[By Alexander Campbell (1828); with emphasis added in bold by Scott J Shifferd (2012)]
On the Discipline of the Church.—No. IV
OUR last essay under this head was rather to point out some of those moral evils which call for the discipline of the congregation, than to develop the procedure of the congregation in relation to public offences. We spoke of some aberrations from the law of Christ, very generally overlooked in the discipline of the church. We shall continue this subject in the present essay. We ought first to know the law of our King before we presume to execute it.
In our last we treated almost exclusively of evil speaking in its genuine import. Very nearly allied to this, and an evil almost as general, is that of breach of promises and covenants amongst the professors of the present day. This is an evil of very serious magnitude and of alarming extent among our contemporaries. The foundation of this evil, will, we presume, be found in the cupidity, avarice or commercial spirit of this age and country. The propensity for contracting debts, and of risking largely on contingencies, and the want of a due estimate of the solemnity of a promise or covenant, constitute the root of this desolating evil. It has become almost fashionable in society to excuse delinquencies and to apologize for the breach of solemn engagements by attributing it to the hardness or unpropitiousness of what we call the times. Mankind are ever wont to blame their sins on any thing but themselves. There is no necessity for the disciples of him whose kingdom is not of this world, to incur such hazards or risk such responsibilities as the children of this world do, in their desires to amass treasures upon earth, or to follow in the train of pompous vanities which allure those whose eyes have never been raised from earth to heaven. The disposition thus to conform to the world, argues very forcibly that professors have not found that in Jesus Christ which fills their hearts; or which they found in him, who for his excellencies accounted all things but dregs that they might attain to that perfection in him which the resurrection of the dead will disclose. If we see a lady much abroad and seldom at home, we must conclude her happiness is not so much at home, as abroad; or if we see a gentleman more attentive to other ladies than his wife, and more in their company, we are forced to conclude he finds not that in his wife which in his marriage covenant he professed to have found. In the same way we reason when we see a christian laboring to acquire those earth-born distinctions which exclusively engross the attention of the sons of earth. If we see him as eager in the chase as they, we suspect he has not found in his profession that which he professed to have found, when he made a formal surrender of himself to the Lord of life.
But lest we should stray from our subject, we must say that the whole system of speculation, of asking and giving securities, of incurring debts beyond the most obvious means to pay in any contingency which may be supposed, are just as opposite to the spirit and tendency of Christianity as theft, lying, and slander. Hence no christian can be prosecuted at law in any such case, or, indeed, in any other case; but it behooves the congregation to examine his conduct whether he have been justly or unjustly prosecuted in the case. No man can be sued justly unless he have violated some law of Christ, or departed from the spirit and design of Christianity. This is, at least, the case under the code of laws which govern our commercial intercourse in this country. But we do not suppose, nor teach, that only such cases of departure from the christian institution as become cases of prosecution, are to be inquired into, or remonstrated against, in a christian congregation. No, indeed; every appearance of this evil spirit is to be guarded against as a plague. No promise should be made, no covenant entered into, no obligation given, which is not to be held as sacred as a sacrament or an oath. When we hear of a christian compelled to pay his debts by law, or to atone for the breach of covenants by fines; when we see one asking securities to obtain money on which to speculate, or see him eagerly engaged in the pursuit of wealth or any earthly distinctions, we must consider his conduct as great a libel on Christianity, as to see a college founded for the express purpose of aiding the cause of Christ, praying to the powers that be, to allow it the privilege of not paying its debts, or of departing from its own engagements with impunity.
Every Christian’s yea should be yes, and his no, no. Every Christian’s promise should be as inviolate as an oath, and all his engagements as sacred as his christian profession. It is only when it is so, that persons will be cautious in entering into engagements, and punctual in living up to them. What a world of prevarication, double meanings, duplicity, circumvention, and lying, grow out of the latitudinarianism of these times. And when we trace all the bitterness, hard feelings, evil surmises, coldness of affection found in religious society, up to their proper source, we generally find they have originated either from the evils on which we descanted in our former essay, or from these of which we now treat. Punctuality in all engagements is an essential constituent of christian morality. “Owe no man any thing but love,” and “Provide things honorable in the sight of all men,” and “Let our brethren learn to practice useful trades for the necessary uses,” and many other apostolic injunctions which naturally flow from the religion of our Lord, make it necessary that christian congregations should take these matters under their most serious consideration.
Nothing injures the cause of Christianity, nor retards its progress more, than the immoralities of which we now speak. They are so visible, manifest, and so inimical to the political and temporal interests of society, that the children of this world, Deists, Atheists, and Skeptics of every name, are just as good judges of these questions, and can mark their progress and descant upon their effects with as much precision and fluency as Paul the Apostle could have done. They also pique themselves no little upon their superior attention to these matters. How lightly do they speak of the religion, the devotion, the praying, and religious gossiping of those who will not keep good faith, nor pay their debts, nor speak well of one another. This is the style in which they take off the edge of the reproofs and zeal of those who profess Christianity. After all their boast, their morality is a matter of policy and self-interest. Yet it is a political advantage, highly beneficial to society, and therefore its tendency most commendable. But without this, a man’s religion is vain. “For if a man does not know,” says an Apostle, “how to bridle his own tongue, his religion is vain.”
Every christian congregation has, therefore, the best of reasons, as well as the highest authority, to induce them to take this matter under cognizance, and to make every departure from the letter and spirit of Christianity, to these respects, a matter of discipline. On the discipline of such offences we shall speak hereafter.