REPROOF A CHRISTIAN DUTY.
Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffersin upon him. Leviticus 19:17.
The whole verse reads thus: "Thou shalt not hate thy brotherin thy heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, andnot suffer sin upon him." In the margin, as those of youwho have Bibles with marginal notes can see, the last words ofthe verse are rendered, "that thou bear not sin for him."And this, I am satisfied, is the correct translation. The ideais this that men are bound to reprove their neighbors for sin,lest they become partakers with them, or accessory to their sin.
In speaking from these words, I design to pursue the followingorder:
I. To show the reasons for the rule laid down by and in thetest. II. Show to whom the rule is applicable. III. Mention severalexceptions which God has made to the rule, or classes of personswho are not to be reproved for their sins. IV. The manner of performingthis duty. V. Several specific applications of the principlesestablished.
I. I am to show the reasons for the rule.
1. Love to God plainly requires this.
If we really love God, we shall of course feel bound to reprovethose that hate and abuse him and break his commands. If I lovethe government of the country, should I not reprove and rebukea man who should abuse or revile the government! If a child loveshis parents will he not of course reprove a man that abuses hisparents in his hearing?
2. Love to the universe will lead to the same thing.
If a man love the universe, if he be actuated by universalbenevolence, he knows that sin is inconsistent with the highestgood of the universe, and that it is calculate to injure and ruinthe whole if not counteracted; that its direct tendency is tooverthrow the order and destroy the happiness of the universe.And therefore, if he see this doing, his benevolence will leadhim to reprove and oppose it.
3. Love to the community in which you live, is another reason.
Not only love to the universe at large, but love to the particularpeople with which you are connected, should lead you to reprovesin. Sin is a reproach to any people, and whoever commits it goesto produce a state of society that is injurious to every thinggood. His example has a tendency to corrupt society, to destroyits peace, and to introduce disorder and ruin, and it is the dutyof every one who loves the community to resist and reprove it.
4. Love to your neighbor demands it.
Neighbor, here, means any body that sins within the reach ofyour influence; not only in your presence, but in your neighborhood,if your influence can reach him, or in your nation, or in theworld. If he sins he injures himself, and therefore if we lovehim we shall reprove his sins. Love to the intemperate inducesus to warn him of the consequences of his course. Suppose we seeour neighbor exposed to a temporal calamity, say his house onfire.
True love will induce us to warn him and not to leave him toperish in the flames, especially if we saw him inclined to persistin his course, and stay in the burning house, we should expostulateearnestly with him, and not suffer him to destroy himself, ifwe could possibly prevent it. Much more should we warn him ofthe consequences of sin, and reprove him, and strive to turn him,before he destroys himself.
5. It is cruel to omit it.
If you see your neighbor sin, and you pass by and neglect toreprove him, it is just as cruel as if you should see his houseon fire, and pass by and not warn him of it. Why not? If he isin the house, and the house burns, he will lose his life. If hesins and remains in sin, he will go to hell. Is it not cruel tolet him go unwarned to hell? Some seem to consider it not cruelto let a neighbor go on in sin till the wrath of God comes onhim to the uttermost. Their feelings are so tender that they cannotwound him by telling him of his sin and his danger. No doubt,the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. Instead of warningtheir neighbor of the consequences of sin, they actually encouragehim in it.
6. To refuse to do it is rebellion against God.
For any one to see rebellion and not to reprove it or lifthis hand to oppose it, is itself rebellion. It would be countedrebellion by the laws of the land. The man who should know ofa treasonable plot, and did not disclose it or endeavor to defeatit, would be held an accessory, and condemned as such by law.So if a man sees rebellion breaking out against God, and doesnot oppose it, or make efforts to suppress it, he is himself arebel.
