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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 apostle in these words distinguishes two things in religion, which do not, but ought, always to go together; viz. the show and pretence of religion, and the life and power of it. He condemns neither, but blames the separating of them. The latter, in deed, cannot be without the first; for wherever religion really is, there will be some appearance of it: but the former may be, and often is, without the latter. Men may make a great show of religion, and yet be very destitute of the power of it. And such were those persons the apostle describes here in the text; they were guilty of the greatest faults and vices in their lives, but thought to cloak ail these by an outward show and appearance of godliness. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
The word μόρφωσις, which is here translated form, signifies the show or image of a thing, which is dead and ineffectual: in opposition to the reality and life, which is quick and powerful. And, I think, this word is but once more used in the New Testament, and much in the same sense; viz. for an empty and ineffectual knowledge of religion with out the practice of it. (Rom. ii. 17-20, 21.) The apostle there speaks of some pharisaical Jews, who 502gloried in their knowledge of the law, but violated it in their practice. “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and hast the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law. Thou, therefore, that teaches! another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest, a man should not steal, dost thou steal?” So that a form of godliness, signifies an empty show and profession of religion, without the real effects of it.
And they who are destitute of these, are said to deny the power of religion. It is usual in several languages to draw metaphors from words to actions; and men are said to contradict or deny any thing, when they do contrary to what they pretend; and so this phrase is elsewhere used, (Tit. i. 16.) “They profess to know God, but in their works they deny him.” (1 Tim. v. 8.) “If any man provide not for his own, especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith.” The apostle does not mean that such an one denies the faith by an express declaration in words, but by actions so contradictory to the. Christian faith, as an infidel would hardly do. “He hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
In the handling of these words, I shall do these four things:
First, Shew wherein a form of godliness consists.
Secondly, Wherein the power of it lies.
Thirdly, Give some marks and characters where by we may know when these are separated, when the form of godliness is destitute of the power.
Fourthly, Shew that a mere form of godliness, without the power of it, is insignificant to all the great ends and purposes of religion.
First, To shew wherein a form of godliness doth 503consist. In general it consists in an external show and profession of religion, or of any eminent part of it, or of that which is reputed to be so; and a form of religion is more or less complete, according to the extent of it. Some pitch upon one part of religion, and set themselves chiefly to make a show of that; others take in more parts of it, and endeavour to express and counterfeit them; so that the forms of religion are various and different, and not to be reduced to any fixed and constant standard; but they commonly appear in some one or more of these shapes:
I. An external devotion.
II. An orthodox profession of the Christian faith.
III. Enthusiasm and pretence to inspiration.
IV. A great external show of mortification.
V. An imperfect repentance and partial reformation.
VI. The appearance and ostentation of some particular grace and virtue.
VII. A great zeal for some party, or opinions, or circumstances of religion.
VIII. Silliness and freakishness, and either a pretended or real ignorance in the common affairs and concernments of human life.
IX. Much noise and talk about religion.
These are the several forms of religion which men are wont to assume. Not that these do al ways go singly; but sometimes men put on one, sometimes more of them, as may best serve their several turns and interests. Nor would I be understood to condemn all these; for several of these particulars which I have mentioned are good in themselves, and necessary parts of religion; but 504being destitute of other things wherein the life of religion doth consist, they are but a form of godliness.
I. External devotion. This is the most common form of religion, and easiest to be assumed, and therefore it is that so many take it up. And this is good in itself, and a necessary part of religion: but if there be no more than this, it is a mere image and picture of religion, abominable to God, and fulsome and odious to discerning men.
Now this external devotion shews itself more especially these two ways:
1. In a frequent and diligent use of the means and instruments of religion.
2. In a curious and nice regard to the modes and circumstances of performing these.
1. In a frequent and diligent use of the means and instruments of religion; such as prayer, reading, and hearing the word of God, and receiving of the blessed sacrament. These are not the life of religion, the great end and design of it, but the means and instruments which God hath appointed for the begetting and increasing of holiness and virtue in us. Many exercise themselves in these with great constancy and devotion, pray to God, and read the Bible frequently, go to church duly, and hear God’s word attentively, and receive the sacrament reverently, and behave themselves devoutly in all parts of public worship; and yet all this may be but a mere form, and certainly is no more, where the great end of all this is neglected, and men do not sincerely endeavour to do what God’s word directs them to, and what they daily pray to God to enable them to do.
