DEVELOPMENT OF THE SCRIPTURAL
PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH IT IS BASED.
Deduction (continued)?Church Independence
DEDUCTION 2.?The decision of the church is final. "If he neglect to hear the church, let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican."
The admission has been incautiously made by good writers on the subject of discipline that in extreme cases, where it is evident that gross injustice has been done, one church may receive to membership the excluded member of another. They all plead, though, that it must be an extreme case, and recommend to the use of great caution in the exercise of what they call the right,?a recommendation, however, that is never observed; for it is only in cases involving extreme excitement that there is any temptation to take such a step.
Baptists boast that they have a "thus saith the Lord" for all their principles and practices. They claim that on the subject of doctrinal faith and church order the New Testament is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness; and that, with this manual in their hands, they are perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. In the matter of the discipline and expulsion of a disorderly member, the New Testament is plain and explicit. Is it silent on the subject of excommunicated persons? Does it lead us through a path flooded with light to the point of their excommunication, and then leave us profoundly in the dark as to their relations, if any, to the church expelling, and as to the means of their restoration to the ranks of Christ?s disciples, should they desire it? It would be strange were this so. The New Testament is not thus silent; and to a candid inquirer it gives an answer plain and unmistakable. That answer is, that the action of the church is final; that one church cannot receive to membership the excluded members of another; and that such excluded members can be restored to fellowship only by the action of the church expelling them. This I am prepared to show:?
1. BY POSITIVE PRECEPT. 2. BY INSPIRED EXAMPLE. 3. BY GENERAL PRINCIPLES LAID DOWN IN THE SCRIPTURES.
1. We have a precept, first, as to what is to be done with the incorrigible under each class of offences; and, second, as to our feelings and deportment towards those who have received the penalty prescribed.
First. If, in a personal offence, the offender refuse to give reparation to the one trespassed upon; if he decline to listen to the remonstrances of the one or two disinterested brethren who labour with him; and, finally, if he neglect to hear the church, he is to be withdrawn from. I suppose all will grant that this is in accordance with the Scriptures. If any one that is called a brother be convicted of a gross crime against religion and morality; as, for instance, if he be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a drunkard, or an extortion, the precept is, "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Here all is clear; and there is no room to doubt. A private offender that cannot be brought to repentance and reparation, and a gross public offender, are, according to the precept, to be excommunicated. But this is not all the instruction we receive on the subject from the Scriptures. We are told,?
Second, What are to be our feelings and deportment towards the excommunicated? Do we ask the Saviour what relations do we sustain towards one cut off for incorrigible wrong towards his brother? His answer is, "Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Do we address the same inquiry to the great Apostle of the Gentiles in regard to offenders of every type? We have, in effect, the same reply: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which we have learned, and avoid them." Rom. xvi. 17. "Now I have written unto you not to keep company" with them. 1 Cor. v. 11. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly." 2 Thess. iii. 6. In regard to the disposition a church should make of a disorderly member, and the relations all churches and church-members bear to him when thus disposed of, the Scriptures are plain and explicit. He is to be excommunicated; and all are to withdraw themselves from him, to keep no company with him, to avoid him, and to make him bear towards them the relations of an heathen man and a publican. Now, whatever may be the meaning of these precepts when carried out into practice in detail, no one will maintain that in them can be found encouragement or authority for one church to receive the excluded member of another. Every one must grant that they, by strong implication, forbid such interference. These precepts are enough; but they do not constitute all the support that the Scriptures furnish to our position.
2. Scripture example shows that the excommunicating church alone can restore to membership. But one example is given in the Scriptures of the exclusion and restoration of a member. The incestuous man at Corinth was, at the instance of Paul, excommunicated; and when he had given satisfactory evidence of repentance and reformation, at the solicitation of Paul, he was restored to membership by the same church. There was a large number of others in existence at that time besides the church at Corinth. Paul was not compelled, therefore, to apply to it because it was the only one extant. Now, Baptists claim that inspired example is as binding as inspired precept. In this way alone do they discover the form and organization of a gospel church. Nowhere in the New Testament is to be found a precept containing a rule for the organization and government of a gospel church. For our ideas and our practices upon these subjects, we are dependent exclusively upon inspired example. And in no instance do we reason against our Pedobaptist friends more forcibly and conclusively than when we maintain the binding force of New Testament example. Now, can we be honest when we denounce others for disregarding inspired example in the organization and government of the church, if we refuse to receive that same example as binding on any other subject? We ask, How can an expelled man be restored to membership? and are answered, by New Testament example, that he is to be restored by the same church that expelled him, after satisfaction rendered. Now, if we decline to receive the answer, while we sin against God, we lay ourselves open to the retort from our Pedobaptist friends, "Physician, heal thyself." Inspired precept and example, then, forbid one church to receive the excommunicated members of another, and declare that, when a church expels, her action is final. Nor is this all.
