It is the will of God that His children “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” To this end the apostle prays (Romans 15:5), “Now, the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one to another according to Christ Jesus, that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That this blessed attainment of oneness of mind and judgment should have been frustrated through the working of Satan hitherto, and instead thereof the spectacle presented of a Babel of conflicting doctrines and opinions, is matter for deep humiliation, confession, and sorrow before God.
If any measure of divine unity is to be brought about, it must needs come down to us from above, and the beginning of the blessing will be found in brokenness of heart and true contrition concerning the enormity of the evil.
This, if genuine, will be accompanied by self-examination. “For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart” (Judges 5:16). The root of all divisions and contrarieties of mind and judgment is the deceitful heart. “They are a people that do err in their hearts,” that is the root; “they have not known My ways,” that is the result (Psalm 95.) One of the most stupendous manifestations of the judgment of God upon human self-exaltation ever known was the confounding of the language of those who had been till then of one language and of one speech, so that they could not understand one another. It was “Babel,” or “confusion.” Is there not even such a judgment from God upon His people at this present time? Are not the conflicting views upon almost every subject within the boards of the Bible; the weird and twisted interpretations; efforts to arrive at oneness of mind, whether on prophetic, ecclesiastical, or any other subject resulting only in the fuller manifestation of the greatness of the gulfs that seem fixed between those who ought to be perfectly joined together—are not these things evidence that judgment has indeed begun at the house of God?
But there was another form of judgment more dreadful still, viz., when God turned the sword of every man against his fellow (see Judges 7:22; 1 Sam. 14:20). And the application of it to New Testament times is no fancy; for do we not read, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another “(Gal. 5:15)? Is it not the case that the precious Word of God, to be used in the grace of the Spirit for edifying and comforting, has been handled in the flesh, and made the instrument for hacking and hewing, for dividing and consuming?
It has been well said by one that if unity is ever to be manifested on earth, it will, somehow or other, come by way of the Bible. This we are persuaded is true. Departure from God and from His Word is the root of all the evil, and the cure can only be in a genuine return to that same God and to that same Word.
This return must be individual—each one in his and her own soul’s relation with God —and when grace for such return is given from above, there will be certain infallible marks. First, there will be meekness of spirit and humbleness of mind. Of such it is written: “To this man will I look “(Isa. 66:2); “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psa. 51:17); “The Lord is nigh unto and saveth such” (Psa. 34:18); and finally, “With this man will I dwell” (Isa. 57:15); “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel” (Hos. 13:1). There is a gentleness that makes great and a grace in the trembling speech that wins respect and esteem. The truly contrite will tremble at the Word, and will tremble as they speak it. Alas! for the hypercritical dogmatism that issues as thunderbolts its latest constructions and conclusions, demanding that they shall be implicitly received; or, if not, the man who dares to question or reject, is denounced as dishonest or sneered at as an imbecile!
Such a spirit may build indeed a structure in keeping with itself, and boastingly cry, “The temple of the Lord are these”; and glory in a unity gained at the expense of excluding all who have not so learned. But if aught is to be ever wrought that God will own, it will be marked by meekness of spirit and lowliness of mind.
Another mark will ever be characteristic of that which is of God. The element of love will pervade and encircle it. The truth will be spoken in love, and acted in love, and pressed upon heart and conscience in love. Where this exists, evil surmisings will be at an end—“love thinketh no evil.” There will be no vanting of self—no being puffed up, as at Corinth, for one party against another; no glory in majorities; no seeking of our own, but a bearing, a believing, a hoping, an enduring, a long-suffering accompanied with kindness that only God can impart.
The cause that is divine will need no resort to evil-speaking to advance it, and no unseemly forwardness or disparaging of others to maintain it.
Another mark will be the firm refusal to judge in matters concerning which God has not given command to judge.
There are definite rules laid down for the judgment of evil in the assembly, and those who are acting in fellowship with God will seek to act up to these rules, but not to go beyond them.
Who shall dare to legislate for or judge a fellow-servant of the Lord as to how far he shall go in becoming all things to all men, that he might gain them? And if now, one servant of the Lord goes with the Lord’s message where another would not feel liberty to go, who shall judge or condemn him? “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” “To his own master he standeth or falleth.”
The fact that every one of us shall give account of himself to God, effectually prohibits fellow-servants from judging one another as to their individual path or motives.
The repeated injunction not to judge, first spoken by the Lord (Matt, 7), again by Paul (Rom 14:10-13), and by James (James 4:11, 12), must have a more definite and general application than is usually accorded to it. We are persuaded that the spirit which indulges in perpetual judgment and censure of others is not of God. It alienates and separates many friends; it fosters pride and self-righteousness, and results in barrenness and joylessness of soul.
Very different is the spirit which in love would seek to enlighten, to direct by patient instruction—line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little—into ways and paths more pleasing to God. Love, whilst dealing with the conscience, only draws its gentle cords the tighter. Not so the spirit of judgment. It censures, it condemns, it rebukes, it casts off, it imputes evil motives, and says, “Let the Lord be glorified!” “Malicious words” are not lacking now as of old wherewith to follow those whom fleshly zeal casts out (3 John).
Differences of judgment there will be, and must be, until perfect knowledge is attained. There is the ignorance of a child in the infant class—the ignorance of the boy in the higher form, whose slowness and negligence make him a dunce. There is the ignorance of those who have attained to years, but never had the opportunity to learn, and the yet deeper ignorance of those who have been wrongly taught, and who have afterwards with greater pains to unlearn what they learnt. All these distinctions are to be found in the spiritual sphere, and must be reckoned with. Discernment is needed, suitably to deal with every case, as well as patience and grace. Love will wait and welcome every little step of attainment, whilst impatience and fleshly zeal will seek escape from the burden in the heartless sentence of expulsion from the school.
Unchristlike as well as disastrous and hopeless is the policy that gathers around a little company of clever learners, and denounces all the rest as wilfully ignorant.
There is an essential difference between a precept and a principle. Concerning a precept or command, there is little or no room for diversity of judgment. Even a precept may be misunderstood through the influences of tradition and false teaching, as, for instance, baptism. Disobedience to a precept cannot usually be accounted for on the ground of misapprehension. It arises generally from the want of the will to obey. Very different is it with a principle. The present dispensation is more than any previous period one of principles, requiring spiritual intelligence to apprehend and apply them. And the difficulty of such application is a thousandfold increased by the divisions and confoundings of these last days.
Nothing is more contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ than the judging of others to be ungodly or reprobate, who fail to apprehend principles which to us may be very plain and afford very definite guidance. Yet, is it not the case that some who, after years of blindness, have had their eyes opened to the application of a principle, attempt to force their present judgment upon others who cannot see it, charging with wilful ignorance or dishonesty some who far excel their judges in grace and godliness.
The poor, bewildered sheep know not which way to turn. Thousands are waiting to be gently led and fed with food convenient for them as they are able to bear it. But if their “doubtful thoughts” are to be judged (Rom. 14:1, margin) ere they are accounted fit for any fellowship whatever, how are they to be reached, how helped, how led on into ways which are according to truth? On some this burden is pressing heavily; yet, to tell the truth, they are hindered, perhaps unconsciously, from acting upon their convictions, through fear of the judgment of brethren.
At present there is a process going on which is loosening the bonds of sectarianism. Many minds are being prepared to surrender traditional teaching, and to accept the Word of God as the only and final appeal. If such are held at arm’s length, and if fellowship with them is regarded as necessarily a compromise of the truth, is it any wonder that they are stumbled and turned away from a position which seems to them to involve a bondage to man more exacting than the sectarianism in which they were born and brought up.
Owing to upbringing prejudice and traditional influences there are powerful hindrances in the minds of many believers to the reception of the simple teaching of the Scriptures as to church order, ministry, baptism, and other important and practical truths.
But Satan’s success in sowing discord among brethren who have sought after scriptural simplicity in their mode of assembling has been such that these very gatherings have become a stumbling-block, instead of an attractive power to other believers. Many whose minds were open to receive the teaching of the Scriptures have avoided “the meetings,” fearing lest they should become entangled amid endless controversies.
Necessarily the reception of truths to which they are unaccustomed is with such a slow process: First, they need to be warmed and edified in an atmosphere of love that receives them because they belong to Christ, and upon that ground alone. Then in patience and grace, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little,” the truth will work its way, and help be afforded to many who, by a bald presentation of truths for which they were unprepared, would only have been driven away.