Manual of Church Discipline
REV. ELEAZER SAVAGE
FOURTH CLASS OF OFFENCES; PUBLIC.
To the fourth class of offences, belong public ones. A public offence is one which equally injures all the members of the church; and for which all require an equal satisfaction.
It may not be improper, in this place, to notice a distinction, we have before made; and which should be clearly seen, between public personal offences, and public offences, properly so called.
While, in a case of simple public offence, all the members are equally injured; the same is not true, in case of a personal offence, however publicly, it may have been committed. All may require satisfaction, in the latter case; but not as much as the injured brother.
Two examples will illustrate the distinction. Suppose a brother be guilty of profane swearing publicly. This would be a public offence, and would equally injure all the members. But suppose again, the same individual be guilty of circulating false reports against a member. This would be a public personal offence, injuring an individual more than all the members besides. In the former case, the case of profanity, he would not consider himself called upon, more than the other members were, to correct the offender. But in the latter case he would. The public offence, would arouse the Church; the personal one, the individual. Now all this is natural. So it is in State as well as Church. A breach of the public peace would be prosecuted in the name of the people. In a case of personal injury, the injured individual seeks redress in his own name and way.
Having thus defined public offences, we proceed to consider some cases, mentioned in the Apostolic Epistles, with the methods of treatment required. And, as what is very strongly marked, we notice, in the first place, "heresy."
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ; but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."?Rom. 16. "There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. And many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth; shall be evil spoken of."?2 Pet. 2. "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing; but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth; from such withdraw thyself."?1 Tim. 6. "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself."?Tit. 3. "And of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them."?Acts. 20. "Of whom is Hymeneus and Phyletus; who, concerning the truth, have erred, saying, the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some."?2 Tim. 2.
What, now, is the precise character of the offence, mentioned in these passages? It is heresy. By which is meant, however, something more, than the term is generally supposed to mean. "An heretic," in the scriptural sense of the word, was a man unsound in doctrine, and the leader of a faction, or head of a new sect. Hence, such men are said to be "subverted;" that is, overturned, as to their professed faith in the gospel. And "not to consent to the doctrine which is according to godliness;" to "bring in damnable heresies;" to "cause divisions contrary to the doctrine learned; and by good words and fair speeches to deceive the hearts of the simple;" and "to draw away disciples after them."
The grand characteristics of an "heretic" are strictly four: unsoundness of sentiment, selfishness of aim, flattering pretensions, and successful generalship. The case, then is a plain, and not an uncommon one. For example, a brother becomes a Mormon, in sentiment. Of course he will preach his peculiar views; and, almost of course, if a man of ambition, tact, and influence, will succeed in seducing the artless and unsuspecting; and drawing them away with him. Such, now, is a case of heresy.
The case is a plain one, and the treatment required and to be employed, is equally plain. 1. "Mark them which cause divisions. Mark them! that is, eye their movements with waking jealousy and keenest vigilance. 2. Administer "the first and second admonition;" that is, plainly and with repetition, point out their errors; and faithfully exhort them to abandon them. 3. And finally, if they do not repent of the pernicious influence of their new sentiments and measures, promptly exclude them; as three directions in the case require. "From such withdraw thyself.?? "Avoid them." "Reject a man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition."
In the 5th chapter of 1 Corinthians, we have grouped together a number of public offences. "But now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard; or an extortioner; with such a one; no, not to eat."
Let us briefly examine these cases:
First, "fornication." That particular case of fornication, which is the principle subject of this chapter, was regarded by the holy apostle, as a case of incest, most notorious and aggravating; and which demanded immediate exclusion. It, therefore, falls under the head of insufferable offences; the last class of offences to be considered. But cases of moral impurity, far less aggravating, may occur; and may justly require moderation and labor, on the part of the church. Such are, therefore, properly public offences.
Immediately associated with this case, is covetousness. "If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator or covetous." That is, a covetous person; one who, as the original word means, has an inordinate craving for gain; a "greediness for filthy lucre;" that is, an eagerness for dishonorable gain. And who, for the sake of gain, not only withholds; but defrauds, and perhaps, even steals. Covetousness is a sin of so common and so flagrant a character as to require to be very distinctly marked. It is a disease, (might we so liken it,) when far advanced and deeply sealed, which is attended with three very plain symptoms.
1. By a groaning or grumbling about poverty, amidst real and unconcealable wealth. The tongue, in this case, bears the marks of a very reddish falsity.
2. By an entire absence of all warmth and sympathy for the cause of religion in the region of the heart. This manifests itself by shiverings, and shuttings and lockings up of "the bowels of compassion;" and by a receding of the life-current, from the extremities, the moment you begin to take the hand, and feel for the pulsations of interest for the cause.
3. And by a uniform muttering of complaints, as well as excuses. This is one of its most prominent features.
Covetous men are not content with making refusals; they must utter complaints. They have a fault-finding spirit. Whatever the object, they must raise some objection. We have never known such men to do much good, for two reasons: They are so occupied with their money, they have not the time; and so in love with it, they have not the disposition. A man who is liberal with his money, is liberal with every thing else. These men are liberal with nothing, except complaints. If so, they must do hurt, rather than good, under a Christian profession. And if so, their guilt and their desert are alike obvious. The apostle often mentions this sin, and that, in connexions, showing its fearful enormity. "Be not not deceived; neither fornicators, nor theives, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." "For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." Now, if the sin of covetousness is so utterly inconsistent with an admission into Heaven, is it not, also, plainly inconsistent with a standing in the Church? Most certainly it is. And hence its classification with fornication, and other like sins, is not only to show its marked moral deformity, but positive desert of severest punishment. Hence covetousness is a public offence, easily detected; and deserves and demands the notice of the Church; and prompt exclusion, if persisted in.
While on covetousness, we subjoin a word, upon the true principle of raising money, for the defrayment of Church expenses, as these home "gatherings," (strange to tell!) are among the occasions, for the development of this foul plague-spot of Zion. Voluntary donations, as in primitive and even olden times, should be made by each member, according to his pecuniary ability, for this purpose. (See Lev. 5;7. 14;21. Ezra 2;69. Neh. 5;8. Acts 2;44?45. 4;32?37.11;29. 1 Cor. 16;2. 2 Cor. 8;11?14. 9;5?7.) And when a member, in the judgment of the Church, does not do his part, he should be instructed in his duty, if ignorant; and encouraged to do his part fully; and if he refuse, he should be considered as covetous, and his covetousness as a public offence, and disciplinable.
Next, railing. "If any man that is called a brother, be a railer." That is, a loud, insulting reviler; one who uses opprobious and abusive language in speaking of his fellow-men; one from whose bitter lips is constantly rushing a torrent of censorious remark.
Next, drunkenness. "If any man that is called a brother, be a drunkard." That is, not one who may have been, accidentally though imprudently, overtaken by intoxication; and who may thus have committed a public offence; but strictly one who is "known, and read," and called, "of all men," a drunkard; one who habitually uses intoxicating drinks, so as to disguise himself less or more.
Next, extortion. "If any man that is called a brother, be an extortioner." This offence might seem to be nearly allied to covetousness; and so it is. Covetousness is the root; this, the fruit. One describes the feelings of the heart; the other, the acts of the life. Covetousness eagerly pants for gain; extortion, ravenously seizes it. The original term, means to be rapacious, and is applied to beasts of prey. Applied to men, it means those, who, like beasts of prey, will take all they can get; and that with just as little principle. It means those who oppress for gain; who not only dare, but delight, to take more than their due; who "defraud, and that their brethren." A remarkable case of the entire destitution, both of the integrity and the benevolence of the gospel.
It may be observed, in this place, and before noticing the rule here laid down for the treatment of these several offences; that although usually public offences, two of them, namely, railing and extortion, become personal when committed against a member in the same church with the offender. Then, and in that case, the rule for personal offences, should operate. The injured brother, instead of the Church, should take the laboring oar. But, when these offences are committed against persons out of the church, and in the society, we have no law, requiring such injured individual to correct our erring brother. The offence is a public one; and for his correction the Church is held responsible; and she must, by prompt action, show all whom it may concern, that she both understands her duty, and is ready to do it.
And the rule is before her. The same rule is laid down as equally applicable to each of the five public offences, here mentioned. "But now I have written unto you, if any man that is called a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, not to keep company with such an one; no, not to eat." This rule, proceeding upon the principle that the offender is irreclaimable; and therefore, necessarily and promptly removed from the church; includes and enjoins two things, designed to regulate our conduct toward excluded persons, who are high offenders; and to add merited weight to the excinding blow.
1. A strict avoidance of free and familiar intercourse. "I have written unto you not to keep company with such an one." There should be friendly feeling towards such guilty and unhappy individual; but, after exclusion, he should be made to feel the amazing weight of the solemn sentence by corresponding conduct, on the part of every member of the Church.3 To each and to all, he is to be as alien, as "an heathen man and a publican" to a Jew. 2. A refusal to participate with him at social meals. That is, to "dine or take tea" with him, as we should express it; "No, not to eat." This cannot mean eating at the Lord?s table, because, in that case, the apostle would have said, "not keep company," much less, partake with him at the Lord?s table. This would have been an ascending from the less to the greater; whereas he evidently descends from the greater to the less. "Not keep company; no, not to eat." That is not even to eat. Nor can this signify the avoidance of common family meals, which might be quite as impossible, in point of fact, as inconsistent with certain scriptural relations and duties. But it may mean, and evidently does mean a refusal of all such social interchanges; such visitings and receiving visits; and such groupings around the social board as express a familiarity with, and a fellowship for, the party, our act of disfellowship to the contrary, notwithstanding.
The substance of the rule, then, as implied and expressed, is, exclude such and shun them, being offenders of high degree.
We have another and rather singular case of public offence, in the 3d chapter of Paul?s 2d letter to the Thessalonians:
"Now we command you, brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly; for we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all: but are busy-bodies. Now them that are such, we command that with quietness they work and eat their own bread; and if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy; but admonish him as a brother."
The whole offence seems to be, indolence and meddling with the affairs of others. The term "disorderly," originally, was spoken of soldiers who desert their ranks; and means, to be neglectful of one?s own duties; to abandon recklessly one?s own proper place and labor; in the language of the text, to "work not at all;" to live on others. It describes a set of men who were drones in God?s hive; consuming the common stock; who were more willing to eat than earn their bread. And it may now forcibly apply to men who are slack in domestic duties?the duties of home; who "provide not for their own house."
The first part of the offence, then, is indolence. The other term, busy-bodies, which indicates the other, counter and corresponding part of it, as employed in the Scriptures, was applied to a set of individuals, who were uselessly employed; and particularly officious in other men?s matters; who were as busy in the concerns of others, as they ought to have been in their own; like flies, every where present, annoying and hateful; and who of course, were exceedingly obtrusive and unamiable characters.
Now for the rule of treatment.
1. "Note that man." That is, point him out?expose him to all. Let him know that he is an object of the godly jealousy of the Church. "Exhort him, by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness he work and eat his own bread," and thus mind his own business. And if he do not reform:
2. "Withdraw yourselves from him." That is, withdraw the band of fellowship from him?exclude him. "Now, we command you, brethren, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly; for we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all; but are busy-bodies."
3. "Have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." That is, be not familiar; treat such, coolly. Thus shame them; put them to the blush, for this is the object; that they may be ashamed; that is, of their conduct, and so reform.
4. "Yet, count him not as an enemy; but admonish him as a brother." Count him not as an enemy. Do not let your dislike ripen into enmity. But admonish him as a brother. He may be a Christian, though so unlovely in character; and so undesirable in company. Therefore admonish him; point out his faults, as you may occasionally fall in with him; explain the reasons of your distance; and let him know, that, unless he reforms he must expect to be as unhappy in your presence, as you are in his.
In addition to these instances of public offence, contained in the Epistles, we include and mention several others, under the head of Covenant-breaking.
The Church Covenant contains a rich and beautiful summary of Christian duties; and contemplates the formation of every member to the highest excellence and loveliness of character. Every member, upon joining the Church, and signing this instrument, pledges himself to the performance of something like the following duties: 1. To control his temper; not to cherish revengeful anger. 2. To watch his conversation; avoiding jesting, evil speaking, and profanity. 3. To take heed to his company; not to associate with tavern-haunters, and the like men. 4. To study a peaceful, quiet, orderly deportment, at home and abroad, in the church and in the family. 5. To be just in all his pecuniary transactions with his fellow-men. 6. To be useful; to do good to all men. 7. To "remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." 8. To maintain family worship. 9. To watch over his fellow-members for good. And, 10. To attend the meetings of the Church, for preaching, prayer, observance of the ordinances, and business.
