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SECT. XVII.

Containing some further observations on what is said by Mr. W. in support of the 13th objection, concerning God’s commanding all the members of the visible church, that are not ignorant nor scandalous, to attend all external covenant duties.

It has been already demonstrated (sect. 8th of this third part) that in this argument the question is begged, notwithstanding what Mr. W. has said to the contrary, which sufficiently overthrows the whole argument. Nevertheless, that I may pass by nothing, which those who are on Mr. W.‘s side may be likely to think material, I will here make some further observations on this objection, as represented and supported by Mr. W.

The chief thing, that has the plausible appearance of argument in what Mr. S. and Mr. W. say on this head, is this; “That for God to require all who are in covenant to come to the Lord’s supper, and yet to forbid them to come unconverted, is to suppose, that he both commands them and forbids them at the same time.” And this is thought to be the more manifest, inasmuch as conversion is not in men’s power. Though it is not denied, but that God justly requires men to be converted, or to be truly holy. (See p. 129, 130.)

To this I would say,

(1.) If when they speak of commanding and forbidding at the same time, they mean God’s commanding and forbidding the same thing at the same time, no such consequence follows from my principles. For that thing, and that only, which I suppose God requires of any, is to come to the Lord’s supper with a sanctified heart; and that this God requires at all times, and never forbids at any time; and that to come without this qualification, is what he always forbids, and requires at no time. So that what he requires, at the same time he forbids something, is not the same thing that he forbids; but a very different and contrary one. And it is no absurdity, to suppose, that God requires one thing, and forbids a contrary thing at the same time.

To illustrate this by an example: It was the duty of the Jews at Jerusalem, openly to confess christ, to own him as the Messiah, at that hour when he was led away to be crucified, and openly to testify their adoring respect to him on that extraordinary occasion. But yet they did not believe him to be the Messiah, and could not believe it, (many of them at least,) since they looked on his present abject circumstances as a demonstration, that he was not the Messiah. It was beyond their power, at least at once, in that instant, to give their assent, with all their hearts, to such a supposition. Nor was it in their power, to exercise 528 an adoring respect to him: for, besides their strong prejudices, most of them were judicially hardened, and given up to a spirit of unbelief and obstinate rejection of him; as appears by that account, (John xii. 39, 40.) “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes,” &c. (See also Luke xix. 41, 42. and Matt. xiii. 14, 15.) And yet it would have been unlawful for them to have made a lying profession; to profess, that they believed him to be the Messiah, and that they received and loved him as such, when at the same time they hated him, and did not believe he was the Messiah.—But here is no requiring and forbidding the same thing at the same time: for the only thing required of them was, to have faith and love, and to testify it; which was not at all forbidden.

(2.) None of the difficulties, which Mr. S. or Mr. W. object—either God’s supposed requiring impossibilities, or his requiring and forbidding at the same time—do follow, any more on my principles, than on Mr. W.‘s. Mr. W. maintains, that God calls men this moment to enter into covenant with him, and commands them to do it. (p. 28. c.) One thing implied in this, according to his own frequent explanation of visibly entering into covenant, is professing a belief of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Now therefore, we will suppose a man to be a candidate for baptism, who has been brought up in Arianism; and is strongly persuaded, that the doctrine of the trinity is not true: yet he is this moment required to profess that doctrine; but has no ability in a moment to believe the doctrine, because he does not at present see the evidence of it. For as Mr. W. himself says, (Sermon on Christ a King and Witness, p. 91. d. e. and 92. a.) “The understanding cannot be brought to yield its assent to any truth, which it does not see the truth or apprehend the evidence of.—If you would hire him with cart-loads or ship-loads of gold and silver; if you should imprison him, whip him, burn him; you cannot make him believe a thing to be true, which he apprehends to be incredible, or which he sees no sufficient reason to believe.” Now therefore what shall the man do, on Mr. W.’s principles? He is commanded to profess the doctrine of the Trinity, which must be professed in order to be lawfully baptized in the name of the Trinity; and on Mr. W.‘s principles, he is commanded to do it this moment. Yet also on his principles, if the man professes it, and is not morally sincere, or knows he does not believe it, he is guilty of horrible falsehood and prevarication; which God doubtless forbids. Therefore here is certainly as much of an appearance of commanding and forbidding the same thing at the same time, as in the other case.

