Accomplices In Sin
“Neither be partaker of other men’s sins.”
1 Timothy 5:22
WE have all abundant reason to look at home and see about our own sins. Nothing can be more absurd than for a man to take his hoe and weed everybody else’s garden–and leave all the thorns and thistles to flourish on his own plot. The old parable of the man who carried two bags, one behind and one in front, and who put other people’s faults into the one in front, and his own into the one at his back, is a very correct representation of the folly of those who have their eyes wide open to see the faults of their neighbors, but are totally blind to their own imperfections. If, as our proverb puts it, “Charity begins at home,” so should criticism–and criticism concerning character had better stop there. There is so much dirty linen in our own house needing to be washed that none of us need to take in our neighbor’s washing. “Mind your own business,” is a command that might have been spoken by Solomon, himself, and the Apostle Paul was inspired to write to the Thessalonians, “Study to be quiet and to do your own business.” And he and Peter very sternly condemned those who were “busybodies in other men’s matters.”
So it is not my intention to bid any of you to cease to look to your own affairs, but at the same time, I want to remind you that we cannot, in this world, live altogether to ourselves. He who is most bent upon minding his own business cannot help knowing that his next door neighbor has something to do with his garden. Even if he looks diligently after his own plot, thistle seeds from the left and the right may blow over into his garden and trouble will come to him from the very fact that he has neighbors! Our dwelling places in this life are not all detached–many of us have to live on streets and if our neighbor’s house is on fire, it is not at all unlikely that the flames may spread to our dwelling. Let us never be so concerned about our own interest as to be selfish, for even if we try to be wholly wrapped up in ourselves, we shall be compelled to notice the actions of others with whom we are more or less intimately linked–whether we wish to do so, or not. Hence, the message of the text is necessary, not to take us away from our own duty, but to help us to make sure that we are not “partakers of other men’s sins.”
The connection in which this text stands must be noticed. Timothy was exhorted by Paul to “lay hands suddenly on no man.” There were certain upstarts who wrongly thought that they could preach–and there were others who thought that they could rule in the churches. These persons probably gained a few or many partisans to support their claims. There were some of their relatives in the church who thought a great deal of their sons, or brothers, or uncles, or cousins, or there were friends who heard some man speak on a certain occasion with considerable fluency and, being unwise, they judged him to be man of master-mind and would have put him into the front rank of the army at once if the power to do so had rested with them! Paul tells Timothy, whom he had sent to exercise a general oversight over the officers and members of the church, not to be in a hurry to lay his hands upon these men, so as to endorse their claim, but to let them wait awhile until they were tried and tested–because if he allowed them to take office in the church and they committed faults or follies, he would be responsible for them and everybody would say, “We wonder that Timothy should have sent out such men as these.” So he was bid to be cautious lest he should become, in any way, “a partaker of other men’s sins.” None of us are exactly in Timothy’s position so we are not likely to fall into the fault against which Paul warned him–at least not in precisely the same form. Yet the text has a message to us and we may say to one another, “Be not partakers of other men’s sins.”
- I shall first try to show you HOW WE CAN BE PARTAKERS OF OTHER MEN’S SINS and, in doing that, I am afraid that the various ways in which we can do this will seem to be very many. And that if I am not very careful, you will think that my sermon is like Ezekiel’s valley of vision in which the bones were “very many” and “very dry.” I will not be more wordy than I can help, but at the same time I must deal with the subject somewhat in detail.
As to how we can become accomplices in other people’s sins–the preacher must first say to himself that he will besuch a man if he is not true to his trust. If he shall teach false Doctrine, or if, teaching the true Doctrines, he shall teach them erroneously–if he shall keep back unpalatable Truths of God–if he shall allow sin to pass without reproof–if he shall see a great deficiency of spiritual life and service and not point it out–if, in brief, he shall be an unfaithful servant of Christ and his hearers shall thereby be kept in a low state of Divine Grace, inconsistent with their profession–and the unconverted shall be hindered from coming to Christ, he will become a partaker in other men’s sins. Indeed, I know of no man who is more likely to fall into the fault indicated in the text than a minister of the Gospel is! Oh, what Grace we need and what help from on high lest if we fail in faithfulness to God and our hearers, the doom of souls should be laid at our door and we should be partakers of other men’s sins! Brothers and Sisters, pray for us that this may not be our unhappy lot–
“‘Tis not a cause of small import
The pastor’s care demands,
But what might fill an angel’s heart
And filled a Saviors hands!
