22. THE ALMOST
In this day of outward profession, it is most needful frequently to reflect
how far a person may go in the way of religion, and yet prove nothing at the
last but an 'almost Christian'. This will prove to us the importance of
self-examination, since nothing is genuine that will not stand the test of
Scripture– that only touchstone of real godliness. A person may
have a clear knowledge of the Gospel way of salvation; be able to declare
the truths of Christianity with interest and edification; have much fluency
in prayer; he punctual in his attendance on the means of grace; engage
actively in religious and benevolent institutions; maintain family worship;
join the society of pious characters; abstain from worldly amusements, and
all outward immoralities: and yet, with all these shining appendages, be
only an almost Christian.
This, to many, may appear uncharitable, and lead them to exclaim with the
disciples, "Who then can be saved?" The fact is, all these important gifts
and talents may be possessed, and these active exertions may be made, upon
the principles of our 'fallen nature'. A man may have a taste for scriptural
studies, and a fondness for biblical criticism; he may have a natural
fluency of discourse; his connections may be such as imperceptibly lead him
to join the friends of religion in their activities, and, by degrees,
influence him to establish family worship, to separate himself from worldly
amusements and worldly associates; and yet there may be a total destitution
of evangelical principles. 'Faith working by love' may be a stranger to his
The Gospel declares, that "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is
none of his;" that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;" that
"except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
The work of grace being altogether 'spiritual and internal', its operations
must be felt and experienced in the heart. This work consists in a deep
humiliation on account of sin, both original and actual, whether of omission
or commission; in a deep sense and feeling of spiritual helplessness and
wretchedness; in a hearty reception of Jesus Christ, as revealed and offered
in the Gospel to perishing sinners; in a supreme love of Him who died to
save the vilest who come unto him in a childlike obedience to his will and
commands, however self-denying.
If these things be lacking, all else is nothing but dross in the sight of
God. All short of this divine work in the soul is only 'almost
Christianity'. It is painful to the friends of Jesus to behold many droop
and wither, who have given promising hopes of future excellence, and almost
confirmed the expectations of pious friends concerning their religious
These hopeful professors walk well for a season, but at length they begin to
draw back, by slow degrees, it may be, at the first; but, increasing in
their speed as they advance in the path of declension, they finally plunge
into the world, and thus verify the true proverb, "the dog is turned to his
vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." With
uneasy consciences, they endeavor to justify their return, by slandering the
lives of professors, and speaking evil of those things with which they were
never savingly acquainted. Such people, if they die in their apostasy, give
every reason to believe that they never knew the grace of God in truth; that
they never received the truth in the love of it. Hence the apostle John,
speaking of such characters, plainly says, "They went out from us, but they
were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have
continued with us; but they went out, that they might be manifest that they
were not all of us."
We may equally presume that they never tasted the inward blessedness of true
religion– peace with God and joy in the Holy Spirit, arising from a
believing, self-appropriating view of the atonement of Jesus.
When, therefore, their new mode of thinking and acting subsided; when
prosperity gilded their path, or persecution covered it with thorns; not
having root in themselves, and being destitute of saving faith, they became
weary of a service, in which their whole soul was never engaged. They cast
off a yoke, to them galling and grievous, and ran back again with delight
into the secretly beloved pastures of the world. "Demas has forsaken me,"
said the sorrowing apostle, "having loved this present evil world."
Where is the congregation of professing Christians, which does not from time
to time afford melancholy proofs of this hollowness of character, this
emptiness of profession, this influence of the world, to the grief of its
faithful pastor, and the pious part of his flock? Such awful characters may
be considered as spies, "pretending themselves to be just men," whom Satan
sends into the camp of the true Israel of God, in order to discover the
failings and infirmities of real Christians. These they traitorously expose
to the derision of an ungodly world, hoping thereby to bring discredit upon
the Gospel of Christ, and keep men more quietly in their sins. God can
indeed overrule all for good, but woe unto them by whom these offenses come.
It is, then, both awakening and alarming to reflect how far a person may go
in outward profession, and yet be a hypocrite with God; an almost Christian;
"a castaway." If the new creature in Christ Jesus can be so counterfeited,
as to deceive for a time the children of God, whose judgment is always
guided by that charity which hopes all things; how ought I to examine into
the principles, motives, and springs of my own actions, lest, after having
made a profession before men, I should be rejected as "reprobate silver" in
that day, when "the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is!" Oh
what need there is for sifting ourselves!
"Blessed Lord, make me an humble, sincere disciple. Let me not covet after
gifts, so much as graces; and after divine gifts, only that I may be useful
to others, and glorify you. I may live in the bustle of religious
institutions, while devoid of religious affections. I may be able to
advocate the cause of Christ, while destitute of a saving interest in his
blood. I may mingle in the companies of the pious, and yet be an utter
stranger to their spirit and experience."
Nothing will stand the test of the great day, but faith which works by love.
My soul must be united to Christ by a living faith, before my works can be
acceptable to a holy God. Out of Christ, I am a dead branch. In Christ, I
become fruitful, through the skill of the heavenly husbandman, who prunes
the living branches, that they may bring forth more fruit to the glory of
his grace. This blessed receiving of Jesus, through the power of the Holy
Spirit, will be accompanied by a gradual renewal of the soul into his image;
and this divine transformation will be productive of works of faith, labors
of love, and patience of hope. My heart will become the abode of peace and
purity. High and holy principles will be implanted in richer abundance. I
shall live for Christ. His glory will be my chief aim, his law my soul's
delight. Holy love will guide my movements, and become the unceasing spring
of holy actions. All my desires will be to him who loved me, and gave
himself for me. This is true Christianity. "Oh that I may feel the power of
this sacred truth Lord, save me from insincerity and hypocrisy, from
declension and apostasy. Let me not be satisfied with barren knowledge and
outward profession; but let your love rule in my heart, and shine forth in
my daily words and actions, until I am translated, through grace, to those
pure regions of unsullied happiness, where all your redeemed people shall
shine forth, as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, forever and ever.
Dear Jesus, fill my soul
With holiness and peace;
Arise with healing in your wings,
You Sun of righteousness.
May all beneath the sky
Usurp my heart no more;
May you be my first, my chief delight,
My soul's unbounded store.
In you all treasures lie,
From you all blessings flow;
You are the bliss of saints above,
The joy of saints below.
Oh come and make me yours,
A sinner saved by grace;
Then shall I sing with loudest strains
In heaven, your dwelling-place.
When standing round the throne,
Amid the ransomed throng,
Your praise shall be my sweet employ,
While love inspires my song.