One of the great saints of the past, in a well-known hymn, calls on his tongue to break its "guilty silence" and praise the Lord.
The logic behind the stanza is that if it is right to praise God it is wrong not to praise Him and for that reason the tongue that is silent is sinful. Dr. R. A. Torrey taught that, since the greatest commandment is to love God, the greatest sin is failure to love Him! Such sins as not praising and not loving are called "sins of omission" because no positive act has been committed. The guilt lies in what is not done and might be designated a passive guilt rather than active. But though passive, it is nonetheless real.
Under the law of Moses a man could incur guilt by keeping still about some evil he knew was present in the camp of the Lord, and in the New Testament James tells us bluntly, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). Is it not a serious thought that many clean-living, decent persons, against whom no overt act of wrongdoing can be charged, may yet be deeply guilty and inwardly stained with the sin that does not show, the sin of silence and inaction? There are moral situations were it is immoral to say nothing and basely immoral to do nothing.
The Bible has much to say in praise of prudence and circumspection, but it has nothing but condemnation for the coward. It is plainly taught in the New Testament that the soul that is too timid to own Christ before men on earth will be denied before the Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:33). And in the book of the Revelation the fearful are classed with the unbelievers, the murderers, the whoremongers, the sorcerers, the liars, and all are relegated to the lake which burns with fire and brimstone (Revelation 21:8). Obviously moral cowardice is a sin, a grave and deeply injurious sin.
The fear that keeps us quiet when faith and love and loyalty cry out for us to speak is surely evil and must be judged as evil before the bar of eternal justice. The fear that prevents us from acting when the honor of God and the good of mankind call for bold action is unalloyed iniquity. God will not overlook it and, if it is persisted in, He will not forgive it.
The sinfulness of silence and inaction is more than academic; it is sharply practical and may impinge upon the soul of any one of us at any time. Let a moral situation shape itself so that righteousness demands speech and action, and theory becomes practical fact instantly. We have but to keep still and sit tight to become guilty of real sin.
The world situation today is such that sin by silence may be more widespread than at any other time in the history of the world. For the first time in human history a shockingly wicked ideology has been organized into a world conspiracy, shrewd, cruel, inhuman and fanatically determined. Of course, I mean international communism, the devil's most effective imitation of Christianity to date. It is as if the boiling cauldrons of Gehenna had sprung a leak and the noxious vapors had entered the brains of men and turned them into moral cavemen without any conscience or any sense of common decency. They appear to be possessed and morally demented to a degree known nowhere else on earth. These men, though numerically few, yet constitute a threat to the world so grave, so deadly, that nothing else on earth can be compared to it.
Standing as we do under the shadow of such a mighty evil, how can any informed person be still? How can any member of the noncommunist world be indifferent as he sees every value that differentiates man from the beasts being destroyed and every spiritual quality that makes life worth the living being extinguished? The statesman who refuses to take sides has already taken sides. His tolerance has made him a traitor to his own country and to the human race.
Serious as all this may be, there is something more serious still. It is the failure to take sides and to speak up when the enemy stalks into the very sanctuary and pollutes the holy place. Precious as human values may be, such values as freedom and decency and the dignity of the individual, divine values, are infinitely more precious. As high as is the heaven above the earth so great are the spiritual treasures revealed to us by the inspiration of the Spirit and secured to us by the blood of the everlasting covenant. The wisdom of God contained in the message and practice of the redemptive revelation is above the king's ransom.
"For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (Proverbs 3:14-17).
At this hour in world history the state of religion is such that the church is in grave danger of losing this priceless treasure. Her gold is being turned to copper and her diamonds to glass. The religion of Cain is now in the ascendancy - and marching under the banner of the cross. Even among those who make a great noise about believing the Bible, that Bible has virtually no practical influence left. Fiction, films, fun, frolic, religious entertainment, Hollywood ideals, big business techniques and cheap, worldly philosophies now overrun the sanctuary. The grieved Holy Spirit broods over the chaos but no light breaks forth. "Revivals"come without rousing the hostility of organized sin and pass without raising the moral level of the community or purifying the lives of professing Christians. Why?
Could it be that too many of God's true children, and especially the preachers, are sinning against God by guilty silence? When those whose eyes are opened by the touch of Christ become vocal and active God may begin to fight again on the side of truth. I for one am waiting to hear the loud voices of the prophets and reformers sounding once more over a sluggish and drowsy church.
They'll pay a price for their boldness, but the results will be worth it.
~A. W. Tozer~