But not everyone has this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that they eat such food as if it were sacrificed to an idol. And since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
I. THE ONE GOD. The oneness of Deity is here emphasized. It is insisted upon throughout the Scriptures. The true Israel, ancient and modern, has been monotheistic. The conflict, contradiction, confusion, and absurdity, conspicuous enough in the polytheistic systems, find no place in Judaism or Christianity. The oneness of Deity is confirmed by
(3) the moral sense. The one God is:
1. The Source of all things. "Of whom are all things." He is the great Originator; all things sprang from his creative touch. We know not how - the manner is not revealed to us, the fact is. God may have left much to man's scientific instinct to discover; he may have intended not a little to remain enshrouded in mystery. We may travel reverently along the lines of true knowledge until they cease for us; then the great truth remains still for our enlightenment and comfort. The march backward of science is towards unity; revelation began with it.
2. The End of all things. "We unto [not 'in'] him." What is here asserted of some of God's works ("we") applies to all (see Colossians 1:16). All things were created "unto" God; the object of their existence terminates in God, they show forth his glory, they subserve his purposes. The whole universe looks God wards. So far as intelligent creatures do not find the end of their existence in God, so far as they do not seek the Divine glory, so far they fall out of harmony with the rest of creation and bring failure into their lives. We are not created for ourselves, but for God; we should therefore "glorify God. in our Bodies, and in our spirits, which are his" and for him.
II. THE ONE LORD. This is Jesus Christ - the "Son of man" and the "Son of God." We are here taught that the Head of the Christian Church was the active Power in creation. Of the Deity, as such, were all things; through the one Lord, the second person in the Deity, were all things. Some have been led by this verse to question the divinity of Christ: it appears to teach it in a very impressive and convincing manner. The administrative, mediating position occupied by Christ is indeed recognized, but the assertion that "through him all things were seems scarcely susceptible of a fair interpretation if his divinity be excluded. Moreover, this very expression, through him," is applied elsewhere to God as such (see Romans 11:36; Hebrews 2:10). And the expression which we have here applied to God, "unto him," is in Colossians 1:16 applied to Christ. The apostle is speaking to the Corinthians about idols as "gods and lords." These were all regarded as deities. In carrying over the same terms to the realm of Christianity, there is nothing in the statements made which should lead us to regard "Lord" as less Divine than "God."
III. THE SPECIAL RELATIONS SUBSISTING BETWEEN BELIEVERS AND THE ONE LORD AND ONE GOD.
1. Believers are "through" Jesus Christ. As creatures, they are amongst the "all things" which are said to be "through" him. But the additional statement, "we through him," indicates a very special relationship. Believers are such through Christ; they believe on him. Through Christ they are separated from the "all things" and made a "peculiar people." All that distinguishes them from others in condition and prospect is "through" him. He is their "Alpha and Omega." He created all things, and they are his new creation - a creation of a higher order and with sublimer ends. Apart from Christ believers are nothing; through him they become "heirs of God." As through Christ in the realm of nature the chaos became order and beauty, so through Christ men pass from the disorders of a lost state into the excellences and glories of a redeemed and consecrated existence.
2. Believers are "unto" God. All things are, but believers are in a very special sense. This is "through" Jesus Christ. As all the creation under the administration of Jesus Christ is "unto God," so in a peculiar and lofty sense are believers. They show forth the Divine glories as none other of the human race can. They reflect the Divine love manifested in the transcendent work of redemption. They are presented to God as the fruits of the Divine grace. Their "life is hid with Christ in God." They are "not their own." Their lives are devoted to the Divine service. They are "servants of God." Once rebellious, they are now obedient; once defiled, now purified; once lost, now saved "unto God." Here is pre-eminently the believer's condition; he is emphatically "unto God." Is this so with us? If we are saved by Christ, for what, to what, are we saved? Some seem to be saved for nothing in particular! Many are satisfied with being "saved," and never ask," Saved for what?"
