Page images
PDF
EPUB

XVIII.

laugh outright at the idea of the Gospel of Christ controlling the affairs of this world. They seem to think that the Gospel was given for some unrealized Utopia. They declare that they are in the midst of a selfish world, pitted against men who are as hard and cold as steel, and that they must do as other men do. The Gospel is all right for a sort of Sunday profession, when it does not conflict with self-interest. And thus a great army of men enroll themselves under the standard of Christ, upon whose lives the Gospel of Christ has very little influence. How few there are who go forth into life with the fixed purpose always to make the spirit of the Gospel the absolute norm of what a man can do, and what he can not do? The world has substituted its gospel for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and men follow very readily the gospel of the world. And thus the world grows more mighty every day. It is a world of mighty engines, enormous ships, vast machines, gigantic enterprises, colossal wealth; but it is a reprobate world that has forgotten its God. The wild thirst of men is for the gods of this world, and not for the living God. The feverish activity of the world is aimed to acquire money, and not to lay up treasures in Heaven.

The code of the world is squarely in conflict with the teaching of Christ in this present instance. Selfishness makes men hard to one another. In reaching out after the prizes of this world man finds that his brother stands in his way, and then begins that bitter strife of man against man, like unto the struggle of two dogs for a piece of carrion.

And thus with the old nature within and this potent world without, the follower of Christ finds himself under the stern necessity of a fierce active combat every moment of his life, if he would realize in his own life the grand ideal of Christ.

The reason that the first admonition of the offender is made between offended and offender alone is that the offender's reputation may be saved. Such an admonition made in Christian charity is an appeal to all the best that is in a man. Two men thus alone with each other are away from all the excitement of a more public interview. They can open their minds to each other without that reserve which the public gaze always inspires. All voices are still except their two. Heart can speak to heart, and the true nature of the event can be calmly discussed and judged. Many a man will yield to the right, when approached in such a way, who would be driven to a determined opposition by a public attack.

Men differ in judging what Christ means in saying: 'Lif he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” It seems probable that it means that if the offender yields to the right, the injured man has by his admonition made a brother of him who formerly was an enemy. Of course, this includes the higher sense that the man making the admonition moves the offender to sorrow for his sin, and to satisfaction therefor, and thus gains him to God. Both these effects are contemplated in the gaining of the brother, and they are pointed out to show a man the great results that may follow a right line of conduct in dealing with offenses.

Christ next provides for a case where the offender, after an admonition, still remains obdurate. Let the injured man take with him one or two, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established.

The law of witnesses was laid down in Deuteronomy, XIX. 15: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses shall a matter be established.” This precept forms the basic law of procedure in all jurisprudence.

Now the Lord directs that these witnesses be employed in the second admonition simply for the reason that thus a greater moral persuasion would be brought to bear on the offender. Of course it is presupposed here that the cause of the man making the admonition is just. The concurrence of the disinterested witness or witnesses in favor of the injured party is well calculated to move the offender to a recognition of the just claims of the plaintiff. In the first place, the proofs could be presented more powerfully by two or three than by one; and secondly the witness or witnesses would exercise a certain personal magnetism upon the defendant.

In case that an agreement is not reached by the employment of this second method, then as a last resort, recourse must be had to the Church.

(7) Gosp. INI.

Jesus had already said: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Hence his present words contemplate the existence of that Church. The Apostles were the nucleus of the Church; and to them Jesus delivers the laws that they were to teach men even to the consummation of the world. The Church therefore was to be the supreme tribunal in these contentions among the faithful. Acting in the spirit of these words the early Christians submitted their disputes to the adjudication of the Church. In fact, St. Paul severely rebukes the Corinthians for bringing their law-suits before infidels, I. Cor., VI. 1-9.

Of the manner of conducting these cases which came before the Church we have no certain knowledge, but certainly the Church proceeded as an organized society, in which the direction of affairs was vested in properly constituted authorities.

