88. If the guilty persons lie under the censure of the lesser excommunication a considerable time, and yet be found frequently relapsing in these vices they are censured for, it may be constructed such a degree of contumacy, and so aggravate the crime, as to found a process of the censure of the higher excommunication, which is to be inflicted, or not, as may tend most to the reclaiming of the guilty person, and edification of the church.
89. Excommunication being a shutting out of a person from the communion of the church (and therefore the greatest and last censure of the church) ought not to be inflicted without great and mature deliberation, nor till all other good means have been essayed. Since there is a distinction betwixt the greater and the lesser excommunication, it seems that whatever have been the causes of the first process, yet ordinarily all processes that are in order to the greater excommunication are to be grounded on manifest contumacy, or obstinate continuance in scandalous practices; and where there is no manifest contumacy, or continuance as aforesaid, the lesser excommunication needs only have place. Yet in some extraordinary cases, the church, according to Scripture warrant, may summarily excommunicate persons guilty of notorious, atrocious, scandalous sins, to show the church’s abhorrence of such wickedness.
90. Such errors as subvert the faith, or any other errors which overthrow the power of godliness, if the party who holds them spread them, seeking to draw others after him; and such sins in practice, as cause the name and truth of God to be blasphemed, and cannot stand with the power of godliness; and such practices, as in their own nature manifestly subvert that order, unity and peace, which Christ hath established in his church: those being publicly known, to the just scandal of the church, the sentence of excommunication shall proceed according to the directory.
91. But the persons who hold other errors in judgment about points, wherein learned and godly men possibly may or do differ, and which subvert not the faith, nor are destructive to godliness; or that be guilty of such sins of infirmity, as are commonly found in the children of God; or, being otherwise sound in the faith, and holy in life (and so not falling under censure by the former rules) endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and do yet out of conscience not come up to the observation of all those rules, which are or shall be established by authority for regulating the outward worship of God and government of his church: We do not discern to be such against whom, the sentence of excommunication for these causes should be denounced.
92. If, upon the last admonition and prayer, there be no evidence nor sign of his repentance, let the dreadful sentence of excommunication be pronounced, with calling upon the name of God, in these or the like expressions. ‘Whereas thou N. (Speak this in the third person, if the party be absent.) hast been by sufficient proof convicted of (here mention the sin) and after due admonition and prayer remain obstinate, without any evidence or sign of repentance, therefore, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and before this congregation, I pronounce and declare thee N. excommunicated, and shut out from communion of the faithful.’ Let the prayer accompanying sentence be to this effect. ‘That God, who hath appointed this terrible sentence for removing offences, and reducing of obstinate sinners, would be present with this his ordinance, to make it effectual to all these holy ends for which he hath appointed it; that this retaining of the offender’s sin, and shutting him out of the church, may fill him with fear and shame, break his obstinate heart, and be a means to destroy the flesh, and to recover him from the power of the Devil, that his spirit may yet be saved: that others also may be stricken with fear, and not dare to sin presumptuously: and that all such corrupt leaven being purged out of the church (which is the house of God) Jesus Christ may delight to dwell in the midst of them.’
93. After the denunciation of this sentence the people are to be warned, that they hold him to be cast out of the communion of the church, and to shun all communion with him. Nevertheless, excommunication dissolveth not the bonds of civil or natural relations, nor exempt from the duties belonging to them. This sentence is likewise to be made known, not only to that, but to any other classis or congregation, as occasion shall require, by reason of his abode or conversing with them.
94. If, after excommunication, the signs of repentance appear in the excommunicated person, such as, godly sorrow for sin, as having thereby incurred God’s heavy displeasure, occasioned grief to his brethren, and justly provoked them to cast him out of their communion; together with a full purpose of heart to turn from his sin unto God, and to reform what hath been amiss in him; with a humble desire to recovering his peace with God and his people, and to be restored to the light of God’s countenance, and the communion of the church; he is to be brought before the congregation, and there also to make free confession of his sin with sorrow for it, to call upon God for mercy in Christ, to seek to be restored to the communion of the church; promising to God new obedience, and to them more holy and circumspect walking, as becometh the gospel; he is to be pronounced in the name of Christ absolved and free from the censures of the church, and declared to have right to all the ordinances of Christ, with praising of God for his grace, and prayer that he may be fully accepted to his favor, and hear joy and gladness, to this effect.
95. ‘To praise God who delighteth not in the death of a sinner, but that he may repent and live, for blessing the ordinance of excommunication, and making it effectual by his Spirit to the recovering of this offender; to magnify the mercy of God, through Jesus Christ, in pardoning and receiving to his favor the most grievous offenders, whensoever they unfeignedly repent and forsake their sins. To pray for assurance of mercy and forgiveness to this penitent, and so to bless this ordinance of absolution, that he may find himself loosed thereby; and that the Lord would henceforth so uphold and strengthen him by his Spirit, that, being sound in the faith, and holy in all manner of conversation, God may be honored, the church edified, and himself saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’
96. Then shall follow the sentence of absolution in these or the like words. ‘Whereas thou N. hast for thy sin been shut out from the communion of the faithful, and hast now manifested thy repentance, wherein the church resteth satisfied: in the name of Jesus Christ, before this congregation, I pronounce and declare thee absolved from the sentence of excommunication formerly denounced against thee; and do receive thee to the ordinances of Christ, that thou mayest be partaker of all his benefits, to thy eternal salvation.’ After this sentence of absolution, the minister speaketh to him as a brother, exhorting him, to watch and pray, or comforting him if there be need; the elders embrace him, and the whole congregation holdeth communion with him, as one of their own.
