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Feed My lambs. - John 21.15.
I Propose to continue the subject by:
I. Noticing several other points upon which young converts ought to be instructed.
II. Showing the manner in which young converts should be treated by the Church.
III. Mentioning some of the evils which naturally result from defective instructions given in that stage of Christian experience.
I. FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS TO YOUNG CONVERTS.
1. It is of great importance that young converts should early be made to understand what religion consists in. Perhaps you will be surprised at my mentioning this. "What! Are they converts, and do not know what religion consists in?" I answer: "They would know, if they had had no instruction but such as was drawn from the Bible." But multitudes of people have absorbed such notions about religion, that not only young converts, but a great part of the Church members do not know what religion consists in, so as to have a clear and distinct idea of it. There are many ministers who do not. I do not mean to say that they have no religion, for it may be charitably believed they have; but what I mean is, that they cannot give 79 a correct statement of what does, and what does not, constitute real religion.
It is important that young converts should be taught: Negatively, what religion does not consist in.
(a) Not in doctrinal knowledge. Knowledge is essential to religion, but it is not religion. The devil has doctrinal knowledge, but he has no religion. A man may have doctrinal knowledge to any extent, without a particle of religion. Yet some people have very strange ideas on this subject, as though an increase of doctrinal knowledge indicated an increase of piety. In a certain instance, where some young converts had made rapid progress in doctrinal knowledge, a person who saw it remarked: "How these young converts grow in grace!" Here he confounded improvement in knowledge with improvement in piety. The truth was, that he had no means of judging of their growth in grace, and it was no evidence of it because they were making progress in doctrinal knowledge.
(b) They should be taught that religion is not a substance. It is not any root, or sprout, or seed, or anything else, in the mind, as a part of the mind itself. Persons often speak of religion as if it were something which is covered up in the mind, just as a spark of fire may be covered up in the ashes, which does not show itself, and which produces no effects, but yet lives, and is ready to act as soon as it is uncovered. And in like manner they think they may have religion, as something remaining in them, although they do not manifest it by obeying God. But they should be taught that this is not of the nature of religion. It is not part of the mind itself, nor of the body; nor is it a root, or seed, or spark, that can exist, and yet be hid and produce no effects.
Teach them that religion does not consist in raptures, or ecstasies, or high flights of feeling. There may be a great deal of these where there is religion. But it ought to be understood that they are all involuntary emotions, and may exist in full power where there is no religion. They may be the mere workings of the imagination, without any truly religious affection at all. Persons may have them to such a degree as actually to swoon away with ecstasy, even on the subject of religion, without having any religion. I have known a person almost carried away with rapture, by a mere view of the natural attributes of God, His power and wisdom, as displayed in the starry heavens, and yet the person had no religion.
Religion is obedience to God, the voluntary submission of the soul to His will.
(d) Neither does religion consist in going to services, or reading the Bible, or praying, or any other of what are commonly called religious duties. The very phrase, "religious duties," ought to be struck out of the vocabulary of young converts. They should be made to know that these acts are not religion. Many become very strict in performing certain things, which they call "religious duties," and suppose that is being religious; while they are careless about the ordinary duties of life, which, in fact, constitute A LIFE OF PIETY. Prayer may be an expression and an act of piety, or it may not be. Going to church or to a prayer meeting, may be considered either as a means, an act, or an expression of pious sentiment; but the performance of these does not constitute a man a Christian; and there may be great strictness and zeal in these, without a particle of religion. If young converts are not taught to discriminate, they may be led to think there is something peculiar in what are called religious duties, and to imagine they have a great deal of religion because they abound in certain actions that are commonly called "religious duties," although they may at the same time be very deficient in honesty, or faithfulness, or punctuality, or temperance, or any other of what they choose to call their common duties. They may be very meticulous in some things, may "pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin" (Matthew 23:23), and yet neglect "the weightier matters of the law"; justice and the love of God.
