DEVELOPMENT OF THE SCRIPTURAL
PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH IT IS BASED.
THE TREATMENT OF THE TWO KINDS
IN the treatment of "private offences," the Saviour, in Matt. xviii., gives the course to be pursued, commonly called "Gospel steps:" "Go and tell him his fault between him and thee alone." 1st. Go to him and seek a private interview. Observe, he does not say, address him a note, or employ a committee of friends to negotiate with "seconds," who may represent your antagonist as men of the world do in their so-called "affairs of honor." Submit the case to no second hands, but "go" yourself, and see your offending brother face to face.
Objection.?But it may be objected, "I have to deal with an unscrupulous man, who will pervert my words, or otherwise misrepresent our interview to my injury. For my own protection therefore, I must have our mutual communications in writing, or, at least, secure the presence of witnesses who may correct his misrepresentations."
The amount of this is, you must do evil that good may come,?or, at least, that evil may be avoided. You have too little faith in the prescriptions of Christ, and must substitute expedients of your own. But, unfortunately for you, in the very unlawful precautions you use, you place yourself completely in the power of him whom you characterize as a designing man. I grant you that if your antagonist (for that is the correct term, under the present aspect) does take advantage of your disobedience and indiscretion, and use them for your injury, he goes far to prove himself the unscrupulous and wicked man you fear he is; but this development is of no advantage to you, since it does not atone for your disobedience, nor make you any the less completely in his power. You lack confidence in the prescriptions of Christ, and propose to substitute precautions and expedients of your own, and the Master may suffer you to be involved in a long train of inconsistencies, embarrassments, and suffering. The first direction, then, to be observed, is, seek an interview with your offending brother face to face.
2. "Tell him his fault."
Tell him. Not blaze it abroad in the newspapers, nor growl about it in the presence of others; but go and tell HIM his fault, in the spirit of meekness. It is a question whether our religious newspaper press has not been used too much of late to produce and to aggravate personal differences between brethren. If the editors have themselves not been the guilty parties, have they not been too ready to yield their columns to excited persons, who have real or fancied grievances to allege against their brethren? The first that is heard, even by the alleged offender, of the thing complained of, is contained, perhaps, in a newspaper article. In this, by innuendo, by insinuation, or by statement in detail, the public are told how greatly the writer has suffered in his person, his rights, his interests, or his feelings, by the action or the words of the real or fancied aggressor. The latter is held up as a very bad man, and the public are impliedly called upon to condemn him. If the one assailed possesses a similar spirit, rejoinder is to be expected in the public newspapers: the gauntlet thrown down is promptly to be taken up. The appeal now on both sides is to the public; and the effort of each is to array as partisans as many of that public as he can. This is especially true if the parties at variance are men of influence and equally matched in strength. At first but one newspaper column may be wheeled into hostile position. The war begins with a single gun on either side. Only one embrasure of the newspaper battery opens for the protrusion of the hostile ordnance. But, as the hot shot and shell, the grape and canister, tell with reciprocal execution, the excitement and the rancor rise in intensity, until progressively the whole battery is unmasked and every gun is plied with deadly execution. Begrimed with smoke and distorted by passion, the countenances of the combatants bear no longer the lineaments of followers of the Prince of Peace. The din and uproar drown the gentle voice of conscience and the sweet monitions of the Holy Spirit, while the sulphurous smoke, charged with an odor from the world beneath, poisons the upper air and shuts out from the combatants the blessed light of heaven.
This, however, is but the beginning of the fray, the distant cannonading with which the conflict opens. Forces must be raised, and resources gathered, that the issue may be decided in a pitched battle, by a hand-to-hand engagement. To attract recruits and rally forces to the standard, each plants himself upon some great principle dear to people?s hearts, which, if you would believe him, he has been set to defend, and which must stand or fall with him; or the cry is raised that the religious party he represents is to be trampled in the dust in his person. The slogan of party catches the ear of the heated, the restless, and the ultra; and the cry of "principles in danger" arouses the quiet and conservative like the sound of the fire-bell at night. Vast armaments are gathered, and stand face to face in hostile force. And what then? A religious Solferino is fought. The battle rages in the midst of the cries and imprecations and slaughter of BRETHREN. And when the reputed victor, in the midst of his exhausted forces, surrounded by the dying and the dead, comes to sum up the result, it is only to find himself arrested by obstacles he cannot force, and glad to enter into a Villa Franca truce, which will end in nothing but protracted negotiations and endless complications. The leaders, drifted whither they did not intend, invariably fail in their purposes; while the people, their adherents, with feelings embittered and brotherly love destroyed, find their ancient landmarks obliterated, and their cherished institutions wellnigh subverted and destroyed; a-n-d?that is all!
