THE REASONS WHY MEN ARE NOT CHRISTIANS.
Luke Xit. 18. I pray thee have me excused.
It is worth every man's while to ascertain the exact reason why he is not a Christian. It is to be presumed that he who is not a Christian has some reason for remaining in his present state, or that there is some cause why he does not embrace the offers of the gospel which are pressed so constantly on his attention. If he has any good reason—any such as exempts him from the obligation resting on other men to give their hearts to God, it would be well for him distinctly to understand it. It would be well also to enquire whether that on which he is relying is in fact a substantial reason, and is such as will abide the investigations of the last.day. If a man has a good reason for not being a Christian, it is such as will meet with the approbation of God, and will -admit him'to heaven without reliance on the merits of the Saviour—for what is a sufficient reason now, will be./ a sufficient reason then; what will be valueless then, is worthless now.'
It is a part of my duty to search out the causes why men are not Christians, and to endeavor to remove them. Doing the best that I can to learn those causes, I am to come and do the best that I can to' remove them; and where I am convinced that those reasons are not- solid, to attempt to show frien why they are not so. Such an attempt requires candor on your part; kindness and fidelity on mine. I propose, therefore, at this time, to submit to you the result of my reflections and observation on this subject; and my remarks will be confined to two points —the causes or reasons why men are not Christians; and the enquiry whether those causes are satisfactory.
1. Our first point relates to the causes or reasons why men are not Christians; or in other words, why they wish to be excused from being Christians—which is the form in which it is presented in the text.
There is something remarkable in the aspect which the subject assumes on the first view of it. Men ask to be excused, as if it were a matter of favor. It is natural to ask, from what? From a rich banquet, says the parable from which my text is taken. From the hope of heaven through Jesus Christ. From loving God, and keeping his commandments. From having the peace of mind of which all who are Christians partake; from the support in trial which religion indubitably furnishes to those that love it; from the consolation on a bed of death which religion gives, and from the prospect of immortal glory beyond. From that which is fitted to make a man more useful, respected, and beloved in life; remembered with deeper affection when he is dead; honored forever in heaven. From that which will take from him no property; inflict no pain; create no remorse; cause no anguish; and never produce a sigh. From that which would be invaluable to him in the various circumstances of Jrial to which he is subjected in common with other men in this life, and which perhaps he will admit is indispensable to his immortal happiness beyond the grave. If it were from poverty and disgrace; from anguish of spirit and remorse; from the loss of the favor of friends, and of the world, we could easily understand why he would wish to be excused. . But when we search for the reasons why a man wishes to be excused from that which will promote his own best interest in this world, and forever; from that which he needs, and knows he needs, and which all his nature' pants and sighs for; from that which gives the brightest ornament of character when living, and the sweetest consolation to his friends when dead, it is necessary that we look deeper that we may know the true reason. It is an anomaly in the character of man.
In searching for the causes or reasons why men wish to be excused from becoming Christians, I may be allowed to suggest that they are often under a strong temptation to conceal those which are real, and to suggest others which will better answer their immediate purpose. My idea is, that the real cause in not always avowed, and that men are strongly tempted to suggest others. The actual reason may be such as, on many accounts, a man would have strong reluctance to have known. It may be such as would make it easy to answer it; or such as would be likely to be a very mortifying avowal, and which would be rather a publication of guilt than a reason for not being a Christian; and there is, therefore, a strong temptation for a man, when hard pressed with the claims of duty, to resort to statements which will make it more difficult to reply. A man that is proud, or sensual, or ambitious, or profane, or who has embarked in some yet unexecuted plan of iniquity, would be slow to avow these as reasons why he does not become a Christian—though these may be. in fact the real causes. He would be under a strong temptation to suggest, and would be likely to suggest, some such reasons, as the following. That he has no ability to repent and believe the gospel. That the heart is changed by the power of God, and that it is a work entirely beyond his control. That God has determined, by an unalterable decree, the number of those who will be saved, and that any efforts of his cannot change the fixed purpose of God. That if he is to be saved he will be, and that si all events he is so dependent and so helpless, he must wait until God shall interpose and renew his heart. These objections, though not the real ones, are embarrassing, and difficult to be answered. They involve perplexing questions, and those which we admit we cannot always instantly solve. And since this is so, there is a strong temptation to suggest them, even where they, are not the real causes, and it is not uncharitable to suppose that they may be sometimes urged when the real causes would be wholly different.
