'Still it should not be forgotten, lest any deceive themselves, that to talk about religion, ministers and sermons, missions and missionaries, religious schemes and books, revivalists and revivals, is not religion. Some have been the most fluent talkers about things who felt them least. Shallow rivers are commonly noisy rivers; and the drum is loud because it is hollow. Fluency and feeling don't always go together. On the contrary, some men are most sparing of speech when their feelings are most deeply engaged.' Dr Thomas Guthrie
How do we respond when people who we admire and look up to in the Christian faith fall very publicly? How do we explain it when it transpires that people have been leading a double life: pretending to be one thing in public but something else altogether in private? People use all sorts of cliches; 'we all have feet of clay', 'the best of men are men at best', 'who are we to judge?', 'but by the grace of God'. Of course they are all true. All of our hearts are deceitfully wicked, we are all guilty of hypocrisy. There are examples in the Bible of gross backsliding and saints leading a double life for a period of time. But for most of us who love the Lord, we have a sense of our own weakness, we are conscious of how dependent we need to be on the Lord. Yes we fall into sin but the true follower of Christ is unhappy in their sin and we seek to confess our sins and restore our relationship with the Lord. We hate duplicity and seek to follow a life of integrity. We would love to be holier and more like Christ. But what of those who cultivate a secret life over years or even decades? Those who appear to be pillars in the church? How can we explain their great zeal that turns out to be empty rhetoric?
I was reading this morning from Jonathan Edwards about the difference between great 'religious affections' (love, zeal for the things of God) and affections which are gracious and saving: 'It is no evidence that religious affections are of a spiritual nature and gracious nature because they are great.' Affections can be 'faux' - false or fake. Paul addresses this in Galatians where he talks in chapter 4 v 15 'Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.' There was no questioning their zeal but it was misplaced. He says a few verses earlier: 'I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.' The Galatians had great affections and zeal but had another gospel altogether (Galatians 1 v 7).
We see this so often with the Children of Israel. Remember how they were greatly exercised after crossing the Red Sea? They were full of praise for God and how he had delivered them but it was soon forgotten and the grumbling started. It was the same at Mount Sinai. Again they saw marvellous manifestations of God's power and holiness. It all seemed so promising. The people agreed to the book of the covenant and said in Exodus 24 v 7 'All that the Lord hath said we will do, and be obedient.' We are told that 70 elders went up with Moses and Aaron and 'saw God' v 10. It was not long before they were dancing before a golden calf.
We also see it in the life of Jesus. Those who saw him perform great miracles and cried Hosanna! were so quick to scream with the mob crucify Him! Those who screamed for his cruel death were the ones who he had fed, healed, taught and loved. As Edwards says: 'It is very manifest by the holy scripture, our sure and infallible rule to judge of things in this nature, that there are religious affections which are very high, that are not spiritual and saving.' We see this with Judas. He was so indignant when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus in John 12. Judas spoke up like a noble social reformer asking why the perfume hadn't been sold and give to the poor? Everyone must have looked on Judas with such admiration but little did they know what was in his heart. We have every reason to believe that Judas was a good preacher and there are likely people in heaven today because they heard the gospel through Judas.
It is not great affections that are a mark of grace, neither frenetic activity, but genuine love for God. The great question for all of us is 'are we in Christ?' A lifetime of Christian service, a long Christian heritage, a great reputation, the adoration of men and great orthodoxy will all count for nothing unless we are in union with Jesus Christ. If we are in Christ (the vine) we will bear good fruit. As Paul asks in Galatians 5 v 16 are we 'walking in the Spirit or fulfilling the lusts of the flesh?' Are we seeing the fruits of the Spirit in our life? Do we see love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self control in our lives in some measure? These are sobering questions for all of us. For those of us in the Christian life for many years we often feel our sin worse than when we first believed. But we know that without God's grace we have nothing. We are lost for time and eternity. We can deceive men but God sees and God knows. As Dr Guthrie says: 'It is not, therefore, what we profess, but practise; it is not what a man says with his tongue, or signs with his hand, but what he does with his heart, that settles his religion in the sight of God, and on that great day of judgement shall settle his fate.'