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and mere belief. The profession of a creed may give us for a time an air of respectability or an odour of sanctity, but, alas for us! if our religion ends with mere belief. If our belief be good and our actions bad, all that our belief does for us is to enhance the enormity of our guilt. I have watched the sun, as he sank into his ocean bed, and paved the sea with a golden pathway that seemed to lead to the very gates of glory; and I have seen the golden hues gradually fading into gloom, till soon the blackest part of the whole horizon was that which but a few moments before had been so glorious and so bright. No less delusive is a spurious faith. Our belief in the divine Father's perfection is worthless—ay, it is even worse than worthlessunless it is changing us into the same image from glory to glory, and making us perfect even as He is perfect. If we have a genuine faith, we shall be willing to agonise (if need be) in the conflict with temptation, that so we may be in harmony with the God-ordered universe in which we have been placed, and eventually come to
“That perfect presence of His face,
Which we, for want of words, call heaven.”
The Formation of Character.
THE MAGNITUDE OF LITTLE SINS.
“ Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines : for our
vines have tender grapes.”_SONG OF Solomon ii. 15.
W ITH regard to the formation of character,
" we have already seen that the first great requisite is humility,—a profound sense that we have not already attained, neither are already perfect. We have further seen the necessity for faith, as a stimulus and inspiration in the struggle after perfection. In the present sermon I wish to direct your attention to a third point-viz., the importance of seeming trifles, or, in other words, the magnitude of little sins.
To despise little things is to show one's self utterly ignorant of the philosophy of life. There is a well-known anecdote told of Michael Angelo
which illustrates how a wise man respects what a foolish man despises. The story is so suggestive that I need scarcely ask pardon for telling it again. A friend called one day upon the sculptor and found him finishing a statue. Some time after, when he called again, Angelo was still engaged upon the same work. His friend, looking at the figure, said, “ You have been idle since I saw you last.” “By no means,” replied Angelo, “I have retouched this part, and polished that; I have softened this feature and brought out this muscle ; I have given more expression to this lip, and more energy to this limb.” “Well, well,” said his friend, “but all these are trifles.” “It may be so," said the sculptor, “but recollect that trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” It is equally true that trifles mar perfection ;
“It is the little rift within the lute, That by and by will make the music mute."
The phrase “ little sins,” common though it be, is highly unscriptural and highly immoral. In the Bible you will frequently find such sins as lying, slander, and selfishness classed with sins like drunkenness, theft, or murder. The former are represented as equally effective with the latter in excluding from the kingdom of God.
Again, the expression “ little sins” is an immoral and demoralising expression. You will find that the common distinction between great and little sins exactly coincides with the distinction between sins that are recognised and punished by law, and sins which are not so recognised and punished. Drunkenness, for example, would be a great sin, and gluttony a little sin. But the nonrecognition of a sin by juridical law does not in the least diminish its magnitude. The laws ordained by society are necessarily very limited in their scope. They can take no such cognisance of evil as would involve, either great intrusion upon the privacy of domestic life, or great interference with the liberty of the individual. The end of social laws is to augment social happiness. If, therefore, they interfered too much, they would be self-destructive,—they would frustrate their own end. Suppose, for example, that society determined to compel every member of a family to do the whole of his duty to all the other members, in that case the emissaries of the law would have to be constantly present in every home, listening to all our words, and even scrutinising our very looks. Great though the mischief be which is caused in family life by unkind looks and ungenerous words, yet if the law were to step in and
endeavour to compel men into kindness and generosity, the remedy would be worse than the disease. So again, to take another illustration, a man may do much injury, directly to himself and indirectly to society, by taking too little exercise or too much sleep; but the law does not attempt to hinder him. And it is right in refraining. Within certain limits, it is better to be voluntarily ill than involuntarily well. Life would be intolerable if police regulations extended to all its minutest details. For these reasons the law of the land is often obliged to wink at wrong-doing, notwithstanding the fact of its causing an enormous amount of misery. Any attempt to lessen the misery would only produce still greater suffering of another kind. The non-interference, then, of society with any particular form of misconduct, does not prove that the wrong-doing is unimportant, but only that it is a kind of wrong-doing which cannot be dealt with by juridical law. Every sin, however, whether it be a violation of the laws of society or not, must be a violation of moral and divine law, or it would not be a sin; it must have been committed in opposition to the warning voice of conscience, or it would not be a sin; it must have been productive of injurious effects upon the character of the man who per