GAMALIEL gave evidence of his wisdom in the advice he proffered to his Jewish friends of the Sanhedrin when they were about to deal harshly with the early disciples. His wise words were, "Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men....Refrain from these men, let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men it will come to naught: but if it be of God ye cannot overthrow it; lest ye be found to be fighting against God." (Acts 5:35-39.) Alas that so many who have named the name of Christ, and to some extent become partakers of the holy Spirit, and to some extent been taught in the school of Christ, and to some extent possess the wisdom that cometh from above—alas that so many of these seem to have less wisdom than is expressed in Gamaliel's words just quoted.
Some people by nature have so little combativeness that they lack strength of character, are too pliable, "wishy-washy": they lack the qualities of an overcomer, and need continually to seek grace and help from on high to take a stand for the truth and for righteousness. Otherwise they surely cannot be expected to come off more than conquerors. The Lord is seeking for his little flock those who have character, firmness, strength, as well as gentleness, meekness, patience, love. The happy combination which the Lord seeks is not found anywhere, however. All who come to him need to be refashioned in some respects to make them acceptable. Consequently on the other side of the question we find that some who have strong characters naturally have such strong combativeness that it is continually bringing them into trouble and needs to be curbed, brought under restraint.
It is difficult to say which of the two classes referred to has the advantage over the other. The one class must cultivate what the other class must restrain, and probably, all things considered, their chances are about equal in the matter of winning the race. However, those who have large combativeness, who are aggressive, forceful, usually attract more attention in the Church by reason of these qualities, and usually awaken more opposition even though they do not make enemies amongst those who love one another. The too pliable and docile are apt to think of themselves too favorably, and are very likely to be too favorably thought of by others as respects their qualifications for the Kingdom. Those who are strong and forceful are apt to be too roundly censured by others and to be too blind to the fact themselves. Oh, that we all could have sound minds! but since this is impossible, Oh, that we all could have a large measure of the spirit of a sound mind, and the ability to weigh ourselves according to the divine standard!
These words are specially intended to assist the dear brethren and sisters troubled with too large a degree of combativeness, disposed to be too aggressive. The Lord certainly showed markedly, particularly, his love for the strong characters when from amongst the twelve he selected Peter, James and John, the three most radical and aggressive of the apostles, as in some respects his favorites. So, then, those who have the aggressive quality by nature must not feel that it is a bar to their attainment of the Lord's "Well done," but rather that it is a good quality of itself if only it can be restrained and brought within proper bounds. They should see, as Gamaliel did, the danger of using their combativeness and aggressiveness against the Lord, against the Truth, against the brethren.
Our Lord says, "His servants ye are to whom ye render service." (Rom. 6:16.) The question is not, To whom do we profess to render service? nor, To whom do we think we are rendering service? but, Whose cause do we actually serve? From this standpoint, looking out over Christendom today, we ask ourselves, How many are serving God? and How many imagine they are serving him while they are really serving the Adversary?—really "fighting against God"? Serving Christendom [R4033 : page 228] we find hundreds of thousands of professed ministers of the Gospel, and millions of professed Christians fighting under various banners, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, etc.,—but whom are they fighting? Satan? Error? Like Saul of Tarsus many of them will shortly have their eyes opened to the fact that, so far from being soldiers of the cross, they are fighting against God, against the real soldiers of the cross, the followers of the Lamb. What a bitter disappointment will be theirs! how we wish that we could awaken them now to an examination of the commands of the great Chief Captain, that they might see that they are working and fighting under orders and directions not from him, but from human leaders and captains, some of these from the "dark ages," dead and buried.
We are glad to hope that if the Truth could be flashed from heaven many of these strong characters that are now fighting for sectarianism, and some of them for Antichrist, would fall astonished, humiliated, at the Master's feet, crying, "What wilt thou have me to do?"
Let us remember the Lord's words through the Apostle: "The Lord resisteth the proud but showeth favor to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." These verses, we believe, are a key to much of the error along the lines we have indicated. A strong character affected by a measure of pride is apt to take a wrong course from which it is almost impossible for him to recede. But if humility be there the strength, the combativeness, will be under proportionate control, and that much easier will it be for the individual to receive the proper instructions from the Lord, and to follow them, and to be fitted, polished and prepared for a place in the Kingdom. This same principle applies amongst those who have already received as a blessing from the Lord the light of Present Truth. We still need the humility that will enable us, if too lacking in character, strength, to acknowledge the same and seek it from the Lord. And we still need the humility which will keep close watch upon every word and act and thought, even with a view to having all in complete subjection to the will of the Lord that we be found not fighting against the Lord or against the Truth or against the brethren. How careful we should be to watch for the leadings of the Lord's providences, not only in our own experiences, but also in the words and experiences of others, and particularly to measure everything by the divine standards and not by our own opinions and preferences!