After describing the “religion of the heart, not of the head,” scripture-less sermons of his contemporaries, a certain writer then focused on the consequent religious condition of the people. He wrote,
The religious condition of the people very greatly corresponded to the teaching
of these preachers. The native common sense of some told them, that if God
gave a revelation to man, it certainly was one that man can understand. That
it was unreasonable God should give a revelation of his will, and then need an
interpreter of it to the very men, for and to whom he gave it, so they studied it
for themselves, and learned many of its truths…
But the masses of the people did not study the Bible, made no effort to learn
what God had revealed in this Book to men, looked at it as a sealed Book to
them, made no effort to a religious life further than to live a respectable moral
life, obey the laws of the land, and maintain a reputable character among their
fellowmen…The religious life was one of impulse and feelings, days of sunshine
and cloud, moments of joy and hope, succeeded by long periods of doubt and
despair. They had no though of regular, faithful, self-denying obedience to God
bearing the fruit of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost.
(Lipscomb, David. Life and Sermons of Jesse L. Sewell.
Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1891. p. 35-36).
Lipscomb wrote concerning those in mid-19th Century Tennessee, but it was probably true of mainstream America at the time. They experienced different religious influences, particularly the ideas of hardline Calvinism. Yet, how similar it sounds to even our own day. Some are willing to hold themselves personally accountable for knowing the Bible, God’s written revelation. They know they need to study and follow it, and they are open to do that. Yet, the masses still try to live a self-guided, vaguely “moral” life of doing good things without learning for themselves what God’s instruction book says. As the result, they meander through life in a sort of rudderless fashion. That is, they have no concrete guide and show no serious interest in what God wants them to do. At least, their interest is not great enough to drive them to read, study, and try to understand the Bible.
We have an obligation to seek searchers and point them to “the Book.” We also have a responsibility to ourselves, to faithfully delve into the Sacred pages, discern God’s will and then be changed by it. The masses will likely always be as they were in Lipscomb’s and our day. Our task is to go deeper and help others do the same.