NECESSARY INSTRUCTIONS FOR, SUCH AS ARE UNDER THE CENSURES OF THE CHURCH.
WHAT the Church of England so passionately wishes for, (namely, that Godly discipline may be restored) this Church, by God's favour, does actually enjoy. Notorious sinners are put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls may be saved in the day of the Lord, and that others, admonished by their example, may be more afraid to offend.
Now to make this a real blessing to our Church and people, it is necessary that they should be often and plainly told the meaning and reason of Church discipline.
They should be told, for instance, that the Church is Christ's family; that all the members of Christ's family ought to be blameless and holy, as they hope for any reward from Him; that none are admitted into His household but such as do solemnly promise to live as becomes His servants; that therefore such as after this turn disorderly livers are first to be rebuked, and by fair means if possible brought to reason; if not, to be turned out of His house till they become sensible of their error; which if they do and give sincere marks of their repentance, they will be re-admitted into the Church and partake of its privileges as formerly.
Now that all this may be orderly performed, Jesus Christ Himself ordained His apostles and gave them power to ordain others, to be the stewards of this His family. To them He gave the keys of His house, with full power to receive such as they should find worthy, and to shut out the unworthy.
For the faithful discharge of which trust they will be accountable to Him, their Lord and Master; which consideration ought to make them very careful to do nothing by prejudice or partiality; to use the power which the Lord hath given them for edification, and not for the destruction of His people.
Then let your people know that our power is purely spiritual, and that when we force people by fines and imprisonments to submit to discipline, this is by the laws of the land, and we execute those laws, not properly as Christ's ministers, but as subjects to the civil power: for when princes became Christians and were persuaded that they were answerable to God for the manners of their subjects, they endeavoured to ease themselves of that burden by putting into the hands of Churchmen, which has had this unhappy effect, that Christians are often more afraid of worldly punishments than of being denied the holy Sacrament and other ordinances of the Christian religion, without which there can be no salvation.
Christians therefore should be made sensible that as by baptism they are made members of Christ's Church and family, children of God;--that is, have a right to apply to God with the freedom of children and heirs of the kingdom of heaven;--so by Church censures they are verily cut off from these privileges, until they sincerely repent of their sins and are restored by Christ's ministers to the peace of the Church.
If any are so foolish as to say (as some have done) that they can go to another church, ask them as the Apostle did, Is Christ divided? that is, is He the head of a party and not of the whole Church? Is not ours a member of that Church? Have not Christ's ministers here the same authority from their Lord as any other Christian bishops and pastors, viz. the authority of binding and loosing? And if we proceed according to the rules of the Gospel and our sentence be confirmed by Christ, what will it profit them, if for want of being reconciled by their proper pastor they shall be shut out of heaven?
Read therefore the commission which Jesus Christ has given us; read it to them out of His word: Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth (proceeding according to the rules of the Gospel) shall be bound in heaven, &c., and, He that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth Me. And whoso despiseth Me, or whomsoever I send, despiseth God that sent Me.
Let people know that we take no pleasure in using our authority; that we do not desire to lord it over God's heritage. Our aim and endeavour is to oblige sinners to change their course of life and be converted, that their souls may be saved; and that whenever they give us hopes of a sincere repentance, we receive them with open arms and joyful hearts.
Convince them that it is not to expose offenders that we oblige them to do public penance, but that they may give glory to God, and declare to all the world, that since they have been so unhappy as to dishonour God by breaking His laws and despising His authority, they are heartily sorry for it, and think it no shame to own it after any manner the Church shall order; believing that such a submission to God's ministers will be acceptable to God Himself, and a means of obtaining His pardon through their intercession.
Assure them that in the primitive times Christians begged with prayers and tears to be admitted to public penance, as the only way to obtain the pardon of their sins; they looked upon it as much a favour, as if a man who had forfeited his life or estate could have them restored upon acknowledging his crimes and promising amendment.
Lastly, let them know for certain, that if the Church should not take notice of them, but admit them to her holy offices and sacraments while they continue impenitent, this would be no more a blessing to them than it was to Judas, of whom the devil took more sure possession after he had received the Sacrament from our Lord's own hands.
By taking pains to instruct penitents (and your people too out of the pulpit) in these particulars,
Offenders will be brought to a sense of their evil condition; they will perform penance after an edifying manner:
You will promote the honour of God, the good of sinners, the truth of religion, and the public weal, and secure the authority of the Church.
He that says he is sorry for his offences, and intends a new life, when he does not, lies unto the Holy Ghost.
If this advice does you no good, it will do you a great deal of harm: it will rise up in judgment against you, &c.