Sermon XI

■ SERMON XI.

THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH A PROFESSION OF RELIGION SHOULD BE MADE. NO. I.'

II. Cor. vi. 17. 18. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

This passage of Scripture is an address to Christians, and states the principles on which they should act in reference to the world. It demands a separation from the world; and it contains the assurance that if such a separation exists, God. will be their father, and that they shall sustain to- him the relation of adopted children.

My wish, at this time, is, not however to apply it to Christians in general, but to the first public act of a Christian's life—the act of making a profession of religion. That, emphatically, is an act of coming out from the world; an act. of separating ourselves from others; an act by which we express our purpose not to "touch the unclean thing"; an act by which we publicly declare our purpose to live as becomes "sons or daughters of the Lord Almighty." The doctrine which it will be the main object of this discourse to defend, is, that a profession of religion implies a separation from the world, and a purpose to lead a life of holiness; and my aim will be to derive from the New Testament the principles on which such a profession should be made.

It is the duty of every man to make a profession of re^ ligion. It would be easy to make this apparent if it were necessary to the design of this discourse. Nothing can be more evident than that every man should profess to be the friend of the one only God who made him, and of the Redeemer who died to save him. But this obligation to profess religion supposes a previous obligation to embrace it, and to become a sincere Christian. It supposes that 164

there should be certain qualifications in order that it maybe done in a manner that will be acceptable to God.

The importance of just views on this subject will be apparent from two considerations. One is, that a profession of religion is one of the most important steps in a man's life. Its vows are sacred; its results such as must deeply affect his destiny. Henceforward he will be recognised as a professed friend of God, and stand before the world as a public witness of the truth and a candidate for immortal glory. A part of the obligation of evincing the nature of true religion, and of defending and extending it, will rest on him; and to him the world will look as an example of what religion is designed to be. The other consideration showing the importance of just views in making a profession of religion, is, that his whole Christian character and usefulness will probably depend on the feelings with which he enters the church. It is undoubtedly a fact, that of those who become professing Christians, scarce one in five contributes much to its real strength. Some have very limited means of usefulness. Some are scarcely fitted, either from want of talent or education, to do good at all except in the very narrowest circles. But of those who do not labor under these disqualifications, the number of those who are the bone and sinew of the church; who are the bold and unflinching advocates of the truth ; who sustain the prayer meetings and the institutions of benevolence; who can be depended on when a tide of worldliness and vanity comes in upon the church; who labor with a zeal that never tires, and an ardor that never cools to save souls from death, is comparatively very few. Part are zealous for a time, and then their zeal dies away like "the morning cloud and the early dew." Part are characteristically indolent, and bring no active energy to the cause of Christianity. Part become soon conformed to the world, and are better known there than in the church. Part become immersed in political strifes, and their influence as Christians expires of course. Part become rich, and are introduced into new circles of life, and their first attachment to the church becomes chilled and cold. Part form new connections in life, and their ardor languishes, and they thus show that whatever there might have been of zeal at any time was the result of circumstances rather than of principle. Part take their complexion in religion like the chameleon, from the objects and associates around them—are zealous when they are zealous; benevolent when they are benevolent; lukewarm when they are lukewarm; and worldly when they are conformed to the world. A large portion, we have reason to apprehend, have very slight views of the Principles involved in the organization of the church; and some are strangers to religion altogether.

So deeply impressed was the Saviour with considerations like these, that with great solemnity he at one time asked the question, " when the son of man cometh shall he find faith on the earth?" Luke xviii. 8. Should he come now, what measure of faith in his promises, in his truth, in his religion, in his laws would he find? I desire this day to stand before you, and apprise you of what is involved in making a profession of religion; and while I would offer every encouragement to the humble and the contrite to come, it is also a duty from which you would not desire me to swerve to lay down the principles on which the New Testament requires that a profession of religion should be made, without any departure from their high import. To that I now proceed.

I. There should be true conversion to God. In other words, he who makes a profession of religion should be a sincere Christian. He should not merely be a serious minded man; a sober, moral, amiable man; or a man speculatively holding the truth, but he should be a renewed man. He should not merely be an awakened or convicted sinner; he should not merely be anxious to be a Christian, but be should be in fact a true Christian. He should not enter the church with a desire to be converted at the communion, or at any future time, but he should be in fact already converted. He should not enter the church expecting to be in some mysterious way there prepared for heaven, but having evidence that he is now prepared for heaven, and that if he should die before he had an opportunity to partake of the communion, imperfect as he may feel that he is, he would be admitted to glory.

