Religion or Christ
Before the coming of Christ men knew that they were weak, for the law brought out man’s weakness, and showed that he was always breaking it; but until Christ came, the truth was never fully brought out, that man in his nature was totally opposed to God, and could not be improved. If the poor man lying at the pool of Bethesda, in John 5, could only have got to the place of healing, he would have been healed, but he had no strength; and if you could only keep the law, and be what you ought to be, you would be all right for time on earth. But you cannot. The law says you are to love the Lord with all your heart, and you do not. The law says you ought to be holy, and you are not. The law says you ought to keep the commandments, and you have not; and therefore the law only condemns you. The law discovers the weakness of man; but until Christ came, there had not come out this, that man was “dead.” You will find this word “dead” often in Scripture. “You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.”
“Oh, but,” you say, “I am not dead; I am all alive.” Yes, so you are; alive in sins. Alive to Satan, but dead to God. Have you heard the voice of the Son of God? Have you bowed to Jesus? If you have not, you are still dead. I care not how religious you may be. Can religion save a person? Look at Nicodemus, the most religious man then on earth, a Pharisee, a ruler. What does Jesus say to him? “You must be born again.” His religion was no use to him. It was the highest ecclesiastical council of the most religious nation that put the Lord to death. Satan will help you to be the most religious person in all the world, if he can only keep you from Christ.
When once you are brought to Christ, the tale is altogether altered. It is not religion now you talk about; but it is all about Christ. When I say religion, I mean that outward form, the shell without the kernel—a form of prayer, a round of ordinances—where Christ is not known. There is nothing that hurries people into the endless sorrows of a lost eternity like religion without Christ. Have you heard the voice of Jesus calling you? If you have not, no matter how religious you may be, you are dead; yes, dead!
“But,” you say, “the dead must mean some terrible class of persons, some very wicked people.” Where do you put yourself, then? I ask. I know no worse person than myself; and I will tell you why. I know the evil of my own heart, and the gravity of my own sins, and I do not know other people’s. But is there any real beating of your heart towards Christ? Have you ever met Christ? Has your life been marked by love to the Saviour because you have known His love? Ah! if you have known His love, you are out from among the dead. You are among the living; for you have heard the voice of the Son of God. All depends on whether or not you have heard the voice of the Son of God; that decides whether you are among the dead or among the living. Life manifests itself. A living child takes food, it may be sick, of course, but that is a temporary thing, a dead child has no desire at all. If I go to talk to an unconverted person about Christ, there is no interest. If he does not speak out, and say he dislikes the subject, yet the moment he can escape he does so. I remember very well the only time a young man spoke faithfully to me about my soul when I was unconverted. It was at the bottom of my father’s grounds; and I sent him to hell in my heart, though my lips said nothing. I was angry beyond description because he dared to speak to me about Christ. Utterly “dead in sins,” I showed my state to God, if not to man for courtesy’s sake.
Get quite clear on this point, my dear reader. The “dead” are those in whose heart there is no pulse of life toward Christ, who care nothing for Christ, where there is no love for Christ; and oh, tell me, is there any love for Him in your heart now? Is there any pulse of life in your heart now! Not unless you have heard the word of Christ, and believed it.
Whenever the word of the Lord is really received, there is a mighty effect on the spot. The impotent man in John 5 bears from the Lord the single word “Rise;” and he does it. One word from Christ is sufficient, and he obeys it. In the obedience of faith, he rises on the spot, takes up his bed, and goes out. And it is just the same with the Gospel now. When you hear the word of Jesus now, if you believe it, immediately you are made whole; immediately you, who have been numbered among the dead till that moment, are among the living. You get from Him, on the spot, what that blessed Saviour loves to communicate—life to a dead soul. Oh the immense power of the word of Christ! His word is heard, believed, received; and look at the effect. Immediately the dead spring into life, the defiled are cleansed, the guilty are justified; yea, the soul is saved on the spot, and knows it.
People say, “We do not believe in sudden conversions.” I do, then. There never was a soul converted yet that it was not sudden. It takes but one moment to pass from death unto life; there is but one moment in which a soul passes from darkness to light. There is but one moment when a soul passes through the door, turns its back on the world, and turns its face towards God.
Now, whenever grace is tasted, Christ known, God believed, and His word bowed to, the Holy Ghost comes to dwell in the believer, and leads him to be a witness for Christ, like the man I have referred to, who goes away and says, “Jesus made me whole.” I like that word, “Jesus made me whole.” No hiding the colours. At first he knew not who He was who had healed him; he only knew he was made whole. And that is often the way with a soul. At first, perhaps, it knows but little—knows something of what Jesus has done, but does not know Himself—but by and by clearer light comes, and then comes out a clearer ring, “Jesus made me whole.” That is what a loving heart says. Ah! tell me now, is not that what you would like to go on your way saying? Would you not like to be a witness for Christ now—all your life a witness for Him—a witness for His love—a witness for His grace? to say boldly “Jesus has made me whole,” instead of that miserable, “I do not feel sure; I hope I am saved, but I am not certain; I do believe, but I am not sure I’ve got salvation”? What is the person who so speaks? A witness against Christ, I say, instead of a witness for Him, for he is really saying, “I have come to Him, and He has not given me rest.”
Suppose I come from further China, where Confucius is the object of faith, and I meet a person and ask him, “What are you?” “Oh! I am a Christian.” “What do you know about Christ?” “I know he is a Saviour.” “What did He do?” “He died to save sinners.” “Do you believe on Him?” “Yes.” “Then you are saved?” “Oh, I could not say that, I hope to be, but I couldn’t say that I am saved.” “Well,” I reply, “I am a believer in Confucius, and I hope the same. I hope to be saved. I am as well off as you. Your Christ does no more for you than Confucius for me; he passed through fire and water. I shan’t turn to your Christ.” Is not that a witness against Christ?
But I turn from this one and meet another, and ask, “Are you a believer in Christ?” “Yes.” “What has He done for you?” “Oh, He has loved me; He has died for me; He has saved me; He has washed away all my sins in His blood; He has blessed me; He loves me, cares for me, and sustains me daily, for He ever lives to make intercession for me; and He is coming quickly to take me into eternal glory.” “Oh,” I say, “the witness that you give me about Christ turns my heart round to Him. That Christ is worth having. Confucius can’t do this for me; I must get to know your Christ. This is what I want.” This man is a witness for Christ; the other is a witness against Him.
There is thus, you see, the greatest difference possible between religion and Christ. To be religious is quite possible, be miserable all your life, and lost eternally at the end thereof. To have Christ, is to possess life, peace, pardon, and joy now, and to pass into everlasting glory with Him shortly.
Let me urge my reader to at once turn to Jesus, and simply trust Him. Hear His own word, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Should you not come to Him now, you will find yourself “cast out” in the day of His judgment.
Reader, have you religion, or Christ?
The Gospel Messenger 1886, p. 34