One sunny afternoon in Springfield, Lisa Simpson embraces vegetarianism. Thus, an iconic episode of The Simpsons begins.
Lisa’s father, Homer, can’t get his head around this decision; after-all, you don’t make friends with salad. So, he invites the entire town of Springfield to a barbeque. In the centre of his back-garden is a huge, spit-roasted, pig. Suddenly: Lisa’s anger bursts. She hops on a ride-on lawnmower, and steals the pig. And as the pig hurtles through hedges, roads, rivers, and eventually the sky, Homer cries out these lines:
“It’s just a little dirty. It’s still good, it’s still good! It’s just a little slimy. It’s still good, it’s still good! It’s just a little airborne. It’s still good, it’s still good!”.
For the sake of the pork, Homer’s prepared to minimise the dirt; the slime; everything.
Despite my butchered retelling, this incident is supposed to be humorous. Even if we’re only slightly less dysfunctional than Homer, we’ll care about the integrity of the food we’re consuming. If someone drops your burger into a flowerpot, then hands it to you, you probably won’t minimise the impact of the soil with “it’s just a little soily. It’s still good, it’s still good!”.
Yet: Thomas Brooks argues that we listen to this logic daily. Every day, to tempt our hearts, Satan says: “it’s just a little ___. It’s still good, it’s still good”. No doubt, our hearts can fill in the blanks: “it’s just a little look; just a little treat; just a little lie; just a little boast”. Brooks expects that his readers find pleasure in God. Therefore, he’s highlighting how Satan attempts to misdirect that pleasure by “extenuating and lessening…sin” (38). Satan tells you that you can commit this “little sin”, and there’ll be no consequences. My flesh tells me that this sin is microscopic, so I don’t really need to repent. Our world says that sin is such an out-dated concept, there’s no danger to our souls. Just like Homer, we’ve got a misplaced hunger. We’re prepared to minimise the dirt, the slime, the sinfulness of sin.
That’s Satan’s third device: “it’s just a little sin. It’s still good, it’s still good”.
This clearly follows on from Brooks’ previous assertions: if we’re already seeing sin’s hook and acknowledging sin’s painted virtue, then we can’t “extenuate or lessen sin” (38). Therefore, we need to remember the pleasure we have in our Triune God by considering the great horror of sin.
Remedy #1: seriously consider that the things we call “little sin” face God’s greatest wrath.
It’s just a tiny touch of the Ark. Uzzah just “puts out his hand to the ark of God” and takes “hold of it, for the oxen stumbled” (2 Samuel 6:6). He’s just trying to help, right? But “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error” (2 Samuel 6:7).
It’s just a tiny bite of the fruit. Eve hands the fruit to Adam, and he eats. But “the LORD God…drove out the man…from the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:23-24).
It’s just a little “unauthorised fire”. Nadab and Abihu offer some “unauthorised fire” in the Holy Place (Leviticus 10:1). But “fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them”.
It’s just a little lie. Ananias sells his field, claiming to give all the proceeds away, yet “lying to the Holy Spirit” and hiding a little for himself. And: “he fell down and breathed his last”.
The “least sin is contrary to the law of God, the nature of God, the being of God, the glory of God” (38). Uzzah rejects God by localising God to the Ark so that God needs propped up. Nadab and Abihu reject God by adding extra experiential components to God’s law for godly worship. Ananias rejects God by limiting His knowledge to Ananias’ financial advantage. Adam rejects God by trying to usurp God’s kingly authority for himself. And, they all reject God by tiny actions.
Sin is totally contrary to God; “therefore, it is…punished severely by God” (38).
Remedy #2: seriously consider that little sin paves the path to greater sin.
“Sin is never at a stand” (39). Sin constantly spirals downwards. It creeps on the soul by degrees, step by step, till it hath the soul to the very height of sin…corruption in the heart, when it breaks forth, is like a breach in the sin, which begins in a narrow passage, till it eat through and cast down all before it” (39-40). If we listen to the idea that “just a little sin” is “still good”, then we open our hearts to a humanly-unstoppable surge of sin.
Remedy #3: seriously consider that there is great danger in the smallest sin.
I’m not very good at following recipes. Most dangerously, I often mix my “tsp” and my “tbsp” up. My wife can create visually stunning banana breads; but if she hasn’t realised that I’ve put slightly too much baking powder in? It’ll be overpoweringly salty. A little baking powder can ruin the whole batch. And, it ruins it without drawing any attention.
“Greater sins startle the soul, and awaken the soul to repentance…but little sins often slide into the soul…and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, till they come to be so strong, as to trample upon the soul” (41-42). We know we need to take notice of sin in our hearts. We know can’t neglect “those heavenly helps” (42) that God’s provided to weaken and destroy sin. But: my heart must see that the creeping little sin must be killed too, or I might “utterly fall before it…and perish in it, unless the power of Christ’s free grace doth act gloriously”. My heart needs to see the great danger, in the smallest sin.
Remedy #4: seriously consider that other saints chose the worst suffering over the least sin.
In the Christian life, we are not alone. The Spirit helps us resist the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The Church helps build us up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And the great cloud of witnesses urge us to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance towards Christ (Hebrews 12:1). Their refusal to engage in the least sin, even if it meant the worst suffering, shows us that resistance is not futile, but is vitally important and achievable. “Their tenderness of the honour and glory of God, and their hatred and indignation against sin…[was so great] that they would rather burn than sin” (43). When we look to those who walk before us, we can be encouraged to suffer the worst torment rather than dishonour God; this is the road they walked, even if it led them through the furnace.
Satan will tempt us with: “it’s just a little sin; it’s still good, it’s still good”. Brooks argues that our resistance to this phrase must incorporate each of these elements. But, our resistance does not begin here. Our resistance begins when we focus on the Cross. There: “the severe dealing of God the Father with His beloved Son” shows “that there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction” (44). There: the Father let “all the vials of His fiercest wrath upon Him…for the least sin as well as the greatest” (44). There: we clearly see that “the wages of sin is death…whether great or small” (45). But, there: we tremble with fear and joy, because “God the Father would not spare His bosom Son” from “drinking [even] the dregs of His wrath”, decisively dealing with our little sins forever.