(Guest minister Rev. Henry Ware, Jr.)
Religion, in a general sense, is founded on our relationship and accountability to our Maker; and it consists in cherishing the sentiments and performing the duties which result from this, and which belong to the other relations to other beings which God has appointed us to sustain.
Religion, with us, is the Christian religion. It is found in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. It consists in the worship, the sentiments, and the character, which he enjoined, and which he illustrated in his own life
What we are to seek, therefore, is, under the guidance of Jesus Christ, to develop our relationship to God, and to live under a sense of responsibility to Him and to perform all the duties to Him and them, deriving from this character and relationship. Whoever does this is a religious person, or, in other words, a Christian.
If we desire to be Christians, three things are required: belief in the truths which the Gospel reveals; possession of the state of mind which it enjoins; and performance of the duties which it requires: or, I might put it, the subjection of the mind by faith, the subjection of the heart by love, the subjection of the will by obedience. This universal submission of ourselves to God is what we are to aim at. This is Religion.
It is a rule of life; it is the law of God; causing the external conduct to correspond to the principle which is established, and the sentiment which breathes, within; bringing every action into a conformity with the divine will, and making holiness the standard of the character.
Love to God and man is declared by the Savior to be the substance of religion. As a law or rule, it is a commandment of God, requiring obedience. We are 'to do his will.' 'If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.' And, 'He who keeps my commandments, he it is who loves me.”
This is the personification of religion. This is the model which we are to imitate. And it is when we are imbued with this spirit, when we are filled with this sentiment, when our words, actions, and life, shall be only the spontaneous expression of this state of mind, we will have attained the religious character, and become spiritually children of God. We will have built up the kingdom of God within us; its purity, its devotion, and its peace, will be shed abroad in our hearts, and it will display itself in the manners and conduct of our lives.
To attain and perfect this character is to be the object of our desires, and the business of our lives. We must never lose sight of it. In all that we learn, think, feel, and do, we are to have reference to this end. Whatever tends to promote this, we are to cherish and favor.
It is plain, that this occurs only by a surrender of our entire lives to the will of God, in faith, affection, and action; by a thorough imitation of Jesus in the devout and humble temper of his mind, in the spirituality of his affections, and in the purity and loveliness of his conduct.
Anything less than this, any partial, external, superficial conformity to a rule of decent living or ritual observance, is wholly insufficient.
Who will hope to receive salvation without actual obedience? Where is it promised to those who will do nothing in the way of self-government and active virtue? Where is it offered to any, except those who seek it by, “bringing forth fruits in keeping with repentance?”
We must be on our guard, therefore, from the first, against setting our mark too low. We must not allow ourselves to be persuaded that anything less is Religion, or will answer for you, than its complete and highest measure. Remember that these things must be ' in you and abound.'
The higher you aim, the higher you will reach; but if content with a low aim, you will forever fall short. The scriptural word is Perfection. Strive after that. Never be satisfied while short of it, and then you will be always improving. But if we put a limit on our devotion and love, we will at some point believe we have reached it, and will remain in a condition far below what we might have attained.
Remember always, that we are capable of being more devout, more charitable, more humble, more devoted and earnest in doing good, better acquainted with religious truth. It is because people do not think of this, or do not practically apply it, that so many, even of those who intend to govern themselves by Christian motives, remain so deficient in excellence. They adopt a low or a partial standard, and strive after it sluggishly, and thus come to a period in religion before they arrive at the close of life.
Happy are those who are so filled with longings after spiritual good that they go on improving to the end of their days!
By Rev. Henry Ware, Jr. (April 21, 1794 - September 22, 1843.) Abridged and adapted from, “Formation of the Christian Character,” 1831.