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FARE WELL SERMON,
PREACHED AT THE FIRST PRECINCT IN NORTHAMPTON,
AFTER THE PEOPLE'S PUBLIC REJECTION OF THEIR MINISTER, AND RENOUNCING
THEIR RELATION TO HIM AS PASTOR OF THE CHURCH THERE
JUNE 22, 1750.
It is not unlikely, that some of the readers of the following sermon may be inquisitive concerning the circumstances of the difference between me and the people of Northampton, that issued in that separation between me and them, which occasioned the preaching of this farewell sermon. There is, by no means, room here for a full account of that matter : but yet it seems to be proper, and even necessary, here to correct some gross misrepresentations, which have been abundantly, and (it is to be feared) by some affectedly and industriously made, of that difference: such as, that I insisted on persons being assured of their being in a state of salvation, in order to my admitting them into the church; that I required a particular relation of the method and order of a person's inward experience, and of the time and manner of his conversion, as the test of his fitness for Christian communion; yea, that I have undertaken to set up a pure church, and to make an exact and certain distinction between saints and hypocrites, by a pretended infallible discerning of the state of men's souls; that in these things I had fallen in with those wild people, who have lately appeared in New Eng. land, called Separatists; and that I myself was become a grand Separatist; and that I arrogated all the power of judging of the qualifications of candidates for communion wholly to myself, and insisted on acting by my sole authority, in the admission of members into the church, &c.
In opposition to these slanderous representations, I shall at present only give my reader an account of some things which I laid before the council, that separated between me and my people, in order to their having a just and full view of my principles relating to the affair in controversy.
Long before the sitting of the council, my people had sent to the Reverend Mr. Clark of Salem village, desiring him to write in opposition to my principles. Which gave me occasion to write to Mr. Clark, that he might have true information what my principles were. And in the time of the sitting of the council, I did, for their information, make a public declaration of my principles before them and the church, in the meeting-house, of the same import with that in my letter to Mr. Clark, and very much in the same words: and then, afterwards, sent in to the council in writing, an extract of that letter, containing the information I had given to Mr. Clark, in the very words of my letter to him, that the council might read and consider it at their leisure, and have a more certain and satisfactory knowledge what my principles were. The extract which I sent to them was in the following words:
“I am often and I do not know but pretty generally, in the country, represented as of a new and odd opinion with respect to the terms of Christian communion, and as being for introducing a peculiar way of my own. Whereas, I do not perceive that I differ at all from the scheme of Dr. Watts, in his book entitled, The rational Foundation of a Christian Church, and the Terms of Christian Communion ; which, he says, is the common sentiment of all reformed churches. I had not seen this book of Dr. Watts' when I published what I have written on the subject. But yet, I think my sentiments, as I have expressed them, are as exactly agreeable to what he lays down, as if I had been his pupil. Nor do I at all go beyond what Dr. Doddridge plainly shows to be his sentiments, in his Rise and Progress of Religion, and his Sermons on Regeneration, and his Paraphrase and Notes on the New Testament. Nor indeed, sir, when I consider the sentiments you have expressed in your letters to Major Pomroy and Mr. Billing, can I perceive but that they come exactly to the same thing that I maintain. You suppose the sacraments are not converting ordinances: but that, as seals of the covenant, they presuppose conversion, especially in the adult ; and that it is visible saintship, or, in other words, a credible profession of faith and repentance, a solemn consent to the gospel covenant, joined with a good conversation, and compe tent measure of Christian knowledge, is what gives a gospel right to all sacred ordinances : but that it is necessary to those that come to these ordinances, and in those that profess a consent to the gospel covenant, that they be sincere in their profession, or at least should think themselves so. The great thing which I have scrupled in the established method of this church's proceeding, and which I dare no longer go on in, is their publicly assenting to the form of words rehearsed on occasion of their admission to the communion, without pretending thereby to mean any such thing as any hearty consent to the terms of the gospel covenant, or to mean any such faith or repentance as belong to the covenant of grace, and are the grand conditions of that covenant: it being, at the same time that the words are used, their known and established principle, which they openly profess and proceed upon, that men may and ought to use these words, and mean no such thing, but something else of a nature far inferior; which I think they have no distinct, determinate notion of; but something consistent with their knowing that they do not chose God as their chief good, but love the world more than him, and that they do not give themselves up entirely to God, but make reserves; and in short, knowing that they do not heartily consent to the gospel covenant, but live still under the reigning power of the love of the world, and enmity to God and Christ. So that the words of their public profession, according to their openly established use, cease to be of the nature of any profession of gospel faith and repentance, or any proper compliance with the covenant: for it is their profession, that the words, as used, mean no such thing. The words used under these circumstances, do at least fail of being a credible profession of these things. I can conceive of no such virtue in a certain set of words, that it is proper, merely on the making these sounds, to admit persons to Christian sacraments, without any regard to any pretended meaning of these sounds : nor can I think, that any institution of Christ has established any such terms of admission into the Christian church. It does not belong to the controversy between me and my people, how particular or large the profession should be that is required. I should not choose to be confined to exact limits as to that matter but rather than contend, I should content myself with a few words, briefly expressing the cardinal virtues or acts implied in a hearty compliance with the covenant, made (as should appear by inquiry into the person's doctrinal knowledge) understandingly; if there were an external conversation agreeable thereto: yea, I should think, that such a person, solemnly making such a profession, had a right to be received as the object of a public charity, however he himself might scruple his own conversion, on account of his not remembering the time, not knowing the method of his conversion, or finding so much remaining sin, &c. And (if his own scruples did not hinder his coming to the Lord's table) I should think the minister or church had no right to debar such a professor, though he should say he did not think himself converted ;-for I call that a profession of godliness, which is a profession of the great things whercin godliness consists, and not a profession of his own opinion of his good estate."
