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Heligious Communications. To the Editor of the Christian Spectator. es, in plain terms, that in Numb. xxxv, SIR,
30, Deut. xvii. 6, and xix. 15,"is fully I find that the Christian Spectator, witnesses to the same act are requi
stated the principle, that two or more Vol. II. No XI. contains a brief reply red." He concedes further that "the to the remarks of A. D. on two ques- first three passages selected from the tions pertaining to Ecclesiastical Dis- New Testament, so “ far as they recipline. I am happy that your work late to the question, go perhaps to is open to a free and candid dis- establish the general law of evi. cussion of important questions rela- dence." To establish what general ting both to sentiment and practice law of evidence? The law, unquesin the christian church. As I find
tionably, contained in the passages the sentiments relating to one of those questions are disputed, and suppo- which is fully stated the principle,
quoted from the Old Testament, "in sed to be erroneous, I am inclined to
that two or more witnesses to the submit a few remarks by way of re-,
same act are required.”
We are ply; and more especially, since
agreed then that such a law has been Farel
, in view of one important given—that it was established in the point, has declared it “the duty of your corresnondent to place it in its Old Testament, and has by the same true light.” The point alluded to is authority been confirmed in the New
Testament. If I understand F. it is an exception to that rule of evidence his opinion, further, that unless an which your correspondent” has considered as established both in the exception to this rule can be found, Old Testament and the New. Farel the letter of its ineaning, it is yet in supposes he has discovered an excep- force, and binding on the church. tion which will justify a general de. With this idea in view he has searchparture from the rule established by ed the sacred volume, and concludes divine authority. I fully agree tiat he has made the important discovery. if he has formed a mistaken opinion, He has found an exception which, in “the mistake is pretty extensive;" his opinion, does away the force of so extensive, indeed, that for the hon- the rule, and renders it safe and proper of the divine Legislator, the inter
er to convict“ by other testimony est of the church, and the safety of than that of two or three witnesses to the individual members of Christ's
the same overt act.' Here then we family, it ought to be pointed out,
are fairly at issue. It is denied that and placed in its true light. It is, if I do not misapprehend his this rule, which so modifies, alters, or
an exception has ever been made to meaning, the acknowledged opinion of the writer of the reply, that the di- church in convicting a member on
does away its force, as to justify the vine Legislator did give a rule of evi
circumstances, conjectures, or predence, plain, simple, and definite; sumptions, of ever so high a color, and that this rule required for convic- where two or three positive witnestion, two or three positive witnesses
ses are not to be found. to the same overt act. He acknowledgVol. 3. No. VI.
The exception which F. considers 36
as bearing so hard on the general rule exception to the general rule of evias entirely to alter its complexion and dence, is a question which we may force, is Deut. xxii
. 25--27.- This, it for the moment pass over. Admitis acknowledged, has been generally ting it be a fact that the testimons of understood to bring a case to view, the abused female did prove the which will justify convicting of a crime alleged; and that this case is crime on the testimony of one wit- an exception to the general rule of ness only; and where a capital pun- evidence; yet it is difficult to see ishment is the penalty. And I shall how this exception so alters the gennot deny that ihose who framed the eral law, as to give authority to the penal statutes of this and other coun- church to convict upon “ other testitries, have been influenced by this mony than that of two or three witnesspassage. But it is a votorious factes to the same overt act.” It is justly that civil courts always proceed with observed by F. that the question is extreme caution in such cases. Prob- general, and the answer of A. D. is ably an instance cannot be found so. Is it not equally true that the where a man has been convicted and rule of evidence laid down in the Biexecuted merely on the testimony of ble is a general rule, embracing the one person, without any corrobora- whole range of crimes of which men tive fact by which her testimony is may be accused ? Of this there can supported. And the reason probably be no doubt. is,that they feel the great danger of put Let me ask then, do civil courts ting either life or liberty in the power with a general rule before them, if of an individual. And possibly anoth- they find an exception to that rule, in er reason of the caution may be that one extraordinary case, feel at liberty a doubt rests upon the mind whether to depart from it in all cases ? Do the passage is thus to be understood. they allow themselves to lay aside an It is not certain but that the general established rule, that has become venopinion may be erroneous. It has erable by age and long use, and act been generally understood that the tes- according to the impulse of the motimony of the abused person will alone ment? This would destroy the rule convict and take away the life of the in all cases. Can we believe the diagressor. But before this instance is vine Legislator has given a plain, de admitted as overthrowing,or essential- fivite rule of evidence for his church, ly altering one of the most important and then by a single act, and that for laws in the statute book of the church, an extraordinary specified case, set it should be proved that this is the aside that rule, and left his church meaning of the passage beyond the without any guide in the very interpossibility of contradiction. If such esting affair of judging in cases of an inference is to be drawn-an in- discipline? ference which takes away one of the If the argument of F. founded on most important privileges of the accu- the law relating to a crime, supposed sed members of Christ's family, bare to be proved by the testimony of a assumption is not enough. We know single witness, prove any thing, it not what evidence was required that will prove too much. If this comes the betrothed damsel was in the field in the place of the law to which it is —that she was found there, and at- supposed to be an exception, and is tacked. It is not said that two wit- to govern the church in her decisions, nesses are not to be required to each then we may in other cases convict of these facts. That the man should on the testimony of one witness. It die, we agree. But that no testimony is claimed that this is an exception to in the case was required only of the the general rule, or law of evidence; abused woman, is rather assumed, such an exception as warrants a dethan declared in the Bible.
