Friday, 23 October 2009

True religion

"Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life."

William Lamb, British Prime Minister 1835-41

It's an understandable lament... viewed from a certain perspective. After all, what could be more delightful and fulfilling than being left to do exactly as I please in my own private life? What we want is a suitably undemanding religion with suitable guarantees for the afterlife. Or do we? Is that kind of religion worth anything? Does that kind of religion do anything other than soothe my conscience and allow my ego to carry on with whatever it fancies doing? We would ordinarily call that kind of arrangement a sham. Does it bring happiness anyway? I wonder if Lamb had really thought this through? Might the pain of his wife's scandalous affair with Lord Byron have been averted with a little meaningful 'religion'?

I can't really express how unappealing such empty 'religion' is to me. It's living a lie; a convenient way of fooling myself. Surely it speaks of an empty life - a need to atone for wrongdoing somehow, but a refusal to allow for any transformation. If wrongdoing really is wrong, then what could be better than to deal with it effectively? What could be more liberating? "No!" the world cries, "that's enslaving yourself to someone else's standards! That's not liberty!" The spiritual blindness shown in Lamb's opinion is just tragic, and all the more tragic because he speaks for multitudes. They cannot see the spiritual reality: 'Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?' (Romans 6:16). Rowland Hill, who died just 2 years before Lamb became PM, has something far more attractive to say (even if he looks so miserable in his portrait!):

"I would give nothing for that man's religion whose very dog and cat were not the better for it!"

This kind of attractive, comprehensive faith is the subject of a prayer I read this morning in The Valley of Vision - entitled by the compilers, 'True Religion'. The comprehensive sweep of its concerns over all aspects of life was what struck me.

Lord God Almighty,

I ask not to be enrolled amongst the earthly great and rich,
but to be numbered with the spiritually blessed.

Make it my present, supreme, persevering concern to obtain those blessings which are
spiritual in nature, eternal in their continuance, satisfying in their possession.

Preserve me from a false estimate of the whole or a part of my character;

May I pay regard to
my principles as well as my conduct,
my motives as well as my actions.

Help me
never to mistake the excitement of my passions for the renewing of the Holy Spirit,
never to judge my religion by occasional impressions and impulses, but by my constant and prevailing disposition.

May my heart be right with thee,

and my life as becometh the gospel.

May I maintain a supreme regard to another and better world,
and feel and confess myself a stranger and a pilgrim here.

Afford me all the direction, defence, support, and consolation my journey hence requires,

and grant me a mind stayed upon thee.

Give me large abundance of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus,

that I may be prepared for every duty,
love thee in all my mercies,
submit to thee in every trial,
trust thee when walking in darkness,
have peace in thee amidst life's changes.

Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief and uncertainties.

How much of this religion would William Lamb have recognised? Isn't it something so much better?

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