Page images
PDF
EPUB

It cannot any longer look upon him as a Christian, and so rejects him; therefore excommunication is called a rejection, Tit. iii. 10. "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.This implies that the church disapproves the person as a Christian: it cannot any longer charitably look upon him as a saint, or fellow-worshipper of God, and can do no other than, on the contrary, esteem him an enemy of God; and so doth openly withdraw its charity from him, ceasing to acknowledge bim as a fellowchristian, any more than the heathens. He is also cut off from that honour which is due to brethren and fellow-christians. To be a visible Christian is an honourable character; but excommunicated persons forfeit this honour. Christians ought not to pay that honour and respect to them, which they pay to others; but should treat them as unworthy of such honour, that they may be ashamed. Christ tells us, they should “ be unto us as heathen men and publicans,” (Matt. xviii. 17.) which implies a withdrawing from them that common respect which we pay to others. We ought to treat theni so as to let them plainly see that we do not count them worthy of it, to put them to shame.

Much love and complacency is due to those whom we are obliged in charity to receive as saints, because they are visible Christians. But this complacency excommunicated persons forfeit. We should still wish well to them, and seek their good. Excommunication itself is to be performed as an act of benevolence. We should seek their good by it; and it is to be used as a mean of their eternal salvation. But complacency and delight in them as visible Christians is to be withdrawn; and on the contrary they are to be the objects of displacency, as visibly and apparently wicked. We are to cast them out as an unclean thing which defiles the church of God. In this sense the psalmist professes a hatred of those who were the visible enemies of God. Psal. cxxxix. 21, 22. “ Do I not hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? And am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred." Not that he hated them with a hatred of malice or ill-will, but with displacency and abhorrence of their wickedness. In this respect we ought to be the children of our Father who is in heaven, who, though he loves many wicked men with a love of benevolence, yet cannot love them with a love of complacency. Thus excommunicated persons are cut off from the charity of the church.

2. They are cut off also from the society which Christians have together as brethren. Thus we are commanded to withdraw from such ; 2 Thess. iii. 6. To avoid them ; Rom. xvi. 17. To have no company with them ; % Thess. iii. 14,

And to treat them as heathens and publicans; Matth. xviii. 17, The people of God are, as much as may be, to withdraw from them as to that common society which is proper to subsist among Christians.-Not that they should avoid speaking to them on any occasion. All manner and all degrees of society are not forbidden; but all unnecesary society, or such as is wont to be among those who delight in the company of each other. We should not associate ourselves with them so as to make thein our companions. Yea, there ought to be such an avoiding of their company as may shew great dislike.

Particularly, we are forbidden such a degree of associating ourselves with them, as there is in making them our guests at our tables, or in being their guests at their tables; as is manifest in the text, where we are commanded to have no company with them, no not to eat. That this respects not eating with them at the Lord's supper, but a common eating, is evident by the words, that the eating here forbidden, is one of the lowest degrees of keeping company, which are forbidden. Keep no company with such an one, saith the apostle, no not to eat: As much as to say, no not in so low a degree as to eat with him. But eating with him at the Lord's supper, is the very highest degree of visible Christian communion. Whio can suppose that the apostle meant this, Take heed and have no company with a man, no not so much as in the higbest degree of communion that you can have? Besides, the apostle mentions this eating as a way of keeping company which, however, they might bold with the heathen. He tells them, not to keep company with fornicators; then he informs them, he means not with the fornicators of this world, that is, the heathens; but, saith he, “ if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, &c. with such an one keep no company, no not to eat." This makes it most apparent, that the apostle doth not mean eating at the Lord's table; for so, they might not keep company with the heathens, any more than with an excommunicated person. Here naturally arise two questions.

Quest. I. How far are the church to treat excommunicated persons as they would those who never have been of the visible church ? I answer, they are to treat them as beathens, excepting in these two things, in which there is a difference to be observed.

1. They are to have a greater concern for their welfare still, than if they never bad been brethren, and therefore ought to take more pains, by admonitions and otherwise, to reclaim and save them, than they are obliged to take towards those who have been always heathens. This seems manifest by that of the apostle, 2 Thess. iii. 14, 15. 6 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” The consideration that he hath been a brother beretofore, and that we have not finally cast him off from that relation, but that we are still hoping and using means for his recovery, obliges us to concern ourselves more for the good of his soul than for those with whom we never had any such connection; and so to pray for him, and to take pains by admonishing him.-- The very reason of the thing shews the same. For this

very

ordi. nance of excommunication is used for this end, that we may thereby obtain the good of the person excommunicated. And surely we should be more concerned for the good of those who have been our brethren, and who are now under the operation of means used by us for their good, than for those with whom we never had any special connection. Thus, there should be more of the love of benevolence exercised towards persons excommunicated, than towards those who never were members of the church. But then,

