Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4


Chapter 43—The Relation of Church Membership

Every man who is striving to overcome will have his own weaknesses to contend with, but it is so much easier for persons to see the faults of their brethren than to see their own that they should be much more diligent and critical with themselves than with others. 4T 485.2

All the members of the church, if they are sons and daughters of God, will have to undergo a process of discipline before they can be lights in the world. God will not make men and women channels of light while they are in darkness and are content to remain so, making no special efforts to connect with the Source of light. Those who feel their own need, and arouse themselves to the deepest thought and the most earnest, persevering prayer and action, will receive divine aid. There is much for each to unlearn with respect to himself, as well as much to learn. Old habits and customs must be shaken off, and it is only by earnest struggles to correct these errors, and a full reception of the truth in carrying out its principles, by the grace of God, that the victory can be gained. 4T 485.3

I wish I could speak words which would impress us all that our only hope as individuals is to connect with God. Purity of soul must be obtained; and there is much heart searching to be done and much obstinacy and self-love to be overcome, which will require constant, earnest prayer. 4T 486.1

Men who are harsh and censorious often excuse or try to justify their lack of Christian politeness because some of the Reformers worked with such a spirit, and they claim that the work for this time requires the same spirit; but this is not so. A spirit which is calm and under perfect control is better in any place, even in the roughest company. A furious zeal does no good to anyone. God did not select the Reformers because they were overbearing, passionate men. He accepted them as they were, notwithstanding these traits of character; but He would have placed tenfold greater responsibilities upon them had they been of humble mind, having their spirits under control of reason. While ministers of Christ must denounce sin and ungodliness, impurity and falsehood, while they are sometimes called to rebuke iniquity among the high as well as the low, showing them that the indignation of God will fall upon the transgressors of His law, yet they should not be overbearing or tyrannical; they should manifest kindness and love, a spirit to save rather than to destroy. 4T 486.2

The long-suffering of Jehovah teaches ministers and church members who aspire to be colaborers with Christ, unmistakable lessons of forbearance and love. Christ connected Judas and impulsive Peter with Himself, not because Judas was covetous and Peter passionate, but that they might learn of Him, their great Teacher, and become, like Him, unselfish, meek, and lowly of heart. He saw good material in both these men. Judas possessed financial ability and would have been of value to the church had he taken home to his heart the lessons which Christ was giving by rebuking all selfishness, fraud, and avarice, even in the little matters of life. These lessons were oft-repeated: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” 4T 486.3

Our Saviour sought to impress upon His hearers that a man who would advantage himself by overreaching his neighbor in the smallest item would, if the opportunity were favorable, overreach in larger matters. The least departure from strict rectitude breaks down the barriers and prepares the heart to do greater injustice. Christ, by precept and example, taught that the strictest integrity should govern our actions toward our fellow men. “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Christ was continually portraying the defective lives of the Pharisees and reproving them. They professed to be keeping the law of God, yet in their daily acts were practicing iniquity. Many widows and orphans were robbed of their little all to gratify an avaricious desire for gain. 4T 487.1

Judas might have been benefited by all these lessons had he possessed a desire to be right at heart; but his acquisitiveness overcame him, and the love of money became a ruling power. He carried the purse containing the means to be used in carrying forward the work of Christ, and little sums were from time to time applied to his own use. His selfish heart grudged the offering made by Mary of the alabaster box of ointment, and he reproved her for her imprudence. Thus, instead of being a learner, he would be a teacher and instruct our Lord in regard to the propriety of her action. 4T 487.2

These two men alike had the opportunities and privileges of the continual lessons and example of Christ to correct their sinful traits of character. While they heard His withering rebukes and denunciations against hypocrisy and corruption, they saw that those so terribly denounced were the objects of solicitous and unwearied labor for their reformation. The Saviour wept because of their darkness and error. He yearned over them with unbounded compassion and love, exclaiming to Jerusalem: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” 4T 487.3

Peter was prompt and zealous in action, bold and uncompromising; and Christ saw in him material that would be of great value to the church. He therefore connected Peter with Himself, that all which was good and valuable might be preserved, and that by His lessons and example He might soften whatever was harsh in his temper and smooth whatever was rugged in his deportment. If the heart were indeed transformed by divine grace, an external change would be seen in true kindness, sympathy, and courteousness. Jesus was never cold and unapproachable. The afflicted often broke in upon His retreat when He needed refreshment and rest, but He had a kind look and an encouraging word for all. He was a pattern of true courtesy. Peter denied his Lord, but afterward repented and was deeply humbled because of his great sin; and Christ showed that He forgave His erring disciple in condescending to mention him by name after His resurrection. 4T 488.1

Judas yielded to the temptations of Satan and betrayed his best friend. Peter learned and profited by the lessons of Christ, and carried forward the work of reform which was left to the disciples when their Lord ascended on high. These two men represent the two classes that Christ connects with Himself, giving to them the advantages of His lessons and the example of His unselfish, compassionate life, that they may learn of Him. 4T 488.2

The more man views his Saviour and becomes acquainted with Him, the more he will become assimilated to His image and work the works of Christ. The age in which we live calls for reformatory action. The light of truth which shines upon us calls for men of determined action and sterling moral worth to labor diligently and perseveringly to save the souls of all who will hear the invitation of the Spirit of God. 4T 488.3

The love which should exist between church members frequently gives place to criticism and censure; and these appear, even in the religious exercises, in reflections and severe personal thrusts. Such things should not be countenanced by ministers, elders, or people. The services of the church should be carried forward with an eye single to the glory of God. When men with their peculiar organizations are brought together in church capacity, unless the truth of God softens and subdues the sharp points in the character, the church will be affected and its peace and harmony sacrificed to indulge these selfish, unsanctified traits. Many, in their close watch to discover the faults of their brethren, neglect the investigation of their own hearts and the purification of their own lives. This brings the displeasure of God. The individual members of the church should be jealous for their own souls, critically watching their own actions, lest they should move from selfish motives and be a cause of stumbling to their weak brethren. 4T 488.4

God takes men as they are, with the human element in their character, and then trains them for His service if they will be disciplined and learn of Him. The root of bitterness, envy, distrust, jealousy, and even hatred, which exists in the hearts of some church members, is the work of Satan. Such elements have a poisonous influence upon the church. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” The religious zeal which is manifested in a raid upon brethren is a zeal not according to knowledge. Christ has nothing to do with such testimony. 4T 489.1