Our Share in Other Men's Sins
2 John 1:10-11
If there come any to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:…

There are few more remarkable sayings in Holy Writ than that of our blessed Redeemer, "He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward." But the principle which pervades this saying of Christ is not limited in its operations; and, if one application of it be encouraging, another may be alarming. May it not be possible to identify yourself with an evil man as well as with a good, so that, though you may not yourself actually commit the evil man's deeds, yet you shall be reckoned with as though you had done the deeds? That the principle admits of this application is but too clearly proved by our text. These words of St. John are, indeed, precisely parallel to what our Saviour says in regard of a prophet. To bid the heretic God speed would be to give the weight of your authority to his heresy. In mercantile phrase, as has been well said, it would be to endorse his false doctrines; and the day of reckoning shall come. But this opens before us a great and solemn subject of discourse One is disposed at first to hope that it may be merely through some metaphysical subtlety that human beings are represented as so interwoven with each other, that the same actions may be charged on a variety of agents: but metaphysical subtlety there is absolutely none; the apostle speaks of our partaking in other men's evil deeds with the same plainness which he would use if speaking of our obeying any one of the Ten Commandments. Oh, this wonderfully enlarges the power or opportunity of destroying our souls; this amazingly magnifies the dread business of the judgment. I could tremble at being told, "Every man shall bear his own burden" — at hearing, "So, then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God"; but I do not apprehend all the awfulness of appearing at the tribunal of the Most High till I ponder this assertion of St. John, "He that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." Now, examine more definitely the modes in which we may have share in other men's sins. We will select two modes: the first is that of giving evil counsel, or diffusing wrong principles; the second is that of setting a bad example. To illustrate the first mode, we will take an extreme case, but which cannot be examined without our discovering a principle which may equally be applied in various lesser instances. The case is that of an author, who, having committed to writing licentious or sceptical thoughts, applies the vast power of the Press to the gaining for them currency through the world. You will hardly require of us to show you that this author participates in the sins of ether men. Wheresoever his book is, there may he be, undermining the foundations of morality and religion, poisoning the springs of life, and instigating others to be as sceptical or as debauched as himself. Repentance, for the most part, is utterly unavailing; the author may become altogether a reformed man, being changed from the infidel into the sincere believer, and from the immoral into the righteous; but he may have no power whatsoever of recalling his writings: they have gone forth as upon wings to the farthest ends of the earth. What a perpetuity of evil-doing has thus been acquired by many of the dead! And though you may think that this, however clear an illustration of the partaking in the sins of other men, furnishes but little of practical lesson to yourselves, I would remind you that the author only does that in a higher degree that is done by any one in a lower, who gives bad advice or sanctions wrong principles. The act of printing does but enlarge, so to speak, the sphere of the author's individuality, and cause him to act on a broader surface; but evidently if, in place of printing, he confines himself to speaking, delivering to the comparatively few who are brought within sound of his voice the same sentiments that we suppose scattered by the Press over half a community, why, he will partake of the sins of those few, even as under the other supposition he would of the sins of the whole host of his fellow-men. And if you still further reduce the position of the author, so that in place of blasphemous sentiments you put mere worldly words into his mouth, and without making him a pattern of immorality simply ascribe to him indifference as to religion, it is clear you do not touch the argument upon which participation in other men's sins is established, though you may diminish the likelihood of his making other men to sin, or the enormity of the crimes to which he may be accessory. Do you never let slip an opportunity of reproving vice, of recommending virtue? Do you never, when you have given an opinion on points of difference between men of the world and disciples of Christ — do you never lean to the side of the world, because not honest enough to despise the risk of giving offence? There is not one of you whose actions do not operate on the actions of others — operate, we mean, in the way of example. He would be insignificant who could only destroy his own soul; but you are all, alas! of importance enough to help also to destroy the souls of others; and henceforward we would have you remember that whensoever you act you act for a multitude; eyes are upon you, many or few, according to the position that you occupy; some are either watching to take pattern or waiting for your halting. Be vicious, and viciousness may go down as an heirloom in half a hundred families; be inconsistent, and enmity to the gospel may be propagated over a parish; give occasions of offence, and many may fall; those who are entering in the narrow way may be discouraged, and those who have already entered may be made to stumble. Well, then, if such be the fact — if, through our necessary connection with numbers of our fellow-men, a connection resulting from the circumstances of our nature — if, through the giving evil counsel, which it seems almost impossible to avoid, and through the setting evil example, which must be done in some sense by all but the perfect — if in these ways we become partakers in other men's sins — better fly the world at once; better retire to the desert, where, altogether separated from our kind, we should at least have no guilt to add to our own! Vain thought! Suppose, then, that we flee from active life and bury these powers in solitude, we shall still be chargeable with all the evil which might have been counteracted, had we stood to our posts and made use of our talents. We might have stayed the torrent of vice and ungodliness; we might have turned some sinners from the error of their ways. What, then, have we obtained by flight? Have I striven up to the measure of the ability conferred on me by God to promote the diffusion of sound principles, and to subdue the aboundings of iniquity? You ask, in a sort of terror, for some specific by which to guard against this partaking in the sins of other men. I have but one answer to give. The only way not to partake in other men's sins is not to sin yourselves. The great use which we make of this subject of discourse is the furnishing another motive to you to the walking circumspectly and the living righteously.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:

WEB: If anyone comes to you, and doesn't bring this teaching, don't receive him into your house, and don't welcome him,

No Toleration
Top of Page
Top of Page