Verse 13. "Wherefore, &c." - Rather than give any occasion to a Christian to sin against and so to harden his conscience that he should return to idolatry and perish, I would not only abstain from all meats offered to idols, but I would eat no flesh, should I exist through the whole course of time, but live on the herbs of the field, rather than cause my brother to stumble, and thus fall into idolatry and final ruin.
The following words of Origen contain a very solemn lesson and warning: "If we did more diligently attend to these things, we should avoid sinning against our brethren and wounding their weak conscience, that we might not sin against Christ; our brethren that are among us, for whom Christ died, often perishing, not only by our knowledge, but by many other ways, and things, in which things we, sinning against Christ, shall suffer punishment; the souls of them that perish by us being required of and avenged upon us." See Whitby on this place.
1. THE greater our reputation for knowledge and sanctity, the greater mischief we shall do by our influence and example if we turn aside from the holy commandment delivered unto us. Every man should walk so as either to light or lead his brother to heaven.
2. It is the duty of every Christian to watch against apostasy in his own case, and to prevent it as much as possible in that of others. That a person for whom Christ died may finally perish is strongly argued, says Dr. Whitby, from this place, and Rom. xiv. 15; for here the apostle dissuades the Corinthians from scandalizing their weak brethren, by an argument taken from the irreparable mischiefs they may do them, the eternal ruin they may bring upon them by this scandal; whereas if it be, as some assert, that all things, even the sins of the elect, shall work together for their good, and that they shall never perish; if the apostle knew and taught this doctrine to them, why does he endeavour to affright them from this scandal, by telling them that it might have that effect which he had before told them was impossible? If you interpret his words thus: So shall he perish, for whom in charity ye ought to judge Christ died; it is certain, from this doctrine, that they must be assured that this judgment of charity must be false, or that their brother could not perish. In the first place, they could not be obliged to act by it, and in the second, they could not rationally be moved by it to abstain from giving scandal on that impossible supposition.
If you interpret the apostle thus: So shalt thou do that which, in its nature, tends to make thy brother perish; and might have that effect, had not God determined to preserve all from perishing, for whom Christ died; since this determination renders it sure to me, who know it, that they cannot actually perish, it must assure me that there can be no cause of abstinency from this scandal, lest they should perish by it.
Moreover, by thus offending, saith the apostle, ye sin against Christ; viz.
by sinning against him whom he has purchased by his blood; and destroying them for whose salvation he has suffered. If this intent of Christ's death be denied, how can we show in what Christ has demonstrated his great love to them that perish? Is it possible that they can sin against redeeming love? and how, by thus offending them who neither do nor can belong to him as members of his mystical body, are we injurious to Christ? See Whitby on this place.
3. It is natural for man to wish and affect to be wise; and when this desire is cultivated in reference to lawful objects, it will be an indescribable good; but when, like Eve, we see, in a prohibition, something to be desired to make one wise, we are then, like her, on the verge of our fall. Though extensive knowledge is not given to all, yet it is given for all; and is the public property of the Church. He who does not use it for general edification robs the public of its right. For the misuse and misapplication of this talent we shall give account to God, as well as of other gifts and graces.
4. Persons of an over tender and scrupulous conscience may be very troublesome in a Christian society; but as this excessive scrupulosity comes from want of more light, more experience, or more judgment, we should bear with them. Though such should often run into ridiculous extremes, yet we must take care that we do not attempt to cure them either with ridicule or wrath. Extremes generally beget extremes; and such persons require the most judicious treatment, else they will soon be stumbled and turned out of the way. We should be very careful lest in using what is called Christian liberty we occasion their fall; and for our own sake we must take heed that we do not denominate sinful indulgences, Christian liberties.
5. Though we are bound to take heed that we put not a stumbling block in the way of a weak brother, yet if such a brother be stumbled at any part of our conduct which is not blamable in itself, but of which he may have taken a wrong view, we are not answerable for the consequences. We are called to walk by the testimony of God; not according to the measure of any man's conscience, how sincere soever he may be.
6. Many persons cover a spirit of envy and uncharitableness with the name of godly zeal and tender concern for the salvation of others; they find fault with all; their spirit is a spirit of universal censoriousness; none can please them; and every one suffers by them. These destroy more souls by tithing mint and cummin, than others do by neglecting the weightier matters of the law. Such persons have what is termed, and very properly too, sour godliness. Both are extremes, and he who would avoid perdition must avoid them.