founded by Bill Fields in 1983
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Timothy 3:12-13

 "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him." NIV-Proverbs 18:17
 "{He that is} first in his own cause {seemeth} just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him". KJV-Proverbs 18:17
 " He that pleadeth his cause first {seemeth} just; But his neighbor cometh and searcheth him out". ASV-Proverbs 18:17

Caution:  You should know-God's peacemaking guarantees persecution

4. CHRISTIAN REVENGE, by Martin Luther
6. Blessed are the Peacemakers-Matthew 5:9, by Thomas Watson
7. Blessed are those who are Persecuted for righteousness sake-Matthew 5:10, by Thomas Watson
8. When You Are Falsely Accused by Ray Stedman
9. Persecution:Every Christian's Lot by George Whitefield
10.Thou Shall  NOT Bear False Witness by Martin Luther
11. Reproof A Christian's Duty by Charles Finney

By John Wesley, Inc. since 1983

"If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: If he will hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. "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." Matthew 18:15-17.

1. "SPEAK evil of no man," says the great Apostle: — As plain a command as, "Thou shalt do no murder." But who, even among Christians regards this command? Yea, how few are there that so much as understand it! What is evil-speaking? It is not, as some suppose, the same with lying or slandering. All a man says may be as true as the Bible; and yet the saying of it is evil-speaking. For evil-speaking is neither more nor less than speaking evil of an absent person; relating something evil, which was really done or said by one that is not pleasant when it is related. Suppose, having seen a man drunk, or heard him curse or swear, I tell this when he is absent; it is evil-speaking. In our language this is also, by an extremely proper name, termed backbiting. Nor is there any material difference between this and what we usually style tale-bearing. If the tale be delivered in a soft and quiet manner, (perhaps with expressions of goodwill to the person, and of hope that things may not be quite so bad,) then we call it whispering. But in whatever manner it be done, the thing is the same; — the same in substance if not in circumstance. Still it is evil-speaking; still this command, "Speak evil of no man," is trampled underfoot; if we relate to another the fault of a third person, when he is not present to answer for himself.

2. And how extremely common is this sin, among all orders and degrees of men! How do high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, learned and unlearned, run into it continually! Persons who differ from each other in all things else, nevertheless agree in this. How few are there that can testify before God, "I am clear in this matter; I have always set a watch before my mouth, and kept the door of my lips!" What conversation do you hear, of any considerable length, whereof evil speaking is not one ingredient? and that even among persons who, in the general, have the fear of God before their eyes, and do really desire to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man.

3. And the very commonness of this sin makes it difficult to be avoided. As we are encompassed with it on every side, so, if we are not deeply sensible of the danger, and continually guarding against it, we are liable to be carried away by the torrent. In this instance, almost the whole of mankind is, as it were, in a conspiracy against us. And their example steals upon us, we know not how; so that we insensibly slide into the imitation of it. Besides, it is recommended from within, as well as from without. There is scarce any wrong temper in the mind of man, which may not be occasionally gratified by it, and consequently incline us to it. It gratifies our pride, to relate those faults of others whereof we think ourselves not to be guilty. Anger, resentment, and all unkind tempers, are indulged by speaking against those with whom we are displeased; and, in many cases, by reciting the sins of their neighbors, men indulge their own foolish and hurtful desires.

4. Evil-speaking is the more difficult to be avoided, because it frequently attacks us in disguise. We speak thus out of a noble, generous, (it is well if we do not say,) holy indignation, against these vile creatures! We commit sin from mere hatred of sin! We serve the devil out of pure zeal for God! It is merely in order to punish the wicked that we run into this wickedness. "So do the passions" (as one speaks) "all justify themselves," and palm sin upon us under the veil of holiness!

5. But is there no way to avoid the snare? Unquestionably there is. Our blessed Lord has marked out a plain way for his followers, in the words above recited. None, who warily and steadily walk in this path, will ever fall into evil-speaking. This rule is either an infallible preventive, or a certain cure, of it. In the preceding verses, our Lord had said, "Woe to the world, because of offenses;" — unspeakable misery will arise in the world from this baleful fountain: (Offenses are all things whereby any one is turned out of, or hindered in, the ways of God:) "For it must be that offenses come:" — Such is the nature of things; such the wickedness, folly, and weakness of mankind: "But woe to that man," — miserable is that man, "by whom the offense cometh." "Wherefore, if thy hand, thy foot, thine eye, cause thee to offend;" — if the most dear enjoyment, the most beloved and useful person, turn thee out of or hinder thee in the way, "pluck it out," — cut them off, and cast them from thee. But how can we avoid giving offense to some, and being offended at others? especially, suppose they are quite in the wrong, and we see it with our own eyes? Our Lord here teaches us how: He lays down a sure method of avoiding offenses and evil speaking together. "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him of his fault between thee and him alone: If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not heal thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 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 all heathen man and a publican."


1. First, "If thy brother shall sin against thee, go and tell him of his fault between thee and him alone." The most literal way of following this first rule, where it is practicable, is the best: Therefore, if thou sees with thine own eyes a brother, a fellow-Christian, commit undeniable sin, or hearest it with thine own ears, so that it is impossible for thee to doubt the fact, then thy part is plain: Take the very first opportunity of going to him; and, if thou canst have access, "tell him of his fault between thee and him alone." Indeed, great care is to be taken that this is done in a right spirit, and in a right manner. The success of a reproof greatly depends on the spirit wherein it is given. Be not, therefore, wanting in earnest prayer to God, that it may be given in a lowly spirit; with a deep, piercing conviction, that it is God alone who maketh thee to differ; and that if any good be done by what is now spoken, God doeth it himself. Pray that he would guard thy heart, enlighten thy mind, and direct thy tongue to such words as he may please to bless. See that thou speak in a meek as well as a lowly spirit; for the "wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." If he be "overtaken in a fault," he can no otherwise be restored, than "in the spirit of meekness." If he opposes the truth, yet he cannot be brought to the knowledge thereof, but by gentleness. Still speak in a spirit of tender love, "which many waters cannot quench." If love is not conquered, it conquers all things. Who can tell the force of love?

Love can bow down the stubborn neck, The stone to flesh convert; Soften, and melt, and pierce, and break An adamantine heart.

Confirm, then, your love toward him, and you will thereby "heap coals of fire upon his head."

2. But see that the manner also wherein you speak be according to the Gospel of Christ. Avoid every thing in look, gesture, word, and tone of voice, that savors of pride or self-sufficiency. Studiously avoid everything magisterial or dogmatically, everything that looks like arrogance or assuming. Beware of the most distant approach to disdain, overbearing, or contempt. With equal care avoid all appearance of anger; and though you use great plainness of speech, yet let there be no reproach, no railing accusation, no token of any warmth, but that of love. Above all, let there be no shadow of hate or ill-will, no bitterness or sourness of expression; but use the air and language of sweetness as well as gentleness, that all may appear to flow from love in the heart. And yet this sweetness need not hinder your speaking in the most serious and solemn manner; as far as may be, in the very words of the oracles of God, (for there are none like them,) and as under the eye of Him who is coming to judge the quick and dead.

3. If you have not an opportunity of speaking to him in person, or cannot have access, you may do it by a messenger; by a common friend, in whose prudence, as well as uprightness, you can thoroughly confide. Such a person, speaking in your name, and in the spirit and manner above described, may answer the same end, and, in a good degree, supply your lack of service. Only beware you do not feign the want of opportunity, in order to shun the cross; neither take it for granted that you cannot have access, without ever making the trial. Whenever you can speak in your own person, it is far better. But you should rather do it by another, than not at all: This way is better than none.

4. But what, if you can neither speak yourself, nor find such a messenger as you can confide in? It this be really the case, it then only remains, to write. And there may be some circumstances which make this the most advisable way of speaking. One of these circumstances is, when the person with whom we have to do is of so warm and impetuous a temper as does not easily bear reproof, especially from an equal or inferior. But it may be so introduced and softened in writing as to make it far more tolerable. Besides, many will read the very same words, which they could not bear to hear. It does not give so violent a shock to their pride, nor so sensibly touch their honor. And suppose it makes little impression at first, they will, perhaps, give it a second reading, and, upon farther consideration, lay to heart what before they disregarded. If you add your name, this is nearly the same thing as going to him, and speaking in person. And this should always be done, unless it be rendered improper by some very particular reason.

5. It should be well observed, not only that this is a step which our Lord absolutely commands us to take, but that he commands us to take this step first, before we attempt any other. No alternative is allowed, no choice of anything else: This is the way; walk thou in it. It is true, he enjoins us, if need require, to take two other steps; but they are to be taken successively after this step, and neither of them before it: Much less are we to take any other step, either before or beside this. To do anything else, or not to do this, is, therefore, equally inexcusable.

6. Do not think to excuse yourself for taking an entirely different step, by saying, "Why, I did not speak to any one, till I was so burdened, that I could not refrain." You was burdened! It was no wonder you should, unless your conscience was seared; for you was under the guilt of sin, of disobeying a plain commandment of God! You ought immediately to have gone, and told "your brother of his fault between you and him alone." If you did not, how should you be other than burdened, (unless your heart was utterly hardened!) while you was trampling the command of God under foot, and "hating your brother in your heart?" And what a way you have found to unburden yourself! God reproves you for a sin of omission, for not telling your brother of his fault; and you comfort yourself under his reproof by a sin of commission, by telling your brother’s fault to another person! Ease bought by sin is a dear purchase! I trust in God, you will have no ease, but will be burdened so much the more, till you "go to your brother and tell him," and no one else!

7. I know but of one exception to this rule: There may be a peculiar case, wherein it is necessary to accuse the guilty, though absent, in order to preserve the innocent. For instance: You are acquainted with the design which a man has against the property or life of his neighbor. Now, the case may be so circumstanced, that there is no other way of hindering that design from taking effect, but the making it known, without delay, to him against whom it is laid. In this case, therefore, this rule is set aside, as is that of the Apostle, "Speak evil of no man:" And it is lawful, yea, it is our bounden duty, to speak evil of an absent person, in order to prevent his doing evil to others and himself at the same time. But remember, meanwhile, that all evil-speaking is, in its own nature, deadly poison. Therefore if you are sometimes constrained to use it as a medicine, yet use it with fear and trembling; seeing it is so dangerous a medicine, that nothing but absolute necessity can excuse your using it at all. Accordingly, use it as seldom as possible; never but when there is such a necessity: And even then use as little of it as is possible; only so much as is necessary for the end proposed. At all other times, "go and tell him of his fault between thee and him alone."


1. But what, "if he will not hear?" if he repay evil for good? if he be enraged, rather than convinced? What, if he hear to no purpose, and go on still in the evil of his way? We must expect this will frequently be the case; the mildest and tenderest reproof will have no effect; but the blessing we wished for another will return into our own bosom. And what are we to do then? Our Lord has given us a clear and full direction. Then "take with thee one or two more:" This is the second step. Take one or two whom you know to be of a loving spirit, lovers of God and of their neighbor. See, likewise, that they be of a lowly spirit, and "clothed with humility." Let them also be such as are meek and gentle, patient and long- suffering; not apt to "return evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing." Let them be men of understanding, such as are endued with wisdom from above; and men unbiased, free from partiality, free from prejudice of any kind. Care should likewise be taken, that both the persons and their characters be well known to him: And let those that are acceptable to him be chosen preferable to any others.

2. Love will dictate the manner wherein they should proceed, according to the nature of the case. Nor can any one particular manner be prescribed for all cases. But perhaps, in general, one might advise, before they enter upon the thing itself, let them mildly and affectionately declare that they have no anger or prejudice toward him, and that it is merely from a principle of goodwill that they now come, or at all concern themselves with his affairs. To make this the more apparent, they might then calmly attend to your repetition of your former conversation with him, and to what he said in his own defense, before they attempted to determine anything. After this they would be better able to judge in what manner to proceed, "that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word might be established;" that whatever you have said may have its full force by the additional weight of their authority.

3. In order to this, may they not, 

Briefly repeat what you spoke, and what he answered? 
Enlarge upon, open, and confirm the reasons which you had given? 
Give weight to your reproof showing how just, how kind, and how seasonable it was? 
And, Lastly, enforce the advices and persuasions which you had annexed to it? And these may likewise here after, if need should require, bear witness of what was spoken. 
4. With regard to this, as well as the preceding rule, we may observe, that our Lord gives us no choice, leaves us no alternative, but expressly commands us to do this, and nothing else in the place of it. He likewise directs us when to do this; neither sooner nor later; namely, after we have taken the first, and before we have taken the third step. It is then only that we are authorized to relate the evil another has done, to those whom we desire to bear a part with us in this great instance of brotherly love. But let us have a care how we relate it to any other person, till both these steps have been taken. If we neglect to take these, or if we take any others, what wonder if we are burdened still? For we are sinners against God, and against our neighbor; and how fairly soever we may color it, yet, if we have any conscience, our sin will find us out, and bring a burden upon our soul.


1. That we may be thoroughly instructed in this weighty affair, our Lord has given us a still farther direction. "If he will not hear them," then, and not till then, "tell it to the Church." This is the third step. All the question is, how this word, "the Church," is here to be understood. But the very nature of the thing will determine this beyond all reasonable doubt. You cannot tell it to the national Church, the whole body of men termed "the Church of England." Neither would it answer any Christian end if you could; this, therefore, is not the meaning of the word. Neither can you tell it to that whole body of people in England with whom you have a more immediate connection. Nor, indeed, would this answer any good end: The word, therefore, is not to be understood thus. It would not answer any valuable end to tell the faults of every particular member to the Church, (if you would so term it,) the congregation or society united together in London. It remains that you tell it to the elder or elders of the Church, to those who are overseers of that flock of Christ to which you both belong, who watch over yours and his soul, "as they that must give account." And this should be done, if it conveniently can, in the presence of the person concerned, and, though plainly, yet with all the tenderness and love which the nature of the thing will admit. It properly belongs to their office to deter mine concerning the behavior of those under their care, and to rebuke, according to the demerit of the offense, "with all authority." When, therefore, you have done this, you have done all which the word of God, or the law of love, requireth of you: You are not now partaker of his sin, but if he perish, his blood is on his own head.

2. Here, also, let it be observed, that this, and no other, is the third step which we are to take; and that we are to take it in its order after the other two; not before the second, much less the first, unless in some very particular circumstance. Indeed, in one case, the second step may coincide with this: They may be, in a manner, one and the same. The elder or elders of the Church may be so connected with the offending brother, that they may set aside the necessity, and supply the place, of the one or two witnesses; so that it may suffice to tell it to them, after you have told it to your brother, "between you and him alone."

3. When you have done this, you have delivered your own soul. "If he will not hear the Church," if he persist in his sin, "let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican." You are under no obligation to think of him any more; only when you commend him to God in prayer. You need not speak of him anymore, but leave him to his own Master. Indeed, you still owe to him, as to all other Heathens, earnest, tender goodwill. You owe him courtesy, and, as occasion offers, all the offices of humanity. But have no friendship, no familiarity with him; no other intercourse than with an open Heathen.

4. But if this be the rule by which Christians walk, which is the land where the Christians live? A few you may possibly find scattered up and down, who make a conscience of observing it. But how very few! How thinly scattered upon the face of the earth! And where is there any body of men that universally walk thereby? Can we find them in Europe? or, to go no farther, in Great Britain or Ireland? I fear not: I fear we may search these kingdoms throughout, and yet search in vain. Alas for the Christian world! Alas for Protestants, for Reformed Christians! O, "who will rise up with me against the wicked?" "Who will take God’s part" against the evil-speakers? Art thou the man? By the grace of God, wilt thou be one who art not carried away by the torrent? Art thou fully determined, God being thy helper, from this very hour to set a watch, a continual "watch, before thy mouth, and keep the door of thy lips?" From this hour wilt thou walk by this rule, "Speaking evil of no man?" If thou seest thy brother do evil, wilt thou "tell him of his fault between thee and him alone?" afterwards, "take one or two" witnesses, and then only "tell it to the Church?" If this be the full purpose of thy heart, then learn one lesson well, "Hear evil of no man." If there were no hearers, there would be no speakers of evil. And is not (according to the vulgar proverb) the receiver as bad as the thief? If, then, any begin to speak evil in thy hearing, check him immediately. Refuse to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so sweetly; let him use ever so soft a manner, so mild an accent, ever so many professions of goodwill for him whom he is stabbing in the dark, whom he smiteth under the fifth rib! Resolutely refuse to hear, though the whisperer complain of being "burdened till he speak." Burdened! thou fool! dost thou travail with thy cursed secret, as a woman travaileth with child? Go, then, and be delivered of thy burden in the way the Lord hath ordained! First, "go and tell thy brother of his fault between thee and him alone:" Next, "take with thee one or two" common friends, and tell him in their presence: If neither of these steps take effect, then "tell it to the Church." But, at the peril of thy soul, tell it to no one else, either before or after, unless in that one exempt case, when it is absolutely needful to preserve the innocent! Why shouldest thou burden another as well as thyself, by making him partaker of thy sin?

5. O that all you who bear the reproach of Christ, who are a derision called Methodists, would set an example to the Christian world, so called, at least in this one instance! Put ye away ye ill-speaking, tale-bearing, whispering: Let none of them proceed out of your mouth! See that you "speak evil of no man;" of the absent, nothing but good. If ye must be distinguished, whether ye will or no, let this be the distinguishing mark of a Methodist: "He censures no man behind his back: By this fruit ye may know him." What a blessed effect of this self-denial should we quickly feel in our hearts! How would our "peace flow as a river," when we thus "followed peace with all men!" How would the love of God abound in our own souls, while we thus confirmed our love to our brethren! And what an effect would it have on all that were united together in the name of the Lord Jesus! How would brotherly love continually increase, when this grand hindrance of it was removed! All the members of Christ’s mystical body would then naturally care for each other. "It one member suffered, all would suffer with it;" "if one was honored, all would rejoice with it;" and every one would love his brother "with a pure heart fervently." Nor is this all: But what an effect might this have, even on the wild, unthinking world! How soon would they descry in us, what they could not and among all the thousands of their brethren, and cry, (as Julian the apostate to his heathen courtiers,) "See how these Christians love one another!" By this chiefly would God convince the world, and prepare them also for his kingdom; as we may easily learn from those remarkable words in our Lord’s last solemn prayer: "I pray for them who shall believe in me, that they may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, — that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." The Lord; hasten the time! The Lord enable us thus to love one another, not only "in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth," even as Christ hath loved us!, Inc. 


"He that backbiteth not with his tongue,
nor does evil to his neighbor; 
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor."
Psalm 15:3

Among the many sins for which God is contending with England, and especially with the professors of religion in it, I doubt not but one, and that none of the least, is, the gross misgovernment of their tongues. The abuses of the tongue are many, one whereof is the malignity of it. And whereas in David's time a malignant and virulent tongue was the badge and cognizance of an atheist: "Behold, they belch-out with their mouth: swords are in their lips: for who, say they, doth hear? "Psalms 59.7; now, alas! this spot is become the spot of God's children, and high professors of religion. A man can scarce come into any company, but his ears shall be filled with censures, detractions, reproaches; party against party, person against person. Instead of that old Christian love and charity for which the ancient Christians were noted and applauded even by their adversaries, " Behold," said they, "how the Christians love one another!" men's hearts are generally full of rancor, and their tongues of sharp reflections, contemptuous and reproachful expressions, censures, and slanders, against their absent, and ofttimes innocent and more worthy, brethren. This is the disease which I would endeavor to administer some physic to from these words. 