7. If you do not reprove your neighbors for their sin, youare chargeable with their death.
God holds us chargeable with the death of those whom we sufferto go on in sin without reproof, and it is right he should. Ifwe see them sin, and make no opposition, and give no reproof,we consent to it, and countenance them in it. If you see a manpreparing to kill his neighbor, and stand still and do nothingto prevent it, you consent, and are justly chargeable as accessory;in the eye of God and the eye of law, you are justly chargeablewith the same sin. So if you see a man committing any iniquity,and do nothing to resist it, you are guilty with him. His bloodwill be upon his own head, but at whose hand will God requireit? What says God respecting a watchman? "Son of man, I haveset thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalthear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say untothe wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dostnot speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shalldie in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand."This is true of all men. If you suffer a neighbor, who is withinreach of your influence, to pass on in sin unwarned, he will diein his iniquity, but his blood shall be required at your hand.
8. Your silence encourages him in sin.
He is authorized to infer from your silence that you approvehis sin, or, at least, that you do not care for it. Especiallyif he knows you are a professor of religion. It is an old maximthat silence is consent. Sinners do regard your silence as a virtualsanction of what they do.
9. By reproving your neighbor who sins, you may save him.
What multitudes have been reformed by timely reproof. Mostof those who are saved, are saved by somebody's rebuking themfor their sins and urging them to repentance you may be instrumentalin saving any man, if you speak to him, and reprove him, and prayfor him, as you ought. How many instances there are, where a singlereproof has been to the transgressor like the barbed arrow inhis soul, that rankled, and rankled, the poison whereof done uphis spirits, until he submitted to God. I have known instanceswhere even a look of reproof has done the work.
10. If you do not save the individual reproved, your reproofmay save somebody else that may be acquainted with the fact.
Such cases have often occurred, where the transgressor hasnot been reclaimed, but others have been deterred from followinghis example by the rebukes directed to him. Who can doubt that,if professors of religion were faithful in this duty, men wouldfear encountering their reproofs, and that fear would deter themfrom such conduct, and multitudes who now go on unblushing andunawed, would pause and think, and be reclaimed and saved? Willyou, with such an argument for faithfulness before you, let sinnersgo on unrebuked till they stumble into hell?
11. God expressly requires it.
The language of the text is, in the original, exceedingly strong.The word is repeated, which is the way in which the Hebrew expressesa superlative, so as to leave no doubt on the mind, not the leastuncertainty as to the duty, nor any excuse for not doing it. Thereis not a stronger command of God in the Bible than this. God hasgiven it the greatest strength of language that he can. "Thoushalt in any wise rebuke him," that is, without any excuse,"and not bear his sin," not be accessory to his ruin.It is a maxim of law, that if a man knows of a murder about tobe committed and does not use means to prevent it, he shall beheld accessory before the fact. If he knows of murder which hasbeen done, and does not endeavor to bring the criminal to justice,he is accessory after the fact. So by the law of God, if you donot endeavor to bring a known transgressor to repentance, youare implicated in the guilt of his crime, and are held responsibleat the throne of God.
12. If you do it in a right manner, you will keep a consciencevoid of offense in regard to your neighbor, whatever may be hisend.
And you cannot do this without being faithful in the reproofof sin. A man does not live conscientiously, towards God or man,unless he is in the habit of reproving transgressors who are withinhis influence. This is one grand reason why there is so littleconscience in the church. In what respect are professors of religionso much in the habit of resisting their consciences, as in regardto the duty of reproving sin? Here is one of the strongest commandsin the Bible, and yet multitudes do not pay any attention to itat all. Can they have a clear conscience? They may just as wellpretend to have a clear conscience, and get drunk every day. Noman keeps the law of God, or keeps his conscience clear, who seessin and does not reprove it. He has additional guilt, who knowsof sin and does not reprove it. He breaks two commandments. First,he becomes accessory to the transgression of his neighbor, andthen he disobeys an express requirement by refusing to reprovehis neighbor.
13. Unless you reprove men for their sins, you are not preparedto meet them in judgment.
Are you prepared to meet your children in the judgment, ifyou have not reproved nor chastised them, nor watched over theirmorals? "Certainly not," you say. But why?
