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church making any point in dispute a matter of forbearance. A church has no more right to make any opinion or practice a matter of forbearance, than to make laws on any other subject. It is only with the defective state of mind in christians that they have to forbear; and this is not optional but imperative ; forbearing not only from being so disposed in love, but chiefly because Christ hath so commended; and because all attempts to inforce compliance or conformity without conviction, are proceedings of anti-christian oppression, at variance with the liberty with which Christ hath made his people free, injurious to all concerned, and dishonouring to Christ as subverting his government. It is owing to the misunderstanding of this great principle, or, rather, owing to deficiency of longsuffering and forbearance, that discords have arisen, which have divided those who, otherwise, might have been walking in love. But all forbearance must be mutual, in order to being effective in “keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Much forbearance, patience, and meekness, are required in treating offenders, as shewn in Gal. vi. 1 ; 2nd Tim. ii. 24-26. But no such forbearance is due to a presumptuous offender, as what is due to a weak brother not conscious of sinning. Nor should the latter be let alone, without endeavours to instruct and promote agreement of sentiment in all things. While forbearing to compel, it is proper to use all scriptural means to porsuade, avoiding the spirit of carnal strife and contention. But, in addition to what calls for forbearance as now explained, there are improprieties of conduct which should be corrected by brotherly admonition, And care should be taken, not to pervert forbearance into a license to wink at offences.
OFFENCES AS OCCASIONS OF STUMBLING.
The word offended, as in common use, signifies nothing more than being displeased ; because many regard the sins of others only as displeasing to themselves, without thinking of how they are stumbled by them, or of what is required for removing the stumbling-block out of the way. But the scripture term “offence," signifies sin, as offending God and his people, and as being a stumbling-block, causing sin in others, and hindering them in the performance of duty. The origin of offences is “lust,” called a "right hand” and a "right eye,” by which the subject is stumbled out of the way of duty to fall into sin, and becomes an occasion of stumbling
to others, Mat. xviii. 8--James i. 15. Offences are a woe to the church, to the world, to the offended, and to the offender, (Mat. xviii. 6, 7,) and should be considered, in their relation to God, as violations of his law,-in relation to others, as temptations to sin and hinderances in the way of duty,--and in relation to the offender, as particularly injurious to himself.
1. Offences are against God, being violations of his law, as Christ said unto Peter, “ Thou art an offence unto me.” Every estimate of offence must be formed by ascertaining to what extent the offender has violated divine law. It is not enough that any have taken offence so as to be displeased ; for, some may be displeased at the proper performance of duty. No man can be justly held as an offender, without proof that he has violated some known law, and thereby sined against God.
2. Offences are occasions of sin to others, and hinderances in the way of duty. Many are stumbled by the offences of their associates as occasions of temptation to commit the same sin, as Adam was stumbled by the sin of Eve ;-or by imitating the offence, as those who “ followed the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin ;” -or by consenting to popular devices without regard to scriptural law, as did Aaron in making the golden calf ;-or by giving place to the workings of carnal policy, as in the case of Peter's offence, when“ other Jews dissembled with him, insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation ;'-or by submitting to misrepresentations, as in the case of the Jews, who stumbled and fell in the wilderness by regarding the opinion of the carnal spies more than the promise and command of God ; -- or by receiving evil communications, as when, by the tale of slander, one is stumbled into the sin of “ taking up a reproach against his neighbour."
Offences are also to others a hinderance in the way of duty. In so far as the confidence of love is impaired, by the offence rendering doubtful the sincerity of the profession of the offender, it becomes impracticable to perform to him, in faith, some of the duties of fellowship, or to co-operate with him in confidence as a “ fellow-worker” in the service of Christ. Being yoked together in fellowship, the fall of one entangles and hinders others from working as formerly, till the fallen offender is either restored or separated, 2nd Cor. vi. 14. And when the offence consists of shortcoming in social duties, others may thereby be hindered in doing their
part, as was shewn by Moses when describing the intended shortcoming of Gad and Reuben, as tending to discourage, hinder, and destroy the whole congregation of Israel. Num. xxxii. 6-15.
3. But the offence is particularly injurious to the offender himself; as in addition to its effects in paralyzing the moral energies of his own soul, separating between him and God, and rendering him unfit for the duties and enjoyments of his holy profession, it subjects him to the displeasure of Him who holds the offence standing against him, making him also responsible for its effects as a woeful occasion of stumbling to the church and to the world.
