Part 2, Chap. 4, pp. 120-123.
Whether the ordinances of Christ be any way polluted by corrupt fellow worshippers.
It may be said, ‘But are not the ordinances of Christ someway polluted by the unworthiness of such scandalous partakers? And if so, can polluted ordinances be partaken of without sin?’
Answer. We may consider polluting of ordinances in a threefold sense.
1. An ordinance may be said to be polluted, when the essentials and substantials thereof are corrupted, so as indeed it ceaseth to be an ordinance of Jesus Christ: Thus the Mass in Popery, is a fearful abomination, and a corruption of the Sacrament: in this respect, the ordinance (if it may be called an ordinance after that, for indeed it is not an ordinance of Christ) is polluted, and this may be many ways fallen into, and communion in this, is indeed sinful and cannot but be so.
2. An ordinance may be said to be polluted, when it is irreverently and profanely abused, though essentials be kept. Thus the Lord’s Sabbath may be polluted, which yet is holy in it self; So was the Table of the Lord polluted, Mal. 1. And in this sense the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was indeed polluted by the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 11. when some came drunk or other ways irreverently to the holy ordinances; in this respect, an ordinance may be said to be polluted to him that so goeth about it, because to the unclean all things are unclean; but it is not polluted in it self, nor to any other that examine themselves, as the former instance doth clear, because that pollution cometh from nothing in the ordinance, (it being in its essentials complete) but doth arise from the sinfulness of such and such persons, and therefore must be commensurable with them.
3. An ordinance may be said to be polluted, upon this extrinsic consideration, to wit, when by some circumstance in it, or miscarriage of those that are about it, it is made common-like, and so wanteth that luster and honourableness that it ought to have; by such a fault the ordinance is made obnoxious to contempt, and is despised by others, contrary to the Lords allowance. Thus the Priests of old made the offerings of the Lord vile and contemptible, which was not by corrupting them in essentials, nor making them cease to be ordinances, but by their miscarriages and corrupt irreverent way of going about them, they did lay that stumbling-block before others, to make them account these ordinances contemptible. This may be diverse ways fallen into, as:
(1.) When the Officer, or Minister, hath a profane carnal carriage, So he maketh the ordinance of the Ministry, and every other ordinance vile in this sense: Thus, if an Elder or any others should take on them to admonish while they are in drunkenness or passion, or such like, they do pollute that admonition, yet still these ordinances are ordinances, and that admonition an admonition.
(2.) It is fallen into, when an Officer doth indiscreetly and indifferently administrate ordinances to precious and vile, as if they were common things. Thus a reproof may be polluted when a manifest known contemner is reproved, because, so a pearl is cast before swine, which is derogatory to the excellency thereof. Thus a Minister may profane or pollute the most excellent promises or consolations of the Word, when he doth without discretion apply the same indifferently; or, without making difference between the tender and the untender and profane; yea, even between the hypocrites and the truly godly. This is not to divide the Word of God aright, and is indeed that which the Lord mainly accounteth to be Not separating of the precious from the vile, when peace is spoken to them to whom he never spoke it. This is also committed, when grossly scandalous persons are permitted, without the exercise of Discipline upon them to live in the Church, or are admitted to Sacraments, because so Gods institution is wronged, and the luster thereof is lessened, and men are induced to think less thereof.
(3.) This may be also by the irreverent manner of going about them, when it is without that due reverence and gravity that ought to be in His worship. Thus one may make the Word and Sacrament to be in a great part ridiculous; and so suppose, that at the Sacrament of the Supper, in the same Congregation, some should be communicating at one place, some at another, some should be palpably talking of other things, some miscarrying by drunkenness, etc. as it’s clear was in the Church of Corinth. All those may be said to pollute the ordinances, as they derogate from their weight and authority, and miscarry in the administration of them, and are ready to breed irreverence and contempt in others where the Lord’s Body in the Supper, or the end of His institution in other ordinances, is not discerned and observed: yet all these do not pollute the ordinance in it self, or make it to be no ordinance, nor do pollute it to any that doth reverently partake of the same, and doth not stumble upon the block that is laid before him: Because an hearer that were suitably qualified, might comfortably receive and feed upon a sweet promise, even when it might be extended in its application beyond the Lord’s allowance; yet doth not that alter the nature thereof to him: So may worthy Communicants that have examined themselves, and do discern the Lord’s Body, partake of that Sacrament with His approbation, and to their own comfort; Because they might discern Him and by that come to get the right impression of the ordinances, although many blocks were lying in their way: for, it is not others casting of snares before them, but their stumbling at them, that doth pollute the ordinance to them. Hence we see, that though all these were in the Church of Corinth, so that there was neither reverence in the manner, nor discretion in respect of the receivers (for, some came drunken, and some came and waited no: on others, some came hungry, and others full) yet was it still the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and unpolluted to those, who by examining of themselves, and discerning of His Body (which others failed in) did reverently and duly partake of the same.
Besides these ways of pollution mentioned, we cannot conceive of any other (for now legal and ceremonial pollution, such as was by touching a dead body, etc. and was opposite to ceremonial holiness, is not in this case to be mentioned) yet we see the first cannot be alleged here, and none of the other two ought to scare tender persons from the ordinances of Jesus Christ.
If it be said that communicating in such a case doth seem to approve such an admission, and to confirm those in some good opinion of themselves who are admitted, and so there is a necessity of abstaining, though not upon the account, that the ordinances are polluted, yet, for preventing the foresaid offence, which might make us guilty.
Answer. If weight be laid upon offence, we make no question but it will sway to the other side. Oh what offence hath this way given to the Church of Christ! How hath it hardened those that had prejudice at Religion? How hath it opened the mouths of such as lie in wait for something of this kind? How hath it grieved and weighted others? How hath it made the work of Reformation, profession of Holiness, exercise of Discipline, etc. to stink to many, and so to be loaded with reproaches, as hath marred much that access to keep the ordinances unpolluted in the former respect, which otherwise might have been? Is not reverent and exemplary partaking of the ordinances at such a time, a more edifying and convincing testimony against such untenderness, than by withdrawing to give a new offence? The Lord’s precept in such a case, Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat, doth not leave the thing indifferent upon that ground; And therefore that objection is not here to have place, as the grounds formerly laid down do evince: For, we are not to be wise or holy beyond what the Lord hath commanded.