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A consideration of Mr. W.’s defence on the 10th objection, against the doctrine of the unlawfulness of unsanctified men coming to the Lord’s supper, that it tends to the great perplexity and torment of many godly men in their attendance on this ordinance.
My first reply to this objection was, that it is for want of like tenderness of conscience, that the other doctrine which insists on moral sincerity, does not naturally bring such as are received on those principles, into as great perplexities.—Mr. W. in his animadversions upon it says, “This is an assertion which I take to be contrary to common sense, and the experience of mankind: and the allowing of it to be true, must overthrow the law of nature, and cast infinite reproach upon the author of it.”
These are strong expressions; but let us bring the matter to the test of reason.—The necessary qualification, on Mr. W.’s principles, is moral sincerity, and a certain degree of moral sincerity. For there is scarcely any man, that lives under the light of the gospel, and is not an atheist, or deist, but what has some degree of moral sincerity, in some things pertaining to Christianity and his duty; some degree of common faith, some degree of conviction of the need of Christ, some desire of him, and moral willingness though from selfish considerations, to be good; and some purpose to endeavour a conformity to the covenant of grace, and to seek salvation on the terms of it. But how shall a man know what is a sufficient degree of these things? Mr. W. has determined the matter thus; that his belief of the doctrine of the gospel, and moral willingness, to be conformed to the covenant of grace, must be with his whole heart, (p. 49. e. p. 5. c. 36. a.) And that his conviction of his undone state without Christ must be deep; and his desire of Christ and his benefits fervent, and his purpose earnest, (p. 75. e. p. 11. c.) so as to induce him to enter into covenant with all the earnestness he can, and engage him to use endeavours with all the strength and power that he has. (p. 83. e. p. 32. d. p. 36. a.)
Now how exceeding difficult must it be for unsanctified men to determine, with any assurance, whether they have moral sincerity to such a degree!—How difficult for them to know, whether their convictions are thus deep! Every one that is used to deal with souls under conviction, knows, that when they are indeed under deep convictions, they are especially apt to complain of the hardness of their hearts, and to think their convictions are not deep.—How difficult to determine, with any assurance, whether their assent rises so high, that they can truly be said to believe with all their hearts! Whether their moral willingness to be conformed to the covenant of grace, be with their whole heart! And whether they are really engaged with all the solicitude they can, and are willing to do all that they can! These things, I am pretty sure, are of vastly more difficult determination, than whether a man has any true holiness, or not. For in the former case, the determination is concerning the degree of things, that are capable 527 of an infinite variety of degrees; some of which are nearer to, and others are further from, the lowest sufficient degree: and consequently some of the degrees that are not sufficient, may yet be very near; which renders the matter of very difficult determination; unspeakably more so, that when what is to be distinguished, is the nature of things, which in all degrees is widely diverse, and even contrary to that which it is to be distinguished from: as is the case between saving and common grace; which Mr. W. himself acknowledges. 607607 See his serm. on Christ a King and Witness, (p. 84. e.) where he says, “notwithstanding the visible likeness of nominal and real Christians, there is a wide difference, as there is between the subjects of christ and the slaves of the devil.” It is more easy to distinguish light from darkness, than to determine the precise degree of light; and so it is more easy to determine, whether a man be alive or dead, than whether there be exactly such a certain degree of vigour and liveliness.
This moral sincerity, which Mr. W. insists on, is a most indeterminate uncertain thing; a phrase without any certain precise meaning; and must for ever remain so. It being not determined, how much men must be morally sincere; how much they must believe with a moral sincerity; whether the deeply awakened and convinced sinner must believe, that God is absolutely sovereign with respect to his salvation, and that Christ is perfectly sufficient to save him in particular; and to what degree of moral assent and consent, he must believe and embrace these things, and comply with the terms of the covenant of grace; whether he must be willing to obey all God’s commands, the most difficult, as well as the most easy, and this in all circumstances, even the most difficult that can arise in providence; or whether only in some circumstances; and what, and how many. The Scripture gives us many infallible rules, by which to distinguish between saving grace, and common. But I know of no rules given in the Bible, by which men may certainly determine this precise degree of moral sincerity. So that if grace is not the thing which gives a right to sacraments in the sight of God, we have no certain rule in the Bible, commensurate to the understanding of mankind, by which to determine when we have a right, and when not.—Now let the impartial reader judge, which scheme lays the greatest foundation for perplexity to communicants of tender consciences, concerning their qualifications for the Lord’s supper; and whether this argument drawn from such a supposed tendency to such perplexity (if there be any force in it) is not vastly more against Mr. W.‘s scheme, than mine.
And here by the way, let it be noted, that by these things it is again demonstrated, that the ninth objection, the great argument considered in the preceding section, concerning the necessity of a known right, in order to a lawful partaking, is exceedingly more against Mr. W.‘s principles, than mine; inasmuch as, on his principles, it is so much more difficult for men to know, whether they have a right, or have the prescribed qualification, or not.
I answered this argument in the second place, by alleging, that this doctrine of the necessity of saving grace in order to a right to the Lord’s supper, is not properly the cause of the perplexities of doubting saints, in their attendance on this ordinance; though it may be the occasion: but that their own negligence and sin is the true cause; and that this doctrine is no more the cause of these perplexities, than the doctrine of the necessity of saving grace in order to salvation, is the cause of the perplexity of doubting saints when they come to die. Upon which Mr. W. says, There is no shadow of resemblance of these cases, because death is no ordinance, &c. But if death is no ordinance, yet it is the required duty of the saints to yield themselves to the Lord, and resign to the will of God, in their death. And in this respect, the cases are exactly parallel, that perplexities are just so much the consequence of the respective doctrines, in one case, as in the other; that is, the perplexities of a doubting saint on a death-bed, the difficulty and trouble he meets with in resigning himself to the will of God in dying, is just in the same manner the consequence of the doctrine of the necessity of saving grace in order to eternal salvation, as the perplexities of a doubting saint at the Lord’s table are the consequence of the doctrine of the necessity of saving grace in order to a right to the Lord’s supper. And this is sufficient for my purpose.
Mr. W. himself says, in his answer to Mr. Croswell, (p. 122. c.) “Although there are comparatively few that obtain assurance; yet it is through their own sloth and negligence that they do not. We fully agree with Mr. Perkins, that a man in this life may ordinarily be infallibly certain of his salvation. So Mr. Stoddard (in his sermon on one good sign—) says, “There is no necessity, that the people of God should lie under darkness and temptation; they may obtain assurance.”—Now, if this be the case, then certainly there is no justice in laying the temptation and uneasiness, which is the effect of sloth and negligence, to the doctrine I maintain, in those that embrace it. It is a wise dispensation of God, that he has so ordered things, that comfort in ordinances, and in all duties, and under all providences, should be to be obtained in a way of diligence; and that slothfulness should be the way to perplexity and uneasiness, and should be a way hedged up with thorns, agreeable to Prov. xv. 19.—That it is so ordered, is for the good of the saints, as it tends to turn them out of this thorny path, into the way of diligence. And so this doctrine, as it has this tendency, has a tendency in the end to that solid peace and comfort, which is the happy fruit of their holy diligence. And that, and not the saints’ perplexity, is properly the effect of this doctrine.
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