The Church in Earnest

by John Angell James, 1848


The first and most important concern of the church of Christ is its own internal spiritual condition. Its care and solicitude must commence with laborious efforts for its own improvement. It must turn its cares inwards upon its own state, before it seeks to employ itself for the good of others. As God's instrument for the conversion of the world, it must be fitted for its work, and become a vessel fit for the Master's use. Its zeal must not be a thing separate from its piety—but a part of it—not even a foreign graft upon the stock—but a branch growing out of it, the putting forth of its own living principle, and an activity sustained by its own internal vigor. Any other zeal will neither live long, nor be very successful while it lives. The church cannot be an earnest one, in the true sense of the term, without being in a high, or at least in a healthy, state of spiritual religion within itself.

The more active it is in the way of proselyting, the more devoted it should be in the way of piety. Without this, even the present missionary ardor, instead of being as the light-house of the world, will be but as a bonfire upon the heights of Zion; which, however the friends of missions may gather around it with admiration and delight, will prove but a transient blaze. Here then must be our starting point; to begin anywhere else is to begin in the middle. It is one of Satan's deep devices to call off the attention of the church from its own state, to the condition of the world without and around her. He cares but little for the efforts of a feeble church, or a lukewarm mind. He fears more from the attacks of a single troop of determined heroes, than from an army of timid, half-hearted, and untrained conscripts. We must take care therefore, not to look away from ourselves. Ministers must be watchful over their churches to keep up intense piety within them, and the churches must enter into this design of their pastors. The army that would invade and conquer the world, must itself be in a good state of discipline, courage, weaponry, and personal health.

I bring forward the remark I have already applied to the work of bearing testimony, and of evangelization, to apply it to the subject of this chapter; and it is a remark of so much importance, and so liable to be forgotten, that it will be kept before the reader through the whole of this volume. There are some views so important, that in reference to them repetition is not only justifiable—but an excellence, and this is one of them. The earnest piety of the church consists of the earnest personal piety of its members, and that of the power and duty of each individual Christian. No delusion is more common, both in civil and sacred things, than for membership to weaken the sense of responsibility, and even to cause oblivion of personal duty. There can be joint action—but no joint piety or conscience. There are many things which cannot be carried without the cooperation of many—but piety is not of this number. All its obligations, all its duties, all its privileges, with the exception of the duties of social worship, are those of each individual man. The piety of a church community is made up of the piety of its individual members—there being just as much religion in the whole as there is in all its separate parts—and no more.

But we forget this. We talk of the religion of the church, the duty of the church, forgetting that this means our individual duty, our personal religion. What I mean then, in this volume, is the intense devotion, the spiritual earnestness, of each professing Christian—and what I aim at is to prevent each individual from looking away from himself to the body of which he is a member, and to compel him to look upon himself. Whatever is required in the way of more consecration to God, is required of you, each one of you, who shall read these pages. Do not satisfy yourself by thinking or saying that the church must be in earnest; but say to yourself, "I must be in earnest, for I am a part of the church." It is another of Satan's deep devices to keep the eye and the mind of individual members turned away from themselves, and fixed upon the church body. He will allow us to utter what lamentations, and to make what resolutions we please concerning the whole, as long as we keep from regarding ourselves as parts of that whole body. It is individuals he fears, more than the church.

Our idea of the nature of earnest individual piety, must be taken, not from the conventional standard of the age—but from the Word of God. It is of immense importance to admit and bear in recollection the truth of this. It must be true, whether we admit it or not. Once give up the Bible as the only true standard of personal piety, and there is no rule left but custom, which is ever varying with the opinions and corruptions of the times. On this principle even the very lowest stages of general apostacy may be justified, for they were the conventional notions of their day. No, the Bible, the Bible alone, is the religion of Christians. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not, (and act not,) according to them, it is because there is no light in them."

Yet how prevalent is the disposition to conform ourselves to the prevailing religion of the day and of the church to which we belong, and to satisfy ourselves with the average measure of piety around us! "I am as good as my neighbors," is the shield with which many a man repels the charge of his defects. "I am as good as my fellow-members," is the self-same shield with which many a professor of religion wards off the allegation of his being below his duty. The very same conventionalism which ruins the world, corrupts the church. That which keeps down the standard of morality in the one, depresses the standard of piety in the other.

This has been the fatal practical error of the church through every age of its existence, by which its beauty has been disfigured, its power weakened, and its usefulness impeded—its members, instead of looking into the perfect standard of Scripture, and seeing themselves reflected from that faithful mirror, and adjusting their character and conduct by its infallible revelations, placed before themselves the mirror of the Christian profession as it was found in the church of the day, and regulated their behavior by what they saw in the prevailing character of their fellow-Christians. Thus a constant multiplication of corrupted copies has ever been going on! And religion, as seen in the conduct of its professors, compared with that which is described in the pages of its own inspired rule--have been quite different things! Hence the necessity of occasionally bringing under review, in a condensed form, the testimony of Scripture on the nature of earnest religion.

I. What then does the Bible say, in answer to the question, "What is earnest piety?" Perhaps after what has been said in my remarks upon the epistles to the seven churches in Asia, this is almost unnecessary—but the scattered illustrations presented in those beautiful addresses, may be brought into a collected form, and if that does not show at once the nature and necessity of earnestness in religion, nothing can.

1. Consider the general design of religion, so far as man is concerned—how this is summed up in that one word, SALVATION. The salvation of the soul, the great salvation, the common salvation—the salvation of man's immortal soul from sin, from death, from hell—to pardon, holiness, peace, and heaven—and all this for eternity. What a word! Salvation! What ideas—heaven, hell, eternity! Eternal existence—with everything that can make that existence happy! This is our condition; life is a probation and a discipline for eternity. We are here to obtain salvation, to enjoy its first-fruits, and to fit ourselves for the full possession of it. And now just glance at the state of mind which the Scripture enjoins on those who are pursuing this salvation, in reference to it. "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," that is, let it be the object of your most intense desire, your most eager, constant, and persevering pursuit, so that everything else shall be brought into subordination to it. "We look not at the things which are seen—but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal—but the things which are not seen are eternal," that is, "Our eye is constantly upon eternity! We see all things in their relations to this, and can scarcely see anything else. We regulate all our conduct by a regard to eternity. We are so little affected by temporal things that they seem scarcely to exist, while heavenly and eternal things seem to be the only realities." This is earnestness!

2. Consider the scriptural representation of the various branches of true religion.

Take piety towards God. Religion in man, who is a sinner, must of course include conviction of SIN, true penitence, and sincere confession—"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart." What an expression—a broken heart! how comprehensive, how emphatic! What a sense of sin is included in that one striking phrase, "a broken heart!"

What a conspicuous place in religion does FAITH bear. How it runs through the whole texture of the New Testament, as the silken cord which binds together all parts of our religion! "We are justified by faith; we live by faith; we walk by faith." Now faith is not mere opinion, a mere hearsay assent, a hereditary or educational notion; but a conviction, a mental grasp, a martyr's hold, upon the gospel of salvation; a living upon Christ, upon heaven, and for eternity.

Then there is LOVE—not loving in word only—but in deed and in truth. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." "The love of Christ constrains us," that is—it bears us away with the force of a torrent. What an intensity of emotion do these words imply! A love that fills up all the intellect, and all the heart, and all the life.

Faith, where it is real, brings PEACE and joy; for if there is no peace, there can be no faith, and there will be as much peace as there is of faith. Hence we read, that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace; even peace that passes understanding, a joy unspeakable and full of glory—a joy which continues even when we are in manifold trials.

True religion inspires an ardor of DEVOTION. How intense were the breathings of the Psalmist's soul after God! How his heart seems to glow, burn, and melt with devotion! And the apostle also, in describing our duty, says, "We are to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."

The piety of the New Testament necessarily induces deep-toned SPIRITUALITY. "To be spiritually-minded is life and peace." By this we are to understand a spontaneous, prevailing, and delightful propensity to meditate on divine truth and holy things. And allied to this is heavenly-mindedness, or an habitual tendency to dwell on the glory to be revealed. We are "to be risen with Christ," and to "seek those things which are above; setting our affections on things above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God."

We are to be waiting for the Son of God from heaven, and to be looking for his coming as our blessed HOPE, above all other hopes. This waiting for Christ was in an eminent degree characteristic of the primitive Christians; it is frequently mentioned by the apostles, and seems to have been a prevailing feeling of the churches—and all earnest Christians now have the same spirit. The bride, the Lamb's wife, is and must be—ever looking for the return of the heavenly Bridegroom. The lack of this habitual looking for the return of Christ indicates a low state of piety—a prevalence of worldly-mindedness among professing Christians.

True religion includes a subjugation of the WORLD. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." "If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." "You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." How strong an expression, "You are dead!" Dead to sin, dead to the world, to things seen and temporal.

There is in the Lord's people, a hungering and thirsting after RIGHTEOUSNESS. Consider how craving an appetite is hungering after food, and thirsting after water. So we are to long and pant for holiness.

If there be earnest piety, there must of necessity be a spirit of PRAYER. We are to be "instant in prayer," "to pray always," "to pray always with all prayer," to be importunate in prayer, to enter into our closet, to pray with the family, and to join in public prayer. Our whole life is to be in one sense, one continued devotional exercise.

Religion implies habitual, minute, and concerned CONSCIENTIOUSNESS. Having in all things "a conscience void of offence, both towards God and towards man," and "avoiding even the appearance of evil."

Earnest piety requires a constant, diligent, and spiritual attendance upon all the prescribed MEANS OF GRACE, the assembling for public worship, the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the devout reading of the Word of God.

To sum up all, if we are fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, we shall endeavor to comply with the apostle's exhortation, where he says, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." And we shall copy his example in that description of his end of life, where he says, "For me to live is Christ."

But there is another branch of true religion. God has taken under his protection, sanction, and enforcement all the interests of our fellow-creatures—and it is therefore as much a part of our business to promote them, as it is to practise the duties of piety towards God.

How large and prominent a place does LOVE bear in our Christian obligations! "Love is patient; love is kind. Love does not envy; is not boastful; is not conceited; does not act improperly; is not selfish; is not easily provoked; does not keep a record of wrongs; finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). How beautiful but how difficult a virtue! This is what our Lord enjoins, where he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves—a disposition which means that we are to do nothing to occasion the misery, and everything to promote the happiness, of our fellow-creatures.

As a branch of this we are to be merciful, tenderhearted, sympathizing, and full of COMPASSION in practice. Nor are we to stop here—but are to follow "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." So that the most refined MORALITY is a necessary part of true religion.

If we are earnest in religion, we shall aim to let its power regulate, and its beauty adorn, all our social relationships, so that all that we have to do in public, or in the family, may be performed under its influence.

And because motives have much to do with actions, and contain all morality; and because thoughts and feelings are the seeds of actions, a man who is earnest in religion will pay most assiduous attention to the state of his mind—will watch his HEART with all diligence; will often scrutinize his soul, and will crucify the affections and lusts of his corrupt nature.

Nor may he stop here, for knowing his own weakness, he must pray, wrestle, and agonize, for the POWER OF THE SPIRIT to help his infirmities. He must have grace, or he will fall. Hence he prays in faith for the aid without which he cannot take a step, and will gladly place himself under the teaching and guidance of this ever-present, all-sufficient Agent.

Such is a condensed view of the Scripture account of true religion. If anything more than this were required to set forth the necessity of earnestness, I might refer to the figures under which the divine life is exhibited in the Word of God. It is a race; what preparation, what laying aside of encumbrances, what intense solicitude, and what strenuous exertion are here implied! It is a conflict, a fight of faith; what anxiety, what peril, what skill, what courage, what struggling, are included in the strife of the battlefield! It is a pilgrimage; what self-denial, what perseverance, what labor, are required for such a journey!

It is impossible not to be struck in reading such an account, with the idea that something more is there than a round of ceremonies, a course of physical exertion, a routine of mechanical action. This is not a mere repetition of prayers, a counting of rosary beads, and a holding of vigils—which are all mere bodily service. But what the Scriptures lay down is a reasonable service, a course of action for the intellect, the will, the heart, the conscience; all the more difficult for being mental, and calling for reflection, determination, resolute purpose, and resistance of opposition.

