7. — Discipline

In taking up the subject of Discipline in the Church of God, we should be impressed both with its great importance, and the danger of approaching it in a careless or legal way. When we consider the almost universal neglect of discipline and the corresponding weakness thus occasioned to the Church, we feel doubly the importance of examining the teachings of Scripture on the subject, and of endeavoring to impress upon all the responsibility that rests upon every member of the Church of Christ in this respect.

We are living in lawless times. The air is full of independence from all kinds of authority — in the government, the workshop, and the home. We need not wonder, then, if the same spirit characterizes the professing Church. As in the days of the Judges in Israel, "every man does that which is right in his own eyes." Authority is resisted, and the idea of godly subjection to one another is resented as an insult to manhood. It seems to be a characteristic of these "last days" that a sense of responsibility is wanting, too often even among the people of God. Yet grace and responsibility go hand in hand: "There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared" (Ps. 130:4); and the grace which brings salvation also teaches us to "live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:11-15). A careful, godly walk is the vessel in which the grace of God exhibits itself; but where it is wanting testimony fails, and shipwreck is the result (1 Tim. 1:19-20). A people may be intrusted with vast stores of precious truth; they may speak with ease and precision of "standing and state," of "eternal security," of "resurrection-life," and all the rest of the unspeakably precious doctrines recovered for God's people in these last days; but if their walk do not in some measure correspond to the truth that is held, it is worse than useless, — it is absolutely injurious. Let it be remembered that in the epistle which most fully unfolds the grace of God and the heavenly position of the saint, there is full and minute instruction as to the believer's walk in any relation he may occupy. (See Ephesians, chaps. 4, 5 and 6.) The Corinthians were enriched in all utterance and in all knowledge, coming behind in no gift (1 Cor. 1:5-7) yet such was the condition of the assembly that the apostle could only speak to them "as to babes," and was obliged to correct in the severest way their tolerance of moral and doctrinal evil (chaps. 5 and 15). But we need say no more to justify us in examining this most important subject with care and prayerfulness.

There are seven points to be considered: the Necessity for discipline; the Object; the Occasion; the Character of it; the Spirit in which it is to be administered; the Recovery of those who have been dealt with; and the Authority for discipline. We will briefly consider these in the order given.

1. That the necessity for discipline exists will not be questioned by any who have eyes to see or a heart to understand the teaching of Scripture. False professors creep into the professing Church unawares, while men sleep (Matt. 13:25), and once within, exhibit either in doctrine or in walk the fruits of evil. It is this presence of false professors among the people of God that accounts for the warnings which we find in the epistles to the Hebrews and Corinthians — the "ifs" which have troubled so many of God's people. The possibility of the presence of such people among the children of God would of itself show the necessity for discipline.

But it is objected that in the very parable to which allusion has been made, wheat and tares were to "grow together until harvest"; and this, it is claimed, obviates the necessity for action which might "root up also the wheat with them." When we see, however, that "the field is the world", not the Church, and that our Lord teaches the impossibility of eradicating evil once introduced into the Kingdom or outward sphere of responsibility (Christendom), it becomes plain that He was only showing the futility of using an arm of flesh to put down evil. Rome has failed to observe this, and in the many efforts to weed out what it called "heresy" has really but persecuted the saints of God. Even had the doctrines been evil, this parable shows we cannot stamp them out. But this is no warrant for the Church to allow evil men in the midst of saints. Them that are without, God judgeth; but the saints are distinctly told to put away from among themselves the wicked person (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

But, alas, the necessity for discipline is seen not only from the possibility of the presence of false professors, but from the fact that the flesh still exists in the children of God. This is not the place to discuss the two natures in the believer. It is sufficient to refer to such passages as Gal. 5:13-25 as proof that such apparently contradictory scriptures as 1 John 3:9 and 1 John 2:1 are not really so. In the one we have the normal state of the Christian when walking in the Spirit, and in the other the existence of that "flesh" which ever tends to sin. Spiritual pride is a most dangerous thing, and one of the most perilous forms of it is that self-complacency which claims for itself sinless perfection.

