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The world's entire morality and that of a large portion of the Church are only a spurious benevolence. You see a family very much united and you say, How they love one another! So they do; but they may be very exclusive. They may exclude themselves and shut off their sympathies almost utterly from all other families, and they may consequently exclude themselves from doing good in the world. The same kind of morality may be seen in towns and in nations. This makes up the entire morality of the world.
Many have what they call humanity, without any piety; and this is often highly esteemed among men. They pretend to love men, but yet after all do not honor God, nor even aim at it. And in their love of men they fall below some animals. I doubt whether many men, not pious, would do what I knew a dog to do. His master wanted to kill him, and for this purpose took him out into the river in a boat and tied a stone about his neck. In the struggle to throw dog and stone overboard together, the boat upset; the man was in the river; the dog, by extra effort, released himself of his weight, and seizing his master by the collar, swam with him to land. Few men would have had humanity enough -- without piety -- to have done this. Indeed, men without piety are not often half so kind to each other as animals are. Men are more degraded and more depraved. Animals will make greater sacrifices for each other than the human race do. Go and ask a whaleman what he sees among the whales when they suffer themselves to be murdered to protect a school of their young. Yet many mothers think they do most meritorious things because they take care of their children.
But men, as compared with animals, ought to act from higher motives than they. If they do not, they act wickedly. Knowing more -- having the knowledge of God and of the dying Savior as their example and rule -- they have higher responsibilities than animals can have.
Men often make a great virtue of their abolitionism though it be only of the infidel stamp. But perhaps there is no virtue in this, a whit higher than a mere animal might have, Whoever understands the subject of slavery and is a good man at heart will certainly be an abolitionist. But a man may be an abolitionist without the least virtue. There may not be the least regard for God in his abolitionism, nor even any honest regard to human well- being. He may stand on a principle which would make him a slaveholder himself, if his circumstances favored it. Such men certainly do act on slaveholding principles. They develop principles and adopt practices which show that if they had the power, they would enslave the race. They will not believe that a man can be a colonizationist, and yet be a good man. I am no colonizationist, but I know good men who are. Some men not only lord it over the bodies of their fellow-men, but over their minds and souls -- their opinions and consciences -- which is much worse oppression and tyranny than simply to enslave the body.
Often there is a bitter and an acrimonious spirit -- not by any means the spirit of Christ; for while Christ no doubt condemns the slaveholder, He does not hate him. This biting hatred of evil-doers is only malevolence after all; and though men may ever so highly esteem it, God abominates it.
On the other hand, many call that piety which has no humanity in it. Whip up their slaves to get money to give to the Bible Society! Touch up the gang; put on the cat-o-nine-tails; the agent is coming along for money for the Bible Society! Here is piety (so called) without humanity. I abhor a piety, which has no humanity with it and in it, as deeply as I condemn its converse -- humanity without piety. God loves both piety and humanity. How greatly, then, must He abhor either when unnaturally divorced from the other!
There is a wealthy man who consents to give two hundred dollars towards building a splendid church. He thinks this is a very benevolent offering, and it may be highly esteemed among men. But before God approves of it He will look into the motives of the giver; and so may we, if we please. The man, we find, owns a good deal of real estate in the village, which he expects will rise in value on the very day that shall see the church building determined on, enough to put back into his pocket two or three fold what he pays out. Besides this he has other motives. He thinks of the increased respectability of having a fine house and himself the best seat in it. And yet further, he has some interest in having good morals sustained in the village, for vice is troublesome to rich men and with somewhat dangerous. And then he has an indefinable sort of expectation that this new church and his handsome donation to build it will somehow improve his prospects for heaven. Inasmuch as these are rather dim at best, the improvement, though indefinite, is decidedly an object. Now if you scan these motives, you will see that from first to last they are altogether selfish. Of course they are an abomination in God's sight.
The motives for getting a popular minister are often of the same sort, The object is not to get a man sent of God, to labor for God and with God, and one with whom the people may labor and pray for souls and for God's kingdom. But the object being something else than this, is an abomination before God.
The highest forms of the world's morality are only abominations in God's sight. The world has what it calls good husbands, good wives, good children; but what sort of goodness is this? The husband loves his wife and seeks to please her. She also loves and seeks to please him. But do either of them love or seek to please God in these relations? By no means. Nothing can be farther from their thoughts. They never go beyond the narrow circle of self. Take all these human relations in their best earthly form, and you will find they never rise above the morality of the lower animals. They fondle and caress each other, and seem to take some interest in the care of their children. So do your domestic fowls, not less, and perhaps even more. Often these fowls in your poultry yard go beyond the world's morality in these qualities which the world calls good.
Should not human beings have vastly higher ends than these? Can God deem their highly esteemed qualities any other than an abomination if in fact they are even below the level of the domestic animals?