3. God is the Father to believers. In a certain restricted sense he is the Father of all. We are all his offspring. But in a spiritual sense God is not the Father of all Of certain unbelievers Christ said, "Ye are of your father the devil." God cannot be our Father unless we are his children. There must be the double relationship or none. Some are willing enough for God to be their Father, but not willing at all to be his children! But the true believer has received the adoption and cries, "Abba, Father." High privilege indeed! How it speaks of care, and support, and protection, and guidance, and teaching, and love! How near to God we are brought when he becomes our Father! Our origination is in the mysterious Deity; we are fashioned by the hands of Christ; amid the infinities of creation receiving existence for the Divine glory, we seek our own, and become blots on the universe otherwise so fair; "through" Jesus Christ we become changed, redeemed; by him we are led back to God, and see as life's supreme object the glory of God, now brought so much nearer to our grasp; and as we reach the dread presence of the Eternal, whence all things come, we lift up our eyes and behold "our Father." This also is "through Christ." God is the Father of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ has become our Brother. If Christ be our Brother, his Father is our Father. - H.
Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge.1. Great ignorance may consist with genuine piety.
2. Is a source of much unnecessary anxiety and peril.
3. Is to be deplored and pitied.
4. May find relief in the study of Divine truth.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)I. ITS NATURE.
1. Implies freedom of action in things indifferent.
2. Depends on knowledge.
3. Requires conscientious conviction.
II. ITS LIMITS —
1. Defined by a brother's weakness.
2. By love to Christ.
3. By self-sacrificing love.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
For some with conscience of the idol... eat...I. THE EXPOSITION OF THE LAW ITSELF (vers. 7, 8). The apostle tells the strong-minded Corinthians that the superstitious of their weaker brethren are unquestionably wrong (ver. 8); but he also tells them that "there is not in every man that knowledge," &c. (ver. 7), i.e., some have an ignorant, mistaken conscience; and yet he insists that this conscience, so ill-informed, yet binds the possessor of it: "and their conscience being weak, is defiled." Here, then, we have the distinction between absolute and relative right and wrong. Absolute right and wrong are unalterable. But the right or wrong of any action done by any particular man is a matter relative to his particular circumstances. That charity and self-denial, e.g., are right — this we see recognised in almost every nation. But when and how far self-denial is right, and what are the bounds of charity, this is for different circumstances to determine. And so it will be found that there is a different standard among different nations and in different ages, e.g., the standard among the Israelites in the early ages was very different from that recognised by the later prophets. And the standard in the third and fourth centuries was an entirely different one from that recognised among ourselves. The principle laid down by the apostle is this. That which seems to a man to be right is, in a certain sense, right to him; and that which seems to a man to be wrong, in a certain sense is wrong to him (Romans 5:14; Romans 14:14).
II. THE APPLICATIONS WHICH ARISE OUT OF IT.
1. Personally. Do what seems to you to be right: it is only so that you will at last learn by the grace of God to see clearly what is right. A man is responsible for the opinions he holds, and still more for the way in which he arrived at them — whether in a slothful and selfish, or in an honest and truth-seeking manner; but being now his soul's convictions, you can give no other law than this — "You must obey your conscience." For no man's conscience gets so seared by doing what is wrong unknowingly as by doing that which appears to be wrong to his conscience.
2. To others. To the large, free, enlightened mind of Paul, all these scruples and superstitions must have seemed mean and trivial. But conscience was far more sacred to him than even liberty. The scruple may he small and foolish, but it may be impossible to uproot it without tearing up the feeling of the sanctity of conscience, and of reverence to the law of God, associated with this scruple. And therefore the Apostle Paul counsels these men to abridge their Christian liberty, and not to eat of those things which had been sacrificed to idols, hut to have compassion upon the scruples of their weaker brethren. And this for two reasons.(1) Christian feeling. It might cause exquisite pain to sensitive minds to see those things which appeared to them to be wrong done by Christian brethren. Take a parallel case. There is no doubt that it causes much pain to many Christians to see a carriage used on the Lord's day. But you, with higher views of the spirit of Christianity, can exercise your liberty. But is it not your duty to abridge your Christian liberty, and to go through rain, and mud, and snow, rather than give pain to one Christian conscience?(2) It might even lead their brethren into sin. If any man should eat of the flesh offered to an idol, feeling himself justified by his conscience, it were well: but if any man, overborne by authority or interest, were to do this against conscience, his compliance would as much damage his moral sense as if the act had been wrong in itself.Conclusion:
1. Distinguish between this tenderness for a brother's conscience and mere time-serving. This same apostle whom we here see so gracefully giving way upon the ground of expediency, stood firm as a rock when anything was demanded which trenched upon Christian principle (Galatians 2:5).
