We must make diligent endeavours to discover the truth, and have a sincere resolution to hold it fast. If men know about sin and turn a blind eye they practically involve themselves in it: “Be not partakers of other men’s sins” (1 Tim. 5:22). What we read of Eli is very solemn: “For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (1 Sam. 3:13).
It was more loving, impartial and unselfish for Paul to deliver the transgressor to Satan, than for the Corinthians to allow his continuing membership. Paul’s severity sought the transgressor’s reformation, repentance and salvation, while the indifferent tolerance of the Corinthians would have tended towards his eternal ruin. It is important to check instances of clear disobedience before they develop further to the ruin of the individual (Jude 23).
A lax approach to discipline tends to leave the false impression that there are aspects of true obedience which are indifferent, which in turn discourages thorough self-examination and the study of the divine Word. If I may enjoy the highest privileges of the Church, irrespective of what I do within the limits of a broad (yet changeable) common morality, there is no very pressing necessity to apply myself to a close and searching examination of the word in order that I may know the standards sought by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is more likely to promote spiritual pride and carnal complacency than the ‘fear and trembling’ of humble piety.
There is an inseparable connection between right belief and right practice. The truth is after godliness. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Doctrine must always be according to “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ”, and “according to godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3); for the Holy Spirit requires men to live so that they shall “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Titus 2:10).
Sometimes only certain commandments are brought into view, such as the seventh commandment. Yet the seventh commandment does not demand obedience any more than does the first, second, third or any of the rest. James settles this question once and for all. “If ye have respect to persons”, by showing partiality in failing to deal with all alike, “ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:9-11).
No one is sinless, and therefore it is not everything that is sinful and displeasing that constitutes scandal. A scandal is a sin as declared by Scriptural authority either through express warrant or due and necessary consequence. It must be something which may tempt others to sin so that it will be as a little leaven leavening the whole lump.
Some may speak of liberty of conscience, but liberty and liberty of conscience are to be regulated by the Word of God – if anything is Scripturally required as a duty we cannot exclude it on the ground that it is supposedly “secondary”. How do we make such a distinction? The issue is not of degrees of liberty of conscience, but what things are in Scripture and what are not. If it is Scripturally authorised, it is binding and a duty – if it is contrary to or beside Scriptural authority, it is not binding. We cannot make conscience itself a rule and leave it up to the individual as to what they should do. It is God’s law, and not conscience, which is the rule both of belief and action. Conscience cannot make legitimate what God’s law condemns.
Matthew A Vogan