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constancy of the ingenuous friend of truth. Here. sy, in all the above passages, means a sect, a particular religious denomination.
When the sacred writers reprehend heresy as a crime, we find some immorality associated with it, on which the censure is founded. The criminal heretick is the man who chooses his sect from selfish and wicked motives, that he may gain a dominating influence, secure some worldly emolument, or obtain some sensual gratification, St. Paul, in our text, directs Titus, “ A man that is a heretick, after the first and second admonition, reject.” The apostle here clearly describes the character of a factious and vicious member of the Christian society, who, being conscious that he had departed from the path of truth and rectitude, must himself approve the sentence of exclusion. In the previous context, St. Paul recommends to Christians a life and conversation becoming their profession, and exhorts them to avoid foolish questions and contentions, which are unprofitable and vain. He then describes the heretick, whom Titus, after due admonition, must reject“Knowing that he who is such is subverted, and sinneth ; being condemned of himself.” The errour here reprehended is not of the head but of the heart ; not of the judgment, but of the conscience ; not of opinion, but of practice.
The apostle Paul classes criminal heresy with the most gross immoralities. (Gal. v. 19.)—"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, emulations, wrath, strife, sedi
tions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.”
Criminal hereticks St. Peter marks in strong lines. (2 Peter ii. 1.)—“But there are false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” The apostle here delineates a depraved character.
A man may associate himself with a sect of Christians, and become, in the scriptural sense, a heretick ; and yet, in him, heresy be innocent, yea, commendable. He deliberately joins this denomination not to subserve bad purposes, or to gratify evil propensities ; but to oppose corruptions and abuses, to appear as the advocate of Christian truth and liberty; and his heart not condemning him, he may have confidence towards God.
From a full view of the subject, it is evident that heresy was not originally a term of criminal import : it meant simply the choice of religious opinions. Different systems of religion are presented to the mind, and it chooses between them. This choice does not necessarily imply guilt. The mind cannot be employed on a subject more important; and when a man is convinced that a par. ticular sect is formed on principles the best calcu. lated to promote the interests of truth, godliness, and charity, he is under sacred obligations to join it. In doing this, he may become an heretick, but he does not become criminal. Heresy, in the New Testament, is considered criminal only when
it is connected with a factious spirit, and leads to unchristian strife and unnecessary separations.
2. To describe the character of the persons on whom Christ and his apostles direct ecclesiastical censures to be inflicted.
The gospel does not, I believe, authorize a Christian church to inflict censure on their mem. bers merely for their opinions. The gospel, in its spirit and laws, is tender of the consciences of men, and secures to its disciples the right of private judgment. What, then, is the character of those who are made the subjects of ecclesiastical censure ? Our Saviour has stated (Matt. xviii.) the cause, the several steps, and the issue of Church disci. pline. The ground of complaint here is not erroneous opinion, but immoral practice.-“ If thy brother offend thee, tell him his fault.” Opinions which are the result of honest inquiry after truth, ought not to be an offence to a Christian brother, nor can they with propriety be denominated a fault. But no one, I presume, will appeal to the directions of our Saviour, in this place, as a particular authority for making errours in opinion the ground of censure. I therefore proceed to a review of other passages. Our text is often quoted to this point." A man that is an heretick, after the first and sec. ond admonition, reject ; knowing that he who is such is subverted and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” This description does not apply to the man who honestly seeks the truth, and candidly communicates his opinions, though these may be erroneous. It is not a mistake of judgment which
exposes an individual, on this authority, to expulsion from the Church, but immoral practices.This heretick was not a man, who, having embraced erroneous opinions, needed to be instructed ; but one, who, having wilfully perverted Christian principles, was the proper object of solemn admonition. Titus was not directed to convince him of errour, by argument, and to draw him into the path of truth by persuasion ; but to rebuke him for a wilful offence, and if he were found incorrigible to eject him from Christian fellowship.
Peter predicts the advent of false teachers, who would privily introduce “ damnable heresies, deny. ing the Lord who bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." This language does not comport with the character of the man who honestly studies the bible as the rule of faith and duty, and admits its truths as far as he understands them. This man may adopt great errours, but these cannot be, in the sense of the apostle, damnable heresies.
The phraseology of St. Peter does not comport with opinions which consist with purity of life and conversation. Peruse the whole chapter, and you will be convinced that the apostle, by damnable heresies in this passage, means sins, which the most depraved mind only can commit. The characters placed before our view are apostates from the Christian faith, or men who had perverted Christian prin. ciples to subserve the basest purposes. They de nied the Lord : on account of their pernicious practices, the way of truth was evil spoken of: through covetousness, they made merchandize of
the souls of men. They had eyes full of adultery, and could not cease from sin : they were beguiling, unstable souls : they were cursed children. The beings with whom these men are compared, and with whose punishments they are threatened, designate their characters, and define their damnable heresies.
They resemble the fallen angels, the antediluvian race, the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrha; and on them the condemnation of those abandoned beings is denounced.
Under this branch of our subject, I will direct your attention to a passage in the Revelation of St. John, which is adduced as authority for inflicting publick censure on a professor who is supposed to hoid doctrinal errours. (ii. 14-16.) The Church of Pergamos is thus addressed"I have a few things against thee, because thou hast them that hold the doctrine of Balaam." Was the doctrine of Balaam speculative errour, or a principle of lewdness and corruption adopted as artful policy ? “So hast thou also them that hold this doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” The particular offence of this sect, we are told, was a community of wives.
The Nicolaitans corrupted Christianity at its source, and embodied immor. tality in the substance of our religion, that it might give a sanction to those works of the Aesh which hurt men's souls. What relation then is there be. tween the doctrine of this sect, and the speculative opinions of him who walketh as becometh the gospel ?
If the passages of scripture already reviewed, do not empower churches to discipline their members