Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

cable to all persons and in all situations, although the duty itself is confessedly of universal obligation. In these, and in numberless other points of duty, every one must be in some degree his own casuist; and every one will be liable to transgress or to fall short of his duty, who does not well consider what is expedient under all the circumstances of his particular case, as well as what is strictly within the letter of the precept. And though this may often be a matter on which he is amenable only to God and his own conscience; yet is it essential to his religious character, and to his own peace of mind, that he be not here a self-deceiver.

But whatever discretion in these respects a man is bound to exercise for the regulation of his own individual liberty, still further circumspection is necessary as it may affect the liberty of others.

No one can deny, that he who ventures to the extreme verge of what he deems to be lawful, sets an example which it may be extremely dangerous for others to follow, however confident he may be as to its effect upon himself. There is, therefore, great want of charity as well as prudence, in the notion too commonly entertained, that every man has a right to act for himself, regardless of the pro

bable effect of his example upon those around him. Can a man be altogether innocent, who takes no pains to prevent any dangerous misconception of his own conduct? We are taught to pray that we may not be led into temptation ourselves. Is it not, then, our duty to take heed that others be not led into it by following in our steps? We are taught, not to be partakers of other men's sins. Is it not also incumbent upon us to beware lest we be the occasion of sin to other men, by setting them a pattern which they cannot safely follow?

Let us suppose, for example, that a parent, or a master of a family, conceives certain particular relaxations in the observance of the sabbath to be lawful, and that in his own case they may be innocently allowed; since he has well weighed them, not only in the abstract, but with reference to their probable effect upon himself; and is satisfied that he may admit them with impunity. But what if his children, his household, or his neighbours, unable or indisposed to discriminate as he does, should by adopting the same latitude forego the opportunity of that spiritual instruction which is necessary to them; or make the sabbath a day of listless indolence and profane amusement, instead of a day of

hallowed rest and devotional improvement? What, if not acting under the same impressions of conscious rectitude which he has done, they make his example a pretext for vicious indulgence, or even for entirely neglecting the care of their souls? Shall it be said that this is entirely their own fault; and that he is blameless who laid this stumblingblock in their way? May we not rather say, that in the sight of God and man he has incurred much of the responsibility implied in our Lord's awful admonition, "It must needs "be that offences come: but woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh?"

66

How far a similar responsibility may attach to those who fearlessly encounter temptations and dangers which it requires more than ordinary strength to withstand, whether in the pursuit of pleasure, of gain, or of worldly distinction; is a question to be also well weighed according to the Apostle's maxim in the text. And the rule is in these cases of the more importance, because it is scarcely possible that a man can be engaged in such pursuits, without implicating others in his conduct, not merely as followers of his example, but as actual participators in the latitude he assumes, to whatever extent it may be carried. Here,

e Matth. xviii. 7.

then, he who has so far the mastery over his appetites and passions, that he can come out harmless himself after a conflict with powerful incentives to evil, may yet have to answer for those among his associates who yield to their seductive influence. He may be a corrupter, without being corrupted; apparently unimpeachable himself, yet the immediate cause of guilt in others; intending no harm, but unconsciously doing irreparable injury.

Again; we meet with many who, not content with emancipating themselves, as they conceive, from unnecessary scruples or restraints, are forward to stigmatize every approach to a stricter system of duty, as superstition, or pharisaical ostentation. Desirous (as they profess) of simplifying religion, they incline to think and speak contemptuously of many blameless and decent customs, which others find useful, if not necessary, towards keeping alive a spirit of devotion. Hence they neglect, and even ridicule, the observance of stated seasons of penitence and thanksgiving, of private rules of abstinence, and of almost all external modes of religion not expressly enjoined by Divine authority. Now, although it be true that these usages do not constitute the essence of religion, nor are generally necessary to men's salvation; yet it is

[blocks in formation]

neither charitable nor discreet to offend serious and well-disposed persons by bringing them into contempt; much less to give occasion to the ignorant and profane to justify, perhaps, their neglect of higher duties, by acting, as they conceive, upon similar principles.

On the other hand, there can be no doubt that some offend against the apostolical rule, “All things are lawful for me, but all things "are not expedient," by excess of zeal and

overstrained scrupulosity. "It is good,” says

66

St. Paul," to be zealously affected in a good thing." But at the same time he intimates that many have a “ zeal that is not according "to knowledge" When a desire of promoting the interests of religion leads to a censorious or a contentious spirit, religion suffers real injury; and many will be disposed to regard it with an evil eye, from identifying its character with the conduct of its indiscreet disciples. Whatever rules, therefore, any individual may see fit to adopt for his own personal security, which are not in themselves of general or of indispensable obligation; it behoves him to abstain from enforcing them upon others, or from dealing out uncharitable

f Gal. iv. 18. Rom. x. 2.

« PoprzedniaDalej »