PAUL IN THE TEMPLE AT JERUSALEM.
The question how far it is proper for the sake of doing good, to yield to the prejudices of others, or to conform to the customs of the world.
Danger incurred at Jerusalem.—Warnings of friends.—Advice given.— Justification of the course pursued.—Prevalent extremes; unyielding rigidness, and culpable laxness.—Principles applicable to this question.— Vows not in themselves wrong.—Many things in life optional.—Some things not inherently wrong, forbidden because injurious.—Some things intrinsically wrong.—Some things not sinful, but inconsistent.—How the world views the inconsistent compliances of professors.—How such compliances differ from that of Paul.—Application of these principles as a rule of life.—The good-will of the world not to be despised.—Yet not to be secured by compromise.—Compromise to be refused only as duty. —Up to that point, concession to be made.—Motive of such concession.
"And unto the Jews, I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that arc without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."
I Cor. ix. 20—22.
A STREET IN JERUSALEM.
PAUL, after having travelled through Greece and Asia Minor, had gone up to Jerusalem. It was the first visit which he had made in a public manner to Jerusalem since his conversion, and it could not be otherwise than that his public appearance in that city, or his presence there at all, if known, would be likely to produce a riot among the Jews. He seems himself to have anticipated that something of this nature might occur. In his parting address to the elders who met him at Miletus, he had said, "And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there."
After leaving Miletus, Paul sailed to Tyre; and there the first definite apprehension of his danger was expressed: "Finding certain disciples, we tarried there seven days; who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem." Their fear may have been caused by a knowledge of the feelings which prevailed at Jerusalem in regard to him, and the moral certainty that his presence there would call forth the manifestation of those feelings in some form of persecution.
This apprehension became more definite when Paul reached Caesarea. A certain "prophet" named Agabus, who had come down from Judaea, "took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles" (Acts xxi. 10, I1). It is not necessary to inquire whether this man was actually inspired, or whether the word "prophet," as applied to him, is used in the large sense in which it is often employed in the New Testament as denoting a religious teacher or a minister of religion. His own knowledge of the actual state of feeling in Jerusalem might have been sufficient to assure him that those consequences would follow if Paul should venture to approach the city. Agabus had just come from Jerusalem. He knew the temper of the nation. He was aware of the intense and bitter hatred with which they regarded Paul, as an apostate from their religion, and as one of the most prominent and dangerous apostates; as a man of eminent talents, and most active in propagating his own sentiments, in overthrowing the national religion, and in counteracting the institutions of Moses. More than any other man they regarded him as an enemy of their faith.
When he came to Jerusalem, the same apprehension existed among the leading disciples of the Saviour there. They themselves received Paul gladly. They recognized him as a true apostle, and as a man who had been eminently blessed of God in spreading the knowledge of the way of salvation among the Gentiles (Acts xxi. 17—
20) . But they knew well that there were large numbers —" many thousands," said they—of those who believed, who were still "zealous of the law," whose prejudices could be aroused, and whose passions could be inflamed, by the charge that he had taught "all the Jews which were among the Gentiles to forsake Moses" (Acts xxi.
21) . It was unavoidable that they should be informed of his arrival; that they should come together; that there would be commotion and excitement; and that, unless something were done to calm down the feeling, his life would be in peril.
In these circumstances, it was proposed that he should at once do something of such a nature, and in such a public manner, as to show that he had no hostility to the laws of Moses, and that it was not his design to make war on the religion of his fathers. A method was suggested which it was supposed would show this in a satisfactory manner. There were with them, or of their own number, four men who had made a "vow," in accordance with what was usual among the Jews; the conditions of the vow were already partly accomplished; Paul could unite himself with them without loss of time in what remained to be performed; and, as the consummation of this must be in the temple, it would show in the most public manner that he did not regard these ceremonial arrangements as unlawful in themselves, or as improper to be observed, in certain circumstances, by those who had been converted from Judaism to Christianity.