For all these means are in order to some farther 505effect and design. We read and hear the word of God, that we may know his will, and that we may do it; that by the precepts and counsels of the Holy Scriptures, we may learn and understand our duty; and by the motives and arguments which are there offered to us, we may effectually be persuaded to the practice of it. We pray to God not only for the forgiveness of our sins, but for his grace and assistance, to enable us to mortify and subdue them, and to proceed in all virtue and godliness of living. We receive the sacrament, to inflame our love to God and our blessed Saviour, to excite in us a greater hatred of sin, and to confirm us in the purpose and resolution of well-doing. These are the great ends for which God hath appointed all these helps and means; and if these ends be not obtained, in vain do we worship God; all our religion is but mere show and pageantry. We are but like the people God himself describes: (Isa. xxix. 13.) “This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do they honour me, but have removed their heart far from me.” And like those (Ezek. xxxiii. 30-32.) who “spake one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after covetousness. And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but they do them not.” This is not to worship God, but impudently to affront him; and if we take this for religion, we 506put the grossest cheat imaginable upon ourselves. Hear how God challenges the people of Israel upon this account: (Jer. vii. 2-4, &c.) “Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.” This is the great end of all religious worship and devotion, the reformation of our lives and actions; and if it have not this effect, it is a cheat. “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these. For if ye thoroughly amend your ways, and your doings; if ye thoroughly exe cute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers for ever and ever. Behold, ye trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods, whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?” What greater impudence can there be, than to worship God devoutly, and to live wickedly? This is to declare that we mock God under a pretence of serving him; or else that we believe that God whom we worship allows these abominations, and is pleased with them.
2. Others make this form of external devotion yet more complete by a curious and nice regard to the modes and circumstances of performing the duties 507of religion. They are very punctual and exact in all their carriage and gestures, as if they minded nothing else but the outward part of religion.
Not but that great humility and reverence does very well become men in their addresses to God; but then we must be sure that this external reverence be a signification of the inward and real devotion of our minds. For if it be separated from this, it is not devotion, but superstition; it is not to “worship God in spirit and in truth,” but in bodily show and appearance only; not to honour the Divine Majesty, but to fawn upon him and flatter him. And where men are very intent upon these things, and endeavour to outstrip other people in voluntary expressions of outward devotion, it too often happens that such persons are destitute of the substance and reality of religion. They are like the formal complimenting sort of people in civil conversation, who commonly have very little in them, and notwithstanding all their smooth outside and appearance, they have neither that solidity nor sincerity which is in many a plain ordinary man.
II. An orthodox profession of the Christian faith. This is another form of religion, which the more knowing and inquisitive sort of men are apt to take up and rest in. And this is that which in the Jewish religion the apostle calls “a form of knowledge, and of the truth in the Lord.”
And this is good as far as it goes. But then it must not rest only in the brain, but descend from thence upon the heart and life: otherwise a man may have this form of godliness, and yet be a denier of the power of it. St. Paul puts this very case, that a man may have the theory and knowledge of religion, and yet, if it do not produce the fruits of a 508good life, it is nothing worth: (1 Cor. xii. 2.) “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and under stand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have no charity, I am nothing.” And the reason is plain, because the knowledge of religion is only in order to the practice of it; and an article or proposition of faith is an idle thing, if it do not produce such actions as the belief of such a proposition doth require.
There are many persons in the world very solicitous about an orthodox belief, and mightily concerned to know what the Scriptures, but especially what the councils and fathers, have declared in such a matter; and they are nice and scrupulous in these things, even to the utmost punctilios, and will with a most unchristian passion contend for the Christian faith: and yet, perhaps, all this while they can allow themselves in plain sins, and in the practice of such things as are in Scripture as clearly forbidden to be done, as any thing is there commanded to be believed. Whereas religion does not consist so much in nicety and subtilty of belief, as in integrity and innocency of life; and the truest and most orthodox persuasion in matters of religion, is but a mere form and image, if it be not accompanied with an answerable practice; yea, like the image represented to Nebuchadnezzar in his dream, “whose head was of fine gold, but the legs and feet were iron and clay.”
Not but that a right belief is of great concernment in religion; but then this belief must be prosecuted into the proper and genuine consequences of it upon our lives: if it be not, it is unhappy for men that they believe so well, when they live so ill. The devils have a right faith, St. James tells us; “they 509believe and tremble.” And, indeed, none have so much reason to tremble, as those who believe the principles of religion, and yet are conscious to themselves that they live contrary to them; because of all persons in the world they are the most inexcusable.
III. Another form of religion which many take upon them, is enthusiasm and pretence to inspiration. And this is a very glorious form, which is apt to dazzle and amuse the ignorant, because they know not what to make of it. It seems to be some thing strange and extraordinary, and yet it is no thing but what every man that has confidence enough may pretend to.