The coherence is plain. David proposeth a question: "Lord, who shall abide in your tabernacle ? Who shall dwell in your holy hill?" (Psalm 15.1) By which you may understand either Sion, where the ark then was, or Moriah, where the temple was to be built; and by either of them, the church of God here, and especially the heavenly temple hereafter. 

So that it is as if David had said, and asked, " What is the qualification of the true members of God's church, of the citizens of the New Jerusalem? By what properties are they known and distinguished from other men ? " To this, David does not answer, that they are so differenced by their high talks, by their crying-out upon the sins of other men, or the wickedness of the times by their frequent attendance at God's tabernacle; but by the uprightness of their hearts, by the good government of their tongues, by the holiness of their lives: " He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart." verse 2.) And in this third-verse that I have now read: He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor." It is the last Clause which I intend to speak to, because it will comprehend the former: "Nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor." The Words I Shall explain in the handling of the doctrine, which is this:--

DOCTRINE: It is the duty, and must be the care, of every true Christian, not to take up a reproach against his neighbor. I shall first explain the point, then prove it, and lately apply it

I. For EXPLANATION, three things are to be inquired into:--

QUESTION I. " Who is my neighbor ? "--There are some men of fame in the world that will tell you, that, " in the language of the Old Testament, by 'neighbor' is to be understood' one of the same country and religion,' popularins Israelita; " and it is the peculiarity of the gospel, that every man is made my neighbor. But if we examine Scripture, we shall find this to be a gross mistake. I need not go farther for the confutation of it than to the Decalogue itself: " You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." (Exod. 20. 16.) I suppose it will seem a very hard saying to affirm, that it is lawful to bear false witness against a stranger. So when God commands, " You shall not lie carnally with your neighbor's wife," (Lev. 18. 20) I presume these gentlemen would not allow themselves that liberty with the wife of a stranger. If God may be his own interpreter, this controversy will quickly be ended from Lev. 19., where, if you compare two verses,--verse 18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," with verse 34, "But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; "--you will not need the help of an artist to form this conclusion, that" the stranger is, in God's account, and ought to be in mine account, my neighbor." To the same purpose you may please to compare two other places of scripture together: Deut. 22. 4, "You shall not see your brother's ass nor his ox fall down by the way, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him to lift them up again; " With Exod. 23.4, 5: " If you meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, you shall surely bring it hack to him again. If you see the ass of him that hate thee lying under his burden, you shall help with him." He who is my " brother, "which is nearer than a neighbor, in the one place, is mine " enemy," and he that " hates me" in another place. And it is further observable to this end, that the Hebrew word and the Greek a "neighbor," is usually rendered in Scripture by eteros ''another;" as: "He that loves another hath fulfilled the law, for the law saith, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Rom. 13. 8, 9.) Most true therefore is that of St. Augustine, Proximus est oamnis homo homini" Every man is a neighbor to any other man." Nay, the more intelligent part of the Jews were of this opinion; and Kimchi upon these words saith, " He is called my neighbor with whom I have any business." And the scribe, of whom we read, Luke 10, knowing tile mistakes of many of his brethren, asks our Savior this question, " Who is my neighbor ? " (Verse 29.) And our savior gives him an answer, the sum of which is this, that even the Samaritan was to be looked upon as his " neighbor."

Question II. " What is a reproach ? "I answer, in general, 

1. It is nothing else but an evil report, or an evil speech, uttered concerning another. Now a report is evil two ways:-- 

(A.) When it is evil in itself, a false report.--When a man belies his neighbor, and bears false witness against him, either in judicial proceedings, or in common conversation. These kinds of evil reports David was exercised with: " False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not." (Psalm 35. ll.) 

(B.) When it is evil to a man's neighbor, when your speech tends to your neighbor's disparagement and defamation.--And here I must inform you, that a man may be guilty of reproaching men by commendations, as David speaks of his enemy: " His words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords." (Psalm 55. 21.) It is the usual practice of some men to smooth the way to a reproach by a commendation to raise a man's reputation, that he may tumble it down with more advantage. 

2. When a man publisheth a neighbor's secret infirmities or sins.-This all causes allow to be a kind of detraction: and good reason; for through the matter may be true and good, yet the principle from whence this proceeds is evil. It proceeds from want of love to my neighbor, and of the just care that I ought to have of credit; and the ends, either of speaker, or of the speech in its own nature, or of both, are evil,--even to bring his neighbor into contempt or disgrace. 

3. When a man aggravates the real or supposed faults of his neighbor either in opinion or in practice.--Certainly the professors of this age, and this city, are deeply guilty in both these respects. 

(A.) In aggravating other men's real or supposed errors and mistakes.--Often times men call that an error through their won ignorance or prejudicate opinion, which in the judgement of far wiser and better men than themselves, and in reality, is a precious truth of God; and the pardonable mistakes of their neighbor they decry as fundamental and damnable errors, or at least as errors dangerous to salvation. I am far from pleading for errors that are really damnable, or highly dangerous, such as those of the Papists, Socinians, Quakers, and the like; but there are other and lesser differences among Protestants, who, "holding the Head," as the apostle speaks, differ in doctrines of less moment, or in the methods and modes of worship, in rites and ceremonies, which possibly one man thinks to be necessary, another to be lawful and indifferent, another sinful; and by these differing opinions it is lamentable to consider, and, I confess, I cannot think of it without horror and loathing, how Protestants traduce and defame one another. The one is "superstitious, idolatrous, a formalist, a profane person, and one that hath no sense of religion." The other is an " heretic, a schismatic, a fanatic, a licentious, lawless person, that follows his own sensuality, and hath not the fear of God before his eyes." Thus they mutually rail at one another, as if they had neither sense nor conscience. Nay, the disease is grown to that height, that, not content to censure men's opinions they will also judge of their consciences and secret intentions, as if they maintained such doctrines against the light of their own consciences; a censure which proceeds from deep ignorance of the merits of the cause. It were, I confess, a very desirable thing that all men were of one mind; and Christians indeed are to labor for it, and to pray for it: "I beseech you, brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among; you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (l Cor.1. 10.) But if a man consider the great weakness of most men's understandings, the infinite variety of their parts and apprehensions, educations, inclinations, interests, or what the scripture hath foretold, "There must be heresies, that they which are approved may be made manifest," (I Cor. 11. 19,) I think he will conclude, that he who shall expect this absolute harmony and uniformity in this world must either dreamer or a dote. And therefore the Holy Ghost hath directed us what to do in case of such differences of judgment; to wit, to talk charitably toward those that differ from us: "If your brother be grieved with your meat, now walks you not charitably; " (Rom. 14. 15 ;) and to agree with others as far as we can: " Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything you be otherwise minded, Good shall reveal even this unto you. Notwithstanding whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing." (Phil. 3. 15, 16.) But for those mutual reproaches and censures one against another, I must take the boldness to charge you all, as you tender your salvation, to have a care of them; for though these points wherein you differ be disputable, yet this is out of all dispute, that you ought to "love your neighbor as yourself," and that you ought not " to take up a reproach against your neighbor." And therefore take heed, lest while you condemn another man for disputable and lesser errors, you do not run into an indisputable crime and fundamental miscarriage. 

(B.) Men are guilty of reproaching their neighbors by aggravating their errors in practice and conversation.--When men censure and reproach others for things indifferent and of small moment: as, for example, in their habits and garbs. I am not ignorant that there are great miscarriages in men's habits, and that the bush that hangs at the door does frequently discover what is within, and tell the pride of men's hearts; and there are certain bounds and limits to be observed, that men's habits be agreeable to their quality, estate, calling, and condition in the world: but yet there is a just latitude in these things; the lawfulness of them does not consist in a mathematical point; these are to be regulated by the custom of times and places. Now if a man see another that does a little vary from his fancy or practice, whose garb is a little more ornamental than his, though not much extravagant; if now he Judgeth the state of this man, and concludes him to be a profane or carnal person, this is a " reproach." So, again when a man commits some miscarriage towards his neighbor through carelessness, or forgetfulness, or mistake, it is a common thing for men to charge it as a malicious design, intended for their hurt: this is a " reproach." And you may easily multiply instances in your own thoughts. 

QUESTION III. "What is it to take-up a reproach against a man's neighbor ? " 

I answer: It is a defective manner of expression and therefore is diversely supplied; but especially and most reasonably two ways: and, accordingly, a man may be guilty of taking-up a reproach against his neighbor two ways:-- 

1. When he takes it up into his mouth.--The Hebrew word is often so used; as Exod. 20. 7: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Not take it; that is, not lift it up upon your tongue, or not take it into your mouth. So, Isa. 14. 4: " You shall take-up this proverb against the king of Babylon; " that is, You shall take it up into your lips, you shall utter and - publish it. Thus, Ezek. 26. 17: " They shall take-up a lamentation for thee; " which is explained in the following words: " And say to thee, How art you destroyed! " And therefore, elsewhere, the word "lips" or "mouth" is added; as Psalm 16.4: " Their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips." Psalm 1. 16: " What hast you to do to declare my statutes, or that you should take my covenant in your mouth ? "And this phrase of taking-up may possibly respect the situation of the mouth above the heart; which, according to the opinion of the Hebrews, is the seat of the understanding. As if he had said: " If there should rise in your heart an evil thought or device against your brother, let it die there; let it never come up into your mouth." Now, in this respect, a man may be guilty of this sin of taking-up a reproach against his neighbor two ways:-- 

(A.) When he is the author and first raiser of a reproach.--Such as Sanballat was: " There are no such things as you say, but you feignest them out of your own heart." (Neh. vi. 8.) 

(B.) When a man is the spreader or promoter of it.--Suppose it comes from another fountain, if you art the conduit pipe by whom it is conveyed to others, you art guilty of it. " You shall not go up and down as a tale-bearer among your people." (Lev. xix. 16.) 

2. When a man takes it into his ear.--So some expound these words:" You shall not receive, not admit, not endure, a reproach against your neighbor." You know, the receiver of stolen goods is as obnoxious to the law as he that takes them away: so then a man may be guilty of this sin, not only by speaking, but also by the hearing of a reproach against his neighbor; and so he may be three ways:-- 

(A.) When a man quietly permits it, and gives no check to it.--This certain the great law of charity commands me not only to do no harm to my neighbor, but also to suffer no hurt to be done to him which it lies in my power to prevent or remove. If another set his house on fire, I must lend my help to quench it; I must pull my neighbor's ox out of the pit, though another man hates him in; and, consequently, when the good name of my neighbor is invaded by another, if I patiently bear the reproach, I make myself guilty. 

(B.) When a man hears a reproach against his neighbor greedily; and with delight.--It is a sin, and that of no small size, for a man to take pleasure in the sins of others; and therefore the apostle makes it an aggravation of sin: " Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." (Rom. 1. 32.) " Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." (I Cor. 13. 4, 6.) Consider, I beseech you, the commonness of this sin. If a reproach be fastened upon one who is a man's enemy, or of another party, men commonly hear such reproaches with delight; not considering that this is not only a blemish to his own party, but also a blot to Christianity, a reproach to the Protestant religion, a sin against God and against the gospel, a scandal to men; and these things should rather call for tears, than laughter and approbation. And therefore, when a man seems to approve another man's reproach, and encourage the reproacher, he involves himself in the guilt of it. It is the saying of a very learned man upon the Proverbs, that " it is not easy to know whether is a greater sinner, or whether is the greater plague to a commonwealth,--he that spreads a reproach, or he that willingly receives it." 

(3.) When a man easily believes reproach.--It is said indeed, "Charity believeth all things; " (I Cor. 13. 4, 7;) but the object of this belief is the good of my neighbor, and not his evil. Charity readily believes well concerning its neighbor, where there is the least color or foundation for it; but it is slow to believe evil concerning him; and when a man is prone to believe evil concerning another man, it is a great sign of an uncharitable disposition: the reason is, he cause men do most readily believe those things which comply with their own desires and inclinations; as, in wars and differing factions, every man is apt to believe good tidings concerning his own party. Good men are the least suspicious, and slowest to believe evil of others; of which you have are remarkable instance in Gedaliah: when Johanan told him of Ishmael's design to murder him, it is said, he "believed him not." (Jer. 40. 14.)And when it was pressed upon him a second time, and Johanan offered to punish the conspirator, and to prevent the execution of the treason, he said, " You shall not do this thing: for you speakest falsely concerning Ishmael." (Verse 16.)

You may observe how backward fond parents are to believe any ill report concerning their children: and whence does this proceed? Even from an inordinate love and kindness to them; and therefore, on the contrary, men's credulity unto evil reports concerning their neighbors does proceed from want of love and affection to them. So much for the explication.

II. The proof of the doctrine shall consist in the representation of the sinfulness and injury of this practice of censuring, back-biting, and reproaching of others. And that I may more effectually dissuade and affright myself and you from it, I shall discover to you how pregnant a sin this is: there is a complication of injuries in it. It is injurious, first, to God; Secondly, to yourselves; Thirdly, to the party censured or reproached; Fourthly, to other men.

(A.) To God and Christ in divers particulars. 

1. It is an invasion of God's prerogative.--You know how dangerous a crime this is, when it is committed against an earthly prince; nor can you in reason think it less criminal and hazardous, when it is committed against Him who "accepts not the persons of princes," and who is"greater than the kings of the earth." And therefore observe how severely God rebukes this sin in Rom. 14.; when men did censure and reproach one another, either for the observation of days and meats, as guilty of superstition, or for the neglect of them, as proceeding from licentiousness; what saith the apostle? "Who art you that judges another man's servant? " (Verse 4.) And, " But why do you judge or set at nought your brother ? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ." (Verse 10.) As if he had said, "You do set yourself on the throne of God, and you do take God's work out of his hands."

2. This is a manifest breach of the laws of God and of Christ.--The things, as I said before, which you do censure and reproach another for, are oftentimes doubtful and liable to dispute; but the command of God against this sinful practice is evident, and without controversy. He whom you censure possibly may sin; but you that do reproach him certainly does sin, and that against clear light; and so you do put your-self into the number of those that "rebel against the light," which is mentioned as a great aggravation of sin. (Job 24. 13.) The law of God has so evidently forbidden this sin, that if your conscience does not smite you for it, if you can't go on quietly in this sin, it is a sign you art in a deep sleep, if not " dead in trespasses and sins." That this practice is so great a breach of the laws of God and of Christ, will appear by these particulars:--

(A.) It is against particular and express scriptures, forbidding this practice.--The text is evident: it is not like some places of scripture, which are " hard to be understood," and soon " wrested; " but it is so plain, that " he that runs may read it: " none shall dwell in God's holy bill that allow themselves in this practice. Again: " You shall not raise a false report " against your brother. (Exod. 23. 1.) A false report: either that which you know to be false, then you are guilty of forgery; or that which in the issue shall be found to be false, in which case you are guilty of rashness and uncharitableness. In the Hebrew it is " a vain report," a report that lacks the solidity of thorough information, and of real use to your neighbor. " Speak not evil one of another. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law; " (James iv. 11 ;) and so, in the grossest sense, is an Antinomian. Ministers must put people in mind "to speak evil of no man." (Titus 3. 2.) 

(B.) This is against the fundamental law of love and charity, which is the chief of the laws of God.--So great a law, that the rest of the laws of God must give place to it. Sacrifice, Sabbath, the worship and service of God, must frequently give place unto this duty of mercy and charity to men; by which you may see, as how great a duty this is, so how great a sin the violation of this command is. God accepts no man's person, he regards no service, where this is wanting. Though men pretend, or express, ever so much love to God, though they do or suffer ever so much for him, yet if they "have not charity, it profiteth nothing." (I Cor.13. 3.) And, " in this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother. If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (I John 3. 10; 4.20.)

But possibly some may ask, " Who, then, is my brother, to the love of whom I am thus obliged ? Possibly he is one of my own party and religion; and such I do love." No, every man is your brother in this sense, and the object of your love. It is true, good men are the principal objects of your love; but not the only objects of it. The commands of the gospel in this matter are general: "Honor all men. Love the brotherhood;" (1 Peter 2. 17 ;) that is, love them in a more eminent degree. "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." (Gal. 6.10.) But now, all persons, yes, even those that censure and reproach others, will pretend they love them: but, be not deceived: if you do sincerely love your neighbor, you will be ready to do all good offices for him, to seek his good, to maintain his credit, to interpret all things in the best sense, to cover his failings. " Charity shall cover the multitude of sins." (I Peter 4. 8.) Did you love your neighbor, you would not be so apt to censure him, so greedy to hear, nor so ready to believe, evil reports concerning him. When God shall come at the last day to try men's love to their brethren by the rules and characters of it which he did prescribe in 1 Cor.13, I doubt multitudes of persons will be found deeply guilty, that thought themselves in a manner wholly innocent. You should do well to study that chapter, and to labor thoroughly to understand it; and that I commend to you as an excellent antidote-against this wicked practice. 

(C.) This is a sin against that great and royal law of Christ, which even the heathens have admired, and the emperor Severus did so highly applaud: "Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt. 7. 12.)--Now, let your own consciences answer the question: Would you be thus dealt with by others ? Would you have all your infirmities sharply censured ? your secret miscarriage published to the world? the whole course of your lives ripped up, and all your actions severely examined ? No, no; they that are so forward to censure the real or supposed miscarriages of others, would have their own more tenderly dealt with; and, generally; those that are most severe judges of others are most partial to themselves. They that will most freely defame other men, will not endure to be reproved and admonished themselves. They that will turn the edge of the sword to others, would have the back only turned to themselves. 

(D.) It is a sin against the great law of maintaining peace amongst men. "This is prescribed as a remedy against this very sin: " Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." (Rom. 14. 19.) " Follow peace with all men."(Heb. 12. 14.) " If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." (Rom. 12. 18.) He said indeed, If it be possible, because in some cases it is impossible to have peace with wicked men without the neglect of our duty, and without the loss of truth and holiness; but as far as it is possible, we are obliged to promote it. But what peace can there be in the midst of censures and reproaches ? The natural offspring of such parents are contentions, divisions, animosities; while peace lies bleeding and languishing. 

(E.) It is against that great command laid upon all Christians, of excelling other men.--Christ requires more from Christians than he does from other men: "What do you more than others ? " (Matt. v. 47.) Christians must be free from the vices of other men: " This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you walk not as other Gentiles walk."(Eph. 4. 17.) So, Luke 12. 25, 26: "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship; " they are proud, ambitious, imperious. " But it shall not be so among you ;" Christians must be in the world like "lights shining in a dark place." They must have all the virtues that others have, and they must be clean from all the vices and lusts in which others live. Now, the very Heathens have condemned this practice of reproaching and traducing others: detractors were infamous amongst them; and therefore it is a shame this should be practiced by Christians. 

(F.) This is a sin against the whole design and scope of the scriptures.--These are, as I may say, the two poles, upon which the heavenly globe of the scripture turns; the love of God, and the love of our neighbor." You shall love the Lord your God with all the heart, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt.22. 37, &c.) " Love is the fulfilling of the law; " (Rom. 13. 10 ;) and the law is enforced by Christ, John 13. 31: " A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another." So, than, all the scripture has but one neck; and this the detractor cuts off, and so makes himself the greatest anti-scripturist in the world.

3. This is a great injury to God, because it is a confederacy with God's greatest enemy, the devil.--God judges of men's relations by their works, and not by their talks. " If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham." (John 8. 39.) And, verse 41:"You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do." Now this among others is the devil's great work and office, who is hence called "the accuser of the brethren," (Rev. 12. 10,) and from whence he hath his name diabolus, which is "a calumniator, a slanderer, a reproacher." And these men, as they do the devil's work, so they are called by the devil's name: " Not slanderers ;" in the Greek, mh eicxolous, " not devils." (1 Tim 3. 11.) And as they do the devil's work, so they serve the devil's great design. " God is love," and therefore his design is to promote love in the world. The devil is a malignant and hateful spirit, and his work is to promote hatred, contention, and strife among men: and that is effectually done by this way. 

