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CH A P. XIII.

THE PACIFIC PART OF VALERIAN'S REIGN.

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NDER Valerian, the succeffor of Gallus, the

church was allowed a longer truce. For that under Gallus seems to have been very short and precarious. But for upwards of three years the people of God found in Valerian even a friend and protector. His house was full of christians, and he had a strong predilection in their favour.

The Lord exercises his people in various ways; there are virtues adapted to a state of prosperity as well as of adversity. The wisdom and love of God, which directed the late terrible persecutions, have in part appeared by the excellent fruits. Let us now collect as we can the works of christians during this interval of refreshment.

It is not pleasant to leave a guide, while we may have him with us. If Cyprian's affairs detain us long, it is because his eloquent pen still attends us. Doubtless there were many before his time, whose christian actions would have equally deserved to be commemorated. But the materials of information are wanting; his letters must still be to us a capital source of historical instruction.

A council was held in Africa by sixty-six bishops, with Cyprian at their head, during this peace, to sectle, no doubt, various matters relating to the church of Christ. I imagine all these bishops to have had each small dioceses, and to have superintended them with the affiftance of their clergy according to what I conceive to have been the primitive mode of church-government, and suppose them to have paid a real regard to their focks, which was doubtless the case with very many of them at that time, The face of Africa, which is now covered with Mahometan, idolatrous, and piratical wickedness, afforded in those days a very pleasing spectacle. We have no further account of this council than what is contained in Cyprian's letter*, which I fhall take notice of presently. But it is unreasonable to suppose that the two points mentioned in it were all that engaged the attention of the council. Probably matters much more important than either of them were reviewed. Certainly no schemes of political ambition, of wealth, or of power, were then practised by christian bishops. On the whole then, I must judge the synod worthy of the chri. ftian name, especially as many of the bishops had faithfully maintained the cause of Christ during scenes of trial the most fevere that can be imagined.

less * Epif. 59.

One Victor, a prefbyter, had been received into the church without having undergone the legitimate time of trial in a state of penance, and without the concurrence and consent of the people. His bishop Therapius had done it arbitrarily and contrary to the institutes of the former council for settling such matters. Cyprian, in the name of the council, contents himself with reprimanding Therapius; but yet confirms what he had done, and warns him to take care of offending in future.

This is one of the points. We see hence that a strict and godly discipline, on the whole, now prevailed in the church, and that the wisest and most successful methods of recovering the lapsed were used. The authority of bishops was firm, but not despotic; and the share of the people, in matters of discipline, by this letter appears worthy of notice.

The

The other part he thus explains in the same letter addressed to Fidus: “ As to the care of infants, of whom you said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the ancient law of circumcision should be so far repeated, that they ought not to be baptized till the eighth day, we were all of a very different opinion. The mercy and grace of God we all judged should be denied to none. For if the Lord says in his gospel, the Son of Man is not come 10 destroy men's lives, but to save them, how ought we to do our utmost, as far as in us lies, that no foul be lost! Spiritual circumcision should not be impeded by carnal circumcision. If even to the foulest offenders, when they afterwards believe, remiffion of fins is granted, and none is pro. hibited from baptism and grace; how much more should an infant be admitted, who, just born, hath not finned at all, except that being carnally born according to Adam, he hath contracted the contagion of ancient death in his first birth; who approaches to remission of sins the more easily, because not his own actual guilt, but that of another, is remitted.

Our sentence therefore, dearest brother, in the council was, that none by us should be prohibited from baptism and the grace of God, who is merciful and kind to all."

I purpose carefully to avoid disputes on subjects of small moment, Yet to omit a word here on a point, which hath produced volumes of strife, might seem alınost a studied affectation; on such occasions I shall only pacifically state my own views, as they appear deducible from evidence. Instead of disputing whether the right of infant baptism is to be derived from scripture alone, and whether tradition deserves any attention at all, I

shall

fhall observe, though the scripture itself seems to speak for infant baptism *, that tradition in matters of custom and discipline is of real weight, as appears from the confession of all; for all are glad to support their cause by it, if they can; and in the present case, to those who say that the custom of baptizing children was not derived from the apoftolical ages, the traditional argument may fairly run in language nearly scriptural, “ if any man seem to be contentious," we have never had such a custom as that of confining baptism to adults, nor the churches of God. I

Here is an assembly of fixty-fịx pastors, men of approved fidelity and gravity, who have stood the fiery trial of some of the severest persecutions ever known, and who have testified their love to the Lord Jesus Christ, in a more striking manner than any Antipædo-baptists have had an opportunity of doing in our days; and if we may judge of their religious views by those of Cyprian, and they are all in perfect harmony with him, they are not wanting in any fundamental of godliness. No man in any age more reverenced the scriptures, and made more copious use of them on all occafions than he did ; and, it must be confessed, in the very best manner. For he uses them continually for practice, not for ostentation ; for use, not for the lake of victory in argument. Before this holy afsembly a question is brought, not whether infants should be baptized at all, none contradicted this, but whether it is right to baptize them immediately, or on the eighth day. To a man they all determined to baptize them immediately. This transaction passed in the year two hundred and fifty-three Let the reader consider: if infant baptism had been an innovation," it must have been now of a considerable standing the disputes

concerning Cor, vii. 14: Cor, xi, 16.

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concerning Easter and other very uninteresting points shew, that such an innovation must have formed a remarkable æra in the church. The num. ber of herelies and divisions had been very great. Among them all such a deviation from apoftolical practice as this must have been remarked. To me it appears impossible to account for this state of things, but on the footing that it had ever been allowed, and therefore that the custom was that of the first churches. Though then I should wave the argument drawn from that sentence of St. Paul, “ Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy;" (and yet I must confess I cannot understand it to mean any thing else than infant baptism) I am under a necessity of concluding, that the enemies of infant baptism are mistaken. Yet I fee not why they may not ferve God in fincerity, as well as those who are differently minded. The greatest evil lies in the want of charity, and in that contentious eagerness, with which fingularity in little things is apt to be at. tended. Really good men have not always been free from this, perhaps few on the whole cultivated larger and more generous views than the African prelate ; yet in one instance we shall prefently see he was seduced into a bigotry of spirit not unlike that which I am censuring.

I could have wished that christian people had never been vexed with a controversy so frivolous as this about baptism, and having, once for all, given my views and the reasons of them, I turn from the subject, and observe further, that there is in the extract of the letter before us a strong and clear testimony of the faith of the ancient church concerning original sin. One may safely reason in the same way as in the case just now considered, but the fulness of scripture concern

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