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Being a letter to the author, in answer to his request of information concerning the opinion of Protestant Divines and Churches in general, of the Presbyterians in Scotland and Dissenters in England in particular, respecting five questions that relate to this controversy.
rev. and dear sir,
If you look into Mr. Baxter’s controversial writings against Mr. Blake, you will meet with such accounts of principles and facts, as I think may reasonably give an inquirer much satisfaction as to the common judgment of protestant churches and divines in the points you mention. I particularly refer you to his five disputations of Right to Sacraments, and the true Nature of Visible Christianity; where all or the most of your queries are considered and answered, with a multitude of testimonies produced in favour of sentiments contrary to those of your excellent predecessor, the late Mr. Stoddard. I have not said this from any disposition to excuse myself from the labour of making some further inquiry, if it be thought needful. And as it may show my willingness to gratify your desire, I will now say something on your questions distinctly, but with as much brevity as I can.
Quest. I. What is the general opinion respecting that self-examination required in 1 Cor. xi. 28. Whether communicants are not here directed to examine themselves concerning the truth of grace, or their real godliness?
Answ. This construction of the text, as far as I have had opportunity to inquire, appears to me very generally received; if I may judge by what many celebrated expositors have said on the place, and by what many famous divines have written in treatises of preparation for the Lord’s supper, besides what is contained in public confessions, catechisms, directories, &c. I think Dr. Reynolds, in his Meditations on the Lord’s Supper, has summarily expressed the common judgment of Calvinists in these strong lines of his: “The sacrament is but a seal of the covenant; and the covenant essentially includes conditions; and the condition on our part is faith. No faith, no covenant; no covenant, no seal; no seal, no sacrament.—The matter then of this trial (says he) must be that vital qualification, which predisposeth a man for receiving of these holy mysteries; and that is faith.“
However, I may venture to be confident, that Mr. Stoddard’s gloss on the text, who tells us in his controverted sermon, “The meaning is, that a man must come solemnly to that ordinance, examining what need he has of it,“ is quite foreign from the current sense of Calvinist writers. And, though he makes a different comment in his Appeal to the Learned, saying, “The examination called for is, whether they understood the nature of the ordinance, that so they may solemnly consider what they have to do when they wait upon God in it,” neither can I find any appearance of a general consent of the learned and orthodox to this new gloss, at least as exhibiting the full meaning of the text. I might easily confront it with numerous authorities: but the Palatine Catechism, and that of the Westminster Assembly, with the common explanations and catechizings upon them, may be appealed to as instar omnium. And I shall only add here, if it be allowed a just expectation that the candidate for the communion examine himself about the same things at least as the pastor, to whom he applies for admission, ought to make the subject of his examination, then it was worth while to hear the opinion of those unnamed ministers in New England, (among whom the late Dr. Colman, I have reason to think, was the principal,) that answered Dr. Mather’s Order of the Gospel, (anno 1700,) who, in the Postscript to their Review, thus express themselves: ”We highly approve—that the proponant of the Lord’s table be examined of his baptismal vow; his sense of spiritual wants, sinfulness, and wretchedness; his hope, faith, experiences, resolutions through the grace of God.” This, I think, is something beyond Mr. Stoddard.
480 Quest. II. Whether it be the general opinion of those aforesaid, that some who know themselves to be unregenerate, and under the reigning power of sin, ought notwithstanding, in such a state, to come to the Lord’s table?
Answ. I am aware, Sir, though you have seen fit to take no notice of it to me, that Mr. Stoddard (in his Doctrine of Instituted Churches) is peremptory in the affirmative; but I have met with no author among Calvinists, at home or abroad, consenting with him, unless it be Mr. Blake, and some that were for a promiscuous admission, with little or no limitation. If divines in general, of the Calvinistic character, were for such a latitude as Mr. Stoddard’s, what can we suppose to be the reason, that in treating on the Lord’s supper, they so constantly consider it as one of the rights of the church, belonging to the truly faithful alone, exclusively of all others? Why do we hear them declaring, It is certain that the right of external fellowship resides in the faithful only: and as to the rest, they are in that communion only by accident, and it is also only by accident that they are suffered there; but being what they are, they have not any part in the rights of that society properly belonging to them? If they thought the sacrament instituted for conversion, why do we never find them recommending it as a converting ordinance, and urging persons to come to it with that view, who know themselves to be in an unconverted state? If they thought that any such have a right before God, and may come to it with a good conscience, why do we find them so solemnly warning all that are truly convinced of their remaining yet in a natural state, to refrain coming to the Lord’s table in their unbelief and impenitence; as if they judged it a sinful and dangerous thing for them to come under such circumstances? I know Mr. Stoddard, in his Appeal, disputes the fact. But it has occurred to me in abundance of instances, while reviewing my authors on this occasion.
Among the foreign protestants in Germany, France, &c. I shall name but two out of many instances before me. The Heidelberg or Palatine Catechism, which had the solemn approbation of the synod of Dort, and was especially praised by the divines of Great Britain; which has been in a manner universally received and taught, formerly in Scotland, and still all over Holland, and by reason of its excellency has been translated into no less than thirteen several languages; this is most express in claiming the Lord’s supper for a special privilege of such as have true faith and repentance; and forbidding it to hypocrites, as well as scandalous persons, declaring that none such ought to come. See the eighty-first and other questions and answers, with Ursin’s Latin Explications, and De Witte’s English Catechizings thereon. Here, Sir, indeed you have the judgment of a multitude in one. Another celebrated book is Claude’s Historical Defence of the Reformation; in which I meet with repeated declarations of the same sentiments, perfectly on the negative side of the question in hand, but, I think, too many and too long to be here transcribed.—The language of some of them I have just now had occasion to make use of.
As for the church of Scotland, I find they have adopted the Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory, which debar all ignorant and ungodly persons from the Lord’s table, and require every one to examine himself, not only as to his knowledge, but also his faith, repentance, love, new obedience, &c.—In their books of discipline, I observe sundry passages that appropriate the sacrament to the truly penitent and faithful, as the only proper subjects. Their national covenant, renewed from time to time, has this clause; to the which [true reformed kirk] we join ourselves willingly, in doctrine, faith, religion, discipline, and use of the holy sacraments, as lively members of the same in Christ our Head, &c. And among the divines of Scotland, I find many in their sermons, sacramental speeches, and other discourses, declaring themselves strongly on the negative part in the question before us, advising to strictness in admission to the Lord’s supper, renouncing the opinion of its being a converting ordinance, inviting only the sincere friends of Christ to it, and frequently warning professors conscious of reigning sin and hypocrisy to forbear approaching the Lord’s table. I might bring much to this purpose from Mr. Andrew Gray’s book of sermons, published anno 1716; and his sermons printed anno 1746; with a preface by Mr. Willison.—So from Mr. Ebenezer Erskine’s synodical sermon, anno 1732.—And from Mr. Ralph Erskine’s sermon on Isa. xlii. 6. and his discourse on fencing the tables, annexed to his sermon on John xvi. 15..—So from Mr. Willison’s synodical sermon, anno 1733; where he sets down a variety of searching questions (no less than twenty-seven) which he advises to be put to proponants, and their answers to be waited for, before they are admitted.—The anonymous author of a Defence of National Churches against the Independents, (who is reputed to be Mr. Willison,) asserts it as a presbyterian principle, that none have right before God to the complete communion of the church, but such as have grace; and that none are to be admitted but those who are saints, at least in profession; such as profess to accept of the offers of Christ’s grace, &c. and confess themselves to be sincere. Mr. Aytone, in his Review, against Mr. Glas, owns that the Lord’s supper is not a formal mean of conversion, but of further growth and nourishment to those already converted. In the same strain is Mr. Nasmith’s Treatise of the Entail of the Covenant.—And Mr. Warden’s Essay on Baptism. In a word, I find Mr. Currie (in his synodical sermon, anno 1732) testifying of the ministers in Scotland, that they are tender (i. e. circumspect and cautious) in admitting people to the holy table of the Lord; knowing the design of the ordinance is not conversion, but confirmation; and he observes, that all who approve themselves to God here, will a thousand times rather choose to have, was it but one table or half a table of honest communicants, true believers and real saints, than have a hundred tables, by admitting any that are unworthy, (or Christless souls, as he anon characterizes them,) of whom there are not moral evidences of their fitness for this holy ordinance. And for the commendable practice of the church of Scotland, in being pointed and particular in debarring the unworthy from this ordinance, (says he,) God forbid ever it turn into desuetude. I think I may here not unfitly subjoin those remarkable passages in Mr. Anderson’s excellent Defence of the Presbyterians, against Mr. Rhind; where he informs us, they look upon this holy ordinance as the common privilege of the faithful; and therefore they usually fence the Lord’s table, in the words of Scripture, 1 Cor. vi. 9. or some such-like. To exclude the impenitent from the privilege of gospel-mysteries; to debar those from the Lord’s table, whom the Lord has, by the express sentence of his word, debarred out of the kingdom of heaven, is what every one, who is not quite lost in impiety, must own to be not only lawful, but a duty. Upon which I beg leave to observe, according to this principle I do not see but that a man who with apparent signs of credibility confesses himself habitually impenitent, ought to be debarred from the Lord’s table: and surely, by parity of reason, he that knows himself to be unregenerate, ought to refrain coming, since there can be no true repentance without regeneration. I think we have no just grounds to suppose Mr. Stoddard’s principle in this matter has hitherto any general prevalence in the church of Scotland.
And now to pass over to England, neither do I find reason to think the dissenters there in general are for Mr. Stoddard’s latitude. The Assembly of Divines pronounce all the ungodly, as well as ignorant, unworthy of the Lord’s table; direct to preparation for it, by examining ourselves of our being in Christ, &c. And though they declare this sacrament appointed for the relief even of the weak and doubting Christian, who unfeignedly, desires to be found in Christ; and having directed such a one to bewail his unbelief and labour to have his doubts resolved, they assert that so doing he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, to be further strengthened: yet I do not find any appearance of a hint, as if others who know themselves to be in a natural state, or are conscious of their being certainly graceless, may and ought to come to this ordinance, that they may be converted. Nay, they expressly declare of all ungodly persons, that while they remain such, they cannot without great sin against Christ partake of those holy mysteries.—As to particular divines, I find multitudes of them among the dissenters, in later as well as former times, expressing the same sentiments: distinguishing between natural and instituted duties, between initial 481 and confirming means, between special ordinances and common: and declaring the Lord’s supper a disciple-privilege, peculiar to such as have disciple-properties, and admonishing as well the close hypocrite, as the more gross, of the sin and danger of coming to it in his unregenerate state, impenitent and unbelieving. Thus Mr. Bolton, in his discourse on the Wedding Supper and the Wedding Garment, warns the graceless not to come to the Lord’s supper; affirming, that an unsanctified presence will be found as bad as a profane absence.—Mr. Baxter, in his Five Disputations, has much that runs in the same strain; so in his Reformed Liturgy, and in his Christian Concord, where we have his brethren joining their testimony with his. Likewise Mr. Charnock, in his discourse of the Subjects of the Lord’s Supper—Mr. Palmer, in his Scripture—Rail to the Lord’s Table—Mr. Saunders, in his Anti—Diatribe—Mr. Langley, in his Suspension Reviewed—Mr. Doolittle, Mr. Henry, Dr. Earle, and others, in their books on the Lord’s Supper—Mr. Shower, in his Sacramental Discourses—Mr. Flavel, in his sermon on Gospel—Unity, and other pieces—Mr. Philip Henry, and Mr. Trosse, in the accounts of their Lives—Dr. Calamy, in his discourse on Vows, and his Defence of Nonconformity—Mr. Simon Browne, in the Continuation of Henry’s Exposition, on 1 Cor. xi. 28.—Dr. Harris, in his discourse on Self—Dedication—Dr. Jennings, in his sermons to Young People.—I could, from all these authors, cite passages much to the purpose: but it would be too tedious. Yet I will give you a few hints from some others.—Dr. Williams, in his Gospel—Truth Stated, says, Though a man had it revealed to him that he is one of the elect, yet so long as he remains unregenerate, he has no right to partake of the Lord’s supper.—Dr. Guyse, in his late sermon at Mr. Gibbons’s ordination, observes, that men being church-members supposes them already to have a good work begun in them, and to be partakers of christian love, even such as proceeds from faith, in a prevailing degree; and persons (says he) that have nothing of this, ought not to be church-members.—Mr. Hall, in his Exhortation on the same occasion, remarks, that the seals of the covenant are to be used as discriminating signs of the real separation of true believers from the world; and urges to have the fence kept up, which Christ has set about his church, that it may appear to be a body wholly distinct from the world: God’s house being erected for the entertainment, not of hypocrites and dead sinners, but of the living in Jerusalem.—But says Dr. Watts, in his Humble Attempt, it is true, this cannot be practised universally and perfectly here on earth, so as to prevent some secret sinners making their way into our separate congregations, and joining with us in the most solemn ordinances; yet he declares such not really worthy of any room or place in the house of God.—And in his Holiness of Times, Places, and People, the Doctor observes, The visible christian church is founded on a supposition, that the members of it are, or should appear to be, members of the invisible: and none (says he) are to be admitted into the visible church, or esteemed complete members of it, but those who make such a declaration and profession of their faith in Christ and their avowed subjection to him, as may be supposed in a judgment of charity to manifest them to be real believers, true subjects of his spiritual kingdom, and members of the invisible church.—I find Dr. Doddridge in the same sentiments, by what he says in his Family Expositor. Thus, on the case of Ananias and Sapphira, he has this note, The church is never happier, than when the sons of falsehood are deterred from intruding into it: if its members are less numerous, it is a sufficient balance, that it is more pure. And on Simon’s case, he pronounces it to be in vain for men to profess themselves Christians, in vain to submit to baptism, &c. if their heart be not right with God. And such persons being admitted to distinguishing ordinances, he calls an evil, in the present state of things unavoidable; wishing for the happy medium, between prostituting divine ordinances by a foolish credulity, and defrauding the children of the household of their bread, by a rigorous severity and mistaken caution. He every where represents the Lord’s supper as the sacrament of nutrition, a reviving and nourishing ordinance; but never that I can find, as a regenerating or converting one. Upon the case of Judas, the Doctor observes, that if he had truly stated the order of the story, then Judas certainly went out before the Eucharist was instituted: and indeed one cannot reasonably suppose, Christ would have commanded him to drink of this cup as the blood shed for him for the remission of sins, when he had just before been declaring in effect, that his sins should never be forgiven.—By which observation, I think, Dr. Doddridge has quite demolished one of the most plausible pleas in favour of the secret and conscious hypocrite’s claim to the Lord’s supper.
In fine, even those who appear advocates for a latitude in admissions to the communion, I observe, generally in the course of the argument offer such distinctions, or make such concessions, as seem by fair consequence a giving up of the point, at least as stated in the present question. For they usually distinguish between a right in foro Dei and in foro ecclesiæ; accordingly treat these as two different questions, Who ought to come? and, Who ought to be admitted? considering the latter as an ecclesiastical case, and here they assert a latitude; but the former, as a case of conscience, of private reference only, and here they grant a limitation. How large soever their principles, while taking the case in its ecclesiastical view, yet I have met with very few divines, that taking it as a private case of conscience, have gone Mr. Stoddard’s length, in asserting, that some unsanctified men have right before God to the Lord’s supper, and may come with a good conscience, yea, ought to come, notwithstanding they know themselves at the same time to be in a natural condition. This he declares in his Doctrine of Instituted Churches, and confirms in his Sermon and Appeal. But then he has made some concessions, which seem to be subversive of his opinion. For he expressly allows, that the sacrament by institution supposes communicants to be visible saints; and this title of visible saints he assigns to “such as have a visible union to Christ, such as are in the judgment of rational charity believers, such as carry themselves so that there is reason to look upon them to be saints.” Now, taking the case as a private case of conscience, (in which light only Mr. Stoddard professes to have designed to consider it in his sermon, and not at all as an ecclesiastical case,) I think, this visibility of saintship immediately respects the proponant for the Lord’s table, and must be referred to his own private judgment of himself. But then, how can there be a visibility of saintship in the eve of the man’s own conscience, when at the same time he knows himself to be in a natural condition? Or how can a man come to the Lord’s table with a good conscience, as having right before God, while he cannot form so much as a judgment of rational charity for himself; seeing he carries so, in the view of his own conscience, that he has no reason to look on himself to be a saint, nay, even knows he is still in a natural state, and therefore in the eye of his own impartial judgment is not such a one as the sacrament by institution supposes the communicant to be? Moreover, Mr. Stoddard, in describing visible saints, inserts into their character a serious profession of the true religion, which he sometimes calls a profession of faith and repentance, morally sincere: and in his Doctrine of Instituted Churches, (p. 19.) he lays down a remarkable position, in these words, such a profession as being sincere makes a man a real saint, being morally sincere makes a man a visible saint. Now according to this, it seems to me, the profession itself, whether evangelically or morally sincere, is always of a uniform tenor; having one and the same thing for the matter of it; and not respecting, in the different cases, a religion specifically different, or a faith and repentance of a higher and a lower kind. But then it is quite beyond me to comprehend, how a man who knows himself to be in a natural condition, can be so much as morally sincere in his profession, while it is in its matter and tenor such a profession as being (evangelically) sincere makes a man a real saint. For if he knows himself to be in a natural condition, he then as certainly knows he hath not (in the principle or exercise) that faith and repentance, which is the just matter of such a profession: and how therefore can he be reasonably supposed, with any degree of moral sincerity, to make such a profession, when for the matter of it, it is the very same profession he would make, if he knew himself to be a real saint? Can a person in any sound gospel sense profess 482 himself a saint or believing penitent, and herein speak the truth with a common moral honesty, while yet he knows himself to be destitute of all such characters in the sight of God and conscience, being still in a natural condition, and under the dominion of unbelief and impenitence? For my own part, I must confess this a difficulty in Mr. Stoddard’s scheme, that I am not capable of solving. His favourite hypothesis, I think, must fall, if his position stands, and his concessions be abode by; which serve clearly to determine the present question in the negative, agreeable to the general sense of protestant churches and divines.
Quest. III. Whether it be not the general opinion, that persons admitted to the Lord’s table ought to profess saving faith and repentance; meaning that faith and repentance, which are the terms of the covenant of grace?
Answ. I believe, after what has been already offered, we need be at no loss to know the mind of the generality respecting the subject of this inquiry. Were there occasion for it, I could easily produce a cloud of witnesses, to evidence that the general opinion is on the affirmative side, in this question. Repeated searches have been made by diligent and impartial inquirers, who though of varying judgment and practice in church-discipline, yet agree in their reports: and from them I will give you the following attestations.
