Treatment of the erring

How should we deal with the faults of others? Too often correction is absent or counterproductive. The counsel given in this article is as necessary today as when it was first written in 1888. It is published here for the first time.

Ellen G. White was one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Scriptures speak plainly in regard to the course to be pursued toward the erring: "Ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."

To convince one of his errors is a most delicate work; for, through constant exercise, certain modes of acting or thinking become second nature; through habit a moral taste is created; and it is very hard for those who err to see their errors. Many are blind to faults in themselves which are plainly discerned by others.  There is always hope of repentance and reformation in one who recognizes his faults. But some are too proud to confess that they are in the wrong, even when their errors are plainly pointed out and they see them. In a general way they will admit that they are human, liable to err; but they expect others to trust them as if they were unerring. Such confessions count nothing with God.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "He that covereth his sins shall not pros per: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." "Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief." "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin."

Refusing correction*

It is not safe to do as did Saul—walk contrary to the Lord's commandments and then say, "I have performed the commandment of the Lord," stubbornly refusing to confess the sin of disobedience. Saul's stubbornness made his case hope less. We see that others are following his example. The Lord sends words of re proof in mercy to save them, but they will not submit to be corrected. They insist that they have done no wrong, thus resisting the Spirit of God. The Lord declares through Samuel, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king." The stubborn heart is thus presented in the case of Saul to warn every soul who is in danger of doing as he did.

It is very discouraging to labor for this class. If their wrong course is pointed out to them as being dangerous both to themselves and to others, they try to excuse it by laying the blame on circumstances, or leaving others to suffer the censure which justly belongs to them. They are filled with indignation that anyone should regard them as sinners. The one who reproves them is looked upon as having done them a personal injury.

Quick to criticize

And yet these very ones who are so blind to their own faults are often quick to perceive the faults of another, quick to criticize his words, and condemn him for something he did or neglected to do. They do not realize that their own errors may be much more grievous in the sight of God. They are like the man represented by Christ as seeking to pull a mote out of his brother's eye while he had a beam in his own eye. The Spirit of God makes manifest and reproves the sins that lie hidden, concealed in darkness, sins which if cherished will increase, and ruin the soul; but those who think themselves above reproof resist the influence of the Spirit of God. In their efforts to correct others they do not manifest patience, kindness, and respect. They do not show an unselfish spirit, the tenderness and love of Jesus. They are sharp, rasping, and positively wicked in their words and spirit.

Every unkind criticism of others, every thought of self-esteem, is "the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity." This lifting up of self in pride, as if you were faultless, and magnifying the faults of others is offensive to God. It is breaking His law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." "Be kindly affectioned one to another." We have no right to withdraw our confidence from a brother because of some evil report, some accusation or supposition of wrong. Frequently the report is made by those who are at enmity with God, those who are doing the enemy's work as accusers of the brethren.

Someone not so mindful as he should have been of Christ's words, "Take heed therefore how ye hear," allowed his unsanctified ears to hear wrong, his perverted senses to imagine wrong, and his evil tongue to report wrong. Many a man will not come openly to talk with the one he thinks in error, but will go to others, and under the mask of friendship and sympathy for the erring, he will cast reflections. Sometimes he openly agrees with the one whom he covertly seeks to injure. Suppositions are stated as facts, without giving the person charged with wrong a clear, definite statement of his supposed errors, and without giving him a chance to answer the charges. This is all contrary to the teaching of Christ. It is the subtle way in which Satan always works.

Those who do such things have set themselves up as judges through admit ting evil thoughts. One who engages in this work communicates to his hearers a measure of his own spirit of darkness and unbelief; his evil surmisings sow in their minds the seeds of bitterness and suspicion toward one whom God has delegated to do a certain work. If they think one makes a mistake, it is seized upon, magnified, and reported to others, and thus many are led to take up the reproach against their neighbor. They watch eagerly for all that is wrong, and close their eyes to, and are unable to appreciate, all that is commendable and righteous.

Through this acceptance of hearsay evidence the enemy obtains great advantage in councils and committee meetings. Those who would stand for the right, if they knew what it was, have to wade about in the foul pools of evil surmisings, because they are misled by the surmisings of someone in whom they have confidence. Their prayers are hindered, their faith is paralyzed, and unkind thoughts, unholy suspicions, come in to do their work of alienation among brethren. God is dishonored, souls are imperiled.

Benefit of doubt lacking

When an effort is made to ascertain the truth in regard to matters that have been represented as wrong, those who have been the accusers are frequently unwilling even to grant the accused the benefit of a doubt as to the reliability of the evil reports. They seem determined that things shall be just as they have stated them, and they treat the accused as guilty without giving them a chance to explain or state the truth of the case. When there is manifested a spirit of such fierce determination to make a brother or sister an offender, and the accusers cannot be made to see or feel that their own course has been wrong, what does this show?—that the transforming power of the enemy has been upon them, and their character reflects his attributes.

Satan well knows that all his strength, together with that of his angels and evil men, is but weakness when opposed to the faithful, united servants of the great King, even though they may be few. In order to overcome the people of God, Satan will work upon elements in the character which have not been trans formed by the grace of Christ; he will make these the controlling power of the life. Unless these persons are converted, their own souls will be lost, and others who looked up to them as men led of God will be destroyed with them because they become guilty with them. Satan endeavors to create suspicion, envy, and jealousy, leading men to question those things that it would be for their souls' interest to believe. The suspicious ones will misconstrue everything. They will call an atom a world, and a world an atom. If this spirit is allowed to prevail, it will demoralize our churches and institutions.

To speak evil of another secretly, leaving the one accused in ignorance of the wrong attributed to him, is an offense in the sight of God. Let those who have been drawn into this work repent before God, confess their sin, and then nourish the tender plant of love. Cultivate the graces of the Spirit, cultivate tenderness, compassion for one another, but do not longer work on the enemy's side of the question.

Before giving credence to an evil report we should go to the one reported to be in error and ask, with all the tenderness of a Christian, if these statements are true. A few words spoken in brotherly kindness may show the inquirer that the reports were wholly without foundation, or that the evil was greatly magnified.

And before passing unfavorable judgment upon another, you should go to the one who you think has erred, tell him your fears, with your own soul subdued by the pitying love of Jesus, and see if some explanation cannot be made that will remove your unfavorable impressions.

Love, the glue

Christ prayed that His disciples might be one, even as He is one with the Father. Then everyone who claims to be a child of God should make individual efforts to answer this prayer and labor for this oneness. When it exists, the followers of Christ will be a holy, powerful people, united in love. But if you let love die out of the soul, and accept the accusations of Satan's agents against the children of God, you become servants of sin and are helping the devil in his work.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

"Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth." What is lying against the truth? It is claiming to believe the truth while the spirit, the words, the deportment, are representing the attributes of Satan and denying Christ. To surmise evil, to be impatient and unforgiving, is lying against the truth. Truth is ever pure in its operations, ever kind, breathing a heavenly fragrance unmingled with selfishness.

If anyone in the church desires to be a teacher, thinking himself called to instruct others, let him show his fitness for the position, not in profession merely, not in his discourses alone, but in spirit and action. Let there be no evil surmisings, no crediting of hearsay and telling the story to others, while he does not try by the best possible means to learn the facts from the one accused. Let his conversation be in meekness and wisdom.

Those who delight to criticize their brethren pride themselves on their superior wisdom in discerning stains upon the character that others have not discovered; but "this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace."

Here the apostle has given us the fruits of pure and undefiled religion. The fruits of that wisdom that descendeth not from above are also distinctly presented. Will you, my dear brethren and sisters, consider these fruits, so opposite in character and tendencies, and determine which spirit you are cherishing? May the Lord open the eyes of our people to see clearly on which side they stand. The good fruits are without partiality and without hypocrisy. When the grace of Christ dwells in the heart, there are words and deeds of kindness, tender compassion for one another, not merely for a few who extol and favor you. The harvest of peace is sown in peace of them that make peace. Christ knows the spirit we cherish. The Faithful Witness says, "I know thy works." The thoughts of the heart are not hid from Him. And by our words and deeds we shall be judged in the last great day.

God will not vindicate any who, in associating with opposers to our faith or with our own brethren, manifest toward them a harsh, denunciatory spirit. Those who do this may appear to have a zeal for the truth, but it is not according to knowledge. To be unkind and denunciatory, and to entertain evil thoughts and harsh, severe judgments, is never the fruit of that wisdom which is from above, but it is the sure fruit of an unsanctified ambition, such as caused the condemnation of Jesus.

The language of the Christian must be mild and circumspect; for his holy faith requires him to represent Christ to the world. All who are abiding in Christ will manifest the kind, forgiving courtesy that characterized His life. Their works will be works of piety, equity, and purity. They will have the meekness of wisdom, exercising the gift of the grace of Jesus. They will be ready and willing to forgive, earnestly seeking to be at peace with their brethren. They will represent that spirit which they desire to be exercised toward them by their heavenly Father.

Love of authority comes from the devil

The enemy has been at work seeking to control the thoughts, the affections, and the spiritual eyesight of many who claim to be led by the Spirit of truth. Many cherish unkind thoughts, envyings, evil surmisings, pride, and a fierce spirit that leads them to do works corresponding to the works of the wicked one. They have a love of authority, a desire for preeminence, for a high reputation, a disposition to censure and revile others. And the garment of hypocrisy is thrown over this spirit by calling it zeal for the truth.

He who opens his heart to the suggestions of the enemy in evil surmisings and jealousy frequently misconstrues this evil-mindedness to be special foresight, discrimination or discernment to detect guilt and wrong motives in others; he regards it as a precious gift vouchsafed to him, and he draws apart from his brethren, with whom he should be in harmony. He climbs upon the judgment seat and shuts his heart against the one he supposes has erred, as though he himself were above temptation. Jesus separates from him, and leaves him to walk in the sparks of his own kindling.

Let no one among you glory any longer against the truth by pretending that this spirit is a necessary consequence of faithfulness in righting wrongs and standing in defense of the truth. Such wisdom has many admirers, but it is very deceptive and harmful. It does not come from above, but is the fruit of a heart that needs regeneration. Its originator is Satan himself. Do not give yourselves, as accusers of others, credit for discernment; for you clothe the attributes of Satan with the garments of righteousness. I call upon you, my brethren, to purify the soul temple from all these things that defile. They are roots of bitterness.

How true are the words of the apostle, "Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work." One per son in an institution or in the church who gives loose rein to unkind thoughts and evil speaking may stir up the worst passions in the human heart; and too often the leaven will work until it has permeated all associated with him.

The enemy of all righteousness gains the victory, and the result of his work is to make of no effect that prayer of the Saviour that His disciples may be one as He is one with the Father. While men and women are blinded by their erroneous ideas of what constitutes Christian character, the leaven of evil existing in their own natural hearts is actively at work; and such unkindness and hardness of heart exists, such prejudice and resenment are cherished, that Satan takes the throne of the heart, and Christ is excluded. Then the devil and his angels exult.

True wisdom

The wisdom which is from above leads to no such evil results. It is the wisdom of Christ—"first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits." Those who manifest these fruits have placed themselves on God's side; their will is the will of Christ. They believe the Word of God, and obey its plain injunctions. They do not consult their feelings, neither do they extol their own opinions above those of others. They esteem others better than themselves. They do not stubbornly strive to carry out their own purposes, irrespective of the influence their plans will have on other souls that are precious in the sight of God. In order to have unity and peace in our institutions and in the church, our pet ideas and preferences must be sacrificed. No principle of divine truth is to be sacrificed, by any means, but our own hereditary and cultivated tendencies must often yield. No man is perfect, no one without defect.

I ask you, my brethren and sisters to whom these lines are addressed, are you cherishing a spirit that is easy to be entreated? Is it your custom to look upon the course of others in a fair, reasonable light, to excuse them for any error, as you wish to be excused? Or do you strive to exalt self, and make it appear that your brethren and sisters are in the wrong? Inquire whether, if you were in their place, you would do as well even as they have done. Are you ready to answer the prayer of Christ by yielding your will in obedience to His in order that the peace and harmony of the church may be maintained?

I know that this has not been the spirit which many have cherished. Oh, how many have been altogether too willing to disparage others and justify themselves. They have upheld their course when in the sight of God it has been wrong, decidedly contrary to the Word of God, and is registered against them in the heavenly records, there to stand until they repent and confess the wrong. True wisdom is full of mercy and good fruits. There are bigots enough in the world who imagine that everything which concerns them is perfect, while they pick flaws in the motives and principles of others. Will you look at these things as they are?

You are not what God would have you to be, nor what you must be if you are ever saved in the kingdom of heaven. The converting power of God must come into your hearts and transform your characters before you can adorn the gospel of Christ with a well-ordered life and a godly conversation. Then there will be no evil speaking, no evil surmising, no accusing of your brethren, no secret working to exalt self and disparage others. Christ will reign in your hearts by faith. Your eyes and tongue will be sanctified, and your ears will refuse to listen to evil reports or suggestions from believers or unbelievers. Your senses, your appetites and passions, will all be under the control of the Spirit of God. They will not be given up to the control of Satan for him to employ in working unrighteousness.

Trespass offering box

More distractions and wickedness in the church are caused by a wrong use of the tongue, by a lack of governing the speech, than by anything else. Let the members of every family begin to work over against their own house. Let them humble themselves before God. It would be well to have a trespass offering box in sight, and a rule, to which all the house hold are agreed, that whoever speaks unkindly of another or speaks passionate words shall drop therein a trespass offering of not less than ten cents. In this way all would be on their guard against these wicked words, which do harm to their brethren, and much more to themselves. No man can of himself tame that unruly member, the tongue; but if you come to God with contrite hearts in humble supplication, in faith, He will do the work for you.

By the help of God you must bridle your tongue; talk less, and pray more. Never question the motives of your brethren, for as you judge them God has declared that you will be judged. Open your hearts to kindliness, to the dictates of the Spirit of God, to the cheering rays of the Sun of Righteousness. You need an enlightened understanding. Encourage kindly thoughts and holy affections. Cultivate the habit of speaking well of others. Let neither pride nor self-righteousness prevent you from making frank and full confession of your wrong doings if you desire the forgiveness of God. If you do not love those for whom Christ has died, you have no genuine love for Christ. Your worship will be a tainted offering before God. If you retain unworthy thoughts, misjudging your brethren and surmising evil of them, God will not hear your self-sufficient, self-exalted prayers. When you go to those you think are doing wrong, you must have the spirit of meekness, of kindness, full of mercy and good fruits.

Let no partiality be shown to one or more who are your favorites, to the neglect of others of your brethren whom you do not love. Beware least you deal harshly with those who, you think, have made mistakes, while others, more guilty and deserving of reproof, and who should be even severely rebuked for their unchristlike conduct, are sustained and treated as special friends. Paul, in his epistle to Titus, bids him exhort the brethren to be "ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour." The mercy and favor of God toward us is an example of how we should treat the erring. When those who claim to believe the truth will humble their hearts before God and obey His word, then the Lord will listen to their prayers.

If your brethren have erred, you must forgive them. You should not say, as some have said who ought to know better, "I do not think they feel humble enough. I do not think they feel their confession." What right have you to judge them, as if you could read the heart? The Word of God says, "If he re pent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." And not only seven times, but seventy times seven, should you forgive him—just as often as Christ forgives you.

Here the free gift of God to men is plainly set forth. It is the free forgiveness of all sins, without man's rendering any equivalent. The Lord gives this lesson in order that man may see how he should treat his fellow men—that, as God for Christ's sake has forgiven his sins, he should forgive his brethren who err. If he is an overcomer at last, it will not be because of his own righteousness, but through the righteousness of Christ, and the long forbearance, mercy, and forgiveness of God. If he does not cherish kindness, love, and a forgiving spirit toward his brethren, he will not be of the number who shall receive forgiveness of God.

The lesson that Jesus would impress upon His disciples is that Christians cannot cherish a revengeful spirit in either thought or action. The tendency of the whole work of Christ was to counteract the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees who encouraged retaliation and revenge.

Jesus teaches the poor not to rise up against those who are in power, not to resist their oppression, while He pronounces a terrible woe upon those who tyrannize over the poor. "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." God en joins upon the servant to be faithful to his master, and to be contented for Christ's sake; but He assures the master that he also has a Master who will requite him full measure for his deeds. "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We do not receive forgiveness because we forgive, but as we forgive. The ground of all forgiveness is that Christ died, that while we were yet sinners He died for us. Repentance and faith are the conditions of our salvation. Lesson after lesson is given the student in Christ's school that he may learn to trust, not in his own merits, but in the merits of Christ's righteousness.

Forgiveness of others essential

The conditions of salvation are presented in various ways in order that effectual impressions may be made on varied minds, and that none may be deceived. Abraham was justified by faith, that faith which works obedience. Let all who claim to believe present truth be doers of the word which plainly teaches that the spirit of forgiveness must be cherished, that it is indispensable to our receiving forgiveness from God. The sinner who is forgiven and accepted through Christ will forgive his brother willingly, freely, thoroughly.

"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents."

Here was one man in high position who had been entrusted with a vast amount of property. But upon an examination of his accounts he was found un faithful; he owed his lord ten thousand talents. This, at the lowest computation, amounts to not less than fifteen million dollars. When the king saw the evidence of his servant's unfaithfulness he commanded him to be sold, with his wife and children, his house, his lands, and all that he had, that payment might be made. Alarm seized the unfaithful man as he saw the ruin before him, and he pleaded for delay: "Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." But his lord knew that he could never pay the debt. While the servant acknowledged the justice of the sentence against him, he begged for mercy. "Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt."

What joy was this, what relief from the shadow of his wrong course, which surrounded him like a cloud! He went forth from the presence of his lord with the whole debt canceled. But circumstances occurred which tested the true spirit of this man--whether he would manifest the same forgiveness and mercy that had been shown toward him, or whether his joy and gratitude were of a selfish nature, and his heart not softened.

"The same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt."

Here Christ illustrates the spirit of selfishness and severity which brother exercises toward brother. Both are human, both are in need of mercy, patience, and forbearance. But one whom God has forgiven much will not forgive a small offense in his fellow men. Too many professed Christians regard one whom they deem in error with an unfeeling, relent less spirit, which is the fruit of pride, self-sufficiency, and hardness of heart; thus they show that God's great love for them is not appreciated, for it has not softened their hearts.

When this man, whose great debt had been forgiven, met another inferior to him in position and office who owed him but a small sum, he was filled with anger, and with threats and violence claimed the money due him. Then when the poor debtor fell at his feet and used the very same prayer which he himself had uttered before his lord, he was merciless. He accused the man of not meaning to pay him, and disregarded his prayers and tears. He who had been forgiven so much himself forgave nothing. He claimed his rights, and taking advantage of the law, afflicted the distressed debtor by casting him into prison.

This conduct grieved those who witnessed it, for they knew the whole story of his pardon, and they carried a com plaint to the king. Then the king's anger was stirred, and he ordered the man to come before him. "Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had com passion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee ?" And his lord delivered him to the jailer till he should pay all that was due.

Will those whose names are upon the church books, who claim to be sons and daughters of God, consider their relation to God and to their fellow men.7 While we must depend so entirely upon the mercy of a sin-pardoning Saviour, shall our hearts remain hard and unsympathizing? Can any provocation authorize un kind feelings, or should it cause us to harbor resentment or seek revenge? Can we cast the first stone in condemnation of a brother when God is extending His mercy to us and forgiving our trespasses against Him? Should God enter into judgment with us our debt would be found to be immense, yet our heavenly Father forgives us our debt. Men will be dealt with by God, not according to their opinion of themselves, nor according to their self-confidence, but according to the spirit they reveal toward their erring brethren. A spirit of harshness and severity is the spirit of Satan.

Pride of heart, if cherished, creates envy, evil surmising, and even revenge. There is danger, then, that words or actions may be exaggerated into grievous, intentional offenses, and that the one who you think has done you an injustice will be treated with coldness, indifference, or contempt. Yet these very persons the Lord has charge of; angels of God minister unto them. He who reads the heart may see more genuine goodness in them than in him who harbors ill feelings against them for supposed wrong. "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him." Treat him and his errors as you wish God to treat you when you offend Him. Charity does not rejoice in evil; revenge does.

No unholy traits

Let your zeal be for yourselves, to show out of a good conversation your work with meekness of wisdom. Avoid every bitter word, every unkind action. Love as brethren; be kind; be courteous. Do not scandalize the truth by bitter envying and contention, for such is the spirit of the world. Let not these unholy traits be once named among you.

On one occasion the disciples came to Jesus with the question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso 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 depth of the sea." The little ones here referred to, who believe in Christ, are not those who are young in years but little children in Christ.

Here is a warning for those who selfishly neglect, or hold in contempt, their weak brethren; a warning to those who are unforgiving and exacting, judging and condemning others, and thus discouraging them. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost."

Here the work of Christ is plainly presented; and it is a similar work His followers are expected to do. They must use their God-given talents to save that which is lost. It is not the saint but the sinner that needs compassion, the ear nest labor, the persevering effort.

Weak and trembling souls, those who have many defects and objectionable traits of character, are the special charge of the angels of God. "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." If any injustice is done to them, it is the same as if done to Jesus Himself. Christ identifies His interest with that of the souls He has purchased at an infinite cost.

Angels are ever present where they are most needed—with those who have the hardest battles to fight, whose conflicts are with themselves, against their inclinations and hereditary tendencies, whose home surroundings are the most discouraging. Will the followers of Christ labor together with God? Will all in our institutions seek for harmony, for peace, for oneness in Christ Jesus? Will anyone work with Satan to discourage souls who have so much to contend against? Will they by word or deed push them upon Satan's battlefield?

Jesus assures us that His coming to our world was to save those that were lost, those that were dead in trespasses and sins, those that were strangers and enemies to God. Then will the very men to whom Christ has shown mercy and forgiveness neglect or despise those whom Jesus is seeking to take home to His heart of infinite love? Christ's work is to ransom those who have strayed from God; and He requires every member of the church to work together with Him in bringing them back.

If those who, by being merciless, unforgiving, place themselves on Satan's side would only listen and hear the re proof of the Saviour, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone," would any hand be lifted? Would not every mouth be stopped? These words of Jesus to the Pharisees brought their own sins to their remembrance. Self-condemned, they went out one by one.

Correcting without the Spirit of Christ

Brethren and sisters, if you are workers together with God there is no excuse for your not working to help, not only those whom you fancy, but those who need your help to correct their errors. I have been shown that many have not the Spirit of Christ. The very work He has given them to do they have not done. And they will continue to neglect this work unless the converting power of God is felt on their poor hearts. Then they will be rich in good works.

Jesus thus illustrates the work that devolves upon those who claim to believe on His name: "How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."

Wonderful lesson of mercy, forbearance, patience, and love! Perishing souls, helpless in sin and liable to be destroyed by the arts and snares of Satan, are cared for as a shepherd cares for the sheep of his flock. Jesus represents Himself as being acquainted with His sheep. He gave His life for them. And He goes to seek them even before they seek Him. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance.

Let ministers and people work according to God's plan. Let them exchange their way for God's way; then they will be zealous in encouraging and strengthening the weak, not grieving them or causing them to stumble by a hard, unforgiving, accusing spirit.

Brethren, we need to fall on the Rock and be broken. Then we shall have the melting, subduing love of Jesus in our hearts. We shall follow the example of Jesus, the Majesty of heaven, and of the angels, and not be like the Pharisees who were proud, hardhearted, and unsympathetic. God is not willing that even the lowest and most degraded should perish. In what light then can you regard any neglect of those who need your help?

Many of you are self-willed, proud, hardhearted, and condemnatory, when on the contrary the whole heart should be aroused to devise ways and means for saving souls. You draw apart from your brethren because they do not speak and act to please you, when in the sight of God you are more guilty than they. You do not seek that unity that Christ prayed might exist among brethren. What impression do these variances, this emulation and strife, make upon your families and your neighbors, upon those who do not believe the truth? "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." How many of you are unsanctified in heart, and while sensitive yourselves to any reproof, you make another an offender for a word? How many of you speak words that cannot produce union, but only heartache and discouragement? How many give cause for anger, and are themselves angry without cause?

Rules to prevent division

Jesus, the world's Redeemer, has laid down rules to prevent such unhappy divisions, but how many of you in our churches or in our institutions have followed the directions of Christ? "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and [tell it to everyone you meet?] 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."

When anyone comes to a minister or to men in positions of trust with com plaints about a brother or sister, let them ask the reporter, "Have you complied with the rules our Saviour has given?" and if he has failed to carry out any particular of this instruction, do not listen to a word of his complaint. Refuse to take up a report against your brother or sister in the faith. If members of the church go entirely contrary to these rules, they make themselves subject of church discipline, and should be put under the censure of the church. This matter, so plainly taught in the lessons of Christ, has been passed over with strange indifference. The church has either neglected her work entirely, or has done it with harshness and severity, wounding and bruising souls. Measures should be taken to correct this cruel spirit of criticism, of judging one another's motives, as though Christ had revealed to man the hearts of their brethren. The neglect of doing aright, with wisdom and grace, the work that ought to have been done has left churches and institutions weak, inefficient, and almost Christless.

Jesus adds to the lesson these words: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This assurance that after the rules of Christ have been followed to the letter the decisions of the church will be ratified in heaven gives a solemn significance to the action of the church. No hasty steps should be taken to cut off names from the church books or to place a member under censure until the case has been investigated and the Bible rule fully obeyed.

The words of Christ show how necessary it is for church officers to be free from prejudice and selfish motives. Human minds and hearts, unless wholly sanctified, purified, and refined from partiality and prejudice, are liable to commit grave errors, to misjudge, and deal unkindly and unjustly with souls that are the purchase of the blood of Christ. But the decision of an unjust judge will be of no account in the court of heaven. It will not make an innocent man guilty, nor change his character in the least before God. As surely as men in responsible positions become lifted up in their own esteem, and act as though they were to lord it over their brethren, they will render many decisions which Heaven cannot ratify.

However great the confidence reposed in any man, whatever the authority given him by his position, let him not think that he can therefore indulge in surmisings, in suspicions, evil thinking and evil speaking, because he is too cowardly to speak plainly to his brethren and sisters, and to correct faithfully any existing errors. His position and authority depend upon his connection with God, upon the discernment and wisdom he receives from above.

Let us be careful how we pass sentence of condemnation on one for whom we may be cherishing dislike because he does not meet our ideas, for the sentence will reflect upon ourselves, and do far more harm to us than to the condemned. Christ would have His church strong in unity. Let us all praise God that we are not to be judged according to finite man's discernment, which is very liable to be perverted.

"Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Remember, there is a witness in every assembly, One who knows whether your thoughts are holy, kind, tender, and Christlike, or whether they are hard, unkind, and satanic. A record of your words and your spirit, and of the result of your course of action, goes up to heaven. You cannot afford to be careless and inattentive in this matter.

"Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and en vies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." "Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door." Man cannot read the heart of man. His judgment is formed from appearances, and these are often deceptive. God reads the intent and purposes of the heart. Do nothing in an underhand manner; be open as the day, true to your brethren and sisters, dealing with them as you wish Christ to deal with you.

Constant complainers

Many in our churches and institutions are not sanctified by the truth they pro fess. If they had the Spirit of Christ they would not notice small slights, but their minds would be occupied in contemplating the love of Jesus. They need spiritual discernment, that they may not be the sport of Satan's temptations. They would not then be continually seeing things of which to complain. If the instruction which Christ has given were followed out in the spirit that every true Christian should have—if each, when aggrieved, would go to the offending member and seek in kindness to correct the wrong by privately telling him his fault many a grievous trial would be averted. But many will resort to every expedient rather than fall on the Rock Christ Jesus and be broken. All such expedients must fail.

Christ says, "Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." "Take my yoke upon you." Will we do this ? Will we wear the yoke of Christ? Will we be renewed in the spirit of our mind, and daily strive to cultivate humility and childlike simplicity, willing to be the least of all, and the servant of all? Without this spirit our life is not hid with Christ in God. The self-importance which many manifest is exactly opposite to the meekness and lowliness of Christ. Those who think least of self and exalt Jesus most will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

It becomes all who expect to see Jesus as He is, and to be made like Him, so to follow Him daily that their character may be molded after His image. When our hearts reflect His likeness we shall not judge unrighteously; we shall honor those whom God honors, and we shall be very circumspect in spirit, in word, in action, lest we grieve one of God's little ones. He who loves God because his own sins have been forgiven will manifest a forgiving spirit toward others.

Discipline abused

In dealing with the erring, harsh measures should not be resorted to; milder means will effect far more. After the best means have been perseveringly tried without success, wait patiently and see if God will not move upon the heart of the erring. Discipline has been abused heretofore. Men whose own character is very defective have put themselves forward to discipline others, and thus all discipline has been brought into contempt. Passion, prejudice, and partiality, I am sorry to say, have had abundant room for exhibition, and proper discipline has been neglected.

If those who deal with the erring had hearts full of the milk of human kindness, what a different spirit would prevail in our churches! May the Lord open the eyes and soften the hearts of those who have a harsh, unforgiving, unrelenting spirit toward those whom they think in error. Such men dishonor their office and dishonor God. They grieve the hearts of His children, and compel them to cry unto Him in their distress. The Lord will surely judge for these things.

But those who are unfeeling, hardhearted, do the greatest harm to themselves. They are deceived by their own course. Selfishness leads the one who cherishes it to exaggerate every little offense, to attach great importance to little acts, and attribute guilt to one who is ignorant of doing any wrong. It works in the unsanctified heart to create a desire to depreciate all who do not esteem him so highly, or show him as much honor as he thinks is his due.

The lessons which Christ has given us are to be studied and incorporated into our religious life every day. If ye forgive not men their trespasses, "neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." "When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any." "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

When the believer, in view of all his transgressions, exercises faith in God, believes that he is pardoned because Christ has died as his sacrifice, he will be so filled with gratitude to God that his tender sympathy will be reaching out to those who, like himself, have sinned and have need of pardon. Pride will find no place in his heart. Such faith as this will be a death blow to a revengeful spirit. How is it possible for one who finds forgiveness, and who is daily dependent upon the grace of Christ, to turn away in coldness from those who have been over taken in a fault, and to display to the sinner an unforgiving spirit? Everyone who has real faith in God will crush pride under his feet.

A view of the goodness and mercy of God will lead to repentance. There will be a desire to possess the same spirit. He who receives this spirit will have clear discernment to see the good there is in the character of others, and will love those who [need] the tender, pitying sympathy of forgiveness. He sees in Christ a sin-pardoning Saviour, and contemplates with hope and confidence the pardon written over against his sins. He wants the same work to be done for his associates also. True faith brings the soul into sympathy with God.

May God pity those who are watching, as did the Pharisees, to find something to condemn in their brethren, and who pride themselves on their wonderfully acute discernment. That which they called discernment is cold, satanic criticism, acuteness in suspecting and charging souls with evil intent who are less guilty than themselves. They are, like the enemy of God, accusers of the brethren. These souls, whatever their position or experience, need to humble themselves before God. How can they pray, "Forgive me as I forgive others"?

"With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." "He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy." God grants no par don to him whose penitence produces no humility, and whose faith does not work by love to purify the soul. We need to study the example of Him who was meek and lowly; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again. A vindictive spirit will not be indulged by a true Christian.

Parents should teach their children to be patient under injuries. Teach them that wonderful precept in the Lord's Prayer that we are to forgive others as we would be forgiven. He who possesses the Spirit of Christ will never be weary of forgiving. I entreat you to be Bible Christians. —Manuscript 11, 1888, Manuscript Release #1159.

* All subheads have been added by the editors.


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Ellen G. White was one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

August 1988

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