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error, and continues to be, in the catholic church. The judgment of the Pope, and his emissaries, is considered paramount to the decisions of the most enlightened conscience. · What the head of the church has decided is truth-however incredible, must be believed ; and what he has decreed is duty-must be done, though at war with Scripture and common sense. Hence there need be light in no other mind but his, and hence the Scriptures are withheld from the laity. It is of no consequence that they have a conscience, if they are not to be guided by it, but must obey the dictates of some other conscience.
Paul had no idea of abetting a principle like this. He wo be guided exclusively by his own conscience, in the very practise he proposed to adopt. His judgment decided, and his heart approved the decision, that it would be his duty to live on lighter food than that which he might lawfully eat, if thereby he would bless a weak brother. That brother had no right to demand of him this sacrifice, and urge the apostle to a course of conduct not reqired by his own conscience. His obligation was to know for himself that the idol was nothing, and thus eat innocently, as Paul could of the consecrated meat. Still Paul must regard his brother's good, and not make his liberty a stumbling-block to the weak. Here his own conscience bound him to a practice which his own conscience did not require of him, but for the ignorance and weakness of his brother. I think this principle is too obvious to be mistaken, while yet the apostle by no means renounces the right to be governed solely by his own conscience.
II. We are not to gather from the conduct of the apostle in this matter that, one man's conscience may
abridge another man's liberty. One man's necessities may induce another to give up his rights, and benevolence, such as the Lord Jesus exhibited when he laid aside the glory that he had with the Father before the world was, may induce him to do it cheerfully; but man may not require it of him, by any other law than that of love. If we are confident that another is misinformed, our duty is, if possible, to enlighten him, but we cannot require of him that he disregard the decisions of his own judgment, and permit himself to be guided by our opinion in opposition to his own in a question of morals. If Paul had been the only man in the infant church who had light enough to partake harmlessly of a heathen sacrifice, the opinion of others that he sinned in this matter would not have rendered him guilty. That weak brother, who could not do what Paul could harmlessly, might not require of the apostle that he confess himself guilty in acting according to the superior light of his own mind. You may blame me in a case in which I differ from you in my decision, for not reading and informing myself, for not being open to conviction, for not being candid and ingenuous and inquisitive; but if, finally, I cannot see as you do, and cannot think it right to cooperate with you, however you may lament my error, you cannot require me to act differently till I change my views. Thus Paul did not give up his right to decide that meat sacrificed to a heathen god might not be eaten by a Christian, harmlessly, but he relinquished the privilege of eating it because he should thus harm his brother; he retained the right but resigned the privilege. He was very tenacious of not having it understood that he was restricted by his own conscience. 6 What say I, then ? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? No." As if he had said, My conduct is not to suffer this construction. “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils." “ All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient." Thus did his enlightened mind discriminate, and his benevolent heart correspond.
III. The apostle's conduct in this matter does not go lo palliate ignorance. It is every man's first duty to know what duty is, to have his conscience informed, and be prepared to act correctly in all the varied scenes that may suddenly transpire before him. He does not refuse to eat the meat consecrated to devils, because he lacked that knowledge that prepared him innocently to partake; else his ignorance had been sin. He abstains because, though all things may be lawful, yet all things edify not.
His brethren, who in their ignorance, to gratify their appetites, or to please man, would not eat, while they had not knowledge enough to see that they might eat to the glory of God, giving him thanks, the very meat that had been consecrated to devils, sinned through ignorance against their own souls. They provoked God to jealousy. They neglected that injunction, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” and could not have gone in the spirit of that prayer, “Lead us not into temptation." We read of men having their foolish hearts darkened. When men do not like to retain God in their knowledge, He gives them up to a reprobate mind. He reprobates their ignorance, because resulting from choice. And how large a portion of the sins committed through ignorance will prove, at last, to be of the most enormous character, the last day will tell. Paul considered himself as having sinned the most outrageously, and almost beyond the possibility of a pardon, when he sinned ignorantly, in persecuting the saints; hence would be the last of men to give ignorance any covering.
IV. Neither the text nor context favours the opinion that our conscience may lean in its testimony to the testimony of other consciences. The apostle did not, after being convinced that he might innocently partake of flesh that had been devoted to an idol, yield his convictions on this point, and believe that,, in itself considered, it would be wrong so to do. On this point no amount of human testimony would have shaken his convictions. In the influence that the act would have on other and weak minds, lay all the danger, and all the wrong that moved him. For himself he cared not if all the beasts of the forest, and the cattle upon a thousand hills, had been devoted to some spurious deity. He could still feed upon them, and offer them in sacrifice to the God of heaven, whose is the earth, and the fulness thereof. It is true, that if we find other consciences differing in their testimony from ours, it should put us upon inquiry, whether our own decision is right, should render us cautious and watchful. But when we have again and again reviewed the ground, and collected about it all the testimony we can summon, and are still conscious that we have taken the position of duty, no frowns of men, nor loss of interest, nor even death itself can move us, if we fear the Lord, to act in conformity to the views of others, in opposition to the testimony of our own conscience.
Hence the reason why the people of God have so repeatedly been denominated obstinate. Their false brethren, or the men of the world, have demanded of them what they could not conscientiously do. A Roman governor writing to one of the emperors respecting the Christians, after fully clearing them from all the charges that had been brought against them, still declares them deserving of death, because of their obstinacy. And wherein lay their obstinacy? Simply in this. They would not conform to heathen customs, when such conformity implied any connivance at idolatry. They would not assemble with the worshippers of Jupiter, would not put up his idols in their temple, while the heathen would readily allow an image of Jesus Christ to be erected in their temples. Thus the war began in the exclusive claims of an enlightened Christian conscience. Many a martyr was offered life, if he would do the smallest act of implied idolatry, would bow at the shrine of Diana, or kiss the image of the virgin mother, or carry the cross in his bosom; but his choice was rather death. And it cannot be considered surprising that men who themselves have no conscience, but can bend to any doctrine, opinion or practice, should pronounce this all obstinacy.
In vindicating the principle from which the apostle acted I should choose to say,
FIRST, it evinced a deep knowledge of the obligations of the divine law. Paul did not go beyond the demands of that law. It allowed him to eat meat, even the meat that had been offered to an idol; and still it demanded of him that he yield his rights to bless his fellow-men. What, did God himself render the thing lawful, and then make another law depriving him of the very privilege he had granted ? Intricate as this case may look, it presents us one of the most common maxims of Christian deportment. The property that God has put into my lands, is mine to use according to the discretion that God has given me; and still such a cry of distress