by John Dickie
THE word devil means an accuser, a slanderer, and is well applied to the wicked adversary of God and man, who continually calumniates the ways of God to man, and accuses sinful and erring man even to his reconciled God. It occasions no relentings whatever to that cruel spirit, that he himself has been first,—-
"The tempter ere the accuser of mankind."
But, besides his work in this higher region between God and his children, he has a busy sphere of operation in accusing and slandering man to his fellow-man; especially in maligning the children of God, against whom he cherishes the most relentless hatred. All his power is continually exerted to do the utmost possible of injury to Christ's cause, and Christ's people. In carrying on his wicked work, however, he needs help; and pity is it, that he finds the fitting help so easily. As the great Accuser, he needs witnesses to support his charges; and as the slanderer, he needs tale-bearers to spread abroad his lies. These he can find everywhere in sufficient plenty; but, of all human instruments, no one serves the devil's murderous end so thoroughly as a man of God. He can make dreadful work with such a tool, if once he gets it in his hands. A score of open sinners cannot serve him, in this fashion, with half the efficiency of a single saint; and this efficiency shall be all the greater that the saint is eminent for sanctity. O believer, was it for this that God entrusted thee with the inestimable talent of influence among thy fellows, that thou mightest use it for the devil's ends, and that it might serve to give thy word the greater weight when Satan brings thee forward as a witness to sustain his lying charges, or as a dupe to publish far and wide the slanderous coinage of his fertile malice?
Man, as man, delights in being the devil's witness. For "in more ways than one do men sacrifice to the rebellious angels." We need to come far down indeed, to reach the reality of man's deep degradation as a fallen creature. He is of his father the devil, and the works of his father he wills to do. He finds a measure of delight even in the cruel and calumnious lie. "For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another" (Titus iii. 3). And the more wicked any being is, the readier is he to detect sin in others, and the more merciless in denouncing it. This is a strange phase of the awful workings of man's deceitful heart; but it is as firmly established by universal experience as any fact can be. So much, indeed, is this the case, that we will do well to notice what faults they are, that we are specially ready to condemn in others; and to take alarm from this, as a probable indication that the same evils are working unsuspected in ourselves. This much at least is certain, that the guiltiest is always the first to detect his own besetting sin in his neighbour; and he is sure to be the fiercest in condemning it. The merciless prosecutors of the poor woman taken in adultery were themselves men whose consciences could not bear the gentlest touch. And again, when Mary, in her ungrudging love, poured her costly ointment on the head of her beloved Lord; who is the leader among the disciples when they censured this offering of grateful love? It was Judas. And not only does he censure it, but it fills him "with indignation," an indignation which he succeeds in com- municating to his fellows. Of course he needed to hide from them, and from himself too, if possible, the base passions that really moved him; so he attributed his strong feelings and his strong expression of them, to extraordinary compassion for the poor. Poor! what did he care for the poor; he, the heartless thief who was daily stealing the very alms that had been given to the poor. And the same readiness to censure with indignation is the characteristic of all who, like Judas, are hypocrites. "An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour" (Prov. ii. 9), and with his tongue he continually smiteth his fellow-servants (Matt.xxiv. 49).
And while the wicked are invariably sharp to detect the evil of others, this is peculiarly the case with the self-righteous. A shrewd observer of human nature says, "the more self-love we have, the more severe our censures." The free indulgence, then, of a censorious spirit, is not only a proof of reigning self-righteousness, but a powerful means for its unlimited increase. If, like the Pharisee in Luke xviii., we allow ourselves to despise others, this contempt shall foster the very pride out of which it grew, and we shall, more than before, trust in ourselves as being righteous. If we ungraciously regard our fellows as "extortioners, unjust, and adul- terers," we shall infallibly annex to it the self-complacent counterpart, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are." For a man of this spirit—-
"Enchanted with the love of fame,
Must find the jewel in his neighbour's shame."
