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The world have mainly lost the true idea of religion. This is too obvious from all I have said to need more illustration.
The same is true to a great extent of the Church. Professed Christians judge themselves falsely because they judge by a false standard.
One of the most common and fatal mistakes is to employ a merely negative standard. Here are men complaining of a want of conviction. Why don’t they take the right standard and judge themselves by that? Suppose you had let a house burn down and made no effort to save it; what would you think of the guilt of stupidity and laziness there? Two women and five children are burnt to ashes in the conflagration; why did not you give the alarm when you saw the fire getting hold? Why did not you rush into the building and drag out the unconscious inmates? Oh, you felt stupid that morning—just as people talk of being “stupid” in religion! Well, you hope not to be judged very hard, since you did not set the house on fire; you only let it alone; all you did was to do nothing! That is all many persons plead as to their religious duties. They do nothing to pluck sinners out of the fire, and they seem to think this is a very estimable religion! Was this the religion of Jesus Christ or of Paul? Is it the religion of real benevolence? or of common sense?
You see how many persons who have a Christian hope indulge it on merely negative grounds. Often I ask persons how they are getting along in religion. They answer, pretty well; and yet they are doing nothing that is really religious. They are making no effort to save souls—are doing nothing to serve God. What are they doing? Oh, they keep up the forms of prayer! Suppose you should employ a servant and pay him off each week, yet he does nothing all the long day but pray to you!
Religion is very intelligible and is easily understood. It is a warfare. What is a warrior’s service? He devotes himself to the service of his country. If need be, he lays down his life on her altar. He is expected to do this.
So a man is to lay down his life on God’s altar, to be used in life or death, as God may please, in His service.
The things most highly esteemed among men are often the very things God most abhors. Take, for example, the legalist’s religion. The more he is bound in conscience and enslaved, by so much the more, usually, does his esteem as a Christian rise.
The more earnestly he groans under his bondage to sin, the more truly he has to say—
“Reason I bear, her counsels weigh,
And all her words approve;
Yet still I find it hard to obey
And harder yet to love,”-
By so much the more does the world esteem and God abhor his religion. The good man, they say—he was all his lifetime subject to bondage! He was in doubts and fears all his life! But why did he not come by faith into that liberty with which Christ makes His people free?
A morality, based on the most refined selfishness, stands in the highest esteem among men. So good a man of the world they say—almost a saint; yet God must hold him in utter abomination.
The good Christian in the world’s esteem is never abrupt, never aggressive, yet he is greatly admired. He has a selfish devotion to pleasing men, than which nothing is more admired. I heard of a minister who had not an enemy in the world. He was said to be most like Christ among all the men they knew. I thought it strange that a man so like Christ should have no enemies, for Christ, more like Himself than any other man can be, had a great many enemies, and very bitter enemies too. Indeed, it is said, “If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution.” But when I came to learn the facts of the case I understood the man. He never allowed himself to preach anything that could displease even Universalists. In fact, he had two Universalists in his Session. In the number of his Session were some Calvinists also, and he must by no means displease them. His preaching was indeed a model of its kind. His motto was—Please the people—nothing but please the people. In the midst of a revival, he would leave the meetings and go to a party; why? To please the people.
Now this may be highly esteemed among men; but does not God abhor it?
It is a light thing to be judged of man’s judgment, and all the lighter since they are so prone to judge by a false standard. What is it to me that men condemn me if God only approve? The longer I live, the less I think of human opinions on the great questions of right and wrong as God sees them. They will judge both themselves and others falsely. Even the Church sometimes condemns and excommunicates her best men. I have known cases, and could name them, in which I am confident they have done this very thing. They have cut men off from their communion, and now everybody sees that the men excommunicated were the best men of the Church.
It is a blessed thought that the only thing we need to care for is to please God. The only inquiry we need make is—What will God think of it? We have only one mind to please, and that the Great Mind of the universe. Let this be our single aim and we shall not fail to please Him. But if we do not aim at this, all we can do is only an abomination in His sight.21
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