The Character of a Schismatic

John William McGarvey (1829–1911)

John William McGarvey (1829–1911)

In the late 1850s, the defections of Jesse B. Ferguson (1819–1870) and Walter Scott Russell generated a good deal of discussion in the papers. I found this piece from J. W. McGarvey to be particularly insightful on the subject of the character of the false teacher.

Character of a Schismatic.

“A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself” — Titus 3:10, 11.

It is often urged in extenuation of the conduct of a schismatic, that he is a good man, and most likely prompted by good motives. It is a fact that the majority of factions are headed by men in good repute for correct moral and religious deportment, and it is accounted for by the fact that only such men can attach to themselves any considerable number of adherents. This circumstance renders the exercise of proper discipline in such cases quite difficult. Apart from the mere act of schism, there is nothing that can be urged against the offender, and for this act he urges the controlling authority of his conscience. I have never known a mover of faction, however depraved he might finally prove to be, who did not stoutly and loudly protest that he was impelled to his course by a stern sense of duty. What to do with so conscientious a disturber of the peace, is a question that puzzles the minds of brethren.

The text quoted above was written in anticipation of this difficulty, and to relieve us from it. The word here rendered heretic, means a schismatic, a factionist, one who causes division. The Apostle enjoins it upon Titus to ‘reject’ every such character, after the first and second admonition, ‘knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.’ According to this injunction, the fact of schism being ascertained, we need look no further for evidence of the wickedness of the schismatic. Whatever may be his conduct in other particulars, or whatever the degree of his apparent piety, if he is a schismatic, you may ‘know,’ all doubt being removed, that he is ‘subverted’ from the path of rectitude, ‘and sinneth,’ and even bears in his conscience a sense of guilt, ‘being condemned of himself.’ In such cases, then, all empty professions of conscientiousness, and all appeals to past good conduct, are to be treated as the idle breath of a hypocrite, and the stern penalty of rejection is to be unhesitatingly inflicted.

The justice and strict propriety of this apostolic teaching will appear to the mind of every reader, if he will but ask himself this question: ‘What feeling must it be that could prompt me to cause a division among those whom I still recognize as my Christian brethren?’ Evidently nothing short of an indomitable pride, an intensely selfish ambition, or some passion more malignant than either of these, could prompt to such a course. It is a matter of necessity, therefore, the ‘he that is such,’ from the very fact that he is a schismatic, may be known to be subverted and a sinner, and self-condemned. Let no man say that this is a harsh sentence pronounced by me. It is the solemn sentence passed upon all such characters by the authority of an inspired Apostle. ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’

J. W. McGarvey.

(American Christian Review 3.38 [September 20, 1859]: 150. H/T: Jim McMillan, via the Stone-Campbell email list.)

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