Page images

man is offended at what I esteem piety, there is a question whether the action be pious or not: therefore, it concerns him that works, to take care that his action be either an act of duty, though not determined to a certain particular; or else, be something counselled in Scripture, or practised by a holy person, there recorded, and nowhere reproved; or a practice warranted by such precedents, which modest, prudent, and religious persons account a sufficient inducement of such particulars: for he that proceeds upon such principles, derives the warrant of his actions from beginnings, which secure the particular, and quits the scandal.

4. This, I say, is a security against the uncharitableness and the sin of scandal; because a zeal of doing pious actions. is a zeal according to God: but it is not always a security against the indiscretion of the scandal. He that reproves a foolish person in such circumstances that provoke him, or make him impudent or blasphemous, does not give scandal, and brings no sin upon himself, though he occasioned it in the other but, if it was probable such effects would be consequent to the reprehension, his zeal was imprudent and rash; but so long as it was zeal for God, and, in its own matter, lawful, it could not be an active or guilty scandal : but if it be no zeal, and be a design to entrap a man's unwariness, or passion, or shame, and to disgrace the man, by that means, or any other, to make him sin, then it is directly the offending of our brother. They that "preached Christ out of envy," intended to do offence to the apostles: but, because they were impregnable, the sin rested in their own bosom, and God wrought his own ends by it. And, in this sense, they are scandalous persons, who "fast for strife," who pray for rebellion, who entice simple persons into the snare, by colours of religion. Those very exterior acts of piety become an offence, because they are done to evil purposes; to abuse proselytes, and to draw away disciples. after them, and make them love the sin, and march under so splendid and fair colours. They who, out of strictness and severity of persuasion, represent the conditions of the Gospel alike to every person, that is, nicer than Christ described them, in all circumstances, and deny such liberties of exterior desires and complacency, which may be reasonably permitted to some men, do very indiscreetly, and may occasion the

alienation of some men's minds from the entertainments of religion but this being accidental to the thing itself, and to the purpose of the man, is not the sin of scandal, but it is the indiscretion of scandal, if, by such means, he divorces any man's mind from the cohabitation and unions of religion: and yet, if the purpose of the man be to affright weaker and unwise persons, it is a direct scandal, and one of those ways which the devil uses toward the peopling of his kingdom; it is a plain laying of a snare to entrap feeble and uninstructed souls.

5. But if the pious action have been formerly joined with any thing that is truly criminal, with idolatry, with superstition, with impious customs or impure rites, and by retaining the piety, I give cause to my weak brother to think I approve of the old appendage, and, by my reputation, invite him to swallow the whole action without discerning; the case is altered: I am to omit that pious action, if it be not under command, until I have acquitted it from the suspicion of evil company. But when I have done what, in prudence, I guess sufficient to thaw the frost of jealousy, and to separate those dissonances, which formerly seemed united, I have done my duty of charity, by endeavouring to free my brother from the snare, and I have done what, in Christian prudence, I was obliged, when I have protested against the appendant crime: if, afterwards, the same person shall entertain the crime, upon pretence of my example, who have plainly disavowed it, he lays the snare for himself, and is glad of the pretence, or will, in spite, enter into the net, that he might think it reasonable to rail at me. I may not, with Christian charity or prudence, wear the picture of our blessed Lord in rings or medals, though with great affection and designs of doing him all the honour that I can, if, by such pictures, I invite persons, apt more to follow me than to understand me, to give divine honour to a picture: but when I have declared my hatred of superstitious worshippings, and given my brother warning of the snare, which his own mistake, or the devil's malice, was preparing for him, I may then, without danger, signify my piety and affections

d Εν δακτύλῳ Θεοῦ εἰκόνα μὴ περιφέρειν, dictum proverbialiter, contra leves et inanes ceremonias civilis et popularis religionis.



in any civil representments, which are not against God's law or the customs of the church, or the analogy of faith. And there needs no other reason to be given for this rule, than that there is no reason to be given against it. If the nature of the thing be innocent, and the purpose of the man be pious, and he hath used his moral industry to secure his brother against accidental mischances and abuses; his duty, in this particular, can have no more parts and instances.