2. On the other hand, as to what relates to the love of complacence, they ought to be treated with greater displacency and disrespect than the heathen. This is plain by the text and context. For the apostle plainly doth not require of us to avoid the company of the heathen, or the fornicators of the world, but expressly requires us to avoid the company of any brother who shall be guilty of any of the vices pointed out in the text, or any other like them. This is also plain by the reason of the thing. For those who have once been visible Christians, and have apostatized and cast off that visibility, deserve to be treated with more abhorrence than those who bave never made any pretensions to Christianity. The sin of such, in apostatizing from their profession, is more aggravated, than the sin of those who never made any profession. They far more dishonour religion, and are much more abhorred of God. Therefore when Christ says, Matth. xviii. 17. “ Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican,” it is not meant that we should treat an excommunicated brother as Christians ought to treat heathens and publicans ; for they might eat with them, as Christ himself did; and the apostle gives leave to eat with such, 1 Cor. x. 27. and in the context gives leave to keep company with such ; yet forbids to eat with an excommunicated person.-Christ's meaning must be, that we should treat an excommunicated person, as the Jews were wont to treat the heathens and publicans; and as the disciples had been always taught among the Jews, and brought up, and used to treat them. They would by no means eat with publicans and sinners; they would not eat with the Gentiles, or with the Samaritans. Therefore Peter durst not eat with the Gentiles when the Jews were present; Gal. ii, 12, Quest. II. Wbat kindness and respect may and ought to be shewn to such persons ?-I answer, There are some things by which the members of the church are obliged to shew kindness to them; and these things are chiefly, to pray for them, and to admonish them.-And the common duties and offices of humanity ought to be performed towards them : such as relieving them when they are sick, or under any other distress; allowing them those benefits of human society, and that help, which are needful for the support and defence of their lives and property.—The duties of natural and civil relations are still to be performed towards them. Excommunication doth not release children from the obligation of duty to their parents, nor parents from parental affection and care toward their children. Nor are husbands and wives released from the duties proper to their relation. And so of all other less relations, whether natural, domestic, or civil.

3. They are cut off from the fellowship of the Christian church. The true notion of the visible .church of Christ, is that part of mankind, which, as his people, is united in upholding his appointed worship: And the notion of a particular visible church of Christ is a particular society of worshippers, or of visible saints, united for the social worship of God according to his institutions or ordinances. One great and main privilege then, which the members of such a church enjoy, is fellowship in the worship which God hath appointed in his church. But they that are excommunicated are cut off from this privilege, they bave no fellowship, no communion with the people of God in any part of their worship.

He who is the mouth of the worshipping congregation in offering up public prayers, is the mouth only of the wor. shipping society; but the excommunicated are cast out of that society. The church may and ought to pray for such; but they cannot have fellowship with such in prayer. The minister, when speaking in prayer, doth not speak in their name; he speaks only in the name of the united society of visible saints or worshippers. If the people of God were to put up prayers in their name, it would imply a receiving of them into charity, or that they charitably looked upon them as the servants or worshippers of God. But, as was observed before, excommunicated persons are in this respect cast out of the charity of the church, and it looks upon them as wicked men and enemies of God, and treats them as such.

So when a congregation of visible saints join in singing the praises of God, as the psalmist says, Psal. xxxiv. 3. 66 Let us extol his name together;" they do it only as joining with those who are in their charitable estimation, fellowservants and fellow-worsbippers of God. They do it not as joining with heathens; nor do the people of God say

to the open enemies of God, remaining such, “Come let us extol his name together;" but they say it to their brethren in God's service. If we ought not to join with excommunicated persons in familiar society, much less ought we to bold fellowship with them in solemn worship, thougb they may be present.

4. There are privileges of a more internal nature, which those who are members of the visible church enjoy, from which excommunicated persons are cut off. They being God's covenant people, are in the way of covenant-blessings: and therefore have more encouragement to come to God by prayer for any mercy they need. The visible church is the people among whom God hath set his tabernacle, and among whom he is wont to bestow his blessings. But the excommunicated are, in a sense, cast out of God's sight, into a land of banishment, as Cain was, though not debarred from common means. Gen. iv. 14, 16. They are not in the way of those smiles of providence, those tokens of God's favour, and that light of God's countenance, like those who are within. Nor, as they are cast out from among God's covenant people, have they the divine covenant to plead, as the members of the church have.-Thus far I have considered the privative part of the punishment of excommunication. I now proceed,

SECONDLY, to the positive part, which is expressed by being delivered to Satan, in verse 5. By which two things seem to be signified :

1. A being delivered over to the calamities to which they are subject, who belong to the visible kingdom of the devil. As they who are excommunicated are thrust out from among the visible people of God; so they are to be looked upon, in most respects at least, as being in the miserable, deplorable circumstances in which those are who are under the visible tyranny of the devil, as the heathens are. And in many respects they doubtless suffer the cruel tyranny of the devil, in a manner agreeable to their condition, being cast out into bis visible kingdom.

2. It is reasonable to suppose that God is wont to make the devil the instrument of those peculiar, severe chastisements which their apostacy deserves. As they deserve more severe chastisement than the heathens, and are delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh; so we may well suppose, either that God is wont to let Satan loose, sorely to molest them out. wardly or inwardly, and by such severe means to destroy the flesh, and to humble them; or that he suffers the devil to tako possession of them dreadfully to harden them, and so to destroy them for ever. For although what men are to aim at, is only the destruction of the flesh, yet whether it shall prove the

« PreviousContinue »