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Here is the second part of the exhortation, explaining their duty towards others, or teaching them how to behave themselves to them that were gone astray.
Of some have compassion. The Vulgar readeth quite to another sense, ‘and some being reproved.’ Beza saith that in some Greek copies he found it οὒς μέν ἐλέγχετε διακρινομένους; but the reading which we follow is to be preferred; the other is but in few copies, is harsh in construction, and mangleth the whole context: οὒς μέν ἐλεεῖτε ‘on these have mercy.’ It is a word that cometh from another word that signifieth bowels, and so noteth not only the gentleness of the censure, but the inward affection, or, as we render it, the compassion which we should have over them. Putting a difference, διακρινόμενοι. The word hath many significations, judging, discerning; we most fitly render it according to its usual sense and the apostle s scope.
From the 22d verse observe:—357
Obs. 1. That reproofs must be managed with compassion and holy grief; our words must have bowels in them. This is like God: ‘He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men,’ Lam. iii. 33. There are tears in his eyes when he hath a rod in his hand. It is like Christ: ‘He wept when he drew near the city,’ Luke xix. 41. The Jews were his enemies, and that was the day of his solemn triumph, yet he wept: ‘Oh! that thou hadst known the things of thy peace.’ It is suitable to the disposition of God’s servants in all ages. Samuel left Saul, but wept for him, 1 Sam. xv. 35. Paul speaketh of very wretches that made a design of the gospel to gratify their belly concernments: ‘I tell you weeping,’ saith he, Phil. iii. 18, 19. There are three grounds of this holy grief:—
1. The dishonour done to God, Ps. cxix. 136. Love will be affected with the wrong of the party loved. If we see a man kill a friend or child whom we love, the ‘sword would pass through our own hearts,’ Luke ii. 35. Shall we see them strike at God and not be troubled?
2. The harm and destruction men bring upon themselves, that they have no care of their own souls, Jer. xiii. 17.
3. The proneness that is in our nature to the same sin, Gal. vi.-l. Bernard’s good man would weep ille hodie et ego cras—he to-day and I to-morrow: there is no sin in their lives but was in your nature. Well, then, it checketh them that speak of others sins by way of reproof or censure, but with delight or petulancy of spirit; many reproofs are lost, because there is more of passion than compassion in them. It is spiritual cruelty when you can turn a finger in your brother’s wound without grief. Reproofs are delightful sometimes out of the sweetness of revenge, or hatred, and ill-will to the persons of men; sometimes out of pride, or a desire to vaunt it and insult over others; sometimes from self-conceit, and non-consideration of our own faultiness. Oh! consider this is not Christian dealing. Paul saith, ‘I am afraid lest, when I come among you, my God will humble me, and that I shall bewail many,’ &c., 2 Cor. xii. 21. Many a proud Pharisee would have blustered, and threatened them with the severity of discipline; but Paul was afraid he should have a heavy load upon his own soul.
Obs. 2. Again, and more expressly, observe, that in reproving some must be handled gently: but who are those that must be handled gently?
1. With the most notorious it is good to begin mildly, that they may see our good-will and desire of their salvation, 2 Tim. ii. 25. Hasty spirits cannot brook the least opposition, and therefore are all a-fire presently. How did God deal with us in our natural condition? with what lenity and mildness? and ‘spake comfortably’ to us, to allure us out of the devil’s snare, Hosea ii. 14.
2. The persons whom we should treat with much compassion are these:
[1.] The ignorant and seduced. Some are of a simple and weak heart: the young men that went with Absalom ‘went in the simplicity of their hearts, and knew not anything,’ 2 Sam. xv. 11. Though swine or dogs be driven with violence, yet poor stray lambs must be brought home, as the shepherd brought home his lost sheep ‘upon his 358shoulders rejoicing,’ Luke xv. Many well-meaning men may err; be not too severe with them, lest prejudice make them obstinate, and so from ‘erring brethren,’ they become heretical.173173 ‘Errare possum; haereticus esse nolo.’
[2.] Those that slip of infirmity. Members must be ‘set in joint’ tenderly, Gal. vi. 1. The carnal world reflects with most sharpness upon the infirmities of God’s people. The late bishops’ courts were chiefly bent against the godly; a drunkard and an adulterer found more favour than a goodly inconformist. Let us learn to distinguish betwixt an evil course and inconsiderate slips, and as long as there is anything of Christ, be not too severe, 2 Thes. iii. 15.
