Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is meekness, patience, gentleness, and long-suffering. A true disciple of Christ will seek to imitate the Pattern. He will study to do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. Those whose hearts are still defiled with sin cannot be zealous of good works. They fail to keep the first four precepts of the Decalogue, defining the duty of man to God; neither do they keep the last six, defining the duty of man to his fellow men. Their hearts are filled with selfishness, and they are constantly finding fault with others who are better than themselves. They put their hands to a work which God has not given them, but leave undone the work He has left for them to do, which is to take heed to themselves, lest any root of bitterness springing up, trouble the church and defile it. They turn their eyes outward to watch lest the character of others should not be right, when their eyes should be turned inward to scan and criticize their own actions. When they empty the heart of self, envy, evil surmising, malice, they will not be climbing on the judgment seat and pronouncing sentence upon others who are in God's sight better than they.
He who would reform others must first reform himself. He must obtain the spirit of his Master and be willing, like Him, to suffer reproach and to practice self-denial. In comparison with the worth of one soul, the whole world sinks into insignificance. A desire to exercise authority, to lord it over God's heritage, will, if indulged, result in the loss of souls. Those who really love Jesus will seek to conform their own lives to the Pattern and will labor in His spirit for the salvation of others.
In order to secure man to Himself and ensure his eternal salvation, Christ left the royal courts of heaven and came to this earth, endured the agonies of sin and shame in man's stead, and died to make him free. In view of the infinite price paid for man's redemption, how dare any professing the name of Christ treat with indifference one of His little ones? How carefully should brethren and sisters in the church guard every word and action lest they hurt the oil and the wine! How patiently, kindly, and affectionately should they deal with the purchase of the blood of Christ! How faithfully and earnestly should they labor to lift up the desponding and the discouraged! How tenderly should they treat those who are trying to obey the truth and have no encouragement at home, who have constantly to breathe the atmosphere of unbelief and darkness!
Treatment of the Erring
If a brother is supposed to have erred, his brethren and sisters should not whisper it among themselves and comment upon it, magnifying these supposed errors and faults. Much of this work is done, and the result is that the displeasure of God rests upon those who do it, and Satan exults that he can weaken and annoy those who might be strong in the Lord. The world sees their weakness and judges this class and the truth they profess to love, by the fruits manifested in them.
"Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoreth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved." Here the backbiter is excluded from abiding in the tabernacle of God and dwelling in the holy hill of Zion. He that taketh up a reproach against his neighbor cannot receive the approval of God.
How many ministers, while engaged in a good work in which souls are turning to God and to the truth, are called away to settle some church trial among brethren who were wholly wrong themselves and who had a contentious and overbearing spirit?
This work of withdrawing men from their fields of labor has been repeated again and again in the progress of this cause. It is a device of the great adversary of man to hinder the work of God. When souls that are upon the point of deciding in favor of the truth are thus left to unfavorable influences, they lose their interest, and it is very rarely that so powerful an impression can again be made upon them. Satan is ever seeking some device to call the minister from his field of labor at this critical point, that the results of his labors may be lost.
There are in the church unconsecrated, unconverted men and women who think more of maintaining their own dignity and their own opinions than they do of the salvation of their fellow creatures; and Satan works upon these to stir up difficulties that consume the time and labor of the minister, and many souls are lost as the result.
While the members of the church are in a divided state of feeling, their hearts are hard and unimpressible. The efforts of the minister are like blows upon cold iron, and each party becomes more set in his own way than before. The minister is placed in a most unenviable position; for, though he should decide ever so wisely, his decision must displease someone, and thus the party spirit is strengthened.
If the minister makes his home with some one family, others are sure to be jealous lest he shall receive impressions unfavorable to themselves. If he gives counsel, some will say, "Such a one has been talking with him," and his words have no weight with them. Thus their souls are armed with distrust and evil surmising, and the minister is left at the mercy of their prejudices and jealousies. Too often he leaves the matter worse than he found it. Had he utterly refused to listen to the colored, one-sided statements of any, had he given words of advice in accordance with the Bible rule and said, like Nehemiah, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down," that church would have been in a far better condition.
Ministers and lay members of the church displease God when they allow individuals to tell them the errors and faults of their brethren. They should not listen to these reports, but should inquire: Have you strictly followed the injunctions of your Saviour? Have you gone to the offender and told him his faults between you and him alone? And has he refused to hear you? "Have you carefully and prayerfully taken two or three others, and labored with him in tenderness, humility, and meekness, your heart throbbing with love for his soul?" If the Captain's orders, in the rules given for the erring, have been strictly followed, then an advance step is to be taken-tell it to the church, and let action be taken in the case according to the Scriptures. Then it is that heaven will ratify the decision made by the church in cutting off the offending member if he does not repent. If these steps have not been taken, close the ear to complaints, and thus refuse to take up a reproach against your neighbor. If there were no brethren and sisters to do this, evil tongues would soon cease; for they would not find so favorable a field in which to work in biting and devouring one another.
Selection of Leaders
The apostle Paul writes to Titus: "Set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God." It would be well for all our ministers to give heed to these words and not to hurry men into office without due consideration and much prayer that God would designate by His Holy Spirit whom He will accept.
Said the inspired apostle: "Lay hands suddenly on no man." In some of our churches the work of organizing and of ordaining elders has been premature; the Bible rule has been disregarded, and consequently grievous trouble has been brought upon the church. There should not be so great haste in electing leaders as to ordain men who are in no way fitted for the responsible work--men who need to be converted, elevated, ennobled, and refined before they can serve the cause of God in any capacity.
The gospel net gathers both good and bad. It takes time for character to be developed; there must be time to learn what men really are. The family of the one suggested for office should be considered. Are they in subjection? Can the man rule his own house with honor? What character have his children? Will they do honor to the father's influence? If he has no tact, wisdom, or power of godliness at home in managing his own family, it is safe to conclude that the same defects will be carried into the church, and the same unsanctified management will be seen there. It will be far better to criticize the man before he is put into office than afterward, better to pray and counsel before taking the decisive step than to labor to correct the consequences of a wrong move.
In some churches the leader has not the right qualifications to educate the members of the church to be workers. Tact and judgment have not been used to keep up a living interest in the work of God. The leader is slow and tedious; he talks too much and prays too long in public; he has not that living connection with God which would give him a fresh experience.
The leaders of churches in every place should be earnest, full of zeal and unselfish interest, men of God who can give the right mold to the work. They should make their requests to God in faith. They may devote all the time they wish to secret prayer, but in public they should make their prayers and their testimonies short and to the point. Long, dry prayers and long exhortations should be avoided. If the brethren and sisters would have something to say that will refresh and edify others, it must first be in their hearts. They must daily be connected with God, drawing their supplies from His exhaustless storehouse and bringing therefrom things new and old. If their own souls have been vivified by the Spirit of God, they will cheer, strengthen, and encourage others; but if they have not drunk at the living fountain of salvation themselves, they will not know how to lead others there.
The necessity of experimental religion must be urged upon those who accept the theory of the truth. Ministers must keep their own souls in the love of God and then impress upon the people the necessity of an individual consecration, a personal conversion. All must obtain a living experience for themselves; they must have Christ enshrined in the heart, his Spirit controlling the affections, or their profession of faith is of no value, and their condition will be even worse than if they had never heard the truth.
Such arrangements should be made for the little companies accepting the truth as shall secure the prosperity of the church. One man may be appointed to lead for a week or a month, then another for a few weeks; and thus different persons may be enlisted in the work, and after a suitable trial someone should be selected by the voice of the church to be the acknowledged leader, never, however, to be chosen for more than one year. Then another may be selected, or the same one may be re-elected, if his service has proved a blessing to the church. The same principle should be followed in selecting men for other responsible positions, as in the offices of the conference. Untried men should not be elected as presidents of conferences. Many fail to exercise proper discernment in these important matters where eternal interests are involved.
We profess to be the depositaries of God's law; we claim to have greater light and to aim at a higher standard than any other people upon the earth; therefore we should show greater perfection of character and more earnest devotion. A most solemn message has been entrusted to those who have received the light of present truth. Our light should shine forth to brighten the pathway of those who are in darkness. As members of the visible church, and workers in the vineyard of the Lord, all professed Christians should do their utmost to preserve peace, harmony, and love in the church. Mark the prayer of Christ: "That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." The unity of the church is the convincing evidence that God has sent Jesus into the world as its Redeemer. This is an argument which worldlings cannot controvert. Therefore Satan is constantly working to prevent this union and harmony, that unbelievers, by witnessing backsliding, dissension, and strife among professed Christians, may become disgusted with religion and be confirmed in their impenitence. God is dishonored by those who profess the truth while they are at variance and enmity with one another. Satan is the great accuser of the brethren, and all who engage in this work are enlisted in his service.
We profess to have more truth than other denominations; yet if this does not lead to greater consecration, to purer, holier lives, of what benefit is it to us? It would be better for us never to have seen the light of truth than to profess to accept it and not be sanctified through it.
In order to determine how important are the interests involved in the conversion of the soul from error to truth, we must appreciate the value of immortality; we must realize how terrible are the pains of the second death; we must comprehend the honor and glory awaiting the ransomed, and understand what it is to live in the presence of Him who died that He might elevate and ennoble man, and give to the overcomer a royal diadem.
The worth of a soul cannot be fully estimated by finite minds. How gratefully will the ransomed and glorified ones remember those who were instrumental in their salvation! No one will then regret his self-denying efforts and persevering labors, his patience, forbearance, and earnest heart yearnings for souls that might have been lost had he neglected his duty or become weary in well-doing.
Now these white-robed ones are gathered into the fold of the Great Shepherd. The faithful worker and the soul saved through his labor are greeted by the Lamb in the midst of the throne, and are led to the tree of life and to the fountain of living waters. With what joy does the servant of Christ behold these redeemed ones, who are made to share the glory of the Redeemer! How much more precious is heaven to those who have been faithful in the work of saving souls! "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever."