Importance of Small Things in Religion part 3
C. H. Spurgeon
Preached April 8th, 1860
3. Now, there is a third thing, and that is, that whenever the practices of Christians differ from Scripture they are sure to incur inconvenience. When the ark was carried on the shoulders of men, it did not matter whether it went up-hill or down-hill, rugged road or smooth, there was the ark carried in state like the litter of a king. But once put it on the cart—although they thought it would look better—then it went jolting here and jolting there, and threatening constantly to tumble into the mire. Whenever we alter one word of Scripture, we shall get ourselves into trouble. We may not see it at first, but we surely shall find it out by-and-by. A minister, for instance, thinks, "Well, now, I must not preach all the doctrines of the Gospel. It would not suit my people, there is a great deacon sitting in the green pew in the corner, there is the squire of the parish, he would not like it if I were to be too severe on him." Ah, my friend, alter one word, and you have fallen into a snare, you have entered a labyrinth, and God help you to find your way out again, for you will never be able to get through it alone. Stand to God’s Word and you stand safely. Alter one dot of the i, one cross of the t, and you are nowhere at all; you are in an enemy’s country, and you cannot defend yourself. When we have got Scripture to back us up we defy the world; but when we have nothing but our own whims or the work of some great preacher, or the decree of a council, or the tradition of the Fathers, we are lost. We are trying to weave a rope of sand, we are building a house of cards that must totter to the ground. The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible is the religion of Christ’s Church. And until we come back to that the Church will have to suffer. She will not carry the ark up to the hill of Zion; she will not see His kingdom come, or his will done in earth as it is in heaven, till she has done with those bullocks and that new cart, and goes back to the New Testament plan of keeping consistently to the truth as it is in Jesus, and contending earnestly for the faith.
4. Furthermore, another thing lies upon the surface of this passage; namely, that one innovation upon sacred writ leads to another. A little error leads to a great one. Nobody ever intended that Uzzah should touch that ark. They had not a thought when they lifted it up and put it on the cart that it would lead to poor Uzzah’s death and that he would commit the sin of violating the ark, else surely they would have kept to the Scriptural plan. So there are some of you my dear brethren in Christ who are not quite right in your views of Scripture. Well, perhaps you think the same of me. We will speak of somebody else, then. There is a man in the world, whose views are not quite in consistency with Scripture. He says, "Well, it does not matter it is a little thing, a very little thing." Yes but that little wrong thing leads to a great wrong thing. The sinner’s path is down hill, and when you take one step in violation of Scripture precept, your next step is not only easy, but seems even to be forced upon you. Doubt election, you will soon doubt perseverance, and you may soon come to deny redemption. Where did the errors of the church of Rome come from? Were they all born in a day? No, they came by slow degrees. It happened thus:—I will trace but one error, against which as a denomination we always bear our protest, and I only take that as a specimen of the whole. Among the early Christians, it was the practice to baptize those who believed in Christ Jesus, by immersing them in the water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Well, the first wrong doctrine that started up, was the idea that perhaps there was some efficacy in the water. Next it followed that when a man was dying who had never been baptized he would perhaps profess faith in Christ, and ask that he might be baptized; but as he was dying they could not lift him from his bed, they therefore adopted sprinkling as being an easier method by which they might satisfy the conscience by the application of water. That done, there was but a step to the taking of little children into the church—children, unconscious infants, who were received as being members of Christ’s body; and thus infant sprinkling was adopted. The error came in by slow degrees—not all at once. It would have been too glaring for the church to receive, if it had shown its head at one time with all its horns upon it. But it entered slowly and gradually, till it came to be inducted into the church. I do not know an error which causes the damnation of more souls than that at the present-time. There are thousands of people who firmly believe that they shall go to heaven because they were sprinkled in infancy, have been confirmed, and have taken the Sacrament. Sacramental efficacy and baptismal regeneration, all spring from the first error of infant baptism. Had they kept to the Scripture, had the church always required faith before baptism, that error could not have sprung up. It must have died before the light of the truth, it could not have breathed, it could not have had a foothold in the Christian church. But one error must lead to another—you never need doubt that. If you tamper with one truth of Scripture, he that tempts you to meddle with one, will tempt you to tamper with another, and there will be no end to it, till, at last, you will want a new Bible, a new Testament, and a new God. There is no telling where you will end when you have begun. I am speaking very pointedly and very plainly this morning, on a subject which very seldom comes in my way. But I must be clear in my language when I do speak about it, for I do not often make allusions to this truth. Judge me as I judge others. You tell me, if I make one step in error, you do not know how far I may go. I believe you. Believe me also when I say the same. Let us both go to Scripture, let us stand only by this. I like your Prayer Book well enough, but not so well as my Bible. I respect your Church decrees, but not so as I venerate this Book. I believe what your minister says, so far as it is consistent with this Book. Believe me so far, but not one inch further. Have done with me when I have done with my Master. Think no more of any man you hear, when he goes from the Scripture, and when he errs, than you would think of Satan himself; except this, pity him for his errors, but pin not your faith to his sleeve. Scripture, Scripture only, is the model doctrine, the model practice, the model experience of a Christian; and whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil.
