There are multitudes of people, I believe, who go to church or chapel every Sunday merely as a form. Their fathers or mothers went, and so they go; it is the fashion of the country to go, and so they go; it is the custom to attend a religious service and hear a sermon, and so they go. But as to real, vital, saving religion–they neither know nor care anything about it.
Leave no stone unturned in order to ascertain your own spiritual state. Be not content with vague hopes and trusts. Rest not on warm feelings and temporary desires after God. Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.
The heart is the main thing in true religion. I make no excuse for asking the special attention of my readers, while I try to say a few things about the heart. The head is not the principal thing. You may know the whole truth as it is in Jesus, and consent that it is good.
“When a man is a Christian in name only, and not in reality – in outward things only, and not in his inward feelings – in profession only, and not in practice – when his Christianity in short is a mere matter of form, or fashion, or custom, without any influence on his heart or life – in such a case as this the man has what I call a ‘formal religion.’ He possesses indeed the form, or shell, or surface of religion, but he does not possess its substance or its power.”
“What more common than to hear it said of some false teacher in this day:
‘He is so good, so devoted, so kind, so zealous, so laborious, so humble, so self-denying, so charitable, so earnest, so fervent, so clever, so evidently sincere, there can be no danger and no harm in hearing him. Besides he preaches so much real Gospel: no one can preach a better sermon than he does sometimes! I never can and never will believe he is unsound.’
“A habit of prayer is one of the surest marks of a true Christian. All the children of God on earth are alike in this respect. From the moment there is any life and reality about their religion, they pray. Just as the first sign of the life of an infant when born into the world is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again is praying.”
Let us beware of attaching an excessive importance to ministers of religion because of their office. Ordination and office confer no exemption from error. The greatest heresies have been sown, and the greatest practical abuses introduced into the church by ordained men.
Prayer is one of the best and most powerful means of helping forward the cause of Christ in the world. It is a means within the reach of all who have the Spirit of adoption. Not all believers have money to give to missions.
There are few professing Christians, it may be feared, who strive to imitate Christ in the matter of private devotion. There is abundance of hearing, reading, talking, professing, visiting, contributing to the poor, subscribing to societies and teaching at schools.
“Sense of sin and deep hatred of it, faith in Christ and love to Him, delight in holiness and longing after more of it, love for God’s people and distaste for the things of the world, – these are the signs and evidences which always accompany conversion.”
There are few Christian duties which are so frequently and strongly dwelt upon in the New Testament as this of forgiveness. It fills a prominent place in the Lord’s prayer. The only profession we make in all that prayer, is that of forgiving “those who trespass against us.”It is a test of being forgiven ourselves.
Are we converted ourselves? This is the one point to which our attention ought to be directed. Our experience may not tally with that of other believers. But that is not the question. Do we feel sin, hate it, and flee from it?
“Precious, no doubt, are these little ones in your eyes; but if you truly love them, then often think about their souls. Nothing should concern you as greatly as their eternal destiny. No part of them should be so dear to you as that part which will never die.
“You may be saved, and reach heaven without many things which men reckon of great importance — without riches, without learning, without books, without worldly comforts, without health, without house, without land, without friends — but without Regeneration you will never be saved at all.”
Faith in the Lord Jesus is the very key of salvation. He that has it has life, and he that has it not has not life. Nothing whatever beside this faith is necessary to our complete justification; but nothing whatever, except this faith, will give us an interest in Christ.