“Not to Leave the Other Undone”

by Glenn Conjurske

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt. 23:23).

It would seem that every time anybody takes a stand for any small or outward things, he is immediately met with the charge of being legalistic, of “majoring on minors,” of making a great deal out of little things, and so forth. It seems to be a foregone conclusion with many evangelical Christians that if any thing is conceived to be a little thing, we are free to do as we please about it.

What, then? Has God no will about little things? Has God never expressed his will about little things? And if he has, who gave to any man the authority to ignore it, or to set it aside? And what sort of Christians are they who hold themselves free to do their own will in any matter which they please to call a little thing, or an outward thing?

Some, indeed, who make such objections against standing for little things, will appeal to Scripture to support their position. They will even appeal to the text of this article, pointing out what a scathing rebuke the Lord administered to the Pharisees for being so concerned about little things. But in this they are greatly mistaken. They have evidently forced upon the text the meaning which they wish it to have, rather than examining the text to see what it says. The Lord never said one word against carefulness about little things, but only rebuked the hypocrisy of being so scrupulously careful about all of the little and outward things, while they cared nothing at all for the weightier, inward matters of the law. He was dealing with hypocrites of the deepest dye, who would pay thirty pieces of silver to bring about the murder of the Son of God, and then scruple to put those same thirty pieces of silver into the treasury, because they were the price of blood. They were careful about every little, outward thing, while they trampled the weightier matters of the law under their feet. But if you think that the Lord here admonished them to reverse themselves—-to take care of the weightier matters, and discard the little things—-your thinking is very far astray. What the Lord actually says is, “These”—-the weightier matters—-“ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” “The other” refers of course to the little things

—-to the tithing of mint and anise and cummin. They had no more right to leave the little things undone than they had to omit the weightier matters, and the Lord never so much as hinted that they had, but plainly and explicitly states the contrary.

We will grant that some of the things for which we stand are little and outward things, but in every one of them there is a deeper issue involved. That issue is submission to the authority of the Scriptures. That issue is doing the will of God. If God has expressed his will in the Bible on any particular matter, by specific precept or general principle, then I am no more free to do my own will in that matter than I am to commit adultery or murder. We are all of us bound to do the will of God in every matter of which he has spoken, whether it happens to be a little matter or a big one.

But it seems that many who call themselves Christians, who boast even of being Fundamentalists, have but little idea of submitting to the authority of God as such. To reason they will submit, but not to bare authority. They are just like an insubordinate child, who must ask “Why?” every time his parents tell him to do something. They will do the will of God where they can understand the reason for it, but when they can see no reason for a command or prohibition, they excuse themselves, or argue against it. Thus they exalt their own will and reason above the authority of God.

But if we are servants of God, if we call the Savior, “Lord, Lord,” our obvious business is to obey his injunctions, whether we understand them or not. It is not likely that any of us have the wisdom to understand every command and prohibition of God. God forbids a man to approach unto a woman put apart for her uncleanness, and lists this among the abominations for which the Canaanites were to be cast out (Lev. 18:19-24). This evidently teaches us that the reason of it should be obvious, since the Canaanites knew nothing of the law which Moses gave, and as far as we know had no revelation from God on the subject. Yet many in our day affirm that they can see no reason in such a prohibition. What then? Are we free to discard it? The Canaanites evidently weren’t. Some men will profess that they can see no harm in fornication. Are they then free to dispense with the commandment of God?

But I must carry this point further. Suppose there are prohibitions in the Bible which I can see no reason for, such as the prohibition for a man to marry his brother’s wife, or his father’s brother’s wife (Lev. 18:14,16). To those prohibitions I must submit, because they are the expressed will of God, whether I understand the reason for them or not. Am I free to ignore every command of God until I can see the reason of it? Suppose Adam and Eve could see no reason not to eat of the forbidden tree. They could certainly have contended that it was a very little thing merely to eat a piece of fruit. Were they then free? What if God has prohibited certain things for no other reason than to establish his authority over the human race—-for no other reason than to test the sincerity of your submission to him—-to try whether you will submit to his will when you can see no apparent reason for it?

But further still. In some cases my reason may actually be against the revealed will of God. My reason may contend very forcibly that those poor souls who are trapped in uncongenial and unsatisfying marriages, with all of the temptations which such a state subjects them to, would be far better off for time and eternity if they could amicably part company and go their separate ways. But God forbids it, and do I know better than God? God also forbids women to speak in the meetings of the church—-says it is a shame for them to do so, even to ask a question. My reason contends otherwise. Some women are deep and spiritual, and evidently gifted of God, and can speak to profit and edification—-and speak better than many men can. Why should they not speak in the church? Because God forbids it, and to that I must submit, whatever my own reason may think about it.

