DOUBTFUL ACTIONS ARE SINFUL.
He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth notof faith; he whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Romans 14:23.
It was a custom among the idolatrous heathen to offer the bodiesof slain beasts in sacrifice. A part of every beast that was offeredbelonged to the priest. The priests used to send their portionto market to sell, and it was sold in the shambles as any othermeat. The Christian Jews that were scattered everywhere were veryparticular as to what meats they ate, so as not even to run theleast danger of violating the Mosaic law, and they raised doubts,and created disputes and difficulties among the churches. Thiswas one of the subjects about which the church of Corinth wasdivided and agitated, until they finally wrote to the apostlePaul for directions. A part of the First Epistle to the Corinthianswas doubtless written as a reply to such inquiries. It seems therewere some who carried their scruples so far that they thoughtit not proper to eat any meat; for if they went to market forit, they were continually in danger of buying that which was offeredto idols. Others thought it made no difference; they had a rightto eat meat, and they would buy it in the market as they foundit, and give themselves no trouble about the matter. To quellthe dispute, they wrote to Paul, and in chapter six, he takesup the subject and discusses it in full.
"Now, as touching things offered unto idols, we know thatwe all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothingyet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same isknown of him. As concerning therefore the eating of those thingsthat are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idolis nothing in the world, and that there is none other God butone. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heavenor in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to usthere is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, andwe in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things,and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge;for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it asa thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience, being weak,is defiled.
"His conscience is defiled," that is, he regardsit as a meat offered to an idol, and is really practicing idolatryThe eating of meat is a matter of total indifference, in itself.
"But meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if weeat are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse.But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become astumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee,which hast knowledge, sit at meat in the idol's temple, shallnot the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat thosethings offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weakbrother perish for whom Christ died?"
Although they might have a sufficient knowledge on the subjectto know that an idol is nothing, and cannot make any change inthe meat itself, yet if they should be seen eating meat that wasknown to have been offered to an idol, those who were weak mightbe emboldened by it to eat the sacrifices as such, or as an actof worship to the idol, supposing all the while that they werebut following the example of their more enlightened brethren.
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weakconscience, ye sin against Christ. "Wherefore, if meat makemy brother to offend, I will eat no more flesh while the worldstandeth, lest I make my brother to offend."
This is his benevolent conclusion, that he would rather foregothe use of flesh altogether than be the occasion of drawing aweak brother away into idolatry. For, in fact, to sin so againsta weak brother is to sin against Christ.
In writing to the Romans he takes up the same subject the samedispute had existed there. After laying down some general maximsand principles, he gives this rule:
"Him that is weak in faith receive ye, but not to doubtfuldisputation. For one believeth that he may eat all things; anotherwho is weak, eateth herbs."
There were some among them who chose to live entirely on vegetables,rather than run the risk of buying in the shambles flesh whichhad been offered in sacrifice to idols. Others ate their fleshas usual, buying what was offered in market, asking no questionsfor conscience' sake. Those who lived on vegetables charged theother with idolatry. And those that ate flesh accused the othersof superstition and weakness. This was wrong.
"Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not;and let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth; for Godhath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?to his own master he standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be holdenup; for God is able to make him stand."
There was also a controversy about observing the Jewish festivaldays and holy days. A part supposed that God required this, andtherefore they observed them. The others neglected them becausethey supposed God did not require the observance.
"One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemethevery day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and hethat 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 givethGod thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man diethto himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whetherwe die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die,we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose,and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naughtthy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat ofChrist. For as it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, everyknee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. Sothen every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Letus not therefore, judge one another any more: but judge this rather,that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall in hisbrother's way."
Now mark what he says.
"But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkestthou not charitably: destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christdied."
That is, I know that the distinction of meats into clean andunclean, is not binding under Christ, but to him that believesin the distinction, it is a crime to eat indiscriminately, becausehe does what he believes to be contrary to the commands of God."All things indeed are pure, but it is evil to him that eatethwith offense." Every man should be persuaded in his own mind,that what he is doing is right. If a man eat of meats called unclean,not being clear in his mind that it is right, he offends God.
"It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, norany thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or ismade weak."
This is a very useful hint to those wine-bibbers and beer guzzlers,who think the cause of temperance is going to be ruined by givingup wine and beer, when it is notorious, to every person of theleast observation, that these things are the greatest hindranceto the cause all over the country.
"Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happyis he that condemneth not himself in THAT thing which he alloweth.And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth notof faith; for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
The word rendered damned means condemned, or adjudged guiltyof breaking the law of God. If a man doubts whether it is lawfulto do a thing, and while in that state of doubt, he does it, hedispleases God, he breaks the law and is condemned whether thething be in itself right or wrong. I have been thus particularin explaining the text in its connection with the context, becauseI wished fully to satisfy your minds of the correctness of theprinciple laid down that if a man does that of which he doubtsthe lawfulness, he sins, and is condemned for it in the sightof God.
Whether it is lawful itself, is not the question. If he doubtsits lawfulness, it is wrong in him.
There is one exception which ought to be noticed here, andthat is, where a man as honestly and fully doubts the lawfulnessof omitting to do it as he does the lawfulness of doing it. PresidentEdwards meets this exactly in his 39th resolution:
"Resolved, never to do any thing that I so much questionthe lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to considerand examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or not: except Ias much question the lawfulness of the omission."
A man may have equal doubts whether he is bound to do a thingor not to do it. Then all that can be said is, that he must actaccording to the best light he can get. But where he doubts thelawfulness of the act, but has no cause to doubt the lawfulnessof the omission, and yet does it, he sins and is condemned beforeGod, and must repent or be damned. In further examination of thesubject, I propose,
I. To show some reasons why a man is criminals for doing thatof which he doubts the lawfulness. II. To show its applicationtoa number of specific cases. III. Offer a few inferences andremarks, as time may allow.
I. I am to show some reasons for the correctness of the principlelaid down in the text that if a man does that of which he doubtsthe lawfulness, he is condemned.
1. One reason why an individual is condemned if he does thatof which he doubts the lawfulness, is that if God so far enlightenshis mind as to make him doubt the lawfulness of an act, he isbound to stop there and examine the question and settle it tohis satisfaction.
To illustrate this: suppose your child is desirous of doinga certain thing, or suppose he is invited by his companions togo somewhere, and he doubts whether you would be willing, do younot see that it is his duty to ask you? If one of his schoolmatesinvites him home, and he doubts whether you would like it, andyet goes, is not this palpably wrong?
Or suppose a man cast away on a desolate island, where he findsno human being, and he takes up his abode in a solitary cave,considering himself as all alone and destitute of friends, orrelief, or hope; but every morning he finds a supply of nutritiousand wholesome food prepared for him, and set by the mouth of hiscave, sufficient for his wants that day. What is his duty? Doyou say, he does not know that there is a being on the island,and therefore he is not under obligations to any one? Does notgratitude, on the other hand, require him to search and find outhis unseen friend, and thank him for his kindness? He cannot say,"I doubt whether there is any being here, and therefore willdo nothing but eat my allowance and take my ease, and care fornothing." His not searching for his benefactor would of itselfconvict him of as desperate wickedness of heart, as if he knewwho it was, and refused to return thanks for the favors received.
Or suppose an Atheist opens his eyes on this blessed lightof heaven, and breathes this air, sending health and vigor throughhis frame. Here is evidence enough of the being of God to sethim on the inquiry after that Great Being who provides all thesemeans of life and happiness. And if he does not inquire for fartherlight, if he does not care, if he sets his heart against God,he shows that he has the heart as well as the intellect of anAtheist. He has, to say the least, evidence that there MAY BEa God. What then is his business? Plainly, it is to set himselfhonestly, and with a most child-like and reverent spirit, to inquireafter him and pay him reverence. If, when he has so much lightas to doubt whether there may not be a God, he still goes aroundas if there were none, and does not inquire for truth and obeyit, he shows that his heart is wrong, and that it says let therebe no God.
