Keep your belief about such matters between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
I. THE STRONGER CAN HELP THE WEAKER, AND THE HIGHER STOOP TO THE POSITION OF THE LOWER, MORE EASILY THAN VICE VERSA. It is the glory of the greater to include the less. And the man of far-reaching spiritual views can accommodate himself to his less intellectual brother more readily than the latter can lay aside his prejudices and rejoice in the removal of all restrictions. Hence those in our assemblies capable of assimilating the richest food placed before them are called upon to remember the plainer fare that suits the spiritual digestion of their brethren. Those who delight in climbing to the peaks of spiritual knowledge can learn to moderate their ardour, and sit with their fellows in happy concord in the plain, because otherwise there can be no general assembly, many being devoid of the strength and agility needful for an ascent to the summit. Our exhortation and worship must ever, though not exclusively, take account of the weaker and less educated, the children and the simple.
II. IT IS SAFER TO ERR ON THE SIDE OF SELF-REPRESSION RATHER THAN OF LIBERTY. Every man endowed by the Spirit with a clearness and amplitude of vision that discriminates between the essential and the non-essential may refuse to have his freedom compulsorily narrowed by others. But he does well, and acts in the spirit of Christ who "pleased not himself," if he spontaneously renounces part of his privileges, in order that he may remove a possible stumbling-block from his brother's path. And there is a danger of man's natural tendency to self-assertion leading him to a violation of conscience. "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in the thing which he alloweth" implies the possibility of insisting on freedom with low motives. An instructive tradition of Christ is recorded by Codex Bezae after ver. 4 in Luke 6.: "On the same day he beheld a man working on the sabbath, and said unto him, Blessed art thou if thou knowest what thou doest: but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the Law." To disregard days and unclean food without a perception of the reason found in Christ's universal cleansing and sanctification is not to justify, but to aggravate, the offence. To act against a conscientious feeling is always wrong. Many a man who boasts of his ability to pass unscathed through a fiery ordeal is being singed and maimed by his recklessness.
III. TO HARM A BROTHER IS TO WOUND CHRIST. "Destroy not thy brother, for whom Christ died." See in the weakest member of the community the face and form of thy Lord! The essence of Christianity is self-abnegation; love makes the sacrifice welcome. Christ in us is our better self. and self-love wards off self-injury. The leader of a band anxious for its prosperity end progress feels a pang when any element of discord or weakness is introduced. Jesus Christ is the sensitive Head of the Church, and the inefficiency of any member is a grief to him; the suffering of any limb impairs his joy. Could we more often place ourselves in thought in his position, we should quickly abate aught that lessens the unity and power of the body of Christ. Every pastor of a flock, every teacher of a class, has to think of the effect of his example, lest what he might enjoy without risk himself should exert a dangerous influence on others. It is more blessed to yield than to receive a concession. - S.R.A.
Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God.
I. THERE ARE, however, CERTAIN CRITERIA BY WHICH WE CAN DISTINGUISH THE NATURALLY WRONG FROM THE NATURALLY INDIFFERENT.
1. One of these is to be found in our moral constitution. We can see intuitively that malice, envy, pride, etc., are in their nature wrong. They are evil, not because they are forbidden, nor because of their injurious tendency, but they are essentially evil.
2. The Scriptures condemn such things as are in their nature evil, not for one people, nor for a limited period, but for all men always.
II. FOR THINGS INDIFFERENT IN THEIR NATURE THE SCRIPTURES LAY DOWN THE FOLLOWING RULES.
1. If prohibited for any special reason, they are unlawful while that prohibition lasts.
2. When the prohibition is removed, they are right or wrong according to circumstances.(1) They are wrong when their use or enjoyment would do harm to others.(2) They are right when no such evil is to be apprehended.(3) That principle is never to be sacrificed to expediency, i.e., when doing or not doing anything would imply the denial of an important truth. All these principles are illustrated by the apostle's conduct and teaching. These were circumcision, observance of Jewish holy days, and eating meats prohibited by the Mosaic law, or which had been offered to idols. Paul taught —(a) That there was no harm in doing or neglecting them. If a man chose to circumcise his son, or to keep a holy day, or to abstain from certain meats, he was free to do so.(b) That he must not make his judgment a rule of duty to others. He must not condemn those who thought or acted differently (ver. 4).(c) But if any of these things became a source of evil, caused the weak to offend, then the law of love forbids our indulging in them, or availing ourselves of our Christian liberty,(d) But if any of these things were urged as a matter of duty, or a condition of salvation, then it became a sin to make them necessary. Paul, therefore, although he circumcised Timothy, refused to allow Titus to be circumcised. It is difficult to determine whether compliance with the prejudices of others is right or wrong. Our Lord disregarded Jewish prejudices in regard to the Sabbath. In other cases He complied in order to avoid giving offence.
III. THERE ARE CERTAIN PRINCIPLES IMPORTANT TO HAVE FIXED AS GUIDES OF CONDUCT.
1. Nothing is right or wrong which is not commanded or forbidden in Scripture.
2. We must stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and not allow any rule of duty to be imposed on us.
3. In the use of this liberty, and while asserting and maintaining it, we should not so use it as to do harm to our neighbours.
4. Nothing indifferent can be a proper ground of Church discipline or a condition of Church fellowship. These principles are often violated, as in the course pursued by many on slavery, temperance, tobacco, dress, Church ceremonies, etc.
(C. Hodge, D.D.)
Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. —
I. THE OFFICES OF CONSCIENCE. It is given us as —
1. A secret monitor. "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord." It testifies beforehand respecting the quality of the act proposed, and operates as a stimulus if the act be good, and as a check if the act be evil.
2. An authoritative judge. It is God's vicegerent in the soul. Sometimes conscience exercises this authority immediately, as in the cases of Adam and David. At other times it delays its verdict until some occasion give reason for speaking plainly the truth, as in the case of Joseph's brethren. Sometimes it delivers judgment, and so produces humiliation, as in the case of Peter; at other times it will drive a man to despondency, as in the ease of Judas.
II. OUR DUTY TO OUR CONSCIENCES. We ought —
1. To get our consciences well informed. Conscience prescribes no rules, but gives testimony to a rule before existing. Nor does any man ever commit sin by following its dictates. St. Paul sinned, of course; but not because he followed the dictates of his conscience, but on account of his not having his conscience well informed. He did it "ignorantly, through unbelief." We must always look to God to guide us by His Word and Spirit. Nor should we hastily imagine that our views are correct; we must be jealous of ourselves lest Satan deceive us; "Take care that the light that is in you be not darkness," etc.
2. To consult it on all occasions. To act first, and afterwards to make inquiries, is a certain way to involve ourselves in guilt. To do anything without a careful inquiry into the quality of the action, is presumptuous. Nor is the testimony of conscience always easily obtained; sometimes, indeed, it speaks instantaneously; but generally it requires time to make a fair estimate of the circumstances; and then, if they have respect to God only, we should consider the example of Christ; or if it be in respect to man, we should change places with the person concerned. If we doubt concerning the lawfulness of anything, we are self-condemned if we perform it, for "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." We should pause, in such a case, and deliberate, until we see our way clearly — and determine not to proceed in anything until we are fully persuaded in our own minds.
3. To keep it upright and tender. Conscience may easily be warped, and silenced too, so that it will give no testimony until awakened by some flagrant enormity.
III. THE HAPPINESS OF CONFORMITY TO CONSCIENCE.
3. The favour of God.
(C. Simeon, M.A.)I. THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH THE CAUTION IN THE TEXT IS BUILT.
1. There are some things which are in themselves indifferent, but are sinful by accident.(1) When they are indulged to excess; when we spend too much time about them; or indulge them to a degree that is injurious to the health of body or peace of mind.(2) Indifferent things may become unlawful by being unseasonable. Not only the beauty and success, but the very lawfulness of an action often depends upon opportunity.(3) Another way whereby an indifferent action may become sinful is its giving offence to others,
2. There are other kinds of actions which some men inadvertently carry into common practice that are not only circumstantially but essentially evil in themselves. And the great danger of contracting any habits of this kind lies here, that they wear off a sense of the evil of them.
II. IN WHAT MANNER THIS HAPPINESS IS TO BE ATTAINED.
1. Let us see in what manner bad habits are originally contracted.(1) Sometimes by implicitly following the examples of others; especially their superiors; especially if these have been distinguished for their wisdom and piety.(2) Another thing that often draws men unawares into a sinful course of actions is precipitancy or inattention to the nature and consequences of them. Before we indulge in any kind of temper or conduct that is like to become a habit, we should ask ourselves three questions.(a) What is it? is it in its own nature good, bad, or indifferent?(b) Whither does it tend? what influence will it have on the temper of my mind or the health of my body?(c) Where will it end? how will it appear in the review? and what will be the certain consequence if it settle into a habit?(3) Men are often betrayed into an unlawful conduct by venturing boldly on the very verge of vice or going to the utmost bounds of what is lawful. The precise limits of virtue and vice are indiscernible; or, rather, the passage from the one to the other is through so easy and gradual a shade that men oftentimes insensibly slide out of the former into the latter, and are got far into the regions of vice before they are aware. And the danger of this appears still greater when we consider the nearer approach we make to a sinful object, the stronger is its attraction.(4) Another common source of wrong conduct, and what frequently betrays men into bad habits, is the undue influence of the appetites and passions, in opposition to the dictates of conscience and reason.(5) Another thing that deceives some unwary minds into a wrong course of conduct is the false names that are given to sinful actions, whereby the evil of them is concealed and their deformity disguised.(6) The most common reason that men so generally condemn themselves in the things which they allow, is because they forget to form their judgment by the principles and their lives by the rules of Christianity.
