Sermon: Little Christians

32 mins read

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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

  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

  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
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

  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!”

Lead Scheduler at MOTW. Husband, Father, but most importantly, a man of God. Possesses more degrees that most people find useful.

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