Who that read the solemn admonitions with which the New Testament abounds, do not feel deeply humbled under a sense of their shortcomings, and propensity to err? Were we not in the flesh, and exposed to temptations, we should not require to be thus frequently admonished; but such is our present exposure to the alluring vanities of the world, the corruptions of our own carnal nature and the temptations of Satan, that we need every admonition that is given us in the Scriptures, and we also need abundance of grace to incline and enable us to heed them. Among other trials which are common to the saints of God, their exposure to unjust injuries in their persons, their reputation, their property, or what is by far more trying to them, in that which brings down on them the unprovoked censure, suspicion and disfellowship of those whom they esteem as the excellent of the earth, among whom is all their delight. This, although more cruel than the grave, is sometimes the lot of the dear children of God, and while called to pass through these bitter waters of Meribah, while chafed and fretted in their feelings, how very apt is their carnal nature to suggest to them the idea of retaliation. Our carnal minds will urge that it is just and right that we should resent the injury done us, and smite those who have wantonly smitten us, and deal to them a just retribution for their wicked assault upon us. Self preservation is said to be among the fixed laws of our nature, and it is sometimes mistaken by even the children of God for a law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. But we, alas, have found it to be a law of our members, warring against the law of our mind. Under no circumstances are the disciples of Christ to administer retribution to those from whom they have received injuries. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves.” Your cause is before the Lord, and perfectly under his control. He will judge his people, and avenge his own elect who cry unto him night and day. There are several good reasons why the saints should not attempt to avenge themselves, of which we will call the attention of our readers to a few; and
1. Because we are forbidden to do so, not only in our text, but also in many other portions of the word. This, in the absence of all other considerations, is a sufficient reason. We cannot avenge ourselves, nor attempt to do so, without involving ourselves in an act of disobedience to our Lord and Master. He has, both by precept and example, pointed out to us the better way. By precept he has commanded us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, and do good to them who despitefully use and persecute us, and if they smite us on one cheek, turn to them the other also; if they violently take away our coat, give them our cloak also. As we reverence him, let us regard his authority. In his example he was meek and lowly; he gave his back to them who scourged him, and his cheek to them who plucked off the hair. When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he was reproached, insulted, slandered, rudely led away to be crucified, as a lamb is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep is dumb before his shearers, so he opened not his mouth. And when writhing in agony and blood upon the cross of Calvary, condemned as a criminal to die a painful and ignominious death, though he could command the hosts of heaven, and had power to summon all the legions of mighty angels, he called not for vengeance, but he cried, “Father, forgive!” Righteous precept; blessed example. Dearly beloved, let us obey the command, and follow the example of our blessed Savior.
2. Another reason why we should not avenge ourselves, is our incompetency to accurately estimate the amount of injury received, the criminality of the motive of the offender, and the amount of retribution due to the transgressor. Both from the world and from brethren, we are liable to receive injuries. From the world we have no right to expect anything less, and from brethren whom we hold near and dear, we shall sometimes encounter such treatment as is calculated to wound the spirit by which we are sealed, and provoke the corrupt passions of our yet unsubdued and sinful natures. When in conflict with the world, let us remember that our God has said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and leave the matter with him who knows how to deliver the tempted, and to reserve the ungodly to be punished. He will preserve his people from the wicked who are his hand and his sword; or, as the poet has said,
“When men of spite against me join,
They are the sword, the hand is thine.”
And when from brethren we are made to feel the force of the words of the psalmist, “It was not an enemy that reproached me; then could I have borne it; neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him; but it was thou, a man, mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company,” &c. - Psalms lv. 12-14. While in this world of conflicts, sorrows and afflictions, it is impossible but that offenses will come among the disciples. See Luke xvii. 1. But when offended by a brother or sister, instead of laboring for redress, or for the punishment of the offender, the divine rule is clearly given us, and we are commanded by our Lord Jesus to labor according to the rule to reclaim the offending brother. If he hear thee, well, thou hast gained thy brother; but if unsuccessful in laboring to reclaim him, conclude not that his is an hopeless case, for the failure may be in part, or wholly attributable to thyself; take the second step; take with thee two or three faithful brethren, who are prepared to give wholesome advice, and to judge impartially between you; and let it still be the grand object to gain the erring brother, and if this second step should fail to reclaim him, still presume not to decide the case yourself. You can neither search the heart nor try the reins of the delinquent brother. Do as your Lord directs you, tell it to the church. The Lord is there. God is in his holy temple, and he will judge his people. Let all the saints look to him for counsel, and ask of him, and he will give you that wisdom which comes down from heaven, which is pure, peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, without partiality or hypocrisy; such wisdom he will give to his saints, and not upbraid them, and such wisdom we greatly need to direct us in the adjustment of all the difficulties which occur among the saints.