3. The general principles laid down in the Scriptures forbid one church to receive the excommunicated members of another. Let the following be noted:?
1st. All the churches are under Christ?s jurisdiction. He is their Sovereign, and upon Him are they dependent. He gives the form of their organization, furnishes the regenerated materials of which they are to be composed, prescribes the laws by which they are to be governed, and fixes the relations they are to sustain to each other. Christ is the great King in Zion, and of Him no church is independent. Now, if this be true, the church cannot say, "I am independent, and I will do what I please;" but "Christ is my Sovereign, and I will do what He commands or permits." Now, Christ does not command or authorize one church to receive the excommunicates of another, but by precepts and example forbids it to do so. The first general principle I lay down, then, is, that the church, not only in its organization, duties, and rights, but also in its relations to other churches, is just what Christ, the Sovereign, makes it. This needs no proof.
2. Christ has constituted every church independent,?not of Himself, but of other churches. This all grant. Now, the question is, what is the meaning of independence? I have already said, it means freedom from control. A State is independent of other States when it is free from their control. So a church is independent of other churches because, in like manner, it is free from their control. Now, if it can be shown that the reception of the excluded member of a church is an attempt to control it in its internal affairs, it will be evident from this general principle of the Scriptures that such an act is forbidden. Nothing is easier than to show that such an interference is a total subversion of church independence. If the church at A. can, without her consent, give membership to a man whom the church at B. excludes, whatever may be said of the independence of A., that of B. has been subverted; for she has been involuntarily controlled in her discipline by the interference of A. Is it said that A. does not interfere with B., since she takes one that has no connection with her? I answer, she just as unequivocally takes away B?s member as though she had entered into the church and forcibly removed him while his trial was progressing, and before sentence of excommunication had been passed. The design of corrective discipline, even in its highest censures, is not to injure, but to reform. The Scriptures command the church to excommunicate a disorderly member, that he might be brought to repentance and reformation. They require it, "To deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." 1 Cor. v. 5. "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. 14. Now, the church at B., in obedience to the commands of the King in Zion, is pursuing a course of discipline designed to bring the offender to his senses; but midway in the process, just as soon as the regimen begins to take effect, A. interferes and rescues from her jurisdiction her excluded member. For he is still her member, with the descriptive prefix, excluded. From rights and privileges in the church he is "cut off," and as it regards fellowship and fraternity he is as an heathen man and a publican; but in relation to the discipline of the church he is still the subject of her reformatory process. Her disciplinary grasp upon him can never be relaxed until he reforms or dies. Now, this act of A. is just as decided an interference as though she had interposed at the instant of the arraignment, or at any time during the progress of the trial, before the final result. The discipline is never complete until it brings the culprit to repentance and reformation. When, therefore, the church at A. successfully interferes with the attempt of B. to bring the offender to a sense of his wrong, she just as effectually controls the discipline of B. as though she had dragged the arraigned from her bar. Had she done the latter, she would have protected him from trial; if she does the former, she rescues him from the intended effect of the discipline. Surely, if brethren will reflect, they need not wait for it to be proved to them by argument that their proposed action is designed to be an interference.
The reception of an individual into the membership of a church, and his expulsion from that same fellowship, are not "correlative" or "commensurate" ideas. Before he is received, he bears no relation to the church; but when he is expelled, he sustains the relation of one who is the subject of its reformatory discipline. He has passed through the discipline of remonstrance and trial, and is now the subject of the discipline of correction and reformation. This proposition seems to be very plain; but it receives additional support from the fact that such an one can never be received again in the same way as he was from the world at first. Then, he was admitted by experience and baptism; now, he must be not admitted, but restored, according to the Scriptures, by satisfaction rendered, without baptism. Expulsion does not leave a man in the same condition that reception found him. Therefore, reception and expulsion are not commensurate ideas nor correlative terms. The expelled man is still the subject, in a sense, of the church expelling him; and its discipline, which is designed to reform him, is just beginning on him its salutary influences. Now, this power and duty Christ conferred upon each church; and, that it might effectually feel the obligation and exercise the power, He made it independent of all others,?in other words, made it free from their interference or control. When one thus interferes, then it exercises not a right, but a usurpation; it shows not independence, but lawlessness. Do you ask me, in reply, "Is every church bound by the action of others." Without stopping to expose the fallacy contained in the word "bound," I reply, every church is bound to obey the commands of the Master; and they prohibit it to interfere with the internal discipline of its neighbors.
It is the Saviour?s design not to envelop the earth in the folds of one vast hierarchy, but to dot its surface with local organizations, each having independent jurisdiction within its restricted territories, and all responsible to Him, the great King in Zion. This has been forcibly illustrated by reference to our county courts. The territory of the county constitutes the limits of its jurisdiction, the people of the county the subjects of its administration. When one tribunal arraigns one of its subjects before its bar, he cannot be removed from its jurisdiction by any process from another; and when it condemns and sentences him, he cannot appeal to another for relief. Why? Because they are independent of each other, but are all subject to a superior power, viz.: the organic law of the State, which marks out the limits of their jurisdiction severally, and the extent of their responsibility. If the circuit court of Clarke County interfere successfully with that of Oglethorpe, it not only destroys the independence of the latter, but it rebels against the constitution and law of the State. So when one church arrests another in the enforcement of its discipline, and removes away from the condemned the censure which was designed to work his reformation, she not only subverts the independence of the latter, but shows rebellion against the authority of Christ, who marks out the metes and bounds of their jurisdictions, and responsibilities severally, and makes them all mutually independent, i.e. free from each other?s control. Independence, then, so far from authorizing, forbids one church to receive the excommunicated members of another.
3. But, again, in the exercise of his sovereign prerogative, Christ not only established the rights and duties of each church, but He settled the relations they are to sustain to each other, and the bonds by which they are to be united. He not only made them independent in their own jurisdictions, but He united them together by the bond of Christian union. He prays His Father that they all may be one; in faith, in love, in effort. His design is that no root of bitterness should spring up between them, to trouble, to distract, and to divide. Now, can it be believed that He who is infinitely wise should desire and pray for their Christian union, and yet should so organize them,?should invest them with such prerogative as, if exercised, will produce, inevitably, antagonism, alienation, and heart-burning? No church can arbitrarily rescue a member from the jurisdiction of another, and welcome him into her fold, without destroying fellowship and Christian union. This Christian union Christ intended to exist between His churches; and, in infinite wisdom, we adapted the means to the end. He could not, therefore, have designed that one should arbitrarily overrule the decisions or recklessly trample upon the feelings of another. For the same reason, He could not have intended that one should receive to fellowship the excommunicated member of another.
We have given the teachings of the Scriptures on the subject. By direct precept, by plain example, and by unmistakable general principles, they teach us that an excluded man can in no way be restored to fellowship but by the action of the church expelling him. Shall we not accept this as satisfactory? Shall we rather attempt to settle the question by appeals to expediency and convenience? If so, then let our mouths be shut when Pedobaptists make a like appeal to expediency and convenience in regard to church organization and government, or gospel ordinances.
But brethren who oppose these views present plausible pleas by way of objection. These I would classify as:?1. The plea explanatory; 2. The plea from expediency; and, 3. The plea from exceptional cases. Let us consider them.
1. THE PLEA EXPLANATORY. They say, "We do not claim that one church has the right to restore an excluded man to membership in the church expelling him, but only, by virtue of its independence, to receive him into its own. This certainly is no interference." To this I answer,?
1st. You do restore him to the fellowship of the church expelling, or else you destroy Christian union. Christian union remaining between the two churches, whenever the table of the Lord is spread, he, as well as other members of your church, can sit down to it, though formally excluded from it by vote of the body; and whenever he is present at the "conference" of the church, he can accept the usual invitations, dictated by Christian union, to take seats and aid in deliberations. Through your action, the excluding church will either be compelled to make to him all the expressions of Christian fellowship, though it has professed to withdraw it from him, or else to withdraw fellowship from you; and thus Christian union will be destroyed. But,?
