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A particular examination of Mr. W.‘s defence of the ninth objection, or that boasted argument, that if it be not lawful for unconverted men to come to the Lord’s supper, ‘then none may come but they that know themselves to be converted.
This argument has been greatly gloried in, as altogether invincible. Mr. W. seems to have been alarmed, and his spirits raised to no small degree of warmth, at the pretence of an answer to it: and he uses many big words and strong expressions in his reply; such as, It is absolutely certain—It is beyond my power to comprehend, and I believe beyond the power of any man to tell me—this I assert and stand to—as plain as the sun—a contradiction of the Bible, of the light of nature, and of the common sense of mankind, &c. &c. But let us get away from the noise of a torrent, and bring this matter to the test of calm reasoning, and examine it to the very bottom.
Here let it be considered, wherein precisely the argument consists.—If it has any strength in it, it consists in this proposition, viz. That it is not lawful for men to come to sacraments, without a known right. This is a proposition Mr. S. himself reduces the argument to, in his Appeal, p. 62,63. And it is very evident, that the whole strength of the argument rests on the supposed truth of this proposition.
And here let it be noted, what sort of knowledge of a right Mr. S. and Mr. W. mean in this argument. It is knowledge as distinguished from such an opinion, or hope, as is founded on probability. Thus Mr. S. expressly insists, that a man must not only think he has a right, but he must know it—(Appeal, p. 62.) And again, (p. 63.) Probable hopes will not warrant him to come.
Mr. W. uses many peremptory strong expressions (p. 109.) to set forth the certainty of that which never was denied; viz. That a man cannot know he has a right, unless he knows he has the qualification which gives him a right. But this is not the thing in question: The point is, Whether a man may not have a lawful right, or way not lawfully come, and yet not know his right, with such a knowledge and evidence as is beyond probability? This is the thing asserted, and herein lies the argument. And the negative of this cannot be maintained, in order to maintain Mr. W.‘s scheme, without the grossest absurdity; it being a position, which, according to Scripture, reason, Mr. S.‘s doctrine, and Mr. W.‘s own, effectually destroys his scheme.
To this purpose, I observed, if this proposition be true, that no man may come, save he who not only thinks but knows he has a right, then it will follow, that no unconverted person may come, unless he knows that doctrine to be true, That unconverted men may have a right. Because an unconverted man cannot know, that he himself has a right, unless he knows that doctrine which Mr. S. maintained, to be true, viz. That men may have a right, though they are unconverted. And consequently no one unconverted man may lawfully come to the Lord’s supper, unless he is so knowing in this point of controversy, as not only to think, and have probable evidence, that this opinion is right, but knows it to be so.—Mr. W. endeavours to help the matter by a distinction, of different kinds of knowledge: and by the help of this distinction would make it out, that common people in general, and even boys and girls of sixteen years old, may with ease know, that his doctrine about unsanctified men’s lawful coming to the Lord’s supper, is true. And we must understand him (as he is defending Mr. S.‘s argument) that they may know it with that evidence which is distinguished from probability; and this according to Mr. W. himself, is certainty; which he speaks of as above a thousand probabilities. (See p. 118. c.) But how miserable is this; o pretend, that his doctrine about qualifications for sacraments, is so far from a disputable point, that it is of such plain and obvious evidence to common people, and even children, that without being studied in divinity, they may not only think it to be exceeding probable, but know it to be true! When it is an undeniable fact, that multitudes of the greatest ability and piety, that have spent their lives in the study of the Holy Scriptures, have never so much as thought so.
Again, I observed, that according to Mr. S.‘s doctrine, not one unconverted man in the world can know, that he has warrant to come to the Lord’s supper; because, if he has any warrant, God has given him warrant in the Scriptures: and therefore if any unconverted man, not only thinks, but knows, that he has warrant from God, he must of consequence not only think, but know, the Scriptures to be the word of god. Whereas it was the constant doctrine of Mr. S. that no unconverted man knows the Scriptures to be the word of God. 606606 I did not say, that it was also a doctrine according to Scripture; for there was no occasion for this, among those with whom I had chiefly to do in this controversy; with whom I knew it was a point as much settled and uncontroverted, as any doctrine of Mr. S. whatever. And I know it to be the current doctrine of orthodox divines: who ever allow this doctrine to be implied in such texts as those. John xvii. 7. 1 John iv. 15, 16. Chap. v. 1, 10. and many others. —But Mr. W. would make it out, that Mr. S. did hold, unconverted men might know the Scriptures to be the word of God; but only not know it with a gracious knowledge, such as effectually bowed men’s hearts, and influenced them to a gracious obedience, (p. 113. b.) But let us see whether it was so, or not. Mr. S. in his Nature of Saving Conversion (p. 73.) says, “The carnal man is ignorant of the divine authority of the word of God;—His wound is, that he does not know certainly the divine authority of these institutions; he does not know but they are the inventions of men.” Again (ibid. p. 74.) he says, “The carnal man is uncertain of those things that are the foundation of his reasonings. He thinks there is a great probability of the truth of these things; but he has no assurance. His principles are grounded on an uncertain proposition.” And he observes, (p. 20.) “Men when converted, do not look on it as probable, that the word is his word, as they did before; but they have assurance of the truth of it.”—So elsewhere, (Guide to Christ, p. 26.) “They that have not grace, do not properly believe the word of god.”—And in another book, (Safety of Ap. p. 6.) “The gospel always works effectually where it is believed and received as the truth of god.”—In another book, (Benef. of the Gos. p. 149.) ” Common illumination does not convince men of the truth of the gospel.”—In his discourse on the Virtue of Christ’s Blood, (p. 27.) speaking of such as have no interest in the blood of Christ, he says, “They are strangers to the divine authority of the word of god.” Again, (ibid. p. 16.) “Before [i.e. before saving faith] they were at a loss whether the word was the word of god.”—To the like 526 purpose are many other passages in his writings. (See Nat. of Sav. Conv. p. 72. Safety of Ap. p. 6, 7, 99, 107, 186, 187, 229.—Benef. of the Gosp. p. 89.)
