By John Angell James, 1846


My dear friends,
It appears to me that many people are far too limited in their ideas of the nature, design, and extent of practical religion. An individual upon being reproached for some dishonorable transaction in business as inconsistent with religion, replied, "What has religion to do with business?" The answer demonstrated either his ignorance, or wickedness, or both! But, if we may judge from their conduct, this is the sentiment of many professors, although, perhaps, they would not avow it. Are they not acting as if religion had nothing to do either with business, with disposition, or with our domestic and social relations? Are they not acting as if religion were a mere matter of opinion, devotion, or ceremony—a thing of the cloister, the closet, or the sanctuary, which is to be confined to its own retreats, and never to be allowed to approach the scenes of worldly business, and secular pursuits? Are they not acting as if religion were a mere rule to direct us how we are to behave ourselves in the house of God, and to regulate our worship; and which, having done this, has accomplished its object! Is not this, I say, the view which if we may judge by their behavior, many take of religion? But can anything be more inaccurate?

True religion is a permanent, all-pervading, unchanging principle, possessing a kind of universality of nature! It must go with us, not only into the sanctuary of God, or into the closet of private devotion, but into all places! It must regulate our conduct, not only toward the church, but toward the world! It must operate upon us and influence us, not only on Sundays, but at all times! It must dictate, not only how we pray, and read the Bible—but how we buy, and sell, and get gain. True religion has no exclusive time, or place, or sphere, of its own—but is a matter of all times, places, and scenes. Though heavenly in her origin, her nature, and her destiny—she is not so thoroughly ethereal as to turn away from the scenes of this mundane sphere, as beneath her notice and unworthy of her control. "Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech." Proverbs 1:20-21

The subject, then, of the present address is this, "Practical religion must be seen in everything!"

Consider your situation. You are united with society by various ties, and have corresponding duties to discharge, every one of which affords an opportunity for the exercise of religious principle. A man can as truly, though not as publicly and impressively, show his regard to principle and conscience, in the least transaction of a secular nature, as at the martyr's stake. The various claims of society afford as correct a test of moral feeling, as the claims of the church of God. Religion must be co-extensive, not only with our whole nature as constituted of body and soul, and as speaking, thinking, feeling, acting agents—but with all our relations to the world around us.

Dwell upon the commands of God. Take only two or three of these. What can be more explicit than the summary of the moral law, which is given by Christ—in supreme love to God, and equal love to man. The second is as obligatory as the first, and love to man in all the varieties of its operations and manifestations, down to the most minute offices for his comfort, is as essentially a part of religion, as love to God. Read also the apostle's comprehensive and beautiful exposition of this precept, "Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God's requirements." Rom. 13:10.

How explicit and minute is the direction given in Phil. 4:8. "Whatever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, think on these things." Observe, all these virtues relate to our conduct toward our fellow-creatures; and because there are some things we owe them which can be scarcely classified under any one of these particulars, the apostle puts in the general and delightful adjuncts, whatever things are "lovely," and of "good report." And how impressive is the word, so frequently expressed in the passage, "whatever things;" as if he had said, "all that is or can be imagined to be claimed on the ground of justice, honesty, truth, purity; everything which by common opinion is thought to be amiable, attractive, honorable, and praiseworthy—let this be done by those who bear the name of Christ." To this we may add one more passage, than which nothing can be said or thought of as more imperative on a professor, to let his religion shine out in everything, "Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God." 1 Cor. 10:31.

It is apparent, then, that God has taken our conduct—not only in the church, but in the world; not only in the sanctuary, but in the place of worldly business; not only to our Christian brother, but to our unconverted neighbor; not only in our devotional exercises, but our ordinary transactions—under his direction, and made it our duty to let our religion be seen in all.

It may be useful if I here point out those matters from which professors of godliness are too apt to exclude their religion, or in which, at any rate, they are not sufficiently careful to let it appear. They are ordinarily not deficient in their sabbath-day duties—they are regular in their attendance upon the services of the sanctuary; they are constantly present, and apparently devout at the sacramental table; they are perhaps often, or always to be found at prayer-meetings or weekly sermons; they keep up family-prayers; they subscribe money to public institutions for the spread of the gospel. They imagine that they are spiritually and heavenly-minded—but still there are some other parts of their conduct, in which their religion does not appear as it ought to do, nor is it any part of their care that it should—I mean their conduct toward their neighbor and each other.

You observe that all these points, in which I have supposed them to be attentive to their duties, relate to their conduct toward God—they are all matters of devotion. But devotion is only a part of religion; love to our neighbor, as we have already considered, is as truly a part of religion as love to God. Now it is really the case that there are many, who though very seemingly diligent in reference to the latter, are far too remiss in reference to the former. They attach great importance to spirituality, and heavenly-mindedness—at least, they talk much about them. But they are very lax in regard to some other things, which are as much their duty, as these more elevated and spiritual states of mind. Devotion is with them everything, but morality, in its higher, and more delicate, and refined character, is but lightly spoken of. They say they love God—but do not behave lovingly their neighbor. These people are generally known by a peculiar taste in regard to preaching. The only sermons they relish, are those which are full of comfort; which are addressed exclusively to the children of God; and which are of such a kind, as rather to excuse their imperfections, and make them happy in the indulgence of their corruptions, than to lead them on to higher degrees of sanctification. The enforcement of duty of any kind, even to God, is not a very welcome subject—but duty to man, is considered by them, to be all legality and bondage.

One matter which religion claims to regulate, but from which it is excluded by many people, is our DISPOSITION. If anyone should ask, "What has religion to do with our disposition?" I will answer this question, by referring him to the thirteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians. The whole of this exquisitely beautiful portion of divine truth, refers to disposition; and it is really very solemn to consider how imperatively and essentially necessary to salvation, the Holy Spirit makes the exercise of a good temper. The most splendid miracles, the most profound knowledge of sacred truths, the most consummate eloquence in proclaiming them, the expenditure of a fortune in supporting them, and the martyr's death in attesting them—will, we are told, be of no avail to anyone, if he has not the good disposition there described.

Nothing is religion in the absence of love; nothing can fit us for heaven but love; the very essence of religion is love to God for his own sake, and love to man for God's sake—we are to love our neighbor for God, and God in our neighbor. Can we love our neighbor, and yet indulge in habitual passion, malice, revenge? Oh, how much dishonor is done to religion by the bad dispositions of its professors; by the petulance and peevishness of one, the passion of a second, the sullenness of a third, the obstinacy of a fourth, and the resentment of a fifth. It is astonishing how any who habitually indulge in such dispositions, can imagine they are the children of the God of love, the followers of Him whose designation is "the Lamb," and the temples of that divine Spirit, whose symbol is a "Dove."

I am aware that there is something physical in the cause of bad dispositions, but they are still subject to moral control. It may be, that some find it much more difficult to restrain and manage their dispositions than others; and that some who take far more pains to govern their disposition, than those who are possessed of a natural amiableness, gain far less credit than the latter. The mischief and the blame lie in supposing that as bad dispositions are inherent in us, their indulgence is inevitable, and therefore excusable. If this be correct, all sin is inevitable and excusable, for it is all inherent. If, then, you would prove your regeneration; if you would carry on the work of sanctification; if you would promote the mortification of sin; if you would not have darkness of mind, and distress of conscience; if you would not grieve your fellow Christians, and disturb the comfort of those around you—subdue and regulate your disposition!

A professing Christian, red and stormy with passion, pale with anger, furious with rage, is a most inappropriate spectacle. How can the love of God or man be in such a heart? But it is not merely this excess of passion which is discreditable; but the waspishness, the touchiness, the moodiness, which many display—the sensitivity and susceptibility to offence; in short, the being easily offended, which so many exhibit without an effort to resist it. Your profession requires, my dear friends, a constant resistance of such dispositions—and it is one great part of religion to keep up this resistance. Your piety and principle should be ever at hand for this purpose; always near and ready to be applied, with all their mighty energies and motives, to suppress every rising unhallowed emotion. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Col. 3:12-15. This is the law of Christ, the rule of your conduct, the standard of your actions, the mold of your character. How tender the language, how touching the motives, how forcible the obligations! Renounce, then, the idea that religion has nothing to do with disposition; adopt the sentiment that your disposition must be governed by your religion—and by importunate prayer, constant watchfulness, and laborious effort—seek after the meekness and gentleness of Christ.

