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to conceal the vices of his friends, than their virtues. Surely there is much of God in that soul, that is, upon a gospel account, more careful and skilful to conceal the vices of weak saints, than their virtues. Many in these days do justly incur the censure which that sour philosopher Diogenes passed upon grammarians, that they were better acquainted with the evils of Ulysses than with their own.
4. It is the duty of strong saints, to deny themselves in things indifferent, to please the weak.
Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend, 1 Cor. viii. 13. Strong saints must stand unchangeably resolved neither to give offence carelessly, nor to take offence causelessly. Says the apostle, 'I will not stand to dispute my Christian liberty, but will rather lay it down at my weak brother's feet, than I will by the use of it offend one for whom Christ hath died." To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak, I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, 1 Cor. ix. 22. That is, ' I condescended and went to the uttermost that I possibly could, without sin, to win and gain upon the weak; I displeased myself in things that were of an indifferent nature, to please them.' Thou oughtest not, O strong Christian, by the use of thy Christian liberty, to put a stumbling block before thy weak brother, We then that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification, Rom. xv. 1, 2. He does not say, Let every one of us please the lust of his neighbour; but Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. Let us, in things of an indifferent nature, so yield as to please our neighbour. There were some who thought they mightobserve days; others thought they might not. Some thought they might eat meat; others thought they might eat herbs only. 'Why,' says the apostle, ' in these things that are of an indifferent nature, I will rather displease and deny myself to profit my neighbour, than I will by the use of my liberty, occasion my neighbour to offend.' This is true Christian love indeed, for a man to cross himself
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to please his neighbour, so it may be for his soul's edification. But this heavenly love is driven almost out of the world, which causes men to dislike those things in others, which they flatter in themselves.
5. A fifth duty incumbent upon strong saints, is—to support the weak.
Support the weak; be patient toward all men, I Thess. v. 14. Look, what the crutch is to the lame, and the beam of the house is to the ruinated house, that ought strong saints to be to the weak. Strong saints are to be crutches to the weak; they are to be, as it were, beams to bear up the weak. Strong saints are to set to their shoulder, to shore up the weak by their counsels, prayers, tears, and examples. Strong saints must not deal by the weak, as the herd of deer deal by the wounded deer; they forsake it, and push it away. O no. When a poor weak saint is wounded by a temptation, or by the power of some corruption, then they that are strong ought to succour and support such a one, lest he be swallowed up of sorrow. When you that are strong see a weak saint staggering and reeling under a temptation or affliction, O know, it is then your duty to put both your hands underneath to support him that he faint not, that he miscarries not in such an hour. Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees, Isa. xxxv. 3. Strengthen the weak hands: that is, hands that hang down. And confirm the feeble knees; that is, such knees as by reason of feebleness are ready to fall. confirm such; that is, encourage them by casting in a promise, by casting in thy experiences, or by casting in the experiences of other saints, that so they may be supported. It may be, his case was once thine: if so, then tell him what promises did support thee, what discoveries of God did uphold thee; tell him what tastes, what sights, and what incomes, thou hadst; and how bravely thou didst bear up in the strength of his everlasting arms that were under thee.
6. A sixth duty that is incumbent upon strong saints, is —to take heed of making weak saints halt and go lame in the way of holiness, or of keeping them off from the ways of God, or of turning them out of the ways of God.
That is the meaning of that Scripture, as I conceive, in
Luke xvii. 2; and of that in Mat. xviii. 10; Take heed that ye offend not one of these little ones, for their angels do always behold the face of my Father. You are apt to slight them because they are weak in grace and holiness, and so you are apt to cause them to halt; but take heed of this. They have glorious glistering courtiers that do attend them; therefore take heed that you do not offend them, for their angels, as so many champions, stand ready to right them and fight for them.' A man were better offend and anger all the devils in hell, and all the wicked in the world, than to anger and offend the least of Christ's little ones. If Cain do but lour upon Abel, God will arraign him for it, Why is thy countenance cast down9. If Miriam do but mutter against Moses, God will spit in her face for it. That is a very dreadful word in Mat. xviii. 6; Take heed how ye offend one of these little ones, you make nothing of it, but take heed; for it were better that a millstone, a huge millstone, as the Greek word signifies, such a one as an ass can but turn about; this kind of punishment the greatest malefactors among the Jews were put to in those days, says Jerome, and be cast into the midst of the sea; so it is word for word in the Greek; the middle being deepest and furthest off from the shore, rendering his state most miserable and irrecoverable.
7. It is the duty of strong saints to suit all things to the capacity of the weak; to suit all their prayers and all their discourses to the capacity of the weak.
Paul was good at this; To the weak became I as weak. Paul was a man as strong in natural and acquired parts as any living, and he knew how to word it and to carry it in as lofty strains, as any that breathed; yet who more plain in his preaching, than Paul? It has many a time made my heart sad, to think how those men will answer it in the day of Christ, who affect lofty strains, high notions, and cloudy expressions; who make the plain things of the Gospel dark and obscure. Many preachers in our days are like Hera clitus, who was called the dark doctor. They affect sublime notions, obscure expressions, uncouth phrases, making plain truths difficult, and easy truths hard. They darken counsel with words without knowledge. Studied expressions and high notions in a sermon, are like Asahel's carcase in the way, that did only stop men, and make them gaze, but did no ways profit them or better them. It is better to present truth in her native plain ness, than to hang her ears with counterfeit pearls.
That is a remarkable scripture in 1 Cor. iii. 1,2; And I brethren could not speak unto you, as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. The apostle did not soar aloft in the clouds, and express the mysteries of the gospel in such a dark obscure way, as that poor creatures could not be able to pick out the mind of God in it; no, but he suited all his discourses to their capacities, and so must you.
8. It is your duty to labour to strengthen weak saints against sin, and to draw them to holiness argumentatively.
When a strong saint comes to deal with one that is weak, and would strengthen him against sin, he must do it argumentatively; and when he would draw him to holiness, he must do it argumentatively. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not, 1 John ii. 1, 2. What things were those he wrote? Mark, If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us from all sin, ehap. i. 7. Here he fenceth them against sin, by one of the strongest and choicest arguments that the whole book of God affords, by an argument that is drawn from the soul's communion with God. And then in ver. 9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father. Here the apostle labours to strengthen weak saints argumentatively, even by the strongest arguments that the whole book of God affords. So in chap. ii. 12; I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. So in ver. 18; Little children, it is the last time, and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are theremany Antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time. So in ver. 28, 29; And now, little children, abide in him, that when he shall appear, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. You see in all these scriptures how the apostle labours to strengthen weak saints in a way of holiness, and to fence them against ways of wickedness argumentatively: and so must you, this being the ready way to convince them and to make a conquest of them.
9. The ninth duty that lies upon strong saints, is, to cast a mantle over the infirmities of the weak.
Now there is a three-fold mantle that should be cast over the infirmities of the weak. There is a mantle of wisdom, a mantle of faithfulness, and a mantle of compassion; which is to be cast over all the infirmities of weak saints.
Strong saints are to cast a mantle of wisdom over the infirmities of weak saints. They are not to present their sins in that ugliness and with such aggravations, as may terrify, as may sink, as may make a weak saint despair, or may drive him from the mercy-seat, or as may keep him and Christ asunder, or as may unfit him for the discharge of religious duties. It is more a weakness than a virtue in strong Christians, when a weak saint is fallen, to aggravate his fall to the uttermost, and to present his sins in such a dreadful dress, as shall amaze him. It often proves very prejudicial and dangerous to ..weak saints, when their infirmities are aggravated beyond scriptural grounds, and beyond what they are able to bear. He that shall lay the same strength to the rubbing of an earthen dish, as he does to the rubbing of a pewterplatter, instead of cleaning it, will surely break it to pieces. The application is easy.
There is a mantle of faithfulness, that is to be cast over the infirmities of weak saints. A man should never discover the infirmities of a weak saint, especially to such as have neither skill nor will to heal and bury them. The world will but blaspheme and blazen them abroad, to the dishonour of God, to the reproach of religion, and to the grief and scandal of the weak. They will, with Ham, rather call upon others to scoff at them, than bring a mantle to cover them. Ham was cursed for that he did discover his father's nakedness to his brethren, when it