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sires, pleasures, pursuits, conduct, &c., they lodge a powerful conviction in the minds of others, that religion is not a mere name; that it is a spiritual energy, and a spiritual change which they have not experienced, and of which, indeed, they have no conception : while the happy result, in many cases, is inquiry, conviction, and the cordial reception of the Gospel. It was when the churches in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria were walking in the fear of the Lord, that their numbers received so large an augmentation.
2ndly. The church should exercise discipline by enforcing attention to those laws which, by rendering it the duty of the members of the Christian body to watch over one another in love, are so preeminently adapted to advance both its comfort and its spirituality. We have explained the nature of this oversight: it only remains, accordingly, to show the importance of enforcing its exercise.
First. It tends to prevent and to check evil in a church. When the spirit of Christian watchfulness is awake and vigilant, it presents a strong moral guard against a departure from the truth in its principles, or spirit, or conduct. Every one feels that the eyes of the whole body are upon him—a position inconceivably annoying to a hypocrite, (and therefore a powerful test and revealer of character,) and, possibly, not very grateful to a lukewarm, and especially a backsliding Christian. But to a man whose supreme desire it is to be preserved from even the appearance of evil, the check will be prized; if eminently spiritual, it will be even grateful, and prove eminently advantageous.
Secondly. It renders it more easy to correct and subdue sin. Evils are detected at their commencement, and so more easily vanquished. Wavering of opinion, in reference to essential truth, is wisely dealt with before it has ripened into scepticism or infidelity; coldness is observed before it has sunk into settled estrangement and aversion; ambiguous or doubtful actions are animadverted
upon before they have drawn after them (as they are likely to do) others which must incur the total loss of character; the progress of the transgressor is arrested before he has reached the point from which retreat would be impossible. Thus sin, not being finished, does not bring forth death.
It is not to be doubted, we imagine, that a very large proportion of the evils under which some of our churches are labouring, result from the relaxation, or rather the total neglect of discipline, in this respect. The degree in which this evil prevails is such as to render it not impossible that the revival, and especially the exercise of the spirit of watchfulness, would be regarded, by some individuals of the body, as annoying and impertinent.
3rdly. A church should exercise discipline by executing the law of Christ upon offending members.
Discipline, in this point of view, aims to uphold the honour of Christ; to prevent any discredit becoming attached to religion; to awaken salutary fear in the Christian body; and to secure the repentance, and thus the pardon and salvation, of the offender himself. The latter is, beyond all question, the direct, if not the main object to be aimed at. It is, indeed, essential to the securing of all the rest. The glory of Christ, and the honour of his religion, are most effectually upheld and vindicated by the repentance and reformation of the transgressor. Let our aim be to secure this object, and we shall be less likely to fail in regard to others. And if such be our aim, we shall not, through the influence of mistaken zeal for the credit of religion, lay upon a transgressor a larger measure of church censure and punishment than the case requires. How can excessively severe inflictions do credit to the religion of love, or to the gracious Being from whom it emanated ?
Let the laws of Christ be observed and executed. We shall in this way do more honour to him than by adding to the amount of punishment for the credit of his religion.
He is wiser than we. Cannot He be
trusted to uphold his own glory, and the honour of his own institutions ? Who are we, that we should condemn when the Master censures not, or inflict fifty stripes when the Master demands twenty only ?
I have said that the exercise of discipline (which we are now contemplating, is the infliction upon the transgressor of the sentence by which the Great Head of the church has guarded his own laws. It will be found, it is imagined, of vast practical importance to our churches to remember this, to recollect that they are not legislators; that Christ has not invested them with authority to enjoin what he has not enjoined; to condemn what he has not condemned; or to seek to support his own laws by inflicting punishment, differing either in amount or in kind, from that which he assigns to disobedience. If a case of assumed transgression could occur in any church, with respect to which no general or specific directions could be found in reference to the mode of procedure, (no such case can however occur,) it could not in these circumstances act; for to act would be to make law, and not to execute law. Great benefit, as it has been said, will result from the practical remembrance of these statements. It will lead the churches to a more careful examination of the law and the testimony, that they may be prepared to act in any emergency. It will prevent the suggestion of various modes of proceeding, in reference to cases of offence, which do not even assume to have the authority of the New Testament in their favour : for when a person knows that he must support, by scriptural authority, the opinion he expresses in reference to the mode of proceeding, he will probably be less prone to speak than swift to hear. It will powerfully tend to secure a unanimous decision; for where conscience is in subjection to the word of God, and where that word is appealed to as the exclusive guide, there is not room for much diversity of judgment. It will give to a minister an influence in guiding the decisions of a church, which he can never obtain, and ought not to attain, by a mere exercise of the prerogative; and, finally, it will clothe these decisions with a power of awakening the conscience of the offender, not easy to be resisted; for while the church, in obedience to the law of God, pronounces the sentence of expulsion, he will hear, proceeding from the mouth of the Lord himself, the terrible words, “Whatsoever my church thus binds on earth, shall be bound in heaven."
It is, then, necessary here to exhibit and expound the law of Christ in reference to offences. To effect this with advantage, we must consider the cases of private and public offences separately; for it will be found that the law, in reference to them, is somewhat different.
THE LAW WITH REGARD TO PRIVATE OFFENCES.
This law is recorded in the 18th chapter of Matthew, verses 15–17: “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast 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 to the church ; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican.'
The reader will observe that the person trespassing is said to be a brother, i. e., a fellow-heir (or apparently such) of the grace and kingdom of our Lord ;-the especial, though not the exclusive, reference being to a member of the same Christian church.
The trespass itself is not some apparent want of deference or respect, -some conceived slight, wounding to pride merely; but some act that is morally wrong. some violation of the laws of Christian love in the con. duct of one member of a church towards another. Nor is it a trespass which has God only for its object, but man; for the words of the law are, “If thy brother shall trespass against thee.” In this case,
The offended party is to go to the offender, and privately expostulate with him,—to do this ere he open his lips upon the subject to a single individual. He is to go to him with the single view of gaining his brother. He must, therefore, take especial care to divest himself of angry feelings, and proceed in the spirit of the purest Christian love.
Should private expostulation fail, he is still forbidden to render the offence public; for in no case does Christian love permit greater publicity than is necessary. He is directed to take with him one or two others, whose expostulations, added to his own, may be more likely to lead to repentance; or, if that should unhappily fail to prove the result, who may have it in their power to establish the facts of the case, should it be found necessary to report the matter to the church. It is of especial importance to remember here, that the persons selected to visit the offender should be men of acknowledged piety, wisdom, integrity, good temper, and prudence ; that they should not be relatives, or personal friends of the offended individual; and that the offence should not be stated to them till they come into the presence of the offender himself. Should this measure also fail, unnecessary publicity is still to be avoided. The offence must, indeed, be told to the church, but it must not be told to the world; and any member who refers to it without necessity, beyond the boundaries of that inclosure, violates the law of Christian love, and ought to be visited with the censure of the church. The church is to add its public expostulations to those which have been tendered privately. If repentance follow, the business is at an end. The members of the church are to renew their love to their penitent brother. In the case of impenitence, the offender must be solemnly excommunicated; and the other members of the body are to