Another scene from which many are too apt to exclude their religion, but over the whole of which it should be seen to preside, is their SECULAR CONCERNS. Religion not only conducts on the sabbath-day to the house of God, and there says to us, "Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise;" but it also goes with us on Monday morning to the mart of business, and says to us, "Whatever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report—think on these things and practice them." Travelers tell us, that the Chinese set up the objects of their worship, not only in their temples, but in their shops. If, then, idolatrous Pagans place trade under the patronage and direction of religion; if they acknowledge that their divinities take cognizance of secular concerns; and that one part of divine service is justice to man, how much more should this be the case with Christians!

Yes, my friends, your religion must be seen by those who know you only as tradesmen, and have no opportunity of seeing you but in the shop. It must be at hand, ready for application to all the circumstances of life, and all the transactions of business. It must stand by in all sales, bargains, and contracts; it must prevent all over-reaching, undermining, and circumventing; all false depreciation of the article you wish to purchase, and overpraising that which you desire to sell; it must forbid all falsehood, fraud, and artifice; all selfishness and grinding extortion; in short, all that kind of conduct which would make others afraid to deal with you, and give the stamp and stigma to your character of a "sly one," "a hard one," or "a slippery one." It is a disgrace to professing Christians to have either of these epithets applied to them. They should be distinguished by all that is just, true, generous, and noble. They are commanded to let their light shine before men. Now this can only be done by being exemplary in the discharge of those duties which fall under public observation. Although those who are conversant with you, may make shrewd guesses by what they see in your outward deportment, whether you are a man of devotional feeling, yet they cannot trace you to the family altar, or to the closet of private prayer—but they can and will quickly and certainly know whether you are true and just, honest and upright, generous and trustworthy—or on the contrary, false and unjust, fraudulent and tricking, selfish and extortionate. And if they see a lack of principle in your transactions, they will of course suspect a destitution of religion in your heart, and resolve the whole of your profession into disgusting and odious hypocrisy. Let religion then be seen in your business.

The discharge of the duties of our social relations is another opportunity for exhibiting the influence of religion. Its excellence must be seen and its power felt, in making a happy HOME, and compelling a sojourner in the family, or a spectator of it, to exclaim, "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob; how lovely are your homes, O Israel! They spread before me like groves of palms, like fruitful gardens by the riverside. They are like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters." Numbers 24:5-6. Religion ought to give strength, tenderness, and sanctity—to all the relationships of life. It should make husbands and wives more affectionate and devoted—parents more kind, judicious, and vigilant—and children more dutiful, respectful, and attentive—masters more kind and just—servants more submissive and faithful. Religion is intended to be the magistrate of the social body, and the head of the domestic circle. We should all discharge the duties of our station piously; doing even common things as to the Lord, and for the Lord's sake. Like the stars of heaven, we should not only shine, but each in his own sphere. If we are unamiable at home, there must be something essentially defective in our Christian profession.

Nor is it of small importance that our profession should be consistently maintained ABROAD, as well as at home. It must, as an integral part of ourselves, go with us everywhere, and abide with us wherever we abide. We must take it as our companion in travel, as our associate in public, as our bosom and inseparable friend. They who constantly see us at home, and occasionally meet us abroad, should recognize the same unaltered and unalterable character; the same in the crowded metropolis, as in the retired village, and the same at the fashionable meeting-place, as in the rural retreat.

Religion should appear in our RECREATIONS and ENTERTAINMENTS, separating us from the follies and amusements of the world; allowing neither what is polluting, nor what is frivolous—not only keeping us from the theater, the ball-room, and the public concert, but, preventing us from turning our own habitations into the resorts of fashion and the scenes of light and dissipating entertainments. If, in the seasons allotted to relaxation from worldly business, anything more be necessary than the cheerful and holy communion and conversation of the godly—then the beautiful scenery of nature, the works of charity, the pursuits of science, or the exercises of devotion, should be enough. A Christian should appear to be a Christian, in his lighter as well as in his graver occupations.

Nor should even our POLITICS be placed beyond the control of our piety. A professor of religion has duties to discharge as a citizen, as well as a Christian, since he is a member of society at large as well as of the church—and it is a misguided sanctity, a spirit of fanaticism alone, that attempts to dissuade him from discharging the obligation he owes to the community. But then, he should act as a Christian, at the very time he is acting as a citizen. Instead of making his religion political, he should make his politics religious. It ill becomes a follower of Him whose kingdom is not of this world, to be a furious political partisan filled with hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, toward those who differ from him—and who would not scruple to use any means, however base, to ensure the success of his own party. Nor is it less contrary to the Christian profession to be seduced from the path his conscience dictates, by the arts of corruption, or to be intimidated by the threats of power. Religion should induce a man to carry his conscience with him, as his guide and protector, into all the scenes and circumstances in which he is required to act for his country, and he should ever give his voice or his vote, as he would do, if he knew he was to be called to account for that act the next moment, at the judgement of God.

But why do I particularize? "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 1 Cor. 10:31. I remind you again, your religion should be seen in EVERYTHING, in matters so great as to call for martyrdom, and so minute, as the least trifle of any single day's transactions. True religion does not consist, I repeat, merely of prayers, sermons, and sacraments—but of supreme love to God, and equal love to man, running out into all the endless varieties of application and operation, of which these sacred affections are susceptible. Like the blood of our bodily system, which does not confine itself to two or three large arterial ducts, but warms, vitalizes, and moves the man, and pours the tide of life and the impulse of activity through a thousand vessels, some of them almost too minute to be seen; so religion is the sustaining, moving principle of the whole of the new man, which is renewed in knowledge and true holiness, after the image of him who created him. True godliness is not to be confined to any special places, modes, or seasons of operation, but is to diffuse itself through all the thousand little acts that are every day performed, and in the performance of which we have an opportunity, and are under obligation to glorify God.

But this is not how the matter is regarded by the generality of professing Christians, if, indeed, we may judge from their conduct. For when religion is mentioned, the only idea that many are apt to associate with that term, is the performance of devotional exercises, or the indulgence of devotional feelings; forgetting that good disposition, the payment of debts, the fulfillment of contracts, the forgiveness of injuries, and the duties of home, are as truly a part of religion as the observance of the sabbath, or the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

And this is, in fact, the religion which the world expects of us. They demand of us, that we carry our religion into everything, whether we meet the demand or not. Do they reproach us with inconsistency only when we neglect private or public prayer? O no! What do they know or care about such matters? But when professors are passionate, revengeful, and malicious; when they are shuffling, artful, and fraudulent; when they are slippery, treacherous, and evasive; when they are unkind, unamiable, and oppressive—then they are ever ready with the taunt, "This is your religion, is it?" By which they mean to insinuate, that those who profess to believe in Christ for salvation, ought not thus to have belied a profession which binds them to be holy in all manner of living.

Consider how much injury has been done to the character of religion, by not taking this view of its universal dominion. One single defect has been enough, in some cases, to disparage a whole character—and one act of inconsistency, and that not a very considerable one either, has thrown its shadow over many excellences. It may be there were those who knew the individual by only that one transaction; they knew nothing of his general character, or his many valuable qualities, but they saw him in that one inconsistent act, and judging from the only evidence which has come before them, they are ready to condemn him as a base designing hypocrite.

What a beauty would invest the character which derives its symmetry from the pervading influence of true piety; the character in which religion is seen giving devotion and zeal to the Christian; justice and truth to the tradesman; patriotism and loyalty to the citizen; affection to the husband; fondness to the father; gentleness to the neighbor; kindness to the master; and charity to all—in which religion regulates the whole series of words and actions, running through the whole tenor of the conduct, and dictating what is right to be done in the ten thousand little occurrences that are ever transpiring in the business of life. What a character, I say, is this, in which all the greater virtues unite with all the lesser graces, and religion is the bond that holds them together. Such a character should every professing Christian present to the world, and he is no longer consistent with his profession, than while he is holding out such a pattern of excellence to mankind.

Permit me then, my dear friends, in conclusion, to admonish you with great earnestness and solicitude, to enter into the subject of this address. While you are intent on the acquisition of more and more of that Spirituality and Heavenliness of mind, and of the Assurance of Hope, which have been the subjects of the three preceding tracts—may you be equally solicitous to "let your light shine before men, that they seeing your good works, may glorify God your heavenly Father." Remember it is not religion as it appears in some few things, nor in many—but in all—that will do this. There can be here no compensatory process—no setting off excellences against defects; no balancing diligence in some matters against neglect in others. Depend upon it as a fact—that a partial religion, and a little of religion, dishonor God more than none at all.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. Herein is your father glorified, that you bear much fruit. Then will you not be ashamed when you have respect unto all his commandments. In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing, so that no one can speak a word of blame against you. You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them."