AN HUMBLE INQUIRY INTO THE RULES OF THE WORD OF GOD, CONCERNING THE QUALIFICATIONS REQUISITE TO A COMPLETE STANDING AND FULL COMMUNION IN THE VISIBLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
Behold now I have opened my mouth:(My words shall be of the uprightness of my heart.—
Confitebatur [Lutherus] dolorem suum, quod ab ipsis reflorescentis Evangelii Primordiis, quosvis abeque Discrimine ad Cœnam Dominicam admisisset, quodque Disciplinam, Fractrum Disciplinæ similem, apud suos non constituisset.—Quia objiciebatur, Fratres non habere Ecclesiam apertam:—Responsum fuit, Sancta dare non Sanctis prohibuisse Christum:—Errorem [in Papatu] corrigi non posse aliter quam ut certa Probatione, nec illa subitanea, Cordium Arcana reveluntur, Novitiique dui et caute tum informentur, tum explorentur.—Ratio Discipl. Fratr. Bohem.
Preface by the Author.
THE AUTHOR’S PREFACE.
My appearing in this public manner on that side of the question, which is defended in the following sheets, will probably be surprising to many; as it is well known, that Mr. Stoddard, so great and eminent a divine, and my venerable predecessor in the pastoral office over the church in Northampton, as well as my own grandfather, publicly and strenuously appeared in opposition to the doctrine here maintained.
However, I hope it will be not taken amiss that I think as I do, merely because I herein differ from him, though so much my superior, and one whose name and memory I am under distinguishing obligations, on every account, to treat with great respect and honour. Especially may I justly expect, that it will not be charged on me as a crime, that I do not think in every thing just as he did, since none more than he himself asserted this scriptural and protestant maxim, that we ought to call no man on earth master, or make the authority of the greatest and holiest of mere men the ground of our belief of any doctrine in religion. Certainly we are not obliged to think any man infallible, who himself utterly disclaims infallibility. Very justly Mr. Stoddard observes in his Appeal to the Learned, p. 97. “All protestants agree, that there is no infallibility at Rome; and I know nobody else pretends to any, since the apostles’ days.” And he insists, in his preface to his sermon on the same subject, That it argues no want of a due respect in us to our forefathers, for us to examine their opinions. Some of his words in that preface contain a good apology for me, and are worthy to be repeated on this occasion. They are as follows:
“It may possibly be a fault (says Mr. Stoddard) to depart from the ways of our fathers: but it may also be a virtue, and an eminent act of obedience, to depart from them in some things. Men are wont to make a great noise, that we are bringing in innovations, and depart from the old way: but it is beyond me, to find out wherein the iniquity does lie. We may see cause to alter some practices of our fathers, without despising them, without priding ourselves in out wisdom, without apostacy, without abusing the advantages God has given us, without a spirit of compliance with corrupt men, without inclination to superstition, without making disturbance in the church of God: and there is no reason, that it should be turned as a reproach upon us. Surely it is commendable for us to examine the practices of our fathers; we have no sufficient reason to take practices upon trust from them. Let them have as high a character as belongs to them; yet we may not look upon their principles as oracles. Nathan himself missed it in his conjecture about building the house of God. He that believes principles because they affirm them, makes idols of them. And it would be no humility, but baseness of spirit, for us to judge ourselves incapable to examine the principles that have been handed down to us. If we be by any means fit to open the mysteries of the gospel, we are capable to judge of these matters: and it would ill become us, so to indulge ourselves in case, as to neglect the examination of received principles. If the practices of our fathers in any particulars were mistaken, it is fit they should be rejected; if they be not, they will bear examination. If we be forbidden to examine their practice, that will cut off all hopes of reformation.”
Thus, in these very reasonable and apposite sayings, Mr. Stoddard, though dead, yet speaketh: and here (to apply them to my own case) he tells me, that I am not at all blamable, for not taking his principles on trust; that not withstanding 432 the high character justly belonging to him, I ought not to look on his principles as oracles, as though he could not miss it, as well as Nathan himself in his conjecture about building the house of God; nay, surely, that I am even to be commended, for examining his practice, and judging for myself; that it would ill become me to do otherwise; that this would be no manifestation of humility, but rather show a baseness of spirit; that if I be not capable to judge for myself in these matters, I am by no means fit to open the mysteries of the gospel; that if I should believe his principles, because he advanced them, I should be guilty of making him an idol.—Also he tells his and my flock, with all others, that it ill becomes them, so to indulge their ease, as to neglect examining received principles and practices; and that it is fit, mistakes in any particulars be rejected: that if in some things I differ in my judgment from him, it would be very unreasonable, on this account, to make a great noise, as though I were bringing in innovations, and departing from the old way; that I may see cause to alter some practices of my grandfather and predecessor, without despising him, without priding myself in my wisdom, without apostacy, without despising the advantages God has given me, without inclination to superstition, and without making disturbance in the church of God; in short, that it is beyond him to find out wherein the iniquity of my so doing lies; and that there is no reason why it should be turned as a reproach upon me. Thus, I think, he sufficiently vindicates my conduct in the present case, and warns all with whom I am concerned, not to be at all displeased with me, or to find the least fault with me, merely because I examine for myself, have a judgment of my own, and am for practising in some particulars different from him, how positive soever he was that his judgment and practice were right. It is reasonably hoped and expected, that they who have a great regard to his judgment, will impartially regard his judgment, and hearken to his admonition in these things.
I can seriously declare, that an affectation of making a show as if I were something wiser than that excellent person, is exceeding distant from me, and very far from having the least influence in my appearing to oppose, in this way of the press, an opinion which he so earnestly maintained and promoted. Sure I am, I have not affected to vary from his judgment, nor in the least been governed by a spirit of contradiction, neither indulged a cavilling humour, in remarking on any of his arguments or expressions.—I have formerly been of his opinion, which I imbibed from his books, even from my childhood, and have in my proceedings conformed to his practice; though never without some difficulties in my view, which I could not solve. Yet, however, a distrust of my own understanding, and deference to the authority of so venerable a man, the seeming strength of some of his arguments, together with the success he had in his ministry, and his great reputation and influence, prevailed for a long time to bear down my scruples.—But the difficulties and uneasiness on my mind increasing, as I became more studied in divinity, and as I improved in experience; this brought me to closer diligence and care to search the Scriptures, and more impartially to examine and weigh the arguments of my grandfather, and such other authors as I could get on his side of the question. By which means, after long searching, pondering, viewing, and reviewing, I gained satisfaction, became fully settled in the opinion I now maintain, as in the discourse here offered to public view; and dared to proceed no further in a practice and administration inconsistent therewith: which brought me into peculiar circumstances, laying me under an inevitable necessity publicly to declare and maintain the opinion I was thus established in; as also to do it from the press, and to do it at this time without delay.
It is far from a pleasing circumstance of this publication, that it is against what my honoured grandfather strenuously maintained, both from the pulpit and press. I can truly say, on account of this and some other consideration, it is what I engage in with the greatest reluctance that ever I undertook any public service in my life. But the state of things with me is so ordered, by the sovereign disposal of the great Governor of the world, that my doing this appeared to me very necessary and altogether unavoidable. I am conscious, not only is the interest of religion concerned in this affair, but my own reputation, future usefulness, and my very subsistence, all seem to depend on my freely opening and defending myself, as to my principles, and agreeable conduct in my pastoral charge; and on my doing it from the press: in which way alone am I able to state and justify my opinion, to any purpose, before the country, (which is full of noise, misrepresentations, and many censures concerning this affair,) or even before my own people, as all would be fully sensible, if they knew the exact state of the case.—I have been brought to this necessity in divine providence, by such a situation of affairs and coincidence of circumstances and events, as I choose at present to be silent about; and which it is not needful, nor perhaps expedient, for me to publish to the world.
One thing among others that caused me to go about this business with so much backwardness, was the fear of a bad improvement some ill-minded people might be ready, at this day, to make of the doctrine here defended; particularly that wild enthusiastical sort of people, who have of late gone into unjustifiable separations, even renouncing the ministers and churches of the land in general, under pretence of setting up a pure church. It is well known, that I have heretofore publicly remonstrated, both from the pulpit and press, against very many of the notions and practices of this kind of people: and shall be very sorry if what I now offer to the public, should be any occasion of their encouraging or strengthening themselves in those notions and practices. To prevent which, I would now take occasion to declare, I am still of the same mind concerning them that I have formerly manifested. I have the same opinion concerning the religion and inward experiences chiefly in vogue among them, as I had when I wrote my Treatise on Religious Affections, and when I wrote my Observations and Reflections of Mr. Brainerd’s Life. I have no better opinion of their notion of a pure church by means of a spirit of discerning, their censorious outcries against the standing ministers and churches in general, their lay ordinations, their lay preachings, and public exhortings, and administering sacraments; their assuming, self-confident, contentious, uncharitable, separating spirit; their going about the country, as sent by the Lord, to make proselytes; with their many other extravagant and wicked ways. My holding the doctrine that is defended in this discourse, is no argument of any change of my opinion concerning them; for when I wrote those two books before mentioned, I was of the same mind concerning the qualifications of communicants at the Lord’s table that I am of now.
However, it is not unlikely, that some will still exclaim against my principles, as being of the same pernicious tendency with those of the Separatists. To such I can only by a solemn protestation aver the sincerity of my aims, and the great care I have exercised to avoid whatsoever is erroneous, or might be in any respect mischievous. But as to my success in these my upright aims and endeavours, I must leave it to every reader to judge for himself, after he has carefully perused and impartially considered the following discourse: which, considering the nature and importance of the subject, I hope all serious readers will accompany with their earnest prayers to the Father of lights, for his gracious direction and influence. And, to Him be glory in the churches by Christ Jesus.
Preface by the Author's American friends.433
by his american friends.
Though the doctrine here maintained by our dear and reverend brother, was brought over hither by the pious and judicious fathers of this country from the Puritans in England, and held by them and their successors in our churches above threescore years without dissension; yet some good and learned men have since gone into another way of thinking in this matter. And as the word of god is our only rule of judging, and this only can bind the conscience in religion, it must needs concern every man to search the Scriptures, that he may come to as satisfying a knowledge as may be, whether he has a right to the Lord’s supper, and whether it be his immediate duty to partake of it, or admit of others. And for all that we had hitherto read on this subject, it seemed to us, there wanted further searchings and discoveries.
And though we have not all had opportunity to read the composure following; yet we apprehend the reverend Author singularly qualified to manage this important argument, from his great acquaintance with the Scriptures, and diligent application to the study of them, with a special aim to find the mind of Christ and settle his judgment in this particular; both to get more light himself, and communicate the same to others. And we have this peculiar motive to excite attention to what he writes, that he is so far from arguing from the prejudice or influence of education, that being brought up in the contrary way of thinking, and more inclined thereto from a special veneration of his reverend grandfather; yet on carefully searching the sacred volumes, he was obliged to yield to those convictions they produced in him, and change his judgment.
The following Treatise contains the substance of those convictions, or the particular reasons of this alteration. And if those who are now in his former way of thinking, would with due seriousness, humility, calmness, diligence, and impartiality, search the Scriptures, and consider his arguments derived from them, looking up to god through christ, and subjecting their minds entirely to him, they may either see and yield to the convictions, and find cause to change their judgments also, or will at least continue their fraternal affection to the worthy Author, and others in the same sentiments with him.
We heartily pray that the reverend Author and his flock may for a long time be happy together; that their cordial love and tenderness to each other may continue and operate in mutual and all lawful condescensions and forbearances under different sentiments in these particulars; that every one may be open to light, and guard against all prejudice, precipitance, and passion; that they may be very watchful against the devices of Satan to disunite or disaffect them; that they may study the things that make for peace and edification.—And the god of light, love, and peace, will continue with them.
August 11, 1746.
Advertisement to the Edinburgh edition.
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE EDINBURGH EDITION.
A narrative of the transactions to which the following Treatise refers, may be read in the account of the Author’s Life, which was printed originally at Boston, New England, in 1765, and lately reprinted at Glasgow. The works of the Author are now very well known in this country. The world, it is apprehended, owe no small obligation to Dr. John Erskine, one of the ministers of this city, who first introduced them to their acquaintance.
There are very few persons attentive to the subjects on which President Edwards has written who will not acknowledge, that he has cast much light upon them. And nothing will prevent Christians from considering the present Treatise as one of the most able and interesting parts of his works, but prejudice and indifference about the subject of it. His own opinion of it may be seen in his Preface. It will there appear, if persons should even be inattentive to its internal evidence, that it called forth the complete extent of his abilities, and was the fruit of dependence on the Father of lights for instruction and preservation from error.
The whole of his works are now reprinted in Britain, excepting only his Defence of this Treatise, against the Objections of Mr. Solomon Williams. If the present performance, which is exceedingly scarce, meets with encouragement, the publisher intends to print it also.
Edinburgh, May 15, 1790. 434
HUMBLE INQUIRY, &C.
PART I. The Question stated and explained.
the question stated and explained.
The main question I would consider, and for the negative of which I would offer some arguments in the following discourse is this; Whether, according to the rules of christ, any ought to be admitted to the communion and privileges of members of the visible church of christ in complete standing, but such as are in profession, and in the eye of the church’s christian judgment, godly or gracious persons?
When I speak of members of the visible church of christ, in complete standing, I would be understood of those who are received as the proper immediate subjects of all the external privileges Christ has appointed for the ordinary members of his church. I say ordinary members, in distinction from any peculiar privileges and honours of church-officers and rulers. All allow, there are some that are in some respect in the church of God, who are not members in complete standing, in the sense that has been explained. All that acknowledge infant baptism, allow infants, who are the proper subjects of baptism, and are baptized, to be in some sort members of the christian church; yet none suppose them to be members in such standing as to be the proper immediate subjects of all ecclesiastical ordinances and privileges: but that some further qualifications are requisite in order to this, to be obtained, either in a course of nature, or by education, or by divine grace. And some who are baptized in infancy, even after they come to be adult, may yet remain for a season short of such a standing as has been spoken of; being destitute of sufficient knowledge, and perhaps some other qualifications, through the neglect of parents, or their own negligence, or otherwise; or because they carelessly neglected to qualify themselves for ecclesiastical privileges by making a public profession of the christian faith, or owning the christian covenant, or forbear to offer themselves as candidates for these privileges; and yet not be cast out of the church, or cease to be in any respect its members: this, I suppose, will also be generally allowed.
One thing mainly intended in the foregoing question is, whether any adult persons but such as are in the profession and appearance endowed with the christian grace or piety, ought to be admitted to the christian sacraments. Particularly, whether they ought to be admitted to the Lord’s supper; and, if they are such as were not baptized in infancy, ought to be admitted to baptism. Adult persons having those qualifications that oblige others to receive them as the proper immediate subjects of the christian sacraments, is a main thing intended in the question, by being such as ought to be admitted to the communion and privileges of members of the visible church, in complete standing. There are many adult persons that by the allowance of all are in some respects within the church of God, who are not members in good standing, in this respect. There are many, for instance, that have not at present the qualifications proper to recommend them to the Lord’s supper: there are many scandalous persons, who are under suspension. The late venerable Mr. Stoddard, and many other great divines, suppose, that even excommunicated persons are still members of the church of God; and some suppose, the worshippers of Baal in Israel, even those who were bred up such from their infancy, remained still members of the church of God. And very many protestant divines suppose, that the members of the church of Rome, though they are brought up and live continually in gross idolatry, and innumerable errors and superstitions that tend utterly to make void the gospel of Christ, still are in the visible church of Christ: yet, I suppose, no orthodox divines would hold these to be properly and regularly qualified for the Lord’s supper. It was therefore requisite, in the question before us, that a distinction should be made between the members of the visible church in general, and members in complete standing.
It was also requisite, that such a distinction should be made in the question, to avoid lengthening out this discourse exceedingly, with needless questions and debates concerning the state of baptized infants; that is needless as to my present purpose. Though I have no doubts about the doctrine of infant baptism; yet God’s manner of dealing with such infants as are regularly dedicated to him in baptism, is a matter liable to great disputes and many controversies, and would require a large dissertation by itself to clear it up; which, as it would extend this discourse beyond all bounds, so it appears not necessary in order to a clear determination of the present question. The revelation of God’s word is much plainer and more express concerning adult persons, that act for themselves in religious matters, than concerning infants. The Scriptures were written for the sake of adult persons, or those that are capable of knowing what is written. It is to such the apostle speaks in the Epistles, and to such only does God speak throughout his word; and the Scriptures especially speak for the sake of these, and about those to whom they speak. And therefore if the word of God affords us light enough concerning those spoken of in the question, as I have stated it, clearly to determine the matter with respect to them, we need not wait till we see all doubts and controversies about baptized infants cleared and settled, before we pass a judgment with respect to the point in hand. The denominations, characters, and descriptions, which we find given in the Scripture to visible Christians, and to the visible church, are principally with an eye to the church of Christ in its adult state and proper standing. If any one was about to describe that kind of birds called doves, it would be most proper to describe grown doves, and not young ones in the egg or nest, without wings or feathers. So if any one should describe a palm-tree or olive-tree by their visible form and appearance, it would be presumed that they described those of these kinds of trees in their natural and proper state; and not as just peeping from the ground, or as thunder-struck or blown down. And therefore I would here give notice, once for all, that when in the ensuing discourse I use such like phrases as visible saints, members of the visible church, &c. I, for the most part, mean persons that are adult and in good standing.
The question is not, whether Christ has made converting grace or piety itself the condition or rule of his people’s admitting any to the privileges of members in full communion with them. There is no one qualification of the mind whatsoever, that Christ has properly made the term of this; not so much as a common belief that Jesus is the Messiah, or a belief of the being of a God. It is the credible profession and visibility of these things, that 435 is the church’s rule in this case. Christian piety or godliness may be a qualification requisite to communion in the christian sacraments, just in the same manner as a belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Scriptures the word of God, are requisite qualifications; and in the same manner as some kind of repentance is a qualification in one that has been suspended for being grossly scandalous, in order to his coming again to the Lord’s supper; and yet godliness itself not be properly the rule of the church’s proceeding, in like manner as such a belief and repentance, as I have mentioned, are not their rule. It is a visibility to the eye of a christian judgment, that is the rule of the church’s proceeding in each of these cases.–There are two distinctions must be here observed. As,
1. We must distinguish between such qualifications as are requisite to give a person a right to ecclesiastical privileges in foro ecclesiæ, or a right to be admitted by the church to those privileges; and those qualifications that are a proper and good foundation for a man’s own conduct in coming and offering himself as a candidate for immediate admission to these privileges. There is a difference between these. Thus, for instance, a profession of the belief of a future state and of revealed religion, and some other things that are internal and out of sight, and a visibility of these things to the eye of a christian judgment, is all relating to these things, that is requisite to give a man a right in foro ecclesiæ, or before the church; but it is the real existence of these things, that is what lays a proper and good foundation for his making this profession, and so demanding these privileges. None will suppose, that he has good and proper ground for such a conduct, who does not believe another world, nor believe the Bible to be the word of God. And then,
2. We must distinguish between that which nextly brings an obligation on a man’s conscience to seek admission to a christian ordinance, and that which is a good foundation for the dictate of an enlightened well-informed conscience, and so in properly a solid foundation of a right in him to act thus. Certainly this distinction does really take place among mankind in innumerable cases. The dictates of men’s consciences are what bring them under a most immediate obligation to act; but it is that which is a good foundation for such a dictate of an enlightened conscience, that alone is a solid foundation of a right in him so to act. Believing the doctrine of the Trinity with all the heart, in some sense, (let us suppose a moral sense,) is one thing requisite in order to a person’s having a solid foundation of a right in him to go and demand baptism in the name of the Trinity; but his best judgment or dictate of his conscience, concerning his believing this doctrine with this sincerity, or with all his heart, may be sufficient to bring an obligation on his conscience. Again, when a delinquent has been convicted of scandal, it is repentance in some respect sincere, (some moral sincerity,) that is a proper foundation of a right in him to offer himself for forgiveness and restoration; but it is the dictate of his conscience or his best judgment concerning his sincerity, that is the thing which immediately obliges him to offer himself. It is repentance itself, that is the proper qualification fundamental of his right, and without which he cannot have a proper right; for though he may be deceived, and think he has real repentance when he has not, yet he has not properly a right to be deceived; and perhaps deceit in such cases is always owing to something blamable, or the influence of some corrupt principle: but yet his best judgment brings him under obligation. In the same manner, and no otherwise, I suppose that christian grace itself is a qualification requisite in order to a proper solid ground of a right in a person to come to the christian sacraments. But of this I may say something more when I come to answer objections.
When I speak, in the question, of being godly or gracious in the eye of a christian judgment, by christian judgment I intend something further than a kind of mere negative charity, implying that we forbear to censure and condemn a man, because we do not know but that he may be godly, and therefore forbear to proceed on the foot of such a censure or judgment in our treatment of him: as we would kindly entertain a stranger, not knowing but in so doing we entertain an angel or precious saint of God. But I mean a positive judgment, founded on some positive appearance, or visibly, some outward manifestations that ordinarily render the thing probable. There is a difference between suspending our judgment, or forbearing to condemn, or having some hope that possibly the thing may be so, and so hoping the best; and a positive judgment in favour of a person. For having some hope, only implies that a man is not in utter despair of a thing, though his prevailing opinion may be otherwise, or he may suspend his opinion. Though we cannot know a man believes that Jesus is the Messiah, yet we expect some positive manifestation or visibility of it, to be a ground of our charitable judgment: so I suppose the case is here.
When I speak of christian judgment, I mean a judgment wherein men do properly exercise reason, and have their reason under the due influence of love and other christian principles; which do not blind reason, but regulate its exercises; being not contrary to reason, though they be very contrary to censoriousness, or unreasonable niceness and rigidness.
I say in the eye of the Church’s christian judgment, because it is properly a visibility to the eye of the public charity, and not of a private judgment, that gives a person a right to be received as a visible saint by the public. If any are known to be persons of an honest character, and appear to be of good understanding in the doctrines of Christianity, and particularly those doctrines that teach the grand condition of salvation, and the nature of true saving religion, and publicly and seriously profess the great and main things wherein the essence of true religion or godliness consists, and their conversation is agreeable; this justly recommends them to the good opinion of the public, whatever suspicions and fears any particular person, either the minister, or some other, may entertain, from what he in particular has observed, perhaps from the manner of his expressing himself in giving an account of his experiences, or an obscurity in the order and method of his experiences, &c. The minister in receiving him to the communion of the church, is to act as a public officer, and in behalf of the public society, and not merely for himself, and therefore is to be governed, in acting, by a proper visibility of godliness in the eye of the public.
It is not my design, in holding the negative of the foregoing question, to affirm, that all who are regularly admitted as members of the visible church in complete standing, ought to be believed to be godly or gracious persons, when taken collectively, or considered in the gross, by the judgment of any person or society. This may not be, and yet each person taken singly may visibly be a gracious person to the eye of the judgment of Christians in general. These two are not the same thing, but vastly diverse; and the latter maybe, and yet not the former. If we should know so much of a thousand persons one after another, and from what we observed in them should have a prevailing opinion concerning each one of them, singly taken, that they were indeed pious, and think the judgment we passed, when we consider each judgment apart, to be right; it will not follow, when we consider the whole company collectively, that we shall have so high an opinion of our own judgment, as to think it probable, there was not one erroneous judgment in the whole thousand. We all have innumerable judgments about one thing or other, concerning religious, moral, secular, and philosophical affairs, concerning past, present, and future matters, reports, facts, persons, things, &c. And concerning all the many thousand dictates of judgment that we have, we think them every one right, taken singly; for if there was any one that we thought wrong, it would not be our judgment; and yet there is no man, unless he is stupidly foolish, who when he considers all in the gross, will say he thinks that his every opinion he is of, concerning all persons and things whatsoever, important and trifling, is right, without the least error. But the more clearly to illustrate this matter, as it related to visibility, or probable appearances of holiness in professors: supposing it had been found by experience concerning precious stones, that such and such external marks were probable signs of a diamond; and supposing, by putting together a great number of experiments, the probability is as ten to one, that, take one time with another, one in ten 436 of the stones which have these marks (and no visible signs to the contrary) proves to be not a true diamond. Then it will follow, that when I find a particular stone with these marks, and nothing to the contrary, there is a probability of ten to one, concerning that stone, that it is a diamond; and so concerning each stone that I find with these marks: but if we take ten of these together, it is as probable as not, that some one of the ten is spurious; because, if it were not as likely as not, that one to ten is false, or if taking one ten with another, there were not one in ten that was false, then the probability of those, that have these marks, being true diamonds, would be more than ten to one, contrary to the supposition; because that is what we mean by a probability of ten to one, that they are not false, viz. that take one ten with another there will be one false stone among them, and no more. Hence if we take a hundred such stones together, the probability will be just ten to one, that there is one false among them; and as likely as not that there are ten false ones in the whole hundred. And the probability of the individuals must be much greater than ten to one, even a probability of more than a hundred to one in order to its making it probable that every one is true. It is an easy mathematical demonstration. Hence the negative of the foregoing question by no means implies a pretence of any scheme, that shall be effectual to keep all hypocrites out of the church, and for the establishing in that sense a pure church.
When it is said, those who are admitted, &c. ought to be by profession godly or gracious persons; it is not meant, they should merely profess or say that they are converted or are gracious persons, that they know so, or think so; but that they profess the great things wherein christian piety consists, viz. a supreme respect to God, faith in Christ, &c. Indeed it is necessary, as men would keep a good conscience, that they should think that these things are in them, which they profess to be in them; otherwise they are guilty of the horrid wickedness of willfully making a lying profession. Hence it is supposed to be necessary, in order to men’s regularly and with a good conscience coming into communion with the church of Christ in the christian sacraments, that they themselves should suppose the essential things, belonging to christian piety, to be in them.
It does not belong to the present question, to consider and determine what the nature of christian piety is, or wherein it consists: this question may be properly determined, and the determination demonstrated, without entering into any controversies about the nature of conversion, &c. Nor does an asserting the negative of the question determine any thing how particular the profession of godliness ought to be, but only that the more essential things, which belong to it, ought to be professed. Nor is it determined, but that the public professions made on occasion of persons’ admission to the Lord’s supper, in some of our churches, who yet go upon that principle, that persons need not esteem themselves truly gracious in order to a coming conscientiously and properly to the Lord’s supper; I say, it is not determined but that some of these professions are sufficient, if those that made them were taught to use the words, and others to understand them, in no other than their proper meaning, and principle and custom had not established a meaning very diverse from it, or perhaps an use of the words without any distinct and clear determinate meaning.
PART II. Reasons for the Negative of the Question.
reasons for the negative of the foregoing question.
Having thus explained what I mean, when I say, That none ought to be admitted to the communion and privileges of members of the visible church of Christ in complete standing, but such as are in profession, and in the eye of the church’s christian judgment, godly or gracious persons: I now proceed to observe some things which may tend to evince the truth of this position.
SECTION I. Church members should be visible saints.
