A sharp distinction is to be drawn between moderation and abstinence. To be “temperate in all things” (1 Cor. 9:25) is a dictate of prudence—to put it on the lowest ground. “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (Phil. 4:5) is a divine injunction. It is not the use but the abuse of many things which marks the difference between innocence and sin. But because many abuse certain of God’s creatures, that is no sufficient reason why others should altogether shun them. As Spurgeon once said, “Shall I cease to use knives because some men cut their throats with them?” Shall, then, my wife remove her wedding ring because certain people profess to be “stumbled” at the sight of one on her finger? Does love to them require her to become fanatical? Would it really make for their profit, their edification, by conforming to their scruples? Or would it not be more likely to encourage a spirit of self-righteousness? We once lived for two years in a small place where there was a church of these people, but we saw few signs of humility in those who were constantly complaining of pride in others.
There are some professing Christians (by no means all of them Romanists) who would consider they grievously dishonored Christ if they partook of any animal meat on Friday. How far would the dictates of Christian love require me to join with them in such abstinence were I to reside in a community where these people preponderated? Answering for himself, the writer would say it depends upon their viewpoint. If it was nothing more than a sentiment he would probably yield, though he would endeavor to show them there was nothing in Scripture requiring such abstinence. But if they regarded it as a virtuous thing, as being necessary to salvation, he would unhesitatingly disregard their wishes, otherwise he would be encouraging them in fatal error. Or, if they said he too was sinning by eating animal meat on Friday, then he would deem it an unwarrantable exercise of brotherly love to countenance their mistake, and an unlawful trespassing upon his Christian liberty.
It is written, “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32); yet, like many another precept, that one cannot be taken absolutely without any qualification. For example, if I be invited to occupy an Arminian pulpit it would give great offense should I preach upon unconditional election; yet would that warrant my keeping silent thereon? Hyper-Calvinists do not like to hear about man’s responsibility; but should I therefore withhold what is needful to and profitable for them? Would brotherly love require this of me? None was more pliable and adaptable than he who wrote, “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews . . . To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak” (1 Cor. 9:20-22); yet when Peter was to be blamed because he acceded to those who condemned eating with the Gentiles, Paul “withstood him to the face” (Gal. 2:11-12); and when false brethren sought to bring Paul into bondage he refused to have Titus circumcised (Gal. 2:3-5).
Another incident much to the point before us is found in connection with our Lord and His disciples. “The Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not” (Mark 7:3-4). First a tradition, this had become a religious practice, a conscientious observance, among the Jews. Did our Lord then bid His disciples to respect the scruples of the Jews and conform to their standard? No, indeed; for when the Pharisees “saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled [ceremonially defiled], that is to say, with unwashen hands, they found fault” (Mark 7:2). On another occasion Christ Himself was invited by a certain Pharisee to dine with him, “and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner” (Luke 11:37-38). Even though He knew it would give offense, Christ declined to be bound by man-made laws.