This, be it recollected, is not what man has devised—but what God has prescribed. It is not what ministers have determined—but what God has set before us. Whether we like it or not, every particular of it is drawn from the Bible. We may complain of it as being too strict—but that must be settled with God, since it is no stricter than he has thought fit to make it. Let us read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. Let us set it before us. Let us turn away from the religion we see in the church, to the religion we read in the Bible. Let us not listen to what man says is necessary—but to what God says is necessary. Let us go for information not to the imperfect and blurred copy in the ordinary profession—but to the perfect and unspotted original.

II. A question, however, will now suggest itself to some minds, "Is this our standard? Is the Bible's representation of the nature of true piety intended for us as our guide, and is it obligatory upon us?" Strange that such a question should be asked. Is the Bible ours, and given for us, and are its contents binding upon us, as they were on those who first received it from the hand of God? Who among professing Christians ever doubted it, except some few modern semi-infidels, who tell us the Bible was a very good book, and Jesus Christ a very good teacher for the earlier times of Christianity; but that in the progress of reason, and the advance of science and civilization, both may be dispensed with.

But we have not so learned Christ. We profess to believe that the inspired volume, like its Divine Author, is, "the same yesterday, today, and forever," unalterable in its meaning, in its adaptation, in its authority. The Scriptures were written for all times, and all countries, and are alike obligatory upon all. We are as much bound by Paul's epistles—as were the churches to which they were originally addressed. There, in those blessed pages, is the description of our religion, both in its privileges and its duties. Great efforts are now being made to substitute something else for it—but they will prove abortive. The Scriptural standard is too spiritual, too devout, too unearthly, too self-denying, too humbling, for many; and it must therefore by them be pushed aside for man's device; and this is done in two ways, and by two different classes of teachers.

One class are endeavoring to set aside the instruction of the New Testament by a philosophized Christianity, which retains the name—but repudiates everything besides, of that divine system. This is intended for the thoughtful and scientific, who cannot quite do without some reference to God and immortality—but cannot endure anything so humbling to reason, and so mortifying to depravity, as the New Testament description of religion. On the other hand, there are men governed by their senses and their imagination, for whom all that we set forth is too spiritual, intellectual, and moral; and they, therefore, must have a ceremonial and ritual piety. They must dwell in the regions of poetry, and architecture, and sculpture; and be regaled by sights and sounds which will supply them with the luxuries of taste without any very large demand upon their understandings, wills, hearts, or consciences.

Against both these the Word of God lifts up its own inspired, unalterable, and infallible standard, and with the authority of a Divine voice says, "This is the way, walk you in it." Yes, all which we find in the Scriptures of the New Testament as descriptive of the religion of Jesus Christ, is obligatory upon us. Every particular enumerated is binding upon every individual Christian. There can be no dividing the religion of the Bible; no parceling it out amidst various individuals; no giving piety to one, and morality to another; no leaving one man to do this, or to the neglect of that; and allowing another man to do what his fellow-professor has neglected, and to neglect what he has done. All is binding upon each. The whole moral standard, and the whole gospel of the grace of God, comes down with undiminished and undivided weight upon each man's conscience.

Nor is it enough to say, "Who then can be saved?" and to endeavor to get rid of our obligations by affirming that such a life as this is impossible to anyone in this world. This has been often said; and an infidel objection has been raised against the gospel, on the ground of its high standard of duty. It has been alleged against it, that its requirements are beyond the reach of anyone situated as we are, with a corrupt nature, and surrounded by temptations. There would be some force in this, if nothing were accepted short of absolute perfection. Difficult, indeed, it is, so much so, that even "the righteous are scarcely saved." But is it more difficult for us, than it was for the first Christians? They were surrounded by idolatrous friends, customs and rites, and had to force their way to heaven through bonds imprisonment and death, in addition to all that is trying to us. They could not move a step in their religious course without encountering antagonism of which we can form no conception. Yet even to them no concession was made; "Deny yourself, and take up your cross, and follow Me!" was the stern, unbending demand of Christ. He required of them, and he requires of us also, as the terms of discipleship, the double crucifixion of the outer and the inner man.

