72. ON TRUE RELIGION
True religion neither courts the observation, nor seeks the applause of men.
It grows and thrives most in retirement. Its effects, indeed, are widely
felt, and its blessings extensively diffused; but its salutary streams are
fed by communion with God, by holy meditation, fervent prayer, and much
converse with the holy Scriptures. It aims at the glory of God. Jesus Christ
is its sum and substance; and to promote the happiness of the whole human
race, is its delightful occupation.
True religion is the very opposite to hypocrisy and formality. It is made up
of truth and sincerity, and its love is without pretense. It hates every
false glare, all ostentatious parade, all desire to be seen; and labors to
approve itself to Him who looks at the heart, and examines the motives of
True religion is founded on the truth of God's holy word. There, man is
declared to do not be only guilty, but unable to save himself; and wholly
indebted to the sovereign grace of God for life and salvation. To know God
in his word, to love him in the heart, and to honor him in the life, is the
daily work of every real believer. Hence, to love the Lord Jesus Christ in
sincerity, is the essence of true religion.
Many fatally deceive themselves respecting the nature of genuine
True religion does not consist in having a name to live; a reputation for
godliness. "You have a name that you live, and are dead."
It does not consist in outward forms, however excellent. "Having the form of
godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away." "The kingdom
of God is not food and drink; but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy
It does not consist in attending divine ordinances. "This people honors me
with their lips, but their heart is far from me." "My people come to you, as
they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not
put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their
hearts are greedy for unjust gain."
It does not consist in outward profession. "They profess that they know God,
but in works deny him."
It does not consist in the mere performance of moral duties. "Except your
righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees,
you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
It does not consist in head knowledge, great gifts, liberality to the poor,
or even martyrdom itself. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of
angels; though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and
all knowledge; though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains;
though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor; and though I give my body to
be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing."
The religion of the Bible is pure, spiritual, experimental, and practical.
It is the devotion of the heart; for God is a spirit, and requires those who
worship him to worship him in spirit and in truth.
It is then evident, that the whole of evangelical religion may be summed up
in four short words—"Faith working by love." Without love, faith is dead,
like a tree destitute of sap. Without faith, love can have no existence; for
the sap cannot exist, if the root be wanting. Good works are the blessed
fruits of faith, and prove the existence and soundness both of faith and
God, in grace, as in nature, is the Creator of the root, the sap, and the
fruit. He gives life and fertility. Without him, we are nothing, and can do
nothing. Hence, believers are called "trees of righteousness, of the Lord's
planting, that he may be glorified;"—and branches in Jesus Christ, the true
vine; who has said, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he that abides in
me and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without me, you can
True religion is exemplified in the conscientious discharge of all the
social and relative duties. It fills the domestic circle with peace; and
every community where it reigns, with unity and concord.
The Christian's life is a life of desire and enjoyment. His desires are ever
on the wing towards Jesus, and at times he enjoys the smiles of his Savior,
which gladden his heart, and quicken his desires after a perpetual increase
of this blessedness.
He pants continually after true happiness in the exercise of true religion;
and every taste of this sweet refreshing fountain, while it alleviates his
thirst after earthly pleasures, only serves to increase his desires after
more spiritual communion with his God and Savior. Thus he proceeds, until
his most enlarged desire is satisfied in that blessed region where all the
saints are led to living fountains of water, proceeding from the living God.
How little is the Christian's life known by the world in general! How little
is it valued even by those who profess to esteem it! How true the apostolic
declaration; "All men seek their own, not the things which are Jesus
Christ's." The warrior, pursuing fame even to the pinnacle of glory, braving
all the horrors of the blood-stained field; the man of letters, deeply
entrenched in ponderous folios, seeking by research to immortalize his name;
the busy merchant, stretching out his arms, and holding in his wide embrace
a world of traffic to enlarge his fortune and enrich his family; ten
thousand times ten thousand human beings of every rank and station, all
feel, while unrenewed, a secret wish that Scripture truth may not be true.
Else why dispute the plain, yet awful declarations of the word of God? Why
argue, contradict, and gainsay, yes, deny the solemn revelation of his will,
whose word is truth, whose nature is unchangeable, whose counsel shall
stand, and who will do all his pleasure?
How inveterate is the natural enmity of the human heart to true religion!
Hence every call from earth to heaven is neglected and despised. The heart,
deeply rooted in the earth, derives its nourishment from thence; and finds
no relish in enjoyments or pursuits, which stretch beyond the boundaries of
time, or bid the worldly mind forsake the groveling pleasures of this
The religion of Jesus is unalterable in its very nature. It is founded on
the perfections of Jehovah, and on the necessities of man. Its promises and
precepts, its prospects and privileges, are the same now, as they ever were.
