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ture has told us, that this their goodness is apt to vanish like the morning cloud and early dew. How can it be expected but that their religion should in a little time wither away, when it has no root? How can it be expected, that the lamp should burn long, without oil in the vessel to feed it? If lust be unmortified, and left in reigning power in the heart, it will sooner or later prevail ; and at length sweep away common grace and moral sincerity, however excited and maintained for a while by conviction and temporary affections. It will happen to them according to the true proverb, The dog is returned to his vomit, and the swine that was washed to his wallowing in the mire. It is said of the hypocrite, Will he delight himself in the Almighty ? Will he always call upon God?-And thus our churches will be likely to be such congregations as the Psalmist said he hated, and would not sit with. Psal. xxvi. 4,5. “I have not sat with vain persons, nor will I go in with dissemblers ; I have hated the congregation of evil-doers, nor will I sit with the wicked.”—This will be the way to have the Lord's table ordinarily furnished with such guests as allow themselves to live in known sin, meeting together only to crucify Christ afresh, instead of commemorating his crucifixion with the repentance, faith, gratitude, and love of friends. And this is the way to have the governing part of the church such as are not even conscientious men, and are careless about the honour and interest of religion. And the direct tendency of that is, in process of time, to introduce a prevailing negligence in discipline, and carelessness in seeking ministers of a pious and worthy character. And the next step will be, the church being filled with persons openly vicious in manners, or else scandalously erroneous in opinions. It is well if this be not already the case in fact with some churches that have long, professed and practised on the principles I oppose. And if these principles should be professed and proceeded on by Christian churches every where, the natural tendency of it would be, to have the greater part of what is called the church of Christ, through the world, made up of vicious and erroneous persons. And how greatly would this be to the reproach of the Christian church, and of the holy name and religion of Jesus Christ in the sight of all nations ?*
* And this by the way answers another objection, which some have made, viz. That the way I plead for, tends to keep the church of Christ small
, and hinder the growth of it. Whereas, I think, the contrary tends to keep it small, as it is the wickedness of its members, that above all things in the world prejudices mankind it: and is the chief stumbling-block, that hinders the propagation of Christianity, and so the growth of the Christian church. But holiness would cause the light of the church to shine so as to induce others to resort to it.
And now is it not better, to have a few real living Chris. tians kept back through darkness and scruples, than to open a door for letting in such universal ruin as this? To illustrate it by a familiar comparison ; is it not better, when England is at war with France, to keep out of the B itish realm a few loyal Englishmen, than to give leave for as many treacherous Frenchmen to come in as please?
2. This way tends to the eternal ruin of the parties admitted; for it lets in such, yea, it persuades such to come in, as know themselves to be impenitent and unbelieving, in a dreadful manner to take God's name in vain ; in vain to worship him, and abuse sacred things, by performing those external acts and rites in the name of God, which are instituted for declarative signs and professions of repentance toward God, faith in Christ, and love to him, at the same time that they know themselves destitute of those things which they profess to have. And is it not better, that some true saints, through their own weakness and misunderstanding, should be kept away from the Lord's table, which will not keep such out of heaven, than voluntarily to bring in multitudes of false professors to partake unworthily, and in effect to seal their own condemnation.
You cannot keep out hypocrites, when all is said and done; but as many graceless persons will be likely to get into the church in the way of a profession of godliness, as if nothing were insisted on, but a freedom from public scandal.
ANSWER. It may possibly be so in some places through the misconduct of ministers and people, by remissness in their inquiries, carelessness as to the proper matter of a profession, or setting up some mistaken rules of judgment; neglecting those things which the scripture insists upon as the most essential articles in the character of a real saint ; and substituting others in the room of them ; such as impressions on the imagination, instead of renewing influences on the heart; pangs of affection, instead of the habitual temper of the mind; a certain method and order of impressions and suggestions, instead of the nature of things experienced, &c. But to say, that in churches where the nature, the notes, and evidences of true Christianity as described in the scriptures, are well understood, taught, and observed, there as many hypocrites are likely to get in; or to suppose, that there as many persons of an honest character, who are well instructed in these rules, and well conducted by them and judging of themselves by these rules, do think themselves
true saints, and accordingly make profession of godliness, and are admitted as saints in a judgment of rational charity-are likely to be carnal, unconverted men, as of those who make no such pretence and have no such hope, nor exhibit any such evidences to the eye of a judicious charity,—is not so much an objection against ihe doctrine I am defending, as a reflection upon ihe scripture itself, with regard to the rules it gives, either for persons to judge of their own state, or for others to form a charitable judgment, as if they were of little or no service. We are in miserable circumstances indeed, if the rules of God's holy word in things of such infinito importance, are so ambiguous and uncertain, like the Heathen oracles. And it would be very strange, if in these days of the gospel, when God's mind is revealed with such great plainness of speech, and the canon of scripture is completed, it should ordinarily be the case in fact
, that those who, having a right doctrinal understanding of the scripture, and judging themselves by its rules, do probably conclude or seriously hope of themselves, that they are real saints
, are as many of them in a state of sin and condemnation, as others who bave no such rational hope concerning their good estate, nor pretend to any special experiences in religion.
If a profession of godliness be a thing required in order to admission into the church, there being some true saints who doubt of their state, and from a tender conscience will not dare to make such a profession; and there being others, that have no grace, nor much tenderness of conscience, but great presumption and forwardness, who will boldly make the highest profesgion of religion, and so will get admittance: It will hence come to pass, that the very thing, which will in effect procure for the lutier an admission, rather than the former, will be their presumption and wickedness.
Answer 1. It is no sufficient objection against the wholesomeness of a rule established for regulating the civil state of mankind, that in some instances men's wickedness may take advantage by that rule, so that even their wickedness shall be the very thing, which, by an abuse of that rule, procures them temporal honours and privileges. For such is the present state of man in this evil world, that good rules, in many instances, are liable to be thus abused and perverted. As for instance, there are many human laws, accounted wholesome and necessary, by
which an accused or suspected person's own solemn profession of innocency, upon oath, shall be the condition of acquittance and impunity; and the want of such a protestation or profession shall expose him to the punishment. And yet, by an abuse of
, these rules, in some instances, nothing but the horrid sin of perjury, or that most presumptuous wickedness of false swearing, shall be the very thing that acquits a man: While another of a more tender conscience, who fears an oath, must suffer the penalty of the law.
2. Those rules, by all wise law-givers, are accounted whole. some, which prove of general good tendency, notwithstanding any bad consequences arising in some particular instances. And as to the ecclesiastical rule now in question, of admission to sacraments on a profession of godliness, when attended with requisite circumstances; although in particular instances it may be an occasion of some tender-hearted Christians abstaining, an some presumptuous sinners being admitted, yet that does not hinder but that a proper visibility of holiness to the eye of reason, or a probability of it in a judgment of rational Christian charity, may this way be maintained, as the proper qualification of candidates for admission. Nor does it hinder but that it may be reasonable and wholesome for mankind, in their outward conduct, to regulate themselves by such probability, and that this should be a reasonable and good rule for the church to regulate themselves by in their admissions; notwithstanding it may happen in particular instances, that things are really diverse from, yea the very reverse of, what they are visibly. Such a profession as has been insisted on, when attended with requisite cir. cumstances, carries in it a rational credibility in the judgment of Christian charity: For it ought to be attended with an honest and sober character, and with evidences of good doctrinal knowledge, and with all proper, careful, and diligent instructions of a prudent pastor. And though the pastor is not to act as a searcher of the heart, or a lord of conscience in this affair, yet that hinders not but that he may and ought to inquire particularly into the experiences of the souls committed to his care and charge, that he may be under the best advantages to instruct and advise them, to apply the teachings and rules of God's word unto them, for their self-examination, to be helpers of their joy, and promoters of their salvation. However, finally, not any pretended extraordinary skill of his in discerning the heart, but the person's own serious profession concerning what he finds in his own soul, after he has been well instructed, must regulate the public conduct with respect to him, where there is no other external visible thing to contradict and over-rule it. And a serious profession of godliness, under these circumstances, carries in it a visibility to the eve of the church's rational and Christian judgment,
3. If it be still insisted on, that a rule of admission into the church cannot be good, if liable to such abuse as that forementioned, I must observe, This will overthrow the rules that the objectors themselves go by in their admissions. For they insist upon it, that a man must not only have knowledge and be free of scandal, but must appear orthodox, and profess the common faith. Now presumptuous lying, for the sake of the honour of being in the church, having children baptized, and voting in ecclesiastical affairs, may possibly be the very thing that brings some men into the church by this rule; while greater tenderness of conscience may be the very thing that keeps others out. For instance, a man who secretly in his mind gives no credit to the commonly received doctrine of the Trinity, yet may, by pretending an assent to it, and in hypocrisy making a public profession of it, get into the church; when at the same time another that equally disbelieves it, but has a more tender conscience than to allow himself in solemnly telling a lie, may by that very means be kept off from the communion.
It seems hardly reasonable to suppose, that the only wise God has made men's opinion of themselves, and a profession of it, the term of their admission to church-privileges; when we know, that very often the worst men have the highest opinion of themselves.
Answ, l. It must be granted me, that in fact this is the case, if any proper profession at all is expected and required, whether it be of sanctifying grace, or of moral sincerity, or any thing else that is good. And to be sure, nothing is required to be professed, or is worthy to be professed, any further than it is good.
Answ. 2. If some things, by the confession of all, must be professed, because they are good, and of great importance ; then certainly it must be very unreasonable, to say, that those things wherein true holiness consists are not to be professed, or that a profession of them should not be required, because they are good, even in the highest degree, and infinitely the most important and most necessary things of any in the world. And it is unreasonable to say, that it is the less to be expected we should profess sincere friendship to Christ, because friendship to Christ is the most excellent qualification of any whatsoever, and the contrary the most odious. How absurd is it to say this, merely