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A PRESENT RELIGION.
REV. C. H. SPURGEON,
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God.”—1 John iii. 2. I shall not pretend to preach from the whole of my text this morning, short though it be. The word “now” is to me the most prominent word in the text, and I shall make it so this morning. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.”
It is astonishing how distance blunts the keen edge of anything that is disagreeable. War is at all times a most fearful scourge. The thought of slain bodies and of murdered men must always harrow up the soul; but because we hear of these things in the distance, there are few Englishmen who can truly enter into their horrors. If we should hear the booming of cannon on the deep which girdles this island; if we should see at our doors the marks of carnage and bloodshed; then should we more thoroughly appreciate what war means. But distance takes away the horror, and we therefore speak of war with too much levity, and even read of it with an interest not sufficiently linked with pain. As it is with war, so it is with death. Death is a frightful thing; he who is the bravest must still fear before it, for at best it is a solemn thing to die. Man, therefore, adopts the expedient of putting off all thoughts of death: it may be very near to him, but he conceives it to be at a distance, and then the same effect is produced as when war is at a distance; its horror is forgotten, and we speak of it with less solemnity. So likewise with true religion; men are constrained to believe that there is truth in religion. Though there are some fool-hardy enough to deny it, the most of us in this enlightened land are obliged to acknowledge that there is a power in Godliness. What, then, does the worldling do? He practises the same expedient. He puts religion far away; he knows that its disagreeableness will be diminished by his believing it to be distant. Hence there has sprung up in the minds of the unregenerate world a notion that religion is a thing to be accomplished just at the close of life, and the usual prayer of an ungodly man, when in the slightest degree pricked in his conscience, is, “Oh, that I may be saved at last !” He does not feel anxious to be saved now; religion is a thing for which he has no appetite, and therefore believing it essential to insure his eternal welfare, he adopts the alternative of saying, " I hope to have it at last.”
The religion, then, of the present, is not the worldling's religion. He tolerates that which speaks of eternity, that which deals with dying beds; that which leads him to look back with a specious repentance upon a life spent in sin, but not that which will enable him to look forward to a life spent in holiness. Very differently, however, do we act with affairs of the present life; for things that are sweet to us, become the more sweet by their nearness. Was there ever a child who longed for his father's house who did not feel that the holidays grew more sweet in his estimation the shorter the time was that he had to tarry?
What man is there who having once set his heart on riches, did not find his delight in the thought of being rich increase with the nearness of his approach to the desired object? And are we not all of us accustomed, when we think a good thing is at a distance, to try if we can shorten the time between us and it. We try anything and everything to push on the lagging hours; we chide them; we wish that Time had double wings, that he might swiftly fly and bring the expected season. When the Christian talks of heaven, you will always hear him try to shorten the distance between himself and the happy land; he says,
“ A few more rolling suns at most
There may be many years between him and paradise, but still he is prone to say,
“The way may be rough, but it cannot be long." Thus do we all delight to shorten the distance between us and the things for which we hope. Now let us just apply this rule to religion. They who love religion love a present thing. The Christian who really seeks salvation, will never be happy unless he can say, "Now am I a child of God." Because the worldling dislikes it, he puts it from him; because the Christian loves it, therefore its very fairest feature is its present existence, its present enjoyment in his heart. That word “now” which is the sinners warning, and his terror, is to the Christian, his greatest delight and joy. “ There is therefore”-and then the sweetest bell of all rings“there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; " to the sinner that same idea is the blackest of all, “ He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God.
This morning, in God's name, I shall endeavour to plead with men, and show them the importance of having a present religion. I am quite certain that this is a habit which is too much kept in the back-ground. I am sure from mixing with mankind, that the current belief is, that religion is a future thing, perhaps the wish is father to the thought. I am certain the ground of it is, men love not religion, and therefore they desire to thrust it far from them.