(e) Religion does not consist in desires to do good actions. Desires that do not result in choice and action are not virtuous. Nor are such desires necessarily vicious. They may arise involuntarily in the mind, in view of certain objects; but while they produce no voluntary act, they are no more virtuous or vicious than the beating of the pulse, except in cases where we have indirectly willed them into existence, by voluntarily putting ourselves under circumstances calculated to excite them. The wickedest man on earth may have strong desires after holiness. Did you ever think of that? He may see clearly that holiness is the only and indispensable means of happiness. And the moment he apprehends holiness as a means of happiness, he naturally desires it. It is to be feared that multitudes are deceiving themselves with the supposition that a desire for holiness, as a means of happiness, is religion. Many, doubtless, give themselves great credit for desires that never result in choosing right. They feel desires to do their duty, but do not choose to do it, because, upon the whole, they have still stronger desires not to do it. In such desires there is no virtue. An action or desire, to be virtuous in the sight of God, must be an act of the will. People often talk most absurdly on this subject, as though their desires had anything good, while they remain mere desires. "I think I desire to do so-and-so." But do you do it? "Oh, no, but I often feel a desire to do it." This is practical atheism.
Whatever desires a person may have, if they are not carried out into actual choice and action, they are not virtuous. And no degree of desire is itself virtuous. If this idea could be made prominent, and fully riveted in the minds of men, it would probably annihilate the hopes of half the members of the Churches, who are living on their good desires, while doing nothing for God.
(f) They should be made to understand that nothing which is selfish, is religion. Whatever desires they may have, and whatever choices and actions they may put forth, if, after all, the reason of them is selfish, there is no religion in them. A man may just as much commit sin in praying, or reading the Bible, or going to a religious service, as in anything else, if his motive is selfish. Suppose a man prays simply with a view to promote his own happiness. Is that religion? What is it but attempting to make God his Almighty Servant? It is nothing else but to attempt a great speculation, and to put the universe, God and all, under contribution to make him happy. It is the sublime degree of wickedness. It is so far from being piety that it is in fact superlative wickedness.
(g) Nothing is acceptable to God, as religion, unless it is performed heartily, to please God. No outward action has anything good, or anything that God approves, unless it is performed from right motives and from the heart. Young converts should be taught fully and positively that all religion consists in obeying God from the heart. All religion consists in voluntary action. All that is holy, all that is lovely, in the sight of God, all that is properly called religion, consists in voluntary action, in voluntarily obeying the will of God from the heart.
2. Young converts should be taught that the duty of self- denial is one of the leading features of the Gospel. They should understand that they are not pious at all, any further than they are willing to take up their cross daily, and deny themselves for Christ. There is but little self-denial in the Church, and the reason is that the duty is so much lost sight of, in giving instruction to young converts. How seldom are they told that self-denial is the leading feature in Christianity! In pleading for benevolent objects, how often will you find that ministers and agents do not even ask Christians to deny themselves for the sake of promoting the object! They only ask them to give what they can spare as well as not; in other words, to offer unto the Lord that which costs them nothing. What an abomination! They only ask for the surplus, for what is not wanted, for what can just as well be given as not.
There is no religion in this kind of giving. A man might give a very large sum to a benevolent object, and there would be no religion in his doing so, if he could give the money as well as not; nor would there be any self-denial in it. Jesus Christ exercised self-denial to save sinners. So has God the Father exercised self-denial in giving His Son to die for us, and in sparing us, and in bearing with our perverseness. The Holy Ghost exercises self-denial, in condescending to strive with such unholy beings to bring them to God. The angels exercise self-denial, in watching over this world. The apostles planted the Christian religion among the nations by the exercise of self-denial. And are we to think of being religious without any self-denial? Are we to call ourselves Christians, the followers of Christ, the "temples of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 6:19), and to claim fellowship with the apostles, when we have never deprived ourselves of anything that would promote our personal enjoyment for the sake of promoting Christ's kingdom? Young converts should be made to see that unless they are willing to lay themselves out for God, and ready to sacrifice life and everything else for Christ, they "have not the Spirit of Christ, and are none of His" (Romans 8:9).
3. They must be taught what sanctification is. "What!" you will say, "do not all who are Christians know what sanctification is?" No, many do not.
Multitudes would be as much at a loss to tell intelligibly what sanctification is, as they would be to tell what religion is. If the question were asked of every professor of religion in this city: "What is sanctification?" I doubt if one in ten would give a right answer. They would blunder just as they do when they undertake to tell what religion is, and speak of it as something dormant in the soul, something that is put in, and lies there, something that may be practiced or not, and still be in them.
So they speak of sanctification as if it were a sort of washing off of some defilement, or a purging out of some physical impurity. Or they will speak of it as if the faculties were steeped in sin, and sanctification is taking out the stains. This is the reason why some people will pray for sanctification, and practice sin, evidently supposing the sanctification is something that precedes obedience. They should be taught that sanctification is not something that precedes obedience, some change in the nature or the constitution of the soul. But sanctification is obedience, and as a progressive thing consists in obeying God more and more perfectly.
