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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. Psal. xxvi. 4, 5. “I have not sat with vain persons, nor will I go in with dissemblers; I have hated the congregation of evil-doers, nor will I sit with the wicked.”—This will be the way to have the Lord’s table ordinarily furnished with such guests as allow themselves to live in known sin, meeting together only to crucify Christ afresh, instead of commemorating his crucifixion with the repentance, faith, gratitude, and love of friends. And this is the way to have the governing part of the church such as are not even conscientious men, and are careless about the honour and interest of religion. And the direct tendency of that is, in process of time, to introduce a prevailing negligence in discipline, and carelessness in seeking ministers of a pious and worthy character. And the next step will be, the church being filled with persons openly vicious in manners, or else scandalously erroneous in opinions. It is well if this be not already the case in fact with some churches that have long professed and practised on the principles I oppose. And if these principles should be professed and proceeded on by christian churches every where, the natural tendency of it would be, to have the greater part of what is called the church of Christ, through the world, made up of vicious and erroneous persons. And how greatly would this be to the reproach of the christian church, and of the holy name and religion of Jesus Christ in the sight of all nations! 562562 And this by the way answers another objection, which some have made, viz. That the way I plead for, tends to keep the church of Christ small, and hinder the growth of it. Whereas, I think, the contrary tends to keep it small, as it is the wickedness of its members, that above all things in the world prejudices mankind against it; and is the chief stumbling-block, that hinders the propagation of Christianity, and so the growth of the christian church. But holiness would cause the light of the church to shine so as to induce others to resort to it.
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.
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