An eighteen year old John Ryland, Jr. wrote a book of poetry called Serious Essay’s on the Truths of the Gospel. He received high commendation for this work. Though a dear friend, one particular pastor was a bit put off by what he perceived as arrogance coming from this young man. At the end of the preface Ryland wrote, “As to manner, I have not aimed to please critics; as to matter, I have aimed to displease Arminians.”
This statement drew the ire of this elder pastor, who took to pen and thus began a lengthy friendship. That more seasoned pastor was John Newton, who graciously rebuked the young Ryland. Newton had this to say about Ryland’s barbs towards Arminians:
You say, ‘I have aimed to displease the Arminians’, I had rather you had aimed to be useful to them, than to displease them. There are many Arminians who are so only for want of clearer light. They fear the Lord, and walk humbly before him. And as they go on by an increasing acquaintance with their own hearts and the word of God, their objections and difficulties gradually subside. And in the Lord’s time (for he is the only effectual teacher) they receive the doctrines of grace which they were once afraid of.
Now these should not be displeased, by our endeavoring to declare the truth in terms the most offensive to them which we can find, but we should rather seek out the softest and most winning way of encountering their prejudices. Otherwise we make a parade, and grow big with a sense of our own wisdom and importance, but we shall do little good. (Wise Counsel, 15)
I care little about hashing out debates on the doctrines of grace, but I do believe we can learn a good deal from Newton here.
I doubt click-bait titles on social media will be going away anytime soon. But what I would love to see are less and less believers sharing them, especially the ones of a certain nature. I’d love to see the ones I call the “gotcha” articles no longer be shared and visited by believers. By “gotcha” article I mean the ones where the clickbait title reads something like this:
LIBERALS ABSOLUTELY HATE WHAT THIS BEAUTY QUEEN SAID
THIS ACTRESS SHOCKED THE MSM AND CAUSED A LIBERAL MELTDOWN
You get the picture. I only mention this from a conservative perspective because that is more my audience. I’m sure that similar click-bait articles are written across the aisle, I just don’t see them shared as much.
I understand why we like these articles and why we share them. I’d like to say we get it from Hollywood, but it’s probably more accurate to say we get it from our first parents. There is something within us that loves that moment when we say something so incredibly witty that the other person is shamed into silence. We love watching a house of cards tumble so long as it’s not the house we live in.
I think this in part is what Paul meant when he told Timothy that the godly leader will “correct his opponents with gentleness”. It’s what John Newton was trying to impart in the young Ryland. It’s a good thing to want to walk in the truth. It’s also a good thing to desire others to walk into truth. But there is really no place in the Christian life for this shame-inducing game of gotcha that we so often like to play on social media. Ryland was wrong for trying to provoke those whom he disagreed with. And likewise we are wrong when we aim to displease rather than win over.
Calvin commented on 2 Timothy 2:25 that, “Paul’s meaning is that gentleness should be shown even to those who least deserve it, and even if at first there is no apparent hope of progress, still the challenge must be accepted.”
If we want the Lord to be pleased with our social media interactions we will take up gentleness, and refuse to share these “gotcha” articles even if we believe it gives a serious blow to our enemies. Let us major in truth…but let it be gentle and winsome truth. Not a truth which aims to displease, silence, and shame our neighbors.
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