Sermon 186. The Form and Spirit of Religion
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, April 4, 1858, by the
REV. C.H. SPURGEON
At the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.
"Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us outof the hand of our enemies."-1 Samuel 4:3.
THESE MEN made a great mistake: what they wanted was the Lord in their midst; whereas they imagined that the symbol of God'spresence, the ark of the covenant, would be amply sufficient to bestow upon them the assistance which they required in theday of battle. As is man, such must his religion be. Now, man is a compound being. To speak correctly, man is a spiritualbeing: he hath within him a soul, a substance far beyond the bounds of matter. But man is also made up of abody as well as a soul. He is not pure spirit; his spirit is incarnate in flesh and blood. Now, such is our religion.The religion of God is, as to its vitality, purely spiritual-always so; but since man is made of flesh as well as of spirit,it seemed necessary that his religion should have something of the outward, external, and material, in which to embody thespiritual, or else man would not have been able to lay hold upon it. This was especially the case under the old dispensation.Thereligion of the Jew is really a heavenly and spiritual thing; a thing of thought, a thing that concerns the mind and spirit;but the Jew was untaught; he was but a babe, unable to understand spiritual things unless he saw them pictured out to him,or, (to repeat what I have just said) unless he saw them embodied in some outward type and symbol: and therefore God was pleasedto give the Jew a great number of ceremonies, which were to his religion what the body is to man's soul. The Jewishreligion taught the doctrine of the atonement, but the Jew could not understand it, and therefore God gave him a lambto be slain every morning and every evening, and he gave him a goat over which the sins of the people were to be confessed,and which was to be driven into the depths of the wilderness, to show the great doctrine of a substitute and atonement throughhim. The Jewish religion teaches, as one of its prominent doctrines, the unity of the Godhead; but the Jew was ever apt toforgetthat there was but one God; and God, to teach him that, would have but one temple, and but one altar upon which the sacrificemight rightly be offered. So that the idea of the one God was (as I have already said) made incarnate in the fact that therewas but one temple, but one altar, and but one great high priest. And mark, this is true of our religion-Christianity: nottrue to so full an extent as of Judaism-for the religion of the Jew had a gross and heavy body-but our religion has abody transparent, and having but little of materialism in it. If you ask me what I would call the materialism of our religion,the embodiment of the spiritual part of that in which we trust and hope, I would point, first of all, to the two ordinancesof the Lord, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. I would point you next to the services of God's house, to the Sabbath day, tothe outward ritual of our worship: I would point you to our solemn song, to our sacred service of prayer; and I would pointyou also-and I think I am right in so doing-to the form of sound words, which we ever desire to hold fast and firm, ascontaining that creed which it is necessary for men to believe if they would hold the truth as it is in Jesus. Our religion,then, has an outward form even to this day; for the Apostle Paul, when he spoke of professing Christians, spoke of some whohad "a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof." So that it is still true, though I confess not to the same extentasit was in the days of Moses, that religion must have a body, that the spiritual thing may come out palpably before ourvision, and that we may see it.
Now, three points this morning inferred from our narrative. The first point is this-that the outward form of religion is to be carefully and reverently observed. But my second and most important head is this-you will notice that the very men who have the least of the spirit of religion are the most superstitiously observant of theform of it; just as you find the people here, who did not care for God, had a very superstitious regard for that chest calledthe ark of the covenant. And then, my third point will be, that those who trust in the outward form of religion, apart from the spirit of it, are fearfully deceived, and the result of theirdeception must be of the most fatal character. The first point I feel is necessary, lest I should lead any to despise the form of religion, while endeavoring to insistupon the absolute necessity of attending in the first place to the spirit of it.
