The Tongue of Slander

During the rise and progress of the third message, the tongue of slander has not been silent. Men will use the best arguments they have. When unable from the Bible to meet the positions of those who teach unpopular truth, some will resort to slander as the next best argument. The case is sometimes felt to be urgent and even desperate. Truth is mighty. The people will hear, and some will obey. These are frequently the best members of the various religious bodies. Efforts at argument from the Bible, in opposition, fail to silence the voice of truth, and in some cases turn the minds of many of the people to the truth. Something must be done. And it is painful to record, that in many cases professed ministers of Jesus Christ deal in smut and blacking, and stoop to invent and repeat the vilest slanders to prejudice the people against those who plead for the truth of God.

“There are hundreds of ministers in the United States who, if disturbed in their quiet possession of the ears of the people, by the proclamation of the unpopular truths of the third message in their vicinity, would take delight in repeating the old threadbare falsehoods concerning ascension robes, and the like, to cut off the influence of the servant of God.

“In almost every place where our ministers give discourses upon the second coming of Christ, and the necessary preparation for that event, they have to labor against the prejudices of the people, caused by reports of the inconsistencies of Adventists; one of which is, that at a point of expectation in the past, many of them did prepare robes of white linen, and put them on ready to ascend and meet their coming Lord.

“While all sane persons, who have any knowledge of what the holy Scriptures do teach of the necessary preparation to meet the Lord as he shall descend from Heaven, will agree that to prepare a literal white robe made of cloth as a fitting preparation for the transit from earth to Heaven, from mortality to immortality, must be an indication of downright insanity, none will see in such an act evidences of criminality.

“But I do not believe that anything of the kind ever occurred. I have been actively engaged in the proclamation of the doctrine of the second advent for more than twenty-five years, and have traveled and preached in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Canada, and have not met a person who has seen an Adventist thus attired, or one that was able to give better proofs that anything of the kind ever did occur than vague reports. I have never found the place where the thing occurred. It was always in the next town, county, or State.

“Again, reports in relation to this matter, and slanders of a similar nature, have a hundred times been denied in Second-Advent periodicals, and proofs have been called for of the truthfulness of these statements. No one has been able to produce the proofs. But still the tongue of slander takes delight in repeating the old threadbare falsehood. Elders Loughborough and Strong met it at Orange, Michigan, in January, 1868, and Elder Cornell met the same at Johnstown, Michigan, a few weeks later. In both cases the miserable untruth was declared from the pulpit by professed ministers of Jesus Christ.

“The people, generally, credit the statements of these ministers, and conclude that the story of ascension robes is true. Especially do those who are not favorable to Second-Advent views enjoy this sort of clerical slander. And the fact that our people are not always prepared to meet it, is the reason why I have felt called upon to notice the matter at this time.

“In 1847, while on our passage in a steamboat from Portland, Maine, to Boston, Massachusetts, Mrs. W. was speaking to those around her in the ladies’ cabin, of the fearful storm we encountered in a recent passage between these two cities. She spoke of the importance of being always prepared for the close of our probation, either at death, or at the coming of Christ. A lady near her replied:

“ ‘That is the way the Millerites talk. I mean to have a jolly good time before I become a long-faced Christian. The Millerites are the most deluded set on earth. On the day they were expecting Christ to come, companies in different places put on their ascension robes, and went into graveyards, and upon the tops of houses and high hills, and there remained, praying and singing till the time passed by.’

“Mrs. W. then inquired of the lady if she saw any of these persons thus attired. She answered:

“ ‘No, I did not see them myself, but a friend who saw them told me. And the fact is so well understood everywhere, that I believe it as much as though I saw it myself.’

“At this point another lady, feeling that the testimony of the first should not be questioned, stated:

“ ‘It is of no use to deny that the Millerites did put on ascension robes, for they did it in towns all around where I live.’

“Mrs. W. asked this lady if she saw them with their robes on. She replied:

“ ‘No, I did not see them, as they were not in my immediate neighborhood. But it was commonly reported and generally believed, that they did make ascension robes and put them on.’

“By this time strong feelings were evidently controlling these two ladies, because Mrs. W. did not seem to credit what they said against the Millerites. And the first in the conversation stated with emotions of excitement and passion:

“ ‘I know it was so. I fully believe the testimony of those who have told me these things. I believe what my friends have told me about those fanatical Millerites, the same as though I saw it myself.’

