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1. It is unreasonable for professors of religion to wonder at the thoughtlessness of sinners. Everything considered, the carelessness of sinners is not wonderful. We are affected by testimony, and only by that testimony which is received by our minds. Sinners are so taken up with business, pleasure, and the things of the world, that they will not examine the Bible to find what religion is. Their feelings are excited only on worldly subjects, because these only are brought into warm contact with their minds. The things of the world make, therefore, a strong impression. But there is so little to make an impression on their minds in respect to eternity, and to bring religion home to them, that they do not feel on the subject. If they examined the subject, they would feel. But they do not examine it, nor think upon it, nor care for it. And they never will, unless God's witnesses rise up and testify. But inasmuch as the great body of Christians so live, as, by their conduct, to testify on the other side, how can we expect that sinners will feel rightly upon the subject? Nearly all the testimony and all the influence that comes to their minds tends to make them feel the other way. God has left His cause here before the human race, and left His witnesses to testify in His behalf; and, behold, they turn round and testify the other way! Is it any wonder that sinners are careless?
2. We see why it is that preaching does so little good; and how it is that so many sinners get Gospel-hardened. Sinners that live under the Gospel are often supposed to be Gospel- hardened; but only let the Church wake up and act consistently, and they will feel. If the Church were to live one week as if they believed the Bible, sinners would melt down before them.
Suppose I were a lawyer, and should go into court and spread out my client's case. The issue is joined; I make my statements, tell what I expect to prove, and then call my witnesses. The first witness takes his oath, and then rises up and contradicts me to my face. What good will all my pleading do? I might address the jury for a month, and be as eloquent as Cicero; but so long as my witnesses contradict me, all my pleading will do no good. Just so it is with a minister who is preaching in the midst of a cold, stupid, and God-dishonoring Church. In vain does he hold up to view the great truths of religion, when every member of the Church is ready to witness that he lies. Why, in such a Church, the very manner of the people in going out of the aisles contradicts the sermon. They press out as cheerful and as easy, bowing to one another, and whispering together, as if nothing were the matter. If the devil should come in and see the state of things, he would think he could not better the business for his interest.
Yet there are ministers who will go on in this way for years, preaching to a people who, by their lives, contradict every word that is said. And these ministers think it their duty to do so. Duty! For a minister to preach to a Church that is undoing all his work, contradicting all his testimony, and that will not alter! No. Let him shake off the dust from his feet for a testimony, and go to the heathen, or to new settlements. The man is wasting his energies, and wearing out his life, and just rocking the cradle for a sleepy Church, which is testifying to sinners that there is no danger.
Their whole lives are a practical assertion that the Bible is not true. Shall ministers continue to wear themselves out so? Probably not less than ninety-nine-hundredths of the preaching in this country is lost, because it is contradicted by the Church. Not one truth in a hundred, that is preached, takes effect, because the lives of the professors declare that it is not so.
3. It is evident that the standard of Christian living must be raised, or the world will never be converted. If we had, scattered all over the world, a minister to every five hundred souls, and every child in a Sabbath school, and every young person in a Bible class, you might have all the machinery you want; but, if the Church members should contradict the truth by their lives, no revival would be produced.
They never will have a revival in any place while the whole Church in effect testifies against the minister. Often it is the case that where there is the most preaching, there is the least religion, because the Church contradicts the preaching. I never knew means fail of a revival where Christians live consistently. One of the first things is to raise the standard of religion, so as to embody the truth of the Gospel in the sight of all men.
Unless ministers can get their people to wake up, and act as if religion were true, and back their testimony by their lives, in vain will be the attempt to promote a revival.
Many Churches are depending on their minister to do everything. When he preaches, they will say: "What a great sermon that was! He is an excellent minister. Such preaching must do good. We shall have a revival soon, no doubt." And all the while they are contradicting the preaching by their lives. I tell you, if they are depending on preaching alone to carry on the work, they must fail. Let an apostle rise from the dead, or an angel come down from heaven and preach, without the Church to witness for God, and it would have no effect. The novelty might produce a certain kind of interest for a time, but as soon as the novelty was gone, the preaching would have no saving effect, while contradicted by the witnesses.
