Who is on the Lord's side? Exodus 32:26.
Last Friday evening, you will remember, that in discoursingfrom this text, I mentioned three classes of professors of religion:those who truly love God and man, those who are actuated solelyby selfishness (or at most self-love) in their religious duties,and those who are actuated only by a regard for public opinion.I also mentioned several characteristics of the first class, bywhich they may be known. This evening I intend to mention severalcharacteristics of the second class,
Those professors who are actuated by self-love or by selfishness.
I design to show how their leading or main design in religiondevelops itself in their conduct. The conduct of men invariablyshows what is their true and main design. A man's character isas his supreme object is. And if you can learn by his conductwhat that leading object is, then you can know with certaintywhat his character is. And I suppose this may generally be knownby us with great certainty, if we would candidly and thoroughlyobserve their conduct.
These three classes of professors agree in many things, andit would be impossible to discriminate between them by an observationof these things only. But there are certain things in which theydiffer, and by close observation the difference will be seen intheir conduct, from which we infer a difference in their character.And those points in which they differ belong to the very fundamentalof religion.
II. I will now proceed to mention some of the characteristicsof the second class
those who are actuated by self love, or by selfishness, inwhom hope and fear are the main springs of all they do in religion.And the things that I shall mention are such as, when they areseen, make it evident that the individual is actuated by a supremeregard to his own good, and that the fear of evil, or the hopeof advantage to himself, is the foundation of all his conduct.
1. They make religion a subordinate concern.
They show by their conduct that they do not regard religionas the principal business of life, but as subordinate to otherthings. They consider religion as something that ought to comein by the by, as something that ought to come in and find a placeamong other things, as a sort of Sabbath-day business, or somethingto be confined to the closet and the hour of family prayer, andthe Sabbath, but not as the grand business of life. They makea distinction between religious duty and business, and considerthem as entirely separate concerns. Whereas, if they had rightviews of the matter, they would consider religion as the onlybusiness of life, and nothing else either lawful or worth pursuing,any further than as it promotes or subserves religion. If theyhad the right feeling, religion would characterize all that theydo, and it would be manifest that everything they do is an actof obedience to God, or an act of irreligion.
2. Their religious duties are performed as a task, and arenot the result of the constraining love of God that burns withinthem.
Such a one does not delight in the exercise of religious affections;and as to communion with God, he knows nothing of it. He performsprayer as a task.
He betakes himself to religious duties as sick persons takemedicine, not because they love it, but because they hope to derivesome benefit from it.
And here let me ask those who are present tonight, Do you enjoyreligious exercises, or do you perform them because you hope toreceive benefit by them? Be honest, now, and answer this question,just according to the truth, and see where you stand.
3. They manifestly possess a legal spirit, and not a gospelspirit.
They do rather what they are obliged to do, in religion, andnot what they love to do. They have an eye to the commands ofGod, and yield obedience to his requirements, in performing religiousduties, but do not engage in those things because they love them.They are always ready to inquire, in regard to duty, not so muchhow they can do good, as how they can be saved. There is justthe difference between them, that there is between a convincedsinner and a true convert. The convinced sinner asks "Whatmust I do to be saved?" The true convert asks "Lord,what wilt thou have me to do?" So this class of professorsare constantly asking, "What must I do to get to heaven?"and not "What can I do to get other people there?" Theprincipal object of such a professor of religion is not to savethe world, but to save himself.
4. They are actuated by fear much more than by hope.
They perform their religious duties chiefly because they darenot omit them. They go to the communion, not because they loveto meet Christ, or because they love to commune with their brethren,but because they dare not stay away. They fear the censures ofthe church, or they are afraid they shall be damned if they neglectit. They perform their closet duties not because they enjoy communionwith God, but because they dare not neglect them. They have thespirit of slaves, and go about the service of God, as slaves goabout the service of their master, feeling that they are obligedto do about so much, or be beaten with many stripes. So theseprofessors feel as if they were obliged to have about so muchreligion, and perform about so many religious duties, or be lashedby conscience and lose their hopes. And therefore they go through,painfully and laboriously enough, with about so many religiousduties in a year, and that they call religion!
5. Their religion is not only produced by the fear of disgraceor the fear of hell, but it is mostly of a negative character.
They satisfy themselves, mostly, with doing nothing that isvery bad. Having no spiritual views, they regard the law of Godchiefly as a system of prohibitions, just to guard men from certainsins, and not as a system of benevolence fulfilled by love. Andso, if they are moral in their conduct, and tolerably seriousand decent in their general deportment, and perform the requiredamount of religious exercises, this satisfies them. Their conscienceharasses them, not so much about sins of omission as sins of commission.They make a distinction between neglecting to do what God positivelyrequires, and doing what he positively forbids. The most you cansay of them is that they are not very bad. They seem to thinklittle or nothing of being useful to the cause of Christ, so longas they cannot be convicted of any positive transgression.
6. This class of persons are more or less strict in religiousduties, according to the light they have and the sharpness withwhich conscience pursues them.
Where they have enlightened minds and tender consciences, youoften find them the most rigid of all professors. They tithe evento mint and anise. They are stiff even to moroseness. They areperfect pharisees, and carry everything to the greatest extremes,so far as outward strictness is concerned.
7. They are more or less miserable in proportion to the tendernessof their conscience.
With all their strictness, they cannot be sensible that theyare great sinners after all: and having no just sense of the gospeljustification, this leaves them very unhappy. And the more enlightenedand tender their conscience, the more they are unhappy. Notwithstandingtheir strictness, they feel that they come short of their duty,and not having any gospel faith, nor any of that holy anointingof the Holy Spirit that brings peace to the soul, they are unsatisfied,and uneasy, and miserable.
Perhaps many of you have seen such persons. Perhaps some ofyou are such, and you never knew what it was to feel justifiedbefore God, through the blood of Jesus Christ, and you know notwhat it is to feel that Jesus Christ has accepted and owned youas his. You never felt in your minds what that is which is spokenof in the text, "There is now no condemnation to them thatare in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after theSpirit." Does such language bring home any warm and practicalidea to you, that it is a reality because you experience it inyour soul? Or do you, after all, still feel condemned and guilty,and have no sense of pardoned sin, and no experimental peace withGod, or confidence in Jesus Christ.
8. This class of persons are encouraged and cheered by readingthe accounts of ancient saints who fell into great sins.
They feel wonderfully instructed and edified when they hearthe sins of Gods people set forth in a strong light. Then theyare comforted and their hopes are wonderfully strengthened. Insteadof feeling humbled and distressed, and feeling that such conductis so contrary to all religion that they could hardly believethey were saints if it had not been found in the Bible, and thatthey could not believe at all that persons who should do suchthings under the light of the Christian dispensation, could besaints; they feel gratified and strengthened, and their hopesconfirmed, by all these things. I once knew a man, an elder too,brought before the session of a church for the crime of adultery,and he actually excused himself by this plea: He did not know,he said, why he should be expected to be better than David, theman after God's own heart.
9. They are always much better pleased, by how much the lowerthe standard of piety is held out from the pulpit.
If the minister adopts a low standard, and is ready charitablyto hope that almost every body is a Christian, they are pleased,and compliment him for his expansive charity, and praise him assuch an excellent man, so charitable, etc. It is easy to see whythis class of persons are pleased with such an exhibition of Christianity.It subserves their main design. It helps them to maintain whatthey call a "comfortable hope," notwithstanding theydo so little for God. Right over against this, you will see, isthe conduct of the man whose main design is to rid the world ofsin. He wants all men to be holy, and therefore he wants to havethe true standard of holiness held up. He wants all men to besaved, but he knows they cannot be saved unless they are trulyholy. And he would as soon think of Satan's going to heaven asof getting a man there by frittering away the Bible standard ofholiness by "charity."
10. They are fond of having "comfortable" doctrinespreached.
Such persons are apt to be fond of having the doctrine of saints'perseverance much dwelt on, and the doctrine of election. Often,they want nothing else but what they call the doctrines of grace.And if they can be preached in such an abstract way, as to affordthem comfort without galling their consciences too much, theyare fed.
11. They love to have their ministers preach sermons "tofeed Christians."
Their main object is not to save sinners, but to be saved themselves,and therefore they always choose a minister, not for his abilityin preaching for the confession of sinners, but for his talentsin feeding the church with mere abstractions.
12. They lay great stress on having "a comfortable hope."
You will hear them talking very solemnly about the importanceof having a comfortable hope. If they can only enjoy their minds,they show very little solicitude whether anybody else around themis saved or not. If they can have only their fears silenced andtheir hopes cherished they have religion enough to satisfy them.
Right over against this, you will find the true friends ofGod and man are thinking mainly of something else: they are tryingto pull sinners out of the fire, and do not spend their energyin sustaining a comfortable hope to themselves.
In their prayers, you will find the class I am now speakingof, are praying mainly that their evidences may be brightened,and that they may feel assured that they are going to heaven,and know that they are accepted of God. Their great object isto secure their hopes, and so they pray that their evidences maybe brightened, instead of praying that their faith may be strengthened,and their souls full of the Holy Ghost to pull sinners out ofthe fire.
13. They live very much on their own frames of mind.
They lay great stress on the particular emotions which theyhave from time to time. If at any time they have some high-wroughtfeelings of a religious nature, they dwell on them, and make thisevidence last a great while. One such season of excitement willprop up their hopes as long as they can distinctly call it upto remembrance. No matter if they are not doing anything now,and are conscious they have no exercises of love to God now, theyrecollect the time when they had such and such feelings, and thatanswers to keep alive their hopes. If there has been a revival,and they mingled in its scenes until their imagination has beenwrought up so that they could weep and pray and exhort with feelingduring a revival, that will last them a long time, and they willhave a comfortable hope for years on the strength of it. Although,after the revival is over, they do nothing to promote religion,and their hearts are as hard as adamant, they have a very comfortablehope all the while, patiently waiting for a revival to come andgive them another move.
Are any of you who are here now, propping yourselves up byyour past frames and feelings, leaning on evidences, not fromwhat you are NOW doing but something that you felt last year,or years ago? Let me tell you, that if you are thus living onpast experience, you will find it will fail when you come to needit.
14. They pray almost exclusively for themselves.
If you could listen at the door of their closets, you wouldhear eight-tenths of all their petitions going up for themselves.
It shows how they value their own salvation in comparison withthe salvation of others. It is as eight to two. And if they prayin meetings, very often it will be just the same, and you wouldnot suppose, from their prayers, that they knew there was a sinneron earth traveling the road to hell. They pray for themselvesjust as they do in the closet, only they couple the rest of thechurch with them so as to say "we."
15. Such persons pray to be fitted for death much more thanthey pray to be fitted to live a useful life.
They are more anxious to be prepared to die, than to be preparedto save sinners around them. If they ask for the Spirit of God,they want it to prepare them to die, more than as the Psalmistprayed, "Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinnersshall be converted unto thee." How many of you are of thischaracter? How many are there here, whose prayers are describedexactly? An individual who made it his great absorbing objectto do good and save sinners, would not be apt to think so muchabout when, or where, or how he shall die, as how he may do themost good while he lives. And as to his death, he leaves thatall to God, and he is not afraid to leave it all with him. Hehas long ago given his soul up to him, and now the great questionwith him is not, When shall I die? but, how shall I live so asto honor God?
16. They are more afraid of punishment than they are of sin.
Precisely over against this, you will find the true friendsof God and man more afraid of sin than of punishment. It is notthe question with them, "If I do this shall I be punished?"or, "If I do this, will God forgive me:" But the questionis that which Joseph asked, "How can I do this great wickedness,and sin against God?" There was the spirit of a child ofGod, afraid of sin more than punishment, and so much afraid ofsin that he had no thought of punishment.
This class of persons I am speaking of, often indulge in sinif they can persuade themselves that God will for give them, orwhen they think they can repent of it afterwards. They often reasonin this way: "Such a minister does this;" or "Suchan elder or professor does this, and why may not I do the same?"There was a member of this church had a class in the Sabbath school;but seeing that others did not take a class, the individual reasonedin this way: "Why should I do it any more than they?"and so gave up the class. Here is the spirit of this whole descriptionof professors "Others get along without doing such and suchthings, and why should I trouble myself to be better than they?"It is not sin that they fear, but punishment. They sin, they know,but they hope to escape punishment. Who cannot see that this incontrary to the spirit of the true friends of God, whose absorbingobject it is to get sin, and all sin, out of the world? Such personsare not half so much afraid of hell us they are of committingsin.
17. They feel and manifest greater anxiety about being savedthemselves, than if all the world was going to hell.
Such a professor, if his hope begins to fail, wants to haveeverybody engaged, to pray for HIM, and make a great ado, andmove all the church, when he never thinks of doing anything forthe sinners around him, who are certainly on the road to hell.He shows that his mind is absorbed in himself, and that his maindesign is not to see how much good he can do.
18. They are more fond of receiving good than of doing good.
You may know such persons have not the spirit of the gospel.They have never entered into the spirit of Jesus Christ, whenhe said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
A person actuated by true love to God and man enjoys what hedoes to benefit others, far more than they do who receive goodat his hand. He is really benevolent, and it is a gratificationto him to show kindness, because his heart is set upon it, andwhen he can do it, a holy joy is shed over his mind, and he enjoysit exquisitely.
The other class are more eager to receive than to impart. Theywant to receive instruction more than to impart it. They wantto receive comfort, but are never ready to deny themselves togive the comforts of the gospel to others. How directly contrarythis is to the diffusive spirit of the gospel, any one can seeat a glance. That spirit ends its supreme happiness in communicatinghappiness to others. But this class of persons want to lay everybodyunder contribution to impart happiness to themselves, insteadof laying themselves out to bless others.
Who does not know these two classes of professor? One alwaysseeking out objects to do good to, the other always trying togain good themselves. One anxious to communicate, the other toreceive. One to do good, the other to get good. These two classesof character are just as opposite as light and darkness.
19. If this class of professors are led to pray for the conversionand salvation of others, you may observe that they are actuatedbythe same kind of considerations as they are when they pray forthemselves.
They are chiefly afraid of hell themselves, and when they arestrongly convicted, they are afraid others will go there too.They are seeking happiness for themselves, and when self is notin the way, they seek the same for others. They pray for sinners,not because they have such a sense of the evil of sin which sinnersare committing, as because they have such a sense of the terrorsof hell to which sinners are going. It is not because sinnersdishonor God that they want them converted, but because they arein danger. Their great object in praying is to secure the safetyof those they pray for, as it is their great object in religionto secure their own safety. They pity themselves and they pityothers. If there was no danger, they would have no motive to prayeither for themselves or others.
The true friends of God and man feel compassion for winnerstoo, but they feel much more for the honor of God. They are moredistressed to see God abused and dishonored than to see sinnersgo to hell. And if God must be for ever dishonored or men go tohell just as certainly as they love God supremely, they will decidethat sinners shall sink to endless torments sooner than God failof his due honor. And they manifest their true feelings in theirprayers. You hear them praying for sinners as rebelsagainst God,as guilty criminals deserving of eternal wrath, as the enemiesof God and the universe; and while they are full of compassionfor sinners, they feel also the enkindlings of holy indignationagainst them for their conduct towards the blessed God.
20. The class of professors I am speaking of are very apt tobe distressed with doubts.
They are apt to talk a great deal about their doubts. Thismakes up a great part of their history the detail of their doubts.The great thing with them being the enjoyment of a comfortablehope, as soon as they begin to doubt, it is all over with them,and so they make a great ado with their doubts, and then theyare not prepared to do anything for religion because they havethese doubts. The true friends of God and man being engaged indoing good, if the devil at any time suggests that they are goingto hell, the first answer they think of is, "What if I should?Only let me pull sinners out of the fire while I can." Isuppose real Christians may have doubts.
But they are much less apt to have them, by how much the morethey are fully bent on saving sinners. It will be very hard workfor Satan to get a church who is fully engaged in the work tobe much troubled with doubts. Their attention is not on that,but on something else, and he cannot get the advantage over them.
21. They manifest great uneasiness at the increasing callsfor self denial to do good.
Said an individual, "What will this temperance reformationcome to? At first they only went against ardent spirit, and Igave up that, and did very well without it. Then they called onus to give up wine; and now they are calling on us to give upour tea and coffee, and tobacco; where will it end?" Thisclass of persons are in constant distress at being called on togive up so much. The good that is to be done does not enter intotheir thoughts, because they are all the while dwelling on whatthey have to give up.
It is easily seen why it is that these aggressive movementson the kingdom of darkness distress such person. Their objectnever was to search out and banish from this world everythingthat is dishonorable to God or injurious to man. They never enteredupon religion with the determination to clear out every such thingfrom the earth, as far as they had power, and as fast as theywere convinced that it was injurious to themselves or others,in soul or body. And therefore they are distressed by the movementsof those who are truly engaged to search out and clear away everyevil.
These persons are annoyed by the continually increasing callsto give for missions, Bibles, tracts, and the like. The time was,when a rich man gave twenty-five dollars a year to such things,he was thought to be doing pretty well. But now there are so manycalls for subscriptions and contributions, that they are in tormentall the time. "I don't like these contributions, I am opposedto having contributions taken up in the congregation, I thinkthey do hurt." They feel specially sole at these agents."I don't know about these beggars that are going about."They are obliged to keep giving all the time, in order to keepup their character, or to have any hope, but they are much distressedabout it, and do not know what the world is coming to, thingsare in such a strange pass.
As you raise the general standard of living in the church,this class of professors find they have to come up too, lest theirhopes should be shaken. And the common standard of professorshas been raised already so much, that I have no doubt it coststhis class of persons new four times as much of what they callreligion, to keep up a hope, as it did twenty years ago. And whatwill become of them if there are to be so many new movements andnew measures, and so much done to save the world? The Lord helpthem, for they are in great distress!
22. When they are called upon to exercise self-denial for thesake of doing good, instead of being a pleasant thing, it givesthem unmingled pain.
Such a one does not know anything about enjoying self-denial.He cannot understand how self-denial is pleasant, nor how anybodycan take pleasure in it, or have joy of heart in denying himselffor the sake of doing good to others. That, he thinks, is a heightin religion to which he has not attained. Yet the true friendof God and man, whose heart is fully set to do good, never enjoysany money he expends so well as that which he gives to promoteChrist's kingdom. If he is really pious, he knows that is thebest disposition he can make of his money. Nay, he is sorry tobe obliged to use money for anything else, when there are so manyopportunities to do good with it.
I want you who are here to look at this. It is easy to seethat if an individual has his heart very much set upon anything,all the money he can save for that object is most pleasing tohim, and the more he can save from other objects for this thathis heart is set on, the better he is pleased. If an individualfind it hard for him to give money for religious objects, it iseasy to see that his heart is not set on it. If it were, he wouldhave given his money with joy. What would you think of a man whoshould set himself against giving money for the advancement ofreligion, and get up an excitement in the church, about the missionarycause, and having so many calls for money, when he had never givenfive dollars? It would be absolute demonstration that his heartwas not truly set on the cause of Christ; if it were, he wouldgive his money for it, as free as water; and the more he couldspare for it, the better he would be pleased.
23. This class of persons are not forward in promoting revivals.
This is not their great object. They always have to be draggedinto the work. When a revival has begun, and gone on, and theexcitement is great, then they come in and appear to be engagedin it. But you never see them taking the lead, or striking outa-head of the rest, and saying to the rest of the brethren, Comeon and let us do something for the Lord.
24. As a matter of fact, they do not convert sinners to God.
They may be instrumental of good, in various ways, and so maySatan be instrumental of good.
But as a general thing, they do not pull sinners out of thefire. And the reason is, that this is not their great object.How is it with you? Do you absolutely succeed in converting sinners?Is there any one who will look to yon as the instrument of hisconversion? If you were truly engaged for this, you could notrest satisfied without doing it, and you would go about it somuch in earnest, and with such agonizing prayer that you woulddo it.
25. They do not manifest much distress when they behold sin.
They do not rebuke it. They love to mingle in scenes wheresin is committed. They love to be where they can hear vain conversation,and even to join in it. They love worldly company and worldlybooks. Their spirit is worldly. Instead of hating even the garmentspotted with the flesh, they love to hang around the confinesof sin, as if they had complacency in it.
26. They take but very little interest in published accountsof revivals, missions, etc.
If any of the missions are tried severely, they neither knownor feel it. If missions prosper, they never know it, they takeno interest in it. Very likely they do not take any religiouspaper whatever. Or if they do, when they sit down to read it,if they come to a revival, they pass it over, to read the secularnews, or the controversy, or something else. The other class,the true friends of God and man, on the contrary, love to learnthe progress of revivals. They love to read a religious paper,and when they take it up, the first thing they do is to run theireye over it to find where there are revivals, and there they feasttheir souls, and give glory to God. And so with missions: theirheart goes forth with the missionaries, and when they hear thatthe Lord has poured forth his Spirit on a mission, they feel aglow of holy joy thrill through them.
27. They do not aim at any thing higher than a legal, painful,negative religion.
The love of Christ does not constrain them to a constant warfareagainst sin, and a constant watch to do all the good in theirpower. But what they do is done only because they think they must.And they maintain a kind of piety that is formal, heartless, worthless.
28. They come reluctantly into all the special movements ofthe church for doing good.
If a protracted meeting is proposed, you will generally findthis class of persons hanging back, and making objections, andraising difficulties as long as they can. If any other specialeffort is proposed, they come reluctantly, and prefer the goodold way. They feel sore at being obliged to add so much everyyear to their religion in order to maintain their hope.
29. They do not enjoy secret prayer.
They do not pray in their closets because they LOVE to praybut because they think it is their duty, and they dare not neglectit.
30. They do not enjoy the Bible.
They do not read the Bible because it is sweet to their souls,sweeter than honey or the honey-comb. They do not "enjoy"the reading, as a person enjoys the most exquisite delights. Theyread it because it is their duty to read it; and it would notdo to profess to be a Christian and not read the Bible: but infact they find it a dry book.
31. They do not enjoy prayer meetings.
Slight excuses keep them away. They never go unless they findit necessary for the sake of keeping up appearances, or to maintaintheir hope. And when they do go, instead of having their soulsmelted and fired with love, they are cold, listless, dull, andglad when it is over.
32. They are very much put to it to understand what is meantby disinterestedness.
To serve God because they love him, and not for the sake ofthe reward, is what they do not understand.
33. Their thoughts are not anxiously fixed upon the question,When shall the world be converted to God?
Their hearts are not agonized with such thoughts as this, on,how long shall wickedness prevail? Oh, when shall this wretchedworld be rid of sin and death? Oh, when shall men cease to sinagainst God? They think much more of the question, When shallI die and go to heaven, and get rid of all my trials and cares?
But I find I am again obliged to omit the examination of thelast class of professors till next Friday evening, when, withthe leave of Providence, it will be attended to.
1. I believe you will not think me extravagant, when I saythat the religion I have described, appears to be the religionof a very large mass in the church.
To say the least, it is greatly to be feared that a majorityof professing Christians are of this description. To say this,is neither uncharitable nor censorious.
2. This religion is radically defective.
There is nothing of true Christianity in it. It differs fromChristianity as much as the Pharisees differed from Christ asmuch as gospel religion differs from legal religion.
Now, let me ask you, to which of these classes do you belong?Or are you in neither? It may be that because you are consciousyou do not belong to the second class, you may think you belongto the first, when in fact, you will find, when I come to describethe third class of professors, that I describe your true character.
How important it is that you know for a certainty what is yourtrue character whether you are actuated in religion by true loveto God and man, or whether you are religious only out of regardto yourself. O, what a solemn thought, if this church, of whichI have been the pastor, have never come to an intelligent decisionof the question, whether they are the true friends of God andman or not. Do settle it, beloved. Now is the time. Settle this,and then go to work for God.
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