Dear Brother Beebe: - How are we instructed in Matthew xviii. 15, to deal with offenders?
1. Is this rule to be applied to private or to public trespasses?
2. What is meant by the words, "And if he shall hear thee"? Does this imply acknowledgment or repentance, or both?
3. As the Savior directed to take one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, &c. Does this mean that the aggrieved brother shall be one of the witnesses?
4. And if he meant a private trespass, and I do not see how a private trespass can be proved, what are the two or three witnesses to establish?
5. When the case comes before the church, does the aggrieved and accused stand on the same ground of fellowship with the church, if the aggrieved brother still charges the offence, and the accused denies it?
6. What is meant by being as an heathen and a publican? Is he to be so to the aggrieved brother only, or to the whole church? We also have something on the same subject in Luke xvii. 3, 4.
In hope of eternal life, WM. WIGGINTON.
Near Frankfort, Ky., Jan., 1861.
Reply: - Such views as we have, on all scriptural subjects, we feel bound to give, especially when called upon to do so by our brethren who desire to know and walk in the truth. And those who have for many years sustained and held up our feeble hands by their fellowship and patronage, have a claim upon the very best service we can render; but while we in all candor express the convictions of our mind upon all scriptural subjects, we hold no one obligated to indorse our views any farther than they shall find them sustained by the testimony of the Scriptures. To the decisions of the sacred volume we all, as Old School Baptists, profess to bow with reverence and submission, so far as they are made plain to our understanding by the Spirit of him who alone is worthy to take the Book and open the seals thereof. It is true, as brother Wigginton justly remarks, that our brethren do not understand every portion of the Scriptures alike; though equally candid, and honestly inquiring after the truth they may differ to some extent as to the precise meaning of some of the passages; but with the root of the matter in their hearts, they will not be likely to differ so essentially as to break the bonds of christian fellowship in which the family of God is bound. As brethren we should be forbearing, one with another. We are all of us, while in the flesh, compassed with infirmities, and it does not become us to make a brother an offender for a word. While we contend earnestly (not angrily) for the faith, we are admonished "In meekness to instruct them that oppose themselves." Our reply to the several questions proposed by brother Wigginton must necessarily be brief.
1. Is the rule, (Matt. xviii. 15,) applicable to private or public offences? We know of no authority to make any distinction, provided the offence is of a personal character. "If thy brother trespass against thee." The instruction to go to him alone, would seem to favor the idea that the trespass was only known to the aggressor and aggrieved, but, to our mind, it is not restricted to such offences as are only known to the two, but the object of this order is to forbid an aggrieved brother giving currency to any falling of his brother, whether private or public, until he has in obedience to this rule, labored to gain his brother. Any act or expression of a brother which affects the fellowship of his brother is, as we understand it, personal; it is between him and thee, though others may also know and be affected by it; still as it interrupts your fellowship with the offender, it is against thee; therefore delay not a moment, but in all meekness and kindness go and tell him his fault, between thee and him alone.
2. By the words, "If he shall hear thee," &c., we understand that he receives you in the same kind and christian spirit in which you have come to him. He is willing to carefully investigate the matter, and give you all the satisfaction that the gospel requires. If he be innocent, or unconscious of having committed the trespass; yet, if he hear thee; he is ready to explain, and do all in his power to convince thee of his innocence in the matter, without being angry, but rather thankful that he has a brother and brethren sufficiently faithful and friendly to candidly tell him what they consider to be his fault. If he hear thee, he will regard the order of the gospel, and if convinced that he has trespassed, will turn to thee, saying, "I repent," and thou forgive him; if it is seven times in a day. If he hear thee, the gospel requires of him to acknowledge his fault, and to forsake the wrong, and make such reparation as the nature of the trespass demands. Upon his doing this, you are required to forgive him, and never, to your most confidential friend, much less to an enemy, let it be known that he has trespassed against thee at all.
3. "If he neglect to hear thee, then take with thee one or two more," &c. Who? and for what purpose? The direction of the apostle defines the character of those whom you shall take with thee, viz: "You that are spiritual, restore such an one." That is, those who will not be biased or swayed by any carnal motive, but are actuated by the Spirit of Christ. A venerable preacher among us once remarked, There is a wide difference between the spirit being grieved, and our old man being made mad. Those who are spiritual are eminently qualified for this important labor, as first, they will consider their own liability to err, and therefore feel the humility which is calculated to gain an erring brother; and secondly, they will have the honor of God, the good of the cause in view, and indulge in no fleshly or unworthy motive. Such brethren are to be the witnesses, of what? Of every word. That in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. Of course they are not witnesses of what they do not know. They may be ignorant of the justness of the charge, or validity of the defence, but if they be spiritual, they are competent to judge of the spirit which the parties manifest. Whether the accusing party is influenced by an haughty, persecuting, censorious, unrelenting spirit, or what of christian humility; whether the new man is really grieved, or the old man angry. Every word has something to do in demonstrating where the fault lies, and when this matter finally comes before the church, if before the church it must come, these faithful brethren will establish, in testimony, to the satisfaction of the church, every word.