2. This abridgment of liberty is a duty especially incumbent upon all who are possessed of influence. If the landlord uses his authority and influence to induce his tenant to vote against his conscience, it may be he has secured one voice to the principle which is right; but he has gained that single voice at the sacrifice and expense of a brother's soul. Or again, if for the sake of ensuring personal attention, the rich man puts a gratuity into the hand of a servant of some company which has forbidden him to receive it, he gains the attention at the expense of a man and a Christian brother.
3. How possible it is to mix manliness with charity! No man ever breathed so freely the atmosphere of heaven as Paul — no man ever soared so high above all scruples as he: and yet no man ever bound himself as St. Paul bound himself to the scruples of his brethren. So that, what in other cases was infirmity, imbecility, and superstition, gathered round it in his case the pure high spirit of Christian delicacy. And now, out of the sayings of those who loudly proclaim "the rights of man" and "the rights of liberty," match us if you can with one sentence so sublime as ver. 13.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)1 Timothy 1:5, where the apostle joins "a good conscience" with "faith unfeigned."
I. In this golden sentence is seen THE SENSITIVENESS OF CHRISTIANITY WITH REGARD TO THE WEAK AND THE OBSCURE. Such a sentiment was practically new. "Christianity for the first time made charity a rudimentary virtue," says Lecky, the historian of European morals. How strange was this method is apparent also from the early criticisms of Christianity — that of Celsus, for example. "Why," said he, "woollen-manufacturers, shoemakers, and curriers, the most uneducated and boorish of men, are zealous advocates of this religion!" By the apostle, however, the opprobrium was turned into a sort of boast: "Ye see your calling, brethren... . God hath chosen the weak things to confound the mighty." These "weak things" Paul never made the mistake of despising. We, too, shall deal most successfully with similar cases of conscience when we are nearest to Paul's Master and ours, having most of his life in us, his mind of love. Many a boy proudly drops his bat and ball to run and serve his mother or his sister. Such surrenders love counts among its privileges and joys. And if the earthly affection can easily do this, is it likely that a mightier passion will fail?
II. WE ARE TAUGHT, FURTHER, THAT THE INDIVIDUAL IS OF LESS CONSEQUENCE THAN SOCIETY. That seems too plain to need reiteration. But practically it is not always acknowledged. Writers like Mill put the stress upon personal liberty. They are slow to justify legal measures or social laws which in any degree abridge the privileges of the individual. Such invasion of rights they would condemn, except under the greatest necessity. They seem to estimate a man too high, and mankind too low. But Providence does not make such estimates. What we call the laws of nature constantly subordinate us to the general good. The progress of history is achieved through suffering and martyrdom. Father and mother must deny themselves for the family. Sons and brothers die that the republic may live. Science and invention go forward through unrequited sacrifices. In the fact that men have so often tried to reverse God's computations, and make the one to be worth more than the many, lies the secret of much of the misery of the human race. Along the lines of this vicious calculation rivers of blood have flowed. Think of the kings and princes who from thrones of gold have looked down upon the millions of their subjects only as the small dust of the balance.
