Romans 14:16
Having taken his readers up to the judgment-bar of Jesus, the only Lord of the conscience, he now proceeds to show how we are to help weak brethren. It will not be by condemning their scruples, but by following Christ in seeking their salvation. We are to defer to conscience so far as our weaker brother's spiritual interests are concerned, and surrender meat or wine, if by our total abstinence we can promote his salvation.

I. WE ARE BOUND TO CONSIDER WHETHER OUR MANNER OF LIVING MAY NOT BE A STUMBLING-BLOCK TO OUR WEAK BROTHER. Having taken his readers to Christ's judgment-bar, he now asks them to examine themselves as to the influence of their mode of living. Is their freedom an offence to the weak? Then in the spirit of the Master, who gave his life to save the weak brother, they ought to surrender their freedom in deference to their scruples. Surely, if Jesus surrendered life for the weak brother, dying to redeem him, we ought to be ready to surrender meat or to surrender wine, if by so doing we can promote our weaker brother's welfare. Paul's position was a noble one. He knew that nothing was unclean of itself. He was none of your squeamish and scrupulous individuals. He could eat whatever was set before him; he could drink without the least excess. But he was ready to surrender both meat and wine for the weak brother's sake. And this is the very spirit of Christ. It is here that we base our temperance reformation; not on partaking being a sin, but being inexpedient in view of the weak brother's dangers.

II. DOUBT AS TO OUR DUTY SHOULD LEAD US TO ABSTAIN RATHER THAN INDULGE UNTIL WE ARE FULLY PERSUADED IN OUR OWN MINDS. The apostle wants every man to be fully persuaded in his own mind as to his course of action. One who is not, one who has no real faith in the course of action he is pursuing, is self condemned. Paul wishes to bring all such to the side of abstinence. Better abstain from meat or drink until such times as the path of duty is clear. Now, there are multitudes that act quite differently. They go on indulging themselves because they have not made up their minds. Now, this is moral indifference, and deserves reprobation.

III. THE DEATH OF CHRIST IS THE GREAT MORAL LEVER WITH CONSCIENTIOUS SOULS. The apostle bases his whole plea for the endangered brother on the death of Christ for him. If Christ died for him, we should surely abstain for him. The death of Jesus is thus seen to be the great moral leverage for the world. Into the midst of things indifferent - for "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" - the self-sacrifice of our Master enters and compels conscientious souls to make some sacrifices for the sake of the brethren. Their edification becomes our aim, since the things are indifferent. We are not selfishly to assert our liberty, but self-denyingly we are to forego it, and bind ourselves to abstinence for whatever may be a brother's snare. If we could get such a deference to conscience practised in the Christian Church, society would very soon be regenerated. - R.M.E.







Let not then your good be evil spoken off
We may through —

1. Ignorance.

2. Levity of temper.

3. Moroseness.

4. Want of stability.

5. Improvidence.

6. A number of little things which, like dust upon a diamond, obscure its lustre, though each particle is almost nothing.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

1. The Bible speaks much of the beauty of holiness. It represents Jesus as the altogether lovely. His beauty consists in His perfect excellence, in the absolute symmetry of His whole character.

2. Believers are epistles of Christ. They are His witnesses. It is their solemn duty to make a fair representation of what He is, and what His religion is before the world.

3. There are two ways in which professors dishonour Christ, and make a false representation of Him and His religion — when by breaking the law they give men to understand that Christ allows such transgressions, and when they cause even their good to be evil spoken of, i.e., when they so act on right principles as to give those principles a bad character, or so conduct themselves as to mislead others as to the true nature of the gospel. This is done —

I. WHEN MEN SO USE THEIR CHRISTIAN LIBERTY AS TO INJURE THEIR BRETHREN. The distinctions between months, days, and meats had been abolished. It was right that this fact should be asserted and taught, and that Christians should act upon this liberty; but if they so used it as to destroy their brethren, they sinned against Christ, and caused their good to be evil spoken of. So now in regard to temperance, men may make such a use of truth, and so act on true principles as to do great harm.

II. WHEN UNDUE STRESS IS LAID ON TRIFLES. Paul says that religion does not consist in meat and drink; and to act as though it did is to slander the gospel. This is true of fanatics of all classes, and all bigots. They belie religion, as the tattooed New Zealander or painted Indian misrepresent the human face divine.

