« Prev SECTION I. Church members should be visible… Next »

None ought to be admitted as members of the visible church of Christ but visible and professing saints.

I begin with observing, I think it is both evident by the word of God, and also granted on all hands, that none ought to be admitted as members of the visible church of Christ but visible and professing saints, or visible and professing Christians.—We find the word saint, when applied to men, used two ways in the New Testament. The word in some places is so used as to mean those that are real saints, who are converted, and are truly gracious persons; as 1 Cor. vi. 2. “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” Eph. i. 18. “The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” Eph. iii. 17, 18. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth,” &c. 2 Thess. i. 10.. “When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and admitted in all them that believe.” So Rev. v. 8; viii. 4; xi. 18; xiii. 10; xiv. 12; xix. 8.. In other places the word is used so as to have respect not only to real saints, but to such as were saints in visibility, appearance, and profession; and so were outwardly, as to what concerns their acceptance among men and their outward treatment and privileges, of the company of saints. So the word is used in very many places, which it is needless to mention, as every one acknowledges it.

In like manner we find the word Christian used two ways: the word is used to express the same thing as ” a righteous man that shall be saved,” 1 Pet. iv. 16-18. Elsewhere it is so used as to take in all that were Christians by profession and outward appearance; Acts xi. 26.. So there is a twofold use of the word disciples in the New Testament. There were disciples in name, profession, and appearance; and there were those whom Christ calls disciples indeed, John viii. 30, 31.—The word isNOT ENGLISH truly. The expression plainly supposes this distinction of true or real disciples, and those who were the same in pretence and appearance. See also Luke xiv. 25-27.. and John xv. 8.. The same distinction is signified, in the New Testament, by those that live, being alive from the dead, and risen with Christ, (2 Cor. iv. 11.. Rom. vi. 11.. and elsewhere,) and those who have a name to live, having only a pretence and appearance of life. And the distinction of the visible church of Christ into these two, is plainly signified of the growth of the good ground, and that in the stony and thorny ground, which had the same appearance and show with the other, till it came to wither away; and also by the two sorts of virgins, Matt. xxv.. who both had a show, profession, and visibility of the same thing. By these things, and many others which might be observed, it appears, that the distinction of real and visible or professing saints is scriptural, and that the visible church was made up of these two, and that none are according to Scripture admitted into the visible church of Christ, but those who are visible and professing saints or Christians. And it is the more needless to insist longer upon it, because it is not a thing in controversy; so far as my small reading will inform me, it is owned by all protestants. To be sure, the most eminent diving in New England who has appeared to maintain the Lord’s supper to be properly a converting ordinance, was very full in it. In his Appeal to the Learned, in the title-page, and through the Treatise, he supposes that all who come to the Lord’s supper, must be visible saints, and sometimes speaks of them as professing saints, page 85, 86: and supposes that it is requisite in order to their being admitted 437 to the communion of the Lord’s table, that they make a personal public profession of their faith and repentance to the just satisfaction of the church, page 93, 94. In these things the whole of the position that I would prove is in effect granted. If it be allowed (as it is allowed on all sides) that none ought to be admitted to the communion of the christian visible church, but visible and professing saints of Christians, if these words are used in any propriety of speech, or in any agreement with scripture representations, the whole of that which I have laid down is either implied or will certainly follow.

As real saints are the same with real converts, or really gracious persons, so visible saints are the same with visible converts, or those that are visibly converted and gracious persons. Visibility is the same with manifestation or appearance to our view and apprehension. And therefore to be visibly a gracious person, is the same thing as to be a truly gracious person to our view, apprehension, or esteem. The distinction of real and visible does not only take place with regard to saintship or holiness, but with regard to innumerable other things. There is visible and real truth, visible and real honesty, visible and real money, visible and real gold, visible and real diamonds, &c. &c. Visible and real are words that stand related one to another, as the words real and seeming, or true and apparent. Some seem to speak of visibility with regard to saintship or holiness, as though it had no reference to the reality, or as though it were a distinct reality by itself; as though by visible saints were not meant those who to appearance are real saints or disciples indeed, but properly a distinct sort of saints, which is an absurdity. There is a distinction between real money and visible money, because all that is esteemed money and passes for money is not real money, but some is false and counterfeit. By visible money, is not meant that which is taken and passes for a different sort from true money, but that which is esteemed and taken as real money, or which has that appearance that recommends it to men’s judgment and acceptance as true money; though men may be deceived, and some of it may finally prove not to be so.

