Last time we introduced the matter to which we would call your attention and presented three ways in which the question as to whether we ought to punish or praise, in order to obtain orderly and righteous deportment, is answered. We noted that to some all praise is out of the question because man can do nothing truly good, and because sin may never go unpunished. We also called your attention to the stand of others that, since man, by God’s grace, can do some things that are good even in God’s sight, there is room for praise, but it must be done very carefully, lest we move to conceit and pride and so to a cessation of that good for which we praise. We also pointed out the other extreme wherein punishment and criticism are almost entirely discarded until the evil becomes of great magnitude: the soft approach gets you farther than the stern (sometimes erroneously called, the big-stick) approach.
Now as to the matter of there being no room at all to praise a man and that to praise a child can only have the evil result that you spoil him, we would call your attention to several passages of Holy Writ that clearly set forth the praise of a child of God as proper and at times very beneficial. We may find this literally stated in the very same epistle wherein Paul rebukes very severely for, false doctrine and an evil walk. We have in mind Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians wherein the church is severely rebuked for her defilement of the table of the Lord in her celebration, or rather corruption, of the Lord’s Supper, and for her heretical views concerning the resurrection of the dead. To this same church the apostle writes, “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you,” I Corinthians 11:2. And this is in the same chapter wherein he also wrote in verse 17, “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.”
If more proof is needed we can refer to the seven letters to the seven churches in chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation. In these letters we come across several passages wherein Jesus Himself tells John to write words of praise to the churches as well as rebukes. And let it be understood and stated here that when we speak of punishment or praise we classify, rebukes, adverse criticism, Christian discipline in the form of barring from the sacraments and even excommunication from the church of God as punishment. We are not simply thinking of using the rod upon the disobedient child, but at present are busy with the general principle and practice as applied to adults as well as children and in the church as well as in the home. In the church you do not punish the adult or the child with the rod of wood or metal. And when we use the word punishment we use it in the covenant sphere and therefore have in mind chastisement, corrective punishment, methods used and practices employed to seek to bring to sorrow of sin and repentance with a return to a walk in righteousness. In that light the rebukes in these seven letters to the seven churches are punishment inflicted by the mouth, by the written and spoken word. And therefore in the very same letters wherein the church is punished by rebukes, she is also praised by Jesus Himself.
We have other examples of this praise to men which Jesus uttered. He was not afraid to say to the Canaanitish woman herself and to her face, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” Matthew 15:28. And to His followers He said of the Centurion, “Verily I say unto you, I have not, found so great faith, no not in Israel,” Matthew 8:10. Certainly we may conclude that Scripture does not forbid the speaking of a word of praise to men, does not teach us that all praise uttered of and unto men is in itself sinful and to be condemned. Our problem remains, therefore, and whether we are to inflict punishment, or whether we are to speak a word of praise, will have to be determined by other considerations. Praise of men is not to be discarded and avoided as an evil thing. As a word of encouragement it has a definite and worthy place in our lives as children of God.
We might point out in this connection that for us to utter this praise to man properly our hearts must be filled with praise to God. In fact our praise of men must be praise to God. We must not praise and thank man and also praise and thank God. We must praise and thank God and also praise and thank man. We must praise God for that in man for which we can praise him. It is only in the power, wisdom and grace of God that a man, is able to do anything praiseworthy. We have nothing that we have not received; and therefore we must praise Him first of all from Whom these gifts, abilities and opportunities come. This does not mean that when we express a word of praise to our fellowmen we must also give literal expression to praise to God. But it does mean that to praise man properly and with God’s approval our hearts must be and are swelling with praise to God. It means that the good we see in man, we see as God’s work for which He deserves our praise.
