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Concerning Mr. W.‘s notion of a public profession of godliness in terms of an indeterminate and double signification.
According to Mr. W. the profession of godliness must be in words not of a determinate meaning, or without any discrimination in the meaning of the words, obliging us to understand them of saving religion, (p. 6. c. d.) They must make an open declaration of their sincere consent to the terms of the covenant, without any discrimination, by which it can be determined, that the consent signified by the words is a gracious consent. (p. 9. c.) And without any marks of difference, or any distinction in the words, whereby we can be enabled to judge when they mean a saving faith, and when a different one. (p. 10. c. e. p. 50. e. and p. 53. c.) That nothing should be expressed in the words of the profession, but what some unsanctified men may say, and speak true. (p. 47. e.) He supposes, that the primitive Christians in the profession they made of faith, did not speak only in that sense, viz. so as to signify justifying faith; and that the persons admitted did not understand that their profession was understood by those that admitted them, only in that sense, (p. 58. c.)
Agreeable to this notion of making a profession in words of indiscriminate meaning, and professing godliness without godliness, and yet speaking true, Mr. W. (in p. 44. d. e.) allows, that men must be by profession godly persons, in order to come to the sacrament; and yet in the next sentence he denies, that christian grace itself is requisite in the person who is to come to the sacrament, or that the dictate of his conscience that he has it, is the thing that gives him a right to offer himself. And agreeable to this last clause, Mr. Stoddard (of whose opinion Mr. W. professes himself fully to be) expressly maintains, that a man may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, though he knows himself to be in a natural condition. (Doct. of Inst. Churches, p. 21. See also his sermon on this controversy, p. 13.) So that putting these things together, it must be agreeable to Mr. W.‘s scheme, that a man has a right to make a profession of godliness, without having godliness, and without any dictate of his conscience that he has the thing he professes, yea, though he knows he has not! And all this is made out by the doctrine of professing godliness in words that are ambiguous, and of two meanings.
This notion of a solemn profession of godliness, in words of a double meaning, without any marks of difference in their signification, is the great peculiarity of Mr. W.‘s scheme; and in all his controversy with me, this appears to be the main hinge, the crisis of the whole affair. Therefore I would particularly consider it. And for the greater distinctness and clearness, I will lay down certain positions, as of most evident truth; observing some of their no less plain and evident consequences.
I. Words declare or profess nothing any otherwise than by their signification: for to declare or profess something by words, is to signify something by words. And therefore, if nothing is signified by words of a pretended profession, nothing is really professed; and if something be professed, no more is professed than the words of the profession signify or import.
II. If a man declare or profess any particular thing by words which have no distinguishing signification, or without any signs or discriminating marks by which men may be enabled to distinguish what he means, his words are vain to the pretended purpose, and wholly fail of answering the end of words, which is to convey the thing meant to others’ understanding, or to give notice to others of the thing supposed or understood. 584584 The Apostle Paul says, 1 Cor. xiv. 7. “Even things without life, giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?” —Mr. Locke says. Hum. Und. Vol. 2. Edit 7. p. 103. “He that uses words of any language without distinct ideas in his mind, to which he applies them, does so far as he uses them in discourse, only make a noise without any sense or signification.”
Therefore to use words thus in common conversation, is to act in a vain trifling manner, more like children than men: but to use words thus in the sacred services of God’s house, and solemn duties of his worship, is something much worse than children’s play. But thus Mr. W. expressly declares, words are to be used in a public profession of religion, (p. 10. c.) “And these words are so used in such cases, without any marks of difference, whereby we are enabled to judge when they mean a saving faith, and when a different one.”
III. A profession made in words that are either equivocal, or general, equally signifying several distinct things, without any marks of difference or distinction, by which we are enabled to judge what is meant, is not a profession or signification of any one of those several things; nor can they afford any rational ground of understanding or apprehending any particular thing. Thus for instance, if a man using an equivocal term, should say, that such an evening a king was in that room, without any marks of difference or discrimination whatsoever, by which others could discern whether, by a king, he meant the ruler of a kingdom, or a king used in a game of chess; the words thus used would be no declaration, that the head of a kingdom was there at such a time; nor would they give any notice of any such thing to those to whom he spoke, or give them any rational ground to understand or judge any such thing.
Or if a man should use a general term, comprehending various particular sorts, without at all distinguishing or pointing forth any one particular sort, he thereby professes no one particular sort. Thus if a man professes that he has metal in his pocket, not saying what sort of metal, whether gold, silver, brass, iron, lead, or tin; his words are no profession that he has gold.
