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QUALIFICATIONS FOR FULL COMMUNION IN THE
VISIBLE CHURCH OF CHRIST.
THE QUESTION STATED AND EXPLAINED.
The main question I would consider, and for the negative of which, I would offer some arguments in the following discourse, is this; Whether, according to the rules of Christ, any ought to be admitted to the communion and privileges of members of the visible church of Christ in complete standing, but such as are in profession, and in the eye of the church's Christian judgment, godly or gracious persons ?
When I speak of members of the visible church of Christ, in complete standing, I would be understood of those who are received as the proper immediate subjects of all the external privileges Christ has appointed for the ordinary members of his church. I say ordinary members, in distinction from any peculiar privileges and honours of church-officers and rulers. All allow, there are some that are in some respect in the church of God, who are not members in complete standing, in the sense that has been explained. All that acknowledge infant-baptism, allow infants, who are the proper subjects of baptism, and are baptized, to be in some sort members of the Christian church; yet none suppose them to be members in such standing as to be the proper immediate subjects of all ecclesiastical ordinances and privileges : But that some further qualifications are requisite in order to this, to be obtained, either in a course of nature, or by education, or by divine grace. And some who are baptized in infancy, even after they come to be adult, may yet remain for a season short of such a standing as has been spoken
of; being destitute of sufficient knowledge, and perhaps some other qualifications, through the neglect of parents or their own negligence, or otherwise; or because they carelessly neglected to qualify themselves for ecclesiastical privileges by making a public profession of the Christian faith, or owning the Christian covenant, or forbear to offer themselves as candidates for these privileges; and yet not be cast out of the church, or cease to be in any respect its members: This, I suppose, will also be generally allowed.
One thing mainly intended in the foregoing question is, Whether any adult persons but such as are in the profession and appearance endowed with the Christian grace or piety, onght to be admitted to the Christian sacraments. Particularly, whether they ought to be admitted to the Lord's supper; and, if they are such as were not baptized in infancy, ought to be admitted to baptism, Adult persons having those qualifications that oblige others to receive them as the proper immediate subjects of the Christian sacraments, is a main thing intended in the question, by being such as ought to be admitted to the communion and privileges of members of the visible church, in complete standing. There are many adult persons that by the allowance of all are in some respects within the church of God, who are not members in good standing, in this respect. There are many, for instance, that have not at present the qualifications proper to recoinmend them to the Lord's supper: There are many scandalous persons, who are under suspension. The late venerable Mr. Stoddard, and many other great divines suppose, that even excommunicated persons are still members of the church of God; and some suppose, the worshippers of Baal in Israel, even those who were bred up such from their infancy, remained still members of the church of God. And very many Protestant divines suppose, that the members of the church of Rome, though they are brought up and live continually in gross idolatry, and innumerable errors and superstitions that tend utterly to make void the gospel of Christ, still are in the visible church of Christ: Yet, I suppose, no orthodox divines would hold these to be properly and regularly qualified for the Lord's supper. It was therefore requisite, in the question before us, that a distinction should be made between the members of the visible church in general, and members in complete standing.
It was also requisite, that such a distinction should be made in the question, to avoid lengthening out this discourse exceedingly, with needless questions and debates concerning the state of baptized infants ; that is needless as to my present purpose. Though I have no doubts about the doctrine of infant baptism; yet God's manner of dealing with such infants as are regularly
dedicated to him in baptism, is a matter liable to great disputes and many controversies, and would require a large dissertation by itself to clear it up; which, as it would extend this discourse beyond all bounds, so it appears not necessary in order to a clear determination of the present question. The revelation of God's word is much plainer and more express concerning adult persons, that act for themselves in religious matters, than concerning infants. The scriptures were written for the sake of adult persons, or those that are capable of knowing what is written. It is to such the apostle speaks in the epistles, and to such only does God speak throughout his word; and the scriptures especially speak for the sake of these, and about those to whom they speak. And therefore if the word of God affords us light enough concerning those spoken of in the question, as I have stated it, clearly to determine the matter with respect to them, we need not wait till we see all doubts and controversies about baptized infants cleared and settled, before we pass a judgment with respect to the point in hand. The denominations, characters, and descriptions, which we find given in the scripture to visible Christians, and to the visible church, are principally with an eye to the church of Christ in its adult state and proper standing. If any one was about to describe that kind of birds called doves, it would be most proper to describe grown doves, and not young ones in the egg or nest, without wings or feathers. So if any one should describe a palm-tree or olive-tree by their visible form and appearance, it would be presumed that they described those of these kinds of trees in their natural and proper state; and not as just peeping from the ground, or as thunder-struck or blown down. And therefore I would here give notice, once for all, that when in the ensuing discourse I use such like phrases as visible saints, members of the visible church, &c. I, for the most part, mean persons that are adult and in good standing.
The question is not, whether Christ has made converting grace or piety itself the condition or rule of his people's adınitting any to the privileges of members in full communion with them. There is no one qualification of the mind whatsoever, that Christ has properly made the term of this; not so much as a common belief that Jesus is the Messiah, or a belief of the being of a God. It is the credible profession and visibility of these things, that is the church's rule in this case. Christian piety or godliness may be a qualification requisite to communion in the Christian sacraments, just in the same manner as a belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and the scriptures the word of God, are requisite qualifications; and in the same manner as some kind of repentance is a qualification in one that has been suspended for being grossly scandalous, in order to his coming
again to the Lord's supper; and yet godliness itself not be properly the rule of the church's proceeding, in like manner as such a belief and repentance, as I have mentioned, are not their rule. It is a visibility to the eye of a Christian judgment, that is the rule of the church's proceeding in each of these cases. There are two distinctions iust be here observed. As,
1. We must distinguish between such qualifications as are requisite to give a person a right to ecclesiastical privileges in foro ecclesia, or a right to be admitted by the church to those privileges; and those qualifications that are a proper and good foundation for a man's own conduct in coming and offering himself as a candidate for immediate admission to these privileges. There is a difference between these. Thus, for instance, a profession of the belief of a future state and of revealed religion, and some other things that are internal and out of sight, and a visibility of these things to the eye of a Christian judgment, is all relating to these things, that is requisite to give a man a right in foro ecclesie, or before the church; but it is the real existence of these things, that is what lays a proper and good foundation for his making this profession, and so demanding these privileges. None will suppose, that he has good and proper ground for such a conduct, who does not believe another world, nor believe the Bible to be the word of God. And then,
2. We must distinguish between that which nextly brings an obligation on a man's conscience to seek admission to a. Christian ordinance, and that which is a good foundation for the dictate of an enlightened well-informed conscience, and so is properly a solid foundation of a right in him to act thus. Certainly this distinction does really take place among mankind in innumerable cases. The dictates of men's consciences are what bring them under a most immediate obligation to act: But it is that which is a good foundation for such a dictate of an enlightened conscience, that alone is a solid foundation of a right in him so to act. Believing the doctrine of the Trinity with all the heart, in some sense (let us suppose a moral sense) thing requisite in order to a person's having a solid foundation of a right in him to go and demand baptism in the name of the Trinity: But his best judgment or dictate of his conscience, concerning his believing this doctrine with this sincerity, or with all bis heart, may be suffieient to bring an obligation on his conscience. Again, when a delinquent has been convicted of scandal, it is repentance in some respect sincere (suppose a moral sincerity) that is a proper foundation of a right in him to offer himself for forgiveness and restoration : But it is the dictate of his conscience or his best judgment concerning his sincerity, that is the thing which immediately obliges him to offer himself. It is repentance itself, that is the proper qualification