Assembly Action and Conscience; Rebuke Before All; Unanimity; Dissent in Cases of Discipline

 •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Your letter has lain some days on my table, but I am constantly hard at work, from seven in the morning to eleven at night, and hard head work. The epistle you refer to, you must remember, was written to one who wielded derivatively the authority of the apostle, as his trusted and intimate companion. Still the directions given, when applying to general responsibility, apply now as ever. But you cannot have authority without really possessing it, nor did I ever see the case of discipline which could be decided otherwise than in actually deciding it. Where it is a wicked person dearly, the case is pretty clear; but even then the question comes in, Is he really such? and the state and competency comes in. This was really the case with you, and in this condition of weakness, your yielding, God turned into blessing. If one such as Timothy rebuked, according to the apostle's order, he would carry the conscience of all the sound part of the assembly with him. But rebuke before all is different from rebuking one who is not there, nor has it the effect in the same degree of making others fear. But if the assembly, or those who watch over it and carry the mind of the assembly with them, are agreed that it is not wickedness calling for excision, but cannot be passed over, I see nothing to hinder a person's being rebuked publicly. It was done at in a case where a man was overtaken in a fault which none would have known had he not voluntarily told of himself, and there was no question of his godliness or state of mind; but the world had more or less known it. And that is now forty years ago, I suppose, and I believe it has been done in several instances. But it requires the existence of moral authority to do it, and must now flow with the conscience of the assembly. If it is a case of putting away, and the assembly cannot decide—and it is an act of the assembly, "put out from among yourselves"—they must wait on the Lord to have spiritual unity of judgment; I do not say numerical unanimity. And even for an apostle it was so delicate a thing, that he regretted having written an inspired epistle, and one which had produced the desired effect really, and was deeply troubled and exercised. It is as to this he speaks of being not ignorant of Satan's devices.... In all these cases I look to the conscience of the assembly being exercised, that the weight of the assembly go with the act if anything short of excision; if it amount to that it is the assembly's act, the assembly purges itself. A rebuke never had that character, it was preventive to others, and a rod to the offender....
Pau, January, 1880.