« PreviousContinue »
so far as they are warranted to judge and determine. But if they appear to them ignorant of the essential truths and doctrines of the gospel, or not to believe them; or do not appear to have embraced them cordially and experimentally; or if their temper and conduct have not been agreeable to the gospel, and they do not manifest a disposition to repent and reform, they are to be rejected, as not appearing to be real christians; and therefore unworthy to be visible members of a christian church.
When any who are members of the church shall fall from their profession and christian character, by embracing error, or any unchristian practice, of which there is sufficient evidence; and after proper methods taken with them to bring them to repentance and reclaim them, without success; they are to be rejected and cast out of the church, as unworthy of a place in the visible church of Christ: But may afterwards be received again, upon their giving proper evidence of true repent
There is to be special care taken of the children of the church, viz. the children of those parents who are or have been members of the church, who have dedicated them to Christ, in the ordinance of baptism, and have been received by the church, as visible members of Christ, the lambs in his flock, in the manner and on the grounds which have been before explained. Every adult member of the church ought to be concerned that these should have a christian education, and watch over one another, with respect to this, and direct, admonish and exhort those who appear negligent and deficient in their duty to their children. And every gross and continued neglect ought to subject the person guilty to the censure of the church. And when the children arrive to an age in which they are capable of acting for themselves in matters of religion, and making a profession of their adherence to the christian faith and practice, and coming to the Lord's supper: If they neglect and refuse to do this, and act contrary to the commands of Christ in any other respect, all proper means are to be used, and methods taken to bring them to repentance, and to do their duty as christians. And if they cannot
be reclaimed, but continue impenitent and unreformed, they are to be rejected and cast out of the church, as other adult members are, who persist in disobedience to Christ.
V. The general rule of exercising discipline towards those members who give offence in words or conduct, and which is applicable to every case, is given by Jesus Christ in the following words: "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."*
It has been supposed by some, if not generally, that this direction respects private and personal offences only, and that it is not applicable to general and public offences. But perhaps this will appear to be a mistake, when the matter is properly considered; and that the method and steps here pointed out, are to be taken with every offender, as most agreeable to the dictates of christian love, and best suited to reclaim such; and the most proper regulation and guard to prevent unreasonable and frivolous complaints being brought to the church.
When a member of the church acts contrary to his christian profession, and transgresses any of the laws of Christ, and walks disorderly, he trespasses or sinst against every brother in the church, and offends him as really, and as much, as if he injured him in particular in his person, character or estate: And there is the same reason and obligation to take steps to reclaim him, as if his trespass were against one individual only. And if his sin be not of a private, but of a public nature, and is
Matth. xviii. 15, 16, 17.
which is uid give need is so translated in the 21st verse. auagrnon translated trespass, is the word injurious st me, and I forgive him?"
often sha translated brethren, at
And it is so age: "But when ye sin so against the conscience, ye sin against Christ." 1 Cor. ed, that by sinning against the brethren, he personal injury or offence.
viii 12. An
does not mean y
ǝдо эл8 рр
known to many, or to all, this is no reason why every person should not feel the trespass against him, and be ready to take proper steps to bring him to repentance, and be the first to apply to him to that end, unless particular circumstances render it more proper and convenient for some other person to do it.
And however public the offence may be, every individual ought to be disposed to make private application to him first, unless some other person shall do it, before he speaks of it to others; and to consider this as necessary in order to obey the command of Christ, and the law of love, which ought to govern, in every step taken in such a case. Perhaps the person offending does not view what he has done in a true light, or think himself guilty of unchristian conduct, or does not know that others are offended with him. And if he should have his crime properly set before him in a private way, he might be made sensible of what he had done, and that he had given just offence, and voluntarily make christian satisfaction by a public confession, without any public accusation, or process before the church. If the brethren were all under the proper influence of christian love, and felt that concern and tenderness towards an of fending brother, which is the attendant of such love, such a method would doubtless appear most agreeable to them, and they would be ready to take it, whenever there is opportunity and a call to do it; and it will be peculiarly agreeable to them, to have a brother who has sinned, reclaimed in such a private and easy way. And it is presumed there is no christian who is a member of a church, who would not wish to be treated in this manner, if he should in any instance give offence to any or all of his brethren and who would not think it a privilege to be in union with brethren who would deal thus privately and tenderly with him, whenever he should give them any just, or supposed ground of offence : and therefore if he should neglect in are this method with any of his brethren who shou; If they negic to him, he would not do to him, as he wtrary to the aners to do to himself, and so transgress thil pror love, and this wise law of Christ, which commands christians to endeavour to heal every offence, in the most private, easy
and tender manner. It may be the supposed offender will satisfy his offended brother, that he is innocent, and has really given no ground of offence. But if he be not able to do this, and be not made sensible of his fault, and so do not hear his brother, he must take one or two of his brethren, whom he thinks most likely to convince and gain the offender; as this is most agreeable to christian love, and best suited to answer the end. If they, when they have heard and considered the case, judge there is just ground of offence, and do convince the offender of it, and persuade him to make christian satisfaction, the faulty brother is gained. If they judge that there is no sufficient ground of offence, or no proper evidence of the fact with which he is charged, the matter cannot be carried any farther, and laid before the church. If they think there is just ground of offence, and evidence of the fact of which he is accused, but cannot convince the offender of it, and therefore judge it ought to be laid before the church; the way is prepared to bring a complaint to the church, which ought to be received when it comes to them by the approbation of two or three, and not otherwise. And thus, " By the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word is established." They are witnesses which ought to have great weight with the person's conscience with whom they deal, and which is suited to convince him, and bring him to his duty, if they condemn him. They are witnesses to the church, that private methods have been taken to convince and reclaim him; that he will not hear them, and that he ought to be called to an account by the church. And in this way, the church go on proper and safe ground in receiving a complaint against any of the members, and proceeding to call the accused person before them, in order to hear and judge of the matter of which he is accused. And there is a proper guard placed against accusations being brought to the church by individuals, which might be wholly without any foundation, which would give needless trouble to the church, and might be very injurious to those against whom the complaints are made.
On the whole, it will doubtless appear to all who well consider the matter, that the rule our Saviour has given 46
to affect and impress his mind, to give him uneasiness in his situation, to make him ashamed, and bring him to repentance. Thus the salutary ends of the censures of the church are in this way answered, both with respect to the church, the excommunicated person, and the world. VII. The brother who commits a fault, by which he falls under the censure of the church, may be restored to good standing again, by reformation, a public confession, and profession of repentance, and not without this.
Some have thought that a confession before the church only is sufficient in order to a person's being restored to good standing; and that this is all that can be reasonably required. But it ought to be considered, that the church is a public society, a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid; and their light is to shine before others. When a christian falls from his profession in his conduct, he puts out his light before others, as well as in the sight of the church, and cannot recover it, and cause it to shine again, but by a profession of repentance, and condemnation of himself, before them, or in their sight. And a true penitent will desire to do this before all to whom the knowledge of his crime may have come, and wish all may know that he does repent. A contrary disposition to this is found only in the impeni
VIII. It is to be observed, that Jesus Christ has not given to his church any authority to inflict any corporeal punishment on men for disobedience to his laws; to imprison or fine them, or subject them to any worldly inconvenience, except what is implied in casting them out of the church, and treating them in the manner mentioned above.
All that has been done of this kind in the christian world, by the professed followers of Christ, has been an abuse and violation of the laws of Christ, and has proceeded wholly from an antichristian spirit. The kingdom of Christ is in this respect, as well as others, not of this world.
IX. On the whole, it is observable, that the prevalence of the spirit of christian love is necessary in order to the proper and useful practice of discipline in the