Public offenses should be handled immediately, not as private offenses which Matthew 18 concerns--Durham

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The view that Matthew 18:15ff concerns private offenses, and not public notorious offenses, which must be handled with immediacy to ward off multiplying of offenses, error etc., is not just the view of a few though notable Presbyterians, but is clearly the understanding of whole national churches i.e. the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as is clear from Walter Stewart's Collections, which functioned as a sort of BOCO from 1709 in both Scotland and the colonies.

The section noted is, for those familiar with it, very much drawing on James Durham's Concerning Scandal, one of the most influential works on the subject in Presbyterian literature.

Durham: "When an offense is to be accounted public
An offense then that is to be accounted public, that is, which is so in respect of its notoriety or publicness and such as is not the object of private admonition, but whereof a church judicatory is immediately to take notice, may be considered in respect of its first instant, or in respect of some following circumstance; for what is required in the nature of the sin itself, has been spoken to already. (1) It is public in the first respect, [1] when it is done before so many as probably cannot be satisfied with private admonition, so that thereby there is a hazard to many to be scandalized.

[2] It is public when it seems to be done with contempt and an high hand, as if a person were owning the same. Thus a scandal that has fewer witnesses, may be accounted public, when another, it may be, actually known to as many, is not to be accounted such, because in this case there is no access to private admonition, the person being like a swine, ready to turn on the admonisher. Thus suppose Absalom’s incest had not been actually known to many, yet the very circumstances of his doing it openly, and purposely that it might be known, made it of a public nature. Thus sometimes it is more necessary to take notice of an offense committed in a public place, though it may be few know the same, than of a thing done more privately, because as to them it might have been public to many, and it shows an humor and corruption that is beyond private admonition, when a thing is so circumstantiated.

[3] Sometimes offenses will have an horror, and an indignation wakened against them, even in respect of such circumstances as to be drunk, lascivious, and such like, are offenses, but to be so in a market place or in public streets, even supposing it to be in a day when few do actually see it, wakens an indignation in the hearts of sober men, as being an affront to religion and order, and inconsistent with Christianity and civility, much more than if it had been in a private place, or privately; for that is before the Sun to do so, as Zimrie’s act was, which provoked Phinehas’s zeal.

[4] An offense is public when it is generally accounted to be a certain truth and not a suspicion only, as being a thing in its evidence known to so many (beside what is reported to others) that it cannot be supposed that an ingenuous mind can have access to deny or shift the same, without some indignation in the hearts of those that know it.

[5] Sometimes an offense is to be accounted public when though it may be many are not witnesses thereof, yet when many are in hazard to be infected thereby; as suppose those witnesses to be such as cannot rest quiet in a private satisfaction, but they have either spread it, or are in hazard to spread it, and it may be long afterwards they make it a ground of reproach. In this case it becomes a scandal not only to the first witnesses, but also to those to whom it is reported. So that although it was not at first public, yet it becomes so by the rumor thereof. This infectiousness may also proceed from the time wherein it is committed, the person who committed it, the nature of the fact that is committed (which may more readily ensnare others than facts of some other nature), from those also before whom it was committed. Therefore in such cases it is necessary that public notice be taken thereof.

(2) Therefore, in the second place, we said that some offenses not very public in respect of the fact, yet may by some concurring circumstances be such as the bringing of them in public may be necessary for the edifying of the church at such a time, then that way is to be taken. As suppose [1], that such a sin is in some places scarcely counted a sin; or [2], if it be secretly and frequently in use among others; or [3], if the person found guilty is generally suspected of loose and untender walking in such things, although particulars are not public; or [4], if they be, under false pretexts of tenderness, ready to seduce others to something sinful, or in the like cases. In which, though the fact is not so public, yet the scandal, or hazard, and the benefit of a rebuke are public, and therefore that way is to be followed, because they are necessary for the edifying of the church, which is the end wherefore public rebukes are appointed.
See James Durham, Concerning Scandal (Naphtali Press, 1990), 93-95.

One can also show from the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly and from their debate papers over church polity (The Grand Debate) that the assembly believed Matthew 18 concerned private offenses that would possibly proceed to public censor. Gillespie answering the Erastian argument, “Christ would not have sent his disciples for private injuryes to civill court….” Van Dixhoorn, Minutes, II.525. The assembly as a whole answering the congregationalist minority can be inferred to say so in their reproving an inadequate method of argument from Matthew 18 concerning subordination of assemblies. "Our brethren should have shown what method, terms, bounds, or subordinations of proceedings, Christ had prescribed to the church when offenses are public and openly scandalous, as well as when private and known but to a single brother.” The Westminster Assembly’s Grand Debate (Naphtali Press, 2014), 231.
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