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Will God send them the gospel by miracle? No, he once did thus send it to the lost, blessed be his name! but he now commands us to send it to those who are perishing for lack of vision. We know our duty, and God will require it of us. Can we meet the heathen in the judgment, if we have done nothing to redeem them?
I will plead no longer, but let me tell you in parting, that when you shall see the world on fire, your wealth all melting down, and those who have perished through your neglect calling upon the "rocks and mountains to fall on them, and hide them from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb," and shall know that you might have been instrumental in saving them, there will be strong sensations. If you are saved yourselves, and this is doubtful if you are not anxious to save others, you will wish a place to weep over your past neglects, before you begin your everlasting song and if lost yourself, then indeed there will be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
May Jehovah bless you, and dispose you to do your duty now, that you may hereafter lay hold on eternal life.
THE ENLIGHTENED CONSCIENCE UNBENDING..
1 CORINTHIANS VIII. 13.
If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth.
In the early establishment of Christianity, it became necessary to discriminate between those customs, both Jewish and heathen, that might or that might not be tolerated in the Church of Christ. In things that were in themselves perfectly harmless, and harmless in their bearing, there was no need that believers dissent from the world. In these things it was their duty to become all things to all men. For instance, Paul took Timothy and circumcised him, because it was known of all that his father was a Grecian. Circumcision had ceased to be an ordinance in the Church of God, but no law had been issued forbidding the amputation of the foreskin. Hence this might innocently be done, when it would render a Christian minister more useful; though not as an ordinance of God, obligatory upon believers under the new dispensation.
There prevailed the heathen custom of offering the flesh of the beasts they slew for the market to their idol gods, and if men made a feast the beasts were slain in honor of their idols, and then set before their guests. To these feasts Christians would be invited, and might go innocently; provided, however, that the meat on which they were to feast had not been offered to idols, or, if so offered, the fact had not been made known to them. Whatsoever had been sold in the shambles, or market, they might eat, asking no questions, whether it had or had not been offered to idols. But if any should inform them that the meat set before them had been sacrificed to heathen deities, they might not eat. And that, not because the meat had been by this ceremony polluted, or injured; for an idol was nothing at all. This the best informed believers would early know; hence in itself considered there would be no harm in their eating it. But there were some weak believers who would not have thrown off the impression that the heathen gods, whom they had before worshipped, were a kind of inferior deities, that had a real existence, and who could
not eat flesh that had been consecrated to them, without practising idolatry. Now if better informed believers, who, as to any effect upon themselves, might harmlessly feast upon these sacrifices, should do so, they would lead their weaker brethren into sin, and tempt them to apostacy. Hence they must abstain, because of the weak and unenlightened consciences of their brethren. They need not seek to be informed whether they were about to feast on a heathen sacrifice or not, for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof, and they might partake of the bounties of God without scruple. They need ask no question for conscience' sake, conscience not their own, however, but their brother's. They might eat and not sin, but their weak brother might be induced by their example to eat, and sin in eating.
Thus you have the whole case. But some of the more matured believers might say, "Why should I be judged by another man's conscience? As I know that an idol is nothing at all, and that meat offered to idols is not polluted, I will eat and let my weak brother take care of himself." Here there was occasion for the exercise of one of the most delicate principles of piety, and Paul declared that, for himself, he would eat no flesh while the world stood, if his so eating caused his brother to offend. I shall endeavor to illustrate the conduct of the apostle on this occasion, and vindicate and apply the principle.
He would abandon an alienable right in regard to the good of another; would care deeply for the souls that had been won to the Lord Jesus by the gospel. He considered his own conduct as contributing largely to make up the aggregate of public Christian sentiment, which should govern the infant Church. Though he could ably defend his conduct in eating the heathen sacrifices, yet many might imitate him in eating, who would never come under the influence of his reasoning, and so would be injured by his practice. It may be well to remark,
I. His conduct did not imply that one may make another man's conscience his own guide in duty. We are to know for ourselves what duty is, and when we know are under obligation to do it. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. There is no medium through which one man's conscience can approach and influence another, except through the medium of his conduct. If a man have any conscience, he must evince it by his deeds, and thus give it all the foreign influence it can ever have. Himself it can ever have. Himself it
can influence directly. Every man's conscience was made solely for his own use, except as it shall give rise to a conversation and deportment that may have an influence upon others. This maxim inverted was the grand error, and continues to be, in the Catholic church. The judgment of the Pope, and his emissaries, is considered paramount to the decisions of the most enlightened conscience. What the head of the church has decided is truthhowever incredible, must be believed; and what he has decreed is duty must be done, though at war with Sqripture and common sense. Hence there need be light in no other mind but his, and hence the Scriptures are withheld from the laity. It is of no consequence that they have a conscience, if they are not to be guided by it, but must obey the dictates of some other conscience.
Paul had no idea of abetting a principle like this. He would be guided exclusively by his own conscience, in the very practice he proposed to adopt. His judgment decided, and his heart approved the decision, that it would be his duty to live on lighter food than that which he might lawfully eat, if thereby he would bless a weak brother. That brother had no right to demand of him this sacrifice, and urge the apostle to a course of conduct not required by his own conscience. His obligation was to know for himself that the idol was nothing, and thus eat innocently, as Paul could, of the consecrated meat. Still Paul must regard his brother's good, and not make his liberty a stumbling-block to the weak. Here his own conscience bound him to a practice which his own conscience did not require of him, but for the ignorance and weakness of his brother. I think this principle is too obvious to be mistaken, while yet the apostle by no means renounces the right to be governed solely by his own conscience.
II. We are not to gather from the conduct of the apostle in this matter that one man's conscience may abridge another man's liberty. One man's necessities may induce another to give up his rights, and benevolence, such as the Lord Jesus exhibited when he laid aside the glory that he had with the Father before the world was, may induce him to do it cheerfully; but man may not require it of him, by any other law than that of love. If we are confident that another is misinformed, our duty is, if possible, to enlighten him; but we cannot require of him that he disregard the decisions of his own judgment, and permit himself to be guided by our opinion in opposition to his own in a question of morals. If Paul had been the only man in the infant Church who
had light enough to partake harmlessly of a heathen sacrifice, the opinion of others that he sinned in this matter would not have rendered him guilty. That weak brother, who could not do what Paul could harmlessly, might not require of the apostle that he confess himself guilty in acting according to the superior light of his own mind. You may blame me in a case in which I differ from you in my decision, for not reading and informing myself, for not being open to conviction, for not being candid and ingenuous and inquisitive; but if, finally, I cannot see as you do, and cannot think it right to co-operate with you, however you may lament my error, you cannot require me to act differently till I change my views. Thus Paul did not give up his right to decide that meat sacrificed to a heathen god might not be eaten by a Christian, harmlessly, but he relinquished the privilege of eating it because he should thus harm his brother; he retained the right but resigned the privilege. He was very tenacious of not having it understood that he was restricted by his own conscience. "What say I, then that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? No." As if he had said, My conduct is not to suffer this construction. "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils." "All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient." Thus did his enlightened mind discriminate, and his benevolent heart correspond.
III. The apostle's conduct in this matter does not go to palliate ignorance. It is every man's first duty to know what duty is, to have his conscience informed, and be prepared to act correctly in all the varied scenes that may suddenly transpire before him. He does not refuse to eat the meat consecrated to devils, because he lacked that knowledge that prepared him innocently to partake; else his ignorance had been sin. He abstains because, though all things may be lawful, yet all things edify not.
His brethren, who in their ignorance, to gratify their appetites, or to please man, would not eat while they had not knowledge enough to see that they might eat to the glory of God, giving him thanks, the very meat that had been consecrated to devils, sinned through ignorance against their own souls. They provoked God to jealousy. They neglected that injunction, "Abstain from all appearance of evil," and could not have gone in the spirit of that prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." We read of men having