Defence of Church Principles:
Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor, 1717-1719.
CHAPTER III.OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH AS IT RELATES TO EXCOMMUNICATION.
| § I |
The Bishops assertion that excommunication
1. Is something which every Christian has a right to exercise.
2. Has no effect upon the person excommunicated, so as to make his condition either better or worse before God.
3. Is merely the common right to avoid scandalous sinners.
In order to vindicate this doctrine thoroughly, and show upon what bottom it is founded, I shall, as briefly as I can, state the nature and intent of spiritual punishments, and show what effects they have upon offenders in the other world; from whence, I persuade myself, it will farther appear that such effects do no more exclude persons from the righteous judgment of God, than the heathens are excluded from His righteous judgment.
Now that corrupt members may be cut off from Christian communion, till by their amendment they recommend themselves to a re-admission, is plain from Scripture. This is even granted by your Lordship, that "Christians may set a mark upon notorious offenders, even by refusing to them the peculiar tokens and marks of Christian communion, as well as by avoiding their company and conversation."1 But then your Lordship makes no more of it, "than a right which all Christians have to avoid an open, wilful, and scandalous sinner";2 so that this excommunication, considered as a Church act, is only the same power in a body or society, of avoiding persons they abhor, which is the common privilege of every single person, whether in or out of the Church, to shun those he dislikes.
And all the excommunication you allow, is this, that as private persons have a right to shun and avoid those they dislike, so the Church may exclude such members as are disapproved of; and that this judging or excommunication, is a right equally invested in all Christians, and entirely without any, effect upon the person excommunicated, so as to make his condition either better or worse before God.
| Top | § II |
§ I. Ans. 1. Power of excommunication is a power by Christs authority vested in particular persons. 2. It is a judicial power. 3. Christians therefore are bound to avoid the excommunicate, because by Gods authority they are turned out of His kingdom.
Ans. 1. It is a power confined to particular persons.
(A) From the nature of the thing.
(B) From the account of its institution in Scripture.
(a) It is an authority which belongs to the Church and not to private Christians.
(b) Is not exercised by a majority, but by special persons.
Ans. 2. It is a judicial power.
(c) It alters the condition of the excommunicated person.
(d) And has Gods express promise of ratification.
Ans. 3. Excommunication is a divine positive punishment as truly as Baptism is a divine positive blessing, and Christians are bound to avoid those under sentence.
Example of its exercise upon the incestuous Corinthian.
§ I. I shall therefore, my Lord, beg leave to show that the power of excommunication, is a judicial power, which belongs to particular persons, which they have a right to exercise from the authority of Christ; and that persons so excommunicated are not to be looked upon as persons who are only to be abhorred and avoided by Christians, as any man may, avoid those he dislikes, but as persons who are to be avoided by Christians, because they lie under the sentence of God, and are by His authority turned out of His kingdom.
1. A. That excommunication is a power which belongs only to particular persons, will appear from the nature of the thing itself, as it is an exclusion of persons from the Christian worship: for as only particular men can officiate in the Christian worship, and admit people into communion; so only those persons can refuse the sacrament, and exclude offenders from communion. Nothing can be more plain, than that those who can alone administer the sacrament, can alone exclude men from it.
All persons are admitted conditionally into the Christian covenant, and have only a title to the benefits of it, or the ordinary means of grace, as they perform the conditions of their admission; and those same persons who have alone the authority to admit them into the Church upon those conditions, have alone the authority to exclude them for non-performance. And their act of exclusion is as effectual towards the taking from them all the privileges of Christians, and as truly makes them aliens from the kingdom of God, as their act of admission at first entitled them to all the benefits of  Church communion. For as they have as much authority to exclude some, as they have to admit others into the Church, the authority being the same in both cases, it must be in both cases equally effectual.
If your Lordship will sty that all people are equally qualified to admit persons into the Church, that, "go ye, and baptise all nations,"3 conferred the same powers on all Christians; then indeed it must be granted that excommunication, or exclusion from the Church, is a right equally invested in all Christians. But as sure as Christ gave peculiar powers to His Apostles, as sure as they left particular men to succeed them in their powers, so sure is it that only such successors can either admit or exclude persons from Christian communion.
B. Secondly; That excommunication to particular persons, will appear from the institution of it in Scripture.
"If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church; but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican. 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."4
Here, my Lord, is as plain an institution of excommunication as can well be conceived, and he who can doubt of it, may doubt whether baptism be instituted in Scripture.
(a.)Firstly, We may observe that here is all authority given to the Church over the offender, and that such all authority, as neither belonged to private men, either separate or united together for the offender here had  first been admonished, by a single person, then by one or two morei.e., an indefinite number, but still here is nothing granted but admonition; but as soon as he is brought before the Church, there is an authority appears, and the offender is to feel its sentence, "let him be unto thee as an heathen."
That this authority did not belong to the Church, considered only as a greater number of Christians, but as it signified particular persons who had this authority from Christ, for the edification of His Church.
For Christ expressly declares in the following verse, that where two or three are met together in His name there is He in the midst of them.
Here is the description of that Church before whom the offender was to be brought, and whose authority Christ promises to support; it is "two or three met in His name."
Now the Church had not this authority over the offender, considered as a numberi.e., as two or three; for we see that the offender had been already before such a Church; he had been before two or three; and after neglect of them, he was brought before another two or three, met together in Christs name. Which is plain proof that the offender was not censured by the Church, as it signifies a number of Christians, but as it implies particular persons acting in the name of Christ, and with His authority.
2. (c.) Thirdly; We may observe that the authority here granted to the Church is a judicial authority, such an authority as affects and alters the condition of the person excommunicated, implied in these words, "let him be unto thee as an heathen" that is, as the Bishop of Oxford observes, "in the most natural and common sense of the words, they should look upon him  no longer as a member of the Church, but place him amongst infidels;"5 and again, "as reduced into the state of heathens."6
Now unless it can be said that a person who is turned out of the kingdom of God, and reduced into the state of heathens, is in the same condition which he was, when he was in the Church, and had a right to all the benefits of communion; unless we can say that a person thus rejected from the means of grace, by the commission of Christ, is in the same condition with him who is continued in the Church by the same commission of Christ; it must be allowed that here is a judicial power granted to the Church, and such as affects the condition of the offender in the sight of God.