Not only has the believer the flesh, the old nature, in him, he is also in a world that is away from God, a very death-chamber (Num. 19:14-15), where, if he is not covered with a covering of the Lord, he will be defiled. The devil, with all his wiles, is ever ready to make use of the world and the flesh to lead the child of God astray. A glance at Scripture history will show how often this has been done. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David were all men of God, yet each one, at some period in his life, fell into sin. Peter is a notable New Testament example. Surely, with these instances before us, it is needless to ask if the believer can fall into sin; and this shows the necessity for discipline. All the exhortations in the Epistles to a holy walk, all the admonitions and corrections, and all the direct provision for the exercise of discipline but confirm this.

2. We come next to inquire the object contemplated in discipline. Our first answer must be the glory of God, the honor of His holy name. In 1 Cor. 5, in connection with the case of discipline then brought before the Church, the apostle declares (ver. 6) "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." He does not mean that all the Corinthians would commit the same sin as that awful crime of the case in question; but he does mean that indifference to the Lord's honor, carelessness as to the conduct of those who professed His name, would, if persisted in, give character to the whole assembly. We beg the reader's earnest attention to this point. Many will say, "I have only myself to look after: I am not responsible for other men's sins." Our scripture answers most convincingly for every subject heart, and the exhortation which follows shows the path of duty (ver. 7): "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened." This last states what is the fact before God — we are unleavened, sanctified by the one offering of Christ. Since this is the case, we are to maintain this unleavened condition practically by purging out the evil, that we may always be a new lump, an unleavened company. If this is not done we link the holy name of Christ, our passover, with the leaven of malice and wicked-, ness. How solemn the thought!

But the next object in discipline is the recovery of the erring one — his restoration to communion with God and His people. Unjudged sin in the believer leads to death (1 Cor. 11:30). God must intervene if we do not. The flesh must be judged, and thus "destroyed" (1 Cor. 5:5). If no notice is taken of sin it will go on until all are defiled. If the offender is dealt with in faithfulness we may expect to see the results. Our object should not be to get rid of a disagreeable or disgraced person, hoping never to see him again, but rather in the confidence that our firmness will be owned of God in leading him to true repentance. Such is especially the case in the minor forms of discipline which we shall presently consider; but even in the extreme of cutting off we may look for God's blessing on the offender. Negatively, the object of discipline is not retribution. "Vengeance is Mine," and it is a pitiful spectacle to see poor, sinful men pouring out vengeance upon a wrong-doer. We may safely leave all that with God. It often vitiates true discipline when the element of anger or of retaliation is allowed.

3. We are ready now to see what are the occasions for discipline. The passage we have been considering (1 Cor. 5) shows that immorality, as that which was the occasion of the chapter, or the less repugnant forms, such as maliciousness, covetousness, and railing, was a matter for the most faithful dealing. Scripture does not give us a list of all known sins; we are told in general what the works of the flesh are (Gal. 5:19-21), and we find wrath, strife, seditions mentioned along with lasciviousness, witchcraft, drunkenness, and murder. Wickedness, no matter what form it may take, is what must be dealt with.

But there is a class of evil even more dangerous, because more subtle, than immorality. Wicked doctrine may go in company with an outwardly blameless life; indeed, such is often the case: both Satan and his ministers are often transformed into angels of light. In all matters where there is no fundamental truth in question, love will allow the largest liberty. For instance, to make the question of baptism a test of fellowship, or views as to this or that text of Scripture, would be narrow and sectarian. The apostle rebukes it (Phil. 3:15). But when a doctrine is introduced that touches the person of our adorable Lord Jesus Christ His divinity, His true yet absolutely sinless humanity, the perfection of His atoning work, or His coming glory, there is no place for charity, falsely so called. In like manner, if the truth of justification by faith, freely by God's grace, be denied, or the necessity of regeneration, or the final and eternal doom of the impenitent be denied — whether by annihilation or restorationism we are in the presence of an evil more dangerous than drunkenness or immorality, for it is more deceptive. A man may hold and teach blasphemous doctrines, and withal seem pious in his language as the most devoted child of God. Let the beloved people of God be on their guard. The enemy has many forms of error with which to beguile the simple. With doctrinal, as well as moral evil, "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9).

