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Mr. Williams’s misrepresentations of the principles and tenets, delivered in the book which he undertakes to answer.
Mr. W. very greatly misrepresents my opinion, and the principles I maintain in my book, in many respects.
I. He says, (p. 5. d.) “The whole argument, and indeed the whole controversy, turns upon this single point, viz. What is that evidence, which by divine appointment the church is to have, of the saintship of those who are admitted to the outward privileges of the covenant of grace? Mr. Edwards seems to suppose, this must be the highest evidence a man can give of sincerity; and I apprehend it to be the lowest evidence the nature of the thing will admit.”—But this is very strange, since I had particularly declared in my stating of the question, (p. 5.) that the evidence I insisted on, was some outward manifestation, that ordinarily rendered the thing probable. Which shows, that all I insisted on, was only, that the evidence should amount to probability. And if the nature of the case will admit of some lower kind of evidence than this, or if there be any such thing as a sort of evidence that does not so much as amount to probability, then it is possible that I may have some controversy with him and others about the degree of evidence. Otherwise it is hard to conceive, how he should contrive to make out a controversy with me.
But that the reader may better judge, whether Mr. W. truly represents me as supposing that the evidence which should be insisted on, is the highest evidence a man can give of sincerity, I would here insert an extract of a Letter which I wrote to the If Rev. Mr. Peter Clark of Salem-Village, a twelvemonth before Mr. W—‘s book was published. The original is doubtless in Mr. Clark’s hands. In that letter, I declare my sentiments in the following words:
“It does not belong to the controversy between me and my people, how particular or large the profession should be that is required. I should not choose to be confined to exact limits as to that matter. But rather than contend, I should content myself with a few words, briefly expressing the cardinal virtues, or acts implied in a hearty compliance with the covenant of grace; the profession being made (as should appear by inquiry into the person’s doctrinal knowledge) understandingly; if there were an external conversation agreeable thereto. Yea, I should think that such a person, solemnly making such a profession, had a right to be received as the object of a public charity, however he himself might scruple his own conversion, on account of his not remembering the time, not knowing the method, of his conversion, or finding so much remaining sin, &c. And (if his own scruples did not hinder 565565 I added this, because I supposed that such persons as judge themselves unconverted, if of my principles respecting qualifications for communion, would scruple coming, and could not come with a good conscience: but if they were of Mr. S—d’s principles, viz. That unconverted men might lawfully come, neither a man’s being of that opinion, nor his judging himself unconverted, would hinder my receiving him who exhibited proper evidence to the church of his being a convert. ) I should think a minister or church had no right to debar such a professor, though he should say, he did not think himself converted. For I call that a profession of godliness, which is a profession of the great things wherein godliness consists, and not a profession of his own opinion of his good estate.”(
Northampton, May 7, 1750.
In like manner, I explained my opinion, very particularly and expressly, before the council that determined my separation from my people, and before the church, in a very public manner in the meeting-house, many people being present, near a year before Mr. W—‘s book was published. And to make it the more sure, that what I maintained might be well observed, I afterwards sent in the foregoing extract of my letter to Mr. Clark of Salem—Village, into the council. And, as I was informed, it was particularly taken notice of in the council, and handed round among them, to be read by them.
The same council, having heard that I had made certain draughts of the covenant, or forms of a public profession of religion, which I stood ready to accept of from the candidates for communion, they, for their further information, sent for them. Accordingly I sent them four distinct draughts or forms, which I had drawn up about a twelvemonth before, (near two years before the publishing of Mr. W—‘s book,) as what I stood ready to accept of (any one of them) rather than contend and break with my people.—The two shortest of those forms were as follows.
One of them was;
“I hope, I do truly find a heart to give up myself wholly to God, according to the tenor of that covenant of grace which was sealed in my baptism, and to walk in a way of that obedience to all the commandments of God, which the covenant of grace requires, as long as I live.”
“I hope, I truly find in my heart a willingness to comply with all the commandments of God, which require me to give up myself wholly to him, and to serve him with my body and my spirit; and do accordingly now promise to walk in a way of obedience to all the commandments of God, as long as I live.”
Now the reader is left to judge, whether I insist, as Mr. W. represents, that persons must not be admitted without the highest evidence a man can give of sincerity.
