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.…
I. The great principle of the text is, that he who has sinned, though to a small amount in respect of the fruit of his transgression — provided he has done so by passing over a forbidden limit which was distinctly known to him, has, in the act of doing so, incurred a full condemnation in respect of the principle of his transgression. In one word, that the gain of it may be small, while the guilt of it may be great; that the latter ought not to be measured by the former; but that he who is unfaithful in the least shall be dealt with, in respect of the offence he has given to God, in the same way as if he had been unfaithful in much.
1. The first reason which we would assign in vindication of this is, that, by a small act of injustice, the line which separates the right from the wrong is just as effectually broken over as by a great act of injustice. There is no shading off at the margin of guilt, but a clear and vigorous delineation. It is not by a gentle transition that a man steps over from honesty to dishonesty. There is between them a wall rising up unto heaven; and the high authority of heaven must be stormed ere one inch of entrance can be made into the region of iniquity. The morality of the Saviour never leads him to gloss over beginnings of crime.
2. The second reason why he who is unfaithful in the least has incurred the condemnation of him who is unfaithful in much, is, that the littleness of the gain, so far from giving a littleness to the guilt, is in fact a circumstance of aggravation. There is just this difference. He who has committed injustice for the sake of a less advantage has done it on the impulse of a less temptation. Nay, by the second reason, this may serve to aggravate the wrath of the Divinity against him. It proves how small the price is which he sets upon his eternity, and how cheaply he can bargain the favour of God away from him, and how low he rates the good of an inheritance with Him, and for what a trifle he can dispose of all interest in His kingdom and in His promises. It is at the precise limit between the right and the wrong that the flaming sword of God's law is placed. It is there that "Thus saith the Lord" presents itself, in legible characters, to our view. It is there where the operation of His commandment begins; and not at any of those higher gradations where a man's dishonesty first appals himself by the chance of its detection, or appals others by the mischief and insecurity which it brings upon social life.
II. Let us now attempt TO UNFOLD A FEW OF THE PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES THAT MAY BE DRAWN FROM THE PRINCIPLE OF THE TEXT, both in respect to our general relation with God, and in respect to the particular lesson of faithfulness which may be deduced from it.
1. There cannot be a stronger possible illustration of our argument than the very first act of retribution that occurred in the history of our species. What is it that invests the eating of a solitary apple with a grandeur so momentous? How came an action, in itself so minute, to be the germ of such mighty consequences? We may not be able to answer all these questions; but we may at least learn what a thing of danger it is, under the government of a holy and inflexible God, to tamper with the limits of obedience.
2. Let us, therefore, urge the spirit and the practice of this lesson upon your observation. It is evangelizing human life by impregnating its minutest transactions with the spirit of the gospel. It is strengthening the wall of partition between sin and obedience. It is the teacher of righteousness taking his stand at the outpost of that territory which he is appointed to defend, and warning his hearers of the danger that lies in a single footstep of encroachment. It is letting them know that it is in the act of stepping over the limit that the sinner throws the gauntlet of his defiance against the authority of God. It may appear a very little thing, when you are told to be honest in little matters; when the servant is told to keep her hand from every one article about which there is not an express or understood allowance on the part of her superiors; when the dealer is told to lop off the excesses of that minuter fraudulency which is so currently practised in the humble walks of merchandise; when the workman is told to abstain from those petty reservations of the material of his work for which he is said to have such snug and ample opportunity; and when, without pronouncing on the actual extent of these transgressions, all are told to be faithful in that which is least, else, if there be truth in our text, they incur the guilt of being unfaithful in much. It may be thought, that because such dishonesties as these are scarcely noticeable, they are therefore not worthy of notice. But it is just in the proportion of their being unnoticeable by the human eye, that it is religious to refrain from them. These are the cases in which it will be seen, whether the control of the omniscience of God makes up for the control of human observation — in which the sentiment, that "Thou God seest me!" should carry a preponderance through all the secret places of a man's history — in which, when every earthly check of an earthly morality is withdrawn, it should be felt that the eye of God is upon him, and that the judgment of God is in reserve for him.
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
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.