|« Prev||OBJ. XX. Some have been converted at the…||Next »|
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 Deut. iv. 2.. Prov. xxx. 6.. And with regard to God’s blessing and succeeding ministers, have not some had remarkable experience of it in the way which I plead for, as well as some who have been for the way I oppose? However, we cannot conclude, that God sees nothing at all amiss in ministers, because he blesses them. In general, he may see those things in them which are very right and excellent; these he approves and regards, while he overlooks and pardons their mistakes in opinion or practice, and, notwithstanding these, is pleased to crown their labours with his blessing.
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.
And 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 as these, Lev. x. 10.. Jer. xv. 19.. Ezek. xxii. 26; xliv. 6-8.. And having been fully persuaded in my own mind, as to what is the scripture rule in this matter, after a most careful, painful, and long search, I am willing, in the faithful prosecution of what appears to me of such importance and so plainly the mind and will of God, to resign to his providence, and leave the event in his hand.
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.
|« Prev||OBJ. XX. Some have been converted at the…||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version