Manual of Church Discipline
REV. ELEAZER SAVAGE
THIRD CLASS OF OFFENCES; PERSONAL.
To the third class of offences belong personal ones. Personal offences are such injuries, of one brother by another, in person, reputation, or property, as can be proved. The case in the inspired statute is thus stated: "If thy brother shall trespass against thee." The parties here, are thy brother and thee?two members of the same church. The offence is indicated by the term trespass, and means, either an abuse of thy person, an attack upon thy character, or a depredation upon thy property.
Now, in case of such trespass or offence, three things must be settled in your own mind, before you take a step, or say a word.
1. Determine the real amount of the wrong committed.
This, of course, may be less or more, and must be something. What it really is, should be accurately determined. It should not be magnified, nor diminished. There would be injustice done to him, or you, in either case. Were we now studying and teaching policy, and not principle, we would say, rather make the wrong too small, than too great. But we do not say this. Every thing right, and sacred, and fair, demands the wrong, the whole wrong, and nothing but the wrong.2 This determined, then,
2. Ascertain what certain proof you have in the case. If you have no proof, the offence is a private one; and you have only to see your brother alone. If you have good and substantial proof to sustain all you prefer, you are so far ready for any extent, to which the labor may possibly proceed. But, if you have not proof, equal to your complaint, then you must reduce your complaint to your proof. You can cut down your charges, and now is the time to do it; but you cannot stretch your proof. This done,
3. See whether the offence would exclude him should the brother persist in his wrong. If he has injured you, even only in a small degree, it is your privilege and your duty to see him alone, and try to show him his wrong, and to obtain satisfaction for it. But it is an INDISPENSABLE RULE, never make that a matter of discipline, and take not only the first and second, but the third steps of labor, which, if persisted in, would not exclude the offender. Because, it would be alike an injury to your brother, and a mortification to you, to go through all the solemn formality of a regular course of labor, and, after all, be judged by the church, as having little or no cause of action. "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on and are punished."?Prov. 22:3.
These three preparatory steps taken, the next thing is your rule. This, for all cases of personal offence, properly so called, you have in Matt. 18:15?17.
"Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou has 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."
We will first, explain this rule, in its simple, regular operation; and then, notice an exception which some make, touching its applicability to which those cases of personal offence, which have been quite publicly committed.
This rule involves three steps of labor, as they are commonly called.
The FIRST STEP is, "Go and tell him his fault between thee and him, alone."
This, in its simple meaning, maybe thus drawn out: Go to thy brother; visit him. Do not stay away, and lock up the disagreeable matter to sour in thy bosom, to fester in the flesh of thine heart. Go. Take the trouble to see him, and have a good understanding immediately effected with him, and thus gain thy brother. "No!" you say, "he has done all the wrong, and he ought to have all the trouble. It is not my duty to go after him. It cannot be, in the nature of the case. It is his duty to come to me, and when he gets here, to make a pretty humble confession too!" Stop, my brother; you are making a new rule. The Master has settled this matter. He has spoken, specifying the case and giving the rule. He has said "If thy brother trespass against thee." Is not this thy case? Well, then, the rule. He has also said, "Go and tell him his fault." Here is the case, and the rule for it. And then the principle, at the base of the rule. He has laid down the same principle for you, which he acted upon himself. He came to save you, though in all your sins. Now he commands you to go and save your brother, notwithstanding his. Moreover, he cautions: "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones." And he reasons: "How think ye? If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, does he not leave the ninety and nine, and go into the mountains, and seek that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoices more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine that went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." And it should not be your wish that one of them should perish. "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke, and not suffer sin upon him." You must visit him, then.
But, further; go and visit him, not only, but "tell him his fault."
FIRST, state the matter of grievance fairly and fully. You have already determined what it is. Now state it. Neither magnify it through anger, nor diminish it through fear.
