Page images
PDF
EPUB

ors.

gated and authorised by our Lord himself, who directs, that the offending brother, if he first of all despise private admonition, and then neglect to hear the church, is to be regarded as an heathen man, and a publican. Thus we find, that the church des rived from its great Master a power of censure, extending so far as to place the contumacious out of its communion and fel, lowship; and this power is vested in the apostles, and their duly constituted success

For our Lord immediately addsVerily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loase on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. (Matt. xviii. 17, 18.) And again, just before his ascension, he solemnly conimits this same power to his apostles, in the following words :-Whosesoever sins je remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins retain, they are retained. (John, xx. 23.)

From hence it is clear, that the censures and absolutions which the authorised minis. ters of the Gospel jụstly and officially pronounce for the orderly government of the church, are recognised-at a higher tribunal, And this is the power which St. Paul tells

[ocr errors]

us, in the text, that the Lord hath given him ;--a power to discard the disorderly member from the communion of the faithful, so that, without sincere repentance, and public reconciliation, he shall no longer be acknowledged as a true disciple of Christ. And whosoever despised this power, which was only to be exercised in the one apostolical church, must be considered as renouncing the government and denying the authority of the Son of God.

Here the latitudinarian exclaims—What! 80 rigid an enforcement of uniformity, without any toleration, or liberty, for those who may happen to think otherwise! What is this but setting up the most horrid system of tyranny!

Were Christianity that undefined thing which many in the present day suppose it to be, there might be some weight in such an objection; but if we take our account of this religion from the tenor of the Gospel, all arguments of this kind must be entirely divested of their force. There we find, that the flock of Christ is to be governed as one united society; and of this society no man can be deemed a member who refuses submission to its laws and regulations. Without this, he cannot be a Christian : but he is not therefore deprived of his natural liberty; he may be whatever else he pleases.

It follows, that the enforcement of uniformity in the church, is no more a tyranny, than the enforcement of the established laws in any other community. The power of discipline is spiritual, not temporal. In the age of the apostles, as well as in this in which we live, there was a choice permitted to every individual. No man is compelled to be a Christian at all. But if Christianity bę his choice, it is better for him to be a Christian in reality, than in vague and licentious profession, like the Nicoläitans of old, or the disciples of Simon the sorcerer. And men cannot be real and orderly Christians, without submitting to the laws of Christ, and continuing in the unity of the aposto lical church.

The Gospel informs us of no independent sects, which might receive the excommunicated person into another division of Christ's mystical body. No such division is acknowledged. When the official sentence is pronounced, the offender is separate from

the communion of Christians. He is in the state of the unconverted; and, therefore, said to be delivered to Satan-to that spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.

And this sentence was pronounced, not only upon the profligate and immoral, but also, upon those who corrupted or perverted the faith. Thus St. Paul exhorts, Timothy, to persevere in holding faith and a good conscience, which some having put away, concerning faith, have made shipwreck: of whom, continues the apostle, żs. Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I HAVE DELIVERED UNTO Satan, that they may learn. not to blaspheme, (1 Tim. i. 19, 20.)

And the like severity of censure was con, sequent upon the perpetration of notorious crimes; as in the case of the incestuous person, in the church of Corinth: to which church the apostle writes-In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my Spirit, with the poweror authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may

be saved in the day of the Lord.(1. Cor. Vi

4, 5.) 5 1,5

It has been supposed by some, that the phrase destruction of the flesh, which is here introduced, authorises the infliction of temporal punishment, and the delivering over of the offender to the secular arm; but, as the sécular power did not in that age recognise the censures of the church, and, as the apostle tells us in the text, that the Lord has given him a power to edification, not to destruction, I conceive that the word flesh, in this passage, means nothing more than car. nal affections or evil passions; and that the destruction of the flesh is the mortification of such affections and passions. St. Paul does not, therefore, recommend that a sentence of capital punishment should be executed on the person of the offender by the secular arm; but that he should be subject ed to such spiritual censure, that he could no longer proceed in this irregular practice, upon a vain presumption of his privilege, as a member of Christ's visible church. As much as if he had said_d Let him be removed from our communion, out of the spiritual kingdom of our Lord, and consequently into the dominions of Satan, that a sense of his lost condition may bring him to true re

1

« PreviousContinue »