Sivut kuvina

decisions, if made at all, will not unfrequently be those of a bare majority. Coming from different parts of the country, it will have no common rules of proceeding. After its decisions, its existence ceases. Its responsibility vanishes with its existence; as does, also, the sense of its authority. As the members frequently come from a distance ; it can have no knowledge concerning those numerous particulars, which respect the transactions to be judged of; and the characters, interests, views, and contrivances, of those, who are immediately concerned. As individuals, these members may, in some instances, have much weight; and in certain circumstances may by their wisdom, and piety, do much good. But all this must arise solely from their personal character. As a Council, as a Judicatory, they can have scarcely any weight at all; for, as they disappear when the trial is ended, they are forgotten in their united character; and, having no permanent existence, are regarded with no habitual respect, and even with no prejudice in their favour. Very often also, as they were chosen on partial principles, they are led of course to partial decisions; and leave behind them very unhappy opinions concerning Ecclesiastical Government at large. · In this State, a much happier mode has been resorted to, for the accomplishment of this object. The Tribunal of appeal, is here a Consociation ; a standing body, composed of the settled Ministers within an associational district, and Delegates from the Churches in the same district: a body always existing, of acknowledged authority; of great weight; possessed of all the impartiality, incident to human affairs ; feeling its responsibility as a thing of course; a Court of Record, having a regular system of precedents; and, from being frequently called to business of this nature, skilled, to a good degree, in the proper modes of proceeding.

The greatest defect in this system, as it seems to me, is the want of a still superior Tribunal to receive appeals, in cases, where they are obviously necessary. These it is unnecessary for me to particularite. Every person, extensively acquainted with Ecclesiastical affairs, knows that such cases exist. The only remedy, provided by the system of Discipline established in this State, for those, who feel aggrieved by a Consociational judgment, is to introduce a neighbouring Consociation as assessors with that, which has given the judgment, at a new hearing of the cause. The provision of this partial, imperfect, tribunal of appeals, is clear proof, that those, who formed the system, perceiv. ed the absolute necessity of some appellate jurisdiction. The Judicatory, which they have furnished of this nature, is perhaps the best, which the Churches of the State would at that, or any succeeding period, have consented to establish. Yet it is easy to see, that, were they disposed, they might easily institute one, which would be incomparably better.

The only instance found in the Scriptures of an appeal, actually made for the decision of an Ecclesiastical debate, is that, recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, and mentioned for another purpose in a former discourse. A number of the Jews, in the Church at Antioch, insisted, that the Gentile converts should be circumcised, and be obliged to keep the Law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas strenuously controverted this point with them. As no harmonious termination of the debate could be had at Antioch ; an appeal was made to the Apostles, and Elders, at Jerusalem. But, as I observed in the discourse mentioned, it was heard, and determined, by the Apostles, Elders, and Brethren. As this Judicatory was formed under the direction of the Apostles themselves; it must be admitted as a precedent for succeeding Churches; and teaches us on the one hand, that an appellate Jurisdiction is both lawful, and necessary in the Church, and on the other, that it is to be composed of both Ministers and Brethren, necessarily acting, at the present time, by Delegation.


From this account of Christian Discipline, it is evident,

1. That it was intended for Churches, consisting of Chris. cians.

As this subject was discussed at some length, in the sermon

[ocr errors]

concerning the character of Church members, as exhibited in the Scriptures ; I shall dismiss it here, without any further observations.

2. That it'is a system, wisely adapted to promote the prosperity of such Churches.

AH the Ends of this Discipline are such, as Christians can comprehend and feel : while the means are most happily fitted to accomplish them. Private remonstrance is most wisely caleulated to benefit the trespassing brother; to awaken in him a sense of guilt, danger, and the necessity of repentance, and reformation; to preserve his Christian character; and to restore him, before he shall be known by others to have fallen. Of the same tendency is the additional remonstrance by the accompanying brethren, and the subsequent admonition by the Church. Of these just, and gentle, proceedings, the final sentence of Excommunication is a proper close; and is perfectly fitted to reform an obstinate brother. He, who will not be won by the mild measures of tenderness, will never feel either his character, or condition, but by dint of distress. Should he continue obstinate in this situation; the Church will be freed from a spot on its reputation, an obstacle to its communion, and a nuisance to the religion which it professes. At the same time, the spirit with which every part of this Discipline is to be administered, and without which it exists in form only, precludes every reasonable fear of haste, injustice, or severity.

The manner also, in which the proper evidence of the offender's disposition is to be obtained, and the prohibition of any further proceeding where it is unattainable, are strong marks of that wisdom in the Lawgiver, by which it was devised. The same wisdom is conspicuous in the repetition of the several steps of the proceeding, and the protraction of the process, in this manner, for a considerable length of time. The most desirable opportunity is here furnished to the offender for consideration, and amendment; and to the Church, for coolness in its inquiries, and justice in its decisions. All the parts of the process are also obvious to a very moderate capacity; such as are easily understood by plain men; and easily applied, whether they are to

judge, or to be judged. On the whole, it may be justly observed, that no system of Judicial proceedings is so happily calculated to accomplish in the most efficacious manner, the purposes, for which it is instituted. Eminently profitable, and indispensably necessary, to the Christian Church, it is at the same time, an illustrious display of wisdom, goodness, and providential care, in its Divine Founder.



Psalm XC. 3.

Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Return ye children of


In this series of Discourses, I have considered the Being, and Character, of God; his creation of the Heavens and the Earth, of Angels and Men; the Primitive State of man; his Fall, and Condemnation; their influence on the moral character of his Posterity; and the impossibility of Justification by Works. I have examined the Character, and Mediation, of Christ; and the Justification, accomplished by his Righteousness. I have endeavoured to exhibit the Character of the Holy Spirit; his Agency in the work of Regeneration; the Reality, Necessity, and Nature, of that work; together with its Antecedents, Attendants, Consequences, and Evidences. I have attempted to explain the Divine Law, and the principal Duties which it requires ; together with the Foundation, the Nature, and the Effects of Virtue, the true and only obedience to it; and the nature of that Inability to obey it, which is an important characteristic of man; and the means of our restoration to Obedience. I have also investigated the means of obtaining, and the means of increasing, grace; the manner in which, and the Persons by whom, they are to be enployed. In the course of this investigation, I have endeavoured

« EdellinenJatka »