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TRY TO KEEP ON GOOD TERMS WITH ALL. 413
groundless suspicions; or you may take offence when no offence is meant. But even when people do you harm on purpose, it is best to be forbearing. We never know the force of temptation under which men act; or the misconceptions under which they labor. We may ourselves have caused their misdoings by some unconscious error of our own. It is well to suspect ourselves sometimes of unknown faults, and to go on the supposition that what appears unkindness in others towards us, may be the result of some unguarded word or inconsiderate action on our part towards them. 2. Keep your hearts as full as possible of Christian love. The more abundant your love, the less will be your liability either to give or take offence. 3. And do not overrate the importance of men's misconduct towards you. We are not so much in the power of others as we are prone to imagine. The world is governed by God, and no one can hurt us against His will. Do that which is right, and you and your interests are secure. So take things comfortably. And try to overcome evil with good. And if you find the task a hard one, seek help from God.
3. Another lesson which I have learned on my way through life is, that it is dangerous to indulge a spirit of controversy. There may be occasions when controversy is a duty; but it is best, as a rule, just to state what you believe to be the truth, and leave it to work its way in silence. If people oppose it, misrepresent it, or ridicule it, then state it again at the proper time, with becoming meekness and gentleness, and then commit it to the care of its great Patron. It is difficult to run into controversy without falling into sin. Men need to be very wise and good to be able to go through a controversy honorably and usefully; and by the time they are qualified for the dangerous work, they prefer more peaceful employment. Controversy always tends to produce excess of warmth, and warmth of a dangerous kind. It often degenerates into a quarrel, and ends in shame. Men go from principles to personalities; and instead of seeking each other's instruction, try only to humble and mortify each other. They begin perhaps with a love of truth, but they end with a struggle for victory. They try to deal fairly at the outset, but become
414 OLD PREACHERS SHOULD BE KIND TO YOUNG ONES,
unscrupulous at last, and say or do anything that seems likely to harass or injure their opponents. The beginning of strife is like the letting out of water from a reservoir; there is first a drop, then a trickle, then a headlong rushing torrent, bearing down all before it, and sweeping away men and their works to destruction. It is best, therefore, to take the advice of the proverb, and "leave off contention before it be meddled with."
4. Another lesson that I have learnt on my way through life is, that ministers should deal very tenderly with their younger brethren. They should teach them, so far as they are able, and check them when they see them doing anything really wrong; but they should never interfere needlessly with their spiritual freedom. Young men of mind and conscience will think. They will test their creeds by the Sacred Oracles, and endeavor to bring them into harmony with the teachings of Christ and His Apostles. And it is right they should. It is their duty, as they have opportunity, to "prove all things." And few young men, of any considerable powers, can compare the creeds which they receive in their childhood with the teachings of Sacred Scripture, without coming to the conclusion, that on some points they are erroneous, and on others defective; that on some subjects they contain too much, and on others too little. And good young men will naturally feel disposed to lay aside what they regard as erroneous, and to accept what presents itself to their minds as true. In some cases they will make mistakes. The only men that never think wrong, are those who never think at all. There never was a child born into the world that learned to walk without stumbling occasionally, and at times even falling outright. And there never was a spiritual child that learned to travel in the paths of religious investigation, without falling at times into error. But what is to be done on such occasions? What does the mother do when her baby falls? Does she run and kick the poor little creature, and say, "You naughty, dirty tike, if ever you try to walk again, I will throw you into the gutter?" On the contrary, she runs and catches up the dear little thing; and if it has hurt itself, she kisses the place to make it well, and says, "Try again, my darling; try again." And it does try
AS NURSING MOTHERS TO THEIR CHILDREN. 415
again: and in course of time it learns to walk as steadily as its mother; and when she begins to stagger under the infirmities of age, it takes her hand, and steadies her goings.
And so it should be in spiritual matters. When a good young man falls into error, we should treat him with the tenderness and affection of a mother. "We were gentle among you," says Paul to the Thessalonians, "even as a nurse cherisheth her children." And this is the example. that we should follow towards our younger brethren. Whether we would keep them from erring, or bring them back when they go astray, we should treat them tenderly.. We should try to win their love and confidence. Men can often be led, when they cannot be driven. There are numbers who, if you attempt to drive them, will run the contrary way; who, if you treat them with respect, and show them that you love them, will follow you where
ever you may go.