III. It is also to be remembered THAT IN THE COMPARISON OF THESS OPPOSITE METHODS, AND IN DETERMINING THE ISSUES WHICH THEY INVOLVE, IS TO BE FOUND AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF EDUCATION. The settlement of moral questions to which we are daily summoned is designed for our discipline, a means both of testing and increasing our love for the Master and for His people. With a child we are best satisfied not when he promptly obeys an express command, but when, left to choose for himself, he deliberately prefers another's pleasure to his own. That shows, and at the same time develops, the kindness of his heart. It is often objected, however, that the requirements of such a charity may become unreasonable, and oppressive — that there are narrow-minded and captious persons who, upon any pretext, will seek to obstruct our freedom and spoil our innocent pleasures. Where, then, shall the line be drawn? The only answer must be that a line cannot be definitely drawn. We are left to the impulses of our natural or gracious hearts. They will put their own constructions upon every principle laid down for guidance. The problem is not, "Who is technically right?" nor, "Who has the better head and the more enlightened conscience?" nor, "Who is more prominent in the world's work? "This is not a matter of pride, but of self-forgetting charity. The stress and point lie in the question, "What will save this brother whom my liberty might offend.?" The more unreasonable the prejudice, likewise, to which we yield, the weaker the opinion to which we make our offering of peace and goodwill, the more tenderly will" God be sure to regard it. We may be thankful if instead of being among those who ask for concessions, we have reached the high place of those who are delighted to grant them.
IV. THE SUPERIORITY OF "LOVE AS A LAW" IS MANIFEST, THEREFORE. Such a force is not only disciplinary, but it is in the highest degree disciplinary; it secures the best advantage and growth. "This law is not arbitrary. It is no law of fanaticism or enthusiasm or self-torture." In preferring it we only surrender a lower, because we seek a manifestly higher, good. "To work from fear is slavery; to work under the compulsion of animal want is a hardship, and if not a positive yet a relative curse; to work for personal ends, as for pride or ambition or the accumulation of property, either for its own sake or our own sake, is compatible with freedom, but has in it nothing either purifying or ennobling; it finds and leaves the soul dry and hard. But activity from love is the perfection of freedom and of joy." We are never so high and great as when for love we can easily make sacrifices to advance the unity and power of Christ's Church or the welfare of those for whom He died.
V. HOW VARIOUS ARE THE PROBLEMS OF OUR MODERN LIFE WHICH THIS LESSON TOUCHES WE MAY READILY DISCOVER. Shall I drink wine? What shall be my attitude toward the theatre and the opera? How shall I deal with the question as to promiscuous dancing? Shall I on Sunday patronise the street-railway? What games shall I approve? How far may I indulge a taste for personal adornment, particularly in places of public worship? What principles and limitations of expenditure are to be preferred in building, beautifying, and administering a home? These and a thousand like inquiries are to be treated in the spirit with which Paul approached the Corinthian problem about meat. They are not merely ethical, but Christian, problems.
(H. A. Edson, D. D.)
I. THE LAW OF KNOWLEDGE. We commonly reckon knowledge to be a product of the intellect, including the powers by which we learn facts, reason upon them, and draw conclusions. The kind of knowledge determines the instrument by which we are to acquire it. Pure mathematics, abstract logic, may seem to use only the seeing eye and reasoning mind. But really to know a thing, the student must have some affinity for the object. It must find him, must stir a response in his nature. True of nature and art, this is more commandingly true of our fellow man. We cannot know him or any truth concerning his life and character except as we love him. This is the only way to get God's way of looking at him, God's ideal for him. Love is the discoverer, love is the interpreter, love the guide. Knowledge without love is the turbine without waterfall, wire without electricity. Love without knowledge is cataract minus wheel, loose lightning in the heavens. Love with knowledge is the servant and benefactor of mankind. Love has chemic tests, microscope, clairvoyance. It is the expert picking up the pebble a settler's child is playing with and telling the man he is farming over a gold mine. Knowledge despises his ignorance and leaves him to its poverty. The characteristic of modern charity is the combination of scientific method with personal devotion. It studies the case with minute pains, then helps it with cool head and steady hand as well as warm heart. The worst enemy of true charity is indiscriminate giving; and true giving means personal contact. It is so much cheaper to give money than to give one's self, and the reward is correspondingly small. This is the law: True knowledge includes love; it comes through head and heart together.