I am thus particular in stating this point because of its

great importance, and because it is vital to all the views which I shall yet state. The church of Christ is a church of true converts, not of those to be converted. It is designed to be an assemblage of real Christians; and not of those who, for various reasons, may desire to become Christians.

You will appreciate the importance of this remark when you reflect on the inducements which exist to enter the church without any evidence of piety. One of the prevalent errors of these times, unless I am mistaken, in all churches, is the desire for numbers rather than for piety; the wish to swell the catalogue of church members rather than to augment the solid piety and the real strength of the household of faith. To this there are often a great many temptations; and there is reason to apprehend that not a few are persuaded to make a profession of religion who are altogether strangers to its nature. There is the love of numbers itself—the desire of recording accessions at every cornmunion^-a desire right in itself if intended to glorify Christianity, but which also may be mere selfishness and vanity. In all associations of men, civil,, political, literary, and religious, there is to be found,the operation of this principle—the.mere desire of numerical strength, rather than the strength which is derived from principle, and from solid worth. There is often, also, the vanity of a minister of religion desiring public evidence of success arising from the fact that many join his communion, and leading him to persuade them to connect themselves with the church even when they give most slender evidence of qualification, or it may be, no evidence at all. There is also the anxiety of friends. A Christian parent feels a deep anxiety for his children, and urges them to connect themselves with the church; a husband feels an earnest solicitude for a wife, or a wife for a husband; a sister for a brother, or a friend for a friend, and there is a feeling operating veiy secretly and very subtilly that if they are in the church they are safe. It is needless to add that many may enter the church under the influence of strong temporary feeling, self-deluded, or with a vague kind of expectation that they may somehow be converted in the church.

There are not many men who are intentionally hypocrites either in the church or in the world. That there may have been some in the church, none can doubt; and that there are some such men in all associations, no one has any reason to disbelieve.- Wherever an object is to be gained of sufficient value in the view of men to overcome their sense of honesty and of truth, men will play the hypocrite; and thus sometimes, but rarely, they enter the church; and thus too they attach themselves to a political party, or make professions of honesty to which they know they are strangers".

But that there are those in the church who are strangers to religion no one can doubt who remembers that there was a Judas among the Apostles; an Ananias, and Sapphira, a Simon Magus, and a Demas among the early disciples; who remembers the parable of the tares of the field; who remembers the declaration of Paul, " Many walk of whom I have told you often and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christianity;" who remembers the epistle which the Saviour directed to be sent to the seven churches of Asia; or who looks into any Christian church of any denomination, and sees how little many professed Christians, even in external form, exemplify the religion of the Redeemer.

My position is, that no one should enter the Christian church who is not a sincere Christian; a converted man; a sinner born again; in other words, who has not evidence of personal piety which will not only bear the test of an examination before the pastor and officers of the church, but before the Master himself, and' at the judgment seat of God. No one should enter the church who would not enter heaven should he die; no one who is not as certainly prepared to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the realms of glory, as he is to sit down with his friends at the table of communion.

My proof of this position is, in few words, this: (I.) It is implied in the very nature of a profession. What is a profession? It is a profession of something—of what? Is it not profession of love to God; of dependence on Jesus Christ; of attachment to the Redeemer and his cause ; of a purpose to lead a Christian life? And where this exists, does it not constitute religion? It is a confession of sin;

recall the image of one whom we love; to deepen attachment, to bind us more strongly to him or to his memory. The ring which we wear on the finger, or the hair of a friend that we preserve in a locket, is not to create love for that friend, but it is to bring it to remembrance and to perpetuate it. (4.) I advert to one other consideration which can never be urged too frequently. It is that few or none are ever converted who enter the church. This fact is one that is familiar to all who ever made any observation; and the philosophy of the fact is as apparent as' the fact itself. A deceived person once in the church feels that he is safe. Preaching adapted to convert the impenitent he never applies to himself, for he is a member of the church, and he wards off all these appeals.— No one can go to him in private and address him personally as an impenitent man, for he would resist it as an affront.' And there is another fact as undeniable as it is remarkable. It is, that appeals made in the sanctuary, and designed for him never reach him. Cautions and entreaties on the subject of self-deception; tender expostulations designed for him, pass by him unheeded. Some humble, pious, timid, praying, conscientious Christian shall apply all these appeals to himself, and be deeply distressed, while the cold, and formal, and deceived professor shall perhaps be asleep in the sanctuary, or shall deem it strange that the pastor can be so uncharitable as to suppose that any members of his flock can be practising deception on themselves or their fellow-men.

