Religion And Life
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The Christian religion has a very practical bearing upon life and the issues of life. Through the mistakes of its friends, religion has been much associated with graveyards and death-beds. By the man of the world, religion has been thought to be a good thing for women, invalids, and those tottering to the grave in decrepitude and physical weakness. The remarks of Blaise Pascal, " that disease is the natural state of Christians," has not a few believers among the sturdy men of the world. It is thought to be a religion ill-suited to the business of life as well as the burden and work of life. But we hold this theory to be false. Religion is not only suited to the man as a man, but to the man in business and among all the busy relations of an active career. It is conducive to health of body, to contentment of mind, and happiness and peace to the soul. Religion is indeed the source of comfort and joy to man.
Religion is conducive to the development of sound physical health. It is spoken of by David as the saving health of the nations." And in another place the inspired writer says " with long life will I satisfy thee." And the reward that was promised for honor shown to father and mother was a long life upon the land which the Lord God should give. The Bible, by express command, lays upon the Christian a duty of caring for his body and its physical health. It is the body of health that is to be presented as a living sacrifice to the God of Glory. The man who is rightly informed in regard to the teaching of scripture upon this point, will regard his body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and he will never knowingly injure or corrupt that which is sanctified by that holy presence.
An intelligent christian would think it a great absurdity to kneel by his bedside at night, and pray to the Father to protect him while he slept and leave the windows of his room closed, with no chance for the pure air of heaven to get in. A man who should leap down a precipice and ask God to save him from being dashed to pieces on the rocks below, would be no more foolish in fact than he who prays for protection at the divine hands and insists upon doing that which is an injury to the body and ruin to sound physical health. Preachers, learned professors and certain prejudiced authorities to the contrary notwithstanding, we believe it to be wrong to smoke the nervous system into hysteria or burn the stomach with wine "doctored with strychnine and logwood." Habits of work, habits of dress, habits of eating and drinking, that do not conform to true ideas of physical health, are not consistent with a christian life and profession. Practical religion is, indeed, a friend to long life, and a protest against any form of dissipation that injures the physical health. Good men and women live longer than bad ones do. The sins of those who are given to evil practices kill them. A recent writer has said that he knew a hundred good old men, but that he did not know half a dozen bad old men. The reason is that they do not live to get old. They burn out their vitality in shameless crimes against the physical health before they attain to three-score years and ten. Lord Byron has given a vivid picture of the Legend of Mazeppa. He, himself, was that unfortunate rider upon the wild horse of his own unbridled passions.
And we all know how he died in the bloom of his manhood at the age of thirty-six. In the house of Edgar A. Poe, in the city of Baltimore, a black raven " sat upon the bust of Pallas, just above his chamber door." And that vision of gleaming eyes and sable pinions and hooked beak that forever pierced the heart of the poor poet was the terrible impersonation of delirium. He died at thirty-eight, a hopeless inebriate, and the author of " The Raven " fills a drunkard's grave. The hero of Austerlitz did not live past middle life. That mighty man, who stepped into the centre of Europe and the earth quaked and trembled, was killed by a snuff box. Thousands of people, in lesser walks of life, have sacrificed their lives and physical pleasure in some form of dissipation. In all such cases they die comparatively young. The strength of the physical system is soon exhausted by the strain that dissipation or overwork puts upon it. It will no doubt occur to the reader that professed christian men sometimes fall into grievous forms of error. You will say that they have become intoxicated, that they have stolen, that they have sometimes been guilty of murder; but the answer to such objections would be found in this : they have sacrificed conscience and morality before they threw away their religion. If a man were crossing a strong bridge over a deep running river, and should jump from the bridge into the water below, it would, not be the fault of the bridge if he were drowned and lost. If a man jumps from the solid ground work of his religion, and goes down in a torrent of temptation and vice, it is not the fault of his religion. It is doubtless the fault of the man. So when professors of religion do great dishonor to their professions, and bring discredit upon the name of religion, there is something essentially wrong in the character of the man. If the man had stuck to the bridge it would have carried him over. If a man will stick to his religion it will carry him through the angry threatenings of ten thousand temptations.
In England the insurance societies do not insure moderate drinkers and inebriates in the same class as those who do not use alcohol as a beverage. The man who is free from the drinking habit can receive a better rate of insurance. A reduction of seventeen, and in some companies, of twenty-three per cent. has been made in the premiums paid by total abstainers. This fact alone shows that the ordinary vices of life have a direct tendency to destroy the health and cause early death. Religion wars against these vices where-ever found, and by removing them tends, of course, to lengthen life.
We believe that religion is an aid to business success. Anything, which has a tendency to improve the man, to improve his integrity and character, to enlarge his power, makes him a better business man, whatever calling he may pursue. Religion strengthens faith, it gives a man confidence in commercial crises, and in the perplexities of business life. Then too, there is a Providence in the affairs of men in which it is right to trust. The man who puts his faith in God, and practices the simple virtues of a religious life, may be overtaken by misfortune, may lose his worldly possessions, may, indeed, find himself transferred from riches to poverty, but he is less likely to fall into such vicissitudes than a bad man is, and when you have plunged a business man into misfortune and poverty, you have by no means made his life a failure. It is rare, indeed, that the christian man seeks the artificial relief of cowardly suicide in such hours of darkness. When we look about us in the world wicked men seem to prosper. Their houses and lands and stocks are sometimes more than the possessions of those who serve the Lord, and it is sometimes a mystery why " the wicked doth prosper in his way." And if success were to be measured by this standard alone, we could not say that religion was a means of success; but we have shown elsewhere that success is the final result of good character, honorable dealing, the pursuit of high purposes and the accomplishment of high hopes and ends. We have said that the final test of success and the final test of sound character are the same in kind. If christianity, then, be the natural ground work and basis of good character, then surely it is an aid to business success, in the best sense of that word. It is thought that christian principles are inconvenient in business life. Indeed, it is widely believed that much of the mercantile and jobbing work of our great cities cannot be carried on along the lines of integrity and honest dealing. The author has heard a christian man say, that it was well nigh impossible to carry christian principles into Wall Street and Merchants' Exchange.
That it could be done and successfully done is abun dandy proved by the practice of the man who made the remark. He is a christian man and his life is inspired by christian principles, he is honest to the core and he has attained a wide success and accumulated many thousands in Wall Street. He has blessed the world with wealth accumulated there. One of the halls of a great seat of learning bears his name, and his benefactions to the cause of education and the cause of public charity is always counted by the thousands.
Religion is an inspiration to the mind and a help to happiness. It serves to quicken all the energies of the mind. It is not impossible for an evil minded man to attain to great learning, but the beneficial effects of that learning are apt to be check-mated by selfishness or vice. Religion leads directly to self-control, and this we have shown to be the best aid to education as well as every other good thing in life. In 188o there were 1518 convicts in one of the New York State prisons, and no less than one hundred of them were so ignorant that they could not read or write. In another prison, in the same year, there were fourteen college graduates, twenty-five graduates from academies, seventeen from high schools, and only eighty-seven out of eight hundred and ninety-seven without a respectable education. This shows that criminals and murderers and thieves may be highly educated, but their education be only a means of crime. Put underneath an educated life a truly religious life and this frightful degradation of talent and education would be impossible. The practice of evil habits always interferes with the process of education. That religion, then, that strikes a blow to evil habit leaves the mind unfettered to pursue its natural and legitimate work. It therefore tends to quicken the mind and increase its power to accumulate and make a proper use of knowledge. Other things being equal, the religious man is a better thinker and a better scholar than the irreligious man.
Religion is a direct aid to contentment and happiness. It quickens the mind by contenting it. The man who exercises great faith in God is able to main tain a quiet and peaceful spirit. The weariness and unhappiness which haunt the wicked man, flee from the mind of the religious man, his selfishness is subservient to a higher law. He can meet the disappointments and vicissitudes of life with firm hope and unruffled peace. His hope is in the future. He knows that the evils of the present time are not to be compared with the joy that shall be revealed hereafter. And hence, in the presence of great sorrow, a religious man can maintain a feeling of peace. Such contentment is a great aid to happiness. No doubt the Christian life carries with it some burdens of self-denial and self-control, but they are in themselves an aid to happiness, inasmuch as they save a man from those dangerous excesses and destructive tendencies which follow the steps of the wicked man. Indeed, it is only the man who enjoys the contentment of a religious life, that can exercise the moderation which is so necessary to success in life. The selfish man or the wicked man is impatient of the results. He is in haste to be rich, in haste to enjoy the pleasures of life, in haste to fly from one gratification to another. But this unseemly haste not only wastes a man's energies, but it destroys all reasonable hope of attaining the end which was sought. The burning haste with which men seek to accumulate wealth, hinders its acquisition. A man who is in such hot haste to mount the top of the ladder is quite sure to fall, from some misstep. It is one of the leading principles of sound business method, as well as of religion, that contentment and wisdom go slowly to the attainment of a given end. The wise moderation, of which the ancient philosophers spoke, was as beneficial in the life of the heathen as in that of the Christian. The logic, however, of the maxim did not correct the inherent selfishness of the barbarian ages, while, under the influence of religion, the principle does prevail. Religion, therefore, adds greatly to the sum total of human happiness.
The practical bearing of religion upon life cannot be over-estimated. Indeed, we believe that when the teachings of Christ come to be more perfectly under-stood, it will be seen that the fundamental principles of the New Testament morality will be strictly applicable to life in all its relations. We believe that in the age which is promised and in the age when the great moral principles of Christ's gospel shall triumph, the reign of peace and prosperity and universal success will dawn upon the world. Such an age when the meanness and selfishness of humanity shall be swallowed up in a life conformed to the life of Christ may will be called a millenium.
The practical utility of religion is now well assured. The church, as an institution, has won its way to a foremost place in our civilization. All classes of men, all grades of opinion, all nations of earth, find in the life and teachings of Christ the one inspiration to lead them out of human selfishness and human sin. Every other expedient, since the world began, has failed. Every form of penance, every empty ceremony, every false theory of morals breaks down at the vital point when some power must take hold of human weakness and raise it to divine power. This the religion of Christ can do. This no other religion can accomplish. Men have come back from all wanderings, from all false moral dogmas, to the Nazarene for rest and peace. In him alone are they found.