Mr. Lob (in his True Dissenter) tells us, It is the judgment of all the Nonconformists, that nothing less than the profession of saving faith, credibly significant of the thing professed, gives right to church-communion. And this he declares to be the rule of all protestants in general. He brings even Mr. Humphrey (though opposite in judgment) for his voucher: who acknowledges, that the visible church is defined by a profession of true regenerate faith, and of no less than that, according to the most general opinion of protestant divines. He speaks of it as the common opinion, that a profession of no less than true grace or justifying faith is the rule of admission to the church-sacraments. And though Mr. Humphrey went off from the received opinion, yet could he not come into Mr. Blake’s notions in this matter, who also had gone off from it, nor hope for their vindication: hence he makes that challenge, What man is there, that dares revive Mr. Blake’s cause, and defend it against Mr. Barter’s right to sacraments?
Mr. Baxter in this his book very copiously argues a profession of saving faith, as the rule of admission to the sacraments, and much insists on its being so by the unanimous consent of judicious divines. He tells us, Mr. Gataker in his books has largely proved this by a multitude of quotations from protestant writers. And he adds his own testimony, repeatedly saying, It is indeed their most common doctrine—It is the common protestant doctrine. And again, Certain I am, this is the common doctrine of reformed divines. He subjoins, I must profess, that I do not know of any one protestant divine, reputed orthodox, of the contrary judgment, before Dr. Ward and Mr. Blake, though some papists and Arminians I knew of that mind. And again, (beside Sir Henry Vane,) he says, All that I know of, since Dr. Ward, is Mr. Blake, Mr. Humphrey, and one John Timson; and John Timson, Mr. Humphrey, and Mr. Blake. He alleges Mr. Vines, as thus witnessing in the case on his side. To this purpose all our learned divines have given their suffrage: I need not authors or churches. It is so plain a case, that I wonder those [of the contrary opinion] have not taken notice of it, there is an army to a man against them.
Mr. Langley, in his Suspension Reviewed, observes, The concurrent judgment of divines, English and foreign, episcopal and presbyterian, that a man of vast and digested reading, the learned Mr. Baxter, hath demonstrated at large in sixty testimonies; sundry of which have many in them, being the judgment of many churches and many learned men therein; and more might easily be brought. In short, he calls it the old protestant doctrine asserted against the papists; and wonders at the confidence of the men, who tell us, against our own eyes, that it is a novelism.
To these attestations I subjoin that of our Mr. Mitchel, (in his introduction before the Defence of the Synod, 1662,) who while asserting a different latitude of the two sacraments, yet pleads for strictness in admissions to the Lord’s table; and testifies, It is most evident, that godly reforming divines have in their doctrine unanimously taught, and in their practice (many of them) endeavoured, a strict selection of those who should be admitted to the Lord’s supper. I think it may he not improperly observed here, that in a manuscript, drawn up by this eminent person for his own satisfaction, and inserted in the account of his life, he has left his solemn testimony against a lax mode of profession, (exclusive of all examinations and confessions, of a practical and experimental nature,) as having been found by plentiful experience a nurse of formality and irreligion. At the same time declaring his judgment, with a particular eye to the churches of New England, that the power of godliness will be lost, if only doctrinal knowledge and outward behaviour come to be accounted sufficient for a title to all church-privileges; and the use of practical confessions and examinations of men’s spiritual estate be laid aside. For (says he) that which people see to be publicly required and held in reputation, that will they look after, and usually no more. In another place he observes, this will not only lose the power of godliness, but in a little time bring in profaneness and ruin the churches, these two ways. (1.) Election of ministers will soon be carried by a formal looser sort. (2.) The exercise of discipline will by this means be impossible.—And discipline failing, profaneness riseth like a flood. Agreeably he says elsewhere; Certain it is, that we stand for the purity of the churches, when we stand for such qualifications as we do, in those whom we would admit to full communion; and do withstand those notions and reasonings that would infer a laxness therein, which hath apparent peril in it. In sum, (says he,) we make account that we shall be near about the middle-way of church reformation, if we keep baptism within the compass of the non-excommunicable, and the Lord’s supper within the compass of those that have (unto charity) somewhat of the power of godliness, or grace in exercise. For Mr. Mitchel, as he thought faith in the special and lively exercise thereof necessary to a safe and comfortable participation of the Lord’s supper, so he judged an appearance of this unto rational charity, judging by positive sensible signs and evidences, justly required in order to admission into full communion. Whereas, he thought baptism annexed to initial faith, or faith in the being of it; the charitable judgment whereof (says he) runs upon a great latitude; and he conceived the same strictness, as to outward signs, not necessary unto a charitable probable judgment, or hope of the being of faith, which entitles to baptism, as of that growth and special exercise of faith, which is requisite to the Lord’s supper. These are the main distinctions, on which he grounded his opinion of a different latitude of the two sacraments. For I must observe, as strenuously as he pleads for a various extent, as to the subjects of them, he never supposes any adult regularly admittable to either sacrament, but such as in ecclesiastical reputation sustain the character of believers; such as in the account of a rational charity (judging by probable signs) have the being of regeneration; or as he variously expresses it, have true faith, in the judgment of charity; and do in some measure perform the duties of faith and obedience, as to church-visibility and charitable hope; and therefore are such as the church ought to receive and hold as heirs of the grace of life, according to the rules of christian charity. Though it seems Mr. Shepard before him speaks of his church charity and experimental charity; so Mr. Mitchel had his positive charity and his negative, and conducted his judgment and administrations accordingly, in admitting persons to the one sacrament or the other. I should not have been so prolix and particular here, but that I thought it might serve to prepare the way for a more easy, short, and intelligible answer to your remaining queries.
