|The Puritans were an excellent people with the right aspirations but the
wrong applications. It is up to us today to keep their aspirations, to glorify God in our lives and to
proclaim grace just as they did, but to
redefine the questionable applications. I refer only to some of their
applications as unfortunate. Certainly not all of their applications need redefining. After all as founders of
America, and as pillars of the
Reformation, they did a great thing in setting up a new, but not just
new, better and more spiritual aspirations for peoples than had heretofore been possible in Europe. And
they broke up the manipulating
monopoly of Rome.
The intentions of the Puritans were always good, no matter what mistakes they made. No matter how many they put in “stocks,” which is their popular image in the movies and cheap fiction, they did make real errors in judgments. All religions have and did. They as other religious folk of all faith and denominations made plenty of moral mistakes, but who doesn’t since human nature is as it is?.
Could we have done better? I imagine not. It seems to me, considering the “plus” so called “modem times” have had in the way of technology, wealth and opportunities, the modern peoples have done far worse. Those of modern times seem more backward than the people of former times who had better excuses. Those of modern times have changed simplicity into incomprehensible complexity, polluted whatever pure that was passed on to them, become materialists obsessed with getting, getting, getting, to spend foolishly, foolishly, foolishly, lost all spiritual bearings, laid aside the compass of religious faith and have brought the world to the edge of atomic disaster. Now people in this world can wipe life itself out.
After developing the technology capable of wiping out the world in fifteen minutes, the people of modern times now standing constantly on the threshold of possible disaster, may now realize how quaint and small the sins of the Puritans tended to be. In sins the Puritans were small time compared to the sinners of our so called modern yet really backward civilization. We of today have put down the stones to take up the rockets, but we are still living in the Stone Age of mankind. We yet see violence as the answer, and we will do so as long as we see materialism as the goal-- the two are intertwined. We lack the spiritual depth and interior lives the world needs to mature. But, let us be fair, the religions of today are so bigoted, busily fighting each other, they can’t supply the spiritual tools the world so desperately needs to survive.
Why? Because the religions of the world, generally like the Puritans, have the right aspirations but the wrong applications. They are involved in a thousand little ways of hating each other and trying to prove their religious superiority. In other words, the disease of mankind, its inflated and always pushy ego, has infected religion instead of having religion curing and healing the ego problem.
You know ideally it is supposed to be the other way around. The transcendence of religion is supposed to do healing in this world. In other words faith and spirituality are to help to alleviate the spiritual diseases of humanity so that people can at least get along with each other better because of it. Instead what has happened is humanity has given its spiritual ego diseases to the churches and religions. Now the major religions of the world and the denominations of Christianity are so sick from what they are supposed to cure, they can’t “do their thing.”
We might formulate it this way: the physician (religion) went to cure the sick patient (the world), caught the disease, and now they are both sick and unable to function. Can the blind lead the blind? I suggest, no. Is there a cure? What is the cure? I may speak in the spirit only the answers God has laid upon me for the Christian Church. So of what I think I know, I say this.
First the Christian churches need a rejuvenated relationship with God that is New Testament. There must be the vital source of energy in religion which is from a personal relationship with God. lt is useless to talk peripheral creed trivia as the liberals do, like questioning the Virgin birth. That is a discussion about holy things. That is not a relationship with God. You need a personal relationship with God or an awareness of God so strong you are motivated to apply it in your life. The only way Christianity can be learned is to be applied. Therefore, if you know God, apply Him in some concrete way. Don’t quibble about doctrine.
Then we come to a second problem with all the major faiths. They have not established a hierarchy of priorities in which love is first, though they agree on paper of the importance of love. The first Christian commandment is to love God. The second great Christian commandment is to love thy neighbor. (You do not love your neighbor because he or she may or may not be loveable. That is secondary. You love your neighbor because he is loved by God. In the same way you may not like your biological brother, but you do have caring and concern for him because he affects your parents. Your parents love him. If you love them then you care about him. What affects them affects you. That is love.
Perhaps you can’t stand your biological brother, but, you do not act in that way because as the Apostle says in II Corinthians 5:14, “the love of God constraineth us” only read it “me” instead of “us.” Where love does not transform, it must at least constrain, or there is not enough love to give you a motive to act upon, in which case there is no real love.
