« AnteriorContinuar »
the offender, wishing for him a more lenient treatment than scripture law admits. In order to correct their error, they were asked whether they expected the church would be guided by their wishes more than by the laws of Christ ? whether true christian love to their friend would not rather lead them to take part in doing what Christ had commanded for restoring him by repentance ?-and whether they recollected how, by the law of Moses, the nearest relatives were required to be first in executing the law on offenders ? Deut. xiii. 6—10. On finding no answers to these questions, they received and obeyed the truth. . (6.) Gossip tattle. A woman, who by "good words and fair speeches " had “ crept in unawares," was found ripe for exclusion. But delay was requested, when it was found that some objected from having given heed to her plausible tales in private, against her accusers, in her own defence. On finding, however, by a comparison of statements, that she had dissembled, and on seeing that a church is bound to act on evidence brought before them by faithful witnesses, the objectors expressed regret for having listened to tales contrary to law, and readily acted with the church according to law.
(7.) Carnal sympathy with the offender. A person was found ripe for exclusion on account of various defections and sins, bearing evidence that “his heart was not right in the sight of God,” though chargeable with no gross sin, when one requested delay, saying, that he knew sundries who were not yet prepared to take part in his exclusion. When questioned as to the grounds of objection, they expressed themselves in very indefinite terms, pointing at some things of which he stood accused as being no great sins, in a manner which indicated the lurking of that feeling which led some of old to say, “ Thus saying, thou reproachest us also.” This led to faithful dealing, questioning them whether it was their opinion that continuing in such sins as they called little consisted with living by faith in Christ, and whether the defence they had offered consisted with themselves being blameless in these respects, or whether it did not give cause to infer that they were themselves prepared to do what they could defend in another? This salutary rebuke produced repentance.
(8.) The compulsory spirit, seeking ascendency. A woman was recommended for admission into a church by a wealthy deacon, and was rejected on the ground of some things in her conduct rendering doubtful the sincerity of her
profession. But the influential deacon, feeling hurt at his counsel having been rejected, soon shewed the weight of his tail, in more than a dozen supporting liim in urging compliance with his demand. It was in vain that they were told that their views could be no rule of duty to others without corresponding conviction. They had all been previously trained in compulsory churches, and had taken with them the old leaven of compulsory policy, and being, consequently, strangers to scripture forbearance, and what is necessary for “ keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” on finding that their brethren would not “ give place by subjection to them,” they separated themselves, and after continuing for a time together, they “ came to nought.” The compulsory and voluntary principles cannot be wrought together, Men must be wholly slaves, or wholly free--entirely subject to the will of man in some form or other, or at perfect liberty to act as knowing the will of Christ in all things.
(9.) Bad government. A pastor of decided piety, who was neithor * self-willed” nor“ soon angry," but wanting in the knowledge of the first principles of scriptural government, was accustomed to request his people to speak their mind on every case of offence before the church, and to de. cide by a majority of votes, by which he rendered his church so fruitful in divisions, that dozens and scores left occasionally as consequences of what produced vain disputation instead of obedience to Christ. On the other hand, there are churches in Scotland, which, during the whole period of their social existence of ten, twenty, or thirty years, have disposed of all the offences which have arisen among them with harmonious comfort, without divisions and without a jar, in consequence of having been trained to learn of Christ and to obey him in all things ; and where divisions occur, the cause is not in any defect of the scripture plan of government, which is perfect, but in want of a competent knowledge of that plan, or want of moral capacity to work it.
In providing for “ keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” when attending to dicipline, it is further necessary that all the members of the church should understand and feel the obligation resting on them to execute the laws faithfully, and with one accord in subjection to Christ. When the pastor has pronounced the judgment of scripturo law on a case, he has done his duty, and has delivered his soul. But awful responsibility rests on the church in relation to the execution of that judgment, the neglect of which comprises the following sins and tendencies to evil :
(1.) In Christ having conferred great honour upon his people by constituting them his body to reign with himself as kings and priests unto God” in executing his laws, their guilt is the greater in the return of dishonour to him, by refusing to execute his judgment in the church.
(2.) Those who refuse to obey scriptural judgment, there. by show that they are not under law to Christ, which is further manifest by finding, in all such cases, that the objectors do not refer to any other scripture law as the rule of judgment, but speak the language of their feelings, passions, and prejudices ; thus showing that they are “ walking after their own thoughts," and not hearing Christ. Now, there is no religion whatever in thoughts, resolutions, or works, not formed and regulated by the word of Christ; and hence there have been instances of persons having been excluded from the church, in terms of the law, in Acts iii. 22, 23, on the ground of their showing evidence of not hearing Christ by their continued opposition to the execution of his laws.
(3.) There is rebellion against Christ in seeking to fulfil the thoughts and desires of the heart in preference to his laws-rebellion of the most daring description in resisting his government in the church! and in effect attempting to overturn that government, by endeavours to induce the church to execute the desires of an erring mortal, rather than the laws of heaven!
