What is Biblical “Offense” or Scandal

Naphtali Press - James Durham on Scandal

Extracts from Durham on Scandal

Copyright (c) Naphtali Press 1996

James Durham, A Treatise Concerning Scandal (Naphtali Press, 1990).

Part One: Concerning Scandals in the General

These doctrines being in the words, and Scandal being a great part of the challenge of the Nicolaitans, or at least a great aggravation of their challenge, and [it] also being a most necessary thing for a Christian’s walk, to be carefully taken heed unto, there is ground here to speak the same (in a time especially wherein offenses abound), and that in respect of what is called for, both in private persons and in church judicatories, or of private scandals and such as are public. We shall draw what we would say of the first to these five [points]. First, to show what an offense is [Chapter One]. Second, to show how it is given. Third, to show some considerations that ought to deter from giving of it [Chapter Two]. Fourth, to show what weight it ought to have on a Christian in his walk [Chapter Three]. Fifth, [to] point at some directions necessary to be adverted unto when offenses rise and multiply [Chapter Four].

Chapter One: Several Distinctions of Scandal.

For clearing of the first two, we shall premit some distinctions; and we would advert, that by offense here, is not understood that which does always actually displease and grieve another. For there is a great difference between displeasing and offending, as also between pleasing and edifying. For one may be displeased, and yet edified; well satisfied, and yet offended.

1st Distinction.

First then, we are to distinguish between displeasing and offending; for here offense is taken in opposition, not to a man’s being pleased, but to his edification. So offense or stumbling, in short, is something that does or may mar the spiritual edification of another, whether he is pleased or displeased, as by comparing Rom. 14:13 with 14:20, 21, is clear. For what he first calls a stumbling-block or an offense, he expounds afterward to be anything that may be the occasion of a fall to another, and make him stumble, or weak, or to halt in the course of holiness, as some block would hinder or put a man in hazard to fall in the running of a race; and from this is the similitude drawn in this phrase.

2nd Distinction.

Scandal is either given only, or taken only, or both. Given only, is when one lays something before another which is apt of itself to cause him [to] fall or sin, although the other does not fall by occasion of it. Yet, if it is inductive to sin of its own nature, it is an offense or stumbling block, as Christ said to Peter (Matt. 16:23), Thou art an offense to me, though there was nothing [that] could stick to him, yet that was in its nature such, which Peter had given him in advice.

It is taken only, when no occasion is given, but when a man does what is not only lawful, but necessary, and yet others from their own corruption carp thereat and stumble thereupon. Thus did the Pharisees offend at Christ (Matt. 15:12), who never gave offense to any, and this is common to wicked men, that stumble where no stumbling block is, and, as it is said, they know not whereat they stumble (Prov. 4:19). This also is called passive offense, as the other is called active.

It is both given and taken, when there is something active on the one side that is apt to draw another to sin, and something that is yielded unto on the other side, and the bait is accepted. This was it in that stumbling-block which Balaam laid before Israel, and thus ordinarily it is among men, who having corruption, are soon inflamed in less or more with every incitement. Thus (Gal. 2) Peter gave Barnabas offense, and he took it, when he was also carried away to dissemble. It is this active scandal that properly is to be inquired in[to], and is meant here, which is in short, any deed or word that in itself is apt to make another to sin, or to weaken them in their spiritual course, either in respect of life, or comfort, and that whether the person is actually stumbled or not, or whether the person actually intends offense or not. In all this we are to understand that one act may be offensive in many considerations, as one deed may be against many commands, and be many ways sinful.

3rd Distinction.

There are doctrinal offenses, and there are some that are practical. Doctrinal [offenses] are such as flow from matters of judgment, wherein men vent some untruth and so lay a stumbling block before others. This is to break a Commandment, and to teach others so to do (Matt. 5:19). And this is sometimes also in matters of practice, when a corrupt practice is defended, as these Nicolaitans strove to do theirs. Scandal in practice without any doctrinal defense, is when doctrine being kept pure, a person falls in some practice, that of itself, without any verbal expression, is inductive to sin. Thus David’s adultery was a scandal, and this was the fault of the Priests that made the people stumble at the Law. And thus every public or known irregular action is offensive, because it is of ill example to others, or otherwise may have influence on them to provoke [them] to some sin.

