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Concerning visibility without apparent probability.

Mr. Stoddard (Appeal, p. 16.) says thus: “Such persons as the apostles did admit into gospel churches, are fit to be admitted into them; but they admitted many that had not a thorough work of regeneration. Indeed by the rule that God has given for admissions, if carefully attended, more unconverted persons will be admitted, than converted.”

This passage I took notice of in my book, where I say, “I would humbly inquire, How those visible qualifications can be the ground of a rational judgment, that a person is circumcised in heart, which nevertheless at the same time, we are sensible, are so far from being probable signs of it, that they are more frequently without it than with it,” &c. This seems to be a terrible thing in Mr. W.‘s way, which he strikes at from time to time; and is an impediment he boggles at exceedingly. One while he pretends, he can give a sufficient answer. (p. 7, 8.) At another time he pretends, that I remove the difficulty myself. (p. 12.) Then again, in the same page, he pretends to solve the difficulty; and then in the next page pretends, that if the case be as I say, That we cannot form a rational judgment that a thing is, which, at the same time, and under that degree of light we then stand in, it more probably is a mistaken one than not, yet it can argue nothing to the case; 501 seeing the judgment we do form, is directed by a rule which is appointed for us. But still as if not satisfied with these answers and remarks, he seems afterwards to suggest, that Mr. S. did not express this as his own sentiment, but as Mr. Cotton’s, as a gentleman of the same principles with Mr. Mather, using it as argumentum ad hominem. See p. 33.

In p. 34. a. he expressly says, “Mr. S. does not say, That when the rule which God has given for admissions is carefully attended, it leaves reason to believe, that the greater part of those who are admitted, are enemies to God“ &c.—True, he does not say this in terms; but he says, “more unconverted persons will be admitted, than converted:”—which is equivalent. And (p. 133. a.) Mr. W. presumes confidently to affirm, that Mr. S. says this [the thing forementioned] not with peculiar relation to his own scheme, but only as an application of a saying of Mr. Cotton’s, who was of a different opinion, and said upon a different scheme; to show, that upon their own principles, the matter will not be mended. But this is contrary to the most plain fact. For Mr. S. having said, The apostles admitted many unconverted, he immediately adds the passage in dispute, indeed by the rule, &c. plainly expressing his own sentiment; though he backs it with a saying of Mr. Cotton’s. So, Mr. Cotton’s words come in as a confirmation of Mr. S—d’s; and not Mr. S—d’s as an application of Mr. Cotton’s. However, Mr. W. delivers the same sentiment as his own, once and again, in his book: he delivers it as his own sentiment, (p. 34.) that probably many more hypocrites, than real saints, do make such a profession, as that which must be accepted. He delivers it as his own sentiment, (p. 61. c.) That the apostles judged it likely, that of the Christians taken into the church under their direction, as many were hypocrites in proportion to their number, as to those that were taken into the Jewish church. And as to the latter, he delivers it as his sentiment, (p. 24. a.) that the body of the people were not regenerate. So that, according to his own sentiments, when the apostolical rule of taking in is observed, the body of those who are admitted will be hypocrites.

Now therefore, I desire that this matter may be examined to the very bottom.—And here let it be considered, whether the truth of the following things be not incontestable.

1. If indeed by the rule God has given for admissions, when it is carefully attended, more unconverted persons will he admitted, than converted; then it will follow, That just such a visibility or visible appearance of saintship as the rule requires, is more frequently without real saintship, than with it.

2. If Mr. S. and Mr. W. had just reason from the Holy Scripture, and Divine Providence, to think thus, and to publish such a sentiment, and the christian church has good reason to believe them; then God has given the christian church in its present state (dark and imperfect as it is) good reason to think so too.

3. If Christ by the rule he has given for admissions, requires his churches to receive such a visibility or appearance, which he has given the same churches at the same time reason to judge to be an appearance that for the most part is without godliness, or more frequently connected with ungodliness; then he requires them to receive such an appearance, as he at the same time has given them reason to think does not imply a probability of godliness, but is attended rather with a probability of ungodliness. For that is the notion of probability; an appearance, which so far as we have, means to judge, is for the most part connected with the thing. 589589    Mr. Locke thus defines probability. (Hum. Und. 7th Edit 8vo. Vol. II. p. 273.) “Probability is nothing but the appearance of such an agreement or disagreement, by the intervention of proofs, whose connexion is not constant and immutable, or at least is not perceived to be so: but is. or appears for the most part to be so; and is enough to induce the mind to judge the proposition to be true, or false, rather than the contrary. And Mr. W. himself (p. 139.) says, “It is moral evidence of gospel sincerity, which God’s word makes the church’s rule,” &c. Now does such an appearance, as we have reason at the same time to think is more frequently without gospel-holiness than with it, amount to moral evidence of gospel-sincerity.” Therefore the sign or appearance, let it be what it will, implies a probability of that which we have reason to think it is for the most part connected or attended with. Where there is only probability without certainty, there is a peradventure in the case on both sides; or in vulgar language, the supposition on both sides stands a chance to be true. But that side which most commonly proves true in such a case, stands the best chance; and therefore properly on that side lies the probability.

4. That cannot be a credible visibility or appearance, which is not a probable appearance. To say, a thing is credible and not probable, is a contradiction. And it is impossible rationally to judge a thing true, and at the same time rationally to judge a thing most probably not true. Therefore it is absurd (not to say worse) to talk of any divine institution, leading us thus to judge. It would be to suppose, that God by his institution has made that judgment rational, which he at the same time makes improbable, and therefore irrational.

This notion of admitting members into the church of Christ without and against probability of true piety, is not only very inconsistent with itself, but very inconsistent with what the common light of mankind teaches in their dealings one with another. Common sense teaches all mankind, in admission of members into societies, at least societies formed for very great and important purposes, to admit none but those concerning whom there is an apparent probability, that they are the hearty friends of the society, and of the main designs and interests of it; and especially not to admit such concerning whom there is a greater probability of their being habitual fixed enemies. But thus it is, according to Mr. S.‘s and Mr. W.‘s doctrine, as well as the doctrine of the Scripture, with all unsanctified men, in regard to the church of Christ. They are enemies to the head of the society, enemies to his honour and authority, and the work of salvation in the way of the gospel; the upholding and promoting of which is the main design of the society. The church is represented in Scripture as the household of God, in a peculiar manner intrusted with the care of his name and honour in the world, the interests of his kingdom, the care of his jewels, and most precious things. And would not common sense teach an earthly prince not to admit into his household, such as he had no reason to look upon so much as probable friends and loyal subjects in their hearts; but rather friends and slaves in their hearts to his enemies and competitors for his crown and dignity? The visible church of Christ is often represented as his city and his army. Now would not common sense teach the inhabitants of a besieged city to open the gates to none, but those concerning whom there is at least an apparent probability of their not being enemies? And would any imagine, that in a militant state of things it is a likely way to promote the interest of the war, to fill up the army with such as are more likely to be on the enemies’ side in their hearts, than on the side of their lawful and rightful prince, and his faithful soldiers and subjects.

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