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THE GOSPEL MESSENGER—February 1899

Eph. iv. 2.

It is not only necessary, but it is also very wise, noble, Christian, and divine, for the loved, chosen, redeemed, and regenerated children of God, the members of the body of Christ, the joint-heirs with Him and each other to the eternal glories of heaven, who are agreed in all the great essential points of the doctrine of the salvation of the souls and bodies of all God’s people by sovereign grace, by the electing, redeeming, and renewing love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Three One God, to forbear one another in love in regard to little differences in forms of words and forms of worship not plainly laid down in the Scriptures. And just so far as they love God supremely, who has, as their Creator, Redeemer, and Father, commanded them thus to forbear with one another, and just so far as they love one another as they love themselves, as He has also commanded them, they will delight in observing tender forbearance towards each other in regard to all the human formalities of religion. Such forbearance is necessary, for without it there can be no visible churches and no union between churches. It is wise, for it is the command of God. It is noble, for His most excellent servants in all ages have practiced it. It is Christian, for it is the dictate of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. And it is divine, for God has always used such forbearance towards His people from the fall of man to the present moment.

None of us, during this life, are perfect in wisdom or in conduct, nor shall we be till we reach the perfect world above. And, even among the children of God, there are great differences in understanding, in disposition, in information, and in surroundngs. And those dear brethren and sisters from whom we differ in regard to human formalities, may be just as intelligent and spiritual, just as devoted to God, just as sincere, just as humble and loving, as ourselves, and they may even surpass us in these respects; for the Lord tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked—who can know it?” (Jer xvii.), and while we behold a mote in our brother’s eye there may be a beam in our own eye (Matt. vii. 3—5). During our lives we have needed and received great forbearance from our brethren; and we should he glad, in return, to extend similar forbearance towards our brethren. Many of the apparent differences among brethren arise from the misunderstanding of each other.

The Apostle Paul shows, in the fourth chapter of Ephesians, that, in order to the exercise of Christian forbearance towards our brethren, we need to have true humility and true love for them—such humility and love as were possessed and manifested by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, when He descended from the throne of heaven into the grave for His people, and then re-ascended to the throne for the purpose of sending down His spiritual and eternal blessings upon them, bestowing upon them the gifts of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, the building up of that body in love, till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” And he gives seven unanswerable reasons why we should exercise the most humble and loving forbearance towards our brethren in Christ—one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in us all. And in the third chapter of Colossians, he enjoins upon us to “put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye; and above all these things put on charity (or love), which is the bond of perfectness, and let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body.” And in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Romans and the eighth and tenth chapters of First Corinthians, he admonishes the strong, in regard to such formal and unessential differences as the distinctions of days and meats, not to despise their weak brethren for whom Christ died, and not to destroy their peace and comfort, not to wound their weak consciences by doing even lawful things which are inexpedient and unedifying, and thus sin against Christ, hut to bear the infirmities of the weak, not pleasing themselves, even as Christ pleased not Himself, but pleasing each one his neighbor for his good to edification, remembering that mere knowledge without charity only puffs up, and only true charity builds up. and therefore not using their liberty in such a way as to offend their weak brethren, that is, to involve them in sin and trouble; and, at the same time, he admonishes the weak not to indulge in harsh and bitter judgments of their stronger brethren, remembering that we shall all of us stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and that every one of us shall give account of himself to God, the infinitely wise, righteous, and merciful Judge of all His people. “Let us, therefore,” he says, “follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” The knowledge of the wisest of us, he declares in 1 Cor. xiii.. is, in this life, only partial, childish, and imperfect, indirect, and obscure; while the grace of charity, or love, is more excellent than the best gifts, and greater even than faith or hope, and this preeminent and truly divine principle “suffers long, and is kind, envies not, vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails.” The Christian charity described and commended by Paul is the same as the true, meek, and heavenly wisdom set forth by James which is not haughty and dictatorial, defiling and inflaming. poisoning and cursing men while professing to bless God, hitter, envious, and quarrelsome, earthly, sensual, and devilish, but which, on the other hand, being “from above, is first pure then (not warlike, violent, harsh, unmerciful, partial, and hypocritical, but first pure, then) peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James iii.).

The matters about which genuine Primitive Baptists have different views, and in regard to which it seems to me that they ought to forbear one another in love are their expressions concerning the mysterious doctrinal truths of the Trinity, Predestination, Regeneration, the Resurrection, and the Judgment, the Interpretation of the Conditions, Parables, and Prophecies of Scripture, and the practice of Feet-Washing, the Laying on of Hands on all Baptized Believers, the Time of Communion, the Connection of Feet-Washing and Communion, the Proper Attitude in Prayer, the Method and Amount of Contributions to the Temporal Assistance of the Ministry, and the Holding of Associations or other General Meetings. To some the Scriptures seem plain on these points, while to others they seem obscure; and those who think that the Lord has given them light on these subjects ought not to harshly censure but to lovingly bear with those to whom He has not given such light until it pleases Him to give them the light. The distinctions between meats and days was certainly made by God in the Old Testament, and observed by Christ in the New Testament, and considered of vital importance by the Jews, and somewhat favored by the Apostles in the church conference at Jerusalem (Acts xv.) and by Peter in his conduct at Antioch (Gal. ii.); and yet the Apostle Paul under the direction of the Spirit of God,  exhorted the churches to leave these matters to the conscience of each member (Rom. xiv.; 1 Cor. Viii,, x.). And so it would seem to be in accordance with Paul’s inspired wisdom for Primitive Baptists to leave individual matters of differences on the above points to the conscience of each member, and church matters of difference, or those requiring church action, to the conscience of each church. On points in regard to which we can not see alike, let us either not answer those who see differently from us, or let us give them soft, humble, and gentle answers; and if they render evil to us, let us endeavor, by divine grace, to return good to them, and thus not be overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. xii. l7-21). By such wise, noble, Christian, and divine forbearance, we shall best adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour, build up the body of Christ hi love, glorify God, and promote the true and lasting peace and prosperity of Zion.

While, as I have always maintained, we should contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints, and not surrender or compromise one atom of the pure eternal truth of the Scriptures, still it is in accordance with the perfect teaching of the Scriptures that, in regard to human formalities of expression and worship not plainly laid down in the Inspired Oracles, we should forbear in humble love with all our brethren who believe that the Old and New Testament Scriptures are fully and divinely inspired and are the only infallible standard of faith and practice, and that the entire salvation of sinful man, in soul and body, is of the Three-One God and who prove, by a godly life, that they really believe these vital, essential, fundamental truths.

Many differences between Primitive Baptists are more personal than doctrinal, more formal than real; and if those who are right would deal humbly and lovingly with those who are wrong, they would be much more likely to convince and save them from their error than by pride and bitterness. We should take heed first to ourselves, then to doctrine, and then to them that hear us, all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost has made us overseers, and to remember that the principle business of a pastor is not only to guide and defend, but also to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with His own blood (1 Tim. iv. 16; Acts xx, 28)—to comfort and build up the body of Christ in love (Isa. xl. ; Eph. iv.).

The more we search the Scriptures in the right spirit, and the better we understand and obey them, the more united will be all of us who are members of the body of Christ, and the less need will there be of the exercise of Christian forbearance among us. S. H.

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