There are not properly two sorts of saints spoken of in Scripture. Though the word saints may be said indeed to be used two ways in Scripture, or used so as to reach two sorts of persons; yet the word has not properly two significations in the New Testament, any more than the word gold has two significations among us: the word gold among us is so used as to extend to several sorts of substances; it is true, it extends to true gold, and also to that which only appears to be gold, and is reputed such, and by that appearance or visibility some things that are not real obtain the name of gold; but this is not properly through a diversity in the signification of the word, but by a diversity of the application of it, through the imperfection of our discerning. It does not follow that there are properly two sorts of saints, because some who are not real saints, do by the show and appearance they make obtain the name of saints, and are reputed such, and whom by the rules of Scripture (which are accommodated to our imperfect state) we are directed to receive and treat as saints; any more than it follows that there are two sorts of honest men, because some who are not truly honest men, yet being so seemingly or visibly, do obtain the name of honest men, and ought to be treated by us as such. So there are not properly two distinct churches of Christ, on the real, and another the visible; though they that are visibly or seemingly of the one only church of Christ, are many more than they who are really of his church; and so the visible or seeming church is of larger extent than the real.

Visibility is a relative thing, and has relation to an eye that views or beholds. Visibility is the same as appearance or exhibition to the eye; and to be a visible saint is the same as to appear to be a real saint in the eye that beholds; not the eye of God, but the eye of man. Real saints or converts are those that are so in the eye of God; visible saints or converts are those who are so in the eye of man; not his bodily eye, for thus no man is a saint any more in the eye of a man than he is in the eye of a beast; but the eye of his mind, which is his judgment or esteem. There is no more visibility of holiness in the brightest professor to the eye of our bodies, without the exercise of the reason and judgment of our minds, than may be in a machine. But nothing short of an apparent probability, or a probable exhibition, can amount to a visibility to the eye of man’s reason or judgment. The eye which God has given to man is the eye of reason: and the eye of a Christian is reason sanctified, regulated, and enlightened, by a principle of christian love. But it implies a contradiction to say, that that is visible to the eye of reason, which does not appear probable to reason. And if there be a man that is in the sense a visible saint, he is in the eye of a rational judgment a real saint. To say a man is visibly a saint, but not visibly a real saint, but only visibly a visible saint, is a very absurd way of speaking; it is as much as to say, he is to appearance an appearing saint; which is in effect to say nothing, and to use words without signification. The thing which must be visible and probable, in order to visible saintship, must be saintship itself, or real grace and true holiness; not visibility of saintship, not unregenerate morality, not mere moral sincerity. To pretend, or in any respect to exhibit, moral sincerity, makes nothing visible beyond what is pretended to or exhibited. For a man to have that visibly, which if he had it really, and have nothing more, would not make him a real saint, is not to be visibly a saint.

Mr. Stoddard, in his Appeal to the Learned, seems to express the very same notion of visibility, and that visibility of saintship which is requisite to persons coming to the Lord’s supper, that I have here expressed. In page 10, he makes a distinction between being visibly circumcised in heart, and being really so; evidently meaning by the latter, saving conversion; and he allows the former, viz. a visibility of heart-circumcision, to be necessary to a coming to the Lord’s supper. So that according to him, it is not a visibility of moral sincerity only, but a visibility of circumcision of heart, or saving conversion, that is a necessary requisite to a person’s coming to the Lord’s table. And in what manner this must be visible, he signifies elsewhere, when he allows, that it must be so to a judgment of charity; a judgment of rational charity. This he expressly allows over and over; as in page 2, 3, 28, 33, 73, and 95: and having reason to look upon them as such, page 28. And towards the close of his book, he declares himself stedfastly of the mind, that it is requisite those be not admitted to the Lord’s supper, who do not make a personal and public profession of their faith and repentance, to the just satisfaction of the church, page 93, 94. But how he reconciled these passages with the rest of his Treatise, I would modestly say, I must confess myself at a loss. And particularly, I cannot see how they consist with what this venerable and ever-honoured author says, page 16, in these words; “Indeed by the rule that God has given for admissions, if it be carefully attended, more unconverted persons will be admitted than converted.” I would humbly inquire, how those visible qualifications can be the ground of a rational judgment, that a person is circumcised in heart, which nevertheless, at the same time, we are sensible are so far from being any probable signs of it, that they are more frequently without it than with it. The appearance of that thing surely cannot imply an appearing probability of another thing, which at the same time we are sensible is most frequently, and so most probably, without that other thing.

