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Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume One
« Prev SECTION XIV. Of being born in covenant. Next »
SECT. XIV.

Concerning that great argument, which Mr. W. urges in various parts of his book of those being born in the church, who are children of parents that are in covenant.

It is hard to understand distinctly what Mr. W. would be at, concerning this matter, or what his argument is. He often speaks of parents that are in covenant, as born in covenant, and so born in the church. For to be in covenant, is the same with him as to be members of the visible church. (See p. 98. c. 88. d. 89. b. 59. e. 60. a. 136. b.) And he speaks of them as admitted into the church in their ancestors, and by the profession of their ancestors. (p. 135. e. 136. a.) Yea, for ought I can see, he holds that they were born members in complete standing in the visible church, (p. 3.)

And yet he abundantly speaks of their being admitted into the church, and made members, after they are born, viz. by their baptism. And his words (unless we will suppose him to speak nonsense) are such as will not allow us to understand him, merely, that baptism is a sign and public acknowledgment of their having been admitted in their ancestors, in preceding generations. For he speaks of baptism as the only rite (or way) of admission into the visible church, applying it to the baptism of children; and as that which makes them members of the body of Christ. (p. 99. c. d.) And he grants, that it was ordained for the admission of the party baptized into the visible church. (p. 99. e. p. 100. c.) That baptism is an admission; and that they were thus before admitted, (p. 100. c.) still speaking of the baptism of infants, and of admission of members into churches.—But surely these things do not harmonize with the doctrine of their first receiving being in the church—as a branch receives being in the tree, and grows in it and from it—or their being born in the covenant, born in the house of God. And yet these repugnant things are uttered as it were in the same breath by Mr. W. (p. 99.) And he joins them together in the same line, (p. 46. e.) in these words,—“Baptism instituted by him, as a rite of admission into his church, and being continued in covenant with God.”—Certainly, being then admitted into the church, and being continued in covenant (or in the church) into which they were admitted before, are not the same thing, nor consistent one with another. If infants are born members in complete standing, as it seems Mr. W. holds, then their baptism does nothing towards making them members; nor is there any need of it to make the matter more complete.

Again, (p. 3. b. where he also speaks of infants as members having a complete standing in the church,) he maintains, that nothing else is requisite in order to communion and privileges of members in complete standing, but only that they should be capable hereof, and should desire the same, and should not be under censure, or scandalously ignorant or immoral. (See also p. 100. c. d. to the same purpose.) Mr. W says this in opposition to my insisting on something further, viz. making a profession of godliness. And yet he himself insists on something further, as much as I; which has been observed before. For he abundantly insists on a personal, explicit profession and open declaration of believing that the gospel is indeed the revelation of God, and of a hearty consent to the terms of the covenant of grace, &c. And speaks of the whole controversy as turning upon that single point, of the degree of evidence to be given, and the kind of profession to be made, whether in words of indiscriminate meaning? (See p. 5. b. c. p. 6. c. d.) And consequently not, whether they must make any profession at all, having been completely admitted before, in the profession of their ancestors?

Therefore, if the infants of visible believers are born in the church, and are already members in complete standing, and do not drop out of the church, and fall from a complete standing, when they grow up; and therefore if they are not ignorant nor immoral, and desire full communion, nothing else can be required of them: and it will hence follow, contrary to my principles, that they cannot be required to make a profession in words of discriminate meaning: but then, it also equally follows, contrary to his principles, that neither can they be required to make a profession in words of indiscriminate meaning. If nothing else besides those forementioned things is necessary, then no profession is necessary, in any words at all, neither of determinate nor indeterminate signification. So that Mr. W. in supposing some personal profession to be necessary, gives up and destroys this grand argument.

