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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
A. W. Chambliss
From The Baptist Preacher, 1846. Part 2 of 3
Part II. The imperative duty of the aggressor, demands our attention. "If he repent,"
"If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him: lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing." (Matt. 5:23-26)
Such is the language of the divine law, with regard to the offender: and by it we are forcibly reminded, that God looks with displacency upon all the quarrels and contentions—upon all the bickerings and animosities of men, especially of Christian men; nay, that he regards them with the most implacable and sovereign abhorrence. They are a species of wickedness upon which he looks, only with the most irreconcilable hatred.
What, though men may praise thy bravery and stout-heartedness—thy manhood and dexterity in all the bloody transactions of street pugilism, or the more cool and deliberate crime of dueling? In the estimation of the deity, "he that hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know, that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." Wherefore, "let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and all evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice." (1 John 3:15; Eph. 4:31)
From hence, it is also apparent, that God takes greater delight in the peace of his children, than in all their sacrifices. "God is love," by way of distinction; and he demands love, as an indispensable desideratum in his creatures. Besides this, all gifts and graces—all attainments and qualifications—all deeds and sacrifices, are less than nothing and vanity.
What, though we spake in all the tongues of men, and were eloquent in the dialects of angels? What, though we looked through the dark vista of future ages, and comprehended the sublime mysteries of providence and grace, as the simple elements of the nursery? What, though we possessed faith that could dislodge mountains from their solid base, and plunge them headlong to the boiling deep? What, though all our stores were impoverished to feed the poor, and our bodies offered a burning sacrifice upon the martyr's consecrated altar? If destitute of love, we were poor—we were base in the sight of God. "To love our neighbor as ourselves, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." "Behold how good and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity. There the Lord commands the blessing, even life forever more." (1 Cor. 13 1-3; Mark 12: 33; Ps. 133:1-3)
Yet again, the divine rule before us makes it the imperative duty of the transgressor to seek the speediest possible reconciliation with his aggrieved brother. Love is reflective, and binds equally upon him who is to be loved, as upon him who should love. If we are bound to love our neighbor, he is not less bound so to act that we can love him. As the eye is organized to admire beauty, and to loath its opposite; so, the soul, which is competent to love that which is amiable and excellent, is utterly incapable of loving that which is perverse and hateful.
The whole responsibility of enmity and strife with an innocent man, is, therefore, thrown upon the guilty. With whatever displeasure the divine being be, holds the breach, it rests alone upon the transgressor: and increases with every fruitless effort to bring him to repentance. He is held amenable for all the evil consequences of the alienation. If sinners are hardened in their sins—if languishment in religion—if dishonor to the name of God, ensue from hence, it is all charged to his account: and will form a part of the fearful reckoning to which he will be summoned in the last day. This was evidently the sentiment of the Psalmist. "If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me, let the enemy persecute my soul and take it: yea, let him tread down my life in the earth, and lay mine honor in the dust." (Ps. 7:4-5) Thus also, "whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house." (Prov. 17:13)
Here is the reason of that fearful sentence, "Woe to the world because of offences. It must needs be that offences come: but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh." (Math. 18:7) It is this view of the subject that invests with such alarming emphasis the words of our Lord, "agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him: lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, Jesus Christ, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, death, and thou be cast into the prison of hell. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou halt paid the uttermost farthing,"—till the last particle of the damage thou hast occasioned has been fully restored. It is the awful responsibility thus devolved upon the transgressor that clothes with eternal sacredness and authority, the command, "let not the sun go down upon your wrath." (Eph. 4:26)
The rule laid down for offenders is, "first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift:" and it binds alike upon all, without respect to place, to age, to rank, to condition, to color, or to any other accident of life. No man dare pray, nor any man dare sleep in the face of this law. It stands like flaming sword of the cherubim between us and our pillow, and between us and the altar of grace. He that goes to the place of prayer with an unrepented sin, invites Satan to his communion; and he that carries it to his pillow, invites a fiend to his chamber.