III. BY THE SANCTIMONIOUS, who make a false representation of religion and cause it to be evil spoken of when they hold it up thus caricatured before men.

IV. BY THE CENSORIOUS. Not only in making non-essentials of too much importance, but also in misrepresenting the spirit of their Master. His religion does not justify their harsh judgments.

V. BY THOSE WHO CARRY ANY RIGHT PRINCIPLE TO EXCESS.

1. By the Puritans in regard to the Sabbath, to things indifferent in worship, to days of religious observance.

2. By Quakers in regard to dress and conformity to the world.

3. By those who deny the Church any liberty in her organisation. In every case of this kind the human degrades the Divine. What is indifferent is made essential, and what is essential is made indifferent.

(C. Hodge, D.D.)

(Missionary Sermon): — Our good is evil spoken of —

I. IF WE PROPAGATE AMONG OTHERS THAT WHICH WE DO NOT RECEIVE FOR OURSELVES. Create any great system of efforts, and there will be many blindly carried away with it. Many are, therefore, induced to enrol themselves in our missionary associations. "Come, see my zeal," said the ancient king, "for the Lord of Hosts." Was not his zeal selfishness rather? But "Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord," etc.

II. WHEN WE VIOLATE THAT SOLEMNITY WHICH IS APPROPRIATE TO ALL SUCH TRANSACTIONS. May it not be feared that, in some cases, too great a temper of flippancy has pervaded our assemblies, and characterised our institutions? Could a traveller, in exploring the vestiges of an ancient city, pass along its fallen theatres, its broken aqueducts, its prostrate temples, with levity? Could a philanthropist proceed through the walls of the lazaretto, or the cells of a prison, in a careless and unfeeling mood? Could a negotiator address the revolted and the insurgent with a sportive look and in a jocular tone? Let us copy His faithfulness who upbraided Capernaum, and imitate His compassion who wept over Jerusalem; remembering that we are now labouring in the same course, and should know the fellowship of the same sufferings.

III. WHEN WE FORGET THAT DUE ESTIMATE WHICH WE SHOULD TAKE OF WHAT IS DISTANT AND OF WHAT IS NEAR IN THE CONDITION OF MANKIND. Cast your eyes on your native land. Tens of thousands are before you, most imbruted, most immoral. And these are your kinsmen; a thousand ties of brotherhood make them one with yourselves. Cast your thoughts upon the distant realms of idolatry. You cannot tell how great is that darkness, for there is no contrasting light; you cannot tell the dimensions of that misery, for there is no measure by which you can gauge them. And in some districts of our favoured kingdom there are more Christian pastors than these societies have scattered around the circumference of the globe. Now, our good may be evil spoken of if we adopt any invidious partiality in our judgments. There are no souls more precious than those which throng the margins of the Indus, the Ganges, and the Nile; but the souls are alike precious which throng the majestic strands of the Severn, the Humber, and the Thames.

IV. IF WE FORGET THE PROPORTION WHICH SHOULD EXIST BETWEEN EFFORT AND PRAYER. There is a devotion which becomes selfishness. It wraps itself in a contemplative dream; it will make no sacrifice, engage in no exertion. There is an exertion which becomes impious. It is full of noise and ostentation. Now, it is necessary that devotion and activity be blended. Our labour must be habitual, not accidental — our devotion must be habitual, and not fitful. Look at the apostles — what were their prayers? Pentecost fully come — what were their deeds? Think of angels — they do always behold the face of their God; but they are winds — they are flames of fire. Think of the Son of God, how He spent whole nights in prayer! you see Him going about doing good. Let our prayers sanctify our efforts — let our efforts authenticate our prayers; let us take heaven by violence through the means of the one, and earth by violence through the means of the other.

V. WHEN WE CALL IN THE AID OF WORLDLY EXCITEMENT. Have all our institutions to say that they are unspotted from the world? Has there been no strange fire which we have offered before the Lord? Has there been no suppression of truth, no evasion of facts, no adornment of narrative? Surely, if our purpose be to captivate the world to the Saviour, we must be on our guard, lest, in attempting it, we ourselves be led captive by the world.

VI. IF WE ENTERTAIN A LIGHT VIEW OF THE ETERNAL DANGER OF THE HEATHEN. Make Christianity a question of comparative advantage, of ameliorated state, a measure to give an increase of light already sufficient, a confirmation to hopes already well founded, and the missionary apparatus will soon come to neglect; men will necessarily decry it, as an unmeaning toy and a gaudy superfluity.