I shall commence by endeavouring to show that religion must be a thing of the present, because the present has such intimate connerions with the future, and to proceed-We are told in Scripture that this life is a seed time, and the future is the harvest, “ He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.” The Scripture often speaks to us in words like these, “ They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy." It is always supposed in Scripture, that this life is the time of generating, if I may use such an expression, the life that is to come, as the seed generates the plant, even 80 doth this present life generate the eternal future. We know, indeed, that hearen and hell are, after all, but the developments of our present character, for what is hell but this, “ He that is filthy, let him be filchy still, and he that is unholy, les him be unholy still?" Do we not know that in the bowels of every sin, damnation slumbers? Is it not a fearful truth that the germ of everlasting torment sleeps in every vile wish, every unholy thought, every unclean act, so that hell is but : great breaking out of slumbering lava, which had been so quiet, that while the mountain was covered with fair verdure, even to its summit, death comes and bids that lava rise; and down the steeps of manhood's eternal existence, the fiery flame, and the hot scalding lavaof eternal misery doth pour itself. Yet it was there before, for sin is hell, and to rebel against God is but the prelude of misery. So is it with heaven; I know that heaven is a reward, not of debt, but of grace; but still the Christian has that within him, which forestals for him a heaven, What did Christ say? “I give unto my sheep eternal life.” He did not say, I will give, but, I give unto them. “As soon as they believe in me, I give them eternal life,* and " he that believeth, hath eternal life, and shall never come unto damnation." The Christian hath within him the seed-beds of a paradise; in due time the light that is sown for the righteous, and the gladness that is buried beneath the black earth for the upright in heart, shall spring up, and they shall reap the harrest. Is it not plain then that religion is a thing which we must have here? Is it not prominently revealed that religion is important for the present? for if this life be the seed time of the future, how can I expect to reap in another world other crops than I have been sowing here? how can I trust that I shall be saved, unless I am saved ? how can I have hope that heaven shall be my eternal inheritance, unless the earnest be begun in my own soul on earth? But again, this life is always said in Scripture to be a preparation for the life
to come. “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel." They that were ready went in with him to the supper, and the door was shut.” There is in this world a getting ready for another world ; to use a Biblical figure, we must here put on the wedding dress, which we are to wear for ever. This life is as the vestibule of the king's court, we must put our shoes from off our feet; we must wash our garments and make ourselves ready to enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb. Somehow, in Scripture, the thought comes out as plain as if written with a sunbeam, this world is the beginning of the end,—it is the preparing-place for the future. Supposing you have no religion now, how will you stand when now is turned into eternity ? When days and years are gone, how will it fare with you, if all your days have been spent without God and without Christ? Do you hope to hurry on the white garment after death? Alas ! you shall be girt with your shroud, but not be able to put on the wedding raiment. Do you trust that you shall wash you and make you clean in the river Jordan? Alas! ye shall breed corruption in your tomb, but ye shall not find holiness there. Do ye trust to be pardoned after you have departed ?
“ There are no acts of pardon pass'd
In the cold grave to which we haste;
Reign in eternal silence there." Or, do ye think that when ye near the borders of the grave, then will be the time to prepare ? Be not deceived. We read in Scripture one instance of a man saved at the eleventh hour. Remember, there is but one; and we have no reason to believe that there ever was, or ever will be another. There may have been persons saved on their dying beds, but we are not sure there ever were. Such things may have happened, but none of us can tell. Alas! facts are sadly against it; for we have been assured by those who have had the best means of judging—those who have long walked the hospital of humanity-that such as thought they were dying, and made vows of repentance, have almost invariably turned back, like the dog to his own vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.' Oh, no; “ To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts;" for to-day is the preparing time for the dread to-morrow-to-day is the making ready for the eternal future.
Let me urge one other reflection here. How are we saved ? All through Scripture we are told we are saved by faith, except in one passage, wherein it is said, we are saved by hope. Now note, how certain it is that religion must be a present thing if we are saved by faith, because faith and hope cannot live in another world. “What a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for ?” Hope cannot exist in that world of realities where shadows are unknown. How can faith be exercised when we see a thing? for what a man perceiveth by faith that he realises not by sense; and although we say “seeing is believing,” it is quite certain that seeing and believing are at opposite poles. Believing is an assurance of that which we see not, and in confidence of faith waiting until we do see it; but seeing is sensuous, and the very reverse of faith. Now if I am to be saved by faith, it is quite certain I must be saved in a state where faith can be exercised, that is in this world; and if I am to be saved by hope, I cannot be saved by hope in that world where hope cannot exist; I must be saved here, for here is the only place where hope can breathe an air that lets it live. The air of heaven is too bright and pure, too heavenly, too warm, too sweet with angels' songs, for faith and hope to inhabit. They leave us on this side of the Jordan; if then we are saved by these, I think it follows—and every one of you must perceive the inference—we must be saved now, because faith and hope are not things of the future. Oh how pleasant, if after these remarks we can say, “Yes, it is so; it is even so, and we rejoice therein, for now are we the sons of God.""
In the second place, as I have briefly shown the connexion between the present and the future, let me use another illustration to show the importance of a present salvation. Salvation is a thing which brings present blessings. When you read Scrip. ture, and alas there are few who care to read it as they ought in these times, they read anything rather than their Bibles—when you read Scripture, you will be struck with the fact that every blessing is spoken of in the present tense. You remember how the apostle in one of his epistles says, “ Unto them which are saved,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” He does not say to them wlio shall be saved, but to them which are saved. We know too that justification is a present blessing—" there is therefore now no condemnation.” Adoption is a present blessing, for it says, “ Now are we the sons of God," and we know also that sanctification is a present blessing, for the apos'le addresses himself to “the saints who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called." All the blessings of the new covenant are spoken of in the present tense, because with the exception of eternal glory in heaven, they are all to be enjoyed here. I know this, that I shall be one day, if I am a believer in Christ, more sanctified than I am to-day-if not in the sense of consecration, yet still in the sense of purification-but at the same time I know this of a surety, that when I stand at God's right hand, midst the lamps of eternal brightness, and when these fingers move with vigour across the golden strings, and when this voice is filled with the immortal songs, I shall not be one whit more a child of God than I am now. And when the white robe is upon me, and the crown upon my head, I shall not be more justified than I am at the present moment, for it is the doctrine of Holy Scripture, that
“The moment a sinner believes,
And trusts in his crucified God,
Salvation in full through his b'ood." But the assurance of our possession in these things is a present blessing also. I will illustrate what I mean by a circumstance which happened to myself. A lady called upon me in some distress of mind, and this was her difficulty:-She had, she trusted, been converted to God, enjoyed great peace of mind, and for a little season was very full of joy; because she believed that she had been forgiven, and was accepted in the beloved. Naturally enough, seeking her religious instructor, she went to the clergyman of the parish, who, unfortunately for her, was a blind guide, for when she began to tell him concerning her joy, he checked her, by saying, “My good woman, this is all presumption." "Nay, sir," said she, “I trust not; my hope is fixed on nothing else than Jesus; I repose alone in him." “That is right enough,” said he, “but you have no authority to say you know you are saved; you have no authority to believe that you are already pardoned.” And he told her that he did not believe it possible for any Christian to be assured of this, except a very few eminent saints; they might hope, that was all; they might trust, but they could never be sure. Ah! methinks he bad gone but a very little way on the road to the kingdom of heaven. He must have been but a very small infant in Christ, if in Christ at all, to have told her so. For those of us who have for a few years put on the Lord Jesus, know of a surety that there is such a thing as infallible assurance, we know that although there is such a thing as presumption, there is a distinction which every Christian can easily mark between the one and the other. Presumption says, “I am a child of God, and I may live as I like. I know I am saved, I need not therefore seek to have present communion with Christ." But Assurance says, “I know whom I have believed; I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." And then she meekly bows her head, and says, “Hold thou me up and I shall be safe; keep me and I shall be kept; draw me and I will run after thee.” Oh! my dear hearers, never believe that falsehood of the day-that a man cannot know himself to be a child of God. For if you tell us that, we can refute you with a thousand testimonies. We have seen the poor, the humble, and the illiterate, confident of their interest in Christ. It is true, we have seen them doubt; we have heard their wailings when they could not see Christ with their heart. Yea we have known the time when the greatest of God's people have had to tremble, and say—
“ 'Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought-
Am I his, or am I not?'”
beareth witness with our spirits that we are born of God.” I would that we had more Christians who lived in the enjoyment of full assurance. How precious it is when the milk of faith settles down, and the thick cream of full assurance can be skimmed from the surface as marrow and fatness to the children of God. Religion, then, is a thing of present assurance. A man may know in this life, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he is accepted in Christ Jesus.
Yet I am inclined to think, that the worldly man most of all objects to present religion, because he does not like its duties. Most men would be very religious if religion did not entail obligations. Many a free liver would be a very pious man, if he were not curtailed of a few of his bottles of wine. Many a loose character would have no objection to go up to the temple and pray, and subscribe his name to the God of Jacob, if the gospel did not forbid all uncleanness, and everything that is lascivious. Many a tradesman would put on the Lord Jesus Christ, if there were no necessity to put off the old man; if he could keep his sins and have Christ too-oh, how willing would he be. Indeed, there are a great many who are so fond of it, that they have tried it. We know people who are like the Roman Emperor, who believed that Jesus Christ was God, but thought that all the other strange gods were likewise to be worshipped; so these people think religion a very good thing, but think sin a very good thing too, so they set up ine two together, and their whole life is like Janus, two-faced. They look most comely Christians in the synagogue, but they look most unmistakable hypocrites if you see them in the market. Men will not direct a single eye to religion, because it curtails license and entails duties. And this, I think, proves that religion is a present thing, because the duties of religion cannot be practised in another world, they must be practised here.
Now, what are the duties of religion? In the first place, here are its active duties, which a man should do between man and man, to walk soberly and righteously, and uprightly in the midst of an evil generation. Lightly as some people speak about morality, or against morality, there is no true religion where there is no morality. Do not tell me about your othodoxy, do not come and tell me about your private prayers and secret piety; if your life be bad, you are bad altogether. A good tree cannot bring forth anything but good fruit, and a corrupt tree will bring forth corrupt fruit. There is no questioning that; what your life is, that you are--for as out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, so out of the abundance of the heart the man lives. It is all in vain for you to deprecate so strong a sentiment as this, and to say, “ The best of saints are fallible.” I know they are; I know that even the best of men will sin, but they will not sin willingly; if they sin publicly, it will be but an exception; their lives, under the power of Divine grace, will be holy, and pure, and upright. I believe the devil likes Antinomianism, and he says to the Romanist, “ Preach on, you Priest; I do not mind what you preach, for you will enter my dominions. You tell people that they may live in sin, and then procure absolution for a shilling! Fiue doctrine that!” And he pats the priest on the back, and gives him all the assistance he can. Then comes there an Antinomian minister into the pulpit. The devil says, " Ah, though he rails against the Pope of Rome, I like them both, the one as much as the other.” Then how he preaches! he begins preaching justification by faith alone, and he carries his argument a step too far, for he begins railing at good works, calls them legalists, who think it their duty to lead a holy life, and hints with a smirk and a smile, that the excellent conduct of a man is of little importance, so long as he believes the truth and goes to his chapel. “Ah,” says the devil,“ preach away; I love the two things, Antinomianism and Popery, for they are two of the finest quacks for ca...ing souls.” Again, I say, “ Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsover a man soweth that shall he also reap.” By our works we are not to be justified, but still by our works we shall be judged, and by our works we shall be condemned. So saith the Scriptures, and this we must receive. Religion, therefore, must be a present thing; we need not talk of walking righteously, and soberly, in the world to come
“ There all is pure, and all is clear,
There will be no duty to discharge between the tradesman and the customer, between the debtor and the creditor, between the father and the child, between the