There is a Deist, and here a book claiming to be a revelationfrom God. Many good men have believed it to be so. The evidencesare such as to have perfectly satisfied the most acute and uprightminds of its truth. The evidences, both external and internalare of great weight. To say there are NO evidences is itself enoughto bring any man's soundness of mind into question, or his honesty.There is, to lay the least that can be said, sufficient evidenceto create a doubt whether it is a fable and an imposture. Thisis in fact but a small part, but we will take it on this ground.Now is it his duty to reject it? No Deist pretends that he canbe so fully persuaded in his own mind, as to be free from alldoubt. All he dares to attempt is to raise cavils and create doubtson the other side. Here, then, it is his duty to stop, and notoppose the Bible, until he can prove without a doubt, that itis not from God.
So with the Unitarian. Granting (what is by no means true)that the evidence in the Bible is not sufficient to remove alldoubts that Jesus Christ is God; yet it afford evidence enoughto raise a doubt on the other side, and he has no right to rejectthe doctrine as untrue, but is bound humbly to search the scripturesand satisfy himself. Now no intelligent and honest man can saythat the scripture afford "no evidence" of the divinityof Christ. They do afford evidence which has convinced and fullysatisfied thousands of the acutest minds, and who have beforebeen opposed to the doctrine. No man can reject the doctrine withouta doubt, because here is evidence that it may be true. And ifit may be true, and there is reason to doubt if it is not true,then he rejects it at his peril.
Then the Universalist. Where is one who can say he has notso much as a doubt whether there is not a hell, where sinnersgo after death into endless torment. He is bound to stop and inquire,and search the scriptures. It is not enough for him to say hedoes not believe in a hell. It may be there is, and if he rejectsit, and goes on reckless of the truth whether there is or not,that itself makes him a rebel against God. He doubts whether thereis not a hell which he ought to avoid, and yet he acts as if hewas certain and had no doubts. He is condemned. I once knew aphysician who was a Universalist, and who has gone to eternityto try the reality of his speculations.
He once told me that he had strong doubts of the truth of Universalism,and had mentioned his doubts to a minister, who confessed thathe, too, doubted its truth, and he did not believe there was aUniversalist in the world who did not.
2. For a man to do a thing when he doubts whether it is lawfulshows that he is selfish, and has other objects besides doingthe will of God.
It shows that he wants to do it to gratify himself. He doubtswhether God will approve of it, and yet he does it. Is he nota rebel? If he honestly wished to serve God, when he doubted hewould stop and inquire and examine until he was satisfied. Butto go forward while he is in; doubt, shows that he is selfishand wicked, and is willing to do it whether God is pleased ornot, and that he wants to do it, whether it is right or wrong.He does it because he wants to do it, and not because it is right.
3. To act thus is an impeachment of the divine goodness.
He assumes it as uncertain whether God has given a sufficientrevelation of his will, so that he might know his duty if he would.He virtually says that the path of duty is left so doubtful thathe must decide at a venture.
4. It indicates slothfulness and stupidity of mind.
It shows that he had rather act wrong than use the necessarydiligence to learn and know the path of duty. It shows that heis either negligent or dishonest in his inquiries.
5. It manifests a reckless spirit.
It shows a want of conscience, an indifference to right, asetting aside of the authority of God, a disposition not to doGod's will, and not to care whether He is pleased or displeased,a desperate recklessness and headlong temper, that is the heightof wickedness.
The principle then, which is so clearly laid down, in the textand contest, and also in the chapter which I read from Corinthians,is fully sustained by examination that for a man to do a thing,when he doubts the lawfulness of it, is sin, for which he is condemnedbefore God, and must repent or be damned.
II. I am now to show the application of this principle to avariety of particular cases in human life. But,
First I will mention some cases where a person may be equallyin doubt with respect to the lawfulness of a thing, whether heis bound to do it or not to do it.
Take the subject of Wine at the Communion Table.
