Editor’s Note: A sermon preached by B. H. Carrol.

 

Little ones that believe on me. -Matthew 18:6

Perhaps no chapter of the New Testament is more familiar to Baptists than the

eighteenth of Matthew. Every paragraph in it has been often cited as decisive upon

matters of discipline, church government and authority, terms of membership,

methods of reconciliation and the law of forgiveness. In the course of the service

today it is purposed to make a running comment on the whole chapter, because it is

regarded not as a group of detached and loosely connected precepts, but a logical

and well-connected discourse on a single subject. Incidentally its several teachings

may admit of just applications to many things wide apart, but primarily the whole

chapter in all its parts refers to this one theme: How to treat little Christians.

 

The whole story may be gathered by comparing Matthew’s report with the parallel

accounts in Mark 9:33-50 and Luke 10:46-50, and with a re-statement of

some of its matter on a later occasion recorded in Luke 17:1-4.

 

The scene is Capernaum, probably in Peter’s house. The time is about the close of

our Lord’s great ministry in Galilee. The occasion is a dispute among the disciples on

the way from the regions of Caesarea Philippi. The great teacher read their hearts

and finally drew from their reluctant lips a statement of the controverted matter in the

form of the question: “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

 

Their views of the kingdom were yet secular, and their concern for prominent places

was great. He rebukes their pride and selfishness by an object lesson in the person

of a little child, showing that the humblest should be the greatest. From this predicate

He passes to the great theme of the chapter: How to treat little ones that believe in

Him. Hence our theme today: LITTLE CHRISTIANS.

 

There are little Christians. I do not refer to age or physical stature. A child in years

and stature may be a big Christian. A much older person, though small in stature like

Zaccheus, may be a big Christian. Nor do I refer to a recent convert. In one sense

he is a little Christian, because just born into the kingdom-a new born babe in Christ,

whatever his age in the world.

 

Nor yet do I refer to one, small in his own esteem, poor in spirit, for he is only

apparently little, while in fact the greatest in the kingdom.

 

But I do refer to a child of God who remains undeveloped in Christian graces and

character though there have been both sufficient time and instruction for development

since conversion. I mean one whose Christianity remains little – a spiritual dwarf. Having affirmed the existence of “little Christians” as thus defined, now let Bible

proof be submitted of the propriety of using such language, and of the fact affirmed

and of the correctness of the definition:

 

First, the propriety of using such language. All thoughtful minds recognize analogies

between material things on the one hand and moral or spiritual on the other hand.

Because of these evident analogies reputable usage applies to the moral or spiritual

terms that commonly describe, compare or measure material things.

 

For example, in saying of one, “He is a little man,” we may as properly refer to the

“inner man” as to the “outer man.” So Paul evidently employs the diminutive term,

“little women,” (Greek “gunaikaria”) in 2 Timothy 3:6, which manifestly has no

reference to either age or physical stature, nor implies a recent profession of faith,

nor is a diminutive of endearment, nor refers to their humble self-estimate, but does

refer to moral character, the internal nature, and in this instance is a contemptuous

expression signifying weak or “silly” women, and is so rendered in our English

versions. Paul in the context further expounds his term by showing that “little women”

have these distinguishing characteristics:

 

(1) They are “laden with sins,” which may refer to the number and magnitude of their

offenses, or perhaps, rather, as Alford suggests, to the felt weight of sin on their

consciences acting as an impelling force, driving them in search of ease to the other

things mentioned.

 

(2) They are “led away by divers lusts,” i.e., not merely sensual lust, but they itch

after new doctrines, new teachers, new fashions, new sensations. Governed by self-gratification rather than by fixed Christian principles, they constantly run after the

“lo here” and the “lo there,” momentarily attracted by every novelty in philosophy or

worldly pleasure, and by every sensational preacher or startling development in

church services. Modern Athenians, every whit.

 

(3) They are “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,”

i.e., a restless and habitual quest for self-gratification, by the very fickleness of

desire, which will result in such permanent instability of character as renders truth

unattainable.

 

(4) By this very littleness of mind and heart they become the easy victims of any

passing imposition. Crafty and designing teachers of any imposture, creeping into

houses, looking for weak and silly objects of prey, take them captive at the first

venture. Such are “little women.” They are great in nothing. Sometimes they

turn from the great and sweet and holy ties of motherhood and wifehood, scorning the sphere of home and its sacred domestic ties, unsex and belittle themselves by unseemly

and immodest intrusions into the sphere of men.

 

But for “little women” and men like them, impostors and quacks in spiritual things

would have to go out of business. Gullibility invites fraud. Passion solicits slavery.

 

As Bible usage thus properly applies the term “little” to moral stature, so with equal

propriety it may be applied to spiritual or Christian stature. One might hastily infer

from some expression employed that the “little ones” of our text meant children in a

physical sense, or with greater plausibility, “little ones” in their own esteem, humble

disciples.

 

But the whole context seems to exclude either interpretation. The disciples evidently

did not understand Jesus to refer to either class. While He had distinctly rebuked the

littleness of pride and commended the greatness of humility, He applies His lesson to

a treatment of little ones. Not children in years and stature, but “little ones that

believe.” Not “little” because their own modesty and humility so classified them, but

“little” because of their liability to stumble, their too easy susceptibility to sin from

external causes and influences.

 

Both Mark and Luke cite a case introduced by John in immediate illustration, which

shows how correctly their consciences applied His teaching: “And John answered.”

Answered what? The object lesson of the little child. “And said, Master, we saw one

casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not with

us.” Now this man casting out devils in the name of Jesus was evidently no little child

in a fleshly sense, and yet John’s sensitive conscience is rebuked by what Jesus

taught about “receiving one such little child” because he forbade this man to cast out

devils, on the ground of not following with them. In other words, John counted this

unnamed man a “little one.” And his “littleness” in John’s mind consisted in not

“following with them.” That is, though a believer in Jesus, and though casting out

demons in the name of Jesus, he was not a sufficiently developed disciple to fall into

line with the trained apostles. Hence, being “little” he must be permanently stopped in

his work.

 

Now, that Jesus counts the fact cited by John’s case in point directly relevant to His

preceding instructions and violative of it, appears from two overwhelming proofs:

(1) His reply to John:

 

“But Jesus said, forbid him not; for there is no man which shall

do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against me is for me. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.”  Mark 9:39-41.

 

(2) His immediate addition of the words of our text:

 

“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in, me, it were

better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were

drowned in the depth of the sea.”  Matthew 18:6.

The parallel accounts are strikingly presented in Broadus’ Harmony. This man

casting out demons was a believer. But he was a “little one.” He was ignorant of

many things John knew. He was not so well developed. John did not “receive him”

because he was little.

How well this dovetails into Paul’s lesson on the believers who are “weak in the

faith.” Do carefully study Romans 14:1; 15:1 and 1 Corinthians 8:9: “Him that

is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” “We then that are

strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” “But

take heed, lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them

that are weak.”

 

The context of these several passages shows that the “weak brother” was one liable

to stumble through ignorance, infirmity, lack of moral fiber; but though “weak” must

be received, his path cleared of stumbling blocks and the strong must bear his

infirmities, just as the “little ones” of Matthew 18 must be received, must not be

caused to offend, must not be despised, making the cases fairly parallel in import.

Paul’s “weak brother” then is Jesus’ “little one,” and is also John’s man “casting out

demons in the name of Jesus,” but who “followed not with” the apostles.

 

Again, in his letter to the Ephesians Paul shows that our Lord gave the ministry to the

church that Christians might not remain children, “tossed to and fro, and carried

about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness,

whereby they lie in wait to deceive, but attain to the measure of the stature of the

fulness of Christ.”

 

But that all Christians do not pass as rapidly as they should from childhood in Christ

to maturity, is further evident by his complaint against the Hebrews:

 

“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach

you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become?such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Hebrews 5:12-14.

Here unquestionably were “little Christians.” That is, people who had been Christians

long enough to be developed, but remained undeveloped. By this time they ought to

be able to eat meat but must yet be fed on milk. They have had both time and

opportunity to acquire Christian habits of right thinking and right doing, but they act

yet as much from transient impulse as when first converted.

Modern little Christians are like them. If they feel like going to prayer meeting or

Sunday school or church or conference meeting, they go. Otherwise they stay away.

If they feel like making a contribution they make it. Otherwise they let it alone. If they

promise to contribute, they seem not to feel bound to pay it. It is all optional. If they

pay, it is grace; if they withhold, it is no sin. Doing things from fixed principles,

because they are right, and for Christ’s sake, whether they feel like it or not, doing

them regularly, systematically, habitually, they know nothing about. They have not

become veterans. They remain militia and never enter the regular army except for a

bounty or when conscripted.

