The Popular Error
The chief error of every age is to make religion consist of mere externals. Outside religion to the neglect of inside religion is the popular error of religionists of this and of every age thus far.
The most bitter foes that Jesus had to encounter were those who had this notion of religion. The churchmen of his day expended all their religious zeal and effort on the externals of religion. Prayers, tithes, fasting, religious dress, keeping of feast days, zeal in making converts, ostentatious giving, attendance on church and the rehearsal of their own excellencies made up the religion of the day.
Many of these things were right in themselves when they became the expression of a pure heart, but in the case of these churchmen they were offered as a substitute for a clean heart. Jesus said, “These things ought ye to have done and not to have left the other undone.”
Since this is still the great mistake of the majority of religious devotees of our own time also, we may well notice what Jesus said to these people who did not believe in the religion of a clean heart, “How do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools did not he that made that which is without, make that which is within also?”
There are many such fools among religionists today who have no more idea of religion than these churchmen. To them we would quote the words of Jesus, “Did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?” Is not the inner man the real man? Is not the thought and motive and passion world within greater and more extensive than the word and act world without? And is not this man within the author of all the words and acts of life?
Jesus said that these religionists who made much of the outward and little or nothing of the inward were like beautiful sepulchers, whitewashed and clean without, but full of uncleanness within. Are not those the same today, who neglect heart cleansing no matter however zealous they may be in their religious performances?
This seems a hard saying, but it was what Jesus said. The question of heart cleansing is looked upon as fanaticism by the majority of the church. The chief part of their religion is to go to church and pay their dues. The Romanists do penance, count their beads, say or read their prayers. The heathen offer sacrifices and torture their shrinking flesh. The nominal Protestant as a rule simply joins the church and leads a decent moral life, but does not expect a clean heart or give his time to any consideration of the subject. It is the old Phariseeism of every age simply manifesting itself.
Culture veneering and whitewashing; growth, naturalism, evolution and other forms of devilution are substituted for heart cleansing and furnishing.
It is getting to be considered the thing to teach the children etiquette, dancing and the other fads of “polite society,” instead of teaching them Jesus’ method — the blessing of a clean heart. The result is that in many so-called Christian homes the children know all about the steps taught by the dancing master, who do not know the steps to God. Many parents who belong to the church never have family prayer, but their children know all about the frippery of society. Doing has taken the place of being; fleshly activity has substituted itself for heart purity and culture. Testimony for Jesus has almost faded out in many churches and in the place of it is a narration of what “we have done” or want to do — mostly the latter. Some churches have become so engaged in doing, as a substitute for being, that they have forgotten what a real testimony for Jesus is. We asked the people in a meeting a short time ago to tell just what the Lord was doing for them, as we wished to know how to go to work to help them. Th ere was not a testimony given to what Jesus was doing, but a declaration of what they wanted to do and be. One “wanted to be a consistent Christian.” Another “wanted to be faithful.” Another “wanted to gain heaven at last.” And so it went on. The whole meeting was an expression of want which was very painful to us, to hear. To think that these people had been converted so long and Jesus had done nothing for them was more than we could believe. Since then, we have observed much and have discovered that definite testimony to the power of Jesus in the heart is becoming one of “the lost arts.” This may seem severe. We wish it were not true, but, alas, it is! Doing, or a desire to do, has taken the place of being. It is one of the alarming features of the religion of the day.
Jesus declared that we must first make the tree good and then the fruit would be good. No tree can be made good by hanging good fruit on the outside. No man can transform a sour crab apple tree into a peach tree by hanging peaches on the outside. And yet that is just what the majority of the church seem to be trying to do. They are supposing that the performance of good works makes a man good, instead of seeing that a good man performs good works because it is his nature, while a bad man sometimes does them because it seems to him the best thing for his present advantage. Jesus proposed to make the tree good, and then it would not be necessary to hang good fruit on it, for it would put the fruit there without effort as a matter of nature. The religion of Jesus begins on the inside and works out, while the religion of man begins on the outside and tries to work in.