(II.) This is an injury to yourself in these particulars:-- 

1. Hereby you do contract guilt, the worst of all evils.--A man's sin may injure another man; but the greatest and the worst part of it falls upon his own head. "Wickedness," saith Seneca, " drinketh up the greatest part of its own poison." He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul." (Prov. 8. 36.) You woundest another man's name; but you woundest your own conscience: which of these is the worst? He whom you reproaches gets a blot before men; and you do procure to yourself a blot before God. You accusest him before other men; and your conscience will accuse thee for it before God. 

2. Hereby you do expel or weaken that excellent grace of love, that necessary and fundamental grace, that sweet and amiable grace.--As all virtue is a reward to itself, so is this in a more special manner. Infinite is the pleasure of the holy soul, in loving God, and loving all men, and loving enemies. O, this is a most delightful work ! And, on the contrary, hatred, and malice, and envy, as they are most sinful, so are they very miserable, works, and a great torment to him that has them. While the mind of a wicked, malicious man is like "the raging sea," continually " casting up mire and dirt," and is its own tormentor; the mind of a good man, exercising itself in love, is, as it were, " a sea of glass like unto crystal," calm and serene; it enjoys God, and itself, and other men, yes, even a man's enemies: by this holy art a man may get comfort out of his enemies, whether they will or no. 

3. Hereby you do lay a foundation for your own reproach.--" Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matt.7. 1, 2.) I think this text should strike a terror into all persons who are guilty of this sin. The law of retaliation prescribed by God is frequently inflicted by him also: "He shall have judgment without mercy, that has shown no mercy. ' (James 2. 13.) So that you do engage the great God against thee, to pour contempt upon your name, and to make thee a reproach in the world. 

(III.) It is a great injury to he person whom you do censure and reproach; and that in these particulars:-- 

1. You do rob him of he best treasure which he has in the world. --"A good name is rather to be chosen than riches; " (Prov, 12. 1;) and, consequently, you art more criminal than he that dies by the hands of justice for taking away another man's goods: you rob him of that which you are not able to give him; you rob him of the most lasting good which he has, and that which alone will abide after death. So that your cruelty extends beyond the grave, and tends to this,--to make his name rot above ground, while his body rots in it. And this injury is the greater, because it cannot be prevented: there is no fence against this vice; it is the arrow that flies by night, which no man can either observe or avoid, and it is an injury which can hardly be repaired. Breaches in men's estates may be made up, liberty lost maybe recovered, a conscience wounded may be healed; but a reputation can hardly ever be restored. Calumniare fortiter, aliquid adhaerebit, " Slander a man resolutely, and something, to be sure, will stick."

2. Hereby you do disenable him from getting good, both as to his outward and as to his inward man. As to his outward man: who knows not the necessity of a good name for the successful management of a man's worldly concernment ? By one act of this sin you may possibly undo a man and all his family. It hinders him also from receiving inward good as to the state of his soul: at least he is not likely to get any good from thee. Whereas it is your duty to " rebuke your neighbor, and not to suffer sin to rest upon him;" (Lev. 19. 17; ) this is the way to make that work altogether unsuccessful: it stops his ear against your counsels, it hardens his heart against your admonition; and many times such reproaches make men careless, and by degrees impudent; and when once they have lost their reputation by your calumnies, they are not careful to regain it, and, it may be, judge it impossible. 

3. Hereby you do hinder him from doing of good in the world.--It is certain, a good name is of absolute necessity to make a man considerably serviceable in the world: when a man hath once lost this, the very good which he does is despised and disregarded. And this reason especially concerns you in the reproaching of three sorts of person, which I do therefore in a special manner caution you against.

(A.) In reproaching of magistrates, of kings, and persons in authority.--Magistrates, though bad in themselves, yet are to be looked upon as great blessings; and if we had the Persian experiment of absolute anarchy but for a few days, that every man might do that which seemed right in his own eyes, we should all be sensible of this truth. Now, the magistrate's reputation is the great supporter of that majesty and authority which he bears, and the magistrate's authority is the people's benefit. And therefore all persons should be tender in this particular; they should not expose kings and magistrates to contempt and scorn, nor beget irreverence in people toward them. And therefore they ought to take heed, not only of divulging false reports concerning them, but even such as possibly may be true; they must take heed of publishing the secret miscarriages of princes; for this, as I told you, is a sin against any man, but much more against person in authority. 

(B.) Against ministers.--Their name is most necessary for their use-fulness in the word. And therefore, when a man defames a minister, beside that injury which is common to other men, he does this peculiar mischief,--he endeavors to rob the world of all the good which such a person may do in it. I cannot but take this occasion to vent my great grief, and the scandal I justly take, at those ministers and Christian, who, if a man differ from them in some doctrines or rites of less moment, (though otherwise never so eminent,) make it their business to disparage and bespatter him, and think they do God good service, in blasting his reputation, representing him as a Papist, Socinian, time-server, &c. In the fear of God, consider the sinfulness of this practice. Whatsoever good such a person might do in convincing, converting, and building-up of souls, so far as this is hindered by your means, the blood of such souls will fall upon your head: nay, which is more, although good should not be hindered by it, yet you shall answer for all that might have been hindered by it. And for this reason Constantine the Great did profess that if he should know any secret miscarriage of a minister, he would cover it with a mantle.

(C.) Against good men, or eminent professors of religion.--Who, I confess, when they are bad, are the vilest of men; and when their sins are known and public, they ought to be used with most severity; and such shall have the hottest place in hell who use religion as a cloak for their villainies: yet, when the sins of such persons are secret and scarce known, we should take heed of spreading of them. Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon," not for their sakes, but for the sake of religion, which infinitely suffers by their misdemeanors, and the reproaches which arise from them. 

(IV.) This is a great injury to other men, in these particulars:-- 

1. You corruptest others by your example.--Especially ministers and eminent professors of religion,--they should, above all others, avoid this sin, because their actions are precedential. They that will not follow your counsel, will imitate your example; and though our Savior hath cautioned us concerning the Pharisees, " What they bid or teach you, observe and do; but do not after their works; " (Matt. 23. 3;) yet, in spite of all that Christ hath said, men will take a contrary course: they will not hear your sermons, but will diligently attend to your conversations. O consider this: every time another hears thee censuring and reproaching your neighbor, you do in effect preach and persuade him to this practice; you settest a copy which other men may write after, when you art gone into another world; and no man knows how far the contagion of such an evil example may spread, nor how great afire a little spark may kindle. 

2. You art a disturber of human society, an incendiary in the place where you dwellest.--The peace and tranquillity of cities and kingdoms are often disturbed by this means. "Whence come wars and fightings among you ? Come they not hence, even from your lusts that warring our members ? " (James 4.1.) They do not come from men's lusts as they remain in their own hearts, for so they are secret and unknown to the world j but as they break out, first in their lips, and then in their hands. 

3. You art a great enemy to the church of God, however you may seem to yourself or others a zealous friend of it.--It is not easy for any man to conceive the great mischief which these censures and reproaches produce in the church: they break the peace of it, and fill it with sharp contentions and divisions; yes, they strike at the being of it. You know, "a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand:" they do their part to pull-down the glorious building of the church, so as one stone should not be left upon another. They eclipse the glory of the church, which does not consist in external splendor, in riches and ornaments, but in love, peace, and unity among themselves. This was Jerusalem's beauty, that it was ~ built as a city that is compact together." (Psalm 72. 3.) This hinders the growth and progress of the church and of religion. When persons professing religion allow themselves in such sins which are not only offensive to God, but also odious in the world, it fills the minds of men with powerful and invincible prejudices against religious men, and against religion itself for their sakes. I must tell you, if the professors of religion would learn the government of their tongues, and the right ordering of their conversations, it would be the likeliest means to propagate religion in the world. And, Christians, if ever you would do this, do it now; never was it more necessary or seasonable to wipe-off those stains and blemishes which at this day lie upon religion for the neglect of this duty by the professors of it. And thrice blessed are all you that contribute to so glorious a work as the restoration of that beauty and glory which religion once had in some of our remembrance. But when the tongues of Christians are exercised in this sinful practice, beside the particular injury to the person reproached, it hinders the conversion and salvation of others. Consider, I beseech you, a little, the greatness of this sin. You think it a great crime (and so it was) in Elymas the sorcerer, who, when Sergius Paulus called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired them to preach to him the word of God, " Withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith." (Acts 13. 8.) he did this by his words, and you doest it by your actions. You doest the devil's work in stealing the seed of the word of God out of men's hearts, and making it unfruitful. These practices beget in men a mean esteem and contempt of God's word, when they see how little good it does to others, and how little power it hath with you that profess it. 

Before I come to the application, two questions are to be answered:-- 

QUESTION 1. " May I not speak evil of another person when it is true ? " 

1. A man may be faulty in so doing--The real secret faults of your neighbor, as I told you, you ought not unnecessarily to publish. And suppose there be no untruth nor injustice in it; yet there is uncharitableness and unkindness in it; and that is a sin. You wouldest not have all truth said concerning yourself, nor all your real faults publicly traduced. " Out of your own mouth will God judge thee, O you wicked servant !" Yes, your own tongue and conscience shall another day condemn thee. 

2. You may speak evil of another person when necessity requires it.--It may be necessary sometimes for his good; and so you may speak evil of him unto those that can help it; as a man may acquaint parents with the miscarriages of their children, in order to their amendment. Thus Joseph brought to his father the evil report of his brethren. (Gen.27. 2.) sometimes this may be necessary for the caution of others; as, if I see a man ready to enter into intimate friendship and acquaintance with a person whom I know to be highly vicious and dangerous, I may in such a case caution him against it; for, certainly, if charity commands me, when my neighbors's ox is ready to fall into a pit, to do my endeavor to prevent it, much more am I obliged to prevent the ruin of my brother's soul, when I see him so near destruction. But for a man to do this unnecessarily and unprofitably,--this is the sin I have been speaking of. 

3. If you will speak evil of other persons, do it in the right method,--Christ hath given us an excellent rule: " If your brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, you hast gained your brother. But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more. And if he shall neglect to listen to them, tell it unto the church." (Matt.18. 15, 17.) But if men will be preposterous, and will not follow Christ's order, but, instead of private admonishing, will publish men's faults to others, herein they make themselves transgressors. 

4. In doubtful cases, silence is the safest way.--It is rarely men's duty to speak evil of men; and when it is not their duty to speak, it is not their sin to be silent. It is seldom that any [one] suffers by my silence, or concealment of his fault; but great hazards are run, and many persons commonly are made sufferers, by my publication. Now, as charity commands me to pass the most favorable judgment, so wisdom obligeth me to choose the safest course. 

QUESTION II. " But what, if that man I speak against be an enemy to God and his people ? May not I in that case speak evil of him ? Does not that zeal I owe to God engage me to speak evil of such a man as far as I can with truth ? " This, I believe, is that which induces many well meaning persons to this sinful practice of detracting from divers worthy persons, ministers, and others, as supposing them to be enemies to God and to his ways; and so they think their reproaching and censuring of such persons is nothing but zeal for God. 

For answer to this, consider, 

1. There is abundance of sinful zeal in the world and in the church.--Therefore the apostle gives us a caution: " It is good to be zealously affected always in a good things." (Gal.4. 18.) otherwise we know it was from zeal that Paul persecuted the church. (Phil .3. 6.) Zeal, indeed, is an excellent grace in itself; but nothing [is] more frequently both pretended where it is not, (and where envy, interest, or malice lie at the bottom,) and abused where it is. 

2. True zeal hath an equal respect to all God's commands, and especially to those that are most plain and most considerable.--It is at least doubtful, whether the man you traducest be an enemy to God and his ways; sure I am, it is so with some ministers and Christians that are highly censured and reproached by those that differ from them; and it were great impudence to deny it: but this is a certain truth and evident duty: " You shall not take up an evil reproach against your neighbor." 

3. consider how easy a mistake is in this case, and how dangerous.--Peradventure he whom you called an enemy to God, will, upon inquiry, be found a friend of God and his ways. But what dose you mean by" the ways of God? " Possibly your own ways or party that you art engaged in: take heed of that. If you would judge a right, you must distinguish between the circumstantials and the essentials of the ways of God. Suppose a man be an enemy to your party, and your way and manner of religious worship and government; yes, let us suppose that you are indeed the way of God, wherein yet you may be mistaken; if, now, this man be an able and zealous assertor of the substantial and fundamental truths of God and ways of holiness, and this be attended with a holy and exemplary life, who dare say that this man is an enemy to God and his ways ? O my souls come not into the secrets of such persons! 

4. You must not go out of God's way to meet with God's enemies.--If any man be really an enemy of God and of his truths and ways, I do not persuade you to comply with him, or by sinful silence to betray the cause of God; only let me entreat you to do God's work in God's way: you may apply yourselves to him, and endeavor to convince him; you may speak or write against his doctrine, provided you do it with modesty and moderation, and not with that virulence and venom wherewith too many books are now leavened. But, for this way of detraction and reproach, it is a dishonorable and disingenuous way, it is a sinful and disorderly way, it is an unprofitable and ineffectual way, and no way suitable either to the nature of God whom you serve, or to the rule and example of our blessed Saviour, or to the great principle of love and charity, or to that end which you are to aim-at in all things,--the honour of God, and the good of other men..

III. Now I come to the application. 

USE 1. Lamentations for the gross neglect of this duty, or the frequent commision of this sin.--What tears are sufficient to bewail it? How thick do censures and reproaches fly in all places, at all tables, in all conventions! And this were the more tolerable, if it were only the fault of ungodly men, of strangers and enemies to religion; for so saith the proverb, "Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked." When a man's heart is full of hell, it is not unreasonable to expect that his tongue should be " set on fire of hell; " and it is no wonder to hear such persons reproach good men, yes, even for their goodness. But, alas! the disease does not rest here: this plague is not only among the Egyptians, but [among the] Israelites too. It is very doleful to consider, how professors sharpen their tongues like swords against professors; apt one good man censures and reproaches another, and one minister traduceth another; and who can say, "I am clean from this sin? " O that I could move your pity in this case! For the Lord's sake, pity yourselves, and do not pollute and wound your consciences with this crime. Pity your brethren: let it suffice that godly ministers and Christians are loaded with reproaches by wicked men; there is no need that you should combine with them in this diabolical work; you should support and strengthen their hands against the reproaches of the ungodly world, and not add affliction to the afflicted. O pity the world, and pity the church which Christ hath purchased with his own blood, which, me thinks, bespeaks you in those words: " Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O you my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me." (Job 19. 21.) Pity the mad and miserable world, and help it against this sin; stop the bloody issue, restrain this wicked practice amongst men as much as possibly you can, and lament it before God; and for what you cannot do yourselves, give God no rest until he shall please to work a cure. 

Use II. CAUTION, Take heed you be not found guilty of this sin.--Wherein any of us have been guilty, let us be truly and thoroughly humbled for it; and for the future let us make conscience of abstaining from it. I will suppose what I have said may be sufficient for arguments to convince and for motives to persuade you; and therefore I shall only give you some directions in order to the practice of this duty: and, to assist you against this sin, 

DIRECTION 1. Avoid the cause of this sin.--This is the most natural and regular way to cure a disease, by taking away the cause of it. Particularly take heed of these things as the causes of this sin:-- 

1. Take heed of Uncharitableness in all its kinds and degrees, malice, envy, hatred.--Where these diseases are in the heart, they will break-out at the lips. " Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."(Matt. 12. 34.) 

2. Take heed of loquacity and multitude of words.--A man need not seek far for perpetual motion; he may find it in some persons' restless and incessant tongues. Now, persons of this temper will not want matter of discourse, and therefore pick-up and spread-abroad all sorts of censures and reproaches against others, not so much out of malice against them, as for their own diversion and ease, that their tongues may not want exercise. Take heed of this: it is in itself a sin, an abuse of the tongue, a wasting of time, a reproach to yourself; it makes you cheap and mean and contemptible in the eyes of others, and especially of wise and good men; and it is also the cause of many other sins. 

3. Take heed of pragmaticalness, which is, when men are inquisitive and busy about other men's matters.--A sin often reproved in scripture:" For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all." (2 Thess.3. 11.) "Let none of you suffer as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters." (1 Peter 4. 15.)You may observe how Christ reproves this in his own dear apostle:"Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow you me." (John 21. 21, 22.) As if he had said, "Mind you your own business; do not busy your head about other men."

4. Take heed of man-pleasing.--There are many whose great employment and business it is to spread evil reports concerning others, who are therefore called " tale-bearers; " and this they do to please the humours of persons with whom they converse, unto whom they know such discourse is most acceptable. And thus many persons make themselves guilty in hearing reproaches, and not checking them, because they will comply with the company, they will not displease nor offend their friends. Take heed of this, and remember that severe sentence of the apostle: " If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."(Gal. 1.10.) He that pleaseth other men, so as to neglect any duty, or to commit any sin, whatsoever he pretends, he is not the servant of Christ . 

DIRECT. II. Learn the government of your tongues--Consider the necessity of it. The apostle James lays the stress of all religion upon it: " If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, this man's religion is vain." (James 1. 26.) And if this be true, I am sure there are many high professors that must be blotted out of the saints' calendar. Consider also the easiness of this government of the tongue. Men have more command of their tongues, and of their outward members, than they have of their inward motions, concupiscence, and passions. If tongues be unruly, God and nature have given you a bridle to restrain them, " fence of the teeth," as the poet speaks. 

DIRECT. III. Learn distrust of reports.--It is a good rule, "Learn to disbelieve." Fame hath lost its reputation long since; and I do not know any thing which it hath done in our age to regain it; and therefore it ought not be credited. How few reports are there in any kind, which, when they come to be examined, we do not find to be false! For my part, I reckon, if I believe one report in twenty, I make a very liberal allowance. And especially distrust reproaches and evil reports, because these spread fastest, as being grateful to most persons, who suppose their own reputation never so well grounded as when it is built upon the ruins of other men's. 

DIRECT. IV. Reproach no man for that which you do not thoroughly understand.--This, I am sure, is highly reasonable; and he that does otherwise is altogether inexcusable, because he runs an infinite hazard, lest, while he opposeth a man, he be found to fight against God. And truly, if this rule were practiced, some kinds of reproaches would be rare in the world: for persons of true and clear understanding are not apt to reproach others for different opinions in lesser matters . They consider the weakness of human nature, and the necessity of mutual forbearance. It is the weaker sort that are here, as in other things, most querulous; and generally where there is least light there is most heat. Those persons by whose censures and reproaches the church of God among us is most miserably torn and wasted, are generally the more ignorant part of Christians. How many are there that are full of rage one against another for being either for a form of prayer or against it, either for the ceremonies or against them, that never searched into the state of the controversy, and never took pains to examine the arguments on both sides, which in all reason they ought to have done, or else at least to have restrained their tongues from such unreasonable and sinful censures and reproaches ! These, I say, are the persons that are most guilty, nay, upon the matter, the only guilty persons, except such whom base lust and interest does corrupt and work to these animosities. 

DIRECT. V. Converse much with yourselves.--It is want of business at home in men's own hearts, that makes them ramble so much abroad, and rake into the lives of others. Study yourselves more, and other men less. Did you search your own hearts and lives, you would find as much cause of self-judging and self-abhorring, that you would have little cause to despise others, and much cause of compassion toward others. 