But there may be the most pressing need for discipline where the person has been guilty of neither moral nor doctrinal evil. We mean association with it. At first sight this may not seem so clear, but the scriptures we have been considering lead us up to it. If a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, then the lump partakes of the character, in God's sight, of the leaven. If a company of God's people knowingly associate with a wicked person — as a drunkard, or a thief, or one who holds false doctrines, they are as defiled, in God's sight, as though personally holding or practising the evil. For what is their state of soul? Are they not indifferent to the holiness of God, to the honor of His name? Could we associate with one who assailed the character of our friend, our wife, our parents? And can we go on with one who blasphemes or continuously dishonors that Name which is above every name? Would not even the world hold us as guilty? — nay, more guilty? For he perhaps is blinded by Satan; but those who with open eyes associate with known evil are deliberately indifferent. "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (2 John 10, 11).

Let the reader weigh this matter well.When Achan had committed his trespass, it was said, "Israel hath sinned" (Joshua 7:1, 11); and when the awful sin of Gibeah was committed (Judges 20, 21), the whole tribe of Benjamin was held responsible because they refused to give up the offenders. The reverse is seen in the case of Sheba the son of Bichri at Abel (2 Sam. 20:14-22). And can we not see the wisdom of God in thus holding associates with evil as responsible as the doers of it? What guarantee would there be that evil would ever be judged? The whole company of Christians would be defiled by the presence of unjudged sin, because of the false tenderness or indifference of some.

4. The character of discipline varies with the nature of the evil with which it has to deal. There is no hard, fast, uniform way of dealing with it. There can be no code of laws laid down, no method of unvarying procedure adopted. We shall see, when we come to consider the spirit in which it is to be administered, that discipline is a priestly function; it has to do with communion, and only in communion can one be guided. The punishment is not the same in all cases. Draco might make every offense punishable by death, but we cannot exclude from our fellowship every grade of wrong-doer. This will appear, however, as we proceed.

We may divide discipline into three classes — preventive, corrective, and preservative. Preventive discipline begins with reception into fellowship. The assembly of God is responsible as to whom it receives. A person must be known to be not only a Christian, but one who is walking consistently. If it is a new convert, it should be clear that he has really believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he recognizes the Lord's claims upon him. If he has for some time been a Christian, care should be taken that he is godly in walk, association, and doctrine. Reception is by the assembly, and there should therefore be the fellowship of all with the act. An introduction by some who have examined the case and are competent to judge will usually suffice. We need hardly warn against mere human judgment. Guidance comes from God alone, and His mind should be sought in every case. Joshua and the princes of Israel seemed to have abundant evidence to justify them in receiving the Gibeonites without asking counsel of God (Joshua 9). Let us remember this. How many persons who have been carelessly received have afterwards given much sorrow, and drawn away others after them. But even where the person should be received, he may need an awakening of conscience which can best be done at that time. "Receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God" (Rom. 15:7). Here we have the tempering together of grace and care, which should ever characterize discipline.

Having been received into the assembly of God's people, the person now comes under all the varied care and ministry of the Spirit of God. And here much in the way of preventive discipline may be accomplished. If there is a tone of godliness, an elevation of piety, a wholesome example set by the assembly, much evil can be prevented. How many cases of falling into open sin may be traced to the lax tone of a gathering! Where others are worldly, it is easy for one specially so tempted to fall into covetousness. A general habit of "whispering" will open the way for backbiting and railing, while a care against the very appearance of such things will be often a sufficient check against the tendency to it. The Lord graciously awaken His beloved people to see their responsibility in these things. When the body is in a debilitated condition, those forms of disease to which a person may be specially liable make their appearance, which would have been kept down by a healthy vigorous tone. So is it in spiritual things: if an assembly is going on happily in the things of Christ, engaged in the work of the Lord, fresh and earnest in seeking to win souls, young and old, and ministering to one another in love, sin will not easily lift its head.