Now, a failure to redeem all or any of these pledges, may be called, Covenant-breaking; and should be corrected as a public offence, except the failure injure some fellow member, in which case it would be a personal one.
We can scarcely forbear, in this place, it is so important to be plain upon this subject, to specify, quite distinctly, a few cases of Covenant-breaking and public offence; and especially, as they are so frequently occurring, and so commonly neglected.
1. Simple neglect of the duties, arising from church relation.
For example, a brother, habitually or frequently neglects the Sabbath worship, the stated and special meetings of the Church; and appears to be, and is, indifferent to the interests of the cause. He has broken his covenant, and is guilty of a public offence.
2. Offence with the Church, and non-submission to majority.
For example, a brother takes offence with the Church, for some of her acts; leaves his seat at the Lord?s table, and on the Sabbath; declares non-fellowship and non-submission; and thus trifles with the feelings of the members, and with his own standing. He also, has violated his covenant obligations in several particulars; and is guilty of a public offence, which is attended with some circumstances of high aggravation.
Some bring into the Church, from the very nursery, their furious tempers and habits of insubordination. They used to have their own way; they mean to have it still. They are ardent, ambitious, self-willed, and impatient of restraints and failures. And when they chance to be in the minority, they rebel, and factiously disturb the peace of the church or leave it. Such men are often great troublers of Israel. They are wrong, altogether wrong; their offence public, and severely disciplinable; provided always, that the Church has been open, deliberate, and fair, in canvassing and deciding the disputed question. In such case, each member has freely and fully expressed his views, and voted as he pleased. He can ask no more. He must submit, or suffer exclusion.
3. Leaving our place at the table of the Lord, because some member has injured us.
For example, a brother receives a real injury from another member, and feels so keenly tried, that he knows not how to commune with him; and so leaves his place, during the time of the celebration of the Lord?s Supper. He has committed a two-fold offence; a public offence against the Church, by neglecting the ordinance which he covenanted to observe, without any such exception as he now makes; and a personal one against the brother implicated, by such a method of exposure. We say exposure, because a faithful Pastor and Church will inquire after the reason of neglect. And they are entitled to the true reason. This given, and behold! the untimely exposure of the erring brother! Now, there was a right way to expose him, had he refused to give satisfaction in private interviews. The statute points it out; but alas! he has presumed to take this way to do it. Before the hour of communion, he was innocent; now, he is guilty of a two-fold offence, and exposed to a two-fold punishment. He must now, according to strict justice, confess to the Church and acknowledge to the brother; or suffer exclusion.
And we may further remark, this brother?s mistake is a common one; one fearfully common. A mistake, which arises from a prevailing misapprehension of the design of the ordinance. It is supposed to be intended to express, primarily Christian union and fellowship; whereas, this is only incidental. The primary design was to "remember" Christ; and not each other. The eye and heart of each communicant, are on the crucified one; and not on his fellow. And suppose he love his Lord so intensely; and remember Him with such absorbing interest, as to forget all around him; what harm? The existence of union and fellowship, we do not deny; but they are not direct; they are circuitous and consequential. They are like the union and fellowship of distant members, through the medium of the body. The sacred stream runs, like the life-blood, from one extremity to the other; from member to member; but it is through the medium of the heart. So that, if we meet at all, and taste the sweets of Christian union, and Divine fellowship, at the table of the Lord, it is in Christ. And this, at best, is a consequence resulting from the primary design.
Be it remembered, therefore, by all, that, if we so magnify Christian union and communion with one another, as to eclipse communion with Christ; and so much remember our brother?s sins, as to forget our Saviour?s sufferings, we have fulfilled one law of our own; but broken two, of Christ?s. He has given two distinct laws, for the two distinct cases. His law of Commemoration, and his law of Discipline. His law of Commemoration is; "This do ye, as often as ye do it, in remembrance of Me." His law of Discipline: "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church." So that, if a brother refuse to fill his place at the table of the Lord, because another has injured him, he has broken his covenant in several particulars; and is guilty of a public offence, as well as a personal one.
4. Reckless failures to meet contracts.
We mean, particularly, the common, careless failures of some members, to pay their current debts, according to engagement. For example, a brother is in the habit of contracting debts, with the promise of paying them promptly at a specified time; but, in fact, without the prospect of doing so. Or, to vary the case, if the time of payment is not specified, the debt is contracted with the common business understanding, that it shall be seasonably met, when he knows of no way he can do it. Or, to vary the case again, the debt is contracted, the time of payment either expressed or understood; and the means of payment are in the hands of the debtor; but a failure takes place, because he is as slack as he ought to be punctual.
Now, all these cases, and all similar cases of recklessness in business, which involves the interests of others, savor of dishonesty; and are so construed by the world. Such acts are personal offences, when committed by a brother in dealing with a fellow member; and public, when against another person, being a palpable violation of his covenant, in which he pledged himself to be "just in all his pecuniary transactions with his fellowship."
5. Desecration of the Lord?s Day.
There are multitudes of church members, on whom Sabbath restraints sit very lightly. They not only fail to come up to the standard of its requirements; but fail, also, to keep within the range of its prohibitions. Some engage in those kinds of business which compel them to work on this holy day of the Lord, less or more. Others travel or visit on this day; and, it would seem, deliberately make their arrangements to do so.
Such and similar instances of the desecration of this hallowed fraction of time, it should be well understood and deeply felt by every Christian, are utterly inconsistent with the high spiritual ends of the institution; and are, alike, an infraction of the Ten Commandments, the Gospel of Christ, and the Covenant of the Church; and, therefore, are public offences.
6. The greatly prevalent and hateful sin of backbiting; nearly allied to common gossiping and tattling.
Backbiting might seem to be near of kin to "railing," mentioned by the apostle in 1 Cor. 5 and already noticed. And so it is. Railing and backbiting both consist in evil speaking; and the chief difference between them, lies in the manner of it. Railing is the loud, open, angry species of evil speaking; backbiting the low, secret, mischievous, mean sort of the same kind of business; as the structure and imagery of the term plainly indicate. The word, backbiting, means the act of secretly faulting one to another. Figuratively and etymologically taken the last part of it, biting, indictates the act, as malicious in its origin, and painful in effect; and the other and qualifying part of it, back, indicates meanness of motive and measure; a meanness and maliciousness that can inflict a stinging, secret injury, without cause. The maliciousness and the meanness of this sin, have scarcely a parallel in the gloomy catalogue of sins; and, certainly, have no alliance with common decency; much less, "pure and undefiled religion!" If a church member, then, be come a backbiter, he should be regarded as guilty of an offence both aggravating and intolerable; a public offence, being a violation of his covenant, in which he pledged himself to "watch his conversation, avoiding evil speaking, as well as jesting and profanity."
It is an important rule, in estimating the degrees of offences, and the just measure of punishment due each; to distinguish, carefully, between faults which are the consequence of sudden temptation; and those which are the result of premeditation and habit. For example, a brother, overtaken by intoxication for the first time, accidentally or carelessly, presents a great contrast to one, whose inclination and habit render it quite certain, that he will overdrink, if exposed. The sin of Peter in once denying his Lord, was small in comparison with that of Solomon, who was habitually licentious and idolatrous.
On this point we have specific instruction. "Of some have compassion, making a difference, and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."?Jude 22?23.
The various species of public offences thus examined, we come next, to consider, the general rule of treatment.
This rule is found in 1 Tim. 5:20. "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear."
That is, "them that sin" before all, "rebuke before all." Them that sin publicly, rebuke publicly. A public offence requires a public punishment; at least, a public correction. The punishment of public offences, in the church, like the punishment of all other offences, should be according to the varying degrees of criminality. This rule includes two of the lesser degrees of punishment, which gives it a universal applicability to public offences; an applicability to the smaller offences, by its milder punishment; and to the greater ones, by paving the way, for the severest penalties.