Quest. IV. Whether it be the general opinion of protestant churches and divines, in the case of adult persons, that the terms of admission to both sacraments are the same?
ANSW. I presume, Sir, the question does not respect a sameness in the degree of qualifications, experiences, and 483 evidences; but only a sameness in kind, or for the substance and general nature of things. I suppose, you had no view here to any such critical distinction as that before mentioned, between an initial faith and a grown faith; or between the simple being of faith, which entitleth to baptism, and the special exercise of faith, which fits for the Lord’s supper; nor aim at a nice adjustment of the several characters of visibility, or motives of credibility, in the one case and the other, but only intend in general to inquire, whether persons admittable to one or other sacrament, ought to profess true justifying faith, and not be admitted on the profession of any faith of a kind inferior and specifically different. Now, taking this to be the scope of your question, I have good reason to apprehend, that the generality of protestant churches and divines, of the Calvinistic persuasion especially, have declared themselves for the affirmative.
I think all that hold the visible christian church ought to consist of such as make a visible and credible profession of faith and holiness, and appear to rational charity real members of the church invisible, (which is the common language of protestants,) are to be understood as in principle exploding the conceit of a conscious unbeliever’s right before God to special church-ordinances, and as denying the apparent unbeliever’s right before the church to admission, whether to one sacrament or the other. I observe, Eadem est ratio utriusque sacramenti, is a maxim (in its general notion) espoused by the several contending parties in this controversy about a right to sacraments.
That a credible profession of saving faith and repentance is necessary to baptism, in the case of the adult, I can show, by the authority of Claude’s approved Defence of the Reformation, to be the general opinion of French protestants; and by the Palatine Catechism, by the Leyden Professors’ Synopsis, &c. to be the prevailing judgment of the reformed in Germany, Holland, and foreign parts.
And for the Dissenters in England, that they are in general of the same judgment, I might prove from the Assembly of Divines’ Confession, Catechisms, and Directory; and from the Heads of Agreement assented to by the United Ministers, formerly distinguished by the names of Presbyterian and Congregational; as also by a large induction of particular instances among divines of every denomination, would it not carry me to too great a length. I find Mr. Lob (in his True Dissenter) assuring us in general, “It is held by the dissenters, that nothing less than the profession of a saving faith gives a right to baptism.“ Nor do I see, by their writings of a later date and most in vogue, any just grounds to suppose a general change of sentiments among them. I will mention two or three moderns of distinguished name. Dr. Harris (in his Self-Dedication) tells us, The nature of the Lord’s supper plainly supposes faith; and that none but real Christians have right in the sight of God; though a credible profession entitles to it in the sight of the church, who cannot know the heart. And he declares it the same faith, which qualifies the adult, both for baptism and for the Lord’s supper; there being the same common nature to both sacraments, and the latter only a recognising the former. The late Dr. Watts (in his Holiness of Times, Places, and People) says, The christian church receives none but upon profession of true faith in Christ, and sincere repentance; none but those who profess to be members of the invisible church, and in a judgment of charity are to be so esteemed. Our entrance into it is appointed to be by a visible profession of our being born of God, of real faith in Christ, of true repentance, and inward holiness. In fine, to name no more, Dr. Doddridge (in his Family Expositor, on Acts viii. 37..) supposes a credible profession of their faith in Christ required of the adult in apostolic times, in order to their being admitted to baptism; even such (says he) as implied their cordially subjecting their souls to the gospel, and their being come to a point, so as to give up themselves to Christ with all their heart.
