The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
But Job answered and said,The Profitableness of Religion
This inquiry will lead us, by a very little expansion of its terms, to consider the general subject of the advantages of religion. Regard the text in that broad aspect, not limiting it to prayer, or any special exercise of piety, but as opening up these great questions: What better is a man for being religious? Is it not possible to be as good and as great without religion as with it? Understand that we are speaking exclusively of the Christian religion, and not of any form of pagan superstition. What profit is it, then, that a man should believe the doctrines of Jesus Christ? What advantage arises from believing in God as revealed by his Son? If a man be sincere and consistent, what disadvantage does he suffer, as compared with the man who accepts all the doctrines of the Christian faith? Such is our subject, namely: The profitableness of religion; an answer to the great inquiry, What profit should we have, if we serve the Almighty?
No man can hold the Christian view of God's personality and dominion without his whole intellectual nature being ennobled. He no longer looks at things superficially; he sees beyond the gray, cold cloud that limits the vision of men who have no God; the whole sphere of his intellectual life receives the light of another world. The difference between his former state and his present condition, is the difference between the earth at midnight and the earth in the glow and hope of a summer morning! This is not mere statement. It is statement, based upon the distinctest and gladdest experience of our own lives, and based also upon the very first principles of common sense. The finer and clearer our conceptions of the divine idea, the nobler and stronger must be our intellectual bearing and capacity. When the very idea of God comes into the course of man's thinking, the quality of his thought is changed; his outlook upon life widens and brightens; his tone is subdued into veneration, and his inquisitiveness is chastened into worship. Intellectually the idea of God is a great idea. It enters the mind, as sunlight would startle a man who is groping along a path that overhangs abysses in the midst of starless gloom. The idea of God cannot enter into the mind, and mingle quietly with common thinking. Wherever that idea goes, it carries with it revolution, elevation, supremacy. We are not referring to a cold intellectual assent to the suggestion that God is, but of a reverent and hearty faith in his being and rule. Such a faith never leaves the mind as it found it. It turns the intellect into a temple; it sets within the mind a new standard of measure and appraisement; and lesser lights are paled by the intensity of its lustre. Is this mere statement? It is statement; but it is the statement of experience; it is the utterance of what we ourselves know; because comparing ourselves with ourselves we are aware that we have known and loved the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that since we have done so, our intellectual life has sprung from the dust, and refreshed itself at fountains which are accessible only to those who live In God.
This, then, is the first position for our thought and consideration, namely: That no man can entertain with reverence and trust the idea that God is, without his whole intellectual nature being lifted up to a higher plane than it occupied before; without his mind receiving great access of light and vigour. Do you say that you know some men who profess to believe in God, and who sincerely do believe in his existence and his government, and yet they are men of no intellectual breath, of no speciality in the way of intellectual culture and nobleness? We believe that to be perfectly true; but can you tell what those men would have been, small as they are now, but for the religion that is in them? At present they are very minute, intellectually speaking,—exceedingly small and microscopic. But what would they have been if the idea of God's existence and rule had never taken possession of their intellectual nature? Besides that, they are on the line of progress. There is a germ in them which may be developed, which may, by diligent culture, by reverent care, become the supreme influence in their mental lives. Such modifications must be taken into account when we are disposed to sneer at men who, though they have a God in their faith and in their hearts, are yet not distinguished by special intellectual strength. We hear of men who never mention the name of God, and who, therefore, seem to have no religion at all; who are men of very brilliant intellectual power, very fertile in intellectual resources, and who altogether have distinguished themselves in the empire of Mind. But we ask what might these men have become if they had added to intellectual greatness a spirit of reverence and adoration? It cannot surely be said that those men would not have been greater had they known what it is to worship the one living and true God? We must say that they would not have been greater and would not have had intellectual profit, before we can establish the charge that we are now arguing upon a mistaken assumption. But the suggestions are perfectly correct. Some religious men are intellectually little, some unreligious men are intellectually great; and yet neither of these suggestions touch the great question under consideration.
Not only is there an ennoblement of the nature of a man, as a whole, by his acceptance of the Christian idea of God—there is more. That in itself is an inexpressible advantage; but there is a higher profit still, forasmuch as there is a vital cleansing and purification of a man's moral being. Let a man receive the Christian idea of God, let him believe fully in God, as revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and a new sensitiveness is given to his conscience; he no longer loses himself in the mazes of a cunning casuistry; he goes directly to the absolute and final standard of righteousness; all moral relations are simplified; moral duty becomes transparent; he knows what is right, and does it; he knows the wrong afar off, and avoids it. Before he received the Christian idea of God and worship according to the spirit and law of Jesus Christ, he could hoodwink himself—that last act of wickedness! He could put his own moral eyes out, and imagine that having closed his own vision he had extinguished all spiritual light; he could regard the flame of a candle as sufficient, without consulting the light of the sun; he could mistake a maxim for a principle, and justify by usage what he never could defend by righteousness. But now that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is in him, now that he looks at everything from a Christian standpoint, he takes a spiritual view of every question and every duty; he examines the shades and colours of his life by God's light; and he is ashamed, with unspeakable shame, of the chicanery which enfeebled and disgraced his former existence.