It is to be observed that this authority of the Church is made judicial by the express promise of God to ratify and confirm it. For after it is said, "let him be unto thee as an heathen," it is declared that whatsoever they should thus bind on earth should be bound in heaven.
3. From all this, it plainly appears, that excommunication is as truly a divine positive punishment, as baptism is a divine positive blessing; and that the one as certainly excludes us from the kingdom of God, as the other admits us into it. For since here is as plainly Christs express authority to take from some men the ordinary means of grace, and exclude them from the common benefits of Christianity, as there is His authority to "go and baptise all nations;" I desire to know why one is not as truly a divine positive institution as the other? Is not Christs authority as effectual and significant in excluding, as in admitting persons into His kingdom? Is not that same power as able to take  away the privileges of church membership, as it was at first to grant them?
If therefore there be any blessing or happiness in our being admitted into the Church; there must be as much misery and punishment in our exclusion out of it. For as it implies the loss of all those privileges and favours we were made partakers of, by our admission into the Church; so we must needs be punished in the same degree that we were happy.
If therefore baptism, a divine positive institution to admit us into the privileges of Christianity, makes any alteration in our condition, as to the favour of Godi.e., if we are brought any nearer to God by baptism, than we were before; then it plainly follows excommunication, a divine positive institution, which deprives us of all these privileges of Christianity, and, as the Bishop of Oxford expresses it, reduces offenders into the state of heathens, must needs affect our condition with regard to the favour of God.
For if there be anything in baptism which is just matter of joy, there is something equally terrible in excommunication; which, when rightly executed, as effectually makes us aliens from the promises of God, as baptism, when rightly administered, makes us children of God, and heirs of eternal life. So that he who can ridicule and expose the terrors and effects of excommunication, is acting just as Christian a part, as he who fleers at and despises the benefits and advantages of baptism.
Seeing therefore the Church has as express an authority to turn some men out of the Church, as it has to admit others into it, it is as false an account of excommunication, to make it only that common right which every man has, to avoid those he dislikes; as if it should be said, that admission into the Church by  baptism, implies no more, than that common right which every man has to do offices for those he likes. Now, my Lord, is baptism to be administered, because persons may do good offices for one another? Is there a power in the Church to increase its members by admitting others into communion, for this reason, because people have a common right to choose their company? If not, my Lord, how comes the exclusion of members to be nothing but a common right of avoiding those we dislike? Are not persons excluded from all the benefits of their admission? So that if there was any authority required for the admission of persons into the Church, if this authority was only from God, it is certain that all exclusion from these church privileges, cannot be executed but by the same authority, which first granted them. For no person can be deprived of any privileges, but by that power which at first granted them.
When therefore your Lordship recurs to the common right of persons to avoid, if they can, those they dislike, in order to state the nature of excommunication; it is just as much to the purpose, as if I should set a chemist to examine the natural qualities of water, in order to state the true efficacy of baptism: for men no more act by any powers of their own when they exclude offenders, than they baptise others into communion by their own authority, or than water unites them to Christ by its natural qualities.
Yet your Lordship sets forth the nature of excommunication, and the right the Church has to it, only from that common right, which all Christians have of avoiding if they can those they dislike. Thus you say, the Church may excommunicate, because "every person has a right to judge, nay he cannot help judging of the behaviour of men";7 that "every man will judge him  to be a murderer, who takes away his neighbours life unjustly."
This comes up as truly to the nature of excommunication, and is as just in account of it, as if any one should set forth the authority of a British judge, and show the extent of his judicial power, by saying, he indeed may judge and condemn a murderer, for this is the right of every person to judge, and no one can help judging and condemning a murderer. It is as consistent with sense thus to set out the power of the judge, as it is with reason and Scripture, to compare excommunication to that private power of judging and thinking which everyone enjoys.
For, my Lord, can it be supposed that when our Saviour tells them, that they should reject such a person out of the Church, and look upon him as an heathen, and that He would bindi.e., confirm their sentence; can it be supposed that He only meant they might think and judge a wicked person to be a wicked person, only in such a manner as every man cannot help thinking and judging? If our blessed Lord only here intended this, what occasion was there for His promise to ratify their judgment? What need is there of an assurance, that they shall privately judge, what they cannot help privately judging? Or indeed to what purpose is any promise at all made here, if nothing is to be effected? If this sentence be only a private, unauthorised declaration, like the opinion or judgment of private men, what room can there be for this ratification of our Saviour? If no effects are intended in the judgment of the Church, what can be the meaning of this promise? Or rather, since our Saviour has here instituted the authority, and promised to ratify the exercise of it, how dares any Christian to compare it to a private personal power of judging, or  declare that it is without any effect upon the condition of Christians? For, my Lord, either something is here promised to the sentence of the Church, or there is not if; there is something promised, then the sentence of the Church is no more like the personal sentence of private men, than the power of a judge is like the power of a private man; if you will say. there is nothing here promised in these words, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven," &c., then you must say, that there is nothing at all meant in them; for it is impossible to show that they can have any other meaning, than that of a promise; so that if no promise is made, they are certainly so many dead letters.
Again; that this is a judicial power, is also evident from the case of the incestuous Corinthian. S. Paul says, "What have I to do, to them also which are without?"8 Now the Apostle could not have put this question, if by judging here had been meant no authority, but a private power of judging and thinking a sinner to be a sinner. For a man can no more help judging a murderer to be a murderer, which is without the Church, than if he were within the Church. And it is as proper for us to judge and think aright of those who are out of the Church, as of those who are within it. So that S. Paul could not mean, what have I to do to think a murderer to be a murderer which is without the Church, it being every mans duty to think as truly of all things and persons as he can. Seeing therefore he plainly intimates that he had a power of judging in the Church, which did not belong to him out of the Church, it follows that this power was judicial and authoritative; for a private power of judging and thinking belongs to every man with regard to every thing.
| § I | § III |
§ II. The effects of Spiritual Punishments.
1. Primary and intended.
(a) To preserve the honour of God and of His Church.
(b) To reform offenders.
(c) To warn the Church in general.
2. Accidental effects in the other world.
An increase of guilt.
(a) Through contempt of Christs tribunal.
(b) Through neglect of Gods most awakening call.
We shall more easily understand what is meant by the effects of spiritual punishments, if we consider them under this division.
1. Firstly, such as are the primary and intended effects; Secondly, such as are only the accidental effects of them.
Now as to the primary and intended effects of spiritual punishments, they are these
(a.) Firstly,to preserve the honour of God and His Church, that in members being cut off, it might be "presented a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it might be holy, and without blemish."9
to reform offenders, and reclaim them from their vices; it is a discipline given to the Church, for the edification, and not the destruction of its members. Thus S. Paul say, the incestuous Corinthian was to be "delivered over to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord."10
to preserve the rest of the Church from the ill influence of their example, and that by such punishments exercised upon others, they might fear, and learn from thence not to offend.
These are the intended effects of the punishments  which the Church inflicts, to preserve it a holy society,, and slave the souls of its members.
God Almighty has instituted several means for the advancement of virtue, and the salvation of mankind; and amongst others, He has set up this authority of the Church to promote the same ends. It is I Hs human, ordinary means for the preservation of His Church; and therefore as it cannot operate infallibly, or affect people with a divine certainty, it is only conditional, and is to prevail towards the salvation of mankind, as far as human and conditional means can prevail.
And indeed it is an institution which has a very natural tendency to produce the effect designed by it. For, considering Christianity as a covenant with God, wherein our title to happiness depends upon our use of the ordinary, instituted means of grace, nothing can more naturally induce us to live as worthy of such means, than this authority in the Church to withdraw them upon our abuse, and expel us from the terms of the covenant. Men would not dare to transgress, when they saw they could neither break the laws, nor corrupt the faith of Christianity, without being turned out of the Church, by such a power as Christ had set up for that purpose, and with His promise to make good its decrees. They must be very obstinate sinners who could be content to lie under a sentence which as effectually takes from them all pretensions to Christian happiness, as their baptism entitled them to those pretensions at first.
The chief reason why manners are generally so little affected with the horror of their condition, is because they look upon their punishment at the future judgment, as a great distance off; and since they are within the Church, and enjoy the ordinary means of grace, they think they can repent in time. But now  Christ, by instituting this church authority, has suited His discipline to the weakness and frailty of our nature; and they who are only to be affected by things present, have a present judgment to fear; which, though it is only the judgment of men, yet is the judgment of such men as are commissioned to pronounce it in Christs name, and with His promise to ratify and confirm it. So that they have as much reason to look upon themselves as effectually cast out by God in that sentence, as they were received into covenant with God by baptism; for there is the same divine authority, to support them both.
2. As to those other effects of spiritual punishments in the other world, they are not the intended, but accidental effects of such punishments, which are brought upon offenders by their own wicked behaviour under them.
Thus the salvation of mankind is the primary intended effect of Christianity; yet it may have such effect upon some men by, their own impiety in it, as to make it better for them if they had never heard of the name of Christ. For Christianity may become so much a punishment to some persons in the other world, that their condition may be less tolerable than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. But then this is not the intended effect of Christianity, but an accidental effect which such persons bring upon themselves; who by their own ill conduct turn a mercy into a judgment, and make that which was intended to save them, the accidental cause of their greater ruin.
Thus it is with spiritual punishments; they are the merciful corrections of God intended to prevent our future misery, but if disregarded, will certainly increase it. This will easily explain what is meant by the  effects of spiritual punishments in the other world, or how they are suspended till the offender comes thither. It is not the direct intended effect of Church punishments to increase the misery of sinners, or damn them in the other world; no more than it is the direct intended effect of Christianity to increase peoples damnation: but as Christianity, if abused, will be the accidental cause of their greater damnation who so abuse it; so the censures of the Church, when despised, will have this accidental effect, as to increase the punishment of those who so despised them. This is the nature of those effects which spiritual punishments will have upon the impenitent in another world.
As for instance, a person who is turned out of the Church, may all this while be lusty and strong, and flourish in all the advantages of this life; but when he comes into the other world, he may then find that the spiritual punishment was a sore evil, that it is ratified by Christ, has increased his guilt, and will be matter of punishment for ever.
He will find that the censure of the Church has increased his guilt in these respects.
as it was a judicial sentence pronounced by Christs authority, and not to be despised or neglected without great impiety; so that let the sinner have been what he will before, when he continues in his sins in contempt of this tribunal set up in Christs name, his guilt is thereby exceedingly increased.
as it is the most powerful means, and the very utmost which God can do to reclaim, or even terrify sinners from their impiety, as it is the most awakening call to repentance, an institution only less terrible than the last judgment; those who are not affected with it, must be rendered more odious in the  sight of God, and made ripe for a severer punishment.
These, my Lord, are the effects of spiritual punishments in the other world; it is thus that they alter the condition of offenders in the sight of God in regard to His favour. They are certainly under greater displeasure, after they have despised the censures of church authority, and have resisted an institution, which is the last possible means to recover them.
In former times God has been pleased to send His prophets to forewarn sinners of their destruction, as Jonah to the men of Nineveh: but in the Christian dispensation, He governs us by His ordinary providence; and though He does not send express messengers to recall sinners, yet He has instituted a standing authority in His Church to censure offenders, and give them up to destruction in His name, unless they immediately repent. And what can we think more dreadful than a sentence thus pronounced against us by Gods authority, and with His promise to confirm it?