II. The second-principle on which a profession of religion should be made is, that there should be in fact, as there is in form, a separation from the world. This is the very command of the text. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." The word " them" in the text—tome out from among them—refers to the persons mentioned in the context—to the worshippers of idols, to the impure, to unbelievers. No one can doubt that the meaning of Paul is, that Christians should regard themselves as a peculiar people; and that a distinct and definite line should be drawn between them and their fellow-men. It would be easy to multiply texts of Scripture to almost any extent inculcating the same idea. The following passages will set before you the current strain of the Scripture doctrine on this subject. "Be not conformed to this world." Romans xii. 2. "Love not the world, neither things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." 1. John ii. 16. "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people." 1. Pet. ii. 9. "My king^ dom," said the Redeemer, "is not of this world."

Now the only hope of restoring these solemn commands of Jesus Christ to their place in the church is by addressing them, even perhaps with painful reiteration, to those who are about to make a profession of religion. There are worldly habits in the church itself as it is every where constituted, which it is perhaps impossible to eradicate. There are modes of living, styles of dress and of amusement, and schemes of gain and ambition, whose opposition to the spirit of the gospel does not strike us with amazement only because they are common. BHt we may stand at the portals of the church and remind those who are about to enter, of what the gospel requires at their hands. And despite of all that you may now see in the church, I lay-it down as one principle that is to guide you, that you are Not to be "conformed to this world." Neither in spirit, in opinion, in aim, in purpose, in amusement", in object, in desire, in your manner of life are you to be conformed to this world. You are to feel that you belong to a different community, are under different laws, and have different objects. You are, in all things to take upon yourself the laws of Jesus Christ; and if in all honesty you are not prepared for this, you are not prepared to make a profession of religion.

To understand this, it may be proper to make a few other remarks. The grand principle in the Bible is, that on earth there are two great communities which are separate in their organization, their purpose, and their design. There is the community of the Christian church, embracing all of every name and land who are under the laws of Christianity; and there is that great community which in the Bible is called " the world." The latter has its own laws, and purposes; and so has the former. Though mingled together in the same nation, neighborhood, or family, yet they are radically distinct. Now the act of making a profession of religion is, in fact, a coming out from one, and becoming identified with the other of these independent and separate communities. From this primary principle another follows, that there are diflerent laws, purposes, and objects in these two entirely dissimilar kingdoms. The peculiarity of the one is, that it is governed by the laws of God as revealed in the Bible, and as sanctioned and enforced by conscience; and of the other, that it is governed by the laws of honor, though they lead to cold-blooded and deliberate murder; of fashion—though frivolous and foolish, and attended with the loss of the soul; of expediency or of pleasure; of such laws as shall, in their apprehension, be best fitted to promote the ends they have in view—ostentation, ambition, honor, or wealth. And another principle follows from this, that the world as such has no right to cross the line, and to give law to the. members of the church. They are under the laws of the Bible; and all which cannot be defended by that is wrong..

Now what I have to say is, that you are by no means prepared to connect yourself with .the church, unless you are ready, effectually and finally, to bid adieu to the community of the world as your portion, and to bring yourself Wholly under the laws of the Bible. If there is a purpose to blend the two together; if there is an expectation to be as gay and fashionable as the world; if there is a desire for its pleasures; if there is an intention to shape your course by its maxims and its laws; if you are not prepared to abandon, and to feel, that though you are in the world yet you are not "of the world," then you are by no means prepared to make a profession of religion. You would do more injury in the church than you would do good; and your name had better be where your heart and your influence are.

These are simple principles, and if applied they would guide you aright. It would be too long to attempt- to carry them out; and it is not necessary to do it. The principles which should regulate our intercourse with the world are very simple, and they may be expressed in few words. I will just suggest them. (1.) You are not to partake of the Sins of the world. This is clear, and needs no proof. All that is positively evil, and only evil, and that continually, is to be avoided by a Christian. Every thing which is a sinful waste of time, money, influence, strength, is to be avoided. What wide desolation would this simple principle make even in the practice of the members of the church! (2.) You are not to partake of the amusements of the world as such. I mean that you are not to originate such amusements; you are not to countenance them; you are not to partake of them. You are to go to no place where you will be expected to lay aside your Christian character. Now let it be remembered that over parties of pleasure, and over balls, and over all similar amusements, the world has the control. The world gives laws. The wbrtd dictates the conversation. The world prescribes the dress, the hours, the expenses, the manner of conversation. Such places the Christian cannot control; and when he goes there he is expected for the time to lay aside the severity of his profession, and to conform to the world. Such scenes are not arranged in accordance with the New Testament; the New Testament is not allowed to reign there. And it becomes a plain and obvious principle, that where a professed Christian cannot act out his religion; where he is expected to lay aside his Christian character for the time being; where he cannot without a violation of the rules of the association, or the company, introduce his own principles, and dwell, if he chooses, on the great wonders of redemption, his place is not there. (3.) There' are great matters of entire innocence and propriety in which the Christian can act in common with this world—and his field of intercourse with them is there. Thus there are the common interests of justice; of learning; of agriculture ; of civil matters; of public improvements; of a neighbourhood ; of a nation;—his rights as a citizen and as a man, in all which he is.called on to act in connexion with the people of the world. Yet in none of these instances is he to act iu any way inconsistent with the principles of the most rigid Christian morality; and even in these things, whatever may be the aim of others, his aim is to promote the honor of God the Saviour.

