The Man, The Ass, and The Critic
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The following fable was published by Benjamin Franklin in his Philadelphia Gazette newspaper after being criticized for an ad he had published referring to Anglican priests as “black gowns and sea hens.” He rightly observed, “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”
“A certain well-meaning man and his son were traveling towards a market town, with an ass which they had to sell. The road was bad, and the old man therefore rode, but the son went afoot. The first passenger they met asked the father if he was not ashamed to ride by himself and suffer the poor lad to wade along through the mire; this induced him to take up his son behind him. He had not traveled far when he met others, who said they were two unmerciful lubbers to get both on the back of that poor ass, in such a deep road. Upon this the old man gets off and let his son ride alone. The next they met called the lad a graceless, rascally young jackanapes to ride in that manner through the dirt while his aged father trudged along on foot; and they said the old man was a fool for suffering it. He then bid his son come down and walk with him, and they traveled on leading the ass by the halter; till they met another company, who called them a couple of senseless blockheads for going both on foot in such a dirty way when they had an empty ass with them, which they might ride upon. The old man could bear no longer. My son, he said, it grieves me much that we cannot please all these people. Let us throw the ass over the next bridge, and be no farther troubled with him” (H.W. Brands, The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, pp. 116, 117).
There are lessons here for preachers, of course.
First, it is as impossible to preach without being criticized as it is to publish a newspaper, and when some of your preaching is done via the Internet your critics are multiplied.
Second, we should listen to critics who base their exhortation upon the clear teaching of God’s Word and who correct clear errors, as this adds up to godly reproof rather than cheap criticism (Proverbs 10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 15:10, 31-32).
Third, we are not under obligation to heed every man’s opinion on every subject. Preaching is not a democratic process. Preachers don’t have to submit their preaching to a vote by the people. The hearers are to test it, but they are not to test it by their opinions and feelings and experiences; they are to test it by God’s Word, period (Acts 17:11). The sole concern is whether or not the preaching is scriptural. Beyond that the preacher is instructed by God to preach in season and out of season, whether the preaching is accepted or rejected, appreciated or hated, allowed or disallowed, legal or illegal.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine...” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
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