DIRECT. VI. Judge of others as you would do of yourselves and your own actions.--It is worth our consideration, what a great difference there is between the judgment men pass upon themselves, and [upon] other men. As for themselves, all their errors are but small mistakes. and all their sins against God, however attended with ugly circumstances of light) of consent of the will, custom, and allowance, yet they are but sins of infirmity, if themselves may be judges in their own cause. Their injuries to men are but small and trivial offences; and they do indeed expect both from God and man a pardon, of course, which if they have not, they judge God to be harsh and severe, men to be cruel and implacable. But when they come to pass judgment upon other men, the tables are turned, some mistakes are damnable delusions, and all their sins against God, which they can observe, are evidences of a naughty heart, and inconsistent with grace; and the of fences of others against them are inexcusable and intolerable, great affronts and indignities. Whereas, on the contrary, you should, as it was said of a great man," Be severe to yourself, and candid to others; " because you knowest more wickedness by yourself, and more aggravation of your own sins, than of all the sins that are in the world. But at least all the reason and justice in the world requires this, that you should weigh yourself and others in the same balance, that you should try your own and their actions by the same touchstone; and more need not be done. You who art so prone to flatter yourself, would certainly be more indulgent to other men, and pass a more favorable construction upon their actions., Inc. 

John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion Book Four CHAPTER 12 
Used by permission of Ages Library 1.800.297.4307 to PeaceMakers


(Discussion of power of the keys in true discipline: the ends and processes of discipline, 1-7)


The discipline of the church, the discussion of which we have deferred to this place, must be treated briefly, that we may thereafter pass to the remaining topics. Discipline depends for the most part upon the power of the keys F397 and upon spiritual jurisdiction. To understand it better, let us divide the church into two chief orders: clergy and people. I call by the usual name "clergy"F398 those who perform the public ministry in the church. We shall first speak of common discipline, to which all ought to submit; then we shall come to the clergy, who, besides the common discipline, have their own.F399

But because some persons, in their hatred of discipline, recoil from its very name, let them understand this: if no society, indeed, no house which has even a small family, can be kept in proper condition without discipline, it is much more necessary in the church, whose condition should be as ordered as possible. Accordingly, as the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the church, so does discipline serve as its sinews, through which the members of the body hold together, each in its own place. Therefore, all who desire to remove discipline or to hinder its restoration—whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance—are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church. For what will happen if each is allowed to do what he pleases? Yet that would happen, if to the preaching of doctrine there were not added private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort that sustain doctrine and do not let it remain idle. Therefore, discipline is like a bridle to restrain and tame those who rage against the doctrine of Christ; or like a spur to arouse those of little inclination; and also sometimes like a father’s rod F400 to chastise mildly and with the gentleness of Christ’s Spirit those who have more seriously lapsed. When, therefore, we discern frightful devastation beginning to threaten the church because there is no concern and no means of restraining the people, necessity itself cries out that a remedy is needed. Now, this is the sole remedy that Christ has enjoined and the one that has always been used among the godly.


The first foundation of discipline is to provide a place for private admonition; that is, if anyone does not perform his duty willingly, or behaves insolently, or does not live honorably, or has committed any act deserving blame—he should allow himself to be admonished; and when the situation demands it, every man should endeavor to admonish his brother. But let pastors and presbyters be especially watchful to do this, for their duty is not only to preach to the people, but to warn and exhort in every house, wherever they are not effective enough in general instruction. Paul teaches this when he relates that he taught privately and from house to house [ <442020> Acts 20:20], and declares himself "innocent of the blood of all" [verse 26], because he "ceased not to admonish everyone night and day with tears" [ <442031> Acts 20:31]. For doctrine obtains force and authority where the minister not only explains to all together what they owe to Christ, but also has the right and means to require that it be kept by those whom he has observed are either disrespectful or languid toward his teaching.

If anyone either stubbornly rejects such admonitions or shows that he scorns them by persisting in his own vices, after having been admonished a second time in the presence of witnesses, Christ commands that he be called to the tribunal of the church, that is, the assembly of the elders,F401 and there be more gravely admonished as by public authority, in order that, if he reverences the church, he may submit and obey. If he is not even subdued by this but perseveres in his wickedness, then Christ commands that, as a despiser of the church, he be removed from the believers’ fellowship [ <401815> Matthew 18:15,17].


But because Christ is here speaking only of secret faults, we must postulate this division: some sins are private; others, public or openly manifest.F402 Of the former, Christ says to every individual: "Reprove him, between you and him alone" [ <401815> Matthew 18:15]. Paul says to Timothy of open sins: "Rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear" [ <540520> 1 Timothy 5:20]. For Christ had previously said, "If your brother has sinned against you" [ <401815> Matthew 18:15]. This phrase ["against you"] (unless you wish to be contentious) you cannot otherwise understand than as "with your knowledge alone, no others being aware." But what the apostle enjoins upon Timothy concerning reproving openly those who sin openly, he himself follows in the case of Peter. For when Peter sinned to the point of public scandal, Paul did not admonish him privately but brought him into the presence of the church [ <480214> Galatians 2:14].

This, then, will be the right sequence in which to act: to proceed in correcting secret sins according to the steps laid down by Christ; but in open sins, if the offense is indeed public, to proceed at once to solemn rebuke by the church.


Here is another distinction: of sins, some are faults; others, crimes or shameful acts.F403 To correct these latter ones, we must not only use admonition or rebuke, but a severer remedy: as Paul shows when he not only chastises the incestuous Corinthian with words but punishes him with excommunication, as soon as he has been apprised of the crime [ <460503> 1 Corinthians 5:3 ff.]. Now, therefore, we begin to see better how the spiritual jurisdiction of the church, which punishes sins according to the Lord’s Word, is the best support of health, foundation of order, and bond of unity. Therefore, in excluding from its fellowship manifest adulterers, fornicators, thieves, robbers, seditious persons, perjurers, false witnesses, and the rest of this sort, as well as the insolent (who when duly admonished of their lighter vices mock God and his judgment), the church claims for itself nothing unreasonable but practices the jurisdiction conferred upon it by the Lord. Now, that no one may despise such a judgment of the church or regard condemnation by vote of the believers as a trivial thing, the Lord has testified that this is nothing but the publication of his own sentence, and what they have done on earth is ratified in heaven. For they have the Word of the Lord to condemn the perverse; they have the Word to receive the repentant into grace [ <401619> Matthew 16:19; 18:18; <432023> John 20:23]. Those who trust that without this bond of discipline the church can long stand are, I say, mistaken; unless, perhaps, we can with impunity go without that aid which the Lord foresaw would be necessary for us. Truly, the variety of uses of this discipline will better show how great the need of it is!


In such corrections and excommunication, the church has three ends in view. The first is that they who lead a filthy and infamous life may not be called Christians, to the dishonor of God, as if his holy church [cf. <490525> Ephesians 5:25-26] were a conspiracy of wicked and abandoned men. For since the church itself is the body of Christ [ <510124> Colossians 1:24], it cannot be corrupted by such foul and decaying members without some disgrace falling upon its Head. Therefore, that there may be no such thing in the church to brand its most sacred name with disgrace, they from whose wickedness infamy redounds to the Christian name must be banished from its family. And here also we must preserve the order of the Lord’s Supper, that it may not be profaned by being administered indiscriminately.F404 For it is very true that he to whom its distribution has been committed, if he knowingly and willingly admits an unworthy person whom he could rightfully turn away, is as guilty of sacrilege as if he had cast the Lord’s body to dogs. On this account, Chrysostom gravely inveighs against priests who, fearing the power of great men, dare exclude no one. "Blood," he says, "will be required at your hands. [ <260318> Ezekiel 3:18; 33:8.] If you fear a man, he will laugh at you; but if you fear God, you will be revered also among men. Let us not dread the fasces, the purple, the crowns; here we have a greater power. I truly would rather give my body to death, and let my blood be poured out, than participate in that pollution."F405 Therefore, lest this most hallowed mystery be disgraced, discretion is very much needed in its distribution. Yet this can be had only through the jurisdiction of the church.

The second purpose is that the good be not corrupted by the constant company of the wicked, as commonly happens. For (such is our tendency to wander from the way) there is nothing easier than for us to be led away by bad examples from right living. The apostle noted this tendency when he bade the Corinthians expel the incestuous man from their company. "A little leaven," he says, "ferments the whole lump." [ <460506> 1 Corinthians 5:6.] And he foresaw such great danger here that he prohibited all association with him. "If any brother," he says, "bears among you the name of fornicator, miser, worshiper of idols, drunkard, or reviler, I do not allow you even to take food with such a man." [ <460511> 1 Corinthians 5:11 p.]

The third purpose is that those overcome by shame for their baseness begin to repent. They who under gentler treatment would have become more stubborn so profit by the chastisement of their own evil as to be awakened when they feel the rod. The apostle means this when he speaks as follows: "If anyone does not obey our teaching, note that man; and do not mingle with him, that he may be ashamed" [ <530314> 2 Thessalonians 3:14 p.]. Likewise, in another passage, when he writes that he has delivered the Corinthian man to Satan: "that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord" [ <460505> 1 Corinthians 5:5]; that is (as I interpret it), Paul gave him over to temporary condemnation that he might have eternal salvation. But he speaks of "delivering over to Satan" because the devil is outside the church, as Christ is in the church.F406 Some authorities refer this phrase to a certain vexing of the flesh,F407 but this seems very doubtful to me.


With these purposes enumerated, it remains for us to see how the church carries out this part of discipline which falls within its jurisdiction. To begin with, let us keep the division set forth above: that some sins are public; others, private or somewhat secret.F408 Public sins are those witnessed not by one or two persons, but committed openly and to the offense of the entire church. I call secret sins, not those completely hidden from men, as are those of hypocrites (for these do not fall under the judgment of the church), but those of an intermediate sort, which are not unwitnessed, yet not public.

The first kind does not require the steps which Christ lists [ <401815> Matthew 18:15-17]; but when any such sin appears, the church ought to do its duty in summoning the sinner and correcting him according to his fault.

In the second kind, according to that rule of Christ, the case does not come before the church until the sinner becomes obstinate. When it has come before the church, then the other division between crimes and faults is to be observed. For such great severity is not to be used in lighter sins, but verbal chastisement is enough—and that mild and fatherly—which should not harden or confuse the sinner, but bring him back to himself, that he may rejoice rather than be sad that he has been corrected. But shameful acts need to be chastised with a harsher remedy. Nor is it enough if he, who by setting a bad example through his misdeed has gravely injured the church, be chastised only with words; but he ought for a time to be deprived of the communion of the Supper until he gives assurance of his repentance. For Paul not only rebuked the Corinthian in words but banished him from the church, and chided the Corinthians for bearing with him so long [ <460501> 1 Corinthians 5:1-7].

The ancient and better church kept this procedure while lawful government flourished. For if anyone had committed a crime that caused offense, he was ordered first to abstain from partaking of the Sacred Supper, then to humble himself before God and witness his repentance before the church. There were, moreover, solemn rites customarily enjoined as marks of repentance upon those who had lapsed. When these had been performed to the satisfaction of the church, the penitent was received into grace with laying on of hands, a reception that Cyprian often calls "peace." He also briefly describes such a rite. "They do penance," he says, "for a set period; then they come to public confession and through the laying on of hands of bishop and clergy receive the right to communion." Although the bishop with his clergy possessed a power of reconciliation, it required at the same time the consent of the people, as Cyprian elsewhere shows.F409


As no one was exempt from this discipline, both princes and common people submitted to it. And rightly! For it was established by Christ, to whom it is fitting that all royal scepters and crowns submit. Thus Theodosius, when he was deprived of the right of communion by Ambrose because of the slaughter committed at Thessalonica,F410 threw down all his royal trappings; in church he publicly wept over his sin, which had overtaken him through others’ deceit, and begged pardon with groaning and tears. For great kings ought not to count it any dishonor to prostrate themselves as suppliants before Christ, the King of Kings; nor ought they to be displeased that they are judged by the church. For inasmuch as they hear almost nothing but mere flatteries in their courts, it is all the more necessary for them to be rebuked by the Lord through the mouth of priests. Rather, they ought to desire not to be spared by the priests, that God may spare them.

In this place I say nothing about those persons through whom this jurisdiction is to be exercised; for I have discussed this elsewhere.F411 I add only this: Paul’s course of action for excommunicating a man is the lawful one, provided the elders do not do it by themselves alone, but with the knowledge and approval of the church; in this way the multitude of the people does not decide the action but observes as witness and guardian so that nothing may be done according to the whim of a few. Indeed, the whole sequence of the action, besides the calling on God’s name, ought to have that gravity which bespeaks the presence of Christ in order that there may be no doubt that he himself presides at his own tribunal.

(Moderation in discipline enjoined, and rigorists confuted, 8-13)


But we ought not to pass over the fact that such severity as is joined with a "spirit of gentleness" [ <480601> Galatians 6:1] befits the church. For we must always, as Paul bids us, take particular care that he who is punished be not overwhelmed with sorrow [ <470207> 2 Corinthians 2:7]. Thus a remedy would become destruction. But, from the purpose intended it would be better to take a rule of moderation. For, in excommunication the intent is to lead the sinner to repentance and to remove bad examples from the midst, lest either Christ’s name be maligned or others be provoked to imitate them. If, then, we look to these things, it will be easy for us to judge how far severity ought to go and where it ought to stop. Therefore, when a sinner gives testimony of his repentance to the church, and by this testimony wipes out the offense as far as he can, he is not to be urged any further. If he is so urged, the rigor will now exceed due measure. In this respect we cannot at all excuse the excessive severity of the ancients, which both completely departed from the Lord’s injunction and was also terribly dangerous. For when they imposed solemn penance and deprivation from Holy Communion sometimes for seven, sometimes for four, sometimes for three, years, and sometimes for life,F412 what could be the result but either great hypocrisy or utter despair? Likewise, it was not profitable or consonant with reason that one who had fallen again should not be admitted to a second repentance, but should be cast out of the church to the end of his life.F413 Whoever will weigh the matter with sound judgment will recognize their lack of prudence in this.

However, I rather disapprove the public custom here than accuse all those who have used it, of whom it is certain that some disliked the practice but put up with it because they could not correct it. In truth, Cyprian declares how it was not by his own will that he was so rigorous. "Our patience," he says, "and gentleness and humaneness are ready for all comers. I desire that all return to the church; I long that all our fellow soldiers be gathered within Christ’s camp and God the Father’s abode.

I forgive all things; I overlook much; in ardent zeal to bring the brotherhood together, I do not judicially examine in detail the faults committed against God. In pardoning faults more than I ought I am myself almost at fault. I embrace with prompt and full affection those returning in repentance, confessing their sin in making humble and simple satisfaction."F414 Chrysostom is somewhat harder, yet he speaks as follows: "If God is so kind, why does his priest wish to seem so rigorous?"F415 We know, moreover, what gentleness Augustine used toward the Donatists. He did not hesitate to take back to their bishoprics those who had returned from schism, and that immediately after repentance!F416 But because a contrary practice had come to prevail, they were compelled to yield their own judgment, and to follow it.


This gentleness is required in the whole body of the church, that it should deal mildly with the lapsed and should not punish with extreme rigor, but rather, according to Paul’s injunction, confirm its love toward them [ <470208> 2 Corinthians 2:8]. Similarly, each layman ought to temper himself to this mildness and gentleness. It is, therefore, not our task to erase from the number of the elect those who have been expelled from the church, or to despair as if they were already lost. It is lawful to regard them as estranged from the church, and thus, from Christ—but only for such time as they remain separated. However, if they also display more stubbornness than gentleness, we should still commend them to the Lord’s judgment, hoping for better things of them in the future than we see in the present. Nor should we on this account cease to call upon God in their behalf. And (to put it in one word) let us not condemn to death the very person who is in the hand and judgment of God alone; rather, let us only judge of the character of each man’s works by the law of the Lord. While we follow this rule, we rather take our stand upon the divine judgment than put forward our own. Let us not claim for ourselves more license in judgment, unless we wish to limit God’s power and confine his mercy by law. For God, whenever it pleases him, changes the worst men into the best, engrafts the alien, and adopts the stranger into the church. And the Lord does this to frustrate men’s opinion and restrain their rashness— which, unless it is checked, ventures to assume for itself a greater right of judgment than it deserves.


For when Christ promises that what his people "bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" [ <401818> Matthew 18:18], he limits the force of binding to ecclesiastical censure. By this those who are excommunicated are not cast into everlasting ruin and damnation, but in hearing that their life and morals are condemned, they are assured of their everlasting condemnation unless they repent. Excommunication differs from anathema in that the latter, taking away all pardon, condemns and consigns a man to eternal destruction; the former, rather, avenges and chastens his moral conduct. And although excommunication also punishes the man, it does so in such a way that, by forewarning him of his future condemnation, it may call him back to salvation. But if that be obtained, reconciliation and restoration to communion await him. Moreover, anathema is very rarely or never used. Accordingly, though ecclesiastical discipline does not permit us to live familiarly or have intimate contact with excommunicated persons, we ought nevertheless to strive by whatever means we can in order that they may turn to a more virtuous life and may return to the society and unity of the church. So the apostle also teaches: "Do not look upon them as enemies, but warn them as brothers" [ <530315> 2 Thessalonians 3:15]. Unless this gentleness is maintained in both private and public censures, there is danger lest we soon slide down from discipline to butchery.


