Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 19, 1964
NUMBER 45, PAGE 8,13b

"Prophesy Smooth Things"

J. David Tant

Certainly the Old Testament presents to its readers many graphic pictures of how God dealt with people, as well as how people dealt with God. The apostle Paul says in Romans 15:4 that these things were recorded "for our learning," and in Galatians 3:24 that the law "is become our tutor" or schoolmaster. While we all recognize that times have changed, we are also aware that people have not changed, and we can read in the Bible descriptions of people in this 20th century. This is why the principles we gain from the Bible are for all ages — why they will never be old and out-of-date. This being true, it might be well for us to consider the lesson to be gained from a reading of Isaiah 30:1-14.

As a background to this pronouncement of woes upon God's children, we remember that in Deut. 17:16 Jehovah commanded his people to have nothing to do with Egypt — to make no alliance with Egypt. For some 400 years this law was observed, but now the people are looking towards Egypt for strength and aid. Isaiah, God's prophet, has time and time again warned the people about looking to Egypt, and has told them what would result from such alliance.

As far as Isaiah's personal goal or purpose in rebuking and warning the people, it is certain that he received no personal pleasure or satisfaction for doing such. He had no grudge against the people, but he was motivated by his love for them, and his love for the ways of God. He wanted the kingdom saved, and knew that strong words were necessary.

But then we see the reaction of the people to this expression of his love for them as they reply to the seers: "See not; and to the prophets, prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits, get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy one of Israel to cease from before us." (Isaiah 30:10,11) These people were not interested in hearing the truth, but only wanted their ears tickled. They had contempt for the strong words of the prophet, desiring rather that he would smooth their way to destruction and make the road to ruin easier. Just as surely as this came to pass, we have people with this very same attitude today.

Paul spoke of these things to Timothy: (2 Tim. 4:3-5) "For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables." And just as the word says, these times have come to pass and are still upon us.

There is a generation grown up in the world as well as in the Lord's church that cannot take sound and strong preaching. People tell the preachers, "You should not preach against false religion, not expose false doctrine. You should not preach what the Bible says about marriage and divorce, or wearing of modest apparel, etc., because people don't want to hear that." Others have ceased inviting their friends to hear the gospel, because they do not want their friends "insulted" by hard preaching, and say they are "tired of apologizing" after the services are over.

There are too many who want to be entertained by a gospel service rather than edified and strengthened, and many churches and preachers are catering to these desires. The idea is that a preacher must never, never offend, but speak soothing words. While it should never be the purpose of a teacher or preacher to offend, we must realize that the truth is unwanted and unpleasant many times to those who need it the most. The wise man said in Proverbs 15:10: "Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: And he that hateth reproof shall die...." And also in Prov. 17:10: "A reproof entereth more into a wise man than 100 stripes into a fool." Those who refuse reproof and despise sound doctrine are more interested in the cheap, politician type of preacher who makes great, glowing promises designed to please all who hear. They remind me of the story about the church looking for a preacher. Sunday after Sunday they "tried out" a long succession of preachers until finally they hired one fellow. He was somewhat surprised at being selected, as he knew there had been many men of greater ability who were also considered. Upon asking about this, the hiring committee replied, "Well, we don't really want no preacher at all, and you're the nearest we've come to it!"

But winning friends and pleasing men was not the goal of Christ or the apostles. They did not feel it was necessary to have a Dale Carnegie course in "How to win friends and influence people" before they were qualified to preach. According to many today, Christ and Peter and Paul were pretty poor specimens as preachers, for many were not pleased with what they said, and some grew quite angry — angry enough to kill them. No doubt Paul had these things in mind when he said, "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to men? If I were still pleasing Men, I should not be a servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10)

Indeed, Paul's instruction to Timothy is quite plain: " preach the word, be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." (2 Tim. 4:2) Preach it when it's convenient and when it's not convenient, Timothy! Preach it when men want to hear and when they don't! Preach it when it pleases men and when it doesn't! "Reprove" means "to convict, refute, confute.... to find fault with, correct." Did you ever hear of a man being convicted of a crime without the crime being pointed out and mentioned? So also in preaching one must point out and identify false doctrine and practice. When this is done, many will not accept it, and will get angry, no matter how kindly the truth is presented.

"Refute" means "to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely." The two words are similar, but "reprove" refers more to the arguments presented to convince the wrong-doer of the truth, whereas "rebuke" refers more to the warning of condemnation and the authority behind it. Would anyone maintain that every person who receives a rebuke from the word of God will be happy about it? "Exhort" is "to speak to, admonish, exhort....encourage." There are times when the positive approach is good and necessary, but the Bible suggests that one must be negative at times, also. These things are all to be done with patience for the purpose of teaching. Plain, hard preaching does not exclude kindness, but kindness does not exclude the truth. Kindness will point out error, that men may be saved from a devil's hell.

If the gospel offends, there is no reason for anyone to apologize. We must say, with Paul, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation...." The eternal salvation of our own souls and the souls of others is too serious a matter for preachers to pussyfoot around patting people on the back to keep them from being offended at the truth. If any one of us is wrong, let us swallow false pride, and accept correction from the word of God, that we ourselves may be saved, and that we may save others instead of carrying them to hell with us.

— 2622 Snapfinger Road, Decatur, Georgia