2d. Your act will certainly be an interference with its discipline, as has been already shown; since it is designed to prevent the intended effect of that discipline.
2. THE PLEA FROM EXPEDIENCY. It is said, "It is a great hardship for one to be unjustly expelled; and surely there ought to be a remedy for it. If the church perpetrating the injustice cannot be induced to repair the injury, surely other churches ought to be at liberty to remedy the evil."
Ah! You would then propose to supply the defects in the enactments of the Lawgiver! But how do you propose to counteract the evil? I answer, by introducing a greater. At present, one individual suffers. This you propose to remedy by the introduction of an expedient that would destroy Christian union between two churches, and thus produce discord, confusion, and division. This is bad enough, when union is destroyed between two churches alone. How much, though, is the evil enhanced when the rescued is a professed minister! If he permits you to restore him, he is influenced by a spirit of resistance to the church expelling him. The same spirit of resistance will lead him to seek expressions of fellowship and endorsement from as wide an extent of country as possible, and from all such religious bodies as can, either directly or indirectly, indicate such fellowship. And thus we shall have presented to us the strange spectacle of a religious demagogue, under your sanction, traveling, over the country soliciting support and gathering to himself a party. Wherever he goes, he will find some who reverence the authority of the King in Zion, and who are compelled, therefore, to treat him as an excommunicated man. His presence introduces divisions and heart-burnings into every church whose majority receives him as a minister. Wherever he goes, he has his own feelings injured by the words and actions of the faithful men who dare to abide by the law of Christ. Thus, you do not alleviate, but increase, his sufferings; and you make him the wedge which you drive home to the rending apart of the people of God over a vast district. Surely, it is not expedient to attempt to remedy a limited evil by the application of another so great and unlimited. And, besides, it will be all in vain. The man you propose to protect cannot maintain the position your sympathy and his resentment assign him. He will either be permitted by God?s providence to go to such lengths as to make you ashamed of the support you have given him, or else he will see his error and return back from whence he departed. If he is a Christian, this latter will be the inevitable result. There is too much faithfulness to Christ in the great Baptist heart, and too much knowledge of the Scriptures in the Baptist mind, for them to be long misled. He must either come back whence he departed, or else come to nought. This is the history of all such cases. Happy will it be for him and for Christian union in the churches if his rebellion be of short continuance. When you see that such will be the deplorable results, tell me not that your action is designed, in the fear of God, to counteract evil. Ascribe it rather to amiable weakness, to sympathy, to willfulness, to partisanship, to personal resentment,?to any thing, rather than to a regard for the authority of God?s law or the honor of God?s cause.
3. THE PLEA FROM EXCEPTIONAL CASES. It is asked, "Suppose a church should expel a member for joining the Masons or Odd-Fellows, or another should expel its member for favoring the missionary cause, or, if he is a minister, for maintaining that the gospel is to be preached to sinners: will it not be lawful in these cases, or in either of them, for a neighboring church to receive the excluded? Now, if you answer in the affirmative, you, in effect, give up the principle; for you acknowledge that, for sufficient cause, one church may receive the expelled of another."
To answer this question, it must be analyzed and the parts classified under different heads.
1. One church expels its member for doing that which the Scriptures do not in terms forbid, but which they do not require him to do. A member joins the Masons or Odd-Fellows, not because he feels bound to do so conscientiously, in the fear of God, from a sense of duty, but because he deems it expedient and feels inclined to do so.
2. The other church expels its member for practicing, that which he and we believe to be enjoined in the Scriptures. He acts from a sense of duty and in the fear of God, and does just what we conscientiously believe it is his duty to do. Now, you perceive, we must give very different answers to these questions. Let us take them up separately.
