THE HIGHWAY OF OUR GOD
The GOSPEL TRUTH
PART II: TREADING THE HIGHWAY
GOD has reared a judgment seat in every man's conscience, which in some slight measure answers to, and prefigures, the sentence which He declares He will pronounce on every man's action, whether it be good or bad.
Then, if there be a great judge of all, and a standard of right and wrong which He has set up, it must be of supreme importance that we should correctly understand what is this standard, and that we should judge the conduct of ourselves and of those around us according to it. Surely nothing could be more deceptive and Soul-ruining than to accept as correct any short of the one unalterable and eternal standard of righteousness and truth which He has laid down; yet popular Christianity distinguishes itself by nothing more than a systematic misrepresentation of right and wrong, calling evil good and good evil.
'Judge not, that ye be not judged' is a favourite text of popular Christianity, which is interpreted to mean that we are on no account to form an opinion of the rightness or wrongness of anybody's conduct.
On this principle we are asked to allow that people who never go to a place of worship or bow their knees in prayer may be as good and faithful servants of God as any others. We are told that perhaps they are carrying out the divine will in a spirit of true devotion to duty, that working is praying, and that a man's belief bounds his responsibility.
'We are all aiming at the same thing' is a favourite way of expressing this popular Christianity, which suits the ideas of drunkards, adulterers and liars, as well as of shallow professors.
To declare positively that people are sinners, condemned already and on their way to Hell, is accounted as 'uncharitable judging,' 'really dreadful', and no one, we are told, can possibly be justified in coming to such a conclusion.
All this we could understand perfectly, coming from the camps of infidelity or from the haunts of vice; but to find it passed off in connection with the name and teachings of Jesus Christ is monstrous. What a sham to worship Him who declares Himself to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, if there be no certain way, no definable difference between the true and the false, no practical separation between the Christ life and the life without Christ. Surely it is high time for all who care about the right of Christ on earth to make up their minds to one thing or the other. If Christ be our Master, let us learn His lessons, and abide by His rule, and obey His commands. If, on the other hand, some are unwilling to see any difference between the narrow and the broad road, between those who are in the Kingdom of God or out of it, who are with Christ or against Him, let them be honest enough to declare openly that they have no Christ and will have no prophet but 'Society'.
Another text which might be taken as setting forth a favourite theory of modern Christianity is that in which Paul personified the struggles of a convicted but unsaved soul: 'For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.' We are all to look upon ourselves as poor, incapable, fallible creatures, and this assumed humility is to absolve us from all condemnation, on account either of doing evil or neglecting to do good. How often have I heard people say, with regard to some man holding an official position of great responsibility in the Church, 'Well, he does not do this, that, or the other (whatever may be the duty in question) as he might; but, you know, he can't do everything.' Such an apology as this would be beautiful, applied to those who are known to be earnestly and faithfully striving to do their share for the Kingdom of God; but when applied, as I have generally heard it, to what everyone knows to be a systematic and inexcusable neglect of everyday duty, it is no more nor less than a wholesale cloaking of sin.
How differently people treat the question of doing their duty in commercial matters. Imagine the business man who cannot attend to all his customers, or who thinks it unnecessary to keep his place of business open all the week and every week. What would you think of a servant who should consider it unreasonable to get up at the proper time every morning, or carry out your wishes in matters in which her views differed from yours? How long could society hang together if this looseness of thought as to what we ought and ought not to do were permitted to enter into the sphere of everyday life? But alas, alas! How much more ruinous is this looseness when it relates to our great spiritual duties toward God and our fellow-creatures. Either you ought or you ought not always to pray and not to faint, to learn and to do the will of God, to care for perishing souls, to warn, counsel and help those around you; and what applies to you applies to all who take upon them the name of Christ in any way whatever. We should never allow ourselves to excuse any neglect of God and duty because such neglect is all but universal; we should look at things as they are, and in the light of the judgment throne; and when we see conduct worthy of condemnation, condemn it, and be determined to separate ourselves in heart and life from evil practices, however much respected they may be, and to take our stand on the side of duty and of God at all costs.