Was there anything more awakening or more dreadful in the preaching of Jonah, than in this declaration? Jonah could only preach and declare, he could execute nothing himself; it was his being sent in Gods name, which created all the terror, and was the motive to repentance. Now though the Church can only censure and declare, yet since it is as truly commissioned to censure in Gods name, as Jonah was sent in Gods name, there is as much reason to dread the consequences of neglecting the Church, as of not repenting at the message or preaching of any prophet from God.
| § II | § IV |
§ III. The Bishops arguments.
1. "That the incestuous Corinthian incurred Gods displeasure solely on account of his behaviour; and his excommunication did not add to Gods displeasure, nor would the want of it have diminished it."Ans. to Rep.
Ans. This does not agree with Scripture.
2. That if he had died impenitent, the sentence would have ,had no effect in the other world. It is not the censure that makes the guilt.
Ans. (a) This would be equally true, on the Bishops reasoning, of a
sentence pronounced directly by God.
Ans. (b) Or of Christs sentence at the last day.
Ans. (c) Or of Gods temporal chastisements.
Ans. (d) It would follow that the coming of Christ has not increased mens responsibility.
3. That "supposing excommunication wrongly inflicted on Christian, he is equally in the favour of God."
Ans. (a) This does not alter the effect of a just sentence.
Ans. (b) The power of sacraments and of the Christian revelation are also conditional, yet are not therefore ineffectual.
§ III. I must now beg leave here, my Lord, to lament an assertion from the hands of a Christian and Protestant bishop; where you declare, that the "excommunication of the incestuous Corinthian neither added to Gods displeasure, nor would the want of it have at all diminished it. Neither if he had died in an impenitent condition, would that sentence have had any effect in the other world."11
This, my Lord, plainly supposes that there is neither authority nor advantage in excommunication; for if there were, it is certain that our abuse of it as an advantage, and our contempt of it as an authority, must needs increase our guilt, and consequently Gods displeasure. Yet your Lordship here teaches the world, that if the incestuous Corinthian, though justly censored, and that by an Apostle directing,  and the whole congregation joining, had died impenitent, "that sentence would have had no effect in the other world."
Let us therefore suppose that some great patron of Christian liberty had gone to the disconsolate Corinthian, sorrowing under the sentence of the Church, and should endeavour to quiet him after this manner.
"Why do you disquiet yourself with vain fears about the censure of the Church, which neither hath nor can have any effect upon your condition as to the favour of God. Let the Apostle and Church be as solemn as they please in the denunciation; let them in the name of Christ deliver you over to Satan; yet take courage, and fear nothing from all this; for you may depend upon it, that, after all, you are but just where you was before this sentence was passed. And if you die impenitent, you have no effects of this censure to fear in the other world."
Now this is the doctrine your Lordship has taught for the consolation of those who are, or are likely to be under the sentence of the Church; which if it be now sound doctrine, it was as proper to be told the Corinthian then, as it is for your Lordship to teach it now. And if your Lordship had lived then, it would have been as proper to have told the Corinthian, as to tell us now; and you must have lain under the same Christian necessity of delivering him from vain fears, which now constrains you to set all at liberty from the like apprehensions.
St Paul, speaking of the sentence passed upon the Corinthian, says, "Sufficient to such a man, was this punishment."12 Now, my Lord, if it have nothing of the nature of a punishment, if it has no effect where it is inflicted, if the person said to be punished can feel no  effect from it, what strange language is this? Can that be called a punishment, or a sufficient punishment, which can in no degree be felt, which produces no effects, or makes no alteration in the person where it falls?
Again St Paul tells us, that he had amongst others which had corrupted the faith, "delivered Hymeneus and Alexander to Satan, that they, might learn not to blaspheme."13
Now if this sentence can have no effect, if it cannot signify anything to them, if they are just in the same condition after it, which they were before, why should it teach them not to blaspheme? Why should a sentence which they had nothing to fear from make them any longer afraid to continue in their errors? Here was therefore either a pious fraud made use of by the Apostle to fright men from their heresies by something which was in itself vain and insignificant, or else your Lordship has mightily mistaken the matter, in declaring that it is vain and insignificant. The Apostle plainly inflicts these censures, as a terror to offenders, and to frighten them from continuing in their evil courses; but if, as you say, persons be just in the same condition after this sentence in which they were before, if it has no effect upon them, though they are rightly censured, and yet die impenitent, which is what you expressly say of this Corinthian; then it is plain they are only pretended terrors, and that when the Apostles use them as such, they must be charged with using them as a pious fraud. And it must be owned that your Lordship has very frankly made the discovery.
But whoever has piety enough to believe those first ambassadors of Christ, will clear them from such a charge, and rather think it possible that you may mistake in your philosophy than they in their divinity.
2. To proceed; You declare that though the "incestuous Corinthian had died in an impenitent condition, the sentence of the Church would have had no effect in the other world": by which you must mean, that it could not affect his condition there, so as to increase his punishment, and that because the "sentence did not add to Gods displeasure, which he incurs solely upon account of his own behaviour, and not the sentence of men."14 As thus, I suppose, your Lordship means, that if an adulterer is censured by the Church, he is under Gods displeasure solely on account of his adultery and not more so, on account of the sentence of the Church; which cannot make him more an adulterer, or more guilty in the sight of God. It is for this reason that Church censures are so insignificant, so void of all effect in the other world; because it is our sins alone, and not the sentence of men, which loses us the favour of God.