Passing on now to corrective discipline, we find it necessary, when, either through our carelessness or in spite of our care, evil does arise in one or another. But it has not yet developed into actual flagrant sin. Here is where the pastor's care and wisdom is needed. A wholesome loving warning may often check the person in a course that would have led to fatal results; a rebuke administered in all firmness, the withdrawal of our company from a disorderly brother, not counting him as an enemy (2 Thess. 3:6-15), even the public rebuke before all (1 Tim. 5:20): these means may correct the evil before it goes very far — often will. This corrective discipline is almost entirely individual, rather than by the assembly. It is to prevent matters from coming before the assembly. It is the work of the spiritual (Gal. 6:1), and its effect is restoration. It is washing one another's feet (John 13). Of personal trespass we do not speak here, as not properly Church discipline.

But, alas, sin may fasten itself so deeply upon a person that none of these means are efficacious. The person is defiled, has committed a sin that cannot be dallied with. To hesitate now would be treason to the Lord. If the assembly is to maintain itself in communion with the Lord it must purge itself from leaven, and the wicked person must be put away. Without enumerating the offenses, all wicked persons must be so dealt with. Whenever evil is manifested as wickedness, there is but one word, "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1 Cor. 5:13).

But it must not be on mere suspicion that any be so dealt with. The evil must be manifest, or acknowledged by the person, or established "in the mouth of two or three witnesses" (2 Cor. 13:1). If these are wanting, then there must be waiting on God and asking Him to bring all to light. But the suspected person could not be allowed to go on as if all were well. The directions in the case of the leper (Lev. 13) furnish some needed instruction here. There were certain clear and unmistakable signs by which the disease could be recognized, and when these were present the most immediate action was demanded: the leper was put out of the camp. So there are clear cases of wickedness which need but to be seen to be recognized as such. Then prompt putting away is the only thing to be done. But there might be certain symptoms which looked like leprosy — a boil, a burn, baldness — which yet were too obscure to be treated as such. It would be manifest injustice to put such a suspected person out of the camp, and equally would it be unsafe to leave him at large. He was shut up seven days, until the disease should have manifested itself; and if doubt still remained he was again shut up. Even after being discharged, if the disease appeared he was at once dealt with.

Now there may be evil in a person — some of nature's humors may come to the surface, or spiritual decay (baldness) may be manifest. Such symptoms are sad and call for attention, but unless there is the characteristic sign of real wickedness it would not do to exclude the suspect. Spiritual decrepitude is not absolute wickedness, and such a person is not defiled, but in danger. The being overtaken in a fault, the rash hasty speech, the ebullition of temper — all these sad manifestations of the flesh are not leprous, though leprosy may be developed out of them.

Where the evil is of a serious character, yet not fully developed, it will not do to let the person go on as if all were well, he must be "shut up," not allowed to enjoy the freedom and privileges of the assembly of God — not permitted to break bread — until his case is made plain, either by a full development of evil or by his recovery.

Let it be carefully noted that this "shutting up" is not a grade of punishment, more severe than admonition and less severe than actual putting away. The failure to see this has been the occasion of great injustice in many cases, leading to many painful complications. Let it be remembered that it is simply pending investigation, and for that purpose. This investigation should be prompt, thorough and scriptural, that the stigma of possible evil be not allowed to rest upon a person unless he is proved guilty. It must also be added that no person should be debarred from breaking bread upon suspicion of an evil which, even were he proved guilty of it, would not constitute him a wicked person. Let us beware of a spirit of strife, which, if it has the power, will treat our opponent far more severely than he deserves.

Even where all suspicions have been removed, and the person goes in and out among the saints, if the evil reappear as positive wickedness, he must be put away. The maxim of the world, that no one must be tried twice for the same offense, has no place. The Church is not a court of law, either in furnishing shelter for guilty persons by technicalities, or by an assumed moral superiority, robbing itself of discernment and competence in what requires an ungrieved Spirit to lead us aright.

