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Reading the Classics – Real Christianity (IV)

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We continue today with our effort to read through William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity. As you know, this book seeks to help the reader discern true faith from false beliefs. This week we come to the third chapter, “Inadequate Conceptions of God and of Christian Behavior.”

Incidentally, if you are interested in hearing a bit about “Reading the Classics” you can listen to the latest Boundless Show podcast. I was a guest on the show to talk about these books we are reading.


Wilberforce begins this chapter by laying out some of the very basic beliefs of the Christian faith and says that few churchgoers are so attentive as to be entirely ignorant of them. His concern, though, is that people can hear such great truths about human sin and God’s redemption and remain unmoved and unaffected. “Let the most superficial observer compare the sentiments and views of the bulk of the Christian world with the articles of faith that still appear in their creed. An amazing discrepancy must strike him! Thus, in the minds of the crowd, religion appears to be wholly excluded from the business world and the vanities of life.” In other words, the creed people profess seems to have no bearing on their lives. Says Wilberforce, “Vainly you strive to bring them around to speak on this topic. One would expect the subject of God to be uppermost in the hearts of redeemed sinners. But they elude all your endeavors. If you make mention of it yourself, they do not give it a cordial welcome; indeed they greet it with unequivocal disgust. At best the discussion remains forced and formal.”

Wilberforce uses this chapter to write about four topics, all of which fit under the heading of “Inadequate Conceptions of God and of Christian Behavior.” He says that people have an inadequate conception of Christianity as a faith. This is shown in an inadequate appreciation of Christ, an inadequate appreciation of the Holy Spirit and inadequate conception of Christian behavior. He then looks to the validity of emotions within religion, carefully defending his view that, though professed Christians have long turned to emotional fanaticism instead of true belief, it is presumptuous “to propose excluding from the Christian religion such a large part of the composition of man.” “Surely our all-wise Creator had just as valuable a purpose in giving us the elemental qualities and original passions of the mind as He did in giving us the organs of the body.” Our emotions must be subject to our reason, but they must still be exercised. And how do we know if these emotions are being used properly? We can simply ask this: “Do they motivate the love that keeps His commandments?”

He turns in the third place to inadequate conceptions of the Holy Spirit’s operations, saying “the tendency prevalent among the bulk of nominal Christians is to form a religious system for themselves, instead of taking it from the Word of God.” We see this in the neglect of the doctrine of the influence of the Holy Spirit. People prefer to follow their own religious systems instead of relying on the Spirit to point us to God’s religious system. And finally, Wilberforce looks at mistaken conceptions of the terms of acceptance with God. Such theology is, of course, absolutely foundational the Christian faith. “If anything is unsound and hollow here, the superstructure cannot be safe. That is why it is important to ask the nominal Christian about the means of a sinner’s acceptance by God.” Here we will find that many people rely wholly or substantially on their own efforts, not believing or understanding that the Christian must depend entirely on Christ.

I enjoyed these closing remarks:

The title of Christian is a reproach to us if we turn ourselves away from Him after whom we are named. The name of Jesus is not to be like Allah of the Muhammadans, or like a talisman or amulet, worn on the arm as an external badge and symbol of a profession, thought to preserve one from evil by some mysterious and unintelligible potency.

Instead, we should allow the name of Jesus to be engraved deeply on the heart, written there by the finger of God Himself in everlasting characters. It is our sure and undoubted title to present peace and future glory. The assurance that this title conveys of a bright turning toward heaven will lighten the burdens and alleviate the sorrows of life.

As I read this book, written centuries ago, I continue to be amazed at its relevance to our day. As the French say, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same).

Next Week

We’ll continue next Thursday with Chapter 4, “Inadequate Conceptions Concerning the Nature and the Discipline of Practical Christianity.” Do note that this is the longest chapter in the book. You will not want to leave it all until Wednesday evening or Thursday morning!

Your Turn

Reading the Classics Together is, at its heart, an interactive effort. If you have read the chapter and have comments or questions, please feel free to post a comment. If you have a blog of your own and have written about the book there, please feel free to leave us a link to your article.

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