This, I admit, is somewhat alarming—it is indeed startling enough to awaken all the dwellers in Christendom to very serious consideration, to be told that this is the religion they must have, or abandon their pretension to religion altogether. Can anything more clearly prove the necessity of earnestness than such a statement as this?

III. I may now proceed to ask, whether this is the religion which is prevalent in our day, and among us? This is a question which I approach with trembling solicitude, anxious not to give a wrong answer, neither on the one hand to exaggerate, nor on the other, to underrate, the piety of this age. Recollect the question is not whether we have more or less earnest piety than some former ages. No doubt there have been times when there was more intense devotion than ours, and other times when there was less. There cannot be a question that the number of true Christians is greater now than it has been in any modern age, and that in some directions, this number is still greatly augmenting. I am disposed therefore to drop this inquiry, and to take up the question of the present state of piety as viewed only in comparison with the Scriptural standard previously laid down. Even could it be shown that we were somewhat more in earnest than others that have gone before us, yet how far short we are, both of what the Word of God requires, and of what is necessary for our high duty and destiny, as God's witnessing and proselyting church!

I would not lose sight, and ought not to do so, of some distinguishing and lofty features in the church's piety of this day. There is no doubt a very prevailing disposition to profess Christ. Religion is unquestionably gaining ground in this respect. Whatever disposition there may be in some quarters, to espouse the cause of infidelity, and a fearful disposition there is to do so, public opinion is in other quarters conciliated to religion, and even to evangelical religion. But I am not now thinking of the characteristics so much of the age, as of the church—and of this latter, I find a noble distinction in its liberal, yes munificent activity. Never, no never, since the days of the apostles, was there such a pervading spirit of religious zeal as there is now—nor would I be over curious and severe in my scrutiny to ascertain how much of this is tainted with sectarianism. That it is not all pure, I admit; but whatever alloy may be mixed with it, much of it is genuine gold. It is a sight for the admiration of angels, and on which the great God himself looks down with ineffable delight, to see the church rising up from the slumber of ages, multiplying her instruments, and accumulating her means, for the world's conversion. I exultingly say, "Behold her efforts at home in building churches, training ministers, erecting schools, preaching of the gospel, and educating the people—and see her at the same time, on both sides of the Atlantic, stretching out her arms half-round the globe, and by her missionaries and mission-stations, giving the blessings of salvation to half the teeming population of our earth. We should not be blind to this, for it is a glorious sight to see our merchants beginning to inscribe upon their merchandise, and upon the bells of the horses, "Holiness to the Lord." If some of the friends of Zion, who departed to their rest a century ago, could look out of their graves upon the scenes exhibited in the metropolis in the month of May, they would be almost ready to conclude we had reached the millennial period of the world's history. Zeal is at length recognized as one of the constituent elements of piety, and that professor would be viewed as a relic of a by-gone age, who did not recognize his commission in the command of the Savior, to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

This is delightful—but it is not everything—there may be, as we have seen, a name to live, while we are dead. It is impossible to be ignorant, or to forget—how much of all the money given, may be bestowed without any real love to the object; and how much of all the labor employed may be carried on from the mere love of activity, and under the strong current of public example. It is only necessary to look to the church of Rome, to learn how much zeal may be manifested, and how much property may be expended, without any pure pious motive. And even taking the gross amount of what is given and what is done, without making any deductions for the counterfeit coin of false motives, how little does it amount to—compared with what we spend upon ourselves, and with what the cause of Christ requires at our hands!

Giving, then, all that is due to this spirit of liberality and activity, let us come back to the question about the earnest piety of the age. Has the church so clothed herself with the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness, and does she so shine with the beauties of holiness, and the reflected light of heaven falling upon her, as to attract the notice, to fix the attention, and excite the admiration of the world? Is she all brightness—a Goshen amidst Egyptian gloom—a verdant oasis in the midst of this moral desert? Has she by her unearthly temper, her consistent holiness, her heavenly-mindedness; by her exalted morality, her exemplary benevolence, by the radiance of truth sparkling in her eye, the spirit of love breathed from her lips, and the blessings of mercy dropping from her hands—silenced the cavils of infidelity, and answered the taunting question of her enemies, "What do you more than others?"

