[By Alexander Campbell (1828); with words emphasized in bold by Scott J Shifferd (2012)]

On the Discipline of the Church.—No. V.

THEY greatly mistake who expect to find a liturgy, or a code of laws in the New Institution, designed to govern Christians either in their private or public relations and character. This may be found in the Old Institution which the God of Abraham set up amongst the children of the flesh. The nation of the Jews affords both demonstration and proof that man cannot be governed or controlled either in piety or morality by any extrinsic law, however excellent or spiritual. The former institution was an institution of law—the new an institution of favor. Christians are not now, nor were they ever, under law, but under favor. Hence argues the Apostle:—”Sin shall not lord it over you; for you are not under law, but under favor.” A single monosyllable represents the active principle, or law of subordination and of practical morality which it unfolds. That monosyllable is LOVE. “Love is the fulfilling of the whole law.” The glad tidings of the divine philanthropy is the instrument or medium of the inspiration of this principle. The New Institution writes upon the heart, and not on marble, the governing principle or laws of all religious and moral action. This truth recognized and apprehended, solves the difficulty which has puzzled so many minds, and so generally distracted religious society. Many Christians have read and rummaged the apostolic writings with the spirit and expectations of a Jew in perusing the writings of Moses—Jews in heart, but Christians in profession. They have sought, but sought in vain, for an express command or precedent for matters as minute as the seams in the sacerdotal robes, or the pins and pilasters of the tabernacle.

The remote or proximate causes of most errors in disciplinary proceedings may be traced either to the not perceiving that the distinguishing peculiarity of the New, or Christian Institution, is this—that it aims at governing human action without letter, and causes its votaries to “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter;” or, to the not observing that the congregations which Christianity forms are designed rather as schools of moral excellence, than as courts of inquiry possessed of judicial authority.

To look still farther into the genius of the New Institution is yet prerequisite to just conclusions on this subject. The New Institution, governing religious and moral action by a law or principle engraved upon the heart, proposes certain acts of private and public edification and worship. These are stated in the apostolic writings, and conformity to them is enjoined upon disciples from the new obligations which arise out of the new law. The precepts found in the apostolic epistles and those found in the Pentateuch or writings of Moses, have one differential attribute which cannot be too clearly presented here. The precepts found in the apostolic epistles originated or were occasioned by the mistakes and misdemeanors found in Jews and Pagans, recently converted to the Christian faith. But the precepts or laws found in the Pentateuch were promulged before the people began to act at all, as a part of the institution itself. Hence it was an institution essentially of law—the New essentially an institution of favor. All the actions of the former were prescribed by law; but subordination to the latter is implied in the gracious promulgation itself.

The relation established between God and Israel was a different relation from that established between God and Christians. As all duties and privileges arise from relations, if the relations are different, the duties and privileges are different also. Now God made himself known to Israel simply as their God and deliverer from Egyptian bondage, and as their King in contradistinction from the kings of all other nations. Upon this fact, as the grand premises, was the Old Institution proclaimed. Thus it began:—”I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the house of bondage. Therefore you shall acknowledge no other God besides me,” &c. But the premises upon which the New Institution proceeds are of a much more sublime and exalted character. Relations more sublime than national and temporal relations, enter into its nature, and lay the foundation of the New Economy. He is the God and King of Christians upon higher considerations—and more than simply their God and King—he is their Saviour and Redeemer from worse than Egyptian bondage; their leader and guide to a better inheritance than Canaan; and their Father by a new and glorious provision which the national compact at Mount Sinai knew nothing of.

The relation of Master and Servant is a very different relation from that of Father and Son. This is rather an illustration, than a full representation of the difference of relation in which Jews and Christians stand to the God of the whole earth. The relation of Creator and creature is the natural relation existing between God and all mankind. But besides this he has instituted political and gracious relations between himself and human beings. These flow from his own good will and pleasure, and, as such, will be acquiesced in by the wise and good. The natural and first relation in which mankind stand to each other is that of fellow-creatures; but besides this, a number of other natural, political, and gracious relations have been either necessarily or graciously called into existence—such as that of parent and child, husband and wife, and the whole table of consanguinity and affinity; besides all the political relations, and those found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Now the relation between God and Christians, or the relation which the New Institution develops, is the most gracious and desirable which call be conceived of; and therefore presents to the human mind the loftiest and most comprehensive principles which can excite to moral action. As in physics, so in ethics there are principles or powers more influential than others. But Christianity discovers principles of action which no political, moral or religious relations hitherto known, could originate. These new relations, and these new principles of action, are stronger than death, more triumphant than the grave, and lasting as eternity. The discovery of a new, gracious, spiritual, and eternal relation, and correspondent principles of action, moral and religious, is the basis of that association called the Christian church or congregation. It is called the Reign or Kingdom of Heaven, because of the high and sublime nature of the relations, principles, duties, and privileges which it develops. All the political, commercial, and temporal relations of what nature or kind soever, which human passions, interests, partialities, or antipathies have given rise to, are weak and transient as the spider’s thread compared with these. Hence the superlative glory of the New Institution. The world knows it not. It knew not the founder, and it apprehends not the institution. The light shines in darkness, but the darkness reaches it not.

These premises merely stated, not illustrated, suggest the true reason why, in the discipline of the church, so much is to be done before a member is to be severed from her embraces. In the politico-ecclesiastical relations of schismatic corporations the ties of consociation are neither very binding, nor the relations very endearing. They are not much stronger than the purse-strings of the treasurer, nor more durable than the paper on which is written the shibboleth of their Magna Charta. Members may be, and often are, separated without a pang or a sorrow. There is none of that tenderness of reproof of correction, of admonition, of dehortations, of persuasion, known in such confederations as that which the New Institution enjoins upon the citizens of Heaven.

The first effort which the genius of the New Institution enjoins with respect to offending brothers, is similar to that notable regulation concerning private trespasses which, all who have read it, remember, aims at gaining the supposed aggressor or delinquent. Hence the most characteristic feature in all congregational proceedings in reference to those who sin, not so much against a brother as against Christ, is that condescending tenderness which aims at the conversion of the delinquent or transgressor. The dernier resort, when all means fail, is separation. This tender solicitude and earnestness to gain a brother who has fallen, is, in some cases, where the nature of the case does not forbid, extended even beyond exclusion. So that although public good, as well as that of the subject of censure, does require his exclusion; yet even then he is not to be treated as an enemy, but admonished as a brother. The lesson of all others the most difficult, and the most important to be learned on the subject of this essay, is that which the preceding considerations suggest, and that is briefly that every part of the proceedings in reference to an offending brother must be distinguished by every possible demonstration of sympathy and concern for his good standing and character in the sight of God and man: and that final seclusion from the congregation must not be attempted until admonition, reproof, and persuasion, have failed to effect a real change in his views and behavior. Though I neither hold Lord Chesterfield nor his writings in much esteem, yet I cannot but admire his happy use of the “suaviter in modo” and the “fortiter in re,” so much commended in his letters. If the “suaviter in modo,” or the sweetness or gracefulness in the manner of doing, could always accompany the “fortiter in re,” or the firmness in the purpose, or in the thing to be done, it would be no less useful than ornamental even amongst Christians in all their congregational proceedings relating to offenders.