"Because God has made it my duty to do this, and he holdsme responsible for it." Very well. Then take the case ofany other man that sins under your eye, or within reach of yourinfluence, and goes down to hell, and you have never reprovedhim. Are you not responsible? Oh, how many are now groaning inhell, that you have seen commit sin, and have never reproved,and now they are pouring curses on your head because you neverwaned them. And how can you meet them in judgment?
14. Unless you do this, you are not prepared to meet God.
How many there are who profess to love God, and yet never somuch as pretend to obey this command. Are such people preparedto meet God? When he says, "Thou shalt in any wise rebukethy neighbor," that is, without any excuse.
II. To whom is this command addressed?
Manifestly, to all men that have neighbors. It was addressedto all the people of Israel, and through them to all who are underthe government of God to high and low, rich and poor, young andold, male and female, and every individual who is under the governmentof God, or bound to obey his commands.
III. Some exceptions to the universal application of this law.
He that made the law has a right to admit of exceptions. Andthe rule is binding in all cases, unless they come within theexceptions. There are some exceptions to the rule before us, laiddown in the Bible.
l. God says, "Rebuke not a scorned, lest he hate thee."
There is a state of mind, where a person is known to be a scorner,a despiser of religion, a hater of God, and has no regard to hislaw, and is not to be influenced by any fear or care for God,why should you reprove him? It will only provoke a quarrel, withoutany good resulting to anybody. Therefore God makes such a characteran exception to the rule.
2. Jesus Christ says, "Cast not your pearls before swine,least they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rendyou."
Whatever else this passage means, it appears to me to meanthis, that sometimes men are in such a state of mind that to talkto them about religion would be at once irrational and dangerous,like casting pearls before swine. They have such a contempt forreligion, and such a stupid, sensual, swinish heart, that theywill trample all your reproofs under their feet, and turn uponyou in anger besides. It is lawful to let such men go on; andyour not meddling with them will be greater wisdom than to attackthem. But great charity should be used, not to suppose those ofyour neighbors to be swine, who do not deserve it, and who mightbe benefited by suitable reproof.
3. Men who are in a settled state of self-righteousness, itis best to let alone.
Christ said of the Scribes and Pharisees, "Let them alone,they be blind leaders of the blind." That is, they were sofull of pride and conceit, so satisfied of their own wisdom andgoodness, that they cannot be reached by any reproof, and it seemsbest to let them alone; for if you begin to reprove them, youmight as well face a northwester as think of making an impressionon them. They will face you down, and are so full of arguments,and cavils, and bullyings, that you gain nothing.
IV. The manner in which this duty is to be performed.
1. It should be done always in the name of the Lord.
It is important when you reprove your neighbor for sin, alwaysto make him feel it is not a personal controversy with you, nota matter of selfishness on your part, or claiming any right ofsuperiority, or to lord it over him, but that you reprove himin the name of the Lord, for the honor of God, because he hasbroken his law. If, by your manner, you in any way make the impressionon his mind that it is a personal controversy, or done for anyprivate motive with you, he will invariably rise up against you,and resist, and perhaps retort upon you. But if you make the impressionon his mind that it is done in the name of God, and bring himright up before God as an offender, he will find it exceedinglydifficult to get away from you without at least confessing thathe is wrong.
2. It should always be done with great solemnity.
Above all things, do not make him think that it is just a littlething that you hint to him, but make him feel that it is for asin against God you are reproving him, and that it is what inyour view ought to be looked upon as an awful thing.
3. You should use more or less severity, according to the natureof the case, and the circumstances under which the sin was committed.
(1.) The relation of the parties.
Your relation to the person who has been guilty of sin, shouldbe properly regarded.