4th Distinction.

We may distinguish offenses according to the matter thereof. And 1., some are in matters that are simply sinful in themselves, and have this also following on them. Thus all errors and public sinful practices are offensive.

2. Some matters are not simply and in themselves sinful, yet have the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:7). And thus dangerous and doubtful expressions in doctrine, that have been, or used to be abused, and practices also that are not becoming that honesty and good report which a Christian ought to study (as it is, Phil. 4:8, 9), are offensive. In the first respect, David would not take the name of idols in his mouth (Psal. 16), because others made much reverence to them. Of the last sort was Peter‘s dissimulation and withdrawing (Gal. 2), because that appeared to strengthen the opinion of the continuing of the difference between Jew and Gentile. For that cause Paul would not circumcise Titus (Gal 2:3), and did condemn eating in the idol-temples.

3. Some offenses are in matters otherwise lawful and indifferent, though not necessary, as eating of, or abstaining from meats, or what was offered to idols in the primitive times, which was indifferent to be done in the house of a heathen, and so was sometimes lawful, but was not indifferent to be done in the idol-temple, because that had the appearance of evil, as if he had some respect to the idol. Nor was it to be done if any weak brother had been at table in the house, because it grieved him (1 Cor. 8:10). It is these last two (and more especially the third) that are concerned in the doctrine of offenses properly, and rather arise from circumstances in the thing, as time, place, person, manner, etc., than from the deed considered in itself.

5th Distinction.

We may distinguish them in respect of the intent of the work, or of the worker. Some things may be offensive in themselves as so circumstantiated, and yet not to be so to the person that may give offense by them. I mean, not to be esteemed so. And thus was Peter‘s offense which he laid before Christ (Matt. 16). And sometimes the person may intend the other’s advantage, and yet may offend and stumble him, as Eli intended his sons good, but really by his too gentle reproof stumbled them by confirming them in their offense. And thus some, by unseasonable reproofs or censures, and commendations also, may really make another worse, although they intend the contrary.

6th Distinction.

Whence arises another distinction of offenses, viz. from the matter of a practice, or from the manner of [the] performing of it, or the circumstances in the doing of it. For as it is not an act materially good that will edify, except it is done in the right manner, so will an act materially good not keep off offense, if it is not done tenderly, wisely, etc. And often we find circumstances have much influence on offense, as times, persons, places, manner, etc. For it is not offensive [for] one to pray or preach, but at some times, as before an idol, or on a Holy-day, it may be offensive. 2

7th Distinction.

As sins are distinguished in sins of omission and commission, so offenses may be distinguished also. For some give offense when they swear, pray irreverently, etc.; others, when there is no seeming respect to prayer at all, in the very form, for this fosters profanity as the other does. And for this Daniel will open his window, lest he should be thought to have forborne prayer. And this offense of omission, or omissive offense, is not guarded against only by doing what is duty, except there is also a doing of it so as conveniently, and as becomes it, [it] may be known to be done, as in the former instance. And this (Rev. 6:9) is called the holding of the Testimony, and it is this mainly that is edifying to others, when the light of holiness does shine. And when that is veiled, others in so far have darkness to walk in, and so it is as to them an occasion to stumble, because they hold not forth the light unto them. But still, this is to be done without affectation or ostentation, lest a new offense should follow thereupon.

8th Distinction.

Some offenses contrare [contradict; oppose] the graces of God’s people, and these make them sad. Some foster corruptions, and these are too pleasant. Thus soft reproofs, corrupt advice, flatteries, etc., minister matter to many to fall upon.

9th Distinction.

Some offenses may be called personal, when a person commits them in his private carriage, that is when his way of eating, drinking, living, etc., offends others, although he has no meddling with them, but lives retiredly. Some again are more direct offenses (as the first are indirect and consequential), that is, which flow from men in their public actings, or in their mutual converse with others, which have more direct influence to offend.

10th Distinction.

