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SERMON XLII.

THE NATURE AND END OF EXCOMMUNICATION,

I CORINTHIANS v. 11.—But now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any mar that is called

a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner : with such a one, no not to eat.

The church of Corinth, in primitive times, was very famous for the gifts and graces of the Spirit of God, as well as for the number of its members. This church was first planted by the Apostle Paul : he was, as it were, the spiritual father of it, who had converted its members from Heathenism to Christianity; as he reminds them in these epistles: 1 Cor. iv. 15, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” We have an account of the apostle's planting this church in the 18th chapter of Acts.

It was doubtless excellently regulated by him, when he was present to have an immediate inspection of its affairs. But in his absence many corruptions and disorders crept in among its members. Among other disorders, one of the members had been guilty of a very heinous kind of wickedness: he had committed incest in one of the grossest degrees of it, in having his father's wife; which the apostle observes was infamous even among the Heathens. And the church of Corinth had tolerated him in it, so as notwithstanding to suffer him to continue in their communion.

The chapter of which our text is a part, is wholly upon this subject. The apostle reproves the church for conniving at this wickedness, as they had done in not excommunicating the person who had been guilty of it; and directs them speedily to cast him out from among them ; thus delivering him to Satan. He orders them to purge out such scandalous persons, as the Jews were wont to purge leaven out of their houses when they kept the passover.

In the text and two foregoing verses he more particularly explains their duty with respect to such vicious persons, and enjoins it on them not to keep company with such. But then shows the difference they ought to observe in their carriage towards those who were vicious among the Heathen, who had never joined with the church, and towards those of the same vicious character who had been their professed brethren ; see verses 9–12: “I wrote unto you, not to company with fornicators. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye

needs

go

out of the world. But now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such a one, no not to eat."

In the words of the text we may observe two things, viz., the duty, and the object.

I. The duty enjoined, of which two things are expressed.
1. The behavior required, negatively expressed, not to keep company.
2. The manner or degree, no not to eat.
II. The object, who is designed by two things.

1. That he appear to be vicious ; a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner We are not to understand only

these particular vices, but these, or any other gross sins, or whatever carries in it visible wickedness. It is evident, that the apostle here, and in the context, intends that we should exclude out of our company all those who are visibly wicked men. For in the foregoing verses he expresses his meaning by this, that we should purge out the old leaven ; and, explaining what he means by leaven, he includes all visible wickedness, as in verse 8 : “ Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

2. The other thing by which the object of this behavior or dealing is characterized, is, that he be one that is called a brother, or one that hath been a professed Christian, and a member of the church.

DOCTRINE.

Those members of the visible Christian church that are become visibly wicked, ought not to be tolerated in the church, but should be excommunicated.

In handling this subject, I shall speak,
1. of the nature of excommunication;
II. Of the subject ; and,
III. Of the ends of it.

1. I shall say something of the nature of excommunication. It is a punishment executed in the name and according to the will of Christ, whereby a person who hath heretofore enjoyed the privileges of a member of the visible church of Christ, is cast out of the church and delivered unto Satan.

It is of the nature of a punishment inflicted: it is expressly called a punishment by the apostle in 2 Cor. ii. 6: speaking of the excommunicated Corinthian, he says, “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment.”. For though it be not designed by man for the destruction of the person who is the subject of it, but for his correction, and so is of the nature of a castigatory punishment, at least so far as it is a punishment inflicted by men ; yet it is in itself a great and dreadful calamity, and the most severe punishment that Christ hath appointed in the visible church. Although in it the church is to seek only the good of the person and his recovery from sin, there appearing, upon proper trial, no reason to hope for his recovery by gentler means; yet it is at God's sovereign disposal, whether it shall issue in his humiliation and repentance, or in his dreadful and eternal destruction; as it always doth issue in the one or the other.

In the definition of excommunication now given, two things are chiefly worthy of consideration. 1. Wherein this punishment consists. °2. By whom it is inflicted.

First, I would show wherein this punishment consists; and it is observable that there is in it something privative, and something positive.

First, There is something privative in excommunication, which consists in being deprived of a benefit heretofore enjoyed. This part of the punishment is in Scripture expressed by being cast out of the church. So this punishment in the Jewish church was called putting out of the synagogue, John xvi. 2. The word synagogue is a word of the same signification as the word church. So this punishment in the Christian church is called casting out of the church. The Apostle John, blaming Diotrephes for inflicting this punishment without cause, says, 3 John v. 10, “ He casteth them out of the church.”

