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MATT. XVIII. 6.
Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in
me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of
You see, by the strong language which our Lord here uses, that the sin which he is threatening in these words is a very great one ;-and he goes on to repeat the threat in the verse following: " Woe unto the world because of offences; for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” Some of you, , I trust, will know already what the words mean, and will see directly what I am going to turn them to ;—for it is a passage which I have often dwelt upon, as it is one which, while it is generally useful to all persons, strikes especially at one of the greatest sins of schools. But there are many, I dare say, who do not know what it means; and who have never thought, when they heard this solemn threat read in the Church, that they were themselves some of the very persons concerned in it,—that they were daily “offending,” in the Scripture meaning of the word, some of Christ's little ones. I could not indeed have chosen a text which came home more directly to your daily practice, than the one which I have just read: I could not have noticed any sin with which your consciences will tell you, the moment that our Lord's words are explained to you, that
, you are more familiar. I proceed, therefore,
I to explain them; and will then apply them, in one or two common instances, to your life and daily habits. When our Lord speaks of offending one of these little ones who believe in him, I should first say that the word
offend,” in common speech, has a very different meaning from that in which the translators of the Bible have here used it. You know that our translation was made more than two hundred years ago; so that it is not wonderful that some words in the course of that time have changed their meanings. “ Offend,” in the text, and in many other
places in the New Testament, means tempt or lead another into sins: so that by
offending one of these little ones," our Lord does not mean,
“ vexing them," “ making them angry,” or “ill using them ;” but
tempting or leading them into evil,” or “ throwing any hindrances in the way of their doing what they ought to do.” It is this which he calls so wicked, that it were better for us to die this moment than be guilty of it. But now, by “ little ones," whom are we to understand ? Jesus had just before taken a little child, and set him in the midst, and told his disciples, that unless they were converted and became as little children, they could not enter into the kingdom of heaven. And then he says, that “ they must not mislead or tempt to evil one of these little ones who believe in him.” Now, a very little child cannot believe in Christ, because he cannot understand much about him. And we know also, that it must be a sin to tempt any one to evil, whether they be really little children in age or no. But the more like children they are,—that is, the more ignorant, and simple-minded, and ready to believe and to do what others tell them,-so much the more wicked it is to tell them wrong, or to hinder
them from going right. It applies then to any one who is young in character, even though he should happen to be old in years ; but it applies particularly to those who are at once young in years and young in character. It applies therefore particularly to those boys who are desirous of doing their duty, who have no great confidence in themselves, but are ready to be guided by others; who are shy and timid, and unable to stand against laughter or ill usage.
There are such in every school; and it is the worst reproach of schools, and the most awful responsibility for all who are connected with them, to think, that so many of them are utterly lost in consequence of the temptations which they here meet with : they are “ offended,” in the Scripture sense of the word, that is, they are laughed or frightened out of their Saviour's service, and taught very often, ere long, not only to deny their Lord themselves, but to join in “ offending” others, who are now as innocent as they once were, and to draw them over to the worship and service of Satan, to which their own souls are already abandoned.
Now, then, you see what the text means, and you feel how it applies to you.
You know that there are amongst you many boys
who remember and wish to keep the lessons that they have received at home; and you know also, how much it is the fashion of schools to teach just the contrary. And I will take two instances which will have come, I fear, often enough within the experience of you all. I mean the case of idleness, and the case of extravagance.
First, for Idleness. There are boys who have either never learnt, or have quite forgotten, all that may have been told them at home, of the duty of attending to their school - lessons. We know that there are boys who think all their lessons merely tiresome, and who are resolved never to take any more trouble about them, than what they cannot possibly avoid. But being thus idle themselves, they cannot bear that others should be more attentive. We all know the terms of reproach and ridicule which are thrown out against a boy who works in earnest and upon principle. He is laughed at for taking unnecessary trouble, for being afraid of punishment, or for wishing to gain favour with his masters, and be thought by them to be better than other boys. Either of these reproaches is one which a boy finds it very hard to bear; he does not like to be thought