For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…
1. The text is a distinct statement that Judaism had come to the end of its influence. It had educated them to a point where, while men had need of more, it had nothing more to give.
2. We hear men speak of the Christian religion like Paul spoke of the Jewish. It is patronisingly said, It has done a good work; but men are so far educated by it now that it is no longer able to meet the want of our times; but from some source we are to expect a latter-day glory, which will be to Christianity what Christianity was to Judaism.
I. WHAT ARE THE EVIDENCES THAT CHRISTIANITY IS BEGINNING TO WANE?
1. It is said that Churchism is wearing out.
(1) But, even if that were true, the Church is no more religion than the masonry of the aqueduct is the water that flows in it. Schools are a very different thing from intelligence, though intelligence uses them as instruments. Churches may change without changing in one single iota the substance of religion.
(2) But besides this, the spirit of man, in religion, intermits. There has never been a steady growth in anything — neither in science nor government. If, then, there is now a decadence of interest in religion, it might show simply that we are in one of these stages of temporary inactivity.
2. It may be said that the thinking men, particularly in the direction of science, are less and less believers in revelation. And the statement has some truth in it. But in the history of the race we find that one element usually takes precedence of every other, and absorbs everything, cheating the other elements. In some ages it is the religious element; in others it is cold, hard thought; then this has given way to periods of enthusiastic and even superstitious devotion. Just now we are in a period of mere material investigations. But we shall certainly come to another period ere long. If now the spiritual elements are cheated, the time will soon come when these things will begin to balance themselves. So soon as that growth which seems to unsettle the old faith has adjusted itself, the religious wants of the soul reassert themselves, and ere long the old statements are overlaid with new religious developments, and with religious truth in new forms.
II. WHAT ARE THE EVIDENCES THAT CHRISTIANITY IS NOT ON THE WANE?
1. Is faith giving place to indifference? On the contrary, probably never was there an age in which there was so deep a religious faith as now. What men call a want of faith is oftentimes only unwillingness to accept so little as hitherto has been included in the articles of faith. It is the reaching out of the soul in new aspirations. It is asking for more, not for less.
2. Is the devotional spirit decayed? It is changing and ought to change. As progress in intelligence raises men into a better conception of God, and their own place in creation, there will be a new mode of reverence, a new method of devotion. The element of love has greatly increased, so that there is now far more of the filial spirit. The devotional spirit, though far less ascetic than it was, is more prevalent; and in the community there is far more respect for religion than formerly.
3. Never was there such a spirit of propagation as now. Never were so much pains taken to rear men for teaching the faith. Never was there so large a demand for, and supply of its instruments, in the form of religious books and papers: and, above all, never was there such a spirit of building churches, and supplying them in waste and destitute places.
4. Is the family today less or more under the influence of a true spiritual Christianity than it formerly was? There never was a period when there were so many high-toned and pure Christian families as today.
5. Has the Christian religion shown any signs of failing as a reforming power in its application to the morals of the day? Is there less conscience, less hope, less desire to purify the individual and the community? Religion dying? What, then, mean the execrations of wicked men? The Church losing its power? Why, then, are men so complaining of its intrusion, telling us to stay at home and preach the gospel, and not to meddle with things that do not concern us? It is the light which streams from the gospel which wakes the owls and the bats.
6. Has the Christian spirit lost its power over government and public affairs? I think the conscience of our community never was so high as it is today. Everywhere is the gospel leavening public administrations, and raising up an intelligent Christian public sentiment which is itself as powerful upon governments as winds are upon the sails of ships. If these things be so, are we quite ready yet to assume the condition of mourning? On the contrary, of all periods of the world this would be the last that I should have chosen to lift up my hands in despair and say, Religion is dying out, and must yield to a new dispensation.Conclusion:
1. We may expect some changes, but none other than to deepen religious life and faith in religious truth. There will be a better understanding of the human heart, and better modes of reaching it with religious truth. But no amount of change in these external instrumentalities will affect in the slightest degree the power of the religious element.
2. The instrumentalities of religion hereafter, we may believe, will be more various. Laws, and customs, and instruments, being filled with a religious spirit, will become means of grace to a degree that hitherto they have never done.
3. Many think that preaching is worn out: a great deal of preaching is worn out. Many think churches useless: a great many churches are useless. But would you judge the family in the same way? Would you say that fatherhood is worn out because there are a great many poor husbands and fathers?
4. There never was a time, young men, when you had so little occasion to be ashamed of Christ or of religion. If men all around you, with all manner of books and paper, are telling you glozing tales of the decadence of religion, say to them, "Let the dead bury their dead," but follow thou Christ. It is a falsehood. The glory of religion never was so great. Its need was never more urgent. Its fruits were never more ample. Its ministers were never more inspired by God's ministering angels than now.
(H. Ward Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: