Dear Church Family,
I am afraid the world is looking at us, as Christians, and asking a very hard and pointed question, “Are they for real?” And the sad part is, I fear we are failing horribly.
“Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36).
The text which heads this page contains a proposal which the Apostle Paul made to Barnabas after their first missionary journey. He proposed to revisit the churches they had been the means of founding, and to see how they were getting on. Were their members continuing steadfast in the faith? Were they growing in grace? Were they going forward—or standing still? Were they prospering, or falling away? “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord—and see how they do.”
This was a wise and useful proposal. Let us lay it to heart, and apply it to ourselves. Let us search our ways, and find out how matters stand between ourselves and God. Let us “are we for real.” I ask every reader of this Pastor’s Pen to begin its perusal by joining me in self-inquiry. If ever self-inquiry about religion was needed—it is needed at the present day in our church, in our life.
We live in an age of particular spiritual danger. Never perhaps since the world began, was there such an immense amount of mere outward profession of religion as there is in the present day. A painfully large proportion of all the congregations in the land consists of unconverted people, who know nothing of heart-religion, never come to the Lord’s Table and never confess Christ in their daily lives. Myriads of those who are always running after preachers, and crowding to hear special sermons—are nothing better than empty tubs, and tinkling cymbals—without a bit of real vital Christianity at home. The parable of the sower is continually receiving most vivid and painful illustrations. The way-side hearers, the stony-ground hearers, the thorny-ground hearers—abound on every side!
The life of many religious people, I fear, in this age, is nothing better than a continual course of chasing after novelties. They are always morbidly craving fresh excitement; and they seem to care little what it is—if they only get it. All preaching seems to be the same to them; and they appear unable to “see differences” so long as they hear what is clever, have their ears tickled and sit in a crowd. Worst of all, there are hundreds of young unestablished believers who are so infected with the same love of excitement, that they actually think it a duty to be always seeking it. Insensibly almost to themselves, they take up a kind of hysterical, sensational, sentimental Christianity—until they are never content with the “old paths;” and, like the Athenians, are always running after something new!
To see a calm-minded young believer, who is not stuck up, self-confident, self-conceited, and more ready to teach than learn—but content with a daily steady effort to grow up into Christ’s likeness, and to do Christ’s work quietly and unostentatiously, at home—is really becoming almost a rarity!
In handling this question, I think the shortest plan will be to suggest a list of subjects for self-inquiry—and to get them in order. By so doing I shall hope to meet the case of every one into whose hands this Pastor’s Pen may fall. I invite every reader of this to join me in calm, searching self-examination, for a few short minutes. I desire to speak to myself as well as to you. I approach you not as an enemy—but as a friend. “My heart’s desire and prayer to God is that you may be saved” (Romans 10:1). Bear with me if I say things which at first sight look harsh and severe. Believe me—he is your best friend, who tells you the most truth.
- Do we ever think about our souls at all?
Thousands of people, I fear, cannot answer that question satisfactorily. They never give the subject of real relationship with Christ any place in their thoughts. From the beginning of the year to the end—they are absorbed in the pursuit of business, pleasure, politics, money, or self-indulgence of some kind or another. Death, and judgment, and eternity, and Heaven, and Hell, and the world to come—are never calmly looked at and considered. They live on as if they were never going to die, or rise again, or stand at the bar of God, or receive an eternal sentence! They do not openly oppose religion, for they have not sufficient reflection about it to do so; but they eat and drink, and sleep, and get money, and spend money—as if religion was a mere fiction, and not a reality.
A more senseless and unreasonable way of living cannot be conceived; but they do not pretend to reason about it. They simply never think about God—unless frightened for a few minutes by sickness, death in their families, or an accident. Barring such interruptions, they appear to ignore a real relationship with Christ altogether, and hold on to their way cool and undisturbed, as if there were nothing worth thinking of, except this poor world and their own self desire and satisfaction.
The picture, no doubt, is horrible, distressing, and revolting—but, unhappily, it is only too true. Like the Jews of old they do not “consider their ways,” they do not “consider their latter end;” they do not “consider that they do evil” (Isaiah 1:3; Haggai 1:7; Deuteronomy 32:29; Ecclesiastes 5:1). Like Gallio they “care for none of these things” (Acts 18:17).
If they prosper in the world, and get rich, and succeed in their line of life—they are praised, and admired by their contemporaries. But for all this, they cannot live forever. They will have to die and appear before the bar of God, and be judged; and then what will the end be?
- Do we ever do anything about our souls?
There are multitudes who think occasionally about a real relationship with Christ —but unhappily never get beyond thinking. After a stirring sermon—or after a funeral—or under the pressure of illness—or on Sunday evening—or when things are going on badly in their families—or when they meet some bright example of a Christian—or when they fall in with some striking religious book or tract—they will at the time, think a good deal, and even talk a little about a real relationship with Christ in a vague way. But they stop short, as if thinking and talking were enough to save them. They are always meaning, and intending, and purposing, and resolving, and wishing, and telling us that they “know” what is right, and “hope” to be found right in the end—but they never attain to any action. There is no actual separation from the service of the world and sin—no real taking up the cross and following Christ—no positive doing in their Christianity. Their life is spent in playing the part of the son in our Lord’s parable, to whom the father said, “‘Go and work today in the vineyard:’ and he answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go” (Matthew 21:30).
They are like those whom Ezekiel describes, who liked his preaching—but never practiced what he preached: “They come unto you as the people comes, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words—but they will not do them…And lo, you are unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear your words—but they do them not.” (Ezekiel 33:31-32). In a day like this, when hearing and thinking without doing, is so common—no one can justly wonder that I press upon men the absolute need of self-examination. Once more, then, I ask you to consider the question of my text—“Are you for real?”
- Are we trying to satisfy our consciences with mere “formal” religion?
There are myriads at this moment who are making shipwreck on this rock. Like the Pharisees of old, they make much ado about the outward part of Christianity, while the inward and spiritual part is totally neglected. They are often strong members of their own Church, or congregation, and ready to contend with anyone who does not agree with them.
Yet all this time there is no heart in their religion. Anyone who knows them intimately can see with half an eye—that their affections are set on things below, and not on things above; and that they are trying to make up for the lack of inward Christianity—by an excessive quantity of outward form. And this formal religion does them no real good. They are not satisfied. Beginning at the wrong end, by making the outward things first—they know nothing of inward joy and peace, and pass their days in a constant struggle, secretly conscious that there is something wrong, and yet not knowing why.
When professing Christians of this kind are so painfully numerous, no one need wonder if I press upon him the paramount importance of close self-examination. If you love life, do not be content with the husk, and shell, and scaffolding of religion. Remember our Savior’s words about the Jewish formalists of His day: “These people draws near with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips — but their heart is far from Me. In vain do they worship.” (Matthew 15:8-9). It needs something more than going diligently to church, and receiving the Lord’s Supper—to take our souls to Heaven. Means of grace, and forms of religion, are useful in their way—and God seldom does anything for His church without them. But let us beware of making shipwreck on the very lighthouse which helps to show the channel into the harbor! Once more I ask, “Are we for real?”
There is much more to this question, but I will have to take it up next time. In the mean time, THINK ABOUT IT! “Are We For Real?”
With Many Prayers and Christian Love,