The leper was put "outside the camp", away from association with God's people and the worship of God. So the wicked person is "put away from among yourselves." The apostle could deliver to Satan, which seems to have been an authoritative act of power (1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Cor. 5:5). It may be questioned whether the Church has this power, and it is immaterial. The point is that the Church has a duty to put the wicked person out, and obedience is all that is needed. When outside, the person is no doubt in Satan's world, and may feel the power of his enmity, as did Job, for other reasons.

It need hardly be mentioned that a person put away is to be let alone. How abhorrent the thought that we could have social intercourse with one too wicked to remain in the company of the saints! "With such an one no not to eat" is the command.

5. We now come to a most important branch of our subject, — the spirit in which discipline is to be administered. When the apostle wrote about the wickedness in Corinth, he was grieved to see the utter indifference as to the matter. It may be true they did not know what to do, but would not every right-minded saint have been overwhelmed by the shame that had come upon the Church of God? And would He not have removed providentially a wrongdoer if there was no other way to he rid of him? Their indifference showed an entire lack of conscience. The most uninstructed spiritual person would mourn (1 Cor. 5:2). How differently the apostle felt: "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears" (2 Cor. 2:4).

A case of wickedness in an assembly assuredly ought to lead to deep exercise on the part of all. Instead of saying, "Lord, I thank Thee," true humility will rather say, "Search me, O Lord." Frequently, too, there will be occasion for self-reproach. Had the erring one been looked after? Had he been prayed for? Had a godly example been set him? — surely such questions as these will arise in one truly realizing the shame of such things. An undressed wound may become gangrenous, and amputation be necessary; but would not the physician who had neglected to take the proper care of his patient be ashamed of his work? And how many cases of extreme discipline are made necessary by these neglected cases! "He that ruleth … with diligence."

But this sorrow and humility, this self-judgment, will only make the truly exercised the more firm in vindicating the honor of the Lord. Joshua arose from lying on his face, and executed the Lord's penalty upon Achan (Joshua 7). After all, His glory is the only thing to be sought. The case of the woman in John 8 is not in point here. There it was the infliction of the law by men themselves guilty; here it is the act of broken-hearted saints resorting to a last act to keep unsullied the precious name of Christ. But in what spirit are we to act? How shocking would be the thought of a judicial trial as if we were the judges! How loathsome the gloating over the wretched details of the evil!*

{*It is not necessary that the whole assembly should be dragged into the particulars of a case of wickedness. A few careful, godly brothers, who have the confidence of the saints, should go thoroughly into the matter, and when all is clear report the results to the assembly, which will then act by putting away the wicked person. Occupation with evil, even when necessary, is defiling; and as few as may be should be engaged in it, and these should wash their garments (Num. 19:21). Let such matters be kept out of conversation. "Let it not be named among you, as becometh saints" (Eph. 5:3-4).}

Nor must we forget that love — love to the offender and to each other — will fill the hearts of those truly exercised; not love at the expense of truth, but love which mourns while it smites, like God's love, when He chastens.

We have seen in the case of the leper that the priest was to judge. The detection of evil is a priestly function; this means communion. Why is it that so many cases of discipline fail to command the consciences of God's people, and are the occasion of dividing them asunder instead of uniting them? Is it not because the saints have forgotten their priestly position, their place in the sanctuary, and that in communion alone they can have guidance and power? Instead of this, how often the subject is food for conversation and strife, until there is no power. Saints need to be much with God, much occupied with Christ, when evil has to be dealt with.

In concluding this subject, let us note the spirit produced in the Corinthians by the apostle's faithful dealing. "For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you; yea, what clearing of yourselves; yea, what indignation; yea, what fear; yea, what vehement desire; yea, what zeal; yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (2 Cor. 7:11) .

6. But we pass from the consideration of these sad but most necessary matters to the bright side of our subject. Thank God, there is a bright side, when, after faithfulness in the path of duty, there is the joy of seeing the wanderer restored. We can almost feel the thrill of the apostle's gladness as he wrote of the recovered brother, "I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation" (2 Cor. 7:4).

