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BY REV. BARON STOW,
PASTOR OF THE BALDWIN PLACE BAPTIST CHURCH, BOSTON.
RELIGION OUR LIFE.
"It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life."-DEUT. xxxii. 47.
NOTHING is more common than for men to insist upon the superlative importance of their own particular theory, business, or profession. Whatsoever is connected with ourselves, we are very apt to overrate, while the interests and affairs of others, we are likely in the same proportion to undervalue. This is the spirit of the world; this is human Lature as it is.
In a great multitude of minds, this principle is made the basis of judgment respecting the work of the Christian minister. When we labor to dissuade our hearers from sinful deeds and pleasures, and urge the superior claims and comforts of religion, we are regarded as actuated by this common selfishness;-as attaching special importance to faith, repentance, hope, and a holy life, merely because, as professed disciples and teachers of Christianity, we feel in such subjects a peculiar interest. We are often considered as acting professionallyconsistently enough, perhaps—and yet only professionally—and as, therefore, liable to over-estimate the value of our avowed object. Hence the stress which we lay upon the belief of gospel doctrine, and the practice of gospel precept, is frequently deemed to be disproportionate and extravagant, and many feel themselves at liberty to make such abatement from the pressing demands of our message, as may best suit their own convenience.
But, allowing that this professional ultraism is the common fault of selfish humanity, and allowing also that the occupants of the pulpit are personally the subjects of the universal frailty of our race-selfishness-is it not possible that the religion which we recommend is exempt from the application of a rule which may belong to other cases, and that when we declare it to be above all things important,
we utter only the words of truth and soberness, from which no deduction is allowable? If the Bible be true-and it remains to be proved that it is not true then personal religion is the one thing needful, and our reasonings, and pleadings, and beseechings, and warnings, come not under the head of overheated enthusiasm; and the strongest language we can utter, and the most vigorous action we can employ, are not only justified but imperiously demanded.
The passage before us will amply sustain me in my position, and bear me out in urging you, one and all, to seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness. It is the language of Moses, a man of extraordinary learning, experience, and practical wisdom; and it is the more worthy of consideration from the fact that it was uttered at the advanced age of one hundred and twenty years, and near the conclusion of a well-spent life. He had long been the guide and instructor of Israel; had participated in their joys and sorrows, their dangers and deliverances, and had officiated between them and Jehovah as a subordinate mediator, typical, in some respects, of the ONE MEDIATOR-THE MAN CHRIST JESUS. Through him had the God of their fathers communicated his will to the people, and through him had the confessions and desires of the people been spread before God in the clouded mount. He has now arrived with his migratory host in the vicinity of the Promised Land, and he takes occasion to address the people most tenderly and faithfully upon subjects of the deepest interest to their future welfare. He speaks with a fervor and an unction that show how profoundly he feels his responsibleness to God, and how earnest is his solicitude for the spiritual good of his beloved charge. It was his farewell discourse; and no sooner was it concluded, than God commanded him to ascend mount Nebo, look at the long-sought Canaan, and die. He addressed his flock no more, except to impart his final blessing. This was soon done, and God took him to his reward.
This, therefore, is the language of a man who stood, and who knew that he stood on the border of two worlds. He understood and felt what he said. He spoke of the value of religion; and as he looked back on time, and forward into eternity, he testified to its importance as beyond all comparison :-It is not a vain thing for you, because it
is YOUR LIFE.
I. It is NOT a vain thing. This it would be very easy to show, for its truth is confirmed by the testimony of all scripture and of all Christian experience. But the very terms of the negative imply a strong affirmation. If I say of a thing that it is not empty, I mean that it contains something. If I say that it is not worthless, I mean that it is valuable. And I use the negative form of expression to give the greater emphasis to an affirmative proposition. So when I say that to be a Christian is not a vain thing, I mean to be understood, and doubtless am understood as saying that it is positively excellent and desirable. To possess the Christian's heart and the Christian's hope
to love God supremely, and feel a spirit of charity towards all mankind, is not an imaginary, but a real good; not a shadow, but a substance; not an exterior show, but an internal solidity; not a matter of indifference, but of absolute necessity. No consideration in the universe is so important to you as the salvation of your soul. No question involves so much of your real interest, as this oft-repeated but grievously neglected one, Are you a Christian?
II. It is your life. Strong as is the implication of the negative, the affirmative is infinitely stronger. How significant and emphatic the expression-It is YOUR LIFE. The convalescent invalid says of a particular medicine, "It is my life,"-meaning that it has afforded essential relief, and is restoring his health. The literary man says of his books, "They are my life,"-implying that they are indispensable to his comfort, improvement, and usefulness. So when we affirm that the religion which we recommend, is your life, we use the words with a similar meaning, and yet with a meaning that is infinitely more accordant with truth. We would fain impress upon your minds the conviction, that to you this religion is more important than anything else within the range of human or superhuman conception. To your well-being, as a moral and an accountable agent, it is indispensable. It involves all that is really valuable in time and in eternity. It is your life. Measure the import of the expression-your life! Said satan and well he knew-All that a man hath will he give for HIS LIFE. The religion of Jesus Christ is your life, and when you come to view it as such, you will surrender everything else for its sake. What would not each of the ill-fated Lexington's company, or the Pulaski's, or the Albion's company, have given, in their fatal hour, for the means of escape from a watery grave-for something, no matter what, which they might have embraced as their life, and by the help of which they might have been restored to their homes and their kindred? And in the dread scene of the world's conflagration, or even in the hour of death, who of my impenitent hearers will not count the religion of the Bible as of infinite worth, and mourn that it cannot then be secured? Of the few that escaped from those wrecks, who did not value, as above all price, the means of preservation;who would have sold upon any terms the plank, the settee, the cotton bale, or the life-preserver, that buoyed him up, and bore him drifting away from the scene of ruin? "Part with this! It is my life! All earth can offer me no equivalent for it!" And where is the believer, as he considers what religion has done for him, and is now doing for him, and promises still to do for him both in time and in eternity, who would not feel that in relinquishing his hold upon the religion of Christ, he was letting go his all? It is not a vain thing for me, declares every Christian under the whole heaven, because it is MY LIFE. On this I lay my soul; I cling to it as a life-buoy. Part with this, and I am lost forever!