Then, SECOND, if he deny it, convince him of his wrong, by adducing your sources of proof; for so the word tell means. The original word is employed in several passages, where it is translated convince. For example, Titus 1:9: "Holding fast the faithful word, that ye may be able, by sound doctrine, to convince the gainsayers." And again, John 8:46: "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" So that the direction, "tell him his fault," means convince him of his wrong. And this is to be done by laying the wrong and the way you can prove it?the whole wrong and whole source of proof, so before him, that he will see just what he has now to meet, and just what he must meet again, if the labor proceed further.
And if your ground is right and well sustained, you can hardly fail of producing conviction on his mind. Then add to this, plain, but kind reproof, if necessary; another idea, included in the original word. Entreat, also, as well as convince and reprove. And whether you gain your brother or not, you have done your duty so far.
Next, let the interview be a private one, "between thee and him alone."
Your business now is private reproof, not public reproach. Avoid, therefore, giving publicity to the matter of difference, far as you can. "A just man will not be willing to make of his brother a public example." Besides, suppose you have spoken of his fault to others; and suppose, also, that your pursuit of the "astray sheep," result in your returning with it on your rejoicing shoulder; suppose a free, friendly, faithful, private interview heal the difference; how unhappy, that you have dishonored yourself, and your brother, and the cause of religion, by publishing it!
And, again; the avoidance of publicity is not, by any means, the whole idea. The direction, "between thee and him alone," is not only in the strictest accordance with heavenly prudence, but natural policy. When we have business to do with men, we want to find them alone; and the more especially, if it be business of a delicate or difficult character. And so it should be in this case, even though the offence itself, be quite public. "Between thee and him alone." Who could suggest a wiser policy than this of our Lord? Who dare presume to think of the suggestion? It is admirably natural, safe, and divine!
Then mark, with great care, the three things included in this FIRST step of labor. 1. Go and see your brother; 2. Convince him of his fault; and, 3. Do it in private. Do it all. Do it with a right spirit and with a right aim. Aim to "gain thy brother;" and do it in a spirit of meekness and love. Remember that much, perhaps every thing, depends on success here.
To this explanation of this part of the rule under examination, we add one word of caution in employing it. Do not, for a moment, entertain the false idea, that this first step of labor, was primarily designed to prepare the way for future steps. It is very true, that this step, having been faithfully taken; and having failed to "gain our brother," does prepare the way for subsequent proceedings; but this was not its first design. It was primarily designed to settle the difficulty and stop all further proceeding. Let, then, this first great design of the step, be your design in taking it. Do not think of future steps with your offending brother. Be all absorbed with this one step, as though it were the only one, and the only hope. An almost uniform cause of failure here, is a want of thoroughness. Be thorough, then. Here, in all probability, you gain or lose your brother.
"But if he will not hear thee," then take the SECOND STEP.
"Take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established."
Here two questions very naturally arise in your mind. You ask, who are the "one or two?" And what is the precise character of this transaction?
Three remarks, we think, will satisfactorily answer these questions; and make the whole business of the second step of labor, plain to you and to those who may go with you.
1. The business of the first step, you recollect, was visitation, conviction, reproof, advice, entreaty; and all of it was done by you in the most retired manner possible, and with a view to gain your brother; the business of this step, is of the same nature, precisely; it includes the same parts of service, a corresponding manner, and the same end.
As before, so now, you must still aim to gain your brother. Now, also, you must visit him. Visit him with some others. Not many. "One or two more;" that is, one or two more than went on the first visit; one or two in addition to yourself. Before, you visited him alone; now, you need and must have some with you. And here is the number, "one or two." Take these, and you will have all that will be necessary for every purpose?all the law allows. Take no more; and thus have an interview as near as possible, again, "between thee and him alone." If your brother?s wrong is known to you and the "one or two," only; and you are all so wise as not to mention it to others; and so happy as to gain him, it will need to be known no further.
But you must visit him with one or two more, not only; but, as in the first step of labor convince him of his wrong. The same wrong, described in the same language. You must not change your ground, nor your language. It must be the same wrong which you defined and settled, before you commenced the labor; which you stated distinctly to him, at the time of your first visit; and which you now repeat. Your object, now, is conviction. But, if you waver, you can not fasten conviction on his mind. State the wrong, then, in the same language as before; and proceed, if necessary, to "establish every word" of it. This is to be done by the aid of the "one or two," as "witnesses." And hence you are directed to take them for this very purpose. "Take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established." Every word of your complaint is to be established, by adding the testimony of one or two more; that is, one or two besides yourself. You are a witness against your brother. But, by your testimony alone, his guilt could not be established before others. His contradiction would just balance your complaint. But, if you take "one, he, with yourself, would make "two;" and if you take "two," they, with you, would make "three." And thus, every word would be established by two, in the first case; and by, three in the second, just as the rule and the whole Bible require. The result of this increased and combined testimony would be, to produce conviction of his wrong, in the mind of your brother, if it is in your power to do it.
But, this does not finish the business of this step of labor. As in the first, you added reproof, and advice, and entreaty, to conviction; so, now, you must have your "one or two" fellow laborers do the same. "And if he shall neglect to hear them," the second step of labor is at an end.
Having thus drawn out this step, in its simple process, we subjoin a remark, in the next place, showing its admirable business character, as well as its divine simplicity.
2. The second step of labor involves a trial.
This is clear from the fact, that the "one or two" are represented as "witnesses." Who are witnesses? Persons, who bear testimony in a case, pending between contending parties, in order that the truth of every word of a charge preferred, may be established. If, then, this is an interview for receiving the testimony of witnesses, with a view to present conviction, how clearly it is a trial. But are the "one or two" witnesses? Mark the language: "Take one or two more." This points out the duty of the prosecuting brother. "That in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." This shows the object to be gained, by taking them along with himself, as witnesses. He, then, has the true end of this step; and the right way to gain it. But to gain this end, by the one or two, as witnesses, there must be a trial?a proceeding which shall bring out the complaint; and the admission, or proof of its justice. Either an admission of the justice of the complaint by the offender; or its justice, established by the testimony of witnesses, make a trial of it, less or more. It is very true, that a formal and particular examination of the complaint, and of the evidence on which it rests, may not be necessary for the information of the parties, or the witnesses. The facts in the case, may all have been previously known, to each and to all of them. Still, is there not form to the interview? And what is it? Why, all having come together, the parties, and the witnesses, the offence is stated, by the injured brother. The offender pleads not guilty to the alledged charge. The "one or two" witness to the truth of "every word" of it. They know him to be guilty; and, therefore, testify to the fact; and advise him to give satisfaction. Now is there not form here? Indispensable form? All the form, too, and reality of a regular trial? Hence, the second step of labor, involves a trial.
Before leaving this point, we subjoin a word, upon the heavenly wisdom and the vast importance of this measure. A thorough trial, had in the second step of labor, and the church is saved much time, and spared much perplexity and reproach. Here, matters of difference among brethren in a retired manner, are carefully examined, rejected, settled, or well prepared for the church. No language can sufficiently express the importance of the idea of a trial; a regular trial, substantially, not only here, but in all steps of discipline. All discipline, as we now use the term, supposes "offences." Offences suppose an offender, and one offended. These terms suppose, almost of course, the preferment of a complaint, by the offended, against the offender, before some tribunal. A complaint thus preferred, supposes witnesses to sustain it; and a decision upon the case, by said tribunal. And the whole supposes satisfaction rendered, or punishment inflicted. Now, in each of the three steps of labor, we have all these regular features of a trial. Even in the first, where the offended and the offender are "alone." The injured brother is the complainant, the witnesses and the judge. He states the wrong done; and not only testifies to the fact, but mentions other sources of proof in the case, which he has. And if he fail to "gain his brother," in this interview, he goes again, with "one or two more witnesses." Here, again, the same process; the complaint, the testimony, the decision against the offender. And if all this is unavailing, the case and the result go next to the Church, the Supreme Court of Christ, to pass, with like regularity, under her solemn review; and to receive her final sanction.
How obvious, then, the idea of a trial, in every step of discipline; and how vastly important, that all of us take its deep impression upon our hearts, in order to prevent haste; and ensure regularity and safety in all our disciplinary doings.
3. The second step of labor, not only involves a trial; and makes the "one or two," witnesses; but it also represents them as advisors in the case.
This is clearly implied in the language, which last mentions them. "If he shall neglect to hear them;" that is, refuse to hearken to, and obey their advice; as the original word means. This view places the "one or two," in a very important and responsible light. They are seen as advisors in the case; and, of course, as judges, as well as witnesses. For, advice supposes judgment, and judgment, knowledge. Their knowledge of the facts in the case, qualifies them to bear testimony, not only; but to form a sound judgment, and to give appropriate advice. And to all this service in the case, they are most evidently called.
Their advice may respect two things. They first, advise the offender to give satisfaction, fully and promptly. "If he neglect to hear them"?refuse to heed their advice; they, second, advise the injured brother, to "tell it unto the church."
And their advice may be called for in another case. Suppose wrong has been done, and that they were witnesses of it; but a wrong of such nature as could not result in exclusion, if carried to the church; and as requires the aggrieved brother to administer simple admonition; and then act on the rule of forbearance. In such case, they should advise him to relinquish the labor; and if it be a burden, to bear it.
This whole view carries, upon its face, the idea that the "one or two" are brethren?-members of the same church with the parties, as a probable and a general thing; although others, might be the only "witnesses." Facts are in harmony with this construction. Injuries inflicted by one member on another, are commonly known to other members of the same church. And fellow members are generally "witnesses" and advisers, in cases of personal difficulty and discipline. And then, the rule places the "one or two" on an exact level with the injured brother and the church, as advisers. Mark the language.
"If he will not hear thee." "If he shall neglect to hear them.?? "If he neglect to hear the church." They, hence, are advisers in the case, as much as the prosecuting brother and the church are; and, therefore, need to be pious men; and doubtless are, generally, brethren.
Regarding the "one or two" as brethren, then; and their service, as highly important and responsible, we subjoin a few hints to such, calculated, if heeded, to insure success in their painful labors.
Such persons should be "full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom." Their service is highly, a spiritual one. "Ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness." They should be men who fear God supremely; and who will feel an equal sympathy for their differing brethren, and the suffering cause; men, who are, and who will be felt to be, impartial men, by the trespassing brother; otherwise, he will not, of course "hear them." They should solemnly consider, that they are called upon to testify, judge, and advise in a case of difference between brethren; and that some, even slight, defect in their temper, testimony, judgment, or advice, may turn the scales against success.
And as a successful termination, depends much upon a right beginning, it might be well for them, in every case, and as soon as convened, to inquire whether the first step of labor has been duly taken. Because, if it has not, they should not act in the case. The Saviour has placed the first step of labor, before the second; and so must the injured brother, if he will walk correctly. If, upon inquiry, then, they find it has not been taken; that it has been passed over, on any account, whatever, the parties should be left "alone," to make an attempt, at an amicable adjustment of their differences. But, if they find the first step of labor, declared on the one hand, and admitted on the other, to have been duly taken, the trial may lawfully proceed.
If, now, the questions return: Who are the "one or two?" And what is the precise character of this transaction?
We answer: The second step of labor is a trial; held in a retired manner; by an injured brother, attended by his witnesses; in order to convict an offender of his fault, and gain him.
And the "one or two" are witnesses, judges, and advisers, in the same sense, substantially, that the prosecuting brother is.
And they naturally become "witnesses," also, before the Church; provided the case is carried there. The knowledge they have gained from the trial, in addition to what they before possessed, highly qualifies them to bear an intelligent and hearty testimony, before the Church, to the guilt and desert of the offender; and, also, to the faithfulness of the injured member, in laboring to gain his brother. And to this service they would, of necessity, be called, upon the presentation of the case to that tribunal, by the prosecuting brother. Without their presence, and their testimony, he could not be sustained, either in his charge of wrong, or declaration of faithfulness in attempting to correct it.
"And if he shall neglect to hear them," take the THIRD and LAST STEP of labor. "Tell it unto the Church."
This is made the duty, the last duty, of the prosecuting brother in the case. "Tell it unto the Church." Now, mark the proper manner. Address the Moderator. Say to him, "I have a matter of personal difficulty to lay before the Church." Here stop. Do not state what it is. Call no names. If he understand his duty, he will ask six questions, principally to you; thus preparing the way for its proper admission.
1. Have you taken the first step of labor? You answer, "I have."
2. Have you taken the second step? "I have."
3. Did you, in this last step, have "one or two" with you, as "witnesses" and advisers; and are they present? " I had, and they are here. Brother B. and Mr. S."
4. Brother B. and Mr. S., are all these things so? "They are."
5. Have you notified the offending brother, that you should tell your grievance unto the Church today? "I have, and he is present."
6. Have you the complaint with the testimony of the witnesses, in writing. "I have."
These precautionary steps being thus taken, the Clerk reads the complaint, and the testimony of the witnesses. And the Moderator calls on brother B. and Mr. S. for their testimony, that this same complaint was preferred and examined, in a second step of labor; and that it was fully sustained according to this paper. They testify to this effect. And thus in the mouth of witnesses, again, every word of the complaint is established.
The case thus before the Church, the Moderator calls on the offender for satisfaction; or to show cause why he does not render it. His reply satisfies no one; except it be of his guilt. The brethren next, generally expostulate with him. But "he neglects to hear the Church."
His exclusion, by unanimous vote, next follows; and that, with the reasons of it, is accurately entered upon her blushing records. He is now to be regarded "as an heathen man and a publican;" that is, as the worst of men, in the estimation of a Jew. He should be furnished with a letter, containing the fact of his exclusion, with the reasons of it.
Or, suppose, the case, (and such a case there might be,) that some of the members of the Church are not entirely satisfied to exclude now. Suppose they wish a review of the case. This may be had.
Or, suppose again, that the Church are seriously divided in opinion, respecting the case. The importance of unanimity, would suggest moderation; and, as the next best measure, an invitation to some two, or three, or more, able and impartial ministers and brethen to attend the next church meeting, as counsellors, and sit with the Church; and hear the case; and aid to an amicable and unanimous decision. A course, we are frank to say, which we prefer, decidedly, before ordinary councils.
For, be it remembered, the sole power of decision upon all cases of Discipline, is in the Church. This is the divine constitution. Touching the ultimate reference of all matters, the direction is specific and final. "Tell it unto the church; but if he shall neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican!? This makes the Church the only proper judicatory, before which matters of difficulty can be brought; and the only proper court, wielding the power of ultimate decision.
In strict accordance with this view of the Saviour, is the direction of the Apostle to the Corinthian believers. He writes them as a Church; and as a Church, he directs them, "when gathered together to deliver their incestuous member unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh; to put away that wicked person."?1 Cor. 5. In his second letter to this same Church, touching this same case, he expresses his judgment, that the punishment of the excluded member, inflicted by the majority, had been "sufficient," and directs them to "forgive him and confirm their love to him;" that is, restore him. 2 Cor. 2. So, in writing the Thessalonian Church, he recognises her power and her duty, in the discipline of "disorderly walkers."?2 Thess. 3. Hence, the exclusion and the restoration of persons, lie with the Church, and of course, all the processes connected with them.
Still, there may be cases, in which the Church may need assistance. And when, on any account, she may be too weak to bring forth judgment, it may be as highly advisable, as it is admissable, for her to invite two or three or more able and impartial ministers or brethren, to sit with her, hear and advise. Then, no decision will, or ever can be spoken of, but that of the Church. These men do not vote; they only advise the Church how to vote. They aid her; but do not supersede her. They make her, and leave her, all and in all, just as her Maker and Master did.