If a child is going to reprove a parent, he should do it ina manner suited to the relation he stands in. If a man is goingto reprove a magistrate, or if an individual is about to rebukean elder, the apostle says it must be in that way, "entreathim as a father." This relation should enter deeply intothe manner of administering reproof. The relation of parents andchildren, of husbands and wives, of brothers and sisters, shouldall be regarded. So the ages of the parties, their relative circumstancesin life. For servants to reprove their masters in the same manneras their equals is improper. This direction should never be overlookedor forgotten, for if it is, the good effect of reproof will beall lost. But remember, that no relations in life, or relativecircumstances of the parties, take away the obligation of thisduty. Whatever be the relation, you are to reprove sin, and arebound to do it in the name of the Lord. Do it, not as if you werecomplaining or finding fault for a personal injury committed againstyourself, but as a sin against God. Thus, when a child reprovesa parent for sin, he is not to do it as if he was expostulatingwith him for any injury done to himself, but with an eye to thefact that the parent has sinned against God, and therefore, withall that plainness, and faithfulness, and pungency that sin callsfor.
(2.) Reproof should be regulated by the knowledge which theoffender has of his duty.
If the individual is ignorant, reproof should be more in theform of instruction, rather than of severe rebuke. How do youdo with your little child? You instruct him and strive to enlightenhis mind respecting his duty. You proceed, of course, very differentlyfrom what you would do with a hardened offender.
(3.) With reference also to the frequency of the offense.
You would reprove a first offense in a very different mannerfrom what you would use towards an habitual transgressor. If aperson is accustomed to sin, and knows that it is wrong, you usemore severity. If it is the first time, perhaps a mere allusionto it may be sufficient to prevent a repetition.
(4.) So, also, you are to consider whether he has been frequentlyreproved for the sin.
If he has not only often committed the sin, but been oftenreproved, and yet has hardened his neck, there is the greaternecessity for using sharpness. The hardening influence of formerreproofs resisted, shows that no common expostulations will takehold. He needs to have the terrors of the Lord poured upon himlike a storm of hail.
4. Always show that your temper is not ruffled.
Never manifest any displeasure at the transgressor, which hecan possibly construe into personal displeasure at himself. Itis often important to show your strong displeasure at what heis doing. Otherwise he will think you are not in earnest. Supposeyou reprove a man for murder, in a manner not expressing any abhorrenceof his crime, you would not expect to produce an effect. The mannershould be suited to the nature of the crime, yet so as not tolead him to think you have any personal feeling. Here is the granddefect in the manner of reproving crime, both in the pulpit andout of it. For fear of giving offense, men do not express theirabhorrence of the sin, and therefore transgressors are so seldomreclaimed.
5. Always reprove in the Spirit of God.
You should always have so much of the Holy Ghost with you,that when you reprove a man for sin, he will feel as if it camefrom God. I have known cases, where reproof from a Christian inthat state has cut the transgressor to the heart, and stung likethe arrow of the Almighty, and he could not get rid of it tillhe repented.
6. There are many different ways of giving reproof so as toreach the individual reproved.
Sometimes it can be done best by sending a letter, especiallyif the person be at a distance. And there are cases where it canbe done so, even in your own neighborhood. I knew an individualwho chose this way of reprimanding a sea-captain for intemperancein crossing the Atlantic. The captain drank hard, especially inbad weather, and when his services were most wanted. The individualwas in great agony, for the captain was not only intemperate,but when he drank he was ill-natured, and endangered the livesof all on board. He made it a subject of prayer. It was a difficultcase. He did not know how to approach the captain so as to makeit probable he should do good and not hurt; for a captain at sea,you know, is a perfect despot, and has the most absolute poweron earth. After a while he sat down and wrote a letter, and gaveit to the captain with his own hand, in which he plainly and affectionately,but faithfully and most pointedly, set forth his conduct, andthe sin he was committing against God and man. He accompaniedit with much prayer to God. The captain read it, and it completelycured him; he made an apology to the individual, and never drankanother drop of anything stronger than coffee or tea on the wholepassage.
7. Sometimes it is necessary to reprove sin by forming societies,and getting up newspapers, and forming a public sentiment againsta particular sin, that shall be a continued and overwhelming rebuke.The Temperance Societies, Moral Reform Societies, Anti-SlaverySocieties, etc., are designed for this end.
V. I will mention now some of the cases in which the principlesare applicable.
They are peculiarly applicable to those crimes which are calculatedto undermine the institutions of society, and to exert a wide-spreadinfluence. Such sins can only be held in check and put down byfaithfulness in reproof.
