A PUBLIC PROFESSION OF CHRIST
DELIVERED ON FRIDAY EVENING, MARCH 28,1851,
AT THE TABERNACLE, MOORFIELDS,
After the Admission of a number of new Members to the fellowship of the Church.
All persons are, or ought to be, interested in the following points.
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN MAKING A PUBLIC PROFESSION OF RELIGION?
II. WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR MAKING SUCH A PROFESSION?
III. WHAT ARE THE REASONS ASSIGNED BY THOSE WHO NEGLECT TO MAKE SUCH A PROFESSION, AS A JUSTIFICATION OF THEIR CONDUCT?
IV. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN NOT MAKING A PUBLIC PROFESSION OF RELIGION?
All persons are really interested in the discussion of these questions, whether they feel so or not. Every one has really a deep interest in understanding these particular points. I shall not take any text to-night, and shall be compelled from want of time to be as brief as may be; and, therefore, must not enlarge upon these points. The field suggested by them is a vast one, and each of these heads might well occupy a full discourse. We have then, to inquire briefly,
I. What is implied in making a public profession of religion?
First: it is a public avowal of hearty confidence in the facts revealed in the gospel, and in Jesus Christ, together with all things that are recorded of him in the Bible; this is implied in making a public profession of religion--it is a public avowal of faith in Jesus, and a sincere and hearty belief of the facts and principles of the gospel.
Again: it is a public surrender to Christ, or submission to him. It is a public avowal of submission and consecration to him in the relations he sustain to men. It is, I say, a public act of submission, and a surrendering of everything up to him as the only Saviour of the world.
Again: it is a public avowal of sympathy with him in the great work in which he is engaged, that of bringing about the salvation of men. Again, it implies a public renunciation of self and the spirit of self-seeking. A public profession of self-denial, in this sense, that we no longer live for ourselves; it is a profession therefore of universal devotion to God. But again: it also implies dependence on him in all the relations in which he is exhibited. Further: it implies a confession of sin that we cannot be saved by our own righteousness, nor even begin to be saved. It is a public profession of the impossibility of being saved on the ground of law, and therefore a public declaration of the fact that Christ is the only possible way in which a man can be saved. All profession then is designed to be a public avowal of confidence in the truths of the gospel, of submission to Christ, and of dependence on his authority. Again: it is a public renunciation of the spirit of the world; for a man cannot be in love with the world and with Christ too. It is an oath of allegiance to Christ. It is a public vouching that he is your God and Saviour.
But once more, it is to profess to be representatives of Christ. By the very act of making a public profession of religion you profess that you have received the Spirit of Christ, and therefore, that you intend to exhibit it to the world. By professing religion you virtually say to the world, we will give you an illustration in our lives, temper, spirit, and actions, of what Christianity is. Nothing less than this is implied in making a public profession of the Christian religion. There are many other things that I might mention, which are implied in a public profession, but I have not time. We shall therefore proceed to notice--
II. Some of the reasons why persons should make such a profession.
First: surely it is no more than simple honesty. The fact is, [to] not do so is to be guilty of the utmost wrong to God and Christ, to your own soul and to the world at large. The facts of the gospel being admitted--and they cannot with any show of reason be denied--to acknowledge them is but a simple act of honesty. Men are not their own, they are bought with a price, and therefore it is but honest that they should publicly acknowledge this. In short, every one can see, that the facts about Christ, his nature, his relations, his atonement, makes it a simple matter of honesty, that every man to whom the gospel is preached, should at once acknowledge that these things are so, and avow his confidence in them, his sympathy with them, his dependence on them, and his submission to them. It is easy to see that this is a mere act of simple honesty, and that no individual has a right to call himself an honest man who does not openly, publicly, acknowledge these facts that are as true as heaven itself is true.