Then why is the face of the Christian world so changed? It is owing to the
prevalence of that evil heart of unbelief against which Paul so feelingly
cautions the Hebrew converts; and which occasions our present luke-warmness,
slothfulness, and departure from God.
There are four evils which mark the decayed state of Christians in general;
their love of the world—their love of ease—their fear of man—their distrust
of providence. The primitive believers were just the reverse of all this.
They despised the world, and its flattering allurements; they took up the
cross, and denied themselves; they boldly confessed Christ, and suffered for
his sake; they trusted God for all things, and so took joyfully the spoiling
of their goods. And what was the blessed fruit? They abounded in
consolation; they grew in grace; they shone as lights in the world; they
felt joy and peace in believing.
But now we see professing Christians, even many of whom we charitably hope
well, languid in their graces, timid in their confession, fearful of
consequences, and fearful of offending. Sad symptoms these, of spiritual
decay! Hence the spirit of the Gospel is not exhibited. Its character is not
exemplified, and Christ is not glorified.
No marvel that the work of evangelizing the world has proceeded so slowly,
since the power of true religion is so little felt by the bulk of professing
Christians. An awful charge of guilt thus rests upon the visible Church of
Christ. But as the Church is composed of individual members, so each must
take his share of criminal supineness and neglect. And you, Oh my soul, must
stand condemned before that gracious Savior, whose love demands the exercise
of all those powers which he himself bestowed upon you. Oh that the Lord may
quicken his people, and revive his work in the midst of the days!
Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take
up his cross daily and follow me." This cross is heavy to bear when earthly
affections, or pride, or unbelief work in the heart. But when the heart is
filled with love to the Savior, then the greatest cross is light, and even
pleasant to endure. Thus the apostles "counted it all joy, when they fell
into diverse temptations." They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to
suffer shame for the name of Jesus. Multitudes of loving believers gloried
in tribulation, and sealed the truth with their blood. If Christianity can
effect such wonders in the hearts of sinners, how powerful, and yet how
beautiful, is true religion!
As God will be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty unto the
remnant of his people; so his people shall be a crown of glory in the hand
of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of their God. But while we
admire the work of grace, it is to be deeply deplored that the world has
made such sad inroads into the territories of the visible church.
The love of ease, of splendor, of worldly distinction, of family comforts,
has greatly destroyed that spirit of martyrdom which should practically
operate in every believer in Jesus.
Every Christian should he a martyr in spirit. He should be ready to leave
all, and sacrifice all for Christ. That excellent reformer Oecolampadius,
writing to a friend, said, "The greatest happiness of this life is to
venture for the sake of Christ." Many will venture their all in some
profitable speculation, which promises a large increase of worldly property.
But happy indeed is that man who can venture all for Christ in faith and
love. He may lose all that the world calls great and good; but he shall
receive, through the merits of the Redeemer, a crown of glory which fades
It is easy to rejoice at the bestowment of temporal favors, and sometimes of
spiritual mercies; but are we as ready to render thanks unto the Lord for
pains and trials, for losses and crosses, endured for righteousness' sake,
or in the wise dispensations of a good and unerring Providence?
Now the apostolic command is, "in every thing give thanks." But Oh! how
little of this primitive spirit is there among us. Who can bear with joy the
loss of all things for Christ's sake? Who can glory in tribulation?
"Blessed Lord! pour out your Holy Spirit upon your drooping church, that it
may "flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines." Oh that I may sit
loosely to the world and its passing enjoyments, and be ready to arise and
follow you wheresoever you call me, either to labor or endure. Make me
sincerely thankful for hourly mercies; and with these mercies, be pleased to
bestow a heart weaned from creature comforts, and supremely devoted unto
you. Increase in me true religion; that so, amid the manifold and sundry
changes of the world, my heart may surely there be fixed, where alone true
joys are to be found. Give me that spiritual perception, and that spiritual
relish for heavenly truths, which are the experience and portion of your
children here, and which form the delightful foretaste of their eternal
blessedness in the world to come."
Oh! you in whom all comfort lies,
The source of all my inward joys;
To you I look, to you I call,
My only hope, my life, my all.
With you, Oh God, is holy peace;
Your flowing mercies never cease;
They fill the spacious courts above
With odors sweet of grace and love.
Blest Savior, with delight I dwell
On themes no mortal tongue can tell;
The glory of your cross exceeds
All human, all angelic deeds.
Oh! may the love which brought you down
Continue still your work to crown;
Until every nation shall confess
Your grace, your blood, and righteousness.