If Christians would universally mark transgressors, and rebukethem that trample on the Sabbath, they would do more to put astop to Sabbath-breaking than by all other means. If Christianswere united in this, how long do you suppose it would be beforethis sin would be put down? If only a few were faithful, and constantand persevering, they might do much. If only a few do it, andthese only now and then, it might not have much effect. But Ibelieve if all professors of religion were to do it, every groceryand grog shop, and oyster cellar, and fruit stand, would be shutup. At all events, they are bound to do it, whatever may be theresult; and so long as they neglect their duty, they are chargeablebefore God with all the Sabbath breaking in the city. If all thechurches and ecclesiastical bodies in the land were united toremonstrate with the government, and would continue to do it,firmly, and in the name of the Lord, do you suppose governmentwould continue to violate the Sabbath with their mail? I tellyou, no. The church can do this, I believe, in one year, if allwere united throughout the country, and could speak out fully,in the fear of God, and without any fear of man. No man who everexpected to be elected to office again, would ever again advisethe breaking of the Sabbath. But now, while the church is divided,and not half in earnest, there are so few speak out, that governmentdespises them, and pays no attention. Thus it is that the churchconnive at Sabbath-breaking, and they are without excuse, tillthey speak out and rebuke their rulers, in the name of Jehovah,for breaking his holy law.
2. Intemperance and rum-selling.
Suppose every man in this city that sells rum was continuallysubject to the rebukes which God requires; suppose every man thatpassed by were to reprove him for his sin; how long could he sellrum? If only the church were to do it; if that deacon and thatelder would do it, and every Christian would follow him with rebukesin the name of the Lord for poisoning men to death with rum, hecould not go on and do it. Such a strong and decided testimonywould soon drive him from his trade of death. In self-defensehe would have to yield to the pressure of solemn rebuke.
This is a wide-spreading evil, that ought to be universallyrebuked.
It should be rebuked unsparingly, not only from the pulpit,but by the press, and in the street, till it be driven from itsstrong holds, and made to hide itself in the chambers of hell.
What! shall men be suffered to commit one of the most God-dishonoringand most heaven-daring sins on earth, and not be reproved?
It is a sin against which all men should bear testimony, andlift up their voice like a trumpet, till this giant iniquity isbanished from the land and from the world.
VI. I shall consider some of the difficulties which are sometimesraised in the way of the performance of this duty.
1. It is often asked, Is it a duty to reprove my neighbor whenthere is no prospect of doing any good?
I answer, it may be very essential to reprove sin in many caseswhere there is no prospect that the individual whom you reprovewill be benefited. As in cases where your silence would be takenfor connivance in his sin. Or where the very fact of his beingreproved may prevent others from falling into the like crime.Where the offender comes properly under the description of a scornedor a swine, there God has made an exception, and you are not boundto reprove. But in other cases, duty is yours, consequences God's.
2. It is asked, Should I reprove strangers? Why not? Is notthe stranger your neighbor? You are not to reprove a strangerin the same way that you would a familiar acquaintance; but thefact of his being a stranger is not a reason why he should notbe reproved, if he break the command of God. If a man swear profanely,or break the Sabbath, in your presence, his being a stranger doesnot excuse you from the duty and the responsibility of administeringreproof, or trying to bring him to repentance and save his soul.
3. It is asked, Should we reprove a person when he is drunk?Generally not: for when a person is drunk he is deranged. Theremay be cases where it is proper, for the purpose of warning others.But so far as the drunkard himself is concerned, as a generalrule, it is not expedient. Yet there are many cases where reproofto a man even when drunk, has taken such a hold on his mind asto sober him, and turn him from his beastly sin.
4. Shall we reprove great men, and those who are above us insociety, and who may look down on us and on our reproofs withcontempt?
That does not alter your duty. "Thou shalt in any wiserebuke thy neighbor, and not bear sin for him." You shouldbear in mind the relation in which he stands, and treat him accordingly.But still, if he sin against God, it is your duty to reprove himin an appropriate manner.