VII. IF WE OBTRUDE PARTY OPINIONS AND SINGULARITIES. How pleasing is it that ours is a common cause, and that now, more than ever, ours is a common spirit. When the infidel and the scorner see we are moving in our different tracts, and yet are moving under a common influence and for a common purpose, we shall thus vindicate our good, and, in the absence of all that is little in sectarianism, we shall have our good compelled to be spoken well of.

VIII. WHEN THERE IS ANY DISPOSITION TO DISPARAGE THE MISSIONARY CHARACTER. We have formed a heroism of principle and a dint of courage which were unknown; we can bring forth, confidently, men who have died unshrinkingly as martyrs. Can we ever use one term of detraction towards these men? Can we ever yield to them a supercilious patronage and a grudging support? We are honoured that they will go — we are honoured that we may sustain them. Let us remember that the very life — credit — character of our missionary institutions, must depend on the men whom we entrust with this work; and when they have been thus faithful in their work, let us give to them all that cordiality of confidence which they so well deserve, and which it would be unjust to refuse.

IX. WHEN WE APPLY A HARSHER RULE TO OUR CONVERTS THAN WE APPLY TO OURSELVES. The former may occasionally be carried away by error; but let us think of our own deviations at home. We should, indeed, be disheartened if ever we had to report of any of our native Churches abroad what the apostles had to report of Corinth and of Galatia.

X. IF WE AT ALL ENCOURAGE THE HOPE OF AN UNSCRIPTURAL CONSUMMATION. Remember that the present dispensation is a spiritual one; that it is complete, and nothing can be added to it; that it is an unearthly one, and therefore cannot admit of secular aggrandisement; and it is a final one — it therefore allows of no ulterior revelation. What know you other than this — than that all the world should be Christians? — other than this, that the gospel shall be universally preached? This is your consummation: you desire here no other paradise but to see the earth filled with the trees of righteousness.

XI. IF WE DO NOT FOLLOW UP OUR EXERTIONS AND IMPROVE OUR SUCCESS. We have made a lodgment, and God's salvation has been openly showed in the sight of the heathen; and there have been those who have gone up to occupy the breach. Shall we leave them to perish? We have sown the seed; the harvest is come — it invites the sickle. Who would not enter with ecstasy into such a field, and crowd as labourers into such a harvest?

(R. W. Hamilton, D.D.)

(Christian liberty.)

I. IS EVIL SPOKEN OF —

1. By the enemies of the truth, when they see a want of harmony in the Church.

2. By the weak, when they condemn the free conduct of their stronger brethren.

3. By the strong, when they give offence to the consciences of the weak.

II. MUST BE PROTECTED.

1. Against what?

(1)Reproach.

(2)In consequence of —

(a)Offence.

(b)Misuse.

2. How?

(1)By not laying too much stress on matters unessential.

(2)By a supreme regard for those things that are indispensable.

3. Why? Thereby —

(1)We serve Christ.

(2)Win the approbation of men.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

Some men seek to impress the world by their goodness when they really have no goodness. Such were the Pharisees. But the apostle has in view men who have goodness, but who do themselves injustice. We need to be careful about the manifestation of our religion, as well as about the reality of it. It is possible to be very good, and yet so to act as to put men out of conceit with religion itself. There is a book entitled "Roses: How to grow and How to Show them." Anybody might say, "Ah! the question is, how to grow them. Bring your flower into fulness of glory, and it will show itself and win the prize." But it is just for want of this particular skill that many a clever grower has missed the prize. So it is with character. Our good to be evil spoken of.

I. BY SADNESS. A serious spirit is a true spirit, and one we should ever cherish. But how easy it is to turn it into sourness, and thus make a grand character repulsive! With all our solemnity there ought to be cheerfulness. A man who is all laughter counts for little, a man who is all groans counts for less; but he who lets a hopeful spirit shine through all his religion does much to recommend his faith.

II. BY NARROWNESS. The world often miscalls a noble self-denial strait-lacedness, and we must be prepared for it. But there is sometimes self-denial that is really narrowness, and that damages the reputation of good men. This illiberality of mind sometimes reveals itself in an orthodoxy that prevents a man from looking calmly and boldly at religious questions, sometimes in a harsh, exclusive denominationalism; sometimes in an asceticism which makes a man intolerant of recreations; sometimes in a fear of worldly conformity. Let us beware of this suspicious, conceited, uncharitable spirit. Let us hold a theology as broad as judgment, mercy, and truth. Christ stood at the utmost remove from the pettifogging Pharisee. He was the ideal Catholic. Let it be thus with us.