This is also a prime requisite for the moderation of discipline, as Augustine argues against the Donatists: that individual lay-men, if they see vices not diligently enough corrected by the council of elders, should not therefore at once depart from the church; and that the pastors themselves, if they cannot cleanse all that needs correction according to their hearts’ desire, should not for that reason resign their ministry or disturb the entire church with unaccustomed rigor. For what Augustine writes is very true: "Whoever either corrects what he can by reproof, or excludes, without breaking the bond of peace, what he cannot correct—disapproving with fairness, bearing with firmness—this man is free and loosed from the curse." In another passage he gives the reason: "All pious method and measure of ecclesiastical discipline ought ever to look to ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ [ <490403> Ephesians 4:3], which the apostle orders us to keep by ‘forbearing one another’ [ <490402> Ephesians 4:2], and when it is not kept, the medicine of punishment begins to be not only superfluous but also harmful, and so ceases to be medicine." "He who diligently ponders these things," Augustine says, "neither neglects severe discipline in the maintenance of unity, nor by intemperate correction breaks the bond of fellowship." He indeed admits that not only ought pastors to exert themselves to the end that no fault may remain in the church, but that every man ought to strive to the same end according to his strength. And Augustine does not hide the fact that he who neglects to warn, reprove, and correct evil men, even though he does not favor them or sin with them, is guilty before the Lord. But if he plays such a part that he is able to cut the evil men off from partaking of the sacraments, and does not do so, he sins not in another’s misdeed, but in his own. Only, Augustine would have that prudence used which the Lord also requires "lest, when the tares are being uprooted, the grain be harmed" [ <401329> Matthew 13:29]. From this point he concludes with Cyprian: "Let a man mercifully correct what he can; let him patiently bear what he cannot correct, and groan and sorrow over it with love."F417


But Augustine says this because of the overscrupulousness of the Donatists, who, when they observed faults in the church which the bishops reproved in words but did not punish with excommunication (because they thought they could gain nothing in this way), inveighed fiercely against the bishops as betrayers of discipline and in an impious schism separated themselves from Christ’s flock. The Anabaptists act in the same way today. While they recognize no assembly of Christ to exist except one conspicuous in every respect for its angelic perfection,F418 under the pretense of their zeal they subvert whatever edification there is. "Such persons," says Augustine, "not out of hatred of other men’s wickedness but out of fondness for their own contentions, ensnaring the weak folk by boasting of their own name, strive either to draw them all to their side or at least to divide them. Puffed up in their pride, mad in their stubbornness, deceitful in their slanders, and turbulent in their seditions, they draw the shade of a rigid severity to hide their lack of the light of truth. Those things which Scripture enjoins to be done to correct the vices of the brethren with a modest remedy while sincere love is kept and unity of peace preserved, they seize upon and turn to the sacrilege of schism and the occasion of cutting off." Thus, "Satan transforms himself into an angel of light" [ <471114> 2 Corinthians 11:14, cf. Vg.] when, on occasion of just severity, he prompts men to merciless cruelty, seeking only to corrupt and break the bond of peace and unity. While this bond remains firm among Christians, all his powers are powerless to do harm, the mousetraps of his treachery are weakened, and his schemes of subversions vanish away.F419


Augustine especially commends this one thing: if the contagion of sin invades the multitude, the severe mercy of a vigorous discipline is necessary. "For advice to separate," he says, "is vain, harmful, and sacrilegious, because it becomes impious and proud; and it disturbs weak good men more than it corrects bold bad ones."F420 And what he there enjoins on others, he himself has faithfully followed. For, writing to Aurelius, bishop of Carthage, he complains that drunkenness (so severely condemned in Scripture) is raging unpunished in Africa, and he advises calling a council of bishops to provide a remedy. He then adds: "These things, in my judgment, are removed not roughly or harshly, or in any imperious manner; and more by teaching than by commanding, more by monishing than by menacing. For so we must deal with a great number of sinners. But we are to use severity toward the sins of a few."F421 Yet he does not mean that bishops should on this account condone public crimes, or remain silent because they cannot punish them more severely, as he explains afterward. But he wishes the method of correction to be so tempered that, as far as possible, it may bring health rather than death to the body. Therefore, he concludes as follows: "That precept of the apostle on the separation of evil persons must accordingly by no means be neglected when it can be applied without danger of violating peace. For he did not wish it to be done otherwise. And this principle must also be kept: bearing with one another, we should try to keep ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ [ <460503> 1 Corinthians 5:3-7; <490402> Ephesians 4:2- 3]?’ F422

(The use and purpose of lasting, private and public: principles to be guarded in it, 14-18)


The remaining part of discipline, which is not properly contained within the power of the keys, is where the pastors, according to the need of the times, should exhort the people either to fasting or to solemn supplications, or to other acts of humility, repentance, and faith—of which the time, the manner, and the form are not prescribed by God’s Word, but left to the judgment of the church. Also, the observance of this part, as it is useful, was always customary in the early church, even from the days of the apostles themselves. However, even the apostles were not the first authors, but took their example from the Law and the Prophets. For we see there that whenever anything grave occurred, the people were called together, and supplications and a fast appointed [ <290215> Joel 2:15; <441302> Acts 13:2-3]. The apostles, therefore, followed what was not new to the people of God, and what they foresaw would be useful to them. The explanation of other exercises is similar; by them the people can either be aroused to duty or kept within duty and obedience. There are examples scattered through the sacred histories, which there is no need to collect. To sum them up: whenever a controversy over religion arises which ought to be settled by either a synod or an ecclesiastical court, whenever there is a question about choosing a minister, whenever, finally, any difficult matter of great importance is to be discussed, or again when there appear the judgments of the Lord’s anger (as pestilence, war, and famine)—this is a holy ordinance and one salutary for all ages, that pastors urge the people to public fasting and extraordinary prayers. If anyone declines to accept the testimonies which can be cited from the Old Testament, as if inappropriate to the Christian church, the fact remains that the apostles also followed the same practice. Concerning prayers, however, I think scarcely anyone will be found who would raise a question. Let us, therefore, say something about fasting, since very many, while they do not understand how useful it is, regard it as not very necessary; others also, considering it superfluous, completely reject it.F423 And, since its use is not well understood, it can easily lapse into superstition.


Holy and lawful fasting has three objectives. We use it either to weaken and subdue the flesh that it may not act wantonly, or that we may be better prepared for prayers and holy meditations, or that it may be a testimony of our self-abasement before God when we wish to confess our guilt before him.

The first objective does not generally have a place in public fasting, because all bodies do not have the same constitution, or the same state of health; therefore, it is more appropriate to private fasting. The second is common to both. For both the whole church and every individual believer have need of such preparation for prayers. The third is common likewise. For it sometimes will happen that God will strike a nation with war, or pestilence, or some calamity. Under this common scourge, the whole people ought to accuse themselves and confess their guilt. But if the hand of the Lord should strike any individual, he ought to do this alone or with his family. The matter lies primarily in the motive of the heart. But when the heart is affected as it ought to be, it can hardly help breaking into outward testimony. And this especially happens if it tends to common edification, so that all together, by confessing their sin openly, render praise to the God of righteousness, and urge one another, each by his example.


Accordingly, fasting, as it is a sign of self-abasement, has more frequent use in public than among private individuals even though, as has been said,F424 it is common to both. In so far, therefore, as it concerns the discipline which we are now discussing, whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter, it would be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer. Thus, when the Antiochenes placed their hands upon Paul and Barnabas, the better to commend their ministry to God, a ministry of great importance, they joined fasting to prayer [ <441303> Acts 13:3]. Thus, both of these afterward, when they appointed ministers to churches, were accustomed to pray with fasting [ <441423> Acts 14:23]. Their sole purpose in this kind of fasting is to render themselves more eager and unencumbered for prayer. Surely we experience this: with a full stomach our mind is not so lifted up to God that it can be drawn to prayer with a serious and ardent affection and persevere in it. So are we to understand what Luke relates concerning Anna, that she has served the Lord in fasting and prayers [ <420237> Luke 2:37]. For Luke does not set the worship of God in fasting; but he means that the holy woman has in this way trained herself to sustained prayer. Such was Nehemiah’s fast when, with earnest zeal, he prayed God for the liberation of his people [ <160104> Nehemiah 1:4]. For this reason, Paul says that believers act rightly if they abstain for a time from the marriage bed, that they may be left freer for prayer and fasting. There he joins fasting with prayer as an aid to it, and warns that it is of no importance of itself except as it is applied to this end [ <460705> 1 Corinthians 7:5]. Then, when in the same passage he instructs married couples to give one another mutual consideration [ <460703> 1 Corinthians 7:3], it is clear that he is not speaking of daily prayers, but of something demanding more serious attention.


Again, if either pestilence, or famine, or war begins to rage, or if any disaster seems to threaten any district and people—then also it is the duty of the pastors to urge the church to fasting, in order that by supplication the Lord’s wrath may be averted. For where he causes danger to appear he warns that he is ready and, so to speak, armed for vengeance. Therefore, as in ancient times the accused were accustomed to abase themselves as suppliants with long beard, unkempt hair, and dark clothing, in order to appeal to the mercy of the judge—so, when we stand before God’s judgment seat, it redounds to his glory and to edification of the people, and is also profitable and salutary for us in humble garb to pray that his severity be averted. And it can be readily inferred from the words of Joel that this was the custom among the Israelites. For when he orders a trumpet to be sounded, an assembly to be called, fasting to be appointed, and the things that follow [ <290215> Joel 2:15-16], he is speaking of matters received as common custom. A little before, he had said that the trial of the people’s shameful acts was set, and announced that a day of judgment was now at hand, and had summoned the accused to plead their cause [cf. <290201> Joel 2:1]; then he cries out for them to hasten to sackcloth and ashes, to weeping and fasting [ <290212> Joel 2:12], that is, to prostrate themselves before the Lord also with outward testimonies. Indeed, sackcloth and ashes were perhaps more appropriate to those times; but there is no doubt that meeting and weeping and fasting, and like activities, apply equally to our age F425 whenever the condition of our affairs so demands. For since this is a holy exercise both for the humbling of men and for their confession of humility, why should we use it less than the ancients did in similar need? We read that not only the Israelite church, formed and established on the Word of God [ <090706> 1 Samuel 7:6; 31:13; <100112> 2 Samuel 1:12], but also the Ninevites, who had no teaching but the preaching of Jonah [ <320305> Jonah 3:5], fasted in token of sorrow. What reason is there why we should not do the same?

But, you object, this is an external ceremony which, together with others, ended in Christ. No, it is an excellent aid for believers today (as it always was) and a profitable admonition to arouse them in order that they may not provoke God more and more by their excessive confidence and negligence, when they are chastised by his lashes. Accordingly, Christ, when he excuses his apostles for not fasting, does not say that fasting is abolished, but appoints it for times of calamity and joins it with mourning. "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them." [ <400915> Matthew 9:15; <420534> Luke 5:34-35.]F426


But to avoid any error in the term, let us define what fasting is. For here we do not understand it simply as restraint and abstemiousness in food, but as something else. Throughout its course, the life of the godly indeed ought to be tempered with frugality and sobriety, so that as far as possible it bears some resemblance to a fast. But, in addition, there is another sort of fasting, temporary in character, when we withdraw something from the normal regimen of living, either for one day or for a definite time, and pledge ourselves to a tighter and more severe restraint in diet than ordinarily. This consists in three things: in time, in quality of foods, and in smallness of quantity. By time, I mean that we should carry out those acts of fasting for the sake of which that fast is appointed. As, for example, if a man fasts for the sake of solemn prayer, he should come to it without breaking his fast. Quality consists in that all elegance should be absent, and that, content with common and baser foods, we should not whet our palate with delicacies. The rule of quantity in this is that we should eat more sparingly and lightly than is our custom; only for need, not also for pleasure.

(Danger of superstition, notions of merit, and hypocrisy in fasting and the observance of Lent, 19-21)


But we must always take especial precaution lest any superstition creep in, as has previously happened to the great harm of the church. For it would be much more satisfactory if fasting were not practiced at all, than diligently observed and at the same time corrupted with false and pernicious opinions, into which the world repeatedly falls, unless the pastors meet it with the highest faithfulness and prudence. The first point is that they should always urge what Joel teaches, that they are to "rend their hearts, not their garments" [ <290213> Joel 2:13]; that is, they should admonish the people that God does not greatly esteem fasting of itself, unless an inner emotion of the heart is present, and true displeasure at one’s sin, true humility, and true sorrowing arising from the fear of God. Indeed, fasting is not otherwise useful than when it is joined as a lesser help to these. For God abominates nothing more than when men try to disguise themselves by displaying signs and outward appearances in place of innocence of heart. Therefore, Isaiah very severely inveighs against the Jews’ hypocrisy in thinking they were satisfying God when they had only fasted, whatever impiety and impure thoughts they harbored in their hearts. "Is this the fast that the Lord has chosen?" [ <235805> Isaiah 58:5-6, conflated], and what follows. Hypocritical fasting, then, is not only a useless and superfluous weariness but the greatest abomination.

Another evil akin to this, and to be utterly avoided, is to regard fasting as a work of merit or a form of divine worship. For since fasting is in itself a thing indifferent, and should have no importance except for the sake of those ends to which it ought to be directed, a most dangerous superstition is involved in confusing it with works commanded by God and necessary of themselves without any other consideration. Such was the delusion of the Manichees of old. Augustine, in refuting them, teaches clearly enough that fasting is to be judged solely by those ends which I have mentioned, and that it is approved by God only if it has reference to this.F427 There is a third error, not indeed so impious, but still dangerous: to require it to be kept too strictly and rigidly as if it were one of the chief duties, and to extol it with such immoderate praises that men think they have done something noble when they have fasted. In this respect, I dare not wholly absolve the ancient writers from having sown certain seeds of superstition and having furnished the occasion of the tyranny which afterward arose. In them one sometimes comes across sane and wise statements about fasting, but later one repeatedly meets immoderate praises of fasting, which set it up among the chief virtues.


At that time the superstitious observance of Lent had prevailed everywhere, because the common people thought that in it they were doing some exceptional service to God, and the pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ.F428 On the contrary, it is plain that Christ did not fast to set an example for others, but to prove, in so beginning to proclaim the gospel, that it was no human doctrine but actually one sent from heaven [ <400402> Matthew 4:2]. And the marvel is that such sheer hallucination (which is refuted so often and with such clear arguments) could creep upon men of keen judgment. For Christ does not fast often— as he would have to do if he had willed to lay down a law of yearly fasting—but only once, when he girded himself for the proclamation of the gospel. Nor does he fast in human fashion, as would have been fitting if he willed to arouse men to imitate him; but he shows an example rather to transport all men to admiration of him than to arouse them with zeal to imitate him. Finally, his reason for fasting was not different from that which Moses performed when he received the law at the Lord’s hand [ <022418> Exodus 24:18; 34:28]. For since that miracle was manifested in Moses to establish the authority of the law, it ought not to have been omitted in Christ, lest the gospel seem to yield to the law. But since that time it never entered any man’s mind, on the excuse of following Moses, to establish such a form of fasting among the people of Israel. And none of the holy prophets and patriarchs followed it, even when they had enthusiasm and zeal enough for all pious exercises. For the statement that Elijah went forty days without food and drink [ <111908> 1 Kings 19:8] only served to apprise the people that he had been raised up to restore the law, from which almost all Israel had departed. It was, therefore, mere wrongheaded zeal,F429 full of superstition, that they justified and painted fasting as the following of Christ.

However, there was amazing diversity in the manner of fasting, as Cassiodorus relates from the ninth book of Socrates’ history. For the Romans (he says) had only three weeks, but for them the fast was continuous, except on Sunday and Saturday. The Illyrians and Greeks had six; others, seven; but fasting was at intervals. They differed as much in choice of foods: some ate only bread and water; others added vegetables; still others did not abstain from fish and fowl; others made no distinction in foods.F430 Augustine also mentions this difference in his second letter to Januarius.F431


Worse times then followed, and to the misdirected zeal of the people was added the incompetence and lack of training of the bishops, as well as their lust for mastery and their tyrannical rigor. Wicked laws were passed which bind consciences with deadly chains. The eating of meat was forbidden, as if it would defile a man. Sacrilegious opinions were piled upon one another, until the depth of all errors was reached. And not to overlook any depravity, they began, with a completely absurd pretense of abstinence, to mock God. For the praise of fasting is sought in the most exquisite delicacies; then no dainties are enough; at no other time is there greater abundance or variety or sweetness of foods. They think that they are duly serving God in such and so elegant trappings. I forbear to mention that they who wish to be esteemed the most holy of men never glut themselves more foully. To sum up: for them the highest worship of God is to abstain from meats, and in their place to abound in all sorts of delicacies. On the other hand, the ultimate impiety, scarcely to be expiated by death, is for anyone to taste the slightest bit of bacon fat or rancid meat with dark bread. Jerome tells us that in his day there were certain men who mocked God with such follies. To avoid eating oil, they arranged for the most delicate foods to be brought to them from everywhere; indeed, to do violence to nature, they abstained from drinking water, but had sweet and costly draughts prepared for them, which they drank not from a cup but from a shell.F432 What was then a vice among the few is today common among all the wealthy, so that they fast for no other purpose than to feast more sumptuously and daintily. But I do not want to waste many words in a matter so obvious. I say only this, that both in fasts and in all other parts of discipline the papists have nothing right, nothing sincere, nothing well-ordered and arranged, to give them occasion to boast, as if anything remained among them deserving of praise.

(Requirement of clerical celibacy a harmful innovation, 22-28)


There follows the second part of discipline, which applies particularly to the clergy. It is contained in the canons that the ancient bishops imposed upon themselves and their order. Such are these: no cleric should devote himself to hunting, gambling, or reveling. No cleric should practice usury or commerce; no cleric should be present at wanton dances—and there are others of this sort. Penalties were also added to sanction the authority of the canons so that none might violate them with impunity. For this purpose the government of his own clergy was committed to each bishop, that he should rule them according to the canons and keep them to their duty. For this purpose annual visitations and synods were established to admonish anyone negligent in office and, if anyone sinned, to punish him according to his offense. The bishops themselves also had yearly provincial synods—in the early period twice yearly—by which they were judged as to whether they had acted at variance from their duty.F433 For if any bishop was too harsh or violent toward his clergy, the latter could appeal to a synod, even though only one cleric complained. The severest punishment was that the one who had sinned should be deposed from office and deprived of communion for a time. Because this was a permanent system, they used never to dismiss one synod without setting the place and time of the next.F434 For the convening of a universal council belonged to the emperor alone, as all the ancient summonses attest.F435 So long as this severity was in force, the clergy expected from the people no more by word than they themselves showed by example and act. Nay, they were much stricter with themselves than with the people. And it is truly fitting that the common people be ruled, so to speak, by a gentler and laxer discipline; that the clergy practice harsher censures among themselves and be far less indulgent toward themselves than toward others.

There is no need to relate how all this has fallen into disuse, since today nothing more unbridled and dissolute than this order can be imagined, and they have broken into such license that the whole world cries out. I admit that, lest all antiquity should with them seem utterly buried, they deceive the eyes of the simple with certain shadows, but these come no nearer to the ancient customs than the ape’s mimicry to that which men do by reason and planning. There is a memorable passage in Xenophon where he tells how foully the Persians had degenerated from the ordinances of their forebears and had lapsed from a strict manner of living to effeminacy and luxury, but to cover that disgrace, attentively kept the former rites. For while in the time of Cyrus sobriety and temperance still flourished, so that there was no need to wipe one’s nose, and it was even thought a disgrace, among their descendants it remained a religious custom that no one should blow mucus out of his nostrils, but was permitted to suck it up and feed within (to the point of putrefaction) the noisome humors which had been contracted through gluttony. Thus, according to the ancient precept, it was unlawful to bring drinking bowls to the table; but later merely to swill so that men needed to be carried away drunk was tolerable. There was an ordinance to eat but once a day. These good successors did not set this aside, but were accustomed to continue their drunken revels from noon to midnight. It was a long-established custom among the Persians, enjoined by law, that men should complete a day’s journey without eating; but to avoid weariness, it became the permitted and usual practice to shorten the journey to two hours.F436 Whenever the papists trot out their degenerate rules to show their relationship to the holy fathers, this example will sufficiently reprove their ridiculous imitation, so that no painter could express it more vividly.


In one thing they are extremely rigid and inexorable—in not permitting marriage to priests.F437 But it is needless to speak of the extent to which fornication prevails among them unpunished; and how, relying upon their foul celibacy, they have become callous to all crimes. Yet this prohibition clearly shows what a plague all their traditions are. For it has not only deprived the church of good and fit pastors, but has also brought in a sink of iniquities and has cast many souls into the abyss of despair. Surely the forbidding of marriage to priests came about by an impious tyranny not only against God’s Word but also against all equity. First, to forbid what the Lord left free was by no means lawful to men. Again, that the Lord expressly took care by his Word that this freedom should not be infringed upon is too clear to require a long proof. I pass over the fact that Paul in many passages wishes a bishop to be a man of one wife [ <540302> 1 Timothy 3:2; <560106> Titus 1:6]. But what could be more forcefully said than when he declares by the Holy Spirit that in the Last Days there will be impious men who forbid marriage, and calls them not only impostors but demons [ <540401> 1 Timothy 4:1,3]? that the prohibition of marriage is a doctrine of demons is then a prophecy, a sacred oracle of the Holy Spirit, and by it the Spirit willed from the beginning to arm the church against dangers?

But they think they have neatly escaped when they twist this sentence to Montanus, the Tatianists, the Encratites, and other ancient heretics. They (the papists say) alone condemned matrimony; we do not damn it at all, but debar from it only the ecclesiastical order, for which we deem it unfitting.F438 As if this prophecy, even though at first fulfilled in those heretics, did not apply also to the papists; or as if this childish quibble were worth listening to, to deny that they prohibit marriage because they do not prohibit it to all! For it is as if a tyrant should contend that a law is not unjust when only a part of a city is oppressed with its injustice!


