The Duty of Fault-Finding
J. R. Miller
There is a duty of fault-finding. Perhaps, indeed, most people are diligent enough in this department of duty—and yet there may be need of a word of exhortation on the subject.
No doubt there is more than enough fault-finding in the world. Some people do little else. Nothing pleases them. It would seem to be a pity they had not been consulted before the world was made, for there is nothing on which they could not have suggested some improvement. They find fault with God's works—and with his providence. They criticize the wisdom that puts briers on rose bushes. They find fault with other people—with their dress, their manner, their piety, their mode of worship, their work, their speech; nothing escapes their criticism.
All this is most unlovely. It is presumptuous—what right have we to question the works of the divine Creator? What surpassing wisdom have we—that makes us able to sit in judgment on all the world, quickly condemning all others, even the best men of our times? Who made us a judge of our fellow?
Yet there is a duty of fault-finding. The Master himself teaches it. In the Sermon on the Mount he makes it very plain. We must note carefully, however, where the duty begins. We are to look first after our own faults. "Why do you look at the mote that is in your brother's eye—but do not consider the beam that is in your own eye?" The form of this question suggest that we are naturally inclined to pay more attention to flaws and blemishes in others—than in ourselves; and also that a very small fault—a mere mote of fault—in another may seem larger to us than a blemish many times greater in ourselves! We must "consider the beam that is in our own eye!"
Of course, it is easier to see other people's faults—than our own. Our eyes are set in our head in such a way—that we can look at our neighbor, better than at ourselves. Yet we all have faults of our own. Most of us have quite enough of them to occupy our thought, to the exclusion of our neighbor's faults, if only we would give them our attention.
Really, too, our own faults ought to interest us, more than our neighbor's. because they are our own; and being our own, we are responsible for them. We do not have to answer for any other one's sins—but we must answer for our own; and the responsibility for getting rid of them is ours. "Each one must give an account of himself."
No faithful friend, no wise teacher, can cure our faults for us. If ever they are taken out of our life—it must be by our own faith, our own firm, persistent effort. The prayer of others may avail to bring divine help, and the sympathy and encouragement of others may make us stronger in our struggle—but the real work is our own.
Then, before we are ready to deal in an effective way with our neighbor's sins—we must get measurably right ourselves. That is what Jesus tells us: "First take the beam out of your own eye; and then you shall see clearly enough to take out the mote out of your brother's eye." There is little use in our reproving our brother for a fault—when with half an eye he can see the same or some other fault twice as large in us.
This is one of the principal causes of the smallness of our influence in our witnessing for Christ. Our lips are sealed by the consciousness that our own life is not what it should be. Or if we speak—men sneer and say that we need not preach to them—while we live as we do. We must be holy ourselves—if we would help to make others holy.
It is a fact, that the faults which we usually see and criticize in others—are the very faults which are the most marked in us! In our judgment of others—we show a miniature of ourselves. If this is true, we should be careful in judging others, for in doing so—we are only revealing our own faults! This should lead us also to close scrutiny of our own life, to get rid of the things in us which are not beautiful.
But we also owe to others the duty of fault-finding. Among the old Levitical laws was this one, "You shall rebuke your neighbor—and not allow sin upon him." Jesus also implied that after we had cast the beam out of our own eye—we should help our brother to get the mote out of his eye. If we see that a friend is falling into some bad habit which will impair his usefulness, or perhaps in the end bring ruin upon his life—we are not faithful to him, if we remain silent and allow him to go on unwarned! If he should perish in the end, and perish because we have failed to warn him of his fault or sin—some measure of blame would rest upon us forever.
No other duty, however, is more delicate and more difficult than that of fault-finding in such cases. It often breaks a friendship, costing us our friend. There are those who will even implore us to tell them their faults—yet who, when we have yielded to their entreaty and gently mentioned to them something which we believe to be a fault—are offended. Our faithfulness has made them our enemies. It would seem that there are friendships which will endure such a test. Usually it is better not to tell another his faults, directly at least.
In any case—there is need of great wisdom. We must be sure, first of all, that it is love which prompts us to speak of the fault. Too often it is in anger and in jealousy that we do it. A man loses his temper with his friend—and then tells him all the bad he knows or imagines of him. This is never the noble way—and no good can come of it. Unless we can go to our brother in sincere love, after earnest prayer, and, with a heart truly solicitous for his good, deliver our unpleasant message, telling him of his sin or fault—we had better be silent!
There are some people who habitually see only the faults of others—and have no eye for the good in them. These are in no way fitted to be fault-finders in the good sense.
There is a Russian fable of a swine named Kavron, which found its way into the courtyard of the king's palace. It saw only the stable. When it came back, the mother swine asked: "Well, Kavron, what have you seen? They say that king's palaces are filled with wealth and beauty, that there are fine pictures, rich tapestries, and valuable gems everywhere." "Ah, this is all untrue," answered Kavron. "I saw no pictures, no tapestries, and no diamonds—only dirt and hay!"
This is the way some people look at others' lives. They visit only the the stable. They see only the flaws and blemishes, and do not get even a glimpse of the noble things which are within the palace, where the man himself lives. We should train ourselves to look always for the good in others—not for the evil; for the noble things—not for the infirmities and spots. If we are looking for the good—we shall not be so apt to see the evil.
Besides, much of what to us seems fault or blemish—is really only an imperfect phase of development in a life. There is an awkward age in many a boy, when it would be most unkind as well as unwise to criticize him; in due time he will pass through it, and will be refined in his bearing. Strength of character is usually an evolution, many of whose processes appear very uncouth and faulty. Childhood and youth are always marked at different periods by unlovely features, which are really incident to certain stages of growth, and should not be treated as sins or faults. Unripeness and immaturity are not blemishes in their place; in due time they will give place to ripeness and maturity.
But when we do see in our friends faults which are indeed faults, and which we believe we ought to try to cure—we should go about it in love, with prayer, and with wise and gentle tact. A gentle, loving way—is better than blurting out the criticism, as some brusque people do, abruptly, calling it frankness, saying that they always honestly say what they believe. It may be honest and frank enough—but it is not the Christ-like way!
"What did you preach about yesterday?" asked an old clergyman of a young minister, one Monday. "On the final judgment," replied the young man. "Did you do it tenderly?" asked the older pastor. We should never speak to others of their sins and faults—unless we can do it tenderly.
We need patience, too, and sometimes we must wait a long time for the opportunity to do our duty in this regard—to speak the right word. But the right occasion will come—if we wait for it. Harm is done ofttimes—by speaking too soon.
Our Master gives us another important counsel on the subject, when he says that we must tell our brother his fault "between him and us alone." If we love him—we should seal our lips to others concerning his faults, and go alone to him with the matter. Then the only way we can ever have a right to tell him of his faults—is in the name of Christ—and as He would do it—if He were in our place.