Offenses may be distinguished as they hurt folks either by pleasing them in their corruptions and strengthening them in what is sinful, or when they hurt by irritating and stirring up corruptions to vent. In the first respect, too much gentleness in admonitions, rashness or imprudence in commendations of what is good in one, or extenuation of what is evil, corrupt advice, and such like, do offend. Thus Jonadab offended Amnon (2 Sam. 13), and Eli his sons. In the last, slighting of men, wronging of them, or not condescending to remove a wrong, or to vindicate ourselves, if there is a supposed wrong, grieves and offends; so do evilly grounded reproofs, or inadvertent admonitions that are not seasoned with love; hard reports, etc.

11th Distinction.

We may consider offenses with respect to the party offended. And so 1., we offend friends in many respects, whom it maybe, we would not desire to grieve, yet inadvertently we stumble them, and hurt their spiritual condition by unfaithfulness to them, carnalness in conversing with them, siding with their infirmities, and many such like ways.

Or 2., they are enemies, or such to whom we bear no such respect; these also are scandalized when they are provoked through the carnalness of our way to judge hardly of us, or of religion for our sake, or to follow some carnal course to oppose what we carnally do, when we irritate them and provoke their passion, etc. And thus men in all debates are often guilty, whether their contest is in things civil, ecclesiastical or scholastical, when beside what may further their cause (suppose it to be just), they do not carry respectively to the adversary, and tenderly and convincingly, so as it may appear they seek the good of their soul, and their edification, even when they differ from them.

3. We may look on offense as it offends wicked or profane men, possibly heathens, Jews or Gentiles. They are offended when hardened in their impiety by the grossness and uncharitableness of those who are professedly tender. Thus it is a fault (1 Cor. 10:32) to give offense either to Jews or Gentiles, as to the church of God.

4. Amongst those that are tender, some are more weak, some more strong. The first are often offended where there is no ground in the matter (as Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8), and it vents readily by rash judging and censuring of others that are stronger than themselves, for going beyond their light, or because of their seeming to be despised by them, etc. Which shows wherein the offense of the strong also lies, therefore these two are put together (Rom. 14:3), Let not him that eateth, (that is, him that is strong), despise him that eateth not: And let not him that eateth not, (that is, the weak), judge him that eateth.

12th Distinction.

Offenses may be considered as they directly incline or tempt to sin, either in doctrine, or practice, or as they more indirectly scare and divert from, or make more faint and weak in the pursuing of holiness, either in truth or practice. Thus a blot in some professor makes Religion to be some way abhorred. This especially falls out when ministers and professors that are eminent, become offensive. For that is as a dead fly in the box of the Apothecary’s ointment, that makes all to stink. Thus (Mal. 1) the Priests made the people stumble at the Law, as also did the sons of Eli (1 Sam. 2), and this is charged on David, that by his fall he made the heathen blaspheme. And thus contention and division amongst ministers and disciples is insinuated to stand in the way of the world’s believing in, or acknowledging of, Christ (John 17:21).

13th Distinction.

Sometimes scandal is in immediate duties of religious worship, as praying, preaching, conferring, speaking, judging of such things, etc. That is, either by miscarrying in the matter of what is spoken, or by an irreverent, light, passionate manner. Or it is given by our ordinary and common carriage in our eating, drinking, apparelling, manner of living, buying and selling, etc. That is, when something of our way in these things gives evidence of pride, vanity, inconstancy, covetousness, addictedness to pleasure, carnalness, or some such thing whereby our neighbor is wronged. Thus the husband may offend the wife, and the wife the husband, by their irreligious conversing together, whereby one of them does strengthen the other to think exactness in religion not so necessary. And so a servant who has a profession may stumble a master, if the servant is not faithful and diligent in his service.

14th Distinction.

Again, some offenses are offensive, and are given from the first doing of the action. Thus where there is any appearance of evil, the offense is given in this manner. Again, offense may be at first only taken and not given, and yet afterward become given, and make the person guilty, although in the first act he had not been guilty. This is 1., when suppose a man eating without respect to difference of meats as he might do indifferently, if he were told by one that such meat were offered to an idol, and therefore in his judgment it was not lawful to eat it, although before that, it was not offense given, but taken (he not knowing that any were present that would [be] offend[ed]), yet if he should continue after that to do the same thing, it should be offense given upon his side. 2. If a man should know one to have taken offense at him, or his carriage, in a thing indifferent (although he had given no just occasion thereof), and if after his knowledge thereof, he should not endeavor to remove the same according to his place, in that case the offense becomes given also, because he removes not that stumbling block out of his brother’s way.