Indeed I can easily see, how that may seem visible, and appear probable, to God’s people, by reason of the imperfect and dark state they are in, and so may oblige their charity, which yet is not real, and which would not appear at all probable to angels, who stand in a clearer light. And the different degrees of light, in which God’s church stands, in different ages, may make a difference in this respect. The church under the New Testament being favoured by God with a vastly greater light in divine things, than the church under the Old Testament, that might make some difference, as to the kind of profession of religion that is requisite, under these different dispensations, in order to a visibility of holiness; also a proper visibility may fail in the greater number in some extraordinary case, and in exempt circumstances. But how those signs can be a ground of a rational judgment that a thing is, which, at that very time, and under that degree of light we then have, we are sensible do oftener fail than not, 438 and this ordinarily, I own myself much at a loss. Surely nothing but appearing reason is the ground of a rational judgment. And indeed it is impossible in the nature of things, to form a judgment, which at that very time we think to be not only without, but against, probability.

If it be said, that although persons do not profess that wherein sanctifying grace consists, yet seeing they profess to believe the doctrines of the gospel, which God is wont to make use of in order to sanctification, and are called the doctrine which is according to godliness; and since we see nothing in their lives to make us determine, that they have not had a proper effect on their hearts, we are obliged in charity to hope, that they are real saints, or gracious persons, and to treat them accordingly, and so to receive them into the christian church, and to its special ordinances.

I answer, this objection does in effect suppose and grant the very thing mainly in dispute. For it supposes, that a gracious character is the thing that ought to be aimed at in admitting persons into the communion of the church; and so that it is needful to have this charity for persons, or such a favourable notion of them, in order to our receiving them as properly qualified members of the society, and properly qualified subjects of the special privileges to which they are admitted. Whereas, the doctrine taught is, that sanctifying grace is not a necessary qualification, and that there is no need that the person himself, or any other, should imagine he is a person so qualified. The assigned reason is, because it is no qualification requisite in itself; the ordinance of the Lord’s supper is as proper for them that are not qualified as for those that are; it being according to the design of the institution a converting ordinance, and so an ordinance as much intended for the good of the unconverted, as of the converted; even as it is with the preaching of the gospel. Now if the case be so, why is there any talk about a charitable hoping they are converted, and so admitting them? What need of any charitable hope of such a qualification, in order to admitting them to an ordinance that is as proper for those who are without this qualification, as for those that have it? We need not have any charitable hope of any such qualification in order to admit a person to hear the word preached. What need have we to aim at any thing beyond the proper qualifications? And what need of any charitable opinion or hope of any thing further? Some sort of belief, that Jesus is the Messiah, is a qualification properly requisite to a coming to the Lord’s supper; and therefore it is necessary that we should have a charitable hope, that those have such a belief whom we admit; though it be not necessary that we should know it, it being what none can know of another. But as to grace or christian piety, it clearly follows, on the principles which I oppose, that no kind of visibility or appearance, whether direct or indirect, whether to a greater or less degree, no charity or hope of it, have any thing at all to do in the affair of admission to the Lord’s supper; for, according to them, it is properly a converting ordinance. What has any visibility or hope of a person being already in health to do, in admitting him into an hospital for the use of those means that are appointed for the healing of the sick, and bringing them to health? And therefore it is needless here to dispute about the nature of visibility; and all arguing concerning a profession of christian doctrines, and an orderly life being a sufficient ground of public charity, and an obligation on the church to treat them as saints, are wholly impertinent and nothing to the purpose. For on the principles which I oppose, there is no need of any ground for treating them as saints, in order to admitting them to the Lord’s supper, the very design of which is to make them saints, any more than there is need of some ground of treating a sick man as being a man in health, in order to admitting him into an hospital. Persons, by the doctrine that I oppose, are not taught to offer themselves as candidates for church communion under any such notion, or with any such pretence, as their being gracious persons; and therefore surely when those that teach them, receive them to the ordinance, they do not receive them under any such notion, nor has any appearance, hope, or thought of it, any thing to do in the case.

