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who have heard evil reports against another, to investigate the case so as to be able to report with evidence. But, as all are not qualified for such work, and as, if left to all, it might be left undone, it has been found advisable, in such cases, to inform the pastor, that he may appoint two to take a precognition, himself presiding, if practicable, for affording him more perfect knowledge of the case, in treating it before the church.
Those who take the precognition should beware of judge ing before the time. Report is not evidence. In what is " commonly reported” there is reason for inquiry, but not for belief, till the facts of the case are ascertained by careful and impartial investigation. And the accused is in duty bound to answer all questions suggested by the terms of the accusation against him. There is in the nature of the sacred compact, based on mutual recognition of relation to Christ, a binding obligation on each to answer all questions and afford all information necessary for preserving'unimpaired the confidence of brotherly love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And such questions should be the more readily and cheerfully answered, as providing also for the vindication of the guiltless, on the principle of every church being “a city of refuge,” for the protection of character; as has been found in instances of such investigation resulting in making a report to the church in vindication of the accused, on finding evidence that he had been accused falsely. It is, therefore, a great privilege to be subjected to such investigation, whether for the vindication of character, if falsely accused, or for the application of the means of recovery, if found guilty. In the proceedings of civil law, the accused is allowed the advantage of demanding proof, without being bound to answer any question to his own prejudice; because the end intended is punishment, froin which he is allowed to escape if his guilt cannot be otherwise proven. But, as the end intended by scripture discipline is the recovery of the soul from moral disease, occasioned by sin, it is the privilege of the accused to answer every reasonable question, so as to prepare his brethren to prescribe for his recovery, as much, and even more, than to answer the questions of his medical adviser for his guidance in prescribing for the healing of his body. There is abundance of scripture warrant for this, as in the example of God saying unto the woman, " What is this that thou hast done ?” and in the example of his approved servant, who said unto Achan, “My son, give I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him, and tell me now what thou hast done, hide it not from me ;' which was answered by a full account of what he had done, and of the bad state of his mind in doing it. Josh. vii. 14-21.
It is noć unusual, on asking the accused concerning the truth of what is reported against him, to find him answering by the question, "Who told you that ?' and insisting on having the name of his accuser. Now, such a question should not be answered, for the following reasons :-1. The investigators are under no obligation to answer such a question. If any are so unrighteous as to believe public report without evidence, or so foolish as to accuse when they should inquire, they are, no doubt, bound to sustain the charge by proof. But there can be no obligation to give names or testimonies in confirmation of what is only a subject of inquiry. 2. There is no need for any reference to those who have reported the case, except in the event of the accused denying what others are prepared to establish as truth; and in such a case, parties should be examined face to face. 3. There would be breach of confidence in giving the names of those who had made the communication for suggesting in quiry, and something very unwise, if not unjust, in subjecting some to blame for mentioning for a proper end, what was matter of common report among many. 4. The names of informants should also be withheld, as telling them might occasion strife and ill-will between them and the accused ; and divert his mind from the proper consideration of his own sin, if guilty, preventing his being led to repentance.
But those engaged in the investigation, should beware of anything approaching to the spirit of the far-famed Inquisition. Any thing savouring of intent to make out a ground of charge against the accused, could not fail to produce injurious impressions, standing in the way, of all that might be done to convince and reclaim. Nor is it necessary or seemly to dwell on all the little appendages of the case, as in "a count and reckoning" between man and man, as on remov. ing the root of the evil by repentance, reformation in all secondary matters will follow.
This implies, that inquiry after the nature of the offence should be conjoined with endeavours to produce repentance. Love cannot see sin without prescribing a remedy. It is by private treatment chiefly that offenders of every description are restored. And though, for reasons already explained, all public offences must be disposed of by the church, those who investigate for telling the offence unto the church, should
endeavour to prepare the offender for making the confession of true repentance.
There have been instances of the accused admitting the facts, without seeing the sin of his conduct. In such cases, conviction may be produced by questioning the offender how he served God in the matter. An esteemed brother, after doing what the world would not much condemn, but what was at variance with the principles of his holy profession, defended his conduct by very plausible reasoning to one who said in reply, • Did you do this, understanding that it was required by God, and for the purpose of pleasing him ? or for pleasing yourself and your friends ? I wish you first to answer this question to God in your closet, and when we meet again you will be better prepared to answer me.' On asking him at another meeting what he had been thinking of the matter, he answered, 'O, I have been thinking how thankful I should be, that I am now connected with brethren who care for my soul, and who will not suffer me to go astray without warning and rebuke. My answer to your important question is, that I had no sense of doing the will of God in the matter, but acted wholly from a desire to please my associates at the time, though at the hazard of displeasing my brethren. In this, therefore, I have greatly sinned ; and having confessed my sin to Him who shews mercy, I reckon it my privilege to confess it to my brethren, that the stumbling-block may be removed.' And having done so at a meeting of the church, some were heard afterwards saying, • Have we not reason to love that dear brother more than ever ?