This privative part of the punishment is sometimes expressed by the church's withdrawing from a member: 2 Thes. iii. 6, “ Now we command you, brethren,

in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly."

The privative part of the punishment of excommunication consists in this, viz., in being cut off from the enjoyment of the privileges of God's visible people. The whole world of mankind is divided into these two sorts, those that are God's visible people, and so are within the visible church of Christ; and those tbat are without the visible church, and are of the visible kingdom of Satan. Now it is a great privilege to be one of the visible people of God, to be within the visible church of Christ, and to enjoy the benefits of such : it is abundantly so spoken of in Scripture. On the other hand, it is very doleful to be without this visible kingdom, or to be cut off from the privileges of it, and to be excluded, as those who are to be treated as belonging to the visible kingdom of Satan.

The privileges which are to be enjoyed in the visible church of Christ, from which excommunicated persons are to be cut off, are of these four kinds :

1. The charity of the church.
2. Brotherly society with the members of the church.
3. The fellowship of the church in worship.
4. The internal privileges of visible Christians.

1. They are cut off from being the objects of that charity of God's people which is due to Christian brethren. They are not indeed cut off from all the charity of God's people, for all men ought to be the objects of their love. There is a love due from the people of God even to the Heathens and others who are not in the visible church of Christ. Our love should be like that of our heavenly Father, who is kind to the evil and the good. But I speak of the brotherly charity due to visible saints.

Charity, as the apostle represents it, is as it were the bond by which the several members of the church of Christ are united together; and therefore he calls it the bond of perfectness: Col. iii. 14, “Put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” But when a person is justly excommunicated, it is like a physician's cutting off a diseased member from the body; and then the bond which before united it to the body is cut or broken.

A scandal is the same as a stumbling-block; and when a member of the visible church is guilty of scandal, a stumbling-block is laid before others in two respects.

(1.) It is a dishonor to God, a bad example, and a stumbling-block, as it is the occasion of others falling into sin.

(2.) It is a stumbling-block in the way of the charity of his fellow Christians towards the offender. As long therefore as the scandal remains, it stumbles the charity of others: and if it finally remains after proper endeavors to remove it, then it breaks their charity, and so the offender is cut off from the charity of the church.

He is cut off from the charity of the church in the following respects :

[1.) As he is cut off from the charitable opinion and esteem of the church; so that the church cannot any longer look upon him as a Christian, and so rejects him ; therefore excommunication is called a rejection : Tit. iii. 10, “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.” This implies that the church doth not approve, or that it disapproves the person as a Christian : it cannot any longer charitably look upon him as a saint, or fellow worshipper of God, and can do no other than, on the contrary, esteem him an enemy of God; and so doth openly withdraw its charity from him, ceasing to acknowledge him as a fellow Christian, or fellow 'worshipper of God,

and henceforward treating him as no more a fellow worshipper than the Heathens.

[2.] The person excommunicated is also cut off from that honor which is due to brethren and fellow Christians. To be a visible Christian is an honorable character, and much honor is due to persons of this character. But excommunicated persons forfeit this honor. Christians ought not to pay that honor and respect to them which they pay to others; but should treat them as unworthy of such honor, that they may be ashamed. Christ tells us, that they should " be unto us as Heathen men and publicans,” (Matt. xviii. 17,) which implies a withdrawing from them that common respect and honor which we pay to others. There

doubtless, therefore, should be a great difference between the respect that we show such, and that which we show others: we ought to treat them so as to let them plainly see that we do not count them worthy of it, and so as tends to put them to shame.

[3.] They ought to be cut off from that brotherly complacence that is due to Christian brethren. Much love and complacency is due to those who are visible Christians, or to those whom we are obliged in charity to receive as saints; and on this account, because they are visible Christians. But this complacence excommunicated persons forfeit.

