by Cornelius Tyree, 1859
“So that in every way they may make the teaching
about God our Savior more attractive.” Titus 2:10
The prevalent DEFECTS in the Christian character—and how these defects operate against the spread of the Gospel
On opening the New Testament, one of the first things that rivets the attention of the careful reader, is the beauty and perfection of the Christian character, as sketched by Christ and His apostles. Read the Sermon on the Mount; turn then to the sixth, eighth, and twelfth chapters of the Epistle to the Romans; ponder then the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians; then study the third chapters of the Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians; with the addresses of our risen Lord to the seven churches of Asia—in fine, read all the Scriptures. Here you will find religion as it is, and as it should be. Upon the pages of God’s Book the Christian character shines forth in all its unearthly beauty. Look at religion as it was displayed by the first Christians. True, they had some imperfections; but these imperfections were like spots in the sun. But above all, witness religion as it was exemplified in the character of Jesus Christ. He was a pattern as well as the author of our religion.
Now the precepts of the Scriptures, and the example of the first Christians, and above all the example of Christ, constitutes the infallible standard and touchstone for all lands and ages. In reality, and in the estimation of Heaven, and of earth, we are pious just in proportion as we conform to this standard. But who is not struck with the contrast between the religion of Christ, as it is revealed in the Scriptures—and as it appears in the lives of modern professors? Study religion as it is in the inspired standard, and as it appears in actual life—and you will be pained and astonished at the dissimilarity. Are they one and the same? How immensely and distressingly short do the mass of professing Christians come of the inspired model!
Now the wide-spread and manifest difference between religion as it should be, and religion as it is between the religion that Christ displayed and the Scriptures reveal—and the religion now seen in the conduct of professors, is the far-reaching cause of the limited diffusion of vital Christianity.
But let us exhibit some of the particulars in which the religion of actual life, when compared with the inspired standard, is defective—in other words, the prevalent DEFECTS in practical religion.
1. We say in general, that the common type of Christian character is greatly lacking in personal HOLINESS. Our religion on record—is a holy religion. It wages a war against all sin—great and small. It has no mantle to enwrap a small or fashionable sin under the guise of an infirmity. The Scriptures hold up sin’s malignant features in the sunlight of eternal truth, and for our illustration of its fruits, point to a blasted earth, and a burning hell.
Take a few of the precepts of our religion as it is, in the oracles of God. “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.” “Be holy, for I am holy.” “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you—along with all malice; and be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.” “That you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise—think on these things.”
And then witness how holiness was personified in its Author. Jesus was the embodiment of the holy precepts which He taught. He was a bright model of all His people should aim at and show. His manner of life corrects all in us that is wrong, whether of defect or excess. “He did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.” “He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” He re-entered heaven with His moral character as pure as it was when He came into the world.
Now how far short do the mass of professing Christians fall, of exemplifying these precepts, and of copying Christ their great model! How unscriptural and un-Christlike are hundreds who name the name of Christ! What a marked difference in point of purity between the religion of the Bible and of Jesus, and the religion of most professors! It cannot be denied that some bearing the Christian name, are strangers to common morality. Their passions are unsubdued, their tongues are unbridled, their habits are loose. In their lives, they are enemies to the cross of Christ. Their creed exerts no control over their tempers and conduct. It slumbers inertly in their minds, leaving them as proud, as self-indulgent, as covetous and selfish as the great crowd who make no pretensions to religion!
How engrossed are some in the pursuit of gain! How cunning and over-reaching others in all their financial transactions! How unfeeling and uncharitable others toward the poor! How passionate and cruel others in the management of their servants! How freely and incautiously do others touch the wine-cup! How revengeful and malicious others toward those who have wronged them! How haughty others in their bearing toward inferiors! How stinted and illiberal others in their contributions to spread the gospel! How infrequent others in their attendance at the house of God! O shame, where is your blush? “They are the worse for mending—and are washed to a fouler stain.” “Tell it not in Gath; publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice; lest the daughters of the Philistines triumph.”
Here is the cause of our failure. This unholiness in the ranks of Zion accounts for our lack of success with both God and man. This vast amount of irreligion in the churches has grieved the Spirit, in whom is all our efficiency; and repelled and prejudiced mankind. This is the grand cause of the unbelief and infidelity around us. Men being, from their depravity, disposed to reject the religion of Christ, at once, when they see such flagrant inconsistencies in professing Christians, draw the conclusions—that the fountain from which such uncleanness flows cannot be pure—that whether there is anything real in Christianity or not—-that they must be as safe for eternity as those whose profession so flatly contradicts their lives. So long as our churches have such unscriptural members, the unconverted will not only find no difficulty in rejecting the gospel, but will scornfully curl the lip, and pointing to such professors, say: “What do you do, more than others?”