I. In the first place then, THE FORM OF RELIGION IS TO BE REVERENTLY OBSERVED. This ark of the covenant was with the Jew themost sacred instrument of his religion. There were many other things which he held holy: but this ark always stood in themost holy place, and it was rendered doubly sacred, because, between the outstretched wings of those cherubic figures thatrested upon the mercy-seat, there was usually to be seen a bright light, called the Shekinah, whichmanifested that Jehovah, the God of Israel, who dwelt between the cherubims, was there. And, indeed, they had great reasonin the days of Samuel to reverence this ark, for you will recollect that when Moses went to war with the Midianites, a greatslaughter of that people was occasioned by the fact that Eleazar, the high priest, with a silver trumpet, stood in the forefrontof the battle, bearing in his hands the holy instruments of the law-that is , the ark; and it was by the presence ofthis ark that the victory was achieved. It was by this ark, too, that the river Jordan was dried up. When the tribes cameto it, there was no ford, but the priests put the staves of the ark upon their shoulders, and they marched with solemn pacedown to the waters' edge, and before the presence of the ark the waters receded, so that the people went through dry-shod.And when then had landed in the promised country, you remember it was by this ark that the walls of Jericho fell flat to theground; for the priests, blowing the trumpets and carrying the ark, went before, when they compassed the city seven days,and at last, by the power of the ark, or rather by the power of that God who dwelt within the ark, the walls of Jericho fellflat down, and every man went straight up to the slaughter. These people, therefore, thought if they could once get the ark,it would be all right, and they would be sure to triumph; and, while I shall have in the second head, to insist upon it thatthey were wrong in superstitiously imputing strength to the poor chest, yet the ark was to be reverently observed, forit was the outward symbol of a high spiritual truth, and it was never to be treated with any indignity.
It is quite certain, in the first place, that the form of religion must never be altered. You remember that this ark was made by Moses, according to the pattern that God had given him in the mount. Now, the outwardforms of our religion, if they be correct, are made by God. His two great ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper aresent for us from on high. I dare not alter either of them. I should think it is a high sin and treason against heaven, if,believingthat baptism signifieth immersion, and immersion only, I should pretend to administer it by sprinkling; or, believingthat baptism appertaineth to believers only, I should consider myself a criminal in the sight of God if I should give it toany but those who believe. Even so with the Lord's Supper. Believing that it consists of bread and wine, I hold it to be highlyblasphemous in the Church of Rome to withhold the cup from the people; and knowing that this ordinance was intended for theLord's people only, I consider it an act of high treason against the Majesty of Heaven, when any are admitted to the Lord'sSupper who have not made a profession of their faith and of their repentance, and who do not declare themselves to be thetrue children of God. And with regard to the doctrines of the Gospel, no alteration must be allowed here. I know that formsof doctrine are very little, compared with the spirit and the heart; but still we must not alter even the form of it. It hasoften been said, that we ought not to have a strict religion. I believe that is just the very thing we ought to have:a religion that is of such a cast that it does not know how to alter; a religion that comes from the Infallible Head of theChurch, that is, Jesus Christ our Lord, and which to the latest time is to be like the Law and the Prophets-not on jot ortittle of it must fail while the earth endureth. The men who think that we may alter this and alter that, and still maintainthespirit of religion, have some truth on their side; but let them remember, that while the spirit of religion may be maintainedin the midst of many errors, yet every error tends to weaken our spirituality. And, beside that, have no right to considerthe effect upon ourselves merely. Whatever form of religion God has ordained, it is ours to practise without the slightestalteration; and to alter any one of the ordinances of God is an act of dire profanation; however reasonable that alterationmayseem to be, it is treason against high heaven, and is not to be permitted in the Church of Christ. "Hold fast the formof sound words," said Paul, "which thou hast heard of me;" or, as I remember to have said before, while the form of religionis not power, yet unless the form be carefully observed, it is not easy to maintain the power. It is like an egg-shell enclosingthe egg; there is no life in the shell, but you must take care you do not crack it, or else you may destroy the lifewithin. The ordinances and doctrines of our faith are only the shell of religion-they are not the life; but we must takecare that we do not hurt so much as the outward shell, for if we do, we may endanger the life within; though that may manageto live, it must be weakened by any injury done to the outward form thereof.
And as the form must not be altered, so it must not be despised. These Philistines despised the ark. They took it and set it in their idol temple, and the result was that their idol god,Dagon, was broken in pieces. They then sent it through their cities, and they were smitten with emerods. And then, being afraidto put it within walls, they set it in the open country, and they were invaded with mice, so that everything was eaten up.God would not have any dishonourput even upon the outward form of his religion; he would have men reverently take care that they did no dishonour evento his ark; it might be nothing but gopher-wood, but because, between the wings of those cherubim God had dwelt, the ark wasto be held sacred, and God would not have it dishonoured. Take care, ye that despise God, lest ye despise his outward ordinances.To laugh at the Sabbath, to despise the ordinances of God's House, to neglect the means of grace, to call the outward formofreligion a vain thing-all this is highly offensive in the sight of God. He will have us remember that while the form isnot the life, yet the form is to be respected for the sake of the life which it contains; the body is to be venerated forthe sake of the inward soul; and as I would have no man maim my body, even though in maiming it he might not be able to woundmy soul, so God would have no man maim the outward parts of religion, although it is true no man can touch the real vitalityofit.