3. We should not avenge ourselves, because to do so would be a usurpation of a prerogative which belongs only to the Lord. It is treason when the subjects of any government usurp the prerogatives of the king or sovereign to whom their obedience is due. None who possess the Spirit of Christ would willingly and understandingly grasp his sceptre, or attempt to seize his crown. But they all, while here in the flesh, possess a fleshly nature, which is full of opposition to that which is good, and it is from the polluted fountain that all our corruptions flow. From whence come wars and fightings? Come they not of your own lusts? The saints have never been afflicted with any conflicts among themselves, which were not attributable to their own fleshly lusts; for that which is born of God cannot commit sin; and if we, as christians, possessed nothing about us that is not born of God, we should neither be disturbed with sins, trials nor conflicts one with another. Under all these considerations it is exceedingly improper that dearly beloved brethren should avenge themselves.
4. Were we allowed to so avenge ourselves, such are our liabilities to err, we might severely injure those for whom Christ has died, without securing to ourselves anything more than the gratification of a vindictive and revengeful feeling of the flesh, which should rather be denied and crucified. It is greatly to be feared that christians sometimes mistake their carnal passions which are aroused to resentment of real or supposed injuries, for a justifiable grief of spirit, and their attempts to avenge themselves, for an obedience to the divine rule which requires us to labor to reclaim such as have departed from the order of the house of God. Liable, therefore, as we are to err, it becomes us the more earnestly to take heed to the admonition, “Avenge not yourselves.”
5. The relationship in which we stand to each other, as dearly beloved brethren, presents another good reason why we should not avenge ourselves. When Moses saw two of the Hebrews striving together, he reproved them, saying, “Sirs, ye are brethren, why do ye wrong one to another?” As a fraternity bound by the most sacred considerations, to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace, we should rather give place to wrath, than attempt to avenge ourselves. The saints of God are not only brethren, but they are dearly beloved. Dearly beloved of God, for, “God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,” &c. Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God. Such was his love that he spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all. And our Redeemer has also said, when lifting his eyes to heaven and addressing his Father, “That thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me; and, O righteous Father, thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” As God has so loved them before the world began, and given such incontestable evidences of his love towards them, is it meet that we should attempt to retaliate on them, when we feel confident that they have injured us? As we love the Lord supremely, will we not rather for his sake suffer the wrong for a season, until he is pleased to reclaim the wayward? But the saints are not only dearly beloved of God, but they are dearly beloved one of another, and as we love him who begat them, we also love them that are begotten of him, and his solemn charge and new commandment to them was that they should love one another. How can we obey this new and blessed commandnient, if we seek to avenge ourselves?
6. Aside from the wickedness of disobeying this command, if there were no law against it, should the saints attempt the administration of retributive justice, they would make wretched work, cause trouble for the saints, and make a thorny pillow to recline their own heads upon. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” But what can be more unchristian, or more unpleasant, than for brethren to indulge in hard feelings, and hard sayings, and unkind actions one towards another?
To the foregoing we might add many other reasons why the saints should not avenge themselves. The whole spirit and letter of the gospel forbids it; the law of Christ written in our hearts forbids it. Then from all these considerations, dearly beloved brethren, let brotherly love continue; let love be without dissimulation, and love one another with a pure heart fervently. Avenge not yourselves. Grieve not the holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice, and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. And while in love we admonish one another, and with much long-suffering reprove those who err, let us at the same time remember how much our brethren have to bear from us, and how much our God has forgiven us. We are not to be remiss in faithfully laboring to reclaim the erring, but let it be in meekness, considering that we also are subject to many temptations.
Middletown, N. Y.
May 1, 1856.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 326 - 331