Every husbandman in Israel, that lived even in Christ’s time, was required to offer a basket of the first-fruits; and was commanded when he offered it, solemnly to make that profession, concerning the principal facts relating to the redemption out of Egypt,—which is prescribed in . “A Syrian ready to perish was my father,” &c. Now supposing there had been an Israelite, who did not believe the truth of all these facts, which came to pass so many ages before, (as there are now many in christendom, who do not believe the facts concerning Jesus Christ,) and continued in his unbelief, till the very moment of his offering: God peremptorily requires him to make this profession; yet none will say, that he may lawfully profess these things, at the same time when he does not believe them to be true. However, here is no commanding and forbidding the same thing at the same time: because, though God required the Jews to make this profession, yet the thing required was to believe it and profess it. Though some might not believe it, nor be able for the present to believe it; yet this inability arose from depravity and wickedness of heart, which did not at all excuse their unbelief, for one moment.* Mr. W. himself owns, (p. 129. b. c.) that God may require those things which are out of men’s natural power.

Now this may be laid down as a truth, of easy and plain evidence; if God may require what wicked men, while such, are unable to perform, then he may also require those things which are connected with it, and dependent on it, and which, if the other be done, they would be able to do, and might do, and without which they may not do it. So, if God may require an unsanctified man to love him, then he may require him to testify and profess his love, as I suppose Christians do in the act of partaking of the Lord’s supper; and yet it may not be lawful for him to testify and profess love, when he has it not. 608608    Much of the controversy discussed in this book (and the preceding one) which was agitated with great warmth in the American churches, and which is not unfrequently started among congregational churches in Great Britain, seems to originate in the want of clearly stating the scriptural design of entering into full communion. If this be not previously settled, there is but little hope of a satisfactory adjustment. Without entering here into the minutia of proofs, the following particulars are submitted to the reader’s consideration, as probably calculated to aid his inquiries. 1. The chief end of every human society, as well as of every intelligent being, ought to be this. viz. To glorify God, or to represent him as glorious in all his perfections and ways. No human society, of whatever kind, is exempt from this obligation. For a society is only an aggregate of individuals; and as every individual is obliged to do this in all his actions, he is therefore thus obliged in his social capacity. This obligation arises from the respective natures of God and the creature, and it is clearly enjoined in the Holy Scripture. “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”—But. 2. The distinguishing subordinate end or special design of any society, must designate its peculiar nature, whereby it is best adapted to promote that end. Though every society is bound to seek the one chief end, yet every social union is not adapted to answer all social ends. Societies of a religious, moral, charitable, scientific, or political design, must have members of a corresponding character, otherwise the proposed end cannot be answered. The qualifications of the members must have an aptitude to promote the design. 3. The distinguishing design of a society denominated a church, evidently, is to promote religion. Numbers are united by divine appointment, to maintain religion—to exhibit before the world real Christianity— to encourage those who seek the right way—to edify one another—and the like. Such particulars we gather from the sacred Scriptures. ” Striving together for the faith of the gospel.”—“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God (resembling him) without rebuke (or, cause of rebuke) in the minds of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life.”-A church of Christ is appointed to shine in a dark world, to be blameless and harmless among the crooked and perverse, to imitate God, as far as practicable, while among the children of the wicked one, to give no offence to those who are without or those who are within the church, to hold forth, and hold fast, the word of life, by doctrine, by discipline, and by practice. “Him that is weak in the faith receive you, but not to doubtful disputations.” Provided a person be desirous of christian fellowship, and is possessed of so much knowledge, so much experienced efficacy of truth, and so much good conduct, as is calculated to answer, in a prevailing degree, the design of a church being at all formed, let him not be rejected. “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do?” This is done by mutual instructions, exhortations, prayers, and praises; by watchful discipline, and the exercise of religious gifts; by friendly offices, and acts of christian kindness. 4. The preceding particulars are produced only as instances; but in order accurately to ascertain the special end of christian fellowship, in full communion, all the passages contained in the New Testament relating to the subject ought to be included. For until the revealed special design for which a church of Christ is instituted be ascertained, it is obviously not possible to ascertain the precise nature of the society, and consequently the qualifications of its members. However, 5. We will suppose that, by an appeal to all the passages of the New Testament, the precise design is known; from whence the nature of a church is deduced: the question returns,—Is there any general rule that may form an invariable standard by which all qualifications of candidates may be measured? There undoubtedly is, for this plain reason, because a church is a society instituted for specific ends, revealed in the New Testament. Now as these ends are matter of divine record, and not of human opinion, the standard is invariable. 6. We will further suppose, that the general rule, by which to measure qualifications for full communion, is The scriptural design for which a gospel church in full communion is divinely instituted. No party, however they may differ about other things, can object to this rule, with any colour of reason. To deny its claim, they must either subvert the evident principles of all voluntary societies, or else hold, that a christian church is not instituted in the New Testament for any specific end. But this no reasonable person, much less a serious Christian, will maintain. Hence, 7. Those candidates for full communion, and only those, who are conformed to this rule, are fully qualified. But here it is of essential importance to observe, that though a rule is, and from its very nature must be, fixed and invariable, the qualifications of individuals are variable things, admitting of more or less conformity to it. The conjectures of men, however ingenious and plausible, cannot be admitted as a rule, because they are variable; but the rule must be deduced from the design itself of instituting a church, which is evidently a matter of pure divine pleasure, and which could not be known without a revelation from God. A rule, then, must be sought from the sacred oracles by an induction of particulars relating to the point in question, and from their harmonious agreement: and it is the business of every christian church, minister and member, to search the Scriptures in order to ascertain it. To contend about qualifications, before this is agreed upon, is to contend about the dimensions of different things, before a standard is fixed upon which to measure them. But the constituent parts of the qualifications in candidates cannot be found in Scripture: they must, most evidently, be sought in the characters of the individuals, which are indefinitely variable. To suppose that the character, or the actual attainment, of each candidate is revealed in Scripture, is too absurd to be maintained by any rational mind. Therefore, 8. What remains for a church to do in judging of qualifications, is to compare the proficiency of the candidate, with the scriptural rule. The former, admitting of indefinite degrees of approximation to the standard, must be learnt from the person himself, from his conduct, and from the testimony of others. His profession, his declared experience of divine truth, his deportment in society, in short, his general character, is to be viewed, in comparison with the evident design of God in forming a church. 9. Should it be objected, that different persons, or churches, might fix on a different standard, by adding more texts of Scripture out of which a various general result would arise; it is answered, that therefore this is the point to be first settled. When any disagree about the rule, they cannot of course agree about the qualifications. There are many texts, however, such as those above produced, concerning which there can be no disagreement. The rule therefore should be admitted, as far as it goes. A measure of a foot long may, as far as it goes, be a standard of straightness and of measure, as well as a yard or a fathom. Or, to change the comparison, a small measure of capacity may be equally accurate, to a certain degree, as a larger measure. Let the church of small attainments act charitably, and wait for brighter evidence. If any lack wisdom, let them ask of God, who giveth liberally. “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded; and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.” 10. The scriptural rule is not only invariable, but also perfect in its kind, as dictated by infinite wisdom for the noblest ends. But no human character, in the present state, is perfect, so as to comport universally with the standard. Therefore no candidate for communion is perfectly qualified; that is, his qualifications are only comparative. One may be qualified in a greater, and another in a smaller degree. One is qualified to fill his place eminently, another moderately well. One may be strong, and another weak in the faith. Yet he who is weak in the faith may be comparatively qualified. Therefore, 11. Since qualifications are so various, and admit of indefinite approximations to the perfect standard, or deviations from it, we are bound to accede to another conclusion, viz. That whatever kind or degree of qualification appears to befriend, rather than to oppose, to honour, rather than to discredit, the scriptural design of full communion, ought to be admitted by the church. When a candidate for communion is proposed to a church, its immediate business is to consult the scriptural design of communion; and then to consider how far the qualifications of the candidate appear to befriend and to honour it 12. From the premises it follows, that to reason from qualifications for communion in the Jewish church, to those for full communion in a gospel church, must needs be uncertain and inconclusive; except it could be first proved, that the revealed design of each was the same. But it requires no great labour to show by an induction of particulars, that the design was very different; and consequently, that what would be a suitable qualification for the one. would not be so for the other. 13. We may further infer, that when a church requires a probable evidence of grace as the measuring rule of admission, and directs nearly all its attention to ascertain this point, its proceedings are irregular, unscriptural, and therefore unwarrantable. The rule of judging, as before shown, must be found in the Scripture, and not in the candidate. 