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Just a Little Leaven


And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” . . . Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

—Matthew 16:6, 12

A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough

—Galatians 5:9

Perhaps the most dangerous quality of false doctrine the insidious way in which it makes its way into our minds. It often comes in small packages, and pleasant, winsome ways, seducing us through that catchy, emotionally moving “worship” song, popular “Christian” book, or “Bible” study*. Error seldom announces itself.


Now we all know what is the true meaning of the word ‘leaven’. It is what we commonly call yeast,—the yeast which is added to the lump of dough in making a loaf of bread. This yeast, or leaven, bears but a small proportion to the lump into which it is thrown; just so, our Lord would have us know, the first beginning of false doctrine is but small compared to the body of Christianity.—It works quietly and noiselessly; just so, our Lord would have us know, false doctrine works secretly in the heart in which it is once planted. It insensibly changes the character of the whole mass with which it is mingled; just so, our Lord would have us know, the doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees turn everything upside down, when once admitted into a church or into a man’s heart. . . .

False doctrine does not meet men face to face, and proclaim that it is false. It does not blow a trumpet before it, and endeavour openly to turn us away from the truth as it is in Jesus. It does not come before men in broad day, and summon them to surrender. It approaches us secretly, quietly, insidiously, plausibly, and in such a way as to disarm man’s suspicion, and throw him off his guard. It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and Satan in the garb of an angel of light, who have always proved the most dangerous foes of the church of Christ.

. . .

Let us beware of the insidiousness of false doctrine. Like the fruit of which Eve and Adam ate, it looks at first sight pleasant and good, and a thing to be desired. Poison is not written upon it, and so people are not afraid. Like counterfeit coin, it is not stamped ‘bad’: it passes current from the very likeness it bears to the truth.

Let us beware of the very small beginnings of false doctrine. Every heresy began at one time with some little departure from the truth. There is only a little seed of error needed to create a great tree. . . . It is the little leaven that leavens the whole lump. It is the little flaw in one link of the chain cable that wrecks the gallant ship, and drowns the crew. It is the omission or addition of one little item in the doctor’s prescription that spoils the whole medicine, and turns it into poison. We do not tolerate quietly a little dishonesty, or a little cheating, or a little lying: just so, let us never allow a little false doctrine to ruin us, by thinking it is but a ‘little one’, and can do no harm. The Galatians seemed to be doing nothing very dangerous when they ‘observed days and months, and times and years’; yet St Paul says, ‘I am afraid of you’ (Gal. 4:10, 11).

Finally, let us beware of supposing that we at any rate are not in danger. ‘Our views are sound: our feet stand firm: others may fall away, but we are safe!’ Hundreds have thought the same, and have come to a bad end. In their self-confidence they tampered with little temptations and little forms of false doctrine; in their self-conceit they went near the brink of danger; and now they seem lost for ever. They appear given over to a strong delusion, so as to believe a lie. . . . Very striking is the vision in Pilgrim’s Progress, which describes the hill Error as ‘very steep on the farthest side’; and ‘when Christian and Hopeful looked down they saw at the bottom several men dashed all to pieces by a fall they had from the top’. Never, never let us forget the caution to beware of ‘leaven’; and if we think we stand, let us ‘take heed lest we fall’.

—J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 373–374, 377–378.

* Those marketed specifically to men’s or women’s groups are often the worst.

Posted 2017·07·06 by David Kjos
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