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due trial, the matter so requiring, both the liberty of churches would hereby be infringed in that they might not examine those, concerning whose fitness for communion they were unsatisfied ; and besides the infringing of their liberty, the churches themselves would unavoidably be corrupted, and the ordinances defiled, whilst they might not refuse, but must receive the unworthy ; which is contrary unto the scripture, teaching that all churches are sisters, and therefore equal. Matt iii. 5, 6. Gal. ii. 4. 1 Tim. v. 24. Cant. viii. 8.
7. The like trial is to be required from such members of the church as were born in the same, or received their membership and were baptized in their infancy or minority, by virtue of the covenant of their parents, when being grown up unto years of discretion, they shall desire to be made partakers of the Lord's supper; unto which, because holy things must not be given unto the unworthy, therefore it is requisite, that these as well as others should come to their trial and examination, and manifest their faith and repentance by an open profession thereof, before they are received to the Lord's supper, and otherwise not to be admitted thereunto. Yet these church members that were so born, or received in their childhood, before they are capable of being made partakers of full communion, have many privileges which others, not church members, have not; they are in covenant with God, have the seal thereof upon them, viz. baptism ; and so if not regenerated, yet are in a more hopeful way of attaining regenerating grace, and all the spiritual blessings both of the covenant and seal : they are also under church-watch, and consequently subject to the reprehensions, admonitions, and censures thereof, for their healing and amendment, as need shall require.
Matt. vii. 6. 1 Cor. xi. 27.
of church members, their removal from one church to another, and of
recommendation and dismission.
1. Church members may not remove or depart from the church, and so one from another as they please, nor without just and weighty cause, but ought to live and dwell together; forasmuch as they are commanded, not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. Such departure tends to the dissolution and ruin of the body, as the pulling of stones and pieces of timber from the building, and of members from the natural body, tend to the destruction of the whole. Heb. x. 25.
2. It is therefore the duty of church members, in such times and places where counsel may be had, to consult with the church whereof they are members about their removal, that accordingly they having their approbation, may be encouraged, or otherwise desist. They who are joined with consent, should not depart without consent, except forced thereunto. Prov. xi. 16.
3. If a member's departure be manifestly unsafe and sinful, the church may not consent thereunto; for in so doing, they should not act in faith, and should partake with him in his sin. If the case be doubtful, and the person not to be persuaded, it seemeth best to leave the matter unto God, and not forcibly to detain him. Rom. xiv. 23. 1 Tim. v. 22. Acts, xxi. 14.
4. Just reasons for a member's removal of himself from the church, are, 1. If a man cannot continue without partaking in sin. 2. In case of personal persecution ; so Paul departed from the disciples at Damascus. Also in case of general persecution, when all are scattered. 3. In case of real, and not only pretended want of competent subsistence, a door being opened for better supply in another place, together with the means of spiritual
edification. In these, or like cases, a member may lawfully remove, and the church cannot lawfully detain him.
Eph. v. 11. Acts, ix. 25, 29, 20, and viii. 1. Neh. xiii. 20.
5. To separate from a church, either out of contempt of their holy fellowship, or out of covetousness, or for greater enlargements, with just grief to the church; or out of schism, or want of love, and out of a spirit of contention in respect of some unkindness, or some evil only conceived, or indeed in the church, which might and should be tolerated and healed with a spirit of meekness, and of which evil the church is not yet convinced (though perhaps himself be) nor admonished : for these or like reasons to withdraw from public communion, in word, or seals, or censures, is unlawful and sinful.
2 Tim iv. 10. Rom. xvi. 17. Jude, 19. Eph. iv. 2, 3. Col. ii. 13. Gal. vi. 1, 2.
6. Such members as have orderly removed their habitation, ought to join themselves unto the church in order where they do inhabit, if it may be ; otherwise they can neither perform the duties nor receive the privileges of members. Such an example tolerated in some, is apt to corrupt others, which if many should follow, would threaten the dissolution and confusion of churches, contrary to the scripture. Isa. Ivi. 8. Acts, ix. 26. 1 Cor. xiv. 33.