In justification of the course proposed, and of the conduct of Paul, it is to be observed that this was not a mere trick ; that it was not doing in Jerusalem, under the influence of fear, what he would not do elsewhere; that it was not designed to "throw dust in their eyes;" that it was not an act of "trimming," or of compliance with a custom which he elsewhere opposed. Similar instances had in fact occurred when travelling abroad, where no such cause could be alleged for his conduct. Thus, in one instance, he had performed an act of the Jewish religion in relation to Timothy, because there were many Jews in the region where it was proposed that he should labour (Acts xvi. 3); in another, and that when entering on this very journey to Jerusalem (Actsxviii. 18), he had fulfilled the conditions of a "vow" which he had made,—though when made, or for what purpose, is now unknown. It may be added, also, that he made no secret of all this. It was done publicly; and, in an epistle which he addressed to one of the churches which he had founded among the Gentiles, he avowed it as a fixed principle of conduct:—" Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews" (1 Cor. ix. 20).
The question which is suggested for consideration by this case, is, How far is it proper to comply with the customs, or to yield to tJie prejudices of the world around us, in order to do good, promote religion, and win others to love the Saviour t
That this is an important practical question, no one can doubt; that it is a question attended with some serious difficulties is equally clear. Very much of the honour of religion, and of the usefulness of Christians, depends on this; very much of the injury done to the cause of religion by its professed friends is to be traced to a want of correct views on subjects that come properly within the range of this inquiry.
In order to a just determination of the question, it will be proper to notice at the outset the extremes which prevail on the subject. These are two :—
(a.) A rigid, unbending, and stern application of religious principles to all cases that occur, and to all questions that pertain to conduct. No one can doubt that the Christian religion is a religion of principle, and not of sentiment, form, or feeling; that there are to be fixed and regular laws in religion, and that our conduct is to be regulated by those laws; that those laws, for Christians, are to be found in the Bible, and are not to be modified by the philosophy, the maxims, or the customs of the world; and that the highest exercise of conscience is to be applied to our conduct in relation to those laws. But it is assuming more than any one has a right to assume, when a man affirms that those laws are designed to regulate all that pertains to society and conduct, or that there is no room for a diversity in social manners and customs; in dress and modes of living; in intercourse between man and man; in the ways and habits of doing things; or in customs that spring from different modes of education, climate, or pursuits. He who endeavours to bring under the domain of conscience and religion what does not properly belong to it, commits an offence, not less than he who endeavours to remove from the province of religion to a regulation of mere social custom what the Bible has made a matter of religious obligation. He who originates a rite, a custom, or an ordinance as pertaining to religion, and insists on it as a matter of conscience, is guilty of legislating where God alone can legislate; and he who attempts to apply the maxims of religion to customs, to habits of life, to modes of dress or of intercourse, which God has designed should be free, invades no less the province of God in matters of religion, than he who attempts to remove from their proper place those things which God has ordained, and to make them matters of expediency, of fashion, of custom, or of discretion. There are other things to guide us in life, than the direct and particular specifications of religion (Phil. iv. 8); and, within proper limits, religion is as much honoured by complying with those things as it is by obeying its direct and explicit ordinances. It may be said, indeed, with truth, that the error of the Church at large has not been that of a too rigid adherence to principle, or a too stern application of the laws of Christianity to thecommon transactions of life; but it is also to be said that there have been those in every age, the characteristic of whose piety has been the stern application of religious principles to every transaction of life, even so far as to bring under the domain of religion things which God has left to be matters of custom, of expediency, of taste, or of convenience. Extremes meet here. The Puritan on the one hand, and the Ritualist on the other (much as they differ in other respects),—he who insists that all things (dress, social customs, amusements) shall be regulated by the principles of religion, and he who exalts a humanly-appointed rite of religion (the mode of baptism, or a clerical dress, or the manner of administering a religious ordinance, or the observance of certain days) as a matter of stern obligation, however much they may differ in other respects,—agree in endeavouring to carry the domain of religious principle into regions which God never intended. Hence originates the denial of just liberty in the Church; hence, the spirit of persecution, of exclusiveness, of bigotry.
(b.) The other extreme is laxness, or an abandonment of the proper principles of religion, by conformity to the customs of the world. It need not be said that this has been, rather than the former, the prevailing danger in the Church, and that the principal dishonour which has been done to religion has sprung from this source. The rule which has been practically acted on in the Church, to an extent which no one can vindicate, has been to conform to the world in all things which are not morally wrong,—while what is morally wrong has been determined by other things than the laws and principles of the New Testament . Hence the most worldly forms of fashion, the theatre, the opera, the ball-room, the splendid party, have not been regarded as so different from the communion-table that both may not be alike participated in and enjoyed; and it has been believed that a transition from the one to the other involves no evidence of a want of true love to the Saviour, or of zeal for the honour of His religion.
The question now is, What, in reference to these extremes, are the true principles of religion? and particularly, What, on this subject, is authorized by the example of the Apostle Paul in the case before us? In the solution of these questions, it will be proper, first, to lay down some principles which, it may be presumed, will secure the assent of all; and, secondly, to consider the application of those principles to the point in hand.
I. There are certain principles, as bearing on the subject, which are likely to command universal assent.
(1.) Vows, or voluntary promises and pledges, are not, in themselves, immoral or improper. They were allowed freely under the Jewish system of religion; they are not forbidden in the New Testament; and they have been made by men most eminent for holiness and purity in all ages of the Church. They cannot, indeed, impose an obligation to the performance of that which is in itself wrong; but where an act is in itself right, they may be an important aid in securing its performance. In the general course of life, a purpose to do right is closely connected with the act of doing right, and goes far towards securing such an act; and a pledge, a promise, or a vow, whether in relation to God or man, may be an important means of securing upright conduct. The promises which we make in the ordinary transactions of business, and the professions which we make in religion, are valuable means of securing fidelity to any trust.' That Paul should have made a vow at Cenchrea, or should unite with others in carrying out a vow already made by them in Jerusalem, was in no way a departure from the principles in which he had been trained; or from the spirit of the Old or the New Testament; or from the general sense of mankind in regard to the propriety of the principle, in religion; or from the practice of men in regard to it, in the ordinary transactions of life. Whatever, therefore, may be charged on the apostle in reference to this transaction, it cannot be alleged that, in taking upon himself a share in this vow, he was doing that which was morally wrong.
(2.) There are numerous things that pertain to human conduct which, in themselves, are neither moral nor immoral, but which are indifferent in their nature. These things are not regulated by the Bible, nor do they conflict with the precepts of the Bible. Dress, .manners, modes of living,—methods of salutation, of address, and of intercourse,—social habits and customs, —domestic arrangements,—such things as these, pertain to the organization of families and societies as such, and must in the main be regulated by things quite independent of religion. Education, long-established usages, the tastes of individuals, difference of climate, diversities of pursuit, varieties in the ranks and conditions of life,—all these enter into the formation of such habits and customs. We do not expect the same formalities of intercourse in the cottage and in the palace; we need not require, and we could not secure, the same modes of salutation in China, in Persia, in Arabia,—among Turks, among Frenchmen, or among savage tribes.
Further; some of these things may pertain to religion. It remains yet to be proved that, according to the tastes, the education, and the individual characteristics of men, different modes may not be adopted in the worship of God, or that prayer may not be acceptable to God when offered either kneeling or standing; from a precomposed form, or from extemporary utterance; in audible expression, or in the silent breathing of the heart; when lying on the bed at night, or when in the hurry of business, in the counting-room, at the workbench, or at the plough, as well as amid the solemnities of public worship in the most gorgeous temple. It remains yet to be shown that in respect to the worship of an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Lutheran, a Moravian, though offered in different modes, there is not, as in respect to the social customs of life, a wide range of choice allowed according to the customs of nations, or according to the characteristics of individual men.
