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Rule xiv. Vigilant watchfulness over each other’s conversation, attended with mutual admonition in case of disorderly walking, with rendering an account to the church if the party offending be not prevailed with.
Matt. xviii. 15–17, “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church.”
1 Thess. v. 14, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly.”
Heb. iii. 12, 13, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
Heb. x. 24, 25, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Heb. xii. 13, 15, 16, “Make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.”
Lev. xix. 17, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.”
2 Thess. iii. 15, “Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
Rom. xv. 14, “I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”
84James v. 19, 20, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
Prov. xxix. 1, “He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”
Explication xiv. There is a threefold duty included in this rule, the main whereof, and here chiefly intended, is that of admonition; whereunto the first is previous and conducing; the latter in some cases consequent, and attending Christians’ conversation. Whether you consider the glory of God and the gospel therein concerned, or the bonds of relation, with those mutual endearments wherein they stand engaged, and obligations that are upon them for the general good and spiritual edification one of another, this duty is of eminent necessity and usefulness. Not that we should curiously pry into one another’s failings, much less maliciously search into doubtful unknown things, for the trouble or disparagement of our brethren, both which are contrary to that love which “thinketh no evil,” but “hideth a multitude of sins;” but only, out of a sense of the glory of God, the honour of the gospel, and care of each other’s souls, we are to observe their walking, that what is exemplary therein may be followed, what faileth may be directed, what is amiss may be reproved, that in all things God may be glorified and Christ exalted.
Now, admonition is twofold:— 1. Authoritative, by the way of power; 2. Fraternal, by the way of love. The first, again, is twofold:— (1.) Doctrinal, by the way of teaching; (2.) Disciplinary, which belongeth to the whole church. Of these we do not treat. The latter, also, is twofold:— hortatory, to encourage unto good; and monitory, to reprove that which is amiss. It is this last which is peculiarly aimed at and intended in the rule. This, then, we assert as the duty of every church member towards them with whom he walks in fellowship, to admonish any from the word whom he perceives not walking in any thing with a right foot, as becometh the gospel; thereby to recover his soul to the right way. That much caution and wisdom, tenderness and moderation, is required in the persons performing this duty, for want whereof it often degenerates from a peaceable remedy of evil into fuel for strife and debate, is granted. Let them, then, who are called to perform this duty diligently consider these things: 1. That in the whole action he transgress not that rule of charity which we have, 1 Cor. xiii. 7, Gal. vi. 2. 2. Let him have peace at home, by an assurance of constant labouring to cast out all beams and motes from his own eye, Matt. vii. 5. 3. Let him so perform it that it may evidently appear that he 85hath no other aim but the glory of God and the good of his brother reproved, all envy and rejoicing in evil being far away. 4. Let him be sure to draw his admonitions from the word, that the authority of God may appear therein, and without the word let him not presume to speak. 5. Let all circumstances attending time, place, persons, and the like, be duly weighed, that all provocation in the least manner may be fully avoided. 6. Let it be considered as an ordinance whereunto Christ hath an especial regard. 7. Let him carefully distinguish between personal injuries unto himself — whose mention must have far more of forgiveness than reproof, — and other offences tending to public scandal. Lastly, Let self-examination concerning the same or the like miscarriage always accompany the brotherly admonition.
These and the like things being duly weighed, let every brother, with Christian courage, admonish from the word every one whom he judgeth to walk disorderly in any particular whatsoever, not to suffer sin upon him, being ready to receive content and satisfaction upon just defence, or promised amendment; and without this, in case of just offence, a man cannot be freed from the guilt of other men’s sins, Let also the person admonished, with all Christian patience, accept of the admonition, without any more regret of spirit than he would have against him who should break the weapon wherewith he was in danger to be slain; considering, —
1. The authority of Him who hath appointed it;
2. The privilege and mercy he enjoyeth by such a spiritual prevention of such a danger or out of such an evil, which perhaps himself did not discern;
3. The dreadful judgments which are everywhere threatened to despisers of reproofs, Prov. xxix. 1; and so thankfully accept just admonition from the meanest in the congregation.
For the last, or repairing unto the church in case of not prevailing by private admonition, our Saviour hath so plainly laid down both the manner and end of proceeding in Matt. xviii. 15–17, that it needeth no explanation. Only I shall observe, that by “church” there, verse 17, cannot be understood the elders of the church alone, but rather the whole congregation; for if the offended brother should take with him two or three of the elders unto the offender, as he may, then were they the church, and the church should be told of the offence before the reproof hath been managed by two or three; which is contrary to the rule.
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