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on the supposition of an individual, to be cast away: but before judgment is passed upon him, he shall have a hearing, even though he should refuse to hear a brother, who had told him his fault alone. " 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. 16, 17. A separation is here pointed out, but it is evident that where this takes place, the member has become a party in opposition to the church ; he has gone from the unity of the spirit in himself, he has left the true foundation, and is no longer qualified to enjoy the fellowship of Christ : nor can any human power restore him to the unity and fellowship of the church. But he is in the spirit of opposition, among the children of disobedience, who walk not in the truth. When any, therefore, thus fall away from the life and spirit of Christ, and from the unity of his church; these are as though they had never known the truth, and must be left to the judgment of the great day of the Lord. Now, the day of the Lord is a day of divine
light renewed or opened in the soul; and in this day, the opposing and strong will is brought down, the transgressing nature is taken hold of, and if the individuals submit to the light of this day, they are brought to see themselves, and the chains of darkness under which they had been held: and as they become humbled, they are blessed with a dispensation of repentance for the sins that are past; and by the merciful atonement of Christ, permitted to be loosed in heaven and on earth; and to walk in his spirit who taketh away the sins of the world, and clothes these with his own lamb-like nonresisting nature, by which they are prepared to be members of his church. The existence of order in the church is evidenced by his own instructions respecting the manner in which an offending brother was to be treated, as I have before stated. In this there is ground to believe that the church must have been in possession of some formal obligations proper to be observed ; and such as the members living under the government of truth would always comply with. But the great danger in those outward and formal means of government, is that men may enlarge their number upon the principles of human sagacity, without the lead
ings or counsel of the head of the church. This, I apprehend, has been an error which has crept into most societies of Christian professors. , It is an error which may always be expected, where men, in their own wisdom and wills, undertake to make rules for the government of the consciences of others. The apostles, very early in the Christian church, were made sensible of the necessity of care on this head; as appears in the conclusion adopted by them, and sent among their believing brethren of the Gentiles. “ For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things, that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication, from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.” Acts xv. 28, 29. But as they who are gathered into the mind of Christ, continue subject to him in all things, there will be no danger of forming rules or regulations in his church, that shall be oppressive to the tender consciences of any of the members. For want of this subjection have arisen most of the divisions in Christendom; as would appear, were we to exanine the declarations of faith and belief to which many professors have been
obliged to subscribe if they remained in connexion. But where the light of Christ is regarded as the only sufficient guide, though order and propriety will be required, and even rules be entered into, yet all will harmonize with the evidence of his own blessed spirit, in the souls of men. Under a church government thus founded in the wisdom of God, and standing in connexion with the preservation of the souls of men, no conscientious ground of dissent can exist, while the members of the church are preserved upon the right foundation : -and therefore, if any prove unfaithful, and are overtaken in a fault, those who are spiritually minded will be concerned to restore such ; and their labours being in the spirit of meekness and love, and having nothing in them that will kindle opposition, the offending brother, it may be expected, will confess his fault, and return to the unity of the church. But if after such brotherly entreaty, and without foundation for objection against the rule of the church, he remains on the offending ground, then the unavoidable consequence must be, that he will number among the transgressors; and in his obstinacy be separated from the unity of the spirit, which is the bond of peace. To all
such, there is given the fruit of their own doings; and while they shut out the light, and foster a spirit of opposition, they cannot partake of the consolations of the faithful, but are bound in heaven and on earth; and in the fetters of darkness they must remain until they are willing to cease from the spirit of opposition, and walk in the light of the son of God. Much more might be said on the ground and principle of church government; but the foregoing may serve to give the reader a view of our profession in the case, and to convince him that they who are turbulent and opposing, cannot at the same time be members of the church of Christ.