 

You can’t trust their discrimination on moral questions. Never “by reason of use

have their spiritual senses been exercised to discern both good and evil.” Complicate

a little any moral question submitted to them and they are just as apt to call white

black as anything else. They never look below overt acts of manifest wickedness.

They see no harm in pleasures, games, fashions and associations that are peopling

hell with victims. They have no definite convictions on -the Sunday question. They go

off on Sunday excursions to the shame and reproach of religion. They have time to

come down town for their mail on Sunday and then go to their business offices to

answer business letters and post books, but have no time for church or Sunday

school.

 

O Lord, what can we do with so many little Christians? How can we war with such

an army? The drums beat the call to arms and the bugle sounds the charge, but they

think it is only a brass band playing for amusement or entertainment. They ask: What

harm is this? What harm is that? O Lord, when shall we hear them say: What good in

this? What good in that? When will they inquire for the things which are wholesome,

nutritious, calculated to confer spiritual health and strength? When will they turn their

feet to the ascending path, however narrow, that leads to usefulness, peace and

God?

 

In the best Greek text of John’s gospel, 21st chapter, we have three classes of

Christians: (ta arnia mou) “My lambs;” (ta probata mou) “my sheep;” (ta

probatia mou) “my little sheep.” “Feed my lambs-shepherd my sheep ¾ feed my

little sheep.” “Simon, do YOU love me? Feed my young converts. Simon, do you

LOVE me? Shepherd my mature Christians. Simon, do you love ME? Feed my

dwarfs.”

 

The world over, men care less for the runts than for either lambs or full grown sheep.

If any class is neglected or held in slight esteem it is the runt class. A lamb touches

our heart. We also have reasonable hope that he will become a big sheep, We are

proud of the big sheep. His fleece is heavy and his grade in weight enhances his

value. But that stunted runt, what is he good for? It is little wool, little mutton and

poor stock to keep. It would seem to call for the highest order of love to feed the

“little sheep.” Anyhow in the best texts feeding the “little sheep” is the climax of our

Savior’s test of Peter’s love.

 

Many of us have seen persons who, notwithstanding the lapse of years, remain

children in body or mind. They were never able to work well or walk much, or their

minds continued feeble. Such spectacles excite our pity, it is true, but do they not

also excite our contempt? In our conscious knowledge and strength, in our

exemption from infirmity, are we not liable to despise them? Before such

helplessness, do we not experience sensations quite different from those awakened

by the sight of the natural helplessness of infancy? We are not tempted to despise

babies. We are liable to despise older people who remain babies in body or mind.

Indeed, it is difficult to reverence even old age when it reaches “second childhood,”

when, in the matchless imagery of Ecclesiastes the period arrives: “In the day when

the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and

the grinders cease because they are few; and those that look out of the windows be

darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is

low; and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall

be brought low; and when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be

in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden,

and desire shall fail.”

 

All women, and most men, occasionally enjoy feeding with a spoon, a laughing,

crowing, chubby baby. But it revolts most people, male and female, to feed with a

spoon one twenty years old who remains a baby in body and mind. So all Christians

delight to instruct a new convert, patiently and lovingly administering the “sincere milk

of the word that he may grow thereby.” But how few enjoy giving spoon diet to one

who has been a church member twenty years.

 

Few of us object to placing a chair across an open window or barricading the head

of the stairs or the door of the cellar to keep an adventurous baby from getting a fall,

but many of us ungraciously and reluctantly use such precautions in behalf of older

people equally ignorant and helpless. Just so in spiritual matters. Just so in regard to

“little Christians.”

 

A proper treatment of them calls for great grace, patience, love and caution. And as

the majority of Christians are “little Christians,” how important that we should

carefully study and apply the 18th chapter of Matthew, which is a divine discourse

on how to treat them. Do then give me your heartfelt attention while I open this

scripture in response to the question: HOW SHALL I TREAT A LITTLE CHRISTIAN?

 

First  –Negatively, in the words of Jesus: “Take heed that ye despise not one of

these little ones,” or as Paul puts it, “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth

not.” It is the tendency of knowledge to puff up. When it inflates one with conceit it is

hateful. Spiritual pride is intensely offensive to both God and man. It is prone to

institute invidious comparisons with a view to self-complacency. On the other hand

all backwardness is acutely sensitive to these very comparisons and resentful of

overshadowing.