II. THE LAW OF CONSCIENCE. But what law can there be to a faculty divided against itself, that, seeing two men doing the same thing, smiles upon one and smites the other? Which of them is right? How can any one ever be sure he is right? Conscience is called the voice of God in the soul of man; but can God say Yea and Nay together? The faculty we name conscience is not simple, but complex. It includes the impulse which commands, Do right; when you know the light, do it, whatever the cost. But back of this lies the judgment which tells us what is right. Not attempting the philosophical definitions, call the one moral impulse, the other moral judgment. The first of these is essentially the same in all sound souls, while differing in force and accepted control. The second differs according to birth, training, personal experience. Plainly, then, persons equally anxious to do right may differ as to the right or wrong of a specific act. Equally conscientious, they conscientiously disagree. Each, trying to do right, does what the other condemns. They agree in moral impulse, but disagree in moral judgment. The difficulty is great, and to recognise its occasion does not remove it. Two precepts are to be urged —
1. Cultivate the moral impulse, which insists upon obedience to known right. Guard this high conception of the majesty of righteousness. Listen to the whispers of conscience rather than to the shouts of interest or songs of pleasure. Protect the sensitiveness of moral discernment as a piano tuner guards the accuracy of his ear. Recur constantly to the invariable standard. Crowd forward conviction into action.
2. Train the moral judgment, which decides whether a specific act is right or wrong. Extend the control of conscience to the formation of opinions. Educators of the moral judgment are —(1) Revelation. A clear word from God is end of debate.(2) The teachings of reason, vitalised by love.(3) Experience; our own, that of the wise and good, and the broad testimony of history.(4) A spiritual life. Constant fellowship with Christ, effort to grow like Him and to win others to Him, furnish the finest tests and incitements to right moral decisions. We can have God's wisdom for the asking, the especial illumination of the Holy Spirit. Changes of conviction will issue in changes of practice, and with these may come a period of unrest, while the moral sense is becoming adjusted to the judgment. The immorality of false opinions and virtue of right convictions are often discredited; but they make life, character, destiny. This is the law of conscience: Cultivate a sensitive and positive moral impulse; train the moral judgment to clear and spiritual views.
III. THE LAW OF CONDUCT. Conduct has two relations — between myself and God, and between myself and my neighbour. An act done in the sight of others becomes example, and what is innocent kept to myself alone may be hurtful if indiscriminately followed. Unfortunately, doing in secret what is condemned in public savours of insincerity and hurts a delicate honour. As a rule, what is good for me is good for my neighbour, and what hurts him is bad for me. Which of us has suffered much from giving the weak brother, the holy Christ, the benefit of the doubt? That weak brother, he is ever with us; what shall we do about him? Would that he were strong! How we admire the well-poised man, clear head at the top and firmly set feet beneath; physical passions and temper and tongue following obediently at the heel of sound reason; warm heart and positive will, handmaids of a sensitive and proud conscience! Such there are, and how simple to them is life! But they are as rare as admirable. The weak brother, whose claim is mainly his weakness — he ought to train his moral judgment, be fully persuaded in his own mind, then be content to stand or fall to his own Master; but it is not so with him. He keeps looking to see what we do, putting us on a pedestal we have no wish to occupy. Have not we rights also? Yes; and what right higher than to surrender rights to gain blessings? To hesitate between tickling one's palate and saving a soul from death would be worse than brutish. Grant that this means surrender of what we might claim but for this weak brother, are we losers? Am I impoverished by putting helpfulness above self-assertion? What is self-denial but choosing the nobler and better part? Give the weak brother and the spiritual life the benefit of the doubt. The example of abstinence involves no risks. Grow rich by giving up, gain life by dying to self and the world. While this law is general, its application in a temperance lesson is peculiarly clear. Here, of all cases, abstinence involves no risks; and appeals to the weaker without example of abstinence come to nothing.
(Charles M. Southgate.)