The high and the low, the rich and the poor, the prince and the peasant, the white man and the black, are equally placed under its restrictions. It is as stringent upon the muster, towards his humblest slave, as upon any part of the creation of God. Yes, we repeat it, if the master give unjustifiable offence to the person, feelings, or character of his veriest menial, he is as imperatively bound to render him suitable satisfaction, as he would be to offer it to the President of these United States. Nay, farther, "it were better for him, that a mill stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were plunged into the bottomless deep, than that he should offend one of these little ones, that believe in Jesus, and yet refuse him satisfaction." (Math. 18:6)
Tell us not of the distinctions of this world. We know they exist; and we know also, that they are worldly, and will perish with the world. In eternity, when men stand in the presence of Him, with whom there is no respect of persons, if will avail nothing to speak of worldly relations and distinctions. The only question that will concern us in that hour, will be, "how far did you give to every man that which was just and equal?" If the divine law shall have been the directory to our feet, happy! unspeakably happy shall it be for us. If not, alas! alas!
The scriptural condition of reconciliation with an aggrieved brother is repentance: and it has the sanction of reason and common justice. In pecuniary transactions, the courts of equity provide an indemnity for the sufferer. Thus the universal sense of mankind determines what is right in our mutual intercourse, and decrees in favor of the injured person. But does not the principle apply equally to moral, as to pecuniary injuries? Is the law of righteousness less provident of the person, feelings, or reputation of the aggrieved; than it is of his paltry and perishable gold? Surely not.
Let us transfer the case to ourselves. Let us suppose that we ourselves are the scandalized. What would we that the offender should do? Had we suffered the wrong at his hands, would not our sense of right demand ample satisfaction? It is thus, that heaven has placed within our own breast, a monitor that pleads the cause of him whom our waywardness has injured: and ere we can refuse repentance for the wrong we have committed, violence must be done to our own moral sense. Nor yet is this all.
The universal excuse, "that it is the duty of the offender to make the first approach, and confess his fault," is evidence that justice demands an equivalent for the transgression we have committed. This plea is urged by all men. We ourselves make it, when pressed to a speedy settlement of our disputes. It is the voice of reason, and so distinct are its whispers, that multitudes almost fancy it is written with God's own hand, in golden capitals on the pages of the sacred volume. No, sirs, it is the voice of reason, speaking from the fleshy tables of the heart, to every transgressor, saying, "go to thy offended brother, saying, I repent."
You will, however, understand something more by repentance, than a simple asking of pardon. We doubt not, that pardon may be sought in the true spirit, and with all the accompaniments of ingenuous repentance. But what we intend is, that this is not always the case. There is such a thing as asking pardon out of mere compliment; and more to save our character for good breeding, than to regain the friendship which has been rudely forfeited. It may be done where no sin is recognized—no evil is felt—no crime is deplored: where there is an evident unconcern, if not a fiendish gratification, at the throes and throbbing of an injured heart.
Who has not witnessed an instance of it, with a preface after this style: "Truly, my brother, you and I are a good deal alike—weak brethren. I had not thought that a man of your pretensions would have noticed such little things—that such trifles would have occasioned you so great pain. But since it is so, I ask your pardon." Is there in all this, the first emotion of true repentance? Does it contain a particle of that noble generosity which disdains to tread upon a worm, and which "honoreth them that fear the Lord?"
Do we sincerely lament an injury, which we can intentionally aggravate, with the very petition of pardon? Suppose he is a weak brother. Is that a reason why we may insult him with the epithet of "Racy?" Suppose the offence was a trifle. So much the better reason why a magnanimous Christian should not have committed it, and why, if he has done so, he should repent of it.
The truth is, no act is unimportant—no act can be considered a trifle, which may fray the silken cord that binds Christian hearts in one. Nothing is a small matter, which tends to alienate the affections of a brother; nor do we envy that man his sentiments of love, who can sport with the wounds he has inflicted on the humblest child of God. Love is a delicately sensitive plant, and indigenous only to warm climates. It chills to the root under the cold north wind's breath.
Pining, disease and death are its inevitable fate, under the pale and sickly influence of carelessness, taunting and contempt. The rudeness of the wild boar of the woods crushes all its fondly twining branches in the dust. Insulted love modestly bows assent of pardon to him who asks it with a jeer, and retires alone to its cloister to weep. "O my God, draw me not away with the wicked, nor with the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbors, but mischief is in their heads.” “They speak vanity, every one with his neighbor: with flattering lips and a double heart do they speak." (Ps. 28:3; 12:2)
Ingenuous repentance implies a meek reception of reproof. To rebuke with all long suffering and authority, is a divine command. Nor is the manner of receiving reproof, less definitely described. "He that hateth reproof is brutish." (Prov. 12:1) "He that hateth reproof sinneth." (Prov. 10:17) Shall we do wrong, and then refuse to be told of it? Shall we fly into a rage, and fret against him whom God sends to us for our good. Grant that all the mildness and gentleness that could be desired may not be employed. Grant, too, that we are not to blame, to the full extent with which we are charged.
Full many a year of hard and cruel servitude was entailed upon the refractory Jew, who replied to the friendly rebuke of Moses, "who made thee a judge and ruler over us?" When the timely admonition of Abigail threw a check upon David's passion, he blest God that sent her—he blest her counsel—and he blest her person. (1 Sam. 25:32-3) "Let the righteous smite me," said the Psalmist, "it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head." (Ps. 141:5)
Confession of fault enters into all true notions of repentance: and by this we mean, a full, free and hearty acknowledgment of our sins. Who does not know that there is such a thing as confession after the manner of some men paying their debts? Parleying and postponing as long as possible—then reducing the amount—and finally surrendering the balance with grudging and reluctant hands. A thousand imaginary and probable offsets must be investigated—a thousand accessory grievances must be supposed and weighed—a thousand concessions and promises must be extorted: and at length the whole affair is wound up, involved in more inextricable difficulties than when the adjustment was first commenced!
Here is one of the fatal causes of that lamentable destitution of brotherly confidence and affection, which at present so universally afflicts the Christian world. We are cursed with a spirit of moral and religious dishonesty in the churches. Under the pretense of confession, men actually cover their sins! Men disown their debts under the show of paying them! Under the pretense of giving to every man that which is just and equal, they in reality defraud them out of half their dues! Can there be in such conduct, the first sentiment of true repentance? Is it possible that honest pretense can comport with such religious smuggling?" “Whoso covereth his sin shall not prosper.” (Prov. 28:13)
In pecuniary transactions, the principle of balancing accounts may be correct; because, there the indebtedness of every man is determined in view of the amount of dues and offsets in his favor. This, however, is not true in morals and religion. Here the action, and the whole of every action, must be considered separately, distinctly, and independently of every other. There is no such thing as compounding and abstracting, as adding and dividing, in moral conduct.
There is no such thing as half crime, or the fourth of a fault. The line has either been crossed, or it has not—the mark has been missed, or it has not. If it has not, it is nothing. If it has, it is transgression—it is sin. Nor can it be made more or less, by similar conduct in another. There may be circumstantial differences in us, affecting the enormity of crime: but no train of circumstances can render sin anything less than sin. Completeness enters into its very existence. The fault—the entire fault—without concealment—without dissembling—without disguising—without excusing—without balancing, must be freely and frankly acknowledged. If there have been mutual faults, each must confess—each must repent—each must be forgiven. "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another." "Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sin, shall find mercy." (James 5:16; Prov. 28:13)
Another leading and indispensable feature of genuine repentance is restitution. Every sin involves two things, first, the act, and secondly, the evils of the act: and repentance is a sorrowful recognition of the act, to such an extent, and in such a degree, as that we shall be disinclined to repeat it, on the one hand, and on the other, we shall be disposed, as far as possible, to repair the damage of the past. In Scripture style, it is to "cease to do evil, and learn to do well,"—to "break off from thy sins by righteousness,"—to "turn, saying, I repent." This definition is equally true of our sins against a fellow-man, as of those which refer directly to the deity.