The love of benevolence or of good will is indeed still due to them, as it is to the visibly wicked : we should still wish well to them, and seek their good. Excommunication itself is to be performed as an act of benevolence or good will : we should seek their good by it; and it is to be used as a means of their eternal salvation. But complacence and delight in them as visible Christians is to be withdrawn; and on the contrary they are to be the objects of displacency and abhorrence. When they are excommunicated they are avoided and rejected with abhorrence, as visibly and apparently wicked. We are to cast them out as an unclean thing which defiles the church of God.

In this sense the Psalmist professes a hatred of those who were the visible enemies of God. Psal. cxxxix. 21, 22: “Do I not hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? And am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred.” Not that he hated them with a hatred of malice or ill will, but with displacency and abhorrence of their wickedness. In this respect we ought to be the children of our Father who is in heaven, who, though he loves many wicked men with a love of benevolence, yet cannot love them with a love of complacence. Thus excommunicated persons are cut off from the charity of the church.

2. They are cut off from the society which Christians have together as brethren. I speak now of the common society which Christian brethren bave together. Thus we are commanded to withdraw from such ; 2 Thes. iii. 6. To avoid them; Rom. xvi. 17. To have no company with them ; 2 Thess. iii. 14. And to treat them as Heathens and publicans ; Matt. xviii. 17. The people of God are not only to avoid society with visibly wicked men in sacred things; but when excommunicated, as much as may be to avoid and withdraw from them as to that common society which is proper to subsist among Christians.

Not that they should avoid speaking to them on any occasion. All manner and all degrees of society are not forbidden; but all unnecessary society, all such society as holds forth complacence in them, or such as is wont to be among those that delight in the company of one another. We should not associate ourselves with them so as to make them our companions. Yea, there ought to be such an avoiding of their company as shall show great dislike, or such as there is wont to be between persons who very much dislike each other. Vol. IV.

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Particularly, we are forbidden such a degree of society, or appearance of associating ourselves with them, as there is in making them our guests at our tables, or in being their guests at their tables ; as is manifest in the text, where we are commanded to have no company with them, no not to eat. That this respects not eating with them at the Lord's Supper, but a common eating, is evident by two things.

(1.) it is evident by the words, that this eating here forbidden, is one of the lowest degrees of keeping company, which are forbidden. Keep no company with such a one, saith the apostle, no not to eat. As much as to say, no not in to low a degree as to eat with him. But this would be a ridiculous sort of language for eating with him at the Lord's Supper, which is the very highest degree of visible Christian communion. Who can suppose that the apostle would speak such nonsense as this, Take heed and have no company with a man, no not so much as in the highest degree of communion that you can have?

(2.) The apostle mentions this eating as a way of keeping company which they might not hold with an excommunicated brother, which however they might hold with the Heathen. He tells thein, not to keep company with fornicators; then he informs them, he means not with the fornicators of this world, that is, the Heathens; but, saith he, “if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, &c., with such a one keep no company, no not to eat.This makes it most apparent, that the apostle doth not mean eating at the Lord's table; for so they might not keep company with the fornicators of the Heathens any more than with an excommunicated person.

Here naturally arise two questions.

Question 1. How far are the church to treat excommunicated persons as they would treat the Heathens, or those who never have been of the visible church? I answer, they are to treat them as Heathens, excepting in these two things, in which there is a difference to be observed.

(1.) They are to have a greater concern for their welfare still than if they had never been brethren, and therefore ought to take more pains, by admonitions and otherwise, to reclaim and save them, than they are obliged to take towards those who have been always Heathens. This seems manifest by thai of the apostle,“ 2 Thess. iii. 14, 15: “And if any man obey not our word by this espistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." The consideration that he hath been a brother heretofore, and that we bave not so finally cast him off from that relation, but that we are still hoping and using means for his recovery, obliges us to concern ourselves more for the good of his soul than for those with whom we never had any such connection, and so to pray for him, and to take pains with him by admonishing him.

The very reason of the thing shows the same. For this very ordinance of excommunication is used for this end, that we may thereby obtain the good of the person excommunicated. And surely we should be more concerned for the good of those who have been our brethren, and who are now under the operation of means used by us for their good, than for those with whom we never had any special connection. Thus there should be more of the love of benevolence exercised towards persons excommunicated, than towards those who never were members of the church.

But then,

(2.) On the other hand, as to what relates to the love of complacence, they ought to be treated with greater displacency and disrespect than the Heathen. This is plain by the text and context. For the apostle plainly doth not require

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