Lawrenceburg, Ky., Dec. 30,1874.
"Let all things be done decently and in order." I Cor. xiv. 40.
MY DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - The above text has recently been considerably impressed upon my mind, and after using it as a text a short time ago I was requested to give my views on it through the SIGNS.
The four churches in this vicinity that I have been serving for the last twelve or fourteen years have enjoyed an uninterrupted flow of peace, with one exception, a case which recently occurred.
No wonder that a term of such protracted quietude should throw the saints off their guard and lull them into an inexcusable state of supineness, and failing to look to the scriptures with that attention that is necessary to perpetuate the decency and order of the church, observing and practicing the rules therein contained, and which are so suitably adapted to the peace and order of "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
In compliance with the requests made, I attempt again (and perhaps too soon) to intrude upon your columns; (for it seems to me to be an intrusion) but if the remarks that I may make shall contribute a mite to the peace and order of Zion, I shall be amply remunerated. My object in this communication is to present to the readers of the SIGNS the laws and rules given by the King of Zion, which are so admirably suited to this important and very desirable object.
It was said by the Savior, "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." This terrible woe should solemnly impress our minds, so as to guard us against offending "one of these little ones." We certainly can desire no better rules to regulate the order and decency of the church than are laid down by her King. To do things decently is to attend to them in a becoming, suitable, proper, and, in church matters, grave manner. It is very commendable in the saints to esteem others better than themselves. When this is the case, there is one prominent feature of decency and order. When one says to another, I am a better man than you, it is calculated to gender strife, and a quarrel often ensues; but if he says, You are a better man than I, there is but little danger of a difficulty.
When under the tuition of the Spirit, it is perfectly congenial with christian experience to esteem others better than ourselves; but it is the very reverse with the works of the flesh; hence the necessity of crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts, in order to the decency and order of the church. It is important, too, that her members be of the same mind and the same judgment; and hence the urgent necessity of reading and studying the scriptures, and then regulating our doctrinal sentiments and practical deportment by the perfect rules therein contained and palpably set forth.
But above all, to perpetuate the decency and order of the church love must abound there, and while that is the ruling passion all will go on smoothly. It is then that,
"We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear,
And often for each other flows,
The sympathizing tear."
How we should strive to cultivate that heaven-born principle! We are not disposed to injure or offend those we love, but on the other hand to throw a mantle of charity over their misgivings, to bear their burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Charity covers a multitude of sins.
"When free from envy, scorn and pride,
Our wishes all above,
Each can a brother's failings hide,
And show a brother's love."
This much may suffice by way of inducement to prevent indecorum and disorder in the church; but my principal object in this communication is to elicit the best way of healing or removing the disease where it exists. We certainly do not need better laws and rules by which to manage matters of this character than the King has so bountifully provided. Here is one that is all-important: "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Now, this emphatic, plain and positive language uttered from the undefiled lips of the King that reigns in righteousness is particularly binding on all his disciples, and is insusceptible of a misconstruction. This rule, strictly attended to in its true spirit, would very seldom fail to heal wounds among the saints; but a neglect and violation of it, is one of the most fruitful sources of disorder. I wish to impress it upon the minds of the saints particularly, and exhort them to regulate their course in cases of offense in strict accordance with this most wholesome law. But alas! How often is it wholly unheeded!
A concludes that B has trespassed against him. If so, the way marked out for A to pursue is clear as a sunbeam; but instead of going to B, as directed, he goes to C, and C's prejudices are enlisted in his favor. But the matter does not rest here. A, and C his friend, must explain it to others, and their prejudices are secured, and soon the world, the flesh and the devil get it. It is food for them all. Now, the devil has always on hand plenty of blacking-boxes, brushes, tinderboxes and "Lucifer matches," with plenty of other combustible matter, and each of his emissaries are presently supplied with boxes, brushes, tinder, matches, &c., and each one listens attentively to A's complaint, especially if he should be an enemy to B, (and such are too apt to be gone to) he gives it a brush or two, blacks it a little, and away he goes with it to another; perhaps he gives it another smut, and so it goes the round until it is black as midnight.
Meanwhile B and his friends get it, and are astonished to see how black it is. Criminations and recriminations ensue, until all is one direful, doleful scene of confusion. Now we, "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell." - James iii. 5; 6, and onward. The matter may have been small at the start, but now it is a great matter.
But now let us attend strictly to the RULE by which such matters should be regulated. A friend may advise A to go to B; but often he is ready to say, No, he has done the wrong, let him come to me. But that is not the rule. B may not have designed a wrong, and therefore may be unconscious of having done it; but if A is hurt he knows it, and he is the one to go. Let us then look at the law, for there certainly is a remedy for the evils alluded to. And here permit me to exhort every brother and sister to enforce that law whenever and wherever circumstances require it. But how shall I enforce it, says one? Why, if a brother or sister comes to you with a complaint against another, say to that brother or sister, Have you labored with that member as Christ has directed you? No. Then don't tell me anything about it, but go to the offender, as the Lord has told you. If that member neglects to go, and continues to complain, it is your duty to arraign him or her before the church; and I think all will agree that it then becomes the duty of the church to deal with that member for disobeying a plain and positive command of the Lord, and trampling upon his wholesome, salutary and standing rule.
