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brought to understand the nature of their Christian liberty in this respect, but considered them to be still binding, even upon the disciples of the gospel, whether Gentiles or Jews. The Gentiles, on the other hand, not being in this respect under the influence of early habit and education, did not feel any obligation to obey the ceremonial part of the Mosaic law, and resisted the attempt of those who would impose such a burthen upon them, and ridiculed and condemned them for being themselves such slaves to those outward ordinances of an abolished dispensation. St. Paul endeavours to appease this unbecoming and unchristian strife; and in this chapter (which wholly refers to this subject) he has given us an admirable example of the discretion and moderation which should be used in all religious discussions, more particularly about matters that are not essential to salvation.
St. Paul had no doubt in his own mind, that all those ordinances might now be dispensed with, but he intimates that it is a matter of no importance whether they be observed or not, so long as every man is fully persuaded of the propriety of his own practice, and acts solely with a view to the will of God. On this account he would have neither party despise or condemn the other, but each allow the other to obey their own conscientious conviction. He tells them that they are not accountable to one another for their conduct, that Christ is the master of all, and that by his judgment they must stand or fall. And he signifies that in a matter of this kind, when the thing is in itself unimportant, every one must do what he believes to be right; and that it is the acting according to this belief, or contrary to it, that makes the thing lawful or sinful.
You must not, however, my brethren, extend this judgment too far. You must not apply it to any of the “great and weightier matters of the law.” You must not suppose that a perverted and misinformed conscience, can sanction or excuse any moral transgressions. The time was, when those who killed the followers of Christ, thought they were doing God service; their conscience ought not to have been so ignorant. St. Paul himself preaches this doctrine to you; although he verily “thought with himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” when he persecuted the Christians, he “ did it ignorantly in unbelief,” and in fact, (according to his own account after his conversion) he had always laboured to keep a conscience void of offence; but notwithstanding, he never forgave himself for his wickedness in opposing the gospel. He was “the least of the
apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle; indeed (to use the severest language possible) he called himself “ the chief of sinners.” I have made the remark by the
you should adopt a notion, very prevalent in the world, and very gratifying to the indolence and self-satisfaction of man, i. e. that sincerity will atone for every error in doctrine, and every fault in practice. We may believe that there are cases of invincible ignorance, as it is called, where there is actually no possibility of knowing better, which God will pardon ; but no such allowance is to be made, when knowledge might have been obtained. If it were not so, every man might voluntarily keep himself in a state of ignorance; he might deliberately refuse instruction, and then in behalf of his infidelity, his false doctrines, and his iniquities, claim the benefit of the plea, that he knew no better. No, God has graciously communicated the highest and most important information to the world, and it is incumbent on us to be acquainted with it, and to act according to it. We shall be judged, not only for what we have known, but also according to what we might and ought to have known.
Suppose you were to say, “there is my bible, and I have the power of reading it, it is true, but I will not do so, because then I must believe, and live as the bible directs ;” would not you be deservedly judged as if you were fully instructed in all that the bible contains ? Or will you neglect the public worship of God, and fancy that you have not so much to answer for as those who regularly attend it, and hear the word of God preached, because you do not know so much as they, and have not received so much instruction or exhortation? This would be a vain deceitful comfort. An obligation lies upon you to know the truth as far as your abilities and opportunities permit, and no ignorance will be excusable, that might have been avoided; and the more easily it might have been avoided, the more culpable that ignorance is. Sincerity in error, when your error is wilful, will not be received as an apology for
any sin or heresy, but where the matter is really unimportant, St. Paul informs us that the conscience alone renders it lawful or unlawful; and in such cases, he who acts according to his own sincere conviction, with a desire to do what he believes to be the will of the Lord, does right; and though another may differ from him in opinion, and consequently in practice also, he is not to condemn him, but to respect his conscience, since it is the motive, i. e. regard to the will of God, that sanctifies his conduct.
You see, I hope, how these remarks are natu
rally suggested by the text, “for none of us liveth to himself,” that we are in all things the servants of the Lord; whether in life or death we belong to him, he has entire dominion over us, he is the supreme judge of our conduct, our whole lives should be devoted to him, and all our actions performed with a view to his approbation, that so, while we live we may live in faithful obedience to him, and closely united to him, and when we die, we may willingly resign our souls into his hands, to whom we have always committed the keeping of them.
In the verse immediately following the text, St. Paul tells us that this was the very object of Christ's life, and death, and resurrection, that he might have this undisputed dominion over the world, “ for to this end Christ both died, and rose and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” And upon this ground the apostle insists on the impropriety of judging one another; for all Christians live unto the Lord, and refer their conduct solely to his will. He is to be their judge, and no fellow-sinner. “ Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, for it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to