How vain, it is, in the light of the truth of these words, to hold the legitimacy of many churches framed upon all the curious opinions in religion which men may invent? Christ speaks of one Church, of a Church having supreme authority, of a Church of his own building, of a Church that must be essentially one and everlasting. And that Church has supreme authority over all men. The man who refuses to obey her is to be held as a heathen and a publican. These words were more expressive to a Jew than to us. The Jews were a separate and exclusive people. They were commanded to be so by God. The heathen and the publican were ostracised. The Jew held aloof from them as from an unclean thing. The words of Christ put the man who refuses to hear the Church on the same plane among Christians as the heathen and the publican were among the Jews. The Old Law was local, national, and exclusive; the New Law is universal. Hence the Christian's attitude towards all men is far different from that commanded to the Jew. Wherefore the Lord only takes what was the Jew's attitude toward the heathen and the publican to illustrate what the Christian merits who disobeys the Church.

These words are more valuable in establishing the gravity of disobeying the Church than in appointing the Christian's attitude towards men who disobey it. It is the spirit of Christ's words that is eternal. In this state of the world, it would be well nigh impossible to bring all petty disagreements before the Church. However the personal admonition and the resort to the witnesses should be made whenever there is a hope of success. Moreover, the spirit of charity and of forbearance of the message is one of the everlasting laws of the Christian's dealing with his brother.

Again, the words establish the right of the Church to command men, and the man who disobeys her commands is excommunicated. He is an outcast, and deserving that his brothers should shun him as a man from whom they fear moral pollution.

In the eighteenth verse, Christ declares that the judgment of the Church will be ratified in Heaven. These words declare the ample power and authority that Christ placed in the Church. No theologian has yet made that power ample enough. We see more readily the human elements of the Church, and in the human elements there are always defects, and our faith becomes in a measure chilled, and we do not see in the Church the magnificent creation of the Redeemer. The Church acts in many ways.

She has a comprehensive mission, and enters into human affairs in various degrees of authority. The words of Christ authorize her to act in his name, and assure her of his ratification. She has the power to bind men and to loose men. The Church is a mighty organization. She has authority, and back of that authority stands the ratification of Almighty God.

From her supreme sentence there is no appeal. No such appeal is necessary; for that sentence can not be wrong. Of course, Christ is speaking in the present context of the Church in its disciplinary character, and in that character she is not so absolute. She has the right to command the obedience of men, even in disciplinary matters, but the prerogative of absolute infallibility is not needed or given in this character. But Christ's words simply place in the Church the principle of an authority that has the ratification of Heaven, and the Church uses this authority as the exigencies of cases demand.

We observe here that a power is conferred on all the Apostles similar to that conferred on Peter, Matt., XVI. 19. This is easy to explain. Peter possesses the plentitude of the power vested by Christ in the Church; he is endowed by Christ with that infallibility which Christ wished to reside in the Church. Hence Christ is speaking here not to any individual Apostle, but to the Church represented in the Apostles. He is speaking of the power that he transmitted to the Church through the Apostles. He is speaking of a Church founded on Peter, and consequently enjoying the vast powers conferred on it as a body joined to its visible head on earth, and joined to to its invisible head in Heaven.

Where shall we seek this Church? Among the one hundred sects that are comprised under the vague term of protestantism? or in the Church of old, the Church that has outlived all the institutions of men, the Church of history, the Church that goes back, and joins the age of Christ and his Apostles with our own times, the Church that is at once venerable with age, and buoyant with life and undiminished vigor, whose years are like to the years of God? If that inveterate inherited hatred of Catholicity could be removed from the minds of protestants, the logic of Catholic truth must perforce win many of them back to the old faith.

In the nineteenth and twentieth verses Christ speaks of the spiritual advantages of union and concord. His argument is here a fortiori. He takes the smallest possible number of participants, two or three, and declares that where these are gathered together in his name, that he is there in the midst of them.

The phrase "in my name" distinguishes the meeting as a religious one. The promise of Christ would not hold good of a meeting of any number of Christians for a secular end. They must be gathered together for a religious end. Christ as God is everywhere, but when he says that he will be in the midst of these united ones, he means that he will be there in a special manner; that he will be there to enrich them with his graces and grant their petitions. If Christ extends this magnificent promise to the union of even two Christians, much more shall it be true when many meet in his name, and are bound together by that love which he taught to men, united in prayer and petition.

« PreviousContinue »