DEVELOPMENT OF THE SCRIPTURAL
PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH IT IS BASED.
The Feeling and Actions Appropriate
to a Pious Man Who Has Been Unjustly Accused
The fate of the Saviour of the world is a striking proof that innocence is no infallible protection against unjust accusation and condemnation. From the world the Christian is prepared to expect tribulation; for he that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution; and if they call the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they those of his household! But in the Church of God he feels secure. From his brethren, children of the same heavenly Father and subjects of the same divine grace, he expects nothing but brotherly sympathy, encouragement, and protection. But Paul has told us of perils among false brethren; and how often are a man?s enemies those of his own household!
It is not impossible for a man of true piety and unexceptionable deportment to find himself, through misapprehension, malice, or jealousy, unjustly arraigned before his brethren.
Sometimes he is a victim of PREJUDICE. His brethren have been taught in advance to believe him capable of wrong; and his acts, imperfectly understood, and seen through the medium of prejudice, may be so colored and distorted as to seem hideous. Certain causes, acting upon a peculiar nervous constitution, may produce effects in speech and manner that may appear equivocal; or he may be the victim of a train of circumstances which may seem to implicate him in a crime that his soul abhors.
Purity of heart and life is no infallible protection against the machinations and the tongue of MALICE. Nay, this very purity may be the occasion to arouse the vindictiveness of the vile and wicked. A holy life is a standing reproof against their depravity; and, while it deserves to command their respect, it as often excites their resentment. Nor is this feeling confined to the world. Often?with regret it is confessed?do the worldly-minded members of the Church feel resentment against those whose uniform consistency is a constant reproof to their laxity of principles and irregularity of deportment. In times of apostasy and defection from the truth, those who adhere to their principles, and lift up their protest against prevailing laxity, are sure to be the victims of persecution. And if their remonstrances cannot be silenced in any other way, there will not be lacking those who will suborn witnesses to sustain any accusation that may be plausibly brought against them. Especially is this true if, in their zeal for the truth, they may have been betrayed into any indiscretion of word or act.
It is sometimes the case that one becomes the victim of JEALOUSY AND ENVY. His talents, the influence he has with his brethren, the attention he attracts from the public, and his success in his enterprises, arouse the base passions of envy and jealousy in little minds of large pretensions and slender merit. The homage rendered to the one is by the other considered as so much tribute unjustly withheld from himself; and the success of the former, blighting the prospects of his competitor for pre-eminence, is considered by him a mortal offence. For this, all unconsciously to himself, the successful man is held personally responsible. Jealousy and envy first ripen into hatred, and hatred gives birth to conspiracy and intrigue. The shadow cast upon the interests of the jealous man can be removed only by leveling in the dust the object that intervenes between him and the light.
Thus, all unconsciously to himself, one may have an enemy to watch him, to garble his sayings, to pervert his actions, and to weave around him meshes that he may find it hard to break. Thus, as has been said, it is not impossible for one deserving the love and confidence of his brethren to find himself, through misapprehension, malice, or jealousy, an object of distrust, and arraigned before the Church for crimes his soul abhors. To such an one, excepting his consciousness of innocence, the only consolation is, that the Lord reigns. When such a lot as this befalls a pious man, what are his feelings and deportment?
1. He submits himself to the divine will, and patiently accepts the position assigned him. He acknowledges the providence of God in all things; and, though he knows he is the victim of misconception or of wickedness, he accepts it as the divine will that he should be placed in these trying circumstances. He may, and doubtless does, find it difficult to realize that he is arraigned under grave charges before his brethren; but he takes consolation in knowing that God has some wise purpose to accomplish in him or by him, and that He will make the wrath of man praise Him, and the remainder of wrath will restrain. You will not find him chafing under his condition; but with strong faith he lays hold of the promise that no temptation shall befall him except such as he shall be able to bear; and he even rejoices if it should be the Lord?s will that he should suffer shame for His name. Like his fellow-servant Paul, he takes consolation in knowing that his bonds will somehow or other tend to the furtherance of the gospel. To the Lord?s will he bows with humble submission; and he meekly takes the place of an accused man assigned him by His providence.