1. Do not talk about people's sins, but go and reprove them.
It is very common to talk about people's sins behind theirbacks, but this is great wickedness. If you want to folk aboutany person's sins, go and talk to him about whom, and try to gethim to repent and forsake them. Do not go and talk to others againsthim behind his back, and leave him to go on in his sins, unwarnedto hell.
2. How few professors of religion are sufficiently conscientiousto practice this duty.
I suppose there are thousands in this city, who never thinkof doing it. Yes; professors of religion live in habitual disobedienceto this plain, and strongly expressed command of God. And thenthey wonder why they do not have the spirit of prayer, and whythere are not more revivals! Wonder!
3. See why so few persons enjoy religion.
They live in habitual neglect of this command, making excuses,when God has said there shall be no excuse. And how can they enjoyreligion? What would the universe think of God, if he should grantthe joys of religion to such unfaithful professors?
4. We see that the great mass of the professors of religionhave more regard to their own reputation than to the requirementsof God.
The proof is, that sooner than run the risk of being calledcensorious, or of getting enemies by rebuking sin, they will letmen go on in sin unrebuked, notwithstanding God says, "Thoushalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor." But I shall offendhim if I reprove his sin. "In any wise rebuke him,"says Jehovah. It shows that they have a greater fear of men thanof God. For fear at offending man, they run the risk of offendingGod. Yea, they absolutely disobey God, in one of his plainestand strongest commandments, rather than incur the displeasureof men by rebuking their sins.
5. No man has a right to say to us, when we reprove him forhis sin, that it is none of our business to meddle with him.
How often do transgressors tell faithful reprovers, they hadbetter mind their own business and not meddle with what does notconcern them. And they are called meddlers and busybodies, forinterfering in other people's concerns. At the south, they havegot themselves into a great rage because we at the north are tryingto convince them of the wickedness of slavery. And they say itis none of our business, that slavery is a matter peculiarly theirown, and they will not suffer anybody else to interfere with them,and they require us to let them alone, and will not even allowus to talk about the subject. And they want our northern legislaturesto pass laws forbidding us to rebuke our southern neighbors fortheir sin in holding men in slavery. God forbid that we shouldbe silent. Jehovah himself has commanded us to rebuke our neighborin any wise, let the consequences be as they may. And we willrebuke them, though all hell should rise up against it.
Are we to hold our peace and be partakers in the sin of slavery,by connivance, as we have been? God forbid. We will speak of it,and bear our testimony against it, and pray over it, and complainof it to God and man. Heaven shall know, and the world shall know,and hell shall know, that ye protest against the sin, and willcontinue to rebuke it, till it is broken up. God Almighty says,"Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor," and wemust do it.
So the rum-dealer is all the while pleading, "It is noneof your concern what I do; please to mind your own business, andlet me alone." But it is our business to reprove him whenhe dispenses his poison, and it is everybody's concern, and everyman is bound to rebuke his crime till he gives it up, and ceasesto destroy the lives and souls of his neighbors.
6. We see the importance of consistency in religion.
If a man professes to love God, he ought to have consistencyenough to reprove those that oppose God. If Christians were onlyconsistent in this duty, many would be converted by it, a rightpublic sentiment would be formed, and sin would be rebuked andforced to retire before the majesty of Christian rebuke. If Christianswere not such cowards, and absolutely disobedient to this plaincommand of God, one thing would certainly come of it either theywould be murdered in the streets as martyrs, because men couldnot bear the intolerable presence of truth, or they would be speedilyconverted to God.
What shall we say, then, to such professors of religion? Afraidto reprove sinners! When God commands, not prepared to obey? Howwill they answer it to God?
Now, beloved, will you practice this duty? Will you reprovesin faithfully, so as not to bear sin for your neighbors? Willyou make your whole life a testimony against sin? Will you clearyour souls, or will you hold your peace and be weighed down withthe guilt of all the transgressors around you and within the sphereof your influence? God says, "Thou shalt in any wise rebukethy neighbor, and not bear sin for him."
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