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age. Christ would not call to the severer and more rigorous exercises of religion, those disciples, who had but newly engaged to follow him. He treated them with tenderness, lest he should discourage their hopesul beginnings, and divert them from their good resolutions. New wine, he said, must not be put into old bottles, lest the bottles burst, and the wine be lost; but new wine must be put into new bottles that both may be preserved.
There are some, whom the apostle calls weak brethren. These must be sustained and assisted by such as are strong.
Men of honest hearts and virtuous aims, may be weak through a natural inferiority of mental powers-or through the want of education and an opportunity to enlarge the mind by the acquisition of knowledge or through certain prejudices early imbibed and long indulged-or through infirmities of body which affect the mind or through the difficulty of their worldly circumstances which subjects them to peculiar temptations. From these and similar causes, we may often see those whom we esteem as upright men, still betraying, in matters of religion, much of the weakness, injudiciousness, and instability of children. These, therefore, may be comprehended in the appellation of little ones who believe in Christ.
Now the treatment which elder and stronger christians owe them, our Saviour,
II. Expresses in our text, by not despising them; and in the preceding verses, by receiving them, and not offending them.
The same language, the apostle uses in the fourteenth chapter to the Romans. “Him that is weak in faith, receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. One believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that cateth, despise him that eateth not, and let not him that eateth not, judge him that eateth, for God hath received him." Why dost thou judge thy brother, and why dost thou set at nought iliy brother ?” If thy brother be grieved by thy meat, thou walkest not charitably. “ Judge not one another, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall, in his brother's way.” Do nothing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is
made weak. The same cautions are found in the first epistle to the Corinthians. Take heed lest your liberty become a stumbling-block to them who are weak. When ye sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
To grieve, offend, judge, or reject our weak brother, or by any means to occasion his stumbling and falling, or to walk toward him in a manner inconsistent with charity, humility and meekness, is to despise one of Christ's little ones.
1. We despise Christ's little ones, when we reject, on account of immaterial differences, those whom Christ has received.
Christ owns as his disciples all who with the heart believe in him, and submit to him. The qualifications for admission into his kingdom are not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost—not distinguished abilities, and superior gifts, but a humble, sincere, and good heart. The apostle directs those who are strong in faith to receive him that is weak; and though he may be supposed to err in matters of meat and drink, not to reject bim, for God has received him. To exclude from our favor one whom God has received to his favor, is to despise not only man, but God. It is to set ourselves above him, and to trample on the merciful constitution of his government.
It will at once be admitted, that those whom God receives, we are to receive too. But then the question is, How shall we know whom God has received ? The apostle tells us, we must walk charitably; and charity hopeth all things. We are thus to receive as our brethren, however weak they may appear, all whom there is a charitable ground to hope that God has received. We are not to reject them because they cannot prove beyond doubt their acceptance with God; but to receive them unless we can prove their rejection of God. No errors or infirmities, no differences of opinion, or varieties of practice, which affect not the substance of religion, can be a justifiable ground on which to reject a brother from our christian communion, or from our charitable opinion.
We are not to condemn men as sinners for errors in sentiment or conduct, which may be imputed to weakness. This is to despise Christ's little ones.
2. We show a contempt of our brethren, when we wound and grieve their consciences by a strenuous adherence to things indifferent, or matters which we ourselves judge not to be important.
Christians differ not more in their opinions, than in their apprehension of the importance of those opinions. A youthful, or a weak christian, may view as sacred, certain sentiments or usages, which one of a more enlarged and liberal mind, may see to be indifferent. In cases of this nature, the strong must bear the infirmities of the weak; not please themselves only, but please their brethren, for their good to edification. Now if, in such cases, we take the side which is contrary to the opinion of our brethren, and stiffly maintaining it, grieve their tender minds, we treat them with the contempt which Christ forbids—We discover such a disregard to their peace and edification as is inconsistent with charity-In matters of essential importance, we must not please men by sinful compliances ; for if we thus please men we are not the servants of Christ-But in things of mere expedience, we are to condescend to men of low estate ; and if we have faith concerning the lawfulness of an action, which appears sinful to our brother, we must have it to ourselves before God; and not condemn ourselves in that which we allow.
