For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing you shall prolong your days in the land…
Religion is not a luxury, but a necessity of our being. It is not a vain service, because it is our life. Immersed as men are in the world, and conversant with material interests, it is difficult for them to feel this reality and absolute necessity of religion for their best life. There has been too much colour given to the presumption that religion was not deeply grounded and inlaid in our nature, but was a gift from without, a factitious culture and experience superinduced upon it, not the true working of the utmost being with all its powers. For religion has been offered to man too much as a strange, unnatural, and special thing, not as the real light of life. It has been enveloped in mystery, surrounded by a formidable array of pains and penalties, inculcated as supernatural, not only in the sanction and revelation of its truths, but in their incorporation and assimilation to the soul. The first thing to be done, therefore, is to create in men a belief that religion is not a manufactured want, but a natural necessity of our being; that, instead of its being an innate grace of temperament and constitution which, like genius, some have and others have not, and many do without, it is the bread of life for all.
I. THE NATURE OF MAN BEARS UNEQUIVOCAL TESTIMONY TO THE NECESSITY OF RELIGION. "In scepticism," said Goethe, "is no good thing." Religion is a later development, as wisdom in general is, but just as normal as any other manifestation of our nature, art, or invention, or calling of life. All the elements are in man. Thus he naturally believes. He may not always believe alike, — sometimes in Moses, in Mahomet, or in Christ, — but uniformly he has faith in something. Thus, too, he naturally makes distinctions of right and wrong; his decisions on these points may not always be coincident in every nature, and under different systems of culture. In Sparta one set of things, in England another, is wrong or right. But that does not militate against the fact of a moral sense, for no people has yet been found sunk so low that they do not make the distinction somewhere. So in regard to the future, hope, aspiration, anticipation, work in all human bosoms in different degrees of intensity, and towards varying ends and objects in the boundless future, but always, everywhere, towards some ends, towards some high ideals, throned and veiled by the cloud curtain of the future.
II. THE CONDITION OF MAN CORROBORATES THE VIEW DRAWN FROM HIS NATURE; for his condition is his nature in progression, ill continuity. If we go over the catalogue of items of this condition, from the time he lies helpless in the cradle till he lies helpless again in the coffin, we trace an unbroken line of religious wants. It is a great and continual hunger. For at every point, at every time, under every combination of surrounding circumstances, we detect the demand for that peculiar quantity and unknown value without which we cannot work the equation of life aright, or solve with certainty its great problem. Human life, for instance, is a condition of formation, growth, education, and yet we see at once that, if this process is not carried on according to the primal principles which are involved in the plan of the Chief Husbandman, we shall have crude windfalls and stunted growths, not the golden fruit. Human life is a state of exposure to great and trying temptations, plucking at our virtue, and dragging down our aims and acts, until we go the way of all the earth. The commanding truths and the vivid sentiments and the impressive promises of religion can alone disperse this unhallowed brood, and exorcise the evil spirits from possessing mind and heart.
III. THE DESTINY OF MAN STRENGTHENS ALL THE PREVIOUS ARGUMENTS FOR THE REALITY AND NECESSITY OF RELIGION. If man is created in the image of the Everlasting God, and called to the inheritance of a conscious being through all the unending ages of the future, — if, even in this morning of his days, he is filled with aspirations, dim it may be, but vast, grand, and exalting, for sweeter joys, for purer delights, a serener happiness, a more thrilling, inward, and abiding bliss, than the rarest moments of this life have given; if such is the realm of being to which man is on his way, and to whose celestial city he is already lifting up his eyes, what, we ask, shall best fit him for such a sublime career? What is adequate to prepare him to live forever? Only what is of the same kind with itself can meet the wants of an immortal spirit, namely, an immortal religion, an immortal Saviour, an eternal God. Power, and fame, and learning even, and some of the lower of man's attainments, even in the moral and intellectual sphere, are but freezing comforters to the bereaved, sick, and dying. But in these critical seasons of our being, when man is driven in from the outworks to the centre and substance of his nature, religion utters her grand tones of courage, promise, and eternity, and vindicates herself as the soul's supreme necessity, the one thing needful which, once possessed, can never be taken away, but will grow dearer and brighter and diviner forever.
(A. A. Livermore.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.