The apostle speaks of the members of the christian church, as those that made a profession of godliness. 2 Cor. ix. 13.. “They glorified God for your professed subjection to the gospel of Christ.” 1 Tim. ii. 9, 10. “In like manner also that women adorn themselves in modest apparel—not with costly array; but which becometh women professing godliness, with good works.” The apostle is speaking of the women that were members of that great church of Ephesus, which Timothy for the present had the care of; and he speaks of them as supposing that they all professed godliness. By the allowance of all, profession is one thing belonging to the visibility of Christianity or holiness, in the members of the visible church. Visible holiness is an appearance or exhibition of holiness, by those things which are external, and so fall under our notice and observation, and these are two, viz. profession, and outward behaviour agreeable to that profession. That profession which belongs to visible saintship, must be a profession of godliness, or real saintship; for a profession makes nothing visible beyond what is professed. What is it to be a saint by profession, but to be by profession a true saint? For to be by profession a false saint, is to be by profession no saint; and only to profess that, which if never so true, is nothing peculiar to a saint, is not to be a professing saint.

In order to a man’s being properly a professing Christian, he must profess the religion of Jesus Christ: and he surely does not profess the religion that was taught my Jesus Christ, if he leaves out of his profession the most essential things that belong to that religion. That which is most essential in that religion itself, the profession of that is essential in a profession of that religion; for (as I have observed elsewhere) that which is most essential in a thing, in order to its being truly denominated that thing, the same is essentially necessary to be expressed or signified in any exhibition or declaration of that thing, in order to its being truly denominated a declaration or exhibition of that thing. If we take a more inconsiderable part of Christ’s religion, and leave out the main and most essential, surely what we have cannot be properly called the religion of Jesus Christ: so if we profess only a less important part, and are silent about the most important and essential part, it cannot be properly said that we profess the religion of Jesus Christ. And therefore we cannot in any propriety be said to profess Christ’s religion, unless we profess those things wherein consist piety of heart, which is vastly the most important and essential part of that religion, and is in effect all; being that without which all the rest that belongs to it, is nothing, and wholly in vain. But they who are admitted to the Lord’s supper, proceeding on the principles of those who hold it to be a converting ordinance, do in no respect profess christian piety, neither in whole nor in part, neither explicitly nor implicitly, directly nor indirectly; and therefore are not professing Christians, or saints by profession. I mean, though they may be godly persons, yet as they come to the ordinance without professing godliness, they cannot properly be called professing saints.

Here it may be said, that although no explicit and formal profession of those things which belong to true piety, be required of them; yet there are many things they do, that are a virtual and implicit profession of these things: such as their owning the christian covenant, their owning God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be their God; and by their visibly joining in the public prayers and singing God’s praises, there is a show and implicit profession of supreme respect to God and love to him; by joining in the public confessions, they make a show of repentance; by keeping Sabbaths and hearing the word, they make a show of a spirit of obedience; by offering to come to sacraments, they make a show of love to Christ and a dependence on his sacrifice.

