Imatges de pàgina
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spiritual welfare in time and in eternity. Of whatever benefits, therefore, we might by a diligent .study of the written word, and just inferences from it, assure ourselves that the church itself was the depositary; of these we might safely assume generally, that she dispensed them through the medium of the sacraments.

But further, from the admitted character of the sacraments, as rites of initiation and communion, and previously to the consideration of any more peculiar and distinctive character, which they may severally possess in themselves, or of any thing explicitly revealed concerning them, we might perhaps advance a step further, and assign to each particular graces, corresponding to this their original idea, and their particular place in the Christian system. In this view, to baptism would naturally belong the collation of whatever privileges might result from the simple fact of our admission into the society; to the Lord's Supper, on the other hand, might be appropriated the conveyance, or the renewed assurance, of the benefits accruing from our continuance in it.

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And a knowledge of the distinctive peculiarities of the religion would be all that would be requisite, to enable us to discriminate and assign with certainty to each its proper

and peculiar graces. It is not from any doubt of the evidence, or the validity, of the conclusions deducible from this view of the subject, that I decline adopting it as the basis of our investigation. To the line of argument thus opened I may again have occasion to refer; nor, because I am in this stage of our inquiry unwilling to insist further upon it, shall I scrupulously reject all assistance to be derived from the more obvious inferences to which it readily leads. I decline it as the groundwork, first, because this method of pursuing the inquiry would, in exact proportion to the precision with which our conclusions should be drawn, have an appearance of abstractedness, which, in inquiries directed to subjects of practical importance, should as much as possible be avoided : and secondly, because the account of the sacraments to be derived from this source alone, from the simple consideration

of the observances themselves, as rites of initiation and communion, and the character of the religion of which they form a part, would be almost necessarily defective in some very material points. From such a method of proceeding indeed the more general conclusions, to which we have alluded, would be deduced with sufficient ease and clearness; but from it any more particular knowledge of the benefits, which they might severally be intended to signify, or calculated to procure to the partakers in them, would, it seems, with less certainty, or less facility, be obtained.

It would not indeed follow as a matter of course, from the mere fact of their being rites of initiation and communion, that any such peculiar or appropriate benefits belonged to them. We could readily conceive a mode of admission, which should in itself signify no more than that we were admitted, and a mode of communion, which should express nothing but the continuance of our connection with the society as members. But, on the other hand, if the rites themselves actually established do possess any appropriate significancy, either natural or. conventional; as it would be repugnant to all our ideas upon the subject to suppose that this had no influence in their selection; so it would be strange, if, from the consideration of that significancy, no light should be thrown upon the intent of their appointment, and the particular character of the benefits they are severally designed to convey.

Again, if many points concerning them are matter of distinct and express revelation, it would be absurd to rest our conclusions on mere arguments of inference, however forcible in themselves; such reasonings, though often indispensable in the absence of more direct proof, being, where that proof is to be had, rather gratifying from their ingenuity, or from the evidence they afford of the general harmony of the system, than such as a prudent theologian would employ as the foundation of the doctrines they support.

Reserving to myself, therefore, the right of recurring, as may hereafter seem fit, to the topic of argument thus opened; I shall

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for the present content myself with drawing from the original and indefeasible character of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as rites of initiation and communion, the general inference, that they are, as such, essentially communicative of the benefits accruing to the members of the society from their aggregation to it; for the more particular discrimination and appropriation of these benefits, I shall have recourse to what may be severally learnt concerning them, either from the nature of the rites themselves, combined with the history and circumstances of their appointment; or, as to some it may appear, yet more directly, from the manner in which they are spoken of in the Scriptures of the New Testament: whether by the apostles, as the authorized administrators of the rites already established, or by our Lord himself, or his forerunner, in anticipation of their appointment.

Now in determining the nature of any external observance, the first thing that seems to suggest itself for consideration is its natural significancy. For though it were possible, that, for the purposes it was

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