They object that the priest should be distinguished from the people by some mark. As if the Lord had not also foreseen in what ornaments priests ought to excel! Thus they blame the apostle for the disturbed order and disfigured comeliness of the church, who, when he sketched the perfect pattern of the good bishop, dared put marriage among the other endowments which he required in him. I know how they interpret this [ <540302> 1 Timothy 3:2; <560106> Titus 1:6], namely, that a man who had a second wife must not be chosen.F439 And I admit that this is no new interpretation, but from its context it is plainly false.F440 For Paul immediately prescribes what sort the wives of bishops and deacons need to be [ <540311> 1 Timothy 3:11].

Paul lists marriage among the virtues of the bishop; the papists teach that it is an intolerable fault in the church order. And, please God, not content with this general blame, they call it in their canons uncleanness and pollution of the flesh.F441 Let every man ponder from what workshop these things have come! Christ deems marriage worthy of such honor that he wills it to be an image of his sacred union with the church [ <490523> Ephesians 5:23-24, 32]. What more splendid commendation could be spoken of the dignity of marriage? With what shamelessness will that be called unclean or defiled in which a likeness of Christ’s spiritual grace shines forth!


Now, although their prohibition so clearly conflicts with God’s Word, they still find something to defend it in Scripture. The Levitical priests, whenever their turn to minister came, had to sleep apart from their wives in order to be pure and unspotted to handle sacred things [cf. <092105> 1 Samuel 21:5 ff.]. Therefore, it would be very unseemly for our sacred rites—which are much nobler and occur daily—to be administered by married men. As if the role of the gospel ministry and the Levitical priesthood were one and the same! For the Levitical priests as antitypes F442 represented Christ, who, mediator of God and men [ <540205> 1 Timothy 2:5], by his perfect purity was to reconcile the Father to us. But though sinners cannot in every respect express the pattern of his holiness, in order to make at least a sketch of it, they were ordered to purify themselves beyond the custom of men when they approached the sanctuary. For then they properly represented Christ, because they appeared at the Tabernacle (the image of the heavenly judgment seat) as peacemakers to reconcile the people to God. Because the pastors of the church do not play this part today, it is pointless to compare them with the priests. Therefore, the apostle boldly proclaims, without exception, that marriage is honorable among all men, but fornicators and adulterers are left to God’s judgment [ <581304> Hebrews 13:4]. And the apostles themselves prove by their example that marriage is not unworthy of the holiness of ally office, however excellent.F443 For Paul is witness that they not only kept their wives but took them about with them [ <460905> 1 Corinthians 9:5].


Then, it was an astonishing shamelessness: on their part to peddle this ornament of chastity as something necessary. This they did to the deep disgrace of the ancient church, which, while abounding in an excellent knowledge of God, still more excelled in holiness. For if they do not heed the apostles (they are accustomed sometimes to treat them with outright contempt), please, then, what will they do with all the ancient fathers, who certainly not only tolerated marriage in the order of bishops but also approved it?F444 Did they then promote a foul profanation of sacred things, inasmuch as the Lord’s sacraments were not duly celebrated among them? Indeed, there was agitation in the Council of Nicaea to require celibacy. For there are always superstitious little fellows who dream up something new to win admiration for themselves. But what was decreed? Paphnutius’ opinion was accepted, who declared that it was chastity for a man to cohabit with his own wife.F445 Therefore, marriage remained sacred among them; and it caused them no shame, nor was it thought to cast any spot upon the ministry.


Then those times followed when the too superstitious admiration of celibacy became prevalent. After this came those frequent and unrestrained rhapsodic praises of virginity, so that scarcely any other virtue was commonly believed to compare with it. And although marriage was not condemned as unclean, still its dignity was so weakened and its holiness so obscured that a man who did not refrain from it seemed not to aspire to perfection with enough strength of purpose. Hence those canons by which first, men who had come to the rank of priests were forbidden to contract marriage; next, it was forbidden for any but celibates or those who, along with their wives, had renounced the marriage bed to be taken into that order. I admit that these regulations, because they seemed to bring reverence to the priesthood, were also received with great approbation in antiquity. But if my adversaries claim antiquity against me, my first answer is that this freedom of bishops to be married existed both under the apostles and for some centuries afterward [ <540302> 1 Timothy 3:2]. The apostles themselves, and those pastors of prime authority who followed in their place, used this freedom without any difficulty. We ought to hold the example of the earlier church of greater importance than to judge as unlawful or unseemly what then was accepted with praise and was customary. Secondly, that age which with immoderate affection for virginity began to discriminate against marriage did not impose the law of celibacy upon priests as a thing necessary of itself, but because a celibate was preferred to a married man. And lastly, I answer that they did not require it in such a way that by necessity and force they compelled celibacy of those who were not fitted to keep continence. For while they punished fornications with very severe laws, in the case of those who contracted marriage they decreed only that they give up their office.F446


Therefore, whenever the defenders of this new tyranny seek the pretext of antiquity in defense of their celibacy, we shall have to require of them that they restore that ancient chastity in their priests; that they remove adulterers and fornicators; that they do not allow those to whom they forbid an honorable and modest use of the marriage bed to run unpunished into every sort of lusts; that they restore that now abandoned discipline by which all wantonness may be restrained; and that they free the church from this most shameful wickedness with which it has so long been defaced. When they concede this, then we shall have to admonish them once more not to claim as obligatory that which, being free, depends on its usefulness to the church.

Yet I do not say this because I believe that under any condition room ought to be given for these canons which cast the fetters of celibacy over the ecclesiastical order; but I do so in order that the wiser ones may understand with what effrontery our foes, in the name of antiquity, defame holy wedlock in priests.

As far as the fathers whose writings remain are concerned, when they speak from their own opinion, none, bexcept Jerome,F447 has so spitefully impugned the honorableness of marriage. We shall be content with Chrysostom’s tribute alone, because, since he was a particular admirer of virginity, he cannot be regarded as more profuse than the others in commendation of marriage. But here are his words: "The first degree of chastity is sincere virginity; the second, faithful marriage. Therefore, the second sort of virginity is the chaste love of matrimony."F448, Inc. 

The Large Catechism
by Martin Luther

The Eighth Commandment. 

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor...exception see GREEN text

Over and above our own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we have yet another treasure, namely, honor and good report [the illustrious testimony of an upright and unsullied name and reputation], with which we cannot dispense. For it is intolerable to live among men in open shame and general contempt. Therefore God wishes the reputation, good name, and upright character of our neighbor to be taken away or diminished as little as his money and possessions, that every one may stand in his integrity before wife, children, servants, and neighbors. And in the first place, we take the plainest meaning of this commandment according to the words (Thou shalt not bear false witness), as pertaining to the public courts of justice, where a poor innocent man is accused and oppressed by false witnesses in order to be punished in his body, property, or honor. 

Now, this appears as if it were of little concern to us at present; but with the Jews it was quite a common and ordinary matter. For the people were organized under an excellent and regular government; and where there is still such a government, instances of this sin will not be wanting. The cause of it is that where judges, burgomasters, princes, or others in authority sit in judgment, things never fail to go according to the course of the world; namely, men do not like to offend anybody, flatter, and speak to gain favor, money, prospects, or friendship; and in consequence a poor man and his cause must be oppressed, denounced as wrong, and suffer punishment. And it is a common calamity in the world that in courts of justice there seldom preside godly men. 

For to be a judge requires above all things a godly man, and not only a godly, but also a wise, modest, yea, a brave and bold man; likewise, to be a witness requires a fearless and especially a godly man. For a person who is to judge all matters rightly and carry them through with his decision will often offend good friends, relatives, neighbors, and the rich and powerful, who can greatly serve or injure him. Therefore he must be quite blind, have his eyes and ears closed, neither see nor hear, but go straight forward in everything that comes before him, and decide accordingly. 

Therefore this commandment is given first of all that every one shall help his neighbor to secure his rights, and not allow them to be hindered or twisted, but shall promote and strictly maintain them, no matter whether he be judge or witness, and let it pertain to whatsoever it will. And especially is a goal set up here for our jurists that they be careful to deal truly and uprightly with every case, allowing right to remain right, and, on the other hand, not perverting anything [by their tricks and technical points turning black into white and making wrong out to be right], nor glossing it over or keeping silent concerning it, irrespective of a person's money, possession, honor, or power. This is one part and the plainest sense of this commandment concerning all that takes place in court. 

Next, it extends very much further, if we are to apply it to spiritual jurisdiction or administration; here it is a common occurrence that every one bears false witness against his neighbor. For wherever there are godly preachers and Christians, they must bear the sentence before the world that they are called heretics, apostates, yea, seditious and desperately wicked miscreants. Besides the Word of God must suffer in the most shameful and malicious manner, being persecuted blasphemed, contradicted, perverted and falsely cited and interpreted. But let this pass; for it is the way of the blind world that she condemns and persecutes the truth and the children of God, and yet esteems it no sin. 

In the third place, what concerns us all, this commandment forbids all sins of the tongue whereby we may injure or approach too closely to our neighbor. For to bear false witness is nothing else than a work of the tongue. Now, whatever is done with the tongue against a fellow-man God would have prohibited, whether it be false preachers with their doctrine and blasphemy, false judges and witnesses with their verdict, or outside of court by lying and evil-speaking. Here belongs particularly the detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person's back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on and of which there would be much to be said. For it is a common evil plague that every one prefers hearing evil to hearing good of his neighbor; and although we ourselves are so bad that we cannot suffer that any one should say anything bad about us, but every one would much rather that all the world should speak of him in terms of gold, yet we cannot bear that the best is spoken about others. 

Therefore, to avoid this vice we should note that no one is allowed publicly to judge and reprove his neighbor, although he may see him sin, unless he have a command to judge and to reprove. For there is a great difference between these two things, judging sin and knowing sin. You may indeed know it, but you are not to judge it. I can indeed see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to report it to others. Now, if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than his. But if you know it, do nothing else than turn your ears into a grave and cover it, until you are appointed to be judge and to punish by virtue of your office. 

Those, then, are called slanderers who are not content with knowing a thing, but proceed to assume jurisdiction, and when they know a slight offense of another, carry it into every corner, and are delighted and tickled that they can stir up another's displeasure [baseness], as swine roll themselves in the dirt and root in it with the snout. This is nothing else than meddling with the judgment and office of God, and pronouncing sentence and punishment with the most severe verdict. For no judge can punish to a higher degree nor go farther than to say: "He is a thief, a murderer, a traitor," etc. Therefore, whoever presumes to say the same of his neighbor goes just as far as the emperor and all governments. For although you do not wield the sword, you employ your poisonous tongue to the shame and hurt of your neighbor. 

God therefore would have it prohibited that any one speak evil of another even though he be guilty, and the latter know it right well; much less if he do not know it, and have it only from hearsay. But you say: Shall I not say it if it be the truth? Answer: Why do you not make accusation to regular judges? Ah, I cannot prove it publicly, and hence I might be silenced and turned away in a harsh manner [incur the penalty of a false accusation]. "Ah, indeed, do you smell the roast?" If you do not trust yourself to stand before the proper authorities and to make answer, then hold your tongue. But if you know it, know it for yourself and not for another. For if you tell it to others, although it be true, you will appear as a liar, because you cannot prove it, and you are, besides acting like a knave. For we ought never to deprive any one of his honor or good name unless it be first taken away from him publicly. 

False witness, then, is everything which cannot be properly proved. Therefore, what is not manifest upon sufficient evidence no one shall make public or declare for truth; and in short, whatever is secret should be allowed to remain secret, or, at any rate, should be secretly reproved, as we shall hear. Therefore, if you encounter an idle tongue which betrays and slanders some one, contradict such a one promptly to his face, that he may blush thus many a one will hold his tongue who else would bring some poor man into bad repute from which he would not easily extricate himself. For honor and a good name are easily taken away, but not easily restored. 


Thus you see that it is summarily forbidden to speak any evil of our neighbor, however the civil government, preachers, father and mother excepted, on the understanding that this commandment does not allow evil to go unpunished. Now, as according to the Fifth Commandment no one is to be injured in body, and yet Master Hannes [the executioner] is excepted, who by virtue of his office does his neighbor no good, but only evil and harm, and nevertheless does not sin against God's commandment, because God has on His own account instituted that office; for He has reserved punishment for His own good pleasure, as He threatens in the First Commandment, -- just so also, although no one has a right in his own person to judge and condemn anybody, yet if they to whose office it belongs fail to do it, they sin as well as he who would do so of his own accord, without such office. For here necessity requires one to speak of the evil, to prefer charges, to investigate and testify; and it is not different from the case of a physician who is sometimes compelled to examine and handle the patient whom he is to cure in secret parts. Just so governments, father and mother, brothers and sisters, and other good friends, are under obligation to each other to reprove evil wherever it is needful and profitable. 

But the true way in this matter would be to observe the order according to the Gospel, Matt. 18, 15, where Christ says: If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. Here you have a precious and excellent teaching for governing well the tongue, which is to be carefully observed against this detestable misuse. Let this, then, be your rule, that you do not too readily spread evil concerning your neighbor and slander him to others, but admonish him privately that he may amend [his life]. Likewise, also, if some one report to you what this or that one has done, teach him, too, to go and admonish him personally if he have seen it himself; but if not, that he hold his tongue. 

The same you can learn also from the daily government of the household. For when the master of the house sees that the servant does not do what he ought, he admonishes him personally. But if he were so foolish as to let the servant sit at home, and went on the streets to complain of him to his neighbors, he would no doubt be told: "You fool, what does that concern us? Why do you not tell it to him ?" Behold, that would be acting quite brotherly, so that the evil would be stayed, and your neighbor would retain his honor. As Christ also says in the same place: If he hear thee, thou host gained thy brother. Then you have done a great and excellent work; for do you think it is a little matter to gain a brother? Let all monks and holy orders step forth, with all their works melted together into one mass, and see if they can boast that they have gained a brother. 

Further, Christ teaches: But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. So he whom it concerns is always to be treated with personally, and not to be spoken of without his knowledge. But if that do not avail, then bring it publicly before the community, whether before the civil or the ecclesiastical tribunal. For then you do not stand alone, but you have those witnesses with you by whom you can convict the guilty one, relying on whom the judge can pronounce sentence and punish. This is the right and regular course for checking and reforming a wicked person. But if we gossip about another in all corners and stir the filth, no one will be reformed, and afterwards when we are to stand up and bear witness, we deny having said so. Therefore it would serve such tongues right if their itch for slander were severely punished, as a warning to others. If you were acting for your neighbor's reformation or from love of the truth, you would not sneak about secretly nor shun the day and the light. 

All this has been said regarding secret sins. But where the sin is quite public so that the judge and everybody know it you can without any sin avoid him and let him go, because he has brought himself into disgrace, and you may also publicly testify concerning him. For when a matter is public in the light of day, there can be no slandering or false judging or testifying; as, when we now reprove the Pope with his doctrine, which is publicly set forth in books and proclaimed in all the world. For where the sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it. 

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Thus we have now the sum and general understanding of this commandment, to wit, that no one do any injury with the tongue to his neighbor, whether friend or foe, nor speak evil of him, no matter whether it be true or false, unless it be done by commandment or for his reformation, but that every one employ his tongue and make it serve for the best of every one else, to cover up his neighbor's sins and infirmities, excuse them, palliate and garnish them with his own reputation. The chief reason for this should be the one which Christ alleges in the Gospel, in which He comprehends all commandments respecting our neighbor, Matt. 7, 12: Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. 

Even nature teaches the same thing in our own bodies, as St. Paul says, 1 Cor. 12, 22: Much more, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary; and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. No one covers his face, eyes, nose, and mouth, for they, being in themselves the most honorable members which we have, do not require it. But the most infirm members, of which we are ashamed, we cover with all diligence; hands, eyes, and the whole body must help to cover and conceal them. Thus also among ourselves should we adorn whatever blemishes and infirmities we find in our neighbor, and serve and help him to promote his honor to the best of our ability, and, on the other hand, prevent whatever may be discreditable to him. And it is especially an excellent and noble virtue for one always to explain advantageously and put the best construction upon all he may hear of his neighbor (if it be not notoriously evil), or at any rate to condone it over and against the poisonous tongues that are busy wherever they can pry out and discover something to blame in a neighbor, and that explain and pervert it in the worst way; as is done now especially with the precious Word of God and its preachers. 

There are comprehended therefore in this commandment quite a multitude of good works which please God most highly, and bring abundant good and blessing, if only the blind world and the false saints would recognize them. For there is nothing on or in entire man which can do both greater and more extensive good or harm in spiritual and in temporal matters than the tongue, though it is the least and feeblest member., Inc.
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Third Sunday after Epiphany: Christian Revenge 

Sermons of Martin Luther-Baker - OUT OF PRINT

Text: Romans 12, 16-21. 16 "Be not wise in your own conceits. 17 Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. 19 Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. 20 But if shine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.


"Be not wise in your own conceits."

64. The lesson as read in the Church ends here. We shall, therefore, notice but briefly the remaining portion. "Conceits," as here used, signifies the obstinate attitude with regard to temporal things which is maintained by that individual who is unwilling to be instructed, who himself knows best in all things, who yields to no one and calls good whatever harmonizes with his ideas. The Christian should be more willing to make concession in temporal affairs. Let him not be contentious, but rather yielding, since the Word of God and faith are not involved, it being only a question of personal honor, of friends and of worldly things. "Render to no man evil for evil." *This and the last sermon are one in some editions. Hence the paragraphs are numbered as one sermon.

65. In the counsel above (verse 14) to "curse not," the writer of the epistle has in mind those unable to avenge themselves, or to return evil for evil. These have no alter- native but to curse, to invoke evil upon their oppressors. In this instance, however, the reference is to those who have equal power to render one another evil for evil, malice for malice, whether by aces committed or omitted and usually they are omitted. But the Christian should render good for evil, and omit not. God suffers his sun to shine upon the evil and upon the good. Mt 5, 45.

"Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men."

66. This injunction is similar to that he gives the Thessalonians (1 Thes 5, 22), "Abstain from all appearance of evil"; and the Philippians (ch. 4, 8): "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are lust, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." The reference is purely to our outward conduct. Paul would not have tale Christian think himself at liberty to do his own pleasure, regardless of others' approbation. Only in the things of faith is such the Christian's privilege. His out- ward conduct should be irreproachable, acceptable to all men; in keeping with the teaching of first Corinthians, 10, 32-33, to please all men, giving offense neither to Jews nor to Gentiles; and obedient to Peter's advice (1 Pet 2, 12), "Having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles."

"If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men."

67. Outward peace among men is here intended peace with Christians and heathen, with the godly and the wicked. the high and the low. We must give no occasion for strife; rather, we are to endure every ill patiently, never permit- ting peace to be disturbed on our account. We must not return evil for evil, blow for blow; for he who so does, gives rise to contention. Paul adds, "-As much as in you lieth." We are to avoid injuring any, lest we be the ones to occasion contention. We must extend friendliness to all men, even though they be not friendly to us. It is impossible to maintain peace at all times. The saying is, "I can continue in peace only so long as my neighbor is willing." But it lies in our power to leave others at peace, friends and foes, and to endure the contentions of all. "Oh yes," you say, "but where would we be then?" Listen:

"Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord."

