SOME people think they must be religious, in order to be respectable.
There are a vast number of people in the world who go to church and to chapel, because everybody else does so. It is disreputable to waste your Sundays, not to be found going up to the house of God; therefore they take a pew and attend the services, and they think they have done their duty: they have obtained all that they sought for, when they can hear their neighbors saying, “Such-and-such a man is a very respectable person; he is always very regular at his church; he is a very reputable person, and exceedingly praiseworthy.” Verily, if this be what you seek after in your religion, you shall get it; for the Pharisees who sought the praise of men “had their reward.” But when you have gotten it, what a poor reward it is!
Is it worth the drudgery? I do not believe that the drudgery to which people submit, in order to be called respectable, is at all compensated by what they gain. I am sure, for my own part, I would not care a solitary rap what I was called, or what I was thought; nor would I perform anything that was irksome to myself for the sake of pleasing any man who ever walked beneath the stars, however great or mighty he may be. It is the sign of a fawning, cringing spirit, when people are always seeking to do that which renders them respectable. The esteem of men is not worth the looking after, and sad it is, that this should be the only prize which some men put before them in the poor religion which they undertake.
Another set of people take up with religious life for what they can get by it.
I have known trades-people attend church for the mere sake of getting the custom of those who went there. I have heard of such things as people knowing which side their bread was buttered, and going to that particular denomination, where they thought they could get the most by it. Loaves and fishes drew some of Christ’s followers, and they are very attracting baits, even to this day. Men find there is something to be gotten by religion. Among the poor it is, perhaps, some little charity to be obtained, and among those who are in business, it is the custom which they think to get. “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward;” for the church is ever foolish and unsuspicious. We do not like to suspect our fellow creatures of following us from sordid motives. The church does not like to think that a man would be base enough to pretend to religion for the mere sake of what he can get; and, therefore, we let these people easily slip through, and they have their reward. But ah, at what a price they buy it! They have deceived the Lord’s servants for gold, and they have entered into His church as base hypocrites for the sake of a piece of bread; and they shall be thrust out at last with the anger of God behind them, like Adam driven out of Eden, with the flaming Cherubim with a sword turning every way to keep the tree of life; and they shall forever look back upon this as the most fearful crime they have committed — that they pretended to be God’s people when they were not, and entered into the midst of the fold when they were but wolves in sheeps’ clothing.
There is yet another class; and when I have referred to them, I will mention no more. These are the people who take up with religion for the sake of quieting their conscience; and it is astonishing how little of religion will sometimes do that. Some people tell us that if in the time of storm men would pour bottles of oil upon the waves, there would be a great calm at once. I have never tried it, and it is most probable I never shall, for my organ of credulity is not large enough to accept so extensive a statement.
But there are some people who think that they can calm the storm of a troubled conscience by pouring a little of the oil of a profession about religion upon it; and it is amazing how wonderful an effect this really has. I have known a man who was drunk many times in a week, and who got his money dishonestly, and yet he always had an easy conscience by going to his church or chapel regularly on the Sunday. We have heard of a man who could “devour widows’ houses” — a lawyer who could swallow up everything that came in his way, and yet he would never go to bed without saying his prayers; and that stilled his conscience. We have heard of other persons, especially among the Romanists, who would not object to thieving, but who would regard eating anything but fish on a Friday as a most fearful sin, supposing that, by making a fast on the Friday, all the iniquities of all the days in the week would be put away. They want the outward forms of religion to keep the conscience quiet; for Conscience is one of the worst lodgers to have in your house when he gets quarrelsome: there is no abiding with him; he is an ill bed-fellow; ill at lying down, and equally troublesome at rising up. A guilty conscience is one of the curses of the world: it puts out the sun, and takes away the brightness from the moonbeam. A guilty conscience casts a noxious exhalation through the air, removes the beauty from the landscape, the glory from the flowing river, the majesty from the rolling floods. There is nothing beautiful to the man who has a guilty conscience. He needs no accusing; everything accuses him. Hence people take up with religion just to quiet them. They take the Sacrament sometimes; they go to a place of worship; they sing a hymn now and then; they give a guinea to a charity; they intend to leave a portion in their will to build alms-houses; and in this way conscience is lulled asleep, and they rock him to and fro with religious observances, till there he sleeps while they sing over him the lullaby of hypocrisy, and he wakes not until he shall wake with that rich man who was here clothed in purple, but in the next world did lift up his eyes in hell, being in torments, without a drop of water to cool his burning tongue.
The Apostle says, “So run that ye may obtain.” There are some people who certainly never will obtain the prize, because they are not even entered.
Their names are not down for the race, and therefore it is quite clear that they will not run, or, if they do run, they will run without having any warrant whatever for expecting to receive the prize. There are some who will tell you themselves, “We make no profession — none whatever.” It is quite as well, perhaps, that you do not; because if you did, you would be hypocrites, and it is better to make no profession at all than to be hypocrites. Still, recollect, your names are not down for the race, and therefore you cannot win. If a man tells you in business that he makes no profession of being honest, you know that he is a confirmed rogue. If a man makes no profession of being religious, you know what he is — he is irreligious — he has no fear of God before his eyes, he has no love to Christ, he has no hope of heaven. He confesses it himself. Strange that men should be so ready to confess this. You don’t find persons in the street willing to acknowledge that they are confirmed drunkards. Generally, a man will repudiate it with scorn. You never find a man saying to you, “I don’t profess to be a chaste living man.” You don’t hear another say, “I don’t profess to be anything but a covetous wretch.” No; people are not so fast about telling their faults: and yet you hear people confess the greatest fault to which man can be addicted: they say, “I make no profession” — which means just this — that they do not give God His due. God has made them, and yet they won’t serve Him; Christ hath come into the world to save sinners, and yet they will not regard Him; the gospel is preached, and yet they will not hear it; they have the Bible in their houses, and yet they will not attend to its admonitions; they make no profession of doing so. It will be short work with them at the last great day. There will be no need for the books to be opened, no need for a long deliberation in the verdict.