1. If a church expels one for joining the Masons or Odd-Fellows, is it lawful for a neighboring church to receive him? I answer, No. I have not a word to say in disparagement of these highly respectable institutions; and I grant that I can see nothing sinful in becoming connected with them. But then it is the duty of a church-member to seek the harmony and brotherly union of his church when he can do so without sacrificing his conscience. Paul said that all things were lawful, but all things were not expedient for him. Though it was lawful for him to eat meat, he announced it as his determination never to do so while the world would stand, if it would cause his brother to offend. Some of the best brethren we have in the land are those who were Masons before their conversion, or who became so afterward without being aware of the strong objections?or prejudices, if you please?of their brethren. But as soon as they became aware of the opposition, they consented to discontinue their attendance upon the Lodge. They esteemed their church privileges higher than their relations to any worldly associations, however honorable and useful. And they stood ready to sever any relation dictated merely by expediency and convenience, rather than destroy the peace of a church composed?if you please?of only ignorant and weak brethren. Now, when a member allows himself to be expelled on this ground, it is because he is headstrong, because he offends against charity, and because he esteems that which is merely expedient to him of more value than the peace of the church and the confidence and affection of his brethren. A simple promise to discontinue his attendance on the Lodge will remove all the difficulty. Now, if the church, proposing to reverse the sentence of expulsion, conscientiously believes that it is the duty of every individual, in the fear of God, to join the Masons, and makes this profession a part of its creed, if it professes that this, as an obligation, is enjoined in the Scriptures, it may then receive the member, because it can at the same time withdraw from the expelling church on the ground that it professes rebellion to God by refusing to join the Masons and by prohibiting its members to do so. A church, in conscientiously expelling a Mason, may act very foolishly; but her evil cannot be removed by the introduction of a greater,?viz., the destruction of church union,?unless you are prepared to withdraw fellowship from her for maintaining that Masons should be expelled. This is a case that calls not for anathemas, but for light. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations."
2. But when a church expels a member for favoring the missionary cause or for preaching the gospel to sinners, it is clearly of a different denomination from us, or has so departed from the faith as to authorize us to withdraw fellowship from it. In that case, church sovereignty is not violated if we receive those who are martyrs to the same truth we conscientiously hold ourselves. The principle here is that which I avowed in a previous number,?that when a church ceases to be a Baptist church we may withdraw fellowship from it. But you observe that this principle is not operative in a case in which we receive one excluded by a church professing to be of the same faith and order,?one who was arraigned and tried upon such charges as, if they had been proved upon him, would have made him, in our opinion, worthy of expulsion. The church must not only appear to us to act in opposition to what we consider the law of Christ, but it must avow that to be its intention, before we can be authorized to withdraw fellowship from it and afford a refuge to its excluded members. A mere difference of opinion from us in the interpretation of a law of Christ which it professes to hold as tenaciously as we?the law in Matt. xviii., if you please?cannot be sufficient ground with us for declaring it to be no longer a Baptist church. Who gave to us such infallibility as to make our interpretations of Scripture always unerringly right? And whence do we obtain the arrogance which authorizes us to deny all ecclesiastical claims to any body that may differ from us in opinion? The "Primitive Baptists" have declared non-fellowship for us because we maintain boards and conventions for promoting missions. They have, in effect, declared themselves a denomination distinct from us. When, therefore, we take them on their own terms, and receive those of their members who have been excluded for conscientiously maintaining the same truths on whose account we ourselves have been withdrawn from, we violate no church comity, we disturb no Christian union.
It is always best for us to be governed by Scripture instruction, however great may be the injustice done us or our friend, and however much we may be excited in consequence. And the Scriptures?by precepts, by examples, and by general principles?assure us that, if an excommunicated man be restored at all, he must be restored by the church that expelled him.
Question 1.?"May not the expelled member who thinks himself unjustly treated find relief by appealing to his Association or to Council?"
I answer, The Scriptures recognize no such bodies as Associations and Councils. The church is the highest and the only ecclesiastical body known to the New Testament. Some have endeavored to find the germ of Associations and Councils in the meeting held in Jerusalem by the apostles, elders, and brethren, to consider and to give advice on the matters of difficulty presented by the church at Antioch. But this only shows how easy it is to pervert the plain and common-sense transactions of apostolic times to the purposes of superstition, and to the acquisition of materials for the foundation of an unscriptural hierarchy. The Jerusalem Church was the first planted by the apostles, and, therefore, the Mother Church. Now, certain men, which came down from Judea, taught the brethren at Antioch, that except they be circumcised after the manner of Moses they could not be saved. These sentiments were vehemently opposed by Paul and Barnabas. But when the church at Antioch found they were not able to settle the question, they sent Paul and Barnabas and certain others to Jerusalem to inquire of the church, and the apostles and elders, whether these men properly represented their sentiments, and what was their opinion on the subject. The whole multitude assembled together, and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, repudiated these teachers, and solved the difficulty. This was a simple and common sense transaction. Nothing is more natural than the inquiry, and nothing more natural than the means adopted to answer it. But here was no permanent body, composed of messengers from contiguous churches, to meet at stated times, organized upon a written constitution, and called an "Association;" nor a transient body, composed in like manner of messengers from churches, and called a "Council." It was simply a meeting of the whole church with the apostles and elders then in Jerusalem. But suppose it be granted that Associations and Councils are modeled after the same form and organized for the same purpose. The meeting in Jerusalem assembled to give advice to a church which had asked it, and this, too, not on a case of discipline, but on a point of doctrine. It received and entertained no appeal from a man under dealing.