[3.] The afflicted in conscience. We must not speak ‘to the grief of those whom God hath wounded.’ The apostle would have the incestuous person comforted, lest he should be ‘swallowed up of too much grief,’ 2 Cor. ii. 7. When Adam was troubled, though God reproved him, yet he made him a coat of skins to cover his nakedness; when Peter was weeping, Christ sendeth a comfortable message to him: ‘Go, tell my disciples and Peter,’ &c., Mark xvi. 7.
[4.] If they err in smaller matters. We must not deal with motes as with beams, and put the wicked and the scrupulous in the same rank, nor the gross heretic, and those that mistake in point of church order. While the judgment is sound in fundamentals, and the practice is reformed, we should use meekness till ‘God reveal the same thing,’ Phil. iii. 15, 16. God hath given them light in most things, and those which are most necessary, and in time will discover those truths to them whereof they are yet ignorant.
[5.] The tractable, and those of whom we have any hopes. Rehoboam would deal roughly, and so lost ten tribes. Tertullian was even forced into the tents of the Montanists by the indiscreet zeal of some who were too forward with censures; and still men are lost that otherwise would be reclaimed. Differences are made irreconcileable by the imperious sourness and bitterness of those that manage them. Dashing storms wash away the seed, whereas gentle showers refresh the earth: men left without hope grow desperate.
Obs. 3. From that putting a difference. In all censures and punishments there must be choice used and discretion. Prudence is the queen of graces. Different tempers require different remedies. The prophet saith, Isa. xxviii. 27, in husbandry ‘the fitches are not thrashed with a thrashing instrument, neither is a cart-wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod;’ so all tempers do not need a like dispensation. God himself putteth a difference: some are brought in with violence, others gently. Grace forceth open the door of the heart sometimes, and cometh in like ‘a mighty rushing wind;’ at other times it breatheth upon the soul with a gentler blast. Some are ‘caught with guile,’ 2 Cor. xii. 16, others directly knocked down. This showeth:—
1. That ministers had need be wise, to know how to suit their doctrine, to distinguish between persons, actions, circumstances. Deep learning, much godliness, and great prudence make an accomplished minister. It was said of Chrysostom, that he was δι᾽ ἁπλότητα εὐχαρὴς too easy, and so did not many times manage things so 359wisely; and so of Epiphanius, δἰ ὑπερβάλλουσαν εὐλάβειαν ἁπλόϊκος ῶν. It is good to be well-read in persons, to note circumstances, and times. Paul striketh in with Felix, treateth of an apt lesson before him and Brasilia, Acts xxv. 25. Felix was a very incontinent person, and very unjust.174174 Tacitus saith that he did servili animo exercere imperium, per libidinem et saevitiam. Paul, to give him his due, treateth of ‘righteousness and temperance and judgment to come.’
2. That ministers should give every one their portion. Zuinglius, when he had flashed terrors in the face of the hardened sinner, would add, Bone Christiane, haec niliil ad te—tender conscience! this is not for thee. We must ‘rightly divide the word of truth,’ 2 Tim. ii. 15; that is, not by crumbling and mincing a text of scripture, but giving every one their portion. Terror to whom terror belongeth, and comfort to whom comfort belongeth.
3. It showeth what care we should take to ‘know the state of our flock,’ Prov. xxvii. 23, that we may know how to apply ourselves to them, Col. iv. 8, Tychicus was sent to the Colossians to ‘know their state.’ It also obligeth private Christians to consider each other’s temper, gifts, frame of heart, that we may the better suit ourselves to do and receive good; see Heb. x. 24, 25.
