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SERMON XVIII.

THE NATURE AND END OF EXCOMMUNICATION.

1 COR. v. 11.

But now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one, no not to eat.

THE apostle reproves the church at Corinth for not excommunicating an offending person; and directs them speedily to cast him out from among them; thus delivering him to Satan. He orders them to purge out such scandalous persons, as the Jews were wont to purge leaven out of their houses when they kept the passover. In the text and two foregoing verses, he more particularly explains their duty with respect to such vicious persons, and enjoins it on them not to keep company with such. But then shows the difference they ought to observe in their carriage towards those who were vicious among the heathen who had never joined with the church, and towards those of the same vicious character who had been their professed brethren; see ver. 9-12, "I wrote unto you not to company with fornicators. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters, for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written

unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one, no not to eat." In the words of the text we may observe,

1. The duty enjoined; including the behaviour required, negatively expressed, not to keep company; and the manner or degree, no not to eat.

2. The object; a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. We are not to understand merely these particular vices, but also any other gross sins, or visible wickedness. It is evident, that the

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apostle here, and in the context, intends that we should exclude out of our company all those who are visibly wicked men. For in the foregoing verses he expresses his meaning by this, that we should purge out the old leaven; and explaining what he means by leaven, he includes all visible wickedness; as in ver. 8. "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

Another thing by which the object of this behaviour or dealing is characterized is, that he be one that is called a brother, or one that hath been a professed Christian, and a member of the church.

DOCTRINE. Those members of the visible Christian church who are become visibly wicked, ought not to be tolerated in the church, but should be excommunicated.

In handling this subject, I shall speak, (1.) Of the nature of excommunication; (2.) Of the subject; and (3.) Of the ends of it.

I. I shall say something of the nature of excommunication. It is a punishment executed in the name and according to the will of Christ, whereby a person who hath heretofore enjoyed the privileges of a member of the visible church of Christ, is cast out of the church and delivered unto Satan. It is a punishment inflicted; it is expressly called a punishment by the apostle, in 2 Cor. ii. 6. Speaking of the excommunicated Corinthian, he says, "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment." For though it be not designed by man for the destruction of the person, but for his correction, and so is of the nature of a castigatory punishment, at least so far as it is inflicted by men; yet it is in itself a great and dreadful calamity, and the most severe punishment that Christ hath appointed in the visible church. Although in it the church is to seek only the good of the person and his recovery from sin-there appearing, upon proper trial no reason to hope for his recovery by gentler means-yet it is at God's sovereign disposal, whether it shall issue in his humiliation and repentance, or in his dreadful and eternal destruction; as it always doth issue in the one or the other. In the definition of excommunication now given, two things are chiefly worthy of consideration; viz. wherein this punishment consists, and by whom it is inflicted.

FIRST, I would show wherein this punishment consists; and it is observable that there is in it something privative, and something positive.

First, There is something privative in excommunication, which consists in being deprived of a benefit heretofore en

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joyed. This part of the punishment, in the Jewish church, was called putting out of the synagogue, John xvi. 2. word synagogue is of the same signification as the word church. So this punishment in the Christian church is called casting out of the church. The apostle John, blaming Diotrephes for inflicting this punishment without cause, says, 3 John v. 10. "He casteth them out of the church." It is sometimes expressed by the church's withdrawing from a member, 2 Thess. iii. 6. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly."

The privative part of excommunication consists in being cut off from the enjoyment of the privileges of God's visible people. The whole world of mankind is divided into these two sorts, those that are God's visible people; and those that are of the visible kingdom of Satan. Now it is a great On the privilege to be within the visible church of Christ. other hand, it is very doleful to be without this visible kingdom, to be cut off from its privileges, treated as belonging to the visible kingdom of Satan. For,

1. They are cut off from being the objects of that charity of God's people which is due to Christian brethren. They are not indeed cut off from all the charity of God's people, for all men ought to be the objects of their love. But I speak of the brotherly charity due to visible saints.-Charity as the apostle represents it, is the bond by which the several members of the church of Christ are united together: and therefore he calls it the bond of perfectness; Col. iii. 14. "Put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness." But when a person is justly excommunicated, it is like a physician's cutting off a diseased member from the body; and then the bond which before united it to the body is cut or broken. A scandal is the same as a stumblingblock; and therefore while the scandal remains, it obstructs the charity of others: and if it finally remain after proper endeavours to remove it, then it breaks their charity, and so the offender is cut off from the charitable opinion and esteem of the church. 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 him as a fellow-christian, 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 per

sons 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 that 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 them 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: 2 Thess. iii. 14. And to treat them as heathens and publicans; Matt. 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 unnecessary 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 them our companions. Yea, there ought to be such an avoiding of their company as may show 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. Who can suppose that the apostle meant this, Take heed and have no company with a man, no not so much as in the highest degree of communion that you can have? Besides, the apostle mentions this eating as a way of keeping company which however, they might hold 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 heathens, 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 had 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. "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 heretofore, 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 connexion; and so to pray for him, and to take pains by admonishing him.-The very reason of the thing shows the same. For this very ordinance 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

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