III. BY HARDNESS.

1. You may see this in business men sometimes. A Christian trader is in all things severely conscientious. And yet nobody likes him. The reason is his conscientiousness looks very much like selfishness, and is currently reckoned as such. Now, he might be all that a smart business man needs to be, and yet be popular into the bargain. He wants to understand the by-play of life — how to soften the severe rigid laws of the business sphere with little acts of forbearance, patience, generosity.

2. And you may see this hardness in family life. It was said of the mother of one of our most distinguished women that she did her duty to her children, made sacrifices for their welfare, and yet there was no sympathy in it all. And the gifted daughter grew up feeling that the lack of warmth and love in her early training was a lifelong loss. Oh, what a grand thing is graciousness in all our spirit and conduct! Some excellent people are sadly wanting here. They do not know how to show their roses — they thrust the posy into your face and you are more scratched with the thorns than regaled by the fragrance. We often hear about "diamonds in the rough"; there are Christians after that order, but it is a serious defect to be in the rough — Christ's diamonds, like Himself, ought to be full of beauty and grace.

IV. BY UNSEASONABLENESS. Character is timeliness, a fine perception of what is becoming to the persons, to the place, to the hour. If we do not attend to this our mirthfulness may be reckoned levity, our strictness intolerance, our liberality weakness, our large-mindedness licence. We have need to pray constantly that "we may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom," etc.; so shall we serve the apple of gold in the basket of silver. Let us not despise this matter. Do not say, Let us get the solid thing, and never mind the rest. A jeweller works altogether with gold and gems; but it is not enough to mix these anyhow. So we, as Christians, must be careful how we arrange our precious material, for of the virtues we may make an eyesore or a picture. We must work with judgment, sympathy, courtesy, or our good will be evil spoken of.

(W. L. Watkinson.)

Homiletic Monthly.
I. NOTHING IS MORE EASILY DESTROYED THAN A GOOD REPUTATION. You may be years, a life-time even, in building it up, and yet a moment, a single act, may suffice to destroy it. A breath of scandal may blast it, an indiscretion may tarnish it, a "dead fly" in the ointment may make it offensive. How sedulously should we guard it!

II. NOTHING ON EARTH IS SO VALUABLE OR SO POTENT AS A GOOD NAME. Wealth beside it is dross. Office, station, fame, are nothing worth in comparison. Talent, learning, and gifts of oratory, pale and fade in the presence of it.

1. For our own sake we should sacredly guard it — for it is our crown jewel, the one potential element of usefulness we possess.

2. For society's sake we should do nothing, omit nothing, that will tend to obscure it. For Christ's sake and the Church's sake, we are bound to guard it as we would guard life itself: to wound it is to wound Christ in the house of His friends, and bring reproach upon His Church. Oh, it is these tarnished reputations, these soiled garments, these discredited names, in the household of faith, that so weaken the testimony of the Church and fill the mouths of scoffers and infidels.

(Homiletic Monthly.)

Character and reputation are not convertible terms.

1. A bad man may have a good reputation. He may have the art of so concealing the reigning elements of his character as to give to his compeers a false impression. Hence, in all circles there are counterfeits that pass for true coin. The miser in heart passes for a philanthropist; the sensualist in heart for a man of chastity.

2. A good man may have a bad reputation. Genuine saints have often been regarded as great sinners. Against this the text is a warning.

I. THERE IS A DANGER IN THIS, arising —

1. From some things in society.(1) Its envy. All men instinctively feel that goodness is an excellency, and those who have it not naturally envy those who possess it. The ugly envy beauty, the poor wealth, the obscure fame, the depraved excellence. The delight of envy is ever to mal-represent its object.(2) Its self-complacency. All men desire to be on good terms with themselves, and to be regarded by society as worthy of honour. But the virtues of the good flashing on the lives of the corrupt tend to destroy this. A bad man in the presence of a good man must feel self-condemned.(3) Its stupidity. The great bulk of society are so dull in relation to spiritual virtues that moral distinctions are disregarded by them, and they often confound good with evil.

