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thority may confirm your own. Should he remain unreasonable, his perverseness may be proved to the satisfaction of others. As the law ordained, at the mouth of two or three witnesses shall the matter be established.
He may still persist, and neglect to hear them. Then carry the matter to the elders of the church, who have authority, and "bear rule." Their united voice may prevail. But if he neglect to hear the church, thus solemnly judging concerning his error, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. He has rejected that authority which ought to govern him, and must be himself rejected.
St. Paul censures the Corinthians for departing from this precept, and impleading one another before heathen tribunals. 3 Those who had done wrong, and those who had suffered wrong, were not content to refer their cause to the elders of the congregation. "Dare any of you," he asks, "having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man amongst you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers."
In circumstances like those of the christian church at Corinth, this rebuke was just. Whilst Christians formed a small body taken out of the rest of a city or nation, the church was a separate party, and the ministers and elders of it could, in a solemn way, admonish and correct an individual member in the name of the Lord: and if he refused to 31 Cor. vi. 1-6.
regard their censure, could exclude him from their community. So in the same church, a member of it was living with a person who had been "his father's wife." St. Paul directs, "concerning him who hath done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." He was to be cast out of the church, as a heathen man and a publican: and in this particular instance, to be given up to the malice of Satan, if peradventure the "day of adversity" should lead him to "consider," and repent, and "return to the Lord."
These rules of discipline are confirmed by a powerful sanction. They who pronounced this solemn censure, were not alone. A superior authority is with them and confirms what they determine.
4 1 Cor. v. 1-5.
5 In this way the early Christian congregations were able to preserve a society far more pure and unmixed than has ever been since maintained. This has been alleged as one great cause of their increase. So it must have been. The sight of a considerable number of persons all actuated by the motives which Christians profess, and not materially deviating from the regulations of the gospel, living not for this world, but above it,―must have produced a strong effect upon the minds of those who witnessed it. Whereas, when the great body of the nation is professedly Christian, there are such varieties of conduct, such infinite degrees of obedience and disobedience, that the force of example is in a great degree lost to the world.
18. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 6
19. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
20. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
No opinion of man can make an action right or wrong; no censure of man can condemn a person in the sight of heaven, if God, who knows the heart, does not condemn the same. No absolution of man can diminish a crime or pardon an offender, when God does not see fit to pardon.
So that the solemn sanction here pronounced to ratify the judgment of the apostles, was suited to the same state of the church which allowed of what St. Paul directs in the case of the Corinthian offender; it was suited to that particular inspiration which enabled Peter to see into the heart of Ananias, that particular guidance which was a security against human frailty and error. As the inspiration ceased which belonged to the apostles, these words would lose much of their force, just as the power of working miracles was withdrawn; and together with them, would cease the absolute promise, If two of you shall agree touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. The assurance to the future and universal church
6 Most of the ancient commentators suppose that this is said of persons others apply it to things or actions, or the laws which regulate them. The argument remains nearly the same. 71 Cor. v. 5. Acts v. 3-9.
would be, "We know that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us." 8
Still there remain great truths, which will never be set aside. The ministers and rulers of the church do not now expect that sanction to their sentence so positively promised to the apostles; they dare not presume on such authority, or assume such a responsibility. But they still are, and will remain, the guardians of those doctrines on which eternal life and death depend: and according to which, the soul which is bound, on earth shall be bound in heaven, and the soul which is loosed on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. So likewise "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man," much more of an assembly of righteous men, "availeth much:"9 and so likewise Christ will still by his Spirit be present with those who are gathered together in his name, whether in the sanctuary, for the purpose of prayer and praise, or animated by a desire to promote his glory, by extending his kingdom more widely in the world. There may his mysterious presence be expected, to answer the prayer of earnest faith, and to favour the designs which are undertaken in dependence upon his will. He knows them that are his; and as they "hear his voice, and follow him," so does he hear their voice, and bless them.
8 1 John v. 14.
9 James v. 16.
FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES ENJOINED, BY THE PARABLE OF THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT.
MATT. xviii. 21-35.
21. Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22. Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.
Our Lord had been recommending great forbearance towards an offending brother. This was "a new commandment" to those who had been accustomed to the maxim, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy." And its novelty leads Peter to ask how far this forbearance and forgiveness is to extend? How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Hisquestion opens the way to a precept which should be written on every Christian's heart. I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven. If he trespass against thee seven times a day, and seven times a day turn again to thee, saying, "I repent-thou shalt forgive him.” He must be sooner wearied with offending, than you with pardoning. But as this commandment was new to the Jews, and will always be strange to the natural