Must They Separate?
By: The Ministers Assembled in General Camp Meeting at Moundsville, W. VA June 1901.
To: Being a Letter to the Church Universal
THE ministers of God assembled in the general camp meeting at Moundsville, W. Va., to the ministers and saints scattered abroad, greeting: Forasmuch as there has been a lack of understanding among us concerning the doctrine of marriage and divorce, it seemed pleasing unto the Lord that we should consider this important subject before the assembly of ministers at this place.
As we were assembled in one accord the Holy Spirit brought out the true doctrine of the New Testament on this subject, which we feel impressed by the Lord to make known through the Trumpet, to all the saints that all may receive understanding thereby.
It is perfectly clear to our minds that the true doctrine of the New Testament in regard to this subject may be stated as follows: Those who have obtained two or more companions by divorcing and marrying again, according to the laws of the land, while they were ignorant of the truth, have not thereby committed sin.
In the assembly of the ministers, the ideas expressed in the above words were confirmed by the following scriptures:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them [to them - margin] for God hath shown it unto them:…so that they are without excuse.” Rom. 1: 16-20.
“For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (for not the hearers of the law are justified before God, but the doers of the law shall he justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” Rom. 2: 11-16. ”
And that servant which knew his lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” Luke 12:47,48.
”Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3: 4.
“Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.” Rom. 4: 15.
“Sin is not imputed where there is no law.” Rom. 5: 13.
“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.” John 15: 22.
“And some of the Pharisees which were with him, heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also”. Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.” John 9: 40, 41.
These scriptures surely teach that the sinfulness of the actions of men is rated by their knowledge of the will of God; therefore there is no sin in total ignorance. Let us examine these scriptures carefully and see if this is not what they truly teach. In Rom. 1:18, quoted above, it is stated that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.
It is evident that a man could not hold the truth in unrighteousness before he had obtained a knowledge of the same; therefore we must conclude that the wrath of God revealed from heaven in the gospel does not concern a man until he has by some means received an understanding of God’s will. That this is the true idea of the text is evident from the next verse, which states the reason why the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the ungodliness of those who hold the truth in unrighteousness, in the following words:
“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them: for God hath shown it unto them.” So the wrath of God does not fall upon a man because of the wrong that might be committed by him, until God had shown it unto him.
If any should ask us concerning the heathen, who have never heard the Word of God, we would answer that their condition is explained in the text quoted above from the second chapter of Romans, which says that “as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law”; that is, as many as have sinned, having never obtained a knowledge of God’s written Word, shall be condemned in the judgment, but not by the written Word.
What then is the standard of law from which God reckons their condemnation in this life and at the judgment? This question is answered in the same text by the words, “When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” According to these words it is that portion of the moral law of God that is contained in the heart of the heathen that condemns him.
It is true that God, in the creation, wrote all his moral precepts in the heart of man, but this moral code has been to a great extent effaced from the hearts of men by sin; yet, as this text teaches, there remains in the hearts of all men some traces of this moral law. This moral faculty is the conscience. By it all men are made to know, independent of the written Word, that they are beings subject to moral law; because when they do certain good acts they are by the moral faculty within them, caused to feel justified in the same, and when they do certain bad deeds they are caused, by the same moral faculty, to feel condemned.
This moral faculty is the only code of laws from which God reckons condemnation upon the hearts of men who have never known the written Word; and by a transgression of the laws of conscience only, can those who have not known the gospel commit a sin. According to these principles, the heathen who should transgress the law of his conscience is guilty of a sin before God, and must perish, except he find the Savior to deliver him from his sin. But if it be possible for a heathen to live his entire life without doing what his conscience would tell him is wrong, he would never fall into a guilty state and would be saved as infants are saved.
This principle holds good in Bible lands as in heathen countries. If a man, in a heathen land, who knows nothing about the written Word, is entirely blind to the will of God in every respect, he has no sin. Also in a Bible land, if it be possible that an individual should be entirely blind to the will of God, he would have no sin. This Jesus plainly states in John 9:41, where he says to the Pharisees, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin.” On the other hand, those who know the will of God are guilty of sin so far as they act contrary to the same. Acknowledging this principle to be substantiated in the text quoted above, we must apply it to every part of the gospel.
This compels us to view the teachings of the gospel concerning Marriage and Divorce in the same light that we would view any other commandment. The scriptures which say, “Where there is no law, there is no transgression,” and that ‘’sin is not imputed where there is no law,” must be extended far enough to take in every commandment of the New Testament; therefore we must view the commands forbidding divorces and second marriages while the first companion lives, etc., in the same light that we view every other commandment.
We certainly believe that a man who knows nothing about the wrong connected with the use of strong drinks, as is doubtless the case in some parts of the world to-day, could use the same without committing sin; but those who know the will of God in regard to these things, and that they are condemned in the Word of God, can not use such things without being guilty of sin before God.
Viewing the subject of Marriage and Divorce, in the same light, we must conclude that those who have obtained two or more living companions, before they knew that such was wrong and contrary to the will of God, are not guilty of sin; while those who have done these things after they received sufficient light to know that such is contrary to the will of God, are guilty of sin. This principle, if carried out, will enable us to decide all cases of unscriptural marriages.
In marriage, is implied both an act and a state, and in every case the state must be viewed in the same light as the act. If the act is adultery, the state is adultery. If the act is not adultery, the state is not adultery. In the case of those who have entered unscriptural marriages in total ignorance, the act is not adultery because of their ignorance, and the state is not adultery.
Therefore we can not on Scriptural grounds require such parties to dissolve their marriage union; but, on the other hand, since neither the act nor the state is sinful, we as ministers of the gospel must hold them to remain in their marriage union and perform their marriage obligation according to the Word of God.