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Christians, so far as they are warranted to judge and determine; but if they appear to them ignorant of the essential truths and doctrines of the gospel, or not to believe them, or do not appear to have embraced them cordially and experimentally, or if their temper and conduct have not been agreeable to the gospel, and they do not manifest a disposition to repent and reform, they are to be rejected, as not appearing to be real Christians; and, therefore, unworthy to be visible members of a Christian church.
When any who are members of the church shall fall from their profession and Christian character by embracing error, or any unchristian practice, of which there is sufficient evidence, and after proper methods taken with them to bring them to repentance and reclaim them, without success, they are to be rejected and cast out of the church, as unworthy of a place in the visible church of Christ; but may afterwards be received again, upon their giving proper evidence of true repentance.
There is to be special care taken of the children of the church, viz., the children of those parents who are or have been members of the church, who have dedicated them to Christ in the ordinance of baptism, and have been received by the church as visible members of Christ, the lambs in his flock, in the manner and on the grounds which have been before explained. Every adult inember of the church ought to be concerned that these should have a Christian education, and watch over one another with respect to this, and direct, admonish, and exhort those who appear negligent and deficient in their duty to their children; and every gross and continued neglect ought to subject the person guilty to the censure of the church. And when the children arrive to an age in which they are capable of acting for themselves in matters of religion, and making a profession of their adherence to the Christian faith and practice, and coming to the Lord's supper; if they neg. lect and refuse to do this, and act contrary to the commands of Christ in any other respect, all proper means are to be used and methods taken to bring them to repentance, and to do their duty as Christians; and if they cannot be reclaimed, but continue impenitent and unreformed, they are to be rejected and cast out of the church, as other adult members are, who persist in disobedience to Christ.
V. The general rule of exercising discipline towards those members who give offence in words or conduct, and which is applicable to every case, is given by Jesus Christ in the following words: “ If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault 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 witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” (Matt. xviii. 15–17.)
It has been supposed by some, if not generally, that this direction respects private and personal offences only, and that it is not applicable to general and public offences. But perhaps this will appear to be a mistake, when the matter is properly considered, and that the method and steps here pointed out are to be taken with every offender, as most agreeable to the dictates of Christian love, and best suited to reclaim such, and the most proper regulation and guard to prevent unreasonable and frivolous complaints being brought to the church.
When a member of the church acts contrary to his Christian profession, and transgresses any of the laws of Christ, and walks disorderly, he trespasses or sins against every brother in the church, and offends him as really and as much as if he injured him in particular in his person, character, or estate; and there is the same reason and obligation to take steps to reclaim him as if his trespass were against one individual only. And if his sin be not of a private, but of a public nature, and is known to many, or to all, this is no reason why every person should not feel the trespass against him, and be ready to take proper steps to bring him to repentance, and be the first to apply to him to that end, unless particular circumstances render it more proper and convenient for some other person to do it.
And however public the offence may be, every individual ought to be disposed to make private application to him first, unless some other person shall do it, before he speaks of it to others; and to consider this as necessary in order to obey the command of Christ and the law of love, which ought to gove ern in every step taken in such a case. Perhaps the person offending does not view what he has done in a true light, or think himself guilty of unchristian conduct, or does not know that others are offended with him; and if he should have his crime properly set before him in a private way, he might be made sensible of what he had done, and that he had given
The word in the original, anaothon, translated trespass, is the word which is used for sinning. It is so translated in the 21st verse. “How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” And it is so translated in the fol. lowing passage: “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” (1 Cor. viii. 12.) And it is to be ob. served, that by sinning against the brethren, he does not mean any particular personal injury or offence.
just offence, and voluntarily make Christian satisfaction by a public confession, without any public accusation or process before the church. If the brethren were all under the proper influence of Christian love, and felt that concern and tenderness towards an offending brother which is the attendant of such love, such a method would doubtless appear most agreeable to them, and they would be ready to take it whenever there is opportunity and a call to do it; and it will be peculiarly agreeable to them to have a brother who has sinned reclaimed in such a private and easy way. And it is presumed there is no Christian who is a member of a church, who would not wish to be treated in this manner, if he should in any instance give offence to any or all of his brethren; and who would not think it a privilege to be in union with brethren who would deal thus privately and tenderly with him, whenever he should give them any just or supposed ground of offence; and, therefore, if he should neglect to take this method with any of his brethren who should give offence to him, he would not do to him as he would desire others to do to himself, and so transgress the law of love, and this wise law of Christ, which commands Christians to endeavor to heal every offence in the most private, easy, and tender manner. It may be the supposed offender will satisfy his offended brother that ; he is innocent, and has really given no ground of offence; but if he be not able to do this, and be not made sensible of his fault, and so do not hear his brother, he must take one or two of his brethren, whom he thinks most likely to convince and gain the offender, as this is most agreeable to Christian love, and best suited to answer the end. If they, when they have heard and considered the case, judge there is just ground of offence, and do convince the offender of it, and persuade him to make Christian satisfaction, the faulty brother is gained. If they judge that there is no sufficient ground of offence, or no proper evidence of the fact with which he is charged, the matter cannot be carried any further and laid before the church. If they think there is just ground of offence, and evidence of the fact of which he is accused, but cannot convince the offender of it, and, therefore, judge it ought to be laid before the church, the way is prepared to bring a complaint to the church, which ought to be received when it comes to them by the approbation of two or three, and not otherwise. And thus, " by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word is established.” They are witnesses which ought to have great weight with the person's conscience with whom they deal, and which is suited to convince him, and bring him to his duty, if they condemn him. They are witnesses to the church, that
private methods have been taken to convince and reclaim him; that he will not hear them, and that he ought to be called to an account by the church; and in this way, the church go on proper and safe ground in receiving a complaint against any of the members, and proceeding to call the accused person before them, in order to hear and judge of the matter of which he is accused; and there is a proper guard placed against accusations being brought to the church by individuals, which might be wholly without any foundation, which would give needless trouble to the church, and might be very injurious to those against whom the complaints are made.
On the whole, it will doubtless appear to all who well consider the matter, that the rule our Savior has given, in the words under consideration, extends to all instances of offences given by any professing Christians; and that no person can, according to this, be called before the church to answer for any fault, whether private or public, unless a complaint be brought against him in the way here prescribed; and that the wisdom and goodness of Christ appears in forming this short and plain rule of proceeding in all such cases, which is perfectly agreeable to the law of love, and is in the best manner suited to promote the peace and edification of the church, and the good of every individual member; and, consequently, every deviation from this rule is contrary to the law of Christian benevolence, and tends to evil.*
VI. When the accused person is thus regularly brought before the church, if they judge he is censurable, and he remains impenitent, and will not hear them, or if he refuse to
* It has been supposed by some, that the direction in this passage to go to an offending brother, “and tell him his fault between thee and him alone,” is applicable to no case but such wherein none knows of the fault of which the brother is guilty but the person who applies to him. But this cannot be true; for in such a case he would not be able to prove to the church, or any one, that his brother has been guilty of any fault; and, therefore, has no right to take one or two more to deal with him, or to speak of it to any person in the world. It must remain a secret between him and his brother, and to tell it to others would be a violation of the law of love, and a real slander, and would expose himself to suffer as a slanderer of his brother, having spread an evil report of him which he cannot prove. Therefore, in the case of a trespass mentioned by Christ in this passage, it is supposed that it can be proved by other witnesses than him who tells him his fault, or those whom he takes with him in the second step, otherwise he cannot take such a step; and it is so secret that, though he knew the fact to be true, he may not speak of it to any one, and cannot be a matter of public discipline.
If it be asked what an offended brother can do in such a case, the answer is plain and easy. He ought to deal with his faulty brother privately, and try to convince and awaken his conscience, and bring him to repentance; but if he remain obstinate, he must leave the matter in secret till the day of judgment, and continue to treat his brother before the world, and in the church, as visibly in good standing, and a visible Christian, as he really is, whatever be the secret sins of which he is guilty.
appear and answer to the complaint, when desired, he is to be rejected and cast out of the church, and cannot be restored again, without a proper manifestation of repentance. This is expressed by Christ in the following words : " But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." That is, consider and treat him as you are accustomed to view and treat heathens and publicans. The apostle Paul expresses the same thing in the following words: “I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one, no not to eat.” (1 Cor. v. 11.) And to the same purpose he says again: “ Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye
withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which ye received of us; and if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thess. iii. 6, 14.) The Jews avoided the company of heathens and publicans, and did not eat their common meals with them; and in the above passage, Christ commands the members of his churches to treat those who will not hear the church in the same manner; and the same thing is enjoined by St. Paul, when he commands the church at Corinth not to keep company with such, no not to eat. He tells them he did not forbid their keeping company with the wicked men of the world, for this would be inconsistent with their living in the world; but if he, who had the name of a Christian brother, transgressed the rules of Christ, and fell from his profession, they should renounce him, and not only exclude him from the privileges of a visible Christian in the church, but treat him with peculiar neglect and slight, and avoid his company at all times, and never so much as eat with him at a common table; as suited to keep in his view his character and situation in the sight of Christians, and to excite those feelings and that shame which tended to bring him to repentance.
Such a treatment of an excommunicated person is proper and necessary, in order to answer the ends of the censures of the church, so as to have their desired effect. By this their authority is exercised, maintained, and kept in view, and their particular abhorrence of the character and conduct of the censured person is constantly expressed to him and to the world, and the distinction between him and those who are in good standing, and his awful situation, is made manifest in all their conduct towards him; and it is suited constantly to affect and impress his mind, to give him uneasiness in his situation, to