But many are offended without cause, and even offended at the truth. Some are improperly offended, without cause, by taking up an evil report without evidence of its truth ;others, by rash misconception of what, if properly understood, would form no ground of offence ;-others, by harbouring suspicion of evil, without evidence of its existence ;-others, by seeking matter of accusation to justify some previous alienation of affection ;-others, by a desire to find some as bad as themselves for supporting a vain hope under spiritual decay, and, perhaps, from being intent on making “a man an offender for a word,” who has acted the part of a reprover in the gate. Such conduct indicates want of that love which " thinketh no evil,” which is not easily provoked,” and which “endureth all things ;'-want of common honesty, in giving place to impressions not warranted by evidence ;-and want of subjection to divine authority, in allowing the mind to take a course so contrary to the law of Christ. There is a sense, however, in which, being offended or stumbled by the offence of another, is no sin, but duty-namely, being dis: pleased at the offence, in hating what Christ hates, and stumbled through confidence in the offender being thereby impaired or destroyed. Being displeased at the offence, .consists perfectly with the benevolence of love towards the offender, nor could the offended continue his confidence in the offender, while finding cause in the offence to “stand in doubt of him.” In this the offended sinneth not. But if tempted by the offence to feel and act as above described, and, consequently, shewing the diseased state of his mind by telling to others how much he has been hurt by the offence, rather than telling the offender himself what might restore his soul from sin, he shews the witness in himself that he has been stumbled into sin, and that he stands as much in need
of the means of restoration as the brother by whose fall he has been stumbled.
From the foregoing view, it is evident, that there is urgent call to watch against giving or taking offence. The best preservative against giving offence is in the cultivation of brotherly love. “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 1st Jo. ii. 10. And the love of the truth is the best antidote against taking offence. “Great peace have they who love thy law, nothing shall offend them," Psalm cxix. 165. Though offences tend to stumble others, there is no license to be stumbled by them, as we are commanded not to give place to temptation, but to remove the stumbling-block out of the way.
REMOVAL OF OFFENCES.
Every offence must be removed, by leading the offender to repentance or by excluding him from the church, if continuing impenitent. The laws requiring this are too numerous to be mentioned, but a few may be selected, shewing the reasons and ends of this great fundamental principle of the christian administration, viz. :
1. For making manifest fidelity to Christ. “There must be also heresies among you, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you,” 1st Cor. xi. 19.
2. For shewing conformity of mind to Christ in “purging his Father's house,” John ii. 17.
3. For shewing a practical testimony against sin, as did the church at Ephesus, who “could not bear them that were evil,” Rev. ii. 2.
4. For preparing to serve Christ in purity. “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some to honour and some to dishonour. If a man, therefore, purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work,” 2nd Tim. ii. 20, 21.
5. For removing occasions of stumbling and trouble from the church. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled,” Heb. xii. 15.
6. For maintaining the purity of the church. “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whold lump? Purge out, therefore, the old leaven that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened,” 1st Cor, v. 6, 7.
7. For finding favour with God. “Be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty,” 2nd Cor. vi. 17, 18.
8. For shewing true love to the offender. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke him, and not suffer sin upon him," Levit. xix. 17.
9. For gaining the reward of saving souls. “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his ways, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins," James v. 19, 20.
10. For avoiding the guilt of soul-murder, in leaving any fallen brother to perish through neglect of means to reclaim him. “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain ; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not ; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works ?” Pro. xxiv, 11, 12,
11. For preventing the church from being charged with retaining impenitent offenders, as were some of the churches of Asia, Rev. ii. 14, 20.
12. For removing the “ woe unto the world because of offences.” In consequence of the ungodly being cut off from the church, so as to shew to the world the difference between the precious and the vile, it is said that, “ great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things, And of the rest durst no man join himself to them ; but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women,” Acts v. 11-14.
There is weight in these considerations, which cannot fail to determine the enlightened fearers of God to attend to this duty, and the neglect of it indicates want of subjection to Christ,- want of likeness to him who came to destroy sin and save souls, -want of love to offending brethren, in failing to do what is necessary to restore and save them,--and want of proper concern for the purity and prosperity of the church, &c.,--an amount of wants, which nearly indicate being wanting in all that pertains to eternal life,
There are many, however, who attempt to justify themselves in neglecting this duty by arguments which serve only to make manifest their being wanting in some of the princi