68. Note, in forbidding us to return blow for blow and to resort to vengeance, the apostle implies that our enjoyment of peace depends on our quiet endurance of others' disturbance. He not only gives us assurance that we shall be avenged, but he intimidates us from usurping the office of God, to whom alone belong vengeance and retribution. Indeed, he rather deplores the fate of the Christian's enemies, who expose themselves to God's wrath; he would move us to pity them in view of the fact that we must give place to wrath and permit them to fall into the hands of God.

The vengeance and wrath of God are dispensed in various ways: through the instrumentality of political government; at the hands of the devil; by illness, hunger and pestilence; by fire and water; by war, enmity, disgrace; and by every possible kind of misfortune on earth. Every creature may serve as the rod and the weapon of God when he designs chastisement. As said in Wisdom of Solomon, 5, 17: 

"He shall make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies."

69. So Paul says, "Give place unto wrath." I have inserted the words "of God" to make clearer the meaning of the text; the wrath of God is intended, and not the wrath of man. The thought is not of giving place to the anger of our enemies. True, there may be occasion even for that, but Paul has not reference here to man's anger. Evidently, he means misfortunes and plagues, which are regarded as expressions of God's wrath. Possibly the apostle omitted the phrase to avoid giving the idea that only the final wrath of God is meant his anger at the last day, when he will inflict punishment without instrumentality. Paul would include here all wrath, whether temporal or eternal, to which God gives expression in his chastisements. This is an Old Testament way of speaking. Phinehas says (Jos22, 18), "To- morrow he will be wrath with Israel." And Moses in several places speaks of God's anger being kindled. See Numbers 11: 1, 10, 33. I mention these things by way of teaching that when the political government wields the sword of punishment against its enemies, it should be regarded as an expression of God's wrath; and that the statement in Deuteronomy 32, 35, "Vengeance is mine," does not refer solely to punishment inflicted of God direct, without instrumentality.

"But if shine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head."

70. This teaching endorses what I have already stated that the Christian's enemies are to be pitied in that they are subjected to the wrath of God. Consequently it is not Christian like to injure them; rather, we should extend favors. Paul here introduces a quotation from Solomon. Prov 25, 21-22. Heaping coals of fire on the head, to my thought, implies conferring favors upon the enemy. Being enkindled by our kindness, he ultimately becomes displeased with him- self and more kindly disposed to us. Coals here are benefits, or favors. Coals in the censer likewise stand for the favors, or blessings, of God; they are a type of our prayers, which should rise with fervor. Some say that coals represent the Law and judgments of God (see Psalm 18, 8, "Coals were kindled by it"), reasoning that in consequence of the Christian's favors, his enemy is constrained to censure himself and to feel the weight of God's Law and his judgments. I do not think a Christian should desire punishment to fall upon his enemy, though such explanation of the sentence is not inapt. In fact, it rather accords with the injunction, "Give place unto wrath"; that is, do good and then wrath the coals will readily fall upon the enemy. 

"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." 

71. With this concluding counsel, it strikes me, Paul himself explains the phrase "coals of fire" in harmony with the first idea that the malice of an enemy is to be overcome with good. Overcoming by force is equivalent to lending yourself to evil and wronging the enemy who wrongs you. By such a course your enemy overcomes you and you are made evil like himself But if you overcome him with good, he will be made righteous like you. A spiritual overcoming is here meant; the disposition, the heart, the soul yes, the devil who instigates the evil are overcome., Inc. 


(NOTE BY PeaceMakers.Net-this is not a perfect document or procedure, yet it's the best we've found to date. As time permits we will make notations where there may be disagreements and/or need for clarification.) 


1. The basis of all church discipline is the free love of God in Christ expressed in both mercy and judgment. The purpose of discipline is to bring about the reconciliation of man to God and man to man and to engage the people of God in the ministry of reconciliation, and to promote the peace, purity, and edification of the Church. Christian discipline is discipleship; it is the response of loving commitment to God in Christ as Lord that learns from Him as it obediently seeks to carry on His mission in the world. Under the rule of Christ expressed through the Church, discipline is that submission that frees the Christian for more effective service. Such service by the Church in the world demands a disciplined individual and corporate life. Each Christian is incorporated into the disciplined community and is responsible under its government for the total ministry of the body as the body is responsible for each individual and group in the Church. In this mutual responsibility, all are held accountable for the sake of the task of the whole body of Christ, remembering that each individual and group is finally responsible not to a church court, but to God. 

2. Discipline is never to be perverted into the impossible and unnecessary effort to gain the gift of salvation, into a source of pride, or into the nourishing of the life of the Church as an end in itself. Whereas a certain structure is essential for the disciplined life, the mission of the Church is primary, and the rule of discipline is not rigid but open to change that will better accomplish this mission according to the Scriptures. 

3. In this context of discipline, the Church, under the authority of the Lord, disciplines or guides, instructs, and controls its members and courts to enable them to serve God more effectively. The exercise of discipline is made necessary by the need more fully to reconcile Christian individuals or groups to God and one another, to prevent mercy from becoming a soft and finally cruel indulgence, and to control those whose words and actions may seriously hinder the witness of the whole body of Christ. Whereas each Christian has a responsibility for discipline, corporate discipline exercised in the name of the Church is to be undertaken only by the church courts of session, presbytery, and General Synod. 

4. The constant responsibility of any church court to a situation calling for discipline is contrition by the court itself. The court will search for any ways in which what the court has done or failed to do has contributed to the problem requiring discipline. True contrition leads to that repentance which will cause the court to confess its own sin and need for forgiveness and to be more responsible. The court will submit itself constantly to the will of the Lord in searching the Scriptures and in prayer. 

5. The court is to restrain the words and actions of those under its jurisdiction according to the particular circumstances. The criterion for corrective discipline is the teaching of the Scriptures and the standards of the Church. This is summed up in the good news that in response to God's love, the Christian loves God and his neighbor as himself and is engaged in the mission of the Church. Every effort will be made to accomplish any needed restraint by constructive criticism and verbal persuasion. If these means fail, then necessary censures will be employed in proportion to the offense and in consideration of all the circumstances. 

6. In all things, the church court shall seek the repentance and restoration of the individual or group involved consistent with the higher responsibility of the court to carry on Christ's work in the most effective way. 



1. An offense is anything in the principles or practice of a church member or court which is contrary to the Holy Scriptures, the Constitution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. 

2. Offenses are either personal or general, private or public but all offenses, being sins against God, are grounds for discipline. A personal offense is a violation of the law of God in the way of wrong done to some particular person or persons, including one's own self. A general offense is a violation of the law of God not directed against any particular person. Private offenses are those known only to an individual or, at most, to a few persons. Public offenses are those which are generally known. 

(See Chapter VII on the Application of Censures) 

1. There are five ascending degrees of church censure: admonition, rebuke, suspension, deposition, and expulsion. When a lesser censure fails to reclaim the offender, the court shall consider the infliction of a higher degree of censure. 
    (a) Admonition is kindly reproving an offender, warning him of his guilt and danger, and exhorting him to refrain from such conduct in the future. 
    (b) Rebuke is a reprimand, a strong, authoritative expression of disapproval by a church court. 
    (c) Suspension is temporary exclusion from receiving the sacraments or from a church office or from both. This censure becomes necessary when more serious offenses have been committed or when, notwithstanding admonition or rebuke, an offense is persistently repeated. 
    (d) Deposition is depriving an officer of the Church of his office. 
    (e) Expulsion is the judicial dismissal of an offender from membership in the church. This fearful censure is to be passed only for such errors or violations of the law of God as are grossly inconsistent with the Christian faith, or for obstinate persistence in grave offenses in the face of milder censures. Its purpose, like all censures, is to reclaim the member for Christ's service. 

2. The censures of the Church are in no case to be employed for any selfish or vindictive purpose.


1. Original jurisdiction over church members, including non-communing members, and over elders and deacons as officers, is vested in the session of the congregation to which they belong. 

2. Original jurisdiction over ministers is vested in the presbytery to which they belong. 

3. In cases where the court having original jurisdiction is unable or unwilling to exercise jurisdiction, the next higher court may assume original jurisdiction upon demonstration of sufficient cause having been shown to the higher court. 

4. A higher court has appellate jurisdiction in all cases appealed from a lower court. 

5. Jurisdiction over members and ministers remains in the proper church court until the person involved comes under the jurisdiction of another church body. 

6. Jurisdiction over members ceases upon their expulsion. Original jurisdiction by the presbytery over ministers ceases upon their deposition. 


1. When a personal offense has been committed, whether the offense is public or private in nature, the injured party shall use the means prescribed by our Lord for bringing the offender to a recognition of his wrong and shall exhaust every effort to effect a reconciliation. 
    (a) He shall go in the spirit of Christian love and forgiveness and endeavor to reconcile the trouble between himself and the one who has committed the offense. (Matthew 18: 15). 
    (b) If the breach cannot be healed privately, the injured party is to take with him one or more other members of the Church and repeat the effort to effect a reconciliation. (Matthew 18:16). 
    (c) After a reasonable time, if it appears that the efforts to effect a reconciliation are in vain, the matter may be referred to the church court which has jurisdiction. (Matthew 18:17). 

2. Personal offenses satisfactorily settled between the parties concerned are not, as a rule, to be inquired into by the church court. Judicial process by a church court, however, is not to be precluded in such cases where the personal offense is so generally known or of such a nature as to require judicial investigation. 

3. In all cases of private offense, any one to whom the offense is known shall endeavor to effect a reconciliation without disturbing the peace of the Church. 

4. An informer who has not taken these previous steps to effect a reconciliation is himself to be considered worthy of censure. 

5. In certain cases, the person to whom the offense is known, before making any effort to remove it, may desire to obtain the counsel and assistance of the pastor or some officer in the Church. To seek such counsel and assistance in order to remove the offense privately is not only not censurable, but in some cases highly proper. (PMI:such counsel is fundamentally to use God's Word to search the heart of the person seeking counsel [Matthew 7 & Galatians 6], Biblically consider the nature of alleged offense-and if it should be overlooked or pursued, and Biblical procedures to effect reconciliation.) 

6. It is the duty of pastors and other session members to endeavor earnestly, according to the spirit of the Lord's command, to handle all private offenses that may come to their knowledge and maintain the peace which is often disturbed by public process. 

7. The peace and purity of the Church is best maintained when private offenses are resolved by the parties immediately involved and kept confidential. 



1. Judicial procedure is the orderly succession of legal proceedings in accordance with those principles and rules set forth in the Constitution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and specifically in this Book of Discipline. 

2. Offenses which are brought before a church court are those of a public and general nature or personal and private offenses that cannot be settled in a private way. 

3. Whenever any charge of offense is referred to a church court for decision, the court shall, before even hearing the charge, determine whether every reasonable and appropriate effort has been made to settle the matter in a more private way. 

4. Judicial process against an alleged offender shall not be instituted unless some reliable person or persons make the charge and undertake to substantiate it, or unless the court finds it necessary for the good of the persons involved and/or the Church to investigate the alleged offense. 

5. If there is any doubt in the minds of two or more members of the court regarding whether the alleged offender is censurable or whether there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the charge, a committee shall be elected by the court to ascertain whether all required preliminary steps have been taken, whether there are probable grounds for an accusation, and whether, if charges are proved, they will constitute a censurable offense. 
    (a) In its investigation, the committee (or the court) is to exercise great caution when charges rest chiefly on the testimony of persons who are or have been at enmity with the accused, who have the reputation of being untruthful or quarrelsome, or who have prospect of some temporal advantage from the charges. 
    (b) Anyone who brings charges shall be previously warned that if there is a failure to show reasonable grounds for the charges, the accuser may himself be censured for slander. The committee (or the court) will drop any charges based on rumors or other common report unless some particular offense is specified, is widely believed, and raises a strong possibility of the guilt of the accused.
    (c) If the committee finds that the case does not require judicial process or that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the charge, the committee will recommend that the matter be dropped. If the investigation indicates that charges should be made, the committee shall prepare the charges for presentation to the court. 

6. A person who may consider himself injured by a rumor, more or less current, may request an investigation for his own vindication. If the court grants the request, it may elect a special committee to make the investigation and report in writing. A record of the results may conclude the matter. If the committee finds that charges should be made, it shall prepare the charges for presentation to the court. 

7. Before proceeding with any judicial process, the court, or a committee appointed by the court, should seek by private conference with the accused to avoid, if possible, the need for actual judicial process. 

8. If the offender confesses, the way is clear for the court either to restore him or to impose such censure as the welfare of the offender and/or the Church may require. 

9. The original and only parties in a case of process are the accuser and the accused. The prosecution is always initiated by a court in the name of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The prosecutor is always the representative of the Church, whether he voluntarily brings the charge and is permitted by the court to prosecute it or whether he is a member of the court appointed by the court to act as prosecutor. In appellate courts, the parties are known as appellant and appellee. 

10. When the judicial process is initiated, the court shall appoint one or more of its members (in a case before the session, any communing member of that congregation may serve) as a prosecuting committee to prepare the indictment and conduct the case in all its stages in whatever court until the final decision is reached. Any appellate court before which the case is pending may appoint one or more of its own members to assist in the prosecution. No one is to be admitted as prosecutor who is personally biased or at enmity with the accused, who is not of good reputation, or who may have some temporal advantage in view. 

11. When any church officer has been cited for process, all his official functions may be suspended at the discretion of the court pending the trial, but this shall not be construed as a censure. 

12. In any trial neither the accused, his counsel, nor the prosecutor shall perform any function of a voting member of the court. 

13. Prosecution for the alleged offense should begin as soon as possible, but it must begin within one year from the time of the alleged commission of the offense or from the date it is reported to the court of jurisdiction. (PMI: We must emphasize Matthew 5:23-24 "  Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.") 

14. The accused person may appear on his own behalf, or if he prefers, he may be represented by any member or members of the Church subject to the jurisdiction of the court. Any counsel appearing before the court must sign a statement that he has not and will not accept any fee or other emolument beyond necessary expense for any service rendered as counsel for defense or prosecution. 

15. If the accused is absent and not represented by counsel, the court shall appoint as counsel one or more members of the Church subject to the jurisdiction of the court. 

16. It is incumbent on every member of a court engaged in the trial of offenders to bear in mind the injunction: "if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Galatians 6:l) (PMI:  "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Matthew 7:3) 

17. Every charge must be presented to the court in writing and must state the alleged offense with the specifications of the facts relied upon to sustain the charge. Each specification shall declare, as far as possible, the time, place, and circumstances of the commission of the alleged offense, and shall be accompanied with the names of the witnesses and the titles of records and documents to be cited for its support. 

18. When an offense, alleged to have been committed at a distance, is not likely otherwise to become known to the court having jurisdiction, it is the duty of the court within whose bounds the offense occurred, after satisfying itself that there is reasonable grounds of accusation, to send notice to the court having jurisdiction. 

19. A charge shall not allege more than one offense. Several charges against the same person, however, with the specifications under each of them, may be presented to the court at the same time and may be tried together. A vote on each charge must be taken separately. 


1. Before beginning a trial, the court shall decide whether it shall try the case or refer the judicial case for hearing and decision to a judicial commission elected by it. 

2. Judgment shall not be rendered in a case by any members of a court or commission who can benefit personally from the decision, who is closely related to either party, who had been active for or against either party in the matter embraced in the charge, who has personal enmity toward either party, or who has prejudged the case. Any member may be challenged by either party at and only at the first opportunity when the court meets for trial. The decision about the challenge shall be made by the remaining members of the court. (PMI: Sound advice but not Biblically required-especially if the member is considered by all to be above reproach and Godly and are willingly submissive to the member's stewarship of Christ's authority.) 

3. When the court begins consideration of an alleged offense, the charge and specifications shall be read. Except by consent of both parties, the only other actions to be taken at the first meeting of the court shall be: 
    (1) To appoint the prosecution committee, 
    (2) to furnish the accused with a copy of the charge and specifications including the times, places, and circumstances, if possible, and with the names of all witnesses then known and titles of records and documents that may be offered in support of the charge, 
    (3) to cite all parties and their witnesses to appear and be heard at another meeting for the trial, which, except in an appellate court, shall not be sooner than two weeks after such citation. 

4. The citation must specify the name of the accused, the court before which he is to appear, the time, and place. It is to be accompanied with a copy of the charge. The citations shall be issued and signed by the court's moderator and/or clerk, who shall also furnish citations for such witnesses as either party shall name. The accused shall not be required to disclose the names of his witnesses. (PMI:We're unclear as to the foundation of not disclosing the names of the accused's witnesses) Citations are issued only to members of this denomination. Other persons can only be requested to attend. Citations shall be served personally or by registered mail to the last known place of residence. Before proceeding to trial, it must be clear that all citations have been served as indicated. If anyone who is a member of the denomination fails to obey the citation, he shall be cited a second time. The second citation shall include notice that if he does not appear and plead and/or testify at the time appointed, unless providentially hindered (which he must make known to the court), he shall be considered guilty of disobedience and contempt and may be censured for that offense. The time allowed for responding to a second citation shall be set by the court with proper regard for all the circumstances. 

5. When an accused person refuses to appear or plead after a second citation, the court shall enter the fact on its records, together with the nature of the offense charged, and the person shall be suspended from the sacraments and/or any office held in the Church. When the censure of suspension is imposed upon an accused person for refusing to appear or plead, the court will ordinarily proceed no further with the trial. It may, however, if circumstances require it, and if it is sure the citation was received, proceed to trial on the merits, despite the absence of the accused, and impose whatever censure it finds warranted. In this event counsel would be appointed to represent the interest of the accused person during the trial. 

6. At the meeting when the citations are returnable, the accused may request a change in the time of meeting because of inability to be present or because of the need for additional time to prepare his defense. The accused or his counsel shall appear. He may file objections and be heard on the regularity of the organization, the jurisdiction of the court, the right of any member to participate in the trial, the sufficiency of the charges and specifications in form or legal effect, or any other substantial objections affecting the order or regularity of the proceeding. The court shall consider all such preliminary objections or charges which do not change their general nature. If the proceedings are found in order and the charges, if proved, are censurable, the accused shall be called to plead "guilty" or "not guilty." If the plea is "guilty," the court may deal with him according to its discretion. If the plea is "not guilty," or if the accused declines to answer, a plea of "not guilty" shall be entered on the record, and the trial shall proceed. 

7. The following trial order shall be observed: 
    (1) The moderator or commission chairman shall charge the court to recollect and regard their high responsibility as judges of a court of Jesus Christ. 
    (2) The indictment shall be read and the answer of the accused heard. 
    (3) The witnesses for the prosecutor and then those for the accused shall be examined, with either party being entitled to call rebuttal witnesses. 
    (4) The parties shall be heard - first the prosecutor and then the accused - and the prosecutor shall close. 
    (5) The prosecutor and the accused, their counsel and all non-members of the court shall withdraw, the roll shall be called, and then members may express their opinion in the case. 
    (6) A ballot vote shall be taken on each charge separately, with a majority necessary to convict. 
    (7) Keeping in mind that the purpose is to correct and restore and not to punish as an end in itself, the court shall determine what censure, if any, shall be inflicted. 
    (8) The parties shall be recalled, the verdicts announced, and judgments entered on the records. It is then in order at once, in any court except the highest, to give notice of appeal. Such notice must be filed with the moderator or clerk of the court within two weeks after adjournment of the court. 

8. Before or during the trial of a case prior to completion of receiving all evidence, any member of the court who expresses his opinion on its merits to either party or to any member of the court, or to any person not a member of the court, or who absents himself from any session without the permission of the court for reasons satisfactory to the entire court, shall be thereby disqualified from taking part in subsequent sessions.