Censure of Ministers
97. It belongeth unto classical presbyteries to admonish, or further censure, scandalous ministers, whether in life or doctrine, according to the nature of the offence; and that not only for such offences, for which any other member of the congregation shall incur any censure of the church (in which case he is to be censured by the classis with the like censure for the like offence) but likewise particularly for simony, entering into any ministerial charge without allowance of authority, false doctrine, affected lightness and vanity in preaching, willful neglect of preaching, or slight performance of it, willful non-residence from his charge without call or cause approved by the classis, neglect of administration of the sacraments, or other ministerial duties required of him in the directory of worship, depraving and speaking reproachfully against the wholesome orders by authority settled in the church, casting reproach upon the powers of godliness, which he by his office ought chiefly to promote.
98. All processes against any minister are to begin before the presbytery to which he belongeth, and not before the session. The presbytery alone have primary jurisdiction over either a minister, or a probationer within their bounds. All Christians ought to be so prudent and wary in accusing ministers of any censurable fault, as that they ought neither to publish or spread the same, nor accuse the minister before the presbytery, without first acquainting the minister himself, if they can have access thereto, and then, if need be, some of the most prudent of the ministers and elders of that presbytery, and their advice got in the affair. The credit and success of the gospel much depending on the entire credit and reputation of ministers, their sound doctrine, and holy conversation, no stain thereof ought lightly to be received, nor when it comes before a judicature ought it to be negligently inquired into, or when found evident, ought it to be slightly censured. And because a scandal committed by a minister hath on these accounts many aggravations, and once raised, though it may be found to be without any ground, yet it is not easily wiped off; therefore a presbytery would exactly ponder by whose information and complaint it comes first before them, and a presbytery is not so far to receive the information, as to proceed to the citation of a minister, or any way begin the process, until there be either: First, some person who, under his hand gives in the complaint, with some account of its probability, and undertakes to make out the libel; or, second, the public outcry of the scandal be so great, as that the presbytery, for their own vindication, see themselves necessitate to begin the process, without any particular accuser; but the presbytery in this case should be careful, first to inquire into the rise, occasion, broachers, and grounds of this public outcry. In every case in which a presbytery has resolved to order a libel to be served upon a minister of the church, he ceases ipso facto to exercise the functions of his office, both ministerial and judicial, until the libel has been finally disposed of.
99. If a minister confess, and the matter confessed be of a scandalous nature, censurable in others, such as the sin of uncleanness, or some other gross scandal, the presbytery (whatever be the nature of his penitency, though to the conviction of all) are forthwith to depose him from office, and to appoint him in due time to appear before the congregation where the scandal was given, and in his own congregation, for removing the offence, by the public profession of his repentance. If the minister accused do appear and deny the fact, but the judicature shall find the scandal sufficiently proven, they are to proceed to censure, as advised in the case of confession. Where an offence by a minister has not been very flagrant or aggravated, suspension from office indefinitely has sometimes been considered sufficient censure. But such a suspension is always accompanied by a sentence which looses the suspended minister from his pastoral charge, so that, even if he be restored to the status of a minister, he is not restored to that charge.
100. If a minister be accused of any offence, and cited to appear before his own presbytery, and do absent himself by leaving the place and be contumacious, without making any relevant excuse, after a new citation he is to be holden as confessed, and to be deposed and censured forthwith with the lesser excommunication; but if after some time he do not return and subject himself to the censure of the church, he may be proceeded against till he be censured with the greater excommunication, if the judicature see cause for it.
101. If the matter laid to the minister’s charge be such practices as in their own nature manifestly subvert that order, unity, and peace which Christ hath established in his church, or unsoundness and heterodoxy in doctrine, then great caution should be used, and the knowledge and understanding of witnesses much looked into before the adoption of any action regarding them. If the errors be not gross and striking at the vitals of religion, or if they be not pertinaciously clung to, or industriously spread, with a visible design to corrupt, or that the errors are not spreading among the people, then lenitives, admonitions, instructions and frequent conferences are to be tried to reclaim without cutting off.
102. If the libel and complaint brought against a minister be a multitude of smaller things laid together, as several acts of negligence, or other unsuitable actions, the presbytery in proceeding therein are to make a presbyterial visitation of that congregation to which the minister belongs; and at the said visitation are first to see if any of these things now laid to the minister’s charge were committed prior to the last presbyterial visitation, and whether they were then laid to his charge; and if they were not, it should be tried how they come to be laid to his charge now. The presbytery are to inquire what diligence hath been used in acquainting the minister with the offence taken at these things when first committed by him, and how far the minister hath been guilty of giving offence, after he knew offence to be taken. It should likewise in this case be inquired, whether any of the complainers did first in a prudent private way inform any of the neighbor ministers of some of these things committed by their minister, who is now challenged, before these offences came to be so many as to merit a public and solemn trial; and accordingly the presbytery is to judge. If the presbytery find, in the way of preliminary investigation, the complaint to resolve upon the minister’s having committed such acts of infirmity or passion, as, considering all the circumstances, may be either amended and the people satisfied, and no such offence taken, or at least not to remain, so as to hinder the minister’s profiting the people, and that the offence was taken by the minister’s own people only or mainly; then the presbytery is to take all prudent ways to satisfy and reclaim both minister and people, and do away the offence.
103. Before a minister deposed for scandalous carriage can be restored to the exercise of the ministry, there should not only be convincing evidences of a deep sorrow for sin, but an eminent and exemplary humble walk, and edifying conversation, so apparent and convincing as hath worn out and healed the wound the scandal gave.