The Great Sin Of Doing Nothing

Below are quotes from a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon on August 5th, 1886.

“But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.” – Numbers 32:23

I. First, then, What was this sin?

. . .

If you take the text as it stands, there is nothing in it about murder, or theft, or anything of the kind. In fact, it is not about what men do, but it is about what men do not do. The iniquity of doing nothing is a sin which is not so often spoken of as it should be. A sin of omission is clearly aimed at in this warning—“If you will not do so, be sure your sin will find you out.”

What, then, was this sin? Remember that it is the sin of God’s own people. It is not the sin of Egyptians and Philistines, but the sin of God’s chosen nation and, therefore, this text is for you that belong to any of the tribes of Israel—you to whom God has given a portion among His beloved ones. It is to you, professed Christians and Church members, that the text comes, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” And what is that sin? It is, very sadly, common among professed Christians and needs to be dealt with—it is the sin which leads anyone to forget his share in the holy war which is to be carried out for God and for His Church. A great many wrongs are tangled together in this crime and we must try to separate them and set them in order before your eyes.

First, it was the sin of idleness and of self-indulgence.

. . .

Spiritual self-indulgence is a monstrous evil, yet we see it all around. On Sunday these loafers must be well fed. They look out for such sermons as will feed their souls. The thought does not occur to these people that there is something else to be done besides feeding. Soul-saving is pushed into the background! The crowds are perishing at their gates! The multitudes with their sins defile the air! The age is getting worse and worse—and man, by a process of evolution—is evolving a devil! And yet these people want pleasant things preached to them! They eat the fat, drink the sweet and they crowd to the feast of fat things full of marrow and of wines on the lees well refined—spiritual festivals are their delight! Sermons, conferences, Bible reading, and so forth, are sought after, but regular service in ordinary ways is neglected. Not a hand’s turn will they do! They gird on no armor, they grasp no sword, they wield no sling, they throw no stone. No, they have gotten their possession, they know they have, and they sit down in carnal security, satisfied to do nothing! They neither work for life, nor from life—they are absolute sluggards, as lazy as they are long! Nowhere are they at home except where they can enjoy themselves and take things easy. They love their beds, but the Lord’s fields they will neither plow nor reap. This is the sin pointed out in the text—“If you do not go forth to the battles of the Lord, and contend for the Lord God and for His people, you do sin against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.” The sin of doing nothing is about the biggest of all sins, for it involves most of the others! The sin of sitting still while your Brethren go forth to war, breaks both tables of the Law and has in it a huge idolatry of self, which neither allows love to God or man. Horrible idleness! God save us from it!

This sin may be viewed under another aspect, as selfishness and unbrotherliness.

. . .

Every man is either the keeper of his brother, or the destroyer of his brother! Soul-murder can be worked without an act or even a will—it can be and is constantly accomplished by neglect! Yonder perishing heathen—does not the Lord enquire, “Who slew all these?” The millions of this city unevangelized—who is guilty of their blood? Are not idle Christians starving the multitude by refusing to hand out the Bread of Life? Is not this a grievous sin?

. . .

O my brothers, hear ye this text, and let it operate with salutary influence to produce in you constant effort for the salvation of those around you!

But with this there was mingled ingratitude of a very dark order.

. . .

What art thou at, strange ingrate! that thou shouldst simply be a stagnant reservoir into which streams of mercy fall never to run out of thee again, but to stand and putrefy in selfishness?

. . .

Again, we may view this from another point of view. It is the sin of untruthfulness. These people pledged themselves that they would go forth with the other tribes and that they would not return to their own homes until the whole of the campaign was ended. Now, if after that they did not go to war and did not fight to the close of it, then they would be guilty of a barefaced lie! It is a wretched thing for a man to be a covenant-breaker. It is sacrilege for any man to lie, not only unto man, but unto God. I would speak very tenderly, but if any man has been converted from the error of his ways, by that very conversion he is bound to serve the Lord. If he has been baptized as a Believer, by that Baptism he declared that he was dead to the world and buried to it—that from that day on he might live in newness of life. Now, if he lives only to make money and hoard it, and he does nothing for God’s Church and for poor sinners, is not his Baptism a lie? Such a baptized person was buried, but he was never dead! Is not this to turn Baptism into a farce? He gave himself up to the Church of God—he became a member of it—and by that act and deed he pledged himself to do all he could for its growth and its prosperity. And if he does nothing, he is a deceiver. If his joining a Church meant anything, it meant that he would take part in the common service of God. A do-nothing professor is a merely nominal member and a nominal member is a real hindrance! He neither contributes, nor prays, nor works, nor agonizes for souls, nor takes any part in Christian service—and yet he partakes in all the privileges of the Church! Is this fair? What is the use of him? He sits and hears and sometimes sleeps under the sermon. That is all. Is not his union with the Church a practical lie? I will not say so, but I will ask the question. It seems to me that if I belong to the Israelites and they are sent by God to conquer a country—and I do not go forth to the war with them and take my part in the conflict—I am not a true Israelite. I am unworthy of my nation! I am disloyal to the standard! I am false to my fellow soldiers. I think it is so—don’t you?

. . .