4. Every Christian makes an impression by his conduct, and witnesses either for one side or the other. His looks, dress, whole demeanor, make a constant impression on one side or the other. He cannot help testifying for or against religion. He is either gathering with Christ, or scattering abroad.
At every step you tread on chords that will vibrate to all eternity. Every time you move, you touch keys whose sound will reecho all over the hills and dales of heaven, and through all the dark caverns and vaults of hell.
Every movement of your lives, you are exerting a tremendous influence that will tell on the immortal interests of souls all around you. Are you asleep, while all your conduct is exerting such an influence?
Are you going to walk in the street? Take care how you dress. What is that on your head? What does that gaudy ribbon, and those ornaments upon your dress, say to every one who meets you? They make the impression that you wish to be thought pretty. Take care! You might just as well write on your clothes; "No truth in religion!" They say: "Give me dress; Give me fashion; Give me flattery, and I am happy!" The world understands this testimony as you walk the streets. You are living "epistles, known and read of all men" (2 Corinthians 3:2). If you show pride, levity, bad temper, it is like tearing open the wounds of the Savior.
How Christ might weep to see professors of religion going about hanging up His cause to contempt at the corners of streets. Only let the "women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works" (1 Timothy 2:9, 10); only let them act consistently, and their conduct will tell on the world - heaven will rejoice and hell groan at their influence. But oh! let them display vanity; try to be pretty; bow down to the goddess of fashion; fill their ears with ornaments, and their fingers with rings: let them put feathers in their hats and clasps upon their arms; lace themselves up till they can hardly breathe; let them put on their "round tires like the moon,"walking and mincing as they go" (Isaiah 3:18, 16), and their influence is reversed: heaven puts on the robes of mourning, and hell may hold a jubilee!
5. It is easy to see why revivals do not prevail in a great city. How can they? Just look at God's witnesses, and see what they are testifying to!
They seem to be agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord, and to lie to the Holy Ghost! They make their vows to God, to consecrate themselves wholly to Him, then they go bowing down at the shrine of fashion - and next they wonder why there are no revivals! It would be more than a miracle to have a revival under such circumstances. How can a revival prevail here? Do you suppose I have such a vain imagination of my own ability, as to think I can promote a revival by my preaching, merely, while you live on as you do? Do you not know that so far as your influence goes, many of you are right in the way of a revival? Your spirit and demeanor produce an influence on the world against religion. How shall the world believe religion, when the witnesses are not agreed among themselves? You contradict yourselves; you contradict one another; you contradict your minister; and the sum of the whole testimony is, there is no need of being pious.
Do you believe the things I have been preaching are true, or are they the ravings of a disturbed mind? If they are true, do you recognize the fact that they have reference to you? You say, perhaps: "I wish some of the rich Churches could hear it!" But I am not preaching to them; I am preaching to you. My responsibility is to you, and my fruits must come from you.
Now, are you contradicting it? What is the testimony on the leaf of the record that is now sealed for the Judgment, concerning this day? Have you manifested a sympathy with the Son of God, when His heart is bleeding in view of the desolations of Zion? Have your children, your clerks, your servants seen it to be so? Have they seen a solemnity on your countenance, and tears in your eyes, in view of perishing souls?
Finally, I remark that God and all moral beings have great reason to complain of this false testimony. There is ground to complain that God's witnesses turn and testify point-blank against Him. They declare by their conduct that there is no truth in the Gospel. Heaven might weep and hell rejoice to see this. Oh, how guilty! Here you are, going to the Judgment, red all over with blood. Sinners are to meet you there; those who have seen how you live, many of them already dead, and many others whom you will never see again upon earth. What an influence you have exerted!
Perhaps hundreds of souls will meet you in the Judgment Day and curse you (if they are allowed to speak) for leading them to hell, by practically denying the truth of the Gospel. What will become of this city, and of the world, when the Church is united in practically testifying that God is a liar? They testify by their lives, that if they make a profession and live a moral life, that is religion enough. Oh, what a doctrine of devils is that! It is enough to ruin the whole human race!