Am I now seeking the approval of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
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.
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men?I.I. THE HUMOUR OF DESIRING TO BE PLEASED, AND THE DANGER OF IT. A parasite is more welcome to us than a prophet. He is our apostle who will bring familiar and beloved arguments to persuade us to that to which we have persuaded ourselves already, and further our motion to that to which we are flying. Men would rather be cozened with a pleasing lie, than saved with a frowning and threatening truth. The causes from which this desire to be pleased proceedeth, and its hitter effects. 1.(1) And, first, it hath no better original than defect, than a wilful and negligent failing in those duties to which nature and religion have obliged us, a leanness and emptiness of the soul, which, not willing to fill itself with righteousness, filleth itself with air, with false counsels and false attestations, with miserable comforts. "It is a thing soon done, and requireth no labour nor study, to be pleased." We desire it as sick men do health, as prisoners do liberty, as men on the rack do ease: for a troubled spirit is an ill disease; not to have our will is the worst imprisonment; and to "condemn a man's self in that which he alloweth" and maketh his choice (Romans 14:22), is to put himself upon the rack. We may see it in our civil affairs and matters of lesser alloy: when anything lieth upon us as a burden, how willing are we to cast it off! When we are poor, we dream of riches, and make up "that which is not" with that which may be (Proverbs 23:5). When we have no house to hide our heads, we build a palace in the air. We are unwilling to suffer, but we are willing, nay, desirous, to be eased. And so it falleth out in the managing of our spiritual estate: we do as the apostle exhorteth (though not to this end), "cast away everything that presseth down" (Hebrews 12:1); but so cast it away as to leave it heavier than before; prefer a momentary ease, which we beg or borrow or force from things without us, before that peace which nothing can bring in but that grief and serious repentance which we put off with hands and words as a thing irksome and unpleasing.(2) And thus, in the second place, proceedeth even from the force and power of conscience within us, which, ii we will not hearken to it as a friend, will turn Fury, and pursue and lash us; and if we will not obey her dictates, will make us feel her whip. This is our judge and our executioner.
2. Let us now see the danger of this humour, and the bitter effects it doth produce.(1) And, first, this desire to be pleased placeth us out of all hope of succour, leaveth us like an army besieged when the enemy hath cut off all relief. It is a curse itself, and carrieth a train of curses with it. It maketh us blind to ourselves, and not fit to make use of other men's eyes.(2) For, in the second place, this humour, this desire to be pleased, doth not make up our defects, but maketh them greater; doth not make vice a virtue,but sin more sinful. For he is a villain indeed that will be a villain, and yet be thought a saint; such a one as God will spew out of His mouth.(3) For, in the third place, this humour, this desire to be pleased, doth not take the whip from conscience, but enrageth her; layeth her asleep, to awake with more terror. For conscience may be "seared" indeed (1 Timothy 4:2), but cannot be abolished; may sleep, but cannot die, but is as immortal as the soul itself. Conscience followeth our knowledge; and it is impossible to chase that away, impossible to be ignorant of that which I cannot but know. It is not conscience but our lusts that make the music.
II. We proceed now to lay open the other evil humour, of pleasing men, Which is more visible and eminent in the text. And indeed to desire to be pleased and to be ready to please, saith Isidore Pelusiot, "to flatter and to be flattered," bear that near relation the one to the other that we never meet them asunder. It is the devil's net, in which he catcheth two at once. If there be an itching ear, you cannot miss but you shall find a flattering tongue. If the king of Sicily delight in geometry, the whole court shall swarm with mathematicians. If Nero be lascivious, his palace shall be turned into a stew or brothelhouse, or worse. And, first, we must not imagine that St. Paul doth bring in here a cynical morosity or a Nabal-like churlishness; that none may speak to us, and we speak nothing but words; that we should "make a noise like a dog, and so go round about the city" (Psalm 59:6-14); that we should be as thorns in our brethren's sides, ever pricking and galling them. What, then, is that which here St. Paul con. demneth? Look into the text, and you shall see Christ and men as it were two opposite terms. If the man be in error, I must not please him in his error; for Christ is truth: if the man be in sin, I must not please him; for Christ is righteousness. So when men stand in opposition to Christ, when men will neither hear His voice nor follow Him in His ways, but delight themselves in their own, and rest and please themselves in error as in truth, to awake them out of this pleasant dream, we must trouble them, we must thunder to them, we must disquiet and displease them. For who would give an opiate pill to these lethargies? To please men, then, is to tell a sick man that he is well; a weak man, that he is strong; an erring man, that he is orthodox; instead of purging out the noxious humour, to nourish and increase it; to smooth and strew the ways of error with roses, that men may walk with ease and delight, and even dance to their destruction; to find out their palate, and to fit it; to envenom that more which they affect, as Agrippina gave Claudius the emperor poison in a mushroom. What a seditious flatterer is in a commonwealth, that a false apostle is in the Church. They are as loud for the truth as the best champions she hath; but either subtract from it, or add to it, or pervert and corrupt it, that so the truth itself may help to usher in a lie. When the truth itself doth not please us, any lie will please us; but then it must carry with it something of the truth. For instance: to acknowledge Christ, but with the law, is a dangerous mixture: it was the error of the Galatians here.