Restoration is what was prayed for, hoped for, expected. While one put away is to be let alone, this does not preclude the thought of prayer for him. and looking after him after the lapse of some time. Especially should this be done if he is weak and untaught, and if he has bowed to the Lord's judgment. Of course, those who put a bold face on it, or who continue in sin, can only be left in God's hands.

Marks of true recovery are very plain. There will be a sense of sin against God (Ps. 51), a judging of the root of it, a submission to God's governmental dealing, even when undue severity may have been used by the saints; these are some of the proofs of true recovery. If there was trespass against any, the wrong will be righted as far as possible — the dishonest gains refunded, the bitter, false accusations withdrawn: and, we need hardly add, the sin will be forsaken. Until there is restoration to communion with God there can be no true restoration to the assembly. The steps in the reinstatement of the cleansed leper (Lev. 14) to his privileges are interesting and instructive in this connection. It was the priest who was to examine the healed man, and the various rites in his restoration are most suggestive of complete recovery.

It will be noticed that the leper, even after his restoration to the worship of God, "remained abroad out of his tent seven days;" it suggests that even after personal recovery an interval may elapse before the person is restored to his privileges in the assembly. There are many reasons for this: if the offense has been glaring or disgraceful, it is fitting that the world should see the genuineness of the repentance. It will not hurt, but deepen in the individual a sense of his sin. In addition to this, it is well to remember that the tender consciences of the saints have been sorely wounded, and the offender will gladly allow time for the healing of the shock inflicted. Anything like insistance upon his immediate reception after confession, or resentment at delay, would show that the work in his soul lacks completeness.

On the other hand, the assembly needs to guard against a hard, unforgiving spirit. When the consciences of all are satisfied, there should not be needless delay in confirming their love to their recovered brother. "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him … lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him" (2 Cor. 2:6-8). How gracious, how loving, and yet how holy, are all these directions!

And may we not add that when the restored brother is again in his place, his sin is not to be remembered? True, he will not forget it; but shall the others, by look or manner, betray lack of confidence? Ah, we are too much like the world, which "forgives, but cannot forget." Neither can we say such an one must keep silence, and never again expect to be used of the Lord. It was Peter, the wandering sheep, who was made a shepherd for others (John 21:15, 17). When David was restored he would teach transgressors God's ways (Ps. 51). He will walk softly the rest of his days, a chastened person, but a happy and a useful member of the body of Christ. "He restoreth my soul, He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake."

7. Having thus, partially and imperfectly, followed our subject through its various divisions, we come finally to the authority for Discipline — wherein and how far it is binding upon the people of God.

"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. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in (Gk., unto) my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:18-20). This scripture is not addressed to the apostles, as a similar one (John 20:23) , nor to Peter alone (Matt. 16:19), but to the prospective Church (Matt 18:18). It will be seen that the authority for discipline and the power of prayer are both linked with His name, and intrusted to the two or three gathered to that name.

Here, then, we have the authority for discipline, and higher there could not be. Bound in heaven! How solemn! The sanction of God Himself, and the judgment recorded in His presence! What are the decisions of the courts of men — supreme courts and courts of appeal? How small they seem beside this word — "bound in heaven." There is no appeal from it; that authority is absolute, its judgment is final. And such is the authority for discipline in the Church of God.

Let us, then, examine this scripture. Does it intrust to fallible men a dangerous power? Can it not be misused? And has not Rome, with this very authorization, made havoc of the Church? Our fears, however, are groundless. One passage makes all clear, "Where two or three are gathered to my name." Can His name be linked with unrighteousness? Could one steal, lie, bear false witness, in the name of Christ? Gathering to His name is not a formal thing. It means that nothing is to be done inconsistent with that name. It means absolute subjection to the authority of that name — therefore implicit following of Scripture with entire dependence upon the Spirit of God. Who can conceive of a wicked or unrighteous prayer being answered? Must it not be for what is according to His will? (1 John 5:14.) Just in the same way must discipline be according to His will, if it is to be bound in heaven. As well may the bandit have prayers offered for the success of his murderous attack upon the traveler, and thanks after its accomplishment, as for any number of men, no matter by what name called, to claim divine sanction for what is not God's holy will.

