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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.
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