But if he did not give it up by this means, it would not be tenable on other principles belonging to his scheme; such as its being necessary in order to a being admitted to sacraments, that persons should have a visibility that recommends them to the reasonable judgment and apprehension of the minds of others, as true Christians, really pious persons, and that there should be such a profession as exhibits moral evidence of this. For who will say, that the individual profession of an ancestor, a thousand or fifteen hundred years ago, is a credible exhibition and moral evidence of the real piety of his present posterity, without any personal explicit profession of any thing about religion, in any one of the succeeding generations. And if Mr. W. had not said, there must be a credible exhibition of gospel-holiness, but only some common faith or virtue; yet no such thing is made visible to a rational judgment and apprehension of mind, by this means. How, for instance, does it make orthodoxy visible? What reasonable ground is there in it, at such a day as this in England, to believe concerning any man, that he believes the doctrine of the Trinity, and all other fundamental doctrines, with full conviction, and with all his heart, because he descended from an ancestor that made a good profession, when the ancient Britons or Saxons were converted from heathenism, and because withal he is free from open scandalous immorality, and appears willing to attend duties of public worship? If an attendance on these public duties was in its own nature a profession of orthodoxy, or even piety; yet the reason of mankind teaches them the need of joining words and actions together in public manifestations of the mind, in cases of importance: speech being the great and peculiar talent, which God has given to mankind, as the special means and instrument of the manifestation of their minds one to another. Thus, treaties among men are not concluded and finished, only with actions, without words. Feasting together was used of old, as a testimony of peace and covenant friendship; as between Isaac and Abimelech, Laban and Jacob, but not without a verbal profession. Giving the hand, delivering the ring, &c. are to express a marriage agreement and union; but still a profession in words is annexed. So we allow it to be needful, after persons have fallen into scandal, that in manifesting repentance there should be a verbal profession, besides attending duties of worship. Earthly princes will not trust a profession of allegiance in actions only, such as bowing, kneeling, keeping the king’s birth-day, &c. but they require also a profession in words, and an oath of allegiance is demanded. Yea, it is thought to be reasonably demanded, in order to men’s coming to the actual possession and enjoyment of those privileges they are born heirs to. Thus the eldest sons of noblemen in Great Britain, are born heirs to the honours and estate of their fathers; yet this no way hinders but they may be obliged, when they come to ripeness of age, in order to being invested in the actual possession, to take the oath of allegiance: though in order to their lawfully doing it, it may be necessary they should believe in their hearts, that King George is the lawful prince, and that they should not be enemies to him, and friends to the Pretender.

But moreover, if this objection of Mr. W. about infants being born in the church be well considered, it will appear to be all beside the question, and so nothing to the purpose. It is not to the purpose of either of the questions, Mr. W.‘s or mine. The question as I have stated it, is concerning them that may be admitted members in complete standing; not about them that have a complete standing in the church already, and so are no candidates for admission; which, he says, is the case of these infants. And the question as he often states it is concerning them that may lawfully come. And this objection, from infants being born in the church, as it must be understood from Mr. W. does not touch this question. For when Mr. W. objects, that some persons are born in the church, and therefore may lawfully come to sacraments, he cannot be understood to mean, that their being born in the church alone is sufficient; but that, besides this, persons must have some virtue or religion, of one sort or other, in order to their lawful coming. For he is full in it, that it is not lawful for men to come without moral virtue and sincerity. Therefore the question comes to this in the result: seeing persons, besides their being born in covenant, must have some sort of virtue and religion, in order to a lawful coming to the Lord’s supper, what sort of virtue and religion that is, whether common or saving? Now this question is not touched by the present objection. Merely persons being born in covenant, is no more evidence of their having moral sincerity, than saving grace. Yea, there is more reason to suppose the latter, than the former without it, in the infant children of believing parents. For the Scripture gives us ground to think, that some infants have the habit of saving grace, and that they have a new nature given them. But no reason at all to think, that ever God works any mere moral change in them, or infuses any habits of moral virtue without saving grace.—And we know, they cannot come by moral habits in infancy, any other way than by immediate infusion. They cannot obtain them by human instruction, nor contract them by use and custom. And especially there is no reason to think, that the children of such as are visible saints, according to Mr. W’s scheme, have any goodness infused into them by God, of any kind. For in his scheme, all that are morally sincere may lawfully receive the privileges of visible saints; but we have no scripture grounds to suppose, that God will bless the children of such parents as have nothing more than moral sincerity, with either common or saving grace. There are no promises of the covenant of grace made to such parents, either concerning themselves, or their children. The covenant of grace is a conditional covenant; as both sides in this controversy suppose. And therefore, by the supposition, men have no title to the promises without the condition. And as saving faith is the condition, the promises are all made to that, both those which respect persons themselves, and those that respect their seed. As it is with many covenants or bargains among men; by these, men are often entitled to possessions for themselves and their heirs: yet they are entitled to no benefits of the bargain, neither for themselves, nor their children, but by complying with the terms of the bargain. So with respect to the covenant of grace, the apostle says, (Acts ii. 39.) “The promise is to you and to your children.” So the apostle says to the jailor, (Acts xvi. 31.) “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” And we find many promises, all over the Bible, made to the righteous, that God will bless their seed for their sakes. Thus, Psal. cxii. 2. “The generation of the upright shall be blessed.” Psal. lxix. 35, 36. “For God will save Zion;—The seed also of his servants shall inherit it; and they that love his name shall dwell therein.” (See also Prov. xiv. 26. Psal. cii. 28. Psal. ciii. 17, 18. Exod. xx. 5, 6. Deut. vii. 9.) Supposing these to be what are called indefinite promises; yet do they extend to any but the seed of the righteous? Where are any such promises made to the children of unsanctified men, the enemies of God, and slaves of the devil, (as Mr. W. owns all unsanctified men are,) whatever moral sincerity and common religion they may have?