 

The little Christian, who after lapse of time and perhaps of opportunity and

instruction, remains undeveloped, who has never cultivated habits of Christian

thinking and doing, who is untrained, never having disciplined himself to walk

according to a rule of life, who is yet a bondsman to impulse, whim and caprice,

waiting always to feel good before he does anything — is yet a Christian. And being

a Christian, the question recurs: What are you going to do with him?

 

Take heed, you brethren and sisters who live by principle, that he be not driven

away by your very superiority. You are here at prayer meeting. I meet you nearly

every Wednesday night. You are here in Sunday school. You attend the business

meetings and are informed as to all our plans and methods. You are always ready

when a burden oppresses the church to help lift it. You even sleep in line of battle,

with armor on, ready to fight when the alarm is sounded. Your leader always knows

where to find you and confidently relies upon your watchfulness and fidelity. Indeed,

he is proud of you, and glories to head such a column of veterans in any kind of a

charge. But are not veterans of the line somewhat prone to despise the irregulars?

 

Indulge me in a homely illustration. You know the peculiar difficulty in the way of an

awkward country boy, twenty years old, coming to a city school. Perhaps his

opportunities in the past have been few and third rate, and now his greatest dread is

that he may be despised on account of his backwardness-his body is so big and his

mental culture so slight. Unless the teacher be careful he will despise this boy, and

unless the more advanced students be considerate, they will often wound his feelings.

Then, keenly sensitive to contempt, whether manifested by teacher or pupil, this big

boy may say: “I do not like this school. They have put me in the primary

department.” “Well, ought you not to be just there, since you are not prepared for

higher grades? “Yes, I know I am not further advanced than that.” “Why then object

to your proper classification?” “Oh! It’s not that, it is because they despise me.”

 

Thus many a young man from sensitiveness to the contempt of those more advanced

than himself, remains uneducated. And just so, let me assure you, many a little

Christian remains little because apprehensive of the scorn of the better developed.

On this very point Paul is urgent in exhortation that those who have superior

knowledge or gifts must take heed lest their very superiority become a stumbling

block over which that weak brother may fall. And this leads us naturally to the next

thought.

 

Second  –We should be careful not to cause little Christians to fall into sin. Their

danger is always greatest when they feel that better developed Christians hold them

in contempt. It makes them reckless. Not finding in themselves the grace of others

and writhing under the sense of scorn and scolding, they will likely conclude that they

are not Christians at all and so be tempted to abandon their very profession of faith.

Then watching every careless or injudicious or even sinful habit of older church

members, they not only make this a justification of their own departures from right

living, but arguing badly, as sin ever makes us do, they deduce most illogical and

horrible conclusions from the facts gathered, and then following their logic plunge into

excesses and run lengths in the downward direction wholly unwarranted by the

premises which started them.

 

It is idle to say that no sane man ought to have stumbled over so small a thing as an

inconsistency in older members of the church. The fact is, they do so stumble. For

example: Suppose a Sunday school superintendent or teacher should, because of

cheap rates, go off on a Sunday excursion, what prevents one more backslidden

than himself from drawing the conclusion that the fourth commandment is altogether a

Jewish superstition irreconcilable with the “Christian liberty” of the nineteenth

century? If his Sunday school teacher can devote one holy day to a pleasure

excursion because the fare of travel is so cheap, why may not he, being hard pressed

for money, devote all of them to business? Or, if the older church member give card-parties,

why may he not gamble? If the one attend the theater, why not the otter the

variety theater? If the one patronizes a saloon, why not the other keep a saloon? If

the one may hate his brother and refuse to be reconciled to him, why not the other

kill a man?    Facilis descensus averno!?

 

Cain was the author of the proverb: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Hear these

burning and terrible words of Jesus: “But whoso shall cause one of these little ones to

stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck

and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea. Woe unto the world because of

occasions of stumbling, for it must needs be that the occasion come; but woe to that

man through whom the occasion cometh!”

 

Third –What is our next duty toward them? If the little Christian does go astray,

the big Christian must find him and bring him back. On this point our chapter

employs a beautiful and touching parable: “How think ye? If any man have a hundred

sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine and go

into the mountains, and seek that which goeth astray? And if so be that he find it,

verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety and nine which

have not gone astray.”

