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OF THE FORM, AND THE POWER OF GODLINESS.
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.—2 Tim. iii. 5.
THE third thing propounded was, to give some marks, whereby we may know when these are separated, when there is a form of religion without the power of it.
I need not insist long upon this, because this will in a good measure appear by the account I have given of these two severally, of the form of religion, and of the power of it; for he that considers where in each of these consists, will easily judge when they are separated. But yet, that we may be sure not to mistake in a matter of so great concernment, I will instance in two or three gross and palpable characters of this, and they are so comprehensive as to contain most of the rest.
I. He hath only “a form of godliness,” who minds merely the external part of religion, without any in ward sense of it.
II. He that useth only the means of religion, without regard to the end and effect of it.
III. He that is grossly and knowingly defective in the practice of any part of it.
I. He hath only “a form of godliness,” who minds merely the external part of religion, without any inward sense of it. He that worships and serves God outwardly, but hath no inward reverence and esteem for him, who cares not, so the work be done 525and the duty performed, with what heart and affection he does it. This is a mere carcass of religion, which is so far from being pleasing to God, that it is intolerably offensive to him; for though it be outwardly an honour done to God, yet really and in truth it is a contempt of him.
And yet it is to be feared, that this is a religion which many in the world choose and content themselves with. They can serve God an hour together, and mention his name a hundred times, without ever thinking of him, or being affected with the business they are about: nay, which is worse, this is a religion which a great part of the world use and cannot help it; I mean all those who serve God in an unknown tongue. For how is it possible their minds and hearts can be concerned in a service they do not understand? They may possibly have a devout mind in general; but they cannot exercise any acts of devotion in the particular service they are engaged in. The best of men are apt enough to let their thoughts swerve, and go astray from God when they are worshipping of him, though they understand the service they are about; but when they do not understand, it is impossible their minds and thoughts should go along with it and be concerned in what is done. This is properly, and in the strict sense of the word μόρφωσις εὐσεβείας, “an image of religion and devotion, without any life or sense.” And if to have our bodies put in a devout posture, to move our hands, and lips, and eyes, without understanding the service we offer to God, may be accounted worshipping of him, this is a service that may be performed by poppets as well as men. “God is a spirit; and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” “In spirit and in truth,” in 526opposition to a mere bodily service, and external show of devotion. God, who is a spirit, must be worshipped with our spirits. He expects from reasonable creatures a reasonable service; and that service only is reasonable, which is dictated by our understandings, and accompanied with our hearts and affections: and to worship him otherwise, is to offer a sacrifice without a heart; it is to “offer the lame and the blind in sacrifice,” which would be an affront to our governor, much more to “the great King of the world.” Whatever we do in the service of God, we must “do it heartily as to the Lord,” because he is “the searcher of hearts, and all things are open and naked to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
II. He hath only “a form of godliness,” that useth only the means of religion, without regard to the end and effect of them. A man may exercise his understanding in the service of God, and his heart may be touched, and his affections moved in prayer, and at the hearing of God’s word, and the receiving of the sacrament; and yet this may be but a form of religion, if it go no farther. If we do not forsake those sins we confess to God, and daily beg the pardon of; if we do not truly and heartily endeavour that we may live godly, and righteous, and sober lives, as well as pray that we may do so; if the counsels and directions of God’s word have not an influence upon our lives; if we be not awed by the threatenings of it to leave our sins, and encouraged by the promises of it to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God;” we use the means of religion to no purpose, and we discredit the institutions of God, because we make no proficiency under 527them. We are just like the disciples of those for mal professors of religion, whom the apostle describes after the text, who are “ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It seems they used the means of instruction, and continued to use them, they were “ever learning;” but all this while they were under the dominion of sin, and the power of their lusts; “they were laden with sin, and led away with divers lusts,” and so they never attained to that which the apostle calls “the knowledge of the truth;” that is, such a knowledge of the doctrine of Christ, as is accompanied with a suitable practice, according to that of our Saviour: (John viii. 31.) “If ye continue in my word,” that is, if ye practise my doctrine, “then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Then men come to the “knowledge of the truth,” when it frees them from the slavery of sin. If our knowledge have not this effect it signifies nothing, and does not deserve the name of knowledge, because we know nothing in religion as we ought to know. (1 John ii. 2, 3.) Speaking of the knowledge of Christ, “Hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith he knows him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
