(Reply to inquiry of M. R. Langford.)
“Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing (Matthew 5:25-26).”
It should be remembered that what is commonly called Christ’s sermon on the mount, in which this passage occurs, was addressed exclusively to his disciples. At the commencement of this chapter we are told that “Seeing the multitudes,” which thronged around him, “he went up into a mountain, and when he was set, his disciples came unto him, and he opened his mouth and taught them,” etc. This discourse, occupying the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters, is filled with instructions to them, as disciples, and such instructions as were not by him designed for any but disciples, or he would not have purposely avoided the multitudes, and sought seclusion for the purpose of administering them. After giving them many reliable evidences of their blessed state, and many precious assurances that they should inherit the kingdom of heaven, that they should be comforted, should inherit the earth, be filled with righteousness, should obtain mercy, see God, and be called the children of God, he taught them in regard to the spirituality of the laws of his kingdom as contrasted with the letter of the law as taught by the Scribes, and enjoined upon the disciples of Moses under the former dispensation. The traditional instructions given to the carnal Israelites, with which they had been familiar, had failed to impress them with a proper knowledge and appreciation of the righteousness of the law of God, as fulfilled in the spiritual subjects of the grace of God; for what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin to condemn sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in them who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. It had been said of them in old times, in expounding the law to the carnal Israelites, “Thou shalt not kill.” But the instructions given by Christ to his disciples not only forbids them to kill, but forbids that they should be angry. “Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” As said the prophet Samuel to Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” As the gifts or offerings required of the children of Israel under the ceremonial law were typical of the gifts which are required to be employed in the church of Christ for the general edification of the whole body, we learn by this admonition that the offering or exercises of our gifts in the church cannot be acceptable to God, nor edifying to the church if we neglect the order of the house of God which requires us to “Keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” As Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, so we are required to love one another, and if need be, to lay down our life one for another. In the absence of this pure and peaceable spirit and disposition, our gifts, which we offer for the edification of the saints, and in the worship of God, are like the lame, the blind, or the sick of the flocks which were offered under the law. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar.” Thy gift may be the preaching of the word, prayer, exhortation, singing, or some other gift. Before it can be offered with acceptance upon the altar of the Lord, obedience to the command of Christ must be rendered. If we are angry with a brother without a cause we cherish the spirit of murder, and are in danger of the judgment of the church, or the apostles, which says, “We know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Should the church pronounce this judgment on us, it will exclude us from their fellowship. Or, if one brother shall say to another, Raca (vain fellow, or “thou fool”), he shall be in danger of the council, or of the judgment of the church, or of hell-fire, in the sense in which these words are used by the apostle James (see James 3:6) defiling the whole body, setting on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.
Seeing then the importance of these instructions, and what dreadful consequences result from disobedience, or neglect, of the command of our Lord in this case, “Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him.” Thine adversary, we understand to be the brother whom we remember has aught against us. While we are in the way with him is while the matter is between the offender and the offended brothers, and has spread no further. How much easier it is, generally, to settle a difficulty when it first occurs than after allowing our feelings to become fretted; it is like a sore that becomes worse from long neglect. In all personal grievances between brethren, there is a time when it is between them, and when by proper concession and lenity an agreement may be effected, and the harmony and peace of the church preserved. There is no time to be lost; before you offer your gift, before you attend to anything else, however important, go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Lest at any time the adversary, the offended brother, deliver thee to the judge. The church is invested with power to judge and decide all matters of difficulty between her members, according to the laws of Christ, and her judgment, when rendered according to the word and spirit of the gospel, is final, and from it there is no appeal. When the offended brother has laid the matter before a gospel church, it is out of his hands, he cannot recall it, it is in the hands of the judge, and cannot now be settled by the two with whom it originated.
And the judge deliver thee to the officer. This is figurative language, as judges always first adjudicate the case, and pass the sentence of the law upon the convicted before he delivers him to the officer to execute the sentence. So the church as the judge in this case having given her decisive judgment against the offender delivers him over to the discipline of the church, and he is cast into prison. A prisoner is one whose liberties are taken from him, and who is shut up and cannot walk at large. And is it not so with one who has enjoyed the liberty of the sons of God to mingle in sweet fellowship with the saints, to offer his gifts on the Lord’s holy altar, to preach, exhort, sing and pray in the fellowship of all his brethren? Shut out from communion and fellowship, he is like the Israelite who was put out from the congregation of the Lord for his transgression or uncleanness until he should be perfectly cleansed, and be approved by the priest, and then come with the offering required in his case by the law. Though a child of God might hold at his command all the treasures, society and vanities of the world, he is a prisoner and must deeply feel that he is so in very deed if he is shut out of the liberty of the church. “Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” As the convicted Hebrew could not be released from his embarrassment, and restored to the congregation of the Lord until the priest had pronounced him clean, and then with his offering he was permitted to return, so until God shall give the excluded person a sufficient amount of repentance and humility to satisfy the whole church, and fully restore him to their fellowship, he cannot come out of his prison, or again enjoy the liberty of the saints. But when Ephriam is filled with his own ways, and is sufficiently humbled under the mighty hand of God to bemoan his condition, and smite upon his thigh, and come humbly back to the church with his offering of confession, and give full evidence that his heart is broken, and his spirit is contrite before the Lord, then the uttermost farthing is paid, and nothing more is or can be required, and there is more joy in heaven (the church) over this repentant sinner than over all those who have not transgressed.
October 15, 1866.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 401 - 404