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THERE ARE NO LITTLE SINS.
BY CHARLES WILLIAMS.
2 Kings v. 18.--- In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that
when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon : when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.
To one circumstance in the history of Naaman, a history with which no diligent and serious reader of the Scriptures is unacquainted, your attention is now to be directed. Rimmon, be it observed, was the god, or idol, of his master Benhadad ; at the times of worship, Naaman was usually with him, and as the monarch, either from infirmity or state, leaned on the arm or hand of the captain of his hosts, so, when the former offered his homage, the latter bowed also. To this fact, Naaman adverted in his conversation with Elisha, and concerning it two opinions are entertained. Some
that Naaman referred to the past; that when he said, “In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant,” he entreated forgiveness of what he now saw was criminal ; and that when the prophet answered, in peace," he announced the pardon entreated ; but to this view of the case, there is a serious objection.* To avoid it, therefore, others conclude, and with them I fully concur, that Naaman spoke prospectively, and that the prophet, aware of Naaman's conviction, that bowing with the king in the house of Rimmon was wrong, left it to produce its effect; assured, that by the grace of God, he would soon see that idolatry must be totally abandoned, and that he who would serve God acceptably, must abstain from the appearance, as well as the reality of evil.
• The vau conversive generally changes the preterite into the future ; besides, all the versions or ancient translations understand the words to refer to the future, and not to the past.
Incorrect views of the evil of sin are, however, still entertained by those whose minds are altogether unenlightened; or only, as was most probably the case with Naaman, partially illuminated. In the church of Rome, a distinction is made between venial and mortal sins, and multitudes of protestants endeavour to believe, that though some sins are great, others are little ; when with affectionate solicitude we would administer reproof, they first attempt to evade the charge of criminality, and failing to do so, they strive to lessen its amount, and to persuade themselves, that God will not punish what appears to them so inconsiderable. But, my hearers, whenever you act thus, you pronounce, unwarily, your own condemnation. For, as there are degrees in sin, the smaller the offence is the less excusable is it, the more easily might temptation to it have been resisted, and the greater is your infatuation in thus setting at naught the Divine regard, and invoking the Divine vengeance for a trivial, shortlived, and contemptible gratification. The folly of Esau would have been evident, had he surrendered his birth-right for ten thousand acres of rich and well-watered land-how much more, when he sold it for a mess of pottage !
Further, every attempt to extenuate sin discovers great depravity. You do not proceed thus as to trespasses against yourselves and society. Does a man take away, without authority, a part of your property? you do not call it a mistake, or a misappropriation, but a theft. Does he sell you an article of real value, and send you one of little or none ? you do not represent his conduct as unintentional, but as fraudulent. Does he sign your name to a check, and obtain your money at the bank? you do not say, “he must have forgot himself;" but you are indignant at his crime, and, perhaps, prosecute him for forgery. Yes, in such cases you are sagacious in discerning, and inexorable in judging; you make no allowance for the suddenness of surprise, or the power of temptation ; a single failure convinces you of the absence of moral principle, and is deemed sufficient to blast the reputation—to destroy the character of him who discovers it. But, I ask, are you thus eagleeyed, jealous, and rigorous, as to sins against God? Let the expressions current among us furnish a reply. Is a man proud ? he is said to maintain his proper dignity. Is he full of wrath ? it is said, the things he suffered were enough to make him angry. Is he profane ? it is said, he has contracted an unfortunate habit. Does he eat and drink to excess ? it is said, he lives rather too freely. Is he an adulterer ? he is said to be a little too gay. Is he a seducer? his conduct is represented as an intrigue, and the whole weight of reproach falls on the victim of his diabolical per
fidy. Ah! while one man may not steal to the value of a few shillings, without being convicted and sentenced as a felon, another may go on for years in gross sin, without being accused of irreligion. On the contrary, it may be affirmed, that though his conduct is not quite justifiable, yet that his principles are untouched, and that, after all, he has a good heart. So far, indeed, do men go, that what is stigmatized as a vice in the poor, is regarded as no impeachment of virtue in the rich ; and what is held to be awfully criminal in the lower ranks, is declared to “lose half its evil, by losing all its grossness,” in the higher. What errors then are these! How necessary is it for the ministers of the sanctuary to advance to their refutation! How desirable is it that you should think, and speak, and act, on principles derived from the lively oracles of God! O that in the effort now to be made to discharge a solemn duty, and to accomplish an important end, we may be favoured with his guidance and benediction ! Indulge me with your devout attention, while I shew you,
In the First place, That many acts which men account little, have been visited with signal expressions of God's displeasure. Why, for instance, were Ananias and Sapphira struck dead ? It was in each case for a single act of equivocation! Why was a prophet devoured by a lion ? because he yielded to the solicitations of another prophet, to eat and drink, instead of pursuing his way! Why were forty-two young persons torn in pieces by bears ? because they mocked Elisha! Why was an Israelite stoned to death ? because he gathered sticks on the sabbath day! Why was Miriam afflicted with leprosy? because she murmured against her brother! Why was Moses excluded from the promised land, and required to die on its borders ? because he struck the rock twice instead of once! Why did Lot's wife become a pillar of salt? because she looked back on Sodom! Why were many of the Bethshemites slain ? because they pried into the ark! Why did a pestilence rage in Israel for three days, and destroy seventy thousand men ? because David numbered the people ! And why have sufferings, woe, and death entered our world ? but because Ere stretched forth her hand, and took of the fruit of the forbidden tree! Yea, more, because of this, hell, which was “prepared for the devil and his angels," throws wide its gates, to receive fallen, wicked, and impenitent men. What! do you rejoin, “But its everlasting fire awaits only the vilest and most atrocious offenders.” Where, where, I ask you, will others dwell through eternal ages ? In what part of the universe is the prison for the unpardoned, who are free from the foulest stains ? Where, in the Scriptures, do you read of a transient and purifying torment? Ah! you know there is none;you know that the world “where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched,” is to be the eternal abode of all whose sins are not forgiven through the precious blood of Christ; -- of all, whether their transgressions have been committed during a few short years, or an antediluvian age ;-of all, whether you look on their offences with but little emotion, or gaze upon them with shivering horror. To place this beyond dispute, Christ has exhibited one lost spirit there, and it is not that of a tyrant—or an adulterer—or a murderer; but it is that of a rich man, who lived to himself, and was absorbed in personal gratification, so that he did not see Lazarus at his gate ; or seeing, did not pity; and pitying not, did not relieve.
