THE influence of every man in his sphere is considerable. Solomon had seen a remarkable instance of a poor man delivering by his wisdom a small and ill-garrisoned city from the besieging army of a very powerful monarch. From hence he was led to consider the superiority of wisdom above wealth or power. On the other hand, he saw that, as a wise and good man might be extremely useful, so a foolish and wicked man might do a great deal of injury, to those around him. Hence, contrasting the two, he observed, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.”
In illustrating the latter member of the sentence, we shall point out the truth of it,
[Men of all classes in the community may greatly affect the state to which they belong.
A weak and ambitious monarch, how soon may he involve his people in war, and reduce them to the very brink of ruin! Such was Solomon’s only son, who, in the space of a few weeks, goaded ten tribes out of the twelve that he ruled over, to revolt from him, and to establish a separate and independent kingdom [Note: 1Ki_12:16.].
An aspiring subject also may, by exaggerating the people’s grievances, and promising them effectual redress, stir up multitudes to insurrection, and involve a nation in all the horrors of civil war. Thus did Absalom [Note: 2Sa_15:2-6; 2Sa_15:10-14.]: and thus have demagogues in every age, in every state.
What immense evil too may not a cruel persecutor effect! How may such an one waste the Church of God and destroy it! One Jezebel could murder a whole host of prophets [Note: 1Ki_18:13.]; and one Saul depopulate the Christian Church [Note: Act_9:1-2.]. And, in this nation as well as others, time was, when one cruel bigot kindled fires in every part of the country, to extirpate, if possible, those, who would not return to the justly reprobated errors of her religion.
If a great man be conspicuous for impiety and profaneness, his conduct will be attended with a most baneful influence. Soon will sycophants imitate his example, till irreligion becomes the fashion of the day, and every thing sacred is trampled under foot. What an awful instance of such success have we in Jeroboam; who, the more effectually to detach from Judah the ten revolted tribes, erected idols in Dan and Bethel, which from that hour became, and ever afterwards remained, the objects of worship through the whole kingdom [Note: Hos_5:11. In this verse is mentioned not his success only, but the evil it brought upon them.]! Hence he is continually stigmatized with the name of “him who made Israel to sin [Note: 1Ki_22:52.]!”
But indeed any enormous sinner, of whatever class, does much to destroy the peace and prosperity of his country. What is it that arms God against a nation, and provokes him to visit it with war, pestilence, and famine? Is it not sin? Every sinner therefore, in proportion as he increases the nation’s guilt, contributes also to its punishment. In many instances we know, that the whole kingdom of Israel suffered for the offence of one; not for that of David only, who was the monarch [Note: 2Sa_24:10; 2Sa_24:15.]; but for that also of Achan, an obscure individual [Note: Jos_22:20.]: nor till the last day will it appear what injury this nation has sustained by means of every one here present.]
[What confusion is brought into any house by an imperious husband, a contentious wife, or an undutiful, stubborn child! Instead of love and harmony, there is little else than brawling and quarrelling; so that the very sight of each other, which ought to call forth all the tender emotions of their hearts excites nothing but enmity and disgust.
A man addicted to lewdness, gaming, intemperance, evil company, or idleness, to what wretchedness may he soon reduce his family! “God has put a price into the hand of such an one to make his dependents happy, but he knows not how to use it [Note: Pro_17:16.].” He might support them in ease and comfort, but brings them to want and desperation. How many instances of this are found in every town and village!
Nor can we easily estimate the good which a whisperer and a tale-bearer may destroy. Behold, he comes into a house where friends or relatives are cemented in the strictest bonds of union and amity: but he creates suspicion, and alienates their minds, and kindles feuds, and fills with animosity the bosoms that once glowed with mutual affection [Note: Pro_16:28.].
But what shall we say of the vile seducer, who under the mask of friendship enters the house of his unsuspecting neighbour, and avails himself of the opportunity to decoy his daughter, or to defile his wife? Alas! what incalculable misery does such a man create! For the sake of a momentary gratification, how many hearts does he pierce with the deepest and most lasting sorrow! What disgrace does he bring upon the whole family, involving the innocent with the guilty in irremediable shame, and bowing them down with grief that hurries them to the grave! Would to God that, if such a character exist in this assembly, he might be smitten with remorse, and wounded to his inmost soul!]
In the church of God—
[On whom shall we fix our eyes, as hostile to the Church’s welfare, so soon as on the careless minister? To him God has committed the improvement of sabbaths, and ordinances, and of the sacred oracles. To him he has given souls to be nurtured and disciplined for heaven. But the traitor is intent only on his own gains or pleasures: he performs his weekly task, not caring whether any be edified or not: he wastes the precious opportunities, that can never be recalled; and, in the course of his ministry, leads thousands to destruction. Yes; as far as his influence extends, he makes null and void all the purposes of God’s grace, and all the wonders of redeeming love. When, humanly speaking, he might have been a blessing to the world, and an ornament to his profession, he brings his sacred function into reproach, scattering the flock whom he should have gathered, and destroying whom he should have saved. Such an one is Satan’s best friend, and the greatest enemy of God and man.