They watch for souls for which the Lord
Did heavenly bliss forego,
For souls which must forever live
In raptures or in woe.
May they that Jesus, whom they preach,
Their own Redeemer see–
And watch YOU daily over their souls,
That they may watch for THEE.”
That piece is especially intended for myself and my Brother ministers. The rest of my discourse will be for you as well as myself. So next I must remind you that we can, all of us, be partakers of other men’s sins by willfully joining with themin any act of sin and doing as they do–like those sinners mentioned by Solomon in the Book of Proverbs, who said, “Cast in your lot among us; let us all have one purse.” We must have nothing to do with such men! God forbid that we should! If we sin alone, it is bad enough, but if we sin in company, we have not only to answer for our own sins, but also for the sins of others, at least in part. If hand joins with hand in sin, there is a multiplication of its guilt, for each man who has helped to lead a fellow creature into iniquity will have his own transgression increased by the transgression of that other sinner. By their combination, the two will become capable of even greater guilt than they would have committed individually. God save us all from being accomplices in the sins of others by uniting with them in their sinful acts and deeds!
Further, we may be partakers in other men’s sins by tempting them to sin. This is a most hateful thing and makes theman who practices it to become the devil’s most devoted drudge, servant and slave. I have known such tempters of others–old men who, from their youth up, had sinned in such a shameful way that their very looks were full of lechery. There was a leer about their eyes that was almost enough to destroy all chastity that came beneath their glance. And their speech was full of the double entendre, insinuations and innuendoes which were almost worse than open profanity. I haveknown one such walking mass of putrefaction defile a whole parish–and when I have seen a boy walking with such a demon incarnate, or sitting down with him in the public-house, I knew that the boy’s character would be ruined if that vile doctor in devilry could only instruct him in the vices with which he is, himself, so shamefully familiar. There are such fiends in London and we could almost wish to have them all buried straightaway, for they are Satan’s servants spreading wickedness all around them! I do not suppose I am addressing one such dreadful creature, yet I know that some great sinners of that sort do come within these walls and they will, of course, be very angry because of my allusion to them. Yet I never knew a thief who was fond of a policemen and I do not expect or wish to secure the approval of scoundrels whose evil character I am exposing. If, Sir, I have described you and you will not repent of your sin, I tell you that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for you, for you have led young men to the alehouse and taught them to drink the devil’s drugs and to repeat your foul blasphemies and to imitate your scandalous lasciviousness! Yet before it is too late, I beseech you to repent of your sin, that it may be blotted out by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which cleanses from all sin! But if not, “other men’s sins” will cry out against you for judgment at the bar of the Almighty! I solemnly charge all of you who have not committed this iniquity, to never do so–take care that you never say a word which might stain the innocence of a child’s mind and that you never let fall an expression which might, in any way, be the means of leading another person into sin–for it is an easy thing for us to become partakers of other men’s sins by tempting them to commit iniquity.
If there is any evil worse than that, I think it is that of employing others to sin. It was one of the basest parts ofDavid’s great sin that when he wanted to have Uriah killed, he did not slay him, himself, but got Joab to expose him in a position where he was certain to be killed. It is horrible when a man is determined to be dishonest, yet gets someone else to commit the sin for him! It is a shameful thing that there are professedly “religious” employers who try to get their young men to say across the counter what they know is not according to truth. Are there not some of these so-called “Christian” employers who want young men who are not “too particular”? Do I not hear, every now and then, of young men who have been found to be too scrupulous and who have been told that they had better get situations somewhere else? They objected to describe the goods as their employer wanted them to do because they knew it would be a lie. They were told, “It is the custom in the trade and, therefore, must be so here.” That is to say because other persons were liars and cheats, these young men must be knaves–and their master must make money by their lying to his customers! Now, if I meant to thieve or deceive, I would do it myself–I would not employ young men and women, or old ones either, to lie and cheat for me! If any of you have done so, I pray God that He may lead you to repent of such abominable wickedness, for the sin is not one-half theirs and the other half yours–it is partly theirs, but it is far more yours if they are doing wrong at your bidding! God save us all from being “partakers of other men’s sins” in that way!