But again: a public profession of Christianity is essential to self-respect. No person who understands the Christian religion, and does not publicly profess it, can respect himself--he has not, and cannot have any solid self-respect; he is, and must be ashamed of himself. Indeed, a gentleman of this city told me this fact of himself only to-day; that before he became a professor of religion, the minister, whose preaching he attended, used to deliver an annual sermon, in which he brought out the facts in relation to attendance at the communion table of the members of his congregation; so many had celebrated the ordinance once, so many twice, or so and so many times, and a great many not at all. When these facts were brought out, said the gentlemen, I said, why, our minister takes notice of those persons who absent themselves from the communion table, and I became so ashamed of myself, as frequently to stay away altogether. I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself, that I could go to a Christian church, hear the word of God, mingle with the congregation, and with God's people, and yet after all never publicly avow my attachment to Christ, never avow my belief in the table, and in the gospel. Now from the nature of the case, a moral agent does not, and cannot sincerely respect himself if he knows himself to be dishonest; that he sustains such infinitely important relations to God, and yet refuses to acknowledge them; such a man, I say, cannot respect himself; he has no solid self-respect whatever. He knows that he is dishonest to God, ungrateful to the Saviour, and foolish to himself. I say, therefore, that all persons to whom the gospel is preached ought to understand this, that a public profession of the gospel is essential to true self-respect. And further: it is also essential to true peace of mind, because if a man does not make this public profession of what he knows to be the truth, he does not comply with the fundamental law of his own conscience, and his own being.
But once more: such a profession is, in every point of view, due to Christ. Every man who knows that Christ "tasted death for every man," is bound to acknowledge it. Christ will become the advocate of every man who will submit his cause to him, and he is therefore bound to acknowledge his obligations to him. A great many sinners seem to forget that they receive their daily bread from heaven in consideration of what Christ has done for them. Every thing they have in this world, every drop of water with which they cool their tongue, is granted because Christ has appeared on their behalf, and given himself to die for the world. God would no more give such blessings to the wicked as he actually does give them, than he would show such favours to the devils, if Christ had not undertaken the mediatorial work. Every man, then, simply regarding the fact that he is out of hell, whether saint or sinner, is bound to acknowledge his obligations to Christ, and that publicly, before all men.
There is a circumstance just come to my mind that will illustrate this. I think I related it before in this place, but no matter, I need not enter into particulars. A man who had lived many years, indeed all his life long, under the sound of the gospel, and who had made a profession of religion, but was not satisfied that he had ever given his heart to Christ, although he knew the truth, had a dream one night, in which it seemed to him that himself and his brother were journeying to a certain place, when a messenger from heaven met them, and said, as you travel along you will come to a place where the roads branch off, the one to the right and the other to the left, and at that spot you must separate: you will be told which road you must each take--and the one that takes the right will go to heaven, while he that takes the left must go to hell! Well, he thought they passed along, and he was in great agitation of mind, until they came to the roads of which the heavenly messenger had told him, when it was announced that he was to take the left hand. Filled with the greatest consternation, he turned about to pursue the path assigned him, and as he was about to part with his brother, he said to him, well, farewell brother, you are going to heaven, you have been a very good man, but I am going to hell! I shall not see you any more, but I want you to tell the Lord Jesus Christ that I am greatly obliged to him for all the favours I have received at his hands, for all the good he has done me, and for all the good he would have done had I been willing. I have no fault to find, and no excuses make, but as I shall never reach heaven to see the Lord Jesus, I want you to carry this message to him, that I am greatly obliged for all that he has done for me, and even for what he now appoints, I have nothing to accuse him of although I have failed of heaven, for it is my own fault! With this he burst out into loud weeping, and awoke, and then there stood before him, in a manner most clear and bright, his own real relations to Christ. The dream had seemed to prepare his mind--and probably the Holy Spirit was concerned in it,--for a full reception of the truth; and it so broke his heart all to pieces, that he immediately surrendered himself to Christ. Now, observe, he recognized the fact, although he was going to hell as he supposed, that he had received a great many favours from God on account of Christ, and that, therefore he owed a deep debt of gratitude and obligation to him, and so told his brother to thank him for those favours which he had received at his hands. Now I suppose many of you have not even done so much as that? Did you ever send such a message to Christ, or tell him yourself that you thanked him for his favours?
But again: it is right and reasonable, on the face of it, that you should publicly acknowledge Christ, and thus show that you regard yourself as being under very great and lasting obligations to him.
Once more: it is due to yourselves that you should make this acknowledgement. Again: it is due to those who are related to you, and over whom you may exert any influence. You cannot live without exerting some influence, and therefore it is your duty to them who are likely to be influenced by you, that you should publicly profess Christ, and espouse his cause, and thus give them the full benefit of your example; their interests demand this, and you are under an obligation to give it. Think, if you are parents what an influence you have upon your children; and almost everything will depend upon the example that you set them.
Once more: you owe it to the church of God. The church have been praying for you, and to them doubtless, you are indebted for the blessings of life. If you read your Bible, you will find that the prayers of God's people being interposed, are continually assigned as the reasons and conditions upon which God spares sinners. It is to the church that they owe the means of grace, and a great many of the blessings which they enjoy; they owe it to the church, therefore to make a public profession of religion.
Once more: you owe it to the world at large, because the world is infinitely interested in this matter, that you should not take the wrong side; and have, therefore, a right to claim the whole benefit of all that you might do to save the world if you did your duty. Once more: Christ expressly enjoins this upon all men. The gospel expressly commands that men should profess the name of Christ before the universe--this is one of the plainest commands in the whole Bible. Another reason why persons should publicly commit themselves to Christ is, that it is useful to them: it is a foreclosing the heart against sin. Who does not see the importance of this? that the mind should as much as possible be closed against sin and temptation. A public profession is a guard upon the man who makes it. It forecloses the mind against those influences which might lead it away. The standing illustration of the Bible, of this principle, is the institution of marriage. There are a great many points of view in which it is of the greatest importance that parties who wish to live together, should commit themselves to each other by a public act. They would otherwise be much more exposed to temptation; and it is of great importance to the parties themselves. What a safe guard it is for the wife that she can stand forth as a married woman, against being addressed by other men, and the same with the husband. So it is with those who publicly commit themselves to Christ. It is a proclaiming to the world that it is no longer to expect their sympathy: they are now committed to Christ, and the door is closed against the world and sin.
But let me say again: the public profession of any individual presents an inducement for Christ to watch over him, and by his grace to secure his perseverance in a holy life. For example, when an individual thinks himself a Christian, and yet makes no public profession of Christ, what honour does he bring to Christ, and what inducement is there for Christ to watch over him? People see that he lives a consistent life, and as he makes no profession of Christ, all the credit of his conduct is ascribed to nature, and not to grace. The world will give all the credit to the man, and not to Christ, to whom it really belongs. Now what has Christ to do with such an individual as this? Here is an individual deeply indebted to Christ for everything good that he possesses, but he makes no public acknowledgment of it. Thus he does not honour Christ, why then should Christ continue to watch over him? Why should such a man's candle continue lighted, as it is always kept under a bushel? I say then, that when a man makes a public profession of Christ, and thus acknowledges his dependance on him, he presents an inducement for Christ to continue to give him grace. The Psalmist frequently mentions the fact that he had not kept his righteousness within his own heart, and concealed it from the great congregation. And there is something reasonable as well as scriptural in this. When a man fully commits himself to Christ he engages and ensures the protection of an Almighty arm; he throws himself upon the grace of Christ. Look at Peter in the ship. When Christ was walking on the water, he said, if it be thou bid me come to thee on the water; and as soon as the Lord said come, he did not hesitate, but just cast himself upon the protection of Christ. And did he let Peter sink? O no, Christ did not let him sink when he had fully committed himself. So when an individual, from right motives, publish his attachment to Christ, he may depend upon being preserved: Christ will never forsake him. Let him do this with all humility, and what an argument would it put into his mouth. O Lord Jesus, did I not commit myself to serve thee, and illustrate thy religion before the world depending on thee for grace, and now shall the light that is in me become darkness, shall thy grace be withheld, so that I shall crucify thee afresh, and put thee to an open shame? No, indeed, this shall never be in such a case. Would not that be an argument likely to prevail with Christ? Yes; and ought to have power with him if made in good faith.