Since the temperance reformation has brought up the questionabout the use of wine, and various wines have been analyzed andthe quantity of alcohol they contain has been disclosed, and thedifficulty shown of getting wines in this country that are nothighly alcoholic, it has been seriously doubted by some whetherit is right to use such wines as we can get here in celebratingthe Lord's supper. Some are strong in the belief that wine isan essential part of the ordinance, and that we ought to use thebest wine we can get, and there leave the matter. Others say thatwe ought not to use alcoholic or intoxicating wine at all; andthat as wine is not, in their view, essential to the ordinance,it is better to use some other drink.
Both these classes are undoubtedly equally conscientious, anddesirous to do what they have most reason to believe is agreeableto the will of God. And others, again, are in doubt on the matter.I can easily conceive that some conscientious persons may be veryseriously in doubt which way to act. They are doubtful whetherit is right to use alcoholic wine, and are doubtful whether itis right to use any other drink in the sacrament. Here is a casethat comes under President Edwards' rule, "where it is doubtfulin my mind, whether I ought to do it or not to do it," andwhich men must decide according to the best light they can get,honestly, and with a single desire to know and do what is mostpleasing to God.
I do not intend to discuss this question, of the use of wineat the communion, nor is this the proper place for a full examinationof the subject. I introduced it now merely for the purpose ofillustration. But since it is before us, I will make two or threeremarks.
(1.) I have never apprehended so much evil as some do, fromthe use of common wine at the communion. I have not felt alarmedat the danger or evil of taking a sip of wine, a teaspoonful orso, once a month, or once in two months, or three months. I donot believe that the disease of intemperance (and intemperance,you know, is in reality a disease of the body) will be eithercreated or continued by so slight a cause. Nor do I believe itis going to injure the temperance cause so much as some have supposed.And therefore, where a person uses wine as we have been accustomedto do, and is fully persuaded in his own mind, he does not sin.
(2.) On the other hand, I do not think that the use of wineis any way essential to the ordinance. Very much has been saidand written and printed on the subject, which has darkened counselby words without knowledge. To my mind there are stronger reasonsthan I have anywhere seen exhibited, for supposing that wine isnot essential to this ordinance. Great pains have been taken toprove that our Savior used wine that was unfermented, when heinstituted the supper, and which therefore contained no alcohol.Indeed, this has been the point chiefly in debate, But in factit seems just as irrelevant as it would to discuss the question,whether he used wheat or oaten bread, or whether it was leavenedor unleavened. Why do we not hear this question vehemently discussed?Because all regard it as unessential. In order to settle thisquestion about the wine, we should ask what is the meaning ofthe ordinance of the supper. What did our Savior design to do?It was to take the two staple articles for the support of life,food and drink, and use them to represent the necessity and virtueof the atonement.
It is plain that Christ had that view of it, for it correspondswith what he says, "My flesh is meat indeed, and thy bloodis drink indeed." So he poured out water in the temple, andsaid, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink."He is called the "Bread of life." Thus it was customaryto show the value of Christ's sufferings by food and drink. Whydid he take bread instead of some other article of food? Thosewho know the history and usages of that country will see thathe chose that article of food which was in most common use amongthe people. When I was in Malta, it seemed as if a great partof the people lived on bread alone. They would go in crowds tothe market place, and buy each a piece of coarse bread, and standand eat it. Thus the most common and the most universally wholesomearticle of diet is chosen by Christ to represent his flesh. Thenwhy did he take wine to drink? For the same reason; wine is thecommon drink of the people, especially at their meals, in allthose countries. It is sold there for about a cent a bottle, winebeing cheaper than small beer is here.
In Sicily I was informed that wine was sold for five centsa gallon, and I do not know but it was about as cheap as water.And you will observe that the Lord's supper was first observedat the close of the feast of the passover, at which the Jews alwaysused wine. The meaning of the Savior in this ordinance, then,is this: As food and drink are essential to the life of the body,so his body and blood, or his atonement, are essential to thelife of the soul.
