THE bond by which a particular church is held together, is its discipline.[1]

Church discipline consists in a mutual agreement among the members of the church to fashion their lives according to Christian doctrine, and to regulate every thing in their public meetings decently and with order. Rom. xii. 4. to the end of the chapter. Eph. iv. 1-3. "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation where with ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Col. iii. 16. "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord." 1 Thess. iv. 18. "comfort one another with <202> these words." Heb. iii. 13. "exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." x. 24. "let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works." 1 Cor. xi, 17, 18. "I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse; for first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you." xiv. 40. "let all things be done decently and in order." Col. ii. 5. "though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying, and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ."

It is a prudent, as well as a pious custom, to solemnize the formation or re-establishment of a particular church by a public renewal of the covenant; as was frequently done in the reformations of the Jewish church; Deut. xxix. 1. "these are the words of the covenant which Jehovah commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb." The same took place under Asa, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others.

So also, when an individual unites himself to a particular church, it is requisite that he should enter into a solemn covenant with God and the church, to conduct himself in all respects, both towards the one and the other, so as to promote his own edification and that of his brethren. This covenant ought properly to take place in baptism, as being the rite appointed for the admission of all persons (that is, of all adults) into the church. Seeing, also, that most men are liable to a frequent change of residence, it will be necessary that this promise should be repeated so <203> often as they pass from one particular church to another, unless they are provided with the most satisfactory testimonials from some other orthodox church; this being apparently the only means by which discipline can be adequately maintained, or prevented from sinking into gradual decline and dissolution.

The custom of holding assemblies is to be maintained, not after the present mode, but according to the apostolical institution, which did not ordain that, an individual, and he a stipendiary, should have the sole right of speaking from a higher place, but that each believer in turn should be authorized to speak, or prophesy, or teach, or exhort, according to his gifts; insomuch that even the weakest among the brethren had the privilege of asking questions, and consulting the elders and more experienced members of the congregation. 1 Cor. xiv. 26, &c. "when ye come together, every one of you," &c.

This custom was derived by the apostles from the synagogue, and transferred by them to the churches. Luke ii. 46. "hearing them, and asking them questions."[2] iv. 16. "he stood up for to read." Compare also other places where Christ is related to have taught in the synagogue, and even in the temple, Matt. xxvi. 55. John vii. 14. a permission which was granted to him, not as Christ, but simply as a gifted individual, in the same manner as it was afterwards granted to the apostles. Acts xiii, 5. "they preached <204> the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews." v. 15. "after the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on." These rulers of the synagogue were persons appointed to see that all things were done in order. Mark v. 22. "one of the rulers of the synagogue." Luke viii, 41 "a ruler of the synagogue." xiii, 14. "the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day." Acts xiii. 15. as above, &c.

Women, however are enjoined to keep silence in the church. 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35. "let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, as saith the law (Gen. iii, 16.); and if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." 1 Tim. ii. 11, 12. "let the woman learn in silence in all subjection: but I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."[3]


The administration of discipline is called, "the power of the keys;"[4] a power not committed to Peter and his successors exclusively, or to any individual pastor specifically, but to the whole particular church collectively, of whatever number of members composed. Matt. xvi, 19. "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven," compared with xviii, 17-20. "tell it unto the church... verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven: again, I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven: for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." John xx, 22, 23. "when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." 1 Cor. v. 4. "when ye are gathered together, and my <206> spirit." 2 Cor. ii. 7, 8. "ye ought rather to forgive him... wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him." Rev. iii. 7, 8. "these things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth... behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it."

The administration of discipline consists, first, in receiving and treating with gentleness the weak or lapsed members of the church. Rom. xiv. 1. "him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." Gal. vi. 1. "brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Matt. ix, 16. "no man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment; for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse." John xvi. 12. "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye can not bear them now." 1 Thess. v. 14. "comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak." Jude 22, 23. "of some have compassion, making a difference." It was for the sake of such that those temporary decrees were made, Acts xv. For similar reasons Paul circumcised Timothy, xvi. 3. and purified himself in the temple, xxi. 26.

Secondly, in composing differences between the brethren, Matt. xviii. 17. "if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church."

Thirdly, in admonishing, or openly rebuking grievous offenders. 1 Tim. v. 20. "them that sin rebuke before all." Tit. iii. 10. "a man that is an <207> heretic, after the first and second admonition reject." 1 Cor. iv. 21. "shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?" 2 Cor. ii. 6. "sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many." 1 Thess. v. 14. "warn them that are unruly." 1 Tim. v. 1. "rebuke not an elder." 3 John 10. "if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth."

Fourthly, in separating the disobedient from the communion of the church. Rom. xvi. 17. "I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them." 1 Cor. v. 11. "with such an one no not to eat" 2 Thess. iii. 6. "we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." v. 14. "if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." 2 John 10, 11. "if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds." Rev. ii. 14. "I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam."