Once more: another reason why we should make a public profession of religion is, that we ought to be in the channel in which his covenant blessings flow to his people. If we would have these blessings we must comply with God's order. Again: making a public profession of religion gives those who do it an especial interest in the sympathies and cares of the whole church militant. It is not true that people who belong to different denominations make up so many different churches. The fact is, they are all branches of the church of God if they are real Christians: they may differ in certain forms, and minor things; but they are in heart essentially one. Every genuine disciple of Christ then, who avows his attachment, sustains an intimate relation to the entire church militant, and the church triumphant too, for they are both one. The head of the church is in heaven, and there also are the advanced members; while those who yet remain below entirely sympathise with those who are made perfect in heaven. Every visible member of Christ, then, brings himself by the public profession, under the watchful cares, the sympathy and prayers of the entire church of God. And is this a small thing? Understand, I am not speaking of mere hangers on to the church, and there has always been plenty of these in every age, but I speak of the true church in whatever denomination it is found.
Once more: another reason for making a public profession is, that when individuals come out and are entirely honest with themselves and with God, they then can respect themselves, for they have peace with God; they then have fellowship with the Father and with the Son, and they are not the individuals to shrink away from public responsibility. But I cannot dwell any longer on this part of the subject. We have now to consider in a few words--
III. Some of the reasons that are assigned, publicly or secretly, for the neglect of this duty.
One says, I am not a Christian. Well, and is that a good excuse for not doing your duty? It is only to assign one sin as an excuse for another. Why are you not a Christian? Suppose a man should attempt to justify himself for having committed some horrible crime by pleading the fact that he was very wicked and loved sin. That, certainly, would not be regarded as a good excuse? No! no! It will not do to plead that you are not a Christian, expecting that such a plea will excuse you, for it only aggravates your guilt.
Another says, I do not make a profession because I fear I should disgrace Christ and his cause. Indeed? Is that a good re[a]son? Is it a true reason? I fear there must be some mistake in that. Do you so dread to dishonour Christ's name and cause, that you abstain on that account from making a public profession, lest by it you should dishonour him. Do you say that? Yes! Well, but is it no dishonour for you to deny him? Do you love him so much and fear to dishonour him and his cause, that you abstain from making a profession lest you should dishonour him? Indeed! How is it then that you are not afraid to sin by denying Christ, which you do by refusing to acknowledge him?
Ah! says another, I am afraid of such a responsibility. Indeed! And is there no responsibility in the other direction? You fear the responsibility of professing Christ? Well, do you not fear the heavier responsibility of denying him? Is there no responsibility in taking part with his enemies, and refusing to obey his commands? Yes, indeed, there is a solemn, awful responsibility.
Another says, it is such a solemn thing. Yes, indeed, it is: but is it not also a solemn thing not to make a public profession? It is a solemn thing, you say, if what I have said is actually implied in making a profession. Is it not a solemn thing? Yes, it is; but it is still more solemn to refuse to do it when Christ requires it, and reason, conscience, and the entire universe ask it at your hands.