6. But it is too crude an assertion, to affirm indefinitely, that whatsoever hath been abused to evil or superstitious purposes, must presently be abjured, and never entertained, for fear of scandal: for it is certain, that the best things have been most abused. Have not some persons used certain verses of the Psalter, as an antidote against the toothache? and carried the blessed sacrament in pendants about their necks, as a charm to countermand witches? and St. John's Gospel, as a spell against wild beasts, and wilder untamed spirits? Confession of sins to the ministers of religion hath been made an instrument to serve base ends; and so, indeed, hath all religion been abused: and some persons have been so receptive of scandal, that they suspected all religion to be a mere stratagem, because they have observed very many men have used it so. For some natures are like sponges or sugar, whose utmost verge if you dip in wine, it drowns itself by the moisture it sucks up, and is drenched all over, receiving its alteration from within; its own nature did the mischief, and plucks on its own dissolution. And these men are greedy to receive a scandal; and when it is presented but in small instances, they suck it up to the dissolution of their whole religion; being glad of a quarrel, that their impieties may not want all excuse. But yet, it is certainly very unreasonable to reject excellent things, because they have been abused; as if separable accidents had altered natures and essences, or that they resolve never to forgive the duties, for having once fallen into the hands of unskilful or malicious persons. Hezekiah took away the brazen serpent, because the people abused it to idolatry; but the serpent had long before lost its use: and yet, if the people had not been a peevish, and refractory, and superstitious people, in whose nature it was to take all occasions of superstition; and farther yet, if the taking away such occasions and opportunities of

that sin in special, had not been most agreeable with the designs of God, in forbidding to the people the common use of all images in the second commandment, which was given them after the erection of that brazen statue; Hezekiah possibly would not, or at least had not, been bound to have destroyed that monument of an old story and a great blessing, but have sought to separate the abuse from the minds of men, and retained the image. But in Christianity, when none of these circumstances occur, where, by the greatness and plenty of revelations, we are more fully instructed in the ways of duty; and when the thing itself is pious, and the abuse very separable, it is infinite disparagement to us, or to our religion, either that our religion is not sufficient to cure an abuse, or that we will never part with it; but we must unpardonably reject a good, because it had once upon it a crust or spot of leprosy, though, since, it hath been washed in the waters of reformation. The primitive Christians abstained from actions of themselves indifferent, which the unconverted people used, if those actions were symbolical, or adopted into false religions, or not well understood by those they were bound to satisfy: but when they had washed off the accrescences of Gentile superstition, they chose such rites which their neighbours used, and had designs not imprudent or unhandsome; and they were glad of heathen temples, to celebrate the Christian rites in them, and they made no other change, but that they ejected the devil, and invited their Lord into the possession.

7. Thirdly: In things merely indifferent, whose practice is not limited by command, nor their nature heightened by an appendant piety, we must use our liberty so as may not offend our brother, or lead him into a sin directly or indirectly. For scandal being directly against charity, it is to be avoided in the same measure, and by the same proportions, in which charity is to be pursued. Now we must so use ourselves, that we must cut off a foot, or pluck out an eye, rather than the one should bear us, and the other lead us, to sin and death; we must rather rescind all the natural and sensual, or dearest invitations to vice, and deny ourselves lawful things, than that lawful things should betray us to unlawful actions. And this rule is the measure of charity: our neighbour's soul ought to be dearer unto us than any

temporal privilege. It is lawful for me to eat herbs, or fish, and to observe an ascetic diet: but if, by such austerities, I lead others to a good opinion of Montanism, or the practices of Pythagoras, or to believe flesh to be impure, I must rather alter my diet, than teach him to sin by mistaking me. St. Paul gave an instance of eating flesh, sold in the shambles, from the idol-temples: to eat it, in the relation of an idol-sacrifice, is a great sin; but when it is sold in the shambles, the property is altered to them that understand it so. But yet, even this Paul would not do, if, by so doing, he should encourage undiscerning people to eat all meat conveyed from the temple, and offered to devils. It is not in every man's head to distinguish formalities, and to make abstractions of purpose from exterior acts; and to alter their devotions, by new relations and respects, depending upon intellectual and metaphysical notions. And, therefore, it is not safe to do an action which is not lawful, but after the making distinctions, before ignorant and weaker persons, who swallow down the bole and the box that carries it, and never pare their apple, or take the core out. If I, by the law of charity, must rather quit my own goods, than suffer my brother to perish; much rather must I quit my privilege, and those superstructures of favour and grace, which Christ hath given me beyond my necessities, than wound the spirit and destroy the soul of a weak man, " for whom Christ died." It is an inordinate affection, to love my own ease, and circumstances of pleasure, before the soul of a brother; and such a thing are the privileges of Christian liberty: for Christ hath taken off from us the restraints, which God had laid upon the Jews, in meat and holy-days; but these are but circumstances of grace, given us for opportunities, and cheap instances of charity. We should ill die for our brother, who will not lose a meal to prevent his sin, or change a dish to save his soul. And if the thing be indifferent to us, yet it ought not to be indifferent to us, whether our brother live or die.

8. Fourthly: And yet we must not, to please peevish or froward people, betray our liberty which Christ hath given us. If any man opposes the lawfulness and license of indifferent actions, or be disturbed at my using my privileges innocently; in the first case, I am bound to use them still; in the second, I am not bound to quit them, to please him.

« PreviousContinue »