For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.…
This is undoubtedly a "hard saying" — not one "hard to be understood," but because it is very easy to be understood. It is very plain and simple; it tells us clearly that if any one should keep the whole law of God, except one point, he would just as much be an offender against the law, as if he had broken the whole. The saying is hard, only because it is contrary to our notions. We cannot bear that so much responsibility should attach to our single actions. We are wont naturally to measure ourselves by an easy, pliant rule, making large allowances for ourselves; looking on ourselves, as what we think we on the whole are: we shrink from looking into our actions, one by one, which might undeceive us. Against this loose, careless way, the stern peremptory voice of the text is directly opposed. It tells us that God looks upon us and our actions one by one; that we cannot be two sorts of selves, one a transgressor, the other a doer of the law; that He does not give His commandments to be dealt with in a trifling way; that He seeks at our hands a full unswerving obedience. Hard, however, as the saying may to any seem to be, the occasion upon which it was spoken makes it yet harder. For St. James is not speaking of what most would regard as being exclusively grievous sins, but of what many would think a slight instance of a slight sin. He is speaking only of an undone respect towards the rich in God's house, and a want of kindly regard to the feelings of the poor. St. James goes on to explain, in reference to the ten commandments, the ground of this truth. "For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill," &c. "If we love God," our Blessed Lord says, we should "keep His commandments." It matters not then thus far which commandment we break; all breaking of His commandments is a preference of our own will to His, of the creature to the Creator, of His gifts to Himself, of things earthly to heavenly. Over and above the offensiveness of any sin in itself, all sin has, in common, one offensiveness, in that it is a disregard of His authority, who forbade it. Free-will, of which men boast, is, in our corrupted nature, a perilous gift. And well may we shrink from it. Having been made members of His Son, and so entitled to have His life, through the life-giving Spirit, flow into us, and having been conformed to Him, well may we pray not to be left to our own choice, but that He by His Holy Spirit will master our spirit, direct, control, guide, impel, constrain it, that it should not be able to choose for itself, but choose or leave, as He guides it. This then is the task we have to learn through life, to prefer God and His will to everything besides Him, not to serve Him with a divided and half service. We have our choice given between the two. There can be no choice without preference. Whenever there is a choice to be made, if we choose the creature against the will of God, no matter how small it seem, we are rejecting the Creator. Nay in one way, its very smallness makes the act more grievous, in that, for a small matter, we go against the will of God. Consider, again, how God has in the good chastised, in the evil how He has punished single sins; doubtless, meaning in part to impress upon us the awfulness of single transgressions, of breaking the law in one point. One transgression of one man made the whole human race sinners, brought death into the world, and placed us all under God's wrath. One act of filial disobedience brought a curse on the whole race of Ham. One contempt of his birthright caused Esau to forfeit it altogether. One act of disobedience took away the kingdom from the house of Saul. Or, to turn to God's servants whom He chastised. One unadvised speech lost Moses the entrance into Canaan. One act of deceit made Jacob an outcast and a wanderer. For one act of disobedience was the prophet slain who had fearlessly borne faithful testimony against Jeroboam and all Israel in the very day of their rebellion. For one grievous sin did the sword never depart from the house of David, though, in all besides, "he did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord." Such is the awful way in which Holy Scripture itself explains the text; such. in God's sight, is the character of single acts of sin, of which men think so lightly. Yet consider, also, how seldom sins are single! "& little leaven," Scripture saith, "leaventh the whole lump"; a single sin will taint the whole man. Even the heathen acknowledged that virtues were bound together with a golden band, so that no one could have one virtue perfectly who had not all. Sins too are interwoven together in a sad chain, so that one sin opens the door for others. Look how sins apparently the most opposite are by a subtle band joined together; vanity, or the love of man's praise, and lying which even man despises; extravagance and covetousness; or what seem to have nothing to do with each other, as St. Paul says, idolatry was the root of lust and all that frightful list of sins, to which, he tells us, human nature was once abandoned; or, our own experience shows, how sabbath-breakers go on to drunkenness and working ill to their neighbours; or proverbs tell us in a practical way that "idleness is the parent of all sins." How often do we remark, "How excellent a person such an one would be, but for that one thing in them! "This one leprous spot of vanity, or anger, or ambition, infects all; this one seed of corruption cankers what was otherwise blossoming so fairly and with so much promise. The chain round one little limb keeps the whole man a prisoner. The failure to decide aright in one point mars all other service or puts a person altogether in a wrong course. Thus does conscience itself, thus does our own implanted sense of right bear witness to the text; and not less our daily judgment in the things of this life. We count him a madman who, though in his senses on all points but one, is on that one point insane. We count him a bad servant who, though on other points good, has one incurable fault to which he is continually yielding. We count him a disobedient son, who on one point ever disobeys. And are we then good servants, if we, in one thing, ever neglect the commands of our Gracious Master? Yea, a man's own conscience, till it be seared, will bear witness in another way. The consciousness of one indulged sin will not allow him rest. Then also Satan, in a fearful way, bears witness to the truth. There is no more common temptation by which the accursed one would plunge man into more hopeless sin than this. He persuades them to commit the first sin by telling them it is slight; and then he perverts the apostle's truth, and tells them its heinousness, and that they may as well go in sin, and breaking other commands of God, because breaking one is enough to condemn them. There is a common proverb by which men express that if they have gone any way in what is wrong, they may as well take their fill both of the enjoyment and of the sin. They feel themselves shut out from heaven by their one sin" they have no hope beyond the grave, and so they may as well have the miserable consolation of "the pleasures of sin for a season"; if therein they may forget themselves and their doom. Yet in one more way we may see that we must strive to obey in all things, or we do not obey at all. Our trials, for the most part, consist but in a few things. If we fail continually in one or two sorts of trials, it may be that we are failing just in what forms our probation, and in what we are to be judged by. What service or what trial is it, if a person fails not when he is not tempted? if the covetous be not a waster? if the slothful be not worldly, or the worldly not slothful? if the easy-natured be not soon angry, or the passionate be not malicious? Yet thus is it that people continually deceive themselves. Must we then indeed fulfil the whole law, break no one command, or shall we at the Day of Judgment be found guilty of all? Is there no hope except in unsinning obedience through the grace given unto us? God forbid! for so should none of us have any hope. The text would stir us up to increased diligence, to examine ourselves, "to look well if there be any way of wickedness in us," and to break off what we find amiss, to dread lest even one accursed thing cleave unto us, to beware how we tamper with any one of God's enemies. Ye with whom, as yet, no one sin is habitual, see that ye let not one sin creep over you; or if any one is entangled in any sin, see that then he continue not in it.
(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.