Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Need of Reproof

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision; Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. — Titus 1:11

St. Paul informeth us that there were many rebels even among the faithful, and such as attempted to preach the gospel, who were given to vain prattling and filthy lucre, teaching that which did not edify . . . St. Paul notes them as being the greatest disturbers of the church.

When the wicked sow tares (whether it be of false doctrine or wicked talk), to turn the faithful from the right way, if we dissemble, or make as thought we saw them not, the weak will become infected, and many will be deceived; thus there will be a general plague. . . . Shall we leave the church of God among thieves and wolves, as it were, and let the whole flock be scattered, and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ trodden under foot? Shall we suffer all order to be abolished, the souls which have been redeemed destroyed, and in the meantime shut our eyes and be silent? If we act thus, are we not cowards?

Let us therefore remember that when persons of honor and dignity have been in credit a long time, and then become deceivers, and endeavor to sow tares and destroy the building of God, we must withstand them the more courageously; for they are far more dangerous than those of lower rank. If an ignorant man, who is but little known, be wicked, and disposed to do evil, he cannot pour out his poison afar off, for he is, as it were, fettered. But he that is of reputation and intelligence, who setteth himself on high that he may be seen afar off, who can boast of his credit, that man, I say, will be armed like a madman; and if he is suffered, he may do much hurt.

Let us mark well when we see men that are honorable, whether it be on account of the office they fill, or the reputation they have had for a long time. In other places where St. Paul speaketh of those that pervert the truth of the gospel, and put forth errors and false doctrine, he calleth them heretics: but in this place he calleth them unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, who will not be ruled by truth or reason. There are no worse enemies than traitors who, under color of God’s name, come and make divisions in the church, and endeavor to destroy that which God hath established. . . I would to God we were entirely rid of such infection and filth. . . We ought to withstand such enemies courageously; but we are so far from it, that every one seemeth to thirst after nothing so much, as to be wittingly poisoned. . . .

There are bastard Christians among us at this day who know not God, nor obey His Word; therefore they will not bear correction. St. Paul reproveth the Cretians by putting them in mind of the witness of their own prophet; who saith, “The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts,” &c. When God maketh known our faults, and reproveth us, He doth it for our salvation; we ought therefore to be displeased with ourselves, and confess our sins with the deepest humility. We gain nothing by being stubborn: it is of no use; for if we will not bow, God will break us into pieces. (John Calvin, The Mystery of Godliness and Other Sermons, “The Need of Reproof” [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries] 171–178)