Directions for Reproof
Richard Baxter

Tit. 3. Special Directions for Reproof and Exhortation for the good of others.

This duty is so great, that Satan hindereth it with all his power, and so hard, that most men quite omit it (unless an angry reproach may go for Christian exhortation) and some spoi1 it in the management; and some proud, censorious persons mistake the exercise of their pride and passion, for the exercise of a charitable Christian duty; and seem to be more sensible of their neighbour’s sin and misery, than of their own. Therefore that you miscarry not in so needful a work, I shall add these following directions.

Direct. I. Be sure first that your reproof have a right end; and then let the manner be suited to that end. If it be to convince and convert a soul, it must be done in a manner likely to prevail; if it be only to bear down the argument of a deceiver, to preserve the standers-by, to vindicate the honour of God and godliness, and to dishonour sin, and to disgrace an obstinate factor for the devil, then another course is fit. Therefore resolve first, by the quality of the cause and person, what must be your end.

Direct. II. Be sure that you reprove not that as a sin, which is no sin; either by mistaking the law or the fact. To make duties and sins of our own opinions and inventions, and then to lay out our zeal on these, and censure or reprove all that think not as hardly of such things as we; this is to make ourselves the objects of the hearers’ pity; and not to exercise just pity towards others! Such reproofs deserve reproof; for they reveal great ignorance, and pride, and self-conceitedness, and very much harden sinners in their way; and make them think that all reproof is but the vanity of fantastical hypocrites. In some cases with a child, or servant, or private friend, or for prevention, we may speak of faults upon hearsay or suspicion; but it must be as of things uncertain, and as a warning rather than a reproof. In ordinary reproof, you must understand the case before you speak; it is a shame to say after, I thought it had been otherwise. Such an erroneous reproof is worse than none.

Direct. III. Choose not the smallest sins to reprove, nor the smallest duties to exhort them to. For that will make them think that all your zeal is taken up with little matters, and that there is no great necessity of regarding you; and conscience will be but little moved by your speech: when greater things will greatly and more easily affect men.

Direct. IV. Stop not (with unregenerate men) in the mention of particular sins or duties; but make use of particulars to convince them of a state of sin and misery. It is easy to convince a man that he is a sinner; and when that is done, he is never the more humbled or converted: for he will tell you, that all are sinners; and therefore he hopeth to speed as well as you. But you must make him discern his sinful state, and show him the difference between a penitent sinner, and an impenitent; a converted sinner, and an unconverted; a justified, pardoned sinner, and an unjustified, unpardoned one; or else you will do him but little good.

Direct. V. Suit the manner of your reproof to the quality of the person. It is seldom that a parent, master, or superior, must be reproved by a private inferior; and when it is done, it must be done with great submission and respect. An angry, peevish person must he dealt with tenderly, as you handle thorns; but a duller, sottish person, must be more earnestly and warmly dealt with. So also a greater sin must be roughly handled, or with greater detestation, than a less.

Direct. VI. Take a fit season. Not when a man is in drink, or passion, or among others where the disgrace will vex and harden him; hut in secret between him and you (if his conversion be your end).

Direct. VII. Do all in love and tender pity. If you convince not the hearer that you do it in unfeigned love, you must (usually) expect to lose your labour; because you make not advantage of his self-love, to promote your exhortations: therefore the exhorting way should be more frequent than the reproving way; for reproof disgraceth and exasperateth, when the same thing contrived into an exhortation may prevail.(2 Thess. 3:15; 2 Cor. 11.4; Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25, 1 Thess. 5:13.)

Direct. VIII. Therefore be as much or more in showing the good which you would draw them to, as the evil which you would turn them from. For they are never savingly converted, till they are won to the love of God and holiness; therefore the opening of the riches of the gospel, and the love of God, and the joys of heaven, must be the greatest part of your treaty with a sinner.

Direct. IX. And labour so to help him to a true understanding of the nature of religion, that he may perceive that it is not only a necessary but a pleasant thing. All love delights: it is the slander and misrepresentation of godliness by the devil, the world, and the flesh, which maketh mistaken sinners shun it. The way to convert them, and win their hearts to it, is to make them know how good and pleasant it is, and to confute those calumnies.

Direct. X. Yet always insert the remembrance of death, and judgment, and hell. For the drowsy mind hath need to he awakened; and love worketh best when fear subserveth it. It is hard to procure a serious audience and consideration of things from hardened hearts, if the sight of death and hell do not help to make them serious. Danger which must he escaped, must be known and thought on. These things put weight and power into your speech.

Direct. XI. Do all as with divine authority; and therefore have ready some plain texts of Scripture for the duty and against the sin you speak of. (Col. 3:16.) Show them where God himself hath said it.