None ought to be admitted as members of the visible church of Christ but visible and professing saints.
begin with observing, I think it is both evident by the word of God,
and also granted on all hands, that none ought to be admitted as
members of the visible church of Christ but visible and professing saints, or visible and professing Christians.—We find the word saint, when applied to men, used two ways in the New Testament. The word in some places is so used as to mean those that are real saints, who are converted, and are truly gracious
In like manner we find the word Christian used two ways: the word is used to express the same thing as ” a righteous man that shall be saved,”
As real saints are the same with real converts, or really gracious persons, so visible saints are the same with visible converts, or those that are visibly converted and gracious persons. Visibility is the same with manifestation or appearance to our view and apprehension. And therefore to be visibly a gracious person, is the same thing as to be a truly gracious person to our view, apprehension, or esteem. The distinction of real and visible does not only take place with regard to saintship or holiness, but with regard to innumerable other things. There is visible and real truth, visible and real honesty, visible and real money, visible and real gold, visible and real diamonds, &c. &c. Visible and real are words that stand related one to another, as the words real and seeming, or true and apparent. Some seem to speak of visibility with regard to saintship or holiness, as though it had no reference to the reality, or as though it were a distinct reality by itself; as though by visible saints were not meant those who to appearance are real saints or disciples indeed, but properly a distinct sort of saints, which is an absurdity. There is a distinction between real money and visible money, because all that is esteemed money and passes for money is not real money, but some is false and counterfeit. By visible money, is not meant that which is taken and passes for a different sort from true money, but that which is esteemed and taken as real money, or which has that appearance that recommends it to men’s judgment and acceptance as true money; though men may be deceived, and some of it may finally prove not to be so.
There are not properly two sorts of saints spoken of in Scripture. Though the word saints may be said indeed to be used two ways in Scripture, or used so as to reach two sorts of persons; yet the word has not properly two significations in the New Testament, any more than the word gold has two significations among us: the word gold among us is so used as to extend to several sorts of substances; it is true, it extends to true gold, and also to that which only appears to be gold, and is reputed such, and by that appearance or visibility some things that are not real obtain the name of gold; but this is not properly through a diversity in the signification of the word, but by a diversity of the application of it, through the imperfection of our discerning. It does not follow that there are properly two sorts of saints, because some who are not real saints, do by the show and appearance they make obtain the name of saints, and are reputed such, and whom by the rules of Scripture (which are accommodated to our imperfect state) we are directed to receive and treat as saints; any more than it follows that there are two sorts of honest men, because some who are not truly honest men, yet being so seemingly or visibly, do obtain the name of honest men, and ought to be treated by us as such. So there are not properly two distinct churches of Christ, on the real, and another the visible; though they that are visibly or seemingly of the one only church of Christ, are many more than they who are really of his church; and so the visible or seeming church is of larger extent than the real.
Visibility is a relative thing, and has relation to an eye that views or beholds. Visibility is the same as appearance or exhibition to the eye; and to be a visible saint is the same as to appear to be a real saint in the eye that beholds; not the eye of God, but the eye of man. Real saints or converts are those that are so in the eye of God; visible saints or converts are those who are so in the eye of man; not his bodily eye, for thus no man is a saint any more in the eye of a man than he is in the eye of a beast; but the eye of his mind, which is his judgment or esteem. There is no more visibility of holiness in the brightest professor to the eye of our bodies, without the exercise of the reason and judgment of our minds, than may be in a machine. But nothing short of an apparent probability, or a probable exhibition, can amount to a visibility to the eye of man’s reason or judgment. The eye which God has given to man is the eye of reason: and the eye of a Christian is reason sanctified, regulated, and enlightened, by a principle of christian love. But it implies a contradiction to say, that that is visible to the eye of reason, which does not appear probable to reason. And if there be a man that is in the sense a visible saint, he is in the eye of a rational judgment a real saint. To say a man is visibly a saint, but not visibly a real saint, but only visibly a visible saint, is a very absurd way of speaking; it is as much as to say, he is to appearance an appearing saint; which is in effect to say nothing, and to use words without signification. The thing which must be visible and probable, in order to visible saintship, must be saintship itself, or real grace and true holiness; not visibility of saintship, not unregenerate morality, not mere moral sincerity. To pretend, or in any respect to exhibit, moral sincerity, makes nothing visible beyond what is pretended to or exhibited. For a man to have that visibly, which if he had it really, and have nothing more, would not make him a real saint, is not to be visibly a saint.
Mr. Stoddard, in his Appeal to the Learned, seems to express the very same notion of visibility, and that visibility of saintship which is requisite to persons coming to the Lord’s supper, that I have here expressed. In page 10, he makes a distinction between being visibly circumcised in heart, and being really so; evidently meaning by the latter, saving conversion; and he allows the former, viz. a visibility of heart-circumcision, to be necessary to a coming to the Lord’s supper. So that according to him, it is not a visibility of moral sincerity only, but a visibility of circumcision of heart, or saving conversion, that is a necessary requisite to a person’s coming to the Lord’s table. And in what manner this must be visible, he signifies elsewhere, when he allows, that it must be so to a judgment of charity; a judgment of rational charity. This he expressly allows over and over; as in page 2, 3, 28, 33, 73, and 95: and having reason to look upon them as such, page 28. And towards the close of his book, he declares himself stedfastly of the mind, that it is requisite those be not admitted to the Lord’s supper, who do not make a personal and public profession of their faith and repentance, to the just satisfaction of the church, page 93, 94. But how he reconciled these passages with the rest of his Treatise, I would modestly say, I must confess myself at a loss. And particularly, I cannot see how they consist with what this venerable and ever-honoured author says, page 16, in these words; “Indeed by the rule that God has given for admissions, if it be carefully attended, more unconverted persons will be admitted than converted.” I would humbly inquire, how those visible qualifications can be the ground of a rational judgment, that a person is circumcised in heart, which nevertheless, at the same time, we are sensible are so far from being any probable signs of it, that they are more frequently without it than with it. The appearance of that thing surely cannot imply an appearing probability of another thing, which at the same time we are sensible is most frequently, and so most probably, without that other thing.
Indeed I can easily see, how that may seem visible, and appear probable, to God’s people, by reason of the imperfect and dark state they are in, and so may oblige their charity, which yet is not real, and which would not appear at all probable to angels, who stand in a clearer light. And the different degrees of light, in which God’s church stands, in different ages, may make a difference in this respect. The church under the New Testament being favoured by God with a vastly greater light in divine things, than the church under the Old Testament, that might make some difference, as to the kind of profession of religion that is requisite, under these different dispensations, in order to a visibility of holiness; also a proper visibility may fail in the greater number in some extraordinary case, and in exempt circumstances. But how those signs can be a ground of a rational judgment that a thing is, which, at that very time, and under that degree of light we then have, we are sensible do oftener fail than not, 438 and this ordinarily, I own myself much at a loss. Surely nothing but appearing reason is the ground of a rational judgment. And indeed it is impossible in the nature of things, to form a judgment, which at that very time we think to be not only without, but against, probability.
If it be said, that although persons do not profess that wherein sanctifying grace consists, yet seeing they profess to believe the doctrines of the gospel, which God is wont to make use of in order to sanctification, and are called the doctrine which is according to godliness; and since we see nothing in their lives to make us determine, that they have not had a proper effect on their hearts, we are obliged in charity to hope, that they are real saints, or gracious persons, and to treat them accordingly, and so to receive them into the christian church, and to its special ordinances.
I answer, this objection does in effect suppose and grant the very thing mainly in dispute. For it supposes, that a gracious character is the thing that ought to be aimed at in admitting persons into the communion of the church; and so that it is needful to have this charity for persons, or such a favourable notion of them, in order to our receiving them as properly qualified members of the society, and properly qualified subjects of the special privileges to which they are admitted. Whereas, the doctrine taught is, that sanctifying grace is not a necessary qualification, and that there is no need that the person himself, or any other, should imagine he is a person so qualified. The assigned reason is, because it is no qualification requisite in itself; the ordinance of the Lord’s supper is as proper for them that are not qualified as for those that are; it being according to the design of the institution a converting ordinance, and so an ordinance as much intended for the good of the unconverted, as of the converted; even as it is with the preaching of the gospel. Now if the case be so, why is there any talk about a charitable hoping they are converted, and so admitting them? What need of any charitable hope of such a qualification, in order to admitting them to an ordinance that is as proper for those who are without this qualification, as for those that have it? We need not have any charitable hope of any such qualification in order to admit a person to hear the word preached. What need have we to aim at any thing beyond the proper qualifications? And what need of any charitable opinion or hope of any thing further? Some sort of belief, that Jesus is the Messiah, is a qualification properly requisite to a coming to the Lord’s supper; and therefore it is necessary that we should have a charitable hope, that those have such a belief whom we admit; though it be not necessary that we should know it, it being what none can know of another. But as to grace or christian piety, it clearly follows, on the principles which I oppose, that no kind of visibility or appearance, whether direct or indirect, whether to a greater or less degree, no charity or hope of it, have any thing at all to do in the affair of admission to the Lord’s supper; for, according to them, it is properly a converting ordinance. What has any visibility or hope of a person being already in health to do, in admitting him into an hospital for the use of those means that are appointed for the healing of the sick, and bringing them to health? And therefore it is needless here to dispute about the nature of visibility; and all arguing concerning a profession of christian doctrines, and an orderly life being a sufficient ground of public charity, and an obligation on the church to treat them as saints, are wholly impertinent and nothing to the purpose. For on the principles which I oppose, there is no need of any ground for treating them as saints, in order to admitting them to the Lord’s supper, the very design of which is to make them saints, any more than there is need of some ground of treating a sick man as being a man in health, in order to admitting him into an hospital. Persons, by the doctrine that I oppose, are not taught to offer themselves as candidates for church communion under any such notion, or with any such pretence, as their being gracious persons; and therefore surely when those that teach them, receive them to the ordinance, they do not receive them under any such notion, nor has any appearance, hope, or thought of it, any thing to do in the case.
The apostle speaks of the members of the christian church, as those that made a profession of godliness.
In order to a man’s being properly a professing Christian, he must profess the religion of Jesus Christ: and he surely does not profess the religion that was taught my Jesus Christ, if he leaves out of his profession the most essential things that belong to that religion. That which is most essential in that religion itself, the profession of that is essential in a profession of that religion; for (as I have observed elsewhere) that which is most essential in a thing, in order to its being truly denominated that thing, the same is essentially necessary to be expressed or signified in any exhibition or declaration of that thing, in order to its being truly denominated a declaration or exhibition of that thing. If we take a more inconsiderable part of Christ’s religion, and leave out the main and most essential, surely what we have cannot be properly called the religion of Jesus Christ: so if we profess only a less important part, and are silent about the most important and essential part, it cannot be properly said that we profess the religion of Jesus Christ. And therefore we cannot in any propriety be said to profess Christ’s religion, unless we profess those things wherein consist piety of heart, which is vastly the most important and essential part of that religion, and is in effect all; being that without which all the rest that belongs to it, is nothing, and wholly in vain. But they who are admitted to the Lord’s supper, proceeding on the principles of those who hold it to be a converting ordinance, do in no respect profess christian piety, neither in whole nor in part, neither explicitly nor implicitly, directly nor indirectly; and therefore are not professing Christians, or saints by profession. I mean, though they may be godly persons, yet as they come to the ordinance without professing godliness, they cannot properly be called professing saints.
Here it may be said, that although no explicit and formal profession of those things which belong to true piety, be required of them; yet there are many things they do, that are a virtual and implicit profession of these things: such as their owning the christian covenant, their owning God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be their God; and by their visibly joining in the public prayers and singing God’s praises, there is a show and implicit profession of supreme respect to God and love to him; by joining in the public confessions, they make a show of repentance; by keeping Sabbaths and hearing the word, they make a show of a spirit of obedience; by offering to come to sacraments, they make a show of love to Christ and a dependence on his sacrifice.
To this I answer; It is a great mistake, if any one imagines, that all these external performances are of the nature of a profession, of any thing that belongs to saving grace, as they are commonly used and understood. None of them are so, according to the doctrines that are taught and embraced, and the customs that are established, in such churches as proceed on the footing of the principles forementioned. For what is professing, but exhibiting, uttering, or declaring, either by intelligible words, or by other established signs that are equivalent? But in such churches, neither their publicly saying, that they avouch 439 God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to be their God, and that they give themselves up to him, and promise to obey all his commands, nor their coming to the Lord’s supper, or to any other ordinances, are taken for expressions or signs, of any thing belonging to the essence of christian piety. But on the contrary, the public doctrine, principle, and custom in such churches, establishes a diverse use of these words and signs. People are taught, that they may use them all, and not so much as make any pretence to the least degree of sanctifying grace; and this is the established custom. So they are used, and so they are understood. And therefore whatever some of these words and signs may in themselves most properly and naturally import, they entirely cease to be significations of any such thing among people accustomed to understand and use them otherwise; and so cease to be of the nature of a profession of christian piety. There can be no such thing among such a people, as either an explicit or implicit profession of godliness, by any thing which (by their established doctrine and custom) an unregenerate man may and ought to say and perform, knowing himself to be so. For let the words and actions otherwise signify what they will, yet people have in effect agreed among themselves, that persons who use them need not intend them so, and that others need not understand them so. And hence they cease to be of the nature of any pretension to grace. And surely it is an absurdity to say, that men openly and solemnly profess grace, and yet do not so much as pretend to it. If a certain people should agree, and it should be an established principle among them, that men might and ought to use such and such words to their neighbours, which according to their proper signification were a profession of entire love and devoted friendship towards the man they speak to, and yet not think that he has any love in his heart to him, yea, and know at the same time that he had a reigning enmity against him; and it was known that this was the established principle of the people; would not these words, whatever their proper signification was, entirely cease to be any profession or testimony of friendship to his neighbour? To be sure, there could be no visibility of it to the eye of reason.
Thus it is evident, that those who are admitted into the church on the principles that I oppose, are not professing saints, nor visible saints; because that thing which alone is truly saintship, is not what they profess, or pretend, or have any visibility of, to the eye of a christian judgment. Or if they in fact be visible and professing saints, yet they are not admitted as such; no profession of true saintship, nor any manner of visibility of it, has any thing to do in the affair.
There is one way to evade these things, which has been taken by some. They plead, Although it be true, that the Scripture represents the members of the visible church of Christ as professors of godliness; and they are abundantly called by the name of saints in Scripture, undoubtedly because they were saints by profession, and in visibility, and the acceptance of others, yet this is not with any reference to saving holiness, but to quite another sort of saintship, viz. moral sincerity; and that this is the real saintship, discipleship, and godliness, which is professed, and visible in them, and with regard to which, as having an appearance of it to the eye of reason, they have the name of saints, disciples, &c. in Scripture.—It must be noted, that in this objection the visibility is supposed to be of real saintship, discipleship, and godliness, but only another sort of real godliness, than that which belongs to those who shall finally be owned by Christ as his people, at the day of judgment.
To which I answer, This is a mere evasion; the only one, that ever I saw or heard of; and I think the only one possible. For it is certain, they are not professors of sanctifying grace, or true saintship: the principle proceeded on being, that they need make no pretence to that; nor has any visibility of saving holiness any thing to do in the affair. If then they have any holiness at all, it must be of another sort. And if this evasion fails, all fails, and the whole matter in debate must be given up. Therefore I desire that this matter may be impartially considered and examined to the very bottom; and that it may be thoroughly inquired, whether this distinction of these two sorts of real Christianity, godliness, and holiness, is a distinction of which Christ in his word is the author; or whether it be a human invention of something which the New Testament knows nothing of, devised to serve and maintain an hypotheses.—And here I desire that the following things may be observed:
1. According to this hypothesis, the words saints, disciples, and Christians, are used four ways in the New Testament, as applies to four sorts of persons. (1.) To those that in truth and reality are the heirs of eternal life, and that shall judge the world, or have indeed that saintship which is saving. (2.) To those who profess this, and pretend to and make a fair show of a supreme regard to Christ, and to renounce the world for his sake, but have not real ground for these pretences and appearances. (3.) To those who, although they have not saving grace, yet have that other sort of real godliness, or saintship, viz. moral sincerity in religion; and so are properly a sort of real saints, true Christians, sincerely godly persons, and disciples indeed, though they have no saving grace. And, (4.) To those who make a profession and have a visibility of this latter sort of sincere Christianity, and are nominally such kinds of saints, but are not so indeed.—So that here are two sorts of real Christians, and two sorts of visible Christians; two sorts of invisible and real churches of Christ, and two sorts of visible churches. Now will any one that is well acquainted with the New Testament say, there is in that the least appearance or shadow of such a four-fold use of the words, saints, disciples, &c.? It is manifest by what was observed before, that these words are there used but two ways; and that those of mankind to whom these names are applied, are there distinguished into but two sorts, viz. Those who have really a saving interest in Christ, spiritual conformity and union to him, and those who have a name for it, as having a profession and appearance of it. And this is further evident by various representations, which we there find of the visible church; as in the company of virgins that went forth to meet the bridegroom, we find a distinction of them into but two sorts, viz. The wise that had both lamps and oil; and those who had lamps indeed like the wise virgins, (therein having an external show of the same thing,) but really had no oil; signifying that they had the same profession and outward show of religion, and entertained the same hopes with the wise virgins. So when the visible church is represented by the husbandman’s floor, we find a distinction but of two sorts, viz. the wheat and the chaff. And, when the church is compared to the husbandman’s field, we find a distinction but of two sorts, the wheat and the tares, which (naturalists observe) appear exactly like the wheat, till it comes to bring forth its fruit; representing, that those who are only visible Christians, have an appearance of the nature of wheat, which shall be gathered into Christ’s barn, that is, of the nature of saving grace.
2. It is evident, that those who had the name of disciples in the times of the New Testament, bore the name with reference to a visibility of the same relation to Christ, which they had who should be finally owned as his. This is manifest,
3. The same thing is evident by
4. The name that visible Christians had in the days of the New Testament, was of saving Christianity, and not of moral sincerity; for they had a name to live, though many of them were dead,
5. The visibility of saintship in the apostles’ days, was not of moral sincerity, but gracious
sincerity, or saving saintship. For they are spoken of as being visibly
of the number of those saints who shall judge the world, and judge
That the visibility was not only of moral sincerity but saving grace,
is manifest, because the apostle speaks of visible christians as
visible “members of Christ’s body, of his flesh, and of his bones, and one spirit with him, and temples of the Holy Ghost,”
7. That the visibility was not merely of moral sincerity, but of that sort of saintship which the saints in heaven have, is manifest by this, that they are often spoken of as visibly belonging to heaven, and as of the society of the saints in heaven. So the apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians speaks of them as visibly of the same household or family of God, a part of which is in heaven.
8. That baptism,
by which the primitive converts were admitted into the church, was used
as an exhibition and token of their being visibly “regenerated, dead to
sin, alive to God, having the old man crucified, being delivered from
the reigning power of sin, being made free from sin, and become the
servants of righteousness, those servants of God that have their fruit
unto that holiness whose end is everlasting life;” as is evident by
It is evident, that it is not only a visibility of moral sincerity in
religion, which is the scripture qualification of admission into the
christian church, but a visibility of regeneration and renovation of
heart, because it was foretold that God’s people and the
ministers of his house in the days of the Messiah, should not admit
into the christian church any that were not visibly circumcised in heart.
venerable author of the Appeal to the Learned, says, page 10. “That
this scripture has no particular reference to the Lord’s supper.” I
answer, though I do not suppose it has merely a reference to that
ordinance, yet I think it manifest, that it has a reference to
admitting persons into the christian church, and to external church privileges.
It might be easy to prove, that these nine last chapters of Ezekiel
must be a vision and prophecy of the state
of things in the church of God in the Messiah’s days; but I suppose it
will not be denied, it being a thing wherein divines are so generally
agreed. And I suppose, none will dispute but that by the house of God and his sanctuary, which it is here foretold the uncircumcised in
heart should not be admitted into in the days of the gospel, is meant the same house, sanctuary, or temple of
God, that the prophet had just before been speaking of, in the
foregoing part of the same chapter, and been describing throughout the
four preceding chapters. But we all know, that the New Testament house of God is his church.
By what has been observed, I think it abundantly evident, that the saintship, godliness, and holiness, of which, according to Scripture, professing Christians and visible saints do make a profession and have a visibility, is not any religion and virtue that is the result of common grace, or moral sincerity, (as it is called,) but saving grace.—Yet there are many other clear evidences of the same thing, which may in some measure appear in all the following part of this discourse.
SECTION II. Profession of religion.
All who are capable of it are bound to make an explicit open profession of the true religion.
I come to another reason, why I answer the question at first proposed, in the negative, viz. That it is a duty which in an ordinary state of things is required of all that are capable of it, to make an explicit open profession of the true religion, by owning God’s covenant; or, in other words, professedly and verbally to unite themselves to God in his covenant, by their own public act.
Here I would (first) prove this point; and then (secondly) draw the consequence, and show how this demonstrates the thing in debate.
First, I shall endeavour to establish this point, viz. That it is the duty of God’s people thus publicly to own the covenant; and that it was not only a duty in Israel of old, but is so in the christian church, and to the end of the world; and that it is a duty required of adult persons before they come to sacraments. And this being a point of great consequence in this controversy, but a matter seldom handled, (though it seems to be generally taken for granted,) I shall be the more particular in the consideration of it.
not only seems to be in itself most consonant to reason, and is a duty
generally allowed in New England, but is evidently a great institution
of the word of God, appointed as a very important part of that public
religion by which God’s people should give honour to his name. This
institution we have in
God’s people in swearing to his name, or into his name, according to the institution, solemnly professed two things, viz. their faith and obedience. The former part of this profession of religion was called, Saying, the Lord liveth.
words chai jehovah, Jehovah liveth, summarily comprehend a profession
of faith in that all-sufficiency and immutability of God, which is
implied in the name jehovah, and which attributes are very often
signified in Scripture by God’s being the living god, as is very
The other thing professed in swearing into the Lord was obedience, called, Walking in the name of the Lord.
This institution, in Deuteronomy, of swearing into the name of the Lord, or visibly and explicitly uniting themselves to him in covenant, was not prescribed as an extraordinary duty, to be preformed on a return from a general apostacy, and some other extraordinary occasions: but is evidently mentioned in the institution, as a part of the public worship of God to be performed by all God’s people, properly belonging to the visible worshippers of Jehovah; and so it is very often mentioned by the prophets, as I observed before, and could largely demonstrate, if there was occasion for it, and would not too much lengthen out this discourse.
this was not only an institution belonging to Israel under the Old
Testament, but also to Gentile converts, and Christians under the New
Testament. Thus God declares concerning the Gentile nations,
remarkable place wherein it is plainly foretold that the like method of
professing religion should be continued in the days of the gospel, is
if explicit, open covenanting with God be a great duty required of all,
as has been represented, then it ought to be expected of persons before
they are admitted to the privileges of the adult in the church of
Christ. Surely it is proper, if this explicit covenanting takes place
at all, that it should take place before persons come to those
ordinances wherein they, by their own act, publicly confirm and seal
this covenant. This public transaction of covenanting,
which God has appointed, ought to have existence, before we publicly
confirm and seal this transaction. It was that by which the Israelites
of old were introduced into the communion of God’s nominal or visible
church and holy city: as appears by
SECTION III. Profession should be of real piety.
That none ought to be admitted to the privileges of adult persons in the church of Christ, but such as make a profession of real piety.
The covenant to be owned or professed, is God’s covenant,
which he has revealed as the method of our spiritual union with him,
and our acceptance as the objects of his eternal favour; which is no
other than the covenant of grace; at least it is so, without dispute, in these days of the gospel. To own this covenant, is to profess the consent of our hearts
to it; and that is the sum and substance of true piety. It is not only
professing the assent of
our understandings that we understand there is such a covenant, or that
we understand we are obliged to comply with it; but it is to profess
the consent of our wills, it is to manifest that we do comply with it. There is mutual profession in this affair, a profession on Christ’s part, and a profession on our part; as it is in marriage. And it is the same sort of profession that is made on both sides, in this respect, that each professes a consent of heart.
his word declares an entire consent of heart as to what he offers; and
the visible Christian, in the answer that he makes to it in his
christian profession, declares a consent and compliance of heart to his
proposal. Owning the covenant is professing to make the transaction of
that covenant our own. The transaction of that covenant is that of
espousals to Christ; on our part, it is giving our souls to Christ as
his spouse. There is no one thing that the covenant of grace is so
often compared to
in Scripture, as the marriage-covenant; and the visible transaction, or
mutual profession, there is between Christ and the visible church, is
abundantly compared to the mutual profession there is in marriage. In
marriage the bride professes to yield to the bridegroom’s suit, and to
take him for her husband, renouncing all others, and to give up herself
to him to be entirely and for ever possessed by him as his wife. But he
that professes this towards Christ, professes saving faith. They that
openly covenanted with God according to the tenor of the institution,
I know the distinction made by some, between the internal and external covenant; but, I hope, the divines that make this distinction, would not be understood, that there are really and properly two covenants of grace; but only that those who profess the one only covenant of grace, are of two sorts. There are those who comply with it internally and really, and others who do so only externally, that is, in profession and visibility. But he that externally and visibly complies with the covenant of grace, appears and professes to do so really.—There is also this distinction concerning the covenant of grace; it is exhibited two ways, the one externally, by the preaching of the word, the other internally and spiritually, by enlightening the mind rightly to understand the word. But it is with the covenant, as it is with the call of the gospel: he that really complies with the external call, has the internal call; so he that truly complies with the external proposal of God’s covenant, as visible Christians profess to do, does indeed perform the inward condition of it. But the New Testament affords no more foundation for supposing two real and properly distinct covenants of grace, than it does to suppose two sorts of real Christians.
When those persons who were baptized in infancy properly own their baptismal covenant, the meaning is, that they now, being capable to act for themselves, do professedly 444and explicitly make their parents’ act, in giving them up to God, their own, by expressly giving themselves up to God. But this no person can do, without either being deceived, or dissembling and professing what he himself supposes to be a falsehood, unless he supposes that in his heart he consents to be God’s. A child of christian parents never does that for himself which his parents did for him in infancy, till he gives himself wholly to God. But surely he does not do it, who not only keeps back a part, but the chief part, his heart and soul. He that keeps back his heart, does in effect keep back all; and therefore, if he be sensible of it, is guilty of solemn wilful mockery, if at the same time he solemnly and publicly professes that he gives himself up to God. If there are any words used by such, which in their proper signification imply that they give themselves up to God; and if these words, as they intend them to be understood, and as they are understood by those that hear them, according to their established use and custom among that people, do not imply, that they do it really, but do truly reserve or keep back the chief part; it ceases to be a profession of giving themselves up to God, and so ceases to be a professed covenanting with God. The thing which they profess belongs to no existing covenant of God; for God has revealed no such covenant, in which our transacting of it is a giving up ourselves to him with reserve, or holding back our souls, our chief part, and in effect our all. And therefore, although such public and solemn professing may be a very unwarrantable and great abuse of words, and taking God’s name in vain, it is no professed covenanting with God.