III. You see now what it is to please men, and from whence it proceedeth, from whence it springeth, even from that bitter root, the root of all evil, the love of the world. Let us now behold that huge distance and inconsistency which is between these two, the pleasing of men, and the service of Christ: "If I yet please men, I am not the servant of Christ."
1. And, first, we cannot do both, not serve men and Christ, no more than you can draw the same straight line to two points, to touch them both (Matthew 6:24).
2. Secondly. The servant must have his eye upon his master; and as he seeth him do, must do likewise. Power cannot flatter; and mercy is so intent on its work that it thinketh of nothing else. To work wonders to please men were the greatest wonder of all.Application:
1. For conclusion, then: Let them who are set apart to lead others in the way of truth and righteousness take heed.
2. And of the person by His doctrine.
3. And therefore, in the last place, let us all, both teachers and hearers, purge out this evil humour of pleasing and being pleased: and "let us," as the apostle exhorteth, "consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works" (Hebrews 10:24). Let us "speak truth every one to his neighbour; for we are members one of another" (Ephesians 4:25).
(A. Faringdon.)— One applause of conscience is worth all the triumphs in the world.
(A. Faringdon.)Leviticus 19:17). Common charity requireth thus much at thy hand: and to make question of it is as if thou shouldst ask with Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9). This is the true and surest method of pleasing one another. For flattery, like the bee, carrieth honey in its mouth, but hath a sting in its tail; but truth is sharp and bitter at first, but at last more pleasant than manna. He that would seal up thy lips for the truth which thou speakest, will at last kiss those lips, and bless God in the day of His visitation. And this if we do, we shall "please one another to edification" (Romans 15:2), and not unto ruin. And thus all shall be pleased; the Physician, that he hath his intent, and the patient in his health: the strong shall be pleased in the weak, and the weak in the strong; the wise in the ignorant, and the ignorant in the wise: and Christ shall be well pleased to see brethren thus walk together in unity, strengthening and inciting one another in the ways of righteousness; and when we have thus walked hand-in-hand together to our journey's end, He shall admit us into His presence, where there "is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11).
(Emilius Bayley, B. D.)I. CHRISTIAN FIRMNESS IS NOT SELF-WILLED INDIFFERENCE TO HUMAN OPINION. On the contrary, the Christian is anxious to please and yield to others wherever his own interests alone are concerned. Many things he might rightly claim, he will shrink from pressing; many things that he may suffer, he will quietly submit to, rather than irritate the minds of men against the piety that he professes, or close the door against the future possibility of being the instrument of their conversion. Self-renunciation for the honour of God, or for the good of man, is the special spirit of a Christian. Nay, more; he will spare the feelings and humours of men whenever he lawfully can, doing things in their way rather than his own, being careful of appearances as well as realities. (Romans 12:17, 18; 2 Corinthians 8:21; 1 Timothy 3:7; etc.)
II. NOR IS IT SELFISH INATTENTION TO HUMAN WELFARE. Salvation is not to be achieved in isolated effort, but is wrought out in the very nourishment and growth of those affections, occupations, and energies, which our duties in the world produce. There cannot be a genuine desire to save our own soul, a true Christian spirit of personal piety, which will not, from its very nature, expand beyond the confines of our own bosom, and overflow in copious streams towards all with whom we have to do.
III. IT IS SIMPLY PARAMOUNT OBEDIENCE TO DIVINE AUTHORITY. Pleasing men must always be subordinate to pleasing God. Every concession must be with a reservation of our Master's rights and privileges, honour and authority; every treaty must be so, for it is only good as it may be acknowledged and ratified by Him. All things may be tried for Him; hut nothing listened to against Him.
(Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)1. Which seekest thou most — man's favour, or God's favour?
2. Which is weightier — man's favour, or God's favour?
(J. P. Lange, D. D.)Ezekiel 2:6). And the Apostle Paul was fully conscious of the danger when he said, "I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). At the same time; we must be careful that our unpopularity springs from legitimate causes: from the unreasonable opposition of the world to the truth of God, not from the just dislike of men to offensive peculiarities or positive faults. A Christian may be unpopular because he is vain, conceited, selfish, ungenial, narrow-minded, dogmatic, or the like. He may impute his unpopularity to his religion; whereas it comes rather from his want of religion: it originates not in the doctrine which he professes, but in his failure "to adorn" that doctrine in his daily life. Want of tact, again, in Christians often provokes opposition. The attempt to press the claims of religion upon others at unseasonable times, the employment of technical religious phraseology, the use of theological words and expressions not commonly heard in society, the thrusting of religious idiosyncrasies upon the unwilling and unsympathizing, are causes which frequently operate to the detriment of the principles which we have at heart. Christians should beware of mistaking forwardness for fidelity, and an obtrusive familiarity with sacred things for the honest outflowings of the heart full of love to God and man. Christian prudence is as needful, as worldly compromise is dangerous and wrong. In a word, we must not court unpopularity, or provoke it needlessly, or think that it never arises from any fault of our own. But, on the other hand, we must not dread it, lest we place ourselves among those who "love the praise of men more than the praise of God." Ministers must ask, not how they may best please their congregations, but how they may save souls; not how they may stand well with the world, but how they may best serve their Master.
(Emilius Bayley, B. D.)
(Trapp.)A faithful servant: — Not the least interesting of the monuments I saw amid the venerable ruins of Rome was one which held within its broken urn some half-burned bones. They were the ashes of one, who, as appeared from the inscription on the tablet, had belonged to Caesar's household, and to the memory of whose virtues as a faithful, honest, and devoted servant, the emperor himself had ordered that marble to be raised.
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)I. TO PLEASE MEN by —
1. Watering down the doctrines of the gospel until they mean whatever hearers like to make them.
2. Toning down the precepts of the gospel until they are undistinguishable from the maxims of worldly policy.
3. Introducing secular expedients to attract audiences over whom an attenuated gospel has host its power.
4. Sinking the stern preacher of righteousness in the bland mover-about in society.
II. TO SERVE CHRIST by —
1. The proclamation of unalterable trust.
2. The insistence of, and personal conformity to, a high moral standard.
3. The disdain of mere clap-trap and popular arts.
4. The imitation of the self-denying example of the Master. The one may please men; the other will save them. Bondage to man or to Christ: —
I. THE NECESSITY TO PLEASE MEN represents in a very typical manner the non-freedom of the unredeemed man. This is a real slavery because —
1. It disturbs the development of an independent plan of life.
2. It is a part of the bondage of sin.
3. It involves servitude to the customs and fashions of the world.
II. FREEDOM FROM THIS YOKE is only gained by entering the service of Christ. Just as the servant of a king boasts of his office as the highest liberty, so can we when we serve the Lord Christ.
III. Deliverance from the fear of man and the necessity of pleasing him, and servitude to Christ and pleasing Him, may be taken as a GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY. In conclusion —
1. Has the desire to have the good opinion of my neighbours any part in my profession of religion?
2. Even if my religious service is not done to be seen of men, is it a thing of form or principle?
3. Have I courage to dissent from the usages of society if my conscience protests? Do I always set before me, "What does Christ demand?" and not, "What will men say?"
(Professor Robertson Smith.)I. THE SERVANT.
1. He realizes the most perfect ideal of life. Others live for pleasure, wealth, fame; he for Christ.
2. He has the best Master.
3. He yields to the most valid claims — property, protection, redemption.
4. He has the strongest warrants — reason, conscience, love.
5. He is promised and enjoys the noblest reward — his Master's smile, his Sovereign's throne.
II. HIS SERVICE.
1. It is dignified in its sphere.
2. Grand in its motive — "pleasing God."
3. Splendid in its instrument — the gospel.
4. Glorious in the freedom of its consecration.
5. Beneficent in the uses which it serves.
(Professor Robertson Smith.)
North British Review.Watch the author of a first poem or novel. What eagerness to see all the reviews; what anxiety till they come out; what manoeuvring to ascertain what people have said! And how many persons are there that, even after their apprenticeship in literature or art is over, can honestly affirm that the feeling has quite left them? Raphael must have liked to hear his pictures praised: nor was the approbation of the public a matter of indifference to the octogenarian Goethe, But though the artist or the literateur may so far make a merit of popularity it is quite different with the moral teacher or agent in great social changes. Popularity may happen to flow toward such a man, but it should not be treated as a reward or incentive, but rather as a means of deciding what proportion of society has been moved in the direction of his own spirit, and how much yet remains to be brought into subjection. In certain cases, indeed, it might be proper to lay it down as a maxim that he cannot honestly or efficiently accomplish his office without exciting opposition at every step he takes.
(North British Review.)
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
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