In the exercise of brotherly love, there will be a tender forbearance with all who differ from us in judgment. The exercise of private judgment is the natural and inalienable right of every individual. Sanctified by the Spirit of God, it becomes a precious privilege of the believer. He prizes it more than riches, claims it as one of the immunities of his heavenly citizenship, and will surrender it only with life itself. Christian love will avoid infringing, in the least degree, upon this sacred right. I am bound by the law of love to concede to my brother, to its fullest extent, that which I claim for myself. I am, moreover, bound to believe him conscientious and honest in the views which he holds, and that he maintains them in a reverence for the word, and in the exercise of the fear of God. He does not see eye to eye with me in every point of truth, our views of church government, of ordinances, and of some of the doctrines, are not alike; And yet, discerning a perfect agreement as to the one great and only way of salvation;
and, still more, marking in him much of the lowly, loving spirit of his Master, and an earnest desire, in simplicity and godly sincerity, to serve Him, how can I cherish or manifest towards him any other than a feeling of brotherly love? God loves him. God bears with him, and Christ may see in him, despite a creed less accurately balanced with the word of truth than mine, a walk more in harmony with the holy, self-denying. God-glorifying precepts of that truth. With an orthodoxy less perfect, there may be a life more holy. With less illumination in the judgment, there may be more grace in the heart. How charitable in my interpretation, then, how loving in my spirit, how kind and gentle in my manner, should I be towards him! How jealous, too, ought I to be of that independence of mind, in the exercise of which he may, nothwithstanding, have arrived at conclusions opposite to my own! Cherishing these feelings, Christians who differ in judgment will be placed in a more favourable position for the understanding of one another’s views, and for the united examination of the word of God. Diversity of judgment, through the infirmity of our fallen nature, is apt to beget alienation of feeling; and, consequently, the development of truth is hindered. But where harmony of affection is cultivated, there will be a greater probability of arriving at more perfect agreement in sentiment, thus walking in accordance with the Apostle’s rule, “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.”
Another exercise of Christian love will be, its endeavours to avoid all occasions of offence. These, through the many and fast-clinging infirmities of the saints of God, will often occur. But they are to be avoided, and, in the exercise of that love which proves
our Christian character, they will be avoided. The child of God will desire to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Whatever tends to weaken that bond, he will endeavour to lay aside. Whatever he; may discover in his intercourse with the saints calculated to wound, to distress or to alienate, the healthy exercise of holy love will constrain him to overcome. He will avoid “giving offence.” He will be modest in the expression of his own opinion, respectful and deferential towards the opinions of others. He will avoid .that recklessness of spirit which, under the cover of faithfulness, cares not to estimate consequences: but which, pursuing its heedless way, often crushes beneath its rough-shod heel the finest feelings of the human heart; saying and doing what it pleases, regardless of the wounds which, all the while it is deeply and irreparably inflicting. How sedulous, too, will he be to avoid anything like a dictatorial manner in enunciating his judgment, and all hard words and strong expressions in differing from authorities of equal, perhaps of greater, weight than his own. Qh! were this divine affection but more deeply lodged in the hearts of all those who profess and call themselves Christians, what courtesy of mannerÂ—what grace of, deportmentÂ—what tender regard of one another’s feelingsÂ—what kindness in word and in actionÂ—what carefulness to avoid inflicting even a momentary painÂ—what putting away, as becometh saints, all wrath, anger, evil speaking, and maliceÂ—and what constant remembrance of His solemn words, who said, “Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”Â—would each believer exhibit! Lord, fill our souls more and more with this lovely grace of love.