Another reason assigned ofttimes is, I can as well be saved without it. What does this mean? As well be saved without it! Is it then a mere question of loss and gain with you? Is the great end in view simply to be saved, no matter how? Do you care nothing about sympathy with Christ! Nothing about obeying his commands? so that you gain salvation at last; is that all you care about? But what can you mean by that, "Can be as well saved without it." Can you be saved by disobeying Christ as well as by obeying him? You refused to acknowledge him, and yet expect to be saved by him? What does Christ himself say to you--"He that is ashamed of me before men, of him will I be ashamed before my Father and the holy angels." Now I suppose it is true that where individuals have no opportunity to avow and acknowledge Christ before men they may be saved without; but if men neglect to perform their duty where opportunities offer to comply with it, they will not be held excused. To say that persons can be saved without publicly acknowledging Christ when they have every opportunity to do it, is equivalent to saying that they can just as well be saved in sin as by breaking off from it. What is sin but a neglect of duty. Can a man live and die in sin and yet be a Christian. O, but say some, this is only one sin. Well, suppose it is, if you live in it deliberately you live in sin, for if you indulge in any form of iniquity you do not renounce one sin from your heart. Now, can you recognize God's authority in any thing if you do not in every thing? What does the Bible say? "If a man offend in one point he is guilty of all." There is a great mistake I believe on this subject. A great many people suppose that they can neglect this duty, while they acknowledge it to be so, and yet get to heaven as well as if they complied with it. You who think so are entirely mistaken, for you live in known sin if you neglect acknowledged duty; and how can you be saved if you live in sin? It is impossible!
Once more: a public profession of religion is the way to have the evidence of acceptance with God. How can you expect to realize the promises without a public committal of yourself to Christ? It is faith that inherits the promises and not unbelief. The fact is that many persons are waiting for evidences that they are accepted of God, while they are unwilling to obey him. Further: a great many persons who have had a clear hope in Christ have put off making a public profession until they have grieved the spirit and brought darkness over their own mind. The path was once clear, but they neglected it, and now, mark! they will in all probability die in that darkness, or be obliged to make a public profession of religion before God will restore to them the light which they seek. I have known a great many cases of persons waiting for light, but have not obtained it till they have made up their minds to obey God; and when they have done this then light has come.
But once more: another reason assigned is, I do not like publicly to commit myself. Now that excuse, right on the face of it, is an evidence that your heart is not right; for if your heart was right you would not hesitate for an instant to commit yourself before the world. Nay! You would be anxious, as publicly as possible to attach yourself to Christ. Another reason, which is sometimes assigned by individuals is, that it will subject them to be scrutinized. People will watch me to see how I live. Ah! and do you shrink away from that? If I do not make a public profession so much will not be expected of me. Indeed? And is that a good reason why you should not make a public profession? What ought to be expected of you? But another says, it will subject me to persecution. Indeed? And is that a good reason for not making a public profession? Did Christ shrink back from coming to rescue you because it would subject him to persecution? Was he never persecuted for you, and cannot you afford to bear any persecution for him? Surely it is enough that the servant be as his Lord, and the disciple as his Master? If Christ had held back from your salvation on account of persecution, where would you have been? But he did not withhold his cheek from the smiters, and from those that plucked off the hair; he was maligned, slandered, and murdered for your sake. How then does it become you to talk in that way?
Again: some people, I am ashamed to say, do not make a public profession of religion, because if they did they would be expected to support the institutions of the gospel. And is that a good reason why you should not espouse the cause of Christ, because that by doing so you would be expected to do your part in this great work? O shame, that any body ever should have such a thought! Whose are you? and to whom belong all your possessions? Cannot you afford to be a professor of religion? Afford it!! And could Christ afford to die for you? Suppose he had said, when he found what your salvation would cost him, I cannot afford it! Where would you and I have been to-night if Christ had said he could not afford to save us?
Another says, it will subject me to greater restraint than I like. I shall not be able to go to such and such places. I sometimes like to visit the theatre, but that is no place for professors of religion. Now I can occasionally gratify myself in this way; but if I made a public profession such a course would injure the cause of Christ. Then you mean to indulge yourself, and therefore you do not like the restraints that Christ would impose upon you. Well, and do you expect to secure heaven and indulge in your sinful gratifications too? You want gratifications that are inconsistent with the Christian character, and yet you hope to be saved. Friends! do not deceive yourselves, I beg of you!
