by John Flavel, a minimally edited excerpt from Works, 6.586–589 

The SINS most incident to the Members of particular Churches, plainly forbidden in the Word, and for which God sets Marks of His Displeasure on them.

The DUTIES enjoined on them in the Scripture, in the conscientious Discharge whereof; they receive signal Fruits of His Favour.

I. The first, and more general sin of church members, is a defect in their care and circumspection, to prevent all just offences to them that are without: forbidden, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without” (Col 4:5). By a careless disregard of this rule, we harden the wicked in their sins, bring guilt upon ourselves, and reproach upon thename and ways of God.

I. Their first duty is, to be often together in acts of Christian communion. “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another” (Mal 3:16). Such meetings for prayers, repetition of sermons, and Christian conference, greatly conduce to mutual edification; which is the principal intention of Christian fellowship (Eph 4:16).

II. The second, and more particular sin of some church members, is idleness, and neglect of their civil callings; against the express rule. “There are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all,… such we command, and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (2 Thes 3:11–12). This brings poverty on themselves, and scandal on religion.

II. Their second duty is, to follow and back the great design of the gospel in the world, and therein assist the public ministry, by their private and prudent helping on the conversion of the carnal and careless world. “Help those women that laboured with me in the gospel” (Phil 4:3). “For the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit,… strive together with me” (Rom 15:30).

III. The third sin is tale-bearing, and revealing the secrets of families, and persons; whence many strives arise, to the cooling and quenching of mutual love; expressly forbidden. “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (Lev 19:16). “Not only idle, but tattlers also and busy-bodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Tim 5:13).

III. Their third duty is humble condescension to the infirmities of their weaker brethren, and denying themselves in what they can, without sin, that they give them no offence. “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom 15:1). “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification” (Rom 15:2).

IV. The fourth sin is an easy credulity of private whispers, and rash censures thereupon. This we ought not to do against the meanest member “lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings” (2 Cor 12:20). Much less against church-officers; “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses” (1 Tim 5:19). This strikes at the bond of peace.

IV. Their fourth duty is to be exceeding tender of the church’s unity, both in judgment, love, and practice; avoiding (as much as may be, and as far as the gospel rule allows) all causes and occasions of division and separation. “Mark them which cause divisions and offences,… and avoid them” (Rom 16:17). And “If there be… any consolation in Christ, &c. [be ye] like-minded” (Phil 2:1–2).

V. Their fifth sin is in their neglect of God’s ordinances upon slight diversions, when they are neither disabled by works of necessity, or mercy, contrary to “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb 10:25). Trivial occasions should divert no Christian from attending upon God’s ordinances.

V. Their fifth duty is a respectful carriage towards the meanest Christian, and to have higher esteem of others than themselves. External things make no difference with Christ; “In honour preferring one another” (Rom 12:10). “Ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Yet a decorum is to be kept suitable to civil differences; “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph 5:21).

VI. The sixth sin is a defect in zeal for God’s ordinances, manifested in their dilatory attendance; contrary to “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD” (Ps 122:1). And unsuitable to their first practice, “Where is then the blessedness…” (Gal 4:15)?

VI. Their sixth duty is, meekly to receive reproofs from each other for their sins, especially when the matter is just, and the manner of delivering it regular; “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil” (Ps 141:5).

VII. The seventh sin is irreverence, and want of seriousness under ordinances: contrary to “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of saints; and to be had in reverence of all that are round about him” (Ps 89:7). And this is manifest in vain attires; “The woman [ought] to have power on her head because of the angels” (1 Cor 11:10). And unseemly postures and gestures; “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools” (Ecc 5:1).

VII. Their seventh duty is, to communicate their spiritual stock of gifts, graces, and experiences, not interfering with public officers, nor by sinful partiality including some, and excluding others (to whom it is as due, and who may have more need) from the benefit thereof; “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another” (1 Pet 4:10). “Observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality” (1 Tim 5:21).

VIII. The eighth sin reproveable in them, is, the neglect of giving and taking due reproofs from each other; contrary to “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him” (Lev 19:17). And Christ’s own rule, “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (Mt 18:15). And so for taking reproofs, “Let the righteous smite me” (Ps 141:5).

VIII. Their eighth duty is, cheerfully to communicate their outward good things for the relief of their brethren: “To do good and to communicate forget not” (Heb 13:16). And the better to enable them hereunto, to be diligent in their callings; “Working with his hands…, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph 4:28). And especially to make comfortable provision for their ministers, not by way of courtesy, but duty: “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14).

IX. The ninth sin is, mutual strives and animosities, not seasonably and prudently composed among themselves, but scandalously exposed to the view of the world; contrary to the Apostle’s rule, “Is there not a wise man among you, &c. But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers? Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you” (1 Cor 6:5–7).

IX. Their ninth duty is, not only to relieve the distressed members of Christ, but to seek out, and visit them; to know their spiritual and temporal wants, in order to a full discharge of that duty; “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (Jas 1:27).

X. The tenth sin is, the privateness of their spirits, centring too much in their own concerns. This is expressly condemned: “All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil 2:21). And is contrary to Scripture example, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Cor 11:29).

X. Their tenth duty is, to put charitable constructions upon doubtful words and actions; and if either will admit a double sense always to take it in the fairest, according to the law of charity; “[Charity] beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Cor 13:7). And such a charity will defend and maintain church peace and unity.

Six Benefits of Walking by these Rules

(1) Strict and heedful attendance to these rules will put a lustre upon religion before the world, and make it glorious in the eyes of such as now despise it. “Adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Tit 2:10). Which he here speaks, to encourage all to ordinate walking.

(2) This will allure and win the world over to Christ, and wonderfully prosper and further the design of the gospel. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, &c. That I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Phil 2:15–16).

(3) This will effectually stop the mouths of all detracting and blaspheming enemies of religion. “For so is the will of God, that with well doing, ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet 2:15).

(4) This will eminently glorify God, which is the ultimate end of our beings. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).

(5) This will fill the people of God (by way of evidence) with much inward peace. “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

(6) This will secure the presence of God with, and among us; whence results both the efficacy of ordinances, and the stability and glory of the churches: For Christ walks among the golden candlesticks, and threatens the churches, in case of defection from gospel rules, to “remove the candlestick out of his place, except [they] repent” (Rev 2:1, 5).

[John Flavel (ca. 1627–1691), the son of a faithful and eminent minister, was thoroughly educated in divinity by his father before entering University College, Oxford. On 16 October, 1650, shortly after the Westminster Assembly completed her work, he was ordained by the presbytery at Salisbury. For the next twelve years, he ministered at Devon and then at Dartmouth where God crowned his ministry with many conversions. He was, however, in 1662 ejected from his pastorate under the Five-Mile Act for non-conformity to the established Anglican Church. He continued to preach in the woods and his own house with great effect. A man renowned for his prayer, his compassion for souls, his zeal and his learning, he preached his final sermon on the theme “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12) on 21 June 1691.

J.J. Lim]

25 August 2002