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the advancing of the good of the body, which is the church, Prov. iii. 9. There are several occasions people have of laying out money for pious uses, which want of due consideration makes them to do grudgingly. But if thou hast an occasion put into thy hand, by this money to honour God, to bring about good for the souls of others, to contribute to the good of the church, thou art to look on it as a special duty of the communion of saints, and an occasion of bestowing it to a noble use.
As to what one is to give, every one must conscientiously determine that for himself: but here is the general rule, viz. that people are to give in a proportion to the necessity of their brethren, and their own ability, Rom. xii. 13. 1 Cor. xvi. 2. One is to eye,
1. The necessity of their brethren: for that may be too little for some, which may be more than enough to others whose straits are not so great. And withal, in weighing this their necessity, it is to be noticed, if the poor walk suitable to their condition; for neither religion nor reason requires us to foster them in voluntary idleness, or in living beyond the bounds of their condition, 2 Thess. iii. 10, 11.
2. Their own ability. What one gives must be his own, and not another's, for God hates robbery for burnt-offering. Those to whom God has given much, of them much is required; those who have little, the less is required. Our own strait condition does not altogether excuse from it. The widow's two mites were required and accepted; yea, people are bound to labour for that they may have what to give to the poor, Eph. iv. 28. "Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." And whatever is in their power to do for them, they are obliged to do, Acts iii. 6.
Motive 1. Consider our Lord Christ looks on what is given to his poor members as given to himself, and will make honourable mention of it at the great day, Matth. xxv. 35, 36. "For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." Christ is in them, his image upon them, they and he are one, and shall not their fellow-members regard them as such, in supplying of their necessities? We are to part with our all to him at his call. Sometimes he requires it by persecutors, and then we are to give it up at his call for his sake: sometimes by his needy members; and then also it is given to him, Lent to the Lord.
2. We are not absolute masters of our substance, but stewards of
it, accountable to the Lord for our management.
The church is
God's household, and Christ has secured, by the covenant, necessaries for this life to all that are his, Is. xxxiii. 16.-" Bread shall be given him, his water shall be sure." Only he has put the portion of the poor members in the hands of others, to give it out to them, according to their necessity, and what of it is in their hand, Luke xvi. 10, 11, 12. Therefore we shall be unfaithful stewards, if we distribute not to the necessities of the saints.
3. They are fellow-members of the same body with you, and fellowheirs of the same inheritance, Gal. vi. 10. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." The spiritual relation that is betwixt us and them challengeth it as a debt of love. Have we not all one Father, one elder Brother, one Spirit knitting us to one Head, and one heritage for ever, to which men are admitted without respect of persons? Suppose several men were travelling together into a far country to receive a common inheritance, would not those who have abundance of spending money supply those who are run short in the way? So should we do with the poor saints.
4. It tends much to the honour of God, and the credit of the gospel and of the church. Every society looks on themselves as obliged to see to the supply of the wants of their members: and should not the communion of saints be exemplary therein, considering the most strait ties among them? By our Lord's own verdict, "Giving is a more blessed thing than receiving," Acts xx. 35. therein we do in a special manner appear in likeness to the Lord, Luke vi. 35, 36. And O should we not honour with our substance him, who, for our sakes, became poor, that we might be rich ?" 2 Cor. viii. 9.
Lastly, It has a reward of grace annexed to it, being rightly per formed. It is the best way to secure a through bearing for us and ours, Prov. xxviii. 27. "He that giveth to the poor shall not have lack." What we have is liable to many accidents; but laying out for God is better security than laying up what God calls for at our hand, Eccles. xi. 1. "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days." What is thus laid out brings in to the giver, Prov. iii. 9, 10." Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thine increase; so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine." Solomon observes the accomplishment of it, Prov. xi. 24. "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth." And though our good works do not merit either the temporal or eternal reward of glory; yet even the eternal reward will be according to our works, and that is
an eternal truth, 2 Cor. ix. 6. "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully."
V. Admission to the Lord's table is a matter of the greatest weight and concern, to be managed and gone about with all solemn seriousness and caution. Whoso considers that, being one bread, we declare ourselves thereby one body of Christ, must needs see this, and that there is great need to take heed to our feet in entering on that holy ground. And considering that the church is a communion of saints in profession, whereof Christ is the head, there is need to look well who be admitted thereto as complete members of the visible body. And here it is evident,
1. That there ought not to be a promiscuous admission to the Lord's table, which some have contended for. It is not only contrary to our Lord's express command, Matth. vii. 6. "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs," but contrary to the nature, use and ends of that ordinance. It is a distinguishing sign, to put a visible difference betwixt the communion of saints and communion of sinners; and therefore cannot be common to both. Shall the badge of the members of Christ be put upon those who bear Satan's mark on their foreheads? Shall they be declared of the body of Christ, who are, to the conviction of the church, of the world lying in wickedness?
