And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor?—Jeremiah 2.18.

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OFFENCES.

Excerpted from:

THE

REFORMATION ADVOCATE.

VOL. I.

JUNE, 1876.

NO. 10.

Our Lord, during his personal and public ministry, gave expression to many sentiments which were very unpopular.  Some of these were displeasing because of their obscurity; others, because of their plainness.  His actions, also, were no less subject to criticism.  If he said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” Nicodemus, though a master of Israel, is ready to object, “How can these things be?”  When he spoke of the bread which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world, the Jews murmured at him; and when he said, “I am that bread of life,” they strove among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  Not the carnal Jews only, but “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him;” and the more he proceeded to explain his dark sayings, the less agreeable they became.  They were hard sayings, who could hear them?  To the unbelieving and unhumbled sinner, all Christ’s teachings are hard sayings.  To such he is an austere man, and a hard master; and yet it is only by the arrows from his quiver, that his enemies are made to fall under him.  Psalm 45.5.

Among the hard sayings of Christ, we select for our present purpose one which has a prophetic aspect; which has been in process of fulfillment heretofore, and still continues to be, before our eyes, till the present time.  The saying is this, “It must needs be that offences come,” Matt. 18.7.

We inquire into our Lord’s meaning by the word offences; {290} why must they come? and then, notice some of those now prevalent among his professing disciples and others.

What is the meaning of offence?—not the popular meaning, but our Saviour’s meaning?  The common idea attached to the word, we believe, is something in the language or conduct of one person or party, which is displeasing to another.  This is not the meaning of the word as here used by our Lord.  It seems to have originated in the ingenious contrivance of hunters, composing a part of the fowler’s snare.  The Greek word, often used in the New Testament, calls our attention to a snare or trap, and to that part which may be called a trigger, on which the hapless beast or bird setting its foot, is entangled or captured.  This is the radical import of the term offence.  The English term scandal, which in popular usage has a much stronger meaning than offence, is nevertheless its exact equivalent.  Indeed it is the very word of the Greek text merely Anglicized.  To offend, therefore, is not to displease, to irritate, to insult, and so on; for in our Lord’s sense, one may possibly offend another worst, when pleasing him most.  To offend is to set a trap, to spread a snare for another; or, as it is elsewhere explained, to “lay a stumbling block in his way”—to impede his progress, or cause him to fall.  To make the meaning, if possible, plainer, we may suppose a Christian minister to accompany his neighbour to the theatre, the ball-room, the race-course, the cock-pit;[1] or the drunkard to the liquor-bar or drinking saloon: would not the minister’s example at once be pleasing to such characters, and mar their edification?  We are commanded to “give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.” 1 Cor. 10.32.  Now, why must offences come?  They are evil, and evil only; then why must they come?  We are not in the secrets of the Most High; but he requires that we search the Scriptures and obey his law; that “every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.”  Doubtless one end to be subserved by the existence of offences, is to manifest the sovereignty of God.  The malice and subtilty of Satan, with the corruption of human nature, and the outbreaking of this corruption among worldly professors, will certainly produce offences.  And while God is not bound to prevent, he is pleased to permit them, that the glory of his sovereignty may be displayed in controlling them.  By the existence and prevalence of offences, {291} the graces of true Christians are tried, increased, and manifested; and this is one of the ways in which God brings good out of evil.  Thus He permits divisions to arise among church members.  This is undeniable, and yet lamentable.  But, what is still more to be lamented, he suffers heresies to be broached and propagated.  Paul could assure the elders of Ephesus, that “grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock; also of their own selves would men arise, speaking perverse things.” Acts 20.29,30.  Now, how could Paul predict these assaults upon the disciples as certainly future, but by the Spirit of God? and how could their certain futurition be known, but by the immutability of the divine purpose?  In the sin of the first Adam, we have a demonstration of its existence and origin; in the sufferings of the last Adam, we have an equal demonstration of expiation of sin; and in both, an irrefragable proof of the sovereign decree of God.  Divine sovereignty and human liberty must therefore be consistent, for they are obviously co-existent, as may be seen in these passages following: Acts 2.23; Rom. 5.12; 2 Cor. 5.21.  True, we cannot explain how divine sovereignty and free agency co-exist.  May we therefore deny, or refuse to believe their co-existence?  Because the seed springs and grows up, we know not how (Mark 4.27), can we rationally deny either its existence or growth?  No.  Christ says,—and he has a right to say—“There must needs be offences;” and Paul, authorized by him, does not forbear to say, “There must be also heresies among you.” 1 Cor. 11.19.  Heresies are just part and parcel of the predicted and pre-ordained offences; and the immediate end of all is, “that they which are approved, may be made manifest”—made manifest to all spectators; angels, and men, good and bad; to the glory of God, their own and others’ edification.  And surely these are ends worthy of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.

