Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cheap Imitation

"There has never been a time, since the Church of Jesus Christ was founded, when there has not been a vast amount of trivial and mere nominal religion among professing Christians. I am sure it is the case in the present day. Wherever I turn my eyes I see abundant cause for the warning, "Beware of inferior religion. Be genuine. Be thorough. Be authentic. Be true."

How much religion among some members of the Church consists of "nothing but churchmanship!" They belong to the Established Church. They are baptized in her baptistery, married in her sanctuary, preached to on Sundays by her ministers. But the great doctrines and truths preached from her pulpits have no place in their hearts, and no influence on their lives. They neither think, nor feel, nor care, nor know anything about them. And is the religion of these people authentic Christianity? It is nothing of the kind. It is a cheap imitation. It is not the Christianity of Peter, and James, and John, and Paul. It is "Churchianity," and no more.

How much religion among some Independents consists of "nothing but disagreement!" They pride themselves on having nothing to do with the formal denomination church. They rejoice in having no ritual, no forms, no bishops. They glory in the exercise of their private judgment, and the absence of everything ceremonial in their public worship. But all this time they have neither grace, nor faith, nor repentance, nor holiness, nor spirituality of conduct or conversation. The experimental and practical piety of the old Separatist is a thing of which they are utterly destitute. Their Christianity is as sapless and fruitless as a dead tree, and as dry and marrowless as an old bone. And is the Christianity of these people authentic? It is nothing of the kind. It is cheap imitation. It is not the Christianity of the Reformers of the past. It is "Nonconformity" and nothing more.

How much Ritualistic religion is utterly false! You will sometimes see men boiling over with zeal about outward expressions of worship such as church music and order of service, while their hearts are manifestly in the world. Of the inward work of the Holy Spirit--of living faith in the Lord Jesus--of delight in the Bible and religious conversation--of separation from worldly silliness and entertainment--of zeal for the conversion of souls to Christ--of all these things they are profoundly ignorant. And is this kind of Christianity authentic? It is nothing of the kind. It is a mere name.

How much Evangelical religion is completely make believe? You will sometimes see men professing great affection for the pure "Gospel," while they are, practically speaking, inflicting on it the greatest injury. They will talk loudly of soundness in the faith, and have a keen nose for heresy. They will run eagerly after popular preachers, and applaud evangelical speakers at public meetings. They are familiar with all the phrases of evangelical religion, and can converse fluently about its leading doctrines. To see their faces at public meetings, or in church, you would think they were eminently godly. To hear them talk you would suppose their lives were tied up all kinds of religious activity. And yet these people in private will sometimes do things of which even some heathens would be ashamed. They are neither truthful, nor sincere, nor honest, nor just, nor good-tempered, nor unselfish, nor merciful, nor humble, nor kind! And is such Christianity as this authentic? It is not. It is a worthless fake, a wretched cheat and farce.

How much Revivalist religion in the present day is utterly false! You will find a crowd of false believers bringing discredit on the work of God wherever the Holy Spirit is poured out. How many people today will profess to be suddenly convinced of sin, to find peace in Jesus--to be overwhelmed with joys and ecstasies of soul--while in authenticity of religion they have no grace at all. Like the "rocky-soil" hearers, they endure but for a short time. "In the time of testing they fall away" (Luke 8:13). As soon as the first excitement has passed, they return to their old ways, and resume their former sins. Their religion is like Jonah's gourd, which came up in a night and perished in a night. They have neither root nor vitality. They only injure God's cause and give occasion to God's enemies to blaspheme. And is Christianity like this authentic? It is nothing of the kind. It is a cheap imitation from the devil's mint, and is worthless in God's sight.

I write these things with sorrow. I have no desire to bring any section of the Church of Christ into contempt. I have no wish to cast any slur on any movement which begins with the Spirit of God. But the times demand very plain speaking about some points in the prevailing Christianity of our day. And one point, I am quite sure demands attention, is the abounding lack of authenticity which is to be seen on every side." —J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)

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