We were speeding across the plateaus of Colorado. My little son had taken a package of gospel papers and gone through the sleeping-car, distributing them to the jaded passengers. On my way to the platform shortly afterwards, a lady accosted me with the words, "I beg your pardon, sir, but I think it was your child who gave me this tract; was it not?" Replying in the affirmative, she looked up brightly and said, "You can't imagine how pleased I was to know there are other religious people on board besides myself. It is always a pleasure to meet those who are engaged in doing good."
She invited me to sit down in her section to chat together upon matters religious and philanthropic. After running on for some little time, telling of her church connection and the various good works in which she was engaged, she said, with great satisfaction, "It is so nice to feel you are of some use in the world, and that you love the Church and the Sabbath. So many people seem to have neither time nor taste for these things."
"Your last remark," I now put in, "is very true indeed. May I ask if you have been converted yourself?"
Her face expressed the surprise she felt at such a question, put so abruptly. She looked slightly hurt, as well as embarrassed, as she replied: "Why, I've always been interested in these things. My father was a class-leader, and I have an uncle and two brothers who are all clergymen."
"Indeed!" I answered. "And have you been converted yourself?"
"You do not seem to understand," was the grieved reply, "these things have always interested me. My father was a class-leader for many years, and my uncle and two brothers are earnest clergymen."
"Yes, madam, I understood all that; but I mean, have you been truly converted to God yourself?"
Looking at me in a bewildered manner, she said, "I guess it is I who do not understand you. I thought, when I told you of my father, and my relatives who are clergymen, you would see that religion runs in our family, sir!"
It was said with such evident sincerity that for a moment or two I was at a loss for a word, and could scarcely forbear smiling. Her simple, earnest manner appealed to me; and yet it was clear to me that she was building on a foundation of sinking sand.
"But have you not read," I asked, at last, "the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, "Except ye repent and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven?"
"Yes, sir, I remember the words," she answered, in a dazed kind of a way; "but in a religious family like ours—do you think they have the same application as to others?"
Faithfully as I knew how, I sought to show her that religion was not Christ. A moral and religious training, especially if the Bible be the text-book of instruction, is of inestimable value in the bringing up of a child; but morality and religion do not save sinners for eternity. Were it so, what place would there be for the cross of Christ? What would be the value of the blood of Jesus?
Religion may be handed down from parent to child. To use the lady's words, it may run in the family. But new birth is a very different, thing. Grace is not inherited. To every soul of man the words are addressed, "Ye must be born again."
In John 1:12, 13 we read of three ways by which people cannot become children of God. It says, "As many as received Him" (that is, Jesus), "to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
To this I drew the attention of the lady in whose family religion ran.
First, salvation, or new birth, is "not of blood." The child of godly parents is not "born regenerated," as I once heard a clergyman contend. Like all other sons of Adam, he is born in sin, and needs to be born anew.
Second, it is not "of the will of the flesh." Human resolutions, vows, determinations, turning over new leaves, and such like, "will never effect new birth. The flesh can rise no higher than itself. As "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," so all that springs from it, whether it be religion or aught else, is but fleshly too.
Third, it is not "of the will of man." Neither church, priest, nor clergyman, with all the ordinances combined, can make one a child of God. It is beyond the power of the holiest man on earth to re-create one soul.
How, then, can it be brought about? The last phrase gives the answer. It is "of God." He works through His Word. Believing that Word, trusting what He has said, the man is regenerated.
To the lady on the train all this seemed new and strange; and as I left her, she remarked, "Well, I have never heard it put this way before. I must think it over." What the result was, the coming day will reveal.
Undoubtedly she was but one of a large class who have never learned to distinguish between religion and Christ as a ground of hope. All who rest on religion, however earnest and orthodox, will find, in the day of the coming storm, that they have been building a house on shifting sands. When the rains descend and the floods come, the fall must be great; and it will be too late to choose a more secure foundation.
Those who rest on Christ, and stay their souls upon His words,"the word of the truth of the gospel," are building upon the Rock that never can be shaken. Creeds of men will change and fall; human systems will pass away; but Christ abides eternally—the resting-place of all who trust His love and grace.
Even though religion may run in the reader's family, do not, I beseech you, trust to the piety of godly ancestors or the devotion of loved relatives. Make sure you trust in Christ for yourself. He gave Himself for our sins, and through Him "all that believe are justified from all things."
Rest not till you can sing with assurance founded on the testimony of the word of God,
"On Christ the solid Rock I stand:
All other ground is sinking sand."
Copied from The Only Two Religions and Other Gospel Papers by H. A. Ironside. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Publishers, [n.d.].
Selections from The Only Two Religions...