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i TEE EXTRAORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.THE DISCIPLINE OY
MATTHEW xviii. 15—18.---Moreover, if thy Brother trespass against thee, go and tell
him his faull, between thee and him alone ; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy Brolher. But if he will not hear thee, ihen take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three wilnesses, every word may be established. And if he shall neglect lo hear them, lell il unto the Church ; but if he shall neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an healhen man, and a Publican.
IN the six preceding discourses, I have considered at length, two Ordinances of the Christian Church, commonly styled Sacraments; to wit, Baplism and the Lord's Supper. I shall now proceed to the consideration of another, and the only remaining ordidance peculiar to that body ; to wit, Christian Discipline.
In examining this subject, I shall endeavour to point out,
I. The particular Duties, to be done in the course of Christian Discipline, are,
1. What may be called Private Remonstrance.
if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his faull 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 wilnesses, every word may be established. The ground of proceeding here, as stated by our Saviour, is an actual trespass of one member of the Church against another. It is a trespass, Εαν δε αμαρσηση εις σε και αδελφος σε, If thy brother sin against thee. If he commit a serious fault. The mere operations, and evidences, of those infirmities, which are common to good men as well as others, are no part of this ground; and furnish no warrant for the proceeding. Zealous persons are often ready to construe every such infirmily into a serious transgression, and to swell pence, owed to themselves, into the value of talents. In this manner, they degrade religion into a spirit of cap tiousness; and, as far as in them lies, employ the authority of the Church as an engine lo gratify their own unreasonable passions, and to disturb the peace of their neighbours. The same things are also true of persons, of a peculiarly exact and rigid character ; who often demand, that their fellow-Christians should walk by
rules, formed by themselves; and appear to feel as if themselves had been constituted definitive judges concerning the Christian privileges of other men.
It must be a fault actually committed. If thy brother trespass against thee; that is, in reality. It must not be a mere object of suspicion, or belief. It is easy for us to injure a Christian brother by our unjust suspicion, more than he would have injured us, had he committed the very fault, of which we suspect him. We are, therefore, to be assured of the fact, before we take any measures of a disciplinary nature. It will always be mischievous to others, as well as disgraceful and injurious to ourselves, to create faults for them by the indulgence of our own passions and prejudices, as well as to suppose them, without ample proof.
When such assurance, and such proof, have been obtained, the person, against whom the trespass is commilted, is here required to go, and tell it to the offending party in a manner absolutely private. No persons are to be witnesses of the interview. Here he is to explain, without communicating his design to any other person, his own views concerning the trespass, and the proper conduct to be adopted by way of reparation. He is bound to see, that these views are conformed to the Gospel; and that both the temper, and the language, are such, as the Gospel requires; meek; genile; unoffending ; calculated not to irritate, or alienate, but to convince, persuade, and conciliate. No strije is permitted by our Saviour to arise here; no provocation i no unkindness. In this manner, it is ever to be remembered, the oftending brother will be gained, if gained at all.
If the spirit of the Gospel were allowed to operate with its whole efficacy; every debate of this nature would ierminale here. Unhappily, such is not always the case, Our Saviti', foreseeing this state of things, has provided for it the best rady, which the human character, and circumstances, will admit. He has, in the text, directed the person, against wom the trespass is committed, to take, after having failed to (...in reparation, one or two other members of the Church, and, with weir aid, to renew his efforts for the same desirable purpose of gaining the trespassing brother. These brethren are cailed in for two purposes. One is ; that they may be witnesses of every thing, which pertains to the existing state of the transaction. The other is ; that the weight of their character, and the wisdom of their counsels, may influence the trespasser lo such future conduci towards his brother, as will become his Christian profession. The former of these purposes is directly expressed in the text. The latter is plainly involved in the phraseology, and, if he neglect to hear them. This supposes these brethren to use their advice, and persuasion, and of course, the weight of their character, for a right, and happy termination of the controversy.
From this view of the subject it is obvious, that the persons, called in for this purpose, should possess a character unexcep
tionable; particularly in the eye of the Trespasser; that they should be persons of weight, wisdom, moderation, and gentleness; and sufficiently disinterested to consult the good of both parties with benevolence, and impartiality. As these are the men, whom a Trespasser will hear, if he will hear any man; so the injured brother is plainly bound to call to his aid men of this description, for the adjustment of his controversy. It is hardly necessary to add, that both parties are bound to listen with meekness, candour, and cordiality, to the counsels of these brethren. .
2. The next step in the progress of Ecclesiastical Discipline is ADMONITION.
It may be, it sometimes is, the fact, that the Trespasser will not listen to private remonstrance in either of these forms. In this case, our Saviour directs the injured brother to bring his cause to the Church. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church. I shall hereafter inquire into the meaning of the word Church in this place, and shall presume here, that the first application, to be made in this case, is to the body, commonly denoted by the word in our own Country. The body is bound to receive, hear, and adjust, the cause.
Should the accused person be found -uilty of the fault, laid 10 his charge; it becomes the duty of the Church solemnly to admonish him of his sin, and the absolute necessity of atoning for it by making the proper reparation, with the spirit of the Gospel.