 

You remember this same parable is just as appropriately used in the 15th chapter of

Luke, where, however, it refers expressly to unconverted people. Here our Savior

applies it to erring Christians ¾ little Christians gone astray. What is its solemn

lesson to us? It imperatively binds us to go out after the strays. It will not do to say:

“He was worth nothing when we had him and is not worth bringing back.” Nor is it

enough to ring your church bell ¾ he will not come if he hears – it. Nor is it enough to

throw open the gates of the fold and say, “Here is protection; let him come in.” He is

estranged now and will not enter in. It may be witty but it is not loving for you to

mock at his danger by saying: “Any fool sheep that will not come home when called

ought to be caught and eaten by wolves.” Our Savior does not say so. He says,

“You go after him.”

 

And now we come to one of the most important and least understood and least

obeyed precepts in all the Word of God. It is the application of the preceding

parable. It tells just how we are to go after stray sheep. It expounds the parable. Do

give it your most thoughtful attention: “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against

thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou

hast gained thy brother.” (Common version.)

 

Now, I do most seriously and in several important particulars object to this

misleading rendering of the original Greek text. I object to “moreover” as the clearest

rendering here of the Greek particle, “de.” This particle distinguishes the word or

clause connected with it from the preceding statement as either adversative or

explanatory. Here none will deny that it is explanatory of what precedes, hence it

should be rendered “namely” or “accordingly.” I object to the mild word “trespass”

as a rendering of the old-fashioned, ugly word, “sin.” The original is “amartese,”

which means “sin.” Then I object to the limiting clause, “against thee,” because it is

not in the text of the most reliable manuscripts. To be explicit, the concurrence of the

Vatican, Sinaitic and Alexandrian manuscripts for or against a reading is almost

absolutely decisive. In this case we cannot have the testimony of the Alexandrian,

because the first part of it is lost; the extant copy commences only with the middle of

the 25th chapter of Matthew. But the “against thee” is wanting in the other two and is

also wanting in all three of them in the subsequent statement of the same precept

recorded in Luke 17:3.

 

A scholar may well argue that it means “against thee,” on account of the context, but

no scholar can fairly argue that it says “against thee.” Again, I object to the tameness

of the “go” and to the “and” altogether in the phrase “go and.” The “and” is not in the

text and its use weakens the liveliness of the precept. “Go” should be “Go right

along,” i.e., be lively and prompt about it; step off as if you were going after a

doctor. Doctor Broadus, in his commentary on the passage, cites as similar in

meaning the same word in Matthew 4:10. “Get thee hence, Satan;” and “go thy

way” in Matthew 5:24, and the “goeth” of Matthew 13:44, where the man, full

of joy at finding a treasure, hastens to sell all he has, that he may buy the field.

 

Yet more seriously do I object to the phrase, “tell him his fault,” as anything like a

fair rendering of the one original word. The Greek word “elegson” is nowhere else

in the New Testament so rendered. It means “to make one see and feel his fault,” “to

convict or convince of wrong.” It is such a conviction as reaches the emotions.

Hence, in Homer it means “to shame one,” and in the New Testament “to convince

one of wrong and so as to shame him.” Merely to tell one that he has been guilty

does not touch the meaning. The same word is used in John 16:8: “And He (i.e.,

the holy spirit), when He is come, will convict (elegson) the world in respect of sin,

and of righteousness, and of judgment.” In the phrase below, “tell it to the church,”

the “tell” is a good rendering of an entirely different word.

 

Now, to sum up these objections, remember that the Greek particle “de” denotes

that its clause is explanatory of what precedes. But “going after the stray sheep”

precedes. Hence, this precept explains’ how to go after the stray sheep. What then

is the rendering? “Accordingly if thy brother sin, go right along, convince him of his

sin between thee and him alone.”

 

To show the connection more forcibly, let us repeat: “If any man has one hundred

sheep and one of them go astray he leaveth the ninety and nine and goeth after the

stray. Accordingly, if thy brother sin, go right along convince him of his sin between

him and thee alone.” This makes it a substantial equivalent of Galatians 6:1:

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual, restore such a one in

the spirit of meekness; considering thyself lest thou also be tempted.”

You find another equivalent in the Mosiac law: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy

heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor and not suffer sin upon him.” —

Leviticus 19:17, which means that you do hate your brother if, seeing sin on him,

crushing and defiling him, you do not rid him of its weight and slime by convincing

him of its heinousness and leading him to penitence and pardon.