This is the test as to whether our religion is of Christ or of human invention — the place where it begins. “Know all men by these presents” is a legal phrase with which deeds and legal instruments are usually prefaced. This means that these present writings or this legal instrument is a sure indication or proof that all that is written therein is what men can rely on. So it is here “Know all men that only the religion that begins within and works out is of God.” If any new order of religion or ism shall arise at any time that does not begin in the heart and work out, let all men know that it is not divine but simply a base imitation. Solomon says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” He here likens the heart to a fountain out of which flow the streams of thoughts, words and actions. Just as a man would be foolish to stand outside a fountain and purify the water as it came out and thus expect to make the fountain pure, so would a man as successfully purify the heart b y simply attending to the outward life.
Some years ago the writer had a clock that would not run. The pendulum refused to move, and the hands were motionless. He might have varnished the case, but that would have done no good. He might have frescoed and beautifully painted the dial, but that would have accomplished nothing. He might have gilded the hands, but still it would have done no good. This is what many are trying to do in their religious performances. They are varnishing the case — going through the ordinances of religion. They are painting the face — smiling and flattering others while their hearts are not right. They are gilding the hands — full of works of benevolence which are right in their place but can never make the heart right.
But the writer found that the inside of the clock was unclean and that all the work on the outside was wasted if the inside was not right. He therefore took off the dial and hands and took out the works, and cleaned and replaced them, and then the hands went all right. Wooden hands would go better with the inside right than golden hands with the heart of the clock unclean. That clock would run down when there was a cold snap, and had to be put over a hot air register to be made to run. But as soon as it was set back on the shelf where it was cold, it refused to go. There are many people like that clock. They run down very easily when there is a cold time in the church. They get revived in the winter revival and then cool off before the next winter’s “protracted effort” takes place. The trouble is, the heart needs cleaning. They have to be all the time watching their words and acts and are under constant condemnation. What they want, like the clock, is to have the inside fixed. We heard of a colored man who refused to believe that the trouble with his watch was on the inside; he insisted that it was only the hands that needed fixing, and that the watch repairer was attempting to rob him when he said the inside needed fixing; and there are many who act that way today. They seem to think him their enemy who insists that they need a clean heart.
Jesus who knew just what the heart of man is, said of it, “Out of the heart proceed, evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things that defile a man.” We are accustomed to hear much said today about the wickedness of our great cities. The wickedness of our great cities and little cities, and of the whole world, is in men’s hearts, and all the expressions of it in thought and words are simply the working out of what was inside all the time.
The effort of all the laws and nearly all the religions of the world is to get men to behave better than their hearts want to behave. And the effort is a prodigious one — to behave better than the heart inclines to do. All the crimes and sins of society are born in men’s sinful hearts. If any religion is to be of benefit to man, it must have its chief sway in the heart. There never was a more successful wile of the devil than this — to keep men’s minds on the externals of religion to such an extent as to keep their attention from the heart. The result is that there is a cry that religion is declining. The decay of genuine old-time revivals, the decrease of membership in the churches, the decline of family religion as witnessed by the increasing number of deserted family altars, the growing Sabbath desecration, the increasing hunger of the professed church for the theater and dance, the small number who attend the means of grace in our churches, are all indications that the heart is wrong. They are certain symptoms of the heart disease which higher criticism, the preaching of evolution, the increasing number of organizations in the church do not check, but, like quack medicines, they only aggravate the disease and kill the patient.
There must soon be a revival of heart religion in the present church organizations or God will take these candlesticks out of their place and give them to the keeping of some other whom he will raise up for the purpose.
The fig tree that cumbers the ground will soon be cut off and some other will take its place, for without heart religion the church and the world are dead.
If religion in the heart is not a reality, if it is not the supernatural power and presence of God, then there is no need of any religion, for the world all about us can duplicate and practice all the morality of the church without religion, as well as the church that has no real heart religion.
As long as the world stands there is a place for heart religion and God will always have it in the world. It is the only hope of the world. Let us each stand for heart religion, and let us remember that the greater part of religion is on the inside, and hence needs great attention.