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their foolish hearts darkened. When men do not like to retain God in their knowledge, He gives them up to a reprobate mind. He reprobates their ignorance, because resulting from choice. And how large a portion of the sins committed through ignorance will prove, at last, to b: the most enormous character, the last day will tell. Paul considered himself as having sinned the most outrageously, and almost beyond the possibility of a pardon, when he sinned ignorantly, in persecuting the saints; hence would be the last of men to give ignorance any covering.
IV. Neither the text nor context favors the opinion that our conscience may lean in its testimony to the testimony of other consciences. The apostle did not, after being convinced that he might innocently partake of flesh that had been devoted to an idol, yield his convictions on this point, and believe that, in itself considered, it would be wrong so to do. On this point no amount of human testimony would have shaken his convictions. In the influence that the act would have on other and weak minds, lay all the danger, and all the wrong that moved him. For himself he cared not if all the beasts of the forest, and the cattle upon a thousand hills, had been devoted to some spurious deity. He could still feed upon them, and offer them in sacrifice to the God of heaven, whose is the earth and the fulness thereof. It is true, that if we find other consciences differing in their testimony from ours, it should put us upon inquiry, whether our own decision is right, should render us cautious and watchful. But when we have again and again reviewed the ground, and collected about it all the testimony we can summon, and are still conscious that we have taken the position of duty, no frowns of men, nor loss of interest, nor even death itself can move us, if we fear the Lord, to act in conformity to the views of others, in opposition to the testimony of our own conscience.
Hence the reason why the people of God have so repeatedly been denominated obstinate. Their false brethren, or the men of the world, have demanded of them what they could not conscientiously do. A Roman governor writing to one of the emperors respecting the Christians, after fully clearing them from all the charges that had been brought against them, still declares them deserving of death, because of their obstinacy. And wherein lay their obstinacy? Simply in this. They would not conform to heathen customs, when such conformity implied connivance at idolatry. They would not assemble with the worshipers of Jupi. ter, would not put up his idols in their temple, while the heathen would readily allow an image of Jesus Christ to be erected in their temples. Thus the war began in the exclusive claims of an en lightened Christian conscience. Many a martyr was offered life, if he would bow at the shrine of Diana, or kiss the image of the virgin mother, or carry the cross in his bosom ; but his choice was rather death. And it cannot be considered surprising that men who themselves have no conscience, can bend to any doctrine, opinion or practice, should pronounce this all obstinacy.
In vindicating the principle, from which the apostle acted, I should choose to say,
First, it evinced a deep knowledge of the obligations of the Divine law. Paul did not go beyond the demands of that law. It allowed him to eat meat, even the meat that had been offered to an idol; and still it demanded of him that he yield his rights to bless his fellow-men. What, did God himself render the thing lawful, and then make another law depriving him of the very privilege he had granted ? Intricate as this case may look, it presents us one of the most common maxims of Christian deportment.
The property that God has put into my hands, is mine to use according to the discretion that God has given me; and still such a cry of distress may reach me as to render it my duty to devote it all to the cure of that distress. I may have barely bread enough to feed my family; but I may hear that some family is starving near me, and may be obligated to divide that bread, which is my own, and which I may in ordinary circumstances lawfully give to my children, with that starving family. I may have with me only the raiment that can warm me, and it is my own, to be used as I wish, and still a higher law may require me to divide that covering with my neighbor.
