by Thomas Manton
In his sermon on Psalm 119:39, Thomas Manton pointed out that though reproaches are a great and grievous affliction to the saint, yet he is to discern God’s hand in them. Reproaches come not by chance, but are a necessary part of God’s disciplinary dealings with His people: sent to humble, prove, and purge them. Our enemies intend us harm by them, but we should receive good by this as by every affliction. When God suffers others to judge and misjudge us, it is to awaken us to self-judging. Attend to this, and we be no losers by reproaches. Many times the voice of a slanderer will do for us that which the voice of a preacher cannot do. The renowned Puritan then went on to specify some of the believer’s sins which God visits with the sharp affliction of bitter reproaches and slanders. What follows is a quotation from his sermon.—Arthur W. Pink
1. Pride. There is a twofold pride: pride in mind, which is called self-conceit; and pride in affections, which is called vain-glory. Now there is no such effectual cure as reproaches for either of these. (1) To speak of the pride in mind, self-conceit. We are very apt to be puffed up for our doing and suffering for God—poor empty bladders are soon puffed up—and think ourselves somebody if there be but a little self-denial; as Peter said, “Master, we have left all and followed Thee” (Matt. 19:27). He was conceited over what he had left for Christ. What had he left? A net, a fish-boat; it was a great all indeed! We are easily puffed up if we suffer a little for God, and the Lord entrenches us in our worldly conveniences, for self-conceit may grow out of self-denial. Too often we find it so. Pride is a sin that grows out of mortification of other sins; it lives in us while we live in the body, therefore it is called “the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Some compare it to a shirt: that garment is last put off. It is the most inward and nearest to the soul, and out of the conquest of other sins there ariseth pride.
Now if we have been too self-conceited the Lord will humble us, either by permitting us to fall into such scandals as may remind us of our frailty, and what unworthy weak creatures we are in ourselves; sometimes by taking off the restraints of His grace and of His Spirit, and permitting us to fall. Austin is bold in saying it is profitable for proud men to fall sometimes into open sin, that they may know and understand themselves. He speaks it upon the occasion of Peter, when he was boasting of his own strength, “Though all men leave Thee, yet will not I.” How foully did he fall! Ay; but at other times God uses more merciful dispensations, for He doth not let His people fall into those grievous sins but upon great provocation. Usually at other times He lets loose the tongues of virulent men to lessen us in our own opinion and in the opinion of the world. Now, however innocent we be of the crimes charged upon us, yet in all these cases we must look upward and inward.
Upward—this is not without God: He is the end of causes; He could blast these tongues, and stop them at His pleasure; the Lord can “keep us from the strife of tongues” (Psa. 31:20). But now, when He permits this, His hand must be owned: took upward, “I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against Him” (Micah 7:9). At such a time God spits in the faces of His people, and puts us to shame; and therefore we should look upward and see His hand in it all. And look inward; there you will see such a sink of sin as deserves this and much more; and therefore a sense of our sinfulness in other things will make us more submissive to the Lord’s correcting hand. If we do not look to that we will be drawn into reviling for reviling. Many times our graces do as much hurt as our sins. Self-conceit the Lord will mortify one way or other.
(2) For Vain-glory, the other sort of pride, valuing esteem too much, and our credit in the world, and pleasing ourselves in the opinion others have of us. We would usurp God’s throne in the hearts of men, therefore we are so touchy. Having set a high value upon ourselves, we are troubled when others will not come up to our price. Pride is one of the oldest enemies that ever God had: it was born in Heaven in the breasts of the fallen angels, but God tumbled them out as soon as pride got into their hearts. Now, when His children harbour it, the Lord hath a quarrel with them, and therefore, for giving entertainment to pride He will lay us low: “Lest I should be exalted above measure, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12:7).
There is a great deal to do of what this thorn in the flesh is. Some will have it to be some trouble or sickness. Most probably so, but it takes in many afflictive evils, for in verse 10 he mentions reproaches. Paul was too apt to be proud. The Lord made him an eminent instrument; by his faith he had abundance of revelations. But God will prick the bladder: He does it with thorns; and he calls it his infirmity, necessity, reproach. Infirmity, by that I mean some reigning sickness. But reproach was one ingredient. Now lest we should be puffed up by vain conceit, the Lord humbles us with infirmities, necessities, reproaches.
2. Another sin for which God humbles us is careless walking. When we are negligent, and do not take notice of the carnality that grows upon us, and the fleshly frame and temper of heart which breaks out into our lives, the Lord suffers others to reproach: then they gather up our filth, that we may see what cause we have to take our ways to heart. Every man that would live strictly has need either of faithful friends or watchful enemies: either faithful friends to admonish him, or watchful enemies to censure him; they show us the spots in our garments that need to be washed off. Many times a friend is blinded with love, and grows as partial to us as we are to ourselves; will suffer sin upon us and not tell us of it; then the Lord sets spies to watch for our halting (Jer. 20:10), and therefore we need to go to God and pray, “Lord, lead me, in a plain path because of my enemies” (Psa. 27:11). They lie in wait and seek to take us tripping in aught they can. We can no more be without watchful enemies than without faithful friends. How ignorant would a man be of himself if others did not put him in mind sometimes of his failings! Therefore God makes use of virulent persons in the world as a rod to thrash the dust out of our garments.
