But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.…
The frightful excesses of unchristian intolerance that disgrace the history of the Church have led to a revulsion of feeling in which indifference is honoured with the name of charity. The advocate of any kind of intolerance is regarded with aversion as a bigot and a persecutor. But the duty of intolerance at the right and necessary time needs to be more clearly discerned.
I. THE GROUNDS OF THE DUTY OF INTOLERANCE.
1. The exclusive claims of the gospel. There is but one gospel; a rival is a counterfeit. There is room for but one; a rival is a usurper. For:
(1) The gospel of Christ is a declaration of facts, and facts once accomplished cannot vary; it is a revelation of truth, and truth is intolerant of error; the highest truth, too, is one.
(2) The gospel of Christ is the most perfect satisfaction of our needs. Another gospel could not be a better one, for this is all we want. Nothing can be better than forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ.
(3) The gospel of Christ is the only possible gospel. God would not sacrifice his Son to death if redemption were to be obtained at a less cost. The gospel is the expression of the love and will of God. As such it is the eternal voice of an immutable Being.
2. The honour of Christ. He who proposes another gospel than that of Christ crucified and Christ risen, directly insults the Name of our Lord. Loyalty to Christ compels intolerance for all enmity to him. That is no true Christian charity which has no regard for the rights of the Lord, who should have the first claim upon our love.
3. The good of men. The gospel offers the highest blessings to men in the greatest need. It is the one anchor of hope to the despairing, the one comfort to the miserable, the one salvation for the test. If it be true, we cannot permit so precious a boon to be lost through the usurpation of a false gospel. The charity that would do this is like that which would allow multitudes of sick people to perish through the maltreatment of a quack, rather than be so unkind to him as to show the least intolerance of his delusions.
II. THE LIMITS OF THE DUTY OF INTOLERANCE.
1. The rights of the gospel, not the claims of the preacher. St. Paul has just been asserting his claims. Here, however, he entirely subordinates them to iris message. Intolerance commonly springs from personal jealousy or party spirit, and therefore it is generally so evil a thing. We are not to be intolerant for ourselves, only for the truth. The truth is infinitely more important than the teacher. The rank, the character, the ability of the man should count for nothing if he is unfaithful to the Christian truth.
2. The gospel itself, not minor accessories.
(1) Great liberty must be left in regard to details, both because these often lie on debatable gourd and because they are less important than charity. There is a point beyond which more harm will be done in disturbing the peace of the Church and wounding our fellow-Christians than good in establishing minor truths against all opposition.
(2) Account also must be taken of varying views of the gospel. Even the apostles did not state it in the same words; Peter and Paul, John and James thus vary, though with unbroken loyalty to the central truth as it is in Jesus. Language, habits of thought, aspects of truth from different standpoints necessarily present great variety. Let us see that we do not condemn a man for his clothes.
3. Spiritual intolerance, not physical persecution. St. Paul pronounces a curse on the enemy of the gospel. But he does not draw the sword upon him. He leaves him with God. There if he have erred, he will be rightly judged. We have no excuse, then, for the exercise of violence against those whom we regard as the enemies of Christ, but only for bold testimony against their errors - leaving all else in the hands of God. In conclusion, see that
(1) we receive the one true gospel, and
(2) faithfully declare it, and
(3) firmly resist manifest perversions of it. - W. F. A.
Parallel VersesKJV: But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.