Some there are, you know, who can see no reason for baptism. Others see reasons against it. What then? God commands it: let man submit. But if we wish to speak about little things, what could better fit the description than baptism—-a mere ritual, which costs nothing, and which can be done once for all in a few moments of time. Surely the matter of outward adornment with gold and silver and pearls and apparel is one of the weightier matters of the law in comparison with baptism! Is it not a very little thing to go once to the water for a few moments, in comparison to spending your time and money to feed your pride and vanity every day of your life? Surely the little thing is baptism. And yet the same people who lightly discard the commandments of God concerning outward adornment will make the little outward thing called baptism the grand test of Christian obedience! With that I have no quarrel. Baptism is a test of obedience. And so is the prohibition of outward adornment with jewelry and apparel. Indeed, it may be that the same pride and vanity which keep a woman in gold and silver and jewels (and glass and plastic and tinsel) will keep her out of the waters of baptism. And no matter which of the two you may think to be the little thing, the word of the Lord to you is, “This you ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

But observe: disobedience brings with it a bad conscience, and try as men will to smother and stifle and bury it, conscience continues to admonish, and the deep-down feeling that I am wrong is very difficult to shake off. Folks therefore who have a bad conscience, and yet are not willing to change their ways, must seek for means to excuse themselves, and to persuade their conscience that they are all right after all. And what better way to quiet a restless conscience than to persuade it from the Bible? Thus the folks who wish to dispense with obedience to some part of the Bible turn instinctively to the Bible itself to excuse themselves. The Bible, of course, will not lend itself to such a purpose, unless it is wrested from its real meaning, but the heart of man is perverse enough to wrest the Scriptures to its own destruction, so long as the flesh can be gratified, and its indulgences excused. Thus come into being false interpretations and false doctrines, which exist for the sole purpose of appeasing a violated conscience. Such stratagems are not usually very successful, however, for conscience (precious and marvellous thing that it is) is not easily satisfied, and usually continues to speak in spite of all efforts to drown it. The difficulty lies in the fact that the framers of such excuses are usually themselves unable to actually believe in those interpretations by which they wrest the Scriptures to excuse themselves, though they try hard to do so.

Nevertheless, after such false interpretations and doctrines have been taught in the church for several succeeding generations, and children have imbibed them as it were with their mothers’ milk, and grown up hearing and believing them, it is no wonder if they at length succeed in the mission for which they exist, and bring people to the place where they can lightly discard the commandments of God, and feel no compunction of conscience for it. And this seems to be precisely where much of the evangelical church is today. People can live in entire disregard of the plain commands of God, and yet profess, “God hasn’t convicted me about this.” But how do you expect God to convict you? Believe the Bible and you will be convicted enough. But if you hear not Peter and Paul, you will not be convinced though God send you a prophet or an angel from heaven.

But to be more specific: one of those false notions by which men endeavor to excuse their sin is that it doesn’t make much difference what we do in little outward things, so long as our heart is right. “Judgement, mercy, and faith”: these are the things that matter to God, and these are matters of the heart. The Lord powerfully rebuked the Pharisees precisely for making clean the outside of the cup and the platter, while the inside remained full of corruption. It doesn’t matter if I get baptized or not, as long as my heart is right. It doesn’t matter how much a woman adorns herself with gold and silver and pearls and apparel, if her heart is right.

What this doctrine is really saying is that if my heart is right, it makes no difference whether I regard the commandments of God or not. But the plain fact of the matter is, if folks can live in disregard of the commandments and prohibitions of Scripture, it is full proof that their heart is NOT right. And as the notion (that outward things are of no consequence if the heart is right) is directly against the text of this article, “not to leave the other undone,” so it is also directly against the very text upon which its advocates seek to found it. The scripture says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is inside the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matt. 23:25-26). The Lord speaks not one word against taking care of the little outward things, but only against the hypocrisy which does that only, and leaves the weightier matters undone. He rebukes the hypocrisy which strains out a gnat and swallows a camel, but without the slightest hint that we ought to swallow the gnat—-but rather expressly the contrary.

