Manual of Church Discipline
REV. ELEAZER SAVAGE
SECOND CLASS OF OFFENCES; PRIVATE.
To the second class of offences belong private ones, or such as cannot be proved.
We have already said that private offences are personal, in a sense, because they occur between two individuals; yet, because there is no evidence in the case to convict the offender of his wrong, we call it a private offence. For example; one brother takes the property of another, yet is seen by no person except the owner; and there is an entire absence of all circumstantial evidence.
Now the rule of treatment, in such case, is the first part of the whole rule for personal offences, given in the 18th chapter of Matthew.
"Go tell him his fault between thee and him alone;" or, in the corresponding direction of Solomon: "Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself, and discover not a secret to another." ?Prov. 25:9.
Here the Saviour and Solomon are both seen, enjoining a private measure for the correction of a private offence. The sum of the rule is this: Go to your brother alone; seek satisfaction; seek the recovery of the property, and a confession to you of the theft. "If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." If he shall say, "I took it; here it is; I am sorry;" thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear you, then mark this direction?mark it well!?REBUKE IN SECRET, AND LEAVE IT WITH GOD. You must not whisper it in any ear; much less publish and emblazon it to the world. The rule says: "Tell him his fault between thee and him alone," and "discover not a secret to another."
Now the reason on which the rule is based, is this; if the injured brother declare the wrong, he involves himself, because, he has not the proof in the case which the Bible requires. Suppose, for example, he presume to go one step further, and take one or two more brethren with him, to labor the matter, (for witnesses, he has none to take.) In their presence the charge of theft is made and denied. The two attending members ask for proof; but there is none. And what can they do? They hold the two brethren in equal estimation. The word of the one, is as good as that of the other. They cannot decide, therefore, that the brother?s charge of theft, however true, is sustained at all. But, on the other hand, they must become witnesses in a case against him, though he is perfectly innocent as to the truth of the charge. He cannot prove that the real offender has stolen; but the real offender can now prove that he is guilty of defamation. And, for example, the new trial proceeds, and he is found guilty by the testimony of the two brethren, before whom he made the unlawful exposure; and by his own admission of having charged his brother with theft, when he had no sufficient evidence of the fact to convict him before others. He is required to confess, or suffer exclusion. He cannot confess that he has lied; for he knows, before God, that he has told the truth. He is, therefore, excluded, for the church can act only on evidence. Her Lord has told her, that "in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word shall be established."?2 Cor. 13:1. And he, failing to meet the requirement, must unavoidably suffer.
Now, how much better it had been for him, having dealt faithfully with his offending brother in private, to have left the matter; and borne patiently the trial from which Providence had, as yet, furnished him no means of escape; rather than to suffer, in addition to the first trial, the loss of his place among the brethren, the loss of his reputation, besides all the trouble and dishonor, totally unavailing to him, he has brought upon the church. His first case was bad; the last, worse. Hence, in all cases of private offence, nothing can be done for their settlement, beyond private interviews.
Some, however, are not satisfied with this view of the treatment of private offences. They would feel justified in the exposure of sin; nay, would feel it their duty to make the exposure; and do believe that God would, in some way, vindicate them. But, we ask, can they reasonably expect that God will justify them before men, when they set aside his law of evidence? Has he not said, once and again, to the number of seven times, that "every word shall be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses?" If, then, this is God?s way of establishing the guilt of offenders, who dare presume on a new way of exposure, without proof? Let all such pause and examine the statute: "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established."?Deut. 19:15. " Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death, by the mouth of witnesses." ?Num. 35;30. "At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death, be put to death." ?Deut. 17:6. "He that despised Moses? law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses."?Heb. 10:28. "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses."?1 Tim. 5:19. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established."?2 Cor. 13:1. "Take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established."?Matt. 18:16.
Next, listen to the counselings of the wise man on this subject: "Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbor hath put thee to shame. Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself; discover not a secret to another, lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away!"?Prov. 25:8?10.
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