Associations are institutions of modern date. They are not opposed to the general principles of the Scriptures; and as advisory councils, and a means of promoting Christian union and cooperation,?if they refrain scrupulously from infringing upon the internal rights of the churches, and from lording it over God?s heritage,?they may be made to subserve a valuable purpose. But it is not necessary for the completeness of a church that it should be a member of such a body. One of the most ominous signs of the times, and a marked indication of a disposition on the part of these bodies to transcend their legitimate bounds, is a resolution passed in the meetings of some of them, inviting ministers to seats who are in good standing in their own churches and Associations. This implies that, if the minister?s church belongs to no association, his ecclesiastical relations are incomplete. On this principle, Paul and all the other apostles, if present, would be ruled out as undeserving a seat, because of their defective ecclesiastical relations. In what respect does this differ in principle from Presbyterianism? There, the minister is not in full connection because he does not belong to a Presbytery; here, he is defective because he is not in Associational connection. Are these bodies blind and unconscious of the claim implied here? or are they fully aware of its extent? If the latter be true, how long will it take for the churches to become mere societies and component parts of an unscriptural hierarchy, fast approximating to the organization of "The Man of Sin"? So impossible is it to avoid sounding the profound abyss of error, when unscriptural expedients are used to counteract what we consider injustice and oppression! An Association may give a church advice in regard to scriptural principles when it asks it, which advice it may follow, or not, as it thinks best; but an Association may never interfere, directly or indirectly, with the internal affairs of a church, nor listen to the appeals of its member whom it is making the subject of its discipline.
When a church needs assistance in the management of a case of discipline, it may ask the aid of contiguous churches. These may appoint
their wisest men, who may together constitute a COUNCIL, or, as it is sometimes called, a COMMITTEE OF HELPS. These may attend upon the meeting of the church, and, after hearing the case, may give her the benefit of their mature judgment, leaving it to her to receive or reject their opinion, as to her may seem best. They may never authoritatively decide a case, nor obtrude their advice when it is not asked. None but a church can call them into being, and when they perform the office the church assigns them, they are dissolved again into their original elements. If the church asks their aid in case of discipline, to the best of their ability, they may render it; but they can never take the case out of the hands of the church. Least of all can they arraign the church, and sit in judgment on its acts. They are a mere advisory body; and after the church hears their advice, it may reject it and go counter to it, and nobody will have any right to complain. It never can be a body to whom an appeal can be taken from the church; nor can it ever owe its existence to a member under discipline, nor to a minority of the church. "We have no such custom, neither the churches of God." A member unjustly expelled, then, can find no relief from a Council; for such a body cannot exist, according to Baptist usage, except it be created by the church.
Question 2.?"But may not churches err?"
To this I answer, ten thousand times, yes. More frequently, however, by retaining unworthy members than by expelling the worthy. How often are members tolerated in covetousness which is idolatry; in frequenting improper places of amusement; in quaffing the inebriating cup, till some of them die, church-members, with delirium tremens; and in the indulgence of an improper spirit, and the utterance of improper language toward their brethren! Where one is unjustly expelled, hundreds are sinfully retained in church connection. If God has aught against his churches, as to discipline, it is for their neglect in enforcing it, rather than for their reckless and cruel execution of it.
Question 3.?"What remedy, then, has one conscious of unjust expulsion?"
I answer again, none, according to the Scriptures, excepting from the church expelling him. But then, if she is unrelenting, or tardy in her return to justice,?