So it a man professes sincerity or religion, designedly 497 using terms of double signification, or (which comes to the same thing) of general signification, equally signifying two entirely distinct things, either moral sincerity, or real piety, his words are no profession of real piety; he makes no credible profession, and indeed no profession at all of gospel holiness.
IV. If a man who knows himself to be destitute of any certain qualification, yet makes a profession or pretence, in words of double meaning, equally signifying that qualification, and something else very different, with a design to recommend himself to others’ judgment and apprehension, as possessed of that qualification, he is guilty of deceitful equivocation, viz. using words of double meaning, or capable of double application, with a design to induce others to judge something to be true, which is not true. But he that would recommend himself by such terms to others’ opinion or judgment, as being what he at the same time knows he is not, endeavours to induce them to believe what he knows is not true, which is to deceive them. 585585 “To advance a dubious proposition, knowing it will be understood in a sense different from what you give it in your mind, is an equivocation, in breach of good faith and sincerity.” Chamber’s Dictionary, under the word Equivocation. ‡ Pref. (p. 3. d. e. and 5. d. p. 24 b. 25. b. 22. d. 27. a. 58. d. 69. d
But if the scheme which Mr. W. undertakes to defend were true, it would follow that such a kind of equivocation as this, (be it far from us to suppose it,) is what the infinitely wise and holy God has instituted to be publicly used in the solemn services of his house, as the very condition of persons’ admission to the external privileges of his people! For Mr. W. abundantly asserts, that persons must be esteemed in the judgment and apprehension of others to have true piety; and that one thing that must be done in order to it, one thing pertaining to the moral evidence that recommends them to this judgment, is the profession they make of religion, (p. 5. p. 139. p. 47. b, c. p. 132. p. 44. d.) In p. 42. speaking of the profession of visible Christians, he has these words, “And it is from the nature and purport of this profession, we say, the church is to judge the members to be wise virgins, of what they make a show of.” And Mr. W. insists upon it, that according to Christ’s institution, this must be in words equally signifying true godliness, and something else, without any discrimination or marks of difference.—This is the scheme! And certainly such a doctrine of deceitful equivocation in the public exercises of religion, is more agreeable to the principles and practices of a religion I am loth to name, than the true religion of Jesus Christ.
Mr. W. says, (p. 35. d.) “I am at a loss to conceive how it will help the cause of truth to represent those who are of Mr. S—‘s opinion, as teaching men that they may enter into covenant with God with known and allowed guile.” Supposing I had made such a representation, I can tell him how it would have helped the cause of truth, (as it would be speaking nothing but the truth,) if he be one of Mr. Stoddard’s opinion, (as he says he is,) and represents his own opinion truly.
But let the unreasonableness of this notion of professing gospel-holiness in words of two meanings, without any discrimination or mark of difference, be a little further considered. Since it is allowed, that gospel-holiness is the thing which is to be exhibited in the profession, and there are words which signify this by a determinate meaning, why must they needs be avoided, and words of doubtful and double signification only be made use of? 586586 Mr. W. (p. 6. d. e.) speaks of a profession in terms of indiscriminate signification, when not contradicted in life, as The sole, entire evidence, which the church, as a church, is to have, by divine appointment, in order to that public judgment it is to make of the saintship of men. Since the design of the profession is to exhibit to others’ understanding that very thing; if the proper and distinguishing names of that must nevertheless be avoided in the profession, and for this very reason, that they point forth to others’ understanding that very thing by a determinate meaning; then we are brought to this gross absurdity, viz. That the end of a profession is to exhibit to others’ understanding and reasonable judgment a particular qualification; but at the same time such words only must be used as do not distinctly point forth to others’ understanding and judgment that particular qualification. The church are to seek and demand a profession, that shall determine their rational judgment; but yet are designedly to avoid such a profession as shall determine their understandings.—Be it far from us to attribute to the all wise God any such an absurd and inconsistent constitution.
Mr. W. says, charity obliges the church to understand the words of the professors in the most favourable sense. But charity does not oblige us to understand their words in any other sense than that in which they professedly use them. But in churches which professedly act on Mr. W.‘s scheme, (if any such there be,) the professors who are admitted, professedly use ambiguous words, or words equally signifying two entirely distinct things, without discrimination or marks of difference; and therefore charity obliges us to understand their words no otherwise, than as signifying that they have one or other of those two things; and not that they have one in particular: for their words do not signify this, in the sense they professedly use them. If a man that is indebted to me, professes that he has either gold or brass, which he promises to pay me; or if he uses an equivocal or general term, that equally, and without marks of difference, signifies either one or the other; charity may oblige me to believe what he says, which is, that he has either gold or brass: but no charity obliges me to believe that he has gold, which he does not say.
Mr. W. in his description of such a profession as Christ has instituted, in order to admission to sacraments, often mentions two things, viz. A profession of something present, a present believing in Christ, and cordial consent to the terms of the covenant of grace, &c. And a promise of something future. And with regard to the latter, he is very full in it, that what is promised for time to come is saving faith, repentance, and obedience. 587587 Pref. (p. 3. d. e. and 5. d. p. 24 b. 25. b. 22. d. 27. a. 58. d. 69. d. Now what reason can be given why we should use words of double meaning in the former part of the profession more than in the latter? Seeing Mr. W. allows that we must profess gospel-holiness as well as promise it, and seeing we may and must make use of words of indiscriminate and double meaning in professing present gospel-holiness, why should not we do so too in promising what is future; and so equivocate in our solemn vows and oaths as the papists do? if Mr. W. says it is very hard for men to discern the discrimination between moral sincerity and gospel-holiness; I answer, there is as much need to discern the difference in order understandingly to promise gospel-holiness with discrimination, as to profess it with discrimination.
Mr. W. says, (p. 8. b. c.) “It is a received rule among mankind, in all public judgments, to interpret words in the most extensive and favourable sense that the nature of the words or expressions will bear.” I know not what he means: but if he means, (as he must, if he means any thing to the purpose,) that it is a received rule amongst mankind, to trust, or accept, or at all regard any professions or declarations that men make, with professed design, in words of double and indiscriminate meaning, without any marks of difference by which their meaning can be known, for that very end that they may be used with a safe conscience, though they have no dictates of their own consciences, that they have what others are to believe they have; I say, if this be a received rule among mankind, it is a rule that mankind has lately received from Mr. W. Heretofore mankind, societies or particular persons, would have been counted very foolish for regarding such professions. Is this the way in earthly kingdoms, in professions of allegiance to temporal princes, in order to their admission to the privileges of good subjects? Do they choose equivocal terms to put into their oaths of allegiance, to that end that men may use them and speak true, though they are secret enemies?—There are two competitors for the kingdom of this world, Christ and Satan; the design of a public profession of religion is, to declare on which side men are. And is it agreeable to the custom of mankind in such cases, to make laws that no other than ambiguous words shall be used, or to accept of such in declarations of this kind? There are two competitors for the kingdom of Great Britain, King George, and the Pretender: is it the constitution of King George and the British parliament, that men should take paths of allegiance, contrived in words of indeterminate signification, to the end that men who are in their hearts enemies to King George, and friends to the Pretender, may use 498 them and speak true? And certainly mankind, those of them that have common sense, never in any affairs of life look on such professions as worth a rush. Would Mr. W. himself, if tried, in any affair wherein his temporal interest is concerned, trust such professions as these? If any man with whom he has dealings, should profess to him that he had pawned for him, in a certain place, a hundred pounds, evidently, yea professedly, using the expression as an ambiguous one, so that there is no understanding by it, what is pawned there, whether a hundred pound in money, or a hundred weight of stones: if he should inquire of the man what he meant, and he should reply, You have no business to search my heart, or to turn my heart inside out; you are obliged in charity to understand my words in the most favourable sense; would Mr. W. in this case stick to his own received rule? would he regard such a profession, or run the venture of one sixpence upon it? Would he not rather look on such a man as affronting him, and treating him as though he would make a fool of him? And would not he know, that every body else would think him a fool, if he should suffer himself to be gulled by such professions, in things which concern his own private interest? And yet it seems, this is the way in which he thinks he ought to conduct himself as a minister of Christ, and one intrusted by him in affairs wherein his honour and the interests of his kingdom are concerned.
And now I desire it may be judged by such as are possessed of human understanding, and are not disabled by prejudice from exercising it, whether this notion of Mr. W.‘s, of making a solemn profession of gospel-holiness in words of indiscriminate meaning, be not too absurd to be received by the reason God has given mankind.—This peculiar notion of his is apparently the life and soul of his scheme; the main pillar of his temple, on which the whole weight of the building rests; which if it be broken, the whole falls to the ground, and buries the builder, or at least his work, in its ruins. For if this notion of his be disproved, then inasmuch as it is agreed, that true godliness must be professed, it will follow, that it must be professed in words properly signifying the thing by a determinate meaning, which therefore no ungodly men can use, and speak true; and that therefore men must have true godliness in order to a right in the sight of God to make such profession, and to receive the privileges depending thereon: which implies and infers all those principles of mine which Mr. W. opposes in his book, and confutes all that he says in opposition to them.
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