He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.…
In our text the Master declares that fidelity, which is an element of conscience, must be thorough. It must not be an optional thing, chosen when we see that it will be better than any other instrument to secure a desired end. It must belong to every part of life, pervading it. It must belong to the least things as much as to the highest. It is not a declaration that little things are as important aa great things. It is not a declaration that the conscience is to regard all duties as of one magnitude and of one importance. It is a declaration that the habit of violating conscience, even in the least things, produces mischief that at last invalidate it for the greatest, and that is a truth that scarcely can have contradiction. I propose to illustrate this truth in some of its relations to life. In the first place, I shall speak of the heedlessness and unconscientiousness with which men take up opinions and form judgments, on every side and of every kind, in daily life. In regard to events, men seldom make it a matter of conscience to see things as they are, and hear things as they really report themselves. They follow their curiosity, their sense of wonder, their temper, their interests, or their prejudices, instead of their judgment and their conscience. There are few men who make it a point to know just what things do happen of which they are called to speak, and just how they happen. How many men were there round the corner? "Twenty," says the man, quickly. There were seven. How long did you have to wait? "Two hours, at least." It was just three-quarters of an hour by the watch. So, in a thousand things that happen every day, one man repeats what his imagination reported to him, and another man what his impatient, irritable feelings said to him. There are very few men that make it a matter of deliberate conscience to see things as they are, and report them as they happen. This becomes a great hindrance to business, clogs it, keeps men under the necessity of revising their false impressions; expends time and work; puts men on false tracks and in wrong directions; multiplies the burdens of life. But its worse effect is seen in the judgments and prejudices which men are liable to entertain about their fellow-men, and the false sentences which they are accustomed to issue, either by word of mouth or by thoughts and feelings. In thousands of men, the mind, if unveiled, would be found to be a Star-chamber filled with false witnesses and cruel judgments. The effect in each case may be small, but if you consider the sum-totals of a man's life, and the grand amount of the endless scenes of false impressions, of wicked judgments, of causeless prejudices, they will be found to be enormous. This, however, is the least evil. It is the entire untrustworthiness of a moral sense which has been so dealt with that is most to be deplored. The conscience ought to be like a perfect mirror. It ought to reflect exactly the image, that falls upon it. A man's judgment that is kept clear by commerce with conscience ought to reveal things as they are, facts as they exist, and conduct as it occurs. Now it is not necessary to break a mirror to pieces in order to make it worthless. Let one go behind it with a pencil, or with a needle of the finest point, and, with delicate touch, make the smallest line through the silver coating of the back; the next day let him make another line at right angles to that; and the third day let him make still another line parallel to the first one; and the next day let him make another line parallel to the second, and so continue to do day by day, and one year shall not have passed away before that mirror will be so scratched that it will be good for nothing. It is not necessary to deal it a hard blow to destroy its power; these delicate touches will do it, little by little. It is not necessary to be a murderer or a burglar in order to destroy the moral sense; but ah! these million little infelicities, as they are called, these scratchings and raspings, take the silver off from the back of the conscience — take the tone and temper out of the moral sense. Nay, we do not need even such mechanical force as this; just let the apartment be uncleansed in which the mirror stands: let particles of dust, and the little flocculent parts of smoke, settle film by film, flake by flake, speck by speck, upon the surface of the mirror, and its function is destroyed, so that it will reflect neither the image of yourself nor of anything else. Its function is as much destroyed as if it were dashed to pieces. Not even is this needed; only let one come so near to it that his warm breath falling on its cold face is condensed to vapour, and then it can make no report. Now there are comparatively few men who destroy their moral sense by a dash and a blow, but there is many a man whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron. The effect of this is not merely to teach us the moral lesson that man is fallible; it is to diminish the trust of man in man. And what is the effect of diminishing that? It is to introduce an element which dissevers society, which drives men away from one another, and takes away our strength. Faith in man, trust in man, is the great law of cohesion in human society. And so this infidelity in little things and little duties works both inwardly as well as outwardly. It deteriorates the moral sense; it makes men unreliable; it makes man stand in doubt of man; it loosens the ties that bind society together, and make it strong; it is the very counteracting agent of that divine love which was meant to bring men together in power. The same truth, yet more apparently, and with more melancholy results, is seen in the un-trustworthiness and infidelity of men in matters of honesty and dishonesty. The man that steals one penny is — just as great a transgressor as if he stole a thousand dollars? No, not that. The man that steals one single penny is — as great a transgressor against the laws of society as if he stole a thousand dollars? No, not exactly that. The man that steals one penny is — just as great a transgressor against the commercial interests of men as if he stole a thousand dollars? No, not that. The man that steals a penny is just as great a transgressor against the purity of his own conscience as if he stole a million of dollars. The danger of these little things is veiled under a false impression. You will hear a man say of his boy, "Though he may tell a little lie, he would not tell a big one; though he may practise a little deceit, he would not practise a big one; though he may commit a little dishonesty, he would not commit a big one." But these little things are the ones that destroy the honour, and the moral sense, and throw down the fence, and let a whole herd of buffaloes of temptation drive right through you. Criminals that die on the gallows; miserable creatures that end their days in poorhouses; wretched beings that hide themselves in loathsome places in cities; men that are driven as exiles across the sea and over the world — these are the ends of little things, the beginnings of which were thought to be safe. It is these little things that constitute your peculiar temptation and your worst danger.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.