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The impertinence of arguments, that are in like manner against the schemes of both the controverting parties: And this exemplified in what Mr. W. says concerning the notion of Israel being the people of God, and his manner of arguing concerning the members of the primitive christian church.
Inasmuch as in each of the remaining instances of Mr. W.‘s arguing, that I shall take notice of, he insists upon and urges arguments which are in like manner against his own scheme, as against mine, I desire, that such a way of arguing may be a little particularly considered.
And here I would lay down this as a maxim of undoubted verity; That an argument, brought to support one scheme against another, can avail nothing to the. purpose it is brought for, if it is at the same time against the scheme it would support, in like manner as against that which it would destroy.
It is an old and approved maxim, That argument which proves too much, proves nothing, i. e. If it proves too much for him that brings it—proves against himself in like manner as against his opponent—then it is nothing to help his cause.—The reason of it is plain: the business of a dispute is to make one cause good against another, to make one scale heavier than the other. But when a man uses an argument which takes alike out of both scales, this does not at all serve to make his side preponderate, but leaves the balance just as it was.
Arguments brought by any man in a dispute, if they be not altogether impertinent, are against the difference between him and his opponent, or against his opponent’s differing from him: for wherein there is no difference, there is no dispute.—But that can be no argument against his opponent differing from him, which is only an argument against what is common to both, and taken from some difficulty that both sides equally share in. If I charge supposed absurdities or difficulties against him that differs from me, as an argument to show the unreasonableness of his differing; and yet the difficulty is not owing to his differing from me, inasmuch as the same would lie against him, if he agreed with me, my conduct herein is both very impertinent and injurious.
If one in a dispute insists on an argument, that lies equally against his own scheme as the other, and yet will stand to it that his argument is good, he in effect stands to that his own scheme is not good; he supplants himself, and gives up his own cause, in opposing his adversary; in holding fast his argument, he holds fast what is his own overthrow; and in insisting that his argument is solid and strong, he in effect insists that his own scheme is weak and vain. If my antagonist will insist upon it, that his argument is good, that he brings against me, which is in like manner against himself; then I may take the same argument, in my turn, and use it against him, and he can have nothing to answer; but has stopped his own mouth, having owned the argument to be conclusive.—Now such sort of arguments as these Mr. W. abundantly uses.
For instance, the argument taken from the whole nation of Israel being called God’s people, and every thing that Mr. W. alleges, pertaining to this matter, is in like manner 521 against his own scheme as against mine: and that, let the question be what it will; whether it be about the qualifications which make it lawful for the church to admit, or about the lawfulness of persons coming to sacraments; whether it be about the profession they should make before men, or the internal qualification they must have in the sight of God. And what Mr. W. says to the contrary, does not at all deliver the argument from this embarrassment and absurdity. After all he has said, the argument, if any thing related to the controversy, is plainly this, That because the whole nation of Israel were God’s visible people, (which is the same as visible saints,) therefore the scripture notion of visible saintship is of larger extent than mine; and the Scripture supposes those to be visible saints, which my scheme does not suppose to be so.
