You did run well; who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth?
I propose to discuss some of those causes which prevent growth and development of religious life. I shall not stop to illustrate the evil influences of overt and known wickedness. I shall select, therefore, only some less apparent, but nevertheless influential causes which produce barrenness in Christian life. Let me say, preliminarily, that there are a great many persons who seem to need no special religious teachings, for one of two opposite reasons. There is one class who are so evenly adjusted in their faculties, so well balanced in mind constitutionally, and who from birth are so Christianly educated, and who are so genially affected by parents, friends, and social connections, and who have all the appointments of society so fitted round about them, that when they become Christians their life seems to be a tranquil and almost unresisting progress. Then there is another large class to whom I do not speak particularly, namely, those persons who have — I know not how, and they know not how — made a profession of religion; — I know not why, and they know not why; — but still they have done it, and are in the Church; and that is about the whole of it. Other people have their difficulties about prayer; they have none, for they do not pray. Other people have their difficulties about the sacred Scriptures; they do not read the Scriptures enough to be troubled by them. The Bible seldom troubles people who do not meddle with it. Other people have their temptations; they have none that they recognize as such. They have temptations, but they yield so easily to them that they are not disturbed by them. Those who have no religious conscience, and whose life is one of quiet compliance with circumstances as they are — it is not particularly to such that I speak to-day. The third class — which is the great middle class — consists of persons who are professedly Christian people, but who have great and almost unceasing religious difficulties.
I. The want of general technical religious culture is one obvious cause of confusion and distress. Men may enjoy little for the very same reason that some farmers reap little — because they sow little and till little. This is the natural poverty which comes from the want of religious thrift. The tendency of our age and nation is particularly to external activity, not to internal meditations. This excessive activity carries us away, and exhausts our susceptibility. How can it be-but that Christians should be weak, when there is so much to stimulate, and so little to feed them?
II. But, secondly, the endeavours which men are continually making to live a religious life while using only a part of their natures, will explain a great many difficulties which Christians experience. It is to be assumed that man is a symmetrical being in his Divinely created nature; that every part of that nature was needed, or God would not have given it, and that no man can become what God meant, who does not develop every part of himself according to the spirit of Christianity. To take every faculty or power God has given you, and bring it under Divine influences, and make it act right — that is being a Christian; and all partialisms, by just so much as they are partialisms, are, therefore, misunderstandings or misappropriations of Christian truth. Let us specify a few. First, our religion must always aim at a good and healthy condition of the body. Health is a Christian grace. It is the mother of almost all the Christian graces; so much so that in respect of multitudes, although it is not difficult for them to exercise Christian graces when they are perfectly healthy, it is almost impossible for them to do it when they are not healthy. What they supposed to be an infernal temptation was the protest of nature in themselves. Our appetites and passions are all of them to be controlled, used, sanctified — not killed. So all our social affections must be used, Christianized, and made to be a part of our Christian life. They are not to be regarded as alternatives, but as parts of true Christian experience. It is sometimes said that we are to distinguish between the natural affections and the gracious ones. I do not know of any gracious affections that are not natural ones. Natural affections, rightly directed, become, by that very rectitude, gracious. Your store, your office, your shop, your family, your neighbourhood, the street — these are not so many things that you must resist for the sake of grace. On the contrary, you must deal with them as the means of grace.
III. Thirdly, men are left in an ungrowing and barren state from an ignorance of the various influences or instruments by which religious feeling may be cultivated. Let me mention a few of those things which observation and experience have taught me to be instrumental in promoting religious feeling. I have mentioned already, and shall mention again only for the sake of completeness, secret religious exercise, as one of the things that promote Christian feeling. I will mention, next, sympathy with other minds. I have never seen a tree whose leaves sung, unless, somehow, the wind was caused to play among them; but the leaves of any tree will sing when the wind does play through them. And there are a great many hearts that do not sing because nothing moves them to sing. Then there are some persons who seem so constituted that their religious feelings almost never flow so readily as when they act for other people. They are persons of great constitutional benevolence. They make benevolence their conscience. When they go forth into life, benevolence is their guiding principle. Such persons oftentimes say, "I never can have deep religious feelings by ordinary means; but when such a man was in trouble, and told me of the wants of his family — his wife and children — and I took my hat and went home with him, and mingled my tears with theirs, it did seem as if I was not a hand-breadth from heaven. I never had such a sense of the goodness of God as I had then." Probably you were never so near like God as you were then. No wonder you felt near Him. You are not far from Him when you get so near Him as to give your time and energies for the good of His needy creatures. There are many persons who are very little affected by social sympathy, or music, or art, or any of the other influences to which I have referred, but who would be amazingly lifted up if they could have certain doubts which they have concerning their religious safety purged away. Oh, how many different ways there are by which God comes into the soul! The great God, so prolific of thought, so endless in diversity of function, has a million ways by which to express Himself. He, in His power, works on the soul, not through one thing alone — not alone through steeple, nor meetinghouse, nor lecture-room, nor closet, though often and much through these; but through all things — through the heavenly bodies, and animals, and insects, and worms, and clouds, and mountains, and oceans, and rivers, and the productions of the earth; and not by these only, but by everything that affects man's comfort and happiness in this life — by store and anvil, and plane and saw, and hospital and poor-house, and music and forms of beauty, and sweet feelings and trials, and sufferings and victories over temptation, and light and darkness, and joy and sorrow, and ten thousand unnameable subtle influences that touch the human soul; by all these God reveals His greatness and goodness to us, that He may win us to Himself, and make us heirs of immortality; and, blessed be His name, not to us alone who are here, but to every one, everywhere!
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?