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OBJECT. XVII.

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.

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