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1F we may judge of the sentiments of ministers, in general, by the pieces lately published on this controversy, all are agreed in these three propositions, viz.
I. There is but one covenant, a profession of a compliance with which is requisite to an admission into the visible church of Christ, in complete standing.
II. Those who really comply with this covenant have, in the sight of God, an equal right to baptism for their children, and to the Lord's supper for themselves.
III. All scruples to the contrary are groundless and unscriptural.
There is, therefore, but one single point which now needs to be settled, to decide the whole controversy, viz. With what covenant are we to profess a compliance, the covenant of grace, or a graceless covenant?
And this point is of such a nature, that it seems necessary to settle it before we proceed to act at all in church affairs; in gathering a church, settling a minister, admitting members, or administering sealing ordinances. For until this is settled, we know not upon what covenant the church is to be formed, nor what covenant is to be professed by those who are to be admitted, nor what covenant is to be sealed by baptism and the Lord's supper, nor what covenant the minis ter is to preach up and hold out to public view, as the thing to be complied with by professors, and to be sealed by the sacraments. So that if we mean to proceed like rational creatures, in our church-affairs, we must look this matter to the bottom, and come to a determination.
To say, that it is needless to determine this point, is the same thing as to say, that it is of no consequence whether our churches are founded on a right covenant, or on a wrong one; or whether God's seals are fixed to the covenant he designed, or to a covenant to which he never intended they should be affixed; which none will pretend to say: for, if it is of no consequence what covenant we profess, nor what covenant
we seal, a right one or a wrong one; it is surely of no consequence whether we profess or seal any covenant at all; which to say, is to tear up by the roots all notion of a visible church in the world. But to set aside a visible church, as a needless thing, is to set aside christianity, as an imposture. There must be christian churches; there must be a public profession of some covenant or other; there must be sealing ordinances; these ordinances must be administered by the ministers of Christ to the proper subjects; it must be determined who they are; it must, therefore, be determined on what covenant churches are to be formed, and what covenant is to be preached up, professed, and sealed. It is a controversy, which no honest man, who means to have any thing to do in church affairs, can let alone, as a mere circumstantial point. Much less can those, who are already in the ministry, or are about to settle in that work, consistently content themselves to proceed without any settled scheme at all; unless all they aim at is to live a quiet life, right or wrong; which is what none will profess to do.
Our churches were originally founded on a profession of a compliance with the covenant of grace, at least generally. And indeed, I know not of one church in New-England, of our denomination, which is now otherwise founded, if we may judge of their foundation by the words of the covenant which is read to those who are admitted to full communion. So far as I know, the formulas in use express the chief things contained in the covenant of grace: "That they avouch the Lord to be their God and chief good, and give up themselves to him, through Jesus Christ, to live to him and seek his glory." And therefore, should we be convinced that the covenant of grace is not the covenant with which the church of Christ ought to profess a compliance, there ought to be an alteration in our formulas. For, as they stand at present, they tend to lead all persons whose consciences are awake, to think they ought to be converted, before they make a profession of religion, and join in full communion with the church. For, such do not think it right to profess a compliance with the covenant of grace, when they know they have no grace. Nor do they think it consistent with moral honesty, to give
their consent to the covenant in a sense different from its plain and natural sense. There is a necessity, therefore, if the covenant of grace is not the covenant which ought to be entered into, to call our churches together, to point out to them plainly this fundamental error in their constitution, and to lead them to vote out the covenant of grace, and to vote in a graceless covenant, in order to open a wide and effectual door to let ungodly men, as such, into our churches. And in this method, may be adopted regularly the new scheme advanced by the Rev. Mr. Moses Mather, an ingenious writer, in his piece lately published, entitled, "The visible church in covenant with God," &c.