1. An opportunity is afforded him to submit humbly to the will of God. He knows that God?s will of purpose is frequently accomplished through the ignorance or wickedness of men. Even the crucifixion of Christ, that event ordained by infinite Grace, was brought about by the wicked action of wicked men. "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." God?s way is in the sea, and his path in the great waters. And though it is inscrutable to him, he sees by the event that it is the Lord?s will that he should be an excommunicated man. He knows that his Father, who has promised that all things shall work together for his good, has some wise purpose to accomplish in him or by him; and his language is, "The will of the Lord be done." However great may be the outrage he suffers, and however trying to the flesh its indication, he is more than compensated if it is sanctified to bring him, like a little child, unmurmuringly and uncomplainingly, at the feet of the Infinite Sovereign.
2. If he has been mistreated because of his principles, an opportunity is afforded him to suffer as a martyr for the truth. The primitive disciples did not esteem it an intolerable hardship thus to suffer. They "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name." One thus meekly suffering for such a cause knows, by experience, what the Saviour meant when He said, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake." And he can "rejoice and be exceeding glad," knowing that "great is his reward in heaven." Nor need have any fear that scriptural principles will be overthrown by his fall; for he knows that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."
3. If his brethren have acted through misapprehension, it remains for him to show, by a well-ordered life and a godly conversation, that they have misunderstood him. If they have willfully mistreated him, he can wait patiently in hope that God?s providence and grace, and the quiet operation of outside public opinion, will revolutionize opinions in the church and bring it right. But if the worst comes, he has the consolation to know,?
4. That expulsion from the church is not expulsion from the kingdom of heaven. His brethren, through mistake, or wickedly, have erased his name from the church-book; but by infinite grace it stands recorded on the Lamb?s book of life. He is cut off from communion with those with whom he was wont to take sweet counsel; but his fellowship is still with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ. He is denied any further membership with God?s visible people; but the church universal recognizes his right to membership. God has given him a position in that glorious company; and no earthly power can deprive him of it. Regenerated by God?s Spirit and called by His grace, kept by His power and guided by His counsel, he will ultimately be received into glory, where he shall be welcomed to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the Apostles and Prophets, in the General Assembly and church of the first-born that are written in heaven. His brethren may avoid him, or view him with repulsive or lowering looks; but he basks in the smiles of God?s countenance, and Christ is to him a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Men may say that he is not worthy of a name among God?s people; but the heavenly comforter bears witness with his Spirit that he is a child of God, and gives him the spirit of adoption, by which he can say, Abba, Father. And when, driven near to God by these afflictions, he attains to the full assurance of faith,?when, trusting only in Christ, he makes his calling and election sure,?condemned though he is by frail and erring mortals, he can adopt for himself the exulting language of the apostle, "Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things I am more than a conqueror through him that loved me. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord."
1No one has written more discriminatingly and forcibly on Church discipline than Elder Joseph S. Baker. From him the present writer took his first lessons on the subject. Bro. Baker does not seem fully to sustain me in this position, but his views are worthy of consideration. He says:?
"There is one error . . . prevalent in our Churches which should be corrected. We allude to the opinion that a violation of the rule by the aggrieved, in bringing an offender before the Church before he has pursued the course prescribed by the Saviour, relieves the Church from the obligation to deal with the individual thus arraigned before them." After reasoning forcibly against this, he lays down two propositions; the first of which is,
1. "A Church is bound to take cognizance of every manifest violation by its members of any of the laws of Christ?s kingdom, with which it becomes acquainted, whether the information of such violation is communicated in regular order or not.
"The reasons for this rule are obvious. The Church is required to set the seal of her disapprobation on every transgression of the law of God. Her obligation to do this is not made to depend, in the slightest degree, upon the means by which she arrives at a knowledge of the transgression; for the character of an offence is not affected in the least by the manner in which it is made known. The magistrate is as much bound to have a band of robbers arrested, when information of their nets of robbery is communicated by one of their own number who has turned a traitor, as when it is communicated by an honest and orderly citizen. And so is the Church as much bound to notice offences committed, when she receives her intelligence through one who is himself an offender, as when she receives it through the most harmless and exemplary of her members. So long as she is ignorant of the offences committed by her members, she is not chargeable with them; but the moment she is made acquainted with them, if she fails to adopt measures for calling the offenders to account, and for preventing the recurrence of like offences in future, she virtually sanctions those offences, bids the offenders God speed, becomes a partaker of their evil deeds, and renders herself amenable both to God and man."?Periodical Library, Vol. I. No. 4 (1847), pp. 262, 263.
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