I. HE ALLEGES THAT CHARITY IS BETTER THAN KNOWLEDGE. "We all," says he, "have knowledge." We are all able to make a showing of reasonableness for our foibles and prejudices. The poorest cause may be bolstered by an argument. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth, literally buildeth up. Self-vindication makes us conceited and dogmatic; but charity helps both us and others. The charity here referred to is the largest of the Christian graces. It is the Greek ἀγάπη, the Vulgate charitas; it is love in its broadest and deepest sense. It includes love towards God as well as towards men. It is like the constant commerce which is going on between the waters of the heavens and the earth; the rills trickle into the brooks, the brooks murmur towards the rivers, the rivers roll onward to the sea, and the seas are exhaled into the clouds above to distil again in grateful showers and morning dews. So love is the constant means and communion between God and His children. "We know our franchise," said the Christian banqueters of Corinth; "we have knowledge as to the true character of idols and idol-worship, and are therefore in no danger of being led astray." "Knowledge! knowledge!" replies the apostle, "but what about love? If any man love God the same is known unto Him, and that is the knowledge worth having." All the wisdom of the schools is not to be valued with the assurance that we love God; and "the same may be known unto us."
II. THE APOSTLE TURNS, SECONDLY, TO A CONSIDERATION OF INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM. For these Corinthian Christians were disposed to stand upon their rights. They said in effect, "There is no specific injunction as to these idol-meats in Scripture. The question is left to the individual conscience. Our consciences are clear; the meats do not injure us. We therefore propose to do as we please about them." "Granted," says Paul, "I do not dispute your rights in these premises; but there are some important facts which you are in danger of losing sight of." He then reminds them —
1. That the mere matter of eating or abstaining is in itself of slight consequence; "for meat commendeth us not to God; neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we eat not are we the worse." So small a matter therefore as a dish upon one's table should not be permitted to jeopardise the spiritual interests of any.
2. There are some weaker brethren who have less knowledge. These weaker brethren must not be left out of the reckoning. We are in a measure responsible for them. Am I, then, my brother's keeper? Aye, and if he fall over a stumbling-block of my making, I shall be held responsible for it.
3. Rights are relative. Some of them must bow down to others, as did the lesser stars to the greater in the patriarch's dream. A man's lowest right is to please himself; his highest is to deny himself for others. Rights may conflict, but duties never; and duty always has the highest and uttermost claim.
4. As to individual freedom there is no such thing. If there were only one man in the universe he might be absolutely free to serve his own pleasure, but the moment you introduce another man there is a mutual restriction. Each is now free only so far as his freedom does not infringe upon the other. It is a mistake to think of freedom as license. There is, in fact, nothing in the world more circumscribed than true freedom. It is not lawlessness nor deliverance from restraint. Its best definition is, "Perfect obedience to perfect law." True, "we are no longer children of the bond-woman, but of the free." He who comes forth from the bondage of the law into the liberty of the gospel bows down, at the very threshold of his new life, and gives himself as a slave to serve the interests of his fellow men.
III. THIS LEADS US, THIRDLY, TO CONSIDER WITH THE APOSTLE THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST HIMSELF. "Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?" For whom Christ died! Is it true, then, that Jesus stooped to the infirmity of the least of His little ones? Aye, and here are we, followers of His, haggling about meats and drinks! God forgive us, that we fall so far short of the mind that was in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Philippians 2:7 occurs a word about which there is much controversy. The word is kenosis; it means an "utter emptying," and is applied to Christ's humiliation. When He crossed the threshold of heaven to undertake His redemptive work He laid aside crown, royal robes, heavenly retinue, everything, that He might restore the race of fallen men. He was free to remain where He was; but He put away His freedom and took upon Himself the form of a servant for our sake. Oh, by the love and devotion of our Lord, let us cease our clamouring for rights, and begin to ask, "How may we empty ourselves as He did for the uplifting of the children of men?" The point at which humanity comes nearest to Deity is self-denial. Its best illustration is at Calvary, where God stoops down to embrace His penitent children. The summit of human character is reached when a man gives himself for others. Christ did it. We also, for Christ's sake, must do it.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
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