But you must give them time. They cannot always come right all at once. When a fisherman angles for large fish, he provides himself with a flexible, elastic rod, and a good long length of line; and when he has hooked his prey, he gives it the line without stint, and allows it to dart to and fro, and plunge and flounder at pleasure, till it has tired itself well, and then he brings it to the bank with ease. If he were to attempt to drag the fish to the shore at once, by main force, it would snap his rod, or break his line, and get away into the deep; and he would lose both his fish and his tackle. And so it is in the world of mind. When we have to do with vigorous and active-minded young men, we must allow their intellects a little play. We must wait till they begin to feel their weakness. We must place a little confidence in them, and give them a chance both of finding out their deficiencies, and of developing their strength.
It would not be amiss if elder preachers could go on the supposition that they are not quite perfect or infallible themselves, that it is possible that their brethren may discover some truth in Scripture, that has not yet found its way into their creed; or detect some error in their creed, that has lurked there unsuspected for ages. And
they ought to be willing to learn, as well as disposed to teach.
But in any case, if our studious young brethren miss their way sometimes, we must be kind and gentle towards them, and in our endeavors to save them, must proceed with care. Deal harshly with them, and you drive them into heresy or unbelief. Deal gently and lovingly with them, and you bring them back to the truth. How often the disciples of Jesus erred with regard to the nature of His kingdom, and the means by which it was to be established. Yet how patiently He bore with them. And in this, as in other things, He has left us an example that we should tread in His steps. The sun keeps the planets within their spheres, and even brings back the comets from their far-off wanderings, by the gentle power of attraction. And the Sun of Righteousness keeps His spiritual planets in their orbits, and brings from the blackness of darkness the stars that wander, by the same sweet power. And the secondary lights of the world must keep their satellites in their orbits, and bring back to their spheres the stars that fall or lose their way, by kindred influences. The mightiest and divinest power in the uni
verse is LOVE.
5. And now comes a lesson to the young thinkers. Suppose your elder brethren should treat you unkindly; suppose they should discourage your search after truth, and require you to conform your creed to their own ideas, and your way of speaking to their own old style of expression; suppose that they should look with suspicion on your endeavors to come nearer to the truth, and, whenever you give utterance to a thought or an expression at variance with their own, should denounce you as heretics, and threaten you with excommunication, what should you do?
We answer, go quietly on in the fear of the Lord. Make no complaint, but prepare yourselves for expulsion. When expelled, go quietly to some Church that can tolerate your freedom, and work there in peace as the servants of God. Cherish no resentment. Commit your cause to God, and, laboring to do His will, leave Him to choose your lot.
Even the trials that come from the ignorance or wickedness of men, are of God's appointment. We are taught
TENDENCY OF UNBELIEF EVER DOWNWARDS, 417
that it was by God's ordination that Judas betrayed Christ; that God employed the wickedness of the traitor for the accomplishment of His great designs. David said, referring to Shimei, "Let him curse, for God hath commanded him." God employed the wickedness of Shimei, to try and punish David. Wesley has embodied the sentiment in one of his hymns, as follows:
"Lord, I adore Thy gracious will;
Joseph said, God had sent him down to Egypt to save many souls alive. His wicked brethren were only the instruments of his banishment. They meant it for evil, God turned it to`good. And so in your case: God may be using the ignorance or the wickedness of your persecutors to separate you from a body for which you are not fitted, and to place you in one where you will be more useful and more happy. When we do right, God will make the errors, and even the sins of our enemies, work for our good.
6. Another lesson which I have thoroughly learnt is, that though men may become unbelievers through other causes than vice, they cannot continue unbelievers without spiritual and moral loss. The inevitable tendency of infidelity is to debase men's souls. And here I speak not on the testimony of others merely, but from extensive observation and personal experience. I have known numbers whom infidelity has degraded, but none whom it has elevated. We do not say that every change in a Christian's belief is demoralizing. Disbelief in error, resulting from increase of knowledge, may improve his character; but the loss of faith in Christ, and God, and immortality, can never do otherwise than strengthen a man's tendencies to vice, and weaken his inclinations towards virtue. When infidels say that their unbelief has made them more virtuous, they attach different ideas to the word virtuous from those