The apostle tells us to be subject one to an­other in honour preferring one another. He tells us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ. We are instructed to confess our faults one to another. If a brother is overtaken in a fault we are to restore him in the spirit of meek­ness. If a righteous man reproves us we are to regard it as a kindness – indeed if one who is not righteous treats us ill we are still to bear it patiently even though we are punished unjustly.

But why continue with such quotations? There is nothing the matter with the instruc­tion and we are well acquainted with it. ‘Ihe difficulty is in the ap­plication in the practical affairs of life. We do not like to be subject to others, especially if there is no sign of subjec­tion on their part. We find it difficult to prefer another, especially if his preferences seem to run in the same direction. We are disposed to ask why we should help others with their burdens if our own load already seems heavier than that of the one who calls for assistance. We always experience great difficulty in understanding our own errors and even if we are conscious of error it is not pleasant to make the confession to sinful fellows whose errors we perhaps can discern quite clearly. It is not easy to restore an offender in the spirit of meekness if he seems neither meek nor spiritual. As for accepting reproof as a kindness, the only men (we almost wrote the only man) we ever knew to rise to those heights stood in no need of such reproofs.

We can all appreciate the excellence of the instruc­tion and we can imagine what a transformation would be effected if all who profess to be guided by scripture could obey this teaching. Without asking for any radical change in human nature or a perfection of obedience beyond mortal power, if we could only give heed to the instruction of scripture and render an obedience well within our power a great change would be effected.

If we are serious in our professions we must not wait for others to begin. We must not say in effect, “I will be subject to you and consider your point of view if you will consider mine.” ‘Ihis is the kind of stalemate that is going on in the world and it belongs to the world and the flesh. It is “perfectly natural” and for that very reason related to death. We have heard men who ought to have been better instructed arguing on those lines regarding the mat­ter of forgiveness. “If he repent,” they have emphasised, “unless he repents we are not called upon to forgive.” It is a specious argu­ment from the words of Christ. Our Lord certainly prescribed the positive teaching that we must forgive an of­fender even many times in one day if he says, “I repent,” but there is no suggestion of a negative instruction that we need not forgive at all if he fails to repent. So many offences are committed by men who do not understand their own errors and surely we can remember the words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Disciples of Christ must only seek forgiveness as they are prepared to render it. “Forgive and ye shall be forgiven,” said Christ, and so we must pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Surely there is no enlightened man who would only desire divine forgiveness when he says, “I repent”. A man cannot repent if he is not conscious of error. ‘Ihe apostle Paul could not repent of persecuting the ecclesia until he knew that he had been doing wrong. We surely need forgiveness even if we are unconscious of being in the wrong, and so we must be ready to forgive even if those who wrong us fail to understand that they have done us wrong.

There is sometimes a humiliating resemblance between ecclesial difficulties and the troubles of of­fice, warehouse and factory. As a well-known business man said, “You are up against the same elemental facts of human nature.” We have seen “roots of bitterness” which have grown into trees full of poison. There has been a failure to be subject one to another, perhaps an inability to see another’s point of view, and so the evil root has grown to outrageous proportions. Viewing the matter from an unprejudiced standpoint, it has seemed childishly simple. Whichever side we have heard first we could construct the opposite extreme from the data given. The moderate position and proper meeting point may have been equally obvious, and yet we have been totally incapable of making the extremists see it. All who have had experience with unenlightened human nature have seen such troubles. Some of the brethren have been unusually successful in guiding such people in office and factory and sometimes putting an end to their disputes. We can remember one who went into a factory as an objector to military service, hated and despised by other workers, and he ended by being the recognised judge to settle their disputes. We have a tremendous advantage in knowing the Bible, which throws such light on human nature. If the young can be ready to learn and attempt to climb to something higher, and if the old can remember that in spite of all their climbing they are still human, we may be able to get through without any serious bitterness.

Disciples of Christ must only seek forgiveness as they are prepared to render it

In this matter of being subject one to another the lead must be taken by the more enlightened. The apostle told the brethren of his day that they had many teachers but not many fathers. If any aspire in this sense to be fathers now they must understand the children and not expect to be understood or to be treated with much sympathetic consideration. In the natural rela­tion of parent and offspring we expect the parents to have the harder and more difficult time. We should think a father a contemptible little man if he whiningly complained that his children did not understand him. Of course they do not understand him. The important question is does he understand them? They cannot help him except in a negative way; can he help them? The little boy may be acutely conscious of the fact that he needs help with his lessons or in the mending of his broken toy; he cannot be expected to understand that his father still more urgently needs help in his business and does not know where to find it. A wise father renders such assistance as he thinks desirable and does not say anything about his own burden. An unwise father allows his troubles to make him irritable and he refuses to give the easily rendered help even to his own child. In the same way fathers and mothers in Israel bear their burdens without complaining and give such help as they can. Wise parents very often subject themselves for the sake of their children. They make their prohibitions as few as possible but insist on the observance of the few prohibitions made. They yield to the children when no matters of principle forbid, but they are adamant when duty demands that they should say no. In the same way fathers and mothers in Israel are the first to be subject to others in all matters of personal taste and convenience, but are firm as a rock in defence of truth and of divine law.

A readiness to yield in unessential matters gives added strength to the defence of essentials. We soon get to know the obstinate man who always insists on having his own way and whose only conception of a “principle” is something which he happens to want. More gradually and with very different effect we get to know the man who is always willing to submit to his brethren excepting when faithfulness to God forbids.

Footnote

  1. The Christadelphian (1933, p454–455)