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must judge for himself, the fact will prove to be, that it affords no direct support to either of the conflicting systems; and no cautious reasoner will appeal to it for that purpose. The Congregationalist, by proving that the dictum of this assembly at Jerusalem was inspired, merely carries an important post of his opponent. His own system, at least that part of it which we are now considering, yet remains to be established.
In direct confirmation, then, of the second great principle of Congregationalism, viz., that every separate congregation has the full power of government within itself, there being no higher authority on earth, no court of review which can authoritatively confirm or reverse its decisions, I appeal, first, to Matt. xviii. 15 - 17: “Moreover, 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 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.” Now the reader is requested to observe that the decision of the church is here represented as final. As the last resort, the offence is to be reported to the church; and from their sentence there is no appeal, since, if they act according to the law of Christ, it is confirmed by Christ. Whatever, by church censure, they bind upon a transgressor, is bound upon him in heaven. Whatever, by acquittal or forgiveness, they loose on earth, is loosed in heaven. Now these words supply so direct a sanction to the proceedings of Congregational churches, that many, who have not much knowledge of other denominations, will perhaps be disposed to wonder how Presbyterians, who tell nothing to the church, attempt to justify their conduct in this respect. They generally, I believe, endeavour to relieve themselves from this difficulty by stating that, as a body may be said to do that which is done by its representatives, the word church here means the elders of the church. There is an allusion, they imagine, to the Jewish synagogue, which consisted of two classes of persons ; viz., the people, who met together to hear the law read and expounded; and the rulers, who presided, whose office was teaching and governing, and who had the power of excommunicating offenders. The direction, “ Tell it to the church,” means, therefore, tell it to the elders of the church. To the whole of the statement, I reply,
First, That it involves a departure from their own definition of the term church, viz., a number of separate congregations united under one form of government.
Secondly, That there is no distinct instance of the use of the word church, in this sense, in the New Testament. Our opponents even admit that it sometimes means a single congregation. It is certain, we maintain, that this is its general signification. It ought not, then, we contend, to be understood, without necessity, in this passage, in a sense which it no where else bears. Now, what shadow of necessity exists, we ask, except that it must be thus understood, or it subverts the presbyterian system? It should be added, also, that there is no proof whatever that the words of our Lord contained any allusion to the Jewish synagogue. It is not to be conceived, indeed, that they did so. “The word ecclesia was not applied to the members of a synagogue, but presbuterion. Ecclesia was used among the Jews, as we understand it, to denote the whole nation, or a particular congregation. Ecclesiu meant the whole members of a congregation.” “Tell it to the church” means, therefore, tell it to the congregation.
Thirdly, That, whatever the word church means here, its decision is represented as final. But when Presbyterians report the transgression to the kirk-session, its decision is not final : it is, therefore, not the church. When they transmit the same report to the presbytery,
its decisions, again, are not final : it is, therefore, not the church. The decision of the highest court only is final. Should Presbyterians say that this highest court is the church, we would ask why they report the offence to the presbytery at all, when our Lord has enjoined that, after the expostulations of the two or three brethren have failed, the affair should be carried directly to the church? It is impossible to reconcile this passage with that subordination of church courts which exists among Presbyterians.
Fourthly, That the Presbyterian practice of submitting the decisions of a particular congregation, or of the kirk session of that congregation, to a higher court for reversal or confirmation, may lead, and frequently does lead to the painful and perplexing result already referred to, page 79; viz., that a person expelled from the communion of a particular church, with a full conviction of all on the spot that the decision is right, may be forcibly thrust back again into the body: and thus the great principle of Christian fellowship, (acknowledged to be such by such Presbyterians as are not connected with an establishment,) viz., a voluntary agreement to walk together in the faith and obedience of the gospel, is violated.
In further support of the second great principle of Congregationalism, I appeal, 2dly, to 1 Cor. v. 1-7, compared with 2nd epistle, ii. 1-5. Both passages refer, as the reader will recollect, to the case of the incestuous person in the church of Corinth. It must, then, be remembered that the epistles were addressed to the church, i. e., to the body of church members in that city,—that the apostle reproves that body for continuing the person referred to amongst them,—that he commands them to put him away, -and that, afterwards, when assured of his unfeigned repentance, he enjoins them to confirm their love to him. Let the reader bear all this in mind, and ask himself, whether, while these passages go directly to the subversion of the Presbyterian, they
do not bring powerful support to the Congregational system of church government? He will perceive that they sustain the two following principles of Congregationalism :
· 1st. That the private members of a church have a voice in, and some power over, the exclusion and restoration of offenders. In the 9th verse of the 2nd chapter of his second epistle, the apostle thus writes: "For this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things." His previous injunction to put away this person, had been intended by him to be the test of their obedience; and their conduct had shown that the spirit of obedience reigned amongst them. But how could it have been a test of obedience, if, as a body, they had possessed no power whatever over the expulsion of the offender, and his subsequent restoration ?-if the decision had so rested with the elders, as that even the opinion of the body, in regard to his exclusion, &c. (which is the case, as we have seen, among Presbyterians,) was not even to be asked ? Might not the apostle, with equal propriety, have commanded the servants of a nobleman to dismiss one of their fellow-servants, and to do it as a test of their obedience to him, while the whole power of dismission was vested in the master ?
Presbyterians have attempted to neutralize this argument in the following ways :
First. Some have alleged that the apostle did not censure them for neglecting to exclude the incestuous man, but for not stirring up their elders, by their mourning, to put him away. It is difficult, however, to suppose that this answer will be relied upon by any respectable and candid man; for, in that case, the chief blame of retaining the incestuous person would have rested upon the elders. Can it, then, be imagined that they would have escaped direct censure for the greater, while the church received censure for the lesser evil ? Further : how can it be supposed that the apostle would
have thus indirectly censured the elders, by censuring the church for not stirring them up to their duty ? When a magistrate proves negligent, the government is not in the habit of writing to the inhabitants of the district in which he resides, and of endeavouring to make its censures reach him through them: it transmits its rebuke to the offender himself. Paul would not have acted differently. Again : if the only fault of the church was not stirring up the elders to the duty of “putting away that wicked person,” how did it happen that the “apostle did not blame them for not speaking to the elders, but for not mourning, as if mourning was the only way of stirring them np?” And, finally, would not any attempt by the lay members of a Presbyterian church, to stir up their elders to the discharge of their duty, be regarded as an act of insubordination ?
Secondly. Others have affirmed that the incestuous person was excluded by Paul, and not by the voice or consent of the church. He interposed, they affirm, by his apostolical authority,-pronounced the sentence, and called upon them to execute it. To this objection we reply, that we are ignorant of the difference assumed in this answer, between pronouncing and executing a sentence of exclusion from a Christian church. The individual in question had been admitted to the Corinthian church by the consent of the body: when that consent was rescinded, was he not, by the very act of rescinding it, excluded? What remained to be done to complete the expulsion ? Were the brethren to expel him vi et armis ? or were they, and not the elders, to convey to him official notice of his expulsion ? Again, we answer, that if our opponents could establish a distinction between a sentence of excommunication and the execution of it, the distinction would not avail them, because Paul did not, as they allege, excommunicate the offender. He commanded the body to whom he wrote to do it. “Purge out, therefore,” is his language, “the old leaven,” v. 7; and in the second epistle he informs us