Keeping in view the Scriptural meaning of the words offend, offence, scandal, or stumbling-block; we cannot but acknowledge that offences abound everywhere among the disciples of Christ.  Among an innumerable multitude of offences, we notice the following as most prevalent and detrimental to truth and godliness at the present time.

Many of both sexes refrain from openly confessing Christ, {292} because they think church members are no better than themselves.  They hear them make use of profane language.  They see them frequent the theater; and sometimes indulge in excess of wine and strong drink.  They have also felt deeply wronged in their worldly business, by some of the more ostentatious and leading professors—ministers not expected.  All true, too true, and to be deplored.  Having heard, seen, and felt, that some professed disciples of Christ will swear, lie, and cheat; decent men and women conclude too hastily that Christianity cannot be divine.  Thus the name of God (the true religion) is blasphemed among the Gentiles, through them who thus give offence. [Rom. 2.24.]  Yet both parties are guilty before God; the carnal professor, because by his unchristian conduct he throws stumbling-blocks in his neighbour’s way; and the man of the world, however respectable, because he makes the professor the test or standard of Christianity, instead of the Bible and its Author.  In vain, however, will the inquirer come to the knowledge of the truth, while his attention is abstracted from the holy Scriptures to stumbling-blocks.  We know not a more hopeless and foolish enterprise by fallen men, than the attempt to cover his moral nakedness from the omniscient God, by a covering constructed of either the infirmities or sins of a Christian professor.  It will prove, on trial, no more available [availing] than the fig-leaves of our first parents.

On the other hand, “Woe to the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come”—and still for the same glorious object, “that they which are approved may be made manifest.”

We are all by nature much more concerned for our own honour, than for the glory of God.  Paul complained of this when he said, “All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s;” and yet Solomon says, “For a man to search his own glory, is not glory;” it is all deception. [Phil. 2.21; Prov. 25.27.]  And our Lord asks, “How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only?” [John 5.44.]  This has always been an offence, a stumbling-block to unbelievers; and as it has been a principle element in the organization of the Great Anti-Christ; we think it never was a more prevalent offence among Protestants, than at this time.  The innovations and consequent confusion, unions and consequent divisions, among almost all denominations, are very stumbling to many.  Among the common {293} people, confidence in church guides is greatly shaken; therefore, to meet the natural cravings of the soul, “they heap to themselves teachers.” [2 Tim. 4.3.]  Then lay-preachers, male and female, in the attractive name of “revivalists,” will not be slow to assume the place of leaders—especially when honour and emolument are in prospect.  And is there anything more natural than that such unauthorized “evangelists,” male and female, should wish to share in the loaves and fishes with pampered doctors of divinity and others; who profane the office of the Christian ministry, and degrade themselves, by co-operating with such, in “bringing souls to Jesus?”  While the “working people—the masses” have too much self-respect to occupy a place in the gallery of the gorgeous edifice, or to be shoved off by the aristocracy; and while they can get little or no food from essays read by exquisites from cushioned desks on the Sabbath; is it strange, that when Christ crucified is scarcely noticeable in the learned theme, such persons should be arrested by the popular cry, “Behold he is in the desert!  Behold he is in the secret chamber!?” [Matt. 24.26.]  The “anxious benches” of former years have given place to “inquiry rooms;” and fixed with “wandering stars” combine to “lead sinners to the Saviour.”  These are gins, traps, snares, stumbling-blocks, less palpable than the kind mentioned before, and therefore more dangerous.  “If it were possible, they would deceive the very elect.” [Matt. 24.24.]  But, “it must needs be that offences come.”

Finally, since offences must come, and heresies must be; let those who would manifest that they are approved; who would “clean escape from them who live in error,” carefully try the spirits—modern revivalists—and their work, by the standard of God’s word, and the subordinate standards of the covenanted Reformation; and they shall have no stumbling-blocks.  Ask thus,—Have these commotions any organization? a regular ministry? any government? any discipline?  Are they jointly or severally accountable to any authority on earth for error or immorality?  If not, “from such turn away.”


Footnotes:

1. The term cock-pit, which is now usually given a very different meaning, in our author’s time referred literally to the enclosed pit used for cock fights.  In its figurative use it may also refer to the arena where is held a contest, fight, or battle.—JTK.