(a.)Let us therefore, my Lord, suppose that God Himself had delivered this sentence against the Corinthian which the Church did, your Lordships doctrine would have procured him the same ease and quiet, and taught him to be no more concerned about it, than if it had been a mere Church censure. For it is as true in your Lordships sense, that the sentence of God did not add to His displeasure against him, that He was not angry at him because of his sentence, but on account of the offenders behaviour. But, my Lord, will it therefore follow, that there is nothing to be dreaded in such a sentence? Will it follow, that if the person dies impenitent under it, that it will have no effect in the other world? Would your Lordship go about, and preach liberty, to persons under such a  sentence, and assure them that the sentence itself could have no effect, that they were but just where they were before it was pronounced? Would you think it proper to deliver men from such apprehensions, and persuade them that they are in no danger from the sentence of God? And that because it is not His own sentence, but their behaviour which increases His displeasure.
This may perhaps appear a little too shocking to set up for an advocate for the laity against the sentence of God; but, my Lord, if you was to do so, you would have the same argument to defend yourself against any effect in the divine sentence, which you now have against any effect in the sentence of the Church. It would be then as much to the purpose to say, that God is not displeased with them, on the account of His own sentence, but purely for their own behaviour; as it is to tell offenders, that it is not the sentence of the Church, but their behaviour which brings them under the divine displeasure.
I must here therefore, my Lord, beg leave to call this a strict demonstration, that if the sentence of the Church is not to be feared; if it has no effect, because it is not the sentence, but our own behaviour which alone procures us the divine displeasure; if this be true, it is demonstration, that if God Himself was to pronounce this Church sentence, and turn offenders out of communion, that there would be nothing to be feared from it, that it could have no effect in the other world; for Gods displeasure against them would not be occasioned by His own sentence, but by their behaviour. So that were the discipline of the Church in Gods own hands, and were He with His own voice to threaten sinners, as the Church now does, your Lordship would be as much obliged to comfort the laity against any apprehension  of any effect from the sentence itself, as you are now to deliver them from the fear of mans judgment.
Again; if the sentence of the Church is not to be dreaded, if it can have no effect in the other world, because we incur the divine displeasure solely on account of our own behaviour; then it is certain that the sentence of Christ himself at the last day can have no effect in the other world.
If therefore any unwary divine should endeavour to alarm his congregation with the effects of Christs sentence at the last day, your Lordship has taught any one to reject the doctrine, as greatly injurious to the honour of God; and that such doctrine was also impossible in itself to be conceived, he might presume strictly to demonstrate.15
"A sentence which makes not a tittle of alteration in the condition of a man, in the eyes of God, with regard to His favour or displeasure, cannot be said to have any effect in the other world.16 But the sentence of Christ at the last day is of this sort.
"Therefore the sentence of Christ makes not a tittle of alteration in the condition of a man in the eyes of God with regard to His favour or displeasure.
"That the sentence of Christ makes no alteration in the condition of a man with regard to the favour or displeasure of God, is plain from hence; that men incur the divine displeasure solely on account of their own behaviour."
Thus, my Lord, it is demonstratively certain, that as you have argued against the effects of the Churchs sentence in the other world, you have taught any one to argue against any effect in the sentence of Christ in the next world; and consequently it must be as unwary  doctrine, to frighten people with the effects of Christs sentence, as to terrify them with the effects of the sentence of the Church. And you have offered such an argument for the utter insignificance of this sentence, as would make it equally insignificant, and void of all effect, though it was pronounced by God Himself. So that as much as you often seem to expose it as the sentence of weak and fallible men, yet your argument does not reject it as a fallible sentence, but as it is a sentence from having any effect. So that if it was pronounced by God Himself, it must be as much without effect, and every sentence which ever can be pronounced by God, must be without any effect as to His favour or displeasure, because that is solely occasioned by our own behaviour. Therefore an infallible sentence can no more have any effect than a fallible one, because it is our behaviour alone which can effect us. This, my Lord, will be of great use to some people, who will be glad to find that they have no more effects to fear from Gods sentence either in this world or the next, than your Lordship has from the Church.
Again; If there be no effect in the sentence of the Church in the other world, because our behaviour alone incurs the Divine displeasure, then nothing which God inflicts upon us here can have any effect in the other world.
If therefore Gods judgments were visibly fallen upon some town or country, and an unwary preacher should take occasion to excite them to a speedy repentance, from the sad effects such judgments would have in the other world, if they had not their designed effects in this, and declare that if they died impenitent under them in this world, they would feel worse effects of them in the other world:
A disciple of your Lordships might thus reprove the  falseness and cruelty of such doctrine. "How can you terrify people with such vain fears about Gods judgments? Is He provoked against us by His own thunder and lightning? Do His own judgments add anything to His displeasure against us? Can anything but our own sins and behaviour create His displeasure? Therefore we are certainly in the same condition, as to that, which we were in before His judgments fell upon us; and if we die impenitent under them, they can have no effect in the other world. False then and greatly dishonourable to God is your doctrine, which supposes anything can have any effect of that kind, but our own behaviour. To alarm us therefore with the effects of such judgments, is to put false fears into our minds, and teach us to dread things which are impossible; for it is impossible that anything but our own behaviour should increase our punishment."
Now, my Lord, is it cruel and unwary doctrine to awaken sinners under Gods judgments to repentance, from a sense of the worse effects of those judgments in the other world, if they do not bring them to repentance in this? If it is not, I desire to know why it is not as reasonable to alarm people with the effects of spiritual punishments, if disregarded, as with the effects of Gods judgments, if they are neglected? What is there in the nature of the thing, why one punishment may have effect in the other world, and not the other? They are both equally Gods punishments, intended for the same ends.
When persons are rightly turned out of the Church, and denied the ordinary means of grace, they are as truly under Gods special judgment, as a country which is oppressed with famine or pestilence; the one is His instituted, ordinary judgment to terrify men from iniquity; the other is His extraordinary judgment, His  miraculous call to repentance. It is therefore as sound a Christian doctrine, to say, that if persons die impenitent under Gods extraordinary judgment, that such judgment will have no effect in the other world: as to say, that if the incestuous Corinthian had died impenitent under the just sentence of the Churchi.e., Gods ordinary judgment, that such sentence or judgment would have had no effect in the other world. And consequently to endeavour to terrify sinners with the effects of Gods judgments in the other world, if they disregard them here, is as much condemned by your Lordship, as the Dean of Chichesters doctrine concerning the effects .of spiritual punishments in the next world.