-(4.) We are to associate with the people of this world so far as we can do them good. So the Saviour associated with the Scribes and Pharisees; with the Sadducees anl the Publicans, and with sinners. So on the Sabbath he went to dine with a Pharisee ; and so he entered the house of Zaccheus the Publican to bring salvation to him and his family. To all men we are to do good; and to this end we are not to avoid them, or to say to them "stand by thyself for I am holier than thou ;" nor are we to be morose, sour, or misanthropic;, but to all we are to evince kindness and benevolence, and to every man we are to do all the good that God may put in our power.

Such are some of the principles which are to regulate our intercourse with this -world. Such the principles, I apprehend, on which, if you come aright, you will come into the church. And if these are not your principles, then it is apparent that your heart is with the world, and with your present feelings you should not make a profession of religion.

III. A third principle is, that you are to abandouwhatever is inconsistent with the honest purpose to be a whole-hearted Christian. As all hope of being understood here arises from the particularity with which my statements are made, I shall specify a few particulars showing what I mean. The general principle I trust will not be called in question, that a man who comes into the church is to abandon whatever is wrong. Assuming this as indisputable, I observe more particularly, that you are to abandon or surrender,

(1.) The supreme love of property or money. . "Whosoever he be of you," said the Master, "that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." Luke xiv. 33. "Ye cannot," said he, "serve God and mammon." "Covetousness," says Paul, " is idolatry;" and an idolator has no inheritance in the kingdom of God.— The early disciples were required by the Redeemer to forsake all that theyhad and to follow him; and the early Christians did in fact give up all that they had, and devoted all to the Son of God. Whatever Paul had of property, or learning, or talent that was valuable, he was ready to surrender it all to the cause of the Redeemer. (Phil. iii. 7. 8.) "Yea, doubtless," said he, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." God now requires all who come into the church as honestly to consecrate all that they have to him, and in reference to their property as well as their aims, and influence, and talent, to say as Saul of Tarsus did, " Lord what wilt thou have me to do?" And if you are not prepared to devote your property honestly to God, to be sunk in the ocean, or swept away by the flame if he pleases; if you are not prepared to impart of it to do good and benefit man; if it is not to be your great aim in regard to that to do just what God requires, you are not prepared to make a profession of religion.

(2.) You must be prepared to abandon an evil course of life. This is evident. What I wish to say is, that not only gross vices are to be given up, but all forms of evil, -Habits of gross evil, I know, are easily forsaken. But all that is false and evil is to be forsaken also. Profaneness is not only to be forsaken, but falsehood and deception are to be forsaken. The Christian is to be a man of strict uncompromising truth and honesty, no matter what the world is. If the people of the world choose to deceive in the- prices or qualities of articles of trade; if they do not deem it necessary always to adhere to their promises; if they choose to say they are not at home when they are at home, still the Christian is to be like Jesus Christ, and is to say, or instruct others to say only what he would. And unless you come into the church prepared to be a man of uncompromising truth and integrity, you are not prepared to make a profession of religion. No matter what raptures you may have, or what zeal, or what spirit of prayer, or what joy, the Christian is To Be An Honest Man, and if he is not an honest man all his supposed evidences of piety, are hay and stubble. . .

