Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Steele In Our Spines: Invisible Religion

The meditations under this listing [Steele In Our Spines] are from Richard Steele's The Properties And Privileges Of An Upright Man, first published in 1670.

The great business of the upright heart is inward religion, universal religion, and constant religion.

He is a student and practitioner of inward religion. He is diligent in the outward acts of it also (that he has in common with the hypocrite), but his greatest  study is to be good within. Romans 2:28-29, "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly [that is, he is no Jew as to the esteem and acceptance of God, or as to the spiritual covenant], neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh [to wit, that is not the circumcision which God chiefly looks at and which a man is chiefly advantaged by]; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly [that is, a saint in soul], and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter."

It is not water on the face, but blood on the heart which makes a saveable Christian. O sirs, what change has there been on your spirits? What fear, love, and sanctity is there in your hearts? Look to this, or else you will break your bubbles. And then it follows, "who praise is not of men, but of God," that is, whose aim and honor is not to be praised by men, but by God. The upright man trades in invisible things.

The upright man studies to obtain invisible graces. Psalm 45:13, "the king's daughter is glorious within." In the hidden man of the heart lies the beauty of an upright man: to be dressed with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, with a composed and serious spirit, with a penitent and believing spirit. Ah, beloved, how like many of us are to the river which Athenaeus mentions, whose upper waters are sweet, but brackish at the bottom; like fine clothes, silk without and canvas within; a smooth carriage and an unpolished, uncircumcised heart.

But the upright man would not be so. He does not look at things that are seen, but at things that are not seen. Grace and glory are the study and ambition of the inward Christian. The hypocrite may be forward for unsanctified gifts. Simon Magus would give money for such. Oh, the time, cost and strength that many men spend to attain the gifts of knowledge, prudence, language, elocution, memory, and such like, who never spend a serious thought, to attain the graces of repentance, faith, self-denial, sincere love to God, and godliness! But this is the great design in the upright heart: "Oh, that I may be stored with the saving knowledge of my God and of myself! Here's an ordinance. Oh, that I may have my faith increased, my love enflamed, and the back of my patience strengthened by this holy duty!" These are the pearls our merchant seeks.

The upright man studies to perform invisible duties. There is an outside and an inside part to religion. The bended knee is the outside part in prayer; the broken heart is the inside. To read two or three chapters in the Bible each day is the outside part; to feel the efficacy of it is the inside. To reprove another man is the outside part; but to watch over your own heart is the inside. To draw out your purse to a poor man is the outside part; but to draw out your heart in pity to him is the inside part of the duty.

The hypocrite may, and often does, excel in the former, but the upright man is diligent and careful in the latter. He can pray in secret, and is no stranger to self-examination, meditation, ejaculatory prayers, and soliloquies, those retired acts of religion; nay in these is his excellence. He is a saint in secret, the holiest when alone, a busy man in an ordinance. He wrestles as well as makes supplication, and sweats at that which others sleep at.

The Pharisee in Luke 18 had the larger oration, but the publican had the more penitent heart. The scribe might have more dealing with the Law, but the apostle delighted in it in the inward man (Romans 7:22), and so does every upright man. His best wares are within, out of sight. It is the tradesman's custom to have all his wares for sale, but in his warehouse and closet are his choicest things. Even so the upright man will be exact and diligent in all his ordinary and visible duties, but his masterpieces are within. He performs invisible duties.

The upright man studies to conquer invisible sins. These are the sins that he might go to his grave with, and nobody was ever aware of them; yet these he labors to rout. A hypocrite, on the contrary, prunes off the sins that will shame him, but nourishes the sins that will damn him. Open drunkenness, uncleanness, oppression, and profaneness a hypocrite disdains; but meanwhile he lives perhaps in some of these secretly, or at least takes no pains to subdue proud, wanton, envious, and other inward motions that do as much war against the soul as other sins. The hypocrite shaves the hair, but the upright man plucks it up by the roots.

2 Corinthians 7:1, "let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit." There is a filthiness of the spirit which he who would perfect holiness will be cleansing himself from, such as the habits of unbelief, impenitence, hardness of heart, pride of spirit, dullness in God's service, and such sins as atheistic, loose, impertinent thoughts, wandering thoughts in the worship of God, envy at his neighbor's riches or reputation, and carnal contrivances to satisfy the lusts of the flesh. These break his sleep and fill his prayers, which never cost the hypocrite one penitent thought. The upright man knows that as the filthiness of the flesh will make him a beast, so the filthiness of the spirit will make him a devil; and therefore he assaults his invisible sins.


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