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works; in doctrine showing incorruptness, gravity, and sincerity: and when he speaks, he should speak agreeably to the oracles of God,* and not seek to please men; nor should he be deceived with vain words,t lest offence should be given, and the ministry thereby blamed. I
“Hearers and ministers are alike exhorted to put on the whole armour of God, that they may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil;$ to have no fellowship with the unfruitful workers of darkness, but rather reprove them; not to be entirely indifferent whether men think well or ill of them; but to take care not to set too high a value on the opinions of men, lest they should be deceived with a lying tongue, and a flattering mouth, which worketh ruin.tt
“The church is a religious assembly, selected and called out of the world by the doctrine of the Gospel, to worship the true God in Christ, according to his word;t1 and the respective members of the church, are called brothers or brethren. If any man called a brother, professing Christianity, be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, the brethren are commanded not to keep company, nor to eat; but to put him away from them.SS Again: “As members of the church, bound by the laws and rules of Christianity, they who are of the above description, are not only liable to the judgment of God, but also to the censures of their fellow-members; and every Christian is bound to judge them unfit for communion and familiar converse: that they are to be
* Tit. ii. 7, and 10.
Eph. v. 6.
# 2 Cor. vi. 5.
** 1 Cor. iv. $$ 1 Cor. v. 11. 13.
punished by having this mark of disgrace put upon them, that they may be ashamed, and, if possible thereby reclaimed: and the more because the sins of such much more dishonor God, than the sins of the openly wicked and profane. Hence the church is obliged to clear herself from all confederacy with them, or connivance at them; and to bear testimony against their wicked practices, by casting them out of their fellowship, and avoiding their conversation.”
HENRY. To conclude, If any member of the church of Christ, whether minister or hearer, have been familiar with deceivers, railers, extortioners, &c. after reading this plain and scriptural reply, continue to associate, as usual, with such characters (how great soever their profession) it will not be uncharitable to infer, that he either considers the Word of God of no importance, or that he is inconsistent in his profession; consequently unworthy the company
of any professor, whose conduct bears testimony of a becoming and religious life.
QUERY. Suppose a minister to have been in a backsliding state,
and by sovereign grace having been recovered, and, given evident proofs of his repentance and version, ought this to firevent the future exercise of his ministerial functions? And are persons who witnessed his backslidings, justifiable in endeavoring to blast his present respectability, and consequently destroy his future usefulness?
ANSWER. This Query is expressed in rather ambiguous terms; for in the first place, the word backsliding is of very
extensive import; and the Query does not state the nature or extent of his backsliding, nor how long he continued in that awful state; and the determination of such a question as this, must depend on a full and attentive consideration of all the circumstances: and in the next place, the latter part of the Query does not express that “the persons who witnessed his backslidings, and are endeavoring to blast his present respectability,” are convinced of his penitence and conversion; so that, however evident the proofs thereof may be to some, it does not appear but these persons believe him to be impenitent and unconverted to the present hour.
The following remarks appear to me applicable to the subject:
There is a backsliding of the heart and of the life. The former is a secret withdrawing of the affections from God, which is the beginning of all outward backslidings and apostasies. The backslider in heart may continue to profess all the doctrines of the gospel, and refrain from committing outward acts of sin; yet the ministry of a man in this unhappy situation will be dry, insipid, and unprofitable. But the Query will not allow us to suppose that this is the kind of backsliding intended. It must be the backsliding of the life; either a departure from the faith of the gospel, by denying some of its essential doctrines; or a departure from the practice of the gospel, by falling into gross sin, such as drunkenness, adultery, dishonesty, &c. As the Query speaks of a backsliding state, and of backslidings, in the plural number, it cannot intend a single act of sin, committed under the impulse of sudden and violent teinptation; but sin repeatedly committed, and persisted in for
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a length of time: and as it is further stated, that “persons witnessed his backslidings,” his sin, whatever it might be, was notorious; and brought a public scandal upon the gospel.
The proofs of his repentance and conversion should be as public and notorious as his backslidings have been. Besides his humiliation before God in secret, he should, like Zacheus, make ample amends, if possible, to the person or persons he has sinned against, if, in his backsliding state he has injured any one; and some time will be necessary to ascertain the sincerity of his repentance by its fruits.
With respect to the future exercise of his ministerial functions, I suppose it will be no easy matter to persuade him to continue it, or resume it if he has laid it aside. Shame for the reproach he has brought upon the gospel, and a conviction that the world will be disposed to question his sincerity, will seal his lips, and cause him to go softly. Every true minister of the gos. pel enters upon his office with fear and trembling; much more will a minister who has publicly backslidden, fear and tremble to continue or resume it. Till his character is thoroughly re-established, he had much better decline the exercise of his ministerial functions.
As to the conduct of the persons who “endeavor to blast his present respectability" (which, however, from the statement of the case, can hardly be very great) certainly no one is justifiable in proclaiming his sin. Indeed, it can hardly be supposed that any good man would do it; and as his backsliding is supposed to be a matter of public notoriety, it would be an unnecessary task, even for an enemy or a busy body.
I think, the conduct of Christians towards such a person should be as follows:
There is an important distinction to be made between private sins and public ones. A Christian is bound to forgive a private injury upon a bare profession of repentance by the offender; but when a scandal is brought upon the gospel, and the mouths of the wicked are opened, proofs of repentance should be required, that the reproach may be removed, and the profane silenced. Unless this be done, sin is connived at, not condemned, and sin should be invariably condemned, though the penitent backslider be received. “But now have I written unto you not to keep company: if any man that is called a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, no, not to eat.” A sin sufficientiy gross, to warrant the suspension or excommunication of a member of a Christian church, requires the cessation of the exercise of the ministerial functions, if committed by a person sustaining the sacred office; and as the character of a minister is of more consequence than that of a private Christian, so should greater care and caution be observed in receiving again a fallen minister than a fallen church-member, lest we should sacrifice the glory of God and the honor of the gospel.
REPLY TO THE QUERY OF A TRAVELLER.
How may a professing Christian best defend himself
against the danger of evil company? This Querist seems particularly desirous of an answer from one who knows the danger by experience. The