parture from it, and justifies the Whether the case alluded to be an church in finding a complaint suppor
ted, and censuring the accused per- makes the testimony of two or three son “upon other testimony than that witnesses to the same overt act necesof two or three witnesses." If this sary to conviction, it was designed to be a just conclusion, will it not follow be a perpetual rule, not to be repealed, that we may, and, indeed, that it is nor so modified as to do away its an imperious duty, not only in some force. The law of God is as unaltercases but in every case, to convict on able as his character, his nature, or the testimony of a single witness ? his decrees. This is true of every This however, would be a bold stride. law excepting such as were originally It would be taking ground that might designed to cease, or go out of force make us tremble for our christian at the end of a limited period. Of privileges, and for that standing on this class were many of the laws to which we have supposed our safety the people of Israel. They were evvery much depends.
idently of limited extent, and designI am constrained to say that the ed to cease with the Jewish commonlaw, Deut, xxii. 25-27, is not to be wealth. Aside from statutes of this viewed, nor was it ever designed, as nature, the laws of God are to stand an exception to any law in existence. forever, and his precepts to all geneIt was a particular and special statute, rations. He needs not, like imperfect given for the express purpose of ap- men, to repeal, alter, or amend his plying to a particular case, should laws. Nor need men if they were such an one ever occur. It has, perfect. Should God alter, amend, therefore no bearing upon the gener or repeal any one of his laws it would allaw of evidence; nor does it, in any at least, imply that it might be made degree, affect the general rule by bettermand, if so, that it was not which our decisions are to be govern- perfect at first-and, if so, an infered, in cases of discipline. As well ence might be drawn against the per might F. argue from the command fection of its author. God never had to Joshua to make war upon the Ca- occasion, and never will, to alter a law Daanites, that offensive war is in all to make it better, or more perfect. cases lawful. Joshua was not barely Nor was there ever any occasion to permitted, he was commanded, to give an exception to any divine statmake war upon the Canaanites. He ute, that should so alter or modify it, was required to push the war to ex as to produce a different course of termination, and to take possession of proceeding upon it. He might as the country. But was it not a gene- consistently with his exalted characral rule, an established, well-known ter, totally, and forever repeal it. rule, that offensive war may not be It seems to be insinuated, if not exengaged in—that it is murder? We pressly declared that A. D. would refind, notwithstanding, a command to sort to a string of circumstances which depart from this rule. Will it thence “must combine in number and weight follow that offensive war is lawful sufficient to amount to two, or more, that men may innocently commit witnesses of veracity.” And says murder? Has this command to Josh- the writer, if he maintains this, “I ua such a bearing upon the general shall not contend with him.” He law against offensive war, as to ren- surely will not be called to contend der it an innocent, harmless thing? with me on that point. But says the May the strong, at pleasure, make writer," the moment he attempts to war upon the weak, overcome them, fortify his assertion in this manner, he dispossess them, and take possession gives up the argument, and admits of their inheritance? If the reason that his conclusion is erroneous." In ing of F. is conclusive, I see not why this we fully agree. But wherein, this consequence will not inevitably Mr. Editor, has A. D. resorted, or follow.
proposed to resort, to circumstances Wher the statute was given that " to førtify his assertion ?"
There are, it is readily admitted, ced in support of the conclusion, many things to come into considera- which I have supposed the law of evtion in the trial and decision of a case idence given us in the scriptures, fol. of discipline. The testimony is to be ly establishes. It was thought to be weighed ; The competency of wit- directly in point; and I should not nesses, as well as their credibility is have supposed there was any peculto be inquired into, and fully ascer iar obscurity or difficulty in it, had I taiped. But if we inquire as to the not obtained the idea from the discuscompetency of a witness, and find up- sion I am examining. Says the wrion sufficient evidence that he is in- ter of this discussion, “ The natural competent-or if on sufficient testi- construction of the
certainly mony we find him deficient in point is that, against those who were not elof credibility, is this resorting to cir- ders, he might receive accusations by cumstances in the decision of the case? some other rule of evidence.”. He I think not, Sir-A. is introduced as a proceeds, “ This text considered by witness to confirm the testimony of itself, if it refers to the subject at all B- If both are competent, and seems, therefore, to be against deciboth credible, the fact is proved. But ding in the negative, without any exon inquiry it appears that A. is not a ception, the question discussed by competent witness. He is then no your correspondent." witness. His testimony is not to be Had the person who has expressed received. Produce such witnesses to this opinion given no other evidence any number, and we have not, in the of ingenuity, and sound judgment, I sense of the divine law, two or three. presume the body of your readers Or supposing you find on enquiry, by woul not place him in the front rank substantial testimony, that A. is a bad of expositors. Why should elders, character, so bad that no credit is to pastors or ministers in the church, be given to his declaration. In that be a privileged order of men ? What case his testimony is to be rejected reason can be assigned why an elder and wholly disregarded, and of course should stand acquitted, and unconyou have but one witness. But is demned, unless there appear against this resorting to circumstances,-pla- him double that weight of testimony cing circumstances in the place of which would consign a private brothpositive testimony? No sir. It is er to infamy and disgrace? This will setting up and supporting a fact, viz. hardly accord with the principles of chat A. is a bad character-a person liberty and equal privileges of the of no credibility, and therefore his present day; nor will people believe, testimony not to be regarded at all. without more complete evidence than This decision is formed not upon light they can get from this passage, that elicited from circumstances, but up- it is a doctrine taught in the word of on plain facts.