III. He hath only a form of religion, who is grossly and knowingly defective in the practice of any part of it. And this sort of persons are those, whom the apostle particularly intended here in the text; for such were they whom he describes by this character, that they had “a form of godliness, but denied the power of it.” Under the garb of religion which they had put on, they were grossly faulty 528in their lives and practice, and mainly defective in many of the essential duties of Christianity; they were selfish and covetous, vain-glorious, and despisers of others, calumniators and slanderers, undutiful to their superiors, and unthankful to those that had obliged them, fierce and ill-natured, treacherous and false to their word, persecutors of those that were good, filthy and sensual; not that every one of them had all these vices, they are so many and gross, that no cloak of religion could have covered them; but the apostle means, that among those that made an empty profession of religion, these vices were visible, some of them in one, and some in another. And the living in any one of these, or any other of the like nature, is inconsistent with Christianity. The power of religion appears chiefly in the subduing of these lusts, and in the exercise and practice of those graces and virtues which are contrary to these. Here the very heart and life of religion lies, and these are the veins in which it runs; and if there be a failure in any of these main virtues of a Christian life, it is a plain case, that we are destitute of the power of religion, and do only make “a vain and empty show of it.” St. James instanceth, as one would think, in none of the gross est and most considerable of these, the government of our tongue; and yet he peremptorily determines, that the want of this virtue is enough to destroy all a man’s other pretences to religion: (chap. i. 26.) “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”
So that, by the practice or neglect of these main virtues of a good life, every man may examine and judge himself. This is the rule which our Saviour 529gives to try the religion of men by: (Matt. vii. 16, 17.) “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.” The force of which reasoning is this: that every tree bringeth forth fruit according to its nature, and by the kind and quality of the fruit, you may certainly know what the tree is. So by the good or bad action of men’s lives, you may know by what principle they are governed, whether the fear of God or the love of sin bear sway in them: the course of their lives will discover the bent and inclination of their minds, whatever show and profession they make to the contrary. “By their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, (there is some profession of religion) shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven;” (there is the power of it.)
I would, by no means, encourage men to be over-censorious toward others, there is too much of that spirit already in the world; but it is not amiss that men should be strict and severe toward themselves. And would to God men would bring themselves to this test, and examine the truth and sincerity of their religion, not by the leaves of an outward profession, but by the fruits it produceth in their lives. Every man that will but take the pains to look into himself, and to observe his own actions, may, by comparing the temper of his mind, and the general course of his life and practice, with the rules and precepts of religion, easily discern what power and efficacy religion 530hath on him. A man may as certainly know himself, and make as sure a judgment of his state and condition toward God in this way, “as a tree is known by its fruit.” Therefore let us not flatter ourselves; for if we indulge any lust, or irregular passion in our souls, and do not endeavour to mortify and subdue it; if we allow ourselves in any vitious practice in our lives, we do but deceive ourselves with an opinion of our godliness, and whatever show and appearance we may make of religion, we are certainly destitute of the power of it. True religion and godliness is an uniform principle, which inclines a man to all holiness and goodness, and does bias him against all known sin and wickedness. All the motives and arguments of religion, and all considerations of piety, are levelled against all sin, and tend to engage men to universal holiness of life. Bonum constat ex iutegris causis, sed malum ex quolibet defectu: The practice of any one vice is enough to render a man a bad man; but there must be the concurrence of all the parts of religion and virtue to make a man good.