The plain fact of the matter is, though you can clean up the outside of the cup and leave the inside full of corruption, you cannot clean up the inside without cleaning up the outside also. If the heart is right, the life will be right. I am not speaking of ignorance now. A man may be right in his heart and yet be ignorant of many things, though there can be but little excuse even for ignorance in those who hold the Bible in their hands and profess to live by it. But I do not speak of ignorance, but of that spirit which ignores and evades and explains away and makes void the commandments of God. A man whose heart is right with God is incapable of treating his commands in such a manner. “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. … A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” (Matt. 12:33,35). “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” (Prov. 4:23). If the heart is right, the life is right. If the life is wrong, the heart is wrong. It really cannot be otherwise. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matt. 7:18).

And who gave to any man the authority to exclude little things from this plain doctrine? Nay, it will often be precisely the little things which are the truest test of a man’s character and sincerity. Pride and respectability may exact the more important things from him, but the little things he can dispense with. And it is a certainty, according to the scripture quoted in the preceding paragraph, that the outward things are a true test of the state of the heart.

Hear the words on this subject of a man who had power with God and with man: “Little circumstances often discover the state of the heart.

“The individual that we find delinquent in small matters, we of course infer would be much more so in larger affairs, if circumstances were equally favourable.

“Where you find persons wearing little ornaments from vanity, set them down as rotten at heart. If they could, they would go all lengths in display, if they were not restrained by some other considerations than a regard to the authority of God and the honour of religion. You may see this every day in the streets. Men walking with their cloaks very carefully thrown over their shoulders, so as to show the velvet; and women with their feathers tossing in the air: it is astonishing how many ways there are in which these little things show their pride and rottenness of heart.

“You say these are little things. I know they are little things, and because they are little things, I mention them. It is because they are little things, that they show the character so clearly.”1

Most modern Christians (except where doctrinal bigotry prevails) honor Charles G. Finney as a man of God and a great evangelist—-honor him because he is dead and buried. If he were alive and standing behind the pulpit in their church, preaching such things, they would leave it and find another, which was not so legalistic. They build the sepulchres of the dead prophets, but stone the living ones—-though their message is one and the same. It is the same as the message of the Bible also, for that holy book says, “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.” (Luke 16:10). Not the little things only, but the least things, are the true test of your character.

J. C. Ryle writes on the text just quoted, “Our Lord here teaches us the great importance of strict faithfulness about `little things.’ … He would have us know that `little things’ are the best test of character;—-and that unfaithfulness about `little things’ is the symptom of a bad state of the heart.”

Finney says elsewhere, “Objection. `No matter how we dress, if our hearts are right.’

“Your heart right! Then your heart may be right when your conduct is all wrong. Just as well might the profane swearer say, `No matter what words I speak, if my heart is right.’ No, your heart is not right, unless your conduct is right. What is outward conduct, but the acting out of the heart? If your heart was right, you would not wish to follow the fashions of the world.”……

“Objection. `This is a small thing, and ought not to take up so much of a minister’s time in the pulpit.

“This is an objection often heard from worldly professors. But the minister that fears God will not be deterred by it. He will pursue the subject, until such professing Christians are cut off from their conformity to the world, or cut off from the church.”

To conclude: the common notion that little things, and outward things, are unimportant is directly against the plain statements of Christ himself. Except in cases of honest ignorance, the notion only displays the bad state of the heart of the person who holds it. It indicates a heart determined to have its own way as far as it can. It evidences a heart determined to excuse itself from doing the will of God. We would not pretend to deny that some things are more important than others. Neither would we deny that the inward matters of the heart are more important than many outward things. Neither would we deny that there is a danger of making the less important things of more consequence than the more important—-for the little, outward things may be done with little cost, while the heart is all wrong. Thus we may easily deceive ourselves into thinking we are godly, or spiritual, while all that is most important to godliness and spirituality is entirely neglected. We grant all of this. But while granting that some things are more important than others, yet we insist that nothing which God requires of us is unimportant. If it is unimportant to us, this only indicates the bad state of our hearts. It is surely not unimportant to God. It was for an apparently little thing (disorders at the Lord’s table) that many were weak and sickly, and not a few slept—-that is, not a few had died—-at Corinth. (I Cor. 11:30). It was for an apparently little thing (failing to circumcise his son) that the Lord sought to slay Moses in the inn (Ex. 4:24-26). These were little things, outward things, mere rituals and ordinances, yet the most serious consequences followed delinquency in them. These serious judgements plainly teach us that however lightly we may treat the little things, God will not treat them so, and the plain command of Christ to us is, “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

Glenn Conjurske