Galatians 5:9

A familiar proverb applied in the present instance to doctrinal errors, introduced by a small party of Judaizers, but tending to spread through the whole community of Galatian Christians. The proverb is useful, however, as a caution against the spreading of evil generally.

I. THE PRINCIPLE. Evil is like leaven.

1. It has a life of its own. Leaven is the yeast-plant. We must not neglect evil with contempt as an inert dead thing. A low and horrible kind of life infests the remains of death. The lower in the order of life the organism is the more persistent will its vitality be. Yeast may be preserved dry for months and yet retain its power of fermentation. The most degraded forms of evil are the most difficult to destroy.

2. Evil, like leaven, spreads rapidly, Leaven is the chosen emblem of evil, just on account of its extraordinary rate of growth. While the Church slumbers her enemy is sleepless. If we are not actively resisting evil it will be constantly encroaching upon the domain of goodness. It is folly to neglect a small evil. A child may stamp out a flame which, neglected, would burn a city. Scotch the young vipers while they are yet in the nest, or the brood will crawl far and wide beyond our reach.

3. Evil, like leaven, assimilates what it touches. The best men are injured by contact with it. All the powers and faculties of the individual, all the resources and institutions of the community, are brought under its fatal spell and turned to its vile uses. 4 Evil, like leaven, is associated with corruption. Fermentation is the first stage of decomposition. The leaven of evil is the leaven of moral rottenness and death.


1. Doctrinal. A small error unchecked grows into a great perversion of truth. A lie once admitted spreads deceit and confusion in all directions.

2. Ecclesiastical. The Jewish custom advocated by a few of the Galatian Christians seemed to some, perhaps, an insignificant matter. But if it had been permitted to spread, undoubtedly it would have broken up the whole Church.

3. Moral. (See 1 Corinthians 5:6.) The taint of immorality spreads like a noxious contagion,

(1) in the nation - for the whole country's sake we must not allow "the residuum" to sink into corruption;

(2) in the Church - hence the necessity of reviving Church discipline;

(3) in the individual - small faults breed great sins. Beware of "the little foxes that spoil the grapes." - W.F.A.

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
I. LEAVEN CORRUPTS: evil corrupts.

II. LEAVEN INFECTS: evil infects.

III. LEAVES IS SUBTLE AND SECRET IN ITS MOVEMENTS: So is evil. It is a virus whose antecedents and consequents it is impossible to trace.

IV. LEAVEN IS NOT RESTRICTED TO ONE MODE of reaching the mass upon which it superinduces its own chemical conditions. It may be inserted by the hand of another, or it may be wafted by a breeze, and fall by its own gravity. So evil works —

1. Through systems and organizations.

(1)In our Lord's time by the Pharisaic, Sadducean, and Herodian systems.

(2)In Paul's day by the Judaizing emissaries.So now there is the leaven of —

(1)Religious superficiality;



2. Through the Zeit-Geist, the spirit of the age.


1. Indignation. To prevent fermentation, the chemist passes the air which contains the sporules through a hot platinum tube, which destroys the germs. A mild apologetic mood will not do for evil.

2. Separation. Living organisms will not grow energetically until brought in contact with substances having an affinity with them. So evil must be "cut off" by caution.


(J. Clifford, D. D.)

Just as the leaven, by its mere presence, changes the particles of meal in which it is hid, so does each human being, by his mere presence, affect for good or evil those with whom he associates.

(H. Macmillan, LL. D.)

I suppose we are most of us rather surprised that "leaven" is generally used in a bad sense in Holy Scripture. Not, indeed, always; because the kingdom of heaven itself is likened to leaven; but generally. In the New Testament leaven is mentioned on five distinct occasions, and on four of these as a type of something very evil, as a symbol of a thoroughly mischievous activity. In the Old Testament, the prohibition of leaven in all the offerings made to God occurs to us at once. It must, however, be allowed that this prohibition has two distinct origins, the one of which (and the earlier and most important) is purely historical, and carries with it no notion of good or evil. The total avoidance of leaven during the annual solemnity of the Passover, although it afterwards acquired a moral significance, was simply ordained in memory of their hasty flight from Egypt (Exodus 12.). The other prohibition, however, is of a moral and typical character: the exclusion of leaven from the sacrifices of God distinctly gave a moral character and meaning to its absence (Leviticus 2:11) Now let us ask what leaven is, and whether there is anything in its own nature to explain the evil significance which Holy Scripture has attached to it. Leaven, then, is simply so much dough in a state of fermentation. When the last "lump" had been leavened, and was ready for baking, a portion was set aside to act as leaven for the next "lump." Now the process of fermentation is one of the most curious, and (until lately) most obscure among the commoner operations of nature. It is now known to be due to the rapid — often inconceivably rapid — development of vegetable (fungoid) growth, which has the power of disengaging a quantity of free acid, and of changing the chemical character of the substance on which it acts. It is believed that most, if not all, contagious diseases are due to fermentation imported into the blood; and the terrible danger of these diseases is only a striking proof of the extreme facility with which fermentation spreads. This is, indeed, its one great characteristic — a characteristic which governs at once many of the most ordinary and useful operations of life, and many of its most deadly and widespread evils. Fermentation may, indeed, be conveyed by one substance into another, as in the common case of dough "raised" by means of yeast. But the ordinary and typical method is that of leaven, which is itself fermented dough, introduced into the midst of other unfermented dough. The invariable consequence is, that the fermented portion has the power of superinducing its own chemical condition upon the mass with which it is placed in contact: being itself in a state of violent chemical change, it has the power of setting on the same change all around it; nor will this action cease until that of which it is a part has entirely succumbed to its influence. But this change is, in its entirety, a change for the worst: it may, indeed, be checked (as in bread by baking, in wine by adding spirit, or by other means); but unless stopped at an early stage it is hurtful; and when it cannot be checked, as in decaying substances and in fatal diseases, it is simply destructive. Thus fermentation does, as it were, spring from evil and end in evil; it originates in that which is corrupt and hastening towards dissolution, and it ever tends to reproduce the same. Only when carefully watched, and mastered, and held in check, does it lend itself to real usefulness. And even so it retains some reminder of its evil origin. Yeast may be tasteless and harmless enough; but leaven is fermented, i.e., "sour," dough, and always imparts a certain sourness to the bread which is made with it. It is in the nature of all complex organic substances to be subject to a destructive fermentation; they are only kept from it, only preserve their delicate chemical balance, by the principle of life (whatever it may be) within them The very law of leaven and its power stands in the fact of like to like; and even so false teaching can only act with rapidity and certainty when it comes to minds disposed to receive it — when it jumps, i.e., with the popular errors and exaggerations of the day. But with moral evil it is different, because that evil is always in us more or less, and therefore the leaven always finds something apt to work on if it be admitted. There is in most of us, at any rate, a large body of imaginations which are ready to swell, to work, to become turbid, to disengage a quantity of evil temper and evil feeling, and to ruin the proper sweetness and savour of our Christianity, if once we have opened our hearts to the contagion of malice and wickedness. In 1 Corinthians

5. St. Paul passes, by an easy transition, from the natural to the historical associations of leaven. As sedulously as all ferment was banished from the houses of the Israelites, so sedulously should the moral ferment be banished from the hearts of Christians.

(R. Winterbotham, B. Sc.)

The least particle of evil infects; a single spark kindles a forest. Away with it! But O ye careless! is it a small thing to you, to be corrupted through idle talk and accompanyings, through poison of lies against Christ?


A relief lifeboat was built at New London thirteen years ago. While the workmen were busy over it, one man lost his hammer. Whether he knew it or not, it was nailed up in the bottom of the boat. Perhaps if he found it out, he thought the only harm done was the loss of one hammer. The boat was put to service, and every time it rocked on the waves that hammer was tossed to and fro. Little by little it wore for itself a track, until it had worn through planking and keel, down to the very copper plating, before it was found out. Only that plate of copper kept the vessel from sinking. It seemed a very little thing in the start, but see what mischief it wrought. So with a little sin in the heart. It may break through all the restraints that surround us, and but for God's great mercy, sink our souls in endless ruin. A few evil words in a child's ear have rung in his soul for twenty years, and brought untold harm. It is the sir hidden in the heart that we should most fear. There are none who do not need to pray, "Cleanse Thou me from secret faults."

The least unfaithfulness may bring a curse upon us, as the foot of the chamois on the snowy mountains, or the breath of a traveller who sings or shouts on his snowy road, may cause an avalanche which shall entomb the village now full of life and gaiety at the mountain's base.

"It is the little rift within the lute,

That by-and-by will make the music mute,

And, ever widening, slowly silence all:

The little rift within the lover's lute,

Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit,

That rotting inwards slowly moulders all."

The effect of one wilfully committed vicious action on the inner life of a man may be like the effect produced by allowing a single drop of ink to fall into a glass of pure water, which surely, though perhaps imperceptibly, permeates and contaminates the whole.

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump; a little staff may kill one; a little leak in a ship sinks it; a little flaw in a good cause mars it — so a little sin may at once bar the door of heaven and open the gates of hell: though the scorpion he little, yet it will sting a lion to death: and so will the least sin, if not pardoned by the death of Christ.

(T. Brooks.)You need not break the glasses of a telescope, or coat them over with paint, in order to prevent you from seeing through them. Just breathe upon them, and the dew of your breath will shut out all the stars. So it does not require great crimes to hide the light of God's countenance. Little faults can do iV just as well.

(H. W. Beecher.)Believe it, these little sins do arm God's terrible power and vengeance against you: and as a page may carry the sword of a great warrior after him, so your little sins do, as it were, bear the sword of God's justice, and put it into His hands against you.

(Bishop Hopkins.)A company was walking in Sudbrook Park, when Dr. Ellis drew attention to a large sycamore tree decayed to the core. "That fine tree," said he, was killed by a single worm. Two years previously, the tree was as healthy as any in the park, when a woodworm, about three inches long, was observed to be forcing its way under the bark Of the trunk. It then caught the eye of a naturalist who was staying there; and he remarked, ".Let that worm alone, and it will kill the tree." This seemed very improbable; but it was agreed that the black-headed worm should not be disturbed. after a time it was discovered that the worm had tunnelled its way a considerable distance under the bark. The leaves, next summer, dropped off very early; and, in the succeeding year, it was a dead, rotten thing, and the hole made by the worm might be seen in the heart of the once noble trunk." "Ah," said one who was present, "let us learn a lesson from that single tree. How many who once promised fair for usefulness in the world and the Church have been ruined by a single sin!"

It is Satan's custom by small sins to draw us to greater, as the little sticks set the great ones on fire, and a wisp of straw enkindles a block of wood.

(T. Manton, D. D.)A spark is the beginning of a flame, and a small disease may bring a greater.

(R. Baxter.)

if it can get but one of its claws into us, it will quickly follow with its head and whole body. Unfaithfulness to God is first discovered in the smallest matters, then it proceeds to greater things. As the decay of a tree is first visible in its twigs, but by degrees it goeth on the bigger arms, and from them to the main body. As it is the nature of a cancer or gangrene to run from one joint or part of the body to another, from the toe to the foot, from the foot to the leg, from the leg to the thigh, and thence to the vital parts. Do we not sometimes see a whole arm imposthumated with the prick of a little finger; and have we not sometimes heard of a great city betrayed by the opening of a little postern? These little sins will grow to great ones if let alone. Time will turn small dust into stone. The poisonous cockatrice at first was but an egg. Small twigs will prove thorny bushes if not timely stubbed up.

(G. Swinnock.)

The little transgressions in which men indulge, though they have no power upon the settled course of human affairs, even if they are swept out into a current of public sentiment that carries them down, as leaves are carried by the Amazon, are not harmless nor indifferent, because, aside from the influence of minor delinquencies upon the sum of affairs outwardly, there is another history and record, namely, their influence upon the actor. They deteriorate conscience. You can by a blow crush and destroy the conscience, or you can nibble and gnaw it to pieces. There is one way in which a lion strikes down his prey, and there is another way in which a rat comes at his prey; and in time the gnawing of vermin is as fatal to beauty and life itself as the stroke of the lion's paw. These little infidelities to duty, truth, rectitude, lower the moral tone, limit its range, destroy its sensibility; in short, they put out its light. It is recorded of a lighthouse erected on a tropical shore, that it was like to have failed for the most unlooked-for reason. When first kindled, the brilliant light drew about it such clouds of insects, which populate the evening and night of equatorial lands, that they covered and fairly darkened the glass. There was a noble light that shone out into the darkness and vanquished night, that all the winds could not disturb, nor all the clouds and storms hide; but the soft wings and gauzy bodies of myriads of insects, each one of which was insignificant, effectually veiled the light, and came near defeating the proposed gift to mariners. And so it is in respect to conscience. There may be a power in it to resist great assault, to overcome strong temptations, and to avoid fearful dangers; but there may be a million little venomous insect habits, unimportant in themselves, taken individually, but fearful in their results collectively.

(H. W. Beecher.)

Men, in their property, are afraid of conflagrations and lightning strokes; but if they were building a wharf in Panama, a million madrepores, so small that only the microscope could detect them, would begin to bore the piles down under the water. There would be neither noise nor foam; but in a little while, if a child did but touch the post, over it would fall as if a saw had cut it through. Now men think, with regard to their conduct, that if they were to lift themselves up gigantically and commit some crashing sin, they should never he able to hold up their heads; but they will harbour in their souls little sins, which are piercing and eating them away to inevitable ruin.

(H. W. Beecher.)

There is a thing active, "leaven;" a thing factive, "soureth;" a thing passive, "the lump."

I. But because the whole speech is allegorical, let us first OPEN THE METAPHOR WITH THE KEY OF PROPER ANALOGY,

1. First, taking leaven for false doctrine, so we find in the New Testa. ment four sorts of leavens: Matthew 16:6, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees; " there be two of them, the Pharisaical and the Sadducean leavens. Mark 8:15, "Beware of the leaven of Herod;" there is the third. The fourth is my text, the leaven of mingling Mosaical ordinances with Christ's institutions.

2. Now to the second way of considering these words, taking leaven personally for leaveners, false teachers, indeed heretics.

3. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Now let us resolve this allegory another way, and conceive by leaven, sin; by lump, man; by leavening, infection. In effect, a little sin makes the whole man, in body and soul, unsavoury to the Lord. Sin and leaven are fitly compared for their sourness. There is a leaven sharp and sour, but sanative. But this leaven is far sourer, yet hath nothing but death in it. It is soar to God, sour to angels, sour to saints, sour to the sinner. Sin is sourer than any leaven.

II. The allegory thus opened, THE SPECIAL TREASURE OR INSTRUCTION REMAINS YET TO BE DRAWN OUT. We perceive what the leaven signifies, and what the lump. Now we must consider the relation betwixt a little leaven, and the whole lump. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." A little sin infecteth a great deal of righteousness. "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). And upon good reason; for there is a universal corruption, therefore should be a universal sanctification. In that young man that professed himself to have kept the commandments, and Christ began to love him, yet there was a little leaven spoiled all — covetousness. In Herod, though he heard many sermons of John's preached gladly (and it is some good thing to hear sermons with joy), yet the leaven of Herodias marred all.

1. Even the least offence is mortal in its own nature, capable of transgression, and liable to malediction.

2. Sins less heinous, are the most numerous. Many littles make a mickle. Small drops of rain commonly cause the greatest floods. The less violence, the longer continuance. The drizzling sleet, that falls as it were in a mist, fills the channels, they swell the rivers, the overcharged rivers send forth their superfluous waters over the containing banks; now the meadows are polluted, the corn-fields spoiled, the cattle drowned; yea, even houses, and towns, and inhabitants are endangered, and firm continents buried under a deluge of waters. Many little sands, gathered to a heap, fail not to swallow a great vessel. You have eagles, hawks, kites, and such great fowls of rapine, flying always alone; but the sparrows and pigeons, that devour the grain, by innumerable troops. A pace is but a little space of ground; yet a thousand paces make a mile, and many miles bring to hell. If they be not the worst, they are the most; and is it not all to one purpose whether one Goliath or a thousand Philistines overcome thee? The bird brings so many little straws as make up her nest: the reprobate so many little sticks as make up his own burning pile. saith there is in sin both weight and number. Judge them by tale, and not by weight. Put a wanton speech, a loose gesture into the balance, though Christ found it heavy, and every soul shall for whom he did not bear it, yet it is censured, a little faulting, a little failing: so little, that were it less, it were nothing.

3. These little sins are not so easily felt, therefore most pernicious. If a man hath dyed his hand in blood, a peaceless conscience haunts him with incessant vexation: let him hate his brother, this little murder he feels not. The devil, like a roaring lion, is soon heard: forming himself to a fox, his insinuation is not perceived. Doubtless there be some that would shudder at the temptation to perjury; yet, by insensible steps they arrive at it: by lying they come to swearing, by swearing to forswearing.

4. Little sins are the materials of great sins. The seeds of all sins are naturally in us: not so much as treason, homicide, perjury, but there is in our nature a proclivity to them. Sin seems at first like a little cloud, but it prognosticates a deluge of ensuing wickedness.

5. A little sin infects a great deal of righteousness. The leprosy infected the garments, and the very walls of the house; but sin hath infected wood, and wool, and walls, earth, air, beasts, plants, and planets; and stuck a scar on the crystal brow of nature itself: "For we know the whole creation groaneth, and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22). If the great world groan for man's sin, shall not the little world, man, groan for his own sin? When one commended Alexander for his noble acts and famous achievements, another objected against him that he killed Callisthenes. He was valiant and successful in the wars; true, but he killed Callisthenes. He overcame the great Darius; so, but he killed Callisthenes. He made himself master of the world; grant it, but still he killed Callisthenes. His meaning was, that this one unjust fact poisoned all his valorous deeds. Beware of sin, which may thus leaven the whole lump of our soul. Indeed we must all sin, and every sin sours; but to the faithful and repentent Christian it shall not be damnable: "There is no damnation to them that are in Jesus Christ," (Romans 8:1). There is in all corruption, to most affliction, to none damnation, that are in Christ. Our leaven hath soured us, but we are made sweet again by the all-perfuming blood of our blessed Saviour.

6. The least sins are the most fatal to men's destruction. There is death in it and for it. A dram of poison diffuseth itself to all parts, till it strangle the vital spirits, and turn out the soul from the tenement.

(T. Adams.)

It is needful to remember what leaven represented under the Mosaic ritual. It typified the unrenewed degenerate nature. Though its component ingredients were the same as sweet dough, through fermentation it was liable to corruption and acidity. Thus it is opposed to the oil of the meat offering which symbolized the Spirit of God. In the latter case the meal was made palatable by a mild and penetrating process, while leaven caused a fermenting disturbance of the mass.


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