3. We despise Christ's little ones, when we make that use of our christian liberty which will embolden them to real iniquity. Tender minds are to be treated with caution. The
and inexperienced are influenced much by example. We should conduct in their presence with circumspection and reserve. venture too near the borders of vice, we may embolden them to pass over, into its territories. The rule given by the apostle to the Corinthians, concerning eating in an idol's temple, is applicable to all cases of this kind. He concedes that an idol is nothing, and though a christian should eat meats offered to an idol, he is not the worse; and though he should forbear, he is not the better; for its being consecrated to an idol, changes not its quality, nor need to affect the conscience of a discerning christian. tíowever, says the apostle, take heed lest this liberty of your's become a stumbling block to those who are weak; for if any man see thee, who hast knowledge, sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him that is weak, be emboldened to eat things offered to idols, and to eat in honor to them, and through thy knowledge shall thy weak brother perish for whom Christ died. The apostle here teaches us that we ought never to use our christian liberty in such a manner, as will tend to encourage and embolden others in things really sinful.
4. We despise the weak, when we by any means, draw them away from the truth, or put in their way occasions of stumbling.
If we entice them into sin-set before them corrupt examplesinstil into them licentious errors-ridicule their serious resolutions and virtuous reformations; and after they have escaped the corruptions of the world, entangle them again therein, we offend Christ's little ones. And when we thus sin against the brethren we sin against Christ.
5. Our contempt of the weak appears in the neglect of the duties which we owe them. Benevolence is not a negative virtue. It includes the performance of positive duties; and the omission of these, is despising Christ's little ones and a violation of christian love, as well as direct injuries. We are to strengthen weak hands-confirm feeble knees—make straight paths for lame feet, that they may not be turned out of the way, but rather be healed. We are to encourage hopeful beginnings in the weak and young, and animate them to persevere in their virtuous purposes. We are to instruct the ignorant—establish the wavering-reclaim the wandering-reprove the offending-warn the incautious—and guard the defenceless. Inattention to these christian duties discovers a contempt of our brethren and a disregard to the laws of Christ, as well as real injuries. We are required to exhort one anotherto rebuke our brother and not suffer sin upon him—to deliver ihose who are drawn unto death.
Christian love will operate not merely to restrain us from laying stumbling blocks before the weak and the blind, but excite us to remore stumbling blocks out of their way.
Having considered the caution of our Saviour against despising his little ones, let us,
III. Attend to the reason of this caution-In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.
As there are evil spirits who roam about, seeking whom they may destroy, so we are assured from revelation, there are innumerable multitudes of pure and benevolent spirits who are sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. And our Saviour here teaches us, that those little ones who believe in him, are the special and immediate charge of angels They are called their angels, to signify their particular care for such. In what ways angels administer to them it may be difficult for us to determine, but of the fact there can be no doubt, since it is so plainly and frequently asserted in revelation. They may be employed in defending feeble saints and little ones against the assaults of evil spirits-in guarding them from dangers and snares-in watching them while they sleep, and in protecting them in their common employments.
Nor can we say, how often seasonable thoughts and wholesome counsels may be suggested by their friendly influence. If we believe that evil spirits have power to work in the children of disobedience, and to molest the minds of good men by wicked suggestions, we must believe that angels have as much power to infuse wholesome meditations, and to aid and strengthen virtuous resolutions.
But what seems more especially to be intended in the text, is their attention to the injuries which Christ's feeble disciples receive, and the information which they carry to heaven against those, who despise and offend these little ones. Not that God needs information from any ; for his eyes are on all his creatures. But to impress us with a deeper sense of the danger of offending them, Christ represents the angels as watching around them, and flying to heaven with the report of every thing they suffer. .
The angels are often, in scripture, represented as witnesses of our conduct. The apostle therefore charges Timothy to fidelity in his office, in the presence of the elect angels.