In the 23d verse is the other part of that duty which they owed to straying brethren. And others; those that are of another strain and temper. Save; that is, do your endeavour to be instruments of their salvation: see 1 Tim. iv. 16, ‘Thou shalt save thyself, and them that hear thee.’ With fear; that is, by some more severe course; either making the admonition more sharp, or denouncing judgment against them, or by the reverent use of church censures, which were then dreadful, as being solemnly managed and accompanied with some sensible marks of God’s vengeance, 1 Cor. v. 5, anguish of spirit, or possibly torments of body. Pulling them out of the fire. Some make it an allusion to the several ways of purgation, by water or by fire. These latter, like the harder metals, are to be pulled out of the fire; but this seemeth to be forced. Rather it is an allusion to the snatching of a man whom we would save out the fire where he is likely to be burned. We then not only nicely reach out the hand, but pluck them out with violence; or it may be an allusion to Lot’s being plucked out of Sodom by angels, Gen. xix. 16. Hating the garment spotted by the flesh. It is a figurative speech; some apply it to the avoiding of the ‘appearance of evil.’ There is a story of Valentinian in Theodoret,175175 Theod. lib. iii. 15. who, accompanying Julian the Apostate to the temple of fortune, and those that had charge of the house sprinkled their holy water upon the emperor; a drop falling upon his garment, he beat the officer, μεμολύσθαι φήσας, οὐ κεκαθάρσαι, saying that he was-polluted, not purged, and tore off the piece of his garment upon which the drop lighted, ‘hating,’ saith the historian, ‘the garment spotted by the flesh.’ But rather the expression alludeth to the old law concerning legal uncleanness: Lev. xv. 4, ‘The bed whereon he lieth is unclean;’ and ver. 17, ‘Every garment is unclean;’ and therefore I suppose it noteth their avoiding the society of such evil persons, as in the greater excommunication they were wont to do, 360which separation was a solemn profession how much the church did detest the wickedness.
Obs. 1. There is a time when we may use severity; ‘others save with fear.’ Weak physic doth but stir bad humours, not purge them out; nettles, if gently touched, sting the more; fair, plausible lectures do hurt to seared hypocrites. There is a time for the trumpet as well as the pipe. When we pipe to men in the alluring strains of grace, and they dance not, then ‘Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet,’ Isa. lviii. 1. But who are these others who must be dealt with roughly? I answer:—
1. The seducers themselves. These must be laid forth in their colours, though the seduced must be pitied: see Titus i. 11 with 13, ‘They subvert whole houses, teach things which they ought not; them rebuke sharply.’ The prophet flouteth at Baal’s priests, 1 Kings xviii. 27; and Christ everywhere giveth the Pharisees their due load: ‘Oh! ye generation of vipers,’ and ‘Scribes and Pharisees and hypocrites.’
2. Those that are hardened, and grown perverse and stubborn. When the iron is blunt we put to the more strength; softer strains would but harden these more.
3. Those that are secure libertines, wallowing in sin and pleasure. We had need ‘put them in fear;’ though it be distasteful to the flesh, it is healthful for the soul. None hate you worse than those that ‘suffer sin upon you.’ If physic gripe the bowels, it is for your good. If the chirurgeon lance and cut you, yet he doth not hate you.
Obs. 2. Observe, this severity must arise from zeal, a desire of God’s glory and their salvation. ‘Save them with fear,’ saith the apostle, ‘plucking them out of the fire;’ see 2 Cor. x. 8, ‘The Lord hath given us an authority for your edification, not destruction,’ so that either God will have us use gentle means, or violent to a gentle purpose: Titus i. 13, ‘Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.’ Well, then—(1.) Take admonitions in good part it is a sharpness needful and profitable; he is not a friend that dealeth mannerly with you when you are in the fire. (2.) It reproveth the undue use of church censures; weighty ordinances are not to lackey upon trifles, nor to be prostituted to carnal ends. The ‘power of the keys’ is a great trust, and is to be faithfully managed; we read of abuses of this power in scripture, John ix. 34, and xvi. 2; 2 John 10. The watch men may take away the spouse’s veil, Cant. v.