(3.) There may be things, not improper or wrong in themselves, that may be made improper and wrong by the positive commands of religion ;—that is, from which religion would restrain us for our own good, and in order to secure the highest degree of spirituality. There may be a pursuit of wealth which would be attended with no positively immoral act, but which would be perilous to a man's soul; there may be a desire of distinction in the world, in science, in political life, or a desire of remembrance after death, which would be connected with nothing immoral, but which might endanger the soul; there may be a love of dress, of pleasure, of amusement, of commendation and flattery, in a world gay and godless, which, though it might not lead to any acts of dishonesty, fraud, falsehood, licentiousness, or intemperance, and though it might be connected with all that is refined in intercourse and attractive in manners, might nevertheless lead to the neglect of the highest interests of the soul, and to its ultimate ruin.
(4.) There are things which are intrinsically and always wrong,—forbidden alike by the rules of a just morality, and by the principles of revealed religion. No possible circumstances can make them right; no sanctions or commands could change their essential nature, or invest them with innocence. No contingencies, no dangers, no hope of good, no fear of evil, could justify them or make them proper. Nothing could excuse or palliate them. In the nature of things, and apart from all positive commands, and all legislation, there are such things as right and wrong; good and evil; true and false; benevolent and malignant. These are not inade right or wrong, good or evil, by a mere exercise of will; and the excellence of the Divine nature itself is not that God declares that to be right which He does, but that His doings are eternally and invariably conformed to that which is right, and are unchangeably opposed to that which is evil and wrong. Nothing can justify a man in violating those eternal principles of right as existing in the nature of things, and as confirmed by the nature and the law of God; and if Paul's becoming "all things to all men," had gone to the extent of violating those principles, it would be impossible to vindicate him. What those things are has been declared by God himself in the volume of revealed truth, and has been engraved largely on the very consciences of men (Rom. ii. 14, 15).
(5.) There are things which are not regarded by the world as sinful or improper, but which are condemned by religion, and which, if practised by the professed friends of religion, that very world would consider to be wrong. The people of the world, while they see nothing in such things absolutely wrong, or inconsistent with any principles which they hold, profess to be able to see that such things are inconsistent with the professions Vhich Christians make. In their estimation such things are not in themselves evil, and would not be improper for them, but if professed Christians carry out the principle of " becoming all things to all men," to such an extent as to lead to a compliance with those customs, it would be set down against the latter as an abandonment of their profession, and as a proof that the principles of religion have no true and firm hold on their hearts. In the time of Paul there were many things freely indulged in by both Jews and Pagans, which while they would not have been regarded by Jews or Pagans as inconsistent with any principles which they held, would have been regarded as scandalous in a Christian apostle. What Pagan, who knew anything of the nature of Christianity, could have looked otherwise than with scorn on an apostle enjoying the conflicts in the amphitheatre, and joining the shouts of exultation as one gladiator plunged his sword in the heart of a less powerful or skilful antagonist?
There are many, very many, such things in the world now. Without pretending to know exactly how the world regards the question of morality as applicable to the amusements of society,—the theatre, the opera, the ball-room, the social "glass,"—to late hours, to gay and splendid apparel, to a life frivolous and vain, to the love of flattery,—it must be apparent to themselves, as it is to others, that they make a broad distinction between these things and ingratitude towards a parent, or a wrong done to a neighbour, or a flagrant breach of promise, or an act of dishonesty in business, or crime as defined by the laws of the land. They never, in respect to themselves, place such things in the same category with falsehood, theft, dishonesty, murder. Yet, whatever be the exact degree in which the world attaches the idea of morality to such things, it is not difficult to ascertain how they regard the question whether the professed friends of religion can consistently mingle in such scenes. On this point there is probably but one opinion among the people of the world. In their estimation, the communion-table and the theatre, the ballroom, and the opera, are separated by wide and impassable distances. There is no affinity between them. They cannot be rendered harmonious. The spirit of the one is not the spirit of the other. The transition from one to the other is not a natural and easy transition,—of the same nature as the transition among themselves from the employments to the amusements of life (all in the same line, and pursued with the same general aim),—but a transition to a new region—a transition for Christians from light to darkness, from right to wrong, from stern and fixed principles to a loose, and easy, and unjustifiable compliance with the customs of the world. Well do the people of the world, whatever may be true of many professed Christians, understand the force of the apostle's appeal, despise it though they may, when he says, "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial?" (2 Cor. vi. 14, 15). "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and the table of devils" (1 Cor. x. 21).