Yet one more remark, and that a very solemn one. As the outward form is neither to be altered nor despised, so neither isit to be intruded upon by unworthy persons. You remember that this ark of the covenant, after it was brought back from the land of the Philistines, was set in the fieldof Joshua the Bethshemite, and the Bethshemites took off the lid, and looked into the ark of the Lord, and, for this, theLord "smote of that people fifty-thousand and three-scoreand ten men; and the people lamented because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter." These Bethshemiteshad no intention whatever of dishonouring the ark. They had a vain curiosity to look within, and the sight of those marvelloustables of stone struck them with death; for the law, when it is not covered by the mercy-seat, is death to any man, and itwas death to them. Now, you will easily remember how very solemn a penalty is attached to any man's intruding into theoutward form of religion when he is not called to do so. Let me quote this awful passage: "He" (speaking of the Lord'sSupper) "that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." Howfrightful an announcement is that! A curse is pronounced upon the man who dares to touch even the outward form of religion,unless he hath the power of it; and we know there is nothing which excites God's holy anger more swiftly than a man's attendingtothe ordinances of his house and making an outward profession of being in Christ, while he has no part nor lot in the matter.Oh, take heed. The outward ordinances of Christ are not the vitality of religion, but nevertheless they are so solemnly important,that we must neither alter nor despise them, nor rush into them without being invited; for if we do so, the curse of God mustlight upon us for having despised the holy thing of the Most High God of Israel.
And now, before I close this first head, let me remark, that the outward things of God are to be diligently cared for and loved. We have in our reading had two instances of that. There was holy Eli: he knew very well that the ark of God was not God;he understood that it was but the outward sign of the inward and spiritual; yet when the ark of God was taken, mark the poorold man's trouble: his heart broke, and then he fell down and broke his neck. Then there wasthat nameless woman. Her husband was the priest who attended to this very ark, but he was a man whose character I cannotdescribe better than by saying that he was a son of Belial. It is hard for a woman to believe religion if she has a ministerfor a husband who is profane and wicked. This woman's husband not only committed wrongs against God, but against her. He wasa filthy and unclean person, who polluted the very courts of the Lord's house with his fornications; and yet she had suchfaithin her God, that she knew how to love the religion which her husband, by his awful character, brought into disrepute.She knew how to distinguish between the man and his duty, between the priest and the priesthood, between the officer and theoffice. I do wonder at her. I am sure there is nothing that staggers our faith like seeing a minister walking inconsistently;but this man was the chief minister, and her own husband, living in known sin, and a sin which came home to her, because hesinnedagainst her. I am sure it was wonderful that she believed at all; but so strong was her faith and attachment to her religion,that though, like Eli, she knew that the ark was not God, that the form was not the inward thing, yet the form itself wasso precious to her, that the pangs of child-birth were hurried on prematurely and in the midst of her pain, this still wasuppermost-that the ark of the Lord was taken. It was in vain to cheer her with the news that her child was born; it was anidle tale to her, and she rejoiced not in it. She lay in a swoon; but at last, opening her eyes, and remembering thather husband was dead, and that therefore, according to Jewish usage, it was her duty to give the child a name, she faintlyopened her lips before she died, and said, "Call his name Inglorious (Ichabod) for the glory is departed;" and then she addedthis reason for it: she did not say, "because my husband is dead," though she loved him; she did not say, "because my father-in-law,Eli, is dead" or "because my nation has been defeated," but she added that all-significant reason, "because the ark ofthe Lord was taken;" and she died. Oh, I would to God that we all loved God's house, and loved the ways of God, and the ordinancesof God as much as she did. While we attach no superstitious importance to the outward ceremony, I wish we thought as muchof holy things, because of the Holy One of Israel. as did Eli, and this nameless, but noble woman.
