« FöregåendeFortsätt »
ledged authority; of great weight; possessed of all the impartiality, incident lo lu'nan affairs ; fecling its responsibility as a thing of course; a Court of Record, having a regular system of precedents; and, from being frequently called to business of this nature, skilled, to a good degree, in the proper modes of proceeding.
The greatest defect in this system, as it secms lo me, is the want of a still superior Tribunal to receive appeals, in cases, where they are obviously necessary. These it is unnecessary for me to particularize. Every person, extensively acquainted with Ecclesiastical affairs, knows that such cases exist. The only remedy, provided by the system of Discipline established in this State, for those, who feel aggrieved by a Consociational judgmeni, is to infrodice a neighbouring Consociation as assessors with that, which has given the judgment, al al neno hearing of the cause. The provision of this partial, imperfeci, tribunal of appeals, is clear procf, that those, who formed the system, perceived the absolute necessiiy of some appellate jurisdiction. The Judicatory, which they have furnished of this nature, is perhaps the best, which the Churches of the State would at that, or any succeeding period, have consented lo establish. Yet it is easy to see, that, were they disposed, they might easily institute one, which would be incomparably beiter.
The only instance found in the Scriptures of an appeil, actually made for the decision of an Ecclesiastical debate, is that, recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, and mentioned for another purpose in a former discourse. A number oi the Jezrs, in the Church at Antioch, insisted, that the Gentile converts should be circumcised, and be obliged to keep the Law of Mosės. Paul and Barnabas strenuously controvcited this point with them. As no harmonious termination of the debate could be bad at intioch; un appeal was made to the Apostles, and Elders, al Jerusalem. But, as I observed in the discourse mentionnel, it was heard, and determined, by the Apostles, Elders, and Brethren. As ibis Judicatory was formed under the direction of the Apostles themselves; it must be admitted as a precedent for succeeding Churches; and teaches us on the one hand, that an appellate Jurisdiction is both lawful and necessary in the Church; and on the other, that it is to be composed of both Ministers and Brethren, necessarily acting, at the present time, by Delegation.
REMARKS. From this account of Christian Discipline, it is evident, 1. That it was intended for Churches, consisting of Christians.
As this subject was discussed at some length, in the sermon concerning the character of Church members, as exhibited in the Scriptures; I shall dismiss it here, without any further observations.
2. That it is a system, wisely adapted lo promote the prosperity of such Churches.
All the Ends of this Discipline are such as Christians can comprehend and feel: wbile the means are most happily filled io accomplish them. Private remonstrance is most wisely calculated to benefit the trespassing brother; lo awaken in him a sense of guilt, danger, and the necessity of repentance, and reformation; to preserve his Christian character; and to restore him before he shall be known by others to have fallen. Of the same tendency is the additional remonstrance by the accompanying brethren, and the subsequent adnjonition by the Church. Of these just, and gentle, proceedings, the final sentence of Excommunicauon is a proper close ; and is perfectly filled to reform an obstinate brother. He, who will not be won by the mild measures of onderness, will never feel either his character, or condition, but by dint of distress. Should he continue obstinate in this siluation ; the Church will be freed from a spoi on its reputation, an obstacle to its communion, and a nuisance to the religion which it professes. At the same time, the spirit with which every part of this Discipline is to be administered, and without which it exists in form only, precludes every reasonable fear of haste, injustice, or severity.
The manner also, in which the proper evidence of the oficnder's disposition is to be obtained, and the prohibition of any further proceeding where it is unattainable, are strong marks of that wisdom in the Lawgiver, by which it was devised. The same wis. dom is conspicuous in the repetition of the several steps of the proceeding, and the protraction of the process, in this manner, for a considerable length of time. The most desirable opportunity is here furnished to the offender for consideration, and amendment; and to the Church for coolness in its inquiries, and justice in its decisions. All the parts of the process are also obvious to a very moderate capacity; such as are easily understood by plain men; and easily applied, whether they are to judge, or lo be judged. On the whole, it may be justly observed that no system of Judicial proceedings is so happily calculated to accomplish in the most efficacious manner, the purposes, for ubich it is institutet. Eininently profitable, and indispensably necessary, to the Christian Church, it is at the same time, an illustrious display of wisdom, goodness, and providential care, in its Divine Founder.
IV this series of Discourses, I have considered the Being, and Character, of God; his creation of the flcavens and the Earth, of Alifels and Men; the Primitive State of man; his Fall, and Conik in nation; their influence on the moral character of his Posteriis ; and the impossibility of Justification by Works. I have examined the Character, and Mediation, of Christ; and ihre Justificalo), accomplished by his Rightcousness. I have endeavoured to exhibit the Character of the Holy Spirit; his Agency in the work of Regeneration ; the Reality, Necessity, and Nature, oi tbal work; together with its Antecedents, Altendants, Con cquences, and Evidences. I have attempied to explain the Divine Law, and the principal Duties which it requires ; together with the Four lation, the Nature, and the Effects of Virtue, the true and only obed c?ce to it; and the nature of that Inability to obey it, which is asi important charactcristic of man; and ihe means of our restorul on 10 Obedience. I have also investigated the means of obtaining, and the means of increasing, grace; the manner in which, and the Persons by whom, they are to be employed. In the course of this investigation, I have endeavoured to explain the Constilution of the Christian Church ; the character, and duties of its Memers, and Officers; the Nature of its Sacraments; and the scheme of its Discipline.
