Ellen White wrote the following letter to “Brother and Sister Buckner” on November 8, 1889, from Battle Creek, Michigan.
I received your letter while in the midst of the Conference duties. Since that meeting closed I have been sorely afflicted with my teeth, and I am in such a state of nervous weakness that I cannot write as lengthily as I would be pleased to do.
I have been unable as yet to find the writings which you mention, but I may find them, and if I do will send them to you. I will say that the difficulties which have existed in the church are all unnecessary. The troubles exist because of the misunderstanding of what constitutes true Christian charity, brotherly affection, and Christlike love. There is far more self-love, self-esteem, far more talking among men and women than is essential. You have been measuring yourselves by yourselves, comparing yourselves among yourselves, taking it for granted that all your feelings and surmisings and suspicions were correct, when if such feelings and suspicions and judging of one another are continued there will be discord, strife, and an unhealthy state of the church.
If you will meet together once or twice a week in the evening, and with humble minds, feeling your own weakness and defects, will ask the Lord to enlighten your understandings and fill your hearts with His love, and examine, not one another, but the Scriptures, Satan will be defeated. Many imaginary difficulties, mere mole-hills, have been magnified into mountains that have made barriers between brethren. Love, compassion, and respect cherished for one another should take the place of jangling and accusation.
God did not place you upon the judgment seat to measure and pronounce sentence upon your brethren.
When you begin to give your minds to the work of judging your brethren, you are doing the work God has not given you to do. You are not working with Christ. God did not place you upon the judgment seat to measure and pronounce sentence upon your brethren. Satan is an accuser of the brethren, and when he can set the leaven of disaffection to work in human hearts, he is exultant. When he can divide brethren he has a hellish jubilee. I think if our brethren could see as I have seen how much wrong is done in speaking evil of our brethren there would be an entire change in the way you treat one another. You do not understand yourselves; you misinterpret words and deeds and measure them from your own finite standpoint. Your feelings, your tongues, which are not sanctified, are employed in a service and work that is anything but holy and Christlike.
Talk on the Bright Side
Brother Buckner, bring the attractiveness of Christ into your Christian service. Let the soft beams of the Sun of Righteousness into your heart and you will be more pleasant and cheerful. If you do this you will have a strong and blessed influence on all around you. The truth of Jesus Christ is not gloom and sadness. Do not forget, my brother, that we are in Christ’s school to learn lessons of truthfulness and love. We are taught in this school to have faith in our Redeemer. We must attend carefully to our own soul’s necessity, improving every privilege provided for us to learn the meekness and lowliness of Christ.
We will have to learn the benefits of trials, and not be discouraged under them. The heart must be disciplined, faith must be cultivated, the power of the soul’s endurance must be tested. The simplicity of faith and perfect confidence in God needs to be encouraged in your hearts. You must be constantly looking and talking on the bright side, and while the work of self-discipline must be carried on by every individual Christian, it must be in such a manner as to exalt and ennoble, and not to contract and center on little things. Your thoughts should be a growth of holy principles. Do not center your minds on your poor selves, and do not make a brother an offender for a word. Do not judge him by your own finite measurement. Let the voice of simple, trustful, earnest prayer be heard in your dwelling. When our sisters visit one another let them never speak words of criticism of their brethren. Let your minds dwell upon the attributes and experiences of the love of Jesus. The fullness of that love will prove a soother of little bruises, inconveniences, and disagreeable occurrences.
“O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.”
More of Jesus, Less of Self
How much sweet peace we lose because we keep poring over the disagreeable items in ourselves and in our brethren. We must look away from the disagreeable to Jesus. We must love Him more, obtain more of His attractive beauty and grace of character, and cease filling the mind with the contemplation of others’ mistakes and others’ errors. No one is perfect but Jesus. Think of Him and be charmed away from yourself and from every disagreeable thing; for beholding our defects faith is weakened. Faith in God and His promises is lost sight of.
It would be a deplorable thing if everyone was of the same mind.
Let me tell you, brethren in the church at Lemoore, you need more of Jesus and less of self. Think no evil; talk no evil of anyone; keep your lips as with a bridle. You cannot measure others’ experience by your own. It would be a deplorable thing if everyone was of the same mind. If all were just like Brother Buckner in religious experience, there would be a wonderful want of fullness in church labor, in carrying forward the work of God. I do not write this to discourage you, but to help you.
