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TEXT: Psalm 119:133
SUBJECT: Follow the Lamb #8: Take Heed to Your Steps
A couple of months ago we began to study the short book, Follow the Lamb, by Horatius Bonar, a pastor born about 200 years ago. Bonar had the privilege of seeing Revival up close and personal. He was a young leader in the one that came to Scotland in 1840.
He wrote his book to help the many new converts become better disciples of Christ. They are the people the book has in mind. And it's quite helpful to them. But, it's equally useful for the rest of us, for converts who are no longer new. But what it's not good for is making converts. Kids who grow up in church often listen to the sermons and try to grow in Christ without first being in Christ! You get into Christ-not by reading the Bible or keeping a good conscience or the other things we've looked at already-but by repenting of your sins and putting your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you done that? Have you kids done that? All of you? How about the rest of you? People in the church die and go to hell every day. But nobody in Christ dies and goes to hell. Confess your sins, believe in Christ, and then you can follow the Lamb-and not before.
Last week, we studied the importance of studying the Bible. You can go to heaven without reading the Bible-thank the Lord, you can! But not doing it hinders your salvation. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge the Lord said. If you want to know God, His Gospel, and His will for your life, you need to study the Bible. That was last time.
Now we'll have a look at Chapter 7: Take Heed to Your Steps.
Bonar's title could be somewhat clearer. By "taking heed to your steps", what he means is: beware of little sins and the things that lead you into them. He starts with the exhortation,
Beware, not merely of falling, but of stumbling. `Walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise'; like men in an enemy's country, or like travelers climbing a hill slippery with ice, and terrifying with cliffs all around it, where every step may be a fall, and every fall a plunge into the chasm. Beware of little slips, slight inconsistencies, as they are called; beware of small spots as well as larger stains
When you think of 'falling into sin' what comes to mind? Most of us think of the big ones-immorality or theft or murder or taking the Lord's Name in vain. These are big sins, of course, and steep plunges.
Where do the falls begin? Once in a while, they're like falling into a hole-one second you're walking safely and the next, whoosh! Down you go.
That happens now and then, but most of the time, the deep and deadly falls begin with a stumble. The immorality was, at first, a wayward thought-and nothing more. You didn't intend to go any farther, but now your marriage is wrecked. The embezzling was, at first, a 'loan' that you intended to pay back-next paycheck you would. But you didn't, and now the police are at the door. The murder began as an angry thought or an apology not accepted. The blasphemy was, a joke at first, but then the joke went bad.
This is almost always true. Thus, to avoid the plunge, you have to avoid the stumble. And to avoid the stumble, you've got to take heed to your steps.
Adam and Eve could walk without much care-much care, I said. They were not touched by original sin and they lived in the Garden of Eden where only one being tempted them and there was only one way to sin! But we don't have this luxury! We are polluted by original sin and in the habit of sinning. We have a million people around us all day long who tempt us and the ways we can sin are legion! If our common parents had one tree, we have a forest! If they had one devil, we have him too, plus his servants, human, spiritual, and electronic!
If, therefore, we're going to avoid big sins, we have to beware of little sins. But, more than this, Bonar says, the little sins are themselves,
Sinful, as well as hateful to God.
Little sins are not as bad as big sins, but 'not as bad' is not the same as 'good'. Harmless sins are not harmless; innocent sins are not innocent-even if they lead to nothing else! Sin is hateful to God. What sin does He approve of? Think of our Lord in the wilderness. Satan comes to Him and dares the Lord to worship him. Now, that's a big one! The Lord says no to it, of course. But the first temptation was far smaller-Turn the stones into bread is all Satan asked for. Does our Lord agree to that? Does He reject a hideous sin only to give in to a respectable one? No.
Beware of little sins because they lead to big ones and are themselves sinful. This is what David wanted, Psalm 19:12-13,
Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord.
Note the connection: errors and secret sins lead to presumptuous sins and great transgressions. The only way to be free from them is to please the Lord with what he says, what he thinks, and what he feels.
Is Bonar right? Or is he exaggerating for effect? He's right. Think of two notorious sinners, Judas and King David. What did Judas do? He sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver? Why did he do that? Was he an especially loathsome man? No, he was a small time embezzler, and before that, a lover of money.
David was a godly man who committed one gigantic sin. But it didn't start off as a gigantic sin, but as one everyone here has been guilty of: laziness,
It happened in the spring of the year, at the time that kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab.