The term, "rebuke," signifies, 1. To point out plainly and convincingly, to them that sin publicly, their offence in the presence of the Church. And, 2. To reprove them, also, for it, in the same public manner.
This rule, then, contains the two ideas of public statement and public reproof. That the employment of this rule was designed as a public punishment, is plain from its expressed object. "That others also may fear; that is, that the rest of the members, witnessing the true manner of correcting public offences, may fear a similar, public and mortifying rebuke, for some public offence which they might commit; and so be admonished to watchfulness and prayer.
See Paul acting, in a certain case according to the letter and in the spirit of his own inspired rule; that a public offence might be publicly rebuked; and that its object might be secured. His brother Peter, on a certain occasion, had it "not walked uprightly"?had been guilty, of "dissimulation, and carrying others away with it." Paul "withstood him to the face, before them all, because he was to be blamed."?Gal. 2. "Them that sin, rebuke before all, that others also may fear."
It should be particularly noticed, that this explanation of this rule for the treatment of public offences, perfectly corresponds with the import of those other directions, which we have noticed, in connection with the public offences, found in the Apostolic Epistles.
In the case of ??heretics,?? it will be recollected that the Church, as a body, were to "mark them;" to administer "the first and second admonition," and then, "reject them." Here was a "rebuke before all;" a public statement and public reproof which led on to exclusion. A public punishment, for a public offence.
Again: in the case of "fornicators, covetous members, railers, drunkards, and extortioners," the Church were required openly to, shun their "company;" and to avoid all social interchanges with them. Such conduct in the Church towards any of her members, would require a full, open statement of the reasons on which it was based. But what would such statement be, short of a "rebuke before all?"
In the case, also, of "disorderly walkers," the same avoidance of familiarity is strictly enjoined, together with the duty of solemn and direct "admonition." A "rebuke before all."
All these directions, then, accompanying the particular but varying cases to which they are appended, so well agree in import with the rule under consideration; and then, this rule is so striking in its application to all cases of Covenant-breaking, that it may well be considered as the great general rule for the correction of public offences. This rule contains all that the majority of public offences require for their correction. That smaller portion of public offences, which are too great for this rule to fully punish, may be approached by this rule; and then finished with the particular directions, appended to the particular cases.
But as this rule cannot be employed, if the delinquent member is absent, something like the following, would, in general, be the proper course of procedure. The Church should cite him by the clerk, or, what is better, by an individual, volunteering his services, to attend the next church-meeting, and give satisfaction for his offence. The offence, if fully known, and time of meeting, should be distinctly stated to him. If he appear, the Minister, as the organ of the Church, having ascertained, or after ascertaining the precise amount of his wrong, should point it out to him, "before all;" and then admonish him, according as age and circumstances require. If he do not render satisfaction, he should be requested favorably to entertain the views the Church have of his offence and his duty; and to attend the next church meeting. If he appear and do not show penitence for his wrong, "the admonition" should be repeated; and if its repetition is alike unavailing, he should be promptly excluded.
And provided a public offender refuse to come before the Church, the work of examination and admonition, should be conducted by some member or members who may volunteer for the purpose; and who may possess, perhaps, some qualification which would encourage the hope of their success in the case; upon whose report, if unfavorable, exclusion should take place.
Before leaving the subject of public offences we want to make two remarks.
The first, upon public confessions. Some difference of opinion seems to have obtained respecting the degree of publicity which it is proper to give to confessions. But where is there room for but one opinion? Do not common sense and common justice demand that the reparation should be as large as the injury? Certainly. And so it most evidently ought to be. First, the repentance should be as deep, as the wound inflicted. Then, the confession public, as the fault was committed; or rather public, in a sense corresponding with its notoriety. All those persons who have heard of the offence, should hear the confession, or hear of it, as satisfactory. Be they one-half of the members of the Church or all of them: be they a part of the Church and congregation, or all of them. Honest, full confessions are a salve, exceedingly healing to the wounds unto which they are applied. The fact, that such confessions touch the spot, is an unanswerable argument in their favor. Indeed, they more than satisfy even the world. The man who has the integrity, the humility, and the manliness, to confess his wrong; and make full reparation, rises in the esteem of all, as he ought to do; and becomes the more beloved for his full, honest-hearted confession, in spite of the sin and the shame that produced it.