(d.) Lastly; our blessed Saviour told the Jews, that if He had not come, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin:17 which plainly implies that His coming into the world altered their condition as to the favour of God, because it made them more guilty in His sight than they were before He came. Yet your Lordships argument against the effects of Church punishments directly denies this doctrine. For your objection against any effects in Church punishments, is full as strong against any effects in Christs coming into the world. And if people may be more guilty in the sight of God, after Christ is come, they may be more guilty after they have been censured by the Church, for the reason is the same in both cases. For there can be no reason given, why Christs coming should affect their condition with regard to the favour of God, but that he had a divine mission and was an authoritative call to repentance; but this is equally true of excommunication, that it is a divine institution, an authoritative call to .repentance; therefore they must either both be allowed  to affect peoples condition with regard to the favour of God, or neither; for the reason is exactly the same in both cases.
If therefore a learned Pharisee seeing a relenting publican touched with this declaration of our Saviours, should have reproved him after this manner.
"You need not be concerned at this persons coming into the world, for His coming does not increase Gods displeasure against you, which can only be raised by your own behaviour; it is solely on account of that, that you can be out of Gods favour. Sinners are out of Gods favour, if this person had never come, and His coming does not add to Gods displeasure against them; neither if they die in an impenitent condition after He is come, will His coming have any effect in the other world, where their condition will not be determined by His coming, but by their own behaviour."
I should be glad, my Lord, to know what you could have said against such a declaration, or how a person who would have told the incestuous Corinthian, that if he died impenitent under the censure of the Church, that it would have no effect in the other world, could have anything to object to the Pharisee, who tells the publican, if he died impenitent after Christs coming, that His coming will have no effect in the other world.
The Pharisee has exactly the same reason to tell the publican, that he was neither the more, nor the less, out of Gods favour for Christs coming, that you have to tell the Corinthian, "that he was neither the more, nor the less, out of Gods favour for what was done by the Church." For the censure here was right and infallible, and passed in the name and by the authority of Christ; it was passed by an apostle, and you affirm that Christ  was in all that the Apostles did; therefore it may be truly said that Christ Himself came to the Corinthian in this sentence, it was His authority and infallibility which censured him; and yet you say that if he had died impenitent under this censure, he had been just where he was before, and it would have had no effect in the other world.
Pray therefore, my Lord, let us know how any one can be more guilty for Christs coming, or why it shall have any effect in the other world upon those who die impenitent? A few reasons against the Pharisee, would be so many reasons against your Lordships doctrine. For Christ as truly comes to Christians in His institutions, as He came to the Jews in person; and it is as dangerous to disregard Him in the one appearance as in the other.
This account of excommunication will, I hope, be thought a sufficient answer to your Lordships strict demonstration, that it has no effects in the other world, nor adds anything to Gods displeasure. For from this it appear, that when you say, that "supposing no such punishment inflicted upon a wicked Christian, he is under the displeasure of Almighty God to an equal degree, as he would be if it were inflicted:"18 it is as false as to say that a wicked Jew was under the same displeasure of God before Christ came as he was afterwards; or that a person impenitent under an extraordinary, judgment, is no more out of Gods favour afterwards, than he was before, or if God had never visited him: it is as false as to say, that if God Himself was to pronounce the sentence of the Church, that persons under it would be just in the same degree of favour they were before, or that the sentence of Christ at the last day, will have no effect.
3. The other part of your demonstration proceeds thus; excommunication has no effect, because "supposing it wrongfully inflicted upon a Christian, he is still equally in the favour of God."19
(a.)The whole of this argument amounts to this, that a right censure of the Church has no effect, because a wrong one has not. I should think that any one in a mighty want of proof, who should say that the excommunication of the incestuous Corinthian could have no effect, because the excommunication of some virtuous person will not have any effect; yet this is your Lordships demonstration, that it can signify nothing when it is right, because it signifies nothing when it is wrong.
Is it an argument, my Lord, that a bullet flies through a mans head it has no effect upon him, because it will have no effect if it miss him? Is it a proof that motion cannot produce heat, because rest cannot produce heat?
If not, how comes it to be an argument that a right sentence has no effect, because a wrong one has not the same effect?
A right sentence is as opposite to a wrong one, as motion is to rest; and it is as good sense to say motion has no such effect, because rest has no such effect; as to say a right sentence has no effect, because a wrong one has not the same.
A right sentence, is the only excommunication which Christ has instituted, and to which alone this effect belongs; but it is strange logic to infer, that this institution cannot have such an effect, because something which Christ has not instituted, has not the same effect.
A wrong sentence is as truly a breach and transgression of that excommunication which Christ has instituted, as adultery is a breach of the seventh  commandment; it is therefore as absurd to say, that chastity has no such an effect, because adultery has not the same effect; as to affirm that a right sentence has not such an effect, because a violation of that right sentence has not the same effect. Your Lordships argument is this, that the sentence has not such an effect in some circumstances, because it has not the same effect in all circumstances: which resolves itself into this proposition, that nothing can produce any particular effect, unless it produced the same effect in all circumstances.
Your Lordship might as well have called it a demonstration against all effects in the world, as against the effects of spiritual censures: for there is nothing in the world, no powers either natural, moral, or political, which produce their effects but in some supposed right circumstances; yet this ecclesiastical power is demonstrated away by your Lordship, because it does not produce the same effect in all circumstances.