Thus I have preached upon the first head, and no ceremonialist here, I am sure, can differ from me, for they must all sayit is true. Even the Puseyite will confess that this is just what he believes-that ceremonies ought to be carefully observed.But I shall not agree with Mr. Puseyite in the second head.
II. Now, it is a notorious fact, that THE VERY MEN WHO HAVE THE LEAST IDEA OF WHAT SPIRITUAL RELIGION IS, ARE THE MEN WHOPAY THE MOST SUPERSTITIOUS ATTENTION TO OUTWARD FORMS. We refer you again to this instance. These people would neither repent,nor pray, nor seek God and his prophets; yet they sought out this ark and trusted in it with superstitious veneration. Now,in every country where there had been any religion at all that is true, the great fact has come out veryplainly, that the people who don't know anything about true religion, have always been the most careful about the forms.Do you want to know the man who used to swallow widows' houses, and devour the patrimonies of the fatherless? Do you wantto know the hypocrites, the deceivers, in the days of Christ? Why, they were the Pharisees, who "for a show made long prayers;"they were the men who gave alms to the poor in the corners of the street-the men that tithed the anise, and the mint, andthecummin, and forgot the weightier matters of the law, such as justice and righteousness. If you wanted to find the seducer,the unjust judge, the liar, the perjured man, in the days of Christ, you had only to ask for the man who had fasted thricein the week, and gave tithes of all he possessed. These Pharisees would do any wicked action, and never stick at it; yet ifin drinking wine a small gnat should have fallen in and been swallowed with it, they would have considered themselves defiled,because their law did not allow them to eat a creature from which the blood had not been withdrawn. Thus they strainedat the gnat, thus getting the reputation of being very religious, and swallowed the camel, hump and all. You smile; but whatthey did in their day is done now. You know the Romanists; did you ever know one of them who would not think it to be a veryhigh offence against the Majesty of Heaven, if he were to eat any meat on Good Friday? Do you know anyone of them who didnotthink it necessary to keep Lent with strict punctilious observance? Notice how carefully they go to their places of worshipon the Sabbath morning, how diligently they observe that sacred rite of crossing their foreheads with holy water. How necessaryis it, that the holy water and everything else of the same kind, should be tenderly cared for. And do not the same personsin their own countries keep their theatres open on the Sabbath day? Do you not find the very men, who are so solemnlyobservant of their religion in the morning, forgetting it all in the evening; thinking no more of the Sabbath, which theycall holy, than if it were any other day, but making it more a day of merriment than any day of the week? Look again at ourChurch of England; God be thanked that there are so many true Evangelical men in the midst of it; but there are certain sectionsthere to whom my remarks will apply. Do you want to know the men who know nothing at all about the new birth, who do notknow what it is to be justified by faith, who have not a spark of religion? Do you know where to find them? They are themen that never said their creed without turning their heads the right way, that never said the name of Jesus without bowingtheir heads most reverently; they are the men who always take care that the church should be builded so as to be a goodlyedifice, in order that the parishioners going there may see the glory of God in the glory of his house; they are the peoplewho markevery red letter day, who take care that every rubric is attended to, who think that holly on Christmas is a most heavenlything, and a few flowers upon the altar almost equal to the Lily of the Valley and the Rose of Sharon. These are the gentlemenwho could no more preach without a cassock than they could live without a head. Of course they have not any religion at all,and because the inner life is clean gone, evaporated, dissipated, they have to be so extremely particular that they observethe outward form of it. I know many Evangelical Churchmen (and they are generally precise enough) that would break throughevery form. I could point you out this morning some two or three clergymen of the Church of England who are heretical enoughto be sitting here and listening to the words of one who is a Dissenter, and of course a Schismatic, but who would no morethink of calling me a Schismatic than they would think of flying, and would give me the right hand of fellowship with alltheirhearts. I believe that many of them would forget the rubrics if they could, and, if it were in their power, would cuttheir catechism all to pieces, and turn half of their church prayer-book out of doors. And these are the men that have mostreligion; they care least about the form but they have most of the grace within; they have more true religion, more evangelism,more of the grace of God in their hearts, than fifty of their Puseyite brethren.
