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2. Errors in religion are neither rare nor harmless. If even in apostolic times there were not wanting heresies of the most fatal character, we have no reason to expect that they should become less numerous or less fatal, now that the age of miracles is past, and the presence of inspired and infallible teachers is withdrawn. And if, from these varied forms of religious be lief, some would infer the harmlessness of error, and teach us that every system, calling itself Christian, has in the main, the great truths necessary to piety here and happiness hereafter, we need but bring their theory to the test of the text before us. The teachers opposing Paul, those at least in Galatia, preached apparently the same God and the same judgment and eternal retribution, as did the apostle; nor is there any evidence that they disputed the divine mission of our Saviour. But there was an entire difference of statement as to the way of salvation. How did Paul act? Did he respect the independ ence of those who thus differed from him, and assert their essential union with himself in the great matters of the faith? The course that he pursued so resolutely himself, and so impressively urged upon others, was far different. Instead of dwelling on the opinions held in common, as furnishing a sufficient basis for concord, and acknowledging in the truths they yet retained, the basis of a common Christianity, he denounced without compromise or qualification, the opposing doctrine as being "another gospel." For it taught error as to the funda mental truth, the mode of a sinner's acceptance with God.
3. There are truths in religion of such vital importance that departure from them must destroy the soul. The holiness that the gospel came to foster is the effect of truth received in the love of it. And this truth is in its own nature harmonious and one. Truth cannot contradict itself: nor in science or art can there be two opposed and warring truths. So is it also in religion. The singleness of truth constitutes the basis of its exclusiveness. It claims for itself, exclusively and without rival, the faith and obedience of mankind; a claim that is exclusive because it is just, and that could not be consistent without requiring thus the rejection of all error. These exclusive claims are often misrepresented as involving the most odious intolerance and illiberality. But in truth there is no more a possibility of the existence of several true religions,
than there is of the existence of more than one God. From the one Jehovah there can emnaate but the one truth-developed indeed in different degrees at different ages, in Judaism the bud, in Christianity the expanded flower,-but essentially, and in all ages, the one unchanged and unchangeable religion, revealing for man, the sinner, salvation, through an atonement and Mediator of divine appointment. Much of error may be mingled with this truth in various minds; but there are vital errors which the word of God has doomed as the seals of ruin in those who retain them. It recognizes in the church of God one head and one foundation, and those only are acknowledged as the heirs of life who build on this foundation, and "WHO HOLD THE HEAD."
BY REV. WILLIAM HAGUE,
PASTOR OF THE FEDERAL-STREET BAPTIST CHURCH, BOSTON.
A VAIN RELIGION.
JAMES, 1: 26.-" This man's religion is vain."
There are probably few or none of you, my hearers, who do not acknowledge in some sense the necessity of religion, who do not feel that the wants of society require it. and that man's very nature makes it indispensable to his happiness. These broad principles are generally professed in this community, and have a powerful influence on mankind at large. Hence we see that men of every nation and of every rank are so generally led to respect religious institutions, and to seek mental repose in some mode of worship or some form of faith. There is, however, an universal danger lest men rest satisfied with any system of belief or any set of ceremonies which give active exercise to the religious sentiment, even though it entirely fail of the great ends of true religion. The chief end of true religion is to lead the soul to God, and thus to sanctify, save, and exalt it. But much that is called religion falls short of this. Much of it has a contrary tendency. Much leads the soul to trust in itself, and inflates it with the pride of self-righteousness. Much of it forsakes God and deifies the reason. Much of it exalts and inaugurates idols in the human heart. Much of it is a form of godliness which palsies the power thereof; and much of it does all the mischief which must follow,
"When vice turns holy,
"Puts religion on, assumes the robe pontifical,
"And with the eye of saintly elevation
The apostle, in the text, speaks of a sort of religion which is VAIN. The instance which he mentions is one in which religion does not affect the conversation, does not "bridle the tongue," nor prevent it from uttering those words which injure others, which inflame evil passions, and betray the evil spirit that lurks within the heart. A man who exhibits such a defective character, may "" seem to be religious;" he may be correct in his creed, and fluent in honied speech as well as bitter words, but his religion is vain, for by his
words he shall be judged, by his words condemned. They are opposed to the Christian spirit, and "if any man have not the spirit of Christ he is none of his."