II. Mr. W. is abundant in suggesting and insinuating to his readers, that the opinion laid down in my book is, That persons ought not to be admitted to a communion without an absolute and peremptory determination in those who admit them, that they are truly godly; because I suppose it to be necessary, that there should be a positive judgment in their favour.
Here I desire the reader to observe, that the word positive is used in two senses. (1.) Sometimes it is put in opposition to doubtful or uncertain: and then it signifies the same as certain, peremptory, or assured. But, (2.) The word positive is very often used in a very different sense; not in opposition to doubtful, but in opposition to negative: and so understood, it signifies very much the same as real or actual. Thus, we often speak of a negative good, and a positive good. A negative good is a mere negation or absence of evil; but a positive good is something more,—some real, actual good, instead of evil. So there is a negative charity, and a positive charity. A negative charity is a mere absence of an ill judgment of a man, or forbearing to condemn him. Such a charity a man may have towards any stranger he transiently sees in the street, that he never saw or heard any thing of before. A positive charity is something further than merely not condemning, or not judging ill, it implies a good thought of a man. The reader will easily see that the word positive, taken in this sense, is an exceeding 489 different thing from certain or peremptory. A man may have something more than a mere negative charity towards another, or a mere forbearing to condemn him, he may actually entertain some good thought of him, and yet there may be no proper peremptoriness, no pretence of any certainty in the case.
Now it is in this sense I use the phrase positive judgment, viz. In opposition to a mere negative charity; as I very plainly express the matter, and particularly and fully explain myself in stating the question. In my inquiry (p. 5.) I have the following words: “By christian judgment, I intend something further than a kind of mere negative charity, implying that we forbear to censure and condemn a man, because we do not know but that he may be godly, and therefore forbear to proceed on the foot of such a censure or judgment in our treatment of him; as we would kindly entertain a stranger, not knowing but, in so doing, we entertain an angel, or precious saint of God: but I mean a positive judgment, founded on some positive appearance or visibility, some outward manifestation that ordinarily renders the thing probable. There is a difference between suspending our judgment, or forbearing to condemn, or having some hope that possibly the thing may be so, and so hoping the best, and a positive judgment in favour of a person. For having some hope, only implies, that a man is not in utter despair of a thing; though his prevailing opinion may be otherwise, or he may suspend his opinion.
Here, I think, my meaning is very plainly and carefully explained. However, inasmuch as the word positive is sometimes used for peremptory or certain, Mr. W. catches at the term, and lays fast hold of the advantage he thinks this gives him, and is abundant, all over his book, in representing as though I insisted on a positive judgment in this sense. So he applies the word, referring to my use of it, from time to time. Thus, (p. 69. b.) “If there be any thing in this argument, I think it must be what I have observed, viz. That a Christian must make a positive judgment and determination, that another man is a saint, and this judgment must have for its ground something which he supposes is, at least ordinarily, a certain evidence of his saintship, and by which gracious sincerity is certainly distinguished from every thing else.” And, (p. 141. a.) “The notion of men’s being able and fit to determine positively the condition of other men, or the certainty of their gracious state, has a direct tendency to deceive the souls of men.” And thus Mr. W. makes mention of a positive judgment above forty times in his book, with reference to my use of it, and to my declared opinion of its necessity; and every where plainly uses the phrase in that sense, for absolute and peremptory, in opposition to doubtfulness; continually insinuating, that this is what I professedly insist on. Whereas every act of the judgment whatsoever, is a positive judgment in the sense in which I have fully declared I use it, viz. in opposition to negative; which is no act, but a mere withholding of the act of the judgment, or forbearing any actual judgment. 566566 Mr. John Glass. in his Observes upon the original Constitution of the Christian Church, (p. 55, 5b.) says as follows. “You seem to have a great prejudice of what you call positive evidences, and judging upon them in the admission of church-members. And I am at some loss to understand what you mean by them, though I have heard the expression frequently, among people of your opinion, used to express some very ill thing. If you mean by positive evidences, infallible evidences of a thing that none but God infallibly knows, and can assure a man’s own conscience of, with respect to a man himself: I think it would be a very great evil for a man to require such evidence to found his judgment of charity, concerning another man’s faith and holiness, or concerning his being an object of brotherly love. And I think, he is bound by the law of Christ to form his judgment in this matter upon less evidence. But if you mean positive evidence in opposition to negative, which is no evidence, I must own, I know not how to form a judgment of charity without some positive evidence. And is not a credible profession something positive?