Some commit this great crime
by driving other men into sin by the fears which they have inspired, or by oppressing
them in their wages, or by setting them to do what must involve them in sin. I remember the case of a man who was employed where it was well known that some of the parcels which he collected on his way and carried to their destination would never be booked by him, but the price paid for the carriage would be secretly dropped into his own pocket. The man’s wages were so small that nobody, unless an idiot, ever believed that he lived on them, so, tacitly, the understanding was that the man would be sure to pilfer on his own account, so his wages were cut down below the point at which he could earn an honest living. I fear that there are many men who are dishonest for this reason–I will not excuse them, but I hope that if they are ever sent to prison for stealing, their masters will be sent with them, for they are equally guilty!
Yet again, we may become partakers of the sins of others by a misuse of our position over them. This is especially thecase with parents. When a father is a man of loose habits, if his son follows his evil example, who is to blame? If a drunken father sees his child become a drunkard, whose fault is it? If he is a swearer and his son uses profane language, who taught the boy those oaths? Is not the guilt of that swearing largely the father’s? “Oh!” some of you say, “we would not teach our children either drunkenness or profanity.” Yet you are not, yourselves, Christians–you may be moral and truthful, and so on, but you are not Christians. And if your children are not converted, will they not say, “Our father was never converted, so why should we be?” “But we always take them to a place of worship.” I know you do. And your children say, “Father goes to a place of worship, but he does not believe in Christ and he never prays.” So if they grow up in the same way, who is to blame? You say that you trust they will not do so–then ask the Lord to make you a Christian, for then it will be more likely that your children will also be Christians. When you blame your children for wrongdoing, you ought to blame yourselves even more, for after all, what are they doing but what you yourself are doing?
Plato, the philosopher, one day saw a boy in the street behaving in a very shameful manner, so he walked straight into the house where the boy’s father lived and began to beat him. When he said to Plato, “Why do you beat me?” the philosopher replied, “I found your boy doing wrong. I did not beat him, but I beat you, for he must have learned it fromyou, or else it was your fault because you did not exercise proper discipline upon him at home.” Have you never felt, when you have seen the faults of your own children, that you ought to lay the rod on your own back because, in some way or other, you were an accomplice in your children’s sins? How much of the ruin of many children’s souls lies at their parents' door! How sad it is that in many cases the influence of the mother and father is damning to their children! Men and women who have boys and girls at home who are very dear to you–can you bear the thought that you may, one day, have to say, “Our unchristian example has ruined our own children”?
“Oh, but we are members of the Church,” say some. Yes, I know you are, yet I speak to you as well as to others, for there are some of you who are bringing up your children in an improper manner. I do not see how they can be expected to love religion when they see your own household ordered so badly, or not ordered at all. The professor of religion who does not live consistently with his profession does more injury to the cause of Christ than a non-professor does! There are some who hang out the sign of, “The Angel,” but the devil keeps the inn! Someone has truly said that many a man’s house is like Noah’s ark in that it is pitched within and without with pitch. There is pitch in the dining-room–gluttony and drunkenness. And pitch in the bed-chamber–lasciviousness and wantonness. Pitch in the drawing-room–talk which is not even fit for the stables. And pitch in the shop, for much that is “dirty” goes on there. How can anyone expect good children to come out of such a house as that? May none of us, like Eli, be accomplices in our children’s sins through neglecting to rebuke them, or like David, through our evil example leading them into sin! On the contrary, let us pray for them, as Abraham cried to the Lord, “O that Ishmael might live before You!” I like to present to God the petitions and pleas which are so well worded in that hymn in “ Our Own Hymn Book” which is attributed to Rowland Hill–
“You, who a tender Parent are,
Regard a parent’s plea–
Our offspring, with an anxious heart,
We now commend to Thee.
