Page images

an invisible separation to God; stand in an invisible relation to

! him as his peculiar people, in distinction from others; have an invisible adoption into the number of his children ; and an invifible, vital and permanent union to, and communion with Christ. Thus they have an invisible federal holiness, on which account they are termed true or real saints in the most important sense. But as their saintship is invisible, it gives them no right according to gospel rule to any external church privileges. These pertain to the external administration of the covenant, and are granted only to visible faints.

Now all the subjects of this invisible, relative or federal holiness, have also an inherent holiness

, which is inward and invisible. Their hearts are purified from the defilement of fin: They are fanctified thro' the truth; and so they are spiritually clean, through the word which Christ has spoken to them, and the renewing of the holy fpirit dwelling in them. On this accouut also they are termed true saints, by way of discrimination from others who are also stiled saints, and are truly such in some sense ; though not in the most important sense, as I shall now proceed to thew. For,

There is also a visible holiness or saintship, and that both relative and inherent, which belongs to those who are so in covenant as to be entitled to those external privileges which are granted to regu. lar and rightful members of instituted churches. Some who are not inwardly fanctified, are yet so far in covenant, that they are rightful members of the visible church, as all but the Anibaptists must grant. Now such are visibly and externally called, and separated by and to God from the rest of the world; openly and professedly dedicated to him, they avouching him to be their God and themselves to be his people. And they are so far owned by God, that he calls them his people ;' externally adopts them; puts his name upon them ; endows them with special privileges ; gives them his word and ordinances; all outward means adapted to persuade and win their hearts to love and fear him, and keep his commandments. Now such stand in a special relation to God as his visible covenant people. On this account they are termed holy, as being the subjects of an external federal holiness

. In this sense the congregation of Israel are termed an holy people, to whom pertained the adoption and the covenants. And instituted churches are composed of visible faints. And the children of believers are all federally hoiy.

This external visible holiness is not merely a shew and appear. ance of something whose existence is doubtful; but it is real in its kind, though it be of a different kind froin that which arises from an invisible and faving relation to God. And the


Scripture speaks of some kind of relative union which even barren branches have to Christ the true vine, though it be not vital and permanent.

There is also what may be termed an external inherent holiness, consisting in a profession and conversation conformed visibly to the gospel. Of this the Apostle must be understood to speak when he tells the Thessalonians, Ye are witnesses, and God also how holily and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you who believe. For they could be only witnesses of that external holiness which was visible in his conversation. There is an outward cleanness of the bands, as well as an inward purity of the heart.

Now they who profess faith and consent to the gospel covenant without known hypocrisy,and behave externally, agreeably to the rules of the gospel, are visible saints ; and have I conceive, an interest in the covenant not only visibly, i. e. seemingly and in the account of men, but are truly in it in the sight of God, so far that they have a covenant right of admisfion and access to the outward ordinances which Christ has instituted and given to his vifible churches. This external holiness is the condition or qualification to which the covenant connects a right to these privileges. A visible faint is as truly a member of the visible church, and has a divine right to the visible privileges granted exclusively to it, as an inward saint is a member of the mystical church, and has a divine right to the invisible grace and blessings granted exclusively to it. But these things may hereafter be further discussed. Will any fay, that the Apostles did verily believe all the members of christian churches whom they stile saints, to be inward saints ? That the Apostle Paul, when he says that the children of believe ers are holy, did positively believe that all such children were, and always to the end of the world would be inwardly fanctified from the womb ? That Peter, when he told the Jews at the feast of Pentecost that the promise was to them and their children, and afterward told a multitude gathered about them that they were children of the covenant, did really believe that they were all so in covenant as actually to partake of the saving grace and blessings of it? I, for my part, cannot think that any will say so. If not, I would ask again, whether the Apostles would call those faints, and tell them that the promise of the covenant belonged to them, whom yet they did not believe to be holy in any sense, or to have any real interest in the covenant.

After all, this dispute. seems to be in a great measure about words. For let it be supposed that the mystical church is the one only church acknowledged in fcripture. That there is but one sort of saints there spoken of, even saints in heart ; that these




only are really in and under the covenant ; and that societies of profeffed christians are termed churches only because they appear like, and fo are presumed to be of the church mystical. When we have thus adjusted our ideas and stile conformably to this suppofition, then we may go on further, and say that according to the gospel rule the outward ordinances are not given to the real church, and to real saints, as such, but that all and only those who are visibly outwardly and seemingly faints and of the church have a right and warrant to come and be admitted. That it is not holiness, or an interest in the covenant, but the credible signs thereof, which qualify for this privilege. Thus the qualifications for christian communion will remain the same as before. Vif. ble churches will still be composed of the same characters : Seening faints and churches, will have a divine right to the same privileges, as if they were supposed to be really saints, and churches, and under the external administration of the covenant as before explained. What then is gained by stating things in this manner. Nothing of any importance, that I can see. Only we have laid ourselves under a necessity of putting a strained interpretation on many expressions of fcripture, to make them comport with our scheme.

