Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?…
1. Can we say Christianity still is a new life? Does it achieve one thousandth part of what it was intended to achieve; and if not, what is the reason? Why has the Church been smitten with the curse of a spiritual sterility? It is one of the sophisms of infidel argument to charge upon Christianity the crimes and faults of men who have acted in flagrant contradiction to its spirit. The representatives of the Church have in many an age condoned vice, leagued with tyranny. But to charge these crimes on Christianity is absurd and false; they are to be charged on anti-Christ. Satan is ten-fold Satan when he dons the cowl or the mitre, and would pass himself off as an angel of light. And a religion may retain the name and the semblance of a religion long after it is dead; and when a religion has lost its life how deep the death! "If the light that is within us is darkness, how great is that darkness!" Christianity was meant to be the salt of the earth, but "if the salt has lost its savour wherewith shall it be salted?" "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire"; but when men have ceased to believe that there is so much as a Holy Ghost, how shall spiritual miracles be wrought?
2. Now, the one peril of all religions is to lose their life, to lose their fire. We talk of false religions, but no religion worthy of the name can be wholly false. The value of religions may sometimes be more easily tested by their results than by their doctrines, by their fire than by their abstract truths. Confucianism, for instance, is now arid and empty enough, and yet Confucius once taught great truths. Buddhism is the religion of masses of the human race, and is rife with error; and yet Buddhism is still kept alive by its great demand for self-conquest and self-sacrifice. Mahomedanism, notwithstanding all its deadly degeneracies, saved Arabia from idolatry, and its demand for abstinence has been to many nations an inestimable boon. Each of these religions has sunk into inanition, because their priests have suffered their votaries to make a mere fetish of their formulae, and to violate their essential life. Judaism stood incomparably above other religions in its Divine origin, but it proved to be no exemption from this law of decay. Is it possible that Christianity could undergo a fate so terrible, and become no better than a phantom? Yes. Many a time has nominal Christendom been tamed out of its splendid passion, and sunk into Pharisaism, and lost its renovating power.
3. Now, when any faith has sunk into this condition, when it has got to rely mainly upon worthless symbols and pompous claims, it is for the time dead. It needs resurrection and a new Pentecost. And the Christian Church has had many such. The work of Benedict, Wycliffe, Huss, Savonarola, and , was but a successful rekindling of dead or dying claims. So, too, it was when Luther disinterred the true gospel from the heaped debris of priestly falsehoods. So, too, was it when George Fox made men believe once more in the living power of the Spirit of God with every human soul. So, too, was it when Wesley and Whitefield awoke the full-fed and torpid Church of England. And so it would be now if among the many echoes God would send us one voice — but one man with his soul so electric with the fire of God that he would make us feel that God is face to face with every one of us.
4. The real question to ask about any form of religious belief is, "Does it kindle the fire of love?" Does it make the life stronger, sweeter, more noble? Does it run through society like a cleansing flame? There is no error more fatal than the notion that correct belief or church membership are of any value whatever in comparison with righteousness of life. Just as a living dog is better than a dead lion, so a good heretic or a righteous schismatic may be immeasurably dearer to God and nearer to heaven than is, or can be, a bad Christian.
5. How necessary is it, then, that our religion, which is so Divinely great and true, should not degenerate in our hands into a pompous system or an outward formalism. And yet is there no danger of this? What is the state of things in Christian England, and what is predominantly occupying its attention? You know that of all the fifteen hundred millions now alive only one in three is even yet a nominal Christian; that in Europe at this moment thirty-six millions of men are in arms. You know the vice, the squalor, the misery of these great cities; you know how in this awful city there are tens of thousands of the unemployed, of paupers, of criminals, of drunkards, of prostitutes; and that there are at least two millions and a half who scarcely ever enter any house of God. And when you have gazed long enough on this weltering sea of shame and misery, you turn to the professors of religion and find two hundred and seventy rival sects, and the Church of the nation rent asunder by questions as to who can fail to ask, "Is this the outcome of nineteen centuries of Christianity?" Is it about such questions that the new life is concerned? Is Nero fiddling during the burning of Rome a sadder spectacle?
6. Oh, if Christianity as ever fully to be what it was meant to be, if it is to be something more than a clamour of contending sects and contending parties; if it is to be a new life and a new walk, then it must inspire once more such a sense of eternity, such a sense of the near, immediate presence of God, such a belief in the infinite love of Christ and the power of His resurrection, such a consciousness of the Spirit, as shall restore it once more to its olden glory, and make it adequate to fulfil the vast promise of its Lord, "He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also," etc.
Parallel VersesKJV: Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?