The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: B

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Brethren of Christ do the will of Father

There are many writers and perhaps even some thinkers who would readily fall into error if asked to describe the true Christadelphian. In the Brotherhood there has been a very natural tendency to put the emphasis upon the subject that is to the front at the moment; and in times of controversy the true Christadelphian is known by being on "our side". The word, however, means brother of Christ, and as the Lord himself gave us an explicit definition we should experience no difficulty in recognizing a much fuller meaning. "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother."

This is a principle of first importance. It is so fundamental and so simple that it is continually ignored. There is nothing in the nature of paradox in this statement. It has long since been recognized as a truism that men rarely think seriously of principles that are fundamental and obvious. Such truths are accepted as a matter of course. Every man wants to have truth on his side and it becomes quite natural to assume that it is there, especially when feeling is strong. In the same way men can readily persuade themselves that God is on their side, even while they are violating every command He has ever given. The warring nations and churches all cry "God is with us", even though they could not advance a single argument to show that they are with God. Individuals are just the same. A man will profess his firm belief in providence and relate a remarkable experience to prove the fact of divine intervention in human affairs. He tells us how a series of extraordinary mishaps prevented him from sailing in a boat in which he had booked a passage. After full details of how others were helped by circumstance to catch the boat while he was prevented, we reach the rich conclusion that the boat went down with all on board. We should be accounted rude if we inquired how such selection could be regarded as an evidence of providential intervention. He takes it for granted that if God interferes in human affairs at all, a special care for him will inevitably be a first charge to the angels, while the lives of other men will be a matter of comparative indifference.

In similar manner, men assume that God will come into line with their feelings in time of controversy. Their differences are stimulated by opposition; they work themselves up to passionate attack or defence. Then if they think of God at all they assume that He will be angry with those who oppose them. They are falling into just the error of the striving nations. They are not trying to be on the Lord's side but rather assuming that the Lord will be with them.

We do well, then, so far as we are able, to break away from human passions and prejudices and test ourselves by this first principle. What is the will of the Father in heaven? We who believe the Bible have plenty of instructions to guide us in life. We must get the answer from the "Word" and not from our own hearts. In some respects, ecclesial life is sure to resemble the political or commercial world, for we find the same elemental facts of human nature; but, as we value God's offer of life, we must find a much higher standard of conduct.

If we venture to criticise brethren and urge them to take a course contrary to their inclination, we are sure to get some hard knocks. That is a matter of universal experience. It is equally natural that we shall receive commendation and support from those who are still more critical. In such circumstances there is a great danger that we may run to extremes, just on the lines of political parties. A man's estimate of any situation is so easily biased by personal feeling. Resentment of harsh and unfair words will often play a potent though entirely hidden part in framing a policy. Then, when a party has been formed, when once a decision has been taken, the natural tendency will be to support the party and attack all opposing parties by fair means or foul.

Possibly some readers will exclaim, "On what a low plane you put the matter! Political parties are doubtless developed in this manner; but in the Truth it is different!"

Certainly it ought to be quite different; but we are dealing with the same human nature, the worst of which nearly always comes to the front in time of strife. We can only make ourselves different from the world by taking heed to the words of Scripture. They are plain enough. We must not suppose that the words regarding the evil human heart and the worthlessness of flesh only apply to other people. We are all of the same nature. The most dangerous men are those who are never conscious of being on a low plane. They can mistake the motions of sheer diabolism for a righteous and worthy zeal. The elements of diabolism are in us all. Often they may be aroused into activity and they will blend with ideals in the most complete manner. There is enough of the genuine to hide the spurious, and unless we apply the acid test base metal will pass off as gold.

Are we doing the will of the Father in heaven? That is the real test. It is not a question of doing what we assume ought to be His will. It is not enough to find in our hearts general desires and aspirations in the right direction. Is the work we are doing now in accordance with the revealed will of God? Are we engaged in the works of love, dispensing the bread and water of life, doing good to all men, especially those of the household of faith? Are we crucifying the flesh by enduring evil treatment without retaliation, leaving vengeance of all degrees to the Lord?

It is so easy to be self-deceived in these matters. If men revile us they are doing harm to the Truth. We can soon persuade ourselves that an effort to crush them and make them appear contemptible is simply in the interests of the Truth and not a matter of retaliation at all. This is simply one of the familiar disguises of the heart. Its shallowness is revealed by the fact that sometimes we have such a personal and enduring affection for certain men that when they are unfair to us we have no desire to retaliate or to say anything that would wound. We never feel then that there is any command in Scripture to make us more severe as a matter of duty. A simple statement of the Truth as we understand it does not need the personal hits so dear to the old man of the flesh. If men watch for iniquity in us and make us offenders for a word, or for a possible inflection they choose to put on a word, we must not retaliate by watching for iniquity in them. Sometimes brethren who criticise us lay themselves open to attack by the most amazing inconsistency. It would be easy to raise an agitation which would cause the critics trouble and perhaps even make them appear contemptible. By all worldly standards such retaliation would be right; but would it do any good to the cause of the Truth? Would such work please our Father in heaven? That is the only test that matters.

In these days of divine silence, and in the absence of visible authority, we have to choose for ourselves what course we shall take and to what manner of work we shall devote our strength. We must try to be honest and free from self-deception in making the decision. Shall we best do the will of our Father in heaven by building up those who have found the saving faith, but who need the helping, sympathetic hand as sorely as we need it ourselves; or would the Father be better pleased if we devoted our energies towards pulling down that which once we built? There are thousands of brethren and sisters who need exhortation, there are millions of fellow creatures who have never heard the Gospel. There are some hundreds who are separated from us by points of disagreement, although if taken individually we should all alike pass the most severe examination devised by any brother of a generation ago. Here we have a choice of fields in which to labour. It might be possible, even easy, to attack the last-named class and skilfully raise such agitation that strife would rage where now there is peace, and we might gain a few adherents out of the wreckage. We may feel that something would be gained even though a few babes should be slain in the struggle. We might easily be tempted to such a course by the natural instinct of retaliation, disguised and out of sight. Sometimes drastic ways may be legitimate, and we can soon persuade ourselves that as we are convinced of the soundness of our position, the possible gain of a few will justify the means. What is the revealed will of our Father in heaven? Would He desire us to raise strife in such quarters, to expose the naked inconsistency of some zealous but mistaken men in order that a few who already hold and practice the One Faith might obtain a better knowledge of human values? The Word condemns such strife and places the sower of discord among brethren as the apex of abomination. It tells us to preach the Word, to be instant in season and out of season; to reprove, rebuke and exhort with long suffering. It presents us with a series of letters to the churches showing where responsibility lies, and how we should trust each other. It gives us a picture of the judgment seat, with the whole emphasis put on positive and constructive work. It warns us repeatedly against judging and condemning each other, and of the danger that we may be guilty of greater errors than those we condemn. It lays down the principle that men may be doing good work even though they "walk not with us". It tells us that the servant of the Lord must not strive but be patient, long suffering and apt to teach.

There is an immense field of constructive work before us. Every pound we can spare and every talent we can muster can be devoted to work that we know is right. Truly it is easy to find out the revealed will of God, and the one who shall do the will of the Father in heaven is the true Christadelphian.


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