They do not profess to be pardoned; their guilt is written upon their own foreheads, their brazen shamelessness shall be seen by the whole world, as a sentence of destruction written upon their very brows. You cannot expect to win heaven unless your names are entered for the race. If there be no attempts whatever made, even at so much as a profession of religion, then of course you may just sit down and say, “Heaven is not for me; I have no part nor lot in the inheritance of Israel; I cannot say that my Redeemer liveth; and I may rest quite assured that Tophet is prepared of old for me. I must feel its pains and know its miseries; for there are but two places to dwell in hereafter, and if I am not found on the right hand of the Judge there is but one alternative — namely, to be cast away forever into the blackness of darkness.”
Then there is another class whose names are down, but they never started right. A bad start is a sad thing. If in the ancient races of Greece or Rome a man who was about to run for the race had loitered, or if he had started before the time, it would not matter how fast he ran if he did not start in order. The flag must drop before the horse starts; otherwise, even if it reach the winning post first, it shall have no :reward. There is something to be noted, then, in the starting of the race. I have known men run the race of religion with all their might, and yet they have lost it because they did not start right. You say, “Well, how is that?” Why, there are some people who on a sudden leap into religion. They get it quickly, and they keep it for a time, and at last they lose it because they did not get their religion the right way. They have heard that before a man can be saved, it is necessary that, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, he should feel the weight of sin, that he should make a confession of it, that he should renounce all hope in his own works, and should look to Jesus Christ alone. They look upon all these things as unpleasant preliminaries, and therefore, before they have attended to repentance, before the Holy Spirit has wrought a good work in them, before they have been brought to give up everything and trust to Christ, they make a profession of religion. This is just setting up in business without a stock in trade, and there must be a failure. If a man has no capital to begin with, he may make a fine show for a little time, but it shall be as the crackling of thorns under a pot, a great deal of noise and much light for a little time, but it shall die out in darkness. How many there are who never think it necessary that there should be heart work within!
Again, there are some runners in the heavenly race who cannot win because they carry too much weight. A light weight, of course, has the advantage. There are some people who have an immensely heavy weight to carry. “How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven!”
What is the reason? Because he carries so much weight; he has so much of the cares and pleasures of this world; he has such a burden that he is not likely to win, unless God should please to give him a mighty mass of strength to enable him to bear it. We find many men willing to be saved, as they say; they receive the Word with great joy, but by-and-bye thorns spring up and choke the Word. They have so much business to do; they say they must live; they forget they must die. They have such a deal to attend to, they cannot think of living near to Christ. They find they have little time for devotions; morning prayer must be cut short, because their business begins early; they can have no prayer at night, because business keeps them so late. How can they be expected to think of the things of God? They have so much to do to answer this question — “What shall I eat? what shall I drink? and wherewithal shall I be clothed?” It is true they read in the Bible that their Father who is in heaven will take care of them in these things if they will trust Him. But they say, “Not so.” Those are enthusiasts according to their notions who rely upon providence. They say, the best providence in all the world is hard work; and they say rightly; but they forget that into the bargain of their hard work “it is in vain to rise up early and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness; for except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” You see two men running a race. One of them as he starts, lays aside every weight; he takes off his garment and away he runs. There goes the other poor fellow; he has a whole load of gold and silver upon his back. Then around his loins he has many distrustful doubts about what shall become of him in the future, what will be his prospects when he grows old, and a hundred other things. He does not know how to roll his burden upon the Lord. See how he flags, poor fellow, and how the other distances him, leaves him far behind, has gained the corner, and is coming to the winning post. It is well for us if we can cast everything away except that one thing needful, and say, “This is my business, to serve God on earth, knowing that I shall enjoy Him in heaven.” For when we leave our business to God, we leave it in better hands than if we took care of it ourselves. They who carve for themselves generally cut their fingers; but they who leave God to carve for them, shall never have an empty plate. He who will walk after the cloud shall go aright, but he who will run before it shall soon find that he has gone a fool’s errand. “Blessed is the man who trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.” “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that wait upon the Lord shall not want any good thing.” Our Savior said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” “Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them; are ye not much better than they?” “Trust in the Lord and do good, and verily thou shalt be fed.” “His place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure.” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Carry the weight of this world’s cares about you, and it will be as much as you can do to carry them and to stand upright under them, but as to running a race with such burdens, it is just impossible.
It is very well now to be sailing over the smooth waters of life, but the rough billows of Jordan will make you want a Savior. It is hard work to die without a hope; to take that last leap in the dark is a frightful thing indeed.
I have seen the old man die when he has declared he would not die. He has stood upon the brink of death, and he has said, “All dark, dark, dark! O God, I cannot die.” And his agony has been fearful when the strong hand of the destroyer has seemed to push him over the precipice. He “lingered shivering on the brink, and feared to launch away.” And frightful was the moment when the foot slipped and the solid earth was left, and the soul was sinking into the depths of eternal wrath. You will want a Savior then, when your pulse is faint and few; you will need an angel then to stand at your bedside; and when the spirit is departing, you will need a sacred convoy to pilot you through the dark clouds of death and guide you through the iron gate, and lead you to the blessed mansion in the land of the hereafter. Oh, “seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” O Lord, turn us and we shall be turned. Draw us and we will run after Thee; .and Thine shall be the glory; for the crown of our race shall be cast at Thy feet, and Thou shalt have the glory forever and ever.