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LET TER X.
PAUL'S REASONINGS AND EXPOSTULATIONS WITH
CONTENDING CHRISTIANS AT ROME.
My Christian Brethren,
In the time of Paul, the church at Rome was composed partly of Jews and partly of Gentiles, or of converts to Christianity from these two classes of people. As these converts had been differently educated, they possessed clashing prejudices and opinions, relating to certain rituals and observances of the Jewish religion. This diversity of opinion and prejudice, gave rise not only to disputation but to censorious judging ; Paul wrote to them on the subject, and exerted his reasoning powers and his influence, to check the propensity to censoriousness, and to show them how the controversy might be put to rest. As he was an inspired teacher, it may be useful to observe his manner of treating his brethren, some of whom he knew to be in error.
“ Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things; another who is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not, judge him that cateth; for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant ? To his own Master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up, for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another. Another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it to the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord ; for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.—But why dost thou judge thy brother ? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother ? For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Rom. xiv. 1-6, and 10th.
In this passage we have a case in which a difference of opinion had occasioned serious difficulty, and censorious judging. Christians of the present time will probably say, that the questions in dispute, were trifling, and ought to have occasioned no alienation among brethren. The questions, however, did not appear to be trilling to the parties concerned; and they were not, perhaps, in reality more trifling or unimportant than most of the questions in dispute at the present day. Party spirit can magnify the importance of any subject in favor of which it is indulged. Besides, the questions at Rome involved cases of conscience in relation to duty; and such questions cannot appear trilling to conscientious persons. No difficulty, however, would have occurred, no censorious judging, had each party been willing that the other should obey the dictates of conscience, without molestation or censure. But one assumed the right of judging for the other; and this always tends to mischief. I may then observe the manner in which Paul expostulated with these contending Christians.
1. Paul did not assume the right of blaming either party, on account of the opinions entertained. One party or the other must, indeed, have erred in judgment, and Paul doubtless knew which party had the more correct opinion. But it appears that the error of opinion was regarded by him as of little consideration, compared with the error of temper, which each party indulged towards the other. He well knew that people were liable to differ in opinion, and that it was the duty of each to love God with all his own understanding, and to do what he conscientiously believed that God required of him. Paul did not impute the error of opinion to wickedness of heart. He had not so learned Christ, nor his religion.
2. Paul gave the parties clearly to understand, that if they obeyed the dictates of conscience,' acting uprightly for God, error of opinion would not prevent the acceptableness of their different modes of conduct. Though the parties differed in practice as well as opinion in regard to days and meats ; yet he charitably expressed the opinion, that both parties aimed at the same end, and that the conduct of each was acceptable in the sight of God. “ He that regardeth the day, regardeth it to the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not
regard it;" that is, they both' aimed at the glory of the Lord.
3. We should observe with what solemnity the apostle expostulated with the parties, on account of their contention and censorious judging. art thou that judgest another man's servant ? To his own Master he standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be holden up, for God is able to make him stand.” Again, "Why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother ? For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
Thus while he blamed neither party, on account of its opinions, he blamed both for their contention, and their censorious manner of judging one another.
4. It is to be remarked that Paul did not so much as express his opinion on the questions in dispute, till he had assured them that their difference of opinion was not a proper ground of contention or of censure. But having expostulated with them on the unreasonableness of their censorious conduct one towards the other, he expressed his opinion on a question in dispute. “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean in itself." He, however, immediately adds,—" but to him that thinketh anything unclean, to him it is unclean."
By this decision he clearly maintained that the conscience or judgment of every person, in view of the divine requirements, must be the rule of his duty.
Dr. Macknight has an important note on the 6th verse of this chapter, a part of which may here be quoted. Every man ought to believe concerning his neighbor that in all religious matters he acts according to conscience, especially if he professes so to do; and though his conscience may be ill informed; he should be left to its dictates in these matters. The Greek commentators affirm that the rules in this chapter relate to meats and fastings only, and not to doctrines of faith and matters of great importance. But I see no reason for that limitation. The rights of conscience and private judgment are the more sacred, the more important the affairs are about which they are exercised. And, therefore, in everything of importance, as well as in lesser matters, a man's own judgment and conscience, and not the opinion and conscience of another, are appointed by Christ to be the rule of his conduct."
THE APOSTLE JAMES ON CENSORIOUS JUDGING.
My Christian Brethren,
The following impressive language was addressed by James to the Christians of his day.