7. Order requires, that a member thus removing, have letters testimonial, and of dismission from the church whereof he yet is, unto the church whereunto he desireth to be joined, lest the church should be deluded; that the church may receive him in faith, and not be corrupted by receiving deceivers, and false brethren. Until the person dismissed be received into another church, he ceaseth not by his letters of dismission to be a member of the church whereof he was. The church cannot make a member no member, but by excommunication. Acts, xviii. 27.
8. If a member be called to remove only for a time, where a church is, letters of recommendation are requisite, and sufficient for communion with that church, in the ordinances, and in their watch; as Phæbe, a servant
of the church at Cenchrea, had letters written for her to the church at Rome, that she might be received as becometh saints. Rom. xvi. 1,2. 2 Cor. iii. 1.
9. Such letters of recommendation and dismission, were written for Apollos; for Marcus to the Colossians; for Phæbe to the Romans ; for sundry others to other churches. And the apostle telleth us, that some persons, not sufficiently known otherwise, have special need of such letters, though he for his part had no need thereof. The use of them is to be a benefit and help to the party for whom they are written, and for the furthering of his receiving amongst the saints in the place whereto he goeth, and the due satisfaction of them in their receiving of him.
Acts, xviii. 27. Col. iv. 10. Rom. xvi. 1. 2 Cor. ij. I.
Of excommunication, and other censures. 1. The censures of the church are appointed by Christ for the preventing, removing, and healing of offences in the church; for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for the deterring of others from the like offences; for purging out the leaven which may infect the whole Jump; for vindicating the honor of Christ, and of his church, and the holy profession of the gospel; and for preventing of the wrath of God, that may justly fall upon the church, if they should suffer his covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders. 1 Tim. v. 10. Deut. xvii. 12, 13. Jude, v. 29. Deut. xiii. 11. 1 Cor.
Rev. ii. 14, 15, 16, 20. 2. If an offence be private, one brother offending another, the offender is to go and acknowledge his repentance for it unto his offended brother, who is then to forgive him; but if the offender neglect or refuse to do it,
v. 6. Rom. ii. 24.
the brother offended is to go, and convince and admonish him of it, between themselves privately: if thereupon the offender be brought to repent of his offence, the admonisher hath won his brother ; but if the offender hear not his brother, the brother offended is to take with him one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established – whether the word of admonition, if the offender receive it; the word of complaint, if he refuse it: for if he refuse it, the offended brother is by the mouth of the elders to tell the church; and if he hear the church, and declare the same by penitent confession, he is recovered and gained: and if the church discern him to be willing to hear, yet not fully convinced of his offence, as in case of heresy, they are to dispense to him a public admonition; which declaring the offender to lie under the public offence of the church, doth thereby withhold or suspend him from the holy fellowship of the Lord's supper, till his offence be removed by penitent confession. If he still continue obstinate, they are to cast him out by excommunication.
Mat. v. 23, 24. Luke, xvii. 3, 4. Mat. xviii. 15–17. Tit. iii. 10. Mat. xvili 17.
3. But if the offence be more public at first, and of a more heinous and criminal nature, to wit, such as are condemned by the light of nature; then the church, without such gradual proceeding, is to cast out the offender from their holy communion, for the further mortifying of his sin, and the healing of his soul in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1 Cor. v. 4, 5, 11.
4. In dealing with an offender, great care is to be taken that we be neither over strict or rigorous, nor too indulgent or remiss : our proceeding herein ought to be with a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted; and that the best of us have need of much forgiveness from the Lord. Yet the winning and healing of the offender's soul, being the end of these endeavors, we must not daub with untempered mortar, nor heal the wounds of our brethren slightly. On some have compassion, others save with fear.
Gal. vi. 1. Mat. xviii. 34, 35. Ezek. xiii. 10.