Instances also occur of the accused shewing bad temper when questioned about his faults. This arises from pride, the love of sin, and ignorance of the good intended by faithful dealing. But a well-instructed person, though impenitent, will seldom controvert those who question and rebuke his faults, knowing that it would be regarded as an indication of his being the brutish man who hateth reproof. And a penitent mind will not complain, though treated rather harshly. A good man, who was much broken and melted on account of having been “overtaken in a fault,” was told (improperly) how some had been speaking harshly of his case, when he said in reply, 'Speak who will, or what they will, I should be silent and not complain, as their sin in doing so is the effect of my sin. Had I not sinned, they would not have had this occasion of stumbling.'
There have been also frequent instances of some threaten- . ing to leave the church, when called to account for their sins, as a way of escape from discipline-a dishonourable proceeding, to which no mind of common worldly honour will resort, thougn impenitent, -à course which men of common sense, without religion, will not follow, knowing that the stignia arising from being marked as a run-away outlaw from fair trial, would be greater than what arises from exclusion. And should any, through ignorance, make the attempt, they should be shewn that it indicates decay of love,-pride, in supposing themselves of such consequence that the church would suffer by their departure,-and impiety, in making terms by putting their own personal weight in the room of truth and argument. But, in the event of one going away in such circumstances, the investigators should report him as not hearing them; and on his refusing also to hear the church, they have full warrant to put him away on that ground, and should do so, as removing all ground of temptation to others. making a run-away escape from discipline.
It has been a question with some ill-instructed disciples, whether, on finding evil reports against a brother, he should not be requested to abstain from the Lord's Supper till the matter is sifted and settled. But this indicates the absence of that love which “ thinketh no evil,” and of that just and honourable feeling which will sustain no charge against another, without proof. And, moreover, the proof of guilt in the case of one " overtaken in a fault," though impairing, does not in all instances so destroy confidence as to render fellowship in the Lord's Supper impracticable ; for, though having sinned, the offender may be on the way to repentance, “and love will give him space to repent," before deciding against him as confirmed in impenitence.
On finding no law to enforce exclusion from the Lord's table, of the accused, but not tried, some have themselves withdrawn, especially when regarding themselves suffering by the alleged trespass. The following are the elements and tendencies of such conduct :- It is a premature proceeding, -judging and acting “ before the time”-before trial. Evidence that a man has sinned, is no evidence that he has not repented, or that he will not repent when rebuked before the church. It is a presumptuous sin, in acting without law and contrary to lawthe man doing himself what cannot lawfully be done but by “ the whole church.” By withdrawing from the accused, the person who does so, in effect, separates him from himself, without the consent of the church, and in doing so, he also separates himself from the church- a pro
ceeding which, if followed by the rest, would end in church extinction! The fact is, that any rash step of the kind indicates that the person so acting, has been stumbled by the accusation, and stands in need of the means of restoration as much as the accused, if found guilty. TREATMENT OF AN OFFENCE BY THE
EVERY church should be careful to understand and remember what errors must be avoided, and what principles must be acted upon, in order to their being prepared to treat offences, so as to produce the benefits intended.
Concerning the main source of errors to be avoided, Christ hath given warning by saying, “ Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you," &c.—Mat. XX. 25, 26. It is here positively commanded not only that Christ's disciples shall not be ruled, in their religious concerns, by the “ princes of the Gentiles," but also that they shall not be ruled after their manner of ruling; and, therefore, all proceedings of civil law, such as summons, libel, protest, and appeal, can have no place in the churches of Christ. As great evil has arisen from confounding church discipline with the proceedings of civil law, it is of much importance to mark the difference. The proceeding of civil law is a process of justice without mercy; but that of church discipline is one of love, regulated by scripture law. The one relates to the transgressor as a member of civil society ; the other, to the offender as a member of the church of Christ. The one respects the trespass only in its relation to temporal interests ; the other, treats it as affecting the interests of the soul. The end intended in the one case is, the punishment of the transgressor for enforcing restitution to the injured party ; but the chief end contemplated in the other, is the restoration of the soul of the offender from the destroying power of sin. All proceedings, in the one case, are enforced by civil authority and power ; but in the other, nothing is affected but by Bible truth and persuasion, rendered effectual by " the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The bulk of misconception and trouble attending discipline in churches, may be traced to the confounding of these distinct provinces of government; and hence the commands to Christians not to settle their disputes by civil law- 1st Cor, vi. I---8.