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general exercise a suitable watch and care over each other. One important end of forming gospel churches is, that Christians, being united in a social state, may have greater advantages to promote each other's holiness, comfort, and usefulness. This end would be answered in an eminent degree, if Christian benevolence were always active, and always directed by inspired precepts. Each believer might, in a mea sure, avail himself of the wisdom and piety of the whole body; while the influence of the whole body would be the conjoined energy and usefulness of all its members. But how little of the mutual watch and care, enjoined by the gospel, do we find among nominal Christians! How little does their conduct show, that they are seeking to improve each other in knowledge and in virtue !
When a brother is chargeable with misconduct, it is our indispensable duty to treat him according to Christ's direction in Matt. xviii. "Go, and tell him his fault between thee and him alone." If church members would faithfully comply with this divine rule, and endeavour, in the spirit of Christian meekness and love, to reclaim every offending brother; much would be done to diminish the frequency of public censure, and to promote the peace and purity of the church. The duty of privately admonishing is not confined to pastors, but is expressly extended by the apostle to Christians in general. There are faults in professors, which admit of no definition, and cannot be the ground of any public transaction, but yet ought to be noticed
in private. In this way many smaller improprieties in the conduct of Christians might be corrected, and their character rendered much more amiable. When any one grossly violates the laws of our holy religion, it becomes a very serious and important affair. Whether his of fence be of a public or private nature, his brethren should immediately adopt the measures prescribed in order to bring him to repentance. And no complaint should be made to the church as a body, before every proper method has been used in private. But the duty of private reproof and admonition is so generally neglected, that an of fender is often quite surprised, if not irritated at the visit of brethren, who come to reprove. The faults of Christians are unnoticed, except by the tongue of slander. And it is not unfrequently the case, that those, who, for some reason, will not go and tell a brother a fault, which has been charged against him, nor even take pains to inquire, whether he is guilty, are among the first to circulate a report, which es sentially injures, if not destroys his reputation.
Church members, who have received no personal affront, sometimes excuse themselves for the neglect above mentioned by say ing, that the offending brother has done nothing to injure them, and therefore that it is not their particular concern to reprove. But even this excuse, so frequently made, shows that our churches are generally chargea ble with seeking their own things, and not the things of Jesus Christ. How little of the gospel spirit do men of such a character discov
er. And how few are to be found, who have their Master's interest so affectionately at heart, as to raise them above selfish motives. Is not that, which affects the honour of God and religion, of more consequence, than any personal consideration? We ought to feel a holy offence at every thing, which wounds the church of Christ. We should lament and reprove the misconduct of our brethren, considered as sin against God, and not as personal injury to us. Every act of church discipline should spring from sincere affection to the Redeemer's cause and glory.
It is the direction of Scripture, that one, who is proved guilty of transgressing the laws of Christianity, and, after proper steps taken in private, shows no marks of penitence, shall be cited before the church; and that, after the church has dealt with him in love and faithfulness, if he remains incorrigible, he shall be excommunicated. But do not our churches greatly neglect this duty? Is it any thing uncommon for persons, who are intemperate, or profane, or in some other way grossly immoral, to continue in full communion with our churches, without ever being called to account for their crimes?
How rarely do our churches take any proper notice of men, who deny the essential truths of Christianity. In some instances they suffer those, who reject the gospel and embrace the tenets of infidelity. Thus they transgress the apostolic command; "a man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject;" and they expose them Vol. II. No. 4. Y
selves to a reproof like that, which Christ gave to the church in Pergamos; "I have a few things against thee, because thou hast them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, and thou hast them also, who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate." If it be asked, who shall determine, what is false doctrine, or heresy? It is asked in return, who shall determine what is immoral practice, or sin? The church has the same advantage to judge what is heresy, as they have to judge what is immorality, and the same authority to censure members for the one, as for the other. To connive at an essential deviation from gospel faith is as real a violation of inspired precepts, as to connive at a deviation from gospel practice...
It is deemed a mistake of evil tendency in our churches, that private confession is accepted for public sins. If a Christian commit a fault, which is a discredit not only to himself, but to the cause of Christ; how is the bad consequence of his transgression removed, except by manifesting his repentance as publicly, as his guilt is known. The enlightened penitent will rest in nothing short of this. He will wish the surrounding world, who know his offence, to know how he views his own conduct, and what sentence he passes upon himself. How eminently was this spirit exemplified in David, after he had sinned in the matter of Uriah. "Considering his rank, his age, and a variety of circumstances relating to his family, to persons disaffected to his government, and to his character among the surrounding nations, it might
have been thought expedient for him to be satisfied with secret acts of contrition and devotion, and with bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. But he viewed the subject in a different light, when brought to reflect seriously on his conduct and its probable consequences. The honour of God and of true religion was deeply concerned, and with it the best interests of vast multitudes. Nor did there appear any other way, in which the bad effects of his crimes could be so thoroughly prevent ed, as by his publicly taking the deepest shame to himself for having acted directly contrary to that holy religion, which he professed. Whatever might be the consequences to himself and his reputation, he seems to have resolved, without delay, to publish to his family, his subjects, the world at large, and all future generations, the judgment which, in the sight of God, he now entertained of his late behaviour. He therefore not only composed the fifty first Psalm, for his private use, or to show to his friends, or leave among his writings; but he gave it to the chief musician, that it might form a part of the public psalmody at the tabernacle, and in consequence be circulated through all the land, and among other nations, and continue in the church, for the instruction and warning of mankind in all future ages. Nothing can be well conceived more humiliating, than such a measure; nothing could more decidedly show how much he preferred the honour of God to his own credit; in short, nothing could more decidedly manifest the depth of genuine repentance." How different from the
conduct of David is that of nominal Christians in general, who transgress the laws of Christ. What a backwardness do they show to confess their sins. It often appears to be their notion, that the great evil consists, not in transgression, but in confession. If they acknowledge their sins, it is with manifest reluc tance, and in a manner far less particular and public, than the nature of their offence, and the honour of Christ's cause require. And what is to be particularly remarked here, the church, forgetful of the Redeemer's command and glory, and governed by worldly motives, accept a very mutilated, inadequate confession.
