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Because it is taken for granted, that these are not unqualified. And thus the grand point in question is supposed, instead of being proved. Why are these limitations only singled out, neither ignorant nor scandalous; and not others as well? The answer must be, because these are all the limitations which the scripture makes: But this now is the very thing in question. Whereas, the business of an argument is to prove, and not to suppose, or take for granted, the very thing which is to be proved.
If it be here said, It is with good reason that those who are ignorant or scandalous alone are supposed to be excepted in God's command, and obligations of the covenant ; for the covenant spoken of in the objection, is the external covenant, and this requires only external duties, which alone are what lie within the reach of man's natural power, and so in the reach of his legal power: God does not command or require what men have no natural power to perform, and which cannot be performed before something else, some antecedent duty, is performed, which antecedent duty is not in their natural power.
I reply, Still things are but supposed, which should be proved, and which want confirmation.
(1.) It is supposed, that those who have externally (i. e. by oral profession and promise) entered into God's covenant, are thereby obliged to no more than the external duties of that covenant: Which is not proved, and, I humbly conceive, is certainly not the true state of the case. They who have externally entered into God's covenant, are by external profession and engagements entered into that one only covenant of grace, which the scripture informs us of; and therefore are obliged to fulfil the duties of that covenant, which are chiefly internal. The children of Israel, when they externally entered into covenant with God at Mount Sinai, promised to perform all the duties of the covenant, to obey all the ten commandments spoken by God in their hearing, and written in tables of stone, which were therefore called The Tables of the Covenant ; the sum of which ten commands was, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and to love their neighbour as themselves; which principally at least are internal duties. In particular, they promised not to covet; which is an internal duty:-They promised to have no other God before the Lord; which implied, that they would in their hearts regard no other being or object whatever above God, or in equality with him, but would give him their supreme respect.
(2.) It is supposed, that God does not require impossibilities of men, in this sense, that he does not require those things of them which are out of their natural power, and particularly that he does not require them to be converted, "But this is not proved; nor can I reconcile it with the tenor of the scripture revelation. And the chief advocates for the doctrine I oppose, have themselves abundantly asserted the contrary. The venerable author forementioned, as every body knows that knew him, always taught, that God justly requires men to be converted, to repent of their sins, and turn to the Lord, to close with Christ, and savingly to believe in him; and that in refusing to accept of Christ and turn to God, they disobeyed the divine commands, and were guilty of the most heinous sin ; and that their moral inability was no excuse.
(3.) It is supposed, that God does not command men to do those things which are not to be done till something else is done, that is not within the reach of men's natural ability. This also is not proved ; nor do I see how it can be true, even according to the principles of those who insist on this objection. The forementioned memorable divine ever taught, that God commandeth natural men without delay to believe in Christ: And yet he always held, that it was impossible for them to believe till they had by a preceding act submitted to the sovereignty of God; and yet he held, that men never could do this of themselves, till humbled and bowed by powerful convictions of God's Spirit
. Again, he taught, that God commandeth natural men to love him with all their heart: And yet he held, that this could not be till men had first believed in Christ; the exercise of love being a fruit of faith ; and believing in Christ, he supposed not to be within the reach of man's natural ability. Further, he held, that God requireth of all men holy, spiritual, and acceptable obedience; and yet that such obedience is not within the reach of their natural ability; and not only so, but that there must be love to God, before there could be new obedience, and that this love to God is not within the reach of men's natural ability. Yet, before this love there must be faith, which faith is not within the reach of man's natural power : and still, before faith there must be the knowledge of God, which knowledge is not in natural men's reach: And, once more, even before the knowledge of God there must be a thorough humiliation, which humiliation men could not work in themselves by any natural power of their own. Now, must it needs be thought, notwithstanding all these unreasonable things, that God should command those whom he has nourished and brought up, to honour him by giving an open testimony of love to him; only because wicked men cannot testify love till they have love, and love is not in their natural power? And is it any good excuse in the sight of God, for one who is under the highest obligations to him, and yet refuses him suitable honour by openly testifying his love of him, to plead that he has no love to testify; but on the contrary, has an infinitely unreasonable hatred? God may most reasonably require a proper testimony and profession of love to him ; and yet it may also be reasonable to suppose, at the same time, he forbids men to lie ; or to declare that they have love, when they have none: Because, though it be supposed, that God requires men to testify love to him, yet he requires them to do it in a right way, and in the true order, viz. first loving him, and then testifying their love.