4. Young converts should be taught so as to understand what perseverance is. It is astonishing how people talk about perseverance. As if the doctrine of perseverance is: "Once in grace, always in grace"; or, "Once converted, sure to go to heaven." This is not the idea of perseverance. The true idea is, that if a man is truly converted, he will CONTINUE to obey God; and as a consequence, he will surely go to heaven. But if a person gets the idea that because he is "converted," therefore he will assuredly go to heaven, that man will almost assuredly go to hell.
5. Young converts should be taught to be religious in everything. They should aim to be religious in every department of life, and in all that they do. If they do not aim at this, they should understand that they have no religion at all. If they do not intend and aim to keep all the commandments of God, what pretense can they make to piety? "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).
He is justly subject to the whole penalty. If he disobeys God habitually in one particular, he does not, in fact, obey Him in any particular. Obedience to God consists in the state of the heart. It is being willing to obey God; willing that God should rule in all things. But if a man habitually disobeys God, in any one particular, he is in a state of mind that renders obedience in anything else impossible. To say that in some things a man obeys God, out of respect to His authority, and that in some other things he refuses obedience, is absurd. The fact is, that obedience to God consists in an obedient state of heart, a preference of God's authority and commandments to everything else. If, therefore, an individual appears to obey in some things, and yet perseveringly and knowingly disobeys in any one thing, he is deceived. He offends in one point, and this proves that he is guilty of all; in other words, that he does not, from the heart, obey at all. A man may pray half of his time and have no religion; if he does not keep the commandments of God, his very prayer will be hateful to God. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination" (Proverbs 28:9). Do you hear that? If a man refuses to obey God's law, if he refuses to comply with any one duty, he cannot pray, he has no religion, his very devotions are hateful.
6. Young converts, by proper instructions, are easily brought to be "temperate in all things" (1 Corinthians 9:25). Yet this is a subject greatly neglected in regard to young converts, and almost lost sight of in the Churches. There is a vast deal of intemperance in the Churches. I do not mean intemperate drinking, in particular, but intemperance in eating and in living generally. There is, in fact, but little conscience about it in the Churches, and, therefore, the progress of reform in the matter is so slow.
Nothing but an enlightened conscience can carry forward a permanent reform. Ten years ago, most ministers used ardent spirit, and kept it in their houses to treat their friends and their ministering brethren with. And the great body of the members in the Churches did the same. Now, there are but few, of either, who are not actual drunkards, that will do so. But still there are many that indulge, without scruple, in the use of wine.
Chewing and smoking tobacco, too, are acts of intemperance. If they use these mere stimulants when there is no necessity for them, what is that but intemperance? That is not being "temperate in all things." Until Christians shall have a conscience on this subject, and be made to feel that they have no right to be intemperate in anything, they will make but little progress in religion. It is well known, or ought to be, that tea and coffee have no nutrients in them. They are mere stimulants. They go through the system without being digested. The milk and sugar you put in them are nourishing; and so they would be, just as much so, if you mixed them with rum, and made milk punch; but the tea and coffee afford no nourishment; and yet I dare say, that a majority of the families in this city give more in a year for their tea and coffee than they do to save the world from hell.
Probably this is true respecting entire Churches. Even agents of benevolent societies will dare to go through the Churches soliciting funds, for the support of missionary and other institutions, and yet use tea, coffee, and, in some cases, tobacco. Strange! No doubt many are giving five times as much for mere intemperance as they give for every effort to save the world.
If professing Christians could be made to realize how much they spend for what are mere poisons, and nothing else, they would be amazed. Many persons will strenuously maintain that they cannot get along without these stimulants, these poisons, and they cannot give them up, no, not to redeem the world from eternal damnation. And very often they will absolutely show anger, if argued with, just as soon as the argument begins to pinch their consciences. Oh, how long shall the Church show her hypocritical face at the missionary meeting, and pray God to save the world, while she is actually throwing away five times as much for sheer intemperance, as she will give to save the world! Some of you may think these are little things, and that it is quite beneath the dignity of the pulpit to lecture against tea and coffee. But I tell you it is a great mistake of yours if you think these are little things, when they make the Church odious in the sight of God, by exposing her hypocrisy and lust. Here is an individual who pretends he has given himself up to serve Jesus Christ, and yet he refuses to deny himself any darling lust, and then he will go and pray: "O Lord, save the world; O Lord, Thy Kingdom come!" I tell you it is hypocrisy. Shall such prayers be heard? Unless men are willing to deny themselves, I would not give a groat for the prayers of as many such professors as would cover the whole of the United States.
