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a common friend, in whose prudence, as well as uprightness, you can throughly confide. Such a person, speaking in your name, and in the spirit and manner above described, may answer the same end, and, in a good degree, supply your lack of service. Only beware you do not feign the want of opportunity, in order to shun the cross; neither take it for granted that you cannot have access, without ever making the trial. Whenever you can speak in your own person, it is far better. But you should rather do it by another, than not at all : This way is better than none.
4. But what, if you can neither speak yourself, nor find such a messenger as you can confide in ? If this be really the case, it then only remains, to write. And there may be some circumstances which make this the most advisable way of speaking. One of these circumstances is, when the person with whom we have to do is of so warm and impetuous a temper as does not easily bear reproof, especially from an equal or inferior. But it may be so introduced and softened in writing as to make it far more tolerable. Besides, many will read the very same words, which they could not bear to hear. It does not give so violent á shock to their pride, nor so sensibly touch their honour. And suppose it makes little impression at first, they will, perhaps, give it a second reading, and, upon farther consideration, lay to heart what before they disregarded. If you add your name, this is nearly the same thing as going to him, and speaking in person. And this should always be done, unless it be rendered improper by some very particular reason.
5. It should be well observed, not only that this is a step which our Lord absolutely commands us to take, but that he commands us to take this step first, before we attempt any other. No alternative is allowed, no choice of anything else : This is the way; walk thou in it. It is true, he enjoins us, if need require, to take two other steps ; but they are to be taken successively after this step, and neither of them before it: Much less are we to take any other step, either before or beside this. To do anything else, or not to 'do this, is, therefore, equally inexcusable.
6. Do not think to excuse yourself for taking an entirely different step, by saying, “Why, I did not speak to any one, till I was so burdened, that I could not refrain.” You was burdened! It was no wonder you should, unless your conscience was seared; for you was under the guilt of sin, of disobeying a plain commandment of God! You ought immediately to have gone, and told “your brother of his fault between you and him alone.” If you did not, how should you be other than burdened, (unless your heart was utterly hardened,) while you was trampling the command of God under foot, and “hating your brother in your heart ?" And what a way you have found to unburden yourself! God reproves you for a sin of omission, for not telling your brother of his fault; and you comfort yourself under his reproof by a sin of commission, by telling your brother's fault to another person ! Ease bought by sin is a dear purchase ! I trust in God, you will have no ease, but will be burdened so much the more, till you " go to your brother and tell him," and no one else!
7. I know but of one exception to this rule: There may be a peculiar case, wherein it is necessary to accuse the guilty, though absent, in order to preserve the innocent. For instance: You are acquainted with the design which a man has against the i property or life of his neighbour. Now, the case may be so circumstanced, that there is no other way of hindering that design from taking effect, but the making it known, without delay, to him against whom it is laid. In this case, therefore, this rule is set aside, as is that of the Apostle, “Speak evil of no man :" And it is lawful, yea, it is our bounden duty, to speak evil of an absent person, in order to prevent his doing evil to others and himself at the same time. But remember, meanwhile, that all evil-speaking is, in its own nature, deadly poison. Therefore if you are sometimes constrained to use it as a medicine, yet use it with fear and trembling ; seeing it is so dangerous a medicine, that nothing but absolute necessity can excuse your using it at all. Accordingly, use it as seldom as possible ; never but when there is such a necessity: And even then use as little of it as is possible ; only so much as is necessary for the end pro posed. At all other times, “ go and tell him of his fault between thee and him alone.”
II. 1. But what, “ if he will not hear?” if he repay evil for good ? if he be enraged, rather than convinced? What, if he hear to no purpose, and go on still in the evil of his way? We must expect this will frequently be the case ; the mildest and tenderest reproof will have no effect; but the blessing we wished for another will return into our own bosom. And what are we
to do then ? Our Lord has given us a clear and full direction. Then “ take with thee one or two more :” This is the second step. Take one or two whom you know to be of a loving spirit, lovers of God and of their neighbour. See, likewise, that they be of a lowly spirit, and “ clothed with humility.” Let them also be such as are meek and gentle, patient and longsuffering; not apt to “ return evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing." Let them be men of understanding, such as are endued with wisdom from above; and men unbiassed, free from partiality, free from prejudice of any kind. Care should likewise be taken, that both the persons and their characters be well known to him: And let those that are acceptable to him be chosen preferable to any others.
2. Love will dictate the manner wherein they should proceed, according to the nature of the case. Nor can any one particular manner be prescribed for all cases. But perhaps, in general, one might advise, before they enter upon the thing itself, let them mildly and affectionately declare that they have no anger or prejudice toward him, and that it is merely from a principle of good-will that they now come, or at all concern themselves with his affairs. To make this the more apparent, they might then calmly attend to your repetition of your former conversation with him, and to what he said in his own defence, before they attempted to determine anything. After this they would be better able to judge in what manner to proceed, “ that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word might be established;" that whatever you have said may have its full force by the additional weight of their authority.