—Is not a credible profession of the faith, love, and hope that is in Christ, or of Christianity, a positive evidence of a man’s being an object of brotherly love, which evidence ought to be the ground of my judgment of charity concerning him, that he is a Christian, a believer in Christ, a brother for whom Christ died? If it be otherwise, and if there be no evidence upon which I can charitably judge, that a man is a brother for whom Christ died? If it be otherwise, and if there be no evidence upon which I can charitably judge, that a man is a brother for whom Christ died. Then tell me, how I can evidence my love to Jesus Christ, in the labour of love towards my brother, whom I have seen; and my love to God, in my love to them that are begotten of him.” Mr. W. himself does abundantly suppose, that there must be a positive judgment in this sense. He grants the very thing, though he rejects the term. For he holds, there must be such a visibility as makes persons to appear to be real saints, (p. 5. b.)—He allows, that the moral image of God or Christ must appear, or be supposed to be in them, as the ground and reason of our charity; and that there must be some apprehension, some judgment of mind, of the saintship of persons, for its foundation, (p. 68. c. d. e. and 69. a. 71. d.)—That they must have such a character appearing in them. (p. 55. e.)—That there must be a judgment founded on moral evidence of gospel-holiness, (p. 139. d.)
III. Mr. W. to make my scheme appear the more ridiculous, more than once represents it as my opinion, that in order to persons being admitted into the church, there must be a judgment of their being regenerate, founded on such a degree of evidence, as that it shall not be liable to be mistaken more than once in ten times. Thus, (p. 63. c.) “Mr. Edwards himself supposes, in his own scheme, when he has made a positive judgment that every one singly whom he admits into the church is regenerate; yet when taken collectively, it is probable one in ten will be an hypocrite.” (So, p. 71. b.) “If any thing be intended to the purpose for which this argument is brought, I conceive, it must mean, that there must be such a positive judgment of the real holiness of persons, as is not mistaken more than once in ten times.”—Now, I desire the reader to observe what is the whole ground, on which he makes such a representation. In explaining my opinion, in the beginning of my Inquiry, (p. 6.) I desired it might be observed, that I did not suppose we ought to expect any such degree of certainty of the godliness of those who are admitted into the church, as that when the whole number admitted are taken collectively, or considered in the gross, we should have any reason to suppose every one to be truly godly; though we might have charity for each one that was admitted, taken singly, and by himself. And to show, that such a thing was possible, I endeavoured to illustrate it by a comparison, or supposed case of probability of ten to one, in the example of certain stones, with such probable marks of a diamond, as by experience had been found not to fail more than once in ten times. In which case, if a particular stone were found with those marks, there would be a probability of ten to one, with respect to that stone, singly taken, that it was genuine: but if ten such were taken together, there would not be the same probability that every one of them was so; but in this case, it is as likely as not, that some one in the ten is spurious. Now it is so apparent, that this particular degree of probability of ten to one is mentioned only as a supposed case, for illustration, and because, in a particular example, some number or other must be mentioned, that it would have been an affront to the sense of my readers to have added any caution, that he should not understand me otherwise. However, Mr. W. has laid hold of this, as a good handle by which he might exhibit my scheme to the world in a ridiculous light; as though I had declared it my real opinion, that there must be the probability of just ten to one, of true godliness, in order to persons’ admission into the church. He might with as much appearance of sense and justice, have asserted concerning all the supposed cases in books of arithmetic, that the authors intend these cases should be understood as real facts, and that they have written their books, with all the sums and numbers in them, as books of history; and if any cases mentioned there only as examples of the several rules, are unlikely to be true accounts of fact, therefore have charged the authors with writing a false and absurd history.