I have turned away numberless times of late years, and with almost despairing disgust, from audiences of what would be called intelligent Christians; that is to say, persons who talk and act upon an intelligent view of any imaginable subject, except that of Christian duty. How often do I hear the remark, 'We know things are not as they should be,' from people who have not the slightest intention of striving in any way to make things better, and who would not, on any account, incur the odium of expressing any condemnation on that neglect of religious duty which they profess so much to deplore. Away with this unmanly, unwomanly cowardice! We have the light; let us come to it in order to see whether our deeds, and the deeds of those around us who profess to be working for God, are wrought in Him. We can, by God's grace, do our duty, if we will. Christ came on purpose to empower us to do it; but let those who will not have such a doctrine and such a Christ, but who prefer to accept the miserable theories of impotency, which would not be tolerated for a moment in the kitchen, the shop or the exchange--let them at least save Christ from the indignity of having such helpless, incapable creatures called by His name and professing to be His followers. He says with respect to all such, 'Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?'
The brutal tastes of the lower orders is another pet phrase of modern Christendom. It represents the idea that for a poor man, who has to keep himself and his family on a few shillings per week by hard labour, which takes away all inclination toward study or more exalted pursuits, it is a brutal taste to like to have a quart of beer as often as his scanty means will allow. It is a brutal taste to take pleasure in seeing two men fight each other, with their fists inflicting in the course of half an hour many hard knocks and bruises; and it is a still more brutal taste which leads men to train animals to fight each other, and to take pleasure in seeing them do so. Now I perfectly concur in the denunciation of all these evils, from which God is enabling The Salvation Army to rescue multitudes of these poor, so-called 'brutal fellows'; but let us turn the light of truth upon the Christian society which shrugs its shoulders in horror at the mere description of these men who get drunk and beat their wives, the Christian society whose refined taste leads it to have as little intercourse as possible with these 'lower orders.'
What sort of taste is it which, in the presence of the existing state of things among the poor, spends not fourpence but four shillings, and double and triple that sum on a single bottle of wine for the jovial entertainment of a few friends, and from twenty to forty pounds for a dinner to be swallowed by a dozen or two of people? I maintain that no splendid furniture, no well-trained and liveried servants, no costly pictures or display of finery or jewels, can redeem such a scene, viewed in the light of the teachings of Christ, from being worthy of being called brutal, and all the more brutal because it is delighted in by persons whose intelligence and knowledge of the awful state of things in the world around them must make them fully aware of the good that might be done with the money which they thus lavish upon their lusts.
Let me take you to another scene. One of the greatest employments of every Christian government and community is to train thousands of men, not to fight with their fists only, in the way of inflicting a few passing sores, but with weapons capable of killing human beings at the rate of so many per minute. It is quite a 'scientific taste' to study how to destroy a large vessel with several hundreds of men on board instantaneously. Talk of brutality! Is there anything half as brutal as this within the whole range of rowdyism? But against all this, modern Christianity, which professes to believe the teaching of Him who taught us not to resist evil, but to love our enemies and to treat with the utmost benevolence hostile nations, has nothing to say. All the devilish animosity, hard-hearted cruelty, and harrowing consequences of modern warfare are not only sanctioned, but held up as an indispensable necessity of civilized life, and in times of war, patronized and prayed for in our churches and chapels with as much impudent assurance as though Jesus Christ had taught, 'But I say unto you, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and return evil for evil, hate your enemies and pursue them with all the diabolical appliances of destruction which the devil can enable you to invent.' Alas, alas! Is it not too patent for intelligent contradiction that the most detestable and brutal thing in the judgment of popular Christianity is not brutality, cruelty or injustice, but poverty and vulgarity?
I appeal to you whether I have spoken more than the truth; and I speak it in love to you who wish to hear and to obey it in the love of it. I see the utter hopelessness of any improvement, of any recurrence to the simplicity and purity of the gospel, without an utter abandonment of the false and hollow judgment of modern Christianity. I would fain hope that some of you may be induced to forsake every refuge of lies which has been reared around you, and to abandon all the false standards of faith and practice to which I have alluded, and open your hearts and ears to listen to the voice that never changes, but which in all ages alike tells men of a just judgment to come. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; and it will be no excuse for us there that we were surrounded by false witnesses, sham lights and an openly received system of hypocrisy. God has shown us His beloved Moses, Daniels, Nehemiahs, Jeremiahs, Pauls, Johns and numberless other worthies, standing out gloriously alone in the midst of a pagan society, full of refined and splendid iniquity, and standing out ever more divine when all round were weighed in the balances and found wanting. You have but the old choice to make; may God enable you to make it, and to stand out for God and righteousness against all around you.
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