Our children are our greatest care,
A charge which You have given–
In all Your Graces let them share,
And all the joys of Heaven.
If a centurion could succeed,
Who for his servant cried,
Will You refuse to hear us plead
For those so near allied?
On us You have bestowed Your Grace,
Be to our children kind–
Among Your saints give them a place,
And leave not one behind.”
The injunction of the text of course applies, in a measure, to the teacher of a class as well as to the parent of a family. If the teacher is inconsistent and his scholars imitate him, the guilt of their wrong-doing will, at least in part, rest upon the teacher. The same principle applies to all persons who are in positions of influence in the land. If I were preaching to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, I would probably have to say some things which they would not wish to hear again. Certain “honorable gentlemen” and “noble lords” talk very glibly about the necessity for the nation to be religious, yet their lives are not remarkably religious, so their talk is all hypocritical and great sin lies at their door! God will certainly punish princes and so-called “nobles” if their example is not such as the common people can safely follow.
But even though we may not be of royal or exalted rank, all of us will become “partakers of other men’s sins” if weset them bad examples. If they can quote us as having done certain wrong things which they have imitated, we must share in the guilt of their sin. Yet it is always a bad thing to follow a bad example. If I see anyone’s example to be bad, it ought not to be a temptation to me–and I am a partaker of that man’s sins if, knowing that he has done amiss–I also do amiss simply because he has done so first. If I know that his course is wrong, I ought to shun the rock on which his boat has been wrecked.
We can also be “partakers of other men’s sins” by countenancing them and there are many ways in which that may bedone–for instance, by associating with ungodly men as though we did not think there was much harm in them. And worst of all, by laughing at and with them when their mirth is not pure fun. I fear that many a wicked man has been hardened in his sin because a professing Christian has laughed at his filthy jests.
We may also be “partakers of other men’s sins” by joining a church that holds unscriptural doctrines, or that doesof its teaching or its practice.“ What? You belong to it and yet you do not approve of its principles? Out of your own mouth you are condemned! If I unite with a church whose creed and catechism I do not believe, and whose ordinances I do not practice, I am guilty of my own share in all the error that is there! It is no use for me to say, "I am trying to undo the mischief”–I have no business to be there! If I join a pirate’s crew, I shall be responsible for all that is done by the whole crew. I have no business to be on that vessel at all and I must get off it at the first opportunity, or even fling myself into the sea rather than have a share in the pirates' wrongdoing!
But supposing you have joined a church whose doctrines are Scriptural, you may be “partakers of other men’s sins” if the discipline of the church is not carried out as it should be. If we know that members are living in gross sin and do not deal with them either by way of censure or excommunication in accordance with the teaching of Christ and His Apostles, we become accomplices in their sin. I often tremble about this matter, for it is no easy task where we count our members by the thousands. But may we never wink at sin, either in ourselves or in others! May you all, Beloved, exercise a jealous oversight over one another and so help to keep one another right! And let each one pray Charles Wesley’s prayer which we have often sung–
“Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make!
Awake, my Soul, when sin is near,
And keep it still awake.”
Further, we may be “partakers of other men’s sins” by not rebuking them for sinning bynot doing all we can towards their conversion. For instance, by living in a certain neighborhood and never trying to bring the Gospel to the people in that neighborhood, or by not maintaining our consistent Christian walk as the separated people of God. In brief, let each one sing, from the heart, the rest of that hymn from which I began to quote just now–
“I need a principle within
Of jealous godly fear.
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near!
I need the first approach to feel
Of pride, or fond desire
To catch the wandering of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.
That I from You no more may part,
No more Your goodness grieve–
The filial awe, the fleshy heart,
The tender conscience give.
If to the right or left I stray,
That moment, Lord, reprove
And let me weep my life away,
For having grieved Your love.