Or even, lastly, in ejecting them from the church;[5] not however for their destruction, but rather for their <208> preservation, if so they may be induced to repent; as was done in the ancient synagogue, John ix. 22. 34. xii. 42. Matt. xviii. 17. "if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." 1 Cor. v. 5. "deliver such an one unto Satan" (that is, give him over again to the world, which, as being out of the pale of the church, is the kingdom of Satan,) "for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." 2 Cor. ii. 7, 8. "so that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such an one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." xiii. 10. "therefore I write these things, being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction." 2 Thess. iii. 15. "yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." 1 Tim. i. 20. "whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." Rev. ii. 2. "I know thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them that are evil."

There are some, however, who may justly be considered irrecoverable. 1 Cor. xvi. 22. "if any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema, Maran-atha;" by which form of words an incurable sinner is abandoned to the dreadful judgment of the Lord at his final advent. 1 John v. 16. "there is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it."

The civil power differs from the ecclesiastical in the following respects. First, every man is subject to the civil power; that is to say, in matters properly civil. Rom. xiii. 1: "let every soul be subject unto the higher powers." On the contrary, none but the <209> members of the church are subject to ecclesiastical power, and that only in religious matters, with a liability to ecclesiastical punishment alone, that is, to punishment inflicted by their own body: Matt. xviii. 15, 16. "if thy brother shall trespass against thee... tell it unto the church; if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." John viii. 11. "neither do I condemn thee." 1 Cor. v. 11-13. "now 1 have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator... with such an one no not to eat: for what have I to do to judge also them that are without?" Secondly, the civil power has dominion only over the body and external faculties of man; the ecclesiastical is exercised exclusively on the faculties of the mind, which acknowledge no other jurisdiction[6]. Luke xii. 14. "who made me a judge or a divider over you?" Acts v. 4. "whiles it remained, was it not thine own?" 1 Cor. vi. 4. "if then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church." 2 Cor. x. 3, 4. "though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are <210> not carnal —." James iv. 12. "there is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy; who art thou that judgest another?" Nay, we are expressly enjoined not to suffer ourselves to be governed by the commandments of men in matters of religion. 1 Cor. vii. 23. "ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men." Thirdly, the civil power punishes even such as confess their faults; the ecclesiastical, on the contrary, pardons all who are penitent. John viii. 7. "when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

The power of the church against those who despise her discipline is exceedingly great and extensive. 2 Cor. x. 4, &c. "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience."

It is therefore highly derogatory to the power of the church, as well as an utter want of faith, to suppose that her government cannot be properly administered without the intervention of the civil magistrate.


'Let whoso will interpret or determine, so it be according to true church discipline, which is exercised on them only who have willingly joined themselves in that covenant of union.' Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes. Prose Works, III. 323.


..... At our great feast

I went into the temple, there to hear

The teachers of our law, and to propose

What might improve my knowledge or their own.

Paradise Regained I. 210.


The texts quoted in this paragraph appear to have been in Milton's mind in that passage of Paradise Lost, where Eve is represented as retiring from table as soon as she perceived from Adam's countenance that the conversation was beginning to assume an abstruse cast:

Such pleasure she reserved,

Adam relating, she sole auditress;

Her husband the relater, she preferred

Before the angel, and of him to ask

Chose rather. VIII. 50.

This same decorum is observed subsequently, when Eve is not permitted to see the vision which Michael displays to Adam from the highest hill of Paradise. On descending from the 'specular mount' to the bower where Eve had been left sleeping, the angel says to his companion,

Thou, at season fit,

Let her with thee partake what thou hast heard;

Chiefly what may concern her faith to know. XII. 597.


'Surely much rather might the heavenly ministry of the evangel bind himself about with far more piercing beams of majesty and awe, by wanting the beggarly help of halings and amercements in the use of her powerful keys.' Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty. Prose Works, I. 131. 'The church in all ages, primitive, Romish, or Protestant, held it ever no less their duty, than the power of their keys," &c. Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. Ibid. 290.


'Quos ecclesiæ est e cœtu fidelium ejicere, non magistratuum e civitate pellere, siquidem in leges civiles non peccant.' Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio. Prose Works, V. 47. The various degrees of church censure, its design, and its effects, are described in a most eloquent passage of the treatise on Church Government &c. 1. 140-142. Compare also p. 53, 54. Of Reformation in England.


'Especially for that the church hath in her immediate cure those inner parts and affections of the mind, where the seat of reason is.' Reason of Church Government, &c. Prose Works, I. 79. 'The magistrate hath only to deal with the outward part..... God hath committed this other office, of preserving in healthful constitution the inner man, to his spiritual deputy, the minister of each congregation,' &c. Ibid. 134. 'Christ hath a government of his own... It deals only with the inward man and his actions, which are all spiritual and to outward force not liable.' Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes, III. 331.

..... this attracts the soul,

Governs the inner man, the nobler part;

That other o'er the body only reigns. Paradise Regained, III. 476.

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Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL - newtonproject@history.ox.ac.uk

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