But let me come to Dissenters, for we are just as bad. I must deal with all alike. We have among us a certain class of people,a sort of dissenting Puseyites, Where the Puseyite thinks it necessary to keep Good Friday and Easter Sunday, these good brethrentake as much care to keep holy day the wrong way, as the others the right way. They think it would be a grievous sin to goto chapel on Good Friday, and they are solemnly in earnest that they should never break the lawof the church not to observe holy days. To them it is a very sacred thing that they should always be found in their chapeltwice on the Sunday; they think it highly necessary that they should have their children baptized, or that they should bebaptized themselves, and that they should take the Lord's Supper. That is all well and good; but alas! we must confess it,there are some among us who, if they are orthodox in their opinions and precise in their outward practice, are quite contentto beutterly destitute of the power of religion. I must deal faithfully with all. I know in all our dissenting denominationsthere are to be found many self-righteous persons, who have not any religion at all, but who are the most precise people inall the world to stick up for the outward form of it. Do you not know some old member of the church here and there? Well,you say, if anybody in the church is a hypocrite, I should say old So-and-so is one. If you were to propose any alterationinanything, oh! how these gentlemen would bristle up; how they would draw their swords. They! they love every nail in thechapel door, they would not have a different colour for the pulpit for the world. They will have everything strictly observed.Their whole salvation seems to depend upon the rightness of the form. Oh no, not they; they could not think of altering mayof the forms of their church. You know it is quite as easy for a man to trust in ceremonials, when the are severely simple,asfor a man to rely upon them with they are gorgeous and superb. A man may as much trust in the simple ordinance of immersionand the breaking of bread, as another may trust in the high mass and in the prayers of priests. We man have Rome in Dissent,and Rome in the Church of England, and Rome anywhere; for wherever there is a trust in ceremonies, there is the essence ofPopery, there is anti-Christ and the man of sin. Oh! take heed of this any of you who have been relying upon your ceremonies.This is just the truth, that the more zeal for ceremonies, generally the less power of vital godliness within. But now,how is it that the man who would not eat anything but salt-fish on Good Friday, cheats his neighbour on Saturday? How is itthat the man who never would by any means go to anything but an orthodox sixteen-ounces-to-the-pound Baptist Chapel, can befound committing acts of injustice in his daily business, and perhaps more filthy deeds still? I will tell you, the man feelshemust have some righteousness or other, and when he knows himself to be a good-for-nothing rascal, he feels he has notgot a moral righteousness, and therefore he tries to get a ceremonial one. Mark the man that drinks and swears, that commitsall kinds of iniquity, and you will very often find him (I have known such cases) the most superstitiously reverent man thatcan be found. He would not go inside a place of worship without taking off his hat immediately. He will curse and swear outside,perhaps, and it never pricks his conscience; but to walk up the aisle of a church with his hat on-oh! how frightful. Hefeels, if he did so, he would be lost for ever. He would not forget to tithe the mint, anise, and cummin, but all the whilethe weightier matters of the law are left totally unregarded. Another reason is, because a religion of ceremonies is so mucheasier than true religion. To say Ava Maria and Pater Nosters is easy enough; you may soon get it over, and itdoes not check the conscience much. To go to chapel twice on the Sunday-there is nothing very hard in that. It is nothalf so hard as turning to the Lord with full purpose of heart. It is not half so hard as breaking off one's sin by righteousness,and putting one's trust in Christ Jesus alone. Therefore, because the thing is so easy, people like it better. Again it isso complimentary. When the Romanist beasts his back, and flogs his flesh, why is it that he likes that better than the simplegospel, "Believe and live?" Why, because it just flatters his pride. He thinks he is beating the devil out of himself,but he is in reality beating him in-the devil of pride is coming in. He whispers, "Ah! you are a good man to have floggedyourself like that! you will carry yourself to heaven by the merit of your wounds and bruises." Poor human nature always likethat. In fact, the more exacting a religion is, the better people like it. The more religion ties you up, and binds you, ifitdoes not touch the heart, the better people like to carry it out. Hindooism has its great hold upon the people, becausethey can get a great stock of merit by walking with spikes in their shoes; or rolling themselves many thousands of miles,or drinking the filthy waters of the Ganges, or offering themselves to die. All these things please human nature. "Believeand live" is too humbling; to trust alone in Christ casts down man's high looks; therefore man says, "Away with it!" and heturns toanything rather than to Christ.