2. Admission to the Lord's table is an act of church power and government for, if the church be a body or society by itself, and the Lord's table the special privilege of that body, whereby one is declared and allowed to be of that body, there can be no lawful admission thereto but in the way of church power and government. For what corporation is there, whereinto one may be admitted without an act of the governing part of it? Our Lord has appointed governors in his church, 1 Cor. xii. 28. who have a power to admit to, and debar from the sacrament, Matth. vii. 6; and this belongs not to the minister alone, but to the society of ruling church-officers, that is, the minister and elders; for the keys of government, to which admission belongs, are not given to one, but to the unity of church-officers, 2 Cor. ii. 6.
3. There ought to be a due trial of those who are admitted to the Lord's table, that it may be seen, whether or not those who seek to be admitted are qualified according to the laws of the visible kingdom of Christ, lest such be brought in as may bring a stain on the society, and corrupt and defile them, instead of edifying them. This also flows from the nature of the church as a separate society, and a communion of saints. For, to bring in hand over head, without consideration of the persons, is much a case with throwing open the
doors of the sanctuary, that any who pleases may enter. It is true, since God only knows the heart, no doubt hypocrites and naughty persons may be let in as honest-hearted Christians; the devil's goats may come in by their likeness to Christ's sheep; but if their outside be promising, that is all the church can judge of, other things are left to God's judgment.
4. The whole matter is of the greatest weight and deepest concern; and that,
1st, To the admitters, who are, as it were, the porters of the Lord's house, and should look well whom they admit to the Lord's table, that it be not profaned through their default. There are two things requisite to give one a right before the church, to the Lord's table. (1.) A competent measure of knowledge; without this people cannot examine themselves, nor rightly discern the Lord's body, 1 Cor. xi. 28, 29. and they are declared none of the Lord's people, Is. xxvii. 11. "It is a people of no understanding; therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour." The minister, whose office it is to teach, is the most competent, though perhaps not the only judge in this point. (2.) A blameless life, not scandalous and profane, Matth. vii. 6. These cannot be fit guests at the holy table, whose conversation is openly wicked. And ministers and elders, who are, by their office, overscers of the manners of the people, are to enquire into this. And whoso duly considers it, will find it a most weighty piece of work.
2dly, To the church, and every member thereof. Is it not the concern of every one in the society, who be admitted as fellow-members of the body, to partake of the greatest privileges of the church? It is the duty of all to do what in them lies, that God's ordinance be not profaned, that the communion of saints, which is one bread, receive not harm by the bringing in thereto such as will stain and defile it, and that they be not partakers of other men's sins, 1 Cor. v. 6, 7. "Your glorying is not good: know ye not, that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us."
Quest. What can and ought private Christians to do in this case? Ans. If the case or offence of the party being such as renders him unworthy to be admitted, cannot be removed by private admonition, either through the party's obstinacy, or the publicness of it, in that case, they ought to bring it to the church-officers, in order to stop the admission, Matth. xviii. 15. If they do not this, they partake of the guilt; if they do, they have delivered their own souls, though
the church-officers do not their duty, and may partake with a good conscience.
3dly, To the party himself. It is the taking on of the external public badge of the communion of saints, a solemn declaration of his being one body with the members of Christ, the which must needs be of great concern to any one who duly considers how solemn and awful an action this is. To go about this work ignorantly, indeliberately and rashly, without due preparation, is a taking of God's name in vain with a witness. Wherefore,
(1.) Let those who have a hand in admission to the Lord's table, be careful and conscientious to approve themselves to God in this weighty matter. (2.) Let the whole communicants be concerned to see to it as they have opportunity. (3.) Let persons looking that way duly consider the weight of the matter.
Those who have been once orderly admitted, may at every occasion thereafter claim their privilege in case they have kept free from public scandal. But as for those who have not yet been orderly admitted, they ought to make it a matter of time, that there be no hurry in their admission. I have often complained, that some never shew their desire of admission, till there be little time left either for themselves or us to consider of that weighty business. I have endeavoured to prevent that, by giving intimation some weeks before, but almost still in vain as to some. May we be helped to take some method hereafter that may effectually prevent it. Is it not highly reasonable, that those who by office are to see to this, be satisfied both as to the knowledge and conversation of those they must admit? And why should people be so conceited of themselves as not to allow a competent time for this? Let all consider,
1. The honour of Christ, how it is concerned in this matter, that that be not said concerning us, Rom. ii. 24.—" The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you."-The comely order of the Lord's house is for his sake to be carefully observed.
2. The ordinance is in hazard of profanation, and all are in hazard of being guilty of it. The admitters bring guilt on themselves when they are negligent in this matter, Ezek. xliv. 7. "In that ye have brought into my sanctuary strangers uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary to pollute it, even my house, when ye offer my bread."-The whole church when they are not in their duty, Lev. v. 1. and the party, Ezek. xxiii. 39.
3. The church is in hazard of being defiled, Heb. xii. 15.-" Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." Some profane leaven brought in, may soon leaven the whole lump.