Farther; if there is no effect in a right sentence of the Church, because there is no effect in a wrong one; then it will follow, that there is no effect in either of the sacraments when rightly received, because they want such effect in persons who do not rightly receive them. It may as often happen that the sacraments are administered in wrong circumstances, and as void of that effect for which they were intended, as any wrong sentence of the Church be pronounced; but does it therefore follow, that there is no effect in the sacraments, that they are empty and useless to those who receive them rightly, because they are so to those who receive them otherwise? Your Lordship must either affirm that the sacraments have no effect, or that the opus operatum is always effectual; for if you say they have effect, though not always, then it is certain  that the sentence of the Church may have effect, though not always. Whether your Lordship will own the Popish doctrine of the opus operatum, or deny the sacraments to be means of -race, that is, to have any effect, I cannot tell; but sure I am, if you do not hold one of these doctrines, you must own the sacraments to have conditional effects in supposed circumstances, which will sufficiently confuse your own strict demonstration, that excommunication can have no effect, because it has it not in all circumstances.
Again; I presume it may very justly be said that the Christian revelation has some effect towards the salvation of mankind; but then it has not this effect always and in all cases, it is only effectual upon certain conditions. Now if excommunication can have no effect, because it is not effectual when it is wrongfully pronounced, then the Christian revelation can have no effect towards saving those who embrace it as they should, because it has no such effect on those who embrace it otherwise. The reason of the thing is the same in both cases, and any one may as justly set forth the vanity and insignificance of the Christian revelation, because it does not save all its professors, as your Lordship exposes the weakness and vanity of spiritual censures, because they do not absolutely, and in all cases, throw people out of Gods favour.
I hope I have here said enough to vindicate the authority and effects of the spiritual punishments of the Church against all your Lordship has advanced against them.
| § III | End |
§ IV. Concluding observations.
1. The Bishops reasoning would make Baptism useless.
2. Would reduce the Ten Commandments to mere trifles.
3. Ans. to Obj. that the commandments and Church sentences are not
on the same level.
 § IV.I shall make an observation or two more upon this head, and then proceed to the other parts of your answer.
1. You say, "The incestuous Corinthian was never the more or the less in Gods favour for what was done by the Church."20 This doctrine I have already confuted, and shall now only set this passage in another light. Let us suppose that you had said, "That no man is more in Gods favour for being rightly baptized by the Church." Now if a person is not more in Gods favour after he is rightly baptized by the Church than he was before, then it is certain, that there is no need of baptism by the Church; for anything is sufficiently proved needless or useless in religion, if it neither procures nor loses the favour of God. This is undeniably certain, that if we are not more in the favour of God for being duly baptized by the Church, than if we were not baptized at all, that then that baptism is a useless trifle.
Now this is the doctrine which your Lordship has taught; for he that says the incestuous Corinthian, though justly turned out of the Church, was neither the more or the less in Gods favour for what was done by the Church; says likewise that he who is duly baptized into Covenant with God by the Church, is never the more or the less in Gods favour for being duly baptized by the Church. For if it be a mere trifle, and altogether insignificant to us, as to the favour of God, to be turned out of the Church by such an authority; it must be as mere a trifle to be admitted into the Church by the same authority. So that he who declares the one, plainly declares the other: for this is evidently plain, that if nothing be lost as to the favour of God, by our being duly turned out of the Church, that then nothing  is got as to the favour of God, by our being duly admitted into the Church.
For if our being in the Church was any step towards Gods favour, or rendered us more acceptable to Him, those degrees of favour and acceptance must be certainly lost, by our losing that which was the cause of them.
He therefore who asserts it is a trifle to be turned out of the Church, must also assert, that it is as fruitless and trifling a thing to be admitted into the Church. So that all your Lordships raillery and contempt thrown upon human excommunications, falls as directly upon human baptisms; and makes them as truly fruitless trifles without any advantage, as it makes excommunication a trifle without any punishment.
This therefore is the sum of your new religion, set up out of pure tenderness to the laity, to deliver them from the weight and burden of ordinances; this is to be their support against human excommunications, human benedictions, human baptisms, &c., that whether before or after baptism, whether before or after excommunication, they are still the same children of God.
2. Again, you say, "if it be supposed (as it sometimes is upon this subject) that a person behaves himself under the most undeserved censures, with any degree of impatience, pride, or stubbornness, and that this displeaseth Almighty God; it is plain that he incurs no part of that displeasure, upon account of the sentence of men, but solely upon the account of his own behaviour; it being his own behaviour alone, and not the sentence of men, which has any such effect."21
Here, my Lord, your philosophy is upon the stretch, and rather than a Christian institution should have any force or effect, you have let it run such lengths, as to  make even the Ten Commandments as mere trifles as the sentence of men.
As for instance; suppose a person should tell a friend that he had a great liking to some of his neighbours goods, but that the eighth commandment made him afraid to take them from him; if his friend were but a master of your philosophy, he might soon convince him of the folly of such a fear. He might tell him, that "if it be supposed (as it sometimes is supposed in this case) that by his manner of taking goods from his neighbour, that he displeaseth Almighty, God; it is plain that he incurs no part of that displeasure upon account of the commandment, but solely upon the account of his own behaviour; it being his own behaviour alone, and not the commandment, which has any such effect." He might also assure him, that the commandment itself cannot hurt him, that he is not more or less in Gods favour for what that commandment says, but purely for what he himself does.
I now, my Lord, freely submit it to the judgment of common-sense, whether your profound philosophy does not as truly make void and set aside the force and effect of the commandment, as the effect of excommunication.
For it is plainly as reasonable to tell a thief, that the eighth commandment cannot hurt him; that if he steals, it is not the commandment, but his own behaviour alone, which will have any effect; as to declare that an impenitent offender is neither more or less in the favour of God for what is done by the Church, because even supposing God to be angry at him for his behaviour towards the sentence of the Church, yet it is not the sentence but his own behaviour, which causes the divine displeasure; therefore the sentence, says your Lordship, is a trifle without effect. And therefore may  it also be said that the eighth commandment is a trifle without effect; for it is as true of the commandment in this sense, and your Lordship is as much obliged to say that it is our behaviour against the commandment, and not the commandment itself, which will raise Gods displeasure; as to say it is our behaviour under the sentence, and not the sentence itself, which brings Gods displeasure upon us; so that it is undeniably plain, that if for this reason the sentence of the Church be a trifle without any effect, that for the same reason the commandment must be equally a trifle, and equally without any effect.