IV. Another thing, yet further from what is honourable in Mr. W. is this; That, whereas I said as above, that there ought to be a prevailing opinion concerning those that are admitted, taken singly, or by themselves, that they are truly godly or gracious, though when we look on the whole number in the gross, we are far from determining that every one is a true saint, and that not one of the judgments we have passed, has been mistaken; Mr. W. because I used the phrase singly taken, has laid hold on the expression, and from thence has taken occasion to insinuate to his readers, as if my scheme were so very extravagant, that according to this, when a great multitude are admitted, their admitters must be confident of every one’s being regenerated. Hence he observes, (p. 98. c.) “There is no appearance, that John made a positive judgment that every one of these people were regenerated. Plainly using the 490 expression as a very strong one; leading the reader to suppose, that I insist the evidence shall be so clear, that when such a vast multitude as John baptized are viewed, the admitter should be peremptory in it, that his judgment has not failed so much as in a single instance; the very reverse of what I had expressed. In like manner, Mr. W. treats the matter from time to time. As in p. 55. a. “The thing to be proved from hence is, that the apostles and primitive Christians, not only thought that these persons were Christians, by reason of their external calling, and professed compliance with the call; but had formed a positive judgment concerning every one of them singly, that they were real saints.” Here the expression is plainly used as a very strong one; as implying much more than esteeming so great a multitude, when taken in the gross, to be generally true saints, and with a manifest design to carry the same idea in the mind of the reader as was before mentioned. See another like instance, p. 62. c.
V. However, my opinion is not represented bad enough yet; but to make it appear still worse, Mr. W. is bold to strain his representation of it to that height, as to suggest that what I insist on, is a certainty of others’ regeneration; though this be so diverse from what I had largely explained in stating the question, and plainly expressed in other parts of my book, 567567 In stating the question, p. 5. b. I explained the requisite visibility, to be some outward manifestation, that ordinarily renders the thing probable. To the like purpose, is what I lay in p 10. c. and p. 11 a. b c. and p 12. a. b. c. And in p 106. c. I say expressly, “Not a certainty, but a profession and visibility of these things, must be the rule of the church’s proceeding. and also inconsistent with his own representations in other places. For if what I insist on be a probability that may fail once in ten times, as he says it is, p. 63. a. then it is not a certainty that I insist on; as he suggests, p. 141. a.—Speaking of the evil consequences of my opinion, he says, “The notion of men’s being able and fit to determine positively the condition of other men, or the certainty of their gracious estate, has a direct tendency to deceive the souls of men.” So again in p 69. And he suggests, that I require more than moral evidence, in p. 6. c. and p. 139. d.
VI. Mr. W. represents me as insisting on some way of judging the state of such as are admitted to communion, by their inward and spiritual experiences, diverse from judging by their profession and behaviour. So, p. 7. b. “If their outward profession and behaviour be the ground of this judgment, then it is not the inward experience of the heart.“ P. 55. b. “Which judgment must be founded on something beyond and beside their external calling, and visible profession to comply with it, and to be separated for God: and therefore this judgment must be founded, either upon revelation, or a personal acquaintance with their experiences,“ &c. In like manner he is abundant, from one end of his book to the other, in representing as though I insisted on judging men by their inward and spiritual experiences, in some peculiar manner. Which is something surprising, since there is not so much as a word said about relating, or giving an account of, experiences, or what is commonly so called, as a term of communion. Mr. W. (p 6.a.) pretends to quote two passages of mine, as an evidence, that this is what I insist on. One is from the 5th page of my book. It is true, I there say thus, “It is a visibility to the eye of the public charity, and not a private judgment, that gives a person a right to be received as a visible saint by the public.” And I there say, “A public and serious profession of the great and main things wherein the essence of true religion or godliness consists, together with an honest character, an agreeable conversation, and good understanding of the doctrines of Christianity, and particularly those doctrines that teach the grand condition of salvation, and the nature of true saving religion; this justly recommends persons to the good opinion of the public; whatever suspicions and fears any particular person, either the minister, or some other, may entertain, from what he in particular has observed; perhaps the manner of his expressing himself in giving an account of his experiences, or an obscurity in the order and method of his experiences,“ &c.—But the words do not imply, it may be demanded of the candidate, that he should give an account of his experiences to the minister, or any body else, as the term of his admission into the church: nor had I respect to any such thing. But I knew it was the manner in many places for those who hoped they were godly persons, to converse with their neighbours, and especially with their minister, about their experiences; whether it was required of them in order to their coming into the church, or no; and particularly, I was sensible, that this was the manner at Northampton, for whose sake especially I wrote; and I supposed it the way of many ministers, and people, to judge of others’ state, openly and publicly, by the order and method of their experiences, or the manner of their relating them. But this I condemn in the very passage that Mr. W. quotes; and very much condemn in other writings of mine which have been published; and have ever loudly condemned, and borne my testimony against.