[blocks in formation]


MEMBERS explained and distinguished.


The fubjeft opened. Explanations and Distinctions relative to the Prius

ileges and Rights of Church Members. Several Questions or Cafes Jated.


HE enquiry concerning a right to the privileges of com

munion with an instituted christian church has, not without reason, engaged the serious attention of many christians. And notwithstanding what has been offered on the subject, it has been thought by some that further searchings and discoveries were wanted


[ocr errors]

That this enquiry may be pursued to advantage, the first thing to be attempted is, that the subject be opened, by a just explanation of the rights and privileges in question, and of several terms, phrases and distinctions which occur in discourses on this subject, or which we may hereafter bave occasior, to make use of.

Communion with an instituted church in the use of gospel ordinances, if taken in its full amplitude and extent, is a complication of several duties and privileges ; some of which are in their nature so distinct, that they may fubfist separate and apart from the rest. A person may be interested in the covenant, a sightful member of the church, have a right to some of its peculiar privileges, but not to all. He may be a proper subject, qualified according to the rule of the gospel to come, and be admitted to communion in some special ordinances, but not in all. Yea, he may have a right to attend the administration of an ordinance, and yet not be entitled to the whole benefit and privilege of it.

All who are in covenant, and of the instituted church, have a right to peculiar privileges ; particularly to the ordinances appropriated to the church. But it is to be remembered that this privilege has two parts or branches. The outward part belongs to all rightful members in various degrees, according to their several capacities and qualifications. And they are to have external communion with each other, as there is occasion, in a joint use of outward ordinances, with other tokens and expressions of brotherly relation and affection mutually given and received. But the privilege of the ordinances has also an inward part, an invisible grace, virtue and blessing in their outward administration and use. And christians have invisible communion in joint exercises of {piritual worship, and cordial charity towards each other; and in jointly partaking of the blessings of divine grace conveyed in and by the outward use of ordinances to those who worthily attend

It is also to be noted, that though all members of an instituted church are proper subjects of external communion, yet all such are not entitled to all the privileges of full communion. The mi. norchildren of church members are also members; and are accordingly to be baptised ; and the church is to express their christian charity towards them by receiving them as belonging to Christ, interested in the covenant, as the children of God, at least by external adoption, as federally holy, and as those concerning whom there are special reasons to hope that they either are, or will be inwardly sanctified. They are the special objects of the inspection, prayers and benedictions of the church; and care is to be taken that they be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the


upon them.

[ocr errors]

Lord. And as they advance to adult age, they have the special privilege of being under the watch and discipline of the church and the dispensation of the word and ordinances of God. This right of membership with the external privileges thereto annexed, belongs to the children of all members who are not so fcandalous as justly to forfeit, and lose their standing in the church.*

But infant members, are not qualified, and have not a right to coine, and be admitted to the Lord's supper, and the special privileges of full communion. And this too, I conceive, may be the case with some adult members. They may labour under so much ignorance and mistake, particularly as to the nature and design of this ordinance and the qualifications for it, as that they cannot come to it without wounding their conscience. They may think - that none can warrantably come, unless they have more certain evidence of inward sanctification than they have yet

attained to. · Mistakes like this have probably kept many back, whose right of membership was unquestionable ; who abide in a credible profeffion of the christian religion, joined with an unblameable conversation, and are hopefully persons of christian piety. While one is under a mistake of this kind, he cannot in faith take the standing and privileges of a member in full communion ; how much soever his profession and practice may commend him to the charity of others; and how good reasons foever he may have of the hope that is in him. And I find no warrant in the gospel to excommunicate a rightful church member, a serious and credible professor of an unblaineable life, because he has not such undoubting confidence in his own fitness to come to the table of the Lord, as he perhaps through mistake thinks would be necessary to warrant his so doing. Such therefore must, I think, be allowed to be rightful members, and as such entitled to special church privileges; though the scruples, doubts and mistakes they labour under unfit them for the privilege of full communion. Therefore though we have no concern with the half-way covenant, which


[ocr errors]

Some have thought that no adult persons are to be accounted church members unless they come into full coinmunion. But our churches have always been generally of a different judgment; admitting thole who profess faith, and a consent to the coyenant, to fome privileges of external communion for themselves and children, though they thould not come to the Lord's fupper. The reasons on which their judgment and practice are grounded may be seen in the result of the synod at Bufton in the year 1662. Which are more largely discussed and defended by Mr. John Aller, Mr. Richard Mather, Mr. Jonathan Mitchel. Whole arguments I think bave peres been well answered, and I see not how they can be.


« PreviousContinue »