When Godly Ministers Lack Righteous Judgment

James Durham
Commentary on Revelation
vol. 1, pp. 278-279

But I have a few things against thee…
(Revelation 2:14)

Men may be very straight and tender in the work of God, and bold in reference to suffering; and yet faint and be defective in the prosecuting of church censures against erroneous men. This appears both from this epistle [Rev. 2:12-17] and that which follows [Rev. 2:18-29], where their particular condition and public carriage in other things is exceedingly commended; yet is there a “notwithstanding” in both in reference to this.

If it be asked: What can be the reason that honest, tender, and zealous men should be so often defective in this, who yet may be zealous and fervent against scandalous practices? These reasons may be given:

1. False doctrine is more difficult to discern than false practice.

1. It is more difficult to get the impression of the odiousness of corrupt doctrine in the heart, than of gross outward practices. Because gross practices offend nature more directly, and are hateful even to natural men. And even some good men are ready to foster such an opinion, as if grace were more consistent with error than with profanity. Upon this ground the Lord Himself, and the Apostles, do more frequently give people warning to mark and abstain from them that cause offenses contrary to the doctrine of the Gospel, than they do in matters of gross practice.

2. Fear of confrontation.

2. Pursuing of persons that are erroneous often has little fruit with it as to the persons themselves. There being but few that are recovered out of that snare of the devil, and to whom God gives repentance, who once deliberately opposed themselves to the Truth. But on the contrary, they seem to be more bold, and to make a greater stir than if they had not been taken notice of. As we see in Corinth and Galatia—the more that Paul pressed them, the more they seemed to despise him, and they went on in their contradiction and blasphemy. As in the history of the Acts, and instances of Hymeneus and Philetus, is clear. This shows that even sometimes good men, out of fear of the inconveniences that may follow, and the difficulties that accompany such a work, may be too prone to oversee and forbear them.

3. Apathy for the flock.

3. Sometimes respect to the persons of some who may be carried away, may have influence on this. As suppose some persons for a name of piety, sometimes formerly upright, should be seduced; preposterous tenderness to those may make men cruelly to spare them to their prejudice. This fault the Lord seems to quarrel in Thyatira, that they “suffered his servants to be seduced” (Rev. 2:20).

4. Excessive gentleness.

4. There may be also a design by more gentle means to restrain such an error, and recover such as are fallen. Whereby they may come to exceed, and turn to be defective, in not using the means appointed. As if such censures had been needlessly appointed, or, as if the Lord did not make use of mediate means for the restraining of error.

5. Partiality & people pleasing.

5. Such businesses also often have their own mistakes among many tender members of the church. Some whereof may too favorably construe the most gross seducers, and so fear to offend them, and love to keep all in peace, [which concerns] oftentimes may steal in to have weight to the prejudice of the Lord’s ordinance. It is written of the schism in Phrygia, which arose for Montanus, that many did construe too well of him; as not thinking it impossible but he might be a good man, who, therefore could not go along in the thoughts that others had of him. There is readily something of this amongst the weakest sort where deluders come, which getting way for a time, does rather increase than diminish; and so leaves this duty in a greater non-entré than at first [i.e. over time, it increasingly obstructs church discipline, making it a non-starter even more so than it was in the beginning].

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