Dear Brethren and Sisters in -----: My mind has been exceedingly troubled in regard to your condition. I have not been able to sleep, and I arise at twelve o'clock to write to J, and to you as a church. I do not know what might have been the condition of J at the present time had you pursued a righteous, Christian course toward him--such a course as every child of God should pursue in such a case. Some of you will not be able to comprehend my words, for your own course has placed you where you have not sanctified discernment. You have allowed strong, hard feelings against him to come into your hearts, and have justified yourselves in treating him with indifference and even contempt. You have reasoned that by his unbelief and his wrong course he was certainly injuring the church and endangering souls, and you must have no fellowship with him. But will you, in the light of God's great standard of righteousness, critically examine every word and act of your own that you can call to mind and compare these with the life of Christ? If you have been doing the will of God, then His light and His approval will second your efforts, and prosperity will attend you. I wish the members of this once prosperous church would each begin to build over against his own house. When they see their course in its true light they will know that they have made a very great mistake in allowing their own critical, pharisaical spirit to control their tongues and develop itself in their treatment of their brethren. This unchristian harshness has excluded Jesus from the church and has brought in a spirit of dissension. It has fostered a disposition to judge and condemn, a hatred of those who do not see things as you see them. Even if your brethren say and do many things that really injure you, will you push them to one side, and say: "I am holier than thou"?
"By their fruits ye shall know them." Christ has not been revealed in your deportment toward some who were much nearer the kingdom of heaven than yourselves. The Lord has opened before you your wrong toward His children--your want of mercy and love, your determination to control minds and make them see things just as you see them. And when light came to you, what course did you take? Did you merely admit that you were wrong, or did you heartily confess your error and humble your proud hearts before God? Did you cast aside your ways and accept God's teachings? Did you go to the very ones you had bruised and wounded, and say: "I have been wrong; I have sinned against you. Forgive me. I have failed; I have worked in my own spirit. I had a zeal, but not according to knowledge. It was the spirit of Jehu, rather than the meekness and lowliness of Christ. The word of God directs: 'Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.' Will you pray for me that God will forgive me for the distress and anguish I have caused you?"
If you who have engaged in this work of bruising and condemning have not heartily repented, then light, peace, and joy will not come into your souls. When you are careful, kind, and tender to your brethren in the same degree that you have been hard, unforgiving, and oppressive, you will confess your faults and make restitution as far as possible; and when you have done all on your part you may ask the Lord to do that which it is impossible for you to do--heal the wounds you have made, forgive you, and blot out your transgression. When there is so great reluctance to confess a wrong which is laid open and plain before the erring, it shows that they are controlled by their own untamable, unsanctified natures rather than by the spirit of the gospel of Christ.
If God has ever spoken by me, you have most earnest work to do in zealous repentance for showing to the erring the satanic element in your character, not in coldness and indifference merely, but in neglect and contempt. If they are indeed in darkness and doing things that imperil their souls, you should manifest the greater interest in them. Show them that while you will be true to principle and will not swerve from the right, you love their souls. Let them know by your words and actions that you have not a spirit of revenge and retaliation, but that for their sakes you will sacrifice feeling and subdue self. Represent Jesus, our pattern; manifest His spirit at all times and under all circumstances, and let that mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus. Your ways have not been God's ways; your will has not been God's will. The precious plant of love has not been cultivated, and watered by the dews of grace. Self-love, self-righteousness, self-complacency, have exerted a controlling power.
What has Jesus done for you, and what is He continually doing for us individually? What have you that you have not received? Said Christ: "I am the Vine, ye are the branches." "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." The branches do not sustain the vine, but the vine supports and nourishes the branches. The church does not support Christ, but Christ, by His vital power, supports the church. It is not enough to be a branch; we are to be fruitful branches. "He that abideth in Me," said Jesus, "and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit." But if the fruit produced be that of the thornbush, it is evident that we are not branches of the living Vine.
Life is disciplinary. While in the world, the Christian will meet with adverse influences. There will be provocations to test the temper; and it is by meeting these in a right spirit that the Christian graces are developed. If injuries and insults are meekly borne, if insulting words are responded to by gentle answers, and oppressive acts by kindness, this is evidence that the Spirit of Christ dwells in the heart, that sap from the living Vine is flowing to the branches. We are in the school of Christ in this life, where we are to learn to be meek and lowly of heart; and in the day of final accounts we shall see that all the obstacles we meet, all the hardships and annoyances that we are called to bear, are practical lessons in the application of principles of Christian life. If well endured, they develop the Christlike in the character and distinguish the Christian from the worldling.
There is a high standard to which we are to attain if we would be children of God, noble, pure, holy, and undefiled; and a pruning process is necessary if we would reach this standard. How would this pruning be accomplished if there were no difficulties to meet, no obstacles to surmount, nothing to call out patience and endurance? These trials are not the smallest blessings in our experience. They are designed to nerve us to determination to succeed. We are to use them as God's means to gain decided victories over self instead of allowing them to hinder, oppress, and destroy us.
Character will be tested. Christ will be revealed in us if we are indeed branches of the living Vine. We shall be patient, kind, and forbearing, cheerful amid frets and irritations. Day by day and year by year we shall conquer self and grow into a noble heroism. This is our allotted task; but it cannot be accomplished without continual help from Jesus, resolute decision, unwavering purpose, continual watchfulness, and unceasing prayer. Each one has a personal battle to fight. Each must win his own way through struggles and discouragements. Those who decline the struggle lose the strength and joy of victory. No one, not even God, can carry us to heaven unless we make the necessary effort on our part. We must put features of beauty into our lives. We must expel the unlovely natural traits that make us unlike Jesus. While God works in us to will and to do of His own good pleasure, we must work in harmony with Him. The religion of Christ transforms the heart. It makes the worldly-minded man heavenly-minded. Under its influence the selfish man becomes unselfish because this is the character of Christ. The dishonest, scheming man becomes upright, so that it is second nature to him to do unto others as he would have others do unto him. The profligate is changed from impurity to purity. He forms correct habits, for the gospel of Christ has become to him a savor of life unto life.
Now, while probation lingers, it does not become one to pronounce sentence upon others and look to himself as a model man. Christ is our model; imitate Him, plant your feet in His steps. You may professedly believe every point of present truth, but unless you practice these truths it will avail you nothing. We are not to condemn others; this is not our work; but we should love one another and pray for one another. When we see one err from the truth, then we may weep over him as Christ wept over Jerusalem. Let us see what our heavenly Father in His word says about the erring: "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." "If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." What a great missionary work is this! how much more Christlike than for poor, fallible mortals to be ever accusing and condemning those who do not exactly meet their minds. Let us remember that Jesus knows us individually and is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He knows the wants of each of His creatures and reads the hidden, unspoken grief of every heart. If one of the little ones for whom He died is injured, He sees it and calls the offender to account. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He cares for His feeble, sickly, wandering sheep. He knows them all by name. The distress of every sheep and every lamb of His flock touches His heart of sympathizing love, and the cry for aid reaches His ear. One of the greatest sins of the shepherds of Israel is thus pointed out by the prophet: "The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them."
Jesus cares for each one as though there were not another individual on the face of the earth. As Deity He exerts mighty power in our behalf, while as our Elder Brother He feels for all our woes. The Majesty of heaven held not Himself aloof from degraded, sinful humanity. We have not a high priest who is so high, so lifted up, that He cannot notice us or sympathize with us, but one who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
How different from this spirit is the feeling of indifference and contempt that has been manifested by some in ----- toward J and those who have been affected by his influence. If ever the transforming grace of God was needed, it is needed in this church. In judging and condemning a brother, they have undertaken to do a work that God never put into their hands. A hardness of heart, a censorious, condemnatory spirit that would destroy individuality and independence, has been woven into their Christian experience, and they have lost the love of Jesus out of their hearts. Make haste, brethren, to get these things off your soul before it shall be said in heaven: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still and he that is holy, let him be holy still."
You will have many perplexities to meet in your Christian life in connection with the church, but do not try too hard to mold your brethren. If you see that they do not meet the requirements of God's word, do not condemn; if they provoke, do not retaliate. When things are said that would exasperate, quietly keep your soul from fretting. You see many things which appear wrong in others, and you want to correct these wrongs. You commence in your own strength to work for a reform, but you do not go about it in the right way. You must labor for the erring with a heart subdued, softened by the Spirit of God, and let the Lord work through you, the agent. Roll your burden on Jesus. You feel that the Lord must take up the case where Satan is striving for the mastery over some soul; but you are to do what you can in humility and meekness, and put the tangled work, the complicated matters, into the hands of God. Follow the directions in His word, and leave the outcome of the matter to His wisdom. Having done all you can to save your brother, cease worrying, and go calmly about other pressing duties. It is no longer your matter, but God's.
Do not, through impatience, cut the knot of difficulty, making matters hopeless. Let God untangle the snarled-up threads for you. He is wise enough to manage the complications of our lives. He has skill and tact. We cannot always see His plans; we must wait patiently their unfolding and not mar and destroy them. He will reveal them to us in His own good time. Seek for unity; cultivate love and conformity to Christ in all things. He is the source of unity and strength; but you have not sought for Christian unity that you might knit hearts together in love.
There is work for you to do in the church and out of the church. "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." The fruit we bear is the only test of the character of the tree before the world. This is the proof of our discipleship. If our works are of such a character that as branches of the living Vine we bear rich clusters of precious fruit, then we wear before the world God's own badge as His sons and daughters. We are living epistles, known and read of all men.
Now, I fear that you will fail in doing the work you must do to redeem the past and become living, fruit-bearing branches. If you do as God would have you, His blessing will come into the church. You have not yet been humble enough to make thorough work and meet the mind of the Spirit of God. There has been self-justification, self-pleasing, self-vindication, when there should have been humiliation, contrition, and repentance. You should remove every stumbling block and make "straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way." It is not too late for wrongs to be righted; but you must not feel that you are whole and have no need of a physician, for you need help. When you come to Jesus with a broken heart, He will help and bless you, and you will go forth in the Master's work with courage and energy. The best evidence that you are in Christ is the fruit you bear. If you are not truly united to Him, your light and privileges will condemn and ruin you.