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If sanctifying grace be requisite to a due approach to the Lord’s table, then no man may come but he that knows he has such grace. A man must not only think he has a right to the Lord’s supper, in order to his lawful partaking of it; but he must know he has a right. If nothing but sanctification gives him a real right to the Lord’s supper, then nothing short of the knowledge of sanctification gives him a known right to it: only an opinion and probable hopes of a right will not warrant his coming.
Answ. 1. I desire those who insist on this as an invincible argument, to consider calmly whether they themselves ever did, or ever will, stand to it. For here these two things are to be observed:
(1.) If no man may warrantably come to the Lord’s supper, but such as know they have a right, then no unconverted persons may come unless they not only think, but know, it is the mind of God, that unconverted persons should come, and know that he does not require grace in order to their coming. For unless they know that men may come without grace, they cannot know that they themselves have a right to come, being without grace. And will any one assert and stand to it, that of necessity all adult persons, of every age, rank, and condition of life, must be so versed in this controversy, as to have a certainty in this matter, in order to their coming to the Lord’s supper? It would he most absurd for any to assert it to be a point of easy proof, the evidence of which is so clear and obvious to every one of every capacity, as to supersede all occasion for their being studied in divinity, in order to a certainty of its truth, that persons may come to the sacred table of the Lord, notwithstanding they know themselves to be unconverted! Especially considering, that the contrary to this opinion has been in general the judgment of protestant divines and churches, from the Reformation to this day; and that the most of the greatest divines that have ever appeared in the world, who have spent their lives in the diligent prayerful study of divinity, have been fixed in the reverse of that opinion. This is sufficient at least to show, that this opinion is not so plain as not to be a disputable point; and that the evidence of it is not so obvious to persons of the lowest capacity and little inquiry, as that all may come to a certainty in the matter, without difficulty and without study. I would humbly ask here, What has been the case in fact in our churches, who have practised for so many years on this principle? Can it be pretended, or was it ever supposed, that the communicants in general, even persons of mean intellects and low education, not excepting the very boys and girls of sixteen years old, that have been taken into the church, had so studied divinity, as not only to think, but know, that our pious forefathers, and almost all the protestant and christian divines in the world, have been in an error in this matter? And have people ever been taught the necessity of this previous knowledge? Has it ever been insisted upon, that before persons come to the Lord’s supper, they must look so far into the case of a right to the Lord’s supper, as to come not only to a full settled opinion, but even certainty, in this point? And has any one minister or church in their admissions ever proceeded on the supposition, that all whom they took into communion were so versed in this controversy, as this comes to? Has it ever been the manner to examine them as to their thorough acquaintance with this particular controversy? Has it been the manner to put by those who had only an opinion and not a certainty; even as the priests who could not find their register, were put by, till the matter could be determined by Urim and Thummim? And I dare appeal to every minister, and every member of a church that has been concerned in admitting communicants, whether they ever imagined, or it ever entered into their thought, concerning each one to whose admission they have consented, that they had looked so much into this matter, as not only to have settled their opinion, but to be arrived to a proper certainty?
(2.) I desire it may be remembered, that the venerable author of the Appeal to the Learned, did in his ministry ever teach such doctrine from whence it will unavoidably follow, that no one unconverted man in the world can know he has a warrant to come to the Lord’s supper. For if any unconverted man has a warrant to worship his Maker in this way, it must be because God has given him such warrant by the revelation of his mind in the Holy Scriptures. And therefore if any unconverted man not only thinks, but knows, he has a warrant from God, he must of consequence, not only think, but know, that the Scriptures are the word of God. But I believe all that survive of the stated hearers of that eminent divine, and all who were acquainted with him, well remember it to be a doctrine which he often taught and much insisted on, that no natural man knows the Scripture to be the word of God; that although such may think so, yet they do not know it; and that at best they have but a doubtful opinion: and he often would express himself thus; No natural man is thoroughly convinced, that the Scriptures are the word of God; if they were convinced, they would be gained. Now if so, it is impossible any natural man in the world should ever know, it is his right, in his present condition, to come to the Lord’s supper. True, he may think it is his right, he may have that opinion: but he cannot know it; and so must not come, according to this argument. For it is only the word of God in the Holy Scriptures, that gives a man a right to worship the Supreme Being in this sacramental manner, and to come to him in this way, or any other, as one in covenant with him. The Lord’s supper being no branch of natural worship, reason without institution is no ground of duty or right in this affair. And hence it is plainly impossible for those that do not so much as know the Scriptures are the word of God, to know they have any good ground of duty or right in this matter. Therefore, supposing unconverted men have a real right, yet since they have no known right, they have no warrant (according to the argument before us) to take and use their right; and what good then can their right do them? Or how can they excuse themselves from presumption, in claiming a right, which they do not know belongs to them?—It is said, a probable hope that persons are regenerate, will not warrant them to come; if they come, they take a liberty to do that which they do not know God gives them leave to do, which is horrible presumption in them. But if this be good arguing, I may as well say, a probable opinion that unregenerate men may communicate, will not warrant such to do it. They must have certain knowledge of this; else their right being uncertain, they run a dreadful venture in coming.