One thing, as observed, that belonged to Israel’s swearing into the name of the Lord, was saying, The Lord liveth;
whereby they professed their faith in God’s all-sufficiency,
immutability, and faithfulness. But if they really had such a faith, it
was a saving grace. To them who indeed trust in the all-sufficiency of
God, he will surely be an all-sufficient portion; and them who trust in
God’s immutability and faithfulness, he surely will
never leave nor forsake. There were two ways of swearing Jehovah liveth, that we read of in Scripture; one we read of,
persons merely to promise, that they will believe in Christ, or that
they will hereafter comply with the conditions and duties of the
covenant of grace, is not to own that covenant. Such persons do not
profess now to enter into the covenant of grace with Christ, or into
the relation of that covenant to Christ. All they do at present, is to
say, they will do it hereafter; they profess, that they will hereafter
obey that command of God, to believe on the name of
his Son Jesus Christ. But what is such a profession good for, and what credit is to be given to such promises of future obedience;
when at the same time they pretend no other at present, than to live
and continue in rebellion against those great commands which give no
allowance or licence for delay? They who do thus, instead of properly
owning the covenant, do rather for the present visibly reject it. It is
not unusual, in some churches, where the doctrine I oppose has been
established, for persons at the same time that they come into the
church, and pretend to own the covenant, freely to declare to their
neighbours, they have no imagination that they have any true faith in
Christ, or love to him. Such persons, instead of being professedly
united to Christ, in the union of the covenant of grace, are rather
visibly destitute of the love of Christ; and so, instead of being
qualified for admission to the Lord’s supper, are rather exposed to
that denunciation of the
That outward covenanting, which is agreeable to scripture-institution, is not only a promising what is future, (though that is not excluded,) but a professing what is present, as it is in the marriage-covenant. For a woman to promise, that she will hereafter renounce all other men for the sake of him who makes suit to her, and will in some future time accept of him for her husband, is not for her now to enter into the marriage-covenant with him. She that does this with a man, professes now to accept of him, renouncing all others; though promises of hereafter behaving towards him as a wife, are also included in the transaction. It seems the primitive converts to Christianity, in the profession they made of religion, in order to their admission into the christian church, and in their visibly entering into covenant, in order to the initiating seal of the covenant in baptism, did not explicitly make any promises of any thing future. They only professed the present sentiments and habit of their minds, they professed that they believed in Christ, and so were admitted into the church by baptism; and yet undoubtedly they were, according to forementioned prophecies, admitted in the way of public covenanting. As the covenant-people of God, they owned the covenant, before the seal of the covenant was applied. Their professing faith in Christ was visibly owing the covenant of grace, because faith in Christ was the grand condition of that covenant. Indeed, if the faith which they professed in order to baptism, was only an historical or doctrinal faith, (as some suppose,) or any common faith, it would not have been any visible entering into the covenant of grace; for a common faith is not the condition of that covenant; nor would there properly have been any covenanting in the case. If we suppose, the faith they professed was the grace by which the soul is united to Christ, their profession was a covenanting in this respect also, that it implied an engagement of future obedience; for true faith in Christ includes in 445its nature an acceptance of him as our Lord and King, and devoting ourselves to his service. But a profession of historical faith implies no profession of accepting Christ as our King, nor engagement to submit to him as such.
the Israelites publicly covenanted with God, according to the
institution in Deuteronomy, they did not only promise something future,
but professed something present; they avouched Jehovah to be their God,
and also promised to keep his commands. Thus it was in that solemn
covenant-transaction between God and the people on the plains of Moab;
which is summarily described,
possibly it may be objected, that it is unreasonable to suppose any
such thing should be intended, in the profession of the congregation in
the wilderness, as a gracious respect to God, that which is the
condition of God’s covenant, when we have reason to think that so few
of them were truly gracious. But I suppose, upon mature consideration,
this will not appear at all unreasonable. It is no more unreasonable to
suppose this people to make a profession of
that respect to God, which they had not in their hearts now, than at
other times when we are informed they did so, as in
to return to the argument from the nature of covenanting with God, or
owning God’s covenant. As to the promises, which are herein either
explicitly or implicitly made; these imply a profession of true piety.
For, in the covenant of grace universal obedience is engaged, obedience
to all the commands of God; and the performance of inward spiritual
duties is as much engaged, as external duties; and in some respects
much more. Therefore he that visibly makes the
covenant of grace his own, promises to perform those internal duties,
and to perform all duties with a gracious sincerity. We have no
warrant, in our profession of God’s covenant, to divide the duties of it, to take some, and leave out others: especially to leave out those great commands, of believing with the heart, of loving the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul, and our neighbour as ourselves.
He that leaves out these, in effect leaves out all; for these are
the sum of our whole duty, and of all God’s commands. If we leave these
out of our profession, surely it is not the covenant of grace which we
profess. The Israelites, when they covenanted with God at mount Sinai,
and said, when God had declared to them the ten commandments, “All that
the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient;” promised, that as
they professed to know God, they would in works not deny, but own and honour him, and would conform to those two great
which are the sum of all the ten, and concerning which God said, “These
words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart,”
Now he who is wholly under the power of a carnal mind, which is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be, cannot promise these things without either great deceit, or the most manifest and palpable absurdity. Promising supposes the person to be conscious to himself, or persuaded of himself, that he has such a heart in him; for his lips pretend to declare his heart. The nature of a promise implies intention or design. And proper real intention implies will, disposition, and compliance of heart. But no natural man is properly willing to do these duties, nor does his heart comply with them: and to make natural men believe otherwise, tends greatly to their hurt. A natural man may be willing, from self-love, and from sinister views, to use means and take pains that he may obtain a willingness or disposition to these duties: but that is a very different thing from actually being willing, or truly having a disposition to them. So he may promise, that he will, from some considerations or other, take great pains to obtain such a heart; but this is not the promise of the covenant of grace. Men may make many religious promises to God some way relating to the covenant of grace, which yet are not themselves the promises of that covenant; nor is there any thing of the nature of covenanting in the case, because although they should actually fulfil their promises, God is not obliged by promise to them. If a natural man promises to do all that it is possible for a natural man to do in religion, and fulfils his promises, God is not obliged, by any covenant that he has entered into with man, to perform any thing at all for him, respecting his saving benefits. And therefore he that promises these things only, enters into no covenant with God; because the very notion of entering into covenant with any being, is entering into a mutual agreement, doing or engaging that which, if done, the other party becomes engaged on his part. The New Testament informs us but of one covenant God enters into with mankind through Christ, and that is the covenant of grace; in which God obliges himself to nothing in us that is exclusive of unfeigned faith, and the spiritual duties that attend it. Therefore if a natural man makes never so many vows, that he will perform all external duties, and will pray for help to do spiritual duties, and for an ability and will to comply with the covenant of grace, from such principles as he has, he does not lay hold of God’s covenant, nor properly enter into any covenant with God. For we have no opportunity to covenant with God in any other way, than that which he has revealed; he becomes a covenant-party in no other covenant. It is true, every natural man that lives under the gospel, is obliged to comply with the terms of the covenant of grace; and if he promised to do it, his promise may increase his obligation, though he flattered God with his mouth, and lied to him with his tongue, as the children of Israel did in promising. But it will not thence follow, that they ought knowingly to make a lying promise, or that ministers and churches should countenance them in so doing.
Indeed there is no natural man but what deceives himself, if he thinks he is truly willing to perform external obedience to God, universally and perseveringly through the various trials of life. And therefore in promising it, he is either very deceitful, or is like the foolish deceived man that undertook to build when he had not wherewith to finish. And if it be known by the church, before whom he promises to build and finish, that at the same time he does not pretend to have a heart to finish, his promise is worthy of no credit or regard from them, and can make nothing visible to them but his presumption.
A great confirmation of what has been said under this head of covenanting, is
those who are really wicked, may be visibly righteous, righteous in
profession and outward appearance. But a sort of men who have no saving
grace, and yet are not really wicked, the Scripture is entirely
ignorant of. It is reasonable to suppose, that by wicked men, in this psalm, is meant all that hate instruction, and reject God’s word, (
As a further evidence that by the wicked in
SECTION IV. Reason requires a hearty profession.
The nature of things seems to afford no good reason why the people of Christ should not openly profess a proper respect to him in their hearts, as well as a true notion of him in their heads, or a right opinion of him in their judgments, and this is confirmed by scripture testimony.
I can conceive
of nothing reasonably to be supposed as the design or end of a public
profession of religion, that does not as much require a profession of
honour, esteem, and friendship of heart towards Christ, as an orthodox
opinion about him; or why the former should not be as much expected and
required in order to be admitted into the company of his friends and
followers, as the latter. It cannot be because the former in itself is
not as important as the latter;
seeing the very essence of religion itself consists in the former, and
without it the latter is wholly vain, and makes us never the better;
neither happier in ourselves, nor more acceptable to God.—One end of a
public profession of religion is giving public honour to God. But
surely the profession of inward esteem and a supreme respect of heart
towards God more directly tends to it, than the declaring of right
speculative notions of him. We look upon it that our friends do the
and directly put honour upon us, when upon proper occasions they stand
ready not only to own the truth of such and such facts concerning us,
but also to testify their high esteem and cordial and entire regard to
us. When persons only manifest their doctrinal knowledge of religion,
and express the assent of their judgments, but at the same time make no
pretence but that they are wholly destitute of all true love to God,
and are under the dominion of enmity against him, their profession, is,
some respects, very greatly to God’s dishonour: for they leave reason
for the public greatly to suspect that they hold the truth in unrighteousness, and that they are some of those who have both seen and hated Christ and his Father,
I am at a loss, how that visibility of saintship, which the honoured author of The Appeal to the Learned, supposes to be all that is required in order to admission to the Lord’s supper, can be much to God’s honour, viz. Such a visibility as leaves reason to believe, that the greater part of those who have it, are enemies to God in their hearts, and inwardly the servants of sin. Such a visibility of religion as this, seems rather to increase a visibility of wickedness in the world, and so of God’s dishonour, than any thing else; i. e. it makes more wickedness visible to the eye of a human judgment, and gives men reason to think, there is more wickedness in the world than otherwise would be visible to them. Because we have reason to think, that those who live in a rejection of Christ, under the light of the gospel, and the knowledge and common belief of its doctrine, have vastly greater sin and guilt than other men. And that venerable divine himself did abundantly teach this.
Christ came into the world to engage in a war with God’s enemies, sin and Satan; and a great war there is maintained between them; and the contest is, who shall have the possession of our hearts. Now it is reasonable, under these circumstances, that we should declare on whose side we are, whether on Christ’s side, or on the side of his enemies. If we would be admitted among Christ’s friends and followers, it is reasonable, that we should profess we are on the Lord’s side, and that we yield our hearts to him, and not to his rivals. And this seems plainly to be the design and nature of a public profession of Christ. If this profession is not made, no profession is 448 made that is worth regarding, in such a case as this, and to any such purpose as being admitted among his visible friends. There is no being on Christ’s side, in this case, but with an undivided heart preferring him to all his rivals, and renouncing them all for his sake. The case admits of no neutrality, or lukewarmness, or a middle sort of persons with a moral sincerity, or such a common faith as is consistent with loving sin and the world better than Christ. He that is not with me (says Christ) is against me. And therefore none profess to be on Christ’s side, but they who profess to renounce his rivals. For those who would be called Christians, to profess no higher regard to Christ than what will admit of a superior regard to the world, is more absurd than if a woman pretending to marry a man, and take him for her husband, should profess to take him in some sort, but yet not pretend to take him in such a manner as is inconsistent with her allowing other men a fuller possession of her, and greater intimacy with her, than she allows him. The nature of the case, as it stands between us and Jesus Christ, is such, that an open solemn profession of being entirely for him, and giving him the possession of our hearts, renouncing all competitors, is more requisite in this, than a like profession in any other case. The profession of an intermediate sort of state of our mind, is very disagreeable to the nature of Christ’s work and kingdom in the world, and all that belongs to the designs and ends of his administrations; and for ministers and churches openly to establish such a profession of Christ as part of his public service, which does not imply more than lukewarmness, is, I fear, to make a mere sham of a solemn public profession of Christianity, and seems to be wholly without warrant from the word of God, and greatly to his dishonour.
It cannot be justly pretended, as a reason why the opinion concerning doctrines should be professed, and not friendship or respect of heart, that the former is more easily discerned
and known by us than the latter. For though it be true, that men may be
at a loss concerning the latter, yet it is as true they may be so
concerning the former too. They may be at a loss in many cases
concerning the fulness of the determination of their own
inclination and choice; and so they may concerning the fulness of the
determination of their judgment. I know of nothing in human nature that
hinders the acts of men’s wills being properly subject to their own
consciousness, any more than the acts of their judgment; nor of any
reason to suppose that men may not discern their own consent, as well as their assent. The Scripture plainly supposes gracious dispositions and acts to be things properly under the eye of conscience.
We find in Scripture, that all those of God’s professing people or visible saints who are not truly pious, are represented as counterfeits, as having guile, disguise, and a false appearance, as making false pretences, and as being deceitful and hypocrites.—Thus Christ says of Nathanael,
Now what ground or reason can there be thus to represent those to be visible saints, or members of God’s visible church, who are not truly pious, if the profession of such does not imply any pretence to true piety; and when they never made a pretence to any thing more than common grace, or moral sincerity, which many of them truly have, and therefore are not at all hypocritical or deceitful in their pretences, and are as
much without guile, in what they make a profession of, as Nathanael was? The psalmist speaking of sincere piety, calls it truth in the inward parts.
God is pleased to represent himself in his word as if he trusted the profession of his visible people, and as disappointed when they did not approve themselves as his faithful, stedfast, and thorough friends.
When God, in the forementioned place,
SECTION V. Christ requires it.
The representations which Christ makes of his visible church, from time to time, in his discourses and parables, make the thing manifest which I have laid down.
This is required by the representation which Christ makes in the latter end of
On the whole, it is
manifest that all visible Christians or saints, all Christ’s professing
disciples or hearers that profess him to be their Lord, according to
the scripture notion of professing Christ, are such as profess a
“saving interest in him and relation to him, and live in the hope of
being hereafter owned as those that are so interested and related.”—By those that hear Christ’s sayings,
in this place, are not meant merely auditors of the word preached;
for there are many such who make no pretence to an interest in Christ,
and have no such hope or opinion built on any foundation at all; but
those who profess to hearken, believe, and yield submission to the word
of Christ. This is confirmed by the manner in which the matter is
This matter is confirmed by that parallel representation that Christ gives us in
The same is manifest by the parable of the ten virgins,
that true piety is what persons ought to look at in themselves as the
qualification that is proper in coming into the visible church of
Christ, and taking the privileges of its members, I think, is evident
also from the parable of the marriage, which the king made for his son,
Mr. Stoddard says. “This person that had not a wedding-garment, was a reprobate; but every one that partakes of the Lord’s supper without grace is not a reprobate.” I answer, all that will be found in the king’s house without grace when the king comes in to see the guests, are doubtless reprobates.
If it be questioned, whether by the wedding-garment be meant true piety, or whether hereby is not intended moral sincerity,
let the Scripture interpret itself; which elsewhere tells us plainly
what the wedding-garment is at the marriage of the Son of God:
SECTION VI. Primitive admissions.
What took place, in fact, in the manner and circumstances of the admission of members into the primitive christian church, and the profession they made in order to their admission, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, will further confirm the point.
We have an account, concerning these, of their being first awakened by the preaching of the apostles and other ministers, and earnestly inquiring what they should do to be saved, and of their being directed to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, as the way to have their sins blotted out, and to be saved; and then, upon their professing that they did believe, of their being baptized and admitted into the christian church. Now can any reasonably imagine, that these primitive converts, when they made that profession in order to their admission, had any such distinction in view as that which some now make, of two sorts of real Christianity, two sorts of sincere faith and repentance, one with a moral and another with a gracious sincerity? Or that the apostles, who disciplined them and baptized them, had instructed them in any such distinction? The history informs us of their teaching them but one faith and repentance; Believing in Christ that they might be saved, and repentance for the remission of sins; and it would be unreasonable to suppose, that a thought of any lower or other kind entered into the heads of these converts, when immediately upon their receiving such instructions they professed faith and repentance; or that those who admitted them understood them as meaning any other but what they professed.
Let us particularly consider what we are informed concerning those multitudes, whose admission we have an account of in
any should here object, that when such multitudes were converted from
Judaism and heathenism, and received into the christian church in so
short a season, it was impossible there should be time for each
one to say so much in his public profession, as to be any credible
exhibition of true godliness to the church: I answer, This objection
will soon vanish, if we particularly consider how the case was with
those primitive converts, and how they were dealt with
by their teachers. It was apparently the manner of the first preachers
of the gospel, when their hearers were awakened and brought in good
earnest to inquire what they should do to be saved, then particularly
to instruct them in the way of salvation, and explain to them what
qualifications must be in them, or what they must do in order to their
being saved, agreeable to Christ’s direction,
One thing which makes it very evident, that the inspired ministers of the primitive christian church looked upon saving faith
as the proper matter of the profession requisite in order to admission
into the church, is the story of Philip and the eunuch, in
It is said by some, that Philip intended nothing more by believing with all his heart, than that he believed that doctrine, that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, with a moral sincerity
of persuasion. But here again I desire, that the Scripture may be
allowed to be its own interpreter. The Scripture very much abounds with
such phrases as this, with all the heart, or with the whole heart, in speaking of religious matters. And the
manifest intent of them is to signify a gracious simplicity and godly sincerity. Thus,
Here if it be objected, that the eunuch’s answer and the profession he hereupon made, (wherein he speaks
nothing of his heart, but barely says,) I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, shows that he understood no more by the inquiry, than whether he gave his assent to that doctrine:
to this I answer; we must take this confession of the eunuch together
with Philip’s words, to which they were a reply, and expound the one by
the other. Nor is there any reason but to understand it in the same
sense in which we find the words of the like confession elsewhere in
the New Testament, and as the words of such a confession were wont to
be used in those days; as particularly the words of Peter’s confession,
SECTION VII. The epistles prove it.
The epistles of the apostles to the churches, prove what has been asserted.
It is apparent by the epistles of the apostles to the primitive christian churches, their manner of addressing and treating them throughout all those epistles, and what they say to them and of them, that all those churches were constituted of members so qualified as has been represented, having such a visibility of godliness as has been insisted on. Those who were reputed to be real saints, were taken into the church under a notion of their being truly pious persons, made that profession, and had this hope of themselves; and that natural and graceless men were not admitted designedly, but unawares, and beside the aim of the primitive churches and ministers; and that such as remained in good standing, and free from an offensive behaviour, continued to have the reputation and esteem of real saints, with the apostles, and one another.
were numbers indeed in these churches, who after their admission fell
into an offensive behaviour; of some of whom the apostles in their
epistles speak doubtfully; others that had behaved themselves very
scandalously, they speak of in language that seems to suppose them to
be wicked men.—The apostle Paul, in his epistles to the Corinthians,
oftentimes speaks of some among them that had embraced heretical
opinions, and had behaved themselves in a very disorderly
and schismatical manner, whom he represents as exposed to censure, and
to whom he threatens excommunication. On occasion of so many offences
of this kind appearing among them that for a while had been thought
well of, he puts them all upon examining themselves, whether they were indeed in the faith, and whether Christ was truly in them, as they and others had supposed,
apostles continually, in their epistles, speak to them and of them, as
supposing and judging them to be gracious persons. Thus the apostle
Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, chapter i. 7.. speaks of the
members of that church as beloved of God. In chapter vi. 17,
18., &c. he “thanks God, that they had obeyed from the heart that
form of doctrine which had been delivered them,—were made free from
sin, and become the servants of righteousness,” &c. The
apostle in giving thanks to God for this, must not only have a kind of negative charity for them, as not knowing but that they were gracious persons, and so charitably hoping (as we say) that it was so; but he seems to have formed a positive judgment
that they were such. His thanksgiving must at least be founded on
rational probability; since it would be but a mocking of God, to give thanks for bestowing a mercy which at the same time he did not see reason positively
to believe was bestowed. In
the same apostle in his first epistle to the Corinthians, directs it
“to the church at Corinth, that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called
to be saints, with all that in every place call on the name of the Lord
Jesus;” i. e. to all visible Christians through the world, or
all the members of Christ’s visible church every where. And continuing
And in the epistle to the churches of Galatia.
In his epistle to that great church at Ephesus, he blesses God on behalf of its members, as being, together with himself and all the faithful in Christ Jesus,
“Chosen in him before the foundation of the world, to be holy and
without blame before him in love, being predestinated to the adoption
of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure
of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein God had
made them accepted in
the beloved: in whom they had redemption through his blood, the
forgiveness of sins.” In
in the epistle to the church at Philippi, the apostle tells them, that
he “thanks God upon every remembrance of them, for their fellowship in
the gospel; being confident of this very thing, that he which had begun
a good work in them, would perform it until the day of Christ: even (says he)
as it is meet for me to think this of you all.” If it was meet for him
to think this of them, and to be confident of it, he had at least some
probability to found his judgment and confidence upon; for surely it is
not meet for reasonable creatures to think at random, and be confident without reason. In
the epistle to the members of the church at Colosse, the apostle
saluting them in the beginning of the epistle, “gives thanks for their
faith in Christ Jesus, and love to all saints, and the hope laid up for
them in heaven;” and speaks of “the gospel bringing forth fruit in
them, since the day they knew the grace of God in truth;” i. e. since the day of their saving conversion. In
the first epistle to the members of the church at Thessalonica, in
words annexed to his salutation, chapter i. he declares what kind of
visibility there was of their election of God, in the
appearance there had been of true and saving conversion, and their
consequent holy life, verse 3-7.. And in the beginning of the second
epistle., he speaks of their faith and love greatly increasing; and in verse 7.. expresses his confidence of meeting
them in eternal rest, when the Lord Jesus Christ should be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. And in
the epistle to the christian Hebrews, though the apostle speaks of some
that once belonged to their churches, but had apostatized and proved
themselves hypocrites; yet concerning the rest that remained in good
standing, he says,
The apostle James, writing to the Christians of the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad, speaks of them as regenerated persons, meaning, as I observed before, those which were in good standing.
In the first epistle of John, written (for ought appears) to professing Christians in general,
The apostle Jude, in his general epistle, speaks much of apostates and their wickedness; but to other professing Christians, that had not fallen away, he says, verse 20, 21. “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life:” plainly supposing, that they had professed faith with love to God our Saviour, and were by the apostle considered as his friends and lovers.—Many other passages to the like purpose might be observed in the epistles, but these may suffice.
Now how unaccountable would these things be, if the members of the primitive christian churches were not admitted into them under any such notion as their being really godly persons and heirs of eternal life, nor with any respect to such a character appearing on them; and that they themselves joined to these churches without any such pretence, as having no such opinion of themselves!
it is particularly evident that they had such an opinion of themselves,
as well as the apostles of them, by many things the apostles say in
their epistles. Thus, in
is also evident, that the members of these primitive churches had this
judgment one of another, and of the members of the visible church of
Christ in general. In
These things evidently show, how all the christian churches through the world were constituted in those days; and what sort of holiness or saintship it was, that all visible Christians in good standing had a visibility and profession of, in that apostolic age; and also what sort of visibility of this they had, viz. not only that which gave them right to a kind of negative charity, or freedom from censure, but that which
might justly induce a positive
judgment in their favour. The churches to whom these epistles were
written, were all the principal churches in the world; some of them
very large, as the churches at Corinth and Ephesus. Some of the
epistles were directed to all the churches through large countries
where the gospel had great success, as the epistle to the Galatians.
The epistle to the Hebrews was written to all the Jewish Christians in
the land of Canaan, in distinction from the Jews that
lived in other countries, who were called Hellenists or Grecians,
because they generally spake the Greek tongue. The epistles of Peter
were written to all the christian Jews through many countries, Pontus,
Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia; containing great numbers of
Jews, beyond any other Gentile countries. The epistle of James was
directed to all christian Jews, scattered abroad through the whole
world. The epistles of John and Jude, for ought appears in those
epistles, were directed
to all visible Christians through the whole world. And the apostle Paul
directs the first epistle to the Corinthians, not only to the members
of that church, but to all professing Christians on the face of the
Here possible some may object, and say, It will not follow from the apostles speaking to and of the members of the primitive church after the manner which has been observed, as though they supposed them to be gracious persons, that therefore a profession and appearance of this was looked upon in those days as a requisite qualification for admission into the visible church; because another reason may be given for it, viz. Such was the extraordinary state of things at that day, that the greater part of those converted from heathenism and Judaism to Christianity, were hopefully gracious persons, by reason of its being a day of such large communications of divine grace, and such great and unavoidable sufferings of professors, &c.—And the apostles knowing those facts, might properly speak to and of the churches, as if they were societies of truly gracious persons, because there was just ground on such accounts, to think the greater part of them to be so; although no profession or visibility of this was requisite in their members by the constitution of those churches, and the door of admission was as open for others as for such.
But this cannot be a satisfactory nor a true account of the matter, if we consider the following things.
(1.) The apostles in the very superscription or direction of their letters to these churches, and in their salutation at the beginning of their epistles speak of them as gracious persons. For instance, the apostle Peter, in the direction 456 of his first letter to all professing Jewish Christians through many countries, says thus, “To the strangers scattered through Pontus, &c. elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” And in his directing his second epistle to the same persons, he says, “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us,” &c. And the apostle Paul directs his epistle to the Romans thus, “To them that be at Rome, beloved of God.” So he directs his first epistle to the Corinthians thus, “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In what sense he means sanctified, his following words show, verse 4-9.. The same was before observed of words annexed to the apostle’s salutations, in the beginning of several of the epistles. This shows, that the apostles extend this character as far as they do the epistles themselves. Which surely would be very improper, and not agreeable to truth, if the apostles at the same time knew very well that such a character did not belong to members of churches, as such, and that they were not received into those churches with any regard to such a character, or upon the account of any right they had to be esteemed such persons. In the superscription of letters to societies of men, we are wont to give them that title or denomination which properly belongs to them as members of such a body. Thus, if one should write to the Royal Society in London, or the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, it would be proper and natural to give them the title of Learned; for whether every one of the members truly deserve the epithet, or not, yet the title is agreeable to their profession, and what is known to be aimed at, and is professedly insisted on, in the admission of members. But if one should write to the House of Commons, or to the East India Company, and in his superscription give them the title of Learned, this would be very improper, and ill-judged; because that character does not belong to their profession as members of that body, and learning is not a qualification insisted on in their admission of members. Nor would it excuse the impropriety, though the writer might, from his special acquaintance, know it to be fact, that the greater part of them were men of learning. To inscribe a letter to them, would be something strange; but more strange, if it should appear, by various instances, to be a custom so to direct letters to such societies; as it seems to be the manner of the apostles, in their epistles to christian churches, to address them under titles which imply a profession and visibility of true holiness.
(2.) The apostle John, in his general epistle, very plainly manifests, that all to whom he wrote were supposed to
have true grace, inasmuch as he declares this to be the qualification
he respects in writing to them; and lets them know, he writes to them
for that reason, because they are supposed to be persons of the
character of such as have known God, overcome the wicked one, and have had their sins forgiven them.
(3.) The apostles, when speaking of visible Christians, as a society, and what belongs to such a kind of society, speak of it as visibly (i. e. in profession and reputation) a society of
gracious persons. So the apostle Peter speaks of them as a spiritual
house, an holy and royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,
a chosen or elect generation, called out of darkness into marvellous
The apostle Paul speaks often and expressly of the members of the
churches to whom he wrote, as all of them in esteem and visibility
truly gracious persons.
(5.) It is evident, that even in those churches where the greater part of the members were not true saints, as in those degenerate churches of Sardis and Laodicea, which we may suppose were become very lax in their admissions and discipline; yet they looked upon themselves as truly gracious persons, and had with others the reputation of such.