Oh may the least omission pain
My well-instructed soul
And drive me to the blood again,
Which makes the wounded whole!”
II. I must not say more upon this part of the subject lest I should weary you. So I pass on to ask, in the second place, WHY SHOULD WE SEEK TO AVOID BEING PARTAKERS OF OTHER MEN’S SINS?
This will be a sufficient answer–Because we have more than enough sins of our own and cannot also carry otherpeople’s. And also because if we are partakers in their sins, we shall also partake in their plagues. because we do other men an injury by being accomplices with them–we steel and harden them in their sins. The weightiest reason of all is this–we should not be “partakers of other men’s sins” because, by so doing, we should grieve our holy and graciousGod–and no true lover of Christ ought ever to do that! Remember what Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
III. My next question is–HOW CAN WE AVOID BEING PARTAKERS IN OTHER MEN’S SINS?
And I reply–Only by the help of God’s Spirit! First, be very jealous about other men’s sins. I wish all parents actedas wisely as Job did concerning his children. They went to one another’s houses and feasted, so Job “rose up early in the morning and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” O parents, do likewise, for that is the way to keep yourselves from participation in your children’s sins!
Next to being thus jealous with a holy jealousy, be always on the watch lest you should be “partakers in other men'ssins.” The man who wants to avoid certain diseases will take care not to go to an infected house. So, go not where sinners go, lest you should catch the infection of their sin. Remember how careful Abraham was not to take anything from the King of Sodom, “from a thread even to a shoelace,” even though it was his lawful share of the spoils of war. Be you equally careful concerning even the least sin.
The next way to keep from being an accomplice in sin is by prayer. Augustine used to offer a short prayer which Icommend to you all, “O Lord, save me from my other men’s sins!” Put this down among your other confessions, “O Lord, I confess unto you my other men’s sins! I mourn over my other men’s sins, I repent of my other men’s sins, I grieve on account of my participation in other men’s sins.” This will be a good way of keeping from committing them.
I think I had better close by saying that I do not think we have, any of us, escaped from the meshes of this sermon. If we have done so, it is either my fault or the fault of our own consciences. I have tried to fire red-hot shot in all directions, not omitting myself–and most of us have felt that there was a shot specially meant for us. What had we better do then? I will call to your minds a verse which we often sing and which we will again sing almost immediately–
“There is a Fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins–
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains!”
We are all stained with at least splashes from other men’s sins as well as our own, so let us all go to the Fountain and wash. Let us renew our faith in the precious blood of Jesus, for if we never had any faith in it before, may God graciously grant it to us now! If we had rebelled against the Queen and had been at last subdued by force–and if there had been an Act of Oblivion passed for all who wished to claim an interest in it–perhaps some would say to themselves, “We do not know that we took any great part in the rebellion, yet it may be that we did–and the safest thing for us all to do is to put down our names and so secure the benefit of the Act of Oblivion.” So I, as one of the guilty ones, confessing that it is so, desire to say to the great King, “My Lord, I am guilty of sins of my own, sins of my children, sins of my servants, sins of my neighbors, sins of my Church and sins of my congregation–but You have said, ‘I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins.’ You have promised to blot out all sin from those who believe in Jesus Christ, Your Son. Lord, I believe in Him, so I claim the benefit of that Act of Oblivion.”
Dear Hearer, will not you say the same? Will you not now obey that Divine command, “Look unto Me, and be you saved, all the ends of the earth”? Though you have gone to the ends of the earth, yet God says to you, “Look unto Me, and be you saved.” Look! Look! have to do, for Godgives you Grace to do all that He requires of you. So trust in Him, rest in Him–the Lord help you to do so and then, whatever your sins may have been, though they may have been “as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Though they may have been “red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God bless you and save you, for His name’s sake! Amen.
Now let us all sing the verse that I quoted just now–
“There is a Fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins–
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains”–
and let all who can sing it from the heart join in the well-known chorus–
“I do believe, I will believe,
That Jesus died for me!
That, on the Cross, He shed His blood
From sin to set me free!”