In the progress of these Discourses, I have also stated, and endeavoured 10 obviate, the principal Ohjections, usually brought agaii -that System of Thcology, which I believe to be revealed in the scriptures.
This have I gone through the consideration of the great articles, contained in the Spiritual Providence of God, as disclosed in the Gospel; and conducted Man through life, to the last act of that Providence, with which he is concerned in the present world; the act by which he is removed into Eternity.
This great and gloomy Event is in ihe text, ascribed directly to the Providence of God; and exhibited, not as the result of a natura! and necessary decay, nor of a general tendency of things, but of llis sovereign pleasure. Thou Turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Relurn, ye children of men. Thou arl the Agent in bring
ing man to dealh, and the grave; and by thy command, returnest him to his original dust. All the valural causes of Death, therefore, are only modes, and incans, of its accomplishment by the Hand of God.
multitude of considerations necessarily strike the mind of him, who makes this subject the theme of his serious allention. Of this number are,
I's Uncerlainty with regard 10 the lime, manner, and circunsterens';
Tre Causes, by which it is brought to pass; and,
Tie Impossibiliiy of escuping or resisting il; Toycther with many other things, deeply solemn, and capable of being eminently useful io mankind.
Dutilis my design to consider Death, on this occasion, merely (!e port of the great system of Providential Dispensations towards the children of men; as the Event, by which they are removed out of mir present state of being; as the close of their Probation, and their introduction into Eternity.
Ti is manifest, that some removal from this world, is a necessary part of such a System. A Probation involves in its nature à close. liners a Trialalihat closc, by which the character of the man, who has gone through the Probation, shall be finally settled, as good or cril, as acquitted, or condemned. It supposes, also, a Roward, suited to liis conduct, and intended to recompense it with absolute propriety.
This close, so far as we can understand the subject, must be riller painful or pleasant, disgraceful or honourable, according 10 the conduct of the persons concerned. If their conduct be supposed to have been virtuous, obedient, and pleasing to God; the end of their trial we should naturally expect to be pleasing, and honourable; and a proof of his approbation of their character. If their conduct be supposed to have been evil, and displeasing to God; a painful and disgraceful tcrmination of this staic of their existence would be rationally expected. The views, which he formed of their conduct, we should naturally expect him to express at their removal from the world.
In this world, good men are continually surrounded by spiritual enemies, or enemies to their virtue and final welfare.' These enemies, it is to be supposed, will on every occasion attempt to lessen their happiness, and increase their sufferings. The close of life furnishes the last opportunity for ibis purpose. This period, therefore, thesc enemies must be expected to seize with eagerness, in order to annoy them so far as they are permilled.
The best of men, also, have sinned often, and greatly; and have thus merited great evils at the hand of God. Hence, with
the strictest propriety, they may suffer greatly at this, as well as at other seasons. No reason can be assigned, why their enemies may not be permitted to disturb them, therefore, in the article of Deach.
Their own minds also may, for important purposes, be left at this time to the distresses, arising from the remembrance of their former sins, and from perplexing thoughts concerning their spiritual condition. Ilence various doubis may arise, and anxielics be multiplied. The lerrors of Death may encompass them, and the pains of hell, of Sheol, or "aons; that is, in plainer language, the sears of what will befall them in the world of departed spirits; may lay hold on them. Especially will all this seen easy of apprehension, if we remember, that these things may, and will, be in the end benefits to them, through the agency of Him, who is able to bring good out of evil. In this manner may the distresses, sometimes suffered by good men at death, be sufficiently explained.
Wicked men, on the contrary, are often totally careless concerning all moral and religious subjects, unconcerned about their present or filure condition, and indifferent alike to the favour, and the frowns, of their Maker. This heedless spirit they sometimes carry with them to a dying-bed; and, under its influence, are equally slupid, as in the preceding periods of life. On this account it is lo be expected, that such men should, at times, have no bands in their death. Discase, also, often weakens their capacity of thinking ; and prevents them from coming to any just conclusions concerning their past conduct, their present state, and their future allotments. Frequently, too, they labour to make a virtue of necessity, to resign themselves quietly to the death, which they see they cannot avoid, and to subinit to that God, whom they now secl themselves unable to resist. This, they frequently mistake for Christian resignalion ; although locally unlike it in every important characteristic; and, under the influence of this mistake, sometimes leave the world with a degree of composure.
Nor is it unreasonable to believe, that these things are the result of a Judicial Dispensation of God. We know, that He has given up men judicially to strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. In whal casc can such a Dispensation be supposed with more propriety, than in that of gross, long-continued, and obstinate, sin, perpetrated by a heart, hardening itself in iniquity through life. Such a heart certainly may with propriety be permitted to deceive itself, at any ti:ne during its probation: and this deception may, for aught that appears, be enhanced by its external enemies. Evil menotten deceive, and flatter with false hopes, their dying companions. No reason can be given, why the same mischievous office may not be performed by other evil beings.
To these things it ought to be added, that such men have, in several instances, died in alarm and horror ; when, from the pains taken to conceal the circumstances of their death, they may have