Allow me, Secondly, To assign some reasons for the Divine procedure. And be it remarked,
1. That an act in itself inconsiderable, may indicate the existing state of feeling as clearly as one that is more palpable. As the motion of a leaf shews the quarter from which the wind blows, as certainly as the agitated branches of an oak, so you may gather any one's dislike, though he does not strike you, or abuse you, or attempt insidiously to destroy your reputation ; only let him receive you with coldness, only let his countenance wear, when you accidentally meet him, a well-known expression, and his disaffection is as indisputable as if it were manifested in violent reproach, or angry assault. And just so the conduct of those to whom allusion has been made, demonstrated the carnality of their minds, and the enmity of their hearts to the Divine will, as fully as if it had invoked your prompt and unqualified censure, or called forth your indignant execration. For what says our Lord ? “ He that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much." he makes sin not so much a matter of effect, as of dispositionnot so much a matter of product as of principle. He weighs the immorality of an action, not in the scales of man's darkened understanding and erring judgment, but in the exquisitely poised, and unvarying balance of the sanctuary. He allows no extenuation of the lesser acts of dishonesty. He places the flaming sword of God's law at the very point from which the right and the wrong separate. He rears between what we may do, and what we may not do, a mighty rampart, and declares that this must be scaled before we can take a step in the region of iniquity. He addresses the man who has only just planted his foot on the forbidden ground, in the same terms as him who has advanced to its utmost limit, because he ought not to be there at all ; because principle was surrendered, not in traversing the plain, but in climbing the rampart, and because, when that was passed, integrity had no power to prevent his ranging through the whole interdicted field. Ah! is it not evident that the man who has brought himself to the perpetration of one fraud, has broken down the only security against the perpetration of a score ;--that the man who can look with unconcern on the cruel
flogging of one slave, has so far triumphed over humanity as to be able to gaze unmoved on the wanton flagellation of a hundred ;that he who can be the oppressor of a few, wants only the means to become the despot of a province, or the tyrant of an empire ?
Accordingly, James says, “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all;" and why, but because he who violates one command acts in direct opposition to the principle which influences and pervades all true obedience, and discovers one which would lead him to violate every command, were temptation presented and opportunity afforded. He, therefore, transgresses the whole law in disposition, if not in act. Though he does not neglect or violate duty in every instance, he is not restrained by a sense of the Divine authority, but by some inferior or base motive, since a regard for God's commands would have effectually prevented the first offence, and with it every other. Let it be observed,
2. That a sinful act is not isolated and alone, but is commonly the commencement of a series of iniquities. So it is in reference to the individual. “ Sins,” says Henry, are like circles in the water, when a stone is thrown in; one produces another.” Gehazi committed the sin of avarice,—this urged to the sin of fraud; and the sin of fraud prepared for the sin of falsehood. Cain cherished the sin of unbelief,—this gave rise to the sin of anger; and the sin of anger issued in the sin of murder. Mark, then, the delusive and destructive subtilty of sin! And remember the solemn charge, “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not into the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.” In obedience alone is safety. To trifle with God's requirements is awfully perilous. One leak may sink a vessel ;-one spark may explode a fortress ; -one wound may kill the body ;-one lust may damn the soul !
Observe, too, the effect of one sinful act on others. This is most strikingly exemplified in the history of Jeroboam. He “said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David, if this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." This scheme engaged him in a course of wickedness from which no remonstrance could reclaim him, and the issue was, his own perdition and that of multitudes of his people. Suppose not, however, brethren, that a man must be a king, to become the corrupter, the deceiver, the destroyer of others. He who, in the pride of fancied superiority, suggests to a youth one sceptical doubt, or he who, pursuing worldly