The private offence of one consists in chicanery, extortion, fraudulent over-reaching, of the unjust retention of the honest dues of another: whereby he suffers great pecuniary detriment. A second has injured the reputation of his brother, by opprobrious [offensive, deceitful] epithets, calumnious charges, or defamatory insinuation. A third has inflicted a personal wound upon his fellow man. In all such cases, repentance is to deplore the act, and, as far as lies in us, to indemnify the sufferer for the injury we have occasioned; and we firmly incline to the opinion that nothing short of this can be considered, or ought to be received, as repentance. What does it avail, to say to him whom out fraudulency has impoverished, or our prevarication, falsehood, or passion, has more than impoverished, "we are sorry," while we refuse to touch the burden under which he groans with the tip of the finger? It may be justly replied, "How much are you sorry? Are you sorry the whole amount of the damage? If so, repair it, and remove the cause of sorrow."
The maxim has already become universal, that "the retainer of stolen goods; knowing them to be stolen, is equally guilty with the thief:" and we beg you to consider, whether the principle does not apply to everything which has been unjustly taken away, and is still retained. It is not the article, nor the person of the retainer, that constitutes the crime. It is the act of retention. Nor is it material to the argument in morals, whether the goods were stolen, or obtained by other dishonest means.
If the original act of attainment was morally dishonest and wrong, no length of time in which they are held, nor any plea upon which we hold them, can sanctify it and make it honest wealth. The same is true also of defamation. If the good name of another, which to him is above the price of rubies, has been rudely and unjustly taken away, the enormity of the crime rises with every successive moment of its retention; nor can there be any repentance for the act, which is thus virtually repeated and persisted in, so long as we refuse to repair the damage which he has suffered at our hands.
Sure we are that such was not the repentance of Zacchaeus. "And Zacchaeus stood and said unto the Lord, behold Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four fold." (Luke 19:8) Nor was it the repentance of even the despicable Judas. " Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood; and he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and went and hanged himself." (Math. 27:3-5)
But, not to detain you with farther specifications, especially, since in what we have stated everything is included that can be demanded, in order to the forgiveness of private offences, allow us, by way of recapitulation, to impress upon your minds the principles we have here illustrated. What have we said?
We have shown that God looks with the most profound and sovereign displeasure upon all the quarrels and contentions of men—that he estimates the peace of his children more highly than he does their most splendid and magnificent sacrifices—that he holds the aggressor amenable for all the evils of enmity and disfellowship with an innocent man—that reason, religion and common justice demand of him repentance as the first act of his hands—that in this duty is especially included, a meek reception of reproof, a full and frank confession of fault, and an honest reparation of the damages occasioned, as far as possible.
And now, before God, and before the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, I charge every one of you who hath trespassed against his brother, that ye arise at once, and go to him, saying, "I repent." Let not your petulancy and ill-nature refuse the rebukes of affection. Let not your pride and obstinacy decline a full and hearty acknowledgment.
Let not your perverseness and avarice withhold a suitable satisfaction for all the damages he hath suffered at your hands. By the terrors of the divine vengeance—by the inexorable wrath of the offended Lamb of God —by the value of the deathless spirit—by the unquenchable flames of hell—by the writhings of the pit—by the horrors of everlasting banishment from hope, from peace, from pardon and from God, we charge you to repent of that wrong, and put a speedy end to these disputes. Sleep not upon this sin, lest thou die and be damned. Go not with it to the throne of grace, lest the fire of consuming wrath burst forth and envelop thee.
"If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.", Let not the sun go down upon this feud. Tarry not a moment. "Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him: lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."