E. A. Elam – A Peacemaker on Confessing Our Own Sins
By Terry J. Gardner
Edwin Alexander Elam was his mother’s firstborn child. Just a few minutes after his birth—on 7 March 1855 in Fosterville, Tennessee—Sister Elam “earnestly prayed for divine help and guidance to train E. A. for usefulness in the service of God.”
In 1871 Elam was immersed into Christ but that did not cause him to be zealous or regular in church attendance. Elam entered Franklin College in 1872 and studied under Jack Fanning. Fanning taught him how to study and to think for himself. As he was leaving for college his mother gave him a Bible with special passages marked for him to remember. By 1874 Elam had become more zealous and regular in his church attendance.
In 1879 Elam moved to Florence, Alabama, to teach with and study under T. B. Larimore in Mars Hill Bible School. Earl Irvin West noted that both Larimore and Elam “had notable similarities in oratorical powers and in the gentleness of the inner man.”
By the early 1880s Elam had begun to write for the Gospel Advocate and to develop a relationship with David Lipscomb. By 1901 Elam was on the Board of Directors of the Nashville Bible School (now Lipscomb University) and was the front-page editor of the Gospel Advocate. From Elam’s association with David Lipscomb came a character of steely resolve. He soon developed a personal slogan, “For Truth and Right, Always the Same.” Combining Larimore’s gentleness with Lipscomb’s firmness and his own commitment never to be a respecter of persons, Elam became a peacemaker who was often called to help resolve congregational conflicts.
In 1929 F. B. Srygley wrote of this friend, “Brother Elam did more, perhaps, than any other man among us in settling church troubles. He was sought after far and near to help settle church troubles. It seems to me that the promise Christ made when he said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God,’ was his; and this promise can be relied upon. Another passage seems applicable: ‘Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.’ ”
In 1919 Elam offered insight not only into his way of resolving church conflicts but also into making peace between angry Christians. In part, he wrote,
Why should I be always confessing the faults of others, telling them and relating to others how unwarranted, uncalled for, inexcusable, unjust, slanderous, and wicked many of their deeds are, and never be able to see and to confess my own sins?
“Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16).
The only right way and, therefore, the shortest way out of wrong is to confess it, repent, and seek forgiveness. Then it has gone forever.
One of my sons when very small ran in crying and told me his brother had struck him. I seized the opportunity to teach him a lesson which I hoped would benefit him in after life. So I asked him what he had done to his brother. He was confessing his brother’s wrong. He replied to my question that his brother had hurt him by the lick. I replied, “I do not doubt that,” but pressed my question, “What did you do?” He answered again by saying: “But he hurt me.” I replied again: “I believe all you say: your brother struck you, he hurt you, he should not have done so, and has done wrong, therefore; but tell me what you did to him.” Seeing I was fair and just, he said: “Well, I bit him.” Then I had both sides, and got them from the one who made the complaint. Another little fellow at another time came with his waist soaking wet from top to bottom, complaining that a grown boy had “poured a pitcher of water down his neck.” “What did you do?” I asked. “I threw some water on him,” was the reply. “Were you both playing?” I asked. “Yes,” was the reply. “Go, then,” I said, “out on a dry waist, and do not come home crying because the other fellow got the better of the play.” Just so, grown children in the church come complaining that they have been very badly treated in various ways, but they rarely ever tell what wrongs they have done. I want to ask: What did you do?
There can never be a quarrel without two quarrelers; there can never be a fight without two fighters.
A man ran in haste down the street. One met him and asked why such haste. “I am trying to prevent a fight between two men.” “Who are they?” was the question. “I am one,” he said, and ran on. Suppose church members were so afraid of strife, trouble, and a church fuss that they would run from them?
I have assisted in settling a few very grave church troubles. At one time two congregations were united when the church had separated and the withdrawing faction had built another house of worship. This was done by fair and just and frank dealing—by teaching from the word of God each one to confess his own faults. I have never failed when I could persuade the parties to the trouble to do this. I have always failed when I could not lead them to do this. If wrongdoers cannot see their own sins and will not repent of them, troubles can never be adjusted and their souls can never be saved.
Some seem to care no more for God’s teaching on “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” and the things essential to this than some others do for the teaching of the New Testament on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or against the divorce evil.
Some people seem never to have learned how to say they have done wrong or to beg another’s pardon; and some others seem never to have learned how to grant pardon or to forgive. They can never “get over” anything. There is as much grace in granting pardon as is required to ask pardon.
Let us think on these things a while, and the Lord have mercy upon us all.