Now this will never do. Throughout all our churches there must be a radical improvement in holiness, or the mighty restraints to the outpouring of the Spirit, and the stumbling-blocks in the way of the world’s conversion will never be removed. Habitual sinning must be abandoned. We shall never impress the impenitent with the divinity and importance of our religion until throughout the rank and file of our membership—the covetous become liberal—the proud become humble—the cruel become kind—the sensual become temperate—the selfish become benevolent—the revengeful become forgiving—the prayerless become devout—and the slothful become active.
2. Another prevalent and hurtful defect in the Christian character of this day is FICKLENESS. The religion required of us in the Scriptures, and displayed by Christ, is a steady, uniform, life-long habit. The command is, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” To fickle Reuben God said, “Unstable as water, you shall not excel.”
All good results in nature are effected by agencies that are ceaseless and uniform. Destruction is the work of influences that are capricious and sudden. A crop may in a moment be destroyed by a storm, but it cannot be raised unless the laws of vegetation operate regularly, and the sun shines on steadily from spring until autumn. What would be the effect on the natural world if the sun, moon, and stars should suddenly cease to shine in mid-summer?
Not more hurtful would such capriciousness in the lights of the heavens be to the physical world than is unsteadiness in Christians, the moral lights to the moral world. Many of them are half-hearted, transient, and fluctuating in their religion. Chameleonlike, they take a hue from every new condition they are placed in. They change with the times, vary with circumstances, and always conform to the company they are in. With the worldly they are worldly, and with the pious they are saints. When this class are in revivals and under afflictions, they are zealous, humble, prayerful, and heavenly-minded. But when good times, and health and prosperity return, they are as lukewarm and as worldly as if no revival vows had ever been made, or if the hand of God had never been upon them. Like fluctuating streams which flow rapidly during the rains, and dry up in droughts; they are all life and zeal in propitious times, and then in dry seasons they are as supine and inconsistent as if they had never known Christ.
Like meteors that blaze on the world for a while and then become extinguished, leaving darkness more visible; Christians of this type are strikingly religious under some visitation from God, and at other times, the light of their example dies out. Like a comet glittering on the mantle of night, and then disappearing, they make a profession and run well for awhile, and then commence dropping one religious trait after another, until they become indistinguishably blended with the great crowd that are going on to perdition. In the language of an old writer, “they are by turns a pastor’s comforters and tormenters. Both God and Satan seem equally to claim and disown them.”
Now such professors are practical corrupters and perverters of the truth, and are the means of doing it immense mischief. They betray the cause they espouse, harden the wicked in their irreligion, and prove stumbling-blocks to the honest inquirer. Impulsiveness and irregularity of conduct weakens the strength of the Christian character, and impairs the confidence of others in religion in this way. While Christians are firm, walking worthy of their calling, mankind look on and begin to think that they are in earnest, and that religion is true. But after a while, they grow remiss, their zeal is cool, and they begin the service of another master. The world sees it, distrust is awakened, and they are confirmed in their unbelief.
Now, for the sake of God’s honor and the world’s good, this defect should at once be corrected. Every lover of Christ and the souls of men, should determine to be thoroughly and permanently pious. To convert those outside, Christians must be like the streams flowing from perpetual fountains, which, though increased by the rains and diminished by the droughts, yet flow on continually, with sparkling beauty and increasing fertility. Or like the fixed stars, which, though sometimes obscured by the clouds, yet shine on from the dome of the moral heavens with unabated brilliancy on benighted man. Just let Christ’s disciples be uniformly, as well as really pious, and they will both illuminate and melt the world. They will then, in more senses than one, be the world’s only hope.
3. Another defect in the religion of most professors is that they make piety secondary to the interests of time and sense. The Scriptures, in the way of commands and examples, make the service of God, man’s chief business beneath the sun. “But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” That is—’make the concerns of my kingdom, and your interests in it, first in order of importance, and first in order of time.’ David speaks of godliness as his only concern. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire into His temple.”
Says Paul, “This one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark.” Paul did many things, but they all had a oneness of design. So of all the New Testament disciples. Their religion formed their theme, business, and character. Nay more—true religion was the great business of the Master Himself. Said He to His parents, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” To obey the law, and work out human redemption, occupied all His thoughts, feelings, and toils, from His cradle to His cross. Thrones and kingdoms were nothing to Him. The religion of God was everything.
And from the very nature of the case, if the religion of Christ is anything—it must be everything. If it is of any importance at all—it is of all importance. Man’s chief end is not to buy, sell, and get gain, and then go and sleep an everlasting sleep in the grave; but it is to live that he may do good, and find an admission into Paradise when he dies. Everything else pales into insignificance in comparison with this.
This is the religion of the Bible, and it is as reasonable as it is scriptural.
But how many, in this day, make the religion of Christ their “all and in all?” It is our painful conviction that many modern professors reverse the divine order, and sink their religion into an affair of subordinate importance. The language of their lives is that they prefer many worldly objects to the favor and honor of Christ. Hundreds of Christ’s avowed friends, in the tenor of their lives, make the interests of the soul and eternity give place to the body and time! Practically the concerns of earth and of self have assumed the place of heaven and of God. Their profession and creed to the contrary, notwithstanding, that is first with them which should be last; and that last which should be first. Are we doing the present race of professors injustice? God forbid. Our appeal is to their lives. Are there not scores who, in action, make the interests of the church of which they are members, the spread of the gospel around them, the conversion of souls, and the promotion of revivals—secondary to their temporal concerns? Do they not habitually neglect the former, while they evince all zeal in the promotion of the latter? They say by their manner of living—and some of them seem determined never to unsay it—”Our farms, our merchandise, shall engross our every care! We will, as our chief business, buy and sell, and get gain. After pleasures, riches, and honors, we will go, though we revoke our baptismal vow, and open Christ’s wounds afresh.”
Such professors impede the march of Christianity more than all of her outward foes. No infidel can injure the cause of Zion as much as that professor who shows a deeper concern in the affairs of the world than he does in the affairs of Christ’s kingdom. Who, in all the ranks of Christ’s enemies, does as much against the truth as the church member who reads the corrupt romance more than his Bible; takes a deeper interest in the mirthful assembly, where God is forgotten, than he does in the prayer-meeting; and who manifests more zeal in promoting a political party than he does the church of Christ?
Hume’s infidel essays have been regarded as the most formidable and dangerous attack that has been made on Christianity; yet it was so clearly answered, that truth was greatly the gainer by the assault. The life, however, of a professor who is supremely engrossed in the things of time, is an argument against our religion that is, of all others, the most difficult to answer. The truth is, that pride, covetousness, sloth, and self-indulgence in professors—is an argument against Christianity which, as far as it goes, cannot be answered. Over all infidel attacks, we will soon triumph with increased power. We laugh all such enemies to scorn. But we dread worldly professors. They strike us speechless. They are Satan’s best allies in our own camp. Hence it is our solemn conviction, that unless they can be induced to tear the world from their heart, rend the veil from their eyes, and make the religion of Christ their preeminent business on earth—it will be better for all concerned that they should have their names stricken out of the baptismal register, and take off the sacred badge of their profession.
This glaring defect in our Christian characters must be corrected; we must return to the first principles of the gospel—or disappointment and defeat will await all our efforts to convert the world. We must become people of one book. It is a disparagement of a man in the worldly aspects of his character—to be a man of one idea. Far otherwise with the Christian. To be a person of one book, one idea, is his glory and power. Let us then, in reality and in appearance, make the salvation of our own soul, and the souls of others, the great mission of life. Let Christians act on the principle that if either interests must be neglected, it shall be those of the body and of time; not those of the soul and of eternity. Let them impress the world that they hold everything else subservient to getting good and doing good; that they are determined, by all means, to reach heaven, and attend to the world as a secondary concern.
Then the sun blazing in mid-heaven will not be more evidential that there is a God of nature, than will be the example of such Christians that there is a God of grace.
4. A lack of LOVE is another defect in the mass of Christians. “God is love.” Jesus Christ was an incarnation of love. Love to man, however dimmed and down-trodden, was the great passion that animated and impelled Him. “Love prompted all His deeds, shone in all His smiles, breathed in all His sighs, led Him to Gethsemane, and then to Calvary, and kept Him there until He offered Himself a spotless victim for our sins.” On the countenance of the dying Savior there was one expression stronger than the dying agony itself: it was calm, meek, unconquered love. And when He came back from the sepulcher, love prompted Him to send the redemption He had just achieved, first to His murderers. Love induced Him to commission His apostles to carry the tidings of that redemption to all the world. Love controls all His movements in the wide range of His mediatorial government, and leads Him to seek through all, and in all, the salvation of the world.