2. How they are to be conquered.(1) The difficulty of the attempt. The reason that men so seldom succeed in their attempt to break off a bad habit is because they do not set about it in good earnest or in a right way.(2) If we would succeed in it we must often renew and reinforce our resolutions to persevere.(a) As all bad habits are contracted by frequent repetition of bad actions, so they are conquered by a frequent repetition of the opposite good ones.(b) Temptations are more weakened by declining than opposing them.(c) To suppress the first motions and avoid the remote occasions of sin is the easiest way to conquer it.(d) Let us especially beware of indolence, self-confidence, in a time of prosperity. For when we are least apprehensive of danger it is then oftentimes the nearest.
III. ILLUSTRATE THE TRUTH OF THE PROPOSITION CONTAINED IN THE TEXT, AND SHOW WHEREIN THE HAPPINESS HERE MENTIONED DOTH CONSIST. This happiness may refer both to the present and future world.
1. With regard to the present world the man who condemns not himself in the thing which he alloweth is happy in two respects especially.(1) This gives him the best evidence he can have of his security. One who takes so much care to please God must have the fear of Him before his eyes and the love of Him in his heart.(2) This constant care to keep our heart and conduct conformable to the Word of God will inspire us with great freedom and comfort of mind when we have access to Him in prayer. And what more comprehensive happiness can we conceive than this?
2. This happiness reaches beyond the bounds of time, and will attend us in the world of spirits, where we shall be happy beyond all that words can paint or thought conceive. Conclusion:
1. How well is Christianity adapted to promote the happiness of civil society! If it does not permit us, even in matters of indifference, to do anything that would unnecessarily offend our neighbour, this implies our duty to cultivate the greatest tenderness and good-will towards him.
2. We see that, considering the condition of our natures as frail beings and our connection with creatures as imperfect as ourselves, we are under an indispensable necessity of exercising continual circumspection and frequent self-denial and patience in order to keep our conscience clear.
3. Let us take care, then, what habits we contract, and diligently examine those we have already contracted.
(J. Mason, M.A.)
Christian Journal."Better be sure than sorry!" said a garden-worker, when his employer expressed a doubt whether it was necessary to cover a certain vegetation to protect it from frost. "Better be sure than sorry!"A man who is not sure is very likely to be sorry. He who takes things on trust will be quite likely to be cheated and disappointed at last. The business man who treads in uncertain paths, who is not sure of his course, is very likely to be sorry he has taken it. Keep on the safe side. Do not give yourself the benefit of every doubt. Be lenient to others' faults, but strict regarding your own. If there be an act which in your own mind is doubtful or questionable in its character, take the course of wisdom and prudence. It would be a terrible thing to be mistaken in the final day; it is better to be sure here than to be sorry at the judgment-seat of Christ.
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith1. Doubt of its rectitude makes the action doubtful.
2. Doubtful actions bring condemnation.
3. Condemnation implies sin.
4. The sin lies in the want of faith.
5. Therefore all doubtful actions should be avoided.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
whatsoever is not of faith is sin. —
I. HOW THIS IS OFTEN MISAPPLIED.
1. When all the virtues of the heathen —
2. The morality of the unconverted —
3. The proprieties of civilised life — are denounced as polished vice.
II. HOW IT OUGHT TO BE APPLIED.
1. To Christian believers.
2. As a rule for the regulation of all doubtful actions.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. IN ORDER FOR WORKS TO BE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD THEY MUST —
1. Be done by His grace.
2. Spring from a principle of faith.
II. THE SPIRIT WHICH LEADS A MAN TO RELY ON HIS UNASSISTED EFFORTS AS RENDERING HIM MEET TO RECEIVE GRACE IS SIN, because it involves a denial of —
1. Christ's atonement.
2. Human infirmity.
3. The need of the Holy Spirit's help.Lessons:
1. For reproof.
3. Instruction in righteousness.
(W. Webster, M.A.)I. EXPLAIN THE PROPOSITION. Some actions are doubtful; in this case compliance is sinful, because it discovers —
1. A contempt of God's authority and favour.
2. Light views of the evil of sin.
3. A great want of self-denial and resolution.
4. Some prevailing bad principle or motive of action.
5. And leads to greater irregularities.
II. SOME PRACTICAL REFLECTIONS.
1. How aggravated the guilt of presumptuous sin.
2. We should show a tender regard for others that we do not lead them into sin.
3. In all doubtful cases it is best to keep on the safe side.
(J. Lyth, D.D.).
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