Preached by H. M. Riggle on June 5, 1913
You will find my text in Jas. 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
The epistle of James is sometimes termed the practical epistle. It deals with personal experience. Many of the epistles are more doctrinal. For example, Paul’s letter to the Romans is almost wholly doctrinal. It presents some of the most sublime doctrine contained in the New Testament. But the epistle of James deals not so much with doctrines as it does with practical everyday Christian life. It is called one of the pastoral epistles. It is also considered by scholars to be the first written book of the New Testament. Its tone and style of expression prove it to be a very ancient document.
Two thoughts are expressed in my text: 1. What is the religion of the Bible. 2. What is the visible manifestation of this religion.
The term religion is seldom used among us. When I was a boy, it was a common term. To be converted was to get religion. Today the term salvation has largely supplanted it, especially among spiritual people. Salvation pertains more to the inward experience of the soul, while religion rather expresses the result of that experience in the outward life. Religion denotes the influence and life, the feelings and acts of men, with respect to their relation to God. It is a system of faith and worship. First, I will consider what is the religion of the Bible.
Every possessor of salvation has pure religion. No one can have pure religion without salvation. Religion may be corrupted, and people may have many and various kinds of religion. Religion may be pure or impure. This is implied in our text. But with reference to salvation, there is but one kind. It can never be corrupted. All who possess it have the same experience.
The world is full of religions. The majority of the people of the earth today are zealous religionists. The eight hundred million heathen in darkened lands have their religions. In enlightened nations will be found hundreds of religions, the Catholics, Lutherans, Methodist, Mormon, Amish, Dunkard, Baptist, Universalist, Unitarian, and others. All these religions differ from each other in many particulars. Yes, in all parts of the earth will be found religions.
Religion is an effect. An effect so universal must have back of it a cause as universal as the visible effect produced. The cause is, God made man a religious being, religious in his very nature. This accounts for the religious zeal among all people of earth. But the world is filled with many false and corrupt religions, yet in the midst of them all there stands out prominently one religion that is pure, the religion of the Bible.
PURE IN ITS SOURCE
This religion is pure because the fountain and spring from which it flows is pure. Religion, like a stream, is as pure as its source of supply. If the fountain is unclean, the stream will be unclean. If the fountain is pure, the stream will be pure. Religion must be like its source. All religions that emanated from an impure source must be impure religions. Take for example, the pagan religions of the world. Why are they impure? I answer, because their source is impure. They were conceived in the minds of unregenerate men. The founders of many of these religions lived low sensual lives. The spirit of sensuality was infused into these religions by their founders, and the millions of poor devotees and worshipers partake of this same spirit. This accounts for the low state of morals in heathen lands. The worshipers of any religion are in moral character like the religion they embrace. And the religion is like its source.
Mohammedanism is another demonstration of this fact. The vile corrupting influence of this religion is seen in the low state of morals among its worshipers, and all because it emanated from a corrupt source. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” Not one. Let us come nearer home. The reason the devotees of the Mormon religion were polygamists was because the leaders and founders of this religion were polygamists, and men of low morals. Every religion founded by man can not reach a higher plane than its founder occupied. Every stream will reach its own level. It can get no higher. Human religions are animated by human life.
The religion of the Bible is pure because its source is pure. The fountain from which it flows is Jesus Christ. Glory to God! He is the blessed spring from which flow the sparkling waters of pure religion. All the worshipers of this pure religion are in moral character like the religion they embrace, pure in heart and life. In the midst of the thousands of muddy streams of false and corrupt religions, there flows one stream of the water of life, clear as crystal. Its sparkling waters have meandered down through the ages, and at last will disembogue into the vast ocean of eternity. Twenty centuries ago this stream came dashing down to earth, flowing out from the throne of God in heaven. Thousands and millions eagerly drank of its refreshing waters. Then during the dark ages of apostasy, it narrowed down to a very small rivulet. But as we reach the blessed evening light of the full gospel in these last days, it again broadens into a mighty stream “the waters whereof make glad the city of God.” It is the pure religion of the Bible. Thank God, we have found this stream. It is not of human origin, but is heavenly and divine. Unlike all other religions, it did not spring out of earth, it came from heaven. It was shut up in heaven for four thousand years, hid in the infinite wisdom of God. During that time no one saw it but in type and shadow. Only in type and shadow did the Old Testament saints drink of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. This religion is pure because it is divine. It comes to us from Christ, out of heaven, through the gospel. It is pure in its source.
PURE IN ITS PRINCIPLES
Its principles are lofty and ennobling. It will lift fallen man to the level of its source. In this respect compare it with other religions and philosophies. Among the world’s greatest philosophers were Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. These men taught a religion and philosophy by which they expected to lift humanity to the plane of moral perfection. In this they utterly failed. Jesus Christ was the greatest philosopher that ever set foot upon earth. He brought a religion from heaven that is pure in its principles, and so uplifting that all who embrace it are raised up to the plane of moral perfection. This religion brings us to the place where we worship the true God alone. In fact, it restores to man a true conception of God, and this intensifies our ardor and love in our worship of him.
A person will become in character like the object he worships. Your conception of that deity, while you worship and adore it, will mold your character into the same condition and state. I cite an example in the Northmen who as pirates made plundering expeditions along the coasts of Europe in the ninth century. Among the gods they worshiped were Odin and Thor. These were supposed to be bloodthirsty and cruel in the extreme. In the worship of these supposed deities the people partook of a cruel and bloodthirsty nature, such as was never equaled in the annals of all history.
The religion of the Bible differs from all other religions. It gives us a true comprehension and knowledge of God, and enables us to worship him in spirit and in truth. The result is, we become like him. “As he is, so are we in this world.” The better and fuller our comprehension of him, the more intense will our worship be, and the more will we be conformed in character to him. The stamp of holiness is upon the religion of Christ. It will produce holiness of heart and life in all who fully accept it. Its principles are holiness, truth, and goodness. As we embrace them, we are made better in every way. The religion of Jesus Christ demands a righteous life, and forbids all sin, and it gives us power and grace to comply with these demands. It is pure in its principles.
PURE IN ITS INFLUENCE
Every religion wields an influence either good or bad. This religion wields a pure influence. It produces pure desires and purposes in our lives. Yes, it will do that very thing for those who have fallen to the lowest depths of sin. Though your mind and heart may be filled with impure thoughts, desires, purposes, schemes, and plans, that dishonor God and ruin character, the religion of Jesus Christ will change the whole course of your life, and produce in you such pure motives in all you do, that your life will glorify God. It will gather the broken fragments of a ruined life and character, and build a holy temple for God to occupy. “I will dwell in them.” “The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
Pure religion will produce in you a pure speech and conduct; you will not talk and act like the world. It will put itself on exhibition in your life. It will shine out in your daily walk before your fellow men. Its influence upon others is pure; it holds before them a better and higher life, and thus wins them to Christ. The majority of us were brought to Christ through the godly life and influence of others. This pure religion in their lives convinced us, and thus we became the happy recipients.
In the words of our text, “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” a general principle is laid down. As I said in the beginning, there is a practical side to Christianity. Too many people see no farther than simply going to meeting, singing, praying, and having a happy time. To meet God’s approval means more than that. So many people can shout halleluiah; but when it comes to putting the principles of Christianity into practical demonstration in their daily life, they are not in it. Jesus went about doing good, ministering to the needs of the people. His was a life of self sacrifice; he pleased not himself. This was the example he set for us to follow. We are exhorted to be “full of good works.”
“As ye would that men should do to you, do ye likewise also so to them.” Visit and comfort the distressed, the bereaved ones about you. Feed the hungry, and share with the worthy poor. Give liberally of your means to the gospel, support the ministry. Let your profession of love be not merely in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth. Visit the widow in her affliction. Take her a basket of food, and some clothes for her children. This will appeal to her. Then tell her of Jesus’ love and power to save. Visit the orphans who are left without the protection of father and mother and home; visit them in their distress. If they need help, give it to them. You may thus win them to Christ.
O friends, it is going to take practical living to get men saved. The reward in the last great day will be given to the practical Christian. He will hear the King’s blessed words: “Come, * * * inherit the kingdom * * * I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. * * * Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
To those on the left hand the King will say: “Depart from me, ye cursed. * * * I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger: and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. * * * Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”
In the name of Jesus I ask tonight, Is the pure religion of the Bible visibly manifested in your daily life in such a practical way that you can undergo this final severe test? Will you, measured by this standard, be found on the right side or the left?
CLEAN FROM THE WORLD
“To keep himself unspotted from the world.” The course of this world is downward and hellward. If you would gain heaven, you must go the opposite direction. You will have to stem the great tide that is going to perdition, and start up stream. The world will if possible spot your affections, your conscience, and your conduct. It is an easy thing to get your affections on the things of the world; on your money; on your influence among the people; on their applause and honor; on the style and fashion of this gay world. To do so is to become spotted in your affections. “Set your affection on things above.” God wants our affections pure and untarnished. If you are not careful, you can reach out after the world, until your conscience will become so spotted, that it will approve of what you do. Conscience is unsafe unless educated to the Word of truth. Our conduct will be affected just in proportion as we go with the world. In order that we keep our conscience clean, and live a pure life before God, we must go squarely against the world.
Pure religion is visibly manifested in people keeping themselves unspotted from the world. Bless God, this is my experience! It is not only true in Jas. 1:27, but it is true in me. And may each one of you who is yet without this pure religion obtain this glorious experience.
Source: Gospel Trumpet. (1913; 2007). Camp-Meeting Sermons 1913 (pp. 17–24).