Brother Buckner is worn and feeble; he needs the help of stronger men, and the church needs the help of stronger men. What if Brother Harvey Grey has made mistakes? What if in some respects we do err, does the Lord forsake us, and forget us, and leave us to our own ways? No, the Lord does not treat us as we wish to treat one another. May the Lord help you all to repent and confess and let the love of Jesus pervade your hearts. Jealousy is all ready to spring into existence at the least provocation. Envy, and evil surmising is ready to be indulged, ready to grow by being cultivated.
Oh, how many hurt the heart of Christ because they want their own way, and their own will. Let the warfare be turned against these unenviable traits of character, and then they will not be against one another in the church of the living God. If there were only such elements existing in the church as characterized the life of Jesus Christ, there would be a firm union. The world is against the church to weaken and destroy it, but let the church of God press together, press together, press together. Let not Satan thrust himself between the members of the church. Do not give one stroke on the enemy’s side of the question. Put away egotism. Do not think that one or two men in the church are all the men who are conscientious in the church. You are far too narrow in your thoughts and in your actions.
Could the state of every human heart reputed eminent for holiness be critically examined and developed, there would be seen some dark chapters of distrust of God. What erroneous ideas of what constitute a Christian life we would find. What false ideas of God’s prerogatives and of His moral government; what feeble, inefficient ideas of the atonement; what limiting of the powers of the Holy One of Israel in the agency of the Holy Spirit, would be seen.
I know you all are earnestly struggling after the higher life and for clearer views of heavenly things, yet how slow the progress. How difficult for the mind to rise to the full assurance of hope that maketh not ashamed. In spite of all our efforts, we are often discouraged because the flesh warreth against the spirit. Let not the common cheap things engross the mind that the presence of Jesus shall be withdrawn. The life of the church is communicated from Christ, and He to the church, and we help the church when we work in harmony with the life giving power, when we lose sight of ourselves and seek to build one another up in the most holy faith.
How to Achieve Perfect Unity
There may be instrumentalities which we do not prefer because they do not exactly meet our ideas. They do not work in the very line we have marked, and in the place of leaving them with God we begin to lay difficulties and barricades in the way and cherish a grieved feeling because we see that they are doing a work which we ourselves cannot do. Then comes the picking, the dissecting of character, the talking, the gathering up of tidbits of complaint, and faultfinding and slander magnifies little occurrences and events into grave sins. This has been done with the church at Lemoore until you are a weak church, and you always will be weak until this narrow order of things is changed. May the Lord show you all what to do that you may be filled with thanksgiving, gratitude, and praise to God for the precious gift of the Son of God, and not with envying, jealousies, and rivalries. Then true love and unity will exist.
Christ prayed that His disciples might be one, even as He and His Father are one. In what does this unity consist? That oneness does not consist in everyone having the same disposition, the very same temperament, that makes all run in the very same channel. All do not possess the same degree of intelligence. All have not the same experience. In a church there are different gifts and varied experiences. In temporal matters there is a great variety of ways of management, and yet none of these variations in manner of labor, in exercise of gifts, need to create dissension and discord and disunion. One man may be conversant with the Scriptures, and some particular portion of the Scripture is especially appreciated by him because he has seen it in a certain striking light; another sees another portion as very important; and thus one and another presents the very points to the people that appear of highest value. This is all in the order of God. One man blunders in his interpretation of some portion of the Scripture, but shall this cause diversity and disunion? God forbid. We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same shade of light.
The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will, and thus root out disagreement. These resolutions may conceal the discord but they cannot quench it and establish a perfect agreement. Nothing can perfect a perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance. Satan can sow discord; Christ alone can harmonize the disagreeing elements. Then let every soul sit down in Christ’s school and learn of Christ who declares Himself to be meek and lowly of heart; and Christ declares that if we learn of Him, then our worries will cease, and we shall find rest to our souls.
When you as individual members of the church love God supremely and your neighbor as yourself, then there will be no labored efforts to be in unity; there will be a oneness in Christ.