The baptism of infants is the seal of these promises made to the seed of the righteous: and on these principles, some rational account may be given of infant baptism; but there is no account can be given of it on Mr. W.‘s scheme, no warrant can be found for it in Scripture; for they are promises, that are the warrant for privileges: but there are no promises of God’s word to the seed of morally sincere men, and only half Christians. Thus this argument of Mr. W.‘s, let us take it which way we will, has nothing but what is as much, yea, much more, against his scheme, than against mine.

However, if this were not the case, but all the show or pretence of strength there is in the argument, lay directly and only against me, yet the strength of it, if tried, will avail to prove nothing at all. The pretended argument, so far as I can find it out, is this; The children of visible saints are born in covenant; and being already in covenant, they must have a right to the privileges of the covenant, without any more ado: such therefore have a right to come to the Lows supper, whether they are truly godly or not.

But the show of argument there is here, depends on the ambiguity of the phrase, being in covenant; which signifies two distinct things: either, (1.) Being under the obligation and bond of the covenant; or, (2.) Being conformed to the covenant, and complying with the terms of it. Being the subject of the obligations and engagements of the covenant, is a thing quite distinct from being conformed to these obligations, and so being the subject of the conditions of the covenant.

Now it is not being in covenant in the former, but the latter sense, that gives a right to the privileges of the covenant. The reason is plain, because compliance and conformity to the terms of a covenant, is the thing which gives right to all the benefits; and not merely being under ties to that compliance and conformity. Privileges are not annexed merely to obligations, but to compliance with obligations.

Many that do not so much as visibly comply with the conditions of the covenant, are some of God’s covenant people in that sense, that they are under the bonds and engagements of the covenant; so were Korah and his company; so were many gross idolaters in Israel, that lived openly in that sin; and so may heretics, deists, and atheists be God’s covenant people. They may still be held under the bonds of their covenant engagements to God; for their great wickedness and apostacy does not free them from the obligation of the solemn promises and engagements they formerly entered into. But yet being in covenant merely in this sense, gives them no right to any privileges of the covenant. In order to that, they must be in covenant in another sense; they must cordially consent to the covenant; which indeed Mr. W. himself owns, when he acknowledges, that in order to come to sacraments, men must profess a cordial consent to, and compliance with the conditions of the covenant of grace. 605605    If it be said here, those who have been born of baptized ancestors, though they do not comply with the terms of the covenant, are in covenant, in this sense, that they have a right to the promises of the covenant conditionally, in case they will hereafter comply: I answer, So are all mankind in covenant, God may be said to have bound himself to them all conditionally; and many have these promises declared to them, that still remain Jews, Mahometans, or heathens. And if Mr. W. inquires, Why those children that were born in the covenant, are not cast out, when in adult age they make no such profession; certainly, it as much concerns him to answer, as me; for it is as much his doctrine, as mine, that they must profess such consent.—But I am willing to answer nevertheless.—They are not cast out, because it is a matter held in suspense, whether they do cordially consent to the covenant, or not; or whether their making no such profession do not arise from some other cause. And none are to be excommunicated, without some positive evidence against them. And therefore they are left in the state they were in, in infancy, not admitted actually to partake of the Lord’s supper (which actual participation is a new positive privilege) for want of a profession, or some evidence, beyond what is merely negative, to make it visible that they do consent to the covenant. For it is reasonable to expect some appearance more than what is negative, of a proper qualification, in order to being admitted to a privilege beyond what they may have hitherto actually received. A negative charity may be sufficient for a negative privilege, such as freedom from censure and punishment; but something more than a negative charity, is needful to actual admission to a new positive privilege.


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