Various are the cases in which it may be said of a man who respects the Christian name, and supports Christian institutions, and attends the Christian sanctuary, and in many respects "seemeth to be religious," that his religion is vain. It is a mere semblance; it deceiveth his heart; it will fail in the day of judgment, and leave his soul hopeless. My friends, may God forbid that at last the pen of eternal truth should write "it is vain" upon the religion of any one of us. In order to guard against so fearful an evil, let me ask you to consider some of the cases in which this will certainly be done.
I. That will be found to be a vain religion, which is a mere development of the religious sentiment natural to man. You are all probably well aware that the history of the world and a sound inductive philosophy establish the fact, that religious veneration is as truly a part of man's nature, as intellect, conscience, or social affection. Like any other faculty or sentiment, it may be stronger in some than in others, yet its existence is universal. Hence it is that religious institutions have always existed in every clime and eve. ry condition of our race, and always will exist, either in the form of a pure worship or a baleful superstition. The elements of our nature from which they rise is indestructible; for even infidelity itself is but the reasoning power connected with an evil heart of unbelief, aiming its blows at the absurdities which superstition has engendered under the name of religion; and while it seeks to avoid THEM, as well as the moral restraints of Christianity, by endeavoring to extirpate the religious sentiment itself, its efforts only prove that this inherent sentiment can never be destroyed. The truth of this seems to have made a strong impression on the mind of Napoleon Bonaparte, for he once observed in conversation, that while walking alone one evening, the sound of a church-bell fell upon his ear. Finding him in a genial mood, it seems to have awakened in his breast the most touching recollections of his childhood, and filled his soul with devotional feeling. "I was profoundly affected," says he, "such is the power of early habits and associations; and I considered if such was the case with me, what must not be the effect of such recollections upon the more simple and credulous vulgar. Let your philosophers answer that. The people must have a religion."
This truth, that "the people must have a religion," has been well understood by the kings and statesmen of the earth. Hence it is that they have ever been so ready from motives of worldly policy to establish that form of religion which they deemed most popular, so that by an alliance between the throne and the altar they might the better maintain their own power. But what we would here particularly observe is, that this religious sentiment may exist in sincerity and strength in the bosom of fallen man, without being at all connected with moral virtue, or aught that is acceptable to God. It may exist equally in the citizen and the savage, in the bad and the good, in the best and the worst of men. 'It was this which led the ancient mariners of Tarshish, when overtaken by a tempest, to cry to their idol gods for help. It was this which prompted the pagan Indians of America to offer up their daily worship. It is this which leads the Italian bandit to carry a pistol in one hand and a rosary in the other. It is this which induces those amongst all nations who pander to the vilest vices, to seek an interest in the prayers of the priesthood. It was this which once led some Greek pirates whose hands were red with the blood of the slain, to recoil with horror from a well-furnished table which they found in a captured vessel, when reminded by their captain that it was a fast-day of their church. It was this which constrained a robber on the high seas, some time ago, to pay respect to an American commander, in whose cabin he saw conspicuous a large quarto Bible. Wide as the world, and indestructible as humanity itself, is this powerful sentiment, which, though it exist in alliance with sin, points to God as the proper object of worship, and shows what man was designed to be originally, what he ought to be, and from what a height he has fallen.
Now if it be true that this natural sentiment exerts such a wonderful sway over the most wicked of our race, we can easily see that it must have a mighty influence over those whose morals have been cultivated, and whose sensibilities have been quickened by the teachings of Christianity. Surrounded by the lights of knowledge and a well ordered state of society, they have the same essential nature as the less favored portions of mankind. And if among the latter class, the religious sentiment is found in all its strength unconnected with any thing holy or pleasing to God, it may be so among the former, though developed in different modes. It may lead one to some outward act which superstition prescribes, and another to some act of a reasonable service prescribed by