Direct. XII. Seasonable expostulations, putting themselves to judge themselves in their answer, hath a convincing and engaging force. As when you show them Scripture, ask them, Is not this the word of God? Do you not believe that it is true? Do you think he that wrote this, knoweth not better than you or I? &c.

Direct. XIII. Put them on speedy practice, and prudently engage them to it by their promise. As if you speak to a drunkard, draw him to promise you to come no more (at least, of so long a time) into an alehouse; or not drink ale or wine but by the consent of his wife, or some sober, household friend, who may watch over him. Engage the voluptuous, the unchaste, and gamester, to forsake the company which insnareth them. Engage the ungodly to read the Scripture, to frequent good company, to pray morning and night (with a book or without, as they are best able ). Their promise may bring them to such a present change of practice, as may prepare for more.

Direct. XIV. If you know any near you, who are much fitter than yourselves, and liker to prevail, procure them to attempt that which you cannot do successfully.(Ezek. 33,34.; Gal. 6:1; Tit. 2:4.) At least when sinners perceive that it is not only one man’s opinion, it may somewhat move them to reverence the reproof.

Direct. XV. Put some good book into their hands, which is fitted to the work which you would have done. And get them to promise you seriously to read it over, and consider it… …Such books may speak more pertinently than you can; and be as constant food to their sober thoughts, and so may further what you have begun.

Direct. XVI. When you cannot speak, or where your speaking prevaileth not, mourn for them; and earnestly pray for their recovery.(Ezek. 9:4; 2 Pet. 2:7,8.) A sad countenance of Nehemiah remembered Artaxerxes of his duty. A sigh or a tear for a miserable sinner, may move his heart, when exhortation will not. He hath a heart of stone, who will have no sense of his condition, when he seeth another weeping for him.

Quest. But is it always a duty to reprove or exhort a sinner?
How shall I know when it is my duty, and when it is not?

Answer. It is no duty in any of these cases following:

1. In general, When you have sufficient reason to judge, that it will do more harm than good, and will not attain its proper end; for God hath not appointed us to do hurt under pretense of duty; it is no means which doth cross the end which it should attain. As prayer and preaching may be a sin, when they are like to cross their proper end; so also may reproof be.

2. Therefore it must not be used when it apparently hindereth a greater good. As we may not pray or preach when we should be quenching a fire in the town, or saving a man’s life: so when reproof doth exclude some greater duty or benefit, it is unseasonable, and no duty at that time. Christ alloweth us to forbear the casting of pearls before swine, or giving that which is holy to dogs, because of these two reasons forementioned, It is no means to the contemptuous, and they will turn again and all to rend us.(Prov. 9:7, 8; Matt. 7:6.) Much more, if he be some potent enemy of the church, who will not only rend us, but the church itself, if he be so provoked: reproving him then is not our duty.

3. Particularly, When a man is in a passion or drunk usually it is no season to reprove him.

4. Nor when you are among others, who should not be witnesses of the fault, or the reproof; or whose presence will shame him, and offend him (except it be only the shaming of an incorrigible or malicious sinner which you intend).

5. Nor when you are uncertain of the fact which you would reprove, or uncertain whether it be a sin.

6. Or when you have no witness of if, (though you are privately certain,) with some that will take advantage against you as slanderers, a reproof may be omitted.

7. And when the offenders are so much your superiors, that you are like to have no better success than to be accounted arrogant; a groan or tears is then the best reproof.

8. When you are so utterly unable to manage a reproof, that imprudence or lack of convincing reason, is likely to make it a means of greater hurt than good.

9. When you foresee a more advantageous season, if you delay.

10. When another may be procured to do it with much more advantage, which your doing it may rather hinder.

In all these cases, that may be a sin, which at another time may be a duty.

But still remember, first, That pride, and passion, and slothfulness, is wont to pretend such reasons falsely, upon some slight conjectures, to put by a duty. Secondly, That no man must account another a dog or swine, to excuse him from this duty, without cogent evidence. And it is not every wrangling opposition, nor reproach and scorn, which will warrant us to give a man up as remediless, and speak to him no more; but only such, 1. As showeth a heart utterly obdurate, after long means. 2. Or will procure more suffering to the reprover, than good to the offender. 3. That when the thing is ordinarily a duty, the reasons of our omission must be clear and sure, before they will excuse us.(Gen. 20:36; Job 13:13; Heb. 13:22; 2 Peter 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:25,26.)

Quest. Must we reprove infidels or heathens? What have we to do to judge them that are without?

Answer. Not to the ends of excommunication, because they are not capable of it, (Deut. 22:1) which is meant by 1 Cor. 5. But we must reprove them, first, in common compassion to their souls. What were the apostles and other preachers sent for, but to call all men from their sins to God? Secondly, And for the defense of truth and godliness, against their words, or ill examples.

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