THE work of Christians is not to set other people straight, but to keep themselves straight.
“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”
To assume mastership over others is only to incur condemnation, therefore the more masters, the more condemnation.
“One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.”
“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”
Thus the Lord intends every disciple to be “quiet and to do his own business,” and not to be “a busybody in other men’s matters.” In other words, the Lord instructs and expects his people to mind their own business and to let other people’s business alone.
This is the only true course of Christian conduct. Accordingly, he says, “Make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way.” The Christian has nothing to do with making paths for the feet of other people: he is to make straight paths for his own feet. By going straight himself, any man can do far more to help the weak and those that are out of the way than he can by going out of the way to set the others straight.
This is well illustrated in the last instance [sic.] recorded in the book of John: Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” “Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following…. Peter, seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.”
The Lord said to one man, “Follow me.” Instead of doing so, he turned about to see what another man was doing. But when he had turned about, it was impossible to follow Jesus that way: for no man can follow Christ backward.
More than this, he would not have seen the other man if he had not taken his eyes off Jesus and turned about from following him. Thus every man has to take his eyes off Jesus and turn from following him, before he can raise questions about the conduct of other men.
And when this man had turned about from Jesus and so saw the other man, what was that other man doing?—Oh, he was following Jesus—he was doing the very thing that the Lord had told the first man to do. But the first man, instead of doing what he was told by his Master to do, turned away from that to question about the other man who was doing the very thing that he himself had been told by the Lord to do, but which he had turned away from doing. Thus it is always with those professed Christians who think it devolves upon them to set other people straight.
But this man, with all others, got the answer from the Lord: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.” In other words, what the other man shall do is none of your business: your business is to follow me.
Therefore, this principle is, Make straight paths, not for the other man’s feet, but for your own feet. It is true that the lame need help and guidance in the straight and narrow way. But you can do infinitely more to help them thus, by making straight paths for your own feet, than by undertaking to make straight paths for their feet.
Again, it is written, “Take heed to thyself, and to the doctrine; continue in them, for in so doing thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” You can do infinitely more to save others, by taking heed to yourself, than you can by taking heed to the other man.
Note, too, that you are to take heed to yourself even before taking heed to doctrine. No man is qualified to take heed to doctrine till he has taken good heed to himself. Take heed to thyself, make straight paths for your feet, follow Christ yourself, first of all things, then the doctrine will be of benefit: but without this the doctrine will be of no benefit to you nor to anybody else so far as you are concerned.
Yet some man will say, “What! are we not our brother’s keeper?”—Yes, we are; and this is the only right way to be that. Please remember that it was Cain to whom the inquiry came, “Where is thy brother?”
If Cain had himself followed the Lord, if Cain had kept his eyes on Christ and off his brother, instead of on Christ and on his brother: if Cain had made straight paths for his own feet, instead of trying to make a path for the other man’s feet; if Cain had taken heed to himself, instead of taking heed to the other man, then that inquiry never would have come to him. He would then have proved such a faithful keeper of his brother that he would have been only a constant blessing to his brother, and approved and accepted of God as a true worshiper.
Remember, too, that, like so many of those others who are ever meddling with other people, and who think their place in the world is to set other people straight. Cain was a professor of religion. He considered himself the only true worshiper, and that whoever did not choose to conform to his views of conduct must be compelled to do so. And if they still chose to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they were considered not fit to live. And as at that time there was no civil government which he might make the instrument of his wicked will, and behind which he might shield himself with the plea that he was “only enforcing the law,” he was obliged to carry it through himself. And he did.
And though professed Christians to-day do have civil government which they can make the instrument of their will in requiring others to conform to their views of conduct, and behind which they can shield themselves with the miserable excuse that they are “only enforcing the law,” this does not in the least relieve them of the essential character and guilt of Cain. For thus it is written, “Woe unto them, for they have gone in the way of Cain.”