 

So also does it accord with that famous teaching of James:

 

“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him (that is,

turn him back), let him know that he who converteth the sinner from the

error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of

sins,” James 5:19, 20.

It would be difficult to describe my feelings when I first examined the original of

Matthew 18:15. I felt that I had lost something valuable. That my most reliable

proof ¾ text on settling personal difficulties was taken away. But later, I saw clearly

that nothing was lost, but something immeasurably great was gained ¾ that God’s

way is always the best. Just as much as before it is the law for settling personal

offenses. The context here and in Luke 17:14 clearly establishes its application to

such cases. But the immeasurable gain is that the true rendering is not limited to

personal offenses. It includes that, of course, but it is far more comprehensive. The

boundless evil of the old rendering consisted of this: Christians limited the obligation

of reclaiming the offender to the one offended. Conscientious church members would

say, “If a brother wrongs me, I must go and tell him his fault. If, however, he wrongs

someone else, let the wronged person see to it. If I see him commit the greatest sins,

not personally injurious to me or others, let the deacons attend to those cases.”

In other words, “my responsibility for reclaiming the erring is limited to so much of

his wrong as personally injures me.” We Baptists distribute offenses into two classes:

private and public, or personal and general. If the private or personal offense is

against me, I have a duty, not otherwise. The public or general offenses call for no

laboring; let the deacons, our ecclesiastical grand jury, return a bill against them.

 

The true rendering of Matthew 18:15, like a deep running plowshare, uproots -and

buries out of sight this narrow, noxious construction. It immeasurably widens the

horizon of Christian responsibility. All offenses, whether personal or general, public

or private, except the sin against the Holy Ghost, call for reclamatory labor. As any

man will go out to seek and bring home any of his sheep, gone astray from any cause

whatever, “accordingly if thy brother sin,” whether against thee or himself, or anyone

else, “go right along,” whoever sees it, “convince him of his sin, between thee and

him alone; if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”

 

I dare any narrow constructionist of this passage to expose his naked heart to the

point of this question: “You big Christian, willing to labor with a little Christian if he

sins against you, but unwilling to so labor if he only sin against Christ, do you not

thereby count yourself more important than Christ? And if only the offended one

must seek to reclaim the offender, who will reclaim the man who sins only against

himself?”

 

Throw it back into a parable: A flock of sheep are on the range. One wickedly butts

another over and runs away. A third witnesses the going astray. The reckoning

comes for the witness: “Did you see your brother sheep sin and go astray?” “O yes,

I saw it.” “Why didn’t you try to bring him back?” “It was no concern of mine. If he

had butted me over I would have gone after him.”

 

Continue the parable: A flock of sheep are on the range. One, from any cause,

perhaps because he has hurt himself, begins to drop out of line and separate from the

flock in full view of others. He lags farther behind and wanders more and more. He

is lost utterly at last and mournfully bleats in his loneliness and peril. The wolf marks

his isolation and gloats over his piteous cry, crouching nearer to his victim as night

approaches. Yonder, safe in the fold, the rest are being counted. One is missing. The

reckoning comes. “Where is thy brother sheep? Who saw him last and where?” A

comrade answers: “I saw him limping and beginning to fall behind early this morning

near yonder cavernous mountain. By noon he was out of sight, though later even I

could faintly hear his far-off cry for help. Towards night I also heard over there the

howling of a wolf.”

 

“You wicked sheep, false to the tie of brotherhood. You waited until night to report

a comrade lost. Why did you not, when you say him begin to go astray, go right

along and bring him back? If unable alone, why did you not summon others to help

you, and these failing, why did you not make it known to the whole flock?”

 

To return to the literal: You see a brother sin. If you love him you cannot bear to

suffer that sin on him. You go after him, not formally, not merely that you may be

able to prove that you took the “first step” required in Matthew 18, but because you

love him.

 

To comply with the letter of the law in order to gain a technical advantage, while

despising its spirit, is a much more heinous offense than not to take “the step” at all.

Indeed, one is not far from the unpardonable sin who cunningly contrives to shelter

himself under technical compliance with the letter of Christ’s law, while at heart

violating its spirit. Your object must be to gain your brother. You have a difficult

task. Not to tell him or accuse him of wrong; that would be easy. But to so conduct

the case as to make him see and feel and renounce the wrong. Your object is to gain

him. One cannot be gained except on his own conviction. He is both judge and the

accused. You must get a verdict from his own conscience. Therefore, go in

meekness. Affected superiority will prejudice the court whose concurrent judgment

you must have. Therefore go alone.

 

Your mission is not to humiliate him. To needlessly wound his self-love will lessen

your chances before the court of his heart. Therefore, consider thyself also, lest thou

be tempted, i.e., go from the standpoint of any man’s liability to fall into sin. These

clear and unequivocal prescriptions of what you must do are prescriptions of what

you must not do. You are not to get mad at him. You are not to tell his sin to others,

not even to your wife, that she may tell your neighbors’ wives, nor complain in

conference meetings against him. Alone with him you must honestly and earnestly

labor to gain him. Oh, how we do trample on Christ’s laws ¾ all of us ¾

preachers, deacons and all the rest! I do venture to say that more little Christians

remain little from the lack of proper treatment than from any other cause.

 

Passing down the street you see a church member enter a saloon and take a drink.

Ah! That is an awful, blood-curdling sight. Go right along and seek a private

interview. Don’t wait. The brother is going astray ¾ he is drifting away on a

remorseless tide. Perils are all about him and more somber woes ahead. Speak now,

while you may, in hope: “Brother, I love you. I cannot bear to see sin on you. This

was wrong. It was against Christ, who died for you, and the Holy Spirit, who sealed

you unto the day of redemption. It is against your baptismal vow. Brother, be

candid, does not your own heart condemn it? Will you not now and here repent and

renounce this sin?”

 

If you fail to gain him, then promptly take with you others, those in whom the

offender is likely to have most confidence, and with them seek again to gain him. Let

there be no long interval between the endeavors. The three failing, report the case to

the next conference meeting, or if necessary, have a meeting called at once. Tell it to

the church: “Brethren, my heart is sad. I saw Brother A sin. Tenderly and privately I

tried to reclaim him, but without success. I then, while the case was fresh, took with

me Brethren B and C, who lovingly added their labors to mine. We all failed; we

tried our best. We had his good at heart. But he is still going astray. Oh, Church of

Christ, what will you do?”

 

“Is this report correct, Brother A?” “Yes.” “Do you corroborate it, Brother B?” “I

do.”

 

  1. Now, the church officially and as a united body intervenes. “Erring brother, hear

the church. Your course is wrong. Will you not confess and forsake this sin?”

 

If he hear not the church, then let him be to thee as an heathen or publican.

Withdraw from the one who persists in walking disorderly.

 

It is amazing how little respect some have for church authority. But there are

conditions under which a decision of the church is infallible. The conditions have

been stated. If every step required by Matthew, 18th chapter, has been complied

with in both letter and spirit, then one of two things infallibly follows:

 

(1) You gain the erring brother, or

(2) you reach the demonstration that he was never a Christian, and so must

be put with heathens and publicans.

In either alternative the decision is infallible. Do you doubt it? Listen then and

tremble, ye that despise church authority. Hear our Savior add these awful words:

“Verily, I say unto you, what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in

heaven. And what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” ¾

i.e., heaven ratifies what the church does on earth in compliance with Christ’s law

and in the spirit of it.

I repeat with awful solemnity that a decision reached by the church in compliance

with the letter and spirit of Christ’s law is infallible and is ratified in heaven.

It is an amazing thing that some who ought to be better informed count a church

interposition or a church censure as a matter of little moment.

 

But let us enter deeper into the thought by inquiring into the reason of this infallibility

on earth, confirmed by heavenly ratification. What is the philosophy of it? Here is the

answer: Jesus promised to be with His people always unto the end of the world, in

their obedience to His will. The abiding Holy Spirit fulfills this promise.

 

Under the prompting of this Spirit if two or three agree as touching any request, the

Father grants it. And when two or three so assemble there is He in their midst. So

when the one saw a brother sin and lovingly sought to bring him back, Jesus went

with the one. And when the three so tenderly united for the same end, Jesus went

with the three. And when the whole church earnestly sought to reclaim the erring

one, Jesus went with the church. Thus three times the delinquent said, “No,” to Jesus

Himself. And as he thrice trampled on our Lord’s authority on earth, heaven ratifies

the Spirit-prompted decision of the church: “Let him be as a heathen or publican.”

