THERE are many kinds of religion in the world. The apostle Paul speaks of having been brought up after the manner of the Jews’ religion; and the Jews’ religion, although it acknowledges a God, and the authenticity of the scriptures of the Old Testament, differed as widely from the christian religion as enjoyed by the regenerated sous of God, as spiritual worship differs from carnal ordinances. The religion of the Jews could never fit its possessors for the enjoyment of spiritual things here, nor for the songs of the redeemed in the ultimate state of their glory.
The Pagans, also, were a religious people; extremely devotional and zealous, but knew not the author of their existence as God. They worshiped and still do worship a variety of gods. Mahometans are religious, and their alcoran is by them regarded as an infallible and sacred oracle. Catholics and Protestants of numerous sects claim to be christians, profess the christian religion, and some of them are remarkably zealous in making converts to their religion; compassing sea and land, employing thousands of agents, and expending millions of money in spreading their religion; but all these are essentially different from the primitive disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. And although the Catholics and the Protestants will not like to be classed with Jews, Pagans, and Mahometans, a careful investigation of their several claims will show them to be equally distant from the kingdom of Christ. The religion of the Jews was taught as a science; the religion of the Pagans was taught as a science; the religion of Mahomet was taught as a science; so is that of the Catholics and Protestants, as also the preparation of their priests and ministers, together with the religious instruction of their children. All are ready on every occasion when opportunity serves them to establish their religion by law, and to enforce it with the edge of the sword. The regenerating power of the Holy Ghost is by none of them considered an indispensible prerequisite to their religion. Jews, Pagans and Mahometans pretend to no such qualification; Catholics and Protestants profess to believe regeneration to be necessary, but hold it to be a work which can be performed through the instrumentality of men and means. The Pope is considered competent to forgive sins, and the Episcopalian priest or bishop to absolve and confirm sinners Pædo-Baptists generally, as well as Campbellites, hold what they administer for baptism to be equivalent to regeneration, or a rite by which unregenerated children are put into the covenant of grace; that all who are in the covenant are saved, and all out of it are lost. Arminian Baptists, or more properly, baptized Arminians, differ in no very essential points from their Protestant and Catholic brethren, except in name and spirit of competition. Like all other false religionists, they can teach their religion as a science, and make converts by the power of what they call moral suasion; the same kind of instruments used by the others in the propagation of their religion is also used by them. And all, Jew, Pagan, Mahometan, Catholic, Protestant, and Baptized Arminian, hate and despise, and dispute the doctrine of salvation by sovereign discriminating grace alone.
All false religion must agree in the particulars noticed above, for if regeneration were a prerequisite to a knowledge of false religion, as it is to a knowledge of experimental religion, false religion could not be propagated, for the Holy Spirit will not qualify men for the reception or practice of false religion. But experimental religion cannot be taught or learned as the sciences, or as every description of false religion can. “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are not foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
The religion of Jesus is not a science; but purely a revelation. Flesh and blood did not reveal it to Peter. Paul knew nothing of it but by revelation. “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” God has hidden these things effectually from the wise and Prudent, and revealed them unto babes. It is indeed a distinguishing provision for the New Testament saints that they shall no more teach every man his neighbor and every man his brother to know the Lord. The knowledge of the Lord is eternal life. “For this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Men may with quite as much propriety undertake to give eternal life to dead sinners, as to give them a knowledge of the true God, and of Jesus Christ; for the one is equivalent to the other.
But experimental religion is not only radically dissimilar to all other kinds of religion, but there is also a wide difference between the practice dictated by pure religion, and the experience of that pure religion. Men may. have the form of godliness while they know not the experience of its vital power in their hearts; but no man can possess the experience of godliness in his heart without its producing an effect upon his deportment. The difference between true and false religion is known by their respective fruits. Those who possess the experimental power of religion in their hearts, work from life already possessed, while all others work in anticipation of life expected. Such as are born of God, desire and pray that they may be reconciled to God; all others desire and pray that God may be reconciled to them. God’s people are exercised by faith; all others profess to exercise faith. Experimental christians love God, love his truth, love his service, and desire with their whole hearts to live in obedience to all the precepts of their spiritual King; but others some times have been heard to say, if they believed that their eternal destiny was unalterably settled in the purpose and decree of God, they would take a fill of sin.
On the whole, a religious education, a constrained, or even voluntary form of godliness may exist where there is no vital relationship to God; where the power and experience of the religion of God is unknown; and what an awful state must that be, where the firm of godliness is possessed and the power thereof is denied.
Before we close these remarks, we will observe for the encouragement of some of the trembling lambs of the Redeemer’s flock, that the experience of vital religion in the heart is not always attended with an unfaltering and clear evidence that such is the case. We have thought there are no people on earth so exceedingly jealous of the evidences of their own personal interest in the religion of Jesus, as the children of God are. The reason is obvious; they both see and feel the corruptions of their own natures. Grace has made them sensitive; and that which would occasion no pain to a hypocrite is felt and mourned by an heir of heaven. None can know the experience of vital religion, who do not feel the opposing corruptions of their fleshly nature.
This number of the SIGNS may reach the eye of some one of those tried, afflicted, tempted, doubting, and tempest-tossed children of God, who feels almost ready to conclude all former exercises are but delusion. Such a tried, sighing soul may reason thus : If a child of God, why so dull, so stupid, so barren and unfruitful? Why so tempted, perplexed, and doubtful? Or why so little of the spirit of grace and of supplication? Why hungering and thirsting for righteousness, never able to see myself as I would wish to be? Poor soul, all this is christian experience. No christian escapes these trials of their faith. No graceless hypocrite ever experienced these trials. Therefore, “Count it not strange, as though some strange thing had happened unto you.” The trial of our faith is more precious than the trial of gold which perisheth. Therefore count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, for
“Your God shall make the tempter flee,
For as thy days thy strength shall be.”
New Vernon, N.Y.,
November 1, 1845
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 595 – 599