Answ. 2. Men are liable to doubt concerning their moral sincerity, as well as saving grace. Suppose an unconverted man, sensible of his being under the reigning power of sin, was about to appear solemnly to own the covenant, (as it is commonly called,) and to profess to give up himself to the service of God in an universal and persevering obedience; and suppose at the same time he knew, that if he sealed this profession at the Lord’s supper, without moral sincerity, (supposing him to understand the meaning of that phrase,) he should eat and drink judgment to himself; and if accordingly, his conscience being awakened, he was afraid of God’s judgment; in this case, I believe, the man would be every whit as liable to doubts about his moral sincerity, as godly men are about their gracious sincerity. And if it be not matter of fact, that natural men are so often exercised and troubled with doubts about their moral sincerity, as godly men are about their regeneration, I suppose it to be owing only to this cause, viz. that godly men being of more tender consciences than those under the dominion of sin, are more afraid of God’s judgments, and more ready to tremble at his word. The divines on the other side of the question, suppose it to be requisite, that communicants should believe the fundamental doctrines of religion with all their heart, (in the sense of Acts viii. 37..) the doctrine of Three Persons and one God, in particular. But I think there can be no reasonable doubt, that natural men—who have so weak and poor a kind of faith in these mysteries—if they were indeed as much afraid of the terrible consequences of their being deceived in being not morally sincere in their profession of the truth, as truly gracious men are wont to be of delusion concerning their experience of a work of grace—or whether they are evangelically sincere in choosing God for their portion—the former would be as frequently exercised with doubts in the one case, as the latter in the other. And I very much question, whether any divine on the other side of the controversy would think it necessary, that natural men in professing those things should mean that they know they are morally sincere, or intend any more than that they trust they have that sincerity, so far as they know their own hearts. If a man should come to them, proposing to join with the church, and tell them, though indeed he was something afraid whether he believed the doctrine of the Trinity with all his heart, (meaning in a moral sense,) yet that he had often examined himself as to that matter with the utmost impartiality and strictness he was capable of, and on the whole he found reasons of probable hope, and his preponderating thought of himself was, that he was sincere in it; would they think such an one ought to be rejected, or would they advise him not to come to the sacrament, because he did not certainly know he had this sincerity, but only thought he had it?
Answ. 3. If we suppose sanctifying grace requisite in order to be properly qualified, according to God’s word, for an attendance on the Lord’s supper; yet it will not follow, that a man must know he has this qualification, in order to his being capable of conscientiously attending it. If he judges that he has it, according to the best light he can obtain, on the most careful examination, with the improvement of such helps as he can get, the advice of his pastor, &c. he may be bound in conscience to attend. And the reason is this; Christians partaking of the Lord’s supper is not a matter of mere claim, or right and privilege, but a matter of duty and obligation; being an affair wherein God has a claim and demand on us. And as we ought to be careful, on the one hand, that we proceed on good grounds in taking to ourselves a privilege, lest we take what we have no good claim to; so we should be equally careful, on the other hand, to proceed on good grounds in what we withhold from another, lest we do not withhold that from him which is his due, and which he justly challenges from us. Therefore in a case of this complex nature, where a timing is both a matter of right or privilege to us, and also a matter of obligation to another, or a right of his from us, the danger of proceeding without right and truth is equal both ways; and consequently, if we cannot be absolutely sure either way, here the best judgment we can form, after all proper endeavours to know the truth, must govern and determine us; otherwise we shall designedly do that whereby, according to our own judgment, we run the greatest risk; which is certainly contrary to reason. If the question were only what a man has a right to, he might forbear till he were sure: but the question is, not only whether he has right to attend the supper, but whether God also has not a right to his attendance there? Supposing it were merely a privilege which I am allowed but not commanded, in a certain specified case, then, supposing I am uncertain whether that be the case with we or no, it will be safest to abstain. But supposing I am not only forbidden to take it, unless that be the case with me, but positively commanded and required to take it, if that be the case in fact, then it is equally dangerous to neglect on uncertainties, as to take on uncertainties. In such a critical situation, a man must act according to the best of his judgment on his case; otherwise he wilfully runs into that which he thinks the greatest danger of the two.
Thus it is in innumerable cases in human life. I shall give one plain instance: A man ought not to take upon him the work of the ministry, unless called to it in the providence of God; for a man has no right to take this honour to himself unless called of God. Now let us suppose a young man, of a liberal education, and well accomplished, to be at a loss whether it is the will of God that he should follow the work of the ministry; and he examines himself, and examines his circumstances, with great seriousness and solemn prayer, and well considers and weighs the appearances in divine providence: and yet when he has done all, he is not come to a proper certainty, that God calls him to this work; but however, it looks so to him, according to the best light he can obtain, and the most careful judgment he can form: now such an one appears obliged in conscience to give himself to this work. He must by no means neglect it under a notion that he must not take this honour to himself, till he knows he has a right to it; because, though it be indeed a privilege, yet it is not a matter of mere privilege, but a matter of duty too; and if he neglects it under these circumstances, he neglects what, according to his own best judgment, he thinks God requires of him, and calls him to; which is to sin against his conscience.
As to the case of the priests, that could not find their register, (Ezra ii..) alleged in the Appeal to the Learned, p. 64. it appears to me of no force in this argument; for if those priests had never so great assurance in themselves of their pedigree being good, or of their being descended from priests, and should have professed such assurance, yet it would not have availed. Nor did they abstain from the priesthood, because they wanted satisfaction themselves, but they were subject to the judgment of the Sanhedrim. God had never made any profession of the parties themselves, but the visibility of the thing, and evidence of the fact to their own eyes, as the rule to judge of the qualification; this matter of pedigree being an external object, ordinarily within the view of man; and not any qualification of heart. But this is not the case with regard to requisite qualifications for the Lord’s supper. These being many of them internal invisible things, seated in the mind and heart, such as the belief of a Supreme Being, &c. God has made a credible profession of these things the rule to direct in admission of persons to the ordinance. In making this profession they are determined and governed by their own judgment of themselves, and not by any thing within the view of the church.
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