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they see others do, are really least in Danger of being so in the true Sense of the Word; or, if they be indeed scandalized or offended by those Things, they, of all others, deserve the least Compassion : For a Scandal or an Offence being nothing else but a Stumblingblock laid before one to make him fall, or a Snare put in his Way to entrap him in a Sin, for any Man to say, that he is scandalized with this or the other Action which he fees his Neighbour do, is to suppose, that he is sensible that that Action is a Block in his Way, and may occasion his Fall; that he is aware that it is a great Temptation to him to sin against God. Now, in this Case, I say, he either is not scandalized, or, if he be, he is extremely to be blamed for it ; for, if he resists the Temptation, and keeps close to his Duty, notwithstanding this Occasion of finning, then he is not scandalized or offended, because he avoids the Offence. On the other Side, if he close with the Temptation, knowing it as he doth, and be ensnared in the Sin, having his Eyes thus opened to see the Danger, what Pity doth he deserve ? He is to be accounted a wilful presumptuous Transgressor.
3. Another Thing which I observe from this Doctrine of Offences, is this, that we are oftentimes in as much Danger of scandalizing and offending others, by pleasing them, and complying with their Humours, as by doing such Things as are offensive and distasteful to them. Thus, for Instance, to give a Man Money, when we are morally certain, that he will spend it in such Ways as will either be hurtful to himself or others; or to set strong Drink before a Man, who has already drunk beyond the Pitch of Temperance; in both these Cases the Humours of the Men are pleased and gratified; but yet, in Truth, we do, in both these Instances, really scandalize or offend them, in the Scripture Sense of the Word; because we do directly lay a Snare and Temptation before them to commit Sin: Whereas, if we had been lefs kind in the one Case, and less civil in the other, though we had displeased them by being so, we had avoided the giving Scandal, and done more agreeably to our Duty: And thus it is in all Cases, where a Man lies under any criminal Mistake, or goes on in the Pursuit of any vicious Inclination, or evil Custom. The Danger here of offending them doth not lie in opposing their Humours or thwarting them in these Ways, or by shewing by our Words and Actions how much we disapprove of them, but by complying with them, and by our Silence, or our Countenance, encouraging them in their sinful Prejudices or vicious Courses.
4. Another Thing to be taken Notice of upon this Occasion, is this, that a Man cannot be guilty of offending his Brother in the Scripture Sense of the Word, so long as he is doing his Duty. Or, if ever it does hap
that any one is drawn or "led to commit a Sin, by seeing another do an Action that he is really bound to do; in that Case the Sin lies wholly at his own Door, nor hath that other Man any Thing to answer for it: Here is indeed an Offence taken, but here is none given. The one Man is really scandalized and offended, but the other Man not being the Cause of it, is not to be blamed for it; and the Reason of this is evident. No Man can be obliged to Contradictions, and therefore all the parts of a Man's Duty must be consistent one with another; and if so, then it cannot be supposed, that at the same time a Man is obeying a Law of God, he should at the same time sin against his Neighbour, as he really must do, if by any Action of his that was a Duty, he could give Offence, or lay a Stumbling-block before his Neighbour. The Use that I make of this, is, that we are not to forbear any Action, when either the Laws of God, or the Laws of Man, whether Ecclesiastical or Civil, have obliged us to (so long as those Laws of Man are not inconsistent with the Laws of God) for Fear of giving Offence to others; for if any be scandalized at our performing our Duty (as certainly it is every Man's Duty to obey God and his lawful Superiors) it is their Fault, and none of
5. There is one Thing more that is fit to be added, and then, I think, we have taken in all the material Difficulties that can hap
pen in this Business, of giving Offence to our Brethren; and that is this, that tho'we. can give no Scandal or Offence to any by any Action that it is our Duty to do, yet it may sometimes happen, that we may give Offence to others by an indiscreet Use of our Liberty in Things which are otherwise lawful. My Meaning is this: A direct tempting of Men to lin, or the doing any ill Thing by which others may be encouraged to sin; these are not the only Instances in which a Man may offend his Brethren (tho’ indeed these are the most notorious and most common) but a Man may give Offence also in the forbidden Sense, when he doth some Action lawful in itself to be done, and perhaps likewise done by him with an innocent Design, but which he foresees may probably be an Inducement or an Occasion to draw others into some Sin; I say, even this is a giving Offence, and laying a Stumblingblock before our Brethren. It is certain that every Man is bound, in Charity to his Brother's Soul, thus far to deny himself, viz.as to forbear those Actions which otherwise he might lawfully do, when the Case so happens, that those Actions, if they be done, will in all Probability be a Snare to others to do fomething that they ought not to do. And this is the very Cafe about which St. Paul is so large in the 14th Chap. of his Epistle to the Romans, and 8th and roth Chapters of the ift Epistle to the Corinthians, where he treats
of this Argument. The Sum of his Difcourse of Scandals in these Epistles, comes to this, that in Matters purely indifferent, which are neither tied upon us by the Laws of God nor Man, but it is perfectly left at our Liberty whether we will act or not act. in all these Cases we should have so much Regard to the Ignorance and Infirmities and Prejudices of those we converse with, as rather to forbear the Practice of those Things which are otherwise lawful, and we may freely do, than by using our Liberty in such Things, to give Encouragement to other Mens Sins, or to be a blameable Occasion of another Man's Fall.
Having thus far treated of the Nature of Scandals and Offences, in order to the rectifying some popular Misapprehensions about them, I proceed now to say a little (and it shall be but a little) to those Points, which the Text I am upon doth more particularly suggest to our Consideration, with Relation to this Matter,
Woe unto the World, says our Saviour, because of Offences; it must needs be that Offences come, but Woe unto that Man by whom the Offence cometh,
Three Things here our Saviour declares
1. The Dangers and fad Consequences that Scandals or Offences do bring upon Mankind. Woe unto the World because of Offences.