Does she appear like the tabernacle of God, filled with his glory, and indicating his presence? Have Christians, by their victory over the world, their constant and earnest pursuit of salvation, their consistent piety, their general excellence, their gentleness, meekness, and kindness, lived down the suspicion, and silenced the charge, of hypocrisy? Do we appear what we profess to be, as men living supremely for immortality, and bearing, visibly to every eye, the stamp of heaven and eternity upon our character? Do we look like competitors for a crown of glory, warriors fighting for eternal liberty and life? Does our religion appear like that which is making us saints in life, and would make us martyrs in death? Can we pretend to be in earnest, if these questions must be answered in the negative?

If asked to point out the specific and prevailing sin of the church in the present day, I cannot hesitate to reply, a prevailing worldliness of mind, heart, and conduct. She is fearfully secularized in the spirit and temper of her members. The love of the world is become the master-passion, before which other and holier affections have grown dim and weak. Nor is this at all inconsistent with the spirit of liberality which I have already admitted to exist. There may, by the force of circumstances, be a spirit of giving in people, in whom, at the same time, there is an excessive concern about getting money. In this commercial country, it is difficult, even for professors of religion, to escape the contagious spirit of speculation, eager competition, and over-trading. The determination, as well as the concern, to be rich, will without great watchfulness rush into the church; it has done so, and those who profess to have overcome the world by faith, appear almost as eager as others, in all schemes for getting wealth in haste, and by almost any means.

But it is not only in the way of doing business that this worldly spirit is seen—but in the general habits and tastes of professing Christians. Their style of living, their entertainments, their associations, their amusements, their conversation—evince a conformity to the world, a minding of earthly things, a disposition to adapt themselves to the world around, and an apparent desire to seek their happiness from objects of sense, rather than from those of faith, which prove the extent to which a secular worldly spirit is dominating the spirit of piety in the church.

It may not be improper here to ask, what are the principal defects, as well as sins, of the religion of this day; in what is it that the professors of this age chiefly fall short? Two only shall be enumerated as perhaps the most prominent. I may first mention that class of duties which come under the head of the devotional, spiritual, and contemplative, as distinguished from the active and practical, or those which are specifically known as piety towards God—the love of, and communion with, him; looking to Jesus, and a habitual sense of his unutterable preciousness; solemn dealings in prayer; an abiding impression of eternity; an impressive sense of the Divine presence; that constant reference to the future state, which, like an invisible and powerful link, connects us with the eternal world. This is what we need—the high-toned spirituality, the deeply devotional spirit, the heavenly aspirations, the yearnings after a higher and holier state of existence—which are exhibited in many of the hymns we sing, many of the biographies we read, and many of the sermons we hear.

We have a faith which converses with the letter of the word of God—but we need one which presses onwards to the spirit of the word of God. Our faith stops in words—it does not reach on to practice. The solemnly glorious form of truth passes before our intellect—but it is veiled and muffled; we do not take hold of her garment, and entreat her to smile upon us, and tarry with us, and admit our hearts to communion with her.

It has sometimes occurred to me that we have allowed our very orthodoxy in one respect to do us harm—as if the doctrine of justification by faith, that fundamental truth, and only legitimate source of peace to the sinner's conscience, were intended to chill the affections, and extinguish the exercise of a holy and chastened imagination in the soul of the saint. In setting aside frames of mind and feelings as grounds of hope and sources of peace, we have been in danger of extinguishing them altogether as exercises of devotion. In doing honor to the work of Christ as the sole ground of acceptance with God—we have neglected the work of the Spirit to raise us into the element of light and love. In turning with aversion from the crucifix as an aid to devotion—we have neglected to use the cross so as to produce in ourselves the legitimate emotions of earnest contemplation. In refusing to enter the nun's cloister—we have neglected also the closet. In repudiating the visions, raptures, and dreamy silence of the mystics—we have also let go the peace that passes understanding, the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. In surrendering such books as Guion's rapturous Hymns, Rowe's Devout Exercises of the Heart, Hervey's Meditations, and Law's Serious Call—we have at the same time renounced almost all other works, which though of a more sober spirit of devotion, are intended and calculated to excite and sustain religious affection. We have repudiated manuals of devotion—prayers to be repeated in all the various situations in which we can be found, as tending to make religion a thing of and by itself, as belonging to times and places—but not constituting an element of habitual character, and a principle designed to influence us always, everywhere, and in everything.