Once more, and I will have done with this painful subject. What would their sin be? According to Moses it would be a grave injury to others. Do you not notice how he put it to them? “Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall you sit here?” What an example to set! If one Christian man is right in never joining a Christian Church, then all other Christian men would be right in not doing so—and there would be no visible Christian Church! Do you not see, you non-professing Believers, that your example is destructive of all Church life? What are you doing? If one Christian man, with the talent to preach, is right in not preaching, then other Christian men have a right to trifle in the same way—and then there would be no ministry left!

. . .

Not over your own child—your daughter, your son? That influence which you have over even one or two little ones may spread far further than you imagine. We cannot calculate the range of moral influence—it is immeasurable! I suppose that there is not a single moving atom of matter which does not influence, in some measure, the entire universe. One atom collides with another and that with another—and so it reaches the remotest star. Whether we do or do not do, what we do or do not do, will have an influence upon all that are round us—perhaps to all eternity.

. . .

Moses goes on to remark that if these people did not go forth to war they would discourage all the rest. “Therefore discourage you the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord has given them?” It is no slight sin to discourage holy zeal and perseverance in others. May we never be guilty of killing holy desires even in children! How often has a burning desire in a boy’s heart been quenched by his own father who has thought him too impulsive or too ardent! How frequently the conversation of a friend, so called, has dried up the springs of holy desire in the person with whom he has conversed! Let it not be so. Yet without cold words, our chill neglects may freeze. I know a terrace where the shutting up of one or two shops has a deadening effect upon the trade of the other shops. Somehow, the closed shutters give a gloomy look to the place and customers are repelled. Does not the same thing happen to groups of workers when one grows idle? Does not the one dull brother deaden the rest? We cannot neglect our own gardens without injuring our neighbors. Do you live anywhere near a house that is not let, which has a back garden left to run to waste? All manner of seeds are blown over upon your ground and, though you keep the hoe going, the weeds baffle you, for there is such a nursery for them just over the wall! One mechanic coming late among a set of workmen may throw the whole company out of order for the day. One railway truck off the rails may block the entire system. Depend upon it, if we are not serving the Lord our God, we are committing the sin of discouraging our fellow men. They are more likely to imitate our lethargy than our energy! Why should we wish to hinder others from being earnest? How dare we rob God of the services of others by our own neglect? O God, deliver us from this sin!

. . .

II. Secondly, let us carefully notice what was the chief sin in this sin?

. . .

It is disobedience against the Lord not to be preaching his truth if we are able to do so. Did not our Lord say, “Go you into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature?” This command was not confined to a dozen or so, but was meant for all His people, as they have opportunity and ability. We who hear the Gospel are bid to proclaim it, for it is written, “Let him that hears say, Come.” The hearer of the Gospel is bound to be a repeater of the Gospel! We are all called upon, as we know the Lord, to tell others what the Lord has told us—and if we do not—we are guilty of disobedience to a great Gospel precept.

. . .

Half the schisms in churches arise out of the real division which exists between idlers and workers. Mind this. Be not sowers of division by being busybodies working not at all! If you are not serving the Lord, you are sinning against the sacred Trinity. You sin against our Father who would have you do good and be imitators of Him as dear children. You sin against the Son of God who has bought you with a price that you might be zealous for His Glory. You sin against the Holy Spirit whose impulses are not to sleep and idleness, but to quickening and to holiness. May we no longer sin against the Lord by refusing to perform His will!

III. We have now reached the last point and the point that is most serious—What will come of this great sin of doing nothing? What will come of it?

. . .

Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me”—service is a yoke we must bear in order to learn of Christ. The only way to learn to swim is to get into the water. To be a soldier and never know the smell of gunpowder is impossible! At least such soldiers are little to be relied on in case of war. No, no—our sin, if we do nothing, will find us out in our being enfeebled, in our being disgraced, in our feeling that we are mean and in the accusation of our conscience. Let us find this sin out and shake ourselves free from it before it finds us out!

. . .

To come more practically home, beloved Brothers and Sisters, if you and I are not serving the Lord, our sin will find us out. It will find us out perhaps in this way. There will be many added to the Church and God will prosper it, and we shall hear of it, but we shall feel no joy in it. We had no finger in the work and we shall find no comfort in the result. We did not point out the way to troubled consciences. We never went to early morning Prayer Meetings, nor to any Prayer Meetings, to pray for a blessing. We never spoke a word or even gave a tract away and, therefore, we shall see the blessing with our eyes, but we shall not eat of it. While God’s people lift up their loud hallelujahs of joy, we shall only mourn, “My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!” It is no joy to see a harvest reaped from fields which we refused to plow.

It may be that you will begin to lose all the sweetness of public services. By doing nothing you lose your appetite.

. . .

Thus far have I spoken to God’s people and if you think that this is rather rough upon them, what shall I say to you who do not love the Lord at all? O Sirs, if the fan that is in Christ’s hand purges His own floor in this stern way, what will that fan do with you who are as chaff to the wheat? If He sits here as a Refiner and purifies the sons of Levi, and puts even the gold into the fire, what will become of the dross? “If the righteous scarcely are saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” If the language of God is sharp, even, to His own Beloved because He says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent,” what will His language be to those who are not His children, but are living in open rebellion against Him? Tremble, you that forget God! Hear His own Words—they are none of mine—“Now consider this, you that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” God help you to flee from the sin of doing nothing! The Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, lead you into the Father’s service! Amen.

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