Obs. 3. Again, observe, that fear is a way to reclaim obstinate sinners. It is sweet to use arguments of love, but sometimes we must lay before men the ‘terrors of the Lord,’ 2 Cor. v. 11: Paul, an elect vessel, made use of threatenings, 1 Cor. ix. 27. Surely men have a mind to sleep in sin when they would always have us come in the still voice. Dives was more charitable than they would have us to be; he would fain dismiss a flamy messenger to his brethren, Luke xvi. 27, 28. Sluggish creatures need the goad. In innocency God saw it meet to propound a threatening, and fenced the forbidden fruit with a curse, Gen. ii. 17. If a boisterous lust bear down all milder motives, it is good to scare the soul with threatenings of the law. Fear is good, but the servility or slavishness of it is sinful; fear itself, or a tender sense of God’s wrath and displeasure against sin, is so far from being a sin, 361that it is a grace rightly conversant with its object. God’s wrath and vindicative justice is the proper object of fear, and so it must be looked upon by the converted and unconverted. (1.) For the unconverted: It is the great fault and security that they do not consider what a dreadful thing it is to lie under the wrath and displeasure of God, Ps. xc. 11. There is but a step between them and hell, and they mind it not. Tell them of their danger, and they scorn it. (2.) The converted are to fear God’s wrath, Mat. x. 28. It is a duty Christ enjoineth to his own disciples. The words do not only contain a description of the person who ought to be feared, but of the ground and reason why he ought to be feared; ‘Fear him who is able to cast body and soul into hell -fire,’ is as much as ‘because he is able to cast body and soul into hell-fire,’ as appeareth by the antithesis, ‘Fear not them that kill the body,’ that is, because they are able to kill the body; see also Heb. xii. 28, 29. Though we are not to fear hell as an evil likely to fall upon us, when we are assured of God’s favour, yet we must fear it, as an evil which God hath power to inflict, and will certainly upon those that disobey him. We are to fear it so as to eschew it, with a fear of flight and aversation, not with a perplexing and doubting fear.
Well, then, so far it is good; but now the servility, that is sinful. The servility is seen partly in the disingenuity of it, when our own smart and torture is more feared than the displeasing of God, as a slave careth not how his master’s goods go to wreck, so he may avoid stripes. Partly because it is accompanied with an enmity against God. Slavish fear hateth God for his holiness, and feareth him for his wrath; they wish his destruction, that there were no God. Partly because it causeth but an incomplete reformation; it makes a man forbear sin, but not hate sin. A wolf may be scared from the prey, that yet keepeth his preying and devouring nature. Partly because there is torment and perplexity in it, 1 John iv. 18. A tender conscience is a blessing, but a stormy conscience is a judgment. Slaves are exercised with the torture and rack of perplexing fears.
Obs. 4. Again, from that pulling them out of the fire. A poor, guilty, secure sinner is like a drunken man that is fallen into the fire. He is so in three respects:—
1. In point of security. A drunkard is ready to be burned, but he feeleth it not; so they are upon the brink of hell, but are not sensible of it: Eph. iv. 19, ‘past feeling.’
2. In point of danger. Sinners are often compared to a ‘brand in the burning,’ Zech. iii. 2, Amos iv. 11. They are already under the wrath of God, as a believer hath eternal life whilst he is here in the world. They are in the suburbs of hell, the fire is already kindled.
3. In point of impotency and inability to help themselves. A sottish drunkard, that is overpoised by his own excess, lieth where he falleth, and except some friendly hand lift him up, there he perisheth; and just so it is with sinners, they are pleased with their condition, and if they be not soundly roused up and awakened, they lie and die, and fry in their sins. Oh! then, pluck them out of the fire, ‘warn them to flee from wrath to come,’ Mat. iii. 7. Minister! art thou sensible of the danger of souls? Are thy words as burning coals? Do they fret 362through the heart of a sinner? Christian! art thou sensible of the danger of thy carnal neighbours? they are burning in their beds, and thou wilt not cry, Fire! fire! they are besotted with lust and error, and wilt thou let them alone? Oh, unkind!
Obs. 5. The next point is from the last clause, hating the garment spotted by the flesh. Some sinners are so unclean that we cannot keep company with them without defilement; see 1 Cor. v. 9-11; 2 Thes. iii. 14; and 2 Tim. iii. 5, ‘From such turn away.’ Now, the reason is partly for our own caution. Evils made familiar by a customary converse seem less odious.176176 ‘These are spots in your love feasts,’ ver. 12. Partly to vindicate the honour of Christ and the societies of his people. The blemishes of their miscarriages redounds to the whole church, Heb. xii. 15, till they be disclaimed. Partly to punish the offenders, that it may be a means to reduce them, 2 Thes. iii. 14. It is a sad thing to live an outcast from God’s people. Let obstinate and scandalous sinners think of it, and let others learn to bear reverence to church censures.
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