A LESSON IN TOLERANCE
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons by the use of your name, and we tried to stop him because he is not one of our company.” “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus. “There is no one who can do a work of power in the strength of my name and lightly speak evil of me. He who is not against us is for us.”
As we have seen over and over again, in the time of Jesus everyone believed in demons. Everyone believed that both mental and physical illness was caused by the malign influence of these evil spirits. Now there was one very common way to exorcise them. If one could get to know the name of a still more powerful spirit and command the evil demon in that name to come out of a person, the demon was supposed to be powerless to resist. It could not stand against the might of the more powerful name. This is the kind of picture we have here. John had seen a man using the all-powerful name of Jesus to defeat the demons and he had tried to stop him, because he was not one of the intimate band of the disciples. But Jesus declared that no man could do a mighty work in his name and be altogether his enemy. Then Jesus laid down the great principle that “he who is not against us is for us.”
Here is a lesson in tolerance, and it is a lesson that nearly everyone needs to learn.
(i) Every man has a right to his own thoughts. Every man has a right to think things out and to think them through until he comes to his own conclusions and his own beliefs. And that is a right we should respect. We are often too apt to condemn what we do not understand. William Penn once said, “Neither despise nor oppose what thou dost not understand.” Kingsley Williams in The New Testament in Plain English, translates a phrase in Jd.10 like this–“Those who speak abusively of everything they do not understand.”
There are two things we must remember.
(a) There is far more than one way to God. “God,” as Tennyson has it, “fulfils himself in many ways.” Cervantes once said, “Many are the roads by which God carries his own to heaven.” The world is round, and two people can get to precisely the same destination by starting out in precisely opposite directions. All roads, if we pursue them long enough and far enough, lead to God. It is a fearful thing for any man or any church to think that he or it has a monopoly of salvation.
(b) It is necessary to remember that truth is always bigger than any man’s grasp of it. No man can possibly grasp all truth. The basis of tolerance is not a lazy acceptance of anything. It is not the feeling that there cannot be assurance anywhere. The basis of tolerance is simply the realization of the magnitude of the orb of truth. John Morley wrote, “Toleration means reverence for all the possibilities of truth, it means acknowledgment that she dwells in divers mansions, and wears vesture of many colours, and speaks in strange tongues. It means frank respect for freedom of indwelling conscience against mechanical forms, official conventions, social force. It means the charity that is greater than faith or hope.” Intolerance is a sign both of arrogance and ignorance, for it is a sign that a man believes that there is no truth beyond the truth he sees.
(ii) Not only must we concede to every man the right to do his own thinking, we must also concede the right to a man to do his own speaking. Of all democratic rights the dearest is that of liberty of speech. There are, of course, limits. If a man is inculcating doctrines calculated to destroy morality and to remove the foundations from all civilized and Christian society, he must be combatted. But the way to combat him is certainly not to eliminate him by force but to prove him wrong. Once Voltaire laid down the conception of freedom of speech in a vivid sentence. “I hate what you say,” he said, “but I would die for your right to say it.”
(iii) We must remember that any doctrine or belief must finally be judged by the kind of people it produces. Dr. Chalmers once put the matter in a nutshell. “Who cares,” he demanded, “about any Church but as an instrument of Christian good?” The question must always ultimately be, not, “How is a Church governed?” but, “What kind of people does a Church produce?”
There is an old eastern fable. A man possessed a ring set with a wonderful opal. Whoever wore the ring became so sweet and true in character that all men loved him. The ring was a charm. Always it was passed down from father to son, and always it did its work. As time went on, it came to a father who had three sons whom he loved with an equal love. What was he to do when the time came to pass on the ring? The father got other two rings made precisely the same so that none could tell the difference. On his death-bed he called each of his sons in, spoke some words of love and to each, without telling the others, gave a ring. When the three sons discovered that each had a ring, a great dispute arose as to which was the true ring that could do so much for its owner. The case was taken to a wise judge. He examined the rings and then he spoke. “I cannot tell which is the magic ring,” he said, “but you yourselves can prove it.” “We?” asked the sons in astonishment. “Yes,” said the judge, “for if the true ring gives sweetness to the character of the man who wears it, then I and all the other people in the city will know the man who possesses the true ring by the goodness of his life. So, go your ways, and be kind, be truthful, be brave, be just in your dealings, and he who does these things will be the owner of the true ring.”
The matter was to be proved by life. No man can entirely condemn beliefs which make a man good. If we remember that, we may be less intolerant.
(iv) We may hate a man’s beliefs, but we must never hate the man. We may wish to eliminate what he teaches, but we must never wish to eliminate him.
“He drew a circle that shut me out– Rebel, heretic, thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win– We drew a circle that took him in.”
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