Much good also may be destroyed, especially where men are awake to the concerns of religion, by a proud disputatious sectary. I speak not here of those who dissent from the Established Church, but of those who create divisions within the Church by unduly insisting on matters of minor importance, and of doubtful disputation. Though the sentiments of such an one be not fundamentally erroneous, yet if he be laying an undue stress on matters that are comparatively indifferent, and forming parties in the church, he distracts the minds of the simple; he puffs up many with pride; he loosens the bonds of brotherly affection; he weakens the hands of a pious minister, and he causes many to relapse into formality and indifference [Note: Rom_16:17-18.]. Of such a character were Hymeneus [Note: 2Ti_2:16-18; 2Ti_2:23; 2Ti_3:6; 2Ti_3:13.], and Alexander [Note: 2Ti_4:14-15.]: and “one such root of bitterness will trouble and defile many [Note: Heb_12:15. See also 1Co_5:2; 1Co_5:6 and Gal_5:7; Gal_5:9.]:” on which account we should be as studious as possible to stop their growth [Note: Tit_1:13-14; Tit_3:9-11.].
There is scarcely any one in the universe who does greater injury to the Church than the professor who walks dishonourably. One act of his brings disgrace upon the whole Church of God, and makes religion to stink in the very nostrils of those around him [Note: Gen_34:30.]. Instantly do the ungodly begin to triumph [Note: Psa_35:19; Psa_35:25.], to arraign all the people of God as hypocrites, and to represent religion itself as a mask for every thing that is vile [Note: 2Pe_2:2.]. Thus the wicked are hardened, the weak are offended, the saints are dishonoured, and the very name of God is blasphemed in the world [Note: 1Ti_6:1.]. How does God himself complain of this in the case of David [Note: 2Sa_12:14.]! and how incalculable must the evil be, when multitudes are thus offended, and set against the very means of salvation!
There is yet one more character that we shall mention, whose conduct indeed is less extensively destructive, but not less injurious to those within his sphere, we mean, the scoffer. He brings no disgrace upon religion, because he makes no profession of it. Nor can he greatly impede its progress in the world, because he is not invested with authority or influence. But perhaps there is some relation, some friend, whom he can discourage by sneers and ridicule, if not also by menaces and actual unkindness. Suppose then that, in one single instance, he succeed in breaking the bruised reed and quenching the smoking flax; who shall appreciate the good he has destroyed? to ruin one for whom Christ died; and who, but for such an obstacle, would have got safe to heaven [Note: Rom_14:15.]! If the whole world be of no value in comparison of a soul [Note: Mat_16:26.], then, in that single act, the scoffer has done more harm than the whole world can recompense.]
Let us guard against receiving evil from others—
[It was a heathen poet that said, “Evil communications corrupt good manners;” and from him the Apostle quotes it, for the edification of the Church of Christ [Note: 1Co_15:33. It is an Iambic verse from Menander.]. Behold then what reason itself, as well as Scripture, teaches us in reference to the subject before us. One person infected with the plague may do us more injury than a hundred healthy persons can do us good. I would earnestly entreat all, therefore, and young persons especially, not to admit to their friendship so much as “one” associate, whose ways are evil. For who can tell to what an extent the principles and conduct of such a man may prevail, to efface the good impressions that have been made upon his mind, and to induce habits that may prove fatal to his soul? If I regarded nothing but your temporal prosperity, I should give this advice: but when I take eternity into the account, I cannot but urge it upon every one here present, and say with the Apostle, “Come out from amongst such persons altogether, and be separate from them, and do not so much as touch the unclean thing” or person that may contaminate your soul.
Let us to the utmost of our power repair the evil which we ourselves have done—
[Suppose us ever so free from the more flagrant instances that have been mentioned, there is not one amongst us who has not done much evil by means of his example. We have all lived, like the world around us, in a neglect of God and of our own souls: and, in so doing, have countenanced the same conduct in others. Thus, whether we intended it or not, we have confirmed many in their ungodly ways, and have contributed to their eternal ruin. Let us go now, and undo what we have done: alas! we cannot find one half of them: many are not known by us: many are gone to distant parts: many are already in the eternal world: and, if we should attempt to convert those to whom we can get access, they would laugh at us as fools, or despise us as hypocrites. Besides, all of them in their respective spheres have diffused the contagion which they received from us: and thus have put it beyond the reach of man to trace, or even to conceive, the evil we have done. And does not all this call for penitence? Yes; if our “head were a fountain of tears to run down incessantly” to the latest hour of our lives, it would be no more than the occasion calls for. But with our penitence we must unite our utmost efforts to repair the evil we have done.
To repair it with respect to God, is the work of Christ only. He alone can render satisfaction for our sins; his blood alone can cleanse us from the guilt we have contracted by them. But with respect to man we may do something, though we cannot do all that we could wish. Let us begin with our example: this speaks the most forcibly, and the most extensively. Let us, by giving up ourselves to God, shew others what they ought to do: and let our light so shine before men, that they may be constrained to glorify God, and to take shame to themselves. Next, let us use our influence: be it small or great, let us not neglect to exert it, that by every means in our power we may counteract our past evils, and stir up others to flee from the wrath to come. Finally, let us be fervent in our intercessions at the throne of grace, that God may take to him his great power, and establish his kingdom upon earth. Let us particularly pray for those, whom, in any respect, we may have allured from the path of duty. Thus, like the great Apostle, we shall make some compensation to the world for all the injuries it has sustained by our means, and shew, that, if one sinner can destroy much good, one saint can effect much which shall be a ground of joy and gratitude to all eternity.]