When, however, I assert, upon divine authority, that personal reli
gion is indispensable, I do not mean to say that you cannot disregard and neglect it. I know full well that you can, for, while I wonder how you can, I see that many of you do neglect it as if it were a vain thing, rather than your life. But I know also that you cannot neglect it without displeasing God, and incurring to yourselves infinite damage. You may indeed dispense with faith, and prayer, and a holy life; but the results will be that you must dispense also with all the blessedness of present piety, and that God will surely dispense with your presence in heaven. You may, if you choose, despise the
riches of his goodness and forbearance, not realizing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to that repentance which is unto salvation; but you cannot do it without treasuring unto yourself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Whether you shall or shall not embrace the great salvation, is not a question which you may decide either way with equal innocence or equal safety. The religion of the Lord Jesus is your life; irreligion is your death. The Great Alternative is, Repentance or Perdition. Welcome the Savior to your heart, and you are happy forever. Reject him, and it will cost you everlasting damnation.
When we say that personal religion is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life, we mean that it is essential
1. To your peace of mind.
Of the wicked, God himself has said, that to them there is no peace. True as are all his declarations, he has made no other statement that is sustained by so many corroborative facts. You who are impenitent have never enjoyed one half hour of true peace of mind such as you would venture to say upon a dying bed was happiness. Seldom, during your waking hours;-never, except when your consciences are lulled into slumber by the stupefying influence of some narcotic error, or of sensual indulgence, or of absorbing worldliness-never are you free from uncomfortable apprehensions touching the soul's futurity. You may labor to disbelieve the Bible; but, even if you succeed, the difficulty is not remedied. Infidelity, in none of its forms, can furnish a substitute to pacify the restless spirit. Should you, blinded by the sophistry of the senses, persuade yourself that the word of God does not mean what it says with respect to the character and the end of the wicked, you gain nothing even on the score of genuine comfort. There is still in your bosom the worm that dieth not, the original and eternal cause of inquietude and wo. And just in proportion to your zeal and activity in defending such error, do we discover evidence of your inward restlessness and dissatisfaction. Through the very means by which you would convince us that you are happy, you betray the proofs of a misery that devours the heart with a vulture's appetite. A mind unreconciled to God is any where and every where a miserable mind. Engage in any pursuit, travel to any country, mingle in any society, the occasion of unhappiness remains. It is unpacified conscience-unrenewed moral nature-a part and parcel of yourself. One of your own number, more frank than his fellows, has confessed it :
"What exile from himself can flee?
Your only alternative, aside from submission to the gospel, is to lay that harrassing disturber, conscience, asleep by the use of some spiritual soporific, such as satan and his agents are ever ready to prescribe and to furnish. This has sometimes been done, and the soul has not aroused from its night-shade influence, until the body has been wrapped in its shroud, and the soul itself girded with eternal fire! But not unfrequently has conscience, touched by the electric power of the Spirit of God, started from its forced dormancy, and rung through the soul the tocsin of alarm, until there have stood up before the sinner the hideous spectres of wasted years, and murdered privileges, and he has shuddered, like a leaf of autumn, "with a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation." Have you not moments, when thoughts of eternity and retribution will intrude unbidden and unwelcome, causing every joy to pall upon the senses, every dream of pleasure to vanish, every hope to wither, and overspreading earth and heaven with a gloom that, like Egyptian darkness, may be felt? You wish that you had never been born, and, could you be sure that death would annihilate the thinking principle, you would seek death as a refuge from the lashings of the inward executioner.
Now, as the appointed remedy of this deep-seated and otherwise incurable evil of the soul, the religion of Jesus is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life. By reconciliation to God, through the mediation of the atoning Savior, you can obtain "the peace that passeth all understanding"-peace of mind-and in no other way can you obtain it. I speak not at random; I speak upon Scripture authority; I speak from personal experience; I speak with the concurrent testimony of all Christians on earth and in heaven. Upon this subject you are not competent judges, for you have made trial of nothing but the world, and worldly expedients. We have tried both the world and religion, and, upon our credit for veracity, and as believers in eternal retribution, we assure you that, being in Christ new creatures, and the possession of "good hope through grace," are productive of the only peace that is worthy of the name. "Peace I leave with you," says the faithful Redeemer, "my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you."
O yes, dear hearer, if there be a difference between the dread of hell and the hope of heaven, between the corrosions of conscious guilt and the soothing assurance of affectionate forgiveness, between the maniac pleasures of sin and the rational satisfactions of piety, then is the Christian happier than the impenitent sinner.
Appeals to men's interests upon this subject, I am well aware, avail but little. No man becomes a Christian solely under the influence of such motives. But as the example of Moses, and of the prophets and apostles, and even of our Lord Jesus Christ, will justify such appeals,