(3.) You are to abandon your evil companions. If hitherto your chosen friends have been infidels or scoffers; if they have been the pleasure-loving and the gay; if-they have Deen found among the patrons of the drama or the ball-room, as companions they are now to be forsaken, and you are to seek and find your associates among the disciples of the Lord Jesus. You are to come and say to each Christian brother, " thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried." Ruth i. 16.-17. You are to breathe out the prayer of the Psalmist. "Remember me O Lord with the favor which thou bearest unto thy people." Ps. cvi. 4. You are to regard the Christian brotherhood as your chosen companionship, and to have fellowship with the friends of your days of sin, only in the necessary intercourse of relationship, of business, or to do them good. If this subjects you to their hatred or their scorn, it is to be borne, and if you cannot bear it, it proves that you have no true love to the Redeemer and his cause. With the friends of Christ, if a Christian, you will dwell forever in a world where there is no revelry, no worldly pleasure; and if on earth you decidedly prefer the society of the worldly and the gay to that of the humble friends of Christ, it shows where the heart is still, and demonstrates that it is not with Christ. How is he to be prepared for the society of heaven who has no love for the fellowship of Christians on earth; who prefers a ball-room to a prayer meeting, and the conversation of the gay and the frivolous, or eVen the scientific and the literary, to conversation about the glory of Christianity and the enjoyment of heaven?

(4.) You should come prepared to give up even your kindred, and forsake them for Christ. On this point the Saviour was probably more explicit than on almost any other requirement of his religion. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Luke xiv. 26. "He that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me, and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Matth. x. 37. On one occasion he commanded a man to follow him. "Suffer me first, said he, "to go and bury my father." "Let the dead bury the dead," was the firm reply of the Redeemer, "but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Luke ix. 59. 60. He demanded the strong proof which would thus be shown that he preferred him to his own friends, and that he was willing to break away from them even in the most tender and interesting circumstances, and to go where he required him.- And the same principle is demanded now. If a profession of religion requires you to differ in opinion from father, or mother, or kindred, it should be done. If it requires you to break away from their pleasures; to cease to accompany them to the places of sin, you are to be willing to make the sacrifice, and to separate yourself unto God. If it shall demand of you to forsake your country and home, and to go to the ends of the earth to make him known, you are to come with that feeling. No one-should enter the Christian church who would not be willing, if it were clearly shown to him to be his duty, to cross oceans to proclaim the Saviour's name, and to abandon forever all the comforts of his fireside and his home. This Ghrist demanded of the Apos-tles; and this he demands in every professor of religion. For if this feeling does not exist, how can there be a supreme regard to the will of Christ?

(5.) Allied to this, you should be willing to abandon any calling, however honorable and lucrative i{ may be, for any other calling where you can do more good.— When Saul of Tarsus was converted, he was required to give up his plans of life and become a minister of the cross. And he did it without a murmur. So it must be in all other cases. No man comes into the church with a proper spirit who is not prepared to abandon any calling if Christ requires it, and if he can do more good in a new profession. It is not enough to say that his present calling is not unlawful, and that he may be useful in that. All that may be. But the grand question is, whether in that he can do more to honor Christ and save the world than in another. Remember one fact. God often converts young lawyers, and merchants, and farmers, and physicians, and mechanics, for the very purpose of making them ministers of the gospel—as he did Saul of Tarsus; and he expects them to fulfil his design as Saul did, by becoming heralds of salvation to a dying world. If he is not prepared to do just what in all honesty he believes Jesus Christ requires of him, he is not prepared to make a profession of religion. - •

(6.) One remark more under this head. If you are not willing to abandon any calling however lucrative it may be that is contrary to the Bible and to good morals, you should not dare to enter the church. If a man is converted as Paul was, pursuing an evil manner of life, though on the high road to honor and perhaps to wealth, and is not willing to abandon his course, he is not prepared to make a profession of religion. What sort of a professor of religion would Paul have been, if he had not been willing to give up the business of persecution? If a man is converted who is a slaveholder, as John Newton was, he should be prepared- to give up the business, or he should not be allowed to make a profession of religion. Thus far all is clear. How is it now, under the operation of this principle, with the man who is-engaged in the manufacture and sale of ardent spirits? In ancient Ephesus there were men who practised curious arts, and were devoted to it as a business. Under the preaching of Paul they were converted; and one of the first promptings of their Christian zeal was to bring together those books, and burn them before all men to tire amount in value of " fifty thousand pieces of silver"— making the expression of their abhorrence at their former life as public as their life and business had been. There was manifested the great principle for which I contend —that no man should connect himself with a church, who is not prepared, at any sacrifice, as they were, to abandon any business, however lucrative, which is evil, and only evil, and that continually. How can a man be a Christian who is not prepared to make such a sacrifice? And why should he seek a connexion with a church to pursue his course of life under the sanction of the Christian name? No. The church needs not such members; and the Saviour never designed that any should profess his name who were not prepared forever to forsake all forms of evil however lucrative, and however honorable in the esteem of the world. No man can be a Christian who pursues a calling which cannot he pursued from a sincere desire to glorify God; and no man should enter the church who is not prepared to sacrifice his profession, and his calling if it be a scandal and a disgrace to the Christian name.