A Modern “Inquisition”
This article reminds us of the holy injunction to which few pay much attention, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31).
Every now and then, in certain quarters, there is a surge of rash amid irresponsible criticism. Some who engage in it may at first have been sincere in their motives. But as they give themselves increasingly to it, they become warped in their thinking and eventually are utterly unreasonable in their fault-finding. The results, to themselves as well as to others, are disastrous: fellowship is marred, progress hindered and the Lord dishonoured.
True, the “critical faculty” has a proper use. We are exhorted to “prove all things …” (1 Thess. 5:21). And the wisdom of doing so was never more apparent than in the present day, when so many ancient errors are being revived in modern dress, and when a “new approach” is being attempted to almost every truth and problem. Moral and doctrinal evils, false principles and methods, as well as doubtful associations, must not go unchallenged. Those to whom God has given responsibility in the churches of the saints must protect the flock from false teaching and deception. And when cases of immorality or doctrinal evil come to light they must be dealt with. This is sound procedure, and is what Scripture calls for.
Then, too, we all need to be called upon at times to “consider our ways.” Our practices need to be scrutinized in the light of the Word of God. We should therefore be thankful for any criticism which is really fair, intelligent, and constructive. And even when criticism is given in an improper spirit, we can still afford to ask ourselves if it does not bring a challenge that we should take notice of, however difficult it may be to appreciate it. As someone has said “the largest room in the world is the room for improvement,” and we should welcome anything that helps us to recognize and correct our deficiencies. Business institutions realize this and are often willing to pay huge sums to experts for their criticisms. If based on accurate knowledge and wide experience, these can be of great value.
But we need to consider carefully our manner of dealing with the faults (real or imagined) of fellow-Christians. It seems to be very easy for some of us to become cynical — given to chronic fault-finding and judging of others. Our niceties and exactnesses may really indicate, not so much a tender conscience as a spirit of censoriousness and a lack of that consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others which is one earmark of a healthy Christianity. And what we think to be a superior discernment in ourselves may be simply conceit, and our supposed infallible standards may be nothing more than a deep-seated prejudice.
Proper and needed care is one thing; censoriousness is quite another. The one brings matters to the test of the Word of God. “To the law and to the testimony” is its watchword. Faithfully and affectionately it points out the dangers of by-paths and endeavours to lead in the way of righteousness. It realizes the need, at times, to “reprove, rebuke, exhort,” but seeks to do so “with all long-suffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). Censoriousness, on the other hand, is ever ready to belittle or disparage. Not satisfied to confine itself to the calm and dispassionate discussion of principles, it proceeds to the heartless slaughter of reputations. It is on the alert for the slightest evidence of departure or failure (in others!). It is given to exaggeration, and will “use a sledge-hammer to kill a fly!” It is ready to villify and defame anyone who dares to express a thought not in keeping with its pronouncements, whether or not these have any basis in truth or in logic. Blinded by prejudice, it sneeringly asks, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” And, sure that there can be no virtue in the one it suspects, it proceeds unmercifully to “eliminate” him. It does not hesitate to attribute to its victim ideas that no sane man could entertain, and motives that no person of any decency could have. It can only think of one who does not completely agree with it as a hypocrite and a knave, though his only offence may be that, as W. B. Riley puts it, “he has jostled the comfortables out of their easy-going gait and changed the course of the rut in which they had run for forty years!” Too often it seems to be without feeling or conscience, and may even pride itself on “operating without anaesthetic.” Its strictures may have in them elements of truth, but, as someone has put it:
“A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent!”
Italian criminalists are reported to have said long ago: “Give me two lines, ever so trivial or commonplace lines written by any one, and I undertake to bring the writer to the gallows.” That was in the days of the Inquisition. Today no officer of the law would think of making such a statement. In modern courts mere suspicions are completely ruled out as evidence. No mere POSSIBILITY of guilt can be accepted as a ground for judgment. But the cynic knows nothing of the fairness of the courts. What they will not resort to in dealing with even the lowest criminal, he may be found using to incriminate even his brethren! A rumor or insinuation, however far-fetched, is enough ground for condemnation. The guilt of the victim has been taken for granted from the outset, perhaps without the least effort to find out what really are the FACTS. The Lord’s injunction “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” is completely forgotten (John 7:24). Said Henry Ward Beecher, “The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man, and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game. The cynic puts all human actions into two classes — openly bad and secretly bad.” Certainly the one who is hypercritical will find it very hard to be JUST!
One cannot help wondering what may be the motive for much of the censoriousness that is practised. Is the cynic’s object to pull the other fellow down to his own level, so that he himiself will be seen in a more favourable light? Is the demand for perfection in others intended to divert attention from the far from perfect lives of the critics themselves? Do they, perhaps, “Excuse the sins they are inclined to, By damning those they have no mind to?” The Psalmist prayed, “Search ME … try ME … see if there be any wicked way in ME … lead ME …” Well may we ALL pray a similar prayer!
Spurgeon somewhere speaks of “Mrs. Grundys, who drink tea and talk vitriol … who practise vivisection upon the characters of her neighbours.” Let us give a wide berth to such evil practices! Let us not lend our ears to those who engage in them!