Supposing myself that these are not the actual reasons at work to prevent men from becoming Christians, I shall now proceed to state what I suppose are; and shall submit what I have to say to your candid attention.
The grand reason why men are not Christians, as I understand it, is the opposition of the heart to religion; that mysterious opposition that can be traced back through all hearts, and all generations, up to the great apostacy— the fall of Adam. All who have become Christians have felt the power of this native opposition to holiness, and have been willing to confess, that in their case, this was the reason why they did not sooner yield to God. It would be easy, I think, to prove that the same thing exists in all other hearts, and that it is not possible to account for the universal rejection of the gospel on any other supposition. The reason and the conscience of men are on the side of religion. There is no want of evidence of the truth of Christianity; and such want of evidence is not alleged by many as a reason why they are not Christians. All those who are disposed to find evidence of the truth of religion, find enough to be entirely satisfactory to their own minds, and are willing to risk the welfare of their souls on its truth. No man who was disposed to serve God, ever went back and rejected Christianity because there was a lack of evidence such as the mind'wants in such a case. If this be so, then there is in the human heart something lying back of all this that is the reason why men are not Christians; and that, I need not pause to prove, is the unwillingness of the heart to yield, or the opposition of the soul by nature to God.
But though this is the original difficulty, and is the actual cause why men cannot be persuaded to be Christians, yet it assumes a great variety of forms, and appears in a great variety of aspects. It goes forth like streams that issue from a fountain, and Hke one of those streams we often see it only at a great distance from the source. It appears sometimes in a form that scarcely seems to savor of opposition, and under an aspect so mild, so sweet, so winning, that you can-scarcely believe that all this is connected with opposition of heart to all that is good. Let us now leave this general cause, and ask what are the actual reasons why men are not Christians. They are, as I understand them, such as the following.
(1.) A feeling that you do not need salvation in the way proposed in the gospel; that you do not need to be born again, or pardoned through the merits of the Redeemer. The feeling is, that your heart is by nature rather inclined to virtue than to vice, to good than to evil; that the errors of your life have been comparatively few, your virtues many; that the follies which are justly to be charged on you, pertain to less important points, and do not affect the integrity of your character; that they were such as were to be expected of those of your age, and of your time of life, and such as are easily pardonable. Your intentions, you would say, have been good. You have been honest and honorable in business. You have been faithful in the discharge of the duties of a professional or an official station. As a merchant,, a lawyer, a director of a bank or an insurance company; as a magistrate, or as a representative in any commercial or civil interest, you are conscious of having acted with good intentions, and your character is above suspicion. You have the deserved reputation of an honest man ; and to that you may have superadded more than mere honesty '—you are a large hearted and a liberal man. With the doctrine of total depravity, therefore, on which we feel it our duty so much to insist, you have no sympathy— and you do not, therefore, feel your need of an interest in that religion of which the doctrine of the fall and ruin of man is the very ground-work.
(2.) You suppose that in your case there is no danger of being lost—or not such danger as to make it a subject of serious alarm. This feeling grows out of the former, and is a direct consequence of it. The idea is this, that if the duties of this life be discharged with faithfulness, there can be no serious ground of apprehension in regard to the world to come. You do not regard it as credible that a moral and upright man can be seriously in danger of eternal punishment; and you expect that the comparatively trivial errors and follies of your life will be easily overlooked, and that the future may be not unsafely left without anxiety. This would not, you feel, be a popular doctrine. All sincere Christians, and among them some of your best friends, would differ from you in this view. You do not covet the name of an Universalist; you would rather avoid it. You do not covet controversy; you would rather avoid it. You do not wish to pain the hearts of your friends by their being made to understand exactly your views on the subject; you would rather avoid that. Your sentiments, therefore, are locked up in your own bosom, and you do not choose to disclose what is passing in the secret chambers of the soul about the final doom of man. But while these feelings- are cherished, it is evident that you will make no effort to secure your salvation grounded on an apprehension of danger, and we plead in vain that you would give your mind attentively.to the subject of religion.