I proceed to the fourth thing I propounded, which was to shew, that a form of godliness, without the power of it, is insignificant to all the great ends and purposes of religion. The great ends that men can reasonably propound to themselves in being religious, are these three:
I. The pleasing of God.
II. The peace and tranquillity of our own minds.
III. The saving of our souls. Now a form of godliness, without the power of it, is unavailable to all these purposes:
I. To the pleasing of God. External devotion, and exercising ourselves in the means and instruments 531of religion, and the profession of a right belief, or any other form of religion whatsoever, do not recommend any man to the Divine favour and acceptance, without the real effects of religion in a good life: nay, so far is it from this, that all forms of religion, destitute of the life and power of it, are extremely odious and offensive to him. Devotion in prayer, without a holy life, is but a rude and troublesome noise in the ears of the Almighty. “The prayer of the wicked” is so far from being accepted, that it is an “abomination to him.” He does not love to be invoked by unhallowed mouths, and to be praised by the workers of iniquity. Flattery is hateful to a wise man, much more to the infinitely wise God. He cannot endure that men should lift up eyes to him “that are full of adultery, and hands filled with violence and oppression, and tread his courts with feet ready to shed blood.” It is an affront to God to be worshipped by evil-doers, and to see men diligent in reading his word, and attending to his law, who break it every day. “Unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth, seeing thou hatest to be reformed, and castest my words behind thy back?” What God says of the sacrifices of the Jews, offered to him by “a sinful people laden with iniquity,” may be applied to the worship of Christians, who live wicked and abominable lives: (Isa. i. 11, 12, &c.) “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord? I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hands, to tread my courts? Bring 532no more vain oblations. Incense is an abomination unto me: the new-moons and sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meetings. Your new-moons, and your appointed feasts my soul hateth, they are a trouble unto me. I am weary to bear them. And when you spread forth your hand, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear. Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well.” This is that which God expects from us, the amendment and reformation of our lives, and without this all our religious addresses to him are nauseous and abominable. God does hardly any where in Scripture express so great a detestation of the greatest sins, as he does of the devotion of wicked men. I will but bring one text more to this purpose: (Isa. lxvi. 3.) “He that killeth an ox, is as if he slew a man: he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck: he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood: he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol.” What is the reason of all these severe expressions? because they were “the sacrifices of the wicked,” of those “who had chosen their own ways,” and “whose soul delighted in their abominations;” they worshipped God according to his will, but lived according to their own; and, therefore, they were to him no better than an assembly of murderers, and a church of idolatrous worshippers; for this is false worship, to offer sacrifices to God, and to devote ourselves to the service of our lusts.
II. Another end of religion is, the peace and tranquillity of our own minds. And this is not to be attained upon true and lasting grounds, by any form 533of religion without the power of it. Men may delude themselves with some false peace, and make a hard shift to stop the loud and vehement clamours of their conscience; but the guilt of any vicious course of life will frequently recoil upon them, to disturb and interrupt their peace, and to put out their false joy; their consciences will ever and anon give them many secret girds and lashes. For no man can knowingly live in the practice of any sin, but he must be guilty to himself; and whoever is guilty, hath received a secret sting into his heart, which is never to be taken out but by repentance, and a thorough reformation. God hath said it, and I doubt not but every sinner finds it true, “There is no peace to the wicked.” Especially when such a man is seized upon by sickness, and approaches in his thoughts near to eternity, then his drowsy conscience awakes like a lion out of sleep, full of rage and fierceness, and all his false peace and comfort vanisheth. “For what is the hope of the hypocrite when God comes to take away his soul?” It is, as Job elegantly expresses it, “like the spider’s web,” artificially wrought, but miserably weak, it can endure no stress, upon the least touch it breaks and vanisheth.
And this is no small disadvantage which a man that hath only the form of religion lies under, that in effect he loseth all the pleasure and satisfaction of religion; or if he fancy any hope or comfort to himself, it is built upon a false foundation, which, when it is tried, will endure no shock. This is the comparison our Saviour useth in this very case: (Matt. vii. 26, 27.) “Every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not (here is a form of godliness without the power of it) shall be likened to a foolish man, which built his house upon the 534and; and the rain descended, and the floods came f and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” But real and substantial religion is like “a house built upon a rock.” which no tempest can overthrow. “Righteousness,” saith Solomon, (Prov. x. 25.) “is an everlasting foundation;” it is a continual spring of joy and peace. There is a certain unspeakable contentment and delight arising from a good conscience, and from the sincere discharge of our duty, which a hypocrite is a stranger to, and is never admitted to the taste of. Now what an uncomfortable thing is this, for a man to take the pains to seem to be religious, and yet to lose the real pleasure of religion!
III. The great end of all, of being religious, is the saving of our souls. And this end a mere form of religion will certainly miss of. No external garb of religion will gain a man admission into heaven; there is no getting in there in masquerade, no prayers will then avail, though never so fervent and importunate. “Many shall say in that day, Lord, Lord, open un to us;” and yet he will bid them depart from him. Though we had heard Christ himself preach, and had received the blessed sacrament with him, yet this will not avail. So our Saviour tells us: (Luke xiii. 20.) “Then shall they begin to say, We have eaten and drunken in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets;” and yet he will “say unto them, I know not whence you are.” It is not a pretence to inspiration, no, though it were justified by miraculous gifts, that will then stand us in stead. “Many shall say in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name have done many wondrous works?” And yet these shall be rejected. Why, 535what should be the reason of all this severity? Our Saviour gives us a plain account of it; because they were workers of iniquity. Under all these several masks of religion, they were wicked in their lives.
It is not an orthodox faith, and the belief of all the articles of Christianity, that will save a man, without the works of a good life: (Jam. ii. 14.) “What doth it profit a man, my brethren, though a man say that he hath faith, and hath not works? can faith save him? Thou believest there is one God; thou doest well;” the devils believe this too, but they are not so vain as to hope to be saved by this faith; no, they know the contrary, and that makes them fear and tremble. “Know then, O vain man, that faith without works is dead.” Thou believest “in one Lord Jesus Christ, that came down from heaven to save us, that was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, and became man that he might bring us to God; that suffered and died for our sins, and rose again for our justification, and is ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, and from thence he shall come again at the end of the world, to judge the quick and the dead;” thou doest well to believe this: but if thou do not live accordingly, what will become of thee, when the Son of God shall come to judge the world? then the great inquiry will be, how we have lived? what good we have done? our Saviour represents the proceedings of that great day. “I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not:” therefore, “depart ye cursed into everlasting fire.” So that it seems here536the business will stick, upon the good and bad actions of men’s lives, and accordingly sentence shall be pronounced upon them. For “God will render to every man according to his works; to them that by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life: but to those that obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the gentile: but glory, and honour, and peace to every man that worketh good; to the Jew first, and also to the gentile:” for “not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” Still you see that it is to “the patient continuance in well-doing,” to “the obeying of the truth,” to “the working of righteousness,” that eternal life is promised: and “the wrath of God” is threatened to “them that obey unrighteousness,” to “every soul of man that doeth evil.—To the Jew first.” Why so? Because he had great advantage of coming to the knowledge of the truth, which is so much the greater aggravation of his wicked life, and makes his sentence so much the heavier.
Indeed, it shall be to men at the day of judgment likewise according to their faith, in a certain sense, that is, according to the doctrine of the gospel which they profess to believe, according to what our Saviour and his apostles have taught, that “the workers of iniquity shall depart from him, that without holiness no man shall see the Lord; and if we live after the flesh we shall die;” that “no whoremonger, nor adulterer, nor covetous, nor unrighteous person, shall have any inheritance in the kingdom of God, and of Christ.” This we profess to 537believe, and according to these declarations God will proceed with men at the great day. And he that believes this, and yet goes on in an impiety and wickedness of life, though his faith will not justify him, yet God will justify his faith, and make it good, when “he shall judge the world in righteousness.”
Thus you see plainly, that “a form of godliness” without the power, is insignificant to all the great ends and purposes of religion: nay, he that takes up in a form, does not only lose the advantages of religion, but he hath two great disadvantages by it.
I. He hath the trouble of making a show of religion, without the real benefit of it.
II. He incurs a heavier sentence upon this very account.
But these with the application I shall refer to the next opportunity.538
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