The Touchstone of Religious Decision
Ashton Oxenden, 1882
It is not, I would think, at all likely that this book will fall into the hands of anyone who is openly and directly opposed to Christianity. But the reader may possibly be in a doubting, undecided, and wavering state of mind — neither for Christ nor against Him; drawn up to a certain point by religious influence — but pulled down again by the stronger attractions of the world.
What is the consequence? Such people are neither safe nor happy — not safe, because Christ disowns them; and not happy, for they know nothing of the peace, and joy, and comfort of genuine religion.
Even in worldly matters we despise a man who is undecided. A Physician may be a man of great cleverness and skill, but if he is timid and hesitating, we shall not care to have him by our bedside. An Officer in command of an army is powerless in action, if he lacks boldness and fixedness of character. A Farmer is not likely to succeed who has no definite plan or determination of purpose, in the management of his land; for 'he who observes the wind (That is, he who is always doubting about the weather), shall not sow; and he who regards the clouds shall not reap.' And is it different in spiritual things? No — a hesitating spirit imperils the soul, and that forever.
If there is one thing that I would recommend more earnestly than another, it is fixedness in religion — decision for Christ. It is necessary, for God requires it — you cannot be useful without it — and further, it is essential to your happiness.
God requires it. He is a jealous God. He says to us, 'My son, give me your heart.' He warns us, 'You cannot serve two masters!' 'Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads unto life!' 'The kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing — and forceful men lay hold of it!' 'He who is not with me — is against me.'
How displeasing it must be to our Lord to see the coldness and indifference of His professed followers — to see the earnestness which men show as regards their farms and merchandise, their gains and pleasures; and how indifferent they are about His glory and the salvation of their souls. Nothing less than real devotedness, and an actual surrender of the heart — in fact, nothing short of genuine conversion — will be accepted by Him, 'Unless you are converted, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.'
Again, you cannot be useful without it. The Tree which is profitable — is the tree that has firm hold of the soil, and is vigorous in its growth. The Stream which works the mill — is that which flows in a steady, onward course. The Statesman, who serves his sovereign and his country — is he who has a clear and decided policy, and who has fixed principles on which he acts. The man who prospers in life — is he who has a definite purpose of action, a clear course before him, and a fixed determination to carry out that purpose. Such a one, though on some points he may be less gifted than others, will be nearly sure to succeed.
Just so, it is the Christian whose mind is made up, who sees the right course and determinedly follows it, whose motto is, 'This one thing I do!' — he it is who works heartily for his Lord, and accomplishes great things for Him.
This decision is further essential to our happiness. There are, I believe, many who are sound enough in their religious views, and clear in matters of doctrine — who recoil from error as they would from poison, and speak of truth as if they really loved it. Yes, and perhaps they do love it. The doctrines of the gospel are welcome to them. Christ is to a certain extent precious to their souls. He is 'the ground and pillar' of their faith — the foundation of all their hopes. In time of danger and trial, or in the prospect of death, they fly to Him as their refuge, and cling to His Cross.
And yet they cannot say that He is the abiding joy of their hearts, that they are happy in His service, that they rejoice in His love. And why so? Since in a measure they run well — what hinders them from the full enjoyment of Christ? There is nothing wrong on the outside. No defect is perhaps visible. And yet, if they speak the truth, they will confess that theirs is not a happy type of religion. They hear of it in others; they know that there is a peace which Christ gives — but it is not theirs; they do not possess it; they are strangers to it.
Now, if we could look into their hearts, we would perhaps see the reason — they have never surrendered themselves entirely to the Savior; they have given themselves in part, but not wholly, to Him; they have kept back a little corner of their hearts for the world and for sin; they have not given Him ALL.
I am bound to tell you that you will never be happy so long as, like Ananias, you keep back a part of your offering. Christ will have it all — or you can be none of His. Let me then urge you at once to make this surrender — honestly, truly, and deliberately. That will indeed be a marked day in your life, when you resolve to consecrate yourself, with all you have and with all you are, to the Lord.
Many, I know, make such a resolution as this under special excitement. Their feelings are wrought up to a high pitch, and in a moment of fervor they exclaim, 'Christ shall have all my heart!' But then, when they get back again into the chilling world, their hearts, like the heated iron, return to their hardness. It is so with thousands, and it is this which brings religion into contempt. And therefore I exhort you to make this surrender honestly, truly, and deliberately. Sit down and count the cost. Think what you will lose, and what you will gain, by such a step. You will lose perhaps the world's approval, and the world's friendship. You will lose the pleasures of sin for a season. But oh, how great your gain will be! You will gain Christ! You will gain Heaven! You will gain eternal life! Yes, count the cost — and then yield yourself up wholly and unreservedly to your Lord.
And now for a few PRACTICAL WORDS OF ADVICE.
We all of us in these days enjoy many and great religious advantages. Books, and Scriptures, and teachers are all near at hand to us. We have abundant means of grace, both public and private. Depend upon it, these things must have their effect upon us. They cannot leave us as we are. Ask yourself then: What effect are they having upon me? Are they moving my sluggish heart? Are they stirring me up to newness of life?
Oh, if the Spirit of God has brooded over you, convincing you of sin, and making you feel its exceeding sinfulness and misery — showing Christ to you as the one only remedy for your guilt, as the priceless Savior of the lost — if He has awakened in you the desire to lead a new and altered life — then I would say to you, and that with all affection — do not trifle with convictions. If it is God's work, do not tamper with it. Do not quench that gracious Spirit who has spoken to you. Do not allow the world to choke the good seed. Do not allow its business, its cares, or its pleasures — to draw you aside. Do not allow Satan to tempt you with the fatal idea that you may at some other time give yourself to the Lord. No, it is now — or perhaps never.
Go, my brother, or my sister, and when no eye is upon you, on your bended knees before God say, 'Lord, I give myself to You! Accept me, and make me Your forever!' And pray, pray earnestly, that God will give you grace and strength to be true and faithful to Him.
Go out into the world, and with feelings, and desires, and hopes altogether changed — live for Christ, live for Heaven. Desire only to do the will of God, and to serve Him heartily during your little day of life.
In following Christ you will find many difficulties, but God will give you all the help you need. His House will be open to you, and you will find great help in Public Prayer, and under the preaching of the Word. The sacred feast of Christ's Body and Blood will be spread for you, and you will receive strength in that most precious ordinance — spiritual food to sustain and refresh your soul — a blessed means of uniting you more closely with your Lord.
And remember too, the way is ever open for your drawing near to Him in private. He is always on the mercy-seat, ready to receive you. 'Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.'
Finally I entreat you . . .
by the love and gentleness of Christ,
by that love which brought Him down from Heaven for you,
by that love which has borne with you day after day, and year after year,
by that love which is ready to welcome you and make you His
— give Him your allegiance, give Him your heart, give Him the little remnant that is left of your life. Come to Him as you are, not waiting to be fit — but in all your unfitness, and all your guilt. Come to Him as the Physician to heal you, as One who is able and willing (oh, how willing!) to pardon you, and wash away your sins in His own blood. Believe Him when He says, 'I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins.'
Come to Him now — tomorrow may be too late. And may God give you grace to adopt the Psalmist's resolution, and to experience the Psalmist's joy, 'My heart is fixed, O God! My heart is fixed! I will sing, and give praise.'