In connection with this examination of personal offences, and the proper rule of treating them, it will be proper to consider that particular case of personal offence mentioned in the 6th chapter of 1 Corinthians, with the rule laid down for its treatment; and its admirable accordance, in principle, with the rule in the 18th chapter of Matthew, which we have just been considering.
"Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? If, then, ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge, who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame! Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No! not one, that shall be able to judge between his brethren! But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong and defraud, and that your brethren."
On the face of this paragraph, we may see five things:
1. That the difficulty among the Corinthian brethren was of a pecuniary character; about property; "things that pertain to this life."
2. That they had recourse to the law to settle their matters of difference; and that before heathen judges, under pretence that their brethren were incompetent to judge. "But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers; before the unjust and not before the saints."
3. That the holy Apostle spurns this idea, and argues their competence from the fact, that they shall "judge the world and angels." "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? I speak to your shame! Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No! not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?"
4. That he established a rule, which provides for the happy adjustment of all "matters" of pecuniary difference.
It is this: Refer your matters of difference to your brethren. Mark his language. "If, then, ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge which are least esteemed in the church." That is, not those who are justly held in low estimation, in view of their intellectual and moral worth; but, brethren, who are now, in fact, as the original word simply means, undervalued, neglected, and set at naught, by you, notwithstanding they are "wise men"?men, "able to judge between their brethren." The rule, then, is, leave all matters of pecuniary difference to wise and able brethren, instead of going to law.
5. We see, also, that there is an admirable accordance, between the principle, laid down here by Paul; and that laid down by the Saviour in the 18th chapter of Matthew, for the settlement of personal difficulties.
We have defined personal offences to be injuries of a brother?s person, reputation, or property. Here we have a case of the latter kind. The injury of a brother?s property. Now, suppose a brother, thus injured, take the rule in the 18th chapter of Matthew for his guide. He first, makes a fair attempt to settle the matter "between himself and his brother alone.?? And this by the by, would be a natural way, in the case, whether a member of a church or not, if he meant to do right and avoid difficulty. But, not succeeding, instead of sueing him at the law, he "takes one or two more;" "sets wise men;"?able to judge between their brethren, and, if possible, to testify, also; precisely as the Saviour and Paul have directed. They hear the charge. They witness to its truth; or hear it witnessed to. They judge the alledged offender guilty. They advise him to make reparation. He does so, and the matter is amicably settled. Or, suppose he refuse to give satisfaction. They advise the injured brother to lay the case before the Church. He does so, and the matter eventuates in the offender?s exclusion; and in his exposure to prosecution, as another man.
Who now, but sees the Saviour, and his servant Paul, agreeing in their principles of discipline? And who, but must see, that the rule laid down by the Saviour, and thus sustained by the apostle, must operate most efficiently, and therefore properly in every case of personal offence, where there is proof?
But, we suppose again, while on the subject of sueing at the law. Suppose a case of pecuniary injury, in which it is impracticable for the law for personal offences to operate. For example, a brother is on the point of removal; or is removing; is not only in debt, but is becoming an absconding debtor; or, is just putting his property out of his hands: then, and in that case, the question is, What is it right to do? Well, the Gospel allows no sueing at the law; and let us remember, if we do sue, in any possible case, its operation should not be inconsistent with the public mind, the honor of the cause, the real good of the parties, and the strictest principles of justice and benevolence. We "speak this, not of commandment."
We are now brought to consider the exception, which we promised to notice. It is this; that the rule in the 18th of Matthew is not necessary to be observed in those cases of personal offence which have been quite publicly committed.
On this exception, and the rule itself, we make two remarks.
1. We believe the rule in the 18th of Matthew is primarily and peculiarly applicable to all those cases of personal offence, which are but a little known when first committed. Because, the majority of personal offences, are of this character; and the right employment of this rule, was designed and is calculated, to heal budding difficulties in private; and avoid painful exposures of our erring brethren.
2. We also believe, that this rule is applicable to, and therefore, should be employed in, every case of personal offence, however publicly committed and generally known.