How different, however, are the process and result when the Saviour?s directions are observed!
"Tell HIM his fault," because,?
1. You may have misconceived him through misapprehensions or misrepresentations. Your brother may be able to disavow, or, if he acknowledges, to explain, and thus remove all complaint.
2. You may thus be able to RECLAIM him. When your brother trespasses against you, he sins against God also, and against his own soul. How much more noble, then, is it for you, keeping your own heart right, to reform and "gain," than to come off victorious over your brother in mortal conflict! "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted." "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." James v. 19, 20.
"Tell him his fault between him and thee alone."
1. If you go in the first instance accompanied by others, you may seem to have summarily decided against the offender, without giving him a hearing, and thus excite in him a spirit of independence and defiance.
2. You may seem to have no confidence in his capacity to do right, and thus rouse his resentment.
3. Accompanied by others, you may seem to have entered into a conspiracy against him. It may appear that you are approaching him systematically as an enemy to entangle and expose him, and thus put him on the defensive. If he is cautious and prudent, you make him wary, but not the less an antagonist; if he is fiery and impulsive, you make him aggravate the difficulty by defiance and wrath.
4. You may seem to be desirous to humble him by making him succumb and confess his fault before witnesses, and thus touch his pride.
The great object is to "gain your brother:" therefore, make the attempt first by yourself.
Question.?"But may a mutual friend in no instance make the effort to bring parties mutually at variance together, and induce them to talk about their points of difference in his presence?"
Ans.?To this it is answered, that it is perfectly legitimate for a mutual friend to bring variant parties together. And, by so doing, it is often the case that much good is accomplished.
But you observe that the question proposes a case very different from that under discussion. You speak of those who are mutual trespassers,?who are equally at variance, and therefore both wrong. But the question under discussion relates to a case where only one is a trespasser, while the other is as yet free from blame. Our discussion relates to the duty of the one who, yet free from wrong in act or feeling, has been trespassed upon by his brother. The duty of such is to keep right himself, and to do all in his power to recover his erring brother.
After all the disinterested efforts made by yourself, the offender may remain incorrigible. What then? Become disgusted with him??leave him to himself, and treat him ever thereafter as an enemy? Bring him before the Church? No. One step more remains to be taken.
4. "Take with thee one or two more,"?not partisans or enemies, but those in whom the offender has confidence:
1st, That they may be arbitrators between you. If, after they hear him, they are satisfied that he is wrong, they can tell him so, and add their influence to yours to bring him right.
2d, If he is incorrigible, they may be witnesses for you in the next step you may have to take.
The Saviour designs that His people shall not be at variance. It is His revealed will that brotherly love shall continue among them, and that they shall be of one heart and of one mind. If, however, variance should arise, He requires the parties to settle it privately between themselves; and He gives directions which, if followed implicitly, and the heart of each is right, will lead to the desired result.
He requires you to settle your difficulties privately between yourselves, because,?
1. In no other way can they be settled to the mutual, hearty satisfaction of both parties. Any other method of settlement will consist either in the condemnation of one or both of the parties, or in a compromise between them which will satisfy neither.
2. He would save His cause from the reproach of brethren publicly worrying and devouring one another.
3. He would save His churches from the adjudication of personal difficulties between their members; so that they may never be the arena for personal strife, nor the field of battle for conflicting hosts.
4. But, if the offender continues incorrigible, He has provided, in the directions He gives, not only for the safety of the innocent and the punishment of the incorrigibly guilty, but for the peace and unanimity of His Church, which is to be the tribunal in the last resort. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." By their testimony, the "one or two" disinterested brethren may afford protection to the innocent and light to the Church, so that it may act with unanimity and unerring certainty.
If all the efforts made by the aggrieved alone, and in conjunction with the "one or two" disinterested brethren, fail, the case assumes the character of a "public offence;" and the last step is to be taken by the offended.
5. "Tell it to the Church." Of course, in the spirit of meekness, with the hope and prayer still that the offender may be reclaimed. This idea of reclamation is distinctly implied in the words following:?"If he neglect to hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen man and a publican." He may not neglect to hear the Church. What then? Even then, though he has been almost lost, you may "gain your brother." It is imperative upon the Church, when a question of mere personal variance, involving no immorality, is brought before it, to attempt in the first instance to reclaim the offender. It is her duty to examine into the facts, and to use her arguments and moral force to bring him to a sense of his wrong and to a reparation of it. Never, until she speaks to him and he deliberately and persistently "neglects to hear," is she, by the ultimate resort, to make him bear to her the relation of "a heathen man and a publican."
Of the effects of excommunication by a church, more will be said anon.
Treatment of public offenses
How should public offences be treated? When one has been guilty of open immorality, shall "gospel steps" be taken? Is it demanded that a thief, or a drunkard, or a debauchee, should be approached first in private, and then in company with one or two others, before he is arraigned in presence of the Church? Certainly not; for no private reparation can atone for, or counteract the effects of, immoralities.
1. If he does not bring the matter up himself, he should be cited to appear and answer to the charge. In this arraignment, he should have every facility to meet the charge against him; for it does by no means follow that every one is guilty who has been accused. No one should be condemned without a hearing; and, to have a hearing, he must be in possession of all the counts of the indictment against him. He must have the privilege of confronting the witnesses, and of sifting the testimony against him, that he may be able to speak effectively and to the point in his own behalf. It is not meant, though, to be asserted here that a church should go through with all the formality observed by a court of justice, but simply that no one should be forced to a trial until he becomes fully informed of all the charges and has an opportunity to sift the evidence relied upon to convict. Excepting in extreme and very complicated cases, no written documents need be employed in the citation and trial. The arraigned may hear the charge for the first time as it may be announced orally, or read from the clerk?s record, in open conference. If he pleads not guilty, and desires time to prepare himself for the trial, all reasonable indulgence should be granted, and nothing pertaining to the case should be withheld from him.
It goes far, however, to show conscious guilt, if a church-member arraigned endeavors to quash proceedings by the plea that he had not been served with written processes. Not until he asks for information, and for the postponement of his trial, and is refused by the Church, has he any ground of complaint. Church-trials are designed not only to convict the guilty, but to clear the innocent who have been accused. An innocent man, then, so far from trying to embarrass the action of the Church in the premises, will do all in his power to facilitate such action. It is for the interest of the innocent that the Church promptly and thoroughly investigate the charges against him, that his innocence may appear, and that the confidence of his brethren and of the world may be restored to him. And it goes far to prove, if not his guilt, at least a heart not right, for the accused to take offence at the arraignment or ascribe it to conspiracy against him.
2. If the arraigned is proved to be guilty of a gross offence against religion and morality, he should be at once, and without delay, expelled. "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person." 1 Cor. v. 13. All will grant that this conclusion is correct in regard to such offenses as murder, fornication, theft, &c.; but they do not see that railing, covetousness, drunkenness, and extortion may not be dealt with more gently, and forgiven upon repentance and confession. The Apostle Paul, however, places them all in the same category with fornication, and prescribes the same treatment to them all in common. "But now 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 an one you ought not to eat." 1 Cor. v. 11.
It is the opinion of some?and there may be force in it, though not perceived by the present writer?that in the case of drunkenness the first offence may be forgiven on repentance and confession; since in that instance the offender may have been "overtaken in a fault;" and that it takes a repetition of the act to show that he is properly a "drunkard." Be this as it may, just so soon as these and other gross crimes are proved upon one that is "called a brother," he should be withdrawn from.
1. For the sake of public morals and the reputation of the Church, she should testify unmistakably. This course would meet with approbation more heartily from no one than from the offender himself if he is a Christian; for to such the honor of the Master and the reputation of His Church are dearer than his own good name, or even than life itself. When a confession of sin and a profession of penitence are received as satisfactory, and the offender forgiven, the act may be misunderstood by the world; but when the member is cut off, there is no room to suppose that the Church views the offence as trivial and venial.