3. To humble us for our censuring. For if we have not been so tender of others’ credit, the Lord makes us see the bitterness of the affliction in our own case, by giving us the like measure that we have meted unto others (Matt. 7:1, 2): that is, we shall find others as hardly think of us as we have of them. Good thoughts and speeches of other men are the best preservative of our own good names. God will take care of them that are careful not to judge and censure. And therefore it is no great matter whether the report be true or false, but a Christian is to examine, Have not I drawn it upon myself by slandering others? for God usually pays us in our own coin. He that is much given to censuring seldom or never escapes great censure himself. It is said in the Psalms, “Let his own words grieve him,” that is, fall upon him. How do our own words fall upon us? Why, the Lord punishes us for our censuring of others. Oh! then, humble thyself before God for the reproaches thou hast cast upon others: “Take no heed to all the words spoken against thee, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee” (Eccl. 7:21), that is, speaking evil against thee. Hard sayings and speeches of others against us may put us in mind of God’s just hand, of measuring to us as we have measured to others; and therefore we should be the more patient if they wrong us; it is but in the like kind that we have wronged others. God will humble us for our censuring, which is so natural and rife, especially with younger, weak, and more unmortified persons.
The Lord buffets by wicked men to make you better. Reproaches are like soap, that seem to defile the linen it cleans. There is nothing so bad but we may make a good use of it, and a Christian may gain some advantage by it. Or as dung which seems to stain the grass, but it makes the ground fruitful, and the grass spring up with a fresher verdure. So reproaches are a necessary help to make us more humble, heavenly, to make us walk with an holy awe. This holy revenge we should take upon our enemies, to make us more strict and watchful. The way is, not to contend for esteem, but to grow more serious, more faithful in our lives; for this is the way to muzzle the mouths of adversaries, as the mouth of a dog or wild beast is (1 Peter 2:15). Passionate returns do but increase sin, but a holy conversation will silence all; and therefore you should confute calumnies, by binding their mouths thereby. An innocent, meek, unblameable, profitable life, will certainly have its due esteem in the consciences of men, do what they can. Therefore be more strict and reproaches will do you good.
A word to those that devise reproaches. You hazard the repute of your own sincerity: “If a man seem to be religious, and bridle not his tongue, that man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26). Such men, that are seldom at home, rarely look to the state of their own hearts. Alas! if they were acquainted with themselves, or their own failings, they would see themselves the worst people in the world. Paul can see himself worse than Judas—I am “the chief of sinners”—because he had a greater feeling of his own case. Now he that is much in judging others is seldom within. If a man had a catalogue of his own faults, he would not be so ready to blast others, but say, “I am the chief of sinners.” Hypocrites have nothing in them but empty shows and appearances. It is a cheap zeal to let fly (and yet this is the religion of a great many) at the miscarriages and faults of others. No—you should rather study your own.
But must we in no case speak evil of others? I answer, first, be sure that it be not a downright slander. Now, it is hard to avoid that. If the evil you speak be without cause, then it is against truth; if it be for a light and slender cause, then it is against charity; if it be for things indifferent or for lesser failings, the indiscretions and weaknesses of Christians, all this is against that charity which should pass especially between the disciples of Christ: “Speak not evil one of another, brethren” (James 4:11). It is worse in Christians, always to be whispering and speaking evil one of another; you gratify the triumphs of Hell. In things doubtful, you should judge the best; in things hidden and secret, we cannot take cognizance of them—that is God’s work. Besides, if there be some grievous fault, you do not know what were their temptations, how it may be alleviated by the temptation; still you must “consider yourselves lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:11); and you do not know whether they have repented of it.
Second, speak not of him, but to him. When men are absent it is not fit they should be judged, for then they are not able to make a defense; then it is backbiting. When you thus speak of them, you exchange a duty for a sin, admonition for reproach. It is an unquestionable duty to admonish one another, but it is an unquestionable sin to speak evil one of another. Third, if of him, it should he with tenderness and grief: “Of whom I have told you often, and now weeping,” saith the Apostle (Phil. 3:18). When they are incorrigible, when they are like to pervert others, and dishonour the Gospel, or the manifest glory of God, Oh! we would but lay restraints on ourselves in this kind, and never speak of others, but when manifestly the glory of God calls for it. Not out of idleness, and for want of other talk, that is tattle, forbidden in many places of Scripture; not out of hatred and revenge, for that is malice—there may be malice where the thing you speak is truth; not to please others, that is flattery. But if ever you speak of them (and it should be with these cautions) it must be out of zeal for the glory of God and the good of the Church. If men did consider what restraints are upon them, they would not so easily fall upon censuring, reproaching, and speaking evil of others.
Originally edited by Emmett O'Donnell for Mt. Zion Publications, a ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505. www.mountzion.org