SIN AND THE LAW OF SILENCE
T. PIERCE BROWN
Someone sends me regularly a publication that has in it many outstanding articles. In the July issue it had one with the title listed above. In the short article of four paragraphs there were serious errors, some of which we shall examine. He first says that Scripture defines sin under three heads. It is a transgression of the law. It is an act out of harmony with God’s character. It is an act that contradicts one’s conscience.
We could define sin under many other heads if we chose. The word “transgress” means, “go beyond.” One may sin by going beyond what God authorizes or sin by falling short of what God wants. The basic meaning of “hamartia” (sin) is “missing the mark.” It does not matter whether one goes beyond, falls short or turns aside, he sins when he fails to let all he does by word or deed be done by the authority of Christ (Col. 3:17).
He tries to use his definition of sin to prove that instrumental music in the worship of God is not sinful. By his own definition of sin, “transgression of law,” it can be shown to be sinful, for it goes beyond what the law of God authorizes. It would be a simple matter to quote the verse that authorizes the use of instrumental music in the worship of a Christian if God’s law authorized it. If one cannot, then one goes beyond or transgresses when he does that which God does not authorize. When God specifically says, “And whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17), and one does that which he cannot do by the authority of Christ, he has broken God’s law.
After having said correctly that sin is an act which contradicts one’s conscience, he says that for instrumental music to be a sin it would have to be in violation of one’s weak and improperly taught conscience. The truth is that a person sins if he violates his conscience, whether that conscience is weak or strong, whether it is properly informed or not. He is, of course, trying to say that if a person believes it wrong to use instrumental music in worship, he necessarily has a weak and untaught conscience, and should not judgmentally impose on the church what his weak conscience makes wrong for him. Of course his first task is to prove that God authorizes it, then it would be an easy task to show that if a person’s conscience condemns that which God authorizes, it is either weak or untaught.
Then he makes fun of what he calls “the law of silence” and says the term is self-contradictory, for there cannot be a silent law. It is amazing that an educated man could make such a statement as that. What we call “the law of gravity” is a silent law, as are many others. Of course, he knows that when we use the expression, “the law of silence,” we do not mean “a law that does not say anything.” It refers to this principle: When God does not speak (is silent about doing a thing), His silence does not authorize the doing of the thing. He knows as well as any of us that Nadab and Abihu were killed because they did something that God had not specifically forbidden. God told them what kind of fire to offer. When they offered a different kind of fire, the law was silent about its use. That is, it was not authorized.
He says, “Since faith comes by hearing, it requires an assertion, not silence.” It is true that faith comes by hearing, and we hear God saying, “Sing and make melody in your heart.” No person can play an instrument of music in worship to God by faith, for God is silent about approval of it. This is what we mean by “the law of silence.” When God is silent about his approval of a thing, it is presumptuous and sinful to assert that God approves of it.
In page 15 in the same bulletin is the statement, “We are nowhere in Scripture told to refrain from what is not commanded.” If Numbers22:22and 24:13 do not teach that, one would be hard pressed to tell what they do teach. Balaam said, “I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.” Noah, who did according to all that God commanded him (Gen. 6:22, Naaman, who had to dip in the Jordan as God commanded him (2 Kings 5:14), and many other examples clearly show that God is not pleased with one who goes beyond what is commanded. We find no exception to this principle: When God commanded a specific when, where, what, how, why, or where, no blessing was ever promised to one who did something different than what was commanded.
Since the meaning of “transgress” (parabaino) is “to go beyond,” it would not be amiss to say that any time we find God emphasizing that we should not transgress his law, he is told not to go beyond what is written, or to refrain from what is not commanded. How any person who claims to be a student of God’s word could conclude that anyone was ever shown to be pleasing to God who assumed he could do anything God did not specifically forbid is one of the greatest mysteries of the age.