Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

censures against those who treat them as matters of lesser moment.

It were easy to extend these observations to other points of conduct than those which are immediately of religious concern. In matters sensibly affecting our well-being, as members of the state, and as individuals in private life, the Apostle's rule is continually violated, through want of that circumspection which weighs the expediency, as well as the lawfulness of every

action. How often do men foment political dissensions by the imprudence of their animadversions on public affairs ! Here the boundaries of what is lawful are sometimes difficult to be determined: but the evils of speculating without reserve on abstract questions of civil liberty and political rights, or on the administration of public affairs, are sufficiently evident; though, if considered without reference to the times, and circumstances, and persons affected by them, the speculations themselves may seem to be perfectly harmless, and not to contravene any law, divine or human. Thousands may

may be led into practical error by theorists and experimentalists in political philosophy; who, whether or not with sinister intentions, spread opinions administering food

66

66

66

for discontent, and exciting in turbulent minds passions of the most destructive tendency.

In the narrower walks of private life, the evil consequences of a similar indiscretion are no less apparent.

6 Who is a wise man," says St. James, “and endued with knowledge amongst you ? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of

wisdom 5.” True wisdom is accompanied with that self-command, and that considerate regard to the effect likely to be produced by our general demeanour, which may prevent others from misinterpreting our views, or being ensnared into what is wrong through our example. But in the ordinary intercourse of society, who does not frequently offend in this respect ? Conversation will seldom be edifying,—it can hardly be inoffensive,—where no restraint is imposed on the thoughts that arise, or on the expressions in which they are clothed. That which is harmless in one society may be full of danger in another; and that which would be a mere waste of words in one case, will in another be highly profitable and instructive. St. Paul “ became all things to all men h.” He adapted his discourses and his instructions to the dif

5 James iii. 13.

h 1 Cor. ix. 99.

66

ferent dispositions and the different degrees of knowledge among those with whom he conversed. A similar regard to the prejudices, the habits, and the tempers of our respective associates is highly necessary, if we would avoid occasion of offence. Difficult questions on momentous points of religion may be fitly agitated among those who are well qualified for the discussion ; but exceedingly unfit among them who are “weak in “ the faith,” or among

men of corrupt minds,” addicted to “ perverse disputings i.” To hazard even truths respecting persons, circumstances, and events, without considering to whom we confide them, may produce serious injury. The saying of the heathen poet, that reverence is due to children, intimating the caution to be used in their presence, is a maxim to be observed with regard to all whose want of knowledge or of judgment requires them to be treated as children in understanding. In administering reproof also, or giving advice, the same discretion is nęcessary. Solomon is full of wise apophthegms on this head.

Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee : rebuke a wise man, and he 66 will love thee k.' “ A reproof entereth more “ into a wise man, than an hundred stripes

k Prov. ix. 8.

i Rom. xiv. 1. 1 Tim. vi. 5.

66

[ocr errors]

6 into a fool !!! 6 A wise man's heart dis“ cerneth both time and judgment m.” “ To

every thing there is a season ; and a time “ to every purpose

These scriptural instructions tend to illustrate the distinction between that which is barely lawful, and that which is also expedient; between that which in one case may be wise, useful, and necessary; in another, hazardous, indiscreet, injurious. Hence many similar admonitions of St. Paul.

“ Let not your good be evil spoken of.”

6 Let all “ things be done to edifying."

6 Let no man put a stumblingblock, or an occasion to fall, in his brother's way.”

6 When “ against the brethren, and wound their weak “ consciences, ye sin against Christo."

To prevent, however, any abuse of these maxims, the Apostle elsewhere says, “Let

every one of us please his neighbour, for his good, to edification P."

The dispositions and characters of mankind are no further to be consulted than is conducive to their real welfare, and to the general interests of religion and virtue; edification being the end proposed in shunning to give offence, and in endeavouring to conciliate the good-will of

ye sin

66

66

1 Prov. xvii. 10. 0 1 Cor. viii, 12.

m Eccles, visi. 5. n Eccles. ii. 1.

p Rom. xv, 2.

mankind. No dissimulation, no unworthy compliance, no compromise with truth, or deviation from Christian simplicity and integrity of character, may be justified on the ground of expediency, as inculcated in the sacred writings.

Neither are we so to interpret the Apostle's maxim in the text, as to make expediency the sole criterion of what is lawful, or the governing principle of moral obligation. The sense in which St. Paul applies the term, relates to actions which would be otherwise indifferent in themselves, or which are lawful only under particular circumstances. There is therefore an essential difference between what is lawful, and what is expedient only. The lawfulness of an action depends upon its being generally permitted or enjoined by Divine authority; its expediency depends upon the propriety of doing it under particular circumstances. That which is expedient in one case, may be inexpedient in another. But that which is in itself unlawful, or prohibited by the law of God, cannot be lawful at any time. Our first concern is to ascertain this fundamental ground of action ; and then to consider the other. By reversing this order of proceeding, and setting up either general or particular expediency as a

« PoprzedniaDalej »