(3.) A third cause operating on a large class is this. It is a secret' scepticism about the truth of Christianity. The mind is not settled. The belief is not firm that it is a revelation from heaven. There is a secret doubt as to the truth of the whole system, or there is a special doubt in regard to some of its cardinal and leading doctrines. The mind has been poisoned by some book long since read; or some conversation long since had with an infidel; or by some train of reflections which has been allowed to work a channel through the soul in its own way; or by some lodgement of a doubt there which you have never found time to remove ; and while these doubts exist, of course you will not be a Christian. Yet these you would not avow—except in a circle quite select and confidential. They would be more likely to be disclosed in the literary and scientific circles than at your own fireside. They will be more likely to be spoken of to your male companion and friend, than in the presence of your sister, or wife, or mother. But you do not intend to avow them. They would be unpopular. The current now is setting strongly in favor of Christianity; and no literary or scientific man in this country wishes to risk his reputation by publicly avowing any doubts about the truth of the Bible. There is no such avowal. None such would be tolerated. Yet if I have any just knowledge of man, and of the operations of his heart, there are not a few who are deterred from being Christians by some sceptical feeling on some of the points of religion.
(4.) A fourth class are deterred by a feeling that the divine government is unreasonable and severe. In one of his parables, the Saviour has taught us expressly that this operated in preventing a man from doing his duty, and being prepared for his coming. "I know thee," said the man who had received the one talent, "I know thee, that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed; and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth." Matt. xxv. 24, 25. Often it is so with a man now. We ask him to give up his opposition, and to fix on God higher affections than he does on any and all other beings. We ask him to repose such confidence in him as to be willing to give up all into his hands, and to surrender all to his disposal. When we do this, he at once in his own mind recurs to some view which he has of God, rendering him unworthy of that confidence which we entreat him to repose in him. He thinks of his law as rigid and severe; of his government as unnecessarily strict in marking offences; of the arrangement by which he suffered sin and the overflowing deluge of woes that have come in by the fall and fault of one man; of the severity of the sentence by which he dooms the impenitent to ameternal hell;—and he has so long accustomed his mind to such dark views of the divine character, that he sees no beauty in it; feels that if he were to surrender, it would be a forced submission altogether; and sometimes feels—though he would not -allow himself to express it—as if there was virtue in being alienated from such a being as God. In this state of mind, it is out of the question for a man to become a Christian. Every view which he has of the divine government would stand in the way of his conversion; and argument and entreaty are in vain.
(5.) A fifth class are deterred from being Christians by hostility to some member or -members of the church. They have made bargains with them; sold them goods; taken their notes; credited them as. they have other men. They have seen, they would say, in one Christian great meanness of spirit; in another a disposition to take every advantage in a bargain; in another who has failed in business, such proofs of dishonesty as would he disgraceful to men who made scarce any pretensions to the principles of common honesty. In another they have had the certain promise of the payment of a debt which has as certainly failed; in another they cannot resist the conviction that he is chargeable with fraud. All this is set down to the credit of Christianity; and it needs no great knowledge of human nature to see that where this is seen or suspected, men cannot be easily persuaded to embrace a system which produces such fruits, /acknowledge the force of this ; or rather I acknowledge that it would be difficult to prevent this effect on my mind. Little conversant as a minister is, and ought to be, with the commercial and political world; and little knowledge as he must of necessity have of the ordinary business transactions of life, I confess I have seen and known enough of this to cease to wonder at its inevitable effect on the minds of upright men of business; and if there is any man of whom I would speak in the language of unrestrained severity, it is of the professing Christian who is mean in the transaction of business; who makes promise* only to be broken; who takes advantage of the necessity of others to increase his gains; who borrows money not to be repaid; and who fails in business where falsehood and fraud attend the whole transaction.
