Formalism or Heart Religion

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” – 2 Timothy 3:5 

There are places of worship in our country today where all the outward things of religion are done to perfection. The building is beautiful. The service is beautiful. The singing is beautiful. The forms of devotion are beautiful. There is everything to gratify the senses. Eye, and ear, and natural sentimentality are all pleased. But all this time God is not pleased. One thing is lacking, and the want of that one thing spoils everything. What is that one thing? It is heart! God sees under all this outward show, the form of religion, put in the place of substance, and when He sees that He is displeased. He sees nothing with an eye of favor in the building, the service, the minister, or the people. If He does not see converted, renewed, broken, penitent hearts, then He is not pleased! Bowed heads, bended knees, loud amens, eyes lifted to heaven, all, all are nothing in God’s sight without right hearts.

There are many assemblies of Christian worshippers on earth this very day in which there is literally nothing to attract the natural man. They meet in miserable dirty so-called chapels, or in wretched upper-rooms and cellars. They sing off tune. They have feeble prayers and feeble sermons. And yet the Holy Spirit is often in the midst of them! Sinners are often converted in them, and the Kingdom of God prospers far more than in any Roman Catholic Cathedral, or than in any gorgeous Protestant Churches. How is this? How can it be explained? The cause is simply this, that in these humble assemblies heart-religion is taught and held. Heart-work is aimed at. Heart-work is honored. And the consequence is that God is pleased and grants His blessing.

I leave this part of my subject here. I ask my readers to consider carefully the things that I have been saying. I believe that they will bear examination, and are all true. Resolve this day, whatever Church you belong to, to be a Christian in “heart.” Do not be content with a mere form of godliness, without the power. Settle it down firmly in your mind that formal religion is not saving religion, and that heart-religion is the only religion that leads to heaven.

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 far better than a religion of heart.

Is heart-religion popular in our country today? I answer sorrowfully that I do not believe it is. Look at the followers of it among the congregations. They are always comparatively few in number. They stand alone in their respective congregations. They have put up with many difficult things, harsh words, censure, harsh treatment, laughter, ridicule, slander, and petty persecution. This is not popularity! Look at the teachers of heart-religion in the pulpit. They are loved and liked, no doubt, by the few hearers who agree with them. They are sometimes admired for their talents and eloquence by the many who do not agree with them. They are even called “popular preachers,” because of the crowds who listen to their preaching. But none know so well as the faithful teachers of heart-religion that few really like them. Few really help them. Few sympathize with them. Few stand by them in any time of need. They find, like their Divine Master, that they must work almost alone. I write these things with sorrow, but I believe they are true. Real heart-religion today, no less than in days gone by, does not have “the praise of’ man.”

But after all it is not important what man thinks, and what man praises. He that judges us is the Lord. Man will not judge us at the last day. Man will not sit on the great white throne, examine our religion, and pronounce our eternal sentence. Those only whom God commends will be commended at the judgment seat of Christ. Here lies the value and glory of heart-religion. It may not have the praise of man, but it has “the praise of God.”

God will proclaim His approval of heart-religion before the assembled world at the last day. He will command His angels to gather together His saints, from every part of the globe, into one glorious company. He will raise the dead and change the living, and place them at the right hand of His beloved Son’s throne. Then all that have served Christ with the heart shall hear Him say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! You acknowledged me before men, and I will also acknowledge you before my Father and His angels. You are those who have stood by me in my trials, and I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me” (Matthew 25:21-34; Luke 22:8, 28-29; Revelation 3:5). These words will be addressed to none but those who have given Christ their hearts! They will not be addressed to the formalist, the hypocrite, the wicked, and the ungodly. They will, indeed, see the fruits of heart-religion, but they will not eat of them. We will never know the full value of heart-religion until the last day. Then, and only then, will we fully understand how much better it is to have the praise of God than the praise of man.

If you take up heart-religion I cannot promise you the praise of man. Pardon, peace, hope, guidance, comfort, consolation, grace according to your need, strength according to your day, joy which the world can neither give nor take away–all this I can boldly promise to the man who comes to Christ, and serves Him with his heart. But I cannot promise him that his religion will be popular with man. I would rather warn him to expect mockery and ridicule, slander and unkindness, opposition and persecution. There is a cross belonging to heart-religion, and we must be content to carry it. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,”–“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). But if the world hates you, God will love you. If the world forsakes you, Christ has promised that He will never forsake and never fail. Whatever you may lose by heart-religion, be sure that the praise of God will make up for it.

– J.C. Ryle, 1816-1900, Formalism

 

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