There is one passage more, which Mr. W. adds to the preceding, and fathers on me, to prove that I require an account of experiences in order to admission; pretending to rehearse my words, with marks of quotation, saying as follows, (p. 6. a.) and as he further explains himself elsewhere; “The proper visibility which the public is to have of a man’s being a saint, must be on some account of his experience of those doctrines which teach the nature of true saving religion.”—I have made long and diligent search for such a passage in my writings, but cannot find it. Mr. W. says, I thus explain myself elsewhere; but I wish he had mentioned in what place.
If there be such a sentence in some of my writings, (as I suppose there is not,) it will serve little to Mr. W—‘s purpose. If we take the word experience according to the common acceptation of it in the English language, viz. a person’s perceiving or knowing any thing by trial or experiment, or by immediate sensation or consciousness within himself; in this sense, I own, it may from what I say in my book be inferred, that a man’s profession of his experience should be required as a term of communion. And so it may be as justly and as plainly inferred, that Mr. W. himself insists on a profession of experience as a term of communion; experience of a deep conviction of a man’s undone state without Christ; experience of a persuasion of his judgment and conscience, that there is no other way of salvation; experience of unfeigned desires to be brought to the terms of the covenant. For such things as these, he says, must be professed. So, p. 75. d. e. and in innumerable other places. There is no such thing possible as a man’s professing any thing within himself or belonging to his own mind, either good or bad, either common or saving, unless it be something that he finds, or (which is the same thing) experiences, within himself.
I know the word experience is used by many in a sort of peculiar sense, for the particular order and method of what passes within the mind and heart in conversion. And in this sense, Mr. W. knows, I disclaim the notion of making experiences a term of communion. I say, he knows it, because (in p. 6. a.) he quotes and rehearses the very words wherein I do expressly disclaim it. And I am very large and particular in testifying against it in my book on Religious Affections: (a book I have good reason to think Mr. W. has seen and read, having been thus informed by a man of his own principles, that had it from his mouth.) There, in p. 300. e. and 301.a. I say as follows: “In order to persons making a proper profession of Christianity, such as the Scripture directs to, and such as the followers of Christ should require in order to the acceptance of the professors with full charity, as of their society, it is not necessary they should give an account of the particular steps and method, by which the Holy Spirit, sensibly to them, wrought, and brought about those great essential things of Christianity in their hearts. There is no footstep in the Scripture of any such way of the apostles, or primitive ministers and Christians, requiring any such relation in order to their receiving and treating others as their christian brethren, to all intents and purposes; or of their first examining them concerning the particular method and order of their experiences.—They required of them a profession of the things wrought; but no account of the manner of working was required of them. Nor is there the least shadow in the Scripture of any such custom in the 491 church of God, from Adam to the death of the apostle John.“ To the same purpose again I express myself in p. 302 .d. And in the Preface, to the book that Mr. W. writes against, I make particular mention of this book on Religious Affections, wherein these things are said; and there declare expressly, that when I wrote that book, I was of the same mind concerning the qualifications of communicants that I am of now.—But,
VII. To make my scheme still more obnoxious and odious, Mr. W. once and again insinuates, that I insist on an account of such inward feelings, as are by men supposed to be the certain discriminating marks of grace, (so p. 7.b. and 141.e.) though I never once used the phrase any where in my book.—I said not a word about inward feelings, from one end of it to the other. Nor is any inward feeling at all more implied in my scheme, than in his. But however Mr. W. knew that these phrases, experiences, and inward feelings, were become odious of late to a great part of the country; and especially the latter of them, since Mr. Whitfield used it so much. And he well knew, that to tack these phrases to my scheme, and to suggest to his readers that these were the things I professed to insist on, would tend to render me and my scheme contemptible. If he says, Though I use not that phrase, yet the things I insist on, are such as are inwardly felt; such as saving repentance, faith, &c. I answer, these things are no more inward feelings, than the things he himself insists on; such as a deep conviction of a man’s undone state, unfeigned fervent desires after Christ, a fixed resolution for Christ, engagedness for heaven, &c.