But have we not too much abandoned all aids to devotion, all means and helps to keep up the piety of the heart towards God? Catholic Missals and rosaries are abjured by us as the inventions of man, the devices of superstition, the mockeries of devotion! But do we replace them by Bibles, hymn-books, and religious biographies, as closet companions, as fuel for the flame of devotion? We doubt the genuineness of that emotion which can be excited only by Gothic architecture, beautiful sculpture, sublime music, and moldering ruins of religious fabrics; but do we take pains to nourish devotion by the appeals made to our senses in the scenes of nature, and the legitimate symbols of our holy religion? In short, we have abjured Popery, and its late-born child, Puseyism; but we still lack the devotion of some of the best of their votaries, purified from its superstition, illuminated and guided by the clear light of the evangelical system of revealed truth.

But, "this kind goes not forth but by fasting and prayer," and in the former of these, if not in the latter, the Christians of the present day are singularly lacking. We live in a busy age, when men find little time for private prayer, reading the Scriptures, and meditation. Perhaps there was never so little private prayer among professors as there is now. The closet was never more neglected by the great bulk of those who call themselves Christians. A few hasty expressions or a few broken thoughts, poured out without solemnity or without coherence, or else a short form learned by rote, and repeated at night or morning, or perhaps both, constitutes, it is to be feared, as we have already said, all the private prayer which some offer to God. Closet prayer means a person's selecting some suitable time and place to be alone with God, to pour out into his ear with freedom and enlargement, all the cares, the sorrows, the desires, and the sins of a burdened heart and a troubled conscience.

It signifies the act of a child going to commune in the spirit of adoption with his Divine Parent, to give utterance to the expressions of his adoring gratitude, praise, and love, and to present his intercessions for all that claim an interest in his supplications. It is but too obvious that there is comparatively little of such closet exercises in this day of engrossing worldliness. Christians live too much in public to be much in their closets. Answer, you who read these pages, is it not so? What say your closets and consciences? What testimony is borne for you? Say, professors, say, if you are not restraining prayer, and framing all kinds of excuses for the neglect. What spirituality, what heavenly-mindedness, can you expect in the habitual neglect of the closet?

But this is not the only deficiency of the church in the present day, for the lack of a prevailing conscientiousness is as conspicuous as that on which we have just dwelt. Earnestness in religion is as much displayed in sincere and anxious desire in all things to do what is right, as it is in praying and cultivating the spirit of devotion. And this is, perhaps, much easier to be manifested than the other. There are great numbers of God's people who are so circumstanced that they cannot command much time for devotional exercises, their hours are not their own; but everyone can be conscientious in his conduct. It requires no more time, though in some cases much more resolution, to do right, than to do wrong. In a trading country like ours, where competition is so keen, and success so precarious, the temptations to a violation of the "whatever things are just, honest, true, and lovely," will be very numerous, very strong, and constantly recurring. Trade affords constant tests of principle. It supplies the standard of honor with men of business. But dishonorable transactions are common occurrences among professors of the present day. More scandals are brought upon the cause of Christ from this source, than from any other that could be named. A lack of strict and eminent integrity is so common, that the manifestation of it in any high degree, excites admiration, and ensures for its possessor unusual testimonies of commendation.

It is not meant by this to avow or insinuate that almost all professors are dishonest men—but merely that in little affairs of a financial nature, and other matters, violations of what is honorable and generous are so common in those who profess to be in earnest for the kingdom of God, as to excite less surprise and censure than they should do. A man, who, in all his actions, words, and feelings; in all those parts of his conduct which are seen only by God, as well as in those which come under the cognizance of men; who, when it exposes him to inconvenience and loss, as well as when it puts him to no cost and calls for no shame, makes an enlightened and tender conscience his guide, and implicitly obeys it, is a character too rare even among professors of religion.