“Mrs. W. then inquired of her for the names of some persons who had figured in this fanatical movement. She stated if the putting on of ascension robes was so very common, certainly she could give the names of some. To this she replied:

“ ‘Certainly I can give you names. There were the twin Harmon girls in Portland. My friends told me that they saw their robes, and saw them going out to the graveyard with them on. Since the time has passed, they have become infidels.’

“A school-mate of Mrs. W., who had never been an Adventist, was in that cabin, and had watched the conversation with mirthful interest. She had been acquainted with the Harmon girls during the entire period of their Second-Advent experience. She could no longer restrain her feelings, and broke out in a laughing mood, as she pointed to Mrs. W.:

“ ‘This is one of those twin Harmon girls. I have known them always, and know that this report of their making and wearing ascension robes is all a lie. I never was a Millerite, yet I do not believe that anything of the kind ever took place.’

“The storm that was fast arising in that cabin suddenly abated, and there followed a great calm. Mrs. W. then stated that all the stories about ascension robes were probably as destitute of truth as this one concerning the twin Harmon girls.

“Elder Josiah Litch, lately editor of the Advent Herald, Boston, in his history of the rise and progress of Adventism, makes the following statement:

“ ‘Those periods came and passed with no unusual occurrence. As soon as they had gone by, a flood of scoffing, reviling and persecution burst forth, not from the infidel world so much, but from the professed friends of the Saviour; the most idle and foolish stories of ascension robes, and going out into the graveyards to watch, going to the tops of the houses, etc., etc. These were repeated again and again, both from pulpit and press, until the public were, many of them, at least, almost persuaded to believe them true.

“ ‘How, or where they originated, except in willful falsehood, we cannot devise. Some of the reports of that character, we happen to know, originated with professed ministers of the gospel, who gave date and place when there was not a word of truth in the whole story. Others must have originated in a similar way.’ ”

The foregoing, relative to the ascension robes, was given in the Review and Herald for April 14, 1868. The article closed with the following paragraph:

“Fifty dollars reward is offered to any person who will present unquestionable proofs of the truthfulness of the statements, that believers in the second advent of Christ, on the day of expectation, did put on ascension robes. Those who can produce such proofs, are requested to forward them immediately to the writer, at Greenville, Montcalm County, Michigan, and receive fifty dollars by return mail.”

Up to this date, July 13, 1868, no one has responded in the way of furnishing proofs that anything of the kind ever took place. Why this silence on the part of our friends, as well as our enemies, if there be the least semblance of truth in the statements upon this subject, gravely made by ministers in the desk as a part of the gospel they preach? If proofs exist, why can we not have them? The reader should regard these statements about ascension robes, which opposing clergymen have the credit of repeating, more than any other class, as malicious slanders, until he has reliable proofs that something of the kind occurred.

The Review and Herald for May 20, 1868, has the following from Elder J. H. Waggoner, which fairly represents this matter of ascension robes:

“Brother White’s remarks on the falsehoods circulated on the above subject, remind me of an incident that transpired some years since in Wisconsin. A Mr. H., an M.E. preacher, deriding the Adventists, said: ‘It is a fact that they prepared and put on ascension robes in 1844.’ At the close of his remarks I stated that I was very anxious to learn about the facts on that subject, and asked him to give particulars, as to where, by whom, etc. He said that it was not always convenient to give the evidence on matters which had transpired years in the past, and he could not then comply with the request. I turned to the congregation and said:

“ ‘He has said it is a fact. Now if he does not know it to be a fact, he has made a false statement. If he knows it to be a fact, he can procure the evidence of the fact. As he has an appointment here four weeks from today, I give notice that I will be here at that time to get his statement; as that will give him time to get the information. If it occurred anywhere, it will be easy to prove it in that locality. I hope the people will all be here to get the facts he may present.’

“Being thus pressed to make good his assertion, and having the expectation of the people raised on it, he saw the necessity of doing something, and promptly confessed that he knew nothing about it, but had heard such a report!

“The way the report ran was well illustrated by the following case: A Brother T., who had lived and labored in Buffalo, and attended the Advent meetings there, was working in Erie in the fall of 1844. After the set day passed, the report spread in Erie that the Adventists in Buffalo put on ascension robes. He was so grieved over their folly, and troubled in his mind, that he determined to visit his friends in Buffalo and talk with them about it. Landing at Buffalo, he met an acquaintance, not an Adventist, who did not know where he came from. He asked if any of the Adventists in Buffalo had put on ascension robes. ‘No,’ said his friend, ‘but they all did in Erie!’ A smile by Brother T. led to an explanation. And so it was everywhere. Everybody knew it was so—the place where it occurred could not be found.”

The part which the Spirit of God has led Mrs. W. to act in close connection with the cause of present truth, has called forth against her a spirit of persecution. The apostle says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31. But these have been employed against her by the professed followers of Jesus Christ, with the object to crush her testimony and destroy her influence. In this cruel work, with some the tongue of slander has been “set on fire of hell.”

The work of the Lord through her has been to encourage the weak, comfort the desponding, exalt the standard of morality and true piety, and reprove sin in all its forms. And why should not the dragon rage? Why may we not expect to see those who are imbued with the spirit of the father of lies, delighting themselves in the most slanderous falsehoods against one who may be engaged in such a work? Such has ever been the work of Satan in all past time, and ever will be, till he is bound. And he has ever found, and ever will find, willing tools to do his work in opposition to the work of God. And these are more frequently found among ministers than any other class. The following from Elder M. E. Cornell, which occurred on his route from Battle Creek to Ionia, will illustrate the wicked course of some of those who love to be called “Reverend:”

“While on the cars, a circumstance occurred which shows the necessity of Brother White’s article on Clerical Slander. A Presbyterian minister from Gratiot County was making special efforts to attract attention to himself by his endeavors to amuse the passengers. Among other things, he states that Mrs. White had a vision at St. Louis, Gratiot County, Michigan, that she was to leave her husband and take another man; that a man might have as many wives as he chose. He then made some, not very refined, remarks and witticisms, which excited laughter in some, but disgust in the pure-minded. In the cars were several clergymen, and many intelligent ladies and gentlemen from several different States. Of course we could not let such a base slander pass, and a wrong impression go to so many different places; we therefore watched for a chance to correct the misstatement.

“An intelligent Jew soon entered into conversation with him, and turned the tables on him by relating an old slander against Martin Luther, that he had a child by his own daughter, etc. The minister was aroused. Said he, ‘It is a base slander, invented by his enemies. There is not a particle of proof of any such thing.’ He then came down upon the Jew with the most cutting reproof for making such a statement from hearsay evidence. Now our time had come. The measure he had meted to others had been immediately measured to him again.

“We then stated to the passengers that we had known Elder White and his wife for sixteen years, and that the statement made by the clergyman was an unmitigated slander. First, Mrs. White never had a vision in Gratiot County; and second, she never had a vision anywhere, of any such nature as had been stated. We then challenged him to stop at Owasso, with any of his friends as witnesses, and we would secure for him one thousand dollars, on the condition that he should make good his statement. We urged him to the task with such earnestness, that all in the car appeared to be convinced that he had uttered a slander. He was embarrassed, and said faintly, ‘I heard so’!

“An intelligent Infidel, from Dearborn, Michigan, then rose up, and made some very pointed remarks on hearsay evidence and condemning a whole body of people because of a story about some one of their number. ‘Shall I,’ said he; ‘call the Methodists a set of cut-throats, because several of their preachers are now in our penitentiary? Shall I condemn all ministers because one in our town ran away with Brother M.’s wife last week?’ By this time, the tide was turned completely. Several of the passengers expressed themselves very freely to me, and were anxious to know more about it.” Advent Review for April 28, 1868.

I do not believe that all ministers who differ with us in faith and practice are alike guilty with this man. No decent men, in or out of the ministry, would take pleasure in uttering such vile slander before a car full of ladies and gentlemen, however much he might feel opposed to the religious sentiments of Seventh-day Adventists. I believe there are God-fearing ministers in all the churches who would no sooner bear false witness of a slanderous character against those who are devoting their lives to the cause of Christ, than they would have the same done to themselves. But while these may be few and far between, the experience of a quarter of a century in teaching unpopular truth has taught me that, where personal interest is concerned, there are but very few ministers who will not stoop to the repetition of the vilest slanders, to injure the influence of those who get the ears of the people, if they differ with them. But in reference to the statements of Elder Cornell, I will say:

  1. Mrs. W. never was at St. Louis, Gratiot County, Michigan.
  2. She never had a vision in Gratiot County.
  3. Her standard of morality ever has been the Ten Commandments.
  4. Her views, her public and private labors, her books and oral teachings, have ever been in strict harmony with the law of God, the highest standard of morality on earth.
  5. She has ever borne the most decided testimony against any departure from the principles guarded by the Ten Commandments.
  6. She has borne a public testimony for twenty-five years, in the several States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and in Canada. She has, during this time, written books amounting to more than twenty-one hundred pages, besides many articles for several periodicals. And all who are acquainted with her teachings know that any statement that they are not in strict harmony with God’s standard of morality, is a slanderous untruth. Then let her enemies point to one impure sentence in all her writings, or prove that in her religious teachings she has uttered one unchaste word, or cease their slanderous persecution of a self-sacrificing Christian woman.

But I do not indulge the thought that whatever may be said to show the falsity of statements concerning ascension robes, and the views of Mrs. W., will silence the tongue of slander. No. These ministers know the influence they have with the public mind, and the advantages they have over us in this respect. Regardless of justice and truth, they will doubtless continue to do this scandalous work, wherever the glorious doctrine of the coming of Jesus shall be proclaimed. We can only expose their sin in this thing, and disabuse honest minds.

The dragon is wroth with those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. The Devil will use any willing tool to slander and abuse the followers of Jesus Christ. Scoffers will scoff, and liars will lie, whether they bear the title of Reverend, or be patrons of brothels. And the higher the position, the greater the criminality. But for all these things will God bring them into Judgment. Those who fear God and keep His commandments, and suffer reproach for the sake of Christ and the truth, will have their reward. Those who employ the vile tongue of slander against them, in order to crush their influence and keep others from obeying the commandments that they may live, will perish in all their villainy. They, also, will have their reward. The True Witness has spoken relative to the present controversy and the final destiny of both classes of actors, as recorded by the prophet John.

First Class. “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:14. These are doing right. Although they suffer for well doing, all the hate and slander that wicked men and demons can invent, their reward is the holy city and the tree of life.

Second Class. “For without are dogs, and scorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Revelation 22:15. These are commandment-breakers, and commandment-haters, and haters of those who keep the commandments of God. They are also noted for two things in particular, namely, loving and making lies. The application of these two items is so natural to these reports of ascension robes and the like, that no further comment is needed. They make lies, and love to publish them from the pulpit and the religious press. But, thank God, in the Judgment they are without. The happiness of those who love God and keep His commandments is then no more to be marred by their poisonous influence. Would God that they would repent of, and forsake, their wicked course, and live, and finally share the holy city and the tree of life. But as they will not do this work, that they may share that reward, their corrupting influence must be borne with Christian patience and fortitude while the controversy lasts.


The Seed of Criticism

What happens in a church that causes church members to become so dissatisfied that they reach the point where they want to fight one another and, in some cases, go to the court to put a restraining order on a person to prevent them from attending services? How do these things develop, and how can we avoid this type of behavior in our own church?

We know we are living in the time that will be as in the days of Noah and many people, who have had the hope of the soon coming of Jesus, are going to fall out by the way. It is only by being filled by the Holy Spirit and a strong connection with Jesus that any of us can stay on the narrow path and not turn our weapons against each other, but be united and get serious about taking the Three Angels’ Messages to all the world.

A study of the book of Hebrews reveals that, interspersed with all the theological content in the book, Paul gives five warnings:

  • Do not neglect salvation (Hebrews 2).
  • Be faithful (Hebrews 3).
  • The peril of not progressing in your Christian experience (Hebrews 6).
  • Do not cast away your confidence and lose eternal life (Hebrews 10).
  • Be sure that you listen to the heavenly voice (Hebrews 12).

As Paul gives these fourth and fifth warnings, he counsels: “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12:12–14. This is not referring to physical lameness but to spiritual lameness. In every church today there are people who, because of their inheritance or their home background, are spiritually lame. If a child grows up in a home where he does not receive adequate affection, when he becomes old, he will become a hard-hearted person. There are many hard-hearted people in our churches today; they are spiritually crippled and not able to do what they otherwise could without this handicap.

