J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was a 19th-century evangelical Anglican pastor and writer whose books have sold over 12 million copies. This article is adapted from his sermon “Authentic Religion,” found at http://www.BibleBB.com.
Authentic religion is genuine, sincere, honest, and thorough. I mean that which is not inferior, hollow, formal, false, counterfeit, sham, and nominal. Authentic religion is not mere show, pretense, skin-deep feeling, or temporary profession. It is something inward, solid, substantial, intrinsic, living, lasting!
We know the difference between counterfeit and authentic money—between solid gold and tinsel—between plated metal and silver—between authentic stone and plaster imitation. Let us think of these things as we consider this subject of authenticity. What is the character of our religion? It may be weak and feeble, and mingled with many defects. That is not the point before us today. Is our religion authentic? Is it true?
The Importance of Authenticity
Authenticity is a far more rare and uncommon thing than commonly supposed. I want men to see that “unreality” is one of the great dangers of which Christians ought to beware. What does Scripture say?
In the parables of Jesus, observe how many of them are intended to put in strong contrast the true believer and the disciple in name only. The parables of the sower, of the weeds, of the net, of the two sons, of the wedding garment, of the ten virgins, of the talents, of the great banquet, of the ten minas, and of the two builders all have one great point in common—they all bring out in striking colors the difference between authenticity and unreality in religion. They all show the uselessness and danger of any Christianity which is not authentic, thorough, and true.
Consider also the language of Jesus. Eight times in one chapter, we find Him denouncing some religious folk as “hypocrites,” in words of almost fearful severity—“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
How is it that our gracious and merciful Savior used such cutting words about people who at any rate were more moral and decent than the tax collectors and prostitutes? It is meant to teach us the exceeding detestableness of false profession and mere outward religion in God’s sight. Open wickedness and willful submission to fleshly lusts are no doubt ruinous sins, if not given up. But there seems nothing which is so displeasing to Christ as hypocrisy.
Further, notice that there is hardly a grace in the character of a true Christian of which you will not find a counterfeit described in the Word of God:
Is there not a false “repentance”? Saul, Ahab, Herod, and Judas Iscariot had many feelings of sorrow about sin. But they never really repented unto salvation.
Is there not a false “faith”? Without a doubt there is. It is written of Simon Magus, at Samaria, that he “believed,” and yet his heart was not right in the sight of God. It is even written of the devils that they “believe … and shudder” (Acts 8:13; James 2:19).
Is there not a false “holiness”? Joash, king of Judah, appeared to everyone very holy and good, so long as Jehoiada the priest lived. But as soon as he died, the religion of Joash died at the same time (2 Chronicles 24:2). Judas Iscariot’s outward life was as correct as that of any of the apostles up to the time that he betrayed his Master. There was nothing suspicious about him. Yet in reality he was a thief and a traitor (John 12:6).
Is there not a false “love and kindness”? Without a doubt there is. There is a love which consists in words and tender expressions, and a great show of affection, and calling other people “dear brethren,” while the heart does not love at all. It is not for nothing that John says, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Is there not a false “humility”? There is a pretended meekness of demeanor, which often covers over a very proud heart. Paul warns us against a forced humility, and speaks of having “an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility” (Colossians 2:18, 23).
Is there not a false “praying”? Our Lord denounces it as one of the special sins of the Pharisees—that “for a show make lengthy prayers” (Matthew 23:14). He does not charge them with not praying, or with praying short prayers. Their sin lay in this, that their prayers were not authentic.
Is there not a false “worship”? Our Lord said of the Jews, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). They had plenty of formal services in their temples and their synagogues. But the fatal defect about them was want of authenticity and heart.
Wherever I turn my eyes, I see abundant cause for the warning, “Beware of inferior religion. Be genuine. Be thorough. Be authentic. Be true.”
How much religion among some members of the church consists of nothing but “churchmanship”! They are members of the church. They are baptized in her baptistry, married in her sanctuary, preached to on Sundays by her ministers. But the great doctrines and truths preached from her pulpits have no place in their hearts and no influence on their lives. They neither think, nor feel, nor care, nor know anything about them. And is the religion of these people authentic Christianity? It is “Churchianity,” and no more.
How much evangelical religion is completely make-believe? You will sometimes see men professing great affection for the pure “Gospel,” while they are, practically speaking, inflicting on it the greatest injury. They will talk loudly of soundness in the faith, and have a keen nose for heresy. They will run eagerly after popular preachers, and applaud evangelical speakers at public meetings. They are familiar with all the phrases of evangelical religion, and can converse fluently about its leading doctrines. To see their faces at public meetings, or in church, you would think they were eminently godly. To hear them talk you would suppose their lives were tied up in all kinds of religious activity.
And yet these people in private will sometimes do things of which even some heathens would be ashamed. They are neither truthful, nor sincere, nor honest, nor just, nor good-tempered, nor unselfish, nor merciful, nor humble, nor kind! And is such Christianity as this authentic? It is not. It is a worthless fake, a wretched cheat and farce.
I write these things with sorrow. I have no desire to bring any section of the Church of Christ into contempt. I have no wish to cast any slur on any movement which begins with the Spirit of God. But the times demand very plain speaking about some points in the prevailing Christianity of our day. And one point which I am quite sure demands attention is the abounding lack of authenticity which is to be seen on every side.
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow