They show by their conduct that they do not regard religion as the principal business of life, but as subordinate to other things. They consider religion as something that ought to come in and find a place among other things, as a sort of Sabbath-day business, but not as the grand business of life. They make a distinction between religious duty and business, and consider them as entirely separate concerns. Whereas, if they had right views of the matter, they would consider religion as the only business of life, and nothing else either lawful or worth pursuing, any further than as it promotes or serves religion. If they had the right feeling, religion would characterize all that they do, and it would be manifest that everything they do is an act of obedience to God, or an act of irreligion.
Such a one does not delight in the exercise of religious affections; and as to communion with God, he knows nothing of it. He performs prayer as a task. He betakes himself to religious duties as sick persons take medicine, not because they love it, but because they hope to derive some benefit f rom it.
And here let me ask you, Do you enjoy religious exercises, or do you perform them because you hope to receive benefit by them? Be honest, now, and answer this question, just according to the truth.
They do rather what they are obliged to do, in religion, and not what they love to do. They have an eye to the commands of God, and yield obedience to his requirements, in performing religious duties, but do not engage in those things because they love them. They are always ready to inquire, in regard to duty, not so much how they can do good, as how they can be saved. The principal object of such a professor of religion is not to save the world, but to save himself.
They perform their religious duties chiefly because they dare not omit them. They have the spirit of slaves, and go about the service of God as slaves go about the service of their master, feeling that they are obliged to do about so much, or be beaten with many stripes. So these professors feel as if they were obliged to have about so much religion, and perform about so many religious duties, or be lashed by conscience and lose their hopes.
They satisfy themselves, mostly, with doing nothing that is very bad. Having no spiritual views, they regard the law of God chiefly as a system of prohibitions, just to guard men from certain sins, and not as a system of benevolence fulfilled by love. And so, if they are moral in their conduct, and rather serious and decent in their general deportment, and perform required amount of religious exercises, this satisfies them. The most you can say of them is, that they are not very bad. They seem to think little or nothing of being useful to the cause of Christ, so long as they cannot be convicted of any positive transgression.
Where they have enlightened minds and tender consciences, you often find them the most rigid of all professors. They tithe even to "mint and anise." They are stiff even to moroseness. They are perfect Pharisees, and carry everything to the greatest extremes so far as outward strictness is concerned.
With all their strictness, they cannot but realize that they are great sinners after all: and having no just sense of the gospel justification, this leaves them very unhappy. And the more enlightened and tender their conscience, the more they are unhappy. Notwithstanding their strictness, they feel that they come short of their duty, and not having any gospel faith, nor any of that holy anointing of the Holy Spirit that brings peace to the soul, they are unsatisfied, and uneasy, and miserable.
They feel wonderfully instructed and edified when they hear the sins of God's people set forth in a strong light. Then they are comforted and their hopes are wonderfully strengthened. Instead of feeling humbled and distressed, and feeling that such conduct is so contrary to all religion that they could hardly believe they were saints if it had not been found in the Bible, and that they could not believe at all that persons who should do such things under the light of the Christian dispensation, could be saints; they feel gratified and strengthened, and their hopes are confirmed, by all these things.
If the minister adopts a low standard, and is ready to hope that almost everybody is a Christian, they are pleased and compliment him for his expansive charity, and praise him as such an excellent man, so charitable, etc. Right over against this, you will see, is the conduct of the man whose main purpose is to rid the world of sin. He wants all men to be holy, and therefore he wants to have the true standard of holiness held up. He wants all men to be saved, but he knows they cannot be saved unless they are truly holy. And he would as soon think of Satan's going to heaven as of getting a man there by frittering away the Bible standard of holiness by "charity."
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 that can be preached in such an abstract way, as to afford them comfort without galling their consciences too much, they are "fed."
Their main object is not to save sinners, but to be saved themselves, and therefore they always choose a minister, not for his ability in preaching for the conversion of sinners, but for his talents in feeding the church with mere abstractions.
You will hear them talking very solemnly about the importance of having a comfortable hope. If they can only be at ease in their minds, they show very little concern whether anybody else around them is saved or not. If they can have only their fears silenced and their hopes cherished they have religion enough to satisfy them.
Precisely over against this, you will find the true friends of God and man more afraid of sin than of punishment. It is not the question with them, "If I do this shall I be punished?" or, "If I do this, will God forgive me?" But the question is that which Joseph asked, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" There was the spirit of a child of God, afraid of sin more than punishment, and so much afraid of sin that he had no thought of punishment.
You may know such persons have not the spirit of the gospel. They have never entered into the spirit of Jesus Christ, when he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." A person actuated by true love to God and man, enjoys what he does to benefit others, far more than they do who receive good at his hand. He is really benevolent, and it is a gratification to him to show kindness, because his heart is set upon it, and when he can do it, a holy joy is shed over his mind, and he enjoys it exquisitely.
Who does not know these two classes of professors? One always seeking out objects to do good to, the other always trying to gain good themselves. One anxious to communicate, the other to receive. One to do good, the other to get good. These two classes of character are just as opposite as light and darkness.
They are chiefly afraid of hell themselves, and when they are strongly convicted, they are afraid others will go there too. They are seeking happiness for themselves, and when self is not in 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 sinners are committing, as because they have such a sense of the terrors of hell to which sinners are going. It is not because sinners dishonor God that they want them converted, but because they are in danger. Their great object in praying is to secure the safety of those they pray for, as it is their great object in religion to secure their own safety. They pity themselves and they pity others. If there was no danger, they would have no motive to pray either for themselves or others.
This class of persons are in constant distress at being called on to give up so much. The good that is to be done does not enter into their thoughts, because they are all the while dwelling on what have to give up.
Such a one does not know anything about enjoying self-denial. He cannot understand how self-denial is pleasant, nor how anybody can take pleasure in it, or have joy of heart in denying himself for the sake of doing good to others. Yet the true friend of God and man, whose heart is fully set to do good, never enjoys any money he expands so well as that which he gives to promote Christ's kingdom. If he is really pious, he knows that is the best disposition he can make of his money. Nay, he is sorry to be obliged to use money for anything else, when there are so many opportunities to do good with it.
They do not rebuke it. They love to mingle in scenes where sin is committed. They love to be where they can hear vain conversation, and even to join in it. They love worldly company and worldly books. Their spirit is worldly. Instead of hating even the garment spotted with the flesh,(Jude 23) they love to hang around the confines of sin, as if they were pleased with it.
The love of Christ does not constrain them to a constant warfare against sin, and a constant watch to do all the good in their power. But what they do is done only because they think they must. And they maintain a kind of piety that is formal, heartless, worthless.
They do not pray in their closets because they LOVE to pray but because they think it is their duty, and they dare not neglect it.
They do not read the Bible because it is sweet to their souls, sweeter than honey or the honeycomb. They do not "enjoy" the reading, as a person enjoys the most exquisite delights. They read it because it is their duty to read it; and it would not do to profess to be a Christian and not read the Bible; but in fact they find it a dry book.
Slight excuses keep them away. They never go unless they find it necessary for the sake of keeping up appearances, or to maintain their hope. And when they do go, instead of having their souls melted and fired with love, they are cold, listless, dull, and glad when it is over.
To serve God because they love him, and not for the sake of reward, is what they do not understand.
Their hearts are not agonized with such thoughts as this, Oh, how long shall wickedness prevail? Oh, when shall this wretched world be rid of sin and death? Oh, when shall men cease to sin against God? They think more of the question, When shall I die and go to heaven, and get rid of all my trials and cares?
To say the least, it is greatly to be feared that a majority of professing Christians are of this description. To say this, is neither uncharitable nor censorious.
There is nothing of true Christianity in it. It differs from Christianity as much as the Pharisees differed from Christ - as much as gospel religion differs from legal religion.