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SERMON X XIII.
GROUNDS FOR STEADFASTNESS IN OUR RELIGIOUS
John iv. 42.-“ Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we
have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”
RELIGious persons are sometimes taunted with having only what is called an hereditary religion ; with believing what they believe, and practising what they practise, because they have been taught so to do, without any reasons of their own. Now it may very possibly happen that they have no reasons to produce, that they do not know their own reasons, that they have never analyzed what passes through their minds, and causes their impressions and convictions ; but that is no proof that they have no reasons; and in truth they have always, whether they recognize them or not, very good reasons. It does not make a man more religious that he knows why and how he became so; many a man, doubtless, was converted by the Apostles' miracles, who could not draw out accurately into words the process through which his thoughts went, and who, had he tried so to do, would have done himself injustice, and exposed himself to the criticis f the practised disputant. And so again, in
this day, when our discipleship is consessedly, in the first instance, the act of others, not our own (for we were baptized and taught in our first years without ourselves having a will in the matter); though in this sense our religion may be called hereditary, yet, for all that, it may be much more than hereditary, when we have lived long enough to have made trial of it, and that, although we have not the skill to bring out into words the details and the result of that trial, or to show in a clear logical form that we have this or that good reason for believing.
I am speaking of religious men; for doubtless it is true of others, that good grounds they have none for their religious profession ; they may, indeed, have got together some reasons from books, and may make a show with them; but they have none of their own. And if they produce ever so many, still, I repeat, it is because they have been taught them. They have been taught the truths, and taught the reasons; but the reasons are their own as little as the truths; the reasons are hereditary or traditionary as well as the truths : they have no root in themselves; they have nothing within them connecting the reasons with, and grafting them upon the Divine doctrines. And be they ever so intellectual and acute, ever so able to investigate, and argue, and reflect upon themselves, this will avail them nothing. What avails the form of searching, when there is nothing to find ? What avail scientific forms when we have no subject matter to work upon ?
But so it is, from the circumstance that these sensual, gross-hearted, indevout, or insincere persons are often men of education and ability, they show to advantage in the world, talk loudly and largely, are powerful controversialists, are considered bulwarks of the truth, and cast into the shade humble and religious men, who have not their gifts But he who has the truth within him, though he cannot evolve it out of his heart in shape and proportions for anc
ther's inspection, is blessed beyond all comparison above him who has much to say, and says what is true, but says it not from himself, but by rote, and could say quite as well just the reverse, did it so happen that he mistook it for truth. His, indeed, is in the worst sense mere hereditary religion, though he will commonly think himself of all men the least in danger of it; and will be among the foremost to impute it to religious men instead, who feel what they cannot express.
Surely, as the only true religion is that which is seated within us, a matter, not of words, but of things; so the only satisfactory test of religion is something within us. If religion be a personal matter, its reasons also should be personal. Wherever it is present, in the world or in the heart, it produces an effect, and that effect is its evidence. When we view it as set up in the world, it has its external proofs, when as set up in our hearts, it has its internal; and that, whether we are able to elicit them ourselves, and put them into shape, or not. Nay, with some little limitation and explanation, it might be said, that the very fact of a religion taking root within us, is a proof, so far, that it is true. If it were not true, it would not take root. Religious men have, in their own religiousness, an evidence of the truth of their religion. That religion is true which has power, and so far as it has power; nothing but what is Divine can renew the heart. And this is the secret reason why religious men believe, whether they are adequately conscious of it or no, whether they can put it into words or no; viz. their past experience that the doctrine which they hold is a reality in their minds, not a mere opinion, and has come to them, “not in word, but in power.” And in this sense the presence of religion in us is its own evidence. I am not at all denying the use either of those arguments for religion which are external to us, or of the practice of drawing out our reasons into form ; but still so it is, we go by external reasons, before we have, or so far as we have not, inward ones; and we rest upon our logical proofs cnly when we get perplexed with objections, or are in doubt, or otherwise troubled in mind; or again, we betake ourselves to the external evidence, or to argumentative processes, not as a matter of personal interest, but from a desire to gaze upon God's great work more intently, and to adore God's wisdom more worthily.
This, surely, is what may be called the common-sense view of the subject. We wander from one form of religion to another, when we have not found its power; if we have found it, then we not only remain where we are, but we are shocked at the very notion of a change; and in proportion as we have found, are we contented and zealous adherents of our present position. I do not say that all who wander are seeking, nor that all who are contented with their state, have found; nor, again, that all who, in their degree, have found, remain contented; else there were no such sin as unthankfulness. Nor do I mean that all who fail to find are justified in wandering, as if waiting were not necessary, or as if youth, or the consciousness of faults on our part, would not account for our having as yet received so little personal benefit from our religion. Nor, after all, do I mean to imply that no conceivable circumstances can arise when this rule is allowably broken : unless a voice from without may, in certain cases, supersede the feeling from within, Nathanael would not have been converted, nor Apollos. But still it holds good, that a man's real reason for attachment to his own religious communion, why he believes it to be true, why he is eager in its defence, why he feels indignant at being invited to abandon it, is not any series of historical or philosophical arguments, not any thing merely beautiful in its system, or supernatural, but what it has done for him and others; his confidence in it as a means by hich men may be brought nearer to God, and may become
better and happier. Would you know why holy men believe even in an age of miracles? Hear St. Polycarp's words, when the heathen magistrate urged him to blaspheme Christ : “ Eighty and six years,” said he,“ have I served Him, and He hath never wronged me; and how can I blaspheme my King, who hath saved me?" Or, as St. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed.” It is these inward effects (I speak of the matter of fact), according to the degree in which they are realized, which guarantee to a man the 'divinity of his form of religion, which make him willing to risk his salvation upon it; as is expressed, in another form, by the Samaritans in the text, when they say to their countrywoman, “ Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”
You will observe, that neither the blessed Martyr, who had served Christ so long, nor the ignorant Samaritans, who were beginning to acknowledge Him, stated what their reasons were, though they had reasons. And, in truth, it is very difficult to draw out our reasons for our religious convictions, and that on many accounts. It is very painful to a man of devout mind to do so; for it implies, or even involves, a steadfast and almost curious gaze at God's wonder-working presence within and over him, from which he shrinks, as savouring of a high-minded and critical temper. And much more is it painful, not to say impossible, to put these reasons forth in explicit statements, because they are so very personal and private. Yet, as in order to the relief of his own perplexity, a religious man may at times try to ascertain them, so again for the service of others he will try, as best he may, to state them.
If then we are asked for “ a reason of the hope that is in us,” why we are content, or rather thankful, to be in that Church in which God's Providence has placed us, would not the reasons be some or other of these, or rather all of