15th Distinction.

Some offenses are offensive in themselves. That is, when the thing itself has some appearance of evil, or a tendency to offend in itself; again some but by accident in respect of some concurring circumstance of time, place, etc. Some offenses also may be said to be given of infirmity. That is, when they proceed from a particular slip of the party offending, when they are not continued in, stuck to or defended, or when they fall into them, not knowing that they would be offensive, and when that is known, endeavoring to remove them. Again, other offenses are more rooted and confirmed, as when a person has a tract in them, is not much careful to prevent them, or remove them, is not much weighted for them, but slights them, or defends them, etc. This distinction of offenses answers to that distinction of sins, in sins of infirmity and sins of malice, which maliciousness is not to be referred to the intent of the person, but to the nature of the act; so it is to be understood here in respect of offenses.

16th Distinction.

In the last place, we may consider that distinction of scandals in private and public, both which may in two ways be understood. Either 1., in respect of the witnesses, or 2., in respect of the nature of them. 1. It is a private scandal in the first respect, which offends few, because of its not being known to many, and so a public offense in this respect is known to many. Thus the same offense may be a private offense to one at one time, and in one place, and a public offense to another, or the same person, in respect of these circumstances.

2. In the last respect, a private offense is that possibly which stumbles many, yet is not of that nature, as publicly, legally, or judicially it might be made out to be scandalous, for the convincing of a person offending, or of others, although it may have a great impression upon the hearts of those who know it. Thus the general tract of one’s way and carriage (who yet may be civil, legal, and fair in all particulars) may be exceedingly offensive, as holding forth to the consciences of those that are most charitable to him, much vanity, pride, earthly-mindedness, untenderness, want of love and respect, and the like; which says within the heart of the beholders, that there are many things wrong, when yet no particulars can be instanced wherein the person cannot have fair legal answers.

Of this sort are unseasonable starting of questions or doubtful disputations (Rom. 14), where possibly the person may assert truth, yet by moving such things at such times and in such expressions, he confounds and shakes the weak. Those offenses especially arise from a supposed unstraightness in the end, excess in the manner of a thing, disproportionableness between a man’s way and his station, and such like, whereof a man may have much conviction in himself, from observing of such an one’s way, yet it is not a public offense in the sense spoken of here, because there is no demonstrating of those.

Thus Absalom’s insinuating selfseeking way gave evidence of pride, and such as Paul speaks of (Phil. 1, 2), that some preached out of envy, and others sought their own things, are of this nature, which by his discerning he was convinced of, yet did not found any sentence on them.

Again, oppositely to these, offenses may be called public, when there is a possible way of bearing them out before others, or instructing them in particulars to be contrary to the rule, as drunkenness, swearing, etc. These may be called ecclesiastical or judicial offenses, as being the object of church-censure. All the others may be called conscience, or charity-wounding offenses, because they are the object of a person’s conscience and charity, and do wound them, and are judged by them, and may be the ground of a Christian private admonition, but not of public reproof; or rather may be called unconscientious and uncharitable offenses, as being opposite to conscience and charity.

Other Distinctions Of Scandal.

Many other distinctions of scandal may be given: some are immediate, that is when we hear or see what is offensive from the person himself. Some again are mediate, and so the very reporting of something that is true may be offensive to those to whom it is reported. As 1., when it may alienate them from, or irritate them against another person. 2. When it may occasion some sinful distemper, or incite to some corrupt course, or any way provoke to carnalness, those to whom it is reported. And thus offense differs from slander, for slander affects and wrongs the party spoken of, who it may be, is absent. Offense, again, stumbles those who are present, although the same act in a person may be both a calumny and an offense upon different considerations. Thus Ziba calumniates Mephibosheth, but really stumbles and offends David (2 Sam. 16), although David was not so displeased with him as Mephibosheth was. So also, Doeg calumniates David and the Priests in a thing which was true, but really offended Saul, as the effect cleared (1 Sam. 21, 22).

