“A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, In the Middle and Higher Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity” London 1779
Condensed and in modern English by David Greentree, Melbourne 2014
Ch.1 Inadequate conceptions of the importance of Christianity
People call themselves Christians but just don't see how important Christianity is, or even what it is.
They praise ethical behaviour and complain about corruption and lack of public morals. They tolerate a bit of churchgoing, maybe they know a few of the basics but they don't have a clue what Jesus was really on about.
Look at how they raise their children. They would be embarrassed if their kids grew up not knowing the rules of football, but never teach them the facts of Christianity, or explain why it is true. It has just become an inherited bit of superstition, instead of a truth that can be explained and defended against objections. No wonder thinking young people are rejecting it for other philosophies as they grow up.
Wake up! You really won't like what this country turns into if Christianity falls. Look at the recent French revolution: If Christianity had been really alive in France, the revolution would never have happened – real Christians would have reformed corrupt church and society before then. Instead they got the Reign of Terror, the guillotine, and dictatorship. We need public discussion about Christianity in this country.
People reply: No! Religion should be private.
Well then, lets look at this “private religion” they say they have. How about their private conversations: How often is their Christian faith mentioned alongside their hopes, fears, joys sorrows. How often do they credit God with the good things they enjoy. Never! What about when they discuss great moral issues, does their Christianity show through. No! Their standards of right and wrong are not those of the Gospel. Wherever they got their moral ideas from, it was not Christianity! They might have Bibles on the shelf, but they obviously don't read them.
Most people take as morals the commonly received maxims of our “Christian” culture without realising that these are often very different from what the Bible actually teaches.
This behaviour: not teaching the great truths of Christianity to our children and not bothering to check our moral rules against what the Bible says is deliberate ignorance. Don't people who say they are Christians realise they will have to answer to God for this? Don't they realise this deliberate ignorance must look criminal to God? We are going to have to answer to God for every missed opportunity to do good. How much worse for us when God promised his Holy Spirit to lead us in our quest to know the things of God and instead we have chosen deliberate ignorance.
And why is it in the Christian faith alone that we think we don't need to make some effort? Nothing else in life is like that. Even if you are a gifted athlete you still have to train hard to win. The same with every other field of human endeavour. Yet people think they can be Christians without labour, study or enquiry. This is even more stupid considering that Christianity is a revelation from God not a human invention. So we certainly cannot become proficient in it if we delude ourselves that it comes naturally.
If we study the Bible seriously we might stop being deceived by appearances. We might see that this is no mere philosophy but the power of God for salvation in Christ. We would see that it calls us not just to be religious and moral, but to understand doctrines and principals and to practice the precepts of Christ.
“Christianity is always represented in scripture as the grand, the unparalleled instance of God's bounty to mankind. It was graciously held forth in the original promise to our first parents; it was predicted by a long series of prophets; the subject of their prayers, enquiries and longing expectations. In a world which opposed and persecuted them, it was their source of peace and hope and consolation. At length it approached – the desire of all nations – The long expected star announced its presence – a multitude of heavenly host hailed its introduction and proclaimed its character; “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace goodwill towards men.” It is everywhere represented in Scripture by such figures as may most deeply impress upon us a sense of its value; it is spoken of as light from darkness, as release from prison, as deliverance from captivity, as life from death.” (Wilberforce's text)
So Christian faith is a priceless treasure from heaven freely offered to us. Yet people ignore it or hold it negligently as though it had no value.
It is common sense Christians should study their Bibles: “Faith comes by hearing: Hearing by the word of God” and “Be ready to give to everyone a reason for the hope that is in you”. But “Christian” people don't read the Bible – so it is no wonder they know so little and are so full of wrong ideas about Christianity.
One reason Christians don't study their Bibles is that they seem to believe that it doesn't matter what they believe as long as they sincerely believe it. How silly is that! Jihadist terrorists sincerely believe they are serving God as they slaughter innocent civilians – do we think that makes it right? Of course not! What you believe does matter. (NB Jihadist terrorist is my updating of Wilberforce's 18th century examples)
So, God gives you these wonderful promises and encouragements in the Bible. you are told it is a precious gift that others did not receive: “Many prophets and kings longed to hear the things you hear but did not hear them” Yet you chose to remain obstinately ignorant of the way that leads to life. How do you expect to escape punishment for this on God's day of judgement!