God. No evidence, it is believed, There is one passage of scripture can be found in the whole book of which was introduced in support of God to support this construction. It the conclusion that two or three wit- is the doctrine of the scriptures, and nesses are necessary to convict of a has been the invariable practice of crime, which F. considers of primary the church of God, it is confidently importance in deciding the question, believed, to proceed with elders, and on which, he says, A. D. “has offer- lay brethren, by the same rule of eved but a single remark." It is one that idence. A candid attention to the he acknowledges himself wholly in- passage, and a fair construction of it, competent to discuss. The passage cannot lead to the conclusion that two is J. Tim. v. 19, Against an elder or three witnesses were not necessary receive not an accusation, but before to conviction and censure in the two or three witnesses. This pas church. sage, it is acknowledged, was introdu Going on the ground that it is a
standing rule that no person is to be ved for investigation and trial. His convicted, and censured in the church, character and standing in the church except by the testimony of two or are so important, that no accusation three credible witnesses to the same against him shall be received for trial overt act; and at the same time with and adjudication, till two or three witthis passage in view, against an el nesses have attested to the the truth der receive not an accusation, but of the accusation or charge. In this before two or three witnesses ; opinion I am supported by the venewe have two remarks by way of so rable Poole. He says, Against an lution. One is that the ministers of elder receive not an accusation, but the gospel who preached clearly the before two or three witnesses. “That humbling and offensive doctrines of is, not to proceed to any judicial christianity, and faithfully told sin- inquiry upon it. This was a law conners their danger, were peculiarly ex- cerning all elders or younger persons, posed to the enmity of the wicked. especially in capital causes; but the So it has been in every age of the apostle willeth this to be more espechristian church. We are and have cially observed as to officers in the been, a spectacle to the world, and church, whose faithful discharge of to angels, and to men. The min- their trust usually more exposeth them isters of Christ, in the first ages of to people's querulous tongues." christianity, stood in the front rank of The opinion of the pious and learthose who were to meet opposition. ned Mr. Scott, is to the same purThey were condemned as having pose. He observes on the words, «turned the world upside down.” 6. The character of an elder, or pasMany of them were put to death; tor, was of great importance; it would and those who escaped the gibbet therefore, be improper, not only to were reproached, reviled, and had all condemn him, but even to receive an manner of evil said of them. This accusation against him, except it was course of persecution has followed attested by two or three credible witthem even down to the age in which
Many might be disposed to we live. In view of this, Paul might revile those faithful ministers, whose conclude attempts would be made to doctrine and reproofs had offended condemn and consigo them to infamy, them; and indeed, the grand enmity on less weight of evidence than was of " the accuser of the brethren," and required by the established rule. He, of all his servants would be excited therefore, expressly enjoined it on against them. It was, therefore, Timothy not to depart from the well highly reasonable, that no accusation, known, and long established rule, tending to bring the conduct of an eleven in the case of an elder-to see to der to a public investigation, and thus it that such be allowed to enjoy the lo endanger his character, should be same privileges as private christians. regarded, if supported only by one He doubtless alluded, and Timothy solitary testimony, which his denial so understood him, to the rule that of the crime would at least counterhad been given to the people of God ballance." nearly fifteen hundred years before It seems, on the whole, that the the commencement of the christian opinion of Farel rests chiefly, or soleera, and after so long use was recog. ly, on the supposed exception to the nized and confirmed by Christ and his general law of evidence, Deut. xxii. apostles.
25—27 ; for he says, “ I have, if I do Another remark I think is in point. not mistake, shewo one exception, to It may be confidently affirmed, that the general rule, and this will answer this does not relate, specially, to the in the room of a thousand, to prove testimony by which the charge against that the decision of A. D. is not coran elder is to be supported; but to rect.” It must“ answer in the room the ground on which it is to be recei- of a thousand.” It must, Mr. Editor,