Also, some things offend others properly, as when a minister fails in giving an admonition prudently or seasonably. Again, some things offend virtually, when, it may be, a minister gives an advice in season, but in something [he] has not condescended formerly, whereby he has not such access with his admonition to edify. Thus Paul prevented offense, when by becoming all things to all, he made way for his being acceptable in his station. Again, some offenses may simply be offenses, as having hurt with them. Some again may be comparatively; so it is when a thing actually hurts, not by an emergent loss, but when it keeps from that growth and edification, that otherwise might have been; it’s a comparative loss, and so offensive.

What Offense Is Not, And What It Is.

These generals may give a hint of what is signified by offense and how it is given. To add a word more particularly to the first Question, let us consider, 1., what offense is not, and 2., what it is. (1.) It is not always any hurtful and actually displeasing thing to the party that is offended, and so is not to be constructed such, or not from their pleasure or displeasure. (2.) It is not always to be judged by the matter, for an offense may be in a lawful matter that simply is not to be condemned, as in eating, drinking, taking wages for preaching, etc. (3.) It is not always to be determined by the effect. Sometimes one may be offended when no offense was given; sometimes again, offense may be given, and the person be guilty thereof (as has been said), when no actual stumbling has followed, but the thing of itself was inductive thereto. (4.) Nor is it to be judged by the person’s intention. One may be without all design of hurting, who yet may really wound, and offend another, and be guilty by rashness, omission, too much love and condescension in sparing, unfaithfulness (it being much to be faithful to one that we love, and which is a pity, we are readiest to offend them, as in Jonadab’s case to Amnon; yea, in Job‘s friends to him, etc.), inconsiderate zeal, imprudency, or falling in something, that is as a dead fly, which may make much that is profitable become unsavory.

2. Scandal then must be something accompanying some external deed or word (for internal gives no offense), which being considered at such a time, in such a place, or in such a person, etc., may be inductive to sin, or impeditive of the spiritual life or comfort of others. When this flows from a sinful act, it is not so difficultly discernable. Readily all actions that are materially evil are clear; but the difficulty is when the matter is lawful or indifferent in itself, or when it is in the manner and other circumstances of a lawful or necessary duty; and to then discern when they become scandalous in such respects and accordingly to be swayed to do or abstain in the matter, and to do in this or some other manner, as may eschew the same. This properly and strictly is that which is called offense, and is that wherein most wisdom is to be exercised in ordering and regulating us in the use of Christian liberty. And concerning this are the great debates in Scripture, that men may know, that not only the Command is to be looked unto in the matter of the act, so that nothing is done against it in that respect, nor only that our own clearness be considered, that we do nothing doubtingly, but that others be considered also, that they by our deed are not in their spiritual estate wronged or hurt, that is, to do or abstain for conscience-sake, not our own, but of him that sits with us (1 Cor. 10:24, 28). For if charity and love are the end of the law, and men ought not only to seek their own things, but the things one of another, and love their neighbor as themselves, then ought they to seek their neighbor’s edification as their own, and to eschew the prejudging of them.

Hence, scandal is opposite that charity and love, and also to that respect which we ought to carry to our brother (Rom. 14:10, 15). Yea, it is a scandal and offense as it is opposite to, and inconsistent with, love to his spiritual well-being. And so in a word, that which may impede and hinder his spiritual growth and advancement therein, is an offense and scandal (Rom. 14:21). And thus a scandal differs from an injury; for this hurts his person, name, or estate, or some outward thing; that again, hurts his spiritual condition, either by wronging his liveliness, or activety, or comfort, etc., though the same thing often, which is an injury, is an offense also, but not contrarily.

Chapter Two: The Giving and Taking of Offense.

Concerning The Several Ways That Offense May Be Given.

It is hardly possible to show how many ways one may offend another, there being so many, yea so very many ways whereby men both wrong themselves and others. Yet by considering the effects that offense given has, or may have upon others (although the effect follows not), and by considering that upon which active offense works, and which usually is offended at in another, we may draw them to some heads accordingly.