This opinion is founded upon the five following reasons:
1. The rule is plain, absolute, and without exception, as laid down by the master. "If thy brother trespass against thee; go and tell him his fault; take one or two more; tell it unto the church." This is the rule for the case; the only rule; a rule without the exception in question. Secrecy does not qualify the transgression; but the measure for correcting it.
2. The rule cannot operate at all, beyond the first step, unless the offence be public; or at least, known to some extent. It must be known to witnesses, or there can be no trial; and there must be a trial, "that every word may be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses."
Now, if some degree of publicity is the life of the rule, who will undertake to say that much destroys it.
3. The rule operates most efficiently in every case of personal offence, however public, and, on that account, aggravated it may be. The chief difference, in the two supposed cases, is, the one offence is more generally known, than the other; and, therefore, the greater for this reason; and consequently, the greater satisfaction is required. Now let the rule operate. The prosecuting brother requires, in the nature of the case, a satisfaction ample as the injury to himself and the cause. He is satisfied, when the public, as well as the personal reproach is wiped away. His demand is precisely what, that of the church and the public, is. Taking this rule, and going upon the principle, that all who have been witnesses of the wrong, must also be witnesses of the reparation, every man will, at last, be satisfied with the full confession, or the fearful excommunication of the offender.
4. The faithful employment of this rule ensures universal approbation, as well as absolute success, in all cases of personal offence, however public. You employ this rule, and none will presume to fault you. You neglect it, and some will censure you. The one course is plain, the other, doubtful.
5. This rule will operate well, even in a mixed case. We mean, when the same "trespass" is both against a brother and the church. For example, should one brother slander another in church meeting. This would be a violation of the order of the church, and an abuse of the brother. Now, suppose the offender should be asked by the brother, or the church, either, to make satisfaction; and should refuse to do so. Of course, nothing could be done, at that time. But every one knows, that something must be done. He must be waited upon in some way. Now for the rule of procedure. Suppose you appoint a committee to wait upon him and report. This may answer. It may bring him to make satisfaction, both to the church and the injured brother, at the next church meeting. But, it is a rule of your own invention. And what is it better than the rule of Christ?
Now, see that operate, in this same case. The injured brother estimates the whole offence. He feels the slander personally; and the disorder, in common with others. He goes to his brother and when he is cool, and "alone;" tells him his fault; tries to convince him of his wrongs of disorder and slander. Does not succeed. "Takes one or two more," (of course, acquainted with the case,) to expostulate with him. Fails again. Next, it comes to the church, where it began. The church do not ask proof of the offence; they witnessed it. They ask, has every thing been done to gain him? Now what committee could make a better report, than the injured brother and his "one or two" fellow laborers? Who does not see that while he has done his own duty, in correcting a personal injury; he has also served the church, in bringing an incorrigible public offender to her bar for punishment? And all in a most natural, inoffensive, and efficient way?his Lord?s own appointed way.
We, therefore, cannot see why the rule, in question, should not be employed in every case of personal offence, however public; although primarily and peculiarly applicable to cases less known.
2The wrong, whatever it is, in nature and name, you would do well, at this time, to reduce to writing. There are two reasons for this: 1. Sometimes a matter of difference is more imaginary than real; and looks much larger in the mind, than it would on paper. If you write it, therefore, you will, by necessity, think more closely upon it, and will be likely to reduce it, and make it as small as possible, and give it a right name. 2. The wrong thus reduced to writing, will be, so far, ready for the church, if it have ultimately to be presented there. We believe it is considerably common, and certainly a very business-like and safe way, for the injured brother to present to the church, in writing, a statement of the wrong done, with the testimony of witnesses, and a history of his course in the case. Such a paper, you perceive, contains three parts: 1. A statement of the injury received; 2. The testimony of the witnesses to prove it; and, 3. A history of the steps taken by the injured member, to gain his erring brother. Now is the time for you to begin this paper, by a statement of the wrong done, in the prayerful hope that you may never have occasion to finish it.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved