It's funny reading Christian books which are a hundred plus years old for the type of problems they mention which the church faced are often the very same problem we see today. The type of problems that faced Christians are usually the exact same problems facing Christians today. The outward form may change but the heart of the problem does not. This is really no surprise, "there is nothing new under the sun" the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes and he was right - human nature doesn't change and God doesn't change. The world, the flesh and the Devil still fight the same battles with Christians.
I was reading J.C Ryle's Practical Religion, it's brilliant, as Ryle always is, and in it Ryle talks about how the biggest problem with the church is that too many Christians are Little Christians and it struck me that while over a hundred years have passed since he wrote his book then his analysis is still spot on.
Many, if not most, Christians today are Little Christians. If I am being honest then I must include myself in this category too. We are Little Christians because we have a little faith, a little hope, a little peace, a little love, a little courage, a little knowledge and a little holiness. That is not the problem though - we all start of our Christian life with little of everything. The problem, and as problems go this is huge, is that we are content with being Little Christians.
"This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." Matthew 13 v 23
When Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower and he talks about the seed that falls on the good soil he mentions that the crop can be of varying abundance. Likewise it has to be noted that Christians are of varying fruitfulness, some are the crop which is a hundred time what was sown, some, alas many, are only thirty times what was sown. And while thirty times more is still a marvellous increase it pales in comparison to what it could be.
But why do are we so content with so little? Why do we stop at being Little Christians? What brings us short of being Huge Christians? What prevents the good soil yielding the hundred fold fruit? J.C Ryle mentions five reasons and it seems good to expand upon them here.
Ignorance - the first reason why Little Christians are so common is down to ignorance. They do not know that they are Little or they do not know that they could be Big. This is almost entirely the fault of the church they go to. If the biblical standard for holiness, faith, hope, love, peace and knowledge is not preached from the pulpit then Christians will not know that they are falling short. If all that is heard from the pulpit is wishy-washy rubbish filled with vain platitudes, feel good comments and spiritual baby food then it is no wonder Christians remain small.
Or, and equally as bad, the Christian in question does not read their Bible. How then will they know what God requires of them? How will they judge their littleness? They cannot because they are not opening themselves up to the sword of the Spirit, the Word which is a living sword that penetrates to the marrow.
Also, it must be said, that there are few Christians today who are Large Christians in the sense that they have a lot of faith, a lot of hope, a lot of holiness, a lot of courage, etc. So there are few good examples to follow. Sure, Christ is our ultimate example but we are still challenged (or not!) by our fellow brothers and sisters. Of course, if a Little Christian did but pick up a book by a Puritan then he will swiftly realize he is in the company of Giants and he will feel the littleness of his littleness.
Laziness - the next huge reason is simply one of laziness. We expect holiness to be automatic, we can't be bothered to put in the hard work to be more than Little, we content ourselves with being lacking because we would rather be idle than holy.
A Christian who prays little, reads his Bible little, seeks to learn little and does little will, amazingly enough, be little. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6v7) If you sow nothing, you reap nothing; if you sow little as a Christian then you reap little. "Sluggards do not plough in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing." (Proverbs 20v4)
Being a Huge Christian requires a huge amount of work, striving and toil - most of it painful. It would be undoubtedly worth it, more than worth it, but most of us are just too lazy to bother.
Who cares if it would please God? Who cares if it would benefit us, the church and the world? Who cares if we remain as Little the rest of the years? The lazy Little Christian doesn't; he cares only for his leisure.
Fear of man - As Paul writes in Ephesians 6v19: "and also pray for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel," Paul was a giant of the Christian faith and he needed prayer for boldness. Likewise, a Christian can be crippled by their fear of man. It may stop us telling the good news, being holy, going the extra spiritual mile, attending prayer meetings, standing up for Jesus, doing the right thing, having more than a little faith, hope and love. Fear of man cripples a Little Christian to his littleness.
If this is you then take note of the words of Jesus: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10v28)
Besetting sin/ Secret love of the world - the final reason is to do with the state of our hearts. A Little Christian may be Little because they have some unfought besetting sin than clouds their communion with Christ. Or it may be because secretly they are still in love with a part of the world that they do not want to give up on. Both will result in littleness.
As James starkly writes: "You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?" (James 4v1)
Little Christians are Christians who know little communion with Christ, yes, they are saved, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, they know union with Him but they do not know communion with him as they should.
What hope is there then for the many Little Christians today? What hope is there for me? Why, all the hope in the world! For the first step to being more than a Little Christian to be aware that one is Little and to want to be Big. Any desire to be in closer communion with Christ is not natural to us but the work of the Holy Spirit. It is my prayer that he will work a great desire in us all.
If you are Little and want to be more than heed the words of James:
"Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." (James 4 v 7 - 10)
Remember that Jesus said to his disciples: "Oh you of little faith," and yet they grew to be giants.
Father, you are aware of our littleness, forgive us that we are so small in faith, so tiny in expectation, so lacking in holiness and little in love. By the power of your Holy Spirit would you convict us of our littleness and put in us a new desire for closer and deeper communion with Christ. Lord, by your grace would you make us Giants so that we might do great deeds in your great name and be that soil which reaps a hundred fold harvest!