"Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for
an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For the whole
law is fulfilled in one word, even this, Thou shalt love thy
neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another,
take heed that ye be not consumed one of another."—Gal. 5:13-15 .
WHERE the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. This is illustrated in the world's history most remarkably. It was because the Jews had the instruction of the Law and more or less of its spirit that for centuries they were known as an unconquerable people. That is to say, they were conquered time and again, but were so dominated by the spirit of liberty that they made trouble for their conquerors and larger neighbors continually.
Similarly, though to a larger extent, the same has been true of Christianity: wherever the Word of God has gone the effect has been stimulation of the love of liberty in the same proportion. When during the "dark ages" the Word of God was "clothed in sackcloth," and false teachings of men took its place, the spirit of liberty slumbered and the world had a measure of peace and a general serfdom of the people. With the Reformation movement came the love of liberty afresh. The latest illustration along these lines is to be seen in Russia.
We do not mean to say that Christ and his apostles taught war, and discontent and strife,—neither did Moses and the Law. Quite to the contrary; love, peace, brotherly kindness, gentleness, patience, meekness, [R3751 : page 104] —these were the teachings of our Lord and his servants. The influences which proceeded from the Word were of two kinds: Some, with the enlightenment and liberty, received also the divine instruction and sought to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit; others receiving the spirit of liberty through the knowledge received not the spirit of the truth, but engrafted the knowledge upon the selfish stalk of the fallen nature and were more discontented because of their increased intelligence.
There is a Church nominal which is really part and parcel with the world, glossed with a little knowledge of the divine Word and plan and with some small endeavor to heed divine instruction; but the real Church includes only those who have turned from sin and accepted Christ with a full consecration of thought, word and deed. What effect has the truth upon these? We answer that even these "new creatures" find that the knowledge they receive and the spirit of liberty which comes to them through that knowledge have one effect upon their flesh and another effect upon their wills, their hearts. With their hearts they desire to serve the law of God, to live peaceably with all, to cultivate all the fruits and graces of the Spirit of Christ and to deal gently, lovingly, not only with the fellow-members of the body of Christ, the Church, but also to deal gently with the world. But they have, some more and some less, difficulty in contending with their own flesh and permitting the new mind to dominate it in word and in deed.
What Christian does not know from more or less experience the meaning of the words of our text, "If ye bite and devour one another"? If the hearts of God's people, their wills, their intentions, could be appealed to, separate and distinct from the weakness and bias of their flesh, there would be no doubt at all that every one of them would agree perfectly in his desire to live peaceably with his brethren and to glorify God by his meek and quiet disposition, his gentleness, brotherly kindness. But we cannot have it thus, for the new will is in the old body that is sadly warped and twisted by selfishness, and it must "fight a good fight" against the flesh, and must conquer at least to the extent of loving, striving for the right, the gentle, [R3752 : page 104] the good, however imperfectly it may attain to it.
The truth seems to take hold on the stronger characters rather than on the weaker ones. These have in their flesh more of the firmness, grittiness and the combativeness than have many others who are too pliable and wishy-washy to be acceptable to the Lord as members of the "little flock" of overcomers. Thus we see that the very quality which makes us acceptable to the Lord and which is one qualification of the overcoming position is a serious disadvantage in some respects, when a number of these of like strong character come together as a Church. Even a diamond surrounded by mud would cut nothing, would scratch nothing; but place a dozen diamonds together, and the more you get rid of the mud element the more gritting, scouring and cutting there is likely to be. So it is with the Lord's jewels—the more they come together the more they get wakened up, the more opportunities there will be for friction, and the greater necessity there will be that they all be thoroughly imbedded and covered with the holy Spirit, which, like oil, is smooth and unctuous and tends to prevent friction.
On the one hand we may see that as the Lord's people grow in grace and in knowledge and in the fruits and graces of the Spirit, there should be less danger of friction in the Church; but on the other hand let us remember that polished diamonds do more scratching than rough ones. Let us remember, too, that in our earliest experiences in the Truth we were somewhat like babes—we knew not enough to quarrel and dispute with each other respecting the lessons we were learning. As each grows, therefore, in knowledge and appreciation of the Truth he must likewise grow in the spirit of the Truth, or else his growth in knowledge will mean that he will be that much more of a trial to his dear brethren than when he was a babe in knowledge.
From this standpoint it should not surprise us if in the light of our day on every subject, especially on the Word, there would be more room for friction year by year, and the greater need for our remembrance of our 1906 text, "Be patient, brethren." The context shows us that these words were intended to be especially applicable in the end of the age. The time of trouble is accurately described—the conflict between the rich and the poor, which is coming about on the lines of increased knowledge in connection with the selfishness of the fallen nature. Then comes the exhortation, "Grudge not one against another, brethren; the Judge standeth at the door," "Be patient, brethren, the coming of the Lord draweth nigh."
The lesson here is in full accord with the text we are discussing. We need patience; we need to remember that it is not in order for us to nurse grudges or hard feelings of any kind, especially against those who like ourselves are striving to walk in the narrow way and to attain joint-heirship with our Lord in the Kingdom. Rather we should be willing to sacrifice something of our own rights and liberties and privileges in the interest of others. This does not signify that we should sit quietly and hear the truth misrepresented when we have the right and the opportunity to defend it. We should contend earnestly for the truth against the error, but we should not contend against the brethren. If there be any who deny the foundations of our Christian faith, the ransom, the Lord through the apostles has left us no room to doubt how firmly we should take a stand in respect to any kind of fellowship with them. (I Cor. 5:11.) But there are a thousand and one occasions of friction amongst the brethren where no principle of truth is at stake; and these we are to be willing and glad to waive in the interest of harmony and peace and fellowship. This, however, need not mean that we should not present our understanding of the truth on proper occasions, but we need not insist upon them nor force them upon others if they cannot see them as we do.
In our text the Apostle seems to imply that such a condition might arise even amongst the Lord's people that some would not only be wounded to the extent of being "bitten" by the harshness and slander of others, but that the tendency to retaliate more or less in kind would arise, and that it would mean a general [R3752 : page 105] conflict unworthy of God's children and more nearly resembling a fight among dogs.
"Take heed that ye be not consumed one of another," urges the Apostle. What if in our appreciation of the liberty that is ours, and of which we know through the Gospel, we should reach the point where we would be so contentious for our liberties, great and small, that we would consume some brother for whom Christ died! What if in injuring another the spirit of strife should so react upon us as to poison our own spiritual lives and we also should be consumed—lost as respects the gracious things to which the Lord has invited us and for which we have been running in the race! Let the Apostle's words ring in our hearts, "Lest ye be consumed one of another."
With this thought before our minds let us more and more put on the armor of God to fight against our own fleshly weaknesses and to fight for our dear brethren, assisting them by example and by precept to war a good warfare also against the world, the flesh and the adversary.