Besides, there is another reason. Men always like the religion of ceremonies, because it does not need the giving up of theirfavourite sins. "Why", says a man, "if all that is needed for me to be saved, is to have the Sacrament given me by the priestwhen I come to die, what a delightful religion that is! I can drink, swear, and do just as I like. I have nothing to do butto get greased at last with holy oil, and off I go to heaven with all my sins about me." Saysanother, "We can have all our gaieties and frivolities, all the pomp of life and the pride of flesh; all that we needis to get confirmed; then, afterwards, sometimes to go to church, take a handsomely bound prayer-book and Bible, be very attentiveand observant, and the bishop will no doubt set us all right." This just suits many men, because there is no trouble aboutit. They can keep on with their gaieties and with their sins, and yet they believe they can go to heaven with them. Men donotlike that old-fashioned gospel which tells them that sin and the sinner must part, or else they must be damned. They donot like to be told that without holiness no man shall see the Lord, and that old-fashioned text, "Except a man be born again,he cannot see the kingdom of God," will never be palatable to human nature. Human nature does not mind what you tell it todo, so long as you do not tell it what to believe. You may tell it to observe this, that, and the other, and the man willdo it,and thank you , and the harder it is, the better he will like you; but once tell him, "Jesus Christ came into the worldto save sinners. Believe on him and thou shalt be saved," his pride is all up at once; he cannot endure it, and he hates theman that preaches it to him, and drives the very thought of the gospel from his soul.
III. And now, in the last place, it is mine to warn you that TO TRUST IN CEREMONIES IS A MOST DECEITFUL THING, AND WILL ENDIN THE MOST TERIFFIC CONSEQUENCES. When these people had got the ark into the camp, they shouted for joy , because they thoughtthemselves quite safe; but, alas, they met with a greater defeat than before. Only four thousand men had been killed in thefirst battle, but in the second, thirty thousand footmen of Israel fell down dead. How vain are thehopes that men build upon their good works, and ceremonial observances! How frightful is that delusion which teaches forthe gospel a thing which is not "the gospel," nor "another gospel;" but it is a thing that would pervert the gospel of Christ.My hearer, let me ask thee solemnly, what is thy ground of hope? Dost thou rely on baptism? O man, how foolish art thou! Whatcan a few drops of water, put upon an infant's forehead, do? Some lying hypocrites tell us that children are regenerated bydrops of water. What kind of regeneration is that? We have seen people hanged that were regenerated in this fashion. Therehave been men that have lived all their lives whoremongers, adulterers, thieves, and murderers, who have been regeneratedin their baptism by that kind of regeneration. Oh, be not deceived by a regeneration so absurd, so palpable even to fleshand blood, as one of the lying wonders that have come from hell itself. But mayhap thou sayest, "Sir, I rely upon my baptism,inafter life." Ah, my friends, what can washing in water do? As the Lord liveth, if thou trusteth in baptism thou trustethin a thing that will fail thee at last. For what is washing in water, unless it is preceded by faith and repentance? We baptizeyou, not in order to wash away your sins, but because we believe they are washed away beforehand; and if we did not thinkyou believed so, we would not admit you to participation in that ordinance. But if you will pervert this to your owndestruction, by trusting in it, take heed; you are warned this morning. For as "circumcision availeth nothing, nor uncircumcision,but a new creature," so baptism availeth nothing.
I may have some here who are saying within themselves, "Well, if I do not go to heaven, nobody will, for I have been broughtup to my church as regularly as possible; I was regularly confirmed; my godfathers and godmothers stood for me in my childhood,and all after the right fashion. I have come here, it is true, but it is about the first offence I ever committed, cominginto this Schismatic conventicle; if it please God to forgive, I will never do so again. I always goto church, and I have no doubt that by taking the Sacrament and saying my prayers I shall go to heaven." Ah! you are awfullydeceived, for unless you are born again you must come back to the old standard after all-unless you are in blessed union withthe Lamb, unless you have found repentance for sin, unless you have true living faith in the Lord Jesus, you may keep allthese things, you may observe every jot and tittle, but the gates of heaven must be shut in your face, and "depart from me,I never knew you," must be your doom, even though you reply, "Thou hast eaten and drunk in our streets, and we have listenedto thy voice." No, my friends, be ye Presbyterians, Episcopalians, or Dissenters, it matters not, ye have your ceremonies;and there are some among us that rely upon them. This one truth cuts at the root of us all. If this be our hope, it is a fouldelusion. We just have faith in Jesus, we must have the new heart and the right spirit; no outward forms can make us clean.The leprosy lies deep within; and unless there be an inward work, no outward work can ever satisfy God, and give us anentrance into Paradise.
