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felf-examination can of itself give any man a qualifia cation for the Lord's Supper ; it is proposed as the means of knowing whether he be duly qualified or not. If herelipon he find that he is, by discovering in himself the esential marks of a true Christian, he is warranted to eat of this bread and drink of this cup ; but, if not, he is as strongly forbidden to do it as he could have been in a direct prohibition. It is as if it had been faid, “Since there is danger of receiving unworthily, let no man receive without having first examined himself whether he be duly qualified, i. e. whether he be a true Christian, and proved himself to be one, or approved himself to his own conscience as such."
If it should be obječted against this sense of the passage, “ that there appears to be no propriety in the Apostle's addressing such an exhortation to these Corinthians, who are supposed to have been good men :" I answer, the exhortation (as I before observed) was not particularly addressed to them to whom the reproof had been given, but is a general advice founded on what had been said on unworthy receiving in general. Or if it should be thought most natural to consider the advice as addressed to these very persons among others, it may be allowed (very consistently with what has been advanced concerning their piety in general, and the impossibility of fixing the charge of impiety upon any individuals) that the Apostle might have some secret suspicion, that in fo disorderly a church there might be some, whose hearts were not right with God, and who had not those spiritual views in attending this ordinance which the nature of it requires ; the want of which might probably be, in a great measure, the first occasion of their irregularities.
Thus, Sir, I have attempted to shew, that those Dislenters who maintain that a mere belief of the gofpe! and a freedom from scandalous vices, are not the
only qualifications for the Lord's Supper, have greater foundation both in reason and scripture for their opinion than you have represented. Whether you had (as you tell us p. 29.) “ read to us every thing that relates to this question in the New Tel tament,” or whether you have properly interpreted those you have produced, let our readers now judge.
AFTER having considered what are the ne
cessary qualifications for receiving the Lord's Supper, it is natural to enquire, (as I now propose doing) who are the proper judges of them? Is every man the sole judge for himself in this case, and are all persons at full liberty to come to this ordinance, who choose to do so, whatsoever their views, or their characters may be ? Or has a Christian church a right to be satisfied whether those that offer themselves to communion be duly qualified, and to exclude those who appear not to be so? I cannot conceive why a society of Christians, should be supposed to differ from all other societies, in a particular of essential importance to their honour, their liberty, their prosperity, and even to their very being : for such most certainly is the power of determining who are, and who are not fit to be members, and of excluding such as they deem unworthy. A church of Christ is a society of persons who truly believe in and obey him, and who statedly meet together at the same place, to partake of his fupper, as a token of their relation and subjection to him, as well as with a view to their mutual edification. Now if any one joins himself to such a society, who does not believe in Christ, or who is not obedi
ent to his commands, he is not properly a member of the church, being utterly disqualified by the laws of Christ, and if the true members of it are obliged to admit all that offer themselves; in a course of time, if there should be any secular motive, of honour or profit, the majority of such a society might be mere nominal Christians, or even profane persons, if not infidels. And when this should once be the case, - the righteous would soon utterly cease from among « them that which bore the name of a church of Christ would essentially differ from it; the ordinances of religion would be profaned, and most likely would soon cease to be administered. It is not sufficient to say, “ Every man must answer for himself before God with respect to his views in coming to the Lord's table,” for it is not merely a personal concern. It is entering into an important connexion with others. It is professing to become members of a society said to be 'a chosen generation, an
holy nation, a peculiar people,' laid under special obligations to an holy exemplary conversation in the world; all of whom therefore muft be greatly interested in the temper and deportment of the rest, since so intimate a connexion with wicked men might not only bring a reproach upon themselves and the religion of Christ, but such persons might have a very unhappy influence in the church, and greatly prevent its edification. It is fit therefore that a power should be lodged somewhere of judging concerning the qualifications of candidates for communion, and of rejecting those that appear to be destitute of them, But with whom could this be so properly intrusted, as with the members of the church themselves, whether they choose to exercise it themselves, or to commit into the hands of their paítor, or any select number of their body. Such a power, one would think the common principles of liberty would sufficiently vindicate in a church, and even require. As they claiin
no right to force any into communion, it seems un. reasonable that any should force themselves. It is true, bodies of Christians, any more than individuals, I are not their own.' The supper of which they partake is the Lord's Supper. So that they are to make no new terms of admission to it, but acknowledge those as sufficient which Christ has made. But it is by no means inconsistent with a due acknowledgement of him as the head over all things to the • church, to judge whether those that would be received as members of that church, be qualified according to his own laws, and to exclude such as are not. On the contrary, if he has given them this power, it is part of their duty to him to exercise it. Such a power appears to me, in theory, fo reasonable, that it might be naturally expected he would have given it them; and from the New Testament records it is abundantly evident he has.
Christian churches are not only represented as voluntary societies, and the members of them considered as persons united in the strongest ties, but also as having some kind of authority over each other. Hence they are exhorted to submit themselves one to ano
ther.'* And such passages as the following strongly imply, that the primitive churches considered them selves as having a right to judge of the qualifications of such as offered themselves to their communion, and to refuse those that appeared not duly qualified. • Receive ye one another as Christ also hath received
us. + I commend unto you Phebe our sister, " that ye receive her as becometh saints' But this authority of the church with respect to its own members is more fully expressed in those passages which relate to excommunication, the principal of which I had occasion to quote at length in a former letter. I Now by the same authority that a church may reject any from their society, after they have been re- . ceived, they may, surely, refuse to admit any as
mem: * Eph. v. 21. † Rom. xv. 7. $ xvi. 1, 2. See p. 53.