Extracts from Durham on Scandal
Copyright (c) Naphtali Press 1996
A Treatise Concerning Scandal Part 2 Chapter 2
Concerning What Order is to be Kept in the Following of Public Scandals.
The second thing, to wit, what order and manner is to be observed in the following of public scandals, is not easily determinable, there being such variety of cases in which the Lord exercises the prudence and wisdom of his church officers. And indeed the gift of government (to speak so) does especially kyth in the right managing of discipline, in reference to the several humors and constitutions (to say so) which men have to do with. For as in bodily diseases the same cure is not for the same disease in all constitutions and seasons, and as ministers in their doctrine are to press the same things in diverse manners upon diverse auditories, so this cure of discipline is not to be applied equally unto all persons, nay, not to such as are in the same offenses. For that which would scarce humble one, may crush another, and that which might edify one, might be stumbling to another of another temper. Therefore we suppose there is no peremptory determining of rules for cases here, but necessarily the manner of procedure in the application of rules, is to be left to the prudence and conscienciousness of church officers, according to the particular circumstantiate case. Yet we may lay down these generals:
The Ends Of Discipline.
1. All public processing of scandalous persons, or judicial taking notice of scandals, would be done with respect to the ends for which discipline is appointed, and so as may attain the same. This, I suppose, cannot be denied, for the mids must be suited to its end. Now the ends of public censuring are:
(1.) For vindicating the honor of Jesus Christ that suffers in the miscarriage of a member.
(2.) The preserving of the authority of his ordinances and the chastening of disobedience thereunto: Therefore it is called the punishment that was inflicted (2 Cor. 2:6), and it is said to revenge all disobedience (10:6), it being appointed as an ecclesiastic whip to keep up his authority in his house, and thereby to note those that are unruly therein (2 Thess. 3:6-14).
(3.) It is for the person’s good (as it is said 1 Cor. 5:5), for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved, that by this, admonitions, reproofs, yea, threatenings, may have the more weight for the person’s humiliation and upstirring and the constraining of them at least to a more orderly walk in the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).
(4.) It is for the good of the church that the leaven of profanity spread not, and that others may thereby learn to fear. This reason is given in 1 Cor. 5:6, 7, etc., and 1 Tim. 5:20.
Now, when we speak of the end of public trial and censure, respect is to be had to all these, but especially to the more public and general ends, so as the person’s particular edification be not neglected, and therefore in procedure particular and special respect would be had to the manner (whether by meekness or rigidity, by forbearing or proceeding) which may most attain these ends.
All Offenses Of The Same Kind Not Always Equally To Be Dealt With.
Hence 2., we say that the same offenses, upon the matter, are not equally at all times, nor in all persons, and, it may be, in all places in the same manner to be pursued and followed. And the reason is clear, because, according to circumstances, that manner which is edifying at one time, and in one case, may be destructive in another, and so is not to be followed, because that power which God has given is for edification, and never for destruction (2 Cor. 13:10). And accordingly, we see Paul in some cases censuring corrupt men, as Heymeneus and Phyletus (1 Tim. 1:20). Sometimes again, he threatens and yet spares, although the scandal in itself deserved censure, as when he says (Gal. 5), I wish they were cut off that trouble you, and yet does it not, because he found the church’s edification so to require. So also (2 Cor. 10:4, 6), having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled, which yet he thought not meet for the time to do, lest it should have irritated to more disobedience, and have bred some greater rent or schism, or have made the authority of the ordinances less weighty, and so have marred his end, which was in all things (and so in this forbearing) their edification, as he expresses it (12:19), Brethren, we do all things (and so this also) for your edifying.
When I speak of edifying, I do not speak of pleasing the persons (for that may be often destructive to them, and others also). But this is intended, that it is to be weighed in Christian prudence, whether considering the time and place we live in, the nature of the person we have to do with, and of those also among whom we live, [if] it is more fit to follow this way with such a person, at such a time, or another way? And accordingly as it seems probable that this way will honor God most, more fully vindicate his ordinances, gain the person from sin to holiness, at least, to a regular walk, and edify others most, so accordingly ought church judicatories to take the way that leads most probably to that end. And therefore it ought not always to be accounted partiality when such difference in church procedure is observed. Yet these things would by all means be guarded against:
What Is To Be Guarded Against, When There Is A Different Way Taken In Censuring The Same Offenses.
(1.) That nothing be done with respect to persons or appear to be done so, that is, for outward, civil, or natural respects, to be more gentle to one than to another; than which nothing is more derogatory to ecclesiastic authority, and stumbling to people. (2.) This difference of proceeding would rather be in the manner and circumstances of proceeding in reference to some offenses, than in dispensing with what seems to be material; or it would be in such offenses where there is no settled rule, and wherein church officers have more latitude. As for instance, some offenses are of that public nature that usually they are followed with a public reproof. Such cannot be conveniently passed by in any ordinary conceivable case, supposing it is fornication, or some such thing. Yet in the manner of citing and dealing with the person, or expressing or timing of the reproof, there may be condescending. But to omit it altogether, would hazard the casting loose of that ordinance of public reproof, which would mar the edification of the church more than advantage any particular party. Other offenses again, are more occasional, in reference to which there is no definite law or practice. Suppose it is speaking reproachful words of some persons, officers or others; in such there is more liberty to condescend which way may be most convincing to the party. Lastly, in trying what may be most edifying, we are not to look to one end alone, to wit, the person’s particular good only or the public good only, etc., but to put all together, and to try how jointly they may be best attained.
How Church Officers Ought To Carry In Censures.
3. From this also it will appear that church officers ought with such tenderness, love, and sympathy, to walk in public censures, [so] as not only they may have a testimony in their own consciences, but also that those who have offended, and others that observe their way, may also be convinced of the same. For if this is not, what can their censure gain? And if it is needful for a minister in preaching to study that, it is in some respect more necessary here; because ordinarily men out of their corruption are more ready to mistake men’s intentions in this. And we conceive that in this a church judicatory’s procedure ought discernably to differ from a civil court, in that they are not only out of justice censuring the party with a respect to the common body, for whose good in some cases the most penitent member must be cut off, and cannot be reprieved, but as endeavoring the church’s freedom from offenses, that the offending member may be thereby with all tenderness restored and cured. And in experience we see that often church censures have weight as they are constructed to proceed from love. And we conceive, that the following of these and such like directions, may have much influence for attaining of this.
(1.) That nothing be rashly or hastily brought to public [notice], but that which is a convincing scandal in itself, clear in the matter of fact, and also after private dealing with the person, and trial of his carriage afterward. If the scandal is not very gross and public, hasty bringing to public [notice] irritates, and if a private admonition of minister and elders might gain a brother, what further is needed? And by so doing, a person is convinced that that minister and elder desires his amendment, and on that condition to cover his offense.
(2.) There would be no rigid insisting in what is personal in reference to any of the judicatory. As suppose they should sometimes get snarling answers or unbecoming words, or be met with by irreverent carriage. In that case there would be condescending, and what is offensive beside, would be insisted on, and these personal things forborne. It is true, the authority of the ordinances would ever be kept up. Yet that is not always done by a rigid prosecuting of personal reflections; but on the contrary it often looks [most] like Christ’s ordinance when meekness is most prevalent, and so in the end it comes to have greater weight; for many cannot discern between officers seeking their own authority, and the authority of the ordinances. And when the rise of the offense is from a miscarriage to some person immediately, it looks to them to be carnal and vindictive, and so has the appearance of evil, and is to be eschewed. This we may observe also in Paul’s carriage, and in the practices of most zealous men, who never wronged the ordinances by denying their own respect in such cases. And church officers would especially advert to this, because often in our hottest fits, it is rather respect to our own authority, than zeal for Christ that motivates us, which appears by this, that a practical contempt of the ordinances in our own hands, will stir more than many other gross evils, or doctrinal blasphemies, or contemptuous practices, which immediately reflect on others, although these may be more dishonorable to Christ.
(3.) For attaining this end, the rigidity and strictness of law would not be stuck to: [such] as the persons not appearing at such a day if afterward they condescend, their hastiness in expressing themselves rashly at one time, or carrying themselves irreverently, which afterward they may pass from. These and such like, I say, are not to be stuck to, lest church officers seem, under pretext of church discipline, to take advantage of them. And it is an evidence of the contrary when they are condescended unto in this. Advert, this is to be observed in practices that seem to flow from infirmity; but suppose the person was some subtle, deceitful, dissembling one, using his pretexts of repentance for furthering his design? This condescension may be hurtful to the church of God in letting such an occasion slip and therefore is not to be admitted.