But before I close, there is one thing I want you to notice, and that is, that this ark not only could not give victory to Israel, but it could not preserve the lives of the priests themselves who carriedit. This is a fatal blow to all who trust in the forms of religion. What would the Romanist think, if I should tell him thathis outward forms can never save him; and how would he grind his teeth if I were to tell him, as I do, that the outward formscan never savehis priest, for his priest and he must be lost together unless they have some better trust than this! But we have evenin Protestant churches too much priestcraft. People say, "Well, if the Gospel does not save me, I am confident of the salvationof my minister." Rest assured that he that serveth at God's altar is no more secure from destruction, unless he hath a livingfaith in Christ, than you yourselves. Hophni and Phinehas are slain, and so must every priest be if he relies on ceremonieshimself or teaches others to do so. I cannot imagine a more frightful death-bed than that of a man who has been a priest-Imean a man who has taught others to trust in ceremonies. When he is buried, it will be said of him that he died in sure andcertain hope of a blessed resurrection; but oh! the moment after death, when he opens his eyes to see his delusion! whilehe was on earth he was fool enough to think that drops of water could save him, that a piece of bread and a cup of wine couldrenew his heart, and save his soul, but when he gets into another world he will lose this folly, and then will the thoughtflash upon him, like a lightning flash, writhing his soul with misery-Ah! I am destitute of the one thing needful; I had nolove to Christ, I never had that repentance which needed not to be repented of; I never fled to Jesus, and now I know thatthat hymn is true-
"Not all the outward forms on earth,
Nor rites that God has given,
Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth,
Can raise the soul to heaven."
Oh! how frightful then afterwards to meet his parishioners, to see those to whom he had preached, and to be howled at throughthe pit by men whom he was the instrument of destroying, by telling them to trust in a rotten foundation. Let me free myselffrom any such fear as that. As the Lord my God liveth before whom I stand this day-man, woman, my brother, my sister, in therace of Adam, if thou reliest on anything short of the blood of Jesus Christ, thou trustest in alie; and if thy salvation ends in anything short of a thorough change of heart, if it makes thee anything less than anew creature in Christ Jesus, the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself upon it, thou hast a religion which is notequal to the necessities of thy case, and when thou needest it most, it will reel beneath thy feet and leave thee withouta standing place whereon to rest, overwhelmed with dismay and overcome by dispair.
Now, before I send you away, let me make this last remark. I hear one say, "Sir, I renounce all trust in good works and ceremonies.Tell me how can I be saved?" The way is simply this. Our sins deserve punishment; God must and will punish sin; Jesus Christcame into this world and was punished in the room, place, and stead of all that believe on him. Your business, then, thismorning is to make this inquiry, Do I want a Saviour? Do I feel that I want him? And my business,if you answer that question aright is to say, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all thy heart, and thou shalt be saved.
Al! there is one in heaven to-day, I firmly believe, who was always a worshipper in this place, and at New Park Street-a youngman who was led here to listen to the gospel, and was converted to God; and last Sabbath morning was caught away to heavenin the burning house at Bloomsbury-one of those young men who was taken out of the ruins, one who had been brought to a knowledgeof the truth here. It is stated in some of the papers, that his mother was far from areligious woman, and was somewhat given to drink; he had to struggle with some temptation and opposition, but he was enabledto hold on his way, and then, in such an hour as he thought not, the Son of Man came for him, and caught him to himself inthe midst of flames and crashing timbers and the uprising of smoke. Oh! I may have one here, that, ere another Sabbath morningcomes, may be launched into eternity, if not by the same deplorable process, yet in as hasty a manner; and as my soulrejoices over that young man, to think that God should have honoured me in bringing him to Christ before he took him upto heaven, I must lament that there are any of you in a peril so frightful, as to be living without God, without Christ, withouta hope of heaven; to have death hanging over you, and yet not to tremble at it. Oh! this morning I beseech you, close withChrist. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, while his wrath is kindled but a little: for blessedareall they that put their trust in him."