To this I answer; It is a great mistake, if any one imagines, that all these external performances are of the nature of a profession, of any thing that belongs to saving grace, as they are commonly used and understood. None of them are so, according to the doctrines that are taught and embraced, and the customs that are established, in such churches as proceed on the footing of the principles forementioned. For what is professing, but exhibiting, uttering, or declaring, either by intelligible words, or by other established signs that are equivalent? But in such churches, neither their publicly saying, that they avouch 439 God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to be their God, and that they give themselves up to him, and promise to obey all his commands, nor their coming to the Lord’s supper, or to any other ordinances, are taken for expressions or signs, of any thing belonging to the essence of christian piety. But on the contrary, the public doctrine, principle, and custom in such churches, establishes a diverse use of these words and signs. People are taught, that they may use them all, and not so much as make any pretence to the least degree of sanctifying grace; and this is the established custom. So they are used, and so they are understood. And therefore whatever some of these words and signs may in themselves most properly and naturally import, they entirely cease to be significations of any such thing among people accustomed to understand and use them otherwise; and so cease to be of the nature of a profession of christian piety. There can be no such thing among such a people, as either an explicit or implicit profession of godliness, by any thing which (by their established doctrine and custom) an unregenerate man may and ought to say and perform, knowing himself to be so. For let the words and actions otherwise signify what they will, yet people have in effect agreed among themselves, that persons who use them need not intend them so, and that others need not understand them so. And hence they cease to be of the nature of any pretension to grace. And surely it is an absurdity to say, that men openly and solemnly profess grace, and yet do not so much as pretend to it. If a certain people should agree, and it should be an established principle among them, that men might and ought to use such and such words to their neighbours, which according to their proper signification were a profession of entire love and devoted friendship towards the man they speak to, and yet not think that he has any love in his heart to him, yea, and know at the same time that he had a reigning enmity against him; and it was known that this was the established principle of the people; would not these words, whatever their proper signification was, entirely cease to be any profession or testimony of friendship to his neighbour? To be sure, there could be no visibility of it to the eye of reason.

Thus it is evident, that those who are admitted into the church on the principles that I oppose, are not professing saints, nor visible saints; because that thing which alone is truly saintship, is not what they profess, or pretend, or have any visibility of, to the eye of a christian judgment. Or if they in fact be visible and professing saints, yet they are not admitted as such; no profession of true saintship, nor any manner of visibility of it, has any thing to do in the affair.

There is one way to evade these things, which has been taken by some. They plead, Although it be true, that the Scripture represents the members of the visible church of Christ as professors of godliness; and they are abundantly called by the name of saints in Scripture, undoubtedly because they were saints by profession, and in visibility, and the acceptance of others, yet this is not with any reference to saving holiness, but to quite another sort of saintship, viz. moral sincerity; and that this is the real saintship, discipleship, and godliness, which is professed, and visible in them, and with regard to which, as having an appearance of it to the eye of reason, they have the name of saints, disciples, &c. in Scripture.—It must be noted, that in this objection the visibility is supposed to be of real saintship, discipleship, and godliness, but only another sort of real godliness, than that which belongs to those who shall finally be owned by Christ as his people, at the day of judgment.

To which I answer, This is a mere evasion; the only one, that ever I saw or heard of; and I think the only one possible. For it is certain, they are not professors of sanctifying grace, or true saintship: the principle proceeded on being, that they need make no pretence to that; nor has any visibility of saving holiness any thing to do in the affair. If then they have any holiness at all, it must be of another sort. And if this evasion fails, all fails, and the whole matter in debate must be given up. Therefore I desire that this matter may be impartially considered and examined to the very bottom; and that it may be thoroughly inquired, whether this distinction of these two sorts of real Christianity, godliness, and holiness, is a distinction of which Christ in his word is the author; or whether it be a human invention of something which the New Testament knows nothing of, devised to serve and maintain an hypotheses.—And here I desire that the following things may be observed:

1. According to this hypothesis, the words saints, disciples, and Christians, are used four ways in the New Testament, as applies to four sorts of persons. (1.) To those that in truth and reality are the heirs of eternal life, and that shall judge the world, or have indeed that saintship which is saving. (2.) To those who profess this, and pretend to and make a fair show of a supreme regard to Christ, and to renounce the world for his sake, but have not real ground for these pretences and appearances. (3.) To those who, although they have not saving grace, yet have that other sort of real godliness, or saintship, viz. moral sincerity in religion; and so are properly a sort of real saints, true Christians, sincerely godly persons, and disciples indeed, though they have no saving grace. And, (4.) To those who make a profession and have a visibility of this latter sort of sincere Christianity, and are nominally such kinds of saints, but are not so indeed.—So that here are two sorts of real Christians, and two sorts of visible Christians; two sorts of invisible and real churches of Christ, and two sorts of visible churches. Now will any one that is well acquainted with the New Testament say, there is in that the least appearance or shadow of such a four-fold use of the words, saints, disciples, &c.? It is manifest by what was observed before, that these words are there used but two ways; and that those of mankind to whom these names are applied, are there distinguished into but two sorts, viz. Those who have really a saving interest in Christ, spiritual conformity and union to him, and those who have a name for it, as having a profession and appearance of it. And this is further evident by various representations, which we there find of the visible church; as in the company of virgins that went forth to meet the bridegroom, we find a distinction of them into but two sorts, viz. The wise that had both lamps and oil; and those who had lamps indeed like the wise virgins, (therein having an external show of the same thing,) but really had no oil; signifying that they had the same profession and outward show of religion, and entertained the same hopes with the wise virgins. So when the visible church is represented by the husbandman’s floor, we find a distinction but of two sorts, viz. the wheat and the chaff. And, when the church is compared to the husbandman’s field, we find a distinction but of two sorts, the wheat and the tares, which (naturalists observe) appear exactly like the wheat, till it comes to bring forth its fruit; representing, that those who are only visible Christians, have an appearance of the nature of wheat, which shall be gathered into Christ’s barn, that is, of the nature of saving grace.

2. It is evident, that those who had the name of disciples in the times of the New Testament, bore the name with reference to a visibility of the same relation to Christ, which they had who should be finally owned as his. This is manifest, John viii. 30, 31. “As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” (Compare Luke xiv. 25, 26, 27.. and John xv. 8..) The phrase, disciples indeed, is relative; and has reference to a visibility, pretence, or name, only, to which it is set in opposition; which makes it evident, that those who then bore the name of disciples, had a visibility and pretence of discipleship indeed. For true discipleship is not properly set in opposition to any thing else but a pretence to the same thing, that is not true. The phrase, gold indeed, is in opposition to something that has the appearance of that same metal, and not to an appearance of brass. If there were another sort of real discipleship in those days, besides saving discipleship, persons might be Christ’s disciples indeed, or truly, (as the word in the original is,) without continuing in his word, and without selling all that they had, and without hating father and mother and their own lives, for his sake. By this it appears, that those who bore the name of disciples in those times were distinguished into but two sorts, disciples in name or visibility, and disciples indeed; and that the visibility 440 and profession of the former was of the discipleship of the latter.

3. The same thing is evident by 1 John ii. 19. “They went out from us, because they were not of us: If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.”—The words naturally suggest and imply, that those professing Christians, who at last proved false, did, before they went out, seem to belong to the society of the true saints, or those endued with persevering grace and holiness. They seemed to be of their number, and so were accepted in the judgment of charity.

4. The name that visible Christians had in the days of the New Testament, was of saving Christianity, and not of moral sincerity; for they had a name to live, though many of them were dead, Rev. iii. 1.. Now it is very plain what that is in religion which is called by the name of life, all over the New Testament, viz. saving grace; and I do not know that any thing else, of a religious nature, is ever so called.

5. The visibility of saintship in the apostles’ days, was not of moral sincerity, but gracious sincerity, or saving saintship. For they are spoken of as being visibly of the number of those saints who shall judge the world, and judge angels. 1 Cor. vi. 1, 2, 3. “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know, that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” These things manifestly imply, that if the christian Corinthians were what they supposed they were, what they professed to be, and what they were accepted to be, they were some of those saints who at the day of judgment should judge angels and men.

