The Works of Bishop Hay - The Sincere Christian Vol. II
By: Right Rev. Bishop Hay of Edinburg
Printed in 1871
Q. 7. What are the consequences which flow from these Scripture principles?
2. When we hear wicked men speaking impious things against the Gospel, or ridiculing the sacred truths it teaches, and have rounds to hope that our defending them would either check their impiety or prevent others present from being hurt by it, it is our city to profess our esteem and veneration for the Gospel, because then both the good of our neighbor and the honor of God call upon us to do so. And is it not surprising that, if we hear our friend, father, or prince spoken evil of, we think ourselves obliged to take their part and defend them, and yet that we should be cold and backward to defend the cause of the great God, when we hear His divine truths blasphemed, or ashamed to show ourselves Christians, lest we should be ridiculed by men? Have we not reason to dread that Christ will be ashamed of us at the great day? This was not the case with the royal prophet, that man according to God's own heart, who said to God, "I spoke of Thy testimonies before kings, and I was not ashamed," Ps. cxviii. 46; nor with St. Paul, who said, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel," Rom. i. 16.
3. That it is always criminal to seem to approve of or profess any false religion, whether this be done by words, signs, or actions; because to approve a false religion, even in appearance, or before men, is a tacit condemnation of the true, is a dangerous lie, dishonorable to God, and a scandal to our neighbor. Hence, when the persecuting heathen king rehired the venerable Eleazar to eat swine's flesh, contrary to the law, as a sign of his denying his religion, "he, choosing rather a most glorious death than a hateful life, went forward of his own accord to the torment;" and when some of his friends, moved with a false compassion, proposed to bring him other flesh which the law allowed, that he might appear to have eaten swine's flesh in obedience to the king, and so save his life, "he answered without delay, … saying he would rather be sent into the other world; for it doth not become our age, said he, to dissemble, whereby many young persons, … through my dissimulation, and for a little time of a corruptible life, should be deceived, and thereby I should bring a stain and a cures upon my old age; for though for the present time I should be delivered from the punishment of men, yet should I not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither alive nor dead; … and he was forthwith carried to execution," 2 Mac. vi. 19.
4. That when a person living among those of a false religion conceals his faith, though he keep it in his heart, and in order to conceal it neglects all its external duties, and even transgresses the sacred laws and precepts of the Church lest he should be discovered, and meet with some temporal loss or inconvenience, he is guilty of a sin, because he is ashamed of the faith of Christ, disobeys His holy Church, and prefers his own wordily ease and interest to the glory of God and the honor of His holy Gospel.
5. That if this person, the more effectually to conceal his religion, not only neglects its duties, but even joins in acts of the false religion of those with whom he dwells by being present at their prayers, or going to their churches, his sin is still more grievous, because he positively presses a false religion, denies the true religion of Jesus Christ before men, and therefore must expect to be denied by Him at the great day. Of such as these the Scripture says, "When they worship the Lord they serve also their idols," 4 Kings, xvii. 33,41. And their great misery is, that they conceal their worship of the Lord, being afraid to show it, and worship openly their idols, their wordily interests, and the favor of men.
6. That if any outward action or dress, or the like, be either of its own nature, by the laws of the country, or the custom of the place, considered a distinctive sign of a false religion, it is always unlawful and a sin in any member of the Church of Christ to do that action or wear that dress, whatever may be his private intention in doing so because in the eyes of the world it is an open profession of that false religion, nor does it depend upon his private intention to make it otherwise. Hence the Church severely condemned the practice of some Christians living among Mahometans, who, while they privately attended their Christian duties, took Turkish names, and used the Turkish dress, that, passing for Mahometans, they might enjoy certain privileges in trade, and be freed from certain taxes which Christians were obliged to pay. All such dissimulation in religion is detestable in the sight of God, not only for the reasons given above, but also because of the injury it does to His holy religion itself; for when it is discovered, as it seldom fails sooner or later to be, it gives the enemies of our holy faith cause to believe that it approves such dissimulation, and increases their hatred and aversion to it.