As 1., men may be drawn to some sinful action upon such an occasion. Thus an action materially lawful and good in itself, becomes a scandal, when by our deed another is fostered in some sin, or encouraged to commit it, as supposing himself to be strengthened therein by our practice; or when it may occasion others to go beyond our intent, or to do what we do in another manner, which may make it sinful. So zeal inconsiderately vented may strengthen folks in passion, and thus eating in idols’ temples (which in itself was nothing) was scandalous when done publicly, because it strengthened idolaters to think somewhat of their idols, and made others who were weak, to continue some respect to them, because they supposed such men by such practice to do so. Or it made some judge them to have respect to idols, and so to be less in their esteem, or caused others to eat with respect to the idol, when they themselves did it without it.

Thus doubtful expressions in points of truth, and uncircumspectness in not abstaining from all appearance of evil, or what appears to be evil to such a person, and at such a time, etc., may be offensive. As suppose one in their apparel, diet, or otherwise, should by some be conceived to go beyond their station, and what is fit at such a time, or be an occasion to some others indeed to exceed, when without such misconstructing beholders, there might be nothing offensive in the deed itself. And thus the deed of one person may be offensive (supposing him to be esteemed proud, covetous, unclean, etc.) which would not be so in another. So also, a thing will be offensive to one, and not to another.

Wherefore, in reference to offense, men would have an eye on themselves, and what generally they are reputed to be, and so would abstain from the least appearance of what is supposed to be predominant in them, as also they would have respect to others that are present, or may be hearers or beholders, considering what are their thoughts of them, or of such deeds, etc., and accordingly would carry [themselves], although it [would mean abstaining] from such a place, apparel, diet, etc., which in reason, abstractly [considered] from offense, might be pleaded for as becoming. Thus one walking abroad on the Sabbath, may be sanctifying it, yet by his example some other may be provoked to vage and gad and cast off all duties of the day, and to neglect what is called for in secret, or in the family. In that respect, it becomes offensive to go abroad, although it is lawful in itself to meditate abroad in the fields, as well as in house.

2. When a lawful act breeds or occasions misconstruction or rash judging in another, then it becomes offensive to him. As (1.), when it makes him think the thing unlawful, which is lawful. That is to make our good to be evil spoken of (Rom. 14:16). Or (2.), when it occasions ourselves by that deed to be condemned as untender and unconscientious in the performing of such an act, that is, to make one judge his brother rashly (Rom. 14:10, 1 Cor. 10:30). Or (3.), when it occasions our profession, or the gospel to be mistaken and misjudged, or godliness to be accounted fancy, hypocrisy, etc. Thus by the indiscrete use of liberty, the gospel was evil spoken of by some, as if it had given way to looseness, for so those that were zealous for the Law esteemed of it.

3. The effect of a scandal is to grieve and make others heavy, and so any indifferent action which is apt to do that, is a scandal (as we may see [in] Rom. 14:15); because it mars their spiritual comfort, weakens them in love to us, faints them in the doing of duty, at least mars the cheerfulness in it, etc., and so is against charity, and becomes a breach of the Sixth Command (Rom. 14:15). This is the notion that most ordinarily we use to take up offense under, viz., when it may grieve some to hear that we have done such a thing, when it may lessen their esteem of us (and so much incapacitate us to be profitable to them), or alienate them from us, etc.

4. We may try scandal by our hazarding to disquiet the peace of our brother’s conscience. That is, when by our lawful deed we engage or virtually persuade him to follow our example, supposing him to doubt the lawfulness of that practice, or to condemn the same. Thus one is emboldened to eat of things offered to idols, with respect to them, because he beholds another that is more strong than he to do the same (1 Cor. 8:10). And so by his eating, he gives ground to his conscience afterward to challenge him, for which cause he that gave the example, is said to wound his weak conscience. The like also is (Rom. 14:22, 23), in the case of doubting, for supposing one to doubt whether such a thing is lawful or not, merely by our example to go before him, is to put him in that strait either to condemn our deed, or doubtingly to follow. For the mere example of no man can warrant any other to follow, or satisfy a conscience in the lawfulness of such and such a deed. This also may be when a weak man, having possibly done something in another manner (and that lawfully), then afterwards he beholds one that is strong to do (which also may be lawful in itself), he is brought to look over his own practice, and to condemn the same as sinful, merely because that other did it in another manner. For though indifference in the manner of practices in lawful things is sometimes edifying, yet in such cases where they have not sufficient information joined with them, they drive men on the extremities forsaid, and so become offensive, especially then when such things are actually doubted of, or disputed in their lawfulness.

