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Manual of Church Discipline





To the first class of offences belong minor ones; the smaller offences; what are commonly called imperfections of Christians; such as should be borne.

For example, Levity, a light and trifling deportment, a want of becoming seriousness and stability. Irritability, the susceptibility of being easily exasperated; soon angry; habitually fretful. Loquacity, a propensity to talk too much; to speak imprudently. Forwardness, a tendency to overact; to go too far; to be obtrusive; to be the greatest. Backwardness, an inclination to fall upon the back-ground, to never come up to the line of duty; a shrinking from obligation and responsibility; a hanging, like a dead weight, upon the wheels of devotion and usefulness. Littleness, a disposition to stick and contend for one?s own way in unimportant matters. It may be seen, also in thinking more of cents, than liberal men do, of dollars. And many other like features of character. To which may be added, many of the minor and ordinary defects in Christian sentiment and Christian practice.

Now there are three views to be taken of these infirmities of Christians: why they may properly be considered offences; the reasons for forbearance; and the rule of treatment.

1. Why they may properly be considered offences. They may be so considered, because, they are plain violations of the principles and precepts of the gospel. Here, gravity, meekness, slowness to speak, humbleness of mind, readiness to every good work, liberality, in a word, amiability, are directly opposed to levity, irritability, loquacity, forwardness, backwardness, littleness, in a word, unloveliness of character. So that, these imperfections cannot exist, without constant violations of some of the finest portions of Divine requirement. Of course, when they are seen in their fellow-members by good men, they will be, they must be, sources of lively regret; and it may be, under certain circumstances, of constant injury and suffering. Moreover, these traits of character are the more trying, because so difficult of correction. Seen in her members, they seem entailed upon the Church; and often become a living affliction to her. She sighs over repeated foibles and failures, and feels the keen anguish of an affectionate parent over an unlovely child. Still, they furnish the occasion for forbearance, as well as faithfulness.

2. We notice the reasons for the exercise of forbearance in such cases. In the first place, they may be constitutional infirmities. There is, doubtless, a very great difference in the original constitution of men; a difference, both in their mental and physical structure, as well as a difference arising from early habit and peculiar circumstances. We have numerous specimens of such difference, not only in the members of every church, but, the children of every family. We see and acknowledge the difference; and readily admit the impracticability of making the dissimilar members alike, because, the cause of the difference lies deep, having its seat in the texture of the mind?in the gristle and bone. Cecil says of Melancthon and Luther, that "Melancthon was like a snail with his couple of horns; he puts out his horns, and feels?and feels?and feels. But Luther dashes in saying his things; cuts everything to pieces; is like a case of instruments." The difference was constitutional. And Paul has said, "Every man has his peculiar gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that;" a truth, which, whether it allude to differences in the elements of the constitution given, or in the degrees of grace imparted, equally challenges the kind consideration of our brother?s peculiarities.

Hence, the reason for forbearance is this, those unhappy traits which are constitutional; or the result of early habit and peculiar circumstances, are exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, of correction, whether the individual or the church undertake the labor. Besides, it costs some men, owing to peculiarity of constitution and habit, as much again to live Christian lives, as it does others. This consideration, alone, should induce large forbearance. We often indulge in censoriousness, where we ought to exercise commiseration. Bold Peter condemns modest John.

Again; we should remember that there are some things, perhaps, that may be viewed in the light of constitutional deficiencies. Well, "that which is wanting, cannot be numbered." If one scholar in your school, were naturally duller than the rest, would you not rather help, than hurt him?"

All, perhaps, again, have their constitutional defects. We, ourselves, may have our imperfections, if not of the same kind, or so glaring and unhappy as those of others. And we are taught, while we attempt to correct others, to "consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted." If "in the same condemnation" to any extent, we do well to be lowly, rather than lifted up; sympathetic, instead of severe.

And, once more: this class of offences furnishes the only occasion for the exercise of forbearance. Forbearance is often enjoined as a duty. It signifies, to bear with another. But, of course, not in all cases. There are instances of high offence, where the exercise of forbearance would be a sin, a cringing meanness; on other and counter occasions, a high virtue, a generous magnanimity. And such, we conceive, are the occasions we have just had under consideration.

3. We proceed next to examine the rule of treatment.

First, we premise; always consider, when an offence of the SMALLER KIND has been committed, whether it should be the subject of Christian forbearance, or discipline. This is the first thing to be determined, although it may sometimes be difficult to say where forbearance should terminate, and discipline begin. If, in the light of the nature of Christian infirmities, and the reasons for bearing with them, you conclude it your duty to exercise forbearance in the case, then, the rule is at hand. It is very simple, and striking in its application, as simple. It is found in Romans, 15:1.

"We, then, that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves."

We, then, that are strong; not strong, to knock down; but strong, to bear up; strong, to sustain burdens; strong, to receive a weak brother; strong enough, to go without meat, if it make him to be offended; strong, to please him for his good, to edification.

The rule, however, includes, not only sympathy, but aid; the free, faithful pointing out of defects, with the best method of overcoming them. The spirit of the rule forbids our suffering sin, or even infirmity upon a brother, provided we can aid him in working its riddance. The spirit of the rule is benevolence.

But perhaps you may determine the offence properly disciplinable, and not demanding forbearance. For, we believe there is one exception to the principle laid down. And, in concluding our remarks under this head, it is proper to say, that there are cases when members may be regarded, on the whole, as Christians; and their repeated offences, as constitutional infirmities, or, at least, as infirmities rooted by education and riveted by habit and therefore, well nigh impossible of correction; and yet, they are so great dishonor to the cause, and so great grief to their brethren, as to require their removal from the church. In the case of many, we do know it extremely difficult for them to live so, as to do honor to the cause. In the case of a few, it seems utterly impossible. And when this fact is once ascertained, they should be removed, painful as exclusion in such case may be. It is a forcible remark of some one, that "it will be time enough to know some Christians, when they get to heaven." And why some want to be known as professors, when to be known is to be despised; why they wish membership in a church, when they cannot adorn it, is a problem we are utterly unable to solve on any principle, which would do honor to their understandings, or their hearts.

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