« السابقةمتابعة »
PROVERBS xxv. 12 : “As an earring of gold and as an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise
reprover upon an obedient ear.”
The meaning of the comparison appears to be, that there is at once beauty and fitness in reproof administered in the spirit of wisdom, and followed by its natural result, conviction and obedience. It was a positive command of the Law of Moses, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy brother, and not suffer sin upon him.”* “Open rebuke,” says the author of the Book of Proverbs, “is better than secret love;" the sincerity which tells us our faults is better than the ill-judging affection which conceals them. Our Lord rebuked his disciples as freely as he censured the Scribes and Pharisees; an apostle withstood an apostle to his face when he believed his conduct to be blameable; and St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians not only “to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but to "reprove them.”+
A very simple view of our social duty will suffice to shew the ground of these scriptural precepts and examples. The sin of a brother, and misery and death, the wages of sin, may be upon him without timely warning and reproof. A virtuous life is a gentle and silent rebuke to all who live in violation or neglect of their duty, but it is least heeded by those who would be most benefited by its influence. . They turn away their eyes from the example which makes them dissatisfied with themselves. To such minds truth must be brought home by a direct appeal ; they must be made to hear that counsel from others which they will not administer to themselves. The delusions of self-love make men partial judges in their own case, and if we are placed beyond the reach of these causes of false judgment, it is a sacred duty to expose them. If the conscience as well as the judgment be in fault, rebuke must be added to instruction. The opinion of impartial observers is the corrective which Providence ordains for the dulness or perversion of moral feeling, and one who reproves wisely delivers judgment in the name of truth and justice.
* Lev, xix. 17.
* Eph. ii. 11.
But who is the wise reprover, who may reasonably expect that his words will fall on an obedient ear? The office requires that feeling should be combined with firmness, patience with energy, sagacity with tenderness; and if unwisely assumed, you may increase the evil which you wish to cure. Let us consider the spirit in which it should be undertaken, and the manner in which it should be exercised.
1. He only can be a wise reprover, who is moved to assume the character by Christian love and brotherly affection. To convince another of his error and to awaken his conscience, we must above all things approach him with the feeling of sympathy and the language of kindness. This caution may seem unnecessary, when the reprover and the reproved stand towards each other in a relation the very name of which implies a strong affection; when the parent is called upon to rebuke the child, the brother the brother, or the friend the friend. But is it unnecessary? Even between parties so nearly and tenderly related, is reproof never administered in such a manner as to shew that, for the time at least, the kindly affections have been absorbed and overborne by less amiable emotions? But for this temporary ascendancy of passion, nature would prompt, far more efficaciously than precept could teach, in what tone reproof and exhortation should be conveyed. It would inspire earnestness while it repressed anger ; it would temper censure with gentleness; and by removing every suspicion of a selfish purpose, would open the heart to receive the rebuke which was evidently dictated by a sense of duty overcoming the natural reluctance to inflict pain on those whom we love.
It is equally true that, in the less intimate relations of life, no one can fill the part of a wise reprover who does not feel and shew that he is prompted to speak by affectionate concern for the object of his admonition, by painful regret for his error, by a tender desire to rescue him from danger. Towards one who comes in this spirit of brotherly kindness, the heart yields itself captive, as surely as it hardens and closes where any suspicion arises that self-love or pride or passion have anything to do with the reproof administered. And it is through the heart that the judgment must often be approached, especially where moral principles and conduct are concerned. The abstract truth is here seldom a matter of dispute; the difficulty is to enlist the feelings on the side of virtue, or correct the perversion which they have undergone. The first impulse of our nature is to assume at least a defensive, if not a hostile, attitude towards one who reproves us. The messenger from an enemy's camp, when he is seen approaching the gate, is suspected to come with an unfriendly purpose, a summons or a defiance; but if on nearer approach he is seen to bear the emblem of peace, if his message when he delivers it proves to be in accordance with the symbol which he held out, the arms that had been raised to threaten or strike are dropped, the barriers are unclosed, and he is admitted to friendly parley. So is it with him who, when called by duty to administer reproof, shews by his looks, by his words, by the very tone in which his words are uttered, that he is not come to upbraid and to defy as an enemy, but to counsel and exhort as a wellwisher and a friend. The influence of a kindly sympathy is
as powerful as it is wonderful. The mere language of affection, without the spirit, will not avail. Set phrases and formal professions may suffice for the ordinary intercourses of life, but our words must come from a deeper source of feeling if they are to move any corresponding feeling in others. Words so inspired are seldom uttered in vain. The ear is prepared for obedience, when it recognizes, in the voice by which it is addressed, a kindly impulse and a benevolent purpose. And as nothing else can give such efficacy to counsel, so, generally speaking, we can have no call to assume the reprover's office, unless we are conscious of being impelled by this motive. We may indeed have occasion to remonstrate when others invade our rights and endanger our happiness; but this is more of the nature of a social right than a moral and Christian duty. Even in such a case there will be a wide difference between the manner in which a mere worldly-minded man remonstrates or complains, and that in which a Christian will express his sense of being wronged. Reproof will always be most efficacious when the reprover can have no personal object to gain by the advice he gives, and the cases which call for it are usually of this kind. Let it at once appear that we come to rebuke because we are grieved that a fellow-creature should be ignorant of his duty and his happiness, and earnestly long to remove the errors by which his judgment is darkened and his path perverted to evil. When this conviction is established, pride relents, obduracy is softened, prejudice gives way, aversion yields to gratitude. All that at first seemed harsh in the reprover's office disappears; he is welcomed as a friend and thanked as a benefactor.
2. The wise reprover will administer his counsel in the spirit of Christian humility, not less than of Christian love. One reason why reproof often falls on a disobedient ear is, that it is offered with an air of superiority, an assumption of infallible wisdom on the reprover's part, which revolts and offends. But this is not the position which one human being is entitled to assume towards another, even when he is most
firmly convinced that he is in error-dangerous error. He is not a judge summoning an offender before his tribunal and passing sentence upon him. He is, though wiser and better than the object of his reproof, still a man of like infirmity with himself. He is emboldened by the strong sense of duty to tell him that he is doing wrong; but to entitle him to do this it is not necessary that he should be himself exempt from fault. He must know that he has often needed reproof. If he faithfully examines his own heart, he will see there many dispositions which his conscience condemns; when he looks back on his past course, memory will count up to him many occasions in which either his judgment has been at fault, or passion has overpowered his judgment. Under the sense of such shortcomings, how can he approach a fellow-mortal with self-righteous pride, or reprove him with the lofty air of one who is above the possibility of error or transgression ? Let no false pride prevent him from placing himself as near as truth allows on the level of him whom he would reclaim, and confessing to him, if such be the fact, that he has once been under the influence of the same delusion, or has yielded to the same temptation. He will be the more persuasive when he tells him how he may free himself from his error and conquer temptation. He will use no false pretence, representing himself as the chief of sinners, because he is not perfect and faultless, nor in any way exaggerate his own demerits. Sober self-knowledge will furnish him with abundant cause for humility. From humility springs meekness; from spiritual pride, arrogance and harshness, which never fail to make men disobedient to reproof. Humility in the reprover wins confidence from the reproved; it is an evidence of sincerity, and one who is not believed to be sincere will never gain access to the heart, however eloquently he may exhort, or however wisely he may counsel.
3. The wise reprover will never allow himself to reprove with passion. Earnest a Christian may be and must be in the fulfilment of such a duty; for he speaks from deep con