5. Things become offensive when they prove obstructive to the edification of others, and (as the word is Rom. 14:21), do make them weak, or infirms them, not only by fainting and weighting them, as is said before, but by confounding them in the truth or practices of religion, whereby they are either shaken in their former assurances, and so weakened, or made doubtful whether such things are duties and truths or not; or by such and such things, are diverted from the more necessary practices of religion. This is the scope of Romans 14:1, etc., and of other Scriptures elsewhere, whereby the Apostle Paul guards against doubtful disputations, which do not profit them that are occupied therein (Heb. 13:9). And thus, not only writing and reasoning for what is not truth, but writing and speaking of truth in a new manner, with new expressions and multiplying molds of these, or doing it unseasonably, passionately, contentiously, etc., proves offensive. Thus what is not actually edifying, is offensive, and upon this account Paul becomes all things to all, that he may gain some, as in his circumcising of Timothy that he might have access to edify the Jews, and such like. And thus often not condescending in indifferent things to please others, does much incapacitate them to be edified by us, or gives them prejudice at the way of the gospel, whereby their edification is obstructed, and they offended.

6. An action becomes offensive when it stirs corruption, wakens passion, or confirms jealousy and suspicion, etc., although that jealousy and suspicion is groundless. Thus Paul‘s taking of wages in the Church of Corinth, had been offensive, because it had confirmed the suspicion of his seeking of himself among them, and would have strengthened his traducers in their calumny, and given them occasion of venting their carnal cheerfulness and insolency. And thus, when one is unjustly suspected of error or inclination thereto, to dispute for such things, even when he disowns them, to converse with persons of that stamp, or such like, are offensive, and are to be shunned, though it may be there would be no such construction put upon another doing so.

Concerning That Upon Which Offense Works, Or, The Several Ways By Which It Is Taken.

The considering of the second thing, that upon which offense works, and by which it is taken, will clear this more. For sometimes, 1. it affects the weakness of understanding and light; so it raises doubts, misconstructions, etc. 2. Sometimes through that it affects the conscience, whence comes judging and condemning of others, and their deeds, and the awakening of challenges, etc. 3. Sometimes it stirs the affections, either by awakening carnal joy, or carnal grief. 4. It affects corruption when men from prejudice are fretted or grieved upon such an occasion. Thus, often deeds become offensive when they confirm men’s jealousy, stir their pride, emulation, etc. 5. A deed may have influence on some folk’s infirmity or impotency, so some that are more given to passion, suspicion, or such like, will be offended sooner than others, and some things will be offensive to them that are not so in themselves. 6. Men as they are gracious may be offended; for though grace, as such, is not capable sinfully to take offense, yet gracious persons may offend, or some actions may have an aptitude to offend a gracious zealous person, rather than another. Thus Peter‘s dissimulation might be said to be offensive to Paul (Gal. 2), though more properly it was a scandal to Barnabas; yet it grieved and stirred Paul, though in a sanctified manner he vented that which possibly some other gracious person might either have been irritated with, or out of respect to Peter, led away as Barnabas was; when an ungracious person would not have laid any weight on Peter’s deed, as to any of these, that is, either to follow it, or be grieved with it.