(4.) I do not see how it can be true, that a natural man has not a legal power to be converted, accept of Christ, love God, &c. By a legal power to do a thing, is plainly meant such power as brings a person properly within the reach of a legal obligatio', or the obligation of a law or command to do that thing. But he that has such natural faculties, as render bim a proper subject of moral government, may properly be commanded and put under the obligation of a law to do things so reasonable ; notwithstanding any native aversion and moral inability in him to do his duty, arising from the power of sin. This, also, I must observe, was a known doctrine of Mr. Stoddard's, and what he ever taught.
Either unsanctified persons may lawfully come to the Lord's supper, or it is unlawful for them to carry themselves as saints: but it is not unlawful for them to carry themselves as saints.
Answer. It is the duty of unconverted men both to become saints, and to behave as saints. The scripture rule is, Make the tree good, that the fruit may be good. Mr. Stoddard himself never supposed, that the fruit of saints was to be expected from men, or could possibly be brought forth by them in truth, till they were saints.
And I see not how it is true, that unconverted men ought, in every respect, to do those external things, which it is the duty of a godly man to do. It is the duty of a godly man, conscious of his having given his heart unto the Lord, to profess his love to God and his esteem of him above all, his unfeigned faith in Christ, &c. and in his closet devotions to thank God for these graces as the fruit of the Spirit in him. But it is not the duty of another that really has no faith, nor love to God, to do thus. Neither any more is it a natural man's duty to profess these things in the Lord's supper.-Mr. Stoddard taught it to be the duty of converts, on many occasions, to profess their faith and love and other graces before men, by relating their experiences in conversation : But it would be great wickedness, for such as know themselves to be not saints, than to do; because they would speak falsely, and utter lies in so doing. Now, for the like reason, it would be very sinful, for men to profess and seal their consent to the covenant of grace in the Lord's supper, when they know at the same time that they do not consent to it, nor have their hearts at all in the affair.
This scheme will keep out of the church some true saints; for there are some such who determine against themselves, and their prevailing judgment is, that they are not saints: and we had better let in several hypocrites, than exclude one true child of God.
ANSWER. I think, it is much better to insist on some visibility to reason, of true saintship, in admitting members, even although this, through men's infirmity and darkness, and Satan's temptations, be an occasion of some true saints abstaining; than by express liberty given, to open the door to as many as please, of those who have no visibility of real saintship, and make no profession of it, nor pretension to it; and that because this method tends to the ruin and great reproach of the Christian church, and also to the ruin of the persons admitted.
1. It tends to the reproach and ruin of the Christian church. For by the rule which God hath given for admissions, if it be carefully attended (it is said) MORE unconverted, than converted persons, will be admitted. It is then confessedly the way to have the greater part of the members of the Christian church ungodly men; yea, so much greater, that the godly shall be but
few in comparison of the ungodly; agreeable to their interpretation of that saying of Christ, many are called, but few are chosen, Now, if this be an exact state of the case, it will demonstrably follow, on scripture principles, that opening the door so wide has a direct tendency to bring into Christian churches such as are without even moral sincerity, and do not make religion at all their business, neglecting and casting off secret prayer and other duties, and living a life of carnality and vanity, so far as they can, consistently with avoiding church-censures; which possibly may be sometimes to a great degree. Ungodly men may be morally sober, serious, and conscientious, and may have what is called moral sincerity, for awhile; and even may have these things in a considerable measure, when they first come into the church: but if their hearts are not changed, there is no probability at all of these things continuing long. The scrip
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 wiủl 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 binder 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 against 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.