9. If there are questions as to order or evidence arising in the course of the trial, the questioning parties shall have an opportunity to be heard. The question shall be decided by the moderator, or chairman, subject to an appeal to the court to be determined without debate. 

10. At any stage of the trial the court may decide by a vote of two-thirds of the members present to sit in private session with all non-voting members excluded. 

11. The charge and specifications, the plea, all the testimony, and the judgment shall be entered on the minutes of the court. The minutes shall also include all the acts and orders of the court relating to the case, with the grounds therefore together with any notice of appeal, with the grounds therefore. All of this, together with the evidence in the case duly filed and authenticated by the clerk, shall constitute the record. The parties shall be allowed copies of the whole record at their own expense, if they request them. In case of appeal, the lower court shall transmit the record, or a certified copy, to the higher court. Nothing not contained in the record shall be taken into consideration by the higher court without consent of the parties in the case. After the final decision in a higher court, its judgment shall be sent down to the court in which the case originated. 


1. If the convicted party refuses to submit to the censure, the court may impose a higher censure for disobedience. 

2. The court shall use its own judgment as to when it is necessary to pronounce sentence in public. When the ends of public edification can be as well served, private censure is to be preferred. 

3. A church officer under process shall retain the right to deliberate and vote in other matters unless suspended by the court until completion of investigation and/or trial. 

4. Church courts are to be careful not to involve in the shame and severity of a judicial process errors and irregularities which do not strike at the vitals of doctrinal and practical godliness and/or which may be removed by private admonition and reproof. 

5. Whenever a church officer willfully and habitually fails to be engaged in the regular discharge of his official functions, it shall be the duty of the court having jurisdiction, at a stated meeting, to inquire into the cause of such dereliction, and, if necessary, to institute judicial proceedings against him for breach of his covenant engagement. In such a case, the clerk shall, under the order of the court, forthwith deliver to the individual concerned a written notice that, at the next stated meeting, the question of his being so dealt with is to be considered. This notice shall distinctly state the grounds for this proceeding. The party thus notified shall be heard in his own defense. If the court decides that his neglect proceeds from his want of acceptance to the Church, or from his lack of interest in the work of his office, it may divest him of his office without censure, even against his will, a majority of two-thirds being necessary for this purpose. The Church officer may appeal from this decision as if he had been tried after the usual forms. 

6. When a presbytery divests a minister of his office without censure, his church shall be declared vacant; but when he is suspended from office, it shall be left to the discretion of the presbytery whether the censure includes the dissolution of the pastoral relation. 


1. Every court shall be its own judge as to who shall be admitted as witnesses in a case. Either party has the right to challenge any witness that may be called to the stand, giving his reasons for the challenge, and the court shall decide whether the witness shall be allowed to testify. 

2. The accused party may be allowed, but shall not be compelled, to testify and no inference of guilt may be drawn from his failure to testify, on the demand of the accused. (PMI: This is not Biblical-based on Ephesians 4, unity in Christ is above all-even self protection) 

3. The credibility of witnesses, or the degree of credit to be given to their testimony, may be affected by relationship to either of the parties, by interest in the result, by want of proper age, by weakness of understanding, by defect in any of the senses, by enmity to the accused, by personal character, and by various other circumstances to which the court should carefully attend and for which it should make due allowance in its decision. 

4. Private writings and printed publications, the genuineness and authorship of which are clearly established, shall be received as evidence of the author's opinion. 

5. Husbands and wives, parents and children, shall not be required to testify against each other. (PMI: This is not Biblical-unity in Christ is above even the family-shouldn't Christian family members be equally concerned of Biblical correction, reconciliation etc.?-yes they should!) 

6. The records of a church court, or any part of them, whether original or transcribed, attested by the moderator and the clerk, or by either of them, shall be received as legal evidence in any other court. 

7. Where it may not be practicable for witnesses to appear at the trial, the court may request another court to take their evidence or it may appoint a commission for this purpose, due notice in either case being given to the opposite party. Evidence thus taken shall be received as if taken in the presence of the court. 

8. The testimony of a witness in a different case in which the accused was not a party and had no opportunity to cross-examine shall not be admitted as evidence of the truth of the matters to which the witness testified. 

9. Hearsay evidence is not to be received except when it would be admitted in courts of law. (PMI: This is not wise to use the secular model but rather the Church should establish the model upon God's word.  All alleged offenses are to be established upon the direct witness/observation of witnesses, Deuteronomy 17. Deuteronomy 19:5 establishes for all sins [other than false doctrine/prictices] at least two witnesses must have direct knowledge.) 

10. No private knowledge possessed by members of the court shall be allowed to influence their decision. A member of the court who is called on to testify in the case may not vote on any matter in the trial except with the approval of both parties. (PMI: may have some value but definitely not Biblically required) 

11. Circumstantial evidence may be received either to corroborate positive testimony or as conclusive when it is of such character as to produce full conviction on the mind of the court. 

12. When a charge depends entirely upon the testimony of witnesses, at least two credible witnesses shall be necessary to establish the charge. But the testimony of one witness corroborated by good circumstantial evidence, may be considered sufficient to establish the charge when there is no conflicting evidence. 

13. In cases of common report, the testimony of several different witnesses to different acts of the same kind may be considered sufficient to establish the charge. 

14. If after trial before any court new testimony is discovered which the accused believes important, it is his right to ask a new trial and it is within the power of the court to grant his request. No person who has been found innocent, however, shall be re-tried for that same offense. (PMI: This is not Biblical-any new testimony, judged valuable, by and/or for any person, that may render Biblical justice-must be heard, at any time.) 

15. If in the prosecution of an appeal, new testimony is offered, which, in the judgment of the appellate court, has an important bearing on the case, it is proper for the court to refer the case to the lower court for a new trial, or, with the consent of parties, to take testimony and proceed with the case. 

16. Before giving his testimony, every witness is to be solemnly admonished by the moderator or chairman, that his testimony is given as before the Lord and that he is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (PMI:   If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him {that which is} wrong;  Then both the men, between whom the controversy {is}, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;  And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, {if} the witness {be} a false witness, {and} hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. Deuteronomy 19:15-19) 

17. Witnesses who have not yet been examined shall not be present during the examination of another witness if either party demands their exclusion. 

18. Witnesses are to be examined in the presence of the accused or his counselor, who are at liberty to cross-examine them. The same privilege belongs to the prosecutor and to every member of the court. All questions are to be asked with the permission of the moderator or chairman, and no frivolous or non-pertinent questions are to be allowed. 

19. The testimony of each witness is to be taken down in writing, mechanically reproduced and read to him for his approval and signature, and then filed among the permanent records of the court. 

20. If the testimony taken during the trial proves an offense properly denominated by another name than that charged in the accusation, the accused, while he is to be acquitted of the specific charge of the accusation, may be found guilty of that which appears in the proof. 


1. When a court shall have completed its deliberation concerning an accused offender and shall have found him guilty, the court, unless it has received a written notice of appeal within two weeks after the decision has been rendered, shall proceed to apply the appropriate censure. All censures may be administered or announced in the absence of the offender, but not without due notice having been given the offender. As in previous judicial proceedings, the court shall, in the application of censures, remind itself that the purpose of Christian discipline is the redemption of the offender. 

2. Admonition: this censure is to be administered in private. 

3. Rebuke: where the offense is private, or where the witness of the church will not be injured thereby, the rebuke shall be in private. But where the offense is public, the rebuke shall ordinarily be pronounced in public. In either case, a statement of the offense shall accompany any rebuke. 

4. Suspension: this censure should generally be indefinite in its duration, continuing until the person suspended gives such evidence of repentance as may warrant its repeal. The good of the offender and/or the Church may require that the offender be suspended for a definite length of time, even though he confesses his sin and gives evidence of repentance. This censure should, as a rule, be announced in the Church by a representative of the court. If in the judgment of the court, however, the good of the offender and/or the Church requires, this censure may be administered privately. 

5. Deposition: the censure of deposition is to be announced in the Church by a member of the court. The censure of deposition passed on a pastor shall be publicly read to his congregation by a representative of the presbytery, who shall then declare the pulpit vacant. Only in rare cases of gross offense, the good of the offender and/or the Church may require that the offender, even though he confesses his sin and manifests repentance, be deposed from office. Except in such cases, deposition is to preceded by suspension to give time for careful consideration before deposition is imposed. 

6. Expulsion: the officiating minister shall read the decision of the court in the presence of the congregation and recount the steps taken in the case, showing the necessity of this censure. He is then to lead the congregation in prayer for both the church court and the offender. After the announcement of the censure, he is to instruct the members of the church that expulsion does not destroy the bonds of natural and civil relations. Nor does expulsion relieve them from their Christian responsibility to witness to the love of God to the expelled person. The session, when it considers this censure necessary, may refer the matter, along with a full record of the proceeding, the evidence in the case, and its recommendations, to the presbytery. The presbytery may then order such censures as it deems proper to be imposed by the session. 

7. In all cases of censure by lower church courts, the offender shall be advised of his right of appeal to a higher court. 


1. When a minister unites with another denomination without a letter of transfer, his presbytery, after assuring itself of his withdrawal, shall remove his name from the roll and record his withdrawal and his ministerial standing. When the interest and the honor of the Church requires, the presbytery shall inform the body with which the minister has connected as to his ministerial standing. 

2. If a minister notifies the presbytery that he can no longer adhere to the standards of the Church due to a change in his doctrinal views, the presbytery shall endeavor to resolve his difficulties. Upon failure to resolve, the presbytery shall grant the minister a certificate indicating his relationship to the presbytery, stating reasons for his separation from the presbytery, enter the facts on the record, and remove the minister's name from the roll. 

3. If a minister desires release from the office of the ministry, he shall notify presbytery. The presbytery shall consider his request and being satisfied that the reasons for release are sufficient, shall without censure, grant the request and enter the facts upon the record. 

4. In the event a minister ceases entirely to exercise the duties of his office, devoting himself to other pursuits without satisfactory reason, the presbytery shall endeavor to persuade him to return to his work of the ministry. If unsuccessful in their persuasion, the minister's name shall be removed from the roll with entry of the facts upon the record. These circumstances may constitute a censurable offense. 

5. In the event a minister becomes involved in areas of work outside the normal bounds of General Synod, his presbytery shall have the responsibility of determining his voting status. 


1. If an elder or deacon decides that he is unable to discharge the duties of his office or that for some other reason his service is not for the good of the congregation, he shall so notify the session. The session, if unable to resolve these difficulties, shall release the officer from his duties, either temporarily or permanently, as conditions dictate. The recorded facts and action taken by the session shall be reported to the presbytery. 

2. If an elder or deacon ceases entirely to exercise the duties of his office, the session shall endeavor to persuade him to perform his duties. If unsuccessful in their persuasion, the name of the officer shall be removed from the roll of officers with entry of the facts upon the record. These circumstances may constitute a censurable offense. 

3. Under circumstances in which the session feels incompetent to act on such cases, the matter, including a full statement of facts, shall be referred to the presbytery for action. 


1. A member uniting with another church body without a certificate of transfer shall have his name removed from the roll of the congregation after the session assures itself of this change of membership. (PMI: and shall petition the other church for a meeting of it's stewards of Christ's authority and the member to discuss the spiritual standing of that member.) 

2. A church member shall notify the session if his doctrinal views have so changed that he can no longer adhere to the standards of the Church. The session, if failing in its attempts to change his views, shall make record of the facts and remove his name from the roll. (PMI: and shall petition the other church for a meeting of it's stewards of Christ's authority and the member to discuss the spiritual standing of that member.) 

3. If a member habitually absents himself from the communion table and gives other convincing evidence of indifference to his religious obligations, he shall be privately admonished. Should private admonition fail, the session shall apply whatever higher censure it deems necessary. 

4. The congregation shall normally be informed of any withdrawal or removal of a church member's name from the roll by censure. (PMI: and should that member attend/join another church we shall petition the other church for a meeting of it's stewards of Christ's authority and the member to discuss the spiritual standing of that member.) 

5. The session shall endeavor to communicate with members who have moved beyond the geographic boundaries of the congregation. Such members shall be retained on the roll so long as interest in the congregation is maintained. After one year the session may either drop such names from the roll or transfer members to the list of inactive members. 


1. Restoration is the culmination of the element of mercy in the discipline of the Church; therefore, it is to be regarded as the goal of judgment. There is no degree of guilt which automatically precludes the restoration of an offender to full church privileges, following satisfactory evidence of repentance and reformation. 

2. An offender is to be restored by the same authority which censured him or by the authority of a higher court. 

3. The act of restoration may be publicly announced or privately conveyed. The court shall determine the option based on the good of the offender and/or the Church. 

4. An offender desiring restoration shall make application to the court by which he was censured, acknowledging his offense and expressing his desire to be restored to the privileges of the Church. The necessity of initiative on the part of the offender is in no manner to be seen as releasing the Church from its responsibility in pursuing the repentance and restoration of the offender. 

5. The Court is to consider carefully the request of the offender with the evidence of his repentance; and if satisfied of his sincerity and of the earnestness of his purpose to live a Christian life, the court is to remove the sentence and to restore him to the privileges of the Church. 

6. In the case of expulsion, when the session has referred the matter to the presbytery for the ruling on the censure imposed, the session shall in like manner refer the restoration to the presbytery along with the evidence in the case. The presbytery, if satisfied of the sincerity of the offender's repentance, shall issue a warrant to the session for the act of restoration. 

7. An officer who has been suspended or deposed from office and has had the privileges of the Church suspended is to be restored to the church privileges on satisfactory evidence of repentance. He is not to be restored to the exercise of his office until such time that the witness of the Church will not be impaired by such restoration. (PMI: must requalify Biblically as a Deacon or Elder-inclusive of above reproach) 

8. When an offender has been restored he is, as one forgiven through Christ who claims God's covenant promises, to be received by the Church as a brother. 



1. Transfer of jurisdiction to a higher court is provided in order to remedy, in an orderly way, wrongs that may be done. When those who had no concern in the origin of proceedings review and confirm or amend the proceedings judgments, the possibility of permanent wrongs is reduced as much as our present imperfect state allows. 

2. The decisions of all church courts, with the exception of the highest, are subject to investigation by a higher court. The decision of the lower court may be brought before the higher court by review, reference, appeal, complaint, or declinature 


1. The records of all lower courts are subject to the review of the next higher court at any time the higher court shall require. 

2. In reviewing the records of a lower court, it is proper for the higher court to examine: first, whether the proceedings have been constitutional and regular; second, whether the proceedings have been equitable, faithful, and prudent; third, whether the proceedings have been properly recorded. 

3. The review may be conducted by a committee of the court which shall make its report at the meeting at which it was appointed. If any censure or correction appears to be necessary, the members of the lower court present shall be heard in defense, and then the higher court shall make its judgment on the matter. This judgment shall be entered both on the records of the court and on the records reviewed. 

4. If the review indicates irregular proceedings which require correction, the lower court shall be required to review and correct its proceedings, and to report the correction to the higher court as soon as possible. 

5. No judicial decision shall be reversed by a court sitting in review unless the decision is regularly brought to the court by appeal or complaint. 

6. If, however, the higher court is advised of unrecorded neglect and/or irregularities of a lower court, it shall cite the lower court to appear and answer the charges. If the charges are found to be true, the higher court shall impose such censures and give such orders as it may judge necessary in the case. 


1. A reference is a written representation made by a lower court to a higher court for advice or other action on a matter pending before a lower court. 

2. Among proper subjects for reference are matters which are new, delicate, or difficult; which have produced a serious division among the members of the lower court; or with which a number of the members are so connected as to render it improper for them to sit in judgment. 

3. In making a reference the lower court may ask either for advice or for final disposition of the matter referred. In case of referral for advice, the effect is to suspend the judgment of the lower court. In the case of referral for trial decision, the effect is for the lower court to relinquish jurisdiction to the higher court. 

4. A reference may be presented to the higher court by one or more representatives appointed by the lower court for this purpose, and it should be accompanied with the records necessary for proper understanding and consideration of the matter referred. 

5. In cases of reference for advice the higher court ought, as a rule, to give the advice asked for. It may, however, in cases of reference for decision, decline to give judgment, and remit the whole case, with or without advice, to the court referring it. 
6. Notice of reference must be given to parties concerned in the case, and all evidence should be duly prepared and in readiness so that the higher court may be able to hear and issue the case with as little delay as possible. 


1. An appeal is a legal proceeding by which a case is brought from a lower to a higher court for rehearing. The effect of an appeal is to suspend all further proceedings in the case, including the sentence, until the case has been finally decided in a higher court. If a sentence of suspension or deposition be appealed from, however, it shall be considered in force until the matter is decided. 

2. An appeal can normally be made only by an accused party, called the appellant, who has submitted to a regular trial. An appellant who has not submitted to a regular trial is not entitled to an appeal. 

3. An appeal can be made only to the next higher court, except with the express consent of that court. 

4. An appeal may be made either from a definite sentence or from any particular part of the proceedings. The grounds for an appeal include matters such as any irregularity in the proceedings of the lower court; hindrance of procedural rights; refusal of reasonable indulgence to a party on trial; receiving improper or declining to receive proper evidence; rendering a decision before all testimony is taken; evidence for bias or prejudice in the case; and an unjust or mistaken sentence. 

5. The appellant must make his appeal, together with the reasons for it, in writing, either to the court hearing his case before it adjourns or to the moderator or the clerk of that court within ten days after the judgment appealed from is pronounced. The appeal, however, should not be refused if reasons for unavoidable delay can be demonstrated. 

6. The appellant shall lodge his appeal, with the reasons for it, with the clerk of the higher court prior to the beginning of its next regular meeting. The clerk of the lower court appealed from shall send the full record of the case or a certified copy to the higher court by the same time. 

7. Evidence that has come to light at the first trial may be presented by either the appellant or appellee in an appeal. 


1. A complaint is a representation made to a higher court in respect to a decision of the lower court regarded as being irregular or unjust. 

2. It differs from an appeal in that it does not suspend proceedings in the case and is the privilege of any one under the jurisdiction of the court. In judicial cases, however, a party declining to appeal shall not be allowed to enter a complaint. 

3. Complaints are usually to be entertained only where the complainants do not have the right of appeal or where an appeal is refused. 

4. A complaint brings the whole proceedings of the lower court in the case under review of the higher, and if the complaint is found to be well grounded, the higher court may not only reverse the decision of the lower court, either in whole or in part, but may also subject it to such censure as the case may require. 

5. The same rules of procedure are to be allowed in complaints as in appeals. 


1. A declinature is the refusal of a party under process to submit to trial by that particular court. 

2. Declinature is warrantable where the court betrays unfairness or partiality; where it prejudices the case; where it goes beyond its lawful authority; or where it permits persons closely related to either party, at enmity with either party, or who have themselves been active as parties to sit and vote in the case after they have been challenged. 

3. A declinature is to be admitted by a court only when it is accompanied with reasons and notice of appeal. It in no case ends the matter, but only removes it by appeal to the higher court, where it is to be considered according to the rules already given. 


Any matters of discipline or details of process not provided for are left to the judgment of the court having jurisdiction in the case. The court, however, is to be governed by the general principles and rules set forth in the Constitution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and specifically in this Book of Discipline. 


Maintained by Leland R. Beaudrot
* The links to PeaceMakers and The Christian Court were insterted in this page taken directly from the ARPC's website and in no way makes a statement of endorsement or association by any organization concerning another.
For a copy of the full Standards of the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church:Call 864.232.8297

A search of Associate Reformed Presbyterian brought me to our Book of Discipline attached to your home page. I agree that it is a good process for church discipline, I wish we ARPs used it more faithfully. You may want to see our new home page at . 

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