3. The next step in the process is Excommunication. .
It is reasonably expected, that any member of a Church will listen to the voice of the whole body of his fellow-Christians, with whom he is in immediate communion. Accordingly, the process of discipline almost always lerminal's, here, with admonition. Still there are cases, in which, cither from an apprehension of being innocent, or what is probably more frequent, as well as more unhappy, from passion, pride, and obstinacy, the Trespasser refuses to hear even the solemn voice of this tribunal. In such cases, the Church is directed to withdraw from him all Christian privileges, so far as their own communion is concerned or their power ex. tends. Let him be unto thee as an Heathen man, and a Publican. These words, as you well know, denoted to a Jew, the worst of his fellow-men. Among such men the Trespasser is henceforth to be accounted by those, whom he has refused to hear; and, in my view, hy all, who consider their system of proceedings as evana gelical.
This sentence is commonly spoken of as twofold, the greater Excommunication, and the less: the latter not uncommonly termed suspension. The difference between them is this : In the latter, a person is suspended from the privileges of Church-membership for a period; sometimes, however, an indefinite one ; with a hope, plainly intiinated, that he will ere long return to his duty. In the former, he is absolutely excluded from all the peculiar privileges of
the Church, without any apparent expectation, that he will be reinstated in them again.
This sentence existed among the ancient Jews, and the ancient Christians; has been continued in the Greek and Romish Church. es; and exists among the various Protestant Churches, with different degrees of formality, and severity. It was in use even among the Heathen ; and is now one of the most terrible punishments, inflicted in Hindoustan. Among the Jews, Greeks, and Romanists, and even in the English Church, it is followed by terrible consequences, as well as attended by several circumstances, to which the Scriptures, so far as I can perceive, give no countenance. In some cases it has been accompanied by dreadful imprecations ; and followed, in some, by a variety of civil disabilities, and sufferings, in themselves unjust and inhuman, and wholly unwarranted by Christ or his Apostles. In this country, the Scriptures are allowed to control, cxactly, every thing relating to this subject. Christ directs in the text, that the person who refuses to hear the Church, shall be considered by it as an Heathen man, and a Publican. St. Paul directs the Church 10 Mark them that cause divisions, and avoiel !hem, Rom. xvi. 17: To withdraw from a Brother, who walks disorderly, 2 Thess. iii. 6: and to reject, after the first and second admonition, a Heretic, or a person who creates division among its members, Tilus iii. 10.
In all these directions nothing is warranted, beyond a single refusal, on the part of the Church, to admit the ollending brother to a participation of its peculiar privileges. The crimes are all specified; and, in my opinion, we have no riglit to add to their number. The punishment is specified: and we have no right to add to its severity. The reason is plain; all the authority, which the Church possesses, it derives solely from Christ; and can cxcrcise no more than is given. ll can constitute no new crimes; and form, if I may be allowed the expression, no constructive treasons. It can add no new modes of punishment. Contempı, therefore, exhibited in a Bishop's Court, an offence wholly of a civil vaturc. cannot be a proper foundation for this punishment, Nor canimprisonment, or any other infliction of the Magistratc, be connected lawfully with Excommunication. These, and all other things of the like nature, I consider as unhappy relics of preceding, and very unhappy, times.
St. Paul, 1 Cor. v. 11, directs the brethren of that Church, not to keep company, if any man, that is called a brother, be a fornicator, or covelous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner : with such an one, no not to eat. These words contain an additional punishment to that, which is inflicted under the directions quoted above; and require Christians, in the cases specified, not voluntarily to have intercourse with Church-members, excommunicated for these crimes. I say excommunicated for these crimes. because St. Paul supposes the persons, referred to, to be severally
guilty of them. But this cannot be lawfully supposed, until it is proved before the Church, the proper tribunal; when, if unrepented of, it is followed, of course, by a sentence of excommunication. In this decision of St. Paul, all such intercourse is plainly forbidden, as involves more countenance, and expresses less disapprobation, of the offender, than voluntarily eating with him at a cominon meal. It is, I think, reasonably supposed, that persons, excommunicated for other crimes, plainly equivalent in degree to those, which are here specified, are to be treated in the same manner. The word fogvos, in this text, denotes any incontinent person.
In a preceding discourse, I considered the relation, which persons, baptized in their infancy, sustain to the Church of Cbrisi, and deferred the question concerning the manner, in which they are to be affected by the Discipline of the Church. On this subject I shall now make a few observacions.
In the first place, it is evident that such persons cannot be cxcom. municated.
This is obvious from the fact, that the body, of which they are members, can never be summoned together, to hear their cause, and pass sentence upon them; and from the additional fact, that no part of this body is warranted, to act for the whole. This, I suppose to be a part, and a wise one, of the Ecclesiastical system of the Gospel; indispensable, perhaps, to the prosperity of Religion, as well as to the peace of mankind.
Secondly. The Discipline of all such persons during the years of minority, is committed supremely, to Their Parents and Guardians.
Now, says the Apostle, I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under lutors and governors, until the lime appointed of the father. Gal. iv. 1, 2. Here the Apostle teaches us, that, so long as ne are children, we arc under the absolute control of our parents; aven as servants are under that of their masters ; and are oblig. Ito obey not only them, but also such tutors and governors, as they are pleased to appoint over us. In Col. iii. 20, he commands, Children, obey your parents in all things ; and subjoins, for ihis is well-pleasing unto the Lord. Were the Church to interfere, directly, in the government of persons, thus situated; two independent jurisdictions would exist over the same subject, at the same time, and with respect to the same things. These, in their exercise, could not, from the infirmities of human nature in its best form, fail to clash in many instances. If both jurisdictions are rightful, and scriptural; che child would not know which to obey. But the Scriptures have settled this point, by requiring him to obey his parents in all things, and informing him, that this is well-pleasing unto the Lord. llerce 1 infer, that the direct jurisdiction of the