This is the scriptural doctrine of infallibility. I am frank to confess, however, that the

one and the three and the whole church are most fallible when in letter or spirit they

depart from Christ’s law. But think of it — if one be a genuine Christian — if God

ever did for Christ’s sake forgive his sins-if on the altar of his heart there sparkled

one ray of the Spirit’s light, surely Christ’s law, faithfully administered, will reclaim

him.

 

  1. What must be done with the little Christian when he is so brought to penitence?

His heart is broken. His spirit is contrite. He confesses and deplores and renounces

his sin. What then? Forgive him fully, freely and forever. Let it be as if he had not

gone astray. Put no reproaches on him. Revive no bitter memories. Show him that

you love him with the old-time love. I repeat the scriptures: “Be ye kind to him,

tender-hearted, forgiving him, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

 

Just here in our chapter Peter propounds a most thoughtful and practical question:

“Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?”

Ah! What a searching question! The force of it is evident. This laboring with erring

brethren is no light matter. We can very well stand it once and by exceptional grace

perhaps seven times. But surely there must be a limit somewhere. How can we

devote our lives to hunting up a sheep that is no sooner found than he goes astray

again?

 

Brother, brother, bow your head to the Master. Submit to His will. Hear His solemn

reply to Peter: “I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven.”

 

This is a staggering doctrine. There is only one standpoint on earth from which you

can fully accept it, and that is from a consideration of the number of times God has

forgiven you and from the consideration of your infinite sin forgiven in Christ. Yours,

brother, is a ten thousand talent case inquiring about a hundred pence case. Hence,

the parable which closes the chapter. Do read it. When you have reclaimed and

forgiven the erring brother seventy times seven, that is only one hundred pence; but

when Jesus sought you out and saved you, that was ten thousand talents. Ah me! In

that light not even Peter could ask another question.

 

And now in conclusion I desire to impress on your hearts three most marvelous

reasons why we should receive little Christians, however little, and feed them baby-diet

until they grow stronger, no matter how long it may be, and not despise them

and not cause them to sin, but go right along and reclaim them if they do sin, and

forgive them when reclaimed, and keep on reclaiming and forgiving. Here are the

reasons:

 

  1. Verse 10: “In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is

in heaven.” But how ought this fact to keep us from despising them? Can you not see

the argument? One’s importance must be judged by the number and quality of his

servants. Angels excel in strength. They are flaming spirits and potentialities. And yet

great and glorious and holy as are the angels, they are but ministering spirits to them

that are the heirs of salvation. Shall I despise one whose very servants stand before

the glorious face of the

 

Almighty? Yes, little Christians, there are angels hovering round you day and night.

That little Christian, Jacob, saw them more than once.

 

  1. Jesus died for him. “And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for

whom Christ died?” 1 Corinthians 8:11. His value must be estimated not from my

opinion of him, but from the price Jesus was willing to pay for him.

 

  1. No matter how little, he shall never perish. Verses 13 and 14: “And if so be that

he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more over that sheep than over the

ninety and nine which went not, astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which

is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Glorious, sublime, uplifting

peroration! So far as you are concerned, big Christian, he was left to perish. You

even tell how you heard the wolf howling where you abandoned him lost and

helpless. But the great Shepherd of the flock, the good Shepherd, also heard the

wolf and the bleating of the poor stray sheep. Hear Him: “I give unto him eternal life;

and he shall never perish, neither shall any wolf pluck him out of my hand.”

John 10:28. How can I despise this deathless one?

 

Oh little sheep, thou shalt live forever! God decrees it. Thou shalt stand on the right

hand at the judgment when He separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-33),

for thou art a sheep. Thy smallness doth not make thee a goat. Thou shalt

be whiter than snow, little sheep, washed all white in thy Redeemer’s blood.

 

Oh, my brethren! Are not these incentives? Why will you not understand me? My

heart is breaking for a revival of religion! And do you not see the hindrance and how

it may be removed? I am not troubled about you mature Christians.

 

You are ready any day or night. Nor do young converts give me concern. Their

salvation is fresh in their memory. But oh! The little Christians — the great host of the

undeveloped ones ¾ long ago converted but not grown in grace — these— these

are my problem. As a mother’s heart aches for a long absent and erring child, so

aches my heart for the members who for months and years remain astray. Oh! Thou

Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, fulfill here in Waco thine own ancient promise: “I

will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will

bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick!”