This is the statement of a fact, which we ourselves have experienced. We are not in this matter to be regarded as special pleaders only. We are the witnesses as well as the advocates; we are speaking upon our oath! We have sworn upon the Holy Book, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,—and this we do when we say, That life in Jesus Christ the Son of God, has given us a new sensitiveness of conscience, a new moral standard, a new test of moral satisfaction. It is often urged that some persons make great professions of religion, who after all do not appear to very high moral advantage when compared with others whose profession is by no means so loud and broad. There can be no controversy upon that point. But it is not their religion that is to be blamed; it is their want of religion that is to be pointed out and deplored. Some men never open the Bible, never identify themselves with any church, and are yet considered noble, honourable, upright men in the marketplace and in the various relationships of life. But how much nobler and better—better altogether—such men would be if they believed in God as revealed by Jesus Christ! That is the point of view to occupy, if we would be fair to this question. It is not to be dismissed on mere superficial suggestion. There are men who disgrace the name they bear; but do not blame the name, blame those who are traitorous to its spirit and claims. There are men who do not identify themselves with any organised form of Christianity; and we do not say how far they may or may not have the Spirit of God within them; but any man who has a high natural sense of honour becomes a greater man, more spiritual in his moral definitions, more keenly spiritual in his moral vision, in proportion as he knows, and worships and serves the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Further, it is always profitable to base life upon intelligent faith. He who walks by sight only, walks in a blind alley. He who does not know the freedom and joy of reverent, loving speculation, wastes his life in a gloomy cell of the mouldiest of prisons. Even in matters that are not distinctively religious, faith will be found to be the inspiration and strength of the most useful life. It is faith that does the great work of the world. It is faith that sends men in search of unknown coasts. It is faith that re-trims the lamp of inquiry, when sight is weary of the flame. It is faith that unfastens the cable and gives men the liberty of the seas. It is faith that inspires the greatest works in civilisation. So we cannot get rid of religion unless we first get rid of faith, and when we get rid of faith we give up our birthright and go into slavery for ever! We do not say that there may not be an apparent equality between one man and another. One man may profess faith in Christ and pray to God; and the other may make no such profession. Viewed according to the mere flesh, there may even be superiority on the side of him who makes no profession of religion; there may be points of great similarity as between them; yet there may also be between them the profoundest contrast They may dwell in the same neighbourhood, yet they may live in different regions of the universe. They may reside upon the beat of the same tax-gatherer, yet may breathe atmospheres separated by immeasurable miles; and the explanation of the difficulty may be found in the presence or absence of faith. All birds are not the same birds; neither are all men the same men. Though it is very possible for a child who is looking at two birds to say, "They are both birds; one, therefore, must be as good as the other;" for the child would judge by colour and shape, and form his judgment upon things that are but superficial. Hear a dialogue and say what it means: Two birds are in conversation. "How many eyes have you?" "Two." "So have I." "How many wings have you?" "Two." "So have I." "How many legs?" "Two." "So have I. And you are covered with feathers, and so am I." Then the birds are both alike; they are both birds, and there is an end of the matter. No, no! They are both birds,—yes. But the beak of one is as wax, and the beak of the other is as iron; the legs of the one spread out into webs, the legs of the other curl into coils of steel; the wings of the one flutter in the farmyard, the wings of the other flap themselves at the gate of the sun! They are both birds,—yes. But the one is a goose, and the other is an eagle!