And now, my Lord, need we not heed the commandments, because it is not the commandments themselves which will have any effect upon us? Why then are we to be exhorted, and preached up into a contempt of the sentence of the Church, because it is not the sentence itself will have any effect upon us? Is it safe to sin against the authority of the commandment, because it is not the commandment itself which can punish us? If not, where is the sense, or reason, or Christianity of telling us, that we need not heed the sentence of the Church, because the sentence itself cannot punish us?
Suppose some High Churchman had written a treatise against stealing, and had carried the matter so very far, as to talk of the fatal effect which the eighth commandment would have upon offenders, when it should rise up in judgment and condemn them.
Would your Lordship think yourself obliged in regard to the liberty of those who want other peoples goods, to tell them that indeed they ought to take care to act with sincerity in their acquiring the temporal things of this life, that they ought to consider with the utmost impartiality the nature of property, and the conditions of that original contract which first settled  the rights and bounds of it, and gave every man a right in such or such a part of the things of this life; but if they should through impatience of want, or pride, or any other passion or prejudice, make too free with their neighbours property, and so displease Almighty God; would you think yourself obliged to tell them, that the fatal effects of the eighth commandment, and its pretended rising up in judgment hereafter, is all sham and banter; and that however God may be displeased with them, yet that commandment will have no effect upon them? Would your love of liberty, your concern for the laity, engage you to give so much comfort, and preach such smooth things to such a class of people?
Thus much may be fairly affirmed, that you might as well deliver such a sort of people from their fear of the commandment, as endeavour to persuade impenitent offenders not to fear the sentence of the Church. For as the guilt of stealing is aggravated by being contracted against the authority Of the Eighth Commandment; so the guilt of impenitence is heightened by a continuance in it against that authority in the Church, which is as truly founded by God to prevent the growth of sin, as the Eighth Commandment was given by God to prevent stealing. So that he who teaches offenders to disregard this sentence, which is authorised by God to awaken and terrify, them into repentance, does the same as if he should, teach thieves to disregard the Eighth Commandment, which was given by God to affright people from stealing.
3. If it should be here objected that there is a very great difference betwixt the duty we owe to the Eighth Commandment, and our duty to the sentence of the  Church; because the commandment is always right and the same, whereas the Church may err in its sentence.
To this it may be answered, that granting all this, that the Church may sometimes err in its sentence; yet if it is ever in the right, if it ever can be a fault, or dangerous for sinners not to submit to, and be corrected by it, this will condemn your doctrine, which sets it out constantly, and in all circumstances, as a dream and trifle, and without any effect.
Here is no room left for you to plead the uncertainty of the Churchs sentence, in regard to the certainty of the commandment; because you directly set forth your doctrine in a case (that of the incestuous Corinthian) where all was right and just, and yet declare that in that case it was without any effects; and that if the incestuous Corinthian had continued impenitent under it, and disregarded it as long as he had lived, it had signified no more to him than if it had never been pronounced. And in this case, my Lord, and upon this supposition, that the authority judges and condemns such sinners as it ought to do, it is as abominable to tell such that they have nothing to fear from the judgment of the Church, as to tell a thief that he has nothing to fear from the Eighth Commandment. And I here challenge all the reason which ever appeared against the doctrines of Christianity, to show me, why it is not as agreable to the Scripture to declare, that if a thief lives and dies in his sins of stealing, that he has nothing to fear from the Eighth Commandment; as to declare that an impenitent offender, though justly censured by the authority of the Church, has nothing to fear from such a censure, though he lives and dies in the contempt of it.
Thirdly and lastly;
Though the Church may sometimes err in its authority, and the commandment is always right; yet your doctrine makes it as reasonable to declare the commandment without any effect, as to declare the sentence of the Church to be without any effect. For you do not say that excommunication is a trifle without any effect, because it is a sentence which may sometimes be wrong; but because, though we should displease God under the sentence of the Church, yet that displeasure would not have been occasioned by the sentence, but by our behaviour alone. And this doctrine plainly makes all the commandments as mere trifles and void of all effect, as it makes the sentence of the Church so. For it is as true in your sense, and you are as much obliged to say, that if we sin against the commandments, and incur the displeasure of God, that is not the commandments, but our behaviour alone which causes it: and so the commandments of God have no more to do with the favour of God, but are as mere dreams without any effect, as the human excommunications you have so much exposed. This, my Lord, is a very compendious conflation both of the Law and the Gospel; and is a good reason, why so many of those who have no regard for either, but think zeal in religion a meanness of spirit, are yet great zealots for your Lordships opinions.
| § IV | Top |
1 Answer to Repres. p. 39 [ii. 465].
2 Answer to Repres. [ii, 467].
3 Matt. xxviii. 19.
4 Matt. xxviii. 15.
5 Potter, "Church Government," ch. v. p. 336, 2nd ed., 1711.
6 Ibid., p. 341.
7 Answer to Repres. p. 39 [ii. 465].
8 I Cor. v. 12.
9 Ephes. iv. 25.
10 I Cor. v. 5.
11 Answer to Repres., p. 38 [ii. 465].
12 2 Cor. ii. 6.
13 I Tim. i. 19.
Answer to Repres., p. 37 [ii. 464].
15 P. 36 [ii. 464]. 16 Ibid. p. 36. 17 John xv. 22. 18 P. 37 [ii. 465.] 19 P. 37 [ii. 464]. 20 Answer to Repres., p. 43 [ii. 467]. 21 [ii. 464.] |
15 P. 36 [ii. 464].
16 Ibid. p. 36.
17 John xv. 22.
18 P. 37 [ii. 465.]
19 P. 37 [ii. 464].
20 Answer to Repres., p. 43 [ii. 467].
21 [ii. 464.]