Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Wrong must be rebuked, but in that rebuke itself new wrong, even sin, is possible when it is administered from an unholy motive or in an unrighteous, unpsychological way.
With a judge at court this is not so evident, because he is bound by penal law, must take in consideration all sorts of forms, and passes verdict mostly long after the wrong has been committed.
But at home with wife and children and servants, and in the shop or office with those who draw wages, the danger of rebuking a fault in a wrong way is far from imaginary.
Think of the fathers and mothers who, with all sorts of misdemeanors of their child, let everything pass, and sometimes even take pleasure in his misconduct, and so far forget themselves at times as to encourage the wrong. But woe betide that selfsame child when he does something that personally crosses father or annoys mother by disarrangement in household order. Then not infrequently father or mother instantly loses all patience, speaks angrily to the child by reason of a farless significant wrong, and rebukes him in a way that goes beyond all bounds.
Of course, he who rebukes so capriciously and arbitrarily does not rebuke for the sake of God’s will, neither for the maintenance of His ordinances, rebukes not even to improve the child, but merely to show that he is master and from personal resentment and anger.
With all such rebuke he in turn lays himself open to rebuke, for in most cases the sin in his uncontrolled temper is worse than the wrong for which he corrected the child.
Between mistress and maid, master and manservant, one frequently witnesses the same thing.
One lets all sorts of things pass that really ought to be reproved and rebuked; and then all at once, by reason of a relative trifle, there are high words because one is irritated and cannot control his temper.
This manner of rebuke is not merely injudicious and shows lack of knowledge of human nature, but what is worse, it opposes the ordinances of God, because of himself no one has ever the right to rebuke, no one possesses this right, save by the authority of God, and therefore no one should ever rebuke another save for the sake of God, and this renders every rebuke from ill-temper and in anger sin.
In another way also all sorts of wrong steals in with rebuke.
As with the question whether you should rebuke before others or in private.
For with respect to this, you are offended again and again at the wrongfulness of the manner of rebuke. At one time, because there was rebuked publicly what you felt should have been done privately. And at another time, because on the quiet, without anyone knowing anything about it, a rebuke was administered that in all justice should have been done before all.
In this too the Word of God mingles itself, for the holy apostle writes to Timothy: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”
This is different language from what now we hear whispered abroad.
For in the circles in which the spirit of the age strikes the keynote, it has almost become the fixed rule that all rebuke must be administered in private, and opposition is more and more pronounced against all public rebuke.
So it is said that by doing this on the quiet, you spare the feeling of the offender, that you inflict less pain upon his sense of honor, that you do not humiliate him in the eyes of others, that you gain his confidence thereby, and, in brief, have a better chance to influence him for good.
In private the offender will be more ready to acknowledge his guilt, he will be more openhearted, more honest, while in the presence of others he will try to justify himself and easily incline to brutal falsehood.
The presence of others readily stimulates resistance and invites defiance.
And the result of it is that rebuke before others leads to seeming subjection, but fosters anger in the heart.
So one speaks in a fairly general way, and undoubtedly there is truth in this.
Only it cannot go on always, for the Scripture speaks very definitely of cases to which the rule applies: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (I Tim. 5:20).
That in this connection the holy apostle Paul merely refers to ministers of the Word and elders who erred has nothing to do here.
The rule here put is of general tendency, and that rule tells you that rebuke before all can be duty divinely laid upon us.
So in the home this means that you rebuke when all the members of the family are present at the table, or after the meal with the reading of God’s Word.
And now the emphasis naturally falls upon that sinning. “To sin” is a stronger expression than to be naughty. Sin bears a more serious character. “Sin” refers to a wrong in which violation of God’s ordinances took place.
To lie, deceive, steal, meanness, brutality, with taunts to irritate, to mock what is holy, etc., all these are evil phenomena that fall under “sin.”
When, for instance, a child or servant rises at half past six instead of six o’clock, if told to rise at that hour, this tardiness is wrong and bad, but no sin, and only comes to be “sin” when this child or this servant despises authority, purposely disregards the given command, and on being corrected assumes an attitude as though he were free to obey or disobey.
Generally, however, people turn this rule about. Such not doing what one is told to do is considered a great wrong, while the despisal of authority is scarcely noticed. They are angry when their own commandment is not kept, but transgression of God’s commandment leaves them indifferent.
To this is added that the “sin” here referred to by the apostle assumes that the other members of the household know about it.
When a child or servant has done something wrong, but of which the other members of the household know nothing, then according to Matthew 18:15, all rebuke before others is excluded—at least when in private the guilty one comes to acknowledgment and contrition.
But when sin is become public, at least public in the household, so that the members of the household all know about it, and if the offense bears the serious character that lies in “sin,” then, says the holy apostle, you may not end the matter in private, but must rebuke before all.
Then it is not a question whether the guilty one would like it otherwise, whether he will find it disagreeable, or whether you would rather do it in private, neither whether perchance it might irritate the guilty one and perhaps harden him, but you must rebuke before all the others because God’s Word demands it.
Even the objection that this is impossible with grown-up sons and daughters will not do.
For what St. Paul says, he says even with respect to officebearers who went wrong. And for the sufficient reason that when an elder, or an older brother or sister in the family, disturbs the domestic order of God’s ordinances, he weakens moral perception in a far worse sense than one younger and less thoughtful can do.
For upon the impression and upon the results of such a sin upon the other members of the household, the holy apostle founds his rule of discipline. For he adds: “That others also may fear.”
Every sin that becomes known in the family, be it falsehood, deception, opposition to authority, brutality or what not, threatens to weaken the moral elasticity of all the others.
Evil examples draw so strongly. A bad child so readily corrupts the moral character of all his little brothers and sisters. A bad element among the servants so frequently poisons the whole kitchen. One bad farmhand almost regularly infects the whole estate.
He in the household who “sins” does not merely render himself personally wrong and guilty, but attacks at the same time the moral power of reverence and regard for God’s law on which every virtuous household must remain afloat.
And therefore such sin cannot be dealt with in private. What has touched all, and menaces to work evil upon all, must also be rebuked before all, so that the moral order in living together may be restored again in the sight of all.
God’s authority over the family is in part put aside by such sin, and therefore in the presence of all and in the hearing of all the authority of God must regain its right of say in the domestic circle.
At the same time, the good of this is that one does not mete out punishment at the moment. He first becomes calm, puts aside all feeling of personal resentment, shows nothing but holy wrath, and now with the majesty of parental authority which God has laid upon us, so rebukes that both the conscience of the guilty and the conscience of all others may be touched.
This does not say, of course, that one may not deal beforehand with the guilty one in private to bring him to confession and contrition. It may sometimes even be advisable, by admonition and prayer, to prepare him for the rebuke before all.
This public rebuke also must be avoided when the matter is not known abroad or is of too trivial a character.
But when in the home, in the office, in the shop, or wherever else, real sin has been committed, and in such a way that all know about it, rebuke must be administered before all. God’s Word binds us.