But this only brings out into clearer relief the absolutely binding nature of every act of righteous discipline. No one dare despise it, or refuse to be bound by it, for it is Heaven's decision.

The instruments of this judgment may have been but two or three unlearned and ignorant men, but they have given voice to the judgment of God! We repeat, If it has been righteous judgment. See the divine sanction in the binding and loosing by the Corinthian assembly: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit (present in spirit), with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 5:4). "To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ" (2 Cor. 2:10) .

This makes simple our next proposition: that an act of discipline according to God, by any assembly, is for the whole Church, and binding upon it. Is it not bound in heaven? To be explicit: a person righteously put away in Corinth is out of communion with the whole Church of God. He is out at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Rome. He could not go to Ephesus and have his case reopened there: that would be to appeal from the judgment of Heaven. This grows out of the truth of the one Body: to deny it in word or deed would be to say there is not one Body but many. Oh, how God's people have neglected this

We cannot refrain from pointing out here the necessity of letters of commendation between the assemblies of God (2 Cor. 3:1) for those not known. The neglect of this brings in carelessness, a disregard for the Lord's honor, and may be the cause of much sorrow. Let the worldly-minded scoff. God has intrusted His people with a priceless treasure, has made them guardians of the honor of His holy name: let them take care.

But it may be asked, Is it not begging the question to say a decision is bound in heaven if it be righteous? Is not this the very thing to be proved? And must not every act of discipline be examined before it can be accepted?

Our first answer must be, We cannot get on without God. We have the Holy Spirit present in the Church for the very reason that we could never get on by ourselves. We would, indeed, be like a houseful of children, orphans, without the Comforter. He being present to guide by and according to the Word, will and does give confidence to the Church in those so guided. Suspicion will have no place, but fullest confidence. We will believe, unless we are compelled not to believe.

It must be remembered, too, that all ordinary acts of discipline are clear and their righteousness self-evident. Excommunication is not an every-day occurrence; and discipline is the exception, not the rule. Where the great underlying principles of the Church of God have been understood, as imperfectly set forth in these pages, difficult cases will not be of frequent occurrence.

But when they do occur, what is the remedy? Let us suppose that an assembly has unrighteously put away a person not really wicked. It comes to the ears of Christians elsewhere, and they are bound to take knowledge of it. But how? Not assuredly taking up the subject at a distance, and going over it. The presumption is always in favor of the righteousness of the act, and the suspected person most assuredly could not be received when under discipline. Let them go to their brethren in the assembly where the judgment has been given. They will, if in the right, be most ready to spread the case before the inquirers, and give all the reasons for their action. If mistaken, on its being made plain to them they will gladly retract.

There is a possibility that the assembly may have acted unrighteously; it would then be the duty of the inquirers to seek to bring them to repentance, graciously and patiently, yet firmly. It would not help such an assembly to bow to their unrighteous decision: rather it would confirm them in their evil. Surely prayer, constant and fervent, with humiliation, should mark us in such a case.

If the assembly persists in its unrighteousness it can no longer be recognized as an assembly of God, and the effort must be made to deliver individual souls from it. But we repeat, if the principles of the Church of God are clearly understood, rare indeed will be the need of refusing an entire assembly.

We might add that when questions of discipline have arisen in an assembly, and there is inability to come to a common judgment, it would answer somewhat to the condition of a house suspected of leprosy (Lev. 14). The house was to be shut up until it was manifestly defiled or clean. So with an assembly where strife or discord over discipline occurs (God prevent such cases!), let the assembly be "shut up" — not received from, — until its true condition be manifest.

Is it not true that over-severity in some act of discipline (we speak not of manifest and flagrant wickedness) is the reason why the act of an assembly does not command the consciences of God's people?

The Lord bless these thoughts to His people, and lead them into paths of righteousness as well as of peace.