Once more: I fear I shall be sorry if I do. What will make you sorry? Do you think that if you make a public profession, and then live as you ought to live, that you will be sorry? Some people I fear mean by this excuse to say, I shall wish to be out of the church of God because I shall not like to live such a life as will be demanded of me. Now if you feel thus it is a plain proof that you have not committed your soul to Christ.
But another says, I do not know what church to join, there are so many denominations and churches. Cannot you make up your mind? Consult Christ, then, and see if you cannot get some light. Is there no where that you can have Christian sympathy and fellowship? O yes, you can find a place! There are those who have prayed for you, and earnestly besought the Lord to distill upon you the dews of his heavenly grace, and if you seek you will find them.
Once more: It is a dreadful thing to make a false profession, say some. So it is; but is it not a dreadful thing to make no profession at all! Oh, but I can live a Christian life without it! Well, suppose you did? I have already intimated that this would be really to deny Christ, and refuse him his proper due. Man gets the praise himself for his consistent walk, although it is the effect of the water of grace which Christ has distilled upon his heart. This is giving all to nature, and robbing Christ. When the communion table is spread, he keeps away; and what does this say to the world? Why, virtually this,--see how I keep myself: you see I have no need of Christ: you see how good I am, but I owe nothing to the grace of Christ! But it is false! it is false! You cannot be a Christian and make no profession of Christ! But I am to notice very briefly--
IV. What is implied in NOT making a public profession of religion.
First, it is a public denial and rejection of Christ; and it is also a denial of him of the most empathic kind--it is a denial of the LIFE: it is a denial of dependence on him or obligation to him, and a most emphatic denial, not in words but in DEEDS! Again: it is a profession that you have no part nor lot in religion. Again: it is a denial of the truth in relation to Christ. Again: it is a public acknowledgment of unbelief, or infidelity, which is unbelief. Once more: it is a public proclamation that in your view the Christian religion is a delusion, and Christ an imposter! Perhaps you do not say this nor really intend it: perhaps you never thought that this was implied in not making a public profession, but it is true nevertheless. Again: not to make a profession of Christ is a public avowal of sympathy on the other side. Now I know that many persons are not aware of the things that are involved in standing aloof from a profession of Christ, and it is for this reason that I state these things, that they who hear me may no longer be in ignorance.
Once more: it is a public profession of impenitence as well as unbelief. Observe, every body makes some public profession. You are not to suppose that because you do not make a public profession in favour of religion that therefore you make no profession about it, for you do. Your refusing to profess Christ is a public declaration against him. His friends are on one side, and his enemies on the other, and you must belong to one party or the other; and if you are not committed to him you voluntarily subject yourselves to the doom of the enemies of Christ.
I must close with just one or two remarks.
Professors of religion should watch over each other with paternal love; watch over them for good and not for evil. I am sorry to say that I have sometimes witnessed a spirit the very opposite of this. I have seen old professors watching for the halting of younger Christians. Oh! I trust it will not be so in this church! but that you will set yourselves to be brothers and sisters indeed; and that the fathers will sympathise with the youth!
Once more: young professors should always remember that they voluntarily place themselves in such a position as to draw the eyes of the world upon them, and of the church. They are the spectacle of angels and of men. Let them remember this!
But thirdly: let them not be deterred from witnessing for Christ on account of the great responsibility which it involves. Christ has said, "My grace is sufficient for thee," therefore do not hesitate to put yourselves in the position that Christ requires. He will give you strength equal to your day.
Once more: identify yourselves with every Christian effort. Let all young Christians, who have now become assembled in the fellowship of the church, and others who will do so, doubtless, on the next admission, identify themselves fully with the people of God. Always manifest your sympathy with every good work, and everything which belongs to God's cause. You have publicly espoused it, let it possess your heart. Let all your actions witness that your profession is not an empty profession!
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