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didate 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 quali fications 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 shew 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 shewn, 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 he 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 shew 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 inerbership-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 bis 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 connection being clearly revealed, as well as founded in the nature of things.
8. 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, or 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.
BEING A LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF THE FIRST CHURCH AND
CONGREGATION IN NORTHAMPTON
THOUGH I am not now your pastor, yet having so long stood in that relation to you, I look on myself obliged, notwithstanding all that has of late passed between us, still to maintain a special concern for your spiritual welfare. And as your present circumstances appear to me very evidently attended with some peculiar dangers, threatening the great wounding of the interest of vital religion among you ; which probably most of you are not well aware of; I look on myself called to point forth your danger to you, and give you warning. What I now especially have respect to, is the danger I apprehend you are in, from the contents of that book of Mr. W. of Lebanon, to which the foregoing performance is a reply ; which I perceive has been written and published very much by your procurement, and at your expense; and so it may naturally be supposed and expected) is dispersed in your families, and will be valued and much used by you as a book of great importance. What I regard is, not so much the danger you are in of being established by that book in your former principles, concerning the admission of members, (though I think these principles are indeed very opposite to the interest of true piety in churches ;) but what I now mean is the danger there is, that while you are making much of that book as a means to maintain Mr. Stoddard's doctrine concerning the terms of communion, you, and especially your children, will by the contents of it be led quite off from other religious principles and doctrines, which Mr. S. brought you up in, and always esteemed as of vastly greater importance than his particular tenet about the Lord's supper ; and be naturally led into notions and principles, which he ever esteemed as of fatal tendency to the souls of men.
By the way, I would have it observed, that when I take notice of these things in his book, my aim is not to beget in you an ill opinion of Mr. W. as though he were as corrupt in his settled persuasion, as one would be ready to think, if we were to judge only by things delivered in some parts of this book ; and espe. cially if it should be supposed, that he embraced all the consequences of what he here maintains. Men often do not see or allow the plain consequences of their own doctrines. And therefore, though I charge very pernicious consequences on some things he says, yet I do not charge him with embracing these consequences : nor will I undertake to explain how it could come to pass, that he should maintain things now in this book, in opposition to me, which are so contrary to the good and sound doctrines he has formerly delivered in other books. Let that be as it will, and however orthodox the principles may be, which he more ordinarily maintains ; yet the ill and unsound things he delivers here, may do, nevertheless, hurt to you and your children, who may read this book without having in view the more wholesomes doctrine of his other writings.
For instance, you have ever been taught, that unconverted men do not really believe the gospel, are never truly convinced of its truth ; and that it is of great importance that sinners should be sensible of the unbelief and atheism of their hearts. But contrary to this, Mr. W.'s book abundantly teaches you and your children this notion, That unsanctified men may really be convinced of the divine truth of the gospel, and believe it with all their hearts.
You have been ever taught, that Christless sinners, espe. cially when under some more slight awakenings, are very ready to flatter themselves that they are willing to accept of Christ as their Saviour ; but that they must be brought off from their vain imagination, and be brought to see that the fault is in their own wills, and that their not being interested in Christ is owing to their obstinacy and perverseness, and wilful wicked refusal of God's terms; on which account they are wholly inexcusable, and may justly be cast off by God. But contrary to these things, this book of Mr. W abundantly teaches you, that men in an unconverted state, may indeed cordially consent to the terms of the covenant of grace, may comply with the call of the gospel, may submit to its proposals, may have satisfaction in the offer God makes of himself as our God in Christ, may fall in with the terms of salvation propounded in the gospel, and renounce all other ways, and may sincerely and earnestly desire