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must necessarily include in it, in addition to the feelings of angelic piety, all those mental exercises and habits which are suitable to a state of guilt, and a dispensation of mercy.
Let us take each part of the definition by itself.
I. God is the primary object of religion.
It is not enough that we perform our duties. towards our fellow-creatures; but to be truly pious, we must perform our duty towards God. We may be exemplary and even punctilious in discharging every social obligation; we may be moral in the usual acceptation of the term— honourable, amiable, and yet may be all this, without one single spark of true piety; because in all this there may be no reference whatever to God. An atheist may be all this. Until, therefore, the mind is rightly affected towards God, there is no religion, because He is the direct and primary object of it. It is something perfectly independent, as to its essence, upon all the social relations. If a man were wrecked, like Alexander Selkirk, on an uninhabited island, where there was no room, of course, for loyalty, honesty, kindness, mercy, justice, truth, or any of the relative virtues, the claims of piety would follow him to this dreary and desolate abode; and even there, where he should never hear the sweet music of speech, nor look on the human face divine, he would still be under the obligations of piety; even there one voice would be heard breaking the silence around him, with the solemn injunction of Scripture, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God." Bear in recollection then, my children, that God, as he is revealed in his word, is the direct and primary object of
all true piety; and that the most exemplary discharge of the social duties can be no substitute for that reverence and love and gratitude and obedience which we owe to him.
II. Religion is a right disposition of mind towards God. It is not merely a thing of outward forms and ceremonies, but of the heart. It is more than an external action, it is a disposition; not only a performance, but a taste; not an involuntary or compulsory pursuit, but a voluntary and agreeable one. That religion must be an internal principle, an affair of the soul, is evident from the nature of its object, of whom it is said, "God is a spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth." As the heart lies all open to him, unless there be religion there, he scorns the uplifted hand and bended knee. It is evident from reason, that piety must have its seat in the breast; for what spiritual excellence can there be in an action, which is either performed from a bad motive, or from none at all. It is evident from revelation. Read such injunctions as these. "My son, give me thine heart." "Get thee a new heart." the sight of God."
"Thy heart is not right in "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind." "Ye must be born again." Equally in point are all those passages which command us to love God, to fear him, to trust in him, to glorify him: duties, which of course imply the exercise, and the vigorous exercise, of the affections of the mind. Notions however clear, morality however exemplary, are not enough till the current of feeling is turned towards God. A mere cold correctness of deportment, but which leaves the heart in a state
of alienation and estrangement from God, is not the piety of the word of truth.
Now, in consequence of our natural descent from Adam since his fall, we come into the world totally destitute of this right disposition towards God, and grow up under the influence of a contrary temper. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." This is what we mean by the total depravity of human nature; not that there is an absence of all general and praiseworthy feeling towards our fellow-creatures; not that there is the predominance of criminal and vicious appetite; but that there is a total destitution of all right feeling towards God. Before true religion be possessed by one human being, there must of consequence be an entire change of mind, a complete alteration in the disposition.
The scriptures inform us that all are inherently depraved, for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh;" and therefore, with equal explicitness they inform us that all must be changed before they can partake of true piety. This change is so great, that our Lord himself calls it a second birth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom dom of heaven."
Until this change takes place there cannot be even the commencement of true religion. Whatever is avoided, or whatever is done that bears the semblance of piety, is carried on without a right disposition of mind; and we cannot suppose, that God who sees the heart, is pleased with such service, any more than we should be with compliments from a person, whose bosom we knew to be destitute of all right feeling towards us. The mistake, which many make in
religion is, they do not begin with the beginning; they attempt to carry up the superstructure without seeking to have the foundation laid in the renewal of their nature. They profess to serve God outwardly, before they have surrendered their heart to his renewing grace. Their religion is a new dress, but not a new nature. It is the mechanical performance of an automaton, not the voluntary actions of a living man. It wants that which alone constitutes piety,—a right disposition towards God.
III. This disposition is implanted in the soul by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The operations of Deity, in the formation of the material world, are frequently alluded to by the sacred writers, as illustrating the work of Jehovah in renewing the human mind, and bringing forth the beauties of holiness in the human character. The soul of man, as to all spiritual excellence, is in its natural state a chaos; and the same divine Spirit, which brooded on the materials of the formless void; which moved on the face of the deep, and brought order out of confusion, and beauty out of deformity; which said, Let there be light and there was light; now operates on the dark mind, the irregular affections, the hard heart of the sinner, giving true light to the understanding, a right disposition to the soul, submission to the will, and in short creating the whole man anew in Christ Jesus unto good works. This is declared in many passages of the Scriptures. new heart also will I give you," saith God to the Jews," and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes." "To the same effect are our Lord's words to Nicodemus. Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he shall not see the kingdom of heaven." This same truth is often repeated by the apostles. "You hath he quickened." "Who hath saved us by washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." "It is God who worketh in us to will and to do." That it must be some power out of man, and beyond himself to effect the change, is evident, from the circumstance, that it is not merely the conduct, but the disposition itself, which requires to be changed; and who can reach the mind, and regulate the springs of action, but God? Not that we are to lie down in indolent neglect, and say, "If then it is the Holy Ghost who must change the mind, I may give up all concern about the matter, and wait before I attempt to perform the duties of religion, till I feel that I am changed." No; as rational creatures we must use our faculties, consider our case, examine our hearts, tremble at our situation, call upon God in prayer, and give him no rest till he pour out his Spirit upon us. The very circumstance, that we are thus dependent on God, should make us more tremblingly anxious, more importunate in prayer, for divine help. If you were entirely dependent upon the assistance of a fellow-creature for help to recover your property, liberty, or life, would not that very conviction impel you to the door and presence of the person, in all the eloquence and urgency of importunate entreaty ?
* Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27.