2. He will in all proper ways defend himself against the charges alleged against him. This he owes not only to himself, but to his Master, whose truth is suffering in his person, and who designs that His cause shall be promoted by his good name. But,?
3. He will be careful to refrain from an indulgence of the spirit of his persecutors, and from a resort to the means employed by them. Is he reviled? He reviles not again. He has no grievous words to utter that stir up anger; but he prays for them that despitefully use and persecute him. Enormous as is the sin of his enemies, like the first Christian martyr, he prays that the Lord might not lay it to their charge. Is he the victim of misapprehension, or do circumstances seem to fasten guilt upon him? He recognizes the right and duty of his brethren to prosecute the investigation they have commenced. Nay, he encourages them to proceed, because in this way alone can he be relieved, and because he prefers to be unjustly condemned rather than that the sin which seems to attach to him should go unrebuked. Placing the best construction upon the course of his brethren of the Church, he labors candidly to remove their misapprehensions, or to unravel the meshes which circumstances have woven around him. His traducers, perhaps, have made appeals to prejudice to prepare the public mind for the favorable reception of the charge. Shall he meet them on their own ground, considering that the end justifies the means? As soon as he receives intimation of their intentions, shall he make an appeal to the public through the newspapers, or by advertisements set up in conspicuous places, or by letters missive to all the neighboring churches, to be read in open conference? Shall he thus in advance assail the motives of these men, wicked though they be? Shall he inform the world that a conspiracy is formed against him for his destruction, and that the Church is under the control of the conspirators,?the willing instrument for the accomplishment of their nefarious designs? Shall he make an appeal to the sympathy of the public and of his brethren in the churches around, on the plea that he is to be made a victim on account of his piety or his faithfulness to sentiments they hold dear? His enemies, as he thinks, through prejudice, have in advance arrayed the Church against him. Shall he, to meet them by a like appeal to prejudice and public sympathy, attempt to array an outside influence of church-members and men of the world to OVERAWE the Church? Shall he form a party of outsiders to clamor in advance against the threatened arraignment, to attend at the trial, and, with lowering looks and disorderly utterances, to stand around him as his "friends," and, if the worst should happen, and he be expelled, to unite, with him at their head, in a combined assault upon the Church, with the intention to annihilate it, and, after accomplishing, as they suppose, their purposes, to march off with flying colors, proclaiming that not he, but the Church, has been excommunicated, and that he is the most proper church member of them all? These are actions that are to be expected, not from a pious but a wicked man, who has no defense to make for his crimes, or who desires to organize for himself a sect that can sustain him in his wickedness and give him a victory over his hated rivals, or who can impart to him factitious greatness, influence, or pecuniary gain.
4. An innocent man arraigned is anxious that God?s cause and Christ?s Church should suffer as little as possible, preferring to be immolated himself rather than that principles dear to his heart should be subverted. He values his reputation as dearer than life; but he is not willing that this should be vindicated at the sacrifice of the principles and the forms that Christ has prescribed to be operative in such cases. He desires earnestly to be acquitted, and to retain his place among God?s people; but even this high boon he will not accept at the price of the establishment of such principles in the churches of Christ as will make it impossible to discipline designing and wicked men. Far better, in his estimation, that he should be unjustly excommunicated, than that the churches should in effect give up the power to withdraw fellowship from all offenders, excepting from the weak and helpless. Never will he seek to obtain release on the ground that the Church has not the power of putting away from Christ?s professing people the wicked man who may be artful and influential. A pious man who is unjustly accused desires to be justified before the Church and the world; but he uses only the forms and appeals only to the principles that Christ has instituted, and which have been sanctioned by immemorial usage. He acknowledges the jurisdiction of the Church over him, and will accept of no justification before the world in terms, excepting that which he can obtain through the Church. And if, after all his lawful efforts to relieve himself, he should be finally condemned, he meekly submits to the Lord?s will of purpose, knowing that He who has promised that all things shall work together for his good has some wise purpose to accomplish in him or by him. Suppose his enemies do glory over him, or the thoughtless point the finger of scorn at him: better these, infinitely, than triumph and notoriety and emolument at the expense of truth and a clear conscience. God not infrequently permits his servants to pass through the fiery furnace, not only that the dross may be consumed, but that the pure GOLD MAY APPEAR. "By their fruits ye shall know them."
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