Many more particular defects or irregularities in the treatment of offenders might be mentioned. But it may be sufficient to observe in general, that our churches at large seem in a great measure destitute of the spirit of fidelity. Neglecting the word of God, they are governed by personal regards. The authority, with which Christ invested the church, is nearly lost. The arm of salutary discipline is pal sied. Human friendship, or the fear of man outweighs the hon our of the Redeemer and the welfare of Zion.
One disorder connected with the general neglect of discipline is, that when a brother offends, individual members, without taking the regular measures to bring him to repentance, withdraw on his account from spe cial ordinances. On communion days this disorder sometimes appears great. Particular mem bers of the church, conceiving a dislike or prejudice against a certain communicant, absent
themselves from the Lord's supper. If you inquire the reason of their conduct, their answer is, that their feelings are such, they cannot sit down with a particular brother. Thus they substitute their own feelings in the room of gospel precepts. What a manifest irregularity. Because a brother has incurred our resentment or displeasure, shall we violate our covenant engagements, disobey Christ's dying command, retire from his church, and deprive ourselves of the blessings of his table? Yet so lax is the discipline of our churches, that, generally speaking, they tolerate such disorderly withdrawment.
It would be a great omission to close these remarks, without noticing the almost entire neglect of baptized children. How little is done for their religious instruction! What friendly, paternal discipline does the church extend over them? Are they treated as children of the covenant? Do they feel themselves to be under the watch and care of the church? What a wide departure is there in this respect, I say not from the practice of the fathers of New England, but from the practice of primitive Christian churches. The covenant, which graciously comprises children with their believing parents, is ungratefully overlooked, its advantages spurned, and even the reality of it called in question, and denied.
Another subject of regret in the internal state of our churches is, the want of intimate acquaintance and fervent affection among brethren. The covenant in which church members are joined, the nature of the Chris
tian calling, their common difficulties, dangers, hopes, and comforts, in a word, their common cause should prompt them to a free and unreserved intercourse and friendship. But instead of this, what a distance is there between them. Children of the same father, heirs of the same kingdom, travellers in the same heavenly road, yea, members of the same body, though they have frequent opportunity to meet and converse, hardly know one another. Christians are strangers to the spiritual condition of their brethren, in consequence of which they are incapable of alleviating their sorrows, of aiding their progress in religion, and of promoting, or participating their joys. This want of free intercourse among believers and an intimate knowledge of each other's state directly tends to prevent unity of sentiment and fervency of affection, and to diminish all the comforts of social piety.
The disorders, which have been hinted at, in different degrees, characterize the generality of New England churches; though we may still notice many pleasing exceptions. The consequences of these disorders are lamentable indeed, with reference to the prosperity and honour of the Christian cause, and the welfare of individual believers.
One sad consequence of the evils, which mark the internal state of our churches, is, that many good men are hindered from entering into a visible church
Many, whose lives are exemplary, and whose Christian influence is greatly needed in the church, are perplexed, and kept
back by the disorders among Christians. Seeing little that is inviting, or that promises utility in a church standing, they neglect a public profession. They are fearful of forming a connexion with a church, in which there is such a frequency of irreligious, and even profane characters, and which is so poorly distinguished by its purity from the civilized world. It is not pretended that prevalent disorders justify such Christians, or furnish them with any apology for neglecting their duty. But, in many instances, they conspire with other things to occasion of fence in pious minds, especially where there is a depression of spirit and weakness of resolution, and to beget habitual hesitancy with regard to an open profession of Christianity.
which, at the same time, requires no sacrifices and imposes no restraints. Is not this a subject of pious grief? Who can think it a small evil for tares to be so abundantly sown in God's field, as to overpower and almost eradicate the wheat? What advantage can be derived to the church from the introduction of those, who have not the spirit of the gospel, and are in heart foes to Christian truth and sanctity? What will they do to advance the purity and glory of Zion? What will they do, but embarrass the efforts of believers, efface more and more the sacred beauty of Christianity, & level its honour with the dust?
This leads to another evil connected with the internal state of many New England churches. It was the original design of the Redeemer, in the gospel dispensation, to purify a people to himself; to establish a kingdom, which should evidently appear not of this world; a holy church, which should bear the resemblance of its Head, and thus be distinguished from every other society of men. But in the present state of Christianity, where is the line of discrimination be tween the church and the world? What excellence of character, what sanctity of life distinguishes the bulk of nominal Christians from others? What purity of doctrine or discipline marks our churches at large, as parts of the Redeemer's kingdom? With what propriety can they be addressed in the words of Christ, "Ye are the salt of the earth, a city set on a hill, the light of the world?" Christ broke down the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles; but his professed friends have since broken
It may seem strange to rank under the same head an undesirable increase of church members. Yet in many cases, this stands in near connexion with the last particular. Remove from the church of Christ that strictness of discipline, which he ordained; extinguish the light of Christian doctrines and Christian practice, which shone in primitive ages; and you open a door for the admission of an unholy throng. That very state of the church, which discourages the scrupulous conscience and the lowly heart, invites the self confident and the worldly. As the spirit of Christianity is corrupted or sunk, unrenewed men find less in the church to awe their consciences, to humble their pride, and to abridge their pleasures. They readily take upon them a profession, which custom stamps as precious and honourable, and