, idolaters, revellers, and extortioners, who are declared incapable of entering into the kingdom of heaven. For, if the guilt imputed in this instance, is acknowledged to be of a totally different order from that which belongs to the openly vicious and profane, how come they to be included in the same sentence ? and where is the equity of animadverting upon unequal faults with equal severity ?
To be consistent, also, they must invariably refuse to tolerate every species of imperfection in their members, which in their judgement is equally criminal with the pædobaptist error; but how far they are from maintaining this impartiality, is too obvious to admit of a question. In churches whose discipline is the most rigid, it will not be denied that many are tolerated, who are chargeable with conduct more offensive in the sight of God than a misconception of the nature of a positive institute; nor will they assert that a Brainerd, a Doddridge, or a Leighton, had more to answer for at the supreme tribunal, on the score of infant baptism, than the most doubtful of those imperfect christians, whom they retain without scruple in their communion. Let them remember, too, that this reasoning proceeds, not on the principle of the innocence of error in general, or of infantsprinkling in particular; but, on the contrary, that it takes for granted, that some degree of blame attaches to a neglect, though involuntary, of a positive precept ; we wish only to be informed, on what principle of equity it is proposed, in the infliction of ecclesiastical censures, to equalize things which are not equal.
* Apology, p. 107.
From those injunctions of St. Paul which have already been distinctly noticed, where he enforces the duty of reciprocal toleration, we find him insisting on certain circumstances, adapted to diminish the moral estimate of the errors in question, and to shew that they involved a very inconsiderable portion of blame, compared to that which the zealots, on either side, were disposed to impute. Such is the statement of their not being fundamental, of the possibility of their being held with a pure conscience, and the certainty that both parties were equally comprehended within the terms of salvation. In thus attempting to form an estimate of the magnitude of the mistakes and misconceptions of our fellow-christians, in a moral view, for the purpose of regulating our treatment of them, we are justified by the highest authority; and the only rational inquiry seems to be, whether infant baptism is really more criminal than those acknowledged imperfections which are allowed to be proper objects of christian forbearance. If it be affirmed that it is, we request our opponents to reconcile this assertion with the high encomiums they are wont to bestow on pædobaptists, many of whom they feel no hesitation in classing, on other occasions, with the most eminent saints upon earth. That they are perfectly exempt from blame, we are not contending; but this strange combination of vice and virtue in the same persons, by which they are, at once, justly excluded from the church as criminal, and extolled as saints, is perfectly incomprehensible. The advocates of this doctrine attempt to conceal its deformity, by employing an attenuated and ambiguous phraseology, and instead of speaking of pædobaptists in the terms their system demands, are fond of applying the epithets irregular, disorderly, &c., to their conduct. Still the question returns--Is this imputed irregularity innocent or criminal? If the former, why punish it at all ? If the latter, surely the punishment should be proportioned to the guilt; and if it exceed the measure awarded to offences equally aggravated, we must either pronounce it unjust, or confound the distinction of right and wrong. But if the forfeiture of all the privileges attached to christian society, is incurred merely by infant baptism, while numerous imperfections, both in sentiment and practice, are tolerated in the same church, it cannot be denied that the former is treated with more severity than the latter. If it be more criminal, such treatment is just; but if a Doddridge and a Leighton were not, even in the judgement of our opponents, necessarily more criminal in the sight of God than the most imperfect of those whom they retain in their communion, it is neither just in itself, nor upon their own principles.
If we consider the matter in another light, the measure under consideration will appear equally incapable of vindication. As it is unquestionably of the nature of punishment, so the infliction of every species of punishment is out of place, which has no tendency to reform the offender, or to benefit others by his example, which are its only legitimate ends. Whatever is beside these purposes, is a useless waste of suffering, equally condemned by the dictates of reason and religion. The application of this principle to the case before us, is extremely obvious.
I am far from thinking lightly of the spiritual power with which Christ has armed his church.