3. In order to this, may they not, (1.) Briefly repeat what you spoke, and what he answered ? (2.) Enlarge upon, open, and confirm the reasons which you had given ? (3.) Give weight to your reproof, showing how just, how kind, and how seasonable it was ? And, Lastly, enforce the advices and persuasions which you had annexed to it? And these may likewise hereafter, if need should require, bear witness of what was spoken.
4. With regard to this, as well as the preceding rule, we may observe, that our Lord gives us no choice, leaves us no alternative, but expressly commands us to do this, and nothing else in the place of it. He likewise directs us when to do this ; neither sooner nor later ; namely, after we have taken the first, and before we have taken the third step. It is then only that we
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are authorized to relate the evil another has done, to those whom we desire to bear a part with us in this great instance of brotherly love. But let us have a care how we relate it to any other person, till both these steps have been taken. If we neglect to take these, or if we take any others, what wonder if we are burdened still? For we are sinners against God, and against our neighbour; and how fairly soever we may colour it, yet, if we have any conscience, our sin will find us out, and bring a burden upon our soul.
III. 1. That we may be throughly instructed in this weighty affair, our Lord has given us a still farther direction. “ If he will not hear them,” then, and not till then, “ tell it to the Church.” This is the third step. All the question is, how this word, “ the Church,” is here to be understood. But the very nature of the thing will determine this beyond all reasonable doubt. You cannot tell it to the national Church, the whole body of men termed “ the Church of England.” Neither would it answer any Christian end if you could; this, therefore, is not the meaning of the word. Neither can you tell it to that whole body of people in England with whom you have a more immediate connexion. Nor, indeed, would this answer any good end: The word, therefore, is not to be understood thus. It would not answer any valuable end to tell the faults of every particular member to the Church, (if you would so term it,) the congregation or society united together in London. It remains that you tell it to the elder or elders of the Church, to those who are overseers of that flock of Christ to which you both belong, who watch over yours and his soul, “ as they that must give account.” And this should be done, if it conveniently can, in the presence of the person concerned, and, though plainly, yet with all the tenderness and love which the nature of the thing will admit. It properly belongs to their office, to determine concerning the behaviour of those under their care, and to rebuke, according to the demerit of the offence, “with all authority.” When, therefore, you have done this, you have done all which the word of God, or the law of love, requireth of you: You are not now partaker of his sin; but if he perish, his blood is on his own head.
2. Here, also, let it be observed, that this, and no other, is the third step which we are to take; and that we are to take it in its order after the other two; not before the second, much less the first, unless in some very particular circumstance. Indeed,
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in one case, the second step may coincide with this: They may be, in a manner, one and the same. The elder or elders of the Church may be so connected with the offending brother, that they may set aside the necessity, and supply the place, of the one or two witnesses ; so that it may suffice to tell it to them, after you have told it to your brother, “ between you and him alone.”
3. When you have done this, you have delivered your own soul. “ If he will not hear the Church," if he persist in his sin, "" let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican.". You are under no obligation to think of him any more; only when you commend him to God in prayer. You need not speak of him any more, but leave him to his own Master. Indeed, you still owe to him, as to all other Heathens, earnest, tender goodwill. You owe him courtesy, and, as occasion offers, all the offices of humanity. But have no friendship, no familiarity with him; no other intercourse than with an open Heathen.
4. But if this be the rule by which Christians walk, which is the land where the Christians live? A few you may possibly find scattered up and down, who make a conscience of observing it. But how very few! How thinly scattered upon the face of the earth! And where is there any body of men that universally walk thereby? Can we find them in Europe ? or, to go no farther, in Great Britain or Ireland ? I fear not: I fear we may search these kingdoms throughout, and yet search in vain. Alas for the Christian world! Alas for Protestants, for Reformed Christians ! O, “ who will rise up with me against the wicked ?" “Who will take God's part” against the evil-speakers ? Art thou the man? By the grace of God, wilt thou be one who art not carried away by the torrent ? Art thou fully determined, God being thy helper, from this very hour to set a watch, a continual “ watch, before thy mouth, and keep the door of thy lips ?” From this hour wilt thou walk by this rule,“ Speaking evil of no man?" If thou seest thy brother do evil, wilt thou " tell him of his fault between thee and him alone ?” afterwards, “ take one or two” witnesses, and then only “ tell it to the Church ?” If this be the full purpose of thy heart, then learn one lesson well, “ Hear evil of no man.” If there were no hearers, there would be no speakers of evil. And is not (according to the vulgar proverb) the receiver is bad as the thief? If, then, any begin to speak evil in thy hearing, check him immediately.