There are many other ways that a person can be spiritually crippled. If you are hiking and come to a place in the path where a big log has fallen over it, you just climb over the log and continue, but if you have a crippled person along with you, he is stuck right there and cannot go any further. As read before, the apostle Paul says to “make straight paths for your feet,” because there are crippled people in the church, and if you have a lot of these barriers, they will trip up; they won’t be able to make it. He says if you are not crippled, you need to be looking out for the other person, and see to it that that person doesn’t get in trouble because of an unchristlike manner of dealing with each other. Continuing in verses 14 and 15, notice what he said: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully [or pay attention] lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”

Obviously, Paul is using symbolic language when he talks about lameness. He is talking about spiritual lameness. The root of bitterness spoken of is not actually the root of some bitter herb that you may have in your garden, but it is symbolic language. The root of bitterness is our words and our feelings. We all communicate our thoughts and our feelings to other people; it is like sowing seed, and our thoughts and our feelings become multiplied.

For example, the great controversy in heaven began with one person; not two, just one. And from that one person there eventually developed a rebellion in heaven. Ellen White is very clear that at one point almost half of the angels were deceived, but some of those who were inclined to join Lucifer did not, resulting in one-third being thrown out of heaven.

How can something develop from just one person to affect one-third of the angels of heaven—billions of intelligences? Sowing seed, through communication of words, thoughts and feelings, easily does it. Ellen White describes it this way: “As the seed sown produces a harvest, and this in turn is sown, the harvest is multiplied. In our relation to others, this law holds true. Every act, every word, is a seed that will bear fruit. Every deed of thoughtful kindness, of obedience, or of self-denial, will reproduce itself in others, and through them in still others. So every act of envy, malice, or dissention is a seed that will spring up in a ‘root of bitterness’ (Hebrews 12:15), whereby many shall be defiled. And how much larger number will the ‘many’ poison? Thus the sowing of good and evil goes on for time and for eternity.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 85.

The seed does not just reproduce once; it reproduces, and then it reproduces again, then again and again. There was an elderly minister when I was a small lad who had held the office of president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. At the time there were one-half million Adventists worldwide, and Elder Spicer would tell God’s people that it would be possible to finish God’s work in three months. He said if every Adventist told just one person and that person the next day told another person, and that person the next day told another person, everybody in the world would know the gospel within three months.

That is just an illustration of how things can multiply from our words and acts. Now, the devil is alive and busy, and he wants to inject poison into our families as well as into our churches. How does he accomplish that? “The root of bitterness, envy, distrust, jealousy, and even hatred, which exists in the hearts of some church members, is the work of Satan. Such elements have a poisonous influence upon the church.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 489. If the devil can keep church members holding grudges, he gains much ground. This is a very real problem among God’s people, being unwilling to forgive.

“Satan will be highly pleased to have you cherish an unforgiving spirit instead of drawing together in even cords. But Jesus, Who places a high value upon man, is grieved to see division among brethren.” This Day With God, 121. When this unforgiving spirit is addressed, it is often justified by people saying, You don’t know what they did to me. That may be true, but no matter the cause we are admonished to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” Luke 6:27, 28. This is not something that comes easily and requires a change of heart experience on the part of the one who is wronged.

“There are those who cherish a spirit of envy and hatred against their brethren, calling it the Spirit of God. There are those who go up and down as talebearers, accusing and condemning, blackening character, inspiring hearts with maliciousness. They carry false reports to the doors of their neighbors, who, as they listen to the slander, lose the Spirit of God. …

“This sin is worse than the sin of Achan. Its influence is not confined to those who cherish it. It is a root of bitterness, whereby many are defiled. God cannot bless the church till it is purged of this evil that corrupts minds and spirits, the souls of those who do not repent and change their course of action.” The Upward Look, 122.

It is clear that the church cannot be blessed while this is going on. “He who is renewed after the Spirit of Christ will not only love God; he will love his brethren also. Those who make mistakes are to be dealt with according to the directions given in the word of God. ‘Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.’ (Galatians 6:1).” Ibid.

The gospel deals with the wrong. It does not teach us to just overlook and pretend nothing happened. But remember, when you and I were ruined, Jesus came down here to this world, not to condemn us (see John 3:17) but to save us. This is an area in which each of us needs to examine ourselves, and then often, just get over it. Give it to Jesus, casting all your cares upon Him (I Peter 5:7), and get over it. Ask yourself, what kind of spirit do I have when other people do things to me that are wrong? This is not talking about pretending that it didn’t happen.