2. From some things in the good man himself. The more goodness a man has in him, the less suspicious he is, the more confiding, and the more regardless of conventional proprieties. He is natural, and like all natural objects shows himself as he is. He is likely to care no more for what men think of him than trees for the opinion of the birds, or flowers for the opinion of spectators. Great goodness is constantly making conventional mistakes and trampling artificial properties underfoot.

II. THERE IS AN EVIL IN THIS. A man's power to do good depends greatly upon the faith that society has in his goodness. If society suspects his genuineness or disinterestedness, he may preach like Paul, but he will accomplish but little good. Hence it has often happened that truly good men and powerful preachers have, by disregarding certain recognised proprieties of society, destroyed their usefulness for ever. Conclusion: Hence, because of this danger and evil, let us walk "circumspectly," not as fools, but as wise; let us avoid the very appearance of evil, knowing that the loss of reputation tends to disqualify us for usefulness.

(D. Thomas, D.D.)

Perhaps there never was a time since the world began in which so much was done for the cause of God and of truth, as at the present. Yet it becomes us to rejoice with trembling, and to act with care. In proportion to our zeal, is the enemy's malignity; while we act, the world watches, and connects the cause with the demeanour and temper of those who have espoused it. Sacred duties may be discharged in such a way as that they may be evil spoken of, and neutralised completely in their influence and effect. Take the case of —

I. SOCIAL PRAYER. Our good may be evil spoken of —

1. When the prayer-meeting is left without some wise and judicious leader.

2. When they are converted into anything but what they profess to be — meetings for prayer — when the time is much occupied in exhortation, or discussion.

3. When the language employed in prayer is pompous and inflated.

4. When undue familiarity with God is used in prayer.

5. When prayers are spun out to an unreasonable and wearisome length. Whitfield once said to a good man who had fallen into this error, "Sir, you first prayed me into a good frame, and then you prayed me out of it."

6. When much time is occupied in prayer with such petitions as are only applicable to the case of the leader.

II. THE VISITATION OF THE SICK. This duty is improperly discharged.

1. When the conversation is confined entirely, or chiefly, to the disease under which the patient labours.

2. When an indiscriminate offer is made of the consolations of the gospel, which belong to believers only.

3. When special reference is not had to the peculiar circumstances of the case in prayer.

4. When there is harshness or severity in the manner of address.

III. DOMESTIC RELIGION AND INSTRUCTION.

1. Where there are no stated periods for the observance of family religion and instruction, but it is left to convenience, or caprice — to inclination, or to chance.

2. When the reading and explanation of the Scriptures do not form a great part of domestic instruction.

3. When the duty is hurried over with carelessness and haste.

4. When there are no inquiries made, as to their increase in the knowledge and understanding of Divine things.

IV. ACTIVE EMPLOYMENT IN RELIGIOUS AND BENEVOLENT INSTITUTIONS. Such as Bible associations and Sunday Schools. Conclusion: Observe some general principles, the observance of which are of importance in efforts to do good.

1. Look well to your motives. If they are wrong, your conduct cannot be acceptable to God, nor is it likely to do your Christian profession credit before men.

2. See that your spirit and temper are always suitable to the character you sustain, and the objects which you have in view.

3. Do as much good as you possibly can in private.

4. Never talk much in what you do, or of what you do. Let your works, and not your words, praise you in the gate — and rather imitate the deep and silent river, that pursues its noiseless way, and is only known by the fertility and luxuriance it diffuses in its course — than the impetuous brook, that attracts the eye by its clamour, only to behold its shallowness.

5. Persevere in all you undertake, and then your activity will not be attributed to the mere impulse of the moment, but look more like the result of conviction and principle.

6. Let there be a cheerful alacrity in all you do, that it may appear to spring from a willing mind, and be esteemed rather your relaxation than your work.

7. Avoid the introduction of your own particular religious tenets.

8. Never do evil that good may come.

9. Seek to do good, abstracted from all the evil which may be connected with it.

10. Never refrain from doing good, for fear of its being evil spoken of.

11. Refer all that is good in what you do to God, and all that is evil to yourselves.

12. Cherish an abiding sense of your own helplessness, and ever rely on the power of God for strength, the Spirit of God for direction, and the work of Christ for acceptance.

13. Keep your great account in view — and the Lord grant you may find mercy of the Lord in that day.

(T. Raffles, LL.D.)

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