6. That the visibility was not only of moral sincerity but saving grace, is manifest, because the apostle speaks of visible christians as visible “members of Christ’s body, of his flesh, and of his bones, and one spirit with him, and temples of the Holy Ghost,” Eph. v. 30.. and 1 Cor. vi. 16, 19.. And the apostle Peter speaks of visible Christians as those who were visibly such righteous persons as should be saved; and that are distinguished from the ungodly, and them that obey not the gospel, who shall perish. 1 Pet. iv. 16, 17, 18. “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God; “and if first begin at us,” (us Christians, comprehending himself, and those to whom he wrote, and all of that sort,) “what shall the end of them be that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinners appear?”

7. That the visibility was not merely of moral sincerity, but of that sort of saintship which the saints in heaven have, is manifest by this, that they are often spoken of as visibly belonging to heaven, and as of the society of the saints in heaven. So the apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians speaks of them as visibly of the same household or family of God, a part of which is in heaven. Eph. ii. 19.. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” Together with the next chapter, verse 15. “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Where the context and continuation of discourse demonstrates, that he is still speaking of the same family or household he had spoken of in the latter part of the preceding chapter. So all visible Christians are spoken of as visibly the children of the church which is in heaven. Gal. iv. 26. “Jerusalem which is above, is free, which is the mother of us all.” The same apostle speaks of visible Christians as being visibly come to the heavenly city, and having joined the glorious company of angels there, and as visibly belonging to the “general assembly and church of the first-born, that are written in heaven, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,” Heb. xii. 22, 23.. And elsewhere they are spoken of as being visibly of the number of those who have their “names written in the book of life,” Rev. iii. 5; xxii. 19. They who truly have their names written in the book of life, are God’s true saints, that have saving grace: as is evident by Rev. xiii. 8. “And all that dwell on the earth, shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” And Rev. xx. 12. “And another book was opened, which was the book of life.” Verse 15. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire.” We are told in the conclusion of this chapter, how they were disposed of whose names were not written in the book of life; and then the prophet proceeds, in the next chapter, to tell us, how they were disposed whose names were found there written, viz. that they were admitted into the New Jerusalem. Verse 27. “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” And yet in the next chapter it is implied, that some who were not truly gracious persons, and some that should finally perish, were visibly of the number of those that had both a part in the New Jerusalem, and also their names written in the book of life. Verse 19. “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city.”

8. That baptism, by which the primitive converts were admitted into the church, was used as an exhibition and token of their being visibly “regenerated, dead to sin, alive to God, having the old man crucified, being delivered from the reigning power of sin, being made free from sin, and become the servants of righteousness, those servants of God that have their fruit unto that holiness whose end is everlasting life;” as is evident by Rom. vi.. throughout. In the former part of the chapter, he speaks of the Christian Romans, as “dead to sin, being buried with Christ in baptism, having their old man crucified with Christ,” &c. He does not mean only, that their baptism laid them under special obligations to these things, and was a mark and token of their engagement to be thus hereafter; but was designed as a mark, token, and exhibition, of their being visibly thus already. As is most manifest by the apostle’s prosecution of his argument in the following part of the chapter. Verse 14. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Verse 17, 18. “God be thanked, ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.” Verse 22. “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

9. It is evident, that it is not only a visibility of moral sincerity in religion, which is the scripture qualification of admission into the christian church, but a visibility of regeneration and renovation of heart, because it was foretold that God’s people and the ministers of his house in the days of the Messiah, should not admit into the christian church any that were not visibly circumcised in heart. Ezek. xliv. 6-9. “And thou shalt say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God, O ye house of Israel, let it suffice you all your abominations, in that ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary to pollute it, even my house, when ye offer my bread, the fat, and the blood; and they have broken my covenant, because of all your abominations: and ye have not kept the charge of mine holy things, but ye have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves. Thus saith the Lord, No stranger uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.”