So that here, if it be true, that some unconverted men have a divine warrant to come to the Lord’s supper; and if the thing which is the foundation of this argument, be also true, viz. That in order to men’s warrantably coming to the Lord’s supper, they must not only think but know they have a right; then it must be true likewise, that they not only think but know, that the Scripture, wherein this warrant is supposed to be delivered, is the word of god. And then we have the following propositions to make hang together: that unconverted men are ignorant of the Scripture’s being the word of God, are uncertain of it, have no assurance of it, are not convinced of it, do not properly believe it, are at a loss whether it be the word of God, or not; and yet they not only think, but know, that the Scriptures are the word of God, and that the gospel, which is the charter of all christian privileges, is divine; they have a knowledge of it, which is above all probable hope or thought, and attended with evidence above a thousand probabilities.
And now let it be considered, whether this agrees better with Mr. W.’s own doctrine, concerning men’s knowing the truth and divine authority of the gospel, in what has been before cited from his sermons on Christ a King and Witness. Where he expressly says, that man, since the fall, is ignorant of the divine truth, and full of prejudices against it; has a view of the truth contained in the Bible, as a doubtful uncertain thing; receives it as what is probably true; sees it as a probable scheme, and something likely to answer the end proposed: but that after conversion it appears divinely true and real. (See p. 114, 115, and 144.) Then unconverted men only looked on the truth of the word of God, as probable, something likely, yet as a doubtful uncertain thing; but now they not only think but know it to be true.
No distinction, about the different kinds of knowledge, or the various ways of knowing, will ever help these absurdities, or reconcile such inconsistencies. If there be any such sort of knowing, as is contra-distinguished to probable thinking, and to such opinion as is built on a thousand probabilities, which yet is inconsistent with being ignorant, not believing, being uncertain, nor assured, nor convinced, only looking on a thing probable, looking on it doubtful and uncertain, it must certainly be a new and very strange sort of knowledge.
But this argument, that is so clear and invincible, must have such supports as these, or must quite sink to the earth. It is indeed a remarkable kind of argument. It is not only as much against the scheme it is brought to support, as against that which it would confute; but abundantly more so. For if it were the case in truth, that none might come to the Lord’s supper, but they that know they have a right, yet it would be no direct and proper proof, that unconverted men might come. It would indeed prove, that many godly men might not come; which, it is true, would bring some difficulty on the scheme opposed; yet would be no proof against it. But it is direct and perfect demonstration against the scheme it would support: it demonstrates according to the Scripture, and according to the doctrine of those that urge the argument, that not one unconverted man in the world may lawfully come to the Lord’s supper; as no one of them certainly knows the gospel to be divine, and so no one knows the charter to be authentic, in which alone the right of any to christian privileges is conveyed; hence no one unsanctified man is sure of his right; and therefore (as they draw the consequence) no one unsanctified man may come to the Lord’s supper. And so it follows, that the more strongly Mr. W. stands to this argument, the more peremptory and confident his expressions are concerning it, the more violently and effectually does he supplant himself.
And this position, that a man must not take any privilege, till he not only thinks, but knows, he has a right, is not only unreasonable, as used by Mr. W. against me, when indeed it is ten times as much against himself; but it is unreasonable in itself, as it is an argument, which if allowed and pursued, will prove, that a man may do nothing at all, never move hand or foot, for his own advantage, unless he first, not only thinks, but knows, it is his duty. Mr. W. himself owns (p. 116.) that all the duties, which God requires of us in his instituted worship, are privileges, as well as the Lord’s supper: and so is every other duty, which we are to do for our own benefit. But all human actions are, upon the whole, either good or evil: every thing that we do as rational creatures, is either a duty, or a sin; and the neglect of every thing that is our duty is forbidden. So that we must never so much as take a step, or move a finger, upon only a probable judgment and hope; but must first know it to be our duty, before we do it: nay, we must neither move, nor voluntarily forbear to move, without a certainty of our duty in the case, one way or other!
As to its being alike difficult for men to know or be assured of their moral sincerity, as of their real sanctification, I shall speak to that under the next head; whereby it will appear again, another way, that this argument is vastly more against Mr. W.’s scheme than mine.
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