(4.) Such conduct tends also to the ruin of the soul of the offender. Though no doubt intended as a special act of favour, to shield him from the rod of discipline and from the pain of excision, these “tender mercies are cruelty,” as providing for sparing the sins which will destroy the soul. This is God's account of the matter where He complains of those who “strengthen the hands of the wicked, that he should not turn from his wicked way, by promising him life,” Ezek, xiii, 22. There is no act of cruelty equal to that of the soul-murder perpetrated by those who aid the offender in deceiving himself by thinking that he may live without repentance unto life,- defending him in the sins which will destroy his soul, except he repent! Some have been heard complaining of rebuke tendered to others, as having been more than flesh and blood could endure. But rebuke is intended for “the destruction of the flesh,” which must be probed to the bottom and laid open, so as to make way for purging and healing by the balm of Gilead ; and those who cannot or will not understand this, are “not fit for the kingdom of God.” It is a remarkable fact, that the primi
tive churches, though accused of laxity, were not charged with severity of discipline ; and, in doubtful cases, the way to lean to mercy's side is to follow the law of exclusion, as there is danger of deceiving the soul of the offender by retaining him without satisfactory evidence of repentance, but no hazard whatever in doing what is intended to produce repentance, as, in the event of that effect being produced, he can be restored to church fellowship.
(5.) It is plainly taught in scripture, that Christ will punish the neglect of the execution of his laws, by “terrible things in righteousness.” When a church long neglects the duty of“ purging out the old leaven,” he will take the work into his own hands, and purge or consume that church by his righteous judgments. He gave intimation to this effect where it is written, “ Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth," Rev. ii. 16. This evidently signifies his purpose to do more than speaking to them by his word, as in this epistle. As this “sword of his mouth” is that by which he “smites the nations,” (Rev. xix. 15,) the threatened application of it, to “fight against them," implies a purpose to deal with the rebellious church, as he deals with the “ nations" by righteous judgments, to scatter or consume them in his anger. On this principle did God purge his church when neglecting to purge themselves, as shown in Num. xvi., and other parts of scripture. And though he has permitted the churches of anti-christian constitution to have long standing and prosperity, though wholly neglecting his law, he will not suffer churches of scriptural order to pass unpunished. When neglecting his law, he will subject them to judgments by which they will be either purged or consumed.-scattered, or left to “pine away in their iniquities."
In treating the case of one overtaken in a fault, on finding satisfactory evidence of repentance, it is the duty of the church to forgive the offender, to rostore him to their confidence and love, and to signify the same to him, so as what was " lame and turned out of the way may be healed.” But an impenitent offender has no right to prolong discussion in defence of his sin. When the record of evidence against him is closed, and the judgment of the church given in rebuke, he has no claim on being further heard but in confessing his sin. In such circumstances, it is not required that the church hear the offender, but that he should hear the church, and respond to their rebuke by confession. Nor is any one entitled to be heard in defence of his erroneous opinions in
leaving a church. None have a right to teach publicly, without appointment of the church, who are responsible for the doctrine and conduct of its members Acts xiii. 2. And in having a law to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine,” (1st Tim. i. 3,) it would seem strange, indeed, were they held bound to hear whatever doctrine any backsliding member might feel disposed to teach in the church, and though positively commanded not to receive false teachers into their houses ! - 2nd John v. 10. The gainsaying of solemn rebuke in the church, is, indeed, of very rare occurrence, being the attainment only of those who “ despise government, being presumptuous, self-willed, and not afraid to speak evil of dignities,” 2nd Pet. ii. 10. But there have been some instances of very proud offenders endeavouring to prolong discussion in their own defence when called upon to confess sin,- partly that they might give vent to the spleen of wounded pride, and also that they might make occasion for complaining of being unjustly treated by the church, in refusing to hear them. Those are the “unruly and vain talkers, whose mouths must be stopped" by exclusion. The impenitent seldom admit the justice of their treatment, and generally make the Pastor the butt of their vituperation, as did the Jews in the wilderness, who, under all their troubles, “ murmured against Moses and Aaron;" and on one occasion murmured against them saying, “ Ye have killed the people of the Lord”-always blan:ing their leaders for what were the firuits of their own sins ; but this is no good reason for a church giving place to strife, or delaying duty, in not excluding impenitent offenders.
This solemn service consists in the separation of an impenitent offender from the church ; not on account of his having committed a particular sin, but because he has not repented, and on finding that his case, as a whole, affords evidence of his having no part in the kingdom of God. This is evident from the commands, “ Put away from among yourselves that wicked person"-"Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Such laws should be read and applied by the Pastor, calling on the church to obey, by a show of hands signifying their concurrence, while he declares the separation by saying, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we put away this person from among us ;' followed with