(4.) It contributes to this end also, that public appearances and public rebukes are not frequent, nor in cases but such as are in the nature and evidence thereof convincing, and that also after private admonitions have been fruitlessly given. We suppose that [the] mid step in Christ’s direction (Matthew 18),warrants this, Take to thee two or three before thou tell the church. Hasty bringing to public reproof is constructed by many to be a seeking of their shame, but when it is rare and done in the order foresaid, and also with some reasons why a public rebuke in such a case is just and expedient, seeing other means have failed, and the condition of others calls for that now, etc., it does much allay that prejudice. For every man has reason and a conscience, though many often want the exercise thereof.
We find also public rebukes rare in Scripture. And although sometimes a public appearing may be thought most edifying to the congregation, yet (1.) if they were very frequent they would lose their weight. (2.) One public rebuke in this manner and order will edify more than many otherwise, for it is not the multitude of them that edifies, but the convincing [nature] of the manner of proceeding. And therefore we conceive it is never fit to multiply public rebukes, even supposing that scandals were multiplied, but that some should be [chosen] that might most convincingly edify, and that private dealing with others for conviction be made the more weighty, which also is the judgment of the great Augustine.
(3.) People’s offending for the omitting of public rebukes is, when the scandal thereof flows from this, that they conceive it to proceed from carelessness, negligence, partiality, or some such thing in the officers. Whereas if by custom it shall be known to a people, that officers are diligent observers of these things, and are not defective in dealing with scandalous persons for [the] convincing of them, and do take this way as the most loving and tender mean of their gaining, such manner of proceeding will be more convincing and edifying than if the thing were instantly brought to public [notice]. For people generally approve of tenderness and condescending in church officers, as looking like love to the gaining of souls, and so lay much weight on their censuring, even of others, when they see them, as it were, constrained thereto. And on the contrary, there is nothing more offensive to them than when this tenderness is disiderated. It is to be guarded here, that this is not made a cloak to negligence and unfaithfulness, for diligence and freedom is to be no less used with the parties, yea more, than if they were brought to public [notice]. Only this forbearance is to be made use of as a mean for making that diligence and freedom the more successful; otherwise, whether it is forborne or followed, it continues still to be hurtful. Also, when one of these abounding scandals or scandalous persons is rebuked, then especially the minister would so gravely and zealously aggrege that evil, that in some respect all that are under it may be reproved, and his indignation as it may be so discernible, that that one reproof may be in place of many, and yet the forbearance will give access for some to come off the same.
How Discipline Is So To Be Ordered, As It May Not Mar But Further The Word..
(4.) It is also to be remembered, that this exercise of discipline for restraining of scandals is to be subservient to the preaching of the Word, which is the main and great edifying ordinance. Therefore discipline would be ordered so, as it may not mar, but further that. In reference to which these things are to be adverted to:
[1.] That no censure would be blindly or implicitly made use of, but both in reference to the party and others there would be instruction, exhortation, conviction, etc., by the Word going before or along with the same. In which respect (though improperly) censures may be some way looked upon as sacraments in a large sense in these particular cases, because there is in them both some signifying and confirming use, they being considered with respect to the end wherefore they were appointed.
[2.] Church officers, especially ministers, would not make discipline the great uptaking business, so as it may prove an entanglement unto them, or diversion from the ministry of the Word. The great apostles (Acts 6), thought [it] not fit to be diverted with the serving of tables, but appointed deacons to be chosen for that end, that they might give themselves principally, and in comparison of other duties, fully (or as they say themselves, v. 4, continually) to prayer, that is, to the private exercise thereof, and the ministry of the Word, that is, the preaching thereof in public. By which we may see, one, what a minister’s great task is, wherein he should be taken up, to wit, secret prayer (under which are comprehended, reading, meditation, and other duties meet for his own particular case, and preparation for the duties of his calling, as may be gathered from 1 Tim. 4:13-15) and the public preaching of the gospel. Two, we see also, that though ministers are virtually both elders and deacons (as the apostles were), yet ought they to regulate their exercising of both these, with respect to the former two. And three, that elders and deacons ought in governing and overseeing the poor to have special respect to keep ministers from being burdened or toiled with these, that they may have freedom to follow the ministry of the Word, as the main thing. Yea, even to have much access to privacy and solitariness, which is both necessary for, and a well becoming duty to, a minister. This is a special end of the appointment of these officers, and in reference to which they are helps (1 Cor. 12:28), both to the people and to the ministers.
[3.] A third thing to be adverted to is that contemptuous and irritating processes are so followed, as by these there is no prejudice laid before persons, to make them stumble at the Word, or to render it the more unprofitable. It is true [that] sometimes such things are necessary for the good of the body, and for the vindicating of Christ’s ordinances, yet as much as may be they would be shunned, and ministers especially ought to carry so in their manner, as to keep room for the Word in the affections of the parties. And we conceive that multiplying and lengthening of processes (except where there is grave and weighty cause) and the way of trial of members, penitents, or such as are to admitted to sacraments, which is pleaded for by some, if it were put in practice, could not but much entangle ministers: yea, become a more weighty and intolerable burden to them than the preaching of the Word; yea, could not but be obstructive thereto, contrary to the nature of discipline, as [has been] said
Showing That Christ’s Order And Method, Matt. 18, Is To Be Kept, And What It Implies.
4. The fourth general [point] concerning proceeding in public scandals, which we would lay down, is that Christ’s order (Matt. 18), be indispensably kept. Which we conceive, being compared with other Scriptures, implies these things:
(1.) That offenses, whether they are in lesser particulars or in more gross things, if they are but known to few, are not instantly to be made public (except some circumstance necessitate the same for greater edification), and this order is to be observed both by officers and private persons. It is not therefore unfit when any delation comes by an elder, or complaint by a private professor, to inquire if they had observed this rule with such a party, and if alone, and with some others, friendly and rationally they have endeavored to convince them? And if not, that they be remitted to follow that way. If they have done it, it would be inquired if their so doing has had no weight, or if the person has continued in the offense notwithstanding? If none of these can be said, there is yet no ground for public tabling of a scandal, and this we suppose would cut off many needless processes, and prove more edifying.
(2.) It is clear from that place that the offenses to be complained of are not injuries or wrongs to us under that notion as such, but what is offensive in its nature and under that consideration, whether any wrong is intended to us in it or not. It is not suitable to a church court to have only persons complaining of wrongs done to themselves, as if they are cursed, defamed, etc., and yet not to take notice of what is offensive, as wronging the honor of God, reflecting upon the profession of the gospel, and really laying a stumbling block before themselves and others. This is to neglect scandals and to take notice of slanders, which, as we said, differs from these. Hence, such persons ordinarily follow their complaints with much bitterness, and never seek to convince the party privately. We conceive therefore that such direct complaints, so circumstantiated, ought not to be admitted at least upon that consideration, lest the ordinances of Christ are made subservient to men’s particular passions and interests. It is therefore more fit when such offenses arise, that they are taken notice of abstractly from such complaints, and that in the order that other scandals are to come in, whereof now we are speaking.
(3.) It is clear from that order (Matt. 18), that when the person offending accepts of the admonition, there is no mention further to be made thereof. Yea, it would not be so much as reported privately, if it is not otherwise known.
(4.) If that private admonition prevails not, then is the person to take two or three with him before it comes to the church. And this is not to be done superficially, and for exoneration merely, but convincingly and for the person’s edification. Therefore we suppose, that this is not to be astricted to one time, either in private, or before these two or three; for speaking once may be but little use. Seeing the church is to continue in dealing with the person before they give him over and proceed, and before they can account that he hears them not, so ought it to be in the preceding two steps, seeing the words are the same.
Again, I say, this would be done convincingly; they would argue (as the word is) with the offending brother, and not rest satisfied with some passing word or admonition. Further, these two or three would be chosen, so as may be most fit for that purpose and may have most weight with him (we think some elder, one at least, or two, were not unfit), and this would be done purposely, gravely and seriously, as the words, Take with thee, etc., import. All this is to precede the bringing of a scandal to public [notice], which is to sist here if this prevails.
Whence (5.), also we may see that every scandal which is known to two or three is not to be accounted a public scandal, and at the first instant to be brought to the church; because it is supposed, that these two or three may have knowledge of the same scandal, and yet may it warrantably never come to public [notice] if the person hears them. It looks unlike this way to bring scandals to public [notice] wherein scarce two witnesses can be had. Indeed, after the fault [is] noised and flagrant, and the presumption is great and the party suspect, such things are publicly to be taken notice of, though the proofs are not so pregnant.
(6.) If this does not the business, but the person continues obstinate, although to the conviction of those two or three assessors, [if] the fact is gross, and the party guilty, then it is to be brought to public [notice], either immediately by the person that was stumbled, or by an elder (for which cause, we said, it was not unmeet that one of these should be among the former witnesses). When it comes to the church, we conceive that with the parties, it were meet to call someone or more of those who were witnesses of the private admonition, that the judicatory may be informed by them of the case, seeing probably they may be more impartial than the other. And it will be conducive for attaining clearness in the thing, to know what has preceded, and where it left. This would make private admonitions and witnesses therein, to have more weight with men. For, knowing that their carriage at such a time would be made manifest to others, it would have influence to make them at first more rational and sober, if they knew that what they said then, would afterward be repeated to them before two or three, and what they spoke before those, were to be again impartially reported to the eldership.
And we conceive it is for this cause, among others, that Christ calls them witnesses, and such witnesses as may establish the matter, which must be rather in their testifying to the church, than in private, accompanying the offended party. For when a person brings such an offense to a public judicatory, he must make out these two: [1.] that such a person has actually given offense; and [2.] that he has effectually admonished him, and he has not heard him, nor satisfied him. Now though the first is made out by other witnesses, yet the last cannot be made out but by such as were called by him, and therefore with respect to that they are called witnesses by our Lord.
When this is done, the convincing and recovery of the party is yet to be essayed, and for that end pains are to be taken with all patience, gentleness, and long suffering. If that prevails, there is no further procedure called for. If not, then public rebukes and admonitions are to be added. If nothing prevails, the sentence of excommunication is to be added, the ground being convincingly scandalous in its nature, and clear in its evidence, as was formerly said. [But] it will not be found often in a church where that progress is kept that it will come to this.
If the offenses are of that nature that a public rebuke is necessary in respect of the circumstances and aggravations thereof, it is not to be neglected. Yet it is not necessary that every offense that comes to the eldership, yea even these that are known to many, should at all times be brought to a public rebuke. For if the sessional or eldership’s admonition has weight with the party, what more needs [to be done] in reference to him? And if there is no hazard that others will be infected by that deed, or provoked by that example, there is no necessity always in reference to them, especially where it is known that such offenses are not passed. For one end of public rebukes (1 Tim. 5:20), is that others may fear. Yea, much more we conceive that many offenses may be brought [to] the length of public rebukes, which yet are not to be drawn out unto excommunication, even though complete satisfaction seems not to be given. Because [1.], that sentence is not to proceed but upon weighty convincing causes, as was said, and [2.], because if the cause is convincing, the person offending may be expected sometimes upon after thoughts to admit of conviction, though distemper or prejudice may for a time keep it off, as experience proves.
But where the case is such as [it] hazards infection to others, and the persons such as are contemptuous and ready to spread their leaven, as was both in the case of the doctrine and deeds of these Nicolaitans, the sentence is to proceed, and that more summarily. I say summarily in comparison of what is past, yet not altogether summarily, for Paul allows a heretic to be once and again admonished (Titus 3:10). And in this chapter the Lord gives Jezebel time to repent, and here those corrupt persons are exhorted to repent before he comes to fight against them with the sword of his mouth (v. 16), which (as we take it) looks to the same sentence. We will not be peremptory to deny what may be done when the crime is atrocious, the evidence palpable, the scandal great, the contemptuousness of the party by their former and present carriage rendering all hopes of recovering so desperate that there is not so much as access to get a hearing and a following conviction [of sin], and the hazard of the scandal not admitting of delay. I say in such a case, we will not deny what may be done for the church’s edification more summarily, yet we are sure ordinarily the way laid down is to be followed.
Holding Forth The Frame Wherewith Church-Officers Should Proceed In Censure, & Helps Towards the Same.
(7.) In the last place, the manner of proceeding in all this is especially to be looked to, without which all the rest will be weightless. Therefore in all the procedure, the church officers especially would have a zealous, serious, grave and authoritative manner of carriage, having weight and authority in their least looks and words, with all gravity. For can that admonition have weight with others, that appears not to have weight with those that give it? Or can the scandalous be serious in hearing, when there is no conviction on them that they are serious and affected that speak? Ministers therefore especially, as also elders in their place, would endeavor seriously and zealously with all tenderness to the person, to express their indignation at, and abhorrency of such deeds, as it is commended in Ephesus (v. 6), that they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. And certainly a court of Christ’s ought to look like him, and like that business entrusted to them, and to have a different stamp from other courts. And there is nothing that weakens the authority of a sentence most than the want of this.
For helping therefore to it, we propose: [1.] That the conversations of such as take notice of scandals in others, should be shining themselves. There can be no weightiness without this, because the weight and authority that is to be studied here is that which may be convincing to consciences, rather than compulsive to the outward man. And upon this ground it is not the most honorable and rich that give church judicatories most authority, but those who are most shining and convincing in their carriage, particularly in reference to this trust. For though outward place may gain more outward respect, yet this cannot but have more weight upon the conscience, which is especially to be affected by this church authority.
[2.] We would beware of founding this authority upon carnal grounds, or to lay the weight of it there: such as the power and authority of men, yea, or upon our own place, parts, or weight; and upon that account (as it were) to boast rather than to persuade or convince. This sometimes may have weight as to some outward conformity, but does ever lose more of its native weightiness. Therefore ministers and elders in the prosecuting of this, would lay the weight here, that it is Christ’s ordinance, and that they act in his name.
[3.] They would even in that procedure aim especially to deal with consciences to convince them, rather than to wrangle with corruptions, or to throw [wrestle with] the outward man.
[4.] The Master’s honor would ever be respected, yea reverently and frequently mentioned, that all of them may be put and kept in mind that it is his ordinance, and appointed for such an end; and the more room he gets in the meeting, the more weight their procedure will have.
[5.] Ministers, and elders particularly, would pray for the blessing to discipline, as well as to the Word, and for the persons offending, even those that appear to be most stubborn. This becomes their ministerial authority well to acknowledge him, and is the way to have his presence in the midst of them, without which they can expect no weight. The more he is seen that is the master, the more authority will they have who are the servants.
[6.] It helps this also to have the matter and proofs convincing. Therefore particulars that look selflike, or siding with interests, or such as are involved in civil debates and contests, are to be shunned, or at least, not to be insisted upon. For readily a convincing weighty matter will have some impression of it upon consciences. Hence, we will find in Scripture that generally (if not always) public processes are tabled upon scandals that flow from commissions, and that of such nature as has been said. It is true, where an omission is owned, as suppose one should refuse to pray, or where palpably defended, and is not of infirmity, as idleness was in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3), such are by their circumstances rather indeed commissions, and so to be accounted after admonition, and upon just ground are convincing.
[7.] There would be weight, gravity, impartiality, selfdeniedness, and affection kything in every circumstance, and that they may look like the servants of Jesus Christ, who are seeking the good of his people. And so foolish sporting and laughing, idle and trivial questions, passionate words, heat, or particular and personal reflections, and the like, are most derogatory to the authority of a church judicatory, and mar the weight of any sentence upon a conscience, as is evident in daily experience, where sometimes censures in their giving and receiving, are upon the matter an irreverent taking of the name of the Lord in vain.
[8.] There would be in all this an holy boldness, and an undaunted fearlessness in respect of men, when it comes to any difficulty, minding the authority of him whom we represent. Yet so, as in this boldness, conscience of duty and zeal may both in our own consciences, and to the conviction of others, be the ground, end and motive thereof, and not any carnal flash of passion or pride, or fit of natural courage; which may make church officers look like men, but not like their master. For as his kingdom is not of this world in these respects, so ought his officers to administrate the same otherways than a worldly authority ordinarily does. Our weapons are not carnal, but spiritual, and mighty through God, and therefore as such should be used.
Church Processes Would Be Carried On With Expedition.
5. The last general direction concerning this is that when scandals are thus to be taken notice of, this proceeding ought to be with expedition. My meaning is not that we should [be] precipitate contrary to the former directions; but (1.), that after notice of an offense, with all convenience, the first steps of this procedure would be essayed. (2.) That there would not be long intervals between these steps, although they may be frequently repeated. (3.) That persons would not be kept long under process, especially [that] they would not have their appearances multiplied, except when it may be for good use.
The reasons of all these are, (1.) because when offenses are fresh, then often the parties offending, and offended, as also others, are most affected therewith. Whereas if a long time intervene, that edge wears away, and whatever the conclusion be, it proves not so edifying to any. (2.) Men weary, and so fall from that zealous, serious manner of carriage in it, that [is] becoming; for our spirits are soon out of bensal, and that derogates from the weight of the thing. (3.) It proves irritating and burdensome to the parties offending, rather than convincing, and so the end is missed. (4.) It also has influence upon the confusing and burdening of officers when processes are multiplied and lengthened, and it comes some way to look like men’s civil courts, and that in such things as they use to be grievous unto these who are necessitated to wait on them.