14. We may further infer from the preceding observations, that a probable evidence of grace in a candidate, is not the precise ground of the qualification, however desirable that evidence may be. Yet, because ordinarily, and most probably, the absence of saving grace implies the absence of the precise ground of answerableness to the scriptural design of full communion, such probable evidence is of great importance. However nice this distinction may appear to some, the want of attending to it seems to have constituted the chief difference between our author and his antagonists. And, in fair investigation, another question, different from what was agitated, ought to have been first settled, viz. Whether any person, who is not visibly the subject of saving grace, can “befriend, rather than oppose, can honour, rather than discredit, the scriptural design of full communion? ” Fairly to answer this question in the negative, it is not enough to prove, that such a person cannot fully answer the scriptural design. But it ought to be proved, that no person destitute of such probable evidence of saving grace, in any circumstances whatever, can be found, who might befriend and honour the scriptural design of communion, rather than the contrary. This is the real hinge of the controversy. 15. It is an unscriptural notion, too much taken upon trust, that the immediate business of a church, is to form an opinion respecting the spiritual state of a person before God; as. whether be is the subject of saving grace —whether he has a principle of sincerity—whether his motives are spiritually pure, &c. Whereas, a church ought not to act the part of a jury on the candidate’s real state towards God, but on his state towards the church. They are to determine, whether he is or is not eligible to answer the scriptural ends of such a society, and indeed of that particular church. For, as the circumstances of divers churches may be very different, there may be cases, where the same person may be eligible to one church, and not to another. In one church he may promote its welfare, in another hinder it. This may greatly depend on his peculiar tenets, and the zeal with which he may be disposed to maintain them. In one society he may be a source of disquiet and confusion, but in another the reverse. 16 Hence it is evident, that a visibility of saving grace, though it claims the christian love and respect of the church, does not in all cases constitute eligible qualifications. For, whatever has an evident tendency to produce disputes, animosities, and divisions in a church, ought to be kept out of it. But the admission of a person who appeared zealous for sentiments and customs opposite to those held by the church, would have this apparent tendency, notwithstanding his possessing a visibility of grace, on other accounts. Therefore, though a visibility of grace, in some cases, may be sufficiently plain, yet an apparent failure in other respects may be sufficient to show that a person is not qualified for full communion. In short, if the church have good reason to think, that his admission would do more harm than good, he should be deemed unqualified for membership in that society, though he may be entitled to a charitable opinion, or even christian love, on other accounts: and, on the contrary, if the church have good reason to think, that his admission would do more good than harm, he should be deemed qualified for membership—even though he may be less entitled to a charitable opinion of his state towards God, than the other. COROLLARIES 1. Any candidate who appears, in the charitable judgment of a christian church, likely to give a favourable representation of Christianity to the church and the world—to encourage the desirous, by his knowledge and tempers—and to give and receive christian edification in that communion—is, in the scripture sense, qualified for full communion. 2. Personal religion, in the sight of God, is to be deemed necessary only for the sake of enabling the candidate to answer such ends,—as far as membership is concerned; but, as final salvation is concerned, personal religion is indispensably necessary, this connexion being clearly revealed, as well as founded in the nature of things. 3. A christian minister may consistently exercise holy jealousy over some church-members, and warn them of the danger of hypocrisy, without threatening them with exclusion from their membership; because only their overt-acts (including sentiments, tempers, and conduct.) are the object of discipline, as they were of admission. 4. Some persons, though in a safe state towards God, may not answer the forementioned ends of membership, better than others who are not in such a state. 5. A person may be qualified for the society of heaven, while not qualified for full communion in a christian church; because the natures of the two societies are different, and consequently the scriptural ends of their admission into each. For infants, and idiots &c. may be qualified by grace for the society of heaven; but are totally unqualified for full communion in the church on earth. 6. Were christian churches to act always on these principles, much bitter strife and useless discussions would be avoided, in the admission and exclusion of members. For, in neither the one nor the other, would the church pronounce on the state of the persons towards God; for when any were admitted, no handle would be afforded to the presumption, that membership below is a qualification for heaven - and when any were excluded, no occasion would be given to the excommunicated person, or to the world, to pass the censure of uncharitableness on the church; for every voluntary society has a right to judge, according to its own appropriate rules, who is, and who is not, qualified to promote its welfare.—W.


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