If we should suppose, that, by reason of the extraordinary state of
things in that day, the apostles had reason to think the greater part
of the members of churches to be true Christians, yet unless profession
and appearance of true Christianity was their proper qualification and
the ground of their admission—and unless it was supposed that all of
them esteemed themselves true Christians—it is altogether unaccountable
that the apostles in their epistles to them
never make any express particular distinction between those different
sorts of members. If the churches were made up of persons who looked on
themselves in so different a state—some the children of God, and others
the children of the devil, some the high favourites of heaven and heirs
of eternal glory, others the children of wrath, being under
condemnation to eternal death, and every moment in danger of dropping
into hell—why do the apostles make no distinction in their manner of
addressing them, and in the counsels, reproofs, and warnings they gave them? Why do they never direct their speech to the unconverted members
of churches, in particular, in a manner tending to awaken them, and
make them sensible of the miserable condition they were in, and press
them to seek the converting grace of God? It is to be considered, that
the apostle Paul was very particularly acquainted with the
circumstances of most of those churches to whom he wrote; for he had
them, was their spiritual father, had been the instrument of gathering
and founding those churches, and they had received all their
instructions and directions relating to Christianity and their
soul—concerns from him; nor can it be questioned but that many of them
had opened the case of their souls to him. And if he was sensible, that
there was a number among them who made no pretensions to a regenerate
state, and that none had reason to judge them to be in such a state, he
knew that the sin
of such—who lived in the rejection of a Saviour, even in the very house
of God, in the midst of gospel-light, and in violation of the most
sacred vows—was peculiarly aggravated, and their guilt and state
peculiarly dreadful. Why should he therefore never particularly and
distinctly point his addresses to such, applying himself to them in
much compassion to their souls, and putting them in mind of their awful
circumstances? But instead of this, we observe him continually lumping
and indifferently addressing the whole body, as if they were all in
happy circumstances, expressing his charity for them all, and
congratulating them all in their glorious and eternal privilege.
Instead of speaking to them in such a manner as should have a tendency
to alarm them with a sense of danger, we see him, on the contrary,
calling on all without distinction to rejoice.
If it be here objected, that the apostle sometimes exhorts those to whom he writes, to put off the old man, and put on the new man, and to be renewed in the spirit of their minds, &c. as exhorting them to seek conversion: I answer, that the meaning is manifestly this, That they should mortify the remains of corruption, or the old man, and turn more and more from sin to God. Thus he exhorts the Ephesians to be renewed, &c.
It is clear, not only that the greater part of the members of the
primitive churches were to appearance true Christians; but that they
were taken in under that notion, and because there appeared in them grounds of such an estimation of them. When any happened to be admitted that were otherwise, it was beside their aim; inasmuch as when others were admitted, they are represented as brought or crept in unawares.
matter is represented by the apostles. Jude, verse 4. “There are
certain men crept in unawares—ungodly men, turning the grace of God
Thus it is abundantly manifest, from the apostolical writings, how the visible church of Christ, through the whole world, was at first constituted, under the direction of the apostles themselves, who regulated it according to the infallible guidance of the Spirit of their great Lord and Master.—And doubtless, as the christian church was constituted then, so it ought to be constituted now. What better rule have we for our ecclesiastical regulations in other respects, than what was done in the primitive churches, under the apostles’ own direction; as particularly the standing officers of the church, presbyters and deacons, the method of introducing ministers in their ordination, &c.? In this matter that I have insisted on, I think the Scripture is abundantly more full, than in those other things.
SECTION VIII. Members united by brotherly love.
The Scripture represents the visible church of Christ, as a society having its several members united by the bond of christian brotherly love.
that general benevolence or charity which the saints have to mankind,
and which they exercise towards both the evil and the good in common,
there is a peculiar and very distinguishing kind of affection, that every true Christian experiences towards those whom he looks upon as truly gracious persons. The soul, at least at times, is very sensible and sweetly knit to such persons, and there is an ineffable oneness of heart with
them; whereby, to use the scripture phrase, (
This love the apostles are often directing Christians to exercise towards fellow-members of the visible church; as in
NOT ENGLISH The same peculiar endearment the apostle has doubtless respect to in
This NOT ENGLISH or love to the brethren, is that virtue which the apostle John so much insists on in his first epistle, as one of the most distinguishing characteristics of true grace, and a peculiar evidence that God dwelleth in us, and we in God. By which must needs be understood
a love to saints as saints, or on
account of the spiritual image of God supposed to be in them, and their
spiritual relation to God;
according as it has always been understood by orthodox divines. No
reasonable doubt can be made, but that the apostle John, in this
epistle, has respect to the same sort of love,
which Christ prescribed to his disciples, in that which he called by
way of eminency his commandment, and his new commandment, which he gave
as a great mark of their being truly his disciples, as this same apostle gives an account in his gospel; and to which he plainly refers, when speaking
of the love of the brethren in his epistle,
see how often the apostles exhort visible Christians to exercise this
affection to all other members of the visible church of Christ, and how
often they speak of the members of the visible church as actually thus united, in places already mentioned. In
Herein seems much to consist the nature of scandal in the members of a church, viz. such an offence as is a wound and interruption to this kind of affection, being a stumbling—block to a christian judgment, in regard of its esteem of the offender as a real Christian, and what much lessens the visibility of his christian character. And therefore when scandal is removed by visible repentance, the church is directed to confirm their
love to the offender,
Now this intimate affection towards others as brethren in Christ and fellow-members of him, must have some apprehension of the understanding, some judgment of the mind for its foundation. To say, that we must thus love others as visible members of Christ, if any thing else be meant, than that we must love them because they are visibly, or as they appear to our judgment, real members of Christ, is in effect to say, that we must thus love them without any foundation at all. In order to a real and fervent affection to another, on account of some amiableness of qualification or relation, the mind must first judge there is that amiableness in the object. The affections of the mind are not so at command that we can make them strongly to go forth to an object as having such loveliness, when at the same time we do not positively judge any such thing concerning them, but only hope it may be so, because we see no sufficient reason to determine the contrary. There must be a positive dictate of the understanding, and some degree of satisfaction of the judgment, to be a ground of that oneness of heart and soul, which is agreeable to scripture representations of NOT ENGLISH , or brotherly love. And a supposition only of that moral sincerity and virtue, or common grace, which some insist upon, though it may be a sufficient ground of this intimate affection to them as brethren in the family of a heavenly Father,—this fervent love to them in the bowels of Jesus Christ. For gospel-sinners and domestic enemies in the house of God, Christians know, are of all others the most hateful enemies to Christ.
well agrees with the wisdom of Christ, with that peculiar favour he has
manifested to his saints, and with his dealings towards them in many
other respects, to suppose, he has made provision in his institutions,
that they might have the comfort of uniting with such as their hearts
are united with, in some special religious exercises and duties of
worship, and visible intercourse with their Redeemer; that they should
join with those concerning whom they can have some
satisfaction of mind, that they are cordially united with them in
adoring and expressing their love to their common Lord and Saviour, that they may with one mind, with one heart, and one soul, as well as with one mouth, glorify him; as in the forementioned
SECTION IX. Qualifications for the Lord's supper.
It is necessary, that those who partake of the Lord’s supper, should judge themselves truly and cordially to accept of christ, as their only Saviour and chief good; for of this the actions which communicants perform at the Lord’s table, are a solemn profession.
There is in the Lord’s supper a mutual solemn profession of the two parties transacting the covenant of grace, and visibly united in that covenant; the Lord Christ by his minister, on the one hand, and the communicants (who are professing believers) on the other. The administrator of the ordinance acts in the quality of Christ’s minister, acts in his name, as representing him; and stands in the place where Christ himself stood at the first administration of this sacrament, and in the original institution of the ordinance. Christ, by the speeches and actions of the minister, makes a solemn profession of his part in the covenant of grace: he exhibits the sacrifice of his body broken and his blood shed; and in the minister’s offering the sacramental bread and wine to the communicants, Christ presents himself to the believing communicants, as their propitiation and bread of life; and by these outward signs confirms and seals his sincere engagements to be their Saviour and food, and to impart to them all the benefits of his propitiation and salvation. And they, in receiving what is offered, and eating and drinking the symbols of Christ’s body and blood, also profess their part in the covenant of grace: they profess 459to embrace the promises and lay hold of the hope set before them, to receive the atonement, to receive Christ as their spiritual food, and to feed upon him in their hearts by faith. Indeed what is professed on both sides is the heart: for Christ, in offering himself, professes the willingness of his heart to be theirs who truly receive him; and the communicants, on their part, profess the willingness of their hearts to receive him, which they declare by significant actions. They profess to take Christ as their spiritual food, and bread of life. To accept of Christ as our bread of life, is to accept of him as our Saviour and portion; as food is both the means of preserving life, and is also the refreshment and comfort of life. The signification of the word, manna, that great type of this bread of life, is a portion. That which God offers to us as our food, he offers as our portion; and that which we accept as our food, we accept as our portion. Thus the Lord’s supper is plainly a mutual renovation, confirmation, and seal of the covenant of grace: both the covenanting parties profess their consent to their respective parts in the covenant, and each affixes his seal to his profession. And there is in this ordinance the very same thing acted over in profession and sensible signs, which is spiritually transacted between Christ and his spouse in the covenant that unites them. Here we have from time to time the glorious bridegroom exhibiting himself with his great love that is stronger than death, appearing clothed in robes of grace, and engaging himself, with all his glory and love, and its infinite benefits, to be theirs, who receive him: and here we have his spouse accepting this bridegroom, choosing him for her friend, her only Saviour and portion, and relying on him for all his benefits. And thus the covenant-transaction of this spiritual marriage is confirmed and sealed, from time to time. The actions of the communicants at the Lord’s table have as expressive and significant a language, as the most solemn words. When a person in this ordinance takes and eats and drinks those things which represent Christ, the plain meaning and implicit profession of these his actions, is this, “I take this crucified Jesus as my Saviour, my sweetest food, my chief portion, and the life of my soul, consenting to acquiesce in him as such, and to hunger and thirst after him only, renouncing all other saviours, and all other portions, for his sake.” The actions, thus interpreted, are a proper renovation and ratification of the covenant of grace; and no otherwise. And those that take and eat and drink the sacramental elements at the Lord’s table with any other meaning, I fear, know not what they do.
The actions at the Lord’s supper thus implying, in their nature and signification, a renewing and confirming of the covenant, there is a declarative explicit covenanting supposed to precede it; which is the profession of religion, before spoken of, that qualifies a person for admission to the Lord’s supper. And doubtless there is, or ought to be, as much explicitly professed in words, as is implicitly professed in these actions; for by these significant actions, the communicant sets his seal but to his profession. The established signs in the Lord’s supper are fully equivalent to words; they are a renewing and reiterating the same thing which was done before; only with this difference, that now it is done by speaking signs, whereas before it was by speaking sounds. Our taking the bread and wine is as much a professing to accept of Christ, at least, as a woman’s taking a ring of the bridegroom in her marriage is a profession and seal of her taking him for her husband. The sacramental elements in the Lord’s supper represent Christ as a party in covenant, as truly as a proxy represents a prince to a foreign lady in her marriage; and our taking those elements is as truly a professing to accept of Christ, as in the other case the lady’s taking the proxy is her professing to accept the prince as her husband. Or the matter may more fitly be represented by this similitude: it is as if a prince should send an ambassador to a woman in a foreign land, proposing marriage, and by his ambassador should send her his picture, and should desire her to manifest her acceptance of his suit, not only by professing her acceptance in words to his ambassador, but in token of her sincerity openly to take or accept that picture, and to seal her profession, by thus representing the matter over again by a symbolical action.
To suppose persons ought thus solemnly to profess that which at the same time they do not at all imagine they experience in themselves, and do not really pretend to, is a very great absurdity. For a man sacramentally to make such a profession of religion, proceeding avowedly on the foot of such doctrine, is to profess that which he does not profess; his actions being no established signs of the thing supposed to be professed, nor carrying in them the least pretension to it. And therefore doing thus can be no man’s duty; unless it be men’s duty to make a solemn profession of that which in truth they make no profession of. The Lord’s supper is most evidently a professing ordinance; and the communicants’ profession must be such as is adjusted to the nature and design of the ordinance; which nothing short of faith in the blood of Christ will answer, even faith unfeigned, which worketh by love. A profession therefore exclusive of this, is essentially defective, and quite unsuitable to the character of a communicant.
When the apostle says,
When the apostle directs professing Christians to try themselves, using this word indefinitely, as properly signifying the examining or proving of a thing whether it be genuine or counterfeit, the most natural construction of his advice is, that they should try themselves with respect to their spiritual state and religious profession, whether they are disciples indeed, real and genuine Christians, or whether they are not false and hypocritical professors. As if a man should bring a piece of metal that had the colour of gold, with the impress of the king’s coin, to a goldsmith, and desire him to try that money, without adding any words to limit his meaning, would not the goldsmith naturally understand, that he was to try whether it was true gold or true money?
But here it is said by some, that the context of the passage under debate (
as to the words following in the next verse; “For he that eateth and
drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not
discerning the Lord’s body:”—these words by no means make it evident,
(as some hold,) that what the apostle would have them examine
themselves about, is, whether they have doctrinal knowledge, sufficient to understand, that the bread and wine in the sacrament signify the body and blood of Christ: but on the contrary, to
interpret the apostle in this sense only, is unreasonable, upon several accounts. (1.) None can so much as attempt such an examination, without first knowing, that the Lord’s body and blood is signified by these elements. For merely a man putting this question to himself, Do I understand that this bread and this wine signify the body and blood of Christ? supposes him already to know it from a previous information; and therefore to exhort persons
to such an examination, would be absurd. And then, (2.) It is incredible, that there should be any such gross ignorance in
a number of the communicants in the Corinthian church, if we consider
what the Scripture informs us concerning that church. St. Paul was an
able and thorough instructor and spiritual father, who founded that
church, brought them out of their heathenish darkness, and initiated
them in the christian religion. He had instructed them in the nature
and ends of
gospel-ordinances, and continued at Corinth, constantly labouring in
the word and doctrine for a long while, no less than a year and six months;
and, we may well suppose, administered the Lord’s supper among them
every Lord’s day; for the apostle speaks of it as the manner of that
church to communicate at the Lord’s table with such frequency,
PART III. Objections answered.
OBJ. I. The churchy is the school of Christ.
The Scripture calls the members of the visible church by the name of disciples, scholars, or learners: and that suggests to us this notion of the visible church, that it is the school of Christ, into which persons are admitted in order to their learning of Christ, and coming to spiritual attainments, in the use of the means of teaching, discipline, and training up, established in the school. Now if this be a right notion of the visible church, then reason shows that no other qualifications are necessary in order to being members of this school, than such a faith and disposition of mind as are requisite to persons’ putting themselves under Christ as their Master and Teacher, and subjecting themselves to the orders of the school. But a common faith and moral sincerity are sufficient for this.—Therefore the Scripture leads us to suppose the visible church to be properly constituted of those who have these qualifications, though they have not saving faith and true piety.
Answer 1. I own, the Scripture calls the members of the visible church by the name of disciple; but deny, that it therefore follows
that the church of which they are members, is duly and properly
constituted of those who have not true piety. Because, if this
consequence was good, then it would equally follow, that not only the visible, but also the invisible or mystical, church is properly constituted of those who have not
unfeigned faith and true piety. For the members of the mystical church, as such, and to denote
the special character of such, are called disciples;
2. Though I do not deny, that the visible church of Christ may fitly be represented as a school of Christ, where persons are trained up in the use of means, in order to some spiritual attainments: yet it will not hence necessarily follow, that this is in order to all good attainments; for it will not follow but that certain good attainments may be prerequisite, in order to a place in the school. The church of Christ is a school appointed for the training up Christ’s little children, to greater degrees of knowledge, higher privileges, and greater serviceableness in this world, and more meetness for the possession of their eternal inheritance. But there is no necessity of supposing, that it is in order to fit them to become Christ’s children, or to be introduced into his family; any more than there is a necessity of supposing, because a prince puts his children under tutors, that therefore it must be in order to their being of the royal family. If it be necessary, that there should be a church of Christ appointed as a school of instruction and discipline, to bring persons to all good attainments whatsoever, then it will follow, that there must be a visible church constituted of scandalous and profane persons and heretics, and all in common that assume the christian name, that so means may be used with them in order to bring them to moral sincerity, and an acknowledgment of the christian faith.
3. I grant, that no other qualifications are necessary in order to being members of that school of Christ which is his visible church, than such as are requisite in order to their subjecting themselves to Christ as their Master and Teacher, and subjecting themselves to the laws and orders of his school: nevertheless I deny, that a common faith and moral sincerity are sufficient for this; because none do truly subject themselves to Christ as their Master, but such as having their hearts purified by faith, are delivered from the reigning power of sin: for we cannot subject ourselves to obey two contrary masters at the same time. None submit to Christ as their Teacher, but those who truly receive him as their Prophet, to teach them by his word and Spirit; giving up themselves to his teachings, sitting with Mary at Jesus’ feet to hear his word; and hearkening more to his dictates, than those of their blind and deceitful lusts, and relying on his wisdom more than their own. The Scripture knows nothing of an ecclesiastical school constituted of enemies of the cross of Christ, and appointed to bring such to be reconciled to him and submit to him as their Master. Neither have they who are not truly pious persons, any true disposition of heart to submit to the laws and orders of Christ’s school, the rules which his word prescribes to all his scholars; such as, to love their Master supremely; to love one another as brethren; and to love their book, i. e. their Bible, more than vain trifles and amusements, yea, above gold and silver; to be faithful to the interest of the Master and of the school; to depend on his teachings; to cry to him for knowledge; above all their gettings, to get understanding, &c.
4. Whatever ways of constituting the church may to us seem fit, proper, and reasonable, the question is, not what constitution of Christ’s church seems convenient to human wisdom, but what constitution is actually established by Christ’s infinite wisdom. Doubtless, if men should set their wits to work, and proceed according to what seems good in their sight, they would greatly alter Christ’s constitution of his church, to make it more convenient and beautiful, and would adorn it with a vast variety of ingenious inventions; as the church of Rome has done. The question is, whether this school of Christ which they talk of, made up very much of those who pretend to no experiences or attainments but what consist with their being enemies of Christ in their hearts, and who in reality love the vilest lust better than him, be that church of Christ which in the New Testament is denominated his city, his temple, his family, his body, &c. by which names the visible church of Christ is there frequently called.
I acknowledge, that means of Christ’s appointment, are to be used with those who are Christ’s, and do not profess themselves any other, to change their hearts, and bring them to be Christ’s friends and disciples. Such means are to be used with all sorts of persons, with Jews, Mahometans, heathens, with nominal Christians that are heretical or vicious, the profane, the intemperate, the unclean, and all other enemies of Christ; and these means to be used constantly, and laboriously. Scandalous persons need to go to school, to learn to be Christians, as much as other men. And there are many persons that are not morally sincere, who from selfish and sinister views consent ordinarily to go to church, and so be in the way of means. And none ought to forbid them thus going to Christ’s school, that they may be taught by him, in the ministry of the gospel. But yet it will not follow, that such a school is the church of Christ. Human laws can put persons, even those who are very vicious, into the school of Christ, in that sense; they can oblige them constantly to be present at public teaching, and attend on the means of grace appointed by Christ, and dispensed in his name: but human laws cannot join men to the church of Christ, and make them members of his body.
OBJ. II. Israel was God's people.
Visible saintship in the scripture sense cannot be the same with that which has been supposed and insisted on, because Israel of old were called God’s people, when it is certain the greater part of them were far from having any such visible holiness as this. Thus the ten tribes were called God’s people,
Answ. 1. The argument proves too much, and therefore nothing at all. Those whom I oppose in this controversy, will in effect as much oppose themselves in it, as me. The objection, if it has any force, equally militates against their and my notion of visible saintship. For those Jews, which it is alleged were called God’s people, and yet were so notoriously, openly, and obstinately wicked, had neither any visibility of true piety, nor yet of that moral sincerity in the profession and duties of the true religion, which the opponents themselves suppose to be requisite in order to a proper visible holiness, and a due admission to the privileges and ordinances of the church of God. None will pretend, that these obstinate idolaters and impious wretches had those qualifications which are now requisite in order to an admission to the christian sacraments. And therefore to what purpose can they bring this objection? which, if it proves any thing, overthrows my scheme and their own both together, and both in an equally effectual manner. 462 And not only so, but will thoroughly destroy the schemes of all protestants through the world, concerning the qualifications of the subjects of christian ordinances. And therefore the support of what I have laid down against those whom I oppose in this controversy, requires no further answer to this objection. Nevertheless, for greater satisfaction, I would here observe further:
2. That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention. Thus, we have a plain distinction between the house of Israel and the house of Israel, in
is evident that God sometimes, according to the methods of his
marvellous mercy and long-suffering towards mankind, has a merciful
respect to a degenerate church, become exceeding corrupt, and
constituted of members who have not those qualifications which ought to
be insisted on. God continues still to have respect to them so far as
not utterly to forsake them, or wholly to deny his confirmation of and
blessing on their administrations. And not being utterly
renounced of God, their administrations are to be looked upon as in
some respect valid, and the society as in some sort a people or church
of God. This was the case with the church of Rome, at least till the
Reformation and council of Trent; for till then we must own their
baptisms and ordinations to be valid.—The church that the pope sits in,
is called, The temple of God,
with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that
something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from
their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those
qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the
ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some
sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people. This is not only evident by what has been already observed, but also indisputably manifest from
that nation he fixed his blessing by his covenant with the patriarchs.
Indeed the main thing, the substance and marrow of that covenant which
God made with Abraham and the other patriarchs, was the covenant of grace, which
is continued in these days of the gospel, and extends to all his
spiritual seed, of the Gentiles as well as Jews: but yet that covenant
with the patriarchs contained other things that were appendages to that
everlasting covenant of grace;
promises of lesser matters, subservient to the grand promise of the
future seed, and typical of things appertaining to him. Such were those
that annexed the blessing to the land of Canaan, and the progeny of
Isaac and Jacob. Just so it was also as to the covenant God made with
On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in.
Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain 463 things with respect to the nation of Israel. Perhaps we may not be able to give all the reasons of such a constitution; but some of them seem to be pretty manifest; as,
1. The great and main end of separating one particular nation from all others, as God did the nation of Israel, was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. God’s covenant with Abraham and the other patriarchs implied that the Messiah should be of their blood, or their seed according to the flesh. And therefore it was requisite that their progeny according to the flesh should be fenced in by a wall of separation, and made
God’s people. If the Messiah had been born of some of the professors of Abraham’s religion, but
of some other nation, that religion being propagated from nation to
nation, as it is now under the gospel, it would not have answered the
covenant with Abraham, for the Messiah to have been born of Abraham’s
seed only in this sense. The Messiah being by covenant so related to Jacob’s progeny according to the flesh,
God was pleased, agreeable to the nature of such a
covenant, to show great respect to that people on account of that
external relation. Therefore the apostle mentions it as one great
privilege, that of them according to the flesh Christ came,
2. That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant. God, agreeably to the nature of that dispensation, showed a great regard to external and carnal things in those days, as types of spiritual things. What a great regard God did show then to external qualifications for privileges and services, appears in this, that there is ten times so much said in the books of Moses about such qualifications in the institutions of the passover and tabernacle services, as about any moral qualifications whatsoever. And so much were such typical qualifications insisted on, that even by the law of Moses, the congregation of the Lord, or church of visible worshippers of God, and the number of public professors of the true religion who were visible saints, were not the same. Some were of the latter, that were not of the former; as the eunuchs, who were excluded the congregation, though never so externally religious, yea truly pious; and so also bastards, &c.
3. It was the sovereign pleasure of God to choose the posterity of Jacob according to the flesh,
to reserve them for special favours to the end of time. And therefore
they are still kept a distinct nation, being still reserved for
distinguishing mercy in the latter day, when they shall be restored to
the church of God. God is pleased in this way to testify his regard to
their holy ancestors, and his regard to their external relation to
Christ. Therefore the
apostle still speaks of them as an elect nation, and beloved for the fathers’ sakes,
even after they were broken off from the good olive by unbelief. God’s
covenant with Abraham is in some sense in force with respect to that
people, and reaches them even to this day; and yet surely they are not
God’s Covenant people, in the sense that visible Christians are. See
If it be said, It was often foretold by the prophets, that in gospel-days other nations should be the people of God, as well as the nation of the Jews: and when Christ sent forth his apostles, he bid them go and disciple all nations.
I answer; By a common figure of speech the prevailing part of a nation are called the nation, and what is done to them is said to be done to the nation, and what is done by them is said to be done by
that nation. And it is to be hoped, that the time is coming when the
prevailing part of many nations, yea of every nation under heaven, will
be regularly brought into the visible church of Christ. If by nations
in these prophecies we understand
any other than the prevailing part, and it be insisted on that we must
understand it of all the people belonging to those nations; there never
yet has been any nation in this sense regularly brought into the
visible church of Christ, even according to the scheme of those whom I
oppose. For there never yet has been a whole nation outwardly moral.
And besides, what Mr. Blake says in his Treatise of the Covenant, page
238. may be applied here, and serve as an answer to this objection:
prophecies of the Old Testament (says he) of the glory of the
New-Testament times, are in Old-Testament phrases, by way of allusion
to the worship of those times, set forth to us.” In
it should be further objected, that it is an evidence that Gentile
Christians are visible saints, according to the New-Testament notion of
visible saintship, in the very same manner as the whole Jewish nation
were till they were broken off by their obstinate rejection of the
Messiah; that the Gentile Christians are represented as being grafted into the same olive, from whence the Jews were broken off by unbelief,
I would inquire, What any one can intend by this objection? Whether it be this, viz. That we ought to insist on no higher or better qualifications, in admitting persons as members of the christian church, and to all its privileges, than the whole Jewish nation in Christ’s time possessed, till they had obstinately persisted in their rejection of him? If this is not intended, the objection is nothing to the purpose: or, if this be intended, neither then is it to the purpose of those with whom I have especially to do in this controversy, who hold orthodoxy, knowledge of the fundamental doctrines of religion, moral sincerity, and a good conversation, to be qualifications, which ought to be insisted on, in order to a visible church-state. For a very great part of those Jews were destitute of these qualifications; many of them were Sadducees, who denied a future state; others of them Herodians, who were occasional conformists with the Romans in their idolatries; the prevailing sect among them were Pharisees, who openly professed the false doctrine of justification by the works of the law and external privileges, that leaven of the Pharisees, which Christ warns his disciples to beware of. Many of them were scandalously ignorant, for their teachers had taken away the key of knowledge. Multitudes were grossly vicious, for it was a generation in which all manner of sin and wickedness prevailed.
I think that text in
Whether I have succeeded, in rightly explaining these matters, or no, yet my failing in it is of no great importance with regard to the strength of the objection, that occasioned my attempting it; which was, that scandalously wicked men among the Jews are called God’s people, &c. The objection, as I observed, is as much against the scheme of those whom I oppose, as against my scheme; and therefore 464 it as much concerns them, to find out some explanation of the matter, that shall show something else is intended by it, than their having the qualifications of visible saints, as it does me; and a failing in such an attempt as much affects and hurts their cause, as it does mine.
OBJ. III. Jews partook of the Passover.
Those in Israel, who made no profession of piety of heart, did according to divine institution partake of the passover; a Jewish sacrament, representing the same things, and a seal of the very same covenant of grace, with the Lord’s supper; and particularly, it would be unreasonable to suppose, that all made a profession of godliness whom God commanded to keep that first passover in Egypt, which the whole congregation were required to keep, and there is no shadow of any such thing as all first making a solemn public profession of those things wherein true piety consists: and so the people in general partook of the passover, from generation to generation; but it would be improbable to suppose, that they all professed a supreme regard to God in their hearts.
Answ. 1. The affair of the Israelites’ participation of the passover, and particularly that first passover in Egypt, is attended with altogether as much difficulty in regard to the qualifications which the objectors themselves suppose requisite in communicants at the Lord’s table, as with regard to those which I insist upon; and if there be any argument in the case, it is fully as strong an argument against their scheme, as mine.
One thing they insist upon as a requisite qualification for the Lord’s supper, is a public profession of religion as to the essential doctrines of it. But there is no more public profession of this kind, preceding that passover in Egypt, than of a profession of godliness. Here, not to insist on the great doctrines of the fall of man, of our undone state by nature, of the Trinity, of our dependence on the free grace of God for justification, &c. let us take only those two doctrines of a future state of rewards and punishments, and the doctrine of the Messiah to come, that Messiah who was represented in the passover. Is there any more appearance, in sacred story, of the people making a public profession in Egypt of these doctrines, before they partook of the passover, than of their making profession of the love of God? And is there any more probability of the former, than of the latter? Another thing which they on the other side suppose necessary to a due attendance on the Lord’s supper, is, that when any have openly been guilty of gross sins, they should before they come to this sacrament, openly confess and humble themselves for their faults. Now it is evident by many scriptures, that a great part of the children of Israel in Egypt had been guilty of joining with the Egyptians in worshipping their false gods, and had lived in idolatry. But the history in Exodus gives us no account of any public solemn confession of, or humiliation, for this great sin, before they came to the passover. Mr. Stoddard observes, (Appeal, p. 58, 59.) that there was in the church of Israel a way appointed by God for the removal of scandals; men being required in that case to offer up their sacrifices, attended with confession and visible signs of repentance. But where do we read of the people offering up sacrifices in Egypt, attended with confession, for removing the scandal of that most heinous sin of idolatry they had lived in? Or is there any more probability of their publicly professing their repentance and humiliation for their sin, before their celebrating the passover, than of their publicly professing to love God above all? Another thing which they suppose to be requisite in order to admission to the Lord’s table, and about which they would have a particular care to be taken, is, that every person admitted give evidence of a competent knowledge in the doctrines of religion, and none be allowed to partake who are grossly ignorant. Now there is no more appearance of this with regard to the congregation in Egypt, than of a profession of godliness; and it is as difficult to suppose it. There is abundant reason to suppose, that vast numbers in that nation, consisting of more than a million of adult persons, had been brought up in a great degree of ignorance, amidst their slavery in Egypt, where the people seem to have almost forgotten the true God and the true religion. And though pains had been taken by Moses, now for a short season, to instruct the people better; yet it must be considered, it is a very great work, to take a whole nation under such degrees of ignorance and prejudice, and bring every one of them to a competent degree of knowledge in religion; and a greater work still for Moses both thus to instruct them, and also by examination or otherwise, to come to a just satisfaction, that all had indeed attained to such knowledge.
Mr. Stoddard insists, that if grace be requisite in the Lord’s supper, it would have been as much so in the passover, inasmuch as the chief thing which the passover (as
well as the Lord’s supper) represents, is Christ’s sufferings. But if,
on this account, the same qualifications are requisite in both
ordinances, then it would be as requisite that the partakers should
have knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, (in Mr. Stoddard’s sense of
If it be objected, as a difficulty that lies against our supposing a profession of godliness requisite to a participation of the passover, that they who were uncircumcised were expressly forbidden to partake, and if conversion was as important and a more important qualification than circumcision, why were not the unregenerate as expressly forbidden? I answer; Why were not scandalous sinners as expressly forbidden? And why was not moral sincerity as expressly required as circumcision?
If it be objected, that they were all expressly and strictly required to keep the passover; but if grace was requisite, and God knew that many of the partakers would have no grace, why would he give such universal orders?
I answer; When God gave those commands, he knew that the commands, in all their strictness, would reach many persons who in the time of the passover would be without so much as moral sincerity in religion. Every man in the nation, from the first institution till the death of Christ, were all (excepting such as were ceremonially unclean, or on a journey) strictly required to keep the feast of passover; and yet God knew that multitudes would be without the qualification of moral seriousness in religion. It would be very unreasonable to suppose, that every single person in the nation was morally serious, even in the very best time, or that ever there was such a happy day with any nation under heaven, wherein all were morally sincere in religion. How much then was it otherwise many times with that nation, which was so prone 465 to corruption, and so often generally involved in gross wickedness! But the strict command of God to keep the passover reached the morally insincere, as well as others; they are no where excepted, any more than the unconverted. And as to any general commands of God’s word, these no more required men to turn from a state of moral insincerity before they came to the passover, than they required them to turn from a graceless state.
But further, I reply, that God required them all to keep the passover, no more strictly than he required them all to love the Lord their God with their whole heart. And if God might strictly command this, he might also strictly command them to keep that ordinance wherein they were especially to profess it, and seal their profession of it. That evil generation were not expressly forbidden to keep the passover in succeeding years, for the whole forty years during which they went on provoking God, very often by gross sin and open rebellion; but still the express and strict commands for the whole congregation to keep the passover reached them, nor were they released from their obligation.
If it be said, that we must suppose multitudes in Israel attended the passover, from age to age, without such a visibility of piety as I have insisted on; and yet we do not find their attending this ordinance charged on them as a sin, in Scripture: I answer; We must also suppose that multitudes in Israel, from age to age, attended the passover, who lived in moral insincerity, yea and scandalous wickedness. For
the people in
general very often notoriously corrupted themselves, and declined to
ways of open and great transgression; and yet there is reason to think,
that in these times of corruption, for the most part, they held circumcision and the passover;
and we do not find their attending on these ordinances under such
circumstances, any more expressly charged on them as a sin, than their
coming without piety of heart. The ten tribes continued constantly in idolatry for
250 years, and there is a ground to suppose, that in the mean time they
ordinarily kept up circumcision and the passover. For though they
worshipped God by images, yet they maintained most of the ceremonial
observances of the law of Moses, called the manner of the God of the land, which their priests taught the Samaritans who were settled in their stead,
How many seasons were there, wherein the people in general fell into and lived in idolatry, that scandal of scandals, in the times of the judges, and of the kings both in Judah and Israel! But still amidst all this wickedness, they continued to attend the sacrament of circumcision. We have every whit as much evidence of it, as that they attended the passover without a profession of godliness. We have no account of their ever leaving it off at such seasons, nor any hint of its being renewed (as a thing which had ceased) when they came to reform. Though we have so full an account of the particulars of Josiah’s reformation, after the long and scandalous reign of Manasseh, there is no hint of any reviving of circumcision, or returning to it after a cessation. And where have we an account of the people being once reproved for attending this holy sacrament while thus involved in scandalous sin, in all the Old Testament? And where is this once charged on them as a sin, any more than in the case of unconverted persons attending the sacrament of the passover?(
Answ. 2. Whatever was the case with respect to the qualifications for the sacraments of the Old-Testament dispensation, I humbly conceive it is nothing to the purpose in the present argument, nor needful to determine us with respect to the qualifications for the sacraments of the christian dispensation, which is a matter of such plain fact in the New Testament. Far am I from thinking the Old Testament to be like an old almanack out of use; nay, I think it is evident from the New Testament, that some things which had their first institution under the Old Testament, are continued under the New; for instance, the acceptance of the infant-seed of believers as children of the covenant with their parents; and probably some things belonging to the order and discipline of christian churches, had their first beginning in the Jewish synagogue. But yet all allow that the Old-Testament dispensation is out of date, with its ordinances; and I think, in a matter pertaining to the constitution and order of the New-Testament church—a matter of fact, wherein the New Testament itself is express, full, and abundant—to have recourse to the Mosaic dispensation for rules or precedents to determine our judgment, is quite needless, and out of reason. There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines do so much differ, as the stating of the precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and of Christ. And probably the reason why God has left it so intricate, is, because our understanding the ancient dispensation, and God’s design in it, is not of so great importance, nor does it so nearly concern us. Since God uses great plainness of speech in the New Testament, which is as it were the charter and municipal law of the christian church, what need we run back to the ceremonial and typical institutions of an antiquated dispensation, wherein God’s declared design was, to deliver divine things in comparative obscurity, hid under a veil, and involved in clouds?
We have no more occasion for going to search among the types, dark revelations, and carnal ordinances of the Old Testament, to find out whether this matter of fact concerning the constitution and order of the New-Testament church be true, than we have occasion for going there to find out whether any other matter of fact, of which we have an account in the New Testament, be true; as particularly, whether there were such officers in the primitive church as bishops and deacons, whether miraculous gifts of the Spirit were common in the apostles’ days, whether the believing Gentiles were received into the primitive christian church, and the like.
Answ. 3. I think, nothing can be alleged from, the Holy Scripture, sufficient to prove a profession of godliness to be not a qualification requisite in order to a due and regular participation of the passover.
Although none of the requisite moral qualifications for this Jewish sacrament, are near so clearly made known in the Old Testament, as the qualifications for the christian sacraments are in the New; and although a supposed visibility of either moral sincerity or sanctifying grace, is involved in some obscurity and difficulty; yet I would humbly offer what appears to me to be the truth concerning that matter, in the things that follow.
(1.) Although the people in Egypt before the first passover, probably made no explicit public profession at all, either of their humiliation for their former idolatry or of present devotedness of heart to God;
it being before any particular institution of an express public
profession, either of godliness, or repentance in case of scandal: yet
I think, there was some sort of public manifestation, or implicit profession of
both.—Probably in Egypt they implicitly professed the same things,
which they afterwards professed more expressly and solemnly in the wilderness. The
Israelites in Egypt had very much to affect their hearts, before the
last plague, in the great things that God had done for them; especially
in some of the latter plagues, wherein they were so remarkably
distinguished from the Egyptians. They seem now to be brought to a
tender frame, and a disposition to show much respect to God; (see
(2.) After the institution of an explicit public profession of devotedness to God, or (which is the same thing) of true piety of heart, this was wont to be required in order to a partaking of the passover and other sacrifices and sacraments 466 that adult persons were admitted to. Accordingly all the adult persons that were circumcised at Gilgal, had made this profession a little before on the plains of Moab. Not that all of them were truly gracious; but seeing they all had a profession and visibility, Christ in his dealings with his church as to external things, acted not as the Searcher of hearts, but as the Head of the visible church, accommodating himself to the present state of mankind; and therefore he represents himself in Scripture as trusting his people’s profession; as I formerly observed.
(3.) In degenerate times in Israel, both priests and people were very lax with respect to covenanting with God, and professing devotedness to him; and these professions were used, as public professions commonly are still in corrupt times, merely as matters of form and ceremony, at least by great multitudes.
(4.) Such was the nature of the Levitical dispensation, that it had in no measure so great a tendency to preclude and prevent hypocritical professions, as the New-Testament dispensation; particularly, on account of the vastly greater darkness of it. For the covenant of grace was not then so fully revealed, and consequently the nature of the conditions of that covenant was not then so well known. There was then a far more obscure revelation of those great duties of repentance towards God and faith in the Mediator, and of those things wherein true holiness consists, and wherein it is distinguished from other things. Persons then had not equal advantage to know their own hearts, while viewing themselves in this comparatively dim light of Moses’ law, as now they have in the clear sun-shine of the gospel. In that state of the minority of the church, the nature of true piety, as consisting in the Spirit of adoption, or ingenuous filial love to God, and as distinguished from a spirit of bondage, servile fear, and self-love, was not so clearly made known. The Israelites were therefore the more ready to mistake for true piety, that moral seriousness and those warm affections and resolutions that resulted from that spirit of bondage, which showed itself in Israel remarkably at mount Sinai; and to which through all the Old-Testament times, they were especially incident.
(5.) God was pleased in a great measure to suffer (though he did not properly allow) a laxness among
the people, with regard to the visibility of holiness, and the moral
qualifications requisite to an attendance on their sacraments. This he
also did in many other cases of great irregularity, under that dark,
imperfect, and comparatively carnal dispensation; such as polygamy,
putting away their wives at pleasure, the revenging of blood,
killing the man-slayer, &c. And he winked at their worshipping in high places in Solomon’s time, (
(6.) It seems to be foretold in the prophecies of the Old Testament, that there would be a great alteration in this respect, in the days of the gospel; that under the new dispensation there should be far greater purity in the church. Thus, in the forementioned place in Ezekiel it is foretold, that “those who are [visibly] uncircumcised in heart, should no more enter into God’s sanctuary.” Again,
(7.) This is just such an alteration as might reasonably be expected from what we are taught of the whole nature of the two dispensations. As the one had carnal ordinances, (so they are called
OBJ. IV. John's disciples made no profession of piety.
it is not reasonable to suppose, that the multitudes which John the Baptist baptized, made a profession of saving grace, or had any such visibility of true piety, as has been insisted on.
Answ. Those whom John baptized, came to him confessing their sins, making a profession of some kind of repentance; and it is not reasonable to suppose, the repentance they professed was specifically or in kind diverse from that which he had instructed them in, and called them to, which is called repentance for the remission of sins; and that is saving repentance. John’s baptism is called the baptism of repentance for the
remission of sins: I know not how such a phrase can be reasonably understood any otherwise, than so as to imply, that his baptism was some exhibition of that repentance,
and a seal of the profession of it. Baptism is a seal of some sort of
religious profession, in adult persons: but the very name of John’s
baptism shows, that it was a seal of a profession of repentance for the remission of sins. It is said,
If it be objected here, that we are told,
If it be further objected, that John in baptizing such multitudes could not have time to be sufficiently informed of those he baptized, whether their profession of godliness was credible, or no: I answer; That we are not particularly informed of the circumstances of his teaching, and of the assistance he was favoured with, and the means he had of information, concerning those whom he baptized: but we may be sure of one thing, viz. He had as much opportunity to inquire into the credibility of their profession, as he had to inquire into their doctrinal knowledge and moral character; which my opponents suppose to be necessary, as well as I: and this is enough to silence the present objection.
OBJ. V. Many are called, but few chosen.
Answ. In these texts, by those that are called, are not meant those who are visible saints, and have the requisite qualifications for christian sacraments; but all such as have the external call of the word of God, and have its offers and invitations made to them. And it is undoubtedly true, and has been matter of fact, for the most part, that of those called in this sense, many have been but only called, and never truly obedient to the call, few have been true saints. So it was in the Jewish nation, to which the parable in the twentieth of Matthew has a special respect; in general they had the external call of God’s word, and attended many religious duties, in hopes of God’s favour and reward, which is called labouring in God’s vineyard; and yet but few of them eventually obtained salvation; nay, great multitudes of those who were called in this sense, were scandalous persons, and gross hypocrites. The Pharisees and Sadducees were called, and they laboured in the vineyard, in the sense of the parable; for which they expected great rewards, above the Gentile converts or proselytes; wherefore their eye was evil towards them, and they could not bear that they should be made equal to them. But still these Pharisees and Sadducees had not generally the intellectual and moral qualifications, that my opponents suppose requisite for christian sacraments; being generally scandalous persons, denying some fundamental principles of religion, and explaining away some of its most important precepts. Thus, many in christendom are called, by the outward call of God’s word, and yet few of them are in a state of salvation: but not all who sit under the sound of the gospel, and hear its invitations, are fit to come to sacraments.
That by those who are called, in this saying of our Saviour, is meant those that have the gospel-offer, and not those who belong to the society of visible saints, is evident beyond all dispute, in
OBJ. VI. Wheat and tares grow together.
When the servants of the householder, in the parable of the wheat and the tares (
Answ. 1. These things have no reference to introduction into the field, or admission into the visible church, as 468 though no care nor measures should be taken to prevent tares being sown; or as though the servants who had the charge of the field, would have done well to have taken tares, appearing to be such, and planted them in the field amongst the wheat: no, instead of this, the parable plainly implies the contrary. But the words cited have wholly respect to a casting out and purging the field, after the tares had been introduced unawares, and contrary to design, through men’s infirmity and Satan’s procurement. Concerning purging the tares out of the field, or casting men out of the church, there is no difference between me and those whom I oppose in the present controversy: and therefore it is impossible there should be any objection from that which Christ says here concerning this matter against me, but what is as much of an objection against them; for we both hold the same thing. It is agreed on all hands, that adult persons, actually admitted to communion in the visible church, however they may behave themselves so as to bring their spiritual state into suspicion, yet ought not to be cast out, unless they are obstinate in heresy or scandal; lest, while we go about to root out the tares, we should root out the wheat also. And it is also agreed on all hands, that when those represented under the name of tares bring forth such evil fruit, such scandalous and obstinate wickedness, as is plainly and visibly inconsistent with the being of true grace, they ought to be cast out. And therefore it is impossible that this objection should be any thing to the purpose.
Answ. 2. I think this parable, instead of being a just objection against the doctrine I maintain, is on the contrary a clear evidence for it.
For (1.) the parable shows plainly, that if any are introduced into the field of the householder, or church of Christ, who prove to be not wheat, (i. e. not true saints,) they are brought in unawares, or contrary to design. If tares are as properly to be sown in the field, as is the wheat, which must be the case if the Lord’s supper be a converting ordinance; then surely no care ought to be taken to introduce wheat only, and no respect ought to be had more to the qualities of wheat in sowing the field, than the qualities of tares; nor is there any more impropriety in the tares having a place there, than the wheat. But this surely is altogether inconsistent with the scope of the parable.
(2.) This parable plainly shows, that those who are in the visible church, have at first a visibility, or appearance to human sight of true grace, or of the nature of true saints. For it is observed, tares have this property, that when they first appear, and till the products of the field arrive to some maturity, they have such a resemblance of wheat, that it is next to impossible to distinguish them.
OBJ. VII. Case of Judas.
Christ himself administered the Lord’s supper to Judas, whom he knew at the same time to be graceless; which is a full evidence, that grace is not in itself a requisite qualification in order to coming to the Lord’s supper; and if it be not requisite in itself, a profession of it cannot be requisite.
1. It is to me apparent, that Judas was not present at the
administration of the Lord’s supper. It is true, he was present at the
passover, and dipped with Christ in the paschal dish. The three former evangelists do differ in the order of the account they give of this dipping in the dish.—Luke gives an account of it after his account of the Lord’s supper,
Answ. 2. If Judas was there, I deny the consequence. As I have observed once and again concerning the Lord’s dealings with his people under the Old Testament, so under the New the same observation takes place. Christ did not come to judge the secrets of men, nor did ordinarily act in his external dealings with his disciples, and in the administration of ordinances, as the Searcher of hearts; but rather as the Head of the visible church, proceeding according to what was exhibited in profession and visibility; herein setting an example to his ministers, who should stand in his place when he was gone, and act in his name in the administration of ordinances. Judas had made the same profession of regard to his Master, and of forsaking all for him, as the other disciples: and therefore Christ did not openly renounce him till he himself had destroyed his profession and visibility of saintship, by public scandalous apostacy. Supposing then the presence of Judas at the Lord’s supper, this affords no consequence in favour of what I oppose.
3. If they with whom I have to do in this controversy, are not
contented with the answers already given, and think there is a
remaining difficulty in this matter lying against my scheme, I will venture to tell them, that this difficulty lies full as hard against their own scheme; and if there be any strength at all in the argument, it is to all intents of the same strength against the need of those qualifications which
suppose to be necessary in order to an approach to the Lord’s table.
For although they do not think renewing saving grace necessary, yet
they suppose moral seriousness or (as they variously speak) moral sincerity in
religion to be necessary. They suppose it to be requisite, that persons
should have some kind of serious principle and view in coming to the
Lord’s table; some intention of subjecting themselves to Christ, and of
seeking and serving him, in general; and in particular
some religious end in coming to the sacramental supper, some religious
respect to Christ in it. But now did not Christ at that time perfectly
know, that Judas had none of these things? He knew he had nothing of sincerity in the christian religion, or of regard to Christ in that ordinance, of any sort whatsoever; he knew, that Satan had entered into him and filled his heart, and that he was then cherishing in himself a malignant spirit against his Master, excited by
the reproof Christ had lately given him, (compare
469 By the way I would observe, that Christ’s not excluding Judas from the passover, under these circumstances, knowing him to be thus unqualified, without so much as moral sincerity, &c. is another thing that effectually enervates all the strength of the objection against me, from the passover. For Judas did not only in common with others fall under God’s strict command, in the law of Moses, to keep this feast, without any exception of his case there to be found; but Christ himself, with his own hand, gave him the sop, a part of the paschal feast; even although at the same instant he had in view the man’s secret wickedness and hypocrisy, the traitorous design which was then in his heart, and the horrid conspiracy with the chief priests, which he had already entered into, and was now prosecuting. This was then in Christ’s mind, and he intimated it to him, at the same moment when he gave him the sop, saying, “What thou doest, do quickly.” This demonstrates, that the objection from the passover is no stronger argument against my scheme, than the scheme of those whom I oppose; because it is no stronger against the necessity of sanctifying grace, the qualification for christian sacraments, which I insist upon, than it is against the necessity of moral seriousness or sincerity, the qualification which they insist upon.
OBJ. VIII. No certain rule given.
If sanctifying grace be a requisite qualification in order to due access to christian sacraments, God would have given some certain rule, whereby those who are to admit them, might know whether they have such grace, or not.
Answ. This objection was obviated in my stating the question. However, I will say something further to it in this place; and would observe, that if there be any strength in this objection, it lies in the truth of this proposition, viz. That whatever qualifications are requisite in order to persons’ due access to christian sacraments, God has given some certain rule, whereby those who admit them, may know whether they have those qualifications, or not. If this proposition is not true, then there is no force at all in the argument. But I dare say, there is not a divine, nor Christian of common sense, on the face of the earth, that will assert and stand to it, that this proposition is true. For none will deny, that some sort of belief of the being of a God, some sort of belief that the Scriptures are the word of God, that there is a future state of rewards and punishments, and that Jesus is the Messiah, are qualifications requisite in order to a due access to christian sacraments; and yet God has given those who are to admit persons no certain rule, whereby they may know whether they believe any one of these things. Neither has he given his ministers or churches any certain rule, whereby they may know whether any person that offers himself for admission to the sacrament, has any degree of moral sincerity, moral seriousness of spirit, or any inward moral qualification whatsoever. These things have all their existence in the soul, which is out of our neighbour’s view. Not therefore a certainty, but a profession and visibility, of these things, must be the rule of the church’s proceeding; and it is as good and as reasonable a rule of judgment concerning saving grace, as it is concerning any other internal invisible qualifications, which cannot be certainly known by any but the subject himself.
OBJ. IX. If grace be required, it must be known.
If sanctifying grace be requisite to a due approach to the Lord’s table, then no man may come but he that knows he has such grace. A man must not only think he has a right to the Lord’s supper, in order to his lawful partaking of it; but he must know he has a right. If nothing but sanctification gives him a real right to the Lord’s supper, then nothing short of the knowledge of sanctification gives him a known right to it: only an opinion and probable hopes of a right will not warrant his coming.
Answ. 1. I desire those who insist on this as an invincible argument, to consider calmly whether they themselves ever did, or ever will, stand to it. For here these two things are to be observed:
(1.) If no man may warrantably come to the Lord’s supper, but such as know they have a right, then no unconverted persons may come unless they not only think, but know, it is the mind of God, that unconverted persons should come, and know that he does not require grace in order to their coming. For unless they know that men may come without grace, they cannot know that they themselves have a right to come, being without grace. And will any one assert and stand to it, that of necessity all adult persons, of every age, rank, and condition of life, must be so versed in this controversy, as to have a certainty in this matter, in order to their coming to the Lord’s supper? It would he most absurd for any to assert it to be a point of easy proof, the evidence of which is so clear and obvious to every one of every capacity, as to supersede all occasion for their being studied in divinity, in order to a certainty of its truth, that persons may come to the sacred table of the Lord, notwithstanding they know themselves to be unconverted! Especially considering, that the contrary to this opinion has been in general the judgment of protestant divines and churches, from the Reformation to this day; and that the most of the greatest divines that have ever appeared in the world, who have spent their lives in the diligent prayerful study of divinity, have been fixed in the reverse of that opinion. This is sufficient at least to show, that this opinion is not so plain as not to be a disputable point; and that the evidence of it is not so obvious to persons of the lowest capacity and little inquiry, as that all may come to a certainty in the matter, without difficulty and without study. I would humbly ask here, What has been the case in fact in our churches, who have practised for so many years on this principle? Can it be pretended, or was it ever supposed, that the communicants in general, even persons of mean intellects and low education, not excepting the very boys and girls of sixteen years old, that have been taken into the church, had so studied divinity, as not only to think, but know, that our pious forefathers, and almost all the protestant and christian divines in the world, have been in an error in this matter? And have people ever been taught the necessity of this previous knowledge? Has it ever been insisted upon, that before persons come to the Lord’s supper, they must look so far into the case of a right to the Lord’s supper, as to come not only to a full settled opinion, but even certainty, in this point? And has any one minister or church in their admissions ever proceeded on the supposition, that all whom they took into communion were so versed in this controversy, as this comes to? Has it ever been the manner to examine them as to their thorough acquaintance with this particular controversy? Has it been the manner to put by those who had only an opinion and not a certainty; even as the priests who could not find their register, were put by, till the matter could be determined by Urim and Thummim? And I dare appeal to every minister, and every member of a church that has been concerned in admitting communicants, whether they ever imagined, or it ever entered into their thought, concerning each one to whose admission they have consented, that they had looked so much into this matter, as not only to have settled their opinion, but to be arrived to a proper certainty?
(2.) I desire it may be remembered, that the venerable author of the Appeal to the Learned, did in his ministry ever teach such doctrine from whence it will unavoidably follow, that no one unconverted man in the world can know he has a warrant to come to the Lord’s supper. For if any unconverted man has a warrant to worship his Maker in this way, it must be because God has given him such warrant by the revelation of his mind in the Holy Scriptures. And therefore if any unconverted man not only thinks, but knows, he has a warrant from God, he must of consequence, not only think, but know, that the Scriptures are the word of God. But I believe all that survive of the stated hearers of that eminent divine, and all who were acquainted with him, well remember it to be a doctrine which he often taught and much insisted on, 470 that no natural man knows the Scripture to be the word of God; that although such may think so, yet they do not know it; and that at best they have but a doubtful opinion: and he often would express himself thus; No natural man is thoroughly convinced, that the Scriptures are the word of God; if they were convinced, they would be gained. Now if so, it is impossible any natural man in the world should ever know, it is his right, in his present condition, to come to the Lord’s supper. True, he may think it is his right, he may have that opinion: but he cannot know it; and so must not come, according to this argument. For it is only the word of God in the Holy Scriptures, that gives a man a right to worship the Supreme Being in this sacramental manner, and to come to him in this way, or any other, as one in covenant with him. The Lord’s supper being no branch of natural worship, reason without institution is no ground of duty or right in this affair. And hence it is plainly impossible for those that do not so much as know the Scriptures are the word of God, to know they have any good ground of duty or right in this matter. Therefore, supposing unconverted men have a real right, yet since they have no known right, they have no warrant (according to the argument before us) to take and use their right; and what good then can their right do them? Or how can they excuse themselves from presumption, in claiming a right, which they do not know belongs to them?—It is said, a probable hope that persons are regenerate, will not warrant them to come; if they come, they take a liberty to do that which they do not know God gives them leave to do, which is horrible presumption in them. But if this be good arguing, I may as well say, a probable opinion that unregenerate men may communicate, will not warrant such to do it. They must have certain knowledge of this; else their right being uncertain, they run a dreadful venture in coming.
Answ. 2. Men are liable to doubt concerning their moral sincerity, as
well as saving grace. Suppose an unconverted man, sensible of his being
under the reigning power of sin, was about to appear solemnly to own the covenant, (as
it is commonly called,) and to profess to give up himself to the
service of God in an universal and persevering obedience; and suppose
at the same time he knew, that if he sealed this profession at the
Lord’s supper, without
moral sincerity, (supposing him to understand the meaning of that phrase,) he should eat and drink judgment to himself; and if accordingly, his conscience being awakened, he was afraid of God’s judgment; in this case, I believe, the man would be every whit as liable to doubts about his moral sincerity, as
godly men are about their gracious sincerity. And if it be not matter
of fact, that natural men are so often exercised and troubled with
doubts about their
moral sincerity, as godly men are about their regeneration, I suppose it to be owing only to this cause, viz. that
godly men being of more tender consciences than those under the
dominion of sin, are more afraid of God’s judgments, and more ready to
tremble at his word. The divines on the other side of the question,
suppose it to be requisite, that communicants should believe the
fundamental doctrines of religion with all their heart, (in the sense of
Answ. 3. If we suppose sanctifying grace requisite in order to be properly qualified, according to God’s word, for an attendance on the Lord’s supper; yet it will not follow, that a man must know he has this qualification, in order to his being capable of conscientiously attending it. If he judges that he has it, according to the best light he can obtain, on the most careful examination, with the improvement of such helps as he can get, the advice of his pastor, &c. he may be bound in conscience to attend. And the reason is this; Christians partaking of the Lord’s supper is not a matter of mere claim, or right and privilege, but a matter of duty and obligation; being an affair wherein God has a claim and demand on us. And as we ought to be careful, on the one hand, that we proceed on good grounds in taking to ourselves a privilege, lest we take what we have no good claim to; so we should be equally careful, on the other hand, to proceed on good grounds in what we withhold from another, lest we do not withhold that from him which is his due, and which he justly challenges from us. Therefore in a case of this complex nature, where a timing is both a matter of right or privilege to us, and also a matter of obligation to another, or a right of his from us, the danger of proceeding without right and truth is equal both ways; and consequently, if we cannot be absolutely sure either way, here the best judgment we can form, after all proper endeavours to know the truth, must govern and determine us; otherwise we shall designedly do that whereby, according to our own judgment, we run the greatest risk; which is certainly contrary to reason. If the question were only what a man has a right to, he might forbear till he were sure: but the question is, not only whether he has right to attend the supper, but whether God also has not a right to his attendance there? Supposing it were merely a privilege which I am allowed but not commanded, in a certain specified case, then, supposing I am uncertain whether that be the case with we or no, it will be safest to abstain. But supposing I am not only forbidden to take it, unless that be the case with me, but positively commanded and required to take it, if that be the case in fact, then it is equally dangerous to neglect on uncertainties, as to take on uncertainties. In such a critical situation, a man must act according to the best of his judgment on his case; otherwise he wilfully runs into that which he thinks the greatest danger of the two.
Thus it is in innumerable cases in human life. I shall give one plain instance: A man ought not to take upon him the work of the ministry, unless called to it in the providence of God; for a man has no right to take this honour to himself unless called of God. Now let us suppose a young man, of a liberal education, and well accomplished, to be at a loss whether it is the will of God that he should follow the work of the ministry; and he examines himself, and examines his circumstances, with great seriousness and solemn prayer, and well considers and weighs the appearances in divine providence: and yet when he has done all, he is not come to a proper certainty, that God calls him to this work; but however, it looks so to him, according to the best light he can obtain, and the most careful judgment he can form: now such an one appears obliged in conscience to give himself to this work. He must by no means neglect it under a notion that he must not take this honour to himself, till he knows he has a right to it; because, though it be indeed a privilege, yet it is not a matter of mere privilege, but a matter of duty too; and if he neglects it under these circumstances, he neglects what, according to his own best judgment, he thinks God requires of him, and calls him to; which is to sin against his conscience.
As to the case of the priests, that could not find their
OBJ. X. Perplexity occasioned.
The natural consequence of the doctrine which has been maintained, is the bringing multitudes of persons of a tender conscience and true piety into great perplexities; who being at a loss about the state of their souls, must needs be as much in suspense about their duty: and it is not reasonable to suppose, that God would order things so in the revelations of his will, as to bring his own people into such perplexities.
Answ. 1. It is for want of the like tenderness of conscience which the godly have, that the other doctrine which insists on moral sincerity, does not naturally bring those who are received to communion on those principles, into the same perplexities, through their doubting of their moral sincerity, of their believing mysteries with all their heart, &c. as has been already observed. And being free from perplexity, only through stupidity and hardness of heart, is worse than being in the greatest perplexity through tenderness of conscience.
Answ. 2. Supposing the doctrine which I have maintained, be indeed the doctrine of God’s word, yet it will not follow, that the perplexities true saints are in through doubting of their state, are effects owing to the revelations of God’s word. Perplexity and distress of mind, not only on occasion of the Lord’s supper, but innumerable other occasions, is the natural and unavoidable consequence of true Christians doubting of their state. But shall we therefore say, that all these perplexities are owing to the word of God? No, it is not owing to God, nor to any of his revelations, that true saints ever doubt of their state; his revelations are plain and clear, and his rules sufficient for men to determine their own condition by. But, for the most part, it is owing to their own sloth, and giving way to their sinful dispositions. Must God’s institutions and revelations be answerable for all the perplexities men bring on themselves, through their own negligence and unwatchfulness? It is wisely ordered that the saints should escape perplexity in no other way than that of great strictness, diligence, and maintaining the lively, laborious, and self-denying exercises of religion.
It might as well be said, it is unreasonable to suppose that God should order things so as to bring his own people into such perplexities, as doubting saints are wont to be exercised with, in the sensible approaches of death; when their doubts tend to vastly greater perplexity, than in their approaches to the Lord’s table. If Christians would more thoroughly exercise themselves unto godliness, labouring always to keep a conscience void of offence both towards God and towards man, it would be the way to have the comfort and taste the sweetness of religion. If they would so run, not as uncertainly; so fight, not as they that beat the air; it would be the way for them to escape perplexity, both in ordinances and providences, and to rejoice and enjoy God in both.—Not but that doubting of their state sometimes arises from other causes, besides want of watchfulness; it may arise from melancholy, and some other peculiar disadvantages. But however, it is not owing to God’s revelations nor institutions; which, whatsoever we may suppose them to be, will not prevent the perplexities of such persons.
Answ. 3. It appears to me reasonable to suppose, that the doctrine I maintain, if universally embraced by God’s people—however it might be an accidental occasion of perplexity in many instances, through their own infirmity and sin—would, on the whole, be a happy occasion of much more comfort
to the saints than trouble, as it would have a tendency, on every
return of the Lord’s supper, to put them on the strictest examination
and trial of the state
of their souls, agreeable to that rule of the apostle,
OBJ. XI. All duties of worship holy.
You may as well say, that unsanctified persons may not attend any duty of divine worship whatsoever, as that they may not attend the Lord’s supper; for all duties of worship are holy and require holiness, in order to an acceptable performance of them, as well as that.
Answ. If this argument has any foundation at all, it has its foundation in the supposed truth of the following propositions, viz. Whosoever is qualified for admission to one duty of divine worship, is qualified for admission to all; and he that is unqualified for one, and may be forbidden one, is unqualified for all, and ought to be allowed to attend none. But certainly these propositions are not true. There are many qualified for some duties of worship, and may be allowed to attend them, who yet are not qualified for some others, nor by any means to be admitted to them. As every body grants, the unbaptized, the excommunicated, heretics, scandalous livers, &c. may be admitted to hear the word preached; nevertheless they are not to be allowed to come to the Lord’s supper. Even excommunicated persons remain still under the law of the Sabbath, and are not to be forbidden to observe the Lord’s day. Ignorant persons, such as have not knowledge sufficient for an approach to the Lord’s table, yet are not excused from the duty of prayer: they may pray to God to instruct them, and assist them in obtaining knowledge. They who have been educated in Arianism and Socinianism, and are not yet brought off from these fundamental errors, and so are by no means to be admitted to the Lord’s supper, yet may pray to God to assist them in their studies, and guide them into the truth, and for all other mercies which they need. Socrates, that great Gentile philosopher, who worshipped the true God, as he was led by the light of nature, might pray to God, and he attended his duty when he did so; although he knew not the revelation which God had made of himself in his word. That great philosopher, Seneca, who was contemporary with the apostle Paul, held one Supreme Being, and had in many respects right notions of the divine perfections and providence, though he did not embrace the gospel, which at that day was preached in the world: yet might pray to that Supreme Being whom he acknowledged. And if his brother Gallio at Corinth, when Paul preached there, had prayed to this Supreme Being to guide him into the truth, that he might know whether the doctrine Paul preached was true, he therein would have acted very becoming a reasonable creature, and any one would have acted unreasonably in forbidding him; 472 but yet surely neither of these men was qualified for the christian sacrament. So that it is apparent there is and ought to be a distinction made between duties of worship, with respect to qualifications for them; and that which is a sufficient qualification for admission to one duty, is not so for all. And therefore the position is not true, which is the foundation whereon the whole weight of this argument rests. To say, that although it be true there ought to be a distinction made, in admission to duties of worship, with regard to some qualifications, yet sanctifying grace is not one of those qualifications that make the difference; would be but giving up the argument, and a perfect begging the question.
It is said, there can be no reason assigned, why unsanctified persons may attend other duties of worship, and not the Lord’s supper. But I humbly conceive this must be an inadvertence. For there is a reason very obvious from that necessary and very notable distinction among duties of worship, which follows:
1. There are some duties of worship, that imply a profession of God’s covenant; whose very nature and design is an exhibition of those vital active principles and inward exercises, wherein consists the condition of the covenant of grace, or that union of soul to God, which is the union between Christ and his spouse, entered into by an inward hearty consenting to that covenant. Such are the christian sacraments, whose very design is to make and confirm a profession of compliance with that covenant, and whose very nature is to exhibit or express the uniting acts of the soul: those sacramental duties therefore cannot be attended by any whose hearts do not really consent to that covenant, and whose souls do not truly close with Christ, without either their being self-deceived, or else wilfully making a false profession, and lying in a very aggravated manner.
2. There are other duties, which are not in their own nature an exhibition of a covenant-union with God, or of any compliance with the condition of the covenant of grace; but are the expression of general virtues, or virtues in their largest extent, including both special and common. Thus prayer, or asking mercy of God, is in its own nature no profession of a compliance with the covenant of grace. It is an expression of some belief of the being of a God, some sense of our wants, and of a need of God’s help, some sense of our dependence, &c. but not merely such a sense of these things as is spiritual and saving. Indeed there are some prayers proper to be made by saints, and many things proper to be expressed by them in prayer, which imply the profession of a spiritual union of heart to God through Christ; but such as no heathen, no heretic, nor natural man whatever, can or ought to make. Prayer in general, and asking mercy and help from God, is no more a profession of consent to the covenant of grace, than reading the Scriptures, or meditation, or performing any duty of morality and natural religion. A Mahometan may as well ask mercy, as hear instruction: and any natural man may as well express his desires to God, as hear when God declares his will to him. It is true, when an unconverted man prays, the manner of his doing it is sinful: but when a natural man, knowing himself to be so, comes to the Lord’s supper, the very matter of what he does, in respect of the profession he there makes, and his pretension to lay hold of God’s covenant, is a lie, and a lie told in the most solemn manner.
In a word, the venerable Mr. Stoddard himself, in his Doctrine of Instituted Churches, has taught us to distinguish between instituted and natural acts of religion: the word and prayer he places under the head of moral duty, and considers as common to all; but the sacraments, according to what he says there, being instituted, are of special administration, and must be limited agreeable to the institution.
OBJ. XII. Tendency of the Lord's supper.
The Lord’s supper has a proper tendency to promote men’s conversion, being an affecting representation of the greatest and most important things of God’s word: it has a proper tendency to awaken and humble sinners; here being a discovery of the terrible anger of God for sin, by the infliction of the curse upon Christ, when sin was imputed to him; and the representation here made of the dying love of Christ has a tendency to draw the hearts of sinners from sin to God, &c.
Answ. Unless it be an evident truth, that what the Lord’s supper may have tendency to promote, the same it was appointed to promote, nothing follows from this argument. If the argument affords any consequence, the consequence is built on the tendency of the Lord’s supper. And if the consequence be good and strong on this foundation, as drawn from such premises, then wherever the premises hold, the consequence holds; otherwise it must appear, that the premises and consequence are not connected. And now let us see how it is in fact. Do not scandalous persons need to have these very effects wrought in their hearts which have been mentioned? Yes, surely; they need them in a special manner: they need to be awakened; they need to have an affecting discovery of that terrible wrath of God against sin, which was manifested in a peculiar manner by the terrible effects of God’s wrath in the sufferings of his own incarnate Son. Gross sinners need this in some respect more than others. They need to have their hearts broken by an affecting view of the great and important things of God’s word. They need especially to fly to Christ for refuge, and therefore need to have their hearts drawn. And seeing the Lord’s supper has so great a tendency to promote these things, if the consequence from the tendency of the Lord’s supper, as inferring the end of its appointment, be good, then it must be a consequence also well inferred, that the Lord’s supper was appointed for the reclaiming and bringing to repentance scandalous persons.
To turn this off, by saying, Scandalous persons are expressly forbid, is but giving up the argument, and begging the question. It is giving up the argument; since it allows the consequence not to be good. For it allows, that notwithstanding the proper tendency of the Lord’s supper to promote a design, yet it may be the Lord’s supper was not appointed with a view to promote that end.—And it is a begging the question; since it supposes, that unconverted men are not evidently forbidden, as well as scandalous persons; which is the thing in controversy. If they be evidently forbid, that is as much to reasonable creatures (who need nothing but good evidence) as if they were expressly forbidden.—To say here, that the Lord’s supper is a converting ordinance only to orderly members, and that there is another ordinance appointed for bringing scandalous persons to repentance, this is no solution of the difficulty; but is only another instance of yielding up the argument, and begging the question. For it plainly concedes, that the tendency of an ordinance does not prove it appointed to all the ends, which it seems to have a tendency to promote; and also supposes, that there is not any other ordinance, appointed for converting sinners that are moral and orderly in their lives, exclusive of this, which is the thing in question.
It is at best but very precarious arguing from the seeming tendency of things, to the divine appointment, or God’s will and disposition with respect to the use of those things. Would it not have had a great tendency to convince the scribes and Pharisees, and to promote their conversion, if they had been admitted into the mount when Christ was transfigured? But yet it was not the will of Christ, that they should be admitted there, or any other but Peter, James, and John. Would it not have had a very great tendency to convince and bring to repentance the unbelieving Jews, if they had been allowed to see and converse freely with Christ after his resurrection, and see him ascend into heaven? But yet it was the will of God, that none but disciples should be admitted to these privileges. Might it not have had a good tendency, if all that were sincere followers of Christ, women as well as men, had been allowed to be present at the institution of the Lord’s supper? But yet it is commonly thought, none were admitted beside the apostles.
Indeed the ever honoured author of the Appeal to the Learned has supplied me with the true and proper answer to this objection, in the following words, p. 27, 28. “The
efficacy of the Lord’s supper does depend upon the blessing of God. Whatever tendency ordinances have in their own nature to be serviceable to men, yet they will not prevail any further than God doth bless them. “The weapons of our warfare are mighty through God,”
OBJ. XIII. God does not require impossibilities.
All that are members of the visible church and in the external covenant, and neither ignorant nor scandalous, are commanded to perform all external covenant duties; and particularly they are commanded to attend the Lord’s supper, in those words of Christ, This do in remembrance of me.
Answ. This argument is of no force, without first taking for granted the very thing in question. For this is plainly supposed in it, that however these commands are given to such as are in the external covenant, yet they are given indefinitely, but with exceptions and reserves, and do not immediately reach all such; they do not reach those who are unqualified, though they be in the external covenant. Now the question is, Who are these that are unqualified? The objection supposes, that only ignorant and scandalous persons are so. But why are they only supposed unqualified; and not unconverted persons too? Because it is taken for granted, that these are not unqualified. And thus the grand point in question is supposed, instead of being proved. Why are these limitations only singled out, neither ignorant nor scandalous; and not others as well? The answer must be, because these are all the limitations which the Scripture makes: but this now is the very thing in question. Whereas, the business of an argument is to prove, and not to suppose, or to take for granted, the very thing which is to be proved.
If it be here said, It is with good reason that those who are ignorant or scandalous alone are supposed to be excepted in God’s command, and obligations of the covenant; for the covenant spoken of in the objection, is the external covenant, and this requires only external duties; which alone are what lie within the reach of man’s natural power, and so in the reach of his legal power: God does not command or require what men have no natural power to perform, and which cannot be performed before something else, some antecedent duty, is performed, which antecedent duty is not in their natural power.
I reply, Still things are but supposed, which should be proved, and which want confirmation.
(1.) It is supposed, that those who have externally (i. e. by oral profession and promise) entered into God’s covenant, are thereby obliged to no more than the external duties of that covenant: which is not proved, and I humbly conceive, is certainly not the true state of the case. They who have externally entered into God’s covenant, are by external profession and engagements entered into that one only covenant of grace, which the Scripture informs us of; and therefore are obliged to fulfil the duties of that covenant, which are chiefly internal. The children of Israel, when they externally entered into covenant with God at mount Sinai, promised to perform all the duties of the covenant, to obey all the ten commandments spoken by God in their hearing, and written in tables of stone, which were therefore called The Tables of the Covenant; the sum of which ten commands was, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and to love their neighbour as themselves; which principally at least are internal duties. In particular, they promised not to covet; which is an internal duty.—They promised to have no other god before the Lord; which implied, that they would in their hearts regard no other being or object whatever above God, or in equality with him, but would give him their supreme respect.
(2.) It is supposed, that God does not require impossibilities of men, in this sense, that he does not require those things of them which are out of their natural power, and particularly that he does not require them to be converted. But this is not proved; nor can I reconcile it with the tenor of the scripture revelation. And the chief advocates for the doctrine I oppose, have themselves abundantly asserted the contrary. The venerable author fore-mentioned, as every body knows, that knew him, always taught, that God justly requires men to be converted, to repent of their sins, and turn to the Lord, to close with Christ, and savingly to believe in him; and that in refusing to accept of Christ and turn to God, they disobeyed the divine commands, and were guilty of the most heinous sin; and that their moral inability was no excuse.
(3.) It is supposed, that God does not command men to do those things which are not to be done till something else is done, that is not within the reach of men’s natural ability. This also is not proved; nor do I see how it can be true, even according to the principles of those who insist on this objection. The fore-mentioned memorable divine ever taught, that God commandeth natural men without delay to believe in Christ: and yet he always held, that it was impossible for them to believe till they had by a preceding act submitted to the sovereignty of God; and yet he held, that men never could do this of themselves, till humbled and bowed by powerful convictions of God’s Spirit. Again, he taught, that God commandeth natural men to love him with all their heart: and yet he held, that this could not be till men had first believed in Christ; the exercise of love being a fruit of faith; and believing in Christ, he supposed not to be within the reach of man’s natural ability. Further, he held, that God requireth of all men holy, spiritual, and acceptable obedience; and yet that such obedience is not within the reach of their natural ability; and not only so, but that there must first be love to God, before there could be new obedience, and that this love to God is not within the reach of men’s natural ability. Yet, before this love there must be faith, which faith is not within the reach of man’s natural power; and still, before faith there must be the knowledge of God, which knowledge is not in natural men’s reach: and, once more, even before the knowledge of God there must be a thorough humiliation, which humiliation men could not work in themselves by any natural power of their own. Now, must it needs be thought, notwithstanding all these unreasonable things, that God should command those whom he has nourished and brought up, to honour him by giving an open testimony of love to him; only because wicked men cannot testify love till they have love, and love is not in their natural power? And is it any good excuse in the sight of God, for one who is under the highest obligations to him, and yet refuses him suitable honour by openly testifying his love of him, to plead that he has no love to testify; but on the contrary, has an infinitely unreasonable hatred? God may most reasonably require a proper testimony and profession of love to him; and yet it may also be reasonable to suppose, at the same time, he forbids men to lie; or to declare that they have love, when they have none: because, though it be supposed, that God requires men to testify love to him, yet he requires them to do it in a right way, and in the true order, viz. first loving him, and then testifying their love.
(4.) I do not see how it can be true, that a natural man has not a legal power to be converted, accept of Christ, love God, &c. By a legal power to do a thing, is plainly meant such power as brings a person properly within the reach of a legal obligation, or the obligation of a law or command to do that thing. But he that has such natural faculties, as render him a proper subject of moral government, may properly be commanded, and put under the obligation of a law to do things so reasonable; notwithstanding any native aversion and moral inability in him to do his duty, arising from the power of sin. This also, I 474 must observe, was a known doctrine of Mr. Stoddard’s, and what he ever taught.
OBJ. XIV. Unsanctified persons may live as saints.
Either unsanctified persons may lawfully come to the Lord’s supper, or it is unlawful for them to carry themselves as saints; but it is not unlawful for them to carry themselves as saints.
Answ. It is the duty of unconverted men both to become saints, and to behave as saints. The scripture rule is,
And I see not how it is true, that unconverted men ought, in every respect, to do those external things, which it is the duty of a godly man to do. It is the duty of a godly man, conscious of his having given his heart unto the Lord, to profess his love to God and his esteem of him above all, his unfeigned faith in Christ, &c. and in his closet-devotions to thank God for these graces as the fruit of the Spirit in him. But it is not the duty of another that really has no faith, nor love to God, to do thus. Neither any more is it a natural man’s duty to profess these things in the Lord’s supper.—Mr. Stoddard taught it to be the duty of converts, on many occasions, to profess their faith and love and other graces before men, by relating their experiences in conversation: but it would be great wickedness, for such as know themselves to be not saints, thus to do; because they would speak falsely, and utter lies in so doing. Now, for the like reason, it would be very sinful, for men to profess and seal their consent to the covenant of grace in the Lord’s supper, when they know at the same time that they do not consent to it, nor have their hearts at all in the affair.
OBJ. XV. Better admit hypocrites than exclude saints.
This scheme will keep out of the church some true saints; for there are some such who determine against themselves, and their prevailing judgment is, that they are not saints: and we had better let in several hypocrites, than exclude one true child of God.
Answ. I think, it is much better to insist on some visibility to reason, of true saintship, in admitting members, even although this, through men’s infirmity and darkness, and Satan’s temptations, be an occasion of some true saints abstaining; than by express liberty given, to open the door to as many as please, of those who have no visibility of real saintship, and make no profession of it, nor pretension to it; and that because this method tends to the ruin and great reproach of the christian church, and also to the ruin of the persons admitted.
1. It tends to the reproach and ruin of the christian church. For by the rule which God hath given for admissions, if it be carefully attended, (it is said,) more unconverted than converted persons, will be admitted. It is then confessedly the way to have the greater part of the members of the christian church ungodly men; yea, so much greater, that the godly shall be but few in comparison of the ungodly;
agreeable to their interpretation of that saying of Christ, many are called, but few are chosen.
Now, if this be an exact state of the case, it will demonstrably
follow, on scripture principles, that opening the door so wide has a
direct tendency to bring into christian churches such as are without
even moral sincerity, and do not make religion at all their
business, neglecting and casting off secret prayer and other duties,
and living a life of carnality and vanity, so far as
they can, consistently with avoiding church-censures; which
possibly may be sometimes to a great degree. Ungodly men may be morally
sober, serious, and conscientious, and may have what is called moral sincerity, for
a while; and even may have these things in a considerable measure, when
they first come into the church: but if their hearts are not changed,
there is no probability at all of these things continuing long. The
Scripture has told us, that this their goodness is
apt to vanish like the morning cloud and early dew. How can it be expected but that their religion should in a little time wither away, when it has no root? How can it be expected, that the lamp should burn long, without oil in the vessel to feed it? If lust be unmortified, and left in reigning power in the heart, it will sooner or later prevail; and at length sweep away common grace and moral sincerity, however excited and
maintained for a while by conviction and temporary affections. It will happen to them according to the true proverb, The dog is returned to his vomit; and the swine that was washed, to his wallowing in the mire. It is said of the hypocrite, Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?—And thus our churches will be likely to be such congregations as the psalmist said he hated, and would not sit with.
And now is it not better, to have a few real living Christians kept back through darkness and scruples, than to open a door for letting in such universal ruin as this? To illustrate it by a familiar comparison; Is it not better, when England is at war with France, to keep out of the British realm a few loyal Englishmen, than to give leave for as many treacherous Frenchmen to come in as please?
2. This way tends to the eternal ruin of the parties admitted; for it lets in such, yea, it persuades such to come in, as know themselves to be impenitent and unbelieving, in a dreadful manner to take God’s name in vain; in vain to worship him, and abuse sacred things, by performing those external acts and rites in the name of God, which are instituted for declarative signs and professions of repentance toward God, faith in Christ, and love to him, at the same time that they know themselves destitute of those things which they profess to have. And is it not better, that some true saints, through their own weakness and misunderstanding, should be kept away from the Lord’s table, which will not keep such out of heaven, than voluntarily to bring in multitudes of false professors to partake unworthily, and in effect to seal their own condemnation.
OBJ. XVI. Hypocrites will be admitted.
You cannot keep out hypocrites, when all is said and done; but as many graceless persons will be likely to get 475 into the church in the way of a profession of godliness, as if nothing were insisted on, but a freedom from public scandal.
Answ. It may possibly be so in some places through the misconduct of ministers and people, by remissness in their inquiries, carelessness as to the proper matter of a profession, or setting up some mistaken rules of judgment; neglecting those things which the Scripture insists upon as the most essential articles in the character of a real saint; and substituting others in the room of them; such as impressions on the imagination, instead of renewing influences on the heart; pangs of affection, instead of the habitual temper of the mind; a certain method and order of impressions and suggestions, instead of the nature of things experienced, &c. But to say, that in churches where the nature, the notes, and evidences of true Christianity, as described in the Scriptures, are well understood, taught, and observed, there as many hypocrites are likely to get in; or to suppose, that there as many persons of an honest character, who are well instructed in these rules, and well conducted by them—and judging of themselves by these rules, do think themselves true saints, and accordingly make profession of godliness, and are admitted as saints in a judgment of rational charity—are likely to be carnal, unconverted men, as of those who make no such pretence and have no such hope, nor exhibit any such evidences to the eye of a judicious charity, is not so much an objection against the doctrine I am defending, as a reflection upon the Scripture itself, with regard to the rules it gives, either for persons to judge of their own state, or for others to form a charitable judgment, as if they were of little or no service. We are in miserable circumstances indeed, if the rules of God’s holy word in things of such infinite importance, are so ambiguous and uncertain, like the heathen oracles. And it would be very strange, if in these days of the gospel, when God’s mind is revealed with such great plainness of speech, and the canon of Scripture is completed, it should ordinarily be the case in fact, that those who, having a right doctrinal understanding of the Scripture, and judging themselves by its rules, do probably conclude or seriously hope of themselves, that they are real saints, are as many of them in a state of sin and condemnation, as others who have no such rational hope concerning their good estate, nor pretend to any special experiences in religion.
OBJ. XVII. True saints doubt of their state.
IF a profession of godliness be a thing required in order to admission into the church, there being some free saints who doubt of their state, and from a tender conscience will not dare to make such a profession; and there being others, that have no grace, nor much tenderness of conscience, but great presumption and forwardness, who will boldly make the highest profession of religion, and so will get admittance: it will hence come to pass, that the very thing, which will in effect procure for the latter an admission, rather than the former, will be their presumption and wickedness.
Answ. 1. It is no sufficient objection against the wholesomeness of a rule established for regulating the civil state of mankind, that in some instances men’s wickedness may take advantage by that rule, so that even their wickedness shall be the very thing, which, by an abuse of that rule, procures them temporal honours and privileges. For such is the present state of man in this evil world, that good rules, in many instances, are liable to be thus abused and perverted. As for instance, there are many human laws, accounted wholesome and necessary, by which an accused or suspected person’s own solemn profession of innocency, upon oath, shall be the condition of acquittance and impunity; and the want of such a protestation or profession shall expose him to the punishment. And yet, by an abuse of these rules, in some instances, nothing but the horrid sin of perjury, or that most presumptuous wickedness of false swearing, shall be the very thing that acquits a man: while another of a more tender conscience, who fears an oath, must suffer the penalty of the law.
2. Those rules, by all wise lawgivers, are accounted wholesome, which prove of general good tendency, notwithstanding any bad consequences arising in some particular instances. And as to the ecclesiastical rule now in question, of admission to sacraments on a profession of godliness, when attended with requisite circumstances; although in particular instances it may be an occasion of some tender-hearted Christians abstaining, and some presumptuous sinners being admitted, yet that does not hinder but that a proper visibility of holiness to the eye of reason, or a probability of it in a judgment of rational christian charity, may this way be maintained, as the proper qualification of candidates for admission. Nor does it hinder but that it may be reasonable and wholesome for mankind, in their outward conduct, to regulate themselves by such probability; and that this should be a reasonable and good rule for the church to regulate themselves by in their admissions; notwithstanding it may happen in particular instances, that things are really diverse from, yea the very reverse of, what they are visibly. Such a profession as has been insisted on, when attended with requisite circumstances, carries in it a rational credibility in the judgment of christian charity: for it ought to be attended with an honest and sober character, and with evidences of good doctrinal knowledge, and with all proper, careful, and diligent instructions of a prudent pastor. And though the pastor is not to act as a searcher of the heart, or a lord of conscience in this affair, yet that hinders not but that he may and ought to inquire particularly into the experiences of the souls committed to his care and charge, that he may be under the best advantages to instruct and advise them, to apply the teachings and rules of God’s word unto them, for their self-examination, to be helpers of their joy, and promoters of their salvation. However, finally, not any pretended extraordinary skill of his in discerning the heart, but the person’s own serious profession concerning what he finds in his own soul, after he has been well instructed, must regulate the public conduct with respect to him, where there is no other external visible thing to contradict and overrule it. And a serious profession of godliness, under these circumstances, carries in it a visibility to the eye of the church’s rational and christian judgment.
3. If it be still insisted on, that a rule of admission into the church cannot be good, if liable to such abuse as that forementioned, I must observe, This will overthrow the rules that the objectors themselves go by in their admissions. For they insist upon it, that a man must not only have knowledge and be free of scandal, but must appear orthodox and profess the common faith. Now presumptuous lying, for the sake of the honour of being in the church, having children baptized, and voting in ecclesiastical affairs, may possibly be the very thing that brings some men into the church by this rule; while greater tenderness of conscience may be the very thing that keeps others out. For instance, a man who secretly in his mind gives no credit to the commonly received doctrine of the Trinity, yet may, by pretending an assent to it, and in hypocrisy making a public profession of it, get into the church; when at the same time another that equally disbelieves it, but has a more tender conscience than to allow himself in solemnly telling a lie, may by that very means be kept off from the communion.
OBJ. XVIII. Men's opinion of themselves no criterion.
It seems hardly reasonable to suppose, that the only wise God has made men’s opinion of themselves, and a profession of it, the term of their admission to church-privileges; when we know, that very often the worst men have the highest opinion of themselves.
Answ. 1. It must be granted me, that in fact this is the case, if any proper profession at all is expected and required, whether it be of sanctifying grace, or of moral sincerity, or any thing else that is good: and to be sure, nothing is required to be professed, or is worthy to be professed, any further than it is good.
Answ. 2. If some things, by the confession of all, must be professed, because they are good, and of great importance; 476 then certainly it must be very unreasonable, to say, that those things wherein true holiness consists are not to be professed, or that a profession of them should not be required, because they are good, even in the highest degree, and infinitely the most important and most necessary things of any in the world. And it is unreasonable to say, that it is the less to be expected we should profess sincere friendship to Christ, because friendship to Christ is the most excellent qualification of any whatsoever, and the contrary the most odious. How absurd is it to say this, merely under a notion that for a man to profess what is so good and so reasonable, is to profess a high opinion of himself!
Answ. 3. Though some of the worst men are apt to entertain the highest opinion of themselves, yet their self-conceit is no rule to the church; but the apparent credibility of men’s profession is to be the ground of ecclesiastical proceedings.
OBJ. XIX Infant baptism.
If it be necessary that adult persons should make a profession of godliness, in order to their own admission to baptism, then undoubtedly it is necessary in order to their children being
baptized on their account. For parents cannot convey to their children
a right to this sacrament by virtue of any qualifications lower than those requisite in order to their own right: children being admitted to baptism only as being, as it were, parts and
members of their parents. And besides, the act of parents in offering up their children in a sacrament, which is a seal of the covenant of grace, is in them a solemn attending that sacrament as persons interested in the covenant, and a public manifestation of their approving and consenting to it, as truly as if they then offered up themselves to God in that ordinance. Indeed it implies a renewed offering up themselves with their children, and devoting both
jointly to God in covenant; themselves, with their children, as parts of themselves. But now what fearful work will such doctrine make amongst us! We shall have multitudes unbaptized, who
will be without the external badge of Christianity, and so in that
respect will be like heathens. And this is the way to have the land
full of persons who are destitute of that which is spoken of in
Scripture as ordinarily requisite to men’s salvation; and it will bring a
reproach on vast multitudes, with the families they belong to.
And not only so, but it will tend to make them profane and heathenish;
for by thus treating our children, as though “they had no part in the
Lord, we shall cause them to cease from fearing the Lord;”
Answ. 1. As to children being destitute of that which is spoken of in Scripture as one thing ordinarily requisite to salvation; I would observe, that baptism can do their souls no good any otherwise than through God’s blessing attending it: but we have no reason to expect his blessing with baptism, if administered to those that it does not belong to by his institution.
Answ. 2. As to the reproach, which will be brought on parents and children, by children going without baptism, through the parents neglecting a profession of godliness, and so visibly remaining among the unconverted; if any insist on this objection, I think it will savour of much unreasonableness and even stupidity.
It will savour of an unreasonable spirit. Is it not enough, if God freely offers men to own their children and to give them the honour of baptism, in case the parents will turn from sin and relinquish their enmity against him, heartily give up themselves and their children to him, and take upon them the profession of godliness?—If men are truly excusable, in not turning to God through Christ, in not believing with the heart, and in not confessing with the mouth, why do not we openly plead that they are so? And why do we not teach sinners, that they are not to blame for continuing among the enemies of Christ, and neglecting and despising his great salvation? If they are not at all excusable in this, and it be wholly owing to their own indulged lusts, that they refuse sincerely to give up themselves and their children to God, then how unreasonable is it for them to complain that their children are denied the honour of having God’s mark set upon them as some of his? If parents are angry at this, such a temper shows them to be very insensible of their own vile treatment of the blessed God. Suppose a prince send to a traitor in prison, and upon opening the prison doors make him the offer, that if he would come forth and submit himself to him, he should not only be pardoned himself, but both he and his children should have such and such badges of honour conferred upon them; and yet the rebel’s enmity and stoutness of spirit against his prince is such, that he cannot find in his heart to comply with the gracious offer, will he have any cause to be angry, that his children have not those badges of honour given them? Besides, it is very much owing to parents, that there are so many young people who can make no profession of godliness. They have themselves therefore to blame, if proceeding on the principles which have been maintained, there is like to rise a generation of unbaptized persons. If ancestors had thoroughly done their duty to their posterity in instructing, praying for, and governing their children, and setting them good examples, there is reason to think, the case would have been far otherwise.
Insisting on this objection would savour of much stupidity. For the objection seems to suppose the country to be full of those that are unconverted, and so exposed every moment to eternal damnation; yet it seems we do not hear such great and general complaints and lamentable outcries concerning this. Now why is it looked upon so dreadful, to have great numbers going without the name and honourable badge of Christianity, when at the same time it is no more resented and laid to heart, that such multitudes go without the thing, which is infinitely more dreadful? Why are we so silent about this? What is the name good for, without the thing? Can parents bear to have their children go about the world in the most odious and dangerous state of soul, in reality the children of the devil, and condemned to eternal burnings; when at the same time they cannot bear to have them disgraced by going without the honour of being baptized? A high honour and privilege this is; yet how can parents be contented with the sign, exclusive of the thing signified? Why should they covet the external honour for their children, while they are so careless about the spiritual blessing? Does not this argue a senselessness of their own misery, as well as of their children’s, in being in a Christless state? If a man and his child were both together bitten by a viper, dreadfully swollen, and like to die, would it not argue stupidity in the parent, to be anxiously concerned only about his child’s having on a dirty garment in such circumstances, and angry at others for not putting some outward ornament upon it? But the difference in this present case is infinitely greater, and more important. Let parents pity their poor children because they are without baptism; and pity themselves who are in danger of everlasting misery, while they have no interest in the covenant of grace, and so have no right to covenant favours and honours, for themselves nor children. No religious honours, to be obtained in any other way than by real religion, are much worth contending for. And in truth, it is no honour at all to a man, to have merely the outward badges of a Christian, without being a Christian indeed; any more than it would be an honour to a man that has no learning, but is a mere dunce, to have a degree at college; or than it is for a man who has no valour, but is a grand coward, to have an honourable commission in an army; which only serves, by lifting him up, to expose him to deeper reproach, and sets him forth as the more notable object of contempt.
Answ. 3. Concerning the tendency of this way of confining baptism to professors of godliness and their children, to promote irreligion and profaneness; I would observe, first, That Christ is best able to judge of the tendency of his own institutions. Secondly, I am bold to say, that supposing this principle and practice to have such a tendency, is a great mistake, contrary to Scripture and plain reason and
experience. Indeed such a tendency it would
have, to shut men out from having any part in the Lord, (in the sense of the two tribes and half,
This way of proceeding greatly tends to establish the negligence of parents, and to confirm the stupidity and security of wicked children.—If baptism were denied to all children, whose parents did not profess godliness, and in a judgment of rational charity appear real saints, it would tend to excite pious heads of families to more thorough care and pains in the religious education of their children, and to more fervent prayer for them, that they might be converted in youth, before they enter into a married state; and so if they have children, the entail of the covenant be secured.—And it would tend to awaken young people themselves, as yet unconverted, especially when about to settle in the world. Their having no right to christian privileges for their children, in case they should become parents, would tend to lead them at such a time seriously to reflect on their own awful state; which, if they do not get out of it, must lay a foundation for so much calamity and reproach to their families. And if after their becoming parents, they still remain unconverted, the melancholy thought of their children going without so much as the external mark of Christians, would have a continual tendency to affect them with their own sin and folly in neglecting to turn to God, by which they bring such visible calamity and disgrace on themselves and families. They would have this additional motive continually to stir them up to seek grace for themselves and their children. Whereas, the contrary practice has a natural tendency to quiet the minds of persons, both in their own and their children’s unregeneracy. Yea, may it not be suspected, that the way of baptizing the children of such as never make any proper profession of godliness, is an expedient originally invented for that very end, to give ease to ancestors with respect to their posterity, in times of general declension and degeneracy?
This way of proceeding greatly tends to establish the stupidity and irreligion of children, as
well as the negligence of parents. It is certain, that unconverted
parents do never truly give up their children to God; since they do not
truly give up themselves to him. And if neither of the parents appear
truly pious, in the judgment of rational charity, there is not in this
case any ground to expect that the children will be brought up in the nurture and
admonition of the Lord, or
that they will have any thing worthy the name of a christian education,
how solemnly soever the parents may promise it. The faithfulness of
Abraham was such as might be trusted in this matter. See
OBJ. XX. Some have been converted at the sacrament.
ministers have been greatly blessed in the other way of proceeding, and some men have been converted at the Lord’s supper.
Answ. Though we are to eye the providence of God, and not disregard his works, yet to interpret them to a sense, or to apply them to an use, inconsistent with the scope of the word of God, is a misconstruction and misapplication of them. God has not given us his providence, but his word, to be our governing rule. God
is sovereign in his dispensations of providence; he bestowed the
blessing on Jacob, even when he had a lie in his
mouth. He was pleased to meet with Solomon, and make known himself to
him, and bless him in an extraordinary manner, while he was worshipping
in a high place. He
met with Saul, when in a course of violent opposition to him, and out
of the way of his duty in the highest degree, going to Damascus to
persecute Christ; and even then bestowed the greatest blessing upon
him, that perhaps ever was bestowed on a mere man. The conduct of
Divine Providence, with its reasons, is too little
understood by us, to be improved as our rule. “God has his way in the
sea, his path in the mighty waters, and his footsteps are not known:
and he gives none account of any of his matters.” But God has given us
his word, to this very end, that it might be our rule; and therefore has so ordered it that it may be understood by us. And strictly speaking, this is our only rule. If we join any thing else to it, as making it our rule, we do that which we have no
warrant for, yea, that which God himself has forbidden. See
As to the two last arguments in the Appeal to the Learned, concerning the subjects of the christian sacraments, their being members of the visible church, and not the invisible; the force of those arguments depends entirely on the resolution of this question, Who are visible saints? or what adult persons are regularly admitted to the privileges of members of the visible church? Which question has already been largely considered; and, I think, it has been demonstrated that they are those who exhibit a credible profession and visibility of gospel holiness or vital piety, and not merely of moral sincerity. So that there is no need of further debating the point in this place.
478 I might here mention many things not yet noticed, which some object as inconveniences attending the scheme I have maintained. If men should set up their own wit and wisdom in opposition to God’s revealed will, there is no end of objections of this kind, which might be raised against any of God’s institutions. Some have found great fault even with the creation of the world, as being very inconveniently done, and have imagined that they could tell how it might be mended in a great many respects. But however God’s altar may appear homely to us, yet if we lift up our hand to mend it, we shall pollute it. Laws and institutions are given for the general good, and not to avoid every particular inconvenience. And however it may so happen, that sometimes inconveniences (real or imaginary) may attend the scheme I have maintained; yet, I think, they are in no measure equal to the manifest conveniences and happy tendencies of it, or to the palpable inconveniences and pernicious consequences of the other.—I have already mentioned some things of this aspect, and would here briefly observe some others.
Thus, the way of making such a difference between outward duties of morality, and worship, and those great inward duties of our love of God and acceptance of Christ, that the former must be visible, but that there need be no exhibition nor pretence of the latter, in order to persons being admitted into the visible family of God; and that under a notion of the latter being impossibilities, but the other being within men’s power; this, I think, has a direct tendency to confirm in men an insensibility of the heinousness of unbelief and enmity against God our Saviour, which are the source and sum of all wickedness. It tends to prevent their coming under an humbling conviction of the greatness and utter inexcusableness of these sins, which men must be brought to if ever they obtain salvation. Indeed it is a way that not only has this tendency, but has actually and apparently this effect, and that to a great degree.
The effect of this method of proceeding in the churches in New England, which have fallen into it, is actually this.—There are some that are received into these churches under the notion of their being in the judgment of rational charity visible saints or professing saints, who yet at the same time are actually open professors of heinous wickedness; I mean, the wickedness of living in known impenitence and unbelief, the wickedness of living in enmity against God, and in the rejection of Christ under the gospel. Or, which is the same thing, they are such as freely and frequently acknowledge, that they do not profess to be as yet born again, but look on themselves as really unconverted, as having never unfeignedly accepted of Christ; and they do either explicitly or implicitly number themselves among those that love not the Lord Jesus Christ; of whom the apostle says, let such be Anathema Maran-atha! And accordingly it is known, all over the town where they live, that they make no pretensions to any sanctifying grace already obtained; nor of consequence are they commonly looked upon as any other than unconverted persons. Now, can this be judged the comely order of the gospel? or shall God be supposed the author of such confusion?
In this way of church-proceeding, God’s own children and the true disciples of Christ are obliged to receive those as their brethren, admit them to the communion of saints, and embrace them in the highest acts of christian society, even in their great feast of love, where they feed together on the body and blood of Christ, whom yet they have no reason to look upon otherwise than as enemies of the cross of Christ, and haters of their heavenly Father and dear Redeemer. For they make no pretension to any thing at all inconsistent with those characters; yea, in many places, as I said before, freely professing this to be actually the case with them.
Christ often forbids the members of his church to judge one another. But in this way of ecclesiastical proceeding, it is done continually, and looked upon as no hurt; a great part of those admitted into the church are by others of the same communion judged unconverted, graceless persons; and it is impossible to avoid it, while we stretch not beyond the bounds of a rational charity.
This method of proceeding must inevitably have one of these two consequences: either there must be no public notice at all given of it, when so signal a work of grace is wrought, as a sinner being brought to repent and turn to God, and hopefully become the subject of saving conversion; or else this notice must be given in the way of conversation, by the persons themselves, frequently, freely, and in all companies, declaring their own experiences. But surely, either of these consequences must be very unhappy.—The former is so, viz. forbidding and preventing any public notice being given on earth of the repentance of a sinner, an event so much to the honour of God, and so much taken notice of in heaven, causing joy in the presence of the angels of God, and tending so much to the advancement of religion in the world. For it is found by experience, that scarce any one thing has so great an influence to awaken sinners, and engage them to seek salvation, and to quicken and animate saints, as the tidings of a sinner’s repentance, or hopeful conversion. God evidently makes use of it as an eminent means of advancing religion in a time of remarkable revival. And to take a course effectually to prevent its being notified on earth, appears to me a counteracting of God, in that which he ever makes use of as a chief means of the propagation of true piety, and which we have reason to think he will make use of as one principal means of the conversion of the world in the glorious latter day.—But now as to the other way—the way of giving notice to the public of this event, by particular persons themselves publishing their own experiences, from time to time and from place to place, on all occasions and before all companies—I must confess, it is a practice that appears to me attended with many inconveniences, yea, big with mischiefs. The abundant trial of this method lately made, and the large experience we have had of the evil consequences of it, is enough to put all sober and judicious people for ever out of conceit with it. I shall not pretend to enumerate all the mischiefs attending it, which would be very tedious; but shall now only mention two things. One is, the bad effect it has upon the persons themselves that practise it, in the great tendency it has to spiritual pride; insensibly begetting and establishing an evil habit of mind in that respect, by the frequent return of the temptation, and this many times when they are not guarded against it, and have no time, by consideration and prayer, to fortify their minds. And then it has a very bad effect on the minds of others that hear their communication, and so on the state of religion in general, in this way. It being thus the custom for persons of all sorts, young and old, wise and unwise, superiors and inferiors, freely to tell their own experiences before all companies, it is commonly done very injudiciously, often very rashly and foolishly, out of season, and in circumstances tending to defeat any good end. Even sincere Christians too frequently in their conversation insist mainly on those things that are no part of their true spiritual experience; such as impressions on their imagination, suggestions of facts by passages of Scripture, &c.; in which case children and weak persons that hear, are apt to form their notions of religion and true piety by such experimental communications, and much more than they do by the most solid and judicious instructions they hear from the pulpit. This is found to be one of the devices whereby Satan has an inexpressible advantage to ruin the souls of men, and utterly to confound the interest of religion.—This matter of making a public profession of godliness or piety of heart, is certainly a very important affair, and ought to be under some public regulation, and under the direction of skilful guides, and not left to the management of every man, woman, and child, according to their humour or fancy. And when it is done, it should be done with great seriousness, preparation, and prayer, as a solemn act of public respect and honour to God, in his house and in the presence of his people. Not that I condemn, but greatly approve of, persons speaking sometimes of their religious experiences in private conversation, to proper persons and on proper occasions, with modesty and discretion, when the glory of God and the benefits or just satisfaction of others require it of them.
In a word, the practice of promiscuous admission—or that way of taking all into the church indifferently, as visible 479 saints, who are not either ignorant or scandalous—and at the same time that custom taking place of persons publishing their own conversion in common conversation; where these two things meet together, they unavoidably make two distinct kinds of visible churches, or different bodies of professing saints, one within another, openly distinguished one from another, as it were by a visible dividing line. One company consisting of those who are visibly gracious Christians, and open professors of godliness; another consisting of those who are visibly moral livers, and only profess common virtues, without pretending to any special and spiritual experiences in their hearts, and who therefore are not reputed to be converts. I may appeal to those acquainted with the state of the churches, whether this be not actually the case in some, where this method of proceeding has been long established. But I leave the judicious reader to make his own remarks on this case, and to determine, whether there be a just foundation in Scripture or reason for any such state of things; which to me, I confess, carries the face of glaring absurdity.
now I commit this whole discourse (under God’s blessing) to the
reader’s candid reflection and impartial judgment. I am sensible, it
will be very difficult for many to be truly impartial in this affair;
their prejudices being very great against the doctrine which I have
maintained. And, I believe, I myself am the person, who, above all
other upon the face of the earth, have had most in my circumstances to
prejudice me against this doctrine, and to make me unwilling
to receive conviction of its truth. However, the clear evidence of
God’s mind in his word, as things appear to me, has constrained me to
think and act as I have now done. I dare not go contrary to such texts
It may not be improper to add here, as I have often had suggested to me the probability of my being answered from the press: If any one shall see cause to undertake this, I have these reasonable requests to make to him, viz. That he would avoid the ungenerous and unmanly artifices used by too many polemic writers, while they turn aside to vain jangling, in carping at incidental passages, and displaying their wit upon some minute particulars, or less material things, in the author they oppose, with much exclamation, if possible to excite the ignorant and unwary reader’s disrelish of the author, and to make him appear contemptible, and so to get the victory that way; perhaps dwelling upon, and glorying in, some pretended inconsistencies in some parts of the discourse, without ever entering thoroughly into the merits of the cause, or closely encountering any of the main arguments. If any one opposes me from the press, I desire he would attend to the true state of the question, and endeavour fairly to take off the force of each argument, by answering the same directly, and distinctly, with calm and close reasoning; avoiding (as much as may be) both dogmatical assertion and passionate reflection. Sure I am, I shall not envy him the applause of a victory over me, however signal and complete, if only gained by superior light and convincing evidence.—I would also request him to set his name to his performance, that I may in that respect stand on even ground with him before the world, in a debate wherein the public is to judge between us. This will be the more reasonable, in case he should mingle any thing of accusation with his arguing. It was the manner even of the heathen Romans, and reputed by them but just and equal, to have accusers face to face.
May the God of all grace and peace unite us more in judgment, affection, and practice, that with one heart, and one mouth, we may glorify his name through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Appendix. Mr. Foxcroft's letter.
Being a letter to the author, in answer to his request of information concerning the opinion of Protestant Divines and Churches in general, of the Presbyterians in Scotland and Dissenters in England in particular, respecting five questions that relate to this controversy.
rev. and dear sir,
If you look into Mr. Baxter’s controversial writings against Mr. Blake, you will meet with such accounts of principles and facts, as I think may reasonably give an inquirer much satisfaction as to the common judgment of protestant churches and divines in the points you mention. I particularly refer you to his five disputations of Right to Sacraments, and the true Nature of Visible Christianity; where all or the most of your queries are considered and answered, with a multitude of testimonies produced in favour of sentiments contrary to those of your excellent predecessor, the late Mr. Stoddard. I have not said this from any disposition to excuse myself from the labour of making some further inquiry, if it be thought needful. And as it may show my willingness to gratify your desire, I will now say something on your questions distinctly, but with as much brevity as I can.
Quest. I. What is the general opinion respecting that self-examination required in
Answ. This construction of the text, as far as I have had opportunity to inquire, appears to me very generally received; if I may judge by what many celebrated expositors have said on the place, and by what many famous divines have written in treatises of preparation for the Lord’s supper, besides what is contained in public confessions, catechisms, directories, &c. I think Dr. Reynolds, in his Meditations on the Lord’s Supper, has summarily expressed the common judgment of Calvinists in these strong lines of his: “The sacrament is but a seal of the covenant; and the covenant essentially includes conditions; and the condition on our part is faith. No faith, no covenant; no covenant, no seal; no seal, no sacrament.—The matter then of this trial (says he) must be that vital qualification, which predisposeth a man for receiving of these holy mysteries; and that is faith.“
However, I may venture to be confident, that Mr. Stoddard’s gloss on the text, who tells us in his controverted sermon, “The meaning is, that a man must come solemnly to that ordinance, examining what need he has of it,“ is quite foreign from the current sense of Calvinist writers. And, though he makes a different comment in his Appeal to the Learned, saying, “The examination called for is, whether they understood the nature of the ordinance, that so they may solemnly consider what they have to do when they wait upon God in it,” neither can I find any appearance of a general consent of the learned and orthodox to this new gloss, at least as exhibiting the full meaning of the text. I might easily confront it with numerous authorities: but the Palatine Catechism, and that of the Westminster Assembly, with the common explanations and catechizings upon them, may be appealed to as instar omnium. And I shall only add here, if it be allowed a just expectation that the candidate for the communion examine himself about the same things at least as the pastor, to whom he applies for admission, ought to make the subject of his examination, then it was worth while to hear the opinion of those unnamed ministers in New England, (among whom the late Dr. Colman, I have reason to think, was the principal,) that answered Dr. Mather’s Order of the Gospel, (anno 1700,) who, in the Postscript to their Review, thus express themselves: ”We highly approve—that the proponant of the Lord’s table be examined of his baptismal vow; his sense of spiritual wants, sinfulness, and wretchedness; his hope, faith, experiences, resolutions through the grace of God.” This, I think, is something beyond Mr. Stoddard.
480 Quest. II. Whether it be the general opinion of those aforesaid, that some who know themselves to be unregenerate, and under the reigning power of sin, ought notwithstanding, in such a state, to come to the Lord’s table?
Answ. I am aware, Sir, though you have seen fit to take no notice of it to me, that Mr. Stoddard (in his Doctrine of Instituted Churches) is peremptory in the affirmative; but I have met with no author among Calvinists, at home or abroad, consenting with him, unless it be Mr. Blake, and some that were for a promiscuous admission, with little or no limitation. If divines in general, of the Calvinistic character, were for such a latitude as Mr. Stoddard’s, what can we suppose to be the reason, that in treating on the Lord’s supper, they so constantly consider it as one of the rights of the church, belonging to the truly faithful alone, exclusively of all others? Why do we hear them declaring, It is certain that the right of external fellowship resides in the faithful only: and as to the rest, they are in that communion only by accident, and it is also only by accident that they are suffered there; but being what they are, they have not any part in the rights of that society properly belonging to them? If they thought the sacrament instituted for conversion, why do we never find them recommending it as a converting ordinance, and urging persons to come to it with that view, who know themselves to be in an unconverted state? If they thought that any such have a right before God, and may come to it with a good conscience, why do we find them so solemnly warning all that are truly convinced of their remaining yet in a natural state, to refrain coming to the Lord’s table in their unbelief and impenitence; as if they judged it a sinful and dangerous thing for them to come under such circumstances? I know Mr. Stoddard, in his Appeal, disputes the fact. But it has occurred to me in abundance of instances, while reviewing my authors on this occasion.
Among the foreign protestants in Germany, France, &c. I shall name but two out of many instances before me. The Heidelberg or Palatine Catechism, which had the solemn approbation of the synod of Dort, and was especially praised by the divines of Great Britain; which has been in a manner universally received and taught, formerly in Scotland, and still all over Holland, and by reason of its excellency has been translated into no less than thirteen several languages; this is most express in claiming the Lord’s supper for a special privilege of such as have true faith and repentance; and forbidding it to hypocrites, as well as scandalous persons, declaring that none such ought to come. See the eighty-first and other questions and answers, with Ursin’s Latin Explications, and De Witte’s English Catechizings thereon. Here, Sir, indeed you have the judgment of a multitude in one. Another celebrated book is Claude’s Historical Defence of the Reformation; in which I meet with repeated declarations of the same sentiments, perfectly on the negative side of the question in hand, but, I think, too many and too long to be here transcribed.—The language of some of them I have just now had occasion to make use of.
As for the church of Scotland, I find they have adopted the Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory, which debar all ignorant and ungodly persons from the Lord’s table, and require every one to examine himself, not only as to his knowledge, but also his faith, repentance, love, new obedience, &c.—In their books of discipline, I observe sundry passages that appropriate the sacrament to the truly penitent and faithful,
as the only proper subjects. Their national covenant, renewed
from time to time, has this clause; to the which [true reformed kirk]
we join ourselves willingly, in doctrine, faith, religion, discipline,
and use of the holy sacraments, as lively members of the same in Christ our Head, &c. And among the divines of Scotland, I find many in their sermons, sacramental speeches, and other discourses, declaring themselves strongly on the negative part in the
question before us, advising to strictness in admission to the Lord’s supper, renouncing the opinion of its being a converting ordinance, inviting only the sincere friends of Christ to it, and frequently warning professors
conscious of reigning sin and hypocrisy to forbear approaching the
Lord’s table. I might bring much to this purpose from Mr. Andrew Gray’s
book of sermons, published anno 1716; and his sermons printed anno
1746; with a preface by Mr. Willison.—So from Mr. Ebenezer Erskine’s
synodical sermon, anno 1732.—And from Mr. Ralph Erskine’s sermon on
And now to pass over to England, neither do I find reason to think the dissenters there in general are for Mr. Stoddard’s latitude. The Assembly of Divines pronounce all the ungodly, as well as ignorant, unworthy of the Lord’s table; direct to preparation for it, by examining ourselves of our being in Christ, &c. And though they declare this sacrament appointed for the relief even of the weak and doubting
Christian, who unfeignedly, desires to be found in Christ; and having directed such a one to bewail his unbelief and labour to have his doubts resolved, they assert that so doing he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, to be further strengthened: yet I do not find any appearance of a hint, as if others who know themselves to be in a natural state, or are conscious of their being certainly graceless, may and ought to come to this
ordinance, that they may be converted. Nay, they expressly declare of all ungodly persons, that while they remain such, they cannot without
great sin against Christ partake of those holy mysteries.—As to
particular divines, I find multitudes of them among the dissenters, in
later as well as former times, expressing the same sentiments:
distinguishing between natural and instituted duties, between initial
and confirming means, between special ordinances and
common: and declaring the Lord’s supper a disciple-privilege, peculiar to such as have disciple-properties, and admonishing as well the close hypocrite, as the more gross, of the sin and danger of coming to it in his unregenerate state, impenitent and unbelieving. Thus Mr. Bolton, in his discourse on the Wedding Supper and the Wedding Garment, warns the graceless not to come to the Lord’s supper; affirming, that an unsanctified presence will be
found as bad as a profane absence.—Mr. Baxter, in his Five Disputations, has much that runs in the same strain; so in his Reformed Liturgy, and in his Christian Concord, where we have his brethren joining their testimony with his. Likewise Mr. Charnock, in his discourse of the Subjects of the Lord’s Supper—Mr. Palmer, in his Scripture—Rail to the Lord’s Table—Mr. Saunders, in his Anti—Diatribe—Mr. Langley, in his Suspension Reviewed—Mr.
Doolittle, Mr. Henry, Dr. Earle, and others, in their books on the Lord’s Supper—Mr. Shower, in his Sacramental Discourses—Mr. Flavel, in his sermon on Gospel—Unity, and other pieces—Mr. Philip Henry, and Mr. Trosse, in the accounts of their Lives—Dr. Calamy, in his discourse on Vows, and his Defence of Nonconformity—Mr. Simon Browne, in the Continuation of Henry’s Exposition, on
In fine, even those who appear advocates for a latitude in admissions to the communion, I observe, generally in the course of the argument offer such distinctions, or make such concessions, as seem by fair consequence a giving up of the point, at least as stated in the present question. For they usually distinguish between a right in foro Dei and in foro ecclesiæ; accordingly treat these as two different questions, Who ought to come? and, Who ought to be admitted? considering the latter as an ecclesiastical case, and here they assert a latitude; but the former, as a case of conscience, of private reference only, and here they grant a limitation. How large soever their principles, while taking the case in its ecclesiastical view, yet I have met with very few divines, that taking it as a private case of conscience, have gone Mr. Stoddard’s length, in asserting, that some unsanctified men have right before God to the Lord’s supper, and may come with a good conscience, yea, ought to come, notwithstanding they know themselves at the same time to be in a natural condition. This he declares in his Doctrine of Instituted Churches, and confirms in his Sermon and Appeal. But then he has made some concessions, which seem to be subversive of his opinion. For he expressly allows, that the sacrament by institution supposes communicants to be visible saints; and this title of visible saints he assigns to “such as have a visible union to Christ, such as are in the judgment of rational charity believers, such as carry themselves so that there is reason to look upon them to be saints.” Now, taking the case as a private case of conscience, (in which light only Mr. Stoddard professes to have designed to consider it in his sermon, and not at all as an ecclesiastical case,) I think, this visibility of saintship immediately respects the proponant for the Lord’s table, and must be referred to his own private judgment of himself. But then, how can there be a visibility of saintship in the eve of the man’s own conscience, when at the same time he knows himself to be in a natural condition? Or how can a man come to the Lord’s table with a good conscience, as having right before God, while he cannot form so much as a judgment of rational charity for himself; seeing he carries so, in the view of his own conscience, that he has no reason to look on himself to be a saint, nay, even knows he is still in a natural state, and therefore in the eye of his own impartial judgment is not such a one as the sacrament by institution supposes the communicant to be? Moreover, Mr. Stoddard, in describing visible saints, inserts into their character a serious profession of the true religion, which he sometimes calls a profession of faith and repentance, morally sincere: and in his Doctrine of Instituted Churches, (p. 19.) he lays down a remarkable position, in these words, such a profession as being sincere makes a man a real saint, being morally sincere makes a man a visible saint. Now according to this, it seems to me, the profession itself, whether evangelically or morally sincere, is always of a uniform tenor; having one and the same thing for the matter of it; and not respecting, in the different cases, a religion specifically different, or a faith and repentance of a higher and a lower kind. But then it is quite beyond me to comprehend, how a man who knows himself to be in a natural condition, can be so much as morally sincere in his profession, while it is in its matter and tenor such a profession as being (evangelically) sincere makes a man a real saint. For if he knows himself to be in a natural condition, he then as certainly knows he hath not (in the principle or exercise) that faith and repentance, which is the just matter of such a profession: and how therefore can he be reasonably supposed, with any degree of moral sincerity, to make such a profession, when for the matter of it, it is the very same profession he would make, if he knew himself to be a real saint? Can a person in any sound gospel sense profess 482 himself a saint or believing penitent, and herein speak the truth with a common moral honesty, while yet he knows himself to be destitute of all such characters in the sight of God and conscience, being still in a natural condition, and under the dominion of unbelief and impenitence? For my own part, I must confess this a difficulty in Mr. Stoddard’s scheme, that I am not capable of solving. His favourite hypothesis, I think, must fall, if his position stands, and his concessions be abode by; which serve clearly to determine the present question in the negative, agreeable to the general sense of protestant churches and divines.
Quest. III. Whether it be not the general opinion, that persons admitted to the Lord’s table ought to profess saving faith and repentance; meaning that faith and repentance, which are the terms of the covenant of grace?
Answ. I believe, after what has been already offered, we need be at no loss to know the mind of the generality respecting the subject of this inquiry. Were there occasion for it, I could easily produce a cloud of witnesses, to evidence that the general opinion is on the affirmative side, in this question. Repeated searches have been made by diligent and impartial inquirers, who though of varying judgment and practice in church-discipline, yet agree in their reports: and from them I will give you the following attestations.
Mr. Lob (in his True Dissenter) tells us, It is the judgment of all the Nonconformists, that nothing less than the profession of saving faith, credibly significant of the thing professed, gives right to church-communion. And this he declares to be the rule of all protestants in general. He brings even Mr. Humphrey (though opposite in judgment) for his voucher: who acknowledges, that the visible church is defined by a profession of true regenerate faith, and of no less than that, according to the most general opinion of protestant divines. He speaks of it as the common opinion, that a profession of no less than true grace or justifying faith is the rule of admission to the church-sacraments. And though Mr. Humphrey went off from the received opinion, yet could he not come into Mr. Blake’s notions in this matter, who also had gone off from it, nor hope for their vindication: hence he makes that challenge, What man is there, that dares revive Mr. Blake’s cause, and defend it against Mr. Barter’s right to sacraments?
Mr. Baxter in this his book very copiously argues a profession of saving faith, as the rule of admission to the sacraments, and much insists on its being so by the unanimous consent of judicious divines. He tells us, Mr. Gataker in his books has largely proved this by a multitude of quotations from protestant writers. And he adds his own testimony, repeatedly saying, It is indeed their most common doctrine—It is the common protestant doctrine. And again, Certain I am, this is the common doctrine of reformed divines. He subjoins, I must profess, that I do not know of any one protestant divine, reputed orthodox, of the contrary judgment, before Dr. Ward and Mr. Blake, though some papists and Arminians I knew of that mind. And again, (beside Sir Henry Vane,) he says, All that I know of, since Dr. Ward, is Mr. Blake, Mr. Humphrey, and one John Timson; and John Timson, Mr. Humphrey, and Mr. Blake. He alleges Mr. Vines, as thus witnessing in the case on his side. To this purpose all our learned divines have given their suffrage: I need not authors or churches. It is so plain a case, that I wonder those [of the contrary opinion] have not taken notice of it, there is an army to a man against them.
Mr. Langley, in his Suspension Reviewed, observes, The concurrent judgment of divines, English and foreign, episcopal and presbyterian, that a man of vast and digested reading, the learned Mr. Baxter, hath demonstrated at large in sixty testimonies; sundry of which have many in them, being the judgment of many churches and many learned men therein; and more might easily be brought. In short, he calls it the old protestant doctrine asserted against the papists; and wonders at the confidence of the men, who tell us, against our own eyes, that it is a novelism.
To these attestations I subjoin that of our Mr. Mitchel, (in his introduction before the Defence of the Synod, 1662,) who while asserting a different latitude of the two sacraments, yet pleads for strictness in admissions to the Lord’s table; and testifies, It is most evident, that godly reforming divines have in their doctrine unanimously taught, and in their practice (many of them) endeavoured, a strict selection of those who should be admitted to the Lord’s supper. I think it may he not improperly observed here, that in a manuscript, drawn up by this eminent person for his own satisfaction, and inserted in the account of his life, he has left his solemn testimony against a lax mode of profession, (exclusive of all examinations and confessions, of a practical and experimental nature,) as having been found by plentiful experience a nurse of formality and irreligion. At the same time declaring his judgment, with a particular eye to the churches of New England, that the power of godliness will be lost, if only doctrinal knowledge and outward behaviour come to be accounted sufficient for a title to all church-privileges; and the use of practical confessions and examinations of men’s spiritual estate be laid aside. For (says he) that which people see to be publicly required and held in reputation, that will they look after, and usually no more. In another place he observes, this will not only lose the power of godliness, but in a little time bring in profaneness and ruin the churches, these two ways. (1.) Election of ministers will soon be carried by a formal looser sort. (2.) The exercise of discipline will by this means be impossible.—And discipline failing, profaneness riseth like a flood. Agreeably he says elsewhere; Certain it is, that we stand for the purity of the churches, when we stand for such qualifications as we do, in those whom we would admit to full communion; and do withstand those notions and reasonings that would infer a laxness therein, which hath apparent peril in it. In sum, (says he,) we make account that we shall be near about the middle-way of church reformation, if we keep baptism within the compass of the non-excommunicable, and the Lord’s supper within the compass of those that have (unto charity) somewhat of the power of godliness, or grace in exercise. For Mr. Mitchel, as he thought faith in the special and lively exercise thereof necessary to a safe and comfortable participation of the Lord’s supper, so he judged an appearance of this unto rational charity, judging by positive sensible signs and evidences, justly required in order to admission into full communion. Whereas, he thought baptism annexed to initial faith, or faith in the being of it; the charitable judgment whereof (says he) runs upon a great latitude; and he conceived the same strictness, as to outward signs, not necessary unto a charitable probable judgment, or hope of the being of faith, which entitles to baptism, as of that growth and special exercise of faith, which is requisite to the Lord’s supper. These are the main distinctions, on which he grounded his opinion of a different latitude of the two sacraments. For I must observe, as strenuously as he pleads for a various extent, as to the subjects of them, he never supposes any adult regularly admittable to either sacrament, but such as in ecclesiastical reputation sustain the character of believers; such as in the account of a rational charity (judging by probable signs) have the being of regeneration; or as he variously expresses it, have true faith, in the judgment of charity; and do in some measure perform the duties of faith and obedience, as to church-visibility and charitable hope; and therefore are such as the church ought to receive and hold as heirs of the grace of life, according to the rules of christian charity. Though it seems Mr. Shepard before him speaks of his church charity and experimental charity; so Mr. Mitchel had his positive charity and his negative, and conducted his judgment and administrations accordingly, in admitting persons to the one sacrament or the other. I should not have been so prolix and particular here, but that I thought it might serve to prepare the way for a more easy, short, and intelligible answer to your remaining queries.
Quest. IV. Whether it be the general opinion of protestant churches and divines, in the case of adult persons, that the terms of admission to both sacraments are the same?
ANSW. I presume, Sir, the question does not respect a sameness in the degree of qualifications, experiences, and 483 evidences; but only a sameness in kind, or for the substance and general nature of things. I suppose, you had no view here to any such critical distinction as that before mentioned, between an initial faith and a grown faith; or between the simple being of faith, which entitleth to baptism, and the special exercise of faith, which fits for the Lord’s supper; nor aim at a nice adjustment of the several characters of visibility, or motives of credibility, in the one case and the other, but only intend in general to inquire, whether persons admittable to one or other sacrament, ought to profess true justifying faith, and not be admitted on the profession of any faith of a kind inferior and specifically different. Now, taking this to be the scope of your question, I have good reason to apprehend, that the generality of protestant churches and divines, of the Calvinistic persuasion especially, have declared themselves for the affirmative.
I think all that hold the visible christian church ought to consist of such as make a visible and credible profession of faith and holiness, and appear to rational charity real members of the church invisible, (which is the common language of protestants,) are to be understood as in principle exploding the conceit of a conscious unbeliever’s right before God to special church-ordinances, and as denying the apparent unbeliever’s right before the church to admission, whether to one sacrament or the other. I observe, Eadem est ratio utriusque sacramenti, is a maxim (in its general notion) espoused by the several contending parties in this controversy about a right to sacraments.
That a credible profession of saving faith and repentance is necessary to baptism, in the case of the adult, I can show, by the authority of Claude’s approved Defence of the Reformation, to be the general opinion of French protestants; and by the Palatine Catechism, by the Leyden Professors’ Synopsis, &c. to be the prevailing judgment of the reformed in Germany, Holland, and foreign parts.
And for the Dissenters in England, that they are in general of the same judgment, I might prove from the Assembly of Divines’ Confession, Catechisms, and Directory; and from the Heads of Agreement assented to by the United Ministers, formerly distinguished by the names of Presbyterian and Congregational; as also by a large induction of particular instances among divines of every denomination, would it not carry me to too great a
length. I find Mr. Lob (in his True Dissenter) assuring us in general, “It is held by the dissenters, that nothing less than the profession of a saving faith gives a right to baptism.“
Nor do I see, by their writings of a later date and most in vogue, any
just grounds to suppose a general change of sentiments among them. I
will mention two or three moderns of distinguished name. Dr. Harris (in
his Self-Dedication) tells us, The nature of the Lord’s supper
plainly supposes faith; and that none but real Christians have right in the sight of God; though a credible profession entitles to it in the sight of the church, who cannot know the heart. And he declares it the same faith, which qualifies the adult, both for baptism and for the Lord’s supper; there being the same common nature to both sacraments, and the latter only a recognising the former. The late Dr. Watts (in his Holiness
of Times, Places, and People) says, The christian church receives none but upon profession of true faith in Christ, and sincere repentance; none but those who profess to be members of the invisible church, and in a judgment of charity are to be so esteemed. Our entrance into it is appointed to be by a visible profession of our being born of God, of real faith in Christ, of true repentance, and inward holiness. In fine, to name no more, Dr. Doddridge
(in his Family Expositor, on
And for the church of Scotland, Mr. Anderson, who well understood their principles and practice, assures us, (in his Defence of them,) that presbyterians will not baptize without a previous profession or sponsor. To the adult (says he) it is not only necessary (as it is also in infants) that they be internally sanctified, but also that they make an outward profession, of which baptism is the badge and token. To justify this, he observes concerning the catechumens in primitive times, that during all that state they were probationers, not only as to their knowledge, but piety; and were obliged, before they could be admitted to baptism, to give moral evidences of the grace of God in their hearts. And he advances it as a presbyterian principle, that faith and repentance are prerequired to baptism, in adult persons at least. By this he points out the true matter of baptismal profession: and then in opposition to such as pretend baptism to be a converting ordinance, he observes, If they can have faith and repentance without the Spirit and spiritual regeneration, which they say is not obtained but in and by baptism, I do not see why they may not go to heaven without the Spirit and spiritual regeneration: for I am sure, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, is the sum of the gospel.—Mr. Warden, another of their noted writers, (in his Essay on Baptism,) says in the name of presbyterians, We think that baptism supposeth men Christians; else they have no right to baptism, the seal of Christianity; all seals, in their nature, supposing the thing that is sealed. He that is of adult age, is to profess his faith in Christ, and his compliance with the whole device of salvation, before he can have the seal of the covenant administered to him. The author of the Defence of National Churches, (thought to be Mr. Willison,) says, I know nothing more requisite to admission to the Lord’s supper, in foro ecclesiastico, than unto baptism in an adult person; they being both seals of the same covenant. And he thinks the objects of church-fellowship are “all who profess to accept the offers of Christ’s grace, with subjection to his ordinances, and a suitable walk, and who confess themselves sincere.”
I have reserved Mr. Baxter for my last witness, because his attestation is comprehensive and of a general aspect. In his Disputations of Right to Sacraments, and other writings, he repeatedly declares, “It hath been the constant principle and practice of the universal church of Christ, to require a profession of saving faith and repentance, as necessary before they would baptize; and not to baptize any upon the profession of any lower kind of faith. He must shut his eyes against the fullest evidence of history and church-practice, who will deny this. I desire those otherwise—minded to help me to an instance of any one approved baptism, since Christ’s time or his apostles, upon the account of a faith that was short of justifying, and not upon the profession of a justifying faith. Hitherto this is not done by them, but the contrary is fully done by others, and yet they confidently except against my opinion as a novelty. Mr. Gataker’s books have multitudes of sentences recited out of our protestant divines, that affirm this which they call new. It is indeed the common protestant doctrine, that the sacraments do presuppose remission of sins, and our faith; that they are instituted to signify these as in being; and do solemnize and publicly own and confirm the mutual covenant already entered in heart. The Jesuits themselves do witness this to be the ordinary protestant doctrine.—It seems not necessary to mention the judgment of our reformed divines, as expressed in any of their particular sayings, when their public confessions and practices are so satisfactory herein.” Mr. Baxter, however, recites a multitude of their testimonies; producing the judgment of Luther, Calvin, Beza, Pet. Martyr, Piscator, Melancthon, Altingius, Junius, Polanus, Zanchius, Ursinus, Paræus, Bucanus, Musculus, Professores Leyd. et Salm. Wollebius, Vossius, Wendeline, Keckerman, Bullinger, Alsted, Deodate, Dr. Ames, Dr. Moulin; The Catechism of the Church of England, and English Divines; Bp. Usher, Dr. Willet, Dr. Fulk, Dr. Prideaux, Dr. Whitaker, Mr. Yates, Perkins, Cartwright, &c.; The Scottish Church in their Heads of Church-policy, and Divines of Scotland; Mr. Gillespie, Mr. Rutherford, and Mr. Wood; The Westminster Assembly of Divines, their Confession, Catechisms, and Directory; The Annot of some of those Divines, &c. And for the reformed churches in general (Mr. Baxter observes) it is past all question, by their constant practice, that they require the profession of a 484 saving christian faith, and take not up with any lower. And respecting the then practice in England, he says, This is manifest by our daily administration of baptism. I never heard (says he) any man baptize an infant but upon the parent’s, or susceptor’s, or offerer’s profession of a justifying faith.
This leads to your last inquiry.
Quest. V. Whether it be the general opinion, that the same qualifications are required in a parent bringing his child to baptism, as in an adult person for his own admission to this ordinance?
ANSW. Here, Sir, I suppose you intend only the same qualifications in kind; or a profession and visibility, in some degree, of the same sort of faith and repentance; meaning that which is truly evangelical and saving. And understanding you in this sense, I am persuaded, by all I can observe, that the generality of protestants are in the affirmative; not assenting to a specific and essential difference, whatever circumstantial and gradual disparity they may allow, between the two cases you mention.
Mr. Baxter, speaking of the judgment and practice of the christian fathers, tells us, that faith (justifying faith, and not another kind of faith) was supposed to be in the parent, for himself and his seed: because the condition or qualification of the infant is but this, that he be the seed of a believer. And he thinks the generality of the reformed are in these sentiments. He declares his own judgment in full concurrence herewith, and backs the same with a variety of arguments, in his Five Disputations, and other writings. He observes, it seems strange to him that any should imagine, a lower belief in the parent will help his child to a title to baptism, than that which is necessary to his own, if he were unbaptized; because mutual consent is necessary to mutual covenant, and the covenant must be mutual. No man hath right to God’s part, that refuseth his own: they that have no right to remission of sins, have no right given them by God to baptism. If God be not at all actually obliged in covenant to any ungodly man, then he is not obliged to give him baptism: but God is not obliged so to him. Most of our divines make the contrary doctrine Pelagianism, that God should be obliged to man in a state of nature in such a covenant. If the parent’s title be questionable, (says he,) the infant’s is so too; because the ground is the same: and it is from the parent that the child must derive it; nor can any man give that which he hath not. We ought not (says he) to baptize those persons, or their children, as theirs, who are visible members of the kingdom of the devil, or that do not so much as profess their forsaking the devil’s kingdom: but such are all that profess not a saving faith. If such are not visibly in the kingdom of the devil, at least they are not visibly out of it. All that are duly baptized, are baptized into Christ; therefore they are supposed to possess that faith by which men are united or ingrafted into Christ: but that is only justifying faith. Tell me (says he) where any man was ever said in Scripture to be united to Christ, without saving faith, or profession of it. In a word, Mr. Baxter takes occasion to declare himself in this manner: If Mr. Blake exacts not a profession of saving faith and repentance, I say he makes foul work in the church. And when such foul work shall be voluntarily maintained, and the word of God abused for the defilement of the church and ordinances of God, it is a greater scandal to the weak, and to the schismatics, and a greater reproach to the church, and a sadder case to considerate men, than the too common pollutions of others, which are merely through negligence, but not justified and defended.
We are told by other impartial inquirers, that all the reformed do in their directories and practices require professions, as well as promises, of parents bringing their children to baptism; even professions of present faith and repentance, as well as promises of future obedience; and these not merely of the moral, but the evangelical kind. The judgment of the church of Scotland may be known by their adopting the Confession, Catechisms, and Directory of the Assembly of Divines; who, when they require a parental profession, (as in their Catechisms, &c.) intend it not of any lower kind, than a true gospel faith and obedience. The mind of the dissenters may be very much judged of by the reformed liturgy, presented in their name upon King Charles’s restoration; where parents’ credible profession of their faith, repentance, and obedience, is required in order to the baptism of their children. I might bring further evidence from the writings of particular divines among them, ancient and modern; but I must for brevity omit this. Only I will give you a specimen in two or three hints. Mr. Charnock, that great divine, observes, “Baptism supposes faith in the adult, and the profession of faith in the parent for his child.” The late eminent Dr. Watts, in his Holiness of Times, Places, and People, thus declares himself, with respect to the infants of true believers: “In my opinion, so far as they are any way members of the visible christian church, it is upon supposition of their being (with their parents) members of the invisible church of God.”
On the whole, as to our fathers here in New England, it is true, they asserted a baptism-right in parents for themselves and children, whom yet they excluded from full communion; the ground of which difference was hinted before: and they denied a parity of reason between the two cases now in view, on some accounts. Their chief ground was, that adult baptism requires a measure of visible moral fitness or inherent holiness in the recipient; whereas, infant baptism requires nothing visible in its subject, but a relative fitness or federal holiness, the formalis ratio of infant membership, accruing from God’s charter of grace to his church, taking in the infant seed with the believing parent. Baptism they supposed to run parallel with regular membership; and the child of such a parent entitled to this covenant-seal in its own right, on the foot of a distinct personal membership, derivative in point of being, but independent for its duration, and for the privileges annexed to it by divine institution. However, they certainly owned parental profession, as belonging to the due order and just manner of administration, both meet and needful. Accordingly they provided, that parents claiming covenant-privileges for their children, should own their covenant-state, have a measure of covenant-qualifications, and do covenant-duties, in some degree, to the satisfaction of a rational charity. And it ought to be remembered, they have left it as their solemn judgment, that even taking baptism-right for a right of fitness in foro ecclesiastico, still the parents whose children they claimed baptism for, were such as must be allowed to have a title to it for themselves, in case they had remained unbaptized: looking upon them, although not duly fitted for the sacrament of communion and confirmation, yet sufficiently so for the sacrament of union and initiation; professors in their infancy parentally, and now personally, in an initial way; appearing Abraham’s children, in some measure of truth, to a judicious charity; justly therefore baptizable, in their persons and offspring, by all the rules of the gospel. I am not here to argue upon the justness of this scheme of thought on the case; but only to represent the fact in a genuine light.
I have no room, Sir, for any further remarks. But must conclude, with christian salutes, and the tender of every brotherly office, from
Your very affectionate Friend
and humble Servant,
June 26, 1749.