So it is with men in some cases. They are both the same height; they are clothed alike; they live in the same neighbourhood; they speak the same language; they use the currency of the same realm; they are in some respects upon familiar terms. Therefore, they are equal,—they are both men, and they are both alike. No, not necessarily so! Outwardly the points of similarity are evident But when life sharpens itself into a crisis, when the all-determining hour comes that tries the metal of a man,—you will then see who is the stronger, who has the highest quality in his nature. Is it not so in common life? We have heard a party of friends singing the same piece of music. For a while their voices blended very sweetly, and not being able to offer a scientific criticism upon the performance, we thought that they were all about equal. But presently they came to a passage of very high notes, very lofty music; and in that moment they all ceased but one, and that one voice went aloft—alone, and thrilled us; by the perfectness of its ease! If they had stopped before that, we should have given common applause, and said, "One is as good as another, and thank you all." But there was a time of trial, and in that time of trial the masterly voice rose where other voices could not follow it. It is so in the great concerns and trials of life. For days together we seem to be tolerably equal, but there come special hours, critical trials, and in those moments—which are condensed lifetimes—we show the stuff we are made of and the capacity we represent. It is then that the religious man—if deeply and truly intelligent and earnest—shows himself a man. Where there is great faith of any kind, there must also be great works. That is an advantage of faith. We do not say where there is great profession of faith, but where there is actually great trust and great capacity of spiritual reliance, there must of necessity be great service or great endurance. This law holds good all through life; it holds good in the common affairs of our daily existence. The man who has most faith will have most energy. The man who believes most will do most It may be in commerce, quite as well as in religion. It may be in the poorest, meanest industry, as well as in the higher pursuits of intellect and courage. The law is sound, good, unchangeable. Most faith, most work, most trust, most nobleness, greatest power of relying upon the future and upon great principles, and the sweeter the unmurmuring patience with which trials are encountered and endured. This is a great law in life, and not only a law in religion. It is in all aspects and departments of life philosophically true, that faith is the inspiration of industry, activity, courage, and determination to advance in life. If this be true in common affairs, what must be the works of those who lovingly believe in the Lord Jesus? Given a man who sets his heart to believe all the words of Jesus Christ, and what must be his works? His works must be like the works of his Master. What works were those? Common works? Say when he did one common thing,—that is, one mean thing, one ignoble deed,—or when did he set his name against one paltry transaction? His life is before you; your critical eyes are open; the challenge is wide and emphatic. Given a man, who really with his heart of hearts believes in Christ, what ought his works to be? What nobleness, what intelligence, what fearlessness, what self-sacrifice, what seeking out of causes that need redress, what binding up of broken hearts, what drying of tearful eyes! True, we are exposed to the charge of inconsistency. There are men who taunt us with knowing what is right and not doing it; who, when they see us falling on the highway, say, "Ha, ha! that is your Christianity, is it?" These men should not be taken as the standards of morality. It is one thing to sneer at another man, and quite a different thing to be worthy to be trusted as a counsellor and a guide in moral affairs.
Let us, then, who believe in Christ openly look at this great possibility, namely: Our Master may be blamed for our shortcomings. When we use the great word and do the little deed, a sword may be thrust into the side of the Son of God—a sword that shall find his blood and cut his heart! Does a man—a man! oh perverted word!—tell his Christian wife at home, when she does some deed which does not please exactly his critical judgment, That that is her Christianity? That man is a devil, who would slay the Son of God! Does a woman taunt and jibe her husband who makes a profession of Christianity, and tell him that his misdeeds and shortcomings are attributable to his religious faith? That woman's name ought not to be mentioned in civilised, not to say Christian, society! We are well aware that we are chargeable with inconsistency; but could we face an assembly of sneerers, we should claim this as a right—blame us, do not blame our Master—scourge us to the bone, to the marrow, but lay no finger on the Son of God! Visit us with your criticism—and, alas! we have no reply to it. If you tell us we are inconsistent, we are obliged to say, "Even so." We cannot retort upon you, and say, "So are you." It is a coward's answer. We do not avail ourselves of any immoral tu quoque. We take the blame; we say, "You are right." The right word comes from bad lips. We cannot return the word as an unjust accusation; but may we beg, pray, entreat, that the Son of God be not blamed for our shortcomings! Does the sneerer come to us, and say, "Is this the profitableness of your religion then? Ha! you make a great profession of religion, yet look how narrow-minded you are! Is this what you call religion?" Our reply is, Do not talk to us so; it is insane talk, and it is animated by a diabolical spirit! Take us as we are; indicate our shortcomings and spare not the rod; but do not crucify the Son of God afresh!
There are persons in the world who will insist upon judging this great question of religion in the light of this inquiry—"What profit should we have, if we pray unto him?" It is a vicious question; it is, as a piece of reasoning, unsound from beginning to end. Yet there is a solemn claim upon us to let our profiting appear unto all observers. We are to be living epistles, known and read of men. What a mighty change would take place in society, if we could point to ourselves as illustrations of faith; and as examples of religious love and consistency and devotion! Yet alas! every Christian has to say, "Do not look at me if you would know what religion is." And this will be so, more or less, to the end of life; because the holier a man is, the less does he feel inclined to exhibit himself as a pattern or example to others. But that is no reason why he should be one whit the less the most loving man in his neighbourhood; the most noble man in his confraternity. It is not one whit the less a reason why he should not exercise the profoundest and most beneficent influence upon all with whom he may come in contact.