2. For the good of the offender himself, he should be excommunicated. If he is not a Christian, he should not be a member of the Church; if he is a Christian, excommunication will not harm him. Corrective discipline, even in its highest censures, is an act of kindness to the offender, and designed not to injure but to reform. Such was the effect of the discipline inflicted upon the incestuous man at Corinth. While undisturbed by his brethren and permitted to go on in sin with impunity, he seemed not to be aware of the enormity of his crime; but after expulsion he is brought to reflection and penitence. So that we find the apostle, who had demanded his exclusion, afterwards, on satisfactory evidence of his repentance and reformation, acting as his intercessor and begging his restoration. "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment which was inflicted of many. So that, contrariwise, ye ought rather to forgive him and comfort him; lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that you would confirm your love towards him."
3. As a warning to others, the Church should affix to gross crime unmistakably the mark of its reprobation.
Objection?But it may be objected, "Do not the Scriptures say, ?If a brother confess his fault we should forgive him??"
Ans.?To this it is answered, that the injunction refers exclusively to private or personal offences. "Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him."
In public offences not involving gross immorality, a milder course may be pursued, and corrective discipline may be successful and complete short of excommunication.
What course is to be pursued in mixed offences? When the act is a public offence, and the object affected by it a brother, is it his duty to take "gospel steps"? When one willfully slanders his brother, or defrauds or steals from him, or violently assaults his person, or libelously publishes him, is he the less a liar, a defrauder, a thief, an infractor of the peace, and a libeler, because his victim happens to be a member of the Church? Suppose these acts had been perpetrated against one not a church-member: would they not have been criminal? Would not the Church have been bound to take cognizance of them? And if so, under what head of offences would she have classed them? If they are crimes against religion and morality when committed against an irreligious man, do they lose their nature when committed against a member of the Church? Whatever may be counteracted, or removed, or atoned for, so that neither individuals nor the cause may be injured, can be disposed of by private dealing. But gross public offences, whatever may be their combinations or objects, cannot be disposed of in that way. The brother trespassed upon may be, and doubtless is, under obligations to seek a private interview with the brother who he believes has willfully slandered, or defrauded, or stolen from him; since in all these things he may have been mistaken. He may even pursue a like course with one who has horsewhipped or libeled him, and bring them all to confession of their wrong, and to a tender of all the private reparation in their power. But would that relieve the Church from the obligation to discipline its members for the crimes against religion and morality contained in lying, in fraud, in seduction, in theft, in a breach of the peace by personal assault and libel? Nay, if the one trespassed upon in the ways indicated above concludes to take no action in the premises, and to bear his grievances in silence, would the Church, acquainted with the facts, be debarred by this from dealing with its members for lying, fraud, theft, &c.?
The answer to be given, then, to the question at the beginning of the above paragraph, is, If the act is a gross offence against religion and morality, and the object affected by it a brother, it is to be dealt with as other gross offences that are purely "public," whether the aggrieved takes "gospel steps" or not.
Thus it will be seen that in "mixed offences" the nature of the sin is the basis of its classification, and not merely the object against which it is committed. The "private" feature is merged in and swallowed up by the gross crime which constitutes the act. This is nothing novel. The same classification obtains in legal science. Sir Wm. Blackstone, in his Commentaries, book iv. chap. 1, p. 5, says, "Murder is an injury to the life of an individual; but the law of society considers principally the loss which the state sustains by being deprived of a member, and the pernicious example thereby set for others to do the like. Robbery may be considered in the same view: it is an injury to private property; but, were that all, a civil satisfaction in damages might atone for it: the public mischief is the thing for the prevention of which our laws have made it a capital offence. In these gross and atrocious injuries the private wrong is swallowed up in the public: we seldom hear any mention made of satisfaction to the individual, the satisfaction to the community being so very great. And, indeed, as the public crime is not otherwise avenged than by forfeiture of life and property, it is impossible afterwards to make any reparation for the private wrong; which can only be had from the body or goods of the aggressor." In like manner, in the case of theft, seduction, murder, or other gross crimes, as the offence against religion and morality can in no other way be atoned for than by the expulsion of the offender, it is a matter of no importance, so far as it relates to the question of his continued church-membership, whether or not he renders satisfaction, if possible, to the individual his victim.
And it will be seen, also, that those that for convenience have been termed "mixed" do not constitute a distinct class, but are to be ranged under the head of "public offences" and treated accordingly.
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