Jesus came into the world to restore people who had fallen. He is in the restoration business, and let me tell you something else, when somebody falls and Jesus picks them up, and they fall again, He picks them up again. What if they fall a third time? Does He say, “You’re hopeless material, now”? Jesus cast the devils out of Mary Magdalene seven times. I can only imagine what the disciples thought when He was casting the devils out on the fifth and sixth occasions. “Lord, are you never going to give up?” The answer is, “No, I am not going to give up.”

Jesus is in the business of restoring people who have fallen, not just seven times, but hundreds or thousands of times if necessary, and He still helps them to get up. But we are just like Peter. We say, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother? Shall I forgive him seven times?” Peter thought that he was being very liberal, but Jesus said not seven times, but seventy times seven.

The devil is trying to inject poison, spiritual poison into every church, and that poison has the same effect whether you know it or not.

“No one should ever permit his mind to get into such a state that he will speak the words prompted by Satan. To accuse the brethren, to discourage them in their work, is to personify Satan and to be his helping hand by putting into the minds of others the evil leaven of criticism.” Bible Training School, June 1, 1903.

That is a heavy denunciation, “to personify Satan.” This refers to any kind of criticism, not just false criticism. Even if the criticism is true, it can still destroy a church. “How long will those who claim to be Christians tolerate the evil of listening to the criticisms of their brethren, and, in turn, communicate these criticisms to others, thus strengthening one another in an evil work?” Ibid.

“Souls are defiled by this root of bitterness and are, through these questioning, murmuring ones, placed where the testimony of reproof which God sends will not reach them.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 230. That is really scary, because it means that when that happens, the testimony of reproof that God sends won’t reach them.

What then should I do if I have been injured, and if I am the one who has been under the receiving end of an injury? If you do not have the grace of God in your hearts, the root of bitterness will spring up in you and many will be defiled. When you feel that you have been dealt an injury, you decide to back off and leave him alone and have nothing more to do with him and just stay separate, but the first thing you do is to tell it to someone else. This is what the Bible calls a root of bitterness. You tell your trouble to everyone but Jesus, and the reason you do this is you do not feel clear in your conscience, so of course, you do not want to tell it to your Saviour. When you spread the report, and the report may be true, you weaken that person’s influence. This can happen to anybody. Children who hear criticism will have no confidence in that person because of what they have heard or overheard.

“If you have misjudged your brother, if you have in the least degree weakened his influence, so that the message which God has given him to bear has been made of little or no effect, your sin does not rest merely with the individual, but you have resisted the Spirit of God; your attitude, your words, have been against your Saviour. Jesus says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto Me’ [Matthew 25:40]. He identifies his interest with that of every human soul, believer or unbeliever. That God Who marks the fall of a sparrow, marks your deportment and your feelings; He marks your envy, your prejudice, your attempt to justify your action in the least matter of injustice.” The Review and Herald, December 16, 1890.

When you feel this way, you are going to make statements, and you are going to weaken that person’s influence, and so they regard him just the way that you do, and by the root of bitterness springing up, many are defiled. “When it is evident that your feelings are incorrect, do you try just as diligently to remove the erroneous impressions as you did to make them?” Ibid.

Jesus regards these things as having been done to Himself. As human beings, we have a tendency to put people in one of two main categories—the bad people or the good people! We can act like a Christian if we are dealing with the good people. But if we are dealing with the people that we consider bad, we justify our actions. Hitler considered the bad people to be the Jews. If he had succeeded in having them all killed, he would have started on the next group that he didn’t like.

A physician once told a story about a patient who was being treated in the emergency room and how the demeanor and the way of caring for the woman completely changed when the nurses found out the woman was a prostitute. She was immediately one of the bad people. The same thing happened in Jesus’ day. There were the good people and the bad people, and the worst of the bad people were the prostitutes and the tax collectors. One of the reasons the Pharisees became so angry at Jesus was that He made them see that the people they called the bad people would be saved where He was not so successful in being able to save them.