But if this be Mr. W. s argument, then let us see whether it agrees any better with his own scheme. Mr. Blake (Mr. W.‘s great author) in his book on the Covenant,(p. 190. b.) insists, that Israel at the very worst is owned as God’s covenant people, and were called God’s people; and (p. 149. e.) that all the congregation of Israel, and every one of them, are called holy, and God’s own people, even Korah and his company.—And (p. 253. e. 254. a.) he urges, that every one who is descended from Jacob, even the worst of Israel, in their lowest state and condition, were God’s people in covenant, called by the name of God’s people. And Mr. W. herein follows Mr. Blake, and urges the same thing; that this nation was God’s covenant people, and were called God’s people, at the time that they were carried captive into Babylon, (p. 24. d.) when they were undoubtedly at their worst, more corrupt than at any other time we read of in the Old Testament; being represented by the prophets, as overrun with abominable idolatries, and other kinds of the most gross, heaven-daring impieties, most obstinate, abandoned, pertinacious, and irreclaimable in their rebellion against God, and against his word by his prophets. But yet these, it is urged, are called the people of God; not agreeable to my notion of visible saintship, but agreeable to Mr. W.‘s. What his notion of visible saints is, he tells us in p. 139. He there says expressly, that he “does not suppose persons to be visible saints, unless they exhibit a credible profession and visibility of gospel-holiness.“ Now do those things said about those vile wretches in Israel, agree with this? Did they exhibit moral evidence of gospel-holiness?—But if we bring the matter lower still, and say, the true notion of visible saintship is a credible appearance and moral evidence of moral sincerity; does this flagrant, open, abandoned, obstinate impiety consist with moral evidence of such sincerity as that? It is as apparent therefore, in Mr. W.‘s scheme as mine, that when these are called God’s people, it is in some other sense than that wherein the members of the christian church are called visible saints. And indeed the body of the nation of Israel, in those corrupt times, were so far from being God’s church of visibly pious persons, visibly endowed with gospel-holiness, that that people, as to the body of them, were visibly and openly declared by God, to be a whore and a witch, and her children bastards, or children of adultery. Isa. lvii. . “Draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore.” We have the like in other places. And so the body of the same people in Christ’s time—which Mr. W. supposes even then to be branches of the true olive, in the same manner as the members of the christian church were in the apostles’ times—are visibly declared not to be God’s children, or children of the true church, but bastards, or an adulterous brood. Matt. xii. 39. “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.” Ver. 45. ” Even so shall it be with this wicked generation.” And certainly the people were then, visibly and in the eyes of men, such as Christ had visibly and openly, and in the sight of men, declared them to be.
If the question be not concerning the visibility which makes it lawful for others to admit persons, but concerning the qualifications which render it lawful for them to come, still the objection is no more against my scheme than against Mr. W.‘s. He (in p. 84—86.) says, that such openly scandalous persons ought not to be admitted into the church; insinuating, that these scandalous people among the Jews were otherwise when they were admitted at first: but that being taken in, and not cast out again, it was lawful for them to be there, and they had a lawful right to the privileges of the church. But this supposition, that all who are lawfully admitted by others, may lawfully come into the church, and lawfully continue to partake of its privileges till cast out, is utterly inconsistent with Mr. W.‘s own scheme. For according to his scheme, it is not lawful for men that are not morally sincere, to partake of the privileges of the church; but yet such may in some cases be lawfully admitted by others; for he maintains, that in admitting them, they are not to act as searchers of hearts, even with regard to their moral sincerity; and so argues, (p. 106.) that Christ might give Judas the sacrament, when not morally sincere. If Christ as head of the visible church might admit Judas to his table, when he knew he was not morally sincere, and when it was not lawful for Judas himself to come; then it is lawful for men to admit some, for whom it is not lawful to be there; contrary to Mr. W.‘s assertion in p. 86. b.
It is true, that persons may become grossly scandalous, after having been regularly admitted on Mr. W.‘s principles, on a profession in words of indiscriminate signification. And so they may after being regularly admitted, according to my principles, on a credible profession of gospel-holiness in words of a determinate meaning: and therefore the gross wickedness of such apostates as we read of in Scripture, is no more an objection against my principles, than his.
Just in the same manner is Mr. W.‘s arguing (p. 59—63.) concerning the members of churches mentioned in the epistles, equally against his own scheme and mine. He largely insists on it, that the apostle speaks of many of them as grossly scandalous, notoriously wicked persons, idolaters, heretics, fornicators, adulterers, adulteresses, &c. &c. In his arguing from these things, he is inconsistent with his own principles, two ways. (1.) Such a character is as plainly inconsistent with the character he insists on as necessary to render it lawful for persons themselves to come to sacraments, as mine. And, (2.) It is utterly inconsistent with what he often declares to be his notion of visible saintship, necessary to a being admitted by others; so no more an argument against my opinion of visible saintship, than his own.
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