“Then said he unto the disciples. It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”
These words were spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ, and addressed, as our text reads to the disciples. The time when they were spoken, is indicated by these words, “Then said he,” &c., it was, as we infer from the preceding connection, immediately after he had spoken to them in parables, in the presence of the pharisees, of the unjust steward, for which the pharisees derided him; and after a direct rebuke to them, he also spake of the rich man and the beggar. Having uttered these sayings, and spoken the parables which are recorded in the sixteenth chapter, “Then said he unto the disciples,” &c. All that was said by our Lord must be full of interest to his people; but especially those things which he said to his disciples. He said many things to them by way of instruction, encouragement and admonition, but nothing unnecessarily. There is a weighty importance in every word that fell from his lips, and he has informed them that they who heard his sayings and kept them, were like a man who built his house upon a rock, which could not be moved because it was built upon a rock.
From the application which he made of the words of our text, and the instruction and admonitions which are recorded in the succeeding part of this chapter, we conclude that he spake of offenses that should come among them as his disciples, and not only in the time of those who were personally addressed, but unto his disciples in all the subsequent ages of the church, down to the end of her militant state. That offenses should certainly come, and in a manner that would offend some of his little ones, is expressly declared, but the source from whence they should come is not stated in the text. Elsewhere in the Scriptures we are informed of the exposure of the saints, from the world, the flesh, and from the devil. “Woe unto the world because of offenses.” “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” If ye were of the world, the world would love its own, but I have called you out of the world. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. The apostle has said, and every christian has a witness of the truth of his words, “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Satan goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He desired to have Peter, that he might sift him as wheat, and we have reason to know that he also desires to tempt, annoy and perplex the family of God as far as he may be permitted. Many offenses from the powers of darkness were, at the very time that the words of our text were spoken, just ready to break forth upon the little flock of our Redeemer. They were not only to witness the derisions and reproaches which the pharisees were belching forth on their beloved Lord and Master, the treachery of Judas, and the final sufferings and crucifixion of the Redeemer, from their wicked hands, but they were themselves shortly to be scattered abroad, and by the violence of persecution to be driven into strange cities, that they might go everywhere preaching the word. The man of sin, that wicked man whose coming is after the working of Satan, was also to be revealed in his time, when the let, by which he was then in that form restrained, should be removed, and he should come with signs and lying wonders; with all deceivableness and unrighteousness, &c. The development of antichrist, in all its beastly forms of dragon heads and monster horns, should drench the earth with the blood of the saints. But besides all the offenses and opposition which the saints were admonished to expect from without, they were to experience offenses among themselves. These disciples to whom the words of the text were spoken, as we see by what is said in the fifth verse, were the twelve apostles, and Judas was still among them, and numbered with them, and special allusion was had to him, in the words, “but woe unto him by whom the offense cometh.” This was clearly realized in the night in which our Lord was betrayed, when Judas came with a band of armed men, to deliver him into their hands. The fearful end of Judas, shows that it were better for him to have a millstone attached to his neck, and be plunged into the sea; for without tracing him after his death to his own place, where he went, his suicide, and the manner of his death was even more shocking than would have been a death by drowning in the sea. But it is not our privilege to say that all offenses were to cease among the disciples even after Judas had performed his dreadful work. Paul, in his address to the elders at Ephesus, said he knew that after his departure, grievous wolves should enter in among them, not sparing the flock, and said he, “Even of your ownselves shall men rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” The very rule of gospel order laid down as the law of his kingdom, in the third and fourth verses of this chapter, and immediately following our text, as well as the rule of discipline given in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, shows that offenses should come among brethren. Hence the solemn charge, Take heed to yourselves. If they were secure from danger of offending one another, why this admonition? If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him, and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day and turn again unto thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. Not only the primitive disciples, but the saints in all ages have great reason to heed this admonition to forgive their penitent brother, otherwise they become themselves offenders, and may offend some of Christ’s little ones. It is not enough when we feel perfectly satisfied that their turning and repentance is honest, sincere and genuine; but if seven times in a day he offend, and as many times in a day turns to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. This lesson is solemnly enforced by the divine Master, when he taught his disciples to pray, saying, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” For, said he to them, If ye do not from the heart forgive them that trespass against thee, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you. And the inspired apostle exhorts the church of God to be kindly affectionate one towards another, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake had forgiven them. The children of God possess a carnal nature that requires to be closely watched, it is predisposed to resent injuries, and would seize a debtor by the throat, and say, “Pay me that thou owest,” and even when the debtor entreats, saying, Have patience, and I will pay thee all, will not relent, but thrusts him into prison. O, may the disciples of the meek and lowly Lamb of God, take heed to themselves. It is impossible but offenses will come. Ah! in a variety of ways. They may be introduced by false brethren who come in unawares, to spy out our liberties. And we are commanded to “Beware of men who come unto us in sheep’s clothing, while inwardly they are ravening wolves.” But how shall we know such, that we may distinguish between them and those whom we are commanded to forgive? By their fruits ye shall know them. Their ministry never builds up the saints in their most holy faith; never feeds the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood. Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles. Where the evidence has been clearly given that a brother or a sister has passed from death unto life, if he or she be overtaken in a fault, (whatever that fault may be,) ye that are spiritual, are commanded to restore such an one, in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. - Gal. vi. 1, 2.
“But woe unto him by whom they come.” If the offense comes from an enemy, woe unto him; for, “The enemies of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them.” And if this offense comes through a tempted child of God, there still is a woe, bitterness, sorrow and anguish of heart, more to be dreaded than to be drowned in the sea. Their transgressions shall be visited with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes, but the Lord says, “Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.” - Psalm lxxxix. 31-33.
Seeing then that offenses must needs come, and that all the children of God are exposed to trials and temptations, while here below, how important it is that we should watch and be sober; that we should put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another. If any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. Seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. But if we bite and devour one another, take heed lest we be consumed one of another.
Middletown, N. Y.
July 1, 1855.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 222 - 226