By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
THE OVER-SENSITIVE MINISTER, OR HE WHO CANNOT TAKE REPROOF
By A. T. Jennings
The true basis of righteous reproof is twofold; it stands in the fact that sometimes men do not do as well as they know; and also in the fact that men do not always know as well as they should, how to act. It follows, therefore, that the man who resents righteous reproof assumes that he is always right; or that he always knows absolutely what is right. Either assumption leads to a great deal of wrong doing, hence the necessity of faithful reproof.
There is a great difference as to sensitiveness in different persons, but it is not true that any one is without sensitiveness. The chief difference between one person and another in this respect is not that one is sensitive and the other is not, but is in the way each deals with this trait of his character. Holiness of character does not mean the absence of sensitiveness, but it does mean that the holy man does right regardless of how he may feel as to the way any one treats him. The better a man is, the more tender his heart will be, consequently the more he will feel an insult or an injury; but instead of being turned aside from the way of holiness he will adhere all the more strictly thereto. If holiness consisted in the absence of sensitiveness, then the harder a man's heart might become, the more holy he would be; but tenderness of heart and holiness are companions, hence we must look to something other than hardening of the heart as a way of taking proper care of hurt feelings. Holy men know when they are unjustly dealt with as well as any men; they have tender feelings as well as any men, but they also have a fidelity which holds them to the truth and right conduct whatever may come to them.
Ministers of the gospel are men divinely chosen to be the leaders of men, to set up standards of right conduct, to set right examples, hence it is a great evil when such men lack the true sense of righteousness and when they are ignorant of the true way of holiness. In order to insure them against such a dangerous course God has determined that they shall be reproved by at least four powerful factors, and thus make perfect men of God out of them: First, they must be reproved by the Holy Spirit Himself. It is a part of His work to reprove all men. Second, God has placed within every man a conscience which approves him when he intends to do right, and reproves him when he intends to do wrong, passing infallibly upon the moral quality of every man's intentions. Third, the truth, and especially the truth revealed in the Bible, is a very powerful reprover of men, and especially of ministers of the gospel. It is in part because of this wonderful power of the revealed truth to reprove men that God demands that ministers shall be so distinctly men of the one book; for the same reason Satan seeks to destroy this one book; unconverted or backslidden men seek to substitute some other book for it; but God holds His ministers to this book that they may be properly reproved by it. Fourth, God has ordained that men shall reprove each other. No man can see everything at once from every possible angle of vision, and since God wants His ministers to see every moral question from every possible point of view, He has provided that men shall exchange thoughts and thus one man reproves another until every man of God is thoroughly furnished for every good work.
A certain man bought a farm, moved into the home, then went away and upon returning approached the house from a side he had not noticed before, and it was so new and strange to him that he did not know when he had reached his own home. God wants His ministers to know every truth with which they deal and every moral and spiritual question with which they have to do from every side. A man built a bridge across the gutter in approaching his house and was so dissatisfied with it that he tore up a part of it and built it over again. He said that his mistake was due to his haste and that when he had laid out the simple structure he looked at it from a point too close to it. Had he walked away several rods and looked at the bridge and its surroundings until he had the whole in mind he would not have made such a mistake. God wants His ministers to get the view close at hand and from farther away and He uses one man to help another see the whole. In other words He uses men to reprove and instruct each other. It is a great sin when a minister of the gospel refuses to accept the reproof God sends by any one of these four ways.
The way a man deals with these four reprovers is an index to his own character. If he allows his sensitiveness to make him resent reproof it proves that he may be deceived in himself; that he may imagine that he knows more than he really does know. It may prove that he deceives himself into believing that he is right when he is wrong. It may show that he lacks humility; or that he does not honestly want to be right and at his best more than anything else in the world. Until a man reaches the point where he is willing to pay the price for being at his very best for God he is likely to resent reproof; but when he supremely desires to be at his best, he will welcome God's way of making him a workman who has no need to be ashamed.
The more responsive to reproof a man is, the better man he will be made by the reproof. God designs to improve men by reproving them. The tender heart which supremely desires to be right and at its best for God will be benefited by reproof; while the hard-hearted, stiff-necked, conceited person will resent reproof and go away con firmed in his conceit. Therefore, instead of courting an unfeeling heart, an obdurate heart, a heart that cannot be wounded, we should covet and cultivate a heart that is warm and tender and sensitive and that will promptly respond to the reproof God administers and profit thereby.
In a matter of such vital importance we would be lacking in our full duty if we did not also point out the spirit in which men who are chosen to be reprovers of their fellowmen should do their work. We may trust the Holy Spirit to do the work of a reprover perfectly; the conscience of every man will do its work exactly right; the Bible, or revealed truth, never makes any mistakes when permitted to act according to its divinely appointed purpose. The only dangerous factor in this reproving work is when humanity comes in to do its work. Men who reprove other men should be men of much prayer, profound students of the Bible, careful observers of God's ways, humble in the extreme, devout, earnest, faithful men who would rather die than to overdo anything or underdo it. They must esteem the will of God above everything else in the world. They should reach that point where they can do even the most difficult tasks without getting nervous or excited.
