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some talk of, yet we dare not refuse to admit to partial communions -orderly and rightful members, though by reason of their doubts or mistakes they should not appear actually fit to come to the Lord's Supper to their comfort and edification.
But without discussing this point, it is supposed that some who have not a right of actual fitness for full communion may, as rightful members, he proper subjects of some special church privileges. But there are some further special external privileges which belong to members in full communion : Some ordinances, to which such only may come and be admitted; particularly the Lord's fupper, and giving their fuffrage with the church in acts of government and discipline, (not to mention the peculiar privileges of public officers.) Members of this class are not only to be refpeéted, loved and treated as difciples of Christ in charitable account, but also as more confirmed and perfect members in spiritual attainments.
These observations Thew that the subject proposed to examination involves several diftinct cases which will require to be difcuffed separately.
First, 'Who are qualified according to the rule of the gofe pel to be members of an instituted church ?
Secondly, Who are qualified for, and have a right to the privileges of full external communion ?
Thirdly, Who have a covenant right to the inward special blessing of Christ, and the fan&tifying virtue and efficacy of the ordinances, in and with the outward administration and use of them ?
It is further to be observed, that the external communion, which church members have with each other in gospel ordinan- / ces, is either active or paffive. When we voluntarily come and join with the church in uting special ordinances, we have aclive communion with them. But they who are only passive subjects to
whom special ordinances or privileges are applied, as in the ad· ministration of baptism to infants, these have paljive communion. And this is also the case when any one is admitted into the church, or to any special privilege ; for admission is not the act of the person admitted, but of those who admit him.
Hence the right of external communion with an instituted church consists of two parts or branches. First, the right of paffive communion, or of being admitted as fit subjects to whom special ordinances are to be administered, or on whom ípecial external privileges are to be conferred. This we shall for distinction call a right of admission ; or a title to the privilege of being admitted, regarded, and treated by the church as a proper subject of
external communion. The other branch is a right of active communion; of coming voluntarily into the church, of using the special ordinances and privileges which belong only to its ineinbers. And this we may call a right of access, or a warrant to come, to: ask for, actively receive, and use these privileges.
A title to admifion, and a warrant for coming are very different: They are annexed to different qualifications, and stand on different grounds. A person whose right of admission is clear and unexceptionable may have no right or warrant at all to come. for, or use the privileges of a rightful member. Though a right of admission and of access are both required to give one a full and regular right to the privilege of external communion, yet they must by no means be confounded together : but confidered and deter. mined separately by their proper rules and measures. I shall therefore in discussing the right of external communion, enquire first who have a right to be admitted, and then who have a right to eome.
Other Distinctions considered.
BESIDES these distinctions, which we have proposed for the purpose of reducing the several branches of this complicated subject to a proper train and method, that so each part may be examined without confusion; there are several others to be met with in the discourses of those who have treated on this argument : Such as a visible right, a right in the light or account of men, contradistinguished from a right in fight of God.
On this I would observe. That the gospel is the rule by which all rights to, or claims of spiritual privileges are to be tried. If we judge according to this rule, as we ought to do, no rights can be visible to us but such as are real. Nonentities are not visible objects. Whatever is visible either to the bodily or mental eye is certainly real, unless our eyes are in fault, and create their own objects.
A visible right then is not to be oppofed to a real one, or confidered as of doubtful validityIt is founded in reality. It is by the rule of the gospel annexed to certain qualifications which may be seen by men. As far as it goes, it is as firm as the covenant of grace, on which it is founded. It properly stands opposed only to those rights which are invisible to men, and are not within their view and cognizance.
It is only the right of admission which is visible to the church, or of which they have a warrant to judge. And this belongs really to all whom the church ought to receive, be their inward character and qualifications what they may. Whether such have a right to come, and actively take and use the privilege of members, the church knows not. They cannot discern those inward qualifications to which the right of access is annexed. The door keepers of the church are bound not to debar any
from external communion who have this visible right, this right of admifron; but receive them as christian brethren in charitable account. And though the rule of the gospel should be plainly laid before those who offer themselves for adınission to special privileges, and it is the duty of spiritual guides to assist them in examining themselves, yet it must be left to every man's conscience to determine, whether he has a good warrait to take and use those privileges to which he may be admitted.
A visible right to church privileges in the fight of men, judging according to the rule of the gospel, is therefore not a mere seeming right, or an appearance of doubtful reality. It is valid in the fight of God. The act of a church regularly receiving to communion those who have a visible right, is ratified by Christ him. self, who says, Suffer such to come, and forbid them not. Who. soever receiveth such in my name receiveth me.
But it is to be remembered that a visible right, though real and valid in the sight of God and man, yet is no warrant for any one aktively to take and use any of the special ordinances or privileges of the church. It is not a full and absolute right to them. It is only one branch. The other lies out of the fight of the church, and is to be examined and approved in the court of conscience. He who has a visibleright, may indeed claim the privilege of having the doors of the church open to receive him, and upon his coming in, he is a proper subject of passive communion, that is, to be received and regarded as a faithful brother. But if he has not allo a right arising from inward qualifications, which no man can discern in another, he can have no lawful access actively to take and use the privileges of a member.
Upon the whole ; if any by a visible right to privileges mean no more than a seeming one, this ought to be of no more account with men, than it is in the fight of God. A nullity will be regarded as such, if it be judged of according to the rule. If by a visible right be meant a right connected with qualifications difcernable by men, which seems to be the most proper acceptation; this, as far as it goes, is as real and valid in the fight of God, as it ought to be in the account of men. The subject is, in the just account of the church, and by the sentence of God himself, entitled to admission to external communion. Finally, if, by a right in the light of God, be meant a full and absolute right to privileges to use as well as be admitted to them, this none have in the fight of the church, which pretends not to discern those inward qualiħcations which are necessary to give one this right. In a word, though christians may, in the light of God, have a covenant right to important privileges, which the church cannot discern, yet I conceive that there is no visible right which any one has in the just account of men, which is not as good and valid in the fight of God. Perhaps the loose way in which fome use this distinction, of a visible right in the fight of men, and real right in the fight of God, may have led some unwarily to imagine, that the church can act only in an uncertain, conjectural manner, in judging who are entitled to external privileges, which is, i think, a mistake, tending to fill the minds of christians with scru. ples, and entangle them in inextricable perplexities. But if they attend to the rule of the gospel, and regulate their judgment concerning the visible rights of proponants by it, they need not doubt but that whatsoever they bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatsoever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven.
Having endeavoured, in the preceding remarks, to give some general opening to the subject, I shall next proceed to consider the several cases mentioned in their order.
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Of the RIGHT of ADMISSION into the CHURCH.
The Right of Admission distinɛt from the Right of Access.--Visible
Saints the Subjects of it.- External Holiness only properly Visible. In what Sensé inward Holiness may be said to be Visible.
THE enquiry now to be especially attended to is, who have a right of admission into the church; who are qualified to have some at least of the special outward privileges of church members conferred upon them?
The right of admission now enquired for, evidently means not the right of admitting into the church. It belongs to the church in subordination to Christ, ministerally and declaratorily in his name, to admit or reject those who offer themselves. But it is the right of being admitted to external communion, or of having special privileges conferred upon one, of which we are considering who are rightful subjects.
Since admission in this fense is not the act of the perfon ad. mitted, but a passive reception of a privilege; the right in question is not a right to act, or do any thing, but to have a benefit conferred. Indeed, no adult person can ordinarily become a member of a church without his own concurring act. And his being admitted is not sufficient to constitute him a rightful member, unless he has a right to do his part in concurrence with the church. But this will be considered in its proper place.
Now there is an important difference between a right to act, and a right passively to receive or be admitted to a privilege. A right to receive, or possess a privilege, is the same with a title to it. But right to act is a warrant for doing it. A man may have a good title to privileges, though he neither knows nor believes any thing of it. But no one can have a warrant to act which will justify him without being conscious of it? All true saints have a covenant title to the privileges of the children of God, though some doubt of it, and believe it not. But no one can have a sufficient warrant for doing any thing while he thinks he has not. Our title to any benefit is not at all invalidated, if we are ever so fully persuaded that it belongs not to us. But a warrant or right to act must be approved in the court of conscience.
Our title to gospel privileges is founded in the grant or promise of the new covenant to persons qualified, whether we are conscious of having these qualifications or not. But a warrant or right to act arises from, and is always annexed to a sufficient reason for acting in the judgınent of our own conscience, when rightly informed. If then it be asked, who have a right to be admitted to external communion with an instituted church, the answer must be, they who have the qualifications to which, according to the gospel, a title to the privilege of admission is annexed. But if it be asked, who have a right or warrant to come into the church, and take and use the privileges of external communion, the answer will be, they who have sufficient reasons so to do, in the judgment of their own conscience when rightly informed.
It is the first of these enquiries which is now to be attended to. In answer to which, I would say in general : All and only they whom the church, by the rule of the gospel, may and ought to receive, have a right of admission. And all ought to be received