"There are only two religions in the world:
The true and the false.
All phases of false religion are alike. They all say:
'Something in my band I bring,'
The only difference between them being as to what the 'something' is.
The true religion says: 'Nothing in my hand I bring.'"
Lines well worth pondering are these, reader, and we beg you to consider them. You are, we will suppose, a religious person. Most people are. "Man," said an ancient philosopher, "is a religious animal."
You may have your particular ideas about religious questions, then; but are yours the true, or the false?
Recently, while presenting the gospel on the streets of a California city, we were often interrupted about as follows: "Look here, sir! There are hundreds of religions in this country, and the followers of each sect think theirs the only right one. How can poor, plain men like us, find out what really is the truth?"
We generally replied something like this: "Hundreds of religions, you say? That's strange; I've heard of only two."
"Oh, but you surely know there are more than that!"
"Not at all, sir. I find, I quite admit, many shades of difference in the opinions of those comprising the two great schools; but after all there are but the two. The one covers all who expect salvation by doing; the other, all who have been saved by something done. So you see the whole question is very simple. Can you save yourself, or have you to be saved by Another? If you can be your own savior, you do not need my message. If you cannot, you may well listen to it."
This we would press also upon you, reader, and for a few moments ask your attention to a picture drawn by Christ Himself of the only two religions. A word picture it is, and a graphic one. You will find it in Luke 18:9-14. It is the well-known parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The first is the doer, the man with "something" in his hand, which he offers God, hoping to buy a seat in heaven. Note his prayer: "God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." He is, surely, a representative man in the great Church of the Doers. What a handful he brings!—his character, his fasts, and his tithes. A Pharisee he is called, but he will be found under a score of other names. We have beheld him in the garb of Papist and Jew, Churchman and Dissenter, Unitarian and Evangelical, Theosophist and Spiritist, Buddhist and Brahmin, Mormon and Mohammedan, Christian Scientist and Confucian, Jezreelite and—what not? His robes are various; his prayers—the pith of them—are ever the same. Sometimes he quotes Scripture. Sometimes he rejects it.
We heard him once in the village church, telling how, by living an exemplary life, attending to religious duties, and keeping the commandments, he expected to go to heaven after death. His manner was earnest, his words were fervent. He had been advertised as a wonderful evangelist and revivalist. He dwelt much on reformation, lauded creature-righteousness, and had apparently forgotten that Christ had ever died, though he quoted the verse that says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," omitting to emphasize the fact that salvation must first be your own, and that this verse was written to those who are saints, or saved already.
Not long after, we listened to the Pharisee again, in the person of a Mormon elder, telling how his faith, his repentance, his baptism, the fact that hands had been laid on his head, and his good deeds, assured him, if he kept on to the end, of an exalted place after death; but not a word he uttered about the Lord Jesus—His cross, His death, His blood, His resurrection, or His Priesthood; and although he dwelt much on the doctrine of "justification by works," he neglected to tell his hearers that such justification was before man—not before God! What need of Christ if he could do so much himself?
We met this Pharisee also one day as a Spiritist medium, and asked him his ground of hope. He told us of his benevolence and righteousness, and vaunted loudly his earnest desire to "help the world," and "better his fellowman," but not a syllable did he utter of Him whom God hath made "to be wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption" to poor sinners who receive Him.
A few months since, also, we questioned a Chinese merchant as to whether he had peace in view of death. He said, in fairly plain English, that he tried to be a good man: he neither smoked opium nor gambled in the lottery (the two great sins of the Americanized "celestial"); besides, he worked hard and attended to the precepts of Kung Fu Tze (Confucius); so he saw no reason to fear. A Pharisee, though he wore a queue!
Different men were all these, and widely differing many of their views; but on one point they all agreed: salvation could be won by effort—no need for the Christ of God!
The publican in our chapter—how different was his case! Righteousness he had none to plead. Character he is almost ashamed to mention. "Me, the sinner," he cries, and beats upon his breast. Fasting and tithes he cannot tell of. Empty-handed he appears before God, his only hope that Divine love may find a way whereby Divine holiness may remain untarnished and Divine righteousness be fully vindicated, yet he, a guilty wretch, be saved instead of damned.
The latter he deserves. His true condition he does not try to hide. Has God, then, grace for such as he? and can He, without compromising the dignity of His throne, let the poor sinner go free—nay, more, justify him before that throne and bless him eternally?
He can. An apostle, once a Pharisee himself, but emptied at last of all his fancied goodness, tells us how, and in what name, it can be done. "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38, 39). Here, then, is that on which even the publican can rest. Here is the religion for the lost and helpless. Every phase of the false one says, "do;" but alas, he cannot do even what the law of Moses demands. He tries and struggles, but all in vain. To wash out the stain of one sin is, for him, impossible.
Blessed the message, then, that "true religion" brings. It tells that
"Christ, in death, has wrought salvation.
God has raised Him from the tomb."
Is this your ground of peace, dear reader; or do you belong to that great church started by Cain at the dawn of earth's long day, who hoped by fruits plucked with toil from a cursed ground to satisfy the claims of a holy God against sin, instead of, like Abel, resting on the blood of the sacrifice?
Only the two religions, then—only two today. Which is yours? Do you trust in self, or Christ? There is no third party on whom to rest. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5).