IT is a fact which should furnish food for serious thought to those church members who are trying to reform the world by law, that the world is able to discern a reform which is most imperatively needed within the church. The church says that immorality is increasing alarmingly in the world, and that there must be legislation to stop it. The world in turn, points to a condition of things in the church which may with good reason be regarded as the chief cause of the downward trend in the world.
The greatest reformation that is needed to-day is in the church. Among those who realize this fact is the well-known evangelist, D. L. Moody, who for some time past has been conducting revival meetings for church members in New York City. Mr. Moody’s effort drew forth some pertinent comments from the New York Journal of November 17. The Journal noted that the mission of the evangelist was “not to those who are sunk in poverty as well as sin, but to the congregations of the various evangelical denominations,” and proceeded to observe that “the weakness of the class to whom Mr. Moody comes as a quickening preacher is a tendency to seek respectability rather than righteousness—to form their conduct not so much on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as on the traditions of their sects and the example of those around them. Hence it comes about that the atmosphere of a church is too often repellant to the sort of sinners who stand in greatest need of salvation, and of human help to lift them from the misery into which their ignorance, their passions or their vices, or all combined, have plunged them.”
Respectability is not righteousness. Respectability is worldliness, and from the Christian standpoint, worldliness of the most dangerous type, since it can be made the counterfeit of righteousness. And this worldliness is in the church.
“If Mr. Moody,” the Journal continued, “will tell his Christian listeners that severe respectability—as manifested in a disinclination to touch elbows with coats that are not of good cut, and repugnance to meeting on a cordial footing those who are not above a certain caste—gives point to the assertion so frequently made that the average city church is not much else than a social club for the exclusive use and enjoyment of the contributing members, he may broaden the minds and widen the sympathies of many excellent people who expect to be as well placed in the next world as they are in this.”
The class of people for whom Sunday laws are particularly designed, are repelled from the church by the Pharisaical atmosphere which pervades it, and religious zealots now seek by legislation to drive the unchurched masses into this repulsive atmosphere.
What is needed is not that the people should be driven into the church in its present state, but that the Phariseeism within it should be driven out, by the straightforward preaching of that living Word which is sharper than a two-edged sword.
The Journal belongs to that “ungodly class of papers which issue a Sunday edition; yet it can see and state clearly enough what is the matter with the church. “More warmth of heart, less fear of criticism, closer study of the Bible; more attention to the precepts of the sermon on the mount, and less to church custom; a real recognition of the essential brotherhood and sisterhood of all men and women, whether they be respectable or the reverse; and a genuine desire to model their lives as near as may be on that of Jesus, who was no aristocrat—if Mr. Moody will preach thus to the brethren and sisters who flock to his meetings, he may kindle a fire of godly zeal in this sin-suffering metropolis. And we trust that before the evangelist concludes his labors here he will explain to the churches fully why it is that, as they so loudly complain, they have lost their hold on the masses. Above all, it is to be desired that he will not neglect to give some sound advice to the preachers. They need it. Too many of them are worldly minded, and not a few of them are more ardent for the success of their political party than they are for the spread of Christ’s gospel.”
And it is the very class of preachers described in the concluding lines of this quotation, that are most forward in the demand for Sunday legislation. They are the men who are endeavoring to make Christianity succeed by political means.
The church is in no position to take offense if the world should quote to her the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself.” “First cast out the beam that is in thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” With the worldliness removed from the church, the church will see clearly that legislation is not the proper remedy to cure the immorality that is in the world.