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The works of the right reverend father in God, Thomas Wilson, D.D., Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man (Volume 2) online

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useful it was for the keeping the Christian world in some
tolerable order.

The Church of England (in her office of commination) pas-
sionately wishes. That this godly discipline may be restored ;
that notorious sinners may be put to open penance, and punished
in this world, that their souls may be saved in the day of the
Lord ; and that others, admonished by their example, may be
more afi-aid to offend.

This Church ^ God be praised for it, is in possession of this
discipline, in some good measure ; and if, through the malice
of the devil, and the perverseness of men, it has not always
those saving effects which we could wish, and do pray for,
this is no more an objection against the discipline of the
Church, than it is against Christianity itself, or any of its
ordinances, which are but too often abused by wicked men.

•^ In the Isle of Man.



5i8 THE SUPPRESSION OF VICE AND IMPIETY,

SERM. Must we therefore renounce Christianity, and neglect its
- — '- — ordinances? God forbid. Rather let us take more pains to
make our people truly sensible of the blessing of Christian-
ity, and of the reason of that discipline, which is designed,
under God, to preserve it. For example :

That the Church is Christ's family ; that all who are ad-
mitted into this family do solemnly promise to live as be-
comes so holy a society ; that such as after this do become
disorderly livers, and will not be reformed, ought to be
turned out of the Church, till they become sensible of their
error; that while they obstinately continue in that condi-
tion, they are deprived of all the means of grace, and hopes
of salvation.

That as sure as baptism is the gate of salvation, and a real
blessing, so sure is excommunication a real punishment, and
to be dreaded more than any temporal punishment on
earth. And it would certainly be so ; and it would be the
most powerful means of restraining vice and impiety, if
christians would but consider, that although it be a sen-
tence passed by men, yet it is a sentence passed by men
commissioned by God, and who are answerable to God,
if their sentence be not worthy of Him, and agreeable to
His Word :

Even as the civil magistrate has, by God's Word, a right
to do, in civil matters, whatever he judges necessary and law-
ful for the good of the society over which he is set.

And if either the civil or ecclesiastical magistrate mistake
in their duty, or wilfully follow their own humour, they are
answerable to God. And all that we have to do, if there be
no superior to appeal to for redress, is to submit with pa-
tience, always remembering, that this is not the world we
were made for ,• which will help to render the troubles of this
short life more easy to be borne.

In short, Church discipline is necessary, as it is appointed
by Jesus Christ. The ends proposed by it are, to reform
wicked men, to remove scandals, and to prevent the judg-
ments of God; and to obstruct, or to discountenance it, is
to oppose an order of God for the good of the world, and for
the salvation of particular men ; a sin which will draw after
it great judgments.



THE DUTY OF PERSONS IN AUTHORITY. 549

And sad experience may convince us, that where Church
censures are set at nought, or ridiculed, the most damnable
sins become the subject of mirth and laughter, rather than
of horror, sorrow, and shame. A sure symptom of approach-
ing judgments, when men are not content to neglect their
own salvation, but take pains to pervert and ruin others !

And this brings me to consider the duty of private chris-
tians, with respect to the discipline of the Church, as it re-
gards the suppression of vice and impiety, the subject we are
upon.

And for this we have express rules in the Word of God.
" "We command you," (saith St. Paul,) " We command you, 2 Thess.
by the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from
every brother," that is, every christian, "that walketh dis-
orderly." And in case of obstinacy, he gives this farther
order ; " Note that man, and have no company with him, [ver. 14.]
that he may be ashamed."

So that as sure as this is God's Word, there is nothing
which christians ought more carefully to avoid, than the
giving of countenance to disorderly livers.

But this is not all : " Them that sin," (saith the same Apo- fi Tim. 5.

20 1
stle,) "rebuke before all;" for this reason, "that others also

may fear." And surely christians, who are not afraid for

themselves when they see others called to an account for

their sins, are not far from falling into the same, or into

greater sins themselves.

To conclude, therefore, this head of our discourse : when
discipline is administered, and obeyed, according to these
rules of the Gospel, it must be one of the most effectual
means of bringing sinners out of the snare of the devil, of
restraining vice, and averting impending judgments; and
therefore, being an institution of the Gospel, is not to be set
aside by any human law.

This will not depreciate the use of human laws, or the
authority of the civil magistrate, which being another ap-
pointment of God, for the punishment of vice and impiety,
is now to be considered.

It is very sure, that men will not always be governed by
motives of reason, religion, and conscience ; if they would,
there would be no need of any other authority than that of



550 THE SUPPRESSION OF VICE AND IMPIETY,

SERM. Cliurcli discipline, and the laws of the Gospel, to keep the

■ world in order. But the good of the commonwealth requires,

that such as will not be governed by religion and conscience,
shall be restrained by outward force.

God has therefore given authority to the civil magistrate
over the persons, estates, and even over the lives of men, to
keep them from doing mischief to the public, and from
ruining themselves.

But then this does not supersede, or make unnecessary,
the use of Church discipline ; for no christian sure can be so
absurd as to imagine, that because a man has been punished
by the civil magistrate, for stealing, or for drunkenness, or
for perjury, or any other crime, that therefore he is qualified
to receive the Holy Communion, or that he ought to be ad-
mitted to it, without giving marks of his repentance. This
[Matt. 7. 6.] would be (with a witness) to give that which is holy unto dogs,
contrary to our Lord^s command; and to prostitute rehgion,
and its mysteries, to the utmost contempt, and scorn of
infidels.

And therefore my Lord Coke very justly reasons, when
he saith, "that the ecclesiastical and temporal laws have
several ends ; the one to inflict punishment upon the body,
to punish the outward man ; the other to reform the inward,
— that both may be reformed'^."

For nobody ever questioned, but that the civil magistrates
have their authority from God for this end, " That knowing
Whose ministers they are, they may above all things seek
God's honour and glory ; that they may truly and indiffe-
rently minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and
vice, and to the maintenance of true religion and virtue."

And their power will go a great way towar.ds the doing of
this. For instance :

They can encourage such only as are good and virtuous,
and take care that profaneness and impiety shall never be
thought any qualification for favour or preferment. They
can put marks of disesteem, and of infamy, if it be necessary,
upon such as dishonour God and religion by their wicked
lives. They can take care, that sins against God shall always
be punished, at least with as great severity as those against

■^ Gibson's Cod. Jur. Eccl. Aug., p. 1077, fol. Lond. 1713.



THE DUTY OF PERSONS IN AUTHORITY. 551

meu ; or else God has given them a share of His own power
to very Httle purpose. They can take care, that the laws
which are made for the punishment of vice, and for the
support of religion, be duly executed. And they will find
it their interest, as well as duty, to do so, lest the example
prove fatal to their own authority.

If they see wickedness increase, they can search into the
cause of it; and if it is in their power (as generally it is),
they can put a stop to growing vices ; or else they do, in
some sort, command what is in their power to prevent.

If drunkenness, for instance, or whoredom, or profaning the
Lord's daij, become reigning vices, they who are clothed with
the authority of God, and zealous for His honour, will not
find it difficult to discover the causes of such corruption, if
they have a mind to remove them.

If profaneness, and making a jest of religion, and of every
thing that has relation to God, if these vices prevail, a magis-
trate will easily see, that the surest foundation of his own
authority is undermined, and will take timely care to prevent
the mischiefs that may follow.

They can take care, that such as are in the way of their
duty, and doing all in their power to suppress impiety, shall
have proper assistance, countenance, and encouragement, and
shall be secured from the insults of wicked men.

And especially they have it in their power, to set a good
example of seriousness, sobriety, of justice, truth, and piety ;
always remembering, that there is not a greater affront to
the Divine Majesty, than for a man to make use of the
authority which he has received from God, to the dishonour
of Him Whose substitute he is.

And if the Athenian Lawgiver had reason for this maxim.
That the magistrate should obey the laws, as well as the
people the magistrate, as they expected the government to
last long; if this was true reasoning with respect to human
laws, much more is it necessary to be observed with respect
to the laws of God. For the law of God knows no respect
of persons; all are subject to its sanctions; none are exempt
from its penalties ; and they that escape them here are sure
to meet Avith them hereafter.

And indeed it would be a most mischievous imvilege, with



553 THE SUPPRESSION OF VICE AND IMPIETY,

s E R M. regard to the public, if any one might sin without rebuke,



' and consequently draw down judgments upon the whole

[Josh. 22. community. This was the very case of the Israelites : " Did
■-' not Achan sin," saith the Scripture, "and wrath fell upon

the whole congregation ?" which could not be stayed till he
had not only suffered for his iniquity, but had given glory to
God in a free confession of his sin ; acknowledging, that God
is to be feared more than all earthly powers, and His judg-
ments to be dreaded more than death.

From which christians may see, that if ministers and magis-
trates should neglect their duty, and should forbear to call
offenders to an account, yet this would indeed be no favour ;
unless we should be so weak as to think it an advantage to
avoid shame and trouble in this life, which we may have
justly deserved, and to meet with confusion and punishment
eternal in the next.

Punishment is the due reward of sin ; and every sin must
be punished either here or hereafter; and, although the
punishments and censures which either the magistrate or
the Church inflict, have not always their wished-for and
saving effects, yet they are neither of them to be laid aside
for that reason, or despised. They will always have this
good effect ; they will stop the judgments of God from falling
upon the society, while the governors thereof, who are in the
jslace of God, do take care to punish wickedness. They have
this good effect besides ; those in power do their duty, and
deliver their own souls.

And if we enquire into the reasons why punishments and
censures have not their due and saving effects, we shall
find, that it is owing chiefiy to the countenance sinners meet
with from such as should avoid them, as the Si)irit of God
expressly requires them to do.

A sinner must be strangely hardened indeed, who, being
denied the means of salvation, and the free conversation of
all sober christians, and the comforts of society, is not
awakened, by the want of these blessings, into a sense of his
interest and duty.

And as sure as this Gospel which I have in my hand is
true, this is true ; that to countenance notorious evil livers, or
such as rebel against that discipline which Christ has or-



THE DUTY OF PERSONS IN AUTHORITY. 553

dained for the salvation of sinners, is " to be partakers with 2 John ver.
them in their evil deeds." And they will sooner or later,
without a bitter repentance, share in their punishment.

It is indeed to make a jest of sin, of God's Word, and His
threats therein contained ; it is to make a mock of hell and
damnation.

It is just doing what the Israelite did, in bringing a Xumb. 25.
Moabitish woman in the sight of Moses, and the whole con-
gregation. As if men were not only not afraid of men, nor
of God, but as if they defied Him, His authority, and His
anger ; as if they were resolved to live in the profession of
Christianity, with all the vices of heathens, on purpose to
make the Christian religion more contemptible.

These are generally the last sins ; and when it is come to
this, men are then filling up the measure of their iniquities.

But to return to our subject. God is the Author and
Fountain of authority, both in the Church and in the State ;
these must therefore support one another in all lawful things,
or both of them will suffer. And then, and then only, they
answer the end of their institution, and the order of pro-
vidence, when both concur to promote the honour of God, to
suppress the growing vices of the age, and to prevent the
wicked from infecting the good.

And one would think it should be as reasonable to keep
notorious sinners from corrupting others, as it is to prevent
such as have the plague from infecting those that have it
not.

To conclude : Whoever does prevent any degree of sin,
does certainly prevent some degree of judgments and misery
to a nation ; and is so far a benefactor.

May it please God to awaken all that are in authority,
whether in Church or State, and make us sensible that we
are answerable for all the sins which it is in our power to
prevent, and that we have more souls besides our own to
answer for.

Now to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be all
honour and glory, world without end. Amen.



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Online LibraryThomas WilsonThe works of the right reverend father in God, Thomas Wilson, D.D., Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man (Volume 2) → online text (page 49 of 49)