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Matthew xviii. 7. Wo unto the world because of offences ! for it must needs be that offences come ; but wo to that man by whom the offence cometh ! The apostles, to whom these words were addressed, found the fulfilment of them in the whole course of their ministry. Every where they met with opposition to the gospel, sometimes from the schools of the Gentiles, and sometimes from the synagogues of the Jews. When, notwithstanding all opposition, Christian societies were formed by them, new offences rose in the very bosom of these churches, and the apostles saw, with pain, disputes, heresies, divisions ; they were witnesses of the apostacy of many, and beheld churches that had received the gospel with joy corrupted by false teachers. It was to prevent them from being surprised by such events, and to fortify them in such trials, that our Saviour uttered the prediction and denunciation in the text. But was it only to the apostolic age that Jesus had reference ? Is it onlv to the combination of Jews
MISCELLA EOUS. 207 and Gentiles against the rising gospel ? Is it only, to the Hymenenses, the Ebions, the Cerinthuses, who then troubled the church, that the text is applicable ? o, my brethren ; it also is addressed to us, and from it we may derive the most solemn and important instructions.
The word offences, not only in the text, but also in by far the greater number of passages in the ew Testament where it occurs, is used to signify those hindrances to piety and inducements to sin which some men lay in the way of others. The original term primarily denotes stumbling blocks, and means, when used in a moral sense, " whatever actually makes or has a manifest tendency to make men fall, or be remiss in the ways of duty." Whatever is calculated to tead them into error or vice, to seduce them from the true faith, to weaken in them the fear of God and the love of religion. In the further consideration of this text, let us, I. Inquire why " it must needs be that offences come." II. Examine what are the chief offences against which we should guard. III. Illustrate the propriety of the double wo denounced by our Saviour. I. Let us then inquire why " it must needs be thai offences," obstructions in our path to heaven, seductions to sin, occasions of falling, must "come." 1. ot from any defect or fault in the gospel of the Redeemer. On the contrary, when we consider the beauty and excellence of this system, the love that it breathes, and the charity that it displays, the sublimity of its doctrines, the purity of its precepts, the grandeur of its motives, the sweetness of its consolations, the tenderness of its promises, the majesty
208 SERMO LXXXIX,
and glory of the prospects that it unveils to' jus, the firmness of its proofs, and its evident tendency to promote the happiness of individuals and communities ; we should at first suppose that none would ever be found who could endeavour to obstruct its progress, or hinder its efficacy. 2. ot that God necessitates men to lay before others these hindrances in the path to heaven, and these encouragements to sin. He is a God who hateth iniquity, and who calls us to holiness. He has given his Son to save us from our sins, and he offers to us the riches of his grace. Yet he foresaw that, notwithstanding this his goodness, unless he continually interposed his almighty power to prevent offences from arising, they must come : and this, no doubt, for reasons infinitely wise, he determined not to do. 3. Why then must " it needs be that offences come ?" A sufficient answer to this question is given in our Saviour's words to icodemus : " Light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." It is the very excellence of the gospel, not any defect in it, that causes men to oppose it, and offences to come. Had it been announced only to angels, to saints, or to men without prejudices or unholy passions, it would never have met with opposition. But it is too pure and spiritual to suit corrupted and carnal man : it forbids indulgences which he loves ; it requires duties not conformed to his taste and disposition ; it too strongly enforces those obligations to God which he endeavours to forget ; it too plainly presents that judgment-bar at which he shudders ; it too terribly reveals the wrath of God against all unrighteousness and ungodliness : and it too impressively exhibits to
MISCELLA EOUS 209 the sinner the dreadful sentence to be pronounced at the last day, and the everlasting punishment to be inflicted on those sins which he is unwilling to renounce. From the corruption, the prejudices, and the passions of fallen man, it must then needs be that offences come. And God has thought proper to permit them : the entire prevention of them, by the immediate exercise of his omnipotence, would not have been accordant with the state of trial in which we are placed ; it could not then have been shown who received the truth in the love of it. This is the reason which the apostle Paul assigns for the permission of one great class of offences : " There must be heresies among you, that those who are approved may be made manifest ;" and in all other offences, there is a similar trial of sincerity and uprightness. Besides, if these offences had never been suffered, we should have had less glorious displays of the wisdom of that providence which now " makes the wrath of man to praise" the Lord, and which brings the richest blessings to the church and to the pious, from the most malignant designs of their enemies. We should have found incomparably less sweetness in the promises, if trials and temptations had not obliged us to flee to them for support. We should have seen far less of the care of God, in defending his church ; of the tenderness of Jesus, in guarding his children; of the power and grace of the Spirit, in cherishing our graces and carrying us to the world of glory, if there were no impediments in the path to holiness and heaven. For these, and similar reasons, God has permitted offences to come. II. Let us examine what are the chief offences against which we should guard ; what are some of