The king was not a young man any more; he had done his share of fighting, and now he would take it easy and let someone else do it. But shirking his duty left him with a lot of spare time on his hands, which the devil used to get him to look a girl, then stare at her, then ask about her, then take her, then kill her husband, and then cover it up, and then act as though everything was fine between him and the Lord. David's deep and near fatal plunge started off with a stumble, which occurred because he did not take heed to [his] steps.
You ought to watch your steps, Bonar says, but he doesn't leave it there. He goes on to explain how you do it.
First of all, recognize the sins you're most likely to commit. We're all sinners, but we don't all sin in the same way. What tempts you may not tempt me; what I find attractive, you find dull or repulsive. That's how it works. You don't need to watch against the sins that don't tempt you, but the ones that do.
Watch against special sins. If you have a bad temper, watch against that. If you have a rude way of speech or a cold distant, repulsive manner, watch against that. If you are hard to please, watch against that.
Some people, by nature or training or habit are sweet and charming. They don't have to put a lot of energy into being courteous. But others do. We tend to be rude-often without meaning to be that way-but we are. We have to watch ourselves and spend a lot of time in prayer, lest we offend others and spoil our Gospel witness.
Watch against special sins-Bonar says-not my special sins, but your own. Whether it's a short temper or an impolite way of treating people, or being cold and remote.
Secondly, beware of innocent pleasures that are not innocent for you,
Stand apart from the world's gaiety, and be jealous of what are called 'harmless' amusements. I do no condemn all amusements, but I ask that they should be useful and profitable, not merely harmless.
To my way of thinking, Bonar has some of this wrong. Amusements don't have to be useful and profitable! If you want to relax in front of the TV, it doesn't have to a documentary on the Holy Land! The word, amuse, is the opposite of muse or think. Amusements, therefore, are things that don't demand much thought or effort. They provide a kind of rest that we all need.
A bit later, he condemns dancing, card playing, operas, the theatre, and so on. I don't agree with him on all this. But his big idea is well taken: excessive amusement is not harmless, and much of what the world calls innocent isn't.
We all agree that there are movies we shouldn't see. But what movies are they? What about movies that take the Lord's name in vain every ten seconds. Are they harmless? Do you think they would offend our Lord Jesus Christ if He were sitting alongside of you?
When it comes to TV, we have to think about the commercials. If a news program is interrupted every eight minutes by girls in bikinis, is the news program harmless? This is not legalism; you have to make up your own mind on these things, but you should make it up well informed and honest with yourself!
Thirdly, keep busy,
Redeem the time: much of your progress depends on this. Waste no moments; have always something to do; use up the little intervals between engagements. I knew a friend who, one winter, read through five or six volumes, by making use of the brief interval between family worship and breakfast. Pack up your trunk well; your trunk will contain twice as much if well packed.
Many sins are committed out of boredom. Gossip, in particular, and feeling sorry for yourself are the fruits of idleness. Stay busy and you won't have the chance to sin as much as you do when you're doing nothing.
Besides, making good use of your time is itself an act of obedience. You not only steer clear of the evil, but you follow the good when you're active in doing good. And remember, no Christian should ever be bored because he can always pray.
Fourthly, resist temptations before they get too big to resist-
Most sins are not born full grown. If you resist them when the first occur to you, you can overcome them. But let them grow and you'll be overcome. Think of sin as an anaconda: in the egg, you can step on it. At forty feet long, you can't! Bitterness is an especially good example of this. Anger is not that dangerous-if it's repented of right away. But let it fester and it makes you bitter and unforgiving. And the Lord says you can't be both unforgiving and forgiven.
The last thing he says here is also the most important,
The moment you find any speck-be it ever so small-go wash in the fountain.
To live godly in Christ Jesus, you must have a good conscience. If you don't you'll become discouraged and this will cut the nerve of holiness and multiply your sins. A good conscience is gotten and kept by confessing your sins to God and asking Him to forgive you for Christ's sake.
And the sooner the better.
Bonar closes the chapter with a warning,
Do not evade these remarks by saying some of these things spoken of are trifles and beneath notice. Nothing should be too small for a Christian to notice either right or wrong.
It is true that some people have a morbid conscience-they fret over everything, and the smallest sin to them is like the treachery of Judas. But this is not nearly as common as the opposite extreme: of having a seared conscience, of being unable to recognize or admit sins unless they're huge.
Remember, that the smallest sin crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, that the smallest act of obedience pleases Him forever. So, if you want to grow in grace, take heed to your steps.
God bless you, everyone. Amen.
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