Nor does it essentially alter the case that the misery is near me, and moves my sympathy. It may be afar off, and still my perfect knowledge of its existence may render this higher law obligatory. Men need not cherish the persuasion that God makes no other claim upon their prosperity than that of being honest. Admit that this is the first claim, the second is like unto it, that we be benevolent. And how came we by the persuasion that the latter claim is not as binding as the former ? If one had an estate of fifty thousand dollars, and he owed one thousand, how could he presume to count that he has forty-nine thousand to bequeath to his children, till he had inquired whether the law of benevolence did not levy its claim to five or ten thousand dollars more, previously to his deciding what portion he might leave to his children? Or may one give his whole estate to his children, and leave them to discharge all his obligations of charity? If so, he should have educated them accordingly, and be sure, before his death, that he has a benevolent offspring, who will obey the law of love. Or is the law of benevolence more loose and undefined than the law of righteousness, a law that we may or may not fulfil ? No. We are as strongly obligated to be benevolent, as to be honest. Paul would obey the statute requiring him to abstain from meat, if the salvation of his brother required it, as promptly and perfectly, as the statute of honesty, requiring him to pay for the cloak or the parchment he had purchased. Is it that the law of man has required honesty, and fixed a penalty to its violation, while the law of benevolence is a law of God, that men have made the distinction they have ? I answer, the law of God binds the good man firmly as any municipal statute. When he
says, “ To do good and to communicate forget not,” the statute takes hold of the conscience of the good man equally with that municipal statute requiring him to discharge the note to which he put his hand and seal.
My life is my own, and God has made it my duty to preserve it, but the case may happen when a higher law may obligate me to lay down my life for the good of others. It may be my duty, at the greatest risk, to attempt the rescue of others from death by fire or flood; or there may come again a period of the Church, when the good of Zion, the glory of God, and the advance of truth, may require the sacrifice of life. And this higher law must be obeyed. While the law of God allows us to provide for our own interest, there is in the same statute-book a law to this effect, “ None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” Now by what argument shall one free himself from obligations of obedience to this statute, while yet he feels the authority of that other statute in the same book, “ Thou shalt not steal ?"
This making the whole of religion to consist in honesty, (we will not now stop to inquire whether the sticklers for this religion are more honest than others,) is virtually denying that there is any law of benevolence; that there is any case when God himself requires us to give back a right he has given us. And yet this is the very law that governed the apostle. God had given him a right in common with others to eat meat, and even the very meat that had been devoted to an idol, but God commanded him, if his brother's good required it, to forego this right, and abandon the very privilege that had been given him by charter and by oath.
We have here, probably, one of the most wide and glaring distinctions found among the professors of godliness. There are those who obey and those who do not obey this law of benevolence. And the pretence for disobedience is, that the law is not definite. God has required me to pay that I owe; here the debt measures exactly the obligations. But the law which reads, “Lend, hoping for nothing again," leaves it doubtful how much I must lend. And that law, “Give early of thy substance to the Lord,” leaves it doubtful how much we must give. And that law, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them,” leaves it doubtful how much we must do from the difficulty of deciding how much we would have done. And still these statutes require us to lend and give and do, and are as obligatory as the laws of honesty. Paul determined to obey these higher requisitions, and be governed by the law of benevolence.
THE ENLIGHTENED CONSCIENCE UNBENDING.–No. II.
I CORINTHIANS viii. 13.
To have discriminating views of the obligations of the divine law, is one of the first prerequisites to a healthful growing piety. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” The renewed heart must have a relish for obedience, as far as the rules of obedience are known. And he is the wisest believer who can discern the most accurately the bearing of the divine precepts upon the common every-day concern of human life. Perhaps it would not be asserting too much to say that in the want of this is seen the grand cause why so many professed believers are of so little use to the Church of Christ. They have some general knowledge of the divine precepts, but do not take the pains they should, or have not the means that would be desirable, in learning to trace the law into its ramifications of bearing and of import. They know they should not worship idols, but do not discern when wealth, or honor, or pleasure is pursued idolatrously. They know they should not perform common labor on the Sabbath day, but do not discover exactly when their conversation or employment has become too worldly to comport with the sanctification of that holy rest. They know they should not steal, but do not discern when exactly their covetous practices or hard dealings have transcended the limits of honesty. They know they should not lie, but how often can they be seen hovering on the very line of demarcation between falsehood and truth. They may not swear profanely, but when exactly their hasty and passionate dialect transcends the bounds of Christian soberness, they may not be very skilful to discern. The Church have embosomed some whose language had all the coarseness and repulsion of profaneness, except that the name of God was not used.
Now nothing can be more desirable than that the Christian character be better purified. And this would be the sure result of a better knowledge of the spirit and extent of the divine precepts.