To close this, we conceive it were fit for the authority of church judicatories, the weight of admonition, and the edification of persons, that there were some specially set apart for government, although they were fewer. And, Oh! that this might be attained! For ordinary callings do not a little obscure the weight of that ordinance to many, except the conversation of the elder in such things be singularly convincing. And until this is attained, there is the greater need for church officers to be as little in common business and discourses with those over whom they are set, as conveniently may be, that there may be the more access to converse with them as becomes officers. And when necessity calls to it, there is need of gravity and circumspectness, that it does not mar their weight in the duties of their office at any other time. And also church officers in their meetings among themselves, would be always grave and serious, as being about an ordinance of Jesus Christ.
Concerning What Is To Be Done When Offending Persons Give No Satisfaction.
If it is asked then, what is to be done, supposing persons not to give any satisfaction, even when they are brought to public [notice]? This is indeed a difficulty, and will, no question, pulse any consciencious church officer. Yet we suppose, we may class such offenses that are brought to public [notice] in these three sorts, and then answer:
(1.) Some offenses are in matters that are less horrid and scandalous and come nearer to sins of infirmity. Yet [they] are scandalous, being continued in: suppose officious lying, angry passionate words, and such like; where these are repeated, the persons are to be rebuked in some cases. Yet if they are not contemptuous, or the ills otherwise aggreged, we see not how there can be proceeding to excommunication upon such grounds, because excommunication is a chastisement for some singular offenders, and is not for offenses that are so common, as has been formerly said. Of this sort may be the sparingness of charity in church members, in giving little to the poor, or less proportionally than they should, though they do not altogether shut their bowels. This may be the object of admonition, but we think hardly of excommunication, except it have gross contempt with it, and so hazard of making void, by evil example, the course that Christ has appointed for overseeing the poor in his house, for which he has appointed deacons. If public charity upon any pretext would be restrained, that were to no purpose, which certainly highly reflects on Christ, and is a grievous scandal.
We find the Reverend Master Hooker, [A Survey of the Sum of Church Discipline, (London, 1648), p. 57.] lays these two conclusions. [1.] That the church is to stint her members, and determine the quota of their charity and freewill offerings, and that of herself. [2.] That if after the deacon’s private diligence, this is not given in, he is to follow the action before the church. Although we think defect of charity in this respect a great sin and an offense, and may be justly reproved, and the person admonished that is defective palpably in that which is proportionable to his ability; yet that such a particular stint should be made by church power, and exacted under such certification, we cannot yet find to be warrantable. Although we give the magistrate that liberty, and where he exercises it not, we acknowledge mutual condescension may do much. And we are sure, that if any such like thing should be found in the Presbyterial way, it had been charged with tyranny, and encroaching on the place of the magistrate long ere now; yet it may be (when it is well managed) no great corruption in a church.
(2.) A second sort of offenses are such as are of themselves gross and public, yet not atrocious, or aggreged with contempt, such as fornication, some acts of drunkenness, and such like. The party, I say, not being obstinate, but seriously acknowledging his fault and promising to abstain and amend, in that case there is no ground to proceed to the highest censure, though there may be a public rebuke. Yea, though their acknowledgement is not altogether satisfying, yet if after the public rebuke, the person abstains [from] these evils, and [does not] renew the offense, the process is to close, and to proceed no further. Because: [1.] in that case it cannot well be said that he has refused to hear the church when that abstinence follows. [2.] The end of a public rebuke is not always to be an evidence of the person’s full recovery. But, first is a mean to recover him, [and] secondly, it is in itself a public acknowledgement of the fault, and a virtual engagement to abstain. And thirdly, it has a warning force and certification with it for the party offending, if he continues in his offense.
Now if he continues not, it cannot be said that he has incurred the certification, or made the rebuke altogether ineffectual, and therefore in such cases a public rebuke being accepted, it puts a close unto such processes. For such public rebukes are not an exercising of the keys for letting in any[one] to the church that was not a member formerly, and therefore there is not such exactness required here, as in the first admission of heathens; yea, or in restoring of excommunicate persons, who have been bound and shut out. But it is the warning of a member to prevent his being cast out.
Seeing therefore this rebuke loses nothing, there can be no necessity alleged here of searching into his acknowledgements or profession, and we make no question that offending persons being rebuked before all and abstaining from such offenses afterward, are still to be accounted church members, capable of all privileges, notwithstanding of the former offense. For although he was offensive before that rebuke, yet was he not actually bound or excluded from any church priviledge by that offense (because offense gives ground to exclude, if contempt follows, but does not actually exclude of itself). Neither does the rebuke bind and exclude any if no further censure follows and is added thereunto, but [it] is intended to prevent both. And therefore I say that a person merely rebuked for such an offense, and not continuing in, or renewing the same, has right to all church privileges, seeing he is by no ordinance of Christ excluded. And that way of public rebuking is appointed to prevent the falling of others, by that occasion.
(3.) A third sort of offenses are such as of their nature are gross and in their evidence clear: suppose drunkenness, fornication, gross swearing, corrupt errors, etc., and the person offending, after much pains, yet continues obstinate, refusing to hear the church. In that case the rule is clear to proceed with the sentence of cutting off, if no accidental thing calls for the suspending thereof for respect to the church’s good.
When Is A Person To Be Accounted Obstinate?
If it is asked, `When a person is to be accounted obstinate and guilty of not hearing the church?,’ we answer, it may be in these four cases. (1.) When the persons do contemptuously refuse or decline appearance, that is either to hear private admonition, or to answer for removing of their offenses before the public judicatory. This indeed is not to be astricted to once or twice refusing, even when no reasonable excuse can be given. For sometimes offenders are ticklish for a time while their distemper continues; and church officers would be favorable in admitting of excuses and in their condescending to them (as edification may be most furthered), as mothers and nurses will do to children, which similitudes the Scripture sometimes uses.
(2.) It is contempt, supposing a person to appear, and yet either to justify his offense, as if it were no wrong, or to deny an evident fact, or to refuse any way to remove an offense given, etc. Yet in such cases there is both forbearance and gentleness for a time to be essayed, and the offense is to be made inexcusable both to the conscience of the party, and to the consciences of others.
(3.) Contempt may appear in this, when persons offending appear, and do not deny the offense, yet by such proud carriage, haughty reflecting, irreverent expressions, and such like, do betray contempt in the manner of their carriage, thereby do give more offense than by their former miscarriage, or than if they had not appeared at all; because that does reproach the ordinance of Christ more, as it were in his presence to affront him, and like the soldiers, to say, Hail, King of the Jews, and to mock him.
(4.) A fourth thing that may be judged contempt and not hearing of the church, is when a person appearing does with some seeming reverence acknowledge the fault, suppose drunkenness, slander, fornication, etc., and yet notwithstanding continues in or frequently reiterates the same offense. For these cannot be judged sins of infirmity, especially when they are so frequent and that after admonition. For the church’s admonition not only tends to draw forth an acknowledgement of the offense past, but to prevent the like for time to come. Where that is not [present], it cannot be said that Christ’s ordinance has had weight. And in such a case the accounting of verbal acknowledgements [to be] enough, where there is a continuance in some seen evils, would be to make the ordinance of Christ obnoxious to reproach, and to frustrate it of its end, which is to remove and prevent offenses (for in that case they abound more). And it would strengthen men that could dissemble, to continue in their profanity, seeing by that they might ever escape the sentence of excommunication. So profane persons might abound in Christ’s church to the dishonor of his name, and the reproach of the gospel, and yet there is no access to his officers by his ordinances to purge them out. And seeing this would be ridiculous in any human court to account such a man a receiver of admonitions, it is absurd to assert it here.
What, When An Offense Is Not Gross, Yet Has Contempt With It.
If it is asked, `What is to be done in cases where the offense is not of a more gross nature, and comes near to a sin of infirmity, and yet has contempt added thereto, in one of these respects?’ ANSWER. (1.) We have said already that it is hard to ground excommunication upon such a rise, therefore (2.), church officers would warily deal with such offenders, so as there is no seeming occasion given them to condemn, and much forbearance, and even a kind of overlooking (so far as is consistent with faithfulness) is to be exercised in such cases, in reference to some persons. For it has prejudice with it to take notice of such scandals, and thereafter without satisfaction to pass from them, and it is difficult and not always edifying to pursue them. We conceive it therefore more fit, not to take judicial notice (at least) of them all, but to continue a serious and loving dealing with such persons in private, because possibly more rigid dealing might wrong them and the church more than edify. Yea (3.), if it comes to public, frequent trials would be taken of them before it is judged contempt, so that if it is found needful to proceed further, the contempt may be so aggreged that it may be seen that edification requires the same to be prosecuted, and then it is the contempt that bears the weight of the sentence and not the first offense. Therefore this would be so manifest as it may be convincing to the consciences of all to be insufferable.