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*210 SERMO LXXXIX. the most common modes by which men are led to neglect religion, or to practise sin. 1. False sentiments in religion, and doctrines inconsistent with the word of God, often prove an offence, and tend to lead others away from God and from felicity. There is an intimate connexion between correct opinions and holiness of life. God requires of us the subjection of the mind to him, as well as of the affections and conduct. Jesus will be a king to protect and bless, and a priest to atone and intercede only for those who humbly acknowledge him as their prophet, and seek instruction from him. Do you then reject the holy volume, and endeavour to propagate your cold, and heartless, and degrading, and destructive sentiments? Or, professing to receive the scriptures as the word of God, do you nevertheless reject any of its essential doctrines, or pervert its practical precepts, and teach men to disbelieve the solemn truths or sacred mysteries which it announces, and to form to themselves a lower standard of morality and holiness than it enjoins ? By you the offence cometh. You may be successful in deluding others ; you may find many unable to unravel your sophistry or resist your sneers; you may harden their hearts, and sear their consciences : from the false principles that you infuse, and the fatal persuasion which you give them that their state is already safe, you may render them inaccessible to all the charitable reproofs of men, to all the merciful or alarming providences of God. But wo to you for the dreadful victory you have gained ! a victory, the sad consequences of which you shall
feel when the light of eternity bursts upon your disembodied spirit ; a victory that shall ever be de plored both by you and your wretched victims,
MISCELLA EOUS. 21 I 2. But even where the religious principles are unshaken ; where men, though they hate the truth, cannot doubt it; they frequently give offence, lay snares and occasions of falling before others, by the influence of unholy example, or direct seductions to sin. From the mutual dependence of men, from our union in society, and the influence of example, our conduct must have some effect on each other. If our light does not shine and lead others to glorify our Father in heaven, we shall render them contented with the darkness in which they are enveloped. There is not a happy spirit in heaven that has not animated others in their progress thither; there is not a lost soul in hell that has not contributed to drag others to that doleful abode. Unholy examples have peculiar influence, because they find within us an enmity to the holy restraints of the gospel, and passions ready to be inflamed; and seductions to sin too often prove fatal when urged, as they frequently are urged, in the tone of pretended affection, or dressed with the persuasive charms of eloquence. And if, in addition to all this, these are the examples of those distinguished by their talents, their wealth, their situation in society, who can calculate their fatal effects ? Oh! how many have we seen undone by this offence, this hindrance to their salvation ! At first they shuddered at the vices of the unholy with whom they associated ; they gradually became familiarized with sentiments and conduct which once filled them with horror; they at last blushed at the scruples which they once felt, imitated the vices of their guilty seducers, and were lost, for ever lost ! Wo
unto them for their criminal compliance ! but wo also unto those by whom the offence came !
212 SERMO LXXX1X. Let me add, that unholy examples especially become a snare and an offence, when they are exhibited by those to whom we are united by the tenderest relations. Fathers, mothers, who have so fondly cherished your offspring during their infancy, and in whose life your own is now wrapt up, let this consideration reach your heart ! By an irreligious example, by a neglect of Jesus, by the indulgence of vice, place not a stumbling-block before these children, over which they may fall into guilt, into ignominy, into perdition. Give them not occasion hereafter in hell to lift up their eyes, and curse you as the authors, at once of their being and their ruin. 3. There have been seasons when persecution of all who were the disciples of the Redeemer, and opposition to the gospel by outward violence, formed a common class of offences. Thus it was in the time of the apostles ; thus it has frequently been since : often has the attempt been made to drown religion in the blood of its followers; and though such endeavours have been unavailing, though new glory has been reflected upon the gospel from the patient sufferings and triumphant raptures of those martyrs who " counted not their lives dear to them, so that they might win Christ :" yet at such periods, others have resembled the stony-ground hearer, who " receiveth the word with joy, yet hath not root in himself; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth, because of the word, by and by he is offended." It is true, my brethren, this is a trial from which we are exempted. We are not called to choose between the renunciation of our religion, and the sacrifice of
our fortunes and our lives ; but though we have not to fear " bonds, scourging, and imprisonment," we have often to endure what the apostle joins with
MISCELLA EOUS. 213 them, and what is frequently as dillicult to be sustained, " cruel mockings." How many, whose convictions are stifled, and whose holy resolutions are destroyed, in consequence of " the world's dread laugh ;" and who, though they appeared for a moment to be awaking to a sense of the importance of eternal things, are driven back into folly and guilt, by the sneers of the wicked, and the sarcasms of the enemies of God. 4. You have doubtless, my brethren, anticipated me in thinking of another class of offences : those which result from the unsuitable valk of professing Christians; from a conduct corresponding, neither with their privileges, their engagements, nor their hopes. There are few unregenerate men who do not, at times, feel, while reading or hearing the word of God, that a great and radical change must take place in them, or they be for ever undone : but, alas ! how often are these salutary convictions crushed, when they look around and observe the little difference that there is between themselves and those who bear the name of Jesus. They behold the covetous professor, as eagerly pursuing the treasures of this world, as though he had never heard of everlasting riches : the wordly-minded professor, mingling with shameful avidity in every scene of gayety and dissipation, and giving no evidence of that spirituality and heavenly-mindedness which must distinguish all who are " crucified with Christ :" the censorious professor, who thinks better of himself, in proportion as he speaks worse of his neighbours ; whose conversa-