For myself, I am fully convinced that wine is not essentialto the communion, and I should not hesitate to give water to anyindividual who conscientiously preferred it. Let it be the commonfood and drink of the country, the support of life to the body,and it answers the end of the institution. If I was a missionaryamong the Esquimaux Indians, where they live on dried seal's fleshand snow-water, I would administrate the supper in those substances.It would convey to their minds the idea that they cannot livewithout Christ. I say, then, that if an individual is fully persuadedin his own mind, he does not sin in giving up the use of wine.Let this church be fully persuaded in their own minds, and I shallhave no scruple to do either way, if they will substitute anyother wholesome drink, that is in common use, instead of the wine.And at the same time, I have no objection myself against goingon in the old way.
Now, do not lose sight of the great principle that is underdiscussion. It is this: where a man doubts honestly, whether itis lawful to do a thing, and doubts equally, on the other handwhether it is lawful to omit doing it, he must pray over the matter,and search the scriptures, and get the best light he can on thesubject, and then act. And when he does this, he is by no meansto be judged or censured by others for the course he takes. "Whoart thou that judgest another man's servant?" And no manis authorized to make his own conscience the rule of his neighbor'sconduct.
A similar case is where a minister is so situated that it isnecessary for him to go a distance on the Sabbath to preach, aswhere he preaches to two congregations, and the like. Here hemay honestly doubt what is his duty, on both hands. If he goeshe appears to strangers to disregard the Sabbath. If he does notgo, the people will have no preaching. The direction is, let himsearch the scriptures, and get the best light he can, make ita subject of prayer, weigh it thoroughly, and act according tohis best judgment.
So in the case of a Sabbath-school teacher. He may live ata distance from the school, and be obliged to travel to it onthe Sabbath, or they will have no school. And he may honestlydoubt which is his duty, to remain in his own church on the Sabbath,or to travel there, five, eight, or ten miles, to a destituteneighborhood, to keep up the Sabbath school. Here he must decidefor himself, according to the best light he can get. And let noman set himself up to judge over a humble and conscientious discipleof the Lord Jesus.
You see that in all these cases it is understood and is plainthat the design is to honor God, and the sole ground of doubtis, which course will really honor him. Paul says, in referenceto all laws of this kind, "He that regardeth the day, regardethit unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lordhe doth not regard it." The design is to do right, and thedoubt is as to the means of doing it in the best manner.
Secondly I will mention some cases, where the DESIGN is wrong,where the object is to gratify self, and the individual has doubtswhether he may do it lawfully. I shall refer to cases concerningwhich there is a difference of opinion to acts of which the leastthat can be said is that a man must have doubts of their beinglawful.
1. Take, for instance, the making and vending of alcoholicdrinks.
After all that has been said on this subject, and all the lightthat has been thrown upon the question, is there a man livingin this land who can say he sees no reason to doubt the lawfulnessof this business. To say the least that can be said, there canbe no honest mind but must be brought to doubt it. We suppose,indeed, that there is no honest mind but must know it is unlawfuland criminal. But take the most charitable supposition possiblefor the distiller or the vender, and suppose he is not fully convincedof its unlawfulness.
We say he must, at least, DOUBT its lawfulness. What is heto do then? Is he to shut his eyes to the light, and go on, regardlessof truth, so long as he can keep from seeing it? No. He may caviland raise objections as much as he pleases, but he knows thathe has doubts about the lawfulness of his business; and if hedoubts, and still persists in doing it, without taking the troubleto examine and see what is right, he is just as sure to be damnedas if he went on in the face of knowledge. You hear these mensay, "Why, I am not fully persuaded in my own mind that theBible forbids making or vending ardent spirits." Well, supposeyou are not fully convinced, suppose all your possible and conceivableobjections and cavils are not removed, what then? You know youhave doubts about its lawfulness. And it is not necessary to takesuch ground to convict you of doing wrong. If you doubt its lawfulness,and yet persist in doing it, you are in the way to hell.
2. So where an individual is engaged in an employment thatrequires him to break the Sabbath.
As for instance, attending on a post-office that is openedon the Sabbath, or a turnpike gate, or in a steam-boat, or anyother employment that is not work of necessity. There are alwayssome things that must be done on the Sabbath, they are works ofabsolute necessity or of mercy.
