THE SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES
It seems clear that man is by nature a fighting
animal. Wars recur between nations as soon as the
people have recovered sufficient strength, and have
had time partly to forget the horrors of the last
struggle. The men who succeed in business are the
men who love the fight of it. Politicians turn their
disagreements into fights with as much unfairness
and injustice as in actual warfare. Even games are
all struggles, and most men cannot understand the
pure pleasures of artistic achievement without any
contest as to who wins.
This being the natural tendency of the flesh it is
not surprising that the same fighting spirit is found
in connection with religion. It need occasion no
surprise if men who do not fight either with guns or
fists, and who take no part in the struggles of politicians,
are apt to be especially violent. It is certainly
true that religious disputes have often resulted in a
bitterness and uncharitableness more sinful than the
errors which caused the strife to begin.
It is important therefore for us to remember the
principles laid down in scripture for our guidance in
these matters. If brethren could saturate their minds
with the perfectly clear principles stated and
reiterated in the Word, it might put an end to nearly
all the destructive disputing, merely by the removal
of all unnecessary provocation.
The first point to emphasize is the fact that
strife and debate are treated as essentially evil things.
THE SCRIPTURAL :PRINCIPLES
Thus in writing to the Corinthians the apostle took
the fact that there was envying, strife and division
in the Church, as clear evidence that the members
were still carnal minded: "For ye are yet carnal; for
whereas there is among you envying and strife and
division are ye not carnal and walk as men ?"
(I Cor. 3 : 3).
In writing to the Galatians the same apostle
includes strife in a list of evil things summarising the
works of the flesh: "Now the works of the flesh are
manifest, which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness,
lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred,
variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such
like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told
you in time past, that they which do such things
shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal.
5 : I9-2I).
Truly the word strife appears here in a terrible
list of evils with a terrible penalty threatened. We
do well to make a very critical examination of our
own conduct to make sure that any variance, wrath
and strife existing in the ecclesias now, shall not be
aggravated by any wrong action or wrong words of
In writing to Timothy the apostle Paul again
denounces strife. He refers to the evils which come
from strife of words and perverse disputings (I Tim.
6 : 3-5). Then in the second letter he gives this
positive instruction: "But foolish and unlearned
questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes;
and the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be
gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meek-
PRINCIPLES AND PROVERBS
ness instructing those who oppose themselves"
(2 Tim. 3 : 23-25).
If anyone should raise the question how we can
avoid strife in view of the wrong attitude taken by
others, we surely have the answer in this positive
instruction. If we are convinced that those who
oppose us are doing wrong and that in faithfulness
to the Truth we must contend with them, we have
ready to hand a splendid test of our discipleship.
We have an opportunity to be gentle, patient and
meek in instructing those who oppose themselves.
If these qualities could be cultivated all round it
might soon be found that there was no need for any
further argument. Wrongdoing would accept the
necessary reproof and wrong thinking would be
corrected. The apostolic method would remove all
the fuel that feeds the destructive fire. The railing,
striving and impatient disputing, the personal hits
and retorts of the carnal mind, continuously add
fuel to the fires of wrath until even some who try to
obey the teaching of the Word may perish in the
The apostle Paul gave us example as well as
precept. After the position of the Gentiles had been
determined there was still much prejudice among the
Jews, causing difficulty for disciples who feared the
criticism of men. The apostle Peter was at fault in
withdrawing himself from some of the Gentile
believers apparently as a concession to the prejudices
of certain Jews who had recently come to him. The
apostle Paul "withstood him to the face." Fortunately
we are told what he said: "If thou being a
Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, why compellest
thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?"
THE SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES
Here was the essence of the argument forcibly
but gently expressed. It truly showed an aptitude
for teaching and meekly instructing, and it had the
It would have been possible to have brought a
formidable indictment against the apostle Peter if
one had cared to use carnal methods. He might have
been reminded that he at one time had spoken
against the idea of Christ dying at all, and had called
forth a rebuke from the Master. At a later period he
used the sword and had to be reproved again. Later
still he forsook the Lord and denied him even with an
oath. If in addition to the undoubted facts of Peter's
weakness all derogatory reports regarding him and
his associations had been collected, it might have
seemed to the fleshly mind a crushing blow to the
influence of Peter and all his connections.
We simply cannot imagine the apostle Paul
using such methods. He was ever ready to remember
his own dark past but not that of others. When it was
necessary to reprove the brethren he did so with
gentleness and patience. Though he had authority
such as none of us possess, he "besought them by
the mercies of God" (Rom. I2 : I). He "besought
them" to follow him (I Cor. 4 : I6). He besought
them by the meekness and gentleness of Christ ( 2
Cor. Io : I). He said: "I will very gladly spend and
be spent for you, though the more abundantly I
love you the less I be loved" (2 Cor. 12 : IS)·
This was in writing to an ecclesia which was
very faulty, and against which a very formidable
accusation might have been made.