The same undying compassion for the unsaved, was, in a great measure, possessed and manifested by the apostles. What intense, world-wide compassion still lives in their sermons, prayers, and epistles! They moved the world because they wore as a frontlet on their brow—the compassion of the cross. What is the religion of the New Testament? It is supreme love to God and man. Without it, “though we speak with the tongues of men and of angels, though we have the gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though we have all faith, so that we could remove mountains; though we bestow all our goods to feed the poor, and give our bodies to be burned—and have not love, we are nothing.”
This is the religion that Christ and His apostles taught and exemplified, and the religion that the Scriptures record and require of all who would make good their claim to the Christian’s name. But how distressingly unlike Christ and the primitive saints, in this particular, are the professors of this day! How far short do they come of exemplifying the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians? How unbrotherly toward each other, and how selfish, cold, and repelling, toward mankind around them! What bitterness between those who have one common Savior! What uncharitableness in their mutual bearing toward each other in the ministry! What petty quarrels and alienations between professors! What feud, strife and evil speaking in the churches! How unkind member toward member! What virulence between the various denominations! The jealousy and animosity with which they mutually attack and repel each other, often, has scarcely a parallel with those who profess no fellowship with Christ. Whatever else the world may now say of the disciples of Christ, they cannot say, “Behold how these Christians love each other.”
Nor have the friends of Christ been less deficient in love toward the irreligious. For fear of subjecting themselves to the charge of fanaticism, they have repressed their warmth and solicitude for the impenitent, and made their religion assume the aspect of formality and coldness. They have fallen into the error that earnestness and enthusiasm may be tolerated in everything else—but in religion.
Now, this cold, stereotyped grade of piety—is as powerless as it is unscriptural. The physical world might at once be flooded by all the light of the sun, moon, and stars, and yet, in the absence of that mysterious vital warmth which accompanies their rays at certain seasons, the earth would remain one vast scene of wintry desolation. So with the case in hand: not all the light streaming from the Scriptures, good books and an eloquent ministry—will ever melt the wintry depravity of man without the glowing warmth of Christian love. In order to their being converted, mankind do not so much need information as they need persuasion—and nothing persuades so mightily as love. When compassion for souls has been inspired by the cross, kindled by the Spirit, fed by secret prayer, and then breathes from the lips, and beams from the eyes—it melts and wins man’s heart when nothing else could move him.
The type of religion, then, that we need, must combine and display a due proportion of warmth as well as light. All Christians who have made their mark on the world, have had compassionate hearts and affectionate manners. Said a man once to one of Whitefield’s friends, “how is it that your Whitefield has set the world all on fire?” “Because he is on fire himself,” was the truthful reply. Said a veteran military officer, “I have not wept but once for forty years, and that was when I heard the Cherokee preacher address his countrymen from the parable of the prodigal son, when his tears fell faster than he could wipe them away.” It is not learning, logic, and rhetoric, that form the key to the human soul—but love.
It is just here hundreds of ministers are erring. On every Sunday, thousands of sermons, though logically, rhetorically, and theologically correct, fall with pointless insipidity, because lacking in the mighty element of love. Many ministers who are common-place and powerless, would be mighty under God in pulling down strongholds, if they spoke the truth in love. The great need in the ministry is not more learning, nor polish, nor acquirements—but a deeper and intenser love for souls, to vitalize their matter and manner. This is true eloquence. No one can preach without it. Nor in the ministry only, must our religion put on the winning forms of love. To the Sunday-School teacher, to the parent, to the husband, the wife—in sum to Christians in all relations, love is indispensable in order to convert sinners from the error of their way.
Mankind, upon whom we are to operate, are not only accurate judges of morality—but they are shrewd cardiologists. They instinctively read the feelings of our heart in our countenances, and intonations of voice—and they are repelled from us, and from our religion, by coldness in our manner as well as by impropriety in our conduct. O for a loving religion—like that which Jesus and His first disciples displayed! Then would Zion’s self-inflicted wounds be healed, her beauty be restored, her strength be regained, and everywhere she would find access to all hearts for her Lord.
5. Another palpable defect in the present type of Christian character, is the lack of a CALM, SATISFIED, CHEERFUL SPIRIT. The religion of Christ is a joyful religion. The gospel is glad tidings of great joy. Christianity is the most blissful theme in the universe. It did not create sin, woe, and death. Its mission is to remove these evils, and fill earth with gladness, and heaven with shouts of transport. It banishes unhappiness by removing its cause; and then awakens in the soul a positive, pure, ever-augmenting happiness. Mopish and sad Christians there are; but in all the Scriptures we have never read of a melancholy religion. The religion enjoined in the Bible, and that shone so brightly in the example of the primitive Christians, is an anticipated ‘heaven on earth’.
“Happy is that people whose God is the Lord.” “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.” In whatever state the early saints were—they were content. In everything they gave thanks. If sorrowful, they were always rejoicing. They were cheerful in the house of their pilgrimage. They charmed the ear of a godless world by their songs of joy, as they walked on to the grave.
But how have modern Christians deteriorated in this respect! Therefore? Has Christianity changed? Its grounds of joy are the same, Jesus Christ is the same, the promises are the same, the grace of God is the same, and the hope of heaven is the same. The reason of this great falling off in Christian happiness, is a misapprehension of the genius of our gospel, and inconsistency of life.
“Some professors have long and demure faces, and are always sighing and groaning as if they were at a funeral.” Others practically declare that their religion is not satisfactory—by going to the world for pleasures. They seem less calm and cheerful in the service of Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light—than they did while in bondage to sin and Satan. Here and there are to be found a few who are serenely happy in the service of Christ; but the great majority appear to be no happier than others!
Now such Christians greatly misrepresent their religion, and hinder the world’s conversion. They confirm the prevalent and fatal prejudice, that the religion of Christ is unfavorable to present happiness. They render the religion of their Master unlovely and repulsive in the estimation of the irreligious. The world is repelled by a piety apparently so comfortless and unquiet. There is an immense loss to the cause of Christ, from the fact that so many Christians do not make it clear to those who are about them, that they find in the service of God a solid, satisfying good. It is our conviction that the gloom and sourness that have characterized some professing Christians, have been the occasion of thousands rejecting the gospel, and going away to an undone eternity. It may be well questioned whether sullenness and sadness in the disciples of Christ, have not done as much harm to the cause of truth as immorality of conduct.
It is high time, then, that such mistaken views of heaven-born Christianity should be corrected. We owe it to deathless souls around us to be satisfied and cheerful Christians. Happiness is the world’s great pursuit, and when they shall see Christians evincing that they have found it; see them serene and collected amid the waves of trouble; behold them kept tranquil amid earth’s tumults, and reflecting in their daily walk a peace that the world cannot give, then religion will become to them attractive and resistless. Did the mass of professing Christians live thus, Christianity would at once be invested with a beauty, dignity, and impressiveness which are now unknown.
Christian brother, repent of your past sadness, and the harm you have thereby done—and cheer up! Has not your God done enough and promised enough to shame you out of your gloomy fears, and induce you to take down your harp and commence the transporting song? Jesus Christ atoned for your sins, and through Him you have a hope of forgiveness. Is there anything in this repressing and dispiriting to you? For you, death has been abolished, hell conquered, and heaven purchased. For your good, God has pledged that all things shall work together. For your weal, He marshals the three great kingdoms of nature, providence, and grace. In all this is there anything to render you melancholy? No, Christian brother! by your unhappiness you are wronging your Savior, your religion, yourself, and the world. Only just come up to your duty and high privilege, and make full proof of the blissful power of the gospel, and you will do more to spread our Lord’s empire than all our books and sermons can do!
6. Another marked defect in the majority of Christians of this age, is their lack of HUMILITY. How fully and urgently do the Scriptures inculcate this virtue as an essential part of the religion of Christ! “God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.” “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”
And then how strikingly was this grace displayed in our Model and Redeemer. Though no other being ever had the same reasons to entertain high opinions of himself, yet no one was ever equally humble. He voluntarily chose the humblest life, the humblest associates, the humblest food, the humblest dress, the humblest manners, and died the most humiliating death. Jesus Himself said, “I am gentle and humble in heart.”
Now, in a good measure these precepts must be exemplified, and this trait in Christ’s character imitated by all who would wear Christ’s name. Some things are appendages of religion: others enter into and form its core and essence. Such is humility. It is as indispensable to scriptural piety as roundness is to a ball. Indeed it is to the other graces what the grass which carpets the field is to the flowers which gem that field. Hence the admonition, “Be clothed (or robed) with humility.” As Demosthenes said of action in oratory, so may we say of this grace of humility—it is the first, second, and third thing in religion.
But is this feature of Christ’s religion developed in the life and conduct of Christians? No! See how some, on account of their status, others on account of their wealth, others on account of their abilities, others on account of their high social position, and others on account of their distinction in the church of Christ—are puffed up with pride. How ambitious and haughty are many, who claim to be the ministers of Christ! How this sin has impaired the unity, marred the beauty, and weakened the Zion of God! Will the world adopt Christianity with this type of it before them? They know that such Christians contradict their profession and misrepresent their Master. In the estimation of sinner as well as of saint, the most incongruous of all things is a proud Christian!
Here there must be a reformation. The proud must be humbled. The meek and lowly disposition which was in Christ, and characterized all His early saints, must also be in and be exhibited by the disciples of Christ now, or they will never effectually carry out their high mission.
7. Another prominent delinquency in the Christian character, in its ordinary development, is SELF-INDULGENCE. The religion of Christ is a self-denying, cross-bearing religion. Hear the precepts of Christ: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” “Whoever he is, who forsakes not all that he has, cannot be My disciple.” “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.” And this feature of His religion Jesus Christ most strikingly exemplified. He preached self-denial, and He sacrificed heaven and Himself for the world. He requires His disciples to be detached from the world; and He “had nowhere to lay His head.” In a word, He preached the cross, and He bore it! And how closely the first Christians trod in the self-denying steps of their Master! Property, reputation, personal ease, and friends—they joyfully surrendered for Christ. They counted all things but loss for Him and His salvation. They gave themselves to Him—who gave himself for them.
Now there are thousands of modern professors who cannot help knowing that in this essential particular, their manner of living is utterly unlike that of Christ and His primitive followers. The mass of professors live for self-indulgence and self-advancement. They seem determined not to encumber themselves with more religion than will allow them to take the world along with them to heaven.
The religion that many have, costs them nothing. This type of piety is as easy as it is fashionable. “It consists in belonging to some fashionable church, and in showing a zeal for its peculiarities, in taking a part in the leading controversies of the day, in buying, popular religious books as fast as they come out, subscribing to religious societies, attending church on Sunday, and in discussing the merits of preachers. All this is easy. Such attainments do not now make one singular. They require no sacrifice. They entail no cross.” Their religion is exceedingly convenient. They forego no comforts for Christ. They have no anxieties of soul for the good of Zion. They give only what they can conveniently spare. The amount of their contributions to the various claims of the gospel is less than they expend for some useless luxury. They have no realizing sense that they and all they have, belong to Christ. Their cares extend not beyond their own selfish interests. Themselves and their families form the center of all their affections and aims. True, they lead regular lives—but they make no more self-denials than if they were infidels. They are prodigal in expenditures on the gratification of their personal, domestic, and social tastes—but have nothing to give to spread the gospel and honor Christ.
And are such indeed the disciples of the self-denying Redeemer? If the very core of religion consists in subjecting self-interests to the glory of God, in living unto Christ, and not unto ourselves—then it is not proper to call self-seekers, Christians. In all God’s Book has anyone ever read of a covetous, self-indulgent Christian? Have not the churches been encumbered and weakened long enough with professors, who dream they can go to heaven without paying tribute to our divine King? From such professors the cause of Christ gains nothing and loses much. They misrepresent the Savior, mislead their children, discourage their brethren, and harden into hopeless impenitence, mankind around them. Alas, this is not the day for self-denying, devoted Christians! It is a day of too much prosperity. O for another great reformation!
8. Another defect in the common type of religion, is INACTIVITY. God never intended any servant of His, in any kingdom or rank, to be idle. Jesus Christ, our great model, did not sit down in Jerusalem and require those who needed His salvation to seek him out and wait His convenience; but with a holy industry He went about doing good—here, teaching the ignorant, yonder, soothing the sorrowing, pardoning the guilty, and saving the lost. Today, teaching the Sermon on the Mount, tomorrow, meeting by the way-side, and giving sight to a blind Bartimaeus; the next day restoring mind to a poor maniac, and sending him home to bless his family; now, raising the dead, casting out devils and healing the diseased; afterwards, mingling His tears with the afflicted. With a zeal as steady as time, with a perseverance that no opposition could turn aside, and with a singleness of purpose that neither men nor devils could frustrate or discourage, He continued to preach, pray, and travel—to reclaim the depraved, to deliver the oppressed, elevate the down-trodden, and comfort the distressed—until He finished His work on the cross.
And how closely did the first disciples follow the example of their Master in this respect! In that day there were no lounging idlers in the vineyard. Not the apostles only—but private Christians of both sexes, exerted their powers, mortal and immortal, in carrying out the commission of their ascended Lord. Though in the way of executing their Master’s work—power lifted up her arm, authority promulgated her edicts, bigotry mustered her armies, intolerance pointed her enmity, and persecution opened her dungeons, forged her fetters, reared her gibbets, and kindled her martyr fires—these high-souled heroes of the cross addressed themselves to the work of Christ, and bore the burden and heat of the day until life’s sun went down, and the morning of a brighter world dawned on them. They attempted to do, and did for Christ what Alexander, Caesar, and Bonaparte attempted to do in war—conquer the world. How rightly is one book in the Bible called, not the creed, not the joys—but the “acts of the apostles!” “Acts” so united, self-denying, daring, and persevering, that in a few years they filled the whole Roman empire with the sound of salvation. Action! action! for Him who died for us and rose again, was their life-long motto. They were Christians indeed. heaven and earth acknowledged them such. Had the same mind to work been in all subsequent Christians, long before this, the millennium would have dawned on this dark world.
But alas! most of the Christians that have lived since, have been engaged about almost everything else, rather than fulfilling the unrevoked command of their Lord—to exert themselves in conveying the gospel to every creature. It has been nearly eighteen centuries since the first Christians fell asleep, and with here and there some exceptions, there has not been, until of late, anything like systematic, combined effort to convert the world to Christ; and even now in this age, peculiarly marked by activity in every department of enterprise, the great majority of Christians in all denominations are absorbed in other business than that which brought the Son of God into our world, and which He has, by express command, committed to His disciples of all generations. It is only the few that have a mind to work. Perhaps nine-tenths of the avowed friends of the Redeemer have committed the hurtful mistake of making their religion consist in sound creeds and joyful frames. Their inquiry has been—Lord, what will You have us know, hear, enjoy, believe, and talk of? Not—What will You have us do? Now this deficiency greatly lessens the power of the Christian character.
For personal exertions in the cause of Christ there can be no compensation. To be a New Testament Christian it is not enough to possess and display the passive virtues, such as meekness, gentleness, patience and love. Every Christian is bound, in addition to being sound in the faith and consistent in life—to do all be can, by his hand, his mind, his voice, and estate—to spread the empire of his Redeemer. What is a full definition of Bible religion? It does not, according to one apostle, consist in works without faith; nor, according to another apostle, does it consist in faith without works. But it does, according to all the apostles and the Lord of apostles, consist in the faith which justifies the soul before God, followed by the works that justify faith before men.
There is perhaps with the professing world enough religion in principle to convert the world speedily, if it were only developed in personal, vigorous, self-denying effort to grow in grace and impart grace. The unbelief of the world will never be overcome until the doctrines of our religion assert themselves in deeds of goodness. The solemn verities—that men are depraved and exposed to an endless hell—that Christ died to save them—that they must repent and believe before they die, or spend their eternity in penal flames—must be exhibited not only in our creeds, sermons, and books—but in ceaseless personal efforts to avert from ourselves and others the doom that awaits the ungodly.
There are Christians enough in the world to place Christianity in the ascendant, if they all would only go out of themselves in efforts to enthrone Christ in the hearts of others. If all were as laborious for Christ as a few have been, in less than a century the entire race would be brought to the knowledge of Christ. If all the visible armies of Zion would, after the pattern and standard of primitive times, leave the shady recesses of sloth and go abroad in the habitations of men and exert themselves for God and souls, the millennium would at once commence dawning. If some man would rise up and bring about a second great reformation, by which all the friends of Christ could be induced to do what they can for Christ, he would accomplish a work that would accomplish more for God’s glory and the world’s good, than the Reformation of the sixteenth century. And yet this must be done, or the vast masses will never be turned from the dark way of perdition. Our religion must become incarnated, and take the form of action, or the world will never be impressed deeply with its divinity and importance.
9. Another deficit in most Christians, is their lack of symmetry; or, their lopsidedness. Christianity, as it shines upon the pages of the Bible, is a perfect system. And how harmoniously perfect was religion in the life and character of Christ! When you contemplate the character of the blessed Redeemer, you see no one excellency standing out in undue prominence. His character is the loveliness of one perfect whole. All beauty, all worth, all excellences, are so blended and intermingled with the rest, that the more we study His character, the more are we impressed with its perfection.
But in the present generation of His disciples, we see in but few, any approximation to this feature of His character. In the great majority you will see some one or more of the Christian’s traits, and be at the same time struck with the palpable absence of others. In some respects they seem to be very pious; but in other respects they are very impious. Grace seems to have been at work on some parts of their nature—but on other parts of it there is seen no signs of its operation. They are better people as it regards some things; but with regard to others, there is no improvement. In some of their connections they serve God and reflect His truth; but in other relations equally important, they serve another master, and reflect his dark image.
Here is a disciple who seems to be devotional, converses well on the subject of religion, and prays well; but to all around him he is manifestly avaricious. He is so eager to get rich that he will grind the face of the poor. Of him the world scornfully says—He may be a Christian—but he is a very grasping one. Here is a second professor: he is liberal; he willingly and cheerfully honors the Lord with his substance—but he does his business loosely; often fails to fulfill his word. Of him, the keen-eyed world sarcastically says—he may have piety—but he is not honest. He may render unto God the things that are God’s—but he does not render unto man the things that are man’s.
Here is a third, who is a model of integrity, diligence and uprightness; but there I one serious blot on his character—he is proud, obstinate and self-willed. Of him, his neighbors say—he may be a Christian—but he is a very ill-natured, crabbed, churlish one. Here is another, who is humble, meek, and unassuming; but in his Christian character there is one glaring inconsistency, on which, like the falling star, the green-eyed world fix their attention, and make the occasion of stumbling; both in worldly and religious matters he is exceedingly indolent. Here is another, who, in all his relations, is active and persevering—but there is one hurtful drawback: he has an unamiable temper, and an ungovernable tongue. ‘Is he a Christian?’ say some; ‘Why he is a tyrant in his household!’
Here is another, who is amiable and gentle—but there is one delinquency that greatly lessens his influence—he is inclined to be light and trifling in his conversation. His deficiency in gravity renders him powerless for good.
Before leaving the prevalent deficiencies in the Christian character, it may be well to point out the causes of this disproportionateness in the development of our faith. Many of these defects are produced by the partial and distorted exhibitions of the Christian system that are given in the creeds, sermons, and books of the different sects. Few, if any, in this day, teach and urge a whole gospel. None inculcate the doctrines and duties of our religion in the same relative position and importance that they occupy in the New Testament. Each age, denomination, and preacher, has a favorite theme. Vitally important as the great doctrine of justification by faith alone in the merits of Christ is, it may be well questioned, whether the whole Protestant ministry, in opposing the Popish error of salvation by works, have not depreciated works from the prominence they have in the Scriptures.
Which of our standard books on theology exhibit works as fully, as the evidence and development of faith, as they are set forth in the teachings of Christ and His apostles? The effect of such teaching has been that some have been made Antinomians in theory, and thousands in practice. Not that the Reformers of the sixteenth century made too much of justification before God, without the works of the law—but they said too little of justification before men, by works. Paul’s method of justification has been all, and in all, while that of the Apostle James has been ignored; and hence the bad practical effect on the lives of Protestants.
Trinitarians, in their opposition to the Unitarian heresy, have, in effect, dissevered Christ, the atoning Priest, from Christ the exemplar. The New Testament develops Christ’s religion as consisting of faith in His atoning death, and imitation of His perfect character. But how deplorably is the latter feature of Christ overlooked by the evangelical pulpit and press! Hundreds of books have been written on Christ, as an atoning sacrifice; in all our long list of good books is there one formally on Christ the model? Sunday after Sunday our pulpits resound with sermons on the cross—and this is infinitely important. Woe to the world when a vicarious Calvary ceases to be the central truth of all our preaching and writing! How rare is Christ preached as our Pattern, Model and Example! Now the effect of all this has been to make Christians more like Christ in their sentiments and feelings—than in their life and conduct.
Some confine their ministry to the comforting aspects of the gospel, and the tendency of their preaching has been to make their people mere insulated pietists; mere religious epicures, whose only concern is to enjoy themselves, and get to heaven when they die. Others dwell almost exclusively on the doctrines of the gospel, aiming to lay well the foundation of the sinner’s peace with God; and the tendency of their ministry is most excellent, as far as it goes; but the effect is only to Christianize the hearer in one of his great relations. Such do not preach a broad, full gospel; and hence the corresponding incompleteness in the religion of those they train. Others, again, regard the gospel as a system of practical benevolence; nothing, in their estimation, is religion that does not take the form of alms-deeds, and efforts to elevate the poor and down-trodden. Others again have their hearts set on the conversion of the heathen. This enterprise so engrosses their thoughts, so fills the field of their vision, that they regard nothing as genuine, practical religion—but exertions for the diffusion of the gospel. And others, again, regard the gospel as a sort of socializing, civilizing device, and according to their views, the highest type of Christianity is to battle with, and sweep away social and political evils; though, in so doing, they sweep away their nation’s Constitution, and tear up the very foundation of society.
Now, all such views of Christ’s religion tend greatly to misrepresent and injure it; and they tend to make lop-sided, defective Christians.