Newton County, GA., Jan.20, 1858.
BROTHER BEEBE: - I will submit a few remarks in relation to the 18th chapter of Matthew, 15th to the 17th verse, inclusive, “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him, alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
The foregoing rule of order is given by the great Head of the church in cases of individual, and private trespass, and will apply in cases of such trespass in distinction from public, or open violation of the laws and commandments of Christ, before the church and the world. The visible church of Christ is composed of a number of individuals, more or less as the case may be, and are collectively as a people by themselves, subject to the King in Zion in all religious matters. Now for instance, if brother A. should trespass against brother B. in some personal and private matter known only between them, B should go to A in a proper manner, with a disposition to reclaim him if possible, and should be cautious how and in what manner he should speak and act. If he fails to accomplish a reconciliation, let him take one or two others for whom A has no improper feelings, or pre-possessions, and if he will not hear them, then tell it to the church. If the gospel rule thus far has been strictly observed, and no tattling or slanderous observations been made, the difficulty comes before the church in a proper manner. If he will not hear the church, the case is plain in relation to the course which should be further pursued; let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. The supposition is, that the church disowns him in their fellowship.
Any departure from this rule in cases of individual trespass is a violation of the law of Christ. But alas; how often is it violated! A private trespass sometimes is known by all the members before the aggrieved person has conversed with the brother who has offended. Sometimes the members will take sides in the difficulty, ere a gospel course has been taken, and distress and trouble brought into the church, in a very unjustifiable manner. Crimination and recrimination follow until peace and quietness is measurably forgotten. What was a small matter in the first place now becomes public, and the cause of Christ is dishonored in the church, and before the world. The more there is said and done, the worse the difficulty grows until in some cases, the churches lose their visibility, and innocent members who did not join in the difficulty, find themselves without a house or home. It is not agreeable to my feelings to write thus on the subject, but justice to the cause of truth requires plainness of speech.
But when there is a case of public trespass which is not against any individual in particular, the foregoing rule in the 18th of Matthew, will not strictly apply. The church can take up the case without resorting to the course pursued in a private individual trespass. I was once made knowledgeable of a case of a young church member who had danced twice or thrice in a ballroom, and had neglected the church for a long time; when his case was brought before the church, one member objected because gospel steps, as in the 18th of Matthew had not been taken with him. Some discussion arose as to its being a private or public trespass. The majority considered it a public transgression, and that it should be treated as such, while one or two of the old members demurred. Several of the members had conversed with him however, before the case was brought before the church. It certainly is not proper for a member to be in bad company at any time, neither can it be proper for one member to watch another by following him to do wrong, for the sake of proof before the church of the erring brother’s transgression. We are not to receive an accusation against a brother, simply on the ground of hearsay alone. But when there is substantial proof which cannot be contradicted or disputed, the case is open and plain before all. And under such circumstances no one person is under obligation to take private labor with the individual who has done wrong, unless he is disposed to do so. And after a person has often been reproved and admonished, and yet persists in his folly, no further forbearance is strictly necessary. The church of Christ is commanded to withdraw herself from every person that walketh disorderly, &c.
We should remember in all cases of church discipline, the importance of closely watching ourselves, and not to be governed by the flesh in what we say or do. And endeavor to have more respect for the order of God’s house, the welfare of his cause, than for our natural feelings. We are liable to err, and to be tempted, therefore we should watch over one another for good, and not for evil.
Bro. Wm. H. Morgan of Meriwether Co., GA., will accept my thanks for the reception of a couple of Minutes of the Primitive Western Association, which he has kindly forwarded to me.