(6.) A sixth reason which prevents men from becoming Christians is worldliness—the desire of this world's goods, or pleasures, or honors. Of all the causes which are in operation, this is the most wide-spread and efficient. The great mass of men where the gospel is preached are not infidels or scoffers, nor are they sunk in low and debasing vices. And though many are deterred from being Christians by secret unbelief, or by open vice; by some strong ruling passion which they wish still to indulge, and from which they cannot be induced to part, yet the largest proportion by far of those whom we address is deterred by the love of this world. It is that love of wealth, to accumulate and preserve which occupied all their time and talent, which prevents their studying the word of God, and keeps them from prayer; which leads them often into forbidden paths, trenches on the sacredness of the Sabbath, creates and fosters some of the passions most opposed to th6 gospel, and which causes them to defer attention to religion to some future period. It is that love of pleasure, of gaiety, of fashion, of admiration, of hilarity, of excitement in the unreal world when they seek enjoyment, that drives away all sober reflection, every serious thought, and every degree of solicitude about the soul; which closes their Bibles, and which makes prayer a mockery; which is so unlike the spirit of Jesus and his gospel—it is this which operates with a large class in preventing them from becoming Christians. It is that ambition which reigns in the heart of the unrenewed man; that fondness for being known, and praised, and remembered, whether it manifest itself in laying the foundation for lasting literary fame; or for eminence in the learned professions; or for official elevation—it is this which excludes religion from the heart. Where one is deterred from being a Christian by infidelity or gross vice, ten are kept back by one of these manifestations of worldliness. Let the desire of distinction in the ranks of worldliness seize upon the mind, the ambition of going up the steeps of fame from one summit to another, until you can stand on the top and look all around and see all the world at your feet, and you bid farewell to every serious thought, and every desire of heaven. Rendered dizzy by the height to which you have already ascended, and excited to climb the still more dangerous eminences which are just above you, and which it seems to be desirable to surmount, the whole soul becomes absorbed in that high ehterprize, and all its energies are concentrated there. And so in a family. I know of nothing that is a more deadly foe to religion in a family than this miserable ambition—this desire of entering on terms of intimacy the circles of the aristocracy of fashion and wealth; this desire of leaving the quiet vale of virtue and of peace for the mortifications, and rebuffs, and heart-breakings attending the effort to elbow a family into circles for which God never designed them, and where they can never be either happy or welcome. The great cause why men are not Christians is worldliness; and this is the grand reason why so many are excluded from the kingdom of God here and in the skies. I have not time to go through the statement of the causes as I had intended. I might speak of the dread which men have of the process of conversion; of the fear of the gloom and sadness which they suppose precedes and accompanies regeneration; of the fear of the ridicule and scorn of the world—operating on all minds;
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of the love of some sin—some ruling vice—some master passion that has ascendancy over the soul, but which men are ashamed to have known, and to which they are too much attached to surrender it; and of the purpose which is in most hearts to attend to religion at a future time of life. But I have occupied too much time already to speak of these, and it is possible now only to make a few remarks on the second subject proposed.
II. That was, to enquire whether these reasons for not being a Christian are satisfactory. Satisfactory to whom? you may ask. I- answer, to conscience and to God. Are they such as are sufficient reasons for not loving God?
The duty of loving God with all the heart, is the first duty recommended to men by every precept of natural and revealed religion. The duty of repentance is enjoined by all that is sacred in divine authority, and is responded to by the conscience of every sinner. The duty of faith in the Lord Jesus—the great and only Saviour of mankind—is demanded on the fore front of the Christian message, and solemnly declared to be essential to salvation. The necessity of being born again is urged in the Scriptures with a frequency and power of which my preaching is but the faint and feeble echo—often as I press it on your attention. No duty is prior to these in time or in momentousness. Any and every thing else may be better dispensed with than these. You can better by far do without the love of earthly friends than without the love of God. You can better by far do without the wealth of this world than the treasures of heaven. You can better do without an earthly mansion, even if the earth were your bed and the skies your covering, than without a building of God, a house eternal in the heavens. You can better by far do without fame and praise in this world, than you can without the approbation of God in the world to come.
For these things you are neglecting him; you are neglecting your souls. Are the reasons which prompt yeu to it satisfactory? Are they sufficient to render you guiltless for neglecting such high and sacred obligations? Reflect a moment on the following considerations—the only remarks which I will detain you now to hear.
(1.) You dare not yourselves urge them as the real cause why you do not attend to religion, and embrace the offers of mercy. They are so little satisfactory to your own minds, that when we come to you and urge you to become Christians, we are met with other reasons than these. You resort to some difficulty about the doctrine of ability, and the decrees ef God; some metaphysical * subtlety that you know may embarrass us, but which you think of on no other occasion. Who will dare to urge as a reason for not becoming a Christian the fact that he is sensual, or proud, or worldly minded, or ambitious, or covetous, or self-righteous, or that he regards God as a tyrant? And yet one or all of these may be the basis of every reason why you are not Christians. Can that be a satisfactory reason for a man's conduct which he is ashamed himself to avow? Can that be the true reason which he avows for the purpose of embarrassing others, while another is buried deep in his bosom?