tion abounds with invective, with reproach, with slander; and in whom we in vain seek any resemblance to that Jesus who wept over the errors of men : the bigoted professor, who would confine the
214 SERMO LXXXIX affection and the interest of Jesus upon earth to his own particular sect, and who feels no sympathy nor love for believers of any other name. When the impenitent behold such characters, (and would to God they were rare spectacles in the world!) is it wonderful that they feel encouraged and confirmed in their evil courses? And oh! tell me, is it not a circumstance that deserves to be lamented with tears of blood, that the Saviour should thus be wounded in the house of his professed friends ; that those who call themselves his disciples, should alienate others from him, and he accessary to their everlasting ruin ! The observations which have already been made? in a great degree, III. Illustrated the propriety of the double wo pronounced by our Saviour. Wo to the world, because of offences ; for many in all ages will be seduced by them from the ways of truth and piety; many will become the victims of those who imitate the great enemy of God and man, " going about and seeking whom they may devour ;" and though others have contributed to their destruction, yet this will not save them from the merited punishment of their iniquities, since they voluntarily yielded to sin and Satan, in opposition to the entreaties and commands of their God and their Redeemer.
But especially, " ivo to that man by whom the offence fometh." 1. Because he frustrates, as far as in his power, the end and design that the Saviour proposed to himself in coming into the world. Jesus came to free men from the slavery of sin and Satan, to render them holy, to make them " meet for the inheritance of the
MISCELLA EOUS. 21J saints in light," to « destroy the works of the devil." But the design of him, by whom the offence cometh, is to seduce others to pervert them, to plunge them into the gulf of despair. It is for this reason that Paul, in speaking of those who offend the weak, says, (1 Cor. viii. U, 12.) that " they sin against Christ, and cause the brother to perish, for whom Christ died." I know, my brethren, that there are few who formally and deliberately propose to themselves the black and horrible design of destroying the soul of their neighbour. But what then ? Does this excuse you from guilt ? If the offence that we give, naturally produces this effect, and if we cannot be ignorant of this ; if by our conduct or our language, we show to others the path of vice and disobedience ; if we induce them by our example, to walk in it ; nothing more is necessary to expose us to this anathema of our Saviour, " Wo unto that man by whom the offence cometh." 2. Wo, because he renders himself guilty of all the crimes that he has led others to commit. He renders himself responsible before the Judge of all, for all the souls that shall be lost through his fault. With
his own burden he shall bear also that of others. And who can calculate the extent of evil that may be done by those through whom offences come ? Those seduced by us, may seduce others ; and they again, still infecting others, our guilt may be growing ages after we are dead. " The souls of those by whom offences have come, whether having repented and believed, they are lodged among the spirits of the blest, or confined in the mansions of misery, now look back to these offences, and their long consequences, eithn
21b SERMO LXXXIX. with a solemn sigh of penitence, or with the pangs and groans of an overwhelming remorse for them." 3. Wo, because the reparation of these evils is morally impossible. Even should you yourself be converted and forgiven, yet still the acquaintance, the friend, whom you have perverted, may be lost for ever; and the venom of sin, with which you have infected them, may be extensively propagated, and burn on to other ages and in other worlds. Surely then, we should be careful that offences come not by us, lest the blood of souls lost by our means, be required of us. Let us cry with David, " Deliver us from such blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of our salvation; and our tongues shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. Then will we teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." Let the threatening of our Saviour fill us with a salutary fear, and lead us to circumspection and diligence. Let us oppose to the torrent of offences and seductions, the light of our good works, the force of pious examples, the fervour and perseverance of our prayers. Let us never suffer ourselves to be shaken by the temptations of world-
lings and sinners. Let us always remember that the religion of Jesus is not less heavenly and divine, though it does not produce the same effects upon all hearts, and though it should be even dishonoured by the conduct of some who profess to believe it. Let us resolve, depending on strength from on high, to adorn it ourselves by the holiness of our conversation, and the fervour of our piety. Let us wait patiently, and strengthen our hearts; since the day cometh in which the Son of man shall send forth his angels, who shall gather out of his kingdom all things which offend, and those which do iniquity : and shall
MISCELLA EOUS. 217 cast them into a furnace of fire, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth; while the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father. And now, to this God who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy ; to the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and for ever. x\men.
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