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our conduct in all such cases is to be regulated, we find first, as the most comprehensive rule of all, “ Whether ye eat, or whether ye drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." This rule, as it embraces all others, so seems to require others to explain and unfold it: for we must needs know what means we have in our power of promoting God's glory. Directly, we cannot glorify God except by praise, and that is beside the present subject; and therefore the Apostle must mean us to glorify Him in some other or indirect way, as indeed he distinctly shews in this passage. But one important observation arises already from the mere statement of this rule. If we can in any manner glorify God by our mode of acting even in indifferent matters, then it is quite plain that such matters, however indifferent in themselves, cannot be indifferent to us. It cannot be indifferent to us, whether, when we have the power, we glorify God, or abstain from glorifying Him. Let us learn then from hence, that every practical decision, even in cases of the most perfect indifferency, which we cannot conscientiously refer to God's glory, is a
If God permits us to make an offering to Him of all the small and apparently trifling acts of our life, both their smallness, and His goodness in so receiving them, are most weighty reasons why we should gratefully and anxiously dedicate them to Him.
There are two modes by which St. Paul seems to
say that God may be glorified in indifferent actions. First, by performing them in a spirit of the largest charity. (“ Do all to the glory of God, giving none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.") Such charity is either negative, (“ giving none offence,”) or positive, (“ let no man seek his own, but every man another's good.”) Such charity again is to be exercised towards all mankind, both positively and negatively; towards the malicious and uncharitable adversary ; towards those who, from ignorance or other such cause, are entirely unconnected or disjoined from us; towards the weak brother; towards our own friends and companions; negatively, for we are to give none offence,“ neither to Jews, nor to Gentiles, nor to the church of God;" positively, for St. Paul, who offers himself for our example, became “ to the Jews as a Jew, that he might gain the Jews; to them that were under the law, as under the law, that he might gain them that were under the law; to them that were without law, as without law, that he might gain them that were without law. To the weak, as weak, that he might gain the weak ; to all men he became all things, that he might by all means save some.
Secondly. Even in things completely indifferent when regarded in themselves, there may
many causes in ourselves which
render them very far from indifferent to our own characters. First, for conscience. If a man doubts of the lawfulness of an act, to him it is unlawful. St. Paul is most clear
and full upon this point. (“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.-- To him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.—He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith ; for whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.”) Secondly, for comparison. If a man, when two courses are open to him, selects that one which, though indifferent in itself, gives no opportunity or less opportunity of glorifying God by good example, by self-denial or otherwise, he deliberately disregards his Lord's precept, (“ Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect ;") and that becomes sin in him, which in itself is innocent. Thirdly, for self-discipline. The mind of man is a delicate thing. Placed in the midst of circumstances wonderfully fitted for producing and strengthening dispositions, it cannot take a step, however small, with impunity. It cannot cherish a feeling, or indulge a thought ; it cannot determine in a case of choice, far less act on such determination, without contracting the sphere of its future free agency; without rendering habit more inveterate, and its ultimate destination of joy or pain more certain. There is not a more deadly fallacy, nor one more commonly yielded to, than that of doing a thing in some doubtfulness of mind, because forsooth there is no harm in it. What harm is there in this or that act ?” a man confidently asks; and yet he dares not trust his own most inward conscience for an answer. And there is no more unhappy habit of mind, than that in which a man takes such liberties with his conscience; in which he relaxes the stern self-government of indifferent actions; in which he compromises his own better knowledge and feeling, by consoling himself that he is within the limits of things lawful in themselves, and wilfully neglects to remember that he has transgressed the limits of things expedient to himself.
I will not attempt to unfold these principles in greater detail, though each one of them runs out into so many subdivisions, and suggests so many and so important practical applications, that I am loth to pass them by. Those which have been mentioned may serve as a specimen of the principles on which a man's conduct ought to be guided in indifferent matters. Let him remember, first, that every indifferent act may be, and therefore must be, done to God's glory; and this in two ways. First, by the most exact and enlarged charity towards other men; a charity exhibiting itself in watchfulness to avoid all offence, and anxiety to further the good, of the weak or the strong, the enemy or the friend. Secondly, by the most minutely careful attention to himself, to his conscience, to the comparison of what things are more expedient, to his inward discipline of disposition. He who attends to these principles completely, who watches his conduct narrowly, and who, praying to God to bless this watchfulness, beseeches Him also to give him more light to his paths, whereby he may direct his steps into the way of peace, will assuredly
be enabled to glorify God both in his body and his spirit, even in things indifferent, while on the earth; and in his spiritual improvement under grace, and his pardon through Christ, to glorify God yet again in the day of visitation. I proceed rather to make applications of this summary of principles to matters of our common life, in which they appear to offer great practical utility.
One of the first instances to which we seem to need to refer our principles, is the mode of spending the Sabbath. Let me not be supposed to class the observance of the fourth Commandment under the head of things indifferent. On the contrary, I know not upon what ground men can presume to distinguish degrees of obligation in obeying God's laws, nor why this Commandment should be held less binding upon the conscience than any other of the Decalogue. But there are many things, which in themselves are perfectly innocent and indifferent, which, particularly in this place, and among the younger members of the University, are commonly done on this day, to which I would call their earnest attention, in order to examine how far St. Paul's precept would sanction or disallow them. It is difficult to speak of such things with the requisite particularity, and at the same time to preserve the tone proper to this place : but I would especially refer to three points: the frequency of entertain
This Sermon was preached before the University of Oxford.