But suppose a case in which the labor is not necessary, asin the transportation of the mail on the Sabbath, or the like.The leastthat can be said, the lowest ground that can be takenby charity itself, without turning fool, is, that the lawfulnessof such employment is doubtful. And if they persist in doing it,they sin, and are on the way to hell. God has sent out the penaltyof his law against them, and if they do not repent they must bedamned.
3. Owning stocks in steamboat and railroad companies, in stages,canal boats, etc., that break the Sabbath.
Can any such owner truly say he does not doubt the lawfulnessof such an investment of capital? Can charity stoop lower thanto say, that man must strongly doubt whether such labor is a workof necessity or mercy? It is not necessary in the case to demonstratethat it is unlawful though that can be done fully, but only toshow so much light as to create a doubt of its lawfulness. Thenif he persist in doing it, with that doubt unsatisfied, he iscondemned and lost.
4. The same remarks will apply to all sorts of lottery gambling.He doubts.
5. Take the case of those indulgences of appetite which aresubject of controversy, and which, to say the least, are of doubtfulright.
(A.) The drinking of wine, and beer, and other fermented intoxicatingliquors. In the present aspect of the temperance cause, is itnot questionable at least, whether making use of these drinksis not transgressing the rule laid down by the apostle, "Itis good neither to eat flesh nor drink wine, nor anything wherebythy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or made weak." Noman can make me believe he has no doubts of the lawfulness ofdoing it. There is no certain proof; of its lawfulness, and thereis strong proof of its unlawfulness, and every man who does itwhile he doubts the lawfulness, is condemned, and if he persists,is damned.
If there is any sophistry in all this, I should like to knowit, for I do not wish to deceive others nor to be deceived myself.But I am entirely deceived if this is not a simple, direct, andnecessary inference, from the sentiment of the text.
(B.) Tobacco. Can any man pretend that he has no doubt thatit is agreeable to the will of God for him to use tobacco? Noman can pretend that he doubts the lawfulness of his OMISSIONof these things. Does any man living think that he is bound induty to make use of wine, or strong beer, or tobacco, as a luxury?No. The doubt is all on one side. What shall we say then, of thatman who doubts the lawfulness of it, and still fills his facewith the poisonous weed? He is condemned.
(C.) I might refer to tea and coffee. It is known generally,that these substances are not nutritious at all, and that nearlyeight millions of dollars are spent annually for them in thiscountry. Now, will any man pretend that he does not doubt thelawfulness of spending all this money for that which is of nouse, and which are well known to all who have examined the subject,to be positively injurious, intolerable to weak stomachs, andas much as the strongest can dispose of? And all this while thevarious benevolent societies of the age are loudly calling forhelp to send the gospel abroad and save a world from hell? Tothink of the church alone spending millions upon their tea tablesis there no doubt here?
6. Apply this principle to various amusements.
(A.) The theater. There are vast multitudes of professors ofreligion who attend the theater. And they contend that the Bibleno where forbids it. Now mark. What Christian professor ever wentto a theater and did not doubt whether he was doing what was lawful.I by no means admit that it is a point which is only doubtful.I suppose it is a very plain case, and can be shown to be, thatit is unlawful. But I am now only meeting those of you, if thereare any here, who go to the theater, and are trying to cover upyourselves in the refuge that the Bible nowhere expressly forbidsit.
(B.) Parties of pleasure, where they go and eat and drink tosurfeiting. Is there no reason to doubt whether that is such ause of time and money as God requires? Look at the starving poor,and consider the effect of this gaiety and extravagance, and seeif you will ever go to another such party or make one, withoutdoubting its lawfulness. Where can you find a man, or a woman,that will go so far as to say they have no doubt? Probably thereis not one honest mind who will say this. And if you doubt, andstill do it, you are condemned.
You see that this principle touches a whole class of things,about which there is a controversy, and where people attempt toparry off by saying it is not worse than to do so and so, andthus get away from the condemning sentence of God's law. But infact, if there is a doubt, it is their duty to abstain.