Now as to those who are observing Christians from a side point of view, and saying, "We are on the outlook to observe what your godliness does for your nature; our eyes are upon you, and if we see that you have a very great advantage over us, probably we may, by-and-by, come over to you." They will never come! They occupy a wrong angle of vision; they are pursuing a course of vicious reasoning. The question for such to look at is, not what advantage do professors seem to have, but, What is religion itself? How can I get to know its meaning? How can I put myself under its influence? Men must not look to a minister as an example and a model, nor base their reasonings upon his character and spiritual attainments. The hoariest saint goes home if he is to be dragged to the front, to be looked at as an exhibition of the advantages and the profitableness of religion. Look at the Son of God, God the Son, the one Teacher and the only Saviour; and we risk everything upon that look, if so be it be reverent, earnest, intelligent.
Those who are merely collateral observers, do an injury to themselves in supposing that Christians are to be looked upon as the only exponents and illustrations of the profitableness of religion. Such observers miss the whole question; they waste their energy; they toil in waters where there is nothing to be caught; they pursue where there is nothing to be overtaken. We would urge such to study religion itself, to pay earnest heed to every feature of the life of Christ. We turn away, that the Master alone may be left with you. Is there a man who has read the life of Christ, who will say that if society received that life and based its policy upon it, the most beneficent revolution would not gradually occur in society? When did the Son of God ever flatter a rich or great man that he might enjoy his momentary patronage? When did the Son of God set man against man in deadly hate or mortal strife? When did the Son of God interfere with the comfort of any home? Where is the family that can say, "Not until Christ came amongst us did we know the meaning of strife and bitterness "? Can one such family be found? But ten thousand other families can give the lie to the accusation, and say they never knew what home was, till they set up on the hearthstone an altar to the living God. When men, therefore, ask what is the profitableness of religion, we say,—Consider what would take place in every department of society, if the love of Christ were multiplied by the life of mankind. Then righteousness would walk in the middle of the highway; virtue would be no longer trampled in the dust, and as for oppression, its arm would be stayed; and as for cruelty its teeth would be broken with gravel!
How is this to take place? By individual inquiry, by personal consecration, by each heart looking at the question for itself and making its own decisions. May some young heart honestly say, "From this time forth I will look at the profitableness of religion in the light of Christ's life, and not in the light of the lives of the people that are round about me. I myself will give my days and nights to a study of supreme religious questions"? Will any young heart vow that hence on, throughout all his days, he will think, inquire, read, take courage and decide for himself in the light of God's book and Christ's life, upon all great questions? The man to fear is the man who supposes that he knows everything. The man who will do no good, is the man who dogmatically pronounces against everybody, who makes a profession of religion and who considers himself the censor of mankind. Have hope of men who think; though at first they may think crookedly, perversely, and indistinctly. Have faith in any sign of life. It is when men are stagnant that we may give up hope. It is when men have no questions to ask that we may pronounce them dead. When they receive everything, as the rock receives rain and the desert the great sunlight, we may pronounce them dead. Opposition is better than some species of consent. Have hope of men who will contend resolutely, intelligently, though they be fighting against us with every breath they draw, and every syllable they utter be as a drawn sword. There is life, there is activity, there is desire to know and advance.
What profit should we have? Some of us never knew what life was, till we knew Jesus. We thought we knew life; but we saw it only on a cold, grey, wintry day. After we knew Christ, we saw it in summer blossom, in summer glory, in summer pomp! And we are not to be contradicted without thought and without care. Because, after all, we have this advantage over some persons, that we have tried the profitableness of sin and we have tried the experience of the religious life. Oh! imagine not that only the bad man knows the profitableness of the black art! We have been just where he is. Whatever his experience now, we know it. There is no hieroglyphic in the devil's writing we cannot spell out to its last throb of meaning. There is no cup in the devil's hostelry which we have not emptied, turned up, and called out for more! We have that advantage over our critics and our cruel censors; and having that advantage we say, That not until we knew Jesus, and loved the truth as it is in him, did we know the value of life, or the pain of life,—that pain which is the birth-agony of supreme and eternal joy!
We could take you to many scenes that would show the infinite profitableness of faith in God. We should not withdraw the flowered curtain behind which sinful life drinks its poisoned cups. We should take you to houses that have been desolated by misfortune, and show you the profitableness of religion in the sweet patience which it has wrought in sad hearts; we should take you to the house of affliction, where youth has been turned into old age by long-continued pain, and show how the fire has left the gold and only consumed the dross; we should take you to men who once were the curse and terror of society, and show you the light of Christian intelligence in their countenances and the love of Christian charity in their actions; we should take you to the chamber "where the good man meets his fate," and as he smiles at the last enemy, and passes upward to the quiet and holy place, calm, fearless, exultant, we should say, Behold the profit which comes of knowing and loving the Saviour of the world!