The whole tenor of the apostle's teaching is as
outlined in the fifth and sixth chapters of the letter
PRINCIPLES AND PROVERBS
to the Galatians. We must overcome the flesh and
all its works; we must bring forth the fruit of the
spirit; but we must at the same time remember that
we are all sinners who can only be saved through
grace. Those who are spiritually minded must thus
be ready to restore offenders in the spirit of meekness;
considering themselves lest they also be tempted;
bearing one another's burdens, and so fulfilling the
law of Christ (Gal. 6 : 1-2).
There is further instruction regarding necessary
controversy in the writing of the apostle Peter:
"Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion
one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be
courteous: not rendering evil for evil or railing for
railing: but contrariwise, blessing" (1 Peter 3 : 8-g).
"Be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh
you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness
and fear" (verse 15).
"All of you be subject one to another and be
clothed with humility" (chapter 5 : 5).
Such instructions require emphasis in time of
controversy, for then it is that we are in the greatest
danger of forgetting them. We may be stung by an
unfair criticism and we think of a crushing reply.
The flesh would call it a righteous reproof, but
Scripture calls it rendering railing for railing.
We are perhaps in a position to quote from a
past utterance of an opponent, a cutting criticism
of one of his present supporters. The quotation
would not help or guide anyone a fraction of a
degree in the right direction; but it might tend to
cause division among those who do not agree with us.
The flesh would call such a quotation skilful tactics;
Scripture calls it sowing discord among brethren.
THE SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES
It is easy for men to deceive themselves into
thinking that unrighteous and unjust extremes are
simply the evidence of their zeal for truth. Even a
readiness to listen to the accused is regarded as
weakness. Such extremists cry shame on the very
effort to be fair, and in their determination to have
no compromise with error they sometimes exaggerate
faults, and so grossly misrepresent the objects of
their attack that · they become guilty of offences
worse than all the error against which they are
trying to fight.
We must not fall into the mistake of taking an
extreme view even of the extremist. God has been
merciful to such men in the past, and we must be
merciful now even in our thoughts. We may state
most emphatically, however, that it is wrong to
exaggerate the faults of anyone or to find ugly and
misleading names with which to label those who do
not quite see eye to eye with us. It is quite possible to
be valiant for the Truth and zealous for the Lord
without being unfair even to those who are mistaken,
and it is always wrong to be unfair. In faithfulness
we must point out the danger that in great zeal for
the jots and tittles of the law men may lose sight of
the foundation principles. All their faith and works
may become valueless through lack of charity.
The need for a clear perception of the scriptural
principles governing controversy is shown by the
tendency toward unrighteous exaggeration even on
the part of those from whom better things would be
expected. A few days ago we read some words
written by a critic who has usually shown a sense of
responsibility in the use of words. Yet there are
exaggerations which tend to foster strife without the
PRINCIPLES AND PROVERBS
slightest suggestion as to the restitution of the
offenders. It . declares that the belittling of the
commandments among us had become an open sin.
This is a very definite and severe judgment,
which presumably includes the present writer in its
sweeping condemnation. What does it mean? Is
there any effort or desire to restore us "in the spirit
of meekness", or are we too evil for that ? If we
"belittle the commandments of Christ" to the point
of "open sin", what hope can we have of forgiveness
unless we can be restored ? I have just recently been
through the four Gospel records in an attempt to
classify all the commandments ofthe Lord Jesus and
apply them to present experience. It is easy to find
commands which are very imperfectly observed.
The repeated command to love one another even as
he has loved us (John 13 : 34) has been repeatedly
broken. The commands not to lay up treasure on
earth and not to seek the riches of the Gentiles are so
foreign to the spirit of our age that we only grasp
them with great difficulty, and so far no one has been
found to rend the ecclesias on this issue. It is quite
certain that our critic does not mean these matters.
He probably refers to the vexed question of a
decision as to where to draw the line between
reproving, rebuking or withdrawing from an
offender. Is there anything in the commands of
Christ to suggest that one who takes too lenient a
view of his brother's offences is to be condemned and
repudiated ? I know of no such command. There
are plenty of warnings that those who take too severe
a view of a brother's offences will themselves be
dealt with severely. There are warnings against
judging and against the natural tendency to see the
THE SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES
defects in the eye of a brother while remaining unconscious
of greater defects in ourselves. If some
among us err in their unwillingness to take the most
severe of all measures against offenders, if they
carry too far the commands to be patient and to
restore offenders in the spirit of meekness, it cannot
in fairness be described as "belittling the commandments
The use of this expression is to be explained in
the same way as the many far worse attempts at
argument which we sometimes hear. It is a natural
emanation from strife and debate.
It is not fair, it is not true; but it has the doubtful
merit of being severe, and therefore it is made to
serve. It is so easy to be led into the use of such
expressions, and we must not make · any man an
offender for a word, but we do well to sound a
warning. Be pitiful, be courteous, be gentle, be meek,
be honest. Cultivate charity and love, and remember
that for every idle word that you speak you shall give
account in the day of judgment.