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prophets from age to age, — the Roman Catholic and Protestant saints, Saint Francis, Charles Borromeo, Wesley, the Huguenots, Channing, – to rouse men from their dreary sleep in routine and sin.
But there is always danger, not only of too little religious emphasis, but also of wrong emphasis. We may lay stress on unessential things till we fail to see what is essential. That was why Jesus blamed the Pharisees. They insisted on matters of secondary importance; they gave tithes of mint, anise, and cummin, and forgot the weightier matters of the law, — judgment, mercy, faith, love. They put the religious emphasis in the wrong place.
So now the emphasis in religion is put in the wrong place when it is laid on profession, ritual, sacraments, creeds, instead of upon life and character. The prophets never committed this mistake. “ To what purpose the multitude of your sacrifices unto me ? saith the Lord: I am weary to bear them. Cease to do evil ; learn to do well. Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow,” is the message of Isaiah. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter," says the Book of Ecclesiastes. “Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man." “What doth the Lord require of thee,” said the prophet Micah, “but to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God ?” And Jesus summed up the whole law in love to God and man.
The perfect emphasis of the life of Christ has been one source of his authority over mankind. In him everything had its proper place,- nothing excessive, nothing wanting. The great purpose of his being was to do the will of his Father, to be about his Father's business, to finish the work given him to do. But while the main current of his course ran steadily toward this end, he could also feel for human sorrows, help the sufferers, be glad with the happy, and weep with the sad. So his life was full, rounded, and harmonious. This is what Paul means by “the fulness of the stature of Christ.”
The other day I saw that a man had put on his wife's gravestone the words, “She was saved by the atonement of Christ.” But the atonement, as usually understood, is a doctrine about Christ, and no one can be saved by such a dogma. The emphasis was wrong. How much better the inscriptions in the Catacombs : “She is safe in Christ," "She is at peace in God,” “She rests in hope.”
We sometimes listen to speakers who, by emphasizing every sentence and word, fail to make anything emphatic. A like harm is done by religious talk, which carries words about religion into everything, and so becomes cant. But when a man who is not in the habit of talking about his religion says a single word which shows his faith in God and eternity, it makes an impression on us. Abraham Lincoln did not generally pass for a religious
His religion was too deep down, too far in, for many words. All the more we value the evidence we have of it. We learn from Mr. Chase that when Lincoln finally told his Cabinet that he was determined to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, he said: “I have waited till I am sure the time has come. The nation is ready for it. The best men demand it. Besides," he added, in a low tone, as if speaking to himself, “ I promised my God, when Lee was driven out of Maryland, that I would do it.” When an earnest man says a thing like that, we know that he has been walking with God.
To put the right emphasis into our lives, we also must walk with God. Churches, Sundays, Bibles, are important as influences; but the emphasis of life must go beyond them all, down to that region of the soul where man is alone with his God. That alone gives us strength in our weakness, comfort in our sorrow, and makes our life here lean the right way. We must have an inward personal conviction, a faith which goes below all language, which is like that of a child who simply holds his father's hand and so feels safe. God comes near to us when we might be afraid to come near hiin. So he fills our days with sweetness and strength, lifts us above forms, solemn words and looks, reliance on ritual, worry about opinions and churches, and gives us a life hid with Christ in himself.