June 20, 2004


True religion must never expect to be popular. It will not have the praise of man, but of God. God's truth and scriptural Christianity are never really popular. They never have been. They never will be as long as the world stands. No one can calmly consider what human nature is, as described in the Bible, and reasonably expect anything else. As long as man is what man is, the majority of mankind will always like a religion of form better than a religion of heart.

Formal religion exactly suits an unenlightened conscience. Some religion a man will have. Atheism and downright infidelity, as a general rule, are never very popular. But a man must have a religion which does not require much, trouble his heart much, interfere with his sins much. Formal Christianity satisfies him. It seems the very thing that he wants.

Formal religion gratifies the secret self-righteousness of man. We are all of us more or less Pharisees. We all naturally cling to the idea that the way to be saved is to do so many things, go through so many religious observances, and at last we shall get to heaven. Formalism meets us here. It seems to show us a way by which we can make our own peace with God.

Formal religion pleases the natural indolence of man. It attaches an excessive importance to that which is the easiest part of Christianity-the shell and form. Man likes this. He hates trouble in religion. He wants something which will not meddle with his conscience and inner life. Only leave conscience alone and, like Herod, he will "do many things." Formalism seems to open a wider gate and a more easy way to heaven (Mark 6:20).

Can anyone deny that a mere outward religion, a religion of downright formality, is the religion which is popular at the present day? Only say your prayers, go to church with tolerable regularity, and receive the Lord's Table occasionally, and the vast majority will set you down as an excellent Christian. To require more of anyone is thought bigotry, illiberality, fanaticism, and enthusiasm.