To adopt as the rule of conduct this resolution, "I will in all things do that which my Bible and my conscience tell me is right;" and to carry this rule into all the great branches and the minute ramifications of Christian duty; to adopt it in reference to our temper and spirit, our thoughts and feelings, as well as our words and actions; to make it govern us in all our social relations, and all our business transactions; and in conformity to this rule to make any sacrifice, to practice any self-denial, and to endure any loss, is a line of conduct, which, though imperatively demanded by religion, is but too seldom seen—but whenever it is seen, can never fail to be admired.

It appears quite clear then, that great numbers of Christian professors are but very imperfectly acquainted with the requirements of "pure and undefiled religion," and need to be led to re-study it in the pages of Holy Scripture. We have lost sight of the divine Original, and have confined our attention to the imperfect transcripts which we find on every hand. We have by tacit consent reduced the standard, and fixed our eye and our aim upon an inferior object. We are a law to each other, instead of making the Word of God the law to us all. We tolerate a worldly-minded, diluted, and weakened piety in others, because we expect a similar toleration for ourselves. We make excuses for them, because we expect the like excuses for our own conduct in return. Instead of "seeking to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God," we have abused, shamefully abused, the fact that there is no perfection upon earth, and converted it into a license for any measure and any number of imperfections.

Our highest notion of religion requires only abstinence from immorality and the more polluting worldly amusements; an attendance upon an evangelical ministry; and an approval of orthodox doctrine; this, with the act of joining a Christian church, participation in the Lord's supper, and a little occasional emotion under a sermon and a hasty prayer, night and morning; this, this, is the religion of multitudes. There may be no habitual spirituality or heavenly-mindedness; no life of faith and communion with God; no struggling against sin, Satan, and the world; no anxiety to grow in grace; no supreme regard to eternity; no studied and advancing meetness for the eternal world; no tenderness of conscience; no laborious discipline of our temper; no cultivation of love; no making religion our chief business and highest pleasure; no separation in spirit from the world, in short, no impress upon the whole mind, and heart, and conscience, and life, of the character of the Christian, as delineated upon the page of Scripture. We all need to be taken out of the religious world, as it is called, and collected again round the Bible to study what it is to be a Christian, as well as to be called one. Let us do this very thing.

Let us endeavor to forget what the bulk of professors are, and begin afresh to learn what they ought to be. Let us select the most eminently holy, devout, and conscientious Christians we can find; and if we know not many living ones who stand high above the rest, let us go to the memory of the departed ones, and say to ourselves, "Even these, distinguished as they were, did not come up to the standard of God's law; and admitting this, as they did, if they bewailed their deficiencies and their imperfections, then, what am I!"

It is to be feared that we are corrupting each other, leading each other to be satisfied with a conventional piety. Many have been actually the worse for attending church. They were more intensely concerned and earnest before they came into church fellowship, than they were afterwards. Their piety seemed to come into an ice-house, instead of a hot house. They grew better outside the church--than in the church. At first they were surprised and shocked to see the lukewarmness, the irregularities, the worldliness, the inconsistencies, of many older professors, and exclaimed, with grief and disappointment, "Is this the church of Christ?" After a while, a fatal influence came over them, and their piety sank to the temperature around them!

Let us then cast away the fatal opiate which so often quiets a troubled conscience, "I am as good as my neighbors," and go with prayer, trembling, and anxiety, to the Scriptures, with the question, "What is it to be a Christian?" No religion but an earnest one can be sincere; none but an earnest religion will take us to heaven; none but an earnest religion can be a happy one.

Rouse, Christian professors, from your slumbers and your dreams! Multitudes of you are perishing in your sins--you are going down to the pit with a lie in your right hand! Your profession alone will not save you, and that is all that some of you have to depend upon. There are millions of professors of religion in the bottomless pit, who while they lived brought no scandal upon religion by immorality. But the life of God was not in their souls, they had a name to live--but were dead! They looked around upon the low conventionalism of the day in which they lived, instead of studying the Bible for their standard of piety; and went to the judgment of God, saying, "Lord, Lord, have we not been called by Your name?" and then they met with the dreadful rebuff and rejection, "I never knew you, depart from Me!"