The venerable author of the Appeal to the Learned, says, page 10. “That this scripture has no particular reference to the Lord’s supper.” I answer, though I do not suppose it has merely a reference to that ordinance, yet I think it manifest, that it has a reference to admitting persons into the christian church, and to external church privileges. It might be easy to prove, that these nine last chapters of Ezekiel must be a vision and prophecy of the state of things in the church of God in the Messiah’s days; but I suppose it will not be denied, it being a thing wherein divines are so generally agreed. And I suppose, none will dispute but that by the house of God and his sanctuary, which it is here foretold the uncircumcised in 441 heart should not be admitted into in the days of the gospel, is meant the same house, sanctuary, or temple of God, that the prophet had just before been speaking of, in the foregoing part of the same chapter, and been describing throughout the four preceding chapters. But we all know, that the New Testament house of God is his church. Heb. iii. 3. “For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who builded the house, hath more honour than the house.” Verse 6. “But Christ as a Son over his own house, whose house are we,” &c. 2 Tim. ii. 20.. “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth,” &c. 1 Tim. iii. 15. “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.” Eph. ii. 20, 21. “And are built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together, groweth into an holy temple in the Lord.” 1 Cor. iii. 9.“ Ye are God’s building.” Verse 16. “Know ye not, that ye are the temple of God?” 1 Pet. ii. 5. “Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house.” 1 Pet. iv. 17. “For the time is come, that, judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it begin at us, what shall the end be?” &c. Heb. x. 21. “And having an high priest over the house of God.” Ezekiel’s temple is doubtless the same which it is foretold the Messiah should build. Zech. vi. 12, 13. “The man whose name is the Branch—he shall build the temple of the Lord, even he shall build the temple of the Lord.” And what the temple that Christ builds is, the apostle tells us, Heb. iii. 3, 6.. The temple that Ezekiel in his vision was bid to observe the measures of, as measured with a reed, (Ezek. xl. 3, 4..) we have reason to think, was the same the apostle John in his vision was bid to measure with a reed, Rev. xi. 1.. And when it is here foretold, that the uncircumcised in heart should not enter into the Christian sanctuary or church, nor have communion in the offerings of God’s bread, of the fat and blood, that were made there, I think so much is at least implied, that they should not have communion in those ordinances of the christian sanctuary, in which that body and blood of Christ were symbolically represented, which used of old to be symbolically represented by the fat and the blood. For the admission into the christian church here spoken of, is an admission into the visible, and not the mystical, church; for such an admission is spoken of as is made by the officers of the church. And I suppose it will not be doubted, but that by circumcision of heart is meant the spiritual renewing of the heart; not any common virtues, which do not in the least change the nature, and mortify the corruption of the heart; as is held by all orthodox divines, and as Mr. Stoddard in particular abundantly insisted. However, if any body disputes it, I desire that the Scripture may be allowed to speak for itself; for it very often speaks of circumcision of heart, and this every where, both in the Old Testament and New, manifestly signifies that great change of heart that was typified by the ceremony of circumcision of the flesh. The same which afterwards was signified by baptism, viz. regeneration, or else the progress of that work in sanctification; as we read of the washing of regeneration, &c. The apostle tells us what was signified both by circumcision and baptism, Col. ii. 11, 12. “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, buried with him in baptism; wherein also you are risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God.” Where I would observe by the way, he speaks of all the members of the church of Colosse as visibly circumcised with this circumcision; agreeable to Ezekiel’s prophecy, that the members of the christian church shall visibly have this circumcision. The apostle speaks, in like manner, of the members of the church of Philippi as spiritually circumcised, (i. e. in profession and visibility,) and tells wherein this circumcision appeared. Philip. iii. 3. “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” And in Rom. ii. 28, 29.. the apostle speaks of this christian and Jewish circumcision together, calling the former the circumcision of the heart. “But he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly, the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” And whereas in this prophecy of Ezekiel it is foretold, that none should enter into the christian sanctuary or church, but such as are circumcised in heart and circumcised in flesh; thereby I suppose is intended, that none should be admitted but such as were visibly regenerated, as well as baptized with outward baptism.

By what has been observed, I think it abundantly evident, that the saintship, godliness, and holiness, of which, according to Scripture, professing Christians and visible saints do make a profession and have a visibility, is not any religion and virtue that is the result of common grace, or moral sincerity, (as it is called,) but saving grace.—Yet there are many other clear evidences of the same thing, which may in some measure appear in all the following part of this discourse.

« Prev SECTION I. Church members should be visible… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection