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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 more especially 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, in 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, John xv. 24.. Who of all persons have the greatest sin, and are most to God’s dishonour.
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. 2 Cor. xiii. 5. “Know ye not your ownselves?” John xxi. 15. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” and many other places. Nor is the nature of godliness less made known, that the true doctrines of religion. Piety of heart, in the more essential things belonging to it, is as clearly revealed, as the doctrines concerning the nature of God, and person of the Messiah, and the method of his redemption.
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, John i. 47. “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile;” that is, a truly gracious person; implying, that those of God’s professing people, who are not gracious, are guileful, and deceitful in their profession. So sinners in Zion, or in God’s visible church, are called hypocrites. Isa. xxxiii. 14. “The sinners in Zion are afraid, fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites.” Isa. xi. 17. “Every one is an hypocrite and an evil-doer.” So they are called lying children, Isa. xxx. 9. and chap. lix. 13. and are represented as lying, in pretending to be of the temple or church of God. Jer. vii. 2, 4. “Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the Lord.—Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.” These are spoken of as falsely calling themselves of the holy city, Isa. xlviii. 1, 2.. They are called silverdross, and reprobate or refuse silver, (Ezek. xxii. 18.. Jer. vi. 30..) which glisters and shows like true silver, but has not its inward worth. So they are compared to adulterated wine, Isa. i. 22.. and to trees full of leaves, bidding fair for fruitfulness, Matt. xxi. 19.. Clouds that look as if they were full of rain, yet bring nothing but wind, Jude 12.. Wells without water, that do but cheat the thirsty traveller, 2 Pet. ii. 13.. A deceitful bow, that appears good, but fails the archer, Psal. lxxviii. 57.. Hos. vii. 16..—Mr. Stoddard, in his Appeal to the Learned, from time to time, supposes all visible saints, who are not truly pious, to be hypocrites, as in page 15, 17, 18.
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. Psal. li. 6. “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts.” It is called truth with reference to some declaration or profession made by God’s visible people; but on the hypothesis which I oppose, common grace is as properly truth in the inward parts, in this respect, as saving grace. God says concerning Israel, Deut. xxxii. 5. “Their spot is not the spot of his children.” God here speaks of himself, as it were, disappointed; the words having reference to some profession they had made. For why should the remark be made, after this manner, that spots appeared upon them, and showed marks that they were not his children, if they never pretended to be his children, and never were accepted under any such notion to any of the privileges of his people?
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. Isa. lxiii. 8, 9, 10. “For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie. So he was their Saviour: in all their affliction he was afflicted. But they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy.” The same is represented in many other places. I suppose that God speaks after this manner, because, in his present external dealings with his visible people, he does not act in the capacity of the Searcher of hearts, but accommodates himself to their nature, and the present state and circumstances of his church, and speaks to them and treats them after the manner of men, and deals with them in their own way. 559559 This distinction is too vague. A more satisfactory reason is, that the very nature of moral government requires this mode of treatment. See “An Essay on Equity and Sovereignty,” throughout.—W. But supposing the case to be even thus, there would be no ground for such representations, if there were no profession of true godliness. When God is represented as trusting that men will be his faithful friends, we must understand that he trusts to their pretences. But how improperly would the matter be so represented, if there were no pretences to trust to, no pretences of any real thorough friendship! However there may be a profession of some common affection that is morally sincere, yet there is no pretence of loving him more than, yea not so much as, his enemies.—What reason to trust that they will be faithful to God as their master, when the religion they profess amounts to no more than serving two masters? What reason to trust that they will be stable in their ways, when they do not pretend to be of a single heart, and all know that the double-minded persons used to be unstable in all their ways? Those who only profess moral sincerity or common grace, do not pretend to love God above the world. And such grace is what God and man know is liable to pass away as the early dew, and the morning cloud.—If what men profess amounts to nothing beyond lukewarmness, it is not to be expected, that they will be faithful to the death. If men do not pretend to have any oil in their vessels, what cause can there be to trust that their lamps will not go out? If they do not pretend to have any root in them, what cause is there for any disappointment when they wither away.
449 When God, in the forementioned place, Isa. lxiii.. represents himself as trusting Israel’s profession, and saying, “Surely they are my people, children that will not lie;” it cannot be understood, as if he trusted that they were his people in that sense, in which the ten tribes were called God’s people after they had given up themselves to idolatry for two or three hundred years together without once repenting. But, surely they are my sincere saints and children, as they profess to be, Israelites indeed, without guile; they would not do so evil a thing as to make a lying profession. This seems to be the plain import of the words. It therefore shows that the profession they made was of real vital godliness.
The eight first verses of the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah,. I think, afford good evidence, that such qualifications are requisite in order to the privileges of a visible church state, as I have insisted on.—In the four preceding chapters we have a prophecy of gospel-times, the blessed state of things which the Messiah should introduce. The prophecy of the same times is continued in the former part of this chapter. Here we have a prophecy of the abolishing of the ceremonial law, which was a wall of separation, that kept two sorts of persons, (viz. eunuchs and Gentiles,) out from the ordinances of the church or congregation of the Lord, (for the words congregation and church are the same,) the place of whose meeting was in God’s house within God’s walls, verse 5.. and on God’s holy mountain, verse 7.. That in the ceremonial law which especially kept out the Gentiles, was the law of circumcision; and the law that the eunuch shall not enter into the congregation or church of the Lord, we have in Deut. xxiii. 1.. Now here it is foretold, that in the days when “God’s salvation shall be come, and his righteousness revealed,” by the coming of the Messiah, this wall of separation should be broken down, this ceremonial law removed out of the way; (but still taking care to note, that the law of the Sabbath shall be continued, as not being one of those ceremonial observances which shall be abolished;) and then it is declared, what is the great qualification which should be looked at in those blessed days, when these external ceremonial qualifications of circumcision and soundness of body should no more be insisted on, viz. piety of heart and practice, “joining themselves to the Lord, loving the name of the Lord, to be his servants, choosing the things that please him,” &c. Verse 3, &c. “Neither let the son of the stranger that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people; neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree; for thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant, even unto them will I give in my house, and within my walls, a place, and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give unto them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant: even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar: for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord God which gathered the outcasts of Israel, saith, Yet will I gather others to him besides those that are gathered unto him.”
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