The great truths of the Word of God are so clearly stated that none need make a mistake in understanding them. When you as individual members of the church love God supremely and your neighbor as yourself, then there will be no labored efforts to be in unity; there will be a oneness in Christ, the ears to reports will be closed, and no one will take up a reproach against his neighbor. The members of the church will cherish love and unity and be as one great family. Then we shall bear the credentials to the world that will testify that God has sent His Son into the world. Christ has said, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” The divinity of Christ is acknowledged in the unity of the children of God. Brethren, when you humble your hearts before God you will see that there is danger of Phariseeism, danger of thinking and praying as did the self-righteous Pharisee. “I thank God that I am not as other men are.” Oh, that there may be a breaking up of the fallow ground of the heart, that the seeds of truth may take deep root and spring up and bear much fruit to the glory of God.
When, my brethren, you would accuse one of the brethren, consider the words of Jesus, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Your sin may not be the particular sin that is under consideration, but Jesus’s words meant that when you are free from sin you may cast the first stone. When Jesus spoke these words to the accusers, their guilty consciences were aroused. They could not answer Him. They were convicted each in his own conscience, and they went out one by one, beginning at the eldest even to the youngest.
What can Christ, who is so forgiving, so patient with all our mistakes, so rich in mercy and love, think of our hardhearted criticism and fault-finding? Love for your erring brethren will produce far greater effect in reforming him than all your harsh criticisms. Let all the thoughts and emotions of the heart be after Christ’s order. Let self be put out of sight. The Lord would have the thoughts and the language and the experience of Christian life far more attractive than it is today. If they are not more like Jesus, they can never be the light of the world.
Let Us Labor and Love
When you assemble together, do not dishonor God by criticizing the worshipers and picking flaws in the characters of your brethren. Your work is between God and your own individual soul. What are you thinking of, my brethren? There is work to do in the saving of souls around you, and precious time is passing. The hours of probation will soon close. Is your work for the Master of that character that you will hear the “Well done good and faithful servant?” Remember that every soul making efforts in the divine life, finds every inch of ground disputed by antagonistic force, and he must gird himself for the conflict by earnest prayer, and fight the good fight of faith. He is called to wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. There is no strength to be invested in warring against each other. If individually we make progress in spirituality the loins must be girt about with truth, and we must have on the breastplate of righteousness; we must take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. Brethren, seek God. Seek Him while He is to be found; call upon Him while He is near.
Is there not better work for you to do than to discourage one another?
Oh, what experiences we might gain if we were devoting all our God-given ability to seeking knowledge and spiritual strength from God in the place of devoting our powers to hurting one another. How unsearchable are His judgments. Brethren, love one another as Christ has loved you. How little we really know of sweet communion with God; how little we know of the mysteries of the future life. Let us put our mind on these things. We may know far more than we do know if all our powers are sanctified to discern the blessed features of the character of Christ. There are heights for us to reach, depths of experience to sound, if we are to be the light of the world. Then why dishonor God by contention and strife? Why question and find fault with one another? Why misinterpret and misconstrue the words and acts of your brethren? Is there not better work for you to do than to discourage one another and try to put out the light of your brethren?
Let the capacities of the mind expand that you may take in the heavenly beauties and the blessed promises. Only believe in Jesus and learn in the school of the greatest Teacher the world ever knew, and His grace will act mightily upon the intellect and heart. This teaching gives clearness to the mental vision. It gives compass to the power of the thoughts; ideas are created, the soul hunger is filled. The heart is softened and subdued and filled with glowing love that neither discouragement, despondency, affliction, or trial can quench. God will open to the mind’s eye His preciousness and His fullness.
Then let us labor and love. I point you to the Rock of Ages, Christ Jesus. You can be saved only through Him. Let the praise of God be upon your lips when you meet together in little companies to worship God. Let not one man do much of the talking. Let several take part. He who heard the voice of Christ and did His will was the wise man that built upon the rock, and storm nor tempest could not destroy this structure. We are workers for time and for eternity.
I write to you to love one another. Try the art of forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven your sins.
—Letter 29, 1889, published in Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, p. 144-153. (Headings have been added.)