Genuine love calls forth an action. You must respond to love. But I would say to love, the loveable is good but a cheaper form of grace. To love the unlovable calls for an effort to be put in the task. You are then giving to God a higher costing Christian grace. You are closer to the way of the cross, but you must dare to be practical, since giving that quality of grace can wear you out. You will then understand why the Lord Jesus had to go off by Himself to restore Himself, or with a small group of friends go away from the crowd. I advise you to be as wise as He in this. Do not feel guilty when you go off to invite your soul.
The truth before God is love should come first and creed second. The Christian churches and all major religions of the earth have been placing creed before love as of late, a thousand years or so, a wink of God. This is quite wrong, but it is wrong. It is high time the churches caught up with the meaning of God as love. There is nothing wrong with the creeds in themselves since they often give the insecure a crutch, lay out a map, and clarify the confusing. But the creeds are a tool to holiness and salvation, not an end in themselves as they are often interpreted to be by members of the spiritual social organizations and clubs that hold them.
I believe in creeds. I would not be a Minister of God’s Word if I did not. I also know that love comes first and before them. Most creeds do not deny this, rather they suggest it. A religion that does not put love before creed is not necessarily a false creed since as our “ Westminster Confession” states “The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error...“ (Chapter XXV-Paragraph 5). In churches that are a mixture of grace and non-grace, light and darkness, which is all of them, it is to be expected there will be many believers without the proper priorities.
To achieve righteousness implies putting things in a proper order in your life. Worship also should be done in the right order and with dignity. Since our lives are our best worship, how can we not put love first in the order of our actions? Those are poor sorters and dividers of important spiritual values who put the creed of others as a qualification before loving them. No, here let the Word be preached. Now hear the Word of the Lord: Love first. Creed second. Their sins third. LOVE ALL ABOVE ALL.
Now, do not be mistaken, there are churches with some very false creeds. I know how some creeds are delusional to the point of insanity. Their commandments are bizarre. Some are cults. Some are self-serving and manipulative. There are political parties and social parties that are the same way, and I would not suggest you follow them, but I would suggest in Christ you treat everyone with love, including them.
You should remember it is still good love, but it is a cheaper cut of grace when you love them who think as you, as opposed to when you love those outside your world. God knows it is far easier to love those who love you and think as you. But as Jesus said “For if you love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans do so”?” (Matthew 5:46)
Do not just love those easy to love as the shallow show offs of complacent superficial religiosity will do! Rise higher to giving the grace that costs as Jesus gave us the grace that cost Him upon the Cross. Would you give Christ Jesus only cheap grace? If you were giving a dinner for Jesus and His apostles, when Jesus came to dinner, if you were well-to-do and having means, would you serve Him a cheap cut? Will you let your life be an easy story of giving only cheap and easy grace that comes naturally and takes no real effort on your part?
Of course easily given grace is a better gift than no grace, but is giving cheap and easy grace going to help you grow spiritually? lt will not train or call out the latent possibilities of the strength of God within you. lt will not develop your soul. Is this not one of the great meanings of life here on earth? That we are here to develop our souls which gives glory to God in the doing.
Development of the soul means effort and effort means accepting the challenge of giving a grace that costs. When we do this, we grow spiritually. The most satisfying form of growth is spiritual growth. In this as in life, often you “get what you pay for.” If you want spiritual growth, quality growth, the highest form of growth mankind may enjoy, you must give others the grace that costs you in effort just as Christ gave the grace that cost upon the Cross. Then you may gain a fuller understanding of what it means to be a more spiritual person.
One thing among others I am proud of in our Reformed, Protestant and Puritan heritage is that the Puritans never gave cheap grace. Anyone who has read the story of the Mayflower Crossing knows the trials and sufferings the Puritans underwent in coming to America were enormous, but the Puritans through grace and an enjoyment of the blessed transcendence of Christ in God prevailed. They were able to transcend spiritually and endure. Their aspirations were right and in the Mayflower their application of them was eminently blessed.
As the aspirations of Puritans are still ours in the spirit, to glorify God, the applications of today are different. Our jobs and tasks today in the Reformed and Protestant heritage are enlarged from the smaller communities of the Puritans centuries ago
We must now see the earth is not blown up. While we try to keep the world from exploding from wrong use of our technology, we must try to keep society from imploding from lack of applying the spiritual dimensions to real life. We must bring back to life the spiritual dimension, insert it back into society, while not forgetting the implications of technology for mankind’s material good, Body and Soul need to stay together on this earth, and we cannot, like the former unfortunate “liberal” generation, forget the soul as we try to better things for the body. To see and serve mankind as an entity that is a unity of the spirit and the material is our challenge.
We have a great challenge before us of reinserting “spirituality,” or the sense of the awareness that everyone has an immortal soul and so put soul back into the considerations of the world. The religions of the world are looking backward spiritually as long as they talk about love but drag the world into divisions over creeds and things.
We need to implement the duty of love first in the world without regard to creeds. I’m not sure some of the religions of the world can handle this. It is the calling of all religious groups today to help others see they can handle love first, creed second. Granted this will not be easy to do since some members of religions seem convinced they cannot make it in a free market. I believe they can, but tolerance is a difficult thing for the world to learn. However, tolerance there must be and there shall be. That is tolerance for different views and not uniformity. The Christian religion as well as the other religions.
Religions must learn to support Tolerance as well as advocate and teach it. That means the tolerant are going to have to put up with the intolerant for the intolerant are not going away as the tolerant appear. And we must give up the idea all truths and all religions are equal because we tolerate them equally. They are not. What the arrival of Tolerance really means is that surrounded by diversity people are going to have to judge better and think more.
I know a large segment of humanity would rather die than think. We can no longer offer them this option. Life in the new spiritual age is not going to be easy. The new spiritual age is not going to be brought in on cheap grace. It will be brought in on prayer, endurance and sacrifice, the way anything worth while of any type is brought in.
Of course the liberals are always amused when I exhort people to pray. They don’t believe in a personal God. They don’t believe in prayer. My father, a Presbyterian preacher, used to laugh and say the liberals (having no belief in God) thought they were as alone on earth as a Presbyterian in heaven (the Presbyterians believing they were The elected.) Generally, the liberals just want any belief in God to go away, far away.
Belief in God is not going away. People may argue what God is like, but many will always maintain there is a God and enjoy a proving relationship with Him. I had an experience of God which demonstrated there is a God. Other people throughout history have had these experiences. I see no reason why the experience of God, which reveals itself in a thousand different ways, is going to stop. I am also convinced belief in God is true, also instinctive to the human heart, put there by nature, and what a good thing that is!
The psychologist, William James, said, “the ultimate test for us of what a truth means is the conduct it dictates or inspires.” If this be true, materialism is not much of a truth. What conduct does it inspire? The obvious thing it offers is degrading and selfish economic conduct today to grab more money for the big fun later. The big fun later is justified by your ultimate end which is death and extinction. Game over.
On the other hand liberalism offers a life of excessive freedom and exaggerated selfishness, not any real consideration of the good of the group. You look after good old number one while maintaining a bleak view of a universe which is godless. I suggest for your profound consideration that neither liberalism or materialism is at all worthy of you or anyone’s giving their life to, or just having to suffer the degradation of living daily by their lack of moral philosophies. As for raising a child in them. God forbid.
I would suggest Christianity. Now by this I would not mean you assent to a dead creed in a lifeless church to become another passive person involved in churchy behavior: bobbing and bowing, ritualizing and reciting, being trivialized by creed and dogma. The church can kill Christ quicker than anything I know. But do not let it. Meet Christ and no other! How will you be aware of Him? You will know Him by His love. Try Christ before you turn from religion. If He does not answer at once, do not look for cheap grace. Keep trying. Settle for nothing but knowing His love.
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It may be of interest that this sermon was preached by Dr. MacLeod near one Thanksgiving in memory of the Puritan Heritage in America as he is of Puritan descent. Dr. MacLeod through his late father, a Presbyterian minister, is a descendent of the Rev. John Lothropp who entered Queen’s College, Cambridge, England, in 1606, and was ordained in 1609. He came to America under the persecutions of Archbishop Laud in 1634 to Scituate, Massachusetts, and was a minister at the Congregationalist Church there. Dr. MacLeod is a member of The Society Of The Descendents Of The Colonial Clergy.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.