In the final reckoning there will be many whom we thought were the bad people who will be saved, and there will also be many people whom we thought were the good people who will be lost. What should I do if I have done an injustice to someone because of my evil speaking about them? It is not enough to confess an incident. The false impression you have made to all the people that you talked to also needs to be corrected. This takes humility to go to the person whom you have harmed and ask for forgiveness and then go to all whom you have talked to and admit your mistake. Ellen White says that you can confess it and by repentance and confession have pardon registered against your name, or you can resist the conviction of the Spirit of God and during the rest of your life, work to make it appear that your wrong feelings and unjust conclusions could not be helped. If you work hard enough, you may be able to persuade everyone if that’s really the case, but you will never be able to persuade the angels or the court of heaven where accurate records are kept.

This is a very serious problem because, “if the root of bitterness springs up, many can be defiled” and it can spread through a whole church. “You tear away the hold their brethren have on them, because you destroy their confidence in them. But do not allow the enemy so to use your tongue; for at the day of final reckoning, God will call you to give an account of your words. Do not exert an influence that will break the hold of any trembling soul from God. Even though you are not treated as you think you should be, do not allow the root of bitterness to spring up; for thereby many will be defiled.” The Voice in Speech and Song, 57.

When Paul and Silas were unfairly put in the stocks, wrongly beaten and thrown into prison and put into shackles, the jailer, who was used to his prisoners cursing and swearing, noticed there was something different about these men. In their discomfort and pain, instead of cursing, they prayed and sang in the hearing of all the prisoners around them. If you were treated unjustly, how would you react?

In The Review and Herald, September 14, 1897, Ellen White wrote, “I beseech all who engage in the work of murmuring and complaining because something has been said or done that does not suit them, and that does not, as they think, give them due consideration, to remember that they are carrying on the very work begun in heaven by Satan.” The devil knows how to do this; he has been doing it for several thousand years, and he is trying to get this going in every church, to destroy us, so we will all be at somebody’s throat, and eventually, of course, it will be our throat. “They are following in his track, sowing unbelief, discord, and disloyalty; for no one can entertain feelings of disaffection, and keep them to himself.” Ibid. Did you get that? She says, “Nobody!” That would include me, and that would include you too. “He must tell others that he is not treated as he should be. Thus they are led to murmur and complain. This is the root of bitterness, springing up, whereby many are defiled.” Ibid.

When we are caught and are forced to recognize our involvement, the temptation is to compare ourselves with others, justifying ourselves, because, after all, everyone is a bit guilty of the same thing! We attempt to distribute the guilt, but this is a deception of the devil.

“To those who have been injured without cause these words of Scripture apply, ‘If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men’ [Romans 12:18]. Their failure to live at peace with all men is not due to the course they themselves have pursued, but to the envy, jealousy, and evil surmising of those who have been in the wrong. A division is caused. How shall it be healed? Shall the man that has been sinned against, misjudged, and maligned, be called to give an account? Shall he seek for something in his past course by which he can humiliate himself? Shall he acknowledge himself in the wrong for the sake of making peace?” The Review and Herald, January 16, 1900.

What’s the answer? —No!. It would be wrong for that person to make a confession.

“No. If he has tried to do his duty, and has been patient under abuse, he is not to humble himself to acknowledge that he is guilty. He does the offenders great wrong thus to take the guilt upon his soul, admitting that he has given them occasion for their course of action. This is very pleasing to those who have done the work of the enemy; but heaven’s books record the facts just as they are. Concessions that are not true from the one who has been wrongfully treated gratify the feelings of the carnal heart. The wrongdoers interpret their position as zeal for God, when in truth it is zeal to do the work of the adversary of souls.” Ibid.

“It is a most serious matter to go from house to house, and, under pretense of doing missionary work, scatter the seed of mistrust and suspicion. Such seed speedily germinates, and there is created a distrust of God’s servants. … The word falls upon ears that will not hear, and hearts that will not respond. No earthly or heavenly power can find access to the soul. … A sister or brother in the church planted the evil seed, but who will restore the soul thus imperiled?” The Review and Herald, November 27, 1900.

We need to understand this and not go to somebody and say, “Well, we need to pray for so and so …” and then unload on them that person’s character defects. If you have to talk about somebody’s character defects, talk only to that person; don’t talk to a third party.

In summary, Ellen White says that this root of bitterness is all the result of selfishness, and if selfishness is allowed to develop, it will spring up in a root of bitterness whereby many will be defiled. What is needed is true heart searching. We need to go to the Lord and say, “Lord, I know we are in the time of judgment. Is my heart right?” The feelings that I have toward my wife or my husband, am I willing to go to the judgment bar of God and have those feelings revealed? Is that ok? But not just my wife or my husband; how about the feelings I have toward other people in the church?

