Gradations in Guilt
Acts 26:9, 10
I truly thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.…

The old notion that, as sin is committed against an infinite God, it must itself be an infinite evil, and that, therefore, all sins are equally heinous and offensive, is held no longer. Its logic is unsound, and our moral sense contradicts the theory. The fact is that the degrees of human guilt in the multitude of actions men perform, under a vast variety of conditions, are indefinitely numerous. Only the Omniscient can possibly discriminate and compute them. But there are some simple principles on which we may safely rely for our spiritual guidance. We judge -

I. THAT DELIBERATE AND DIRECT ANTAGONISM TO CHRIST IS THE GUILTIEST OF ALL POSITIONS. "Doing things contrary to... Jesus Christ," when these things are done by an agent who knows what he does, reaches the very summit of iniquity. "This is the condemnation, that light is come," etc. When men oppose themselves to Christian truth because" their deeds are evil," because "their craft is in danger," Because they hate the light which exposes their sin and robs them of their gains or their enjoyments, then they stand in the very front rank of criminality; they deliberately take up arms against their Maker; "They take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder," etc.; they say, "This is the Son; come, let us kill him," etc. Surely God will trouble these "with his sore displeasure" (Psalm 2:5).

II. THAT DELIBERATE NEUTRALITY IS A MOST SERIOUS SIN, When men refrain from taking an active part against the cause of Christ and his truth, doing "nothing contrary," etc., they shun the very worst possible thing. But when they attempt to take neutral ground, and either

(1) reject the claims which Christ makes on their personal subjection (Matthew 9:9; Matthew 11:28, 29, etc.), or

(2) refuse to render the help they can bring to his cause (Matthew 21:30; Matthew 25:18, etc.), then they fall into great condemnation, and must "bear their iniquity" (see Matthew 7:26, 27; Luke 13:25-28; Judges 5:23).

III. THAT IGNORANCE CHANGES THE CHARACTER AND MATERIALLY AFFECTS THE DEGREE OF GUILT. Clearly Paul was not so guilty in his acts of persecution as he would have been, had he not "thought that he ought to do many things contrary," etc. He himself tells us that this ignorance of his was a great mitigation of the sinfulness of his act (see 1 Timothy 1:13). Our Lord also gave his own Divine sanction to this truth when suffering the pangs of crucifixion (Luke 23:34).

1. Ignorance changes the character of the sin. What Paul was guilty of in those days was not the deliberate attempt to crush the work of a Divine Redeemer; he would have recoiled from so doing, had the act presented itself thus to his mind. His mistake, his condemnation, was that he had not fairly and impartially considered the claims of Jesus of Nazareth; that he had blindly assumed that his teachers were right, guiltily neglecting all the proofs which the Savior had given that he was the Messiah "that should come into the world."

2. It also greatly reduces its turpitude, not to have inquired as we should have done - this is wrong and blameworthy. But it is not so serious an offence, in the sight of God or of man, as willfully and wantonly to conspire against the Lord, and to seek to positively hinder the coming of his kingdom. It may rightly comfort those who, like Paul, have to look hack on offences which they have committed, when they can say, with him, "I verily thought," etc.; when it can be said to them, "Brethren, I vet that through ignorance ye did it" (Acts 3:17).

IV. THAT ONLY ABSOLUTE IGNORANCE EXONERATES FROM BLAME. It is conceivable that men may be so circumstanced that their ignorance is absolute, and therefore wholly faultless. In this case there is no guilt. But how seldom is it of this kind! Usually when we do "things contrary" to truth, righteousness, God, we might have known better if we had inquired more promptly or more purely. We may not excuse ourselves if we have kept out of our mind any light we might have admitted. We may apply this to

(1) the doctrines we are accepting;

(2) the leaders we are encouraging;

(3) the business we are conducting;

(4) the family we are training. - C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

WEB: "I myself most certainly thought that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

Fallibility of Conscience
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