Example in the case of Mr. Henry Van Antwerp. He was overtaken by intoxication on a public occasion; but was no sooner sober, than he was sorry; and no sooner had the opportunity, in a corresponding public manner, to confess his sin, than he did it. His return was voluntary, hearty, and more than satisfactory. He wept, and the assembly all wept with him. And we all loved him the more, for this new evidence we had that he was a good man, though fallible.
If an offender shrink from confessing, so as to satisfy all concerned, it shows, in the general, that he is not right. A real penitent will be likely to confess too much, rather than too little. His eye is fixed upon the greatness of his sin; and he wonders how he can satisfy the people so easy; while another man wonders, why it takes so much to do it. And the people in their turn, wonder why he cannot see that a scrimped confession must beget a scrimped fellowship!
Let confessions, then, be ample. Let the standard of the Church be high, and right. Let her not suffer unconfessed sin upon her members; for in that case, they are dead, deforming branches, without fruit, or flowers, or even foliage. It is the sentence of inspiration: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy."
Our second remark respects the adaptation of the rule for personal offences, in the 18th of Matthew, for the correction of many public offences.
We could scarcely persuade ourselves to pass from the consideration of public offences, without just hinting how admirably this rule operates in reclaiming those guilty of this kind of offence. Although the rule, as we have seen is primarily applicable to cases of personal offence, yet, here its operation is most salutary; and its employment by an individual, in a case, where he has no peculiar personal concern, is nobly demonstrative of his piety, brotherly love, and abiding concern for the honor of God. For example, a brother, on a public occasion, becomes intoxicated, quarrelsome, and profane. The sad day past, he feels guilty, ashamed and distant. The news flies. Brother A. hears of it, and goes immediately to see him. He finds him alone and lonely; and approaches him with usual kindness and freedom. The afflicting fact is all talked over, and confessed; and he leaves him with the full understanding, that he will embrace the first opportunity to confess his sin to the church and the world. A. is no sooner gone, than brother B., having heard the same painful news, calls on the same errand of mercy. And so with brother C. All three have the same errand, and the same motive; but have chanced to act, without intentional concert. The brother is overcome and won by kindness, and faithfulness; and saved. He comes before the church and congregation on the Lord?s day, and gives ample satisfaction; and retires with the tender, forgiving love, and sympathy, and blessing of all.
If, now, in the true spirit of this rule, brethren were thus to act, in the large majority of cases of public offence, they would be as successful as brother A., B. and C. Wanderers would be reclaimed; the Church spared vast trouble; and the honor of pure and undefiled religion, secured. And how large the Scriptural encouragements to individual effort, in this quarter! "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know, that he that converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins!"?James 5.
But suppose brother A.?s visit were unsuccessful; and that he despairs of success. Let him next, notify the erring brother of his wish and intention to call again, with "one or two more" brethren. And let him do it; and then if still unsuccessful, let him carry the case to the Church. Now, what could have been better, in the case, than this voluntary though thankless service, of brother A., aided by his fellow laborers; and guided by the ever-to-be-remembered 18th of Matthew!
3And we add, with emphasis; the solemn sentence should also be enforced, by a corresponding conduct, on the part of every member of every church. Excluded persons often seek an asylum in some neighboring sister church. And often they are kindly noticed; and thus encouraged to hope that ?if they cannot live there, they can here.? Now, such conduct in a sister church, or in her pastor, or any of her members, is flagrant injustice towards all concerned. It is a setting aside of the most solemn decision and act of Christ?s own court. It is an instance of most palpable disrespect of a sister and an equal. It is a doing, in this respect, as we would not be done by. Moreover, it is such a nourishing and cherishing of the guilty one, as ?a brother beloved,? as heals, at once and slightly, the wound of excision, which ought to be left, ulcerating and burning, for his purification. Instead of this course, if the excluded person have been wronged, (which may be the case; but which we should be slow to believe,) our sister church should be approached with respect, and confidence, and freedom; and desired to explain; and, perhaps, review the case with the aid of counsellors. A right church, rightly approached, would cheerfully do what was right in the premises.
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