Let us see the rationality, the justice of this rule. The laws of our country are aimed to be founded on justice, and they mostly are so based. Then, suppose a case is brought before a court of judicature that requires a trial by jury. When that jury is being impaneled, one is presented before the court, and asked, Have you formed or expressed an opinion in this case? Yes. Then it is almost universally the case that the court or counsel tells that man to stand aside. That prepossessed opinion is calculated to bias his judgment, and he is therefore incompetent to try the case.
Now see a church where one-half or two-thirds or more of the members who, from the representations of one or the other of the contending parties, have formed and repeatedly expressed their opinions. Is that church in a suitable condition to decide upon the case? By no means. And thus it is that churches may disqualify and even unchurch themselves by a heedless disregard of the laws of their King. But let us see the case when the rule is observed. If my brother trespass against me, I am to go to him, For what purpose? Simply because I want him taken before the church and dealt with? O no! What then? To gain my brother. That should be my object, as plainly indicated in the text. Not to take him by the throat and say, "Pay me that thou owest," but to gain him.
I may go through all the external formula of the rule, and yet be a transgressor myself. Where this rule is neglected, or even outwardly applied, but in an improper or vindictive spirit, mole hills may swell into mountains; but let me go to him in a truly christian spirit and be governed by the rule, then mountains may be shrunk into mole hills, and the quietude of Zion is secured.
When the enemy of all righteousness has so successfully managed matters as to rend asunder for a time the dear ties that should bind the saints together in one bundle of love, and so long as he can keep up the division, he is in his native element - it is his glory. But is it not a fearful thing for a child of God to look back at? To see brothers and sisters cut off from all church privileges, and then say, My tongue, that little, unruly member, has been engaged in bringing about this state of things? God help a child of the Lord out of so doleful a condition, is my earnest prayer, for his name's sake. Then again, how the Lord's children, who have tasted that he is gracious, felt the consolations of the gospel, gone to the house of God in company with their brethren, united in hymning the songs of Zion, enjoyed the friendship, fellowship, union and communion of the saints, can enjoy themselves when deprived of all this, I do not know. God grant that I never may know. "This world is a wilderness of woe" at best, but how dense and dark it must be to a subject of grace when severed from the union, communion and fellowship of the saints, to roam solitary outside of its Father's house.
Brother Beebe, you and I, with a few others, are old enough to have seen small matters so magnified by the use of the tongue as to throw whole churches into confusion. Past and bitter experience admonishes us to warn our younger brethren to beware of such a course. In former times of trial we could point to a veteran of the cross and say, There is an able disciplinarian. But where are they now? Alas! "like angels' visits, few and far between." May we all solemnly consider this matter, and speak and act, particularly in cases of difficulty among saints, with caution, prudence and forbearance. How often it has been our sad lot to say, "For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt." The Savior has said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." Let me remind each individual member of the church, for none should be exempted, that in cases of offenses a few words fitly spoken, and at a proper time, may contribute much to the peace of the church. But we are too apt to listen to the complaint of a brother, especially when approached by a confidential one. We ought not to do it, but kindly admonish him to go to the offender and treat the case as the Savior has directed. Restrict the difficulty in the narrowest, closest limits that it is possible to do. These things grow and expand by publicity. Keep them, if possible, from the members of the church (strangers out of the question) until they are brought there in the right way, and then that church is in a state to judge of the matter, unbiased by previously formed or expressed opinions, none but the "two or three witnesses" having known of the case.
In conclusion, dear brethren, do we desire and pray for the peace and prosperity of Zion? Then let us observe faithfully the salutary rules and mandates of her King. If we cannot have peace in the home circle, in vain shall we seek it abroad. Remember that Zion is the sweet home of the family of God,
"There our best friends, our kindred dwell,
There God our Savior reigns."
Let us own his dominion and bow to his laws. We can hope for peace and prosperity in no other way. Do we desire our own peace and prosperity? Then hear David, who says, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sakes I will now say, Peace be within thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good."
Our homes here are transient, fitful and evanescent; yet we should use every laudable exertion to secure their quietude. The church is the prelude to our eternal home; indeed, it is our eternal home; but while in this militant state she is subject to wars and commotions, strife and contentions, which like mildews blight her enjoyment. But her King has not left her without defenses to stay, beat back, or at least to palliate those grievances. May each one of us adhere strictly to and apply the remedies in a commendable spirit on every necessary occasion, and thus exhibit a family of peacemakers, and therefore "a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down."
Your brother and fellow-laborer for the good of Zion,
J. F. JOHNSON.