(2.) These excuses will not- stand when a man is convicted for sin. He then ceases to urge that he is upright and moral; that he has injured no one; that there can be no danger for one who has lived as he has done; that there are hypocrites in the church; that he has been wronged by professors of religion; and that he is afraid of the ridicule of mankind. He feels then that he must have a better righteousness than can be manufactured out of such materials, and that with these excuses he cannot venture to appear at the bar of God. There is a power in conviction for sin which is in advance of all the arguments which men can urge. It is the power of the Holy Ghost—under whose influences cavils, and objections, and self-reliances suddenly vanish. Under that power, men feel at once, despite all that they have said, and all the arguments on which they have relied, that they are sinners, and that they are exposed to the wrath of God. It is the argument that is felt, and which is irresistible on the soul. There is an access to the soul of the sinner which God has, but which no mortal man can have, and I appeal now to the fact that when men are brought under conviction for sin, they at once see that all their excuses for not being Christians are vain. Who are they who are thus convicted? Who, by the power of the Holy Ghost, have been made to see that they are sinners, and have yielded their hearts up to God? Need I answer? They are such as have urged all the excuses to which I have adverted in this discourse, or such as have felt them all in their hearts. They are men who reason as well as who feel; they are those who were moral as well as those who were immoral; men not strangers to learning and science, as well as those who are ignorant of letters; and they who have moved not without grace and loveliness in elevated ranks as well as those of more humble walks in life. All, when the hour comes in which God designs to bring them into his kingdom, confess that they had no good reasons for not being his friends, and for their having so long refused to yield to the claims of God. ,
(3.) The same thing occurs on the bed of death. The mind then is often overwhelmed, and under the conviction that the excuses for not being a Christian were insufficient, the sinner in horror dies. But I will not dwell on that. I pass to one other consideration.
(4.) It. is this. These excuses will not be admitted at the bar of God. Suppose they were, what would follow? Why, that you would enter heaven—for God will admit all to heaven, unless there is some good reason for not doing it. No man will be sent to hell unless there is a reason for it which will be satisfactory; a cause which cannot be removed by sympathy, or by infinite benevolence. If your excuses, then, for not being Christians are good, they will be admitted on the final trial, and you will be received into heaven. And what then? Why, you will be saved because you did not believe that you were as depraved as God had represented you to be; and you, because you did not believe what he had said of future punishment; and you, because you were sceptical on the whole subject of religion—saved by unbelief, not by faith; and you, because you believed that God was cruel and tyrannical in his character and government, and because there was so much merit in cherishing that opinion of him that he ought to save you; and you, because his professed friends had injured you, and you hated religion on that account; and you, because you were so worldly, and ambitious, and vain, and proud, that you neglected religion altogether: you, because you were afraid of the ridicule of the world; and you, because you cherished some ruling, forbidden lust which neither the command of God, nor the love of Christ, nor the fear of hell would induce you to surrender. And then what a place would be heaven! What sympathy you would have with the redeemed! What communion of spirit with the martyrs! What fellowship with the Lord Jesus! What gratitude would you have to him for salvation! But, my hearers, do you believe that you are to be saved in that way ?—I, for one, do not. These are not the reasons why men are to enter into heaven. - . .
I wish to get, by this discourse, at least one idea before your minds. It is this. If you have a good reason now for not being a Christian, it will be good at the bar of God. If not good then and there, it is worth nothing now. If it will not be the ground of your admission into heaven, it is of no value. Will you risk, your soul's salvation, then, on the reasons which now operate to prevent your becoming a Christian? A question than which none more important ever demanded your attention.
I close here. You see the conclusion to which we have come. If these reasons are not satisfactory; if none on which you rely are satisfactory, then you Ought to be a Christian.— To be a Christian. There is safety. There the mind finds rest. There, in the love of God, and in dependence on the Saviour, and in the hope of heaven, man feels that he does Right. For that he needs no excuse; he desires no apology. He is conscious of no wrong-doing when he gives up his heart to God; he looks back with no self-reproaches for it when he contemplates it from the bed of death. The reasons which induce him to give himself to God are conclusive to his own mind; satisfactory to his friends; approved by his Judge. No man has, or ever has had remorse of conscience for being a Christian; no man has self-reproaches for it on a bed of death. The mind then is at rest; it is free from the anguish of remorse, from alarms. Who, then, to-day will seek that peace, and the smiles of an approving conscience, and of God?