And for the church of Scotland, Mr. Anderson, who well understood their principles and practice, assures us, (in his Defence of them,) that presbyterians will not baptize without a previous profession or sponsor. To the adult (says he) it is not only necessary (as it is also in infants) that they be internally sanctified, but also that they make an outward profession, of which baptism is the badge and token. To justify this, he observes concerning the catechumens in primitive times, that during all that state they were probationers, not only as to their knowledge, but piety; and were obliged, before they could be admitted to baptism, to give moral evidences of the grace of God in their hearts. And he advances it as a presbyterian principle, that faith and repentance are prerequired to baptism, in adult persons at least. By this he points out the true matter of baptismal profession: and then in opposition to such as pretend baptism to be a converting ordinance, he observes, If they can have faith and repentance without the Spirit and spiritual regeneration, which they say is not obtained but in and by baptism, I do not see why they may not go to heaven without the Spirit and spiritual regeneration: for I am sure, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, is the sum of the gospel.—Mr. Warden, another of their noted writers, (in his Essay on Baptism,) says in the name of presbyterians, We think that baptism supposeth men Christians; else they have no right to baptism, the seal of Christianity; all seals, in their nature, supposing the thing that is sealed. He that is of adult age, is to profess his faith in Christ, and his compliance with the whole device of salvation, before he can have the seal of the covenant administered to him. The author of the Defence of National Churches, (thought to be Mr. Willison,) says, I know nothing more requisite to admission to the Lord’s supper, in foro ecclesiastico, than unto baptism in an adult person; they being both seals of the same covenant. And he thinks the objects of church-fellowship are “all who profess to accept the offers of Christ’s grace, with subjection to his ordinances, and a suitable walk, and who confess themselves sincere.”
I have reserved Mr. Baxter for my last witness, because his attestation is comprehensive and of a general aspect. In his Disputations of Right to Sacraments, and other writings, he repeatedly declares, “It hath been the constant principle and practice of the universal church of Christ, to require a profession of saving faith and repentance, as necessary before they would baptize; and not to baptize any upon the profession of any lower kind of faith. He must shut his eyes against the fullest evidence of history and church-practice, who will deny this. I desire those otherwise—minded to help me to an instance of any one approved baptism, since Christ’s time or his apostles, upon the account of a faith that was short of justifying, and not upon the profession of a justifying faith. Hitherto this is not done by them, but the contrary is fully done by others, and yet they confidently except against my opinion as a novelty. Mr. Gataker’s books have multitudes of sentences recited out of our protestant divines, that affirm this which they call new. It is indeed the common protestant doctrine, that the sacraments do presuppose remission of sins, and our faith; that they are instituted to signify these as in being; and do solemnize and publicly own and confirm the mutual covenant already entered in heart. The Jesuits themselves do witness this to be the ordinary protestant doctrine.—It seems not necessary to mention the judgment of our reformed divines, as expressed in any of their particular sayings, when their public confessions and practices are so satisfactory herein.” Mr. Baxter, however, recites a multitude of their testimonies; producing the judgment of Luther, Calvin, Beza, Pet. Martyr, Piscator, Melancthon, Altingius, Junius, Polanus, Zanchius, Ursinus, Paræus, Bucanus, Musculus, Professores Leyd. et Salm. Wollebius, Vossius, Wendeline, Keckerman, Bullinger, Alsted, Deodate, Dr. Ames, Dr. Moulin; The Catechism of the Church of England, and English Divines; Bp. Usher, Dr. Willet, Dr. Fulk, Dr. Prideaux, Dr. Whitaker, Mr. Yates, Perkins, Cartwright, &c.; The Scottish Church in their Heads of Church-policy, and Divines of Scotland; Mr. Gillespie, Mr. Rutherford, and Mr. Wood; The Westminster Assembly of Divines, their Confession, Catechisms, and Directory; The Annot of some of those Divines, &c. And for the reformed churches in general (Mr. Baxter observes) it is past all question, by their constant practice, that they require the profession of a 484 saving christian faith, and take not up with any lower. And respecting the then practice in England, he says, This is manifest by our daily administration of baptism. I never heard (says he) any man baptize an infant but upon the parent’s, or susceptor’s, or offerer’s profession of a justifying faith.
This leads to your last inquiry.
Quest. V. Whether it be the general opinion, that the same qualifications are required in a parent bringing his child to baptism, as in an adult person for his own admission to this ordinance?
ANSW. Here, Sir, I suppose you intend only the same qualifications in kind; or a profession and visibility, in some degree, of the same sort of faith and repentance; meaning that which is truly evangelical and saving. And understanding you in this sense, I am persuaded, by all I can observe, that the generality of protestants are in the affirmative; not assenting to a specific and essential difference, whatever circumstantial and gradual disparity they may allow, between the two cases you mention.
Mr. Baxter, speaking of the judgment and practice of the christian fathers, tells us, that faith (justifying faith, and not another kind of faith) was supposed to be in the parent, for himself and his seed: because the condition or qualification of the infant is but this, that he be the seed of a believer. And he thinks the generality of the reformed are in these sentiments. He declares his own judgment in full concurrence herewith, and backs the same with a variety of arguments, in his Five Disputations, and other writings. He observes, it seems strange to him that any should imagine, a lower belief in the parent will help his child to a title to baptism, than that which is necessary to his own, if he were unbaptized; because mutual consent is necessary to mutual covenant, and the covenant must be mutual. No man hath right to God’s part, that refuseth his own: they that have no right to remission of sins, have no right given them by God to baptism. If God be not at all actually obliged in covenant to any ungodly man, then he is not obliged to give him baptism: but God is not obliged so to him. Most of our divines make the contrary doctrine Pelagianism, that God should be obliged to man in a state of nature in such a covenant. If the parent’s title be questionable, (says he,) the infant’s is so too; because the ground is the same: and it is from the parent that the child must derive it; nor can any man give that which he hath not. We ought not (says he) to baptize those persons, or their children, as theirs, who are visible members of the kingdom of the devil, or that do not so much as profess their forsaking the devil’s kingdom: but such are all that profess not a saving faith. If such are not visibly in the kingdom of the devil, at least they are not visibly out of it. All that are duly baptized, are baptized into Christ; therefore they are supposed to possess that faith by which men are united or ingrafted into Christ: but that is only justifying faith. Tell me (says he) where any man was ever said in Scripture to be united to Christ, without saving faith, or profession of it. In a word, Mr. Baxter takes occasion to declare himself in this manner: If Mr. Blake exacts not a profession of saving faith and repentance, I say he makes foul work in the church. And when such foul work shall be voluntarily maintained, and the word of God abused for the defilement of the church and ordinances of God, it is a greater scandal to the weak, and to the schismatics, and a greater reproach to the church, and a sadder case to considerate men, than the too common pollutions of others, which are merely through negligence, but not justified and defended.
We are told by other impartial inquirers, that all the reformed do in their directories and practices require professions, as well as promises, of parents bringing their children to baptism; even professions of present faith and repentance, as well as promises of future obedience; and these not merely of the moral, but the evangelical kind. The judgment of the church of Scotland may be known by their adopting the Confession, Catechisms, and Directory of the Assembly of Divines; who, when they require a parental profession, (as in their Catechisms, &c.) intend it not of any lower kind, than a true gospel faith and obedience. The mind of the dissenters may be very much judged of by the reformed liturgy, presented in their name upon King Charles’s restoration; where parents’ credible profession of their faith, repentance, and obedience, is required in order to the baptism of their children. I might bring further evidence from the writings of particular divines among them, ancient and modern; but I must for brevity omit this. Only I will give you a specimen in two or three hints. Mr. Charnock, that great divine, observes, “Baptism supposes faith in the adult, and the profession of faith in the parent for his child.” The late eminent Dr. Watts, in his Holiness of Times, Places, and People, thus declares himself, with respect to the infants of true believers: “In my opinion, so far as they are any way members of the visible christian church, it is upon supposition of their being (with their parents) members of the invisible church of God.”
On the whole, as to our fathers here in New England, it is true, they asserted a baptism-right in parents for themselves and children, whom yet they excluded from full communion; the ground of which difference was hinted before: and they denied a parity of reason between the two cases now in view, on some accounts. Their chief ground was, that adult baptism requires a measure of visible moral fitness or inherent holiness in the recipient; whereas, infant baptism requires nothing visible in its subject, but a relative fitness or federal holiness, the formalis ratio of infant membership, accruing from God’s charter of grace to his church, taking in the infant seed with the believing parent. Baptism they supposed to run parallel with regular membership; and the child of such a parent entitled to this covenant-seal in its own right, on the foot of a distinct personal membership, derivative in point of being, but independent for its duration, and for the privileges annexed to it by divine institution. However, they certainly owned parental profession, as belonging to the due order and just manner of administration, both meet and needful. Accordingly they provided, that parents claiming covenant-privileges for their children, should own their covenant-state, have a measure of covenant-qualifications, and do covenant-duties, in some degree, to the satisfaction of a rational charity. And it ought to be remembered, they have left it as their solemn judgment, that even taking baptism-right for a right of fitness in foro ecclesiastico, still the parents whose children they claimed baptism for, were such as must be allowed to have a title to it for themselves, in case they had remained unbaptized: looking upon them, although not duly fitted for the sacrament of communion and confirmation, yet sufficiently so for the sacrament of union and initiation; professors in their infancy parentally, and now personally, in an initial way; appearing Abraham’s children, in some measure of truth, to a judicious charity; justly therefore baptizable, in their persons and offspring, by all the rules of the gospel. I am not here to argue upon the justness of this scheme of thought on the case; but only to represent the fact in a genuine light.
I have no room, Sir, for any further remarks. But must conclude, with christian salutes, and the tender of every brotherly office, from
Your very affectionate Friend
and humble Servant,
June 26, 1749.
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