7. Every action or way of speaking which either includes, or seems to include, a contempt or disapprobation of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, or an approbation of what is contrary thereto, and which scandalizes weak brethren, or tends to lead them into error or sin, is still more detestable in the eyes of God; as, beside all the evils above mentioned, it also tends to the ruin of those souls for which Christ died. We have seen how this consideration weighed with that holy servant of God Eleazar, to keep him from doing a thing lawful in itself, but which, having the appearance of evil, would have proved a scandal to others; and St. Paul, in the strongest manner, shows us the greatness of the crime of giving scandal in things that regard religion above all others.
Q. 8. What is the doctrine delivered by St. Paul on this head?
(2) He declares that when a person thinks anything a sin which is not so in itself, and commits it, he becomes guilty, by acting against his conscience. "All things," says he, "are clean, but it is an evil for that man who eateth with offense; … for he that discerneth" (that is, thinks some meats clean and some unclean), "if he eat, is condemned, because not of faith" - that is not according to but against his conscience, Rom. xiv. 20, 23.
(3) He affirms that, if we do a thing innocent in itself, but which has the appearance of evil, and much more so if it be evil, by which our brother is encouraged or otherwise induced to it, believing it to be evil, or knowing it to be such, we commit a grievous sin, by ruining our brother's soul, and sinning against Christ, who died for our salvation. Meats offered to idols, in reality contract no uncleanness on that account, but because an idol is nothing, and therefore in themselves they may be eaten without any scruple; yet all are not of that opinion, and "if any one eats with the conscience of the idol" (that is, thinking it unlawful to do so), "his conscience, being weak, is defiled/" Now, though another who has knowledge may lawfully each such meat, yet, if his doing so induces his weak brother to do the same, he is guilty of the ruin of his brother. :Take heed," says he, "lest perhaps this your liberty become a stumbling-block to the weak; for if a man see him that hath knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not his conscience, being weak, be emboldened to eat those things which are sacrificed to idols? and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died? Now, when ye sin thus against the brethren, and would their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ," I Cor. viii. 9,.
Wherefore, (4) He concludes, that for his part "if meat scandalize my brother, I will never taste flesh, lest I should scandalize my brother," I Cor, viii. 13. And a little after he gives this general command to all, "Give no offense to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God," I Cor. x. 32. From this it is manifest that every word or action including or seeming to include a contempt of religion, by which our brethren may "be offended, or scandalized, or made weak," is very offensive in the sight of God, from this consideration alone, that it tends to make "them perish for whom Christ died, wounds their weak conscience," and through them is a "sin against Christ." And how severe a judgment Christ will pass against all those who scandalize their weak brethren appears from His own words, when He says, "He that shall scandalize one of those little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because f scandals; for it must needs be that scandals come; but, nevertheless, woe to that man by whom scandal cometh," Mat. xviii. 6 And the holy Eleazar declared that, had he been guilty of that crime, though by an action which was in itself lawful, and to save his own life, yet "neither alive nor dead should he escape the hand of the Almighty," 2 Mac. vi. 26.
8. Lastly, That it is always criminal to expose one's self without necessity to the probably danger of losing one's faint, or being corrupted in one's religion; for the Scripture declares that "He that liveth the danger shall perish in it," Ecclus. iii. 27. And our Saviour commands us to pluck out our eye, or cut off the and or foot, and throw it from us, if it be scandal to us - that is, to fly from, separate ourselves from, and avoid every person, thing, or employment, which puts us in the dangerous occasion of running our souls, though as near and dear or useful to us as an eye, a hand or a foot; and He adds this cogent reason, "For it is better," says He, "for thee that one of thy members should perish, than that thy whole body should be cast into hell-fire," Mat. v. 29. And again: "It is better for thee to tenter into life maimed and lame, than, having two hands and two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire," Mat. xviii. 8.