There is a wide difference between doing a thing after a long and severe struggle in a nervous and excited way; or doing a thing, promptly, easily and pleasantly. The reprover should reach the point where he is dead indeed unto the world and alive indeed unto God alone. James Smith felt reproved by his conscience, by the Holy Spirit, by the truth, by the example of a few faithful Christians, when he sought worldly amusements, and decided to drop everything of that kind, but he still had the longing for these things. Later when he died to them he lost all of that longing for these things of the world, and it was as easy for him to turn away from them as it was for him to breathe. The reprover should die to the opinions of men until, when he is clearly convinced that any contemplated course is from God, he will be able to proceed as easily and cheerfully and promptly as he breathes.
The man who closely observes will see that God often chooses very humble means for bringing to pass His wonderful ends, and in perfect accord with this thought, he will see that even the mighty and learned and wonderful men of the earth are often reproved by men of no account. About thirty-five years ago a young man of much natural and acquired ability entered the ministry. He was a careful student of the Bible, was sincere and wanted to be at his best, would apply himself for days to the study of some text, preach upon it, and in the class meeting which followed often learn more of the real meaning of that text from an unlearned old farmer's comments than he had learned in days of study. God used the very humble old man to help the young man. The true source of reproof is God and we should so regard it, whether He sends it to us by eloquent lips and silvery tongues or by the most common, humble means.
There is such value in righteous reproof that we should ask for it, welcome it, profit by it, and never resent or neglect it. Ministers especially should have appointed times when they speak kindly and in love to each other of whatever they regard as faulty or wrong, pointing out with discernment and fidelity everything they think would help a brother minister to be a better man of God, condemning faithfully but in the Spirit whatever weakens or in any way impairs usefulness, hinders fellowship or mars the work of God in the life. The lack of this kind of fidelity with each other leaves many ministers open to temptation and accounts for their fallen condition. The tendency to drift is so great that every man needs to be awakened often by tender but faithful reproof.
First. Ministers administer reproof to others and should be willing to accept what they give, and stand up like men and take what is given to them even when it may not be agreeable to the carnal nature. Resenting reproof is childish. We expect children to pout and get angry when reproved, but manly men should take reproof in a manly way and be glad to receive all the help obtainable in that as well as in every other way. The minister of the gospel who resents reproof is not only very foolish, but is often actually silly, as well as childish.
Second. Refusing reproof is often casting away one of the very best and most effective means of improvement. There is always danger that men who are never reproved will become settled into bad habits of one kind or another, and about the only sure means of avoiding the formation of such habits is for some friend to reprove the minister whenever he is found doing things that tend in the wrong direction. Many a man's usefulness would be greatly increased if he were to be set right whenever he gets started off on some strange or erratic course, and reproof seems to be about the only method of setting such men back in the right way. We knew one minister who greatly impaired his usefulness because he would pick his nose while in the pulpit, and another who would dress his fingernails before his congregation, and another who would appear even at the communion table with his hands and clothing smelling of the stable where he had cared for cows and horses. If these men had been willing to accept reproof they would have been saved doing much harm and helped to do much more good than they were able to do while afflicting other people with their bad habits; and the same principle applies to even graver faults.
Third. Refusing to accept reproof may be shutting out of a man's life important light, for light on many of the vital questions of the day and hour comes by reproof. Unwillingness to be reproved accounts for the darkness which enshrouds the minds of so many ministers of the gospel and leaves them such ready dupes of the devil and victims of the various isms constantly afloat all about us.
Fourth. Declining reproof feeds the carnal mind. And this accounts for the failure of many a man who was once deeply spiritual and fervent and effective. It really means that he has backslidden, a condition into which he would hardly have fallen had he welcomed reproof and profited by it, even from his wife; but, alas! the man who imagines that he knows all he ought to know and is doing exactly right regardless of the judgment of other people, soon becomes a cumberer of the ground, against whom the edict will go forth, "Cut him down, for why should he cumber the ground?"
Fifth. The spirit which will not be reproved is open to delusions and other dangerous conditions and will be sure to do many unwise things, and closes the door against the richer, deeper spiritual experiences; and as a consequence the unreproved minister becomes a mere formalist, performing before his congregation with even less power and unction than the actor performs on the stage. The only way to keep some things growing and bearing fruit is to dig about them and keep the soil open to the air and rain and sunshine; and reproof is to the spirit of a man much like cultivation is to a thriving garden. Without the reproof the spirit is in danger of becoming like the arid desert. Many a man is dead and dried up and does not realize it because he will not be reproved.
Sixth. The mind that is dosed to reproof is a dangerous mind, while the man who welcomes reproof is thereby fortified against many things that will destroy him if possible. It is a fact noted by all careful observers that an unusually large number of ministers of the gospel are falling each year into gross sin and immorality. This can all be averted. How? Surely he who wants to be exactly right and always at his best will welcome the faithful reproof of a friend, as one sent from God to do him good. Beware of the spirit that resents correction, for it leads with certainty to backsliding and to the bottomless pit.