Does the direction, "Take one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established," mean that the aggrieved brother shall be one of the witnesses? We presume it does. If he be found as the subject seems to imply, pursuing a gospel course in a gospel spirit, then he is a competent witness, but if not, the two witnesses shall be sufficient to establish every word. If he be included, there will be three concurring witnesses to establish every word; but if he be incompetent, still there are two, which is ceremonial law to establish every word. "He that despised Moses' law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses."
But we will here call the attention of brother Wigginton, and of all our brethren, to the words which immediately follow: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven: for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
When the aggrieved brother has failed to gain his brother in the first step, and in obedience to the command of Jesus has taken one or two more, two or three are gathered together in Christ's name; that is, by his authority, and Jesus is certainly in the midst. However perplexing, therefore, the case may be, these gathered brethren have the assurance that the Father will hear their united prayer for wisdom to direct them in the investigation, and as nothing can be hidden from the omniscient eye of him who is in the midst, there will be no failure to arrive at a righteous conclusion in regard to the just merits of the case. It is not said where two or three have met together, but where they are gathered, as Jesus gathers his sheep with his arm, by his Spirit, by his word, inclining them to convene in obedience to his command. Thus in the name and by the direct authority of Zion's eternal King they are gathered, and Jesus is in their midst, and there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed, therefore they are made competent witnesses to establish every word, and what they bind on earth being bound by his authority, is also bound in heaven. The foregoing reply to the third, if correct, will also cover the fourth inquiry, showing how a private trespass may be proved; and also what the witnesses, when they come before the church, are to establish. We will therefore pass on to the next item.
5. When the case comes before the church, does the aggrieved and the accused brother stand on the same ground of fellowship with the church, if the aggrieved still charges, and the accused still denies? So far as the case to be presented to the church for investigation is concerned, they do. Our law judges no man until he has had a lawful hearing, and the object of telling it to the church, is that she may investigate and then decide upon the merits of it. She has no authority to withdraw her fellowship until she has investigated the matter according to the laws of Christ, and then if the accused neglect to hear the church, that is, to respect her authority as the body of Christ, she is to withdraw her fellowship.
Where a direct contradiction is persisted in by the accusing and accused, and the fact or facts involved in the contradiction are only known to the parties, the church may judge from the spirit manifested by them, they then both may be wrong, one or both may be honestly mistaken, or one may be perfectly correct, and the other entirely wrong, but still, he who is in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and as we have shown, when by his authority and in his name and Spirit they are agreed in asking for wisdom to direct, it shall be given them from above. "Some men's sins are open, going beforehand to judgment, others follow after," and as the eyes of the Lord are in his church, he will make the matter clear to the church, when she implicitly observes the direction he has given. It is possible that a whole church may be in disorder to some extent, and if that be the case, the decision should be delayed until a clearer light shall shine upon her.
6. The sixth and last question before us is what is meant by the excluded person being "unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican." If by a careful observance of the divine rule, in the spirit of the gospel, the offender cannot be reclaimed, if he neglect to hear the church, despises her authority, and persists in his wicked course, "Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and as a publican." That is, let him be to thee, as the heathen and publicans were to Israel, under the ceremonial law. The Israelites were not allowed to unite with them in religious rites or allowed any part or lot in the peculiar privileges of their religion. They are not therefore to be allowed to retain a standing in the communion and fellowship of the church, nor treated as those who are of the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, but regarded as if they never had the fellowship of the church. Not that we are at liberty to indulge in a spirit of retaliation, or allow ourselves to injure them, in person or reputation, any farther than to withhold from them all expressions of fellowship, until God shall give them repentance, and incline their hearts to return with humble acknowledgments of their wrong to the church. And when the church has become satisfied that the offender has made suitable satisfaction, he is no longer to be regarded as a publican or heathen.
We cannot too highly estimate nor too sacredly observe the weighty responsibility which rests upon the church of God, and upon each member of the body, in the execution of the laws of the eternal King, in all its bearings upon them collectively or individually; but especially in attending to the discipline which he has enjoined. Too often, alas! when difficulties arise among brethren, or in the churches, a carnal feeling stealthily gains an undue ascendancy, and then, although we may seem to adhere strictly to the letter of the word, we may altogether miss the spirit, and thus transgress the law of Christ, and perhaps do great injustice to some one or more of Christ's little ones. If a brother be overtaken by temptation, and commit an offence, you that are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering your own liability to be also tempted. The laws of Christ are not obeyed if in our labors we act from an ambitions, haughty or resentful spirit, or if we forget that we are also in the flesh, liable at every moment, if left to ourselves, to be overcome by the corruptions of our own depraved nature, and that the very service we are called upon to perform in laboring to reclaim a wanderer, may be, before the next setting sun, required to rescue us from the snares of Satan.
Middletown, N. Y.
February 1, 1861.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 452 – 458