WORLDLINESS IN THE CHURCH
If asked to point out the specific and prevailing sin of the church in the present day, I cannot hesitate to reply, a prevailing woridliness of mind, heart, and conduct. She is fearfully secularised in the spirit and temper of her members. The love of the world is become the master-passion, before which other and holier affections have grown dim and weak. It is not only in the way of doing business that this secular spirit is seen, but in the general habits and tastes of professing Christians. Their style of living, their entertainments, their associations, their amusements, their conversation, evince a conformity to the world, a minding of earthly things, a disposition to adapt themselves to the world around, and an apparent desire to seek their happiness from objects of sense, rather than from those of faith, which prove the extent to which a secular spirit is bearing down the spirit of piety.
It appears quite clear that great numbers of Christian professors are but very imperfectly acquainted with the requirements of “pure and undefiled religion”, and need to be led to restudy it in the pages of Holy Scripture. We have lost sight of the divine Original, and have confined our attention to the imperfect transcripts which we find on every hand. We have by tacit consent reduced the standard, and fixed our eye and our aim upon a meaner object. We are a law to each other, instead of making the Word of God the law to us all. We tolerate a worldly minded, diluted and weakened piety in others, because we expect similar toleration for ourselves. We make excuses for them because we expect the like excuses for our own conduct in return. Instead of “seeking to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God”, we have abused, shamefully abused, the fact that there is no perfection on earth, and converted it into a licence for any measure and any number of imperfections. Our highest notion of religion requires only abstinence from immorality and the more polluting worldly amusements; an attendance upon an evangelical ministry;
and an approval of orthodox doctrine; this, with the act of joining a Christian church, participation in the Lord’s Supper, and a little occasional emotion under a sermon and a hasty prayer, night and morning; this, then, is the religion of multitudes. There may be no habitual spirituality or heavenly mindedness; no life of faith and communion with God; no struggling against sin, Satan, and the world; no anxiety to grow in grace; no supreme regard to eternity;
no studied and advancing meetness for the eternal world; no tenderness of conscience; no laborious discipline of our temper; no cultivation of love; no making religion our chief business and highest pleasure; no separation in spirit from the world, in short, no impress upon the whole mind, and heart, and conscience and life of the character of the Christian, as delineated upon the pages of Scripture. We all need to be taken out of the religious world, as it is called, and collected again round the Bible to study what it is to be a Christian as well as to be called one. Let us do this very thing. Let us endeavour to forget what the bulk of religious professors are, and begin afresh to learn what they ought to be.
It is to be feared that we are corrupting each other, leading each other to be satisfied with a conventional piety. Many have been actually the worse for church membership. They were more intensely anxious and earnest before they came into fellowship than they were afterwards. Their religion in Joining the communion of saints as they professed to be, seemed to come into an ice-house instead of a hot-house. They grew better in their former state than in their new one. At first they were surprised and shocked to see the lukewarmness, the irregularities, the worldliness, the inconsistencies, of many older professors of religion, and exclaim with grief and disappointment, “Is this the church of Christ?” After a while a fatal influence came over them, and their piety sank to the temperature around them.
John Angell James