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It is clear, however, that the visitation of the widows and the fatherless is merely a specific term used to designate a general duty. The reference is to all unselfish service. Sin is self-seeking: the first step Godward is out of self into self-sacrifice. He who would be greatest in the Kingdom of God must be servant of all.
But, judged by this criterion, where is the perfectly religious man? Did ever one live in this world who so far forgot himself as to give himself wholly and unreservedly for his fellow-men? Yes, one. He stands alone as the religious exemplar of the ages. He came not to be ministered unto but to minister. He was everybody's friend. He forgot himself in remembering others. He heard the cry of the friendless in the porches of Bethesda ; he healed the sicknesses of those who were laid on couches along the way. Ministry was his meat and drink. His life is comprehended in a brief sentence, “He went about doing good.” Its end was at Golgotha; where, in the one mighty deed of self-sacrifice which set the pattern of beneficence for all succeeding ages, he "tasted death for every man.” This is the hemisphere of religion on its manward side. Let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. “To do good and to communicate forget not."
The being good is expressed in the words "and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
But just there is the difficulty. How shall one keep oneself unspotted from the world? The spot is there! Among all the children of men there is not one who does not realize it. The “damnéd spot, as Lady Macbeth calls it, is there and, despite all earth's purgings, it is there to stay. “All great Neptune's ocean cannot wash it clean.” How vain to speak or even think of “keeping oneself unspotted from the world” while that remains, the inera dicable stain of sin!
The first thing to be done, obviously, is to get rid of that spot. Is it possible? Do you know of anything that can wash it out? In all the religions of the world, save one, there is no suggestion of any means of doing it. The only plan which has ever been intimated is that which points to the Cross, saying, “Come now and let us reason together, saith Jehovah; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” A A man who is truly in quest of religion will not be satisfied with any which does not effect this purging. And if he is really sincere and in earnest, he will fall in with the one "pure and undefiled religion” which proposes to do it. Here is the proposition: “The blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin."
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
Lose all their guilty stains.”
The fact, however, that a fountain has been opened for uncleanliness has obviously no value except for such as take advantage of it. The remission of sins is offered “without money and without price"; but it remains for the sinner to appropriate it. The fountain is there; he must wash and be clean. This means that Christ must be believed in; as it is written, “He that believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.” He that so believeth is already saved, here and now. His sin is forgiven and his iniquity is purged. The spot is
This matter of prime importance having been attended to, all the rest of religion, so far as character is concerned, is “to keep oneself unspotted,” that is, to refrain from sin. This is possible in only one way. So long as a man keeps company with Christ he cannot sin. Try it, if you will. Try to do a wrong thing while Christ is walking with you. No man ever did it. Sin becomes possible only when we fling Christ off. It would never have been written that Peter "denied his Lord” had it not been written in a previous sentence that "he followed him afar off.” Our Lord has promised to keep those who keep in touch with him. In his sacerdotal prayer he says, "Father, I have kept those whom thou hast given me.” That word “kept” is a great word; and the secret of being thus kept is in practising the presence of Christ.
Religion impossible without Christ.-Now this is practical religion, as James defines it. And there is one inevitable conclusion; namely, Religion is impossible without Christ. One may call himself religious, may pay tithes and offer sacrifices and cry "Lord! Lord!” but he has not found that “pure and undefiled religion” which brings the soul back to God unless he has accepted him who said, "I am the way; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” You cannot go around Christ and get back to God. You cannot get rid of the spot without the cleansing of his blood. You cannot keep yourself "unspotted from the world” except as you are “kept” by him. And you cannot practise that unselfish beneficence in default of which religion is but an empty show without following in his steps.
The definition of religion is thus reduced to a single word, namely, Christ. He is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. He is first, last, midst and all in all.
It is related that a young ruler once came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" What he wanted was religion, but where should he find it? Jesus said, “If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments." His answer was, “All these things have I observed. What lack I yet?" He had done his best, but had not found religion. There was something still lacking. Then Jesus, bidding him part with everything that separated betwixt him and the better life, added, “Come, follow me.
This is the sum and substance of religion: to follow Christ. He is “the Way," and the only Way. All other ways are by-ways. All other leaders are blind leaders of the blind. Wherefore the only religion is the religion of Christ, since this alone can bind a sinner back to God.