In the last place, there is something for private Christians, even for all of us in our common relations, to take notice of: we are debtors to the weak in many things.
1. Let us be watchful in the use of our liberty, and labour to be inoffensive in our behavior, that our example compel them not. There is a commanding force in an example, as there was in Peter (Gal. 2). Looseness of life is cruelty to ourselves and to the souls of others. Though we cannot keep those who will perish from perishing, yet if we do that which is apt of itself to destroy the souls of others their ruin is imputable to us.
2. Let men take heed of taking up Satan's office, in misrepresenting the good actions of others, as he did Job's case, `Doth Job fear God for naught?' (Job 1:9), or slandering their persons, judging of them according to the wickedness that is in their own hearts. The devil gets more by such discouragements and reproaches that are cast upon religion than by fire and faggot. These, as unseasonable frosts, nip all gracious inclinations in the bud, and as much as in them lies, with Herod, labour to kill Christ in young professors. A Christian is a hallowed and a sacred thing, Christ's temple; and he that destroys his temple, him will Christ destroy (1 Cor.3:17).
3. Among the things that are to be taken heed of, there is among ordinary Christians a bold usurpation of censure towards others, not considering their temptations. Some will unchurch and unbrother in a passion. But ill humours do not alter true relations; though the child in a fit should disclaim the mother, yet the mother will not disclaim the child.
There is therefore in these judging times good ground of James's caveat that there should not be `many masters' (James 3:1), that we should not smite one another by hasty censures, especially in things of an indifferent nature; some things are as the mind of him is that does them, or does them not; for both may be unto the Lord.
A holy aim in things neither clearly right nor wrong makes the judgments of men, although seemingly contrary, yet not so much blamable. Christ, for the good aims he sees in us, overlooks any ill in them, so far as not to lay it to our charge. Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak.
Where most holiness is, there is most moderation, where it may be without prejudice of piety to God and the good of others. We see in Christ a marvelous temper of absolute holiness, with great moderation. What would have become of our salvation, if he had stood upon terms, and not stooped thus low unto us? We need not affect to be more holy than Christ. It is no flattery to do as he does, so long as it is to edification.
The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. Oh, that that Spirit would breathe into our spirits the same merciful disposition! We endure the bitterness of wormwood, and other distasteful plants and herbs, only because we have some experience of some wholesome quality in them; and why should we reject men of useful parts and graces, only for some harshness of disposition, which, as it is offensive to us, so it grieves themselves?
Grace, while we live here, is in souls which, because they are imperfectly renewed, dwell in bodies subject to several humours, and these will incline the soul sometimes to excess in one passion, sometimes to excess in another. Bucer was a deep and a moderate divine. After long experience he resolved to refuse none in whom he saw aliquid Christi, something of Christ. The best Christians in this state of imperfection are like gold that is a little too light, which needs some grains of allowance to make it pass. You must grant the best their allowance.
We must supply out of our love and mercy that which we see wanting in them. The church of Christ is a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or other, so all have occasion to exercise the spirit of wisdom and meekness.
So that we may do this the better, let us put upon ourselves the Spirit of Christ. There is a majesty in the Spirit of God. Corruption will hardly yield to corruption in another. Pride is intolerable to pride. The weapons of this warfare must not be carnal (2 Cor. 10:4). The great apostles would not set upon the work of the ministry until they were `endued with power from on high' (Luke 24:49). The Spirit will only work with his own tools. And we should think what affection Christ would carry to the party in this case. That great physician, as he had a quick eye and a healing tongue, so had he a gentle hand, and a tender heart.
And, further, let us take to ourselves the condition of him with whom we deal. We are, or have been, or may be in that condition ourselves. Let us make the case our own, and also consider in what near relation a Christian stands to us, even as a brother, a fellow member, heir of the same salvation. And therefore let us take upon ourselves a tender care of them in every way; and especially in cherishing the peace of their consciences. Conscience is a tender and delicate thing, and must be so treated. It is like a lock: if its workings are faulty, it will be troublesome to open.