Alas, how freely is this wicked propensity of man's heart indulged. So common is the sin, that, in many circles, a small company of friends shall scarcely spend an hour or two in social enjoyment, but part of this enjoyment shall lie in the guilty indulgence of this very sin. Nay, more, it is not uncommon to meet with persons who seem to place religion itself very much in censorious judgments of preachers, churches, and neighbours generally; of all indeed, except themselves, as if it were some relief to conscience to think that most of those around them were worse than they. Surely this is a perversion as monstrous as if a man were to place his religion in drunkenness, or theft, or blasphemy. "The Holy Ghost came down," says quaint old Fuller, "not in the shape of a vulture, but in the form of a dove;" and all who are renewed by him turn instinctively from the carrion to feed on the sweet and cleanly grain.
But, after all, as remarked above, Satan's best witnesses are believers; and this, not only on account of their personal character, but still more, from their peculiar position. When a charge against a man is witnessed to by his own brother, how damaging it be- comes. Now there is something badly inconsistent in a Christian's lending himself to be used by Satan in this way. He that is himself a pauper, should never speak disparagingly of another's poverty. The man that confessedly lives, hour by hour, a mere dependent on God's mercy, has no right to grudge the same forgiving mercy to his fellow. How can he forget what he has so often said, that he himself is the chief of sinners? Or, when he begins to confess sin, why should he set himself to confess another man's, who has so much of his own unconfessed in detail to God or man? Ah, he may be a Christian, even though he "sitteth and speaketh against his brother;" but surely he is a backsliding Christian, and has urgent need, for the present, to look well to himself. No man who has just been washing his Saviour's feet with tears, and kissing them in the rapture of a joy that flows from having received a forgiveness unparalleled in its greatness and its freeness, will go out with the moisture still on his cheek, and the sanctifying joy in his heart, to accuse, to judge, to condemn a fellow sinner. Nay, while in this spirit, he will do his utmost to compel a guilty neighbour to come to the same gracious and forgiving Saviour. And in this spirit the believer ought always to be. "Shall the sinner be proud that he is going to hell? Shall the saint be proud that he is newly saved from it?"
"But we have judged nothing, we have fabricated nothing," perhaps some one may say; "we have merely repeated a well-known story, that is only too true." True, is it? Ah, my friend, are you quite sure of that? Possibly the central fact may be as you say, only too true; but this may be the case, while yet the setting that surrounds it is altogether false. Have you, along with your brother's fall, told all the outs and ins of his sore conflict, ere he fell? Have you truly exhibited the bewilderments of his judgment, and the suddenness of that last sharp assault which carried the fortress of his will by storm? Have you spoken, too, of the poignant grief, the self-loathing penitence, the deep abasement of heart before God, that have followed his sin! All these, and a thousand more, were needed to be known, and considered, before a righteous judgment could be formed; have you known them all, and have you told them all? No, you have not. The devil did not mean that these should be told, but only so much of the story as should damage the brother, and should dishonour his Lord as much as possible; and you, being unhappily seduced to become his witness, have told only so much as the devil meant you should. And what, though all what you have said be true? Satan can tell the truth, when the truth fits him; but whether he tells the truth or makes the lie, be uses both only for some devilish end. And what hast thou to do, O man of God, with helping the accuser of thy brethren, or volunteering to be a witness in his interest, when he cruelly prosecutes thy Father's children. It is not denied that all that you have said is true. But while you took care to speak the truth, did you take equal care to "speak the truth in love?" The mother does not hasten to expose the shame of a beloved child, even though the story be all true; but hides it in her sorrowing heart, for love hermetically seals her lips. And love like hers will seal your lips and mine. "Is she a Christian?" asked a celebrated missionary in the East, of one of the converts who was speaking unkindly of a third party. "Yes, I think she is" was the reply. "Well then, since Jesus loves her in spite of that, why is it that you can't?" The rebuke was felt, and the fault-finder instantly withdrew. Some days later, the same party was speaking to the missionary in a similar spirit about another person. The same question was put, "Is she a Christian?" In a half triumphant tone, as if the speaker were beyond the reach of gunshot this time, it was answered, "I doubt if she truly is." "Oh, then," rejoined the missionary, "I think that you and I should feel such tender pity for her soul, as to make any harsher feeling about her quite impossible."