On the Day of Judgment, the secrets of all hearts will be revealed. And if there are feelings toward anyone that are not right, it is going to be revealed. Now is the time to go to the Lord and say, “Lord, if I’m blind so that I don’t understand the feelings that I have that are wrong, please, Lord, have mercy on me, and by Your Holy Spirit show me those wrong feelings so that I can get them taken care of now before it is forever too late.”

It is thoughts and feelings combined that make up moral character. The heart is deceitfully wicked, and it is so easy to deceive myself. Lord, is my heart right, or do I have a wrong spirit? Do I need to go to the Lord and say, “Lord, I want my feelings toward this person or that person to be changed”?

We also have the free will not to do that. We can just go on the same until the devil injects enough poison and the church splits or something worse. Looking at our churches today, we wonder why people are not flocking in to worship with us for we have the truth for the last days, the Three Angels’ Messages. “The Spirit of God did not come into our meetings in a more marked manner … because of the dissentions which are allowed to exist among brethren. With some there existed envious and jealous feelings, evil surmising, tale bearing and fault-finding. These were referred to by the apostle as a root of bitterness.” The Signs of the Times, May 6, 1880.

Watch out, so you don’t think you are the children of God when you are actually the children of the devil because of your speech. “Nothing so manifestly weakens a church as disunion and strife. Nothing so wars against Christ and the truth as this spirit.” My Life Today, 276.

“The heart must be cleansed. Wrong-doing is the overflowing of the fountain of an unclean, unconverted heart.” Testimonies for the Church Containing Messages of Warning and Instruction to Seventh-day Adventists, 22.

“There are those who cherish a spirit of envy and hatred against their brethren, calling it the Spirit of God. There are those who go up and down as talebearers, accusing and condemning, blackening character, inspiring hearts with maliciousness. They carry false reports to the doors of their neighbors, who, as they listen to the slander, lose the Spirit of God. Not even the messenger of God, who bears to the people His truth, is spared.

“This sin is worse than the sin of Achan. Its influence is not confined to those who cherish it. It is a root of bitterness, whereby many are defiled. God cannot bless the church till it is purged of this evil that corrupts minds and spirits.” The Upward Look, 122.

Are you willing to say, “Lord, search me. Search my spirit, and see Lord, is there any wicked way in me”?

If you pray that prayer, also pray that you will be ready for a shock when you pray like David, Lord, I want you to search me. David said, “Thou hast possessed my reins.” Psalm 139:13 KJV. That word reins comes from the Hebrew word that means kidneys. In those days, the kidneys were thought to be the focal point or center of the person’s feelings. So David was saying, “Lord, search all my emotions, and know, is there any wicked way; do I have any evil feelings in my heart, in my mind?”

I encourage you to determine, as I am, to pray, day by day about the kind of feelings you have and ask the Lord, “Can I be taken to heaven right now with the feelings that I have, or is there need of change?” When there is unity and the Spirit of Christ in the church, we will see many more people accept the truths we know. Almost every time there is a split in the church or home it has to do with hurt feelings. “When selfishness is cut away from our experience, what a change will be seen in our lives. We shall not then be at variance with one another.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 19, 143.

This subject is so important that on the deathbed of her husband, James, Ellen White asked him point blank, “Do you love Jesus?”

He replied, “Yes, I do.”

She talked to him about that for a long time, about his feelings, then asked again, “Do you love Jesus, or do you have feelings against somebody. If you have feelings against somebody, you are not ready to die.”

“If Satan can get in among the people [and produce] a spirit of criticism, then he is satisfied, for a root of bitterness springs up in these [members] wherewith he will be satisfied.” Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, 39.

Often death gives no warning; if you have ill feelings against anyone, make it right today. Talk to the Lord about it and get rid of that root of bitterness that will cost you eternal life.

“Lord, search my thoughts and my feelings, and impress me by Your Holy Spirit, if I have any wrong feelings toward somebody in my family or somebody in my church.” When Jesus, our Example, went to the cross, He did not have one murmuring feeling or feeling of discontent. If we want to be like Jesus, our feelings and thoughts must also be pure.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Free Seventh-day Adventist Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.