This author has offered this doctrine of an external graceless covenant to public consideration, as taught in the word of God, and as the only consistent plan on which the visible church can be founded, and infant baptism vindicated. He had no desire, it may be presumed, that his scheme should be received by our churches without examination. The strictest scrutiny cannot hurt the truth. The truth, like the sun, can bear to be looked upon, without any diminution of its lustre. A glow-worm is in danger of losing its brightness, if the light of day shines around it. This may be the nature of error; but the truth itself, the more strictly it is examined, the more will it appear to be like the morning light, which shines more and more to the perfect day.
Our confession of faith, and plan of church discipline, have determined for "the covenant of grace," declaring that "sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace ";" and for the necessity of a profession of a "cordial subjection to Jesus Christ." But these are not the word of God. Mr. Mather undertakes to prove his doctrine from the word of God. And we ought, with the utmost readiness, to give up all human composures, when found inconsistent with the word of God. He appeals to Scripture: we join in the appeal; and let him that readeth, understand.
Bethlem, June 15, 1769.
a See Con. Faith, chap. 27.
The nature of Mr. M.'s external, graceless covenant, its difference from the covenant of grace, and a general view of the subject.
BY the covenant of grace, Mr. M. means, that covenant with which every true believer complies in the exercise of repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and which promises pardon and eternal life to all who comply with it. Or to use his own words, " a sure promise of eternal life, to all such as with a true heart believe in Jesus Christ" p. 4. And in this we are agreed. But he maintains, that this is not the covenant, a compliance with which is to be publicly professed by any of the followers of Christ, when they join in full communion with the church. It is a chief design of this piece to prove this point. And in this we differ.
By the external covenant, he means, not the covenant of grace, externally entered into by a public profession of a compliance with it, which is what some divines have meant by the phrase; but a covenant specifically different from the covenant of grace. It differs from it in three things. 1. The covenant of grace requires holiness, a holy faith, a holy repentance, a holy obedience: the external covenant requires no holiness at all. 2. The covenant of grace is complied with by none but the regenerate, in the exercise of holiness: the external covenant may be complied with by the unregenerate, by those that have no grace. 3. The covenant of grace promises eternal life: the external covenant promises no such thing; but leaves those who comply with it, and do no more, under the sentence of the divine law, to eternal death. This appears through the whole performance. We maintain, that there is no such covenant; he endeavours to prove that this is the only covenant, a compliance with which was professed by Abraham, by the Israelites in the wilderness, and by the apostolic converts, when they entered visibly into covenant. with God, and became members of God's visible church; as
will be plain to any one that reads his book. We affirm that a profession of a compliance with this covenant God never required of any man.
There is a covenant of grace, indeed, according to Mr. M. which promises eternal life to the true believer, to which this external covenant, he says, serves as means to the end. p. 9. But a compliance with this covenant of grace never was required, and never was professed, in order to sealing ordinances, under the Old Testament or the New; for the seals were not designed primarily to be seals of the covenant of grace, but of a graceless covenant, with which graceless men may comply in the sight of God, while such. And so there is no need of a compliance with the covenant of grace, in order to a consistent attendance on sealing ordinances. p. 36, 37. As graceless men may comply with this graceless covenant; so they may consistently be active in sealing it. And so there is not the least need of our being born again, or the least occasion of a profession of godliness, or making any pretence of love to God or Christ, or to vital piety, in order to a regular admission into the church of Christ. We need not be saints. in reality, or in profession; in the sight of God, or in the sight of men, no such thing is required: no such thing is pretended. For "the external covenant does not respect a gracious state of heart, as the qualification requisite to a person's entering into it." p. 22. A church of Christ, therefore, is a congregation in which there is no visible profession made of real christianity; i. e. of friendship to Christ, or of christian grace, or of any thing but what is consistent with a state of total enmity to God and Christ, and to all spiritual good. This is Mr. M.'s idea of a visible church; and any higher profession he thinks of very bad tendency. p. 51, 52, 53.
If the least spark of grace is required in the external covenant, or if the least spark of grace is professed invisibly entering into it, then the man that knows he has no grace, but is dead in sin, cannot make a profession, and Mr. M.'s end is frustrated, which was to open a wide and effectual door for such as know themselves to be ungodly, to join in full communion with the church.