5. Having now dwelt upon these points, I will take one more, and then I will leave this looking at the picture in detail. It strikes me that on the very surface of this passage there is a refutation of a very common error, that if we do a thing from a right motive God accepts it, even though it is a wrong thing. The common error of the time is this, "Well," says one, "I have no doubt that if a man is a good Mahomedan, and keeps up to what he knows, he will go to heaven." "Ah," says another, "and if he is a good Roman Catholic, and if he keeps up to what he knows he is safe." "Ay," says another, "we must not judge one another harshly; no doubt those who bow before Juggernaut, if they live up to what they know will be saved." Do you take in the devil-worshippers and the snake-worshippers too? You must let them all in. You have opened your door wide enough to let them all come in. And the Thugs who are going about India cutting men’s throats—they do it as a matter of principle, it is a part of their religion, they consider it to be right—do you think they will go to heaven because they have done what they thought is right? "No," says one, "I will not go that length." Yes, but if the principle is right in one case it is right in the other. A principle will go the whole way it will stretch in any direction, and be as applicable to one as to another. But it is all deception and falsehood. God has revealed to us the one true religion, and other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid. We are responsible to God for our faith; we are bound to believe what he tells us to believe, and our judgment is as much bound to submit to God’s law as any other power of our being. When we come before God, it will be no excuse for us to say, "My Lord, I did wrong, but I thought I was doing right." "Yes, but I gave you my law, but you did not read it, or, if you read it, you read it so carelessly that you did not understand it, and then you did wrong, and you tell me you did it with a right motive. Ay, but it is of no avail whatever." Just as in Uzzah’s case, did it not seem the lightest thing in the world to put out his hand to prevent the ark from slipping off? Who could blame the man? But God had commanded that no unpriestly hand should ever touch it, and inasmuch as he did touch it, though it was with a right motive, yet Uzzah must die. God will have his laws kept. Besides, my dear brethren, I am not sure about the rightness of your motives after all. The State has issued a proclamation, it is engraven, according to the old Roman fashion, in brass. A man goes up with his file, and he begins working away upon the brass, erases here, and amends there. Says he, "I did that with a right motive, I didn’t think the law a good one, I thought it was too old-fashioned for these times, and so I thought I would alter it a little, and make it better for the people." Ah, how many have there been who have said, "The old puritanic principles are too rough for these times, we’ll alter them, we’ll tone them down a little." What are you at, sir? Who art thou that darest to touch a single letter of God’s Book which God has hedged about with thunder in that tremendous sentence, wherein he has written, "Whosoever shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and whosoever shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city." It becomes an awful thing when we come to think of it, for men not to form a right and proper judgment about God’s Word, for man to leave a single point in it uncanvassed, a single mandate unstudied, lest we should lead others astray, while we ourselves are acting in disobedience to God. The fact is, there is one way to heaven, and there are not fifty ways; there is one gate to heaven, and there are not even two gates. Christ is the way. Trusting in Jesus is the path to Paradise. He that believeth not in Jesus must be damned. The religion of Christ is intolerant; not that it ever touches man in his flesh and blood, even if he rejects it, but it does not allow of a second method of salvation. It demands your full obedience, your child-like faith, or else it threatens you with the direst penalty, if you refuse to yield to it. That idea of free-thinking and the like, and the right of man to think as he likes, has no countenance in Scripture. We are bound to believe what God tells us; as he tells it to us; bound not to alter a single word, but to take the Bible as it is, or else deny it, and take the consequence.
All this seems to me to lay in the picture which we have before us of the death of Uzzah.