These things must be taught to young converts. It must come to this point in the Church, that men shall not be called Christians, unless they will cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye, and deny themselves for Christ's sake. A little thing? See it poison the spirit of prayer! See it debase and sensualize the soul! Is that a trifle beneath the dignity of the pulpit, when these intemperate indulgences, of one kind and another, cost the Church five times, if not fifty times, more than all she gives for the salvation of the world?
An estimate has recently been made, showing that in the United States seven millions of dollars' worth of coffee is consumed yearly; and who does not know, that a great part of this is consumed by the Church. And yet grave ministers and members of Christian Churches are not ashamed to be seen countenancing this enormous waste of money; while at the same time the poor heathens are sending upon every wind of heaven their agonizing wail for help. Heaven calls from above: "Go... preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Hell groans from beneath, and ten thousand voices cry out from heaven, earth, and hell: "Do something to save the world!" Do it now Oh, NOW, or millions more are in hell through your neglect. And oh, tell it not in Gath, the Church, the ministry, will not deny even their lusts to save a world. Is this Christianity? What business have you to use Christ's money for such a purpose? Are you a steward?
The time to teach these things with effect is, when the converts are young.
If converts are not properly taught then, if they get a wrong habit, and begin with an easy, self-indulgent mode of living, it rarely happens that they become thoroughly reformed. I have conversed with old professors on these subjects, and have been astonished at their pertinacious obstinacy in indulging their lusts. And I am satisfied that the Church never can rise out of this sloth until young converts are faithfully taught, at the outset of their religious course, to be temperate in all things.
7. They should be taught to have just as much religion in all their business as they have in prayer, or in going to a religious service. They should be just as holy, just as watchful, aim just as singly at the glory of God, be just as sincere and solemn in all their daily employments, as when they come to the Throne of Grace. If they are not, their Sabbath performances will be an abomination.
8. They should be taught that it is necessary for them to be just as holy as they think ministers ought to be. There has for a long time been an idea that ministers are bound to be holy and practice self-denial. And so they are. But it is strange they should suppose that ministers are bound to be any more holy than other people. They would be shocked to see a minister showing levity, or running after the fashions, or getting out of temper, or living in a fine house, or riding in a coach. Oh, that is dreadful!
It does not look well in a minister. Indeed! For a minister's wife to wear such a fine bonnet, or such a silk shawl - oh no, it will never do! But they think nothing of these things in a layman, or a layman's wife! That is no offense at all! I am not saying that these things do look well in a minister; I know they do not. But they look, in God's eyes, just as well in a minister as they do in a layman. You have no more right to indulge in vanity, and folly, and pride, than a minister. Can you go to heaven without being sanctified? Can you be holy without living for God, and doing all that you do to His glory? I have heard professedly good men speak against ministers having large salaries, and living in an expensive style, when they themselves were actually spending a great deal more money for the support of their families than any minister. What would be thought of a minister living in the style in which many professors of religion and elders of Churches are living in this city? Why, everybody would say they were hypocrites. But it is just as much an evidence of hypocrisy in a layman to spend God's money to gratify his lusts, or to please the world, or his family, as it is for a minister to do so.
It is distressing to hear some of our foremost laymen talk of its being dishonorable to religion, to give ministers a large salary, and let them live in an expensive style, when it is a fact that their own expenses are, for the number of their families, and the company they have to receive, far above those of almost any minister. All this arises out of fundamentally wrong notions absorbed while they were young converts. Young converts have been taught to expect that ministers will have all the religion - especially all the self-denial. So long as this continues there can be no hope that the Church will ever do much for the glory of God, or for the conversion of the world. There is nothing of all this in the Bible. Where has God said: "You ministers, love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength"? Or, "You ministers, do all to the glory of God"? No, these things are said to all alike, and he who attempts to excuse himself from any duty or self-denial, from any watchfulness or sobriety, by putting it off upon ministers, or who ventures to adopt a lower scale of holy living for himself than he thinks is proper for a minister, is in great danger of proving himself a hypocrite, and paying in hell the forfeit of his foolishness.