An unsanctified education comes into the same category. A good education is indeed a great good; but if not sanctified, it is all the more odious to God. Yes, let me tell you, if not improved for God, it is only the more odious to Him in proportion as you get light on the subject of duty, and sin against that light the more. Those very acquisitions which will give you higher esteem among men will, if unsanctified, make your character more utterly odious before God. You are a polished writer and a beautiful speaker. You stand at the head of the college. in these important respects. Your friends look forward with hopeful interest to the time when you will be heard of on the floor of Senates, moving them to admiration by your eloquence. But alas, you have no piety! When we ask, How does God look upon such talents, unsanctified, we are compelled to answer -- Only as an abomination. This eloquent young student is only the more odious to God by reason of all his unsanctified powers. The very things which give you the more honor among men will make you only the scoff of hell. The spirits of the nether pit will meet you as they did the fallen monarch of Babylon, tauntingly saying, "What, are you here? You who could shake kingdoms by your eloquence, are you brought down to the sides of the pit? You who might have been an angel of light -- you who lived in Oberlin; you, a selfish, doomed sinner -- away and be out of our company! We have nobody here so guilty and so deeply damned as you!"
So of all unsanctified talents -- beauty, education, accomplishments; all, if unsanctified, are an abomination in the sight of God. All of those things which might make you more useful in the sight of God are, if misused, only the greater abomination in His sight.
So a legal religion, with which you serve God only because you must. You go to church, yet not in love to God or to His worship, but from regard to your reputation, to your hope, or your conscience. Must not such a religion be, of all things, most abominable to God?
The world have mainly lost the true idea of religion. This is too obvious from all I have said to need more illustration.
One of the most common and fatal mistakes is to employ a merely negative standard. Here are men complaining of a want of conviction. Why don't they take the right standard and judge themselves by that? Suppose you had let a house burn down and made no effort to save it; what would you think of the guilt of stupidity and laziness there? Two women and five children are burnt to ashes in the conflagration; why did not you give the alarm when you saw the fire getting hold? Why did not you rush into the building and drag out the unconscious inmates? Oh, you felt stupid that morning -- just as people talk of being "stupid" in religion! Well, you hope not to be judged very hard, since you did not set the house on fire; you only let it alone; all you did was to do nothing! That is all many persons plead as to their religious duties. They do nothing to pluck sinners out of the fire, and they seem to think this is a very estimable religion! Was this the religion of Jesus Christ or of Paul? Is it the religion of real benevolence? or of common sense?
You see how many persons who have a Christian hope indulge it on merely negative grounds. Often I ask persons how they are getting along in religion. They answer, pretty well; and yet they are doing nothing that is really religious. They are making no effort to save souls -- are doing nothing to serve God. What are they doing? Oh, they keep up the forms of prayer! Suppose you should employ a servant and pay him off each week, yet he does nothing all the long day but pray to you!
Religion is very intelligible and is easily understood. It is a warfare. What is a warrior's service? He devotes himself to the service of his country. If need be, he lays down his life on her altar. He is expected to do this.
The things most highly esteemed among men are often the very things God most abhors. Take, for example, the legalist's religion. The more he is bound in conscience and enslaved, by so much the more, usually, does his esteem as a Christian rise.
The more earnestly he groans under his bondage to sin, the more truly he has to say --
By so much the more does the world esteem and God abhor his religion. The good man, they say -- he was all his lifetime subject to bondage! He was in doubts and fears all his life! But why did he not come by faith into that liberty with which Christ makes His people free?
The good Christian in the world's esteem is never abrupt, never aggressive, yet he is greatly admired. He has a selfish devotion to pleasing men, than which nothing is more admired. I heard of a minister who had not an enemy in the world. He was said to be most like Christ among all the men they knew. I thought it strange that a man so like Christ should have no enemies, for Christ, more like Himself than any other man can be, had a great many enemies, and very bitter enemies too. Indeed, it is said, "If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution." But when I came to learn the facts of the case I understood the man. He never allowed himself to preach anything that could displease even Universalists. In fact, he had two Universalists in his Session. In the number of his Session were some Calvinists also, and he must by no means displease them. His preaching was indeed a model of its kind. His motto was -- Please the people -- nothing but please the people. In the midst of a revival, he would leave the meetings and go to a party; why? To please the people.
It is a light thing to be judged of man's judgment, and all the lighter since they are so prone to judge by a false standard. What is it to me that men condemn me if God only approve? The longer I live, the less I think of human opinions on the great questions of right and wrong as God sees them. They will judge both themselves and others falsely. Even the Church sometimes condemns and excommunicates her best men. I have known cases, and could name them, in which I am confident they have done this very thing. They have cut men off from their communion, and now everybody sees that the men excommunicated were the best men of the Church.
It is a blessed thought that the only thing we need to care for is to please God. The only inquiry we need make is -- What will God think of it? We have only one mind to please, and that the Great Mind of the universe. Let this be our single aim and we shall not fail to please Him. But if we do not aim at this, all we can do is only an abomination in His sight.