One occasionally meets with persons who seem to plume themselves on their sagacity in detecting the faults of others. In many cases the gift is rather a thing to be ashamed of than desired. Perhaps, with a little more pride and envy, they might be more dexterous still. For there are spiritual affinities, as there are chemical affinities; and it is often the evil in us that is so sharp in discerning the evil in others. All actions are capable of being looked at in a variety of lights. The best have blemishes that suffice to attract the eye which loves to rest on blemishes; while all but the very worst have something in them which a kind and considerate heart can regard with pleasure. Our discovery, then, of what is in a brother is often really a discovery of what is in ourselves. Our judgment of him speaks much less of his goodness or of his badness, than it speaks of the humble love and gentleness, on the one hand, or of the pride and malice, on the other, that rule in ourselves. Even Jesus himself could not pass the bar of envy. And while holy love will see something to commend in the worst, some little star twinkling in the darkest sky, the evil eye will discern evil in the loveliest character, a spot somewhere on the brightest sun.
But, let me ask the sharp-sighted censor, has he equal affinities with the good? Is he as ready to discern, and to commend the hidden grace in a lowly brother's life? Can he see, through all the thick veils of corruption, the struggling faith and love, the peni- tence for sin, the hungering of the heart for God? and is he as hasty to tell to others the unsuspected good which he has discovered, that they may join him in his thanks-givings to God? This were an exercise more befitting the critical acumen of a child of God. Any wicked soul can do the other very well, but only a gracious soul is competent for this. It is only the spirit of Christ in us that can discover and rejoice in the fruits of the same spirit in others.
The law of God's house is love—-love like the love of Jesus. The old rule of brotherly love had this for its measure—-"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." This implies, among other things, that we feel as tenderly towards a brother, in spite of his faults, as we do towards ourselves, in spite of our own. Now, how considerate we are in reference to our faults, making every allowance for ourselves, on the grounds of habit, temperament, or sudden temptation. Does not our brother suffer too from his peculiar temperamental bias, and from the power of habit; and should we not consider his case quite as charitably as our own? But, indeed, the old measure of brotherly love is neither broad enough, nor long enough, to meet our heavenly Father's thought about us, in this dispensation of abounding grace. We are to love each other; not as we love our- selves, but as Christ has loved us. This is the new commandment—-new, not as to its matter, for it was the old commandment which always was from the beginning, but new in its motives, and new in its measure. "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." And how has Jesus dealt with us in reference to our faults? Oh, what patient love, what perfect grace! How unupbraiding has he ever been! If there be one thing more than another which sweetly melts the believer's heart, it is when he receives fresh tokens of the love which "multiplieth to pardon." And this love we are to imitate. As Christ has borne with us the sinful, so are we, for his sake, to bear with the infirmities of others. And this we are not doing, if we allow ourselves needlessly to speak of them.
When John Wesley was framing the rules for the Societies, he gave the duty, spoken of, a prominent place. The fifth of the directions for the Bands enjoins on all the members "not to mention the fault of any behind his back, and to stop those short that do;" and among the rules for the preachers there is one which says, "Believe evil of no one;" while the next adds, "Speak evil of no one." Let me recall the words in the first rule, "Not to mention the fault of any behind his back; and to stop those short that do" The last clause of this is as important as the first. For, in truth, if we listen to an evil speaker, we become partaker of his sin. Besetting sin is counted as bad as theft. "The devil," says old Frances de Sales, "is on the tongue of him that slanders, and in the ear of him that listens." So, then, we may bring on ourselves a share of the malicious speaker's guilt, if we become his patient hearers; for we can deliver our souls only by showing him the angry countenance that frowns to silence the backbiting tongue.
There is, perhaps, no point, in regard to which we need to exercise a more rigid self-jealousy, than in respect to the weaknesses and sins of our brethren. We should hate the sin, but we should also love the sinner, and seek to have him healed. As the members of Christ, we are to cherish sympathy with Christ, who is the Intercessor, after being also the propitiation (1 John ii. 2); and to have no sympathy with Satan, who is the merciless accuser, after being first the seducer. If, instead of this, our love be chilled, and we be drawn away from communion with Christ in his compassion for his wandering sheep, into communion with the enemy in his wicked practices against its life, this very spirit may be a greater sin in us, than the sin in him which we affect to deplore. In dealing, then, with a brother's faults, whether before his face or behind his back, let all be done in the spirit of meekness, considering ourselves lest we also be tempted (Gal. vi. 1).
"Let that which moves me to condemn,
Be rather want of love for them,
Than Jealousy for Thee."
It would indeed be a great deal more comfortable, in some respects at least, if we had all fewer faults. But what if these be an essential element in our present training. I do not speak of immoralities, but of infirmities, and weaknesses, and failings. What if my brother needs my faults to help his growth in grace; and what if I, on my part, am the better of his faults, that I may thereby be exercised in patient love. Possibly we could not otherwise be so well trained to bear each other's burdens, and to walk in the footsteps which Christ has left us for our example (see 1 Pet. ii. 19-23). Perhaps the world, as it is, forms the very best school for the discipline of creatures so depraved as we are. It is possible, that in no other set of circumstances could we be so happily educated in the humble patience that is slow to take offence, and in the thoughtful meekness that is slow to give it, in the active love that labours for the help of the weak, and in the candour that puts the best possible construction on the doubtful. And if we might have less sorrow, were there no faults at all among us, to tax each other's patience, perhaps this form of joy might be less safe for us than the joy which we can have at present, as abundantly as we like to take it—-the joy of fellowship with Jesus, and of the service of patient love to him and his.
But Satan not only accuses man; he attempts a bolder flight, and dares to accuse God. What are all the hard speeches in the mouths of the ungodly but so many charges against God? Nay, what are all the hard thoughts, the complaining thoughts, the unbelieving thoughts of God's children, but only the devil's accusation of him? He overthrew Eve by suggesting evil of the Holy One; and he torments and seduces believers still by suggesting his most perplexing insinuations. In fact, a great part of Satan's work in the world and in the Church lies in this very thing—-suggesting unworthy thoughts of God to the hearts of men. To support these, he needs witnesses; and here, again, he finds no witness so suitable as a professed believer. He charges God with want of love, and he appeals for proof to the sorrowful, thoughts and words of believers. He insinuates doubts of His wisdom, and is only too well supported by the complaints and troubles of God's children. He obscures the awful brightness of the divine holiness, lest the light should awake the sleeping world or stir up the drowsy saint; and his proof he seeks in the careless living of most of those that name His name. He charges God with want of truth; not broadly stating it, but softly whispering to the heart the enfeebling thought, till the believer's peace is confounded, and the unbeliever's soul is destroyed. And this charge he craftily supports by the cares and fears of mistrusting believers, whose sorrows, after all, come mainly out of this—-they are afraid that God will not be as good as his word. O believer, art thou not overwhelmed with the thought, that the devil is dexterously using all thy weeping fears and thy unbelieving troubles to calumniate thy Lord, and to destroy thy neighbours? It is impos- sible—-it is impossible for God to lie. Be assured of this; venture everything on the assurance, and speak with confidence about it. Never again let Satan tempt thee into the witness-box, to testify for him that, after all the promises—-nay, after the swom oath of God—- thou still art filled with gravest doubts whether or not He is to be trusted.
