AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL CHRISTIAN PEOPLE.
"The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." - John x. 11.
Dear Brethren and Sisters,
Although the Lord frequently likens His people to sheep, there is one characteristic of sheep that He never intended them to adopt or to countenance. I refer to the habit sheep have of following along any highway or byway (however tempting, however dangerous), not because they have a conviction that it is the right way for them, but because others are going that way, and they might be accounted strange if they did not follow.
The Lord is seeking a people whose eyes are set only upon Him, who are not simply trusting to the strength and conviction of their comrades, but who, like Daniel, are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, and who can therefore "dare to stand alone." If we have the zeal and the love to pray at every opportunity with our windows open towards Jerusalem; if we have at all purified our thought so as better to appreciate the things that are right and profitable and pure, and especially if we dare to act in accord with the light and knowledge thus gained, (and not according to the measure of light our neighbours may have,) then, and only then, shall we, like Daniel, and his comrades, be delivered from every roaring lion, be protected in every fiery furnace that shall try us, prosper and grow strong on diet of pulse, having abhorred the wines and meats of the worldly nations.
It will probably be admitted that the tendency of believers has ever been to surrender their convictions and powers of conviction, and carelessly, thoughtlessly, follow the flock. Supported before, behind, and on either hand by the thoughts and the customs of their brethren, they vainly imagine they are standing. Truly the Apostle's admonition was not unneeded. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Yet only those who stand in the evil day can be accounted conquerors! "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand" (Eph. vi. 10 - 18).
And now, dear friends, I want to ask you bluntly, yet in all meekness and love, whether you consider you are doing a good, a consistent, a Christlike, a Godlike thing, in encouraging (whether through custom merely, or because your palate must be satisfied) the incessant slaughter of millions of God's creatures, our fellow-beings.
That is a straight question, and I ask for a straight answer. But you will, perhaps, be patient, while I briefly set forth the case of those who cannot plead for themselves. Probably you have never given the matter any serious thought. I ask you to do so now. Not until two years ago had the question ever been raised in my mind. And it was not a Christian (as such), who raised it then. It was a newspaper. For a few days I attempted to dally with it, but it had to be settled, and mercy speedily triumphed over every plea of custom, necessity, or profit that could be paraded.
One of your first impulses will be to reason (as I did) that the Bible does not forbid flesh-eating, but rather seems to support the habit. But you and I have learned, - it may be by bitter experience - that surface pickings do not represent the Bible. Its power is in its spirit rather than its words. You call it a mine; and those who know a mine best are not those who rake on the top, but those who have long lived within it. At various periods it has been claimed that the Bible sanctioned slavery, polygamy, atrocious bloodshed in war, shameful subjugation of women, and many other vices which are not now even tolerated in lands that call themselves Christian. And yet those surface pickers had good foundation for their assertions in the letter of the book. In the same way I claim it will sooner or later be seen and admitted that the Bible does not teach that it is necessary and good for the Christian to destroy the life of the defenceless, to feast on dead flesh, and to steep his hands in the blood of sentient beings.
I freely admit that there are no definite instructions in the New Testament as to how the saints of God are to treat what we call "the lower animals" - animals, notwithstanding, which often show more patience, more forgiveness, more fidelity, than we "higher" animals do. But the true saint of God should not need such instructions. Are you not aware that the old law (which in many respects seemed harsh, but which we are apt to esteem too lightly) definitely required that kindness and consideration be given to any suffering animal, even on the Sabbath day? Those who long to have the spirit of the God of Love, the spirit of the meek and gentle Jesus, are not dependent on black and white instructions, nor will they cease the exercise of the spirit of love and mercy where the black and white instructions cease.
The Bible has been labelled an old fiddle that can be brought out to improve any occasion, and even those who should be skilled in the music of the harp are sometimes liable to keep twanging away on one string. For instance, you may tell me that God distinctly permitted the eating of flesh, and you may think that ought to settle the matter. But I would tell you that God still more distinctly forbade the eating of blood, and that you, my friends, have never eaten meat yet that has been quite free from blood. I could remind you also that the same law which allowed certain flesh-meats forbade the use of pork, and yet, like enough, it is your most frequent meat. I could again remind you that the early custom of flesh-eating was closely connected with and probably originated from the early custom of animal sacrifices, and that God long, long ago expressed His utter hatred and disgust in regard to those bloody offerings, though He had Himself instituted them to teach certain deep truths. Just hear and ponder His words:
"I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs or of he-goats. . . Bring no more vain meat-offerings: incense of abomination is it unto Me. . . When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: yea, when ye multiply prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood" (Isaiah i. 11-15).
If a man to-day were to slaughter animals for praise-offerings to God, we should consider him mad, and the hand of the law would doubtless restrain him; but it is considered perfectly proper for everyone in Christian lands to offer continual bloody sacrifices at the shrine of his own appetite. Were it not more worthy that a man should shed blood for the worship of God than for his own ends? And if the more worthy be abominable, what of the less worthy?
But you will say the Lord Jesus did not abstain from flesh, and why then should we? To this I reply that if you will show me any Scripture stating that He ate flesh I will believe it, but not before. True, on one or two occasions He appears to have condoned the use of fish, and that is a circumstance which I cannot at present explain satisfactorily, though I believe further light will soon be forthcoming to explain it. It is impossible, with the knowledge I have of Christ, for me to reconcile His pure and gentle life with the carnivorous habit, and the horrors it involves. And the inspired prophet who declared that a babe should be born whose name should be Immanuel, declared also:
"Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good." - (Isaiah vii. 15.)
Further, there is absolute evidence in the early histories that several of the Apostles and of the early saints never touched flesh, but subsisted upon fruits and "seeds," and it is scarcely likely that they were in advance of their Master and Pattern in this respect. If you are still unconvinced, let me point you to the Scripture at the head of this letter. It should commence a train of thought that can have but one ending. Could Jesus Christ have uttered those words if He Himself had caused dead mutton to be served Him? No, the Shepherd whom the sheep love, and the Saviour whom the children love, carried the lambs in His bosom, and not where His followers mostly carry lamb to-day.
But, - it will next be urged - the Apostle Paul clearly gives us full licence when he says, "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience' sake." Ah, yes, the fiddler generally calls upon Paul. So many of his sayings, unfortunately, have provided excuses for creeds and conduct that are neither glorifying to God nor expedient. Yet an intelligent reading of the passage would have shown that Paul was not discussing the relative claims of flesh and of non-flesh diets, but simply showing that meat which had been offered to idols was no worse, intrinsically, than meat which had not. But though you seize with delight upon Paul's apparent defence of the shambles, you may not be quite so ready to embrace all of his higher teachings, and Paul himself declared that all his logic, all his knowledge, all his power, would profit him nothing if he had not love! And by no divine law is love ever limited to the human species. If you flee to Paul's shambles, I must bring you back to his sanctification, as when he said: "Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." And concerning the reality of this "offence" read the reports of Christian missionary failure amongst Hindus and other heathen peoples, whose humaneness puts to shame the carnivorous indulgence of their proselytising invaders.
But to argue profiteth little, and to oppose text to text will yield no progress. Rather I would have you see, if possible, what is the spirit, the mind, the will, that pervades the whole of the Book we love, and therefore, what is the mind and will of its Author. Let us go to the beginning, with our minds open; let us go back to the time when love reigned, and all creatures were humane and happy:
"And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."
Then it was God's original purpose that man should get his meat from the trees! There was given neither instruction nor permission to slaughter any of the creatures which God had created and pronounced good. It was only degraded man, - man no longer in the image of God, - that was permitted to massacre women and children, and to lust on the baked flesh of murdered animals. And all down the ages men that have sought to resist the downward avalanche have recognised that physical purity, as well as love and mercy, have required a return to the God-ordained diet. And have they been mistaken? Has God's original purpose been abandoned? Assuredly not. For you expect (do you not?) a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb. But have you, then, never realized that men as well as lions must have no appetite for lamb by that time? - and to-day the lion is a friend, to the lamb by comparison with man. The pictures of Isaiah, and the paradise of Revelation reveal no shambles, neither will heaven employ butchers: and are not we who look for that glorious day to be holy, and blameless, and God-like? Are we not exhorted, dear brethren, to haste unto the coming of that day? And I presume there is no need that I explain those words.
It cannot be honestly disputed then that what first was, and what shall yet be again, is the will of God, and only if we love our own tastes, our own gratification, more than His declared will, shall we persist in seeking justification for a depraved habit.
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