Northampton, May 7, 1750. Thus far my Letter to Mr. Clark.
The council having heard that I had made certain draughts of the covenant, or forms of a public profession of religion which I stood ready to accept of from the · candidates for church communion, they, for their further information, sent for them. Accordingly I sent them four distinct draughts or forms, which I had drawn up about a twelvemonth before, as what I stood ready to accept of (any one of them) rather than contend and break with my people.
The two shortest of these forms are here inserted for the satisfaction of the reader. They are as follows.
"I hope I do truly find a heart to give up myself wholly to God, according to the tenor of that covenant of grace which was sealed in my baptism; and to walk in a way of that obedience to all the commandments of God, which the covenant of grace requires, as long as I live.” Another,
“I hope I truly find in my heart a willingness to comply with all the command. ments of God, which require me to give up myself wholly to him, and to serve him
with my body and my spirit. And do accordingly now promise to walk in a way of obedience to all the commandments of God, as long as I live.”
Such kind of professions as these I stood ready to accept, rather than contend and break with my people. Not but that I think it much more convenient, that ordinarily the public profession of religion that is made by Christians, should be much fuller and more particular. And that (as I hinted in my letter to Mr. Clark) I should not choose to be tied up to any certain form of words, but to have liberty to vary the expressions of a public profession the more exactly to suit the sentiments and experience of the professor, that it might be a more just and free expression of what each one finds in his heart.
And moreover it must be noted, that I ever insisted on it, that it belonged to me as a pastor, before a profession was accepted, to have full liberty to instruct the candidate in the meaning of the terms of it, and in the nature of the things proposed to be professed; and to inquire into his doctrinal understanding of these things, according to my best discretion; and to caution the person, as I should think needful, against rashness in making such a profession, or doing it mainly for the credit of himself or his family, or from any secular views whatsoever, and to put him on serious self-examination, and searching his own heart, and prayer to God to search and enlighten him that he may not be hypocritical and deceived in the profession he makes; withal pointing forth to him the many ways in which professors are liable to be deceived.
Nor do I think it improper for a minister in such a case, to inquire and know of the candidate what can be remembered of the circumstances of his Christian experience; as this may tend much to illustrate his profession, and give a minister great advantage for proper instructions: though a particular knowledge and remembrance of the time and method of the first conversion to God, is not to be made the test of a person's sincerity, nor insisted on as necessary in order to his being received into full charity. Not that I think it at all improper or unprofitable, that in some special cases a declaration of the particular circumstances of a person's first awakening and the manner of his convictions, illuminations, and comforts, should be publicly exhibited before the whole congregation, on occasion of his admission into the church; though this be not demanded as necessary to admission. I ever declared against insisting on a relation of experience, in this sense (viz., a relation of the particular time and steps of the operation of the Spirit, in first conversion), as the term of communion : yet, if by a relation of experiences, be meant a declaration of experience of the great things wrought, wherein true grace and the essential acts and habits of holiness consist; in this sense, I think an account of a person's experiences necessary in order to his admission into full communion in the church. But that in whatever inquiries are made, and whatever accounts are given, neither minister nor church are to set up themselves as searchers of hearts, but are to accept the serious, solemn profession of the well instructed professor, of a good life, as best able to determine what he finds in his own heart.
These things may serve in some measure to set right those of my readers who have been misled in their apprehensions of the state of the controversy between me and my people, by the forementioned misrepresentations.