As far as that “soft approach” is concerned which favors only praise and reserves punishment (discipline) only after the sin has grown to alarming proportions, we would say that this view is not substantiated by the Scriptures. The very expression, “big-stick stuff” reveals an unspiritual approach to the whole matter. The saints whose lives and confessions are recorded on the pages of Holy Writ do not reveal such sentiment at all. It is to be understood that some men desire that “soft approach” since it allows them to practice evil and be immune to discipline, to correction and turning from their evil ways. To cover up, to plead for such an attitude towards sin in the church or among our children in the school or home this attitude is called the way of love. But it is not so, and the Scriptures do not designate it as such. Listen to the Psalmist who sings of God’s love, goodness and mercy unto him, “. . . . Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me,” Psalm 23:4. The rod and the staff in this Shepherd-Psalm refer to the instruments through which the sheep were kept in the safety of the fold and led to green pastures and unto refreshing waters. It was the means whereby the sheep were kept from rushing to their own ruin. For the rebellious it was “big-stick stuff”; and these above all knew what the rod and staff were used for by personal experience. These were the ones who feared it and therefore wanted it eliminated. And by the “soft approach” they meant freedom to walk in sin and still not be bothered by discipline, not even by admonitions and rebukes. Not so the psalmist. He knows that he is prone to hate God as he is by nature. He knows that in his flesh dwelleth no good thing. He knows that while he walks in sin, he can have no confidence of being a child of the light. He knows that by their fruits ye shall know them and that as long as the fruit he sees in his life is wickedness, he cannot have the assurance that he belongs to Christ. He knows too that only the straight way, the way of God’s law leads to heavenly glory, and that those who walk in sin and enjoy sin have no part in God’s kingdom. But he desired a place there, and he would walk in the light. Therefore he appreciates the fact that God places in His Church the rod and the staff, the “big-stick” to keep him in the narrow way and in the confidence that the Lord is his shepherd. He finds comfort in the fact that when he departs into ways of evil, God will bring him back by the rod and the staff. He does not want the soft touch. He does not want men to praise him while he walks in evil, does not want men to respect him and have him for their hero when he walks in darkness. No, it makes him feel safe to know that there is punishment, there is discipline in his church, there are watchmen upon the walls of Zion who mean business and sound the trumpet loudly and clearly to warn of destruction and ruin. And he does not want to be a left until his sin has grown to frightening proportions, so that even the world talks about it. He wants it to be nipped in the bud. He finds comfort in the fact that God will not tolerate it in his church, that his office bearers are faithful to their calling. Those who delight in a way that leads away from God may call it “big-stick stuff,” but he calls it the grace and mercy of God. For it is also on the basis of this fact that he can say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” And with the psalmist in Psalm 119:67 and 71 he says, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now have I kept Thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted: that I might learn Thy statutes.”
And above all, the whole criticism of discipline that calls it “big stick stuff” is rooted wholly in the untenable position that man can be more exacting about the proper observance of God’s ordinances than God Himself is. Granted we can get a man who smiles upon some ways of unrighteousness, granted we can find one who is “broadminded,” who will tolerate spiritual carelessness and even laugh with us in wickedness, granted we can find one who will talk sweetly to us when we talk wickedly and will utter never a word of criticism of our waywardness, have we pleased God? Have we gotten Him to smile also upon our ways? Will He be more broadminded and less narrow-minded because some men are that way? Refusal to punish our children or even rebuke them, refusal to warn, discipline and condemn in clear and unmistakable words in the church will not promote a healthy spiritual condition in the home or in the church; and these will definitely displease the holy and jealous God before Whom only perfection can stand. The watchmen upon the walls of Zion are warned in no uncertain terms by God Himself to blow the trumpet loudly and clearly with the statement that the blood of those who are taken away in their iniquity when the watchman did not warn with his trumpet “his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand,” Ezekiel 33:6b. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that by escaping the rebuke and warning of men, we also escape the indignation of God. Let ALL things be done decently and in order, and let rebuke and discipline be appreciated.
Punishment to correct there must be. Praise for the good God enables us to perform is proper and often tends to necessary encouragement. The question remains, however, when shall we punish? And when shall we praise? How shall that punishment be administered and how is praise properly uttered? Of this matter we would say more, D.V., the next time. In His fear we want to know. And in His fear we want to punish and praise.
J. A. H.