Would You Rather Be Honorable or Moral?

After reading H. L. Mencken and seeing the John Stott quote that Tim Challies turned into an infographic (yowza!), put me on the side of honor. I’ve seen too many obedience boys and girls who show not the slightest interest in being human when sanctity is the ultimate aim. But plenty of parents know they can’t apply high standards of conduct all the time. Sometimes you let the down the guard so you can win another day. Life is not a court of law. It’s a pilgrimage and honor aids dignity and relationships that may down the road help holiness prevail.

That’s why Mencken yet again shows uncanny insight:

In the face of so exalted a moral passion it would be absurd to look for that urbane habit which seeks the well—being of one’s self and the other fellow, not in exact obedience to harsh statutes, but in ease, dignity and the more delicate sort of self—respect. That is to say, it would be absurd to ask a thoroughly moral man to be also a man of honour. The two, in fact, are eternal enemies; their endless struggle achieves that happy mean of philosophies which we call civilization. The man of morals keeps order in the world, regimenting its lawless hordes and organizing its governments; the man of honour mellows and embellishes what is thus achieved, giving to duty the aspect of a privilege and making human intercourse a thing of fine faiths and understandings. We trust the former to do what is righteous; we trust the latter to do what is seemly. It is seldom that a man can do both. The man of honour inevitably exalts the punctilio above the law of God; one may trust him, if he has eaten one’s salt, to respect one’s daughter as he would his own, but if he happens to be under no such special obligation it may be hazardous to trust him with even one’s charwoman or one’s mother—in—law. And the man of morals, confronted by a moral situation, is usually wholly without honour. Put him on the stand to testify against a woman, and he will tell all he knows about her, even including what he has learned in the purple privacy of her boudoir. More, he will not tell it reluctantly, shame—facedly, apologetically, but proudly and willingly, in response to his high sense of moral duty. It is simply impossible for such a man to lie like a gentleman. He lies, of course, like all of us, and perhaps more often than most of us on the other side, but he does it, not to protect sinners from the moral law, but to make their punishment under the moral law more certain, swift, facile and spectacular.

By the way, honor is even key to the way Christians should regard the civil magistrate. Paul recommends honor in Romans 13, and Calvin agrees. But if you really want morality, say hello to the religious right and the permissive left.

10 thoughts on “Would You Rather Be Honorable or Moral?

  1. Is it possible to be both empathetic and to stress morals? I would think that regarding the above, there are more than two sets of people and that the sets aren’t as disjoint as described above.


  2. Curt Day says: Is it possible to be both empathetic and to stress morals?

    And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory- glory as of the only begotten from the Father- full of grace and truth- grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.


  3. Can temporary residents submit to Putin and honor Putin, without being either a citizen of his regime or a rebel against his evil regime?

    I Peter 2: 7 So honor will come to you who believe, but for the unbelieving,
    The stone that the builders rejected—
    this One has become the cornerstone,
    8 and A stone to stumble over,
    and a rock to trip over.
    They stumble because they disobey the message.They were destined for this.

    9 But you are a chosen a chosen people
    in order to proclaim the praises
    of the One who called you OUT of darkness
    into His marvelous light.
    10 You were not born a people,
    BUT NOW you are God’s people;
    you HAD NOT received mercy,
    but NOW you have received mercy.

    I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Americans and the Russians and the Turks and all other pagans so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.

    Honor everyone. Love the brothers. Fear God. Honor the Emperor. 18 Household slaves, submit with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel


  4. Would you rather be an exile in Russia or influencing the moral culture as a Protestant politician in Northern Ireland?


  5. This article reminds of what is said of Joseph, viz. that he was ” . . . a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her [Mary], planned to send her away secretly.” Thanks, I’ve always wondered how that situation might have worked out and this article helps me to imagine that a bit more easily.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dr. Hart,

    That’s easy or so sayeth the 2nd most influential man in all of NAPARC. (Because he is the 2nd most influential man in the PCA, a baptist no less and the PCA is the largest denomination in NAPARC). Clearly it is morals. But if you are following the Piper prescription you too and have a great life now and have both. On top of that you get to strike the pose of humility and wisdom and nobody ever call BS.


    He can teach you about not wasting your life, adoption opportunity and cancer. He can teach you how to earnestly surrender all. And now (as if taken from a Mark Jones novel) he can teach you why guys like you are legalistic about being a legalist.

    Honestly, this is the height of a pathetic attempt at saying…..”Dorothy pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

    Are you kidding me! Leagalism isn’t not even an issue is almost the slight of hand here. This is the extent this theological Camp will go? The word legalist wasn’t even in the dictionary so it doesn’t hardly exist? You following this? Throwing up a little in my mouth I find it so disgusting.
    Yeah right, legalism is not even an issue, once again it is that dreaded Antinomianism Oh sooooo prevalent within reformed churches that we have to really be on guard against. If you believe that I got some holy hankies I can sell you for 19.99.


  7. I wonder what it is which drives pietist with a Neomonian leaning to fixate on ideas like this? Classic really, the guy in Sunday school class who really makes a big deal about about his pietism (not drinking, his many spiritual disciplines) gets a pass, but the guy who (not abusing his freedom mind you) does not hide the fact he enjoys and adult beverage or watches non G rated movies is somehow a legalist about legalism!?

    I know , I know, all his supporters will come out of the wood work saying I am being to harsh. But really guys, of all the posts / audits Piper could choose to spend time on? Really? And leave it to his dedicated devotees to write in and ask about this. What a bunch of sycophants.


  8. Trinity is a word not found in the Bible either. Therefore oneness pentecostals must have a point.

    Legalist/ Legalism is not found in the Bible. Therefore in the Piper world of exegetical technique it ain’t no biggie.

    “Honey, get me a beer”…. is not a phrase my wife likes to hear too often. Therefore I should not drink it.

    Ahhh, I feel better now, don’t you. Not sure I understand or have come closer to the truth, but I sure feel better.


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