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of ceremonies and restrictions, which the Jews themselves had been scarcely able to bear.
That one of these opposite parties was right, and the other, wrong ; St. Paul does not deny : and that the latter was right, he had proved at large in all the former chapters of this epistle. But that they both meant well, and both, though by different methods, pursued the same great object, he urges on both, and more particularly on his own, or the better instructed party, as a reason for patience and forbearance, and, to use his own expression, for “receiving one another.” He reminds those, who were of the same opinion with himself, that the superstition of their antagonists, though it might be weak, and might be wrong, was of infinitely little importance, when compared with the righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, which should be the objects of a Christian's care. He does more; he entreats them to comply, where compliance was innocent, with the prejudices of their weaker brethren ; preferring, rather, to abate some little of their own Christian liberty, than to run the risk, either of leading by their example, those brethren into practices against their private conscience, or, of shocking their settled habits, and of driving them from the Catholic Church, or, it might be, from the profession of Christianity. “We then,” he continues, “that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please our
selves : let every one of us please his neighbour, for his good to edification.”ı
And this rule of conduct he confirms by the example of Christ, whose zeal for the glory of God, and the good of men's souls, caused him patiently to endure the contradiction of sinners; and of whom it was, for our instruction, long before, foretold by David that he should do so. For “whatsoever things were written aforetime," he continues, “were written for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.” And “the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one towards another; according to Christ Jesus, that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God.”?
As if he had said, the main truth, which Scripture teaches us, is the necessity of mutual forbearance ; nor can we have hope or comfort from the word of God, unless we also learn patience from it. And may God, whose Holy Ghost gives both patience and consolation, grant, that ye may in perfect charity join each other in His common service and glory. “Wherefore,” for to this point whatever has been said conducts us, “wherefore,” he continues in the words of the text, “receive ye one another, even as Christ also received us to the glory of God.”
| Romans, xv. 1, 2.
2 Romans, xv. 4-6.
This, then, is the rule with which St. Paul winds up his argument; and this, it is plain, must be understood as a command to tolerate, or put up with, as far as possible, our neighbour's religious errors : and, as an assurance, that not every difference in doctrine, or in ceremony, is sufficient to authorise Christians in separating from each other; and that, where an opinion is harmless, he, who follows it, is, whether right or wrong, to be regarded as a brother in Christ; and, inasmuch as he is weaker in the faith than ourselves, should, in consideration of that very weakness, be treated more tenderly.
The usefulness and timeliness of this advice, when first delivered by St. Paul, you will have already seen from the short account, which I have given, of the disputes which prevailed among the early Christians. And, indeed, no time can be named in the history of the Christian church, during which such a caution, as is here given, would not have been extremely useful and seasonable; since by far the greater number of the quarrels, which have arisen among the household of faith, have arisen from differences of opinion as to subjects as comparatively unimportant, in themselves, as the question whether a man were to dine on pork or on herbs. It is lamentable to tell, that many lives were formerly lost in a quarrel whether Easter should be kept in the same week with the Jewish Passover; or whether its yearly return should be fixed by another rule: and that among the principal causes which brought on the great rebellion in this country, and the death of King Charles the First on the scaffold, was the offence taken by some serious and melancholy, but narrow-minded persons, at the surplice which, by ancient custom, is worn by our clergy during Divine service. And, though I do not think that religious bitterness of this kind, or to this extent, is a prevailing fault of the present day; yet are there so many who, for reasons full as trifling, or for no reason at all, desert the communion of the national Church for other and smaller congregations; and the advice of St. Paul is applicable to so many points of behaviour, which, if not uncharitable in themselves, yet tend to the breach of Christian charity, that our time will not be ill employed in explaining the several cases in which it becomes us to remember this inspired counsel of the Apostle.
In the first place, since the unity of love and faith and worship among Christians was, in the opinion of St. Paul, of so great and exceeding value, that he esteems, as of less consequence even then, that Christian liberty from the Jewish law, which it is the leading object of all his epistles to enforce; it is certain, that those Christian churches are greatly blameable, which impose, or needlessly retain, such terms of communion as are found by experience to drive away men of tender con
science from their worship; and that those private Christians are still more so, who, under the pretence of a tender conscience, or without so good an apology, withdraw themselves without just cause, from the established church and the majority of their fellow Christians, to follow new teachers and attend irregular places of worship. For that the excuses, which are commonly urged for this conduct, are by no means sufficient to justify it, will be apparent, if we recollect that the far greater differences of St. Paul's time were not, by him, accounted sufficient to justify separation. The question then disputed was the continuance, or the destruction, of the whole law of Moses. The reasons, which are most frequently brought, in the present day, for deserting the church in favour of some smaller meeting house, are that the regular clergy, for the most part, write down their sermons, that the prayers of the Church are too long, or that better and more moving preachers are to be found with the dissenters than with us. Now the answer to all these objections, and to every other objection which I have ever heard against the establishment, is that, which the words of St. Paul supply, namely, that, whichever side is right in questions so frivolous, it is better to bear with a small error, than run the danger of a grievous sin; better to tolerate the harmless superstition of those with whom we worship God, than, by separating from them, to offend