(C.) Take the case of balls, of novel reading, and other methodsof wasting time. Is this God's way to spend your lives? Can yousay you have no doubt of it?
7. Making calls on the Sabbath. People will make a call, andthen make an apology about it. "I did not know that it wasquite right, but I thought I would venture it." He is a Sabbath-breakerin heart, at all events, because he doubts.
8. Compliance with worldly customs at new-year's day. Thenthe ladies are all at home, and the gentlemen are running allabouttown to call on them, and the ladies make their great preparations,and treat them with their cake, and their wine, and punch, enoughto poison them almost to death, and all together are bowing downto the goddess of fashion. Is there a lady here that does notdoubt the lawfulness of all this? I say it can be demonstratedto be wicked, but I only ask the ladies of this city, Is it notdoubtful whether this is all lawful?
I should call in question the sanity of the man or woman thathad no doubt of the lawfulness of such a custom, in the midstof such prevailing intemperance as exists in this day. Who amongyou will practice it again? Practice it if you dare at the perilof your soul! If you do that which is merely doubtful, God frownsand condemns; and HIS voice must be regarded.
I know people try to excuse the matter, and say it is wellto have a day appropriated to such calls, when every lady is athome and every gentleman freed from business, and all that. Andall that is very well. But when it is seen to be so abused andto produce so much evil, I ask every Christian here, if you canhelp doubting its lawfulness? And if it be doubtful, it comesunder the rule: "If meat make my brother to offend."If keeping new-years leads to so much gluttony, and drunkenness,and wickedness, does it not bring the lawfulness of it into doubt?Yes, that is the least that can be said, and they who doubt andyet do it, sin against God.
9. Compliance with the extravagant fashions of the day.
Christian lady! have you never doubted, do you not now doubt,whether it be lawful for you to copy these fashions, brought fromforeign countries, and from places which it were a shame evento name in this assembly? Have you no doubt about it? And if youdoubt and do it, you are condemned, and must repent of your sin,or you will be lost forever!
10. Intermarriages of Christians with impenitent sinners.
This answer always comes up. "But after all you say, itis not certain that these marriages are not lawful." Supposingit be so, yet does not the Bible and the nature of the case makeit at least doubtful whether they are right? It can be demonstrated,indeed, to be unlawful But suppose it could not be reduced todemonstration; what Christian ever did it and did not doubt whetherit was lawful? And he that doubteth is condemned. See that Christianman or woman that is about forming such a connection doubtingall the way whether it is right: trying to pray down conscienceunder pretext of praying for light: praying all around your duty,and yet pressing on. Take Care! You know you doubt the lawfulnessof what you propose, and remember that "he that doubtethis damned."
Thus you see, my hearers, that here is a principle that willstand by you when you attempt to rebuke sin, if the power of societybe employed to face you down, or put you on the defensive, anddemand absolute proof of the sinfulness of a cherished practice.Remember the burden of proof does not lie on you, to show beyonda doubt the absolute unlawfulness of the thing. If you can showsufficient reason to question its lawfulness, and to create avalid doubt whether it is according to the will of God, you shiftthe burden of proof to the other side. And unless they can removethe doubt, and show that there is no room for doubt, they haveno right to continue in the doubtful practice, and if they do,they sin against God.
1. The knowledge of duty is not indispensable to moral obligation,but the possession of the means of knowledge is sufficient tomake a person responsible.
If a man has the means of knowing whether it is right or wronghe is bound to use the means, and is bound to inquire and ascertainat his peril.
2. If those are condemned, and adjudged worthy of damnation,who do that of which they doubt the lawfulness, what shall wesay of the multitudes who are doing continually that which theyknow and confess to be wrong?
Woe to that man who practices that which he condemns. And "happyis he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth."
3. Hypocrites often attempt to shelter themselves behind theirdoubts to get clear of their duty.
The hypocrite is unwilling to be enlightened, he does not wishto know the truth, because he does not wish to obey the Lord,and so he hides behind his doubts, and turns away his eye fromthe light, and will not look or examine to see what his duty is,and in this way he tries to shield himself from responsibility.But God will drag them out from behind this refuge of lies, bythe principle laid down m the test, that their very doubts condemnthem.
Many will not be enlightened on the subject of temperance,and still persist in drinking or selling rum, because they arenot fully convinced it is wrong. And they will not read a tractor a paper, nor attend a temperance meeting, for fear they shallbe convinced. Many are resolved to indulge in the use of wineand strong beer, and they will not listen to anything calculatedto convince them of the wrong. It shows that they are determinedto indulge in sin, and they hope to hide behind their doubts.What better evidence could they give that they are hypocrites?
Who, in all these United States, can say, that he has no doubtof the lawfulness of slavery? Yet the great body of the peoplewill not hear anything on the subject, and they go into a passionif you name it, and it is even seriously proposed, both at thenorth and at the south, to pass laws forbidding inquiry and discussionon the subject. Now suppose these laws should be passed, for thepurpose of enabling the nation to shelter itself behind its doubtswhether slavery is a sin, that ought to be abolished immediatelywill that help the matter? Not at all. If they continue to holdtheir fellow men as property, in slavery, while they doubt itslawfulness, they are condemned before God, and we may be suretheir sin will send them out, and God will let them know how Heregards it.
It is amazing to see the foolishness of people on this subject;as if by refusing to get clear of their doubts, they could getclear of their sin. Think of the people of the south: Christians,and even ministers, refusing to read a paper on the subject ofslavery, and perhaps sending it back with abusive or threateningwords. Threatening! for what? For reasoning with them about theirduty? It can be demonstrated absolutely, that slavery is unlawful,and ought to be repented of, and given up, like any other sin.But suppose they only doubt the lawfulness of slavery, and donot mean to be enlightened, they are condemned of God. Let themknow that they cannot put this thing down, they cannot clear themselvesof it. So long as they doubt its lawfulness, they cannot holdmen in slavery without sin; and that they do doubt its lawfulnessis demonstrated by this opposition to discussion.
We may suppose a case, and perhaps there may be some such inthe southern country, where a man doubts the lawfulness of holdingslaves, and equally doubts the lawfulness of emancipating themin their present state of ignorance and dependence. In that casehe comes under Pres. Edward's rule, and it is his duty not tofly in a passion with those who would call his attention to it,not to send back newspapers and refuse to read, but to inquireon all hands for light, and examine the question honestly in thelight of the word of God, till his doubts are cleared up. Theleast he can do is to set himself with all his power to educatethem and train them to take care of themselves as fast and asthoroughly as possible, and to put them in a state where theycan be set at liberty.
4. It is manifest there is but very little conscience in thechurch.
See what multitudes are persisting to do what they stronglydoubt the lawfulness of.
5. There is still less love to God than there is conscience.
It cannot be pretended that love to God is the cause of allthis following of fashions, this practicing indulgences, and otherthings of which people doubt the lawfulness. They do not persistin these things because they love God so well. No, no, but theypersist in it because they wish to do it, to gratify themselves,and they had rather run the risk of doing wrong than to have theirdoubts cleared up. It is because they have so little love forGod, so little care for the honor of God.
6. Do not say, in your prayers, "O Lord, if I have sinnedin this thing, O Lord, forgive me the sin."
If you have done that of which you doubted the lawfulness,you have sinned, whether the thing itself be right or wrong. Andyou must repent, and ask forgiveness.
And now, let me ask you all who are here present, are you convincedthat to do what you doubt the lawfulness of, is sin? If you are,I have one more question to ask you. Will you from this time relinquishevery thing of which you doubt the lawfulness? Every amusement,every indulgence, every practice, every pursuit? Will you do it,or will you stand before the solemn judgment seat of Jesus Christ,condemned? If you will not relinquish these things, you show thatyou are an impenitent sinner, and do not INTEND to obey God, andif you do not repent you bring down upon your head God's condemnationand wrath, for ever.
Back to Index of Lectures to ProfessingChristians