From what is said, it may be someway clear how an indifferent or lawful act may become offensive, to wit, as it does, or is apt to work any of these effects upon others, whether they are weak or strong, gracious or profane, and whether conscience or corruption do rise at the offense that is taken. For as giving of offense implies uncharitableness and pride to be in the giver, so that he neither loves nor regards his brother as he ought to do, neither does in this as he would have others do unto himself; so offense taken implies corruption and infirmity (at the best) to be in him that takes it, and therefore in this matter of offense, respect would be had to the infirmity and corruption of others, as well as to their graciousness and affection. The not observing of which, makes us take liberty in giving offense to many, because we do either esteem them to be wicked and profane, or not affectionate to us, or at the best weak, and therefore not much to be regarded whether they are satisfied or not with our practices, which does evidently show that there is despising and uncharitableness in the heart, when there is this regardlessness in our practice (as may be gathered from Rom. 14:2, 10, 15).

Concerning What Ought To Make Men Loath & Wary As To Giving Offense.

To come now to consider those things which ought to make men tender in this, we will find, 1. that there is not any duty in the matter thereof more commanded than this of giving no offense, nor any sin more condemned than untenderness in this, as we may find from the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, etc., wherein whole chapters are spent on this subject. Yea, in Acts 15 the apostles and elders thought the regulating of indifferent things for preventing of scandal worthy to be enacted in the first Synod and Council.

2. There is no sin that has more woes pronounced against it. The Lord himself denounces and doubles a woe against it (Matt. 18:7), and the Apostle confirms it (Romans 14:20).

3. The hatefulness of it may appear in the rise thereof, it being (1.), an evident sign of disrespect to God and want of the impression of His dread; (2.) of inward pride and self-conceitedness; and (3.), of uncharitableness and regardlessness of others and setting them at nought, which may be gathered from Romans 14 [and] 1 Cor. 8:10, and can there be anything more to be shunned than these? And upon this we will find that men are tender and conscientious in the matter of offense, and the use of their Christian liberty, as they are tender or untender in the material duties of religion towards God and towards others.

4. There can be no worse effects than [those which] follow upon this. It brings a woe to the world, and is in Christ‘s account a most grievous plague when abounding, for it has destruction with it to many souls (Rom. 14:20). It brings reproach upon the profession of Christianity, cools love among brethren, begets and fosters contention and strife, mars the progress of the gospel, and, in a word, makes iniquity to abound, and often, in particular, ushers in error into the church, which may be gathered from the places cited, and from Matt. 24:10-12. And we suppose when it is tried, it will be found that untenderness in the matter of scandal has been as prejudicial to the church of Christ in respect of her outward beauty and peace, and the inward thriving of her members, as either error or profanity, which have been but the product of this.

5. Untenderness in this opens a door to all untenderness in the person that gives offense, because by it the conscience becomes less sensible of challenges, and so he has the greater boldness to do things that are materially evil, [and] by this also he becomes habitually regardless of others. And although where respect to others is predominant, it is not a good principle, yet often has it great influence in restraining men from looseness, and in its own place ought to have weight. And does not experience teach that once liberty is taken in this, even things materially sinful do often follow?

6. Tenderness in this adorns the gospel exceedingly, convinces those we live among, entertains charity, and warms love, even as carelessness in this opens men’s mouths, and makes both profession and professors a reproach.

7. Untenderness as to offenses strikes at the root of Christian communion. There can be no freedom in admonitions, little in conferences, and it may be, no great fervor in prayers with and for others, where these abound. And is it possible that religion can be well where these are? And may it not from these appear why Christ has said, Woe to that man by whom offenses come?


  1. The following are quotes from the Westminster Standards. `There is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly [commonly] called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.’ The Westminster Directory for Public Worship from the appendix Touching Days and Places for Public Worship. The answer to the 109th Question of the Larger Catechism begins thus: “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising [Num. 15:39], counselling [Deut. 13:6- 8], commanding [Hosea 5:11; Micah 6:16], using [1 Kings 11:33; 1 Kings 12:33], and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself [Deut.13:30, 31, 32].”
  2. The following are quotes from the Westminster Standards. `There is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly [commonly] called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.’ The Westminster Directory for Public Worship from the appendix Touching Days and Places for Public Worship. The answer to the 109th Question of the Larger Catechism begins thus: “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising [Num. 15:39], counselling [Deut. 13:6- 8], commanding [Hosea 5:11; Micah 6:16], using [1 Kings 11:33; 1 Kings 12:33], and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself [Deut.13:30, 31, 32].”