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they meet him with stormy impetuosity or invective; and thus the breach is even yet more widened, until amity wholly perishes in the encounter.
Moreover, there was a merciful consideration for the frailty of our human nature in the command, “Go and tell thy brother his fault, between thee and him alone.” Private remonstrance was to be first tried; and, until it was found to be in vain, was the prescribed medium of reconciliation. Next, should such courtesy be without fruit, was to be an appeal to “two or three witnesses.” They, as calm arbiters, would lift their voices for peace' sake; and, when they saw on whose side the fault chiefly lay, would remind the disputants that they were brethren, and must not do wrong one to another. And then, last of all, came the public announcement of the injury to “the church,” or congregation, interested in the matter, (as the body is, in the sufferings of its own particular members,) whose decision was to be final, if their intercession proved to be in vain.
Such was the appointment of Divine wisdom, in relation to personal wrongs. The matter before me must be, however, placed on a wider basis; as it has to be considered in a general way. Henry Martyn felt Reproof to be “a duty of unlimited extent;” but he confessed that its discharge was attended with “almost insuperable difficulty.” My theme is, from its very nature, full of perplexities; yet they who seek to mould their social intercourse after the transforming pattern of their heavenly Master, will, I am persuaded, bear with me while I speak what I know, and testify what I have seen, of the will of God in
the matter. There is danger of erring on every side, and the only path of truth is to be traced out by following the precepts and commandments of our God.
There seems nothing more opposed to the spirit of our holy religion than censoriousness.
“Who art thou that judgest another man's servant ? To his own master he standeth or falleth.” How contrary is this spirit to the mind of Christ! How far is it removed from His Divine counsel, “ Judge not, that ye be not judged”! Yet, strange to say, so far as the writer's experience in the society of professed Christians serves him, he has found a cardinal error to be the want of tolerance in spiritual matters—a tolerance in reference not to systems, but to individuals. Many of those, whom he believes to be the Lord's servants, set up a conventional standard of manners and language, to which they expect all around them must conform. In their ignorance of men's various dispositions, they lose sight of the truth that there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, differences of administrations, but the same Lord, and diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. The mild, meek, loving spirit of a John, will differ widely from the ardent impetuosity of a Paul or a Peter: yet who will question the devoted sincerity of either? Temperaments are very unlike; and not less unlike are the habits of thought induced in us by early education, shaping as it does our mental character. Some minds are more impressed with the promises of the Gospel; others with the precepts. With one, the privileges
of the believer occupy the prominent place; with another, his duty. There may be some obliquity of spiritual vision in not contemplating both with like attention; yet if, indeed, Christ be to each precious, are they not all equally dear to Him?
Shall we aver–because they follow not with us—that the quest of Him, whom their soul loveth, shall be in vain? Shall not promise, or precept, lead (as did the star in the east) the inquirers to the cradle at Bethlehem, where the Saviour of the world will be found ?
An old story tells of two knights, who had passed the same road when coming from different quarters ; and, meeting beneath an ancient trophy, they fell into conversation respecting the armour suspended on it over head. They debated long about the shield, one maintaining that it was of gold, the other that it was formed of silver; and at last an altercation ensued, and the lances were set on rest, and their steeds spurred into mad career against each other; and the combat lasted long and warm, until each pierced the other's bosom. And then, as they lay a-dying on the plain, they looked up with failing eyes on the coat of mail that had occasioned their controversy; and lo! the shield had two sides, the one of gold, and the other of silver. And each was proved to be right in what he had so stoutly fought for, but wrong
in having closed his ears against his neighbour's statement of his impression about it.
I employ this illustration, hackneyed though it be, because, in the course of no little experience, I have listened with inexpressible pain to the opinions of professed Christians about their brethren and sisters' spiritual state. I have known these judges of evil thoughts to usurp a tribunal that belongs to the Lord on high. I have heard them, in narrow-mindedness, condemn all whose opinions were not measured by the same standard, and expressed in the same language as their own. I have compassionated them, because of their inability to conceive that the very same truth
may be viewed from more points than one -that the shield may possess two sides. I perceived
I that they knew what they held themselves, and I saw that they were sticklers for it; but alas! they were unwilling to concede to others the privilege of having an opinion. In brief, they were dogmatic, not so much for the truth itself as on behalf of what they conceived to be the truth.
Now, this censorious spirit is, I truly believe, most widely removed from the disposition that will best obey God's precept, “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” What is the design of Christian reproof? It is the amendment of the person gone astray, not the exulting over his errors. It is the bidding us look at home, and consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted. It is the casting down of all high thoughts, that would wreak themselves on expression, after the manner of the Pharisee, “God! I thank Thee that I am not as
“ other men are or even as this publican.” If we stand, it is by faith; and the knowledge should make us to be not high-minded, but fearful of falling. God has not handed over to us His prerogative of judgment; but He would fain have us, kindly and gently and with the hand of mercy, lead to Him back again, whensover they have gone astray, our own brethren and sisters in the flesh-bearing one another's burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ.
While, is strongly deprecated the spirit that has an eagle's vision for detecting faults in others, the social obligation we are considering must be steadily kept in view, and the Christian's duty to reprove for sin should be felt in all its overwhelming importance. Whensoever, the least of God's commandments is broken, there must be no shrinking from vindicating His ways to men, or from plainly showing that we are wholly on the Lord's side in the matter. Far different is this procedure from the invidious feeling that would pronounce sentence of condemnation on those who differ from us, although they may not differ from God's truth. Indeed there can be no higher proof of affectionate regard than the unselfish one of telling the truth, at the time when the truth is painful of utterance. If the name of God be blasphemed, or the divine authority and the gracious design of the Gospel of Christ be impugned in His presence, the Christian may not be silent. It is his duty to speak, lest he "suffer sin” upon his neighbour. He must "in any wise rebuke him.” He must tell him of his offence against God, and intreat him to repent of his wickedness, and pray God that the thought of his heart may be forgiven him. But while he does this firmly, let him do it also judiciously. Let him proportion his words to the natural disposi