If, in these respects, a professed Christian now becomes "all things to all men," it is impossible not to see that his conduct differs wholly from that of Paul. The fact that he had a "vow," and that, by complying with the requirements of such a vow, he showed respect to the religion of his fathers, and even yielded to the prejudices of his countrymen, would not, and could not, interfere with his purpose to impress on their minds the reality and importance of religion, and the momentous nature of the interests of the soul. It would be seen that his conduct was in that line, and was designed to secure that end. But when a professed Christian is seen now in the theatre, or the opera, or the ball-room, is this in the line of doing good to the souls of others? Is it designed or adapted to impress on them the importance of personal religion? Can the people of the world regard it as having this tendency? Can they by any ingenuity of interpretation bring this mode of becoming "all things to all men" under the rule of Paul, "that I might by all means save some?"
II. Assuming now that these principles are correct, it will not be difficult to apply them as a rule of life,— and, in doing this, to show that the conduct of Paul was in no way chargeable with a want offirmness or of principle, and that it was not the offspring of timidity or fear.
(1.) In the effort to do good to others, and in all our intercourse with our fellow-men, the friendship of the world is better than its hatred. That man is more likely to do good to others who does not needlessly make war on their prejudices; who does not excite angry passions by a denunciation of customs that are innocent; who is not, of design, singular and eccentric in his speech and manners; who, in common matters, lives as other men live, and dresses as other men dress, and talks as other men talk, than he who begins his work by an assumption of universal singularity. To the intrinsic difficulty, always great, of doing men good in religion, in such a case we add the difficulty arising from the fact of disgusting them; of alienating them from us. The good-will of any man is better than his ill-will; and it cannot be desirable to run against the prejudices of the world where no principle is involved. As has been already remarked, there are numberless things in life which it is not the province of religion, any more than of civil law, to control. Every man has his own way of doing things. He has his habits formed. His peculiarity is of no importance to the community, it may be, but it is of importance to himself—to his comfort, to his views of propriety. We insensibly learn to adjust ourselves to the habits of others, showing respect to their peculiarities, and allowing them to do things in their own way. It may require months for a husband and wife to learn to live together without pain caused undesignedly in respect to some innocent habit or mode of doing things; but individuals brought to live together, do so adjust themselves to each other that peace and harmony prevail in families and communities. Now up to the point where such peculiarities— such habits or customs—cease to be innocent, it cannot be wrong to conform ourselves, as Paul did, to the state of things around, or to become "all things to all men."
(2.) In our intercourse with the world, in our transactions of business, in our efforts to do good, no principle —no truth—should be sacrif1ced or compromised. In the case now under consideration, Paul sacrificed no principle, and compromised no truth; we shall see hereafter that when principle was involved, or when truth was imperilled, nothing, not even the prospect of death, could move him from the performance of duty. At all hazards, in the face of all opposition, when threatened with the loss of all things, or with death itself,—or when there seems to be a prospect of doing good by the temporary abandonment of principle,—we are to adhere to that which is just and right; to all that our religion requires. Not by the allurements of fashion, of gaiety, and of worldliness, are we to be drawn aside from our duty; and not by the hope of doing good to the fashionable, the gay, or the worldly, are we to compromise the principles of religion, and to conform to customs that are wrong. If the principles of the Gospel are opposed to the theatre or the opera, he does no good to those who indulge in those amusements by being found with them in such places; if the principles of the Gospel are opposed to the use of intoxicating drinks, he does no good to those who indulge in the use of those drinks by partaking with them; if religion requires the observance of the Sabbath, he does no good to others who complies with their views, and travels with them on that day; if religion asserts the doctrine of human depravity, of the necessity for regeneration, of the necessity and the fact of an atonement, of the duty of a holy life, and of the certainty of eternal retribution, he can do no good to others who attempts to modify those doctrines so as to suit their views. Not thus are we to seek to do good; not thus are we to become "all things to all men." Not thus did Paul. Not with one thing in itself wrong, or forbidden by his religion, did he ever comply; not in one habit inconsistent with the purpose to serve God his Saviour, did he ever indulge, that he might better commend himself to those whom he would save.
(3.) It should be observed, however, that the things referred to should be matters of principle, things required by religion, and not things of whim, or fancy, or imagination. One of the great evils of the Church—of religious men everywhere—is that of which the Pharisee was an illustrious type, making "broad the phylacteries, enlarging the borders of the garments, loving the chief seats in the synagogues, desiring to be called of men 'Rabbi, Rabbi,'" and calling this—religion. In all those things which prescribe rites and ceremonies, genuflexions and crossings, and confound a conformity to these with obedience to a moral precept;—in all those things which exalt forms above religion itself, and which base exclusiveness upon those forms;—in all those things which insist on a mode rather than the reality, or on a mode as essential to reality, there the spirit of the Pharisee is perpetuated. It was otherwise with Paul. What he insisted on, was principle and truth, not shadow and form. In principle, he was firm as the everlasting hills; in reference to the mere forms of religion, to the innocent customs of the world, to the harmless prejudices of his fellow-men, even of religionists, as gentle and yielding as the osier when moved by the breathing of the zephyr.
(4.) The conclusion, then, to which we have arrived, alike in vindication of the conduct of Paul, and as a rule of Christian life, is, that up to the point where principle is involved, it is right to mingle with the world around us, and to conform to the ordinary customs of life;—to talk as others talk; to dress as others dress; to live as others live; to practise the rules which they practise in social intercourse, and to be interested in things pertaining to the good of a neighbourhood or of the country. Mere oddity, eccentricity, or want of civility in manners, converts no one; nor do these things recommend religion to others; certainly they do not make religion more attractive to the human heart. To set at defiance the laws of social life does nothing to commend the rules of the Gospel. To each individual in society every other individual will readily concede such peculiarity of manner as to mark and preserve his individuality; and, in like manner, the world around should concede such peculiarities of manner, deportment, and expression, as properly characterize the true Christian;—seriousness, earnestness, devoutness, deadness to the world, and the manifestation of a spirit which shows that he does not regard this world as his home. With all there was in Paul that was yielding, all his readiness to comply with the ways of doing things in the world, there was enough in his character that was peculiar to distinguish him from every other apostle; enough, in his spirit and aim, to distinguish
him in the most marked manner from the Jew and the Gentile, from the world around him, from the gay, the ambitious, the covetous, and the proud.
In view of the train of thought thus submitted, we may dwell a moment on the grand and noble purpose held up for our imitation in the language of the apostle, "that I might by all means save some." Such a purpose, pursued in such a manner, implies that the salvation of a soul is a great matter; that it towers above all other things; that it is worth every sacrifice that can be made; that all other objects—fame, wealth, ease, reputation, life itself should be made subordinate to it; that it should control all the faculties; that it should concentrate and combine all the powers of the soul. On this principle Paul acted, for he did not count his life dear unto himself so that he might finish his course with joy, and the ministry which he had received (Acts xx. 24); and on this principle the Saviour of the world acted, who endured the agonies of Gethsemane, and the bitter pains of death on the cross, that he might redeem the souls of men. And can any one doubt that the salvation of an immortal soul is worth even such sacrifices as these? Can any one doubt that it is worth more than all the sacrifices which he himself can make, "if by any means" he " may save some?"