The forgiveness of offences is an operation of Christian love equally as essential and beautiful. If there is a single exercise of divine grace in which, more than in any other, the believer resembles God it is this. God’s love to man is exhibited in one great and glorious manifestation, and a single word expresses itÂ— forgiveness. In nothing hath He so gloriously revealed Himself as in the exercise of this divine prerogative. Nowhere does He appear so like .Himself as here. He forgives sin, and the pardon of sin involves, the, bestowment of every other blessing. How often are believers called upon thus to imitate God! And how like Him in spirit, in affection, and in action, do they appear, when, with true greatness of soul and with lofty magnanimity of mind, they fling from their hearts, and efface from their memories, all traces of the offence that has been given, and of the injury that has been received! How affecting and illustrious the example of the expiring Redeemer! At the moment that His deepest wound was inflicted, as if blotting out the sin and its remembrance with the very blood that it shed. He prayed, “Father, forgive them”! How fully and fearfully might He have avenged Himself at that moment! A
stronger than Samson hung upon the cross. And as He bowed His human nature and yielded up His spirit. He could as easily have bowed the pillars of the universe, burying His murderers beneath its ruins. But no! He was too great for this. His strength should be on the side of mercy. His revenge should wreak itself in compassion. He would heap coals of fire upon their heads. He would overcome and conquer the evilÂ—but He would overcome and conquer it with good. “Father, forgive them.” It is in the constant view of this forgiveness that the followers of Christ desire, on all occasions of offence given, whether real or imaginary, to “forgive those who trespass against them.” Themselves the subjects of a greater and divine forgiveness, they would be prompt to exercise the same holy feeling towards an offending brother. In the remembrance of the ten thousand talents from whose payment his Lord has released him, he will not hesitate to cancel the hundred pence owing to him by his fellow-servant. Where, then, will you find any exercise of brotherly love more God-like and divine than this? In its immediate tender, its greatest sweetness and richest charm appear. The longer it is delayed the more difficult becomes the duty. The imagination is allowed to dwell upon, and the mind to brood over, a slight offence received, perhaps never intended, until it has increased to such a magnitude as almost to extend, in the eye of the aggrieved party, beyond the limit of forgiveness.
And then follows an endless train of evils;Â—the wound festers and inflames; the breach widens; coldness is manifested; malice is cherished; every word, look, and act, are misinterpreted; the molehill grows into a mountain, and the little rivulet swells into an ocean, and happiness and peace retire from scenes so uncongenial, and from hearts so full of all hatred and strife. But how lovely in its appearance, and how pleasurable in the feelings it enkindles, is a prompt exercise of Christian forgiveness! Before the imagination has had time to play, or the wound to fester, or ill-minded persons to interfere, Christian love has triumphed, and all is forgiven! How full of meaning is our blessed Lord’s teaching on this point of Christian duty! It behoves us prayerfully and constantly to ponder His word. Peter inquired of Him, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee. Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Thus, true love has no limits to its forgiveness. If it sees in the bosom of the offender the faintest marks of regret, of contrition, and of return, like Him from whose heart it comes, it is “ready to forgive,” even “until seventy times seven.” Oh who can tell the debt we owe to His repeated, perpetual forgiveness? And shall I refuse to be reconciled to my brother? Shall I withhold from him the hand of love, and let the sun go down upon my wrath? Because he has trampled upon me, who have so often acknowledged myself the chief of sinners; because
he has slighted my self-importance, or has wounded my pride, or has grieved my too sensitive spirit, or, it is possible, without just cause, has uttered hard speeches, and has lifted up his heel against me, shall I keep alive the embers of an unforgiving spirit in my heart? Or rather, shall I heap coals of fire upon his head, not to consume him with wrath, but to overcome him with love? How has God my Father, how has Jesus my Redeemer, my Friend, dealt with me? Even so will I deal with my offending brother. I will not even wait until he comes and acknowledges his fault. I will go to him and tell him that, at the mercy-seat, beneath the cross, with my eye upon the loving, forgiving heart of God, I have resolved to forgive all, and will forget all. “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Mark 11. 25,26.
But some may reply. The breach is of so long standing, it is now too late to seek reconciliation. An old and acute writer thus meets the objection, “Well, then, if it be too late, give me leave to entreat one thing at thy hands; it is this: I say, if it be too late, and you say it is too late, to be reconciled and to love one another, let me entreat this, that you should lay aside your garmentsÂ—the garments of your profession of being Christ’s disciples. For our Saviour saith, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.’ And, therefore, if it be too late to love one another, and to be reconciled, come and let us lay down our garments, let us lay down our profession of being the disciples of Christ; yea, let us lay down our expectation of heaven too, for, saith the apostle, ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ And is not passion, malice, and want of love, flesh and blood? Certainly, certainly, if I do not walk in this way of love, it is not all my parts and all my gifts that will bail me from the arrest of that Scripture, ‘Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven.’ Believe it, believe it, it is not too late, it is not too late to love one another; it is not too late to do my work as long as it is not too late to receive my wages. And if I say, it is too late to be reconciled, what if God say to me, then it is too late for my soul to be saved?” And oh! what a lovely spectacle would it beÂ—a spectacle on which angels would look down with delightÂ—to see, in the exercise of this all-divine, all-powerful, all-expulsive emotion of Christian love, individuals, or families, or churches, who had long been at variance one with another, now drawn together in sweet affection, past injuries and old animosities forgotten in the joys of perfect reconciliation, forgiveness, and love! Let the holy attempt be made. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
Christian forbearance is another beautiful exhibition of this feeling. The image of God is but imperfectly restored in the renewed soul. The resemblance to Christ in the most matured believer is at best but a faint copy. In our intercourse with the saints of God, we often meet with much that calls for the exercise of our indulgence; many weaknesses of the flesh and of the spirit:
and many peculiarities of thought and of manner. There are, too, diversities of gifts, and degrees of grace. Some are more deeply taught than othersÂ—some are strong, and some are weakÂ—some travel rapidly, and others slowlyÂ—some are fearless and intrepid, others are timid and scrupulous. Now all these things call for the exercise of Christian forbearance. The apostle clearly defines the rule that should guide us here: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”
Especially in church intercourse will the grace of forbearance be requisite. When the providence of God has thrown together a community of individuals, composed of a great variety of character, and of mind, and of constitutional temperament, although each grade may be more or less modified by the renewing of the Spirit, there will still be a broad field for the passive exercise of love. In a church, necessarily imperfect, there may be found to exist many things, in which taste as well as judgment will be found at fault, calculated to engender a feeling of dislike, and even of disgust, in a mind refined and delicate. But here Christian forbearance must be exercised. They are the infirmities of the weak of Christ’s flock, and they who are stronger in grace should kindly and patiently bear them. In pursuing a different course, we may wound some of the most gracious, humble, and prayerful saints of God. We may be but little aware with what frequent and deep humiliation in secret their conscious failings may overwhelm them. And we ought to bear in mind, that if we sometimes might wish to see in them less that was rough in speech, and abrupt and forward in manner, and fault-finding in disposition, they may detect in us a loftiness of spirit, a coldness of manner, and an apparent haughtiness of carriage, which may be an equal trial to them, demanding the exercise on their part of the same grace of forbearance towards us. How watchful, how tender, how kind, then, should we be, ever standing with that broad mantle of love in our hands, which “suffereth long and is-kind; which seeketh not its own; is not easily provoked,” prepared to cast it over the failing of a Christian brother, the moment it meets the eye.
The duty of brotherly admonition and reproof is a perfectly legitimate exercise of Christian love. It may be found the most difficult, but the result will prove it to be the most holy and precious operation of this grace. The church of God is one family, linked together by ties and interests the closest, the holiest, and the
tenderest. It is natural, therefore, that each member should desire for the others the utmost perfection of Christian attainment, and must feel honoured or dishonoured, as the case may be, by the walk and conversation of those with whom the relationship is so close. In Christian friendship, too, the same feeling is recognized. We naturally feel anxious to see in one whom we tenderly love, the removal of whatever detracts from the beauty, the symmetry, and the perfection of Christian character. Here, then, will the duty of brotherly admonition and reproof find its appropriate sphere of exercise. But few things contribute more to the formation of Christian character, and to the holy walk of a church, than the faithful, Christ-like discharge of this duty. It is true, it requires no ordinary degree of grace in him who administers, and in him who receives, the reproof. That in the one there should be nothing of the spirit which seems to say, “Stand by, I am holier than thou;” nothing to give needless pain or humiliation, but the utmost meekness, gentleness, and tenderness; and that in the other, there should be the tractable and humble mind, that admits the failing, receives the reproof, and is grateful for the admonition. “Let the righteous smite me; “says David, “it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil.” “He that refuseth reproof erreth,” and “He that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Thus, while his duty is administered and received in the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus, the church will be kindly affectioned one to another, knit together in love, and
growing up into that state in which she will be without a spot, or a wrinkle, or any such thing.
True Christian love will avoid taking the seat of judgment.
There are few violations of the law of love more common than those rash and premature ex cathedra* Judgments, which some Christians are ever ready to pronounce upon the actions, the principles, and the motives of others. And yet a more difficult and delicate position no Christian man can be placed in than this. To form a true and correct opinion of a certain line of conduct we must often possess the heart-searching eye of God. We must be intimately acquainted with all the hidden motives, and must be fully in possession of all the concomitant circumstances of the case, before we can possibly arrive at anything like an accurate opinion. Thus, in consequence of this blind, premature pre-judgment, this rash and hasty decision, the worst possible construction is often put upon the actions and the remarks of others, extremely unjust and deeply wounding to the feelings. But especially inconsistent with this love, when smal unessential differences of opinion in the explanation of scriptural facts, and consequent non-conformity in creed and discipline, are construed into rejection of the faith
once delivered to the saints, and made the occasion of hard thoughts, unkind and severe treatment. Let us then hear the Lord’s words, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” And the apostle’s. Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. Let us not therefore judge one another any more.”
True Christian love will excite in the mind a holy jealously for the Christian reputation of other believers. How sadly is this overlooked by many professors! What sporting with reputation, what trifling with character, what unveiling to the eyes of others the weaknesses, and the infirmities, and the stumblings, of which they have become cognizant, marks many in our day! Oh! if the Lord had dealt with us as we have thoughtlessly and uncharitably dealt with our fellow-servant, what shame and confusion would cover us! We should blush to lift up our faces before men. But the exercise of this divine love in the heart will constrain us to abstain from all envious, suspicious feelings, from all evil surmisings, from all wrong construing of motives, from all tale bearingÂ—that fruitful cause of so much evil in the Christian churchÂ—from slander, from unkind insinuations, and from going from house to house, retailing evil, and making the imperfections, the errors, or the doings of others, the theme of idle, sinful gossip, “busy-bodies in other men’s matters.” All this is utterly inconsistent with our high and holy calling. It is degrading, dishonouring, lowering to our character as the children of God. It dims the lustre of our piety. It impairs our moral influence in the world. Ought not the character of a Christian professor to be as dear to me as my own? And ought I not as vigilantly to watch over it, and as zealously to promote it, and as indignantly to vindicate it, when unjustly aspersed or maliciously assailed, as if I, and not he, were the sufferer? How can the reputation of a believer in Jesus be affected, and we not be affected? It is our common Lord who is woundedÂ—it is our own family that is maligned. And our love to Jesus, to His truth, and to His people, should caution us to be as jealous of the honour, as tender of the feelings, and as watchful of the character and reputation of every member of the Lord’s family, be his denomination what it may, as of our own. “Who is weak.” says the apostle, “and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” Oh how graciously, how kindly does our God deal with His people! Laying His hand upon their many spots. He seems to say, “No eye but mine shall see them.” Oh! let us, in this particular, be “imitators of God as dear children!” Thus shall we more clearly evidence to others, and be assured ourselves, that we have “passed from death unto life.” But, inviting as it is, we must conduct this subject to a close.
Anticipate the happiness of heaven. It is a world of love. Love reigns in every heartÂ—beams from every eyeÂ—glows on every
cheek, and breathes from every lip. Nothing is there tending to interrupt the deepest flow of this, the holiest, the divinest, and the sweetest of all affections. The God of love is there; and Jesus, the revelation of love, is there; and the Holy Spirit, the revealer of love, is there; and from the infinite plenitude of each, the glorified spirits receive and drink full and everlasting draughts of love. Oh blissful regions, these, where there are no more strifes and divisions, and selfishness, and pride and ambition, and coldness, and discord, but where the songs are the music of love; and the trees wave in the winds of love; and the rivers flow with the fulness of love; and the air is balmy with the soothing of love; and the bowers are fragrant with the odours of love.
“Love is the golden chain that binds the happy souls above,
And he’s an heir of heaven, who finds his bosom glow with love.”
Let us more deeply cherish in our bosoms this heaven-born affection; let us cultivate it more and more towards all with whom we hope to spend our eternity of joy. Let us “love as brethren.” Why should we ‘fall out by the way,’ when we are journeying to the same land of promise? And why should we stand aloof from one another, when we are all one in Christ Jesus?
From “Glimpses of the Truth as it is in Christ Jesus” by O. Winslow.
*”From the chair”. An opinion pronounced on high authority.