The devil too, accuses a man to himself. He will charge him, and press the charge, that he is only a hypocrite and a deceiver. Says one, who knew him well in this respect—-"He bedaubeth us with his own foam, and then tempteth us to believe that the bedaubing cometh from ourselves." If he can entice us but a hairs-breadth off the King's highway, he will do his best to draw us farther, till he plunge us into the horrible dungeon of Doubting Castle; and, for witnesses, he will get the poor soul to witness for him against itself. No soul knows the bitter anguish of such a case, save those who have been mangled by the terrible club of Giant Despair. Ah, my troubled brother, play not into the hands of Satan, as he seeks in malice to destroy thee. Up, and away to Jesus; for no soul was ever more welcome to him than thou wilt be. What though, thou be the "chief of sinners?" Jesus saves to the uttermost. And let not these iron doors and heavy bolts retain thee; for know this, that the key of promise, in the hand of Faith, can open every lock in Doubting Castle. Nay, do not reason any further, but believe.
"All is finished; do not doubt it,
But believe your dying Lord.
Never reason more about it—
Only take Him at His word."
But the devil can become a flatterer when it suits his purpose, as well as a slanderer; and for his flatteries, too, he needs witnesses. In this case, also, believers are Satan's most effective helpers. Ah, there is an infinity of danger here;—-a danger all the more likely to snare the feet of one who, alive to Satan's craft as the Accuser, is fleeing from that form of the evil as far as he is able. Let such take heed to it, that, in avoiding the one department of Satan's service, he be not casting himself, heart and soul, into a worse. For no malignant slander can injure a man like the mistaken kindness which makes him satisfied with himself or with his doings. And this injury is ruinous, in exact proportion to the pleasure found in the delicious poison. How watchful, then, we need to be, since we have to guard against one who can make deadly use of our amiable, as well as of our unamiable and selfish feelings!
My brother, have you ever been set up as a mark by the great Enemy? and have you ever been wounded by his archers, as they bent their tongues, like their bows, for lies, and showered their arrows, even bitter words, as thick as snow-flakes round you? If so, then you have had sufficient proof of the groundlessness of Satan's charges, and the cruel spirit in which he presses them. You have been amazed to find how badly a case can look, when the circumstances are misrepresented, the motives misconceived, and the perfectly harmless made to look like something awfully wicked. Perhaps, as you suffered from the cruel sting of the Old Serpent, you wondered whether such ignoble suffering, shorn as it was of all glory, and borne as it was without the sympathy of the brethren, were not quite as trying as an ordinary martyrdom for the truth. Well, then, give your brethren now the benefit of your experience; and whoever may lend his tongue to censure, let your tongue at least be silent. So far as truth permits, defend the sufferer, and cross- question the devil's witnesses, till they be ashamed at least of lying.
And if the tongue of censure fall upon us—-as it is sure to again, and yet again, to do—-let us seek to turn the testimony of Satan's witnesses to good account. Let us wisely use it for the discovery of our own unsuspected sins and weaknesses. Though the accusation may be, on the whole, grievously exaggerated, and though the light in which things are set may be altogether false, yet there is sure to lie, somewhere at the bottom, some foundation of truth on which the virulent accusation rests. Let us honestly investigate till we find this out, and let us in humility try to profit by it. In this way, Satan shall lose more than he gains by all his malice, if he help to make us more humble in our spirits and more careful in our walk.
In conclusion, suffice it to be added, that while seeking to avoid a censorious spirit, we must by no means shut our eyes to the faults of beloved brethren. These, often unsuspected, are full of danger, and a considerate love will take alarm at the threatened injury of a brother. Let us deal with our brethren, then, in the most tender love about their faults, and let us encourage them to deal with us about ours. We are set to be one another's keepers; and if this true service of love were wisely and graciously gone about, the very weakest brother might help the strongest, quite as much as the strongest can help him. But let all be done in the spirit of Christ, without strife or vain glory; in genuine lowliness of mind esteeming others better than ourselves. Thus only can we be Christ's instruments for the constant washing of each other's feet. Though the members be many, the body is only one, and every gift of each is to be exercised for the good of all. As it is in the physical body, so is it meant to be in the mystical—-every individual organ working to maintain the health of the whole. To use the quaint illustration of an old Puritan—-"Let one hand wash the other, and let both agree to wash the face."