VIII. Mr. W. abundantly, in almost all parts of his book, represents my principles to be such as suppose men to be the SEARCHERS of others’ hearts. For which I have given no other ground, than only supposing that some such qualifications are necessary in order to communion, which have their seat in the heart, and so not to be intuitively seen by others; and that such qualifications must, by profession and practice, be made so visible or credible to others, that others may rationally judge they are there. And Mr. W. supposes the same thing as much as I. In p. 111. c. he expressly speaks of the qualifications necessary to communion, as being in the heart, and not possible to be known any other way than by their being seen there; and also often allows, that these qualifications must be exhibited, and made visible, by a credible profession, and answerable practice. Yea, he goes further, he even supposes that those who admit them to sacraments, ought to be satisfied by their profession, that they really have these qualifications. Thus he says, p. 54. c. “The baptizer ought to be satisfied by a person’s profession, that he really believes the gospel, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Saviour.”
IX. Mr. W. is not contented with all these representations of my scheme, but will have it appear more absurd and monstrous still; and therefore represents me as maintaining that it is not the visible profession of experiences, that I suppose the ground of the church’s judgment; but these experiences and inward feelings themselves, by having the heart turned inside out, and viewing them immediately in the heart itself, and judging upon the next and immediate actings of the heart.—Here, I only desire the reader to read down Mr. W. ‘s 7th page, and make his own reflections.
X. Whereas, in p. 16. of my book, I observed it to be the opinion of some, that “Although the members of the visible church are saints in profession and visibility, and in the acceptance of others, yet this is not with reference to saving holiness, but quite another sort of saintship, viz. moral sincerity; and that this is the real saintship, discipleship, and godliness, that is professed and visible in them,” &c. Mr. W. (p. 4, 5.) says, He does not remember that he ever heard of this, or that anybody thought of it, before he saw it in my book; and represents it as a poor man of straw, of my own framing; and he insists upon it, that it is allowed on all hands, that the visibility must be with reference to saving holiness.
I will not say, that Mr. W. knew it to be a false representation which he here makes; but this I will say, that he ought to have been better informed, before he had thus publicly ridiculed this as a fiction of mine; especially considering the opportunities and advantages he has had to know otherwise: this being the notion that had been (as was before observed) so loudly and publicly insisted on, for more than two years, by the people of Northampton, and by the neighbouring ministers, and those of them that were Mr. W.‘s near relatives; as he has abundant opportunities to be fully informed, having withal had great inducements to inquire. Besides, that this has been the universal opinion of all that part of the country (who thought themselves Mr. Stoddard’s followers) for more than twenty years, is a fact as notorious, as that the people there generally believe Mr. Stoddard’s doctrine of the necessity of a work of conversion in order to get to heaven.—And this is the opinion professedly maintained in a pamphlet published in Boston, (anno 1741,) entitled, A Right to the Lord’s Supper considered: a piece which has long been well known among Mr. W.’s nearest relatives, and in good repute with them; as I have had occasion to observe. This pamphlet insists expressly and abundantly, that moral sincerity is the REAL discipleship and holiness, with respect to which visible Christians are called disciples and saints in Scripture. Particularly see pages 9, 10, 13, and 14. And which is more strange yet, Mr. Blake, the great author Mr. W. makes so much use of, and in a book which I know he has long been the possessor of, speaks much of a profession of religion that has respect only to a dogmatical, historical faith, a common faith, a faith true indeed (as he says) in its kind, but short of that which is justifying and saving, and a profession which goes no further, as that which entitles to sealing ordinances. See Blake on the Covenant, p. 241, 244, 245. The same author again and again distinguishes between justifying faith and faith of profession; as in p. 284, 285, 286. And which is more than all this, Mr. W. (as will appear in the sequel) abundantly contends for the same thing himself, though against himself, and although he charges me (p. 35.d.) with a great misrepresentation, in supposing that according to the scheme of my opposers, the profession required in those that are admitted, does not imply a pretence to any thing more than moral sincerity and common grace.
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