There is no Christian doubts but that the Spirit of God hath heretofore inspired men in an extraordinary manner, and that he may do so again when he pleases: but since the great and standing revelation of the gospel, we have reason not to be rash in giving heed to such pretences. If those who pretend to inspiration declare nothing but what is revealed in the gospel already, their inspiration is needless; if they declare any thing contrary thereto, we are sufficiently cautioned against them; if any thing be sides the revelation of the gospel, but not contrary to it, then we are to expect what evidence they bring for their inspiration. For God does not inspire men for their own sakes, but for the sake of others; and another man’s inspiration is nothing to me, unless he can satisfy me that he is inspired. For either I must believe every one that pretends to inspiration, or those only that can make good their pretence. Not every one, for then I yield up myself to the mercy of every confident man, to lead me into what delusions he pleases. If I believe only those who 510are able to make good this pretence, then am I in no great danger: for nothing less than a miracle can give me reasonable assurance of another man’s inspiration; and I think few or none of our modern enthusiasts have so much as pretended to miracles. So that this form of religion is calculated only to impose upon the ignorant, but signifies little among the steady and considerate sort of people.
Nay, if this pretence were real, yet it may be no more than a form of religion. For the apostle sup poses that men may “have the gift of prophecy, and yet want charity, without which they are no thing.” And our Saviour tells us, that many shall plead at the day of judgment, “Have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?” And yet these very persons for all this may be workers of iniquity, and such as our Lord will bid to depart from him.
IV. A great external show of mortification.
This the pharisees of old did much applaud themselves in, they fasted twice a week. And this is still a great part of the religion of many in the Romish church; they impose strict penalties and corporal severities upon themselves; abstain from several sorts of meats and drinks, watch and afflict their bodies with several sorts of rigours: whereas one severe resolution of a good life well prosecuted, is a thousand times better than all this.
For experience shews us, that men may be very severe to their bodies, and yet favourable to their lusts. The pharisees, indeed, fasted often, but they were very ravenous in another kind—they devoured widows houses. It is possible that men may kill themselves by corporal austerities, and yet never 511mortify one lust; they may submit to a thousand penances, and yet never truly repent one sin; they may turn pilgrims and go as far as Jerusalem to visit our Saviour’s sepulchre, and yet never know the power of his death.
Fasting may be a good instrument of religion, if it be discreetly used; and as it may be used, there may be no religion in it. But as for those other kinds of severities, they are absurd and superstitious, and taken up upon a great mistake of the nature of God; as if he were never well-pleased, but when we do something very displeasing to ourselves; as if he were extremely delighted in the misery and torment of his creatures; and to be cruel and un merciful to ourselves, were the only way to move his compassion towards us.
These are barbarous and heathenish conceits of God; and the absurd practices grounded upon them are no where recommended to us in Scripture, nor have any example there, but only in Baal’s priests, who lanced and cut themselves, believing that to be a good way to incline their gods to hear them. These are voluntary superstitions, which God hath required at no man’s hands. And no wise man can doubt, but that he that really mortifies his lusts, and subdues his passions, may be a good man, though he never whip himself in all his life; and that he that lives soberly, and righteously, and godly, may justly be accounted religious, without turning vagrant, and rambling idly up and down the world. These are such forms of religion as can have no esteem and reputation, but in a very superstitious church and age.
V. An imperfect repentance and partial reformation.512
By an imperfect repentance, I mean a trouble and sorrow for sin, without the forsaking of it, and the amendment of our lives; or when, if men do reform in some things, they continue in the love and practice of other sins. This is not true repentance; for he that hath truly repented is heartily troubled for all his offences against God, and resolved not to commit the like again; but he that retains any lust, and allows himself in the practice of it, is not troubled that he hath offended God, but hath left his sins for some other reason. For whatever arguments and considerations respecting God will move a man to quit any one lust, ought upon the same account to prevail with him to abandon all. So that whatever trouble and sorrow a man may pretend for his sins, there is no surer sign of an insincere repentance, than if, after this, he continue in the habitual practice of any known sin.
VI. The appearance and ostentation of some particular grace and virtue.
A man may be moved by the inclination of his nature, or upon some interest and design, to the practice of some particular virtue. Some are tender and compassionate in their nature, and that excites them to charity; others of quiet and easy dispositions, and that makes them patient, and meek, and peaceable; others assume one or more virtuous qualities out of vain-glory, or to serve some other interest. The pharisees were much for giving alms, because this is a piece of religion universally applauded and well-spoken of; and therefore, though they omitted many other necessary parts of religion, yet they were so cunning that they would not be defective in this; not out of regard to God, but themselves and their own reputation. For, as our 513Saviour observes, they did their alms with such circumstances of vain-glory, as quite blasted the glory of them. “They caused a trumpet to be sounded before them in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they might be seen of men,” and have glory of them.
Now though the exercise of every grace and virtue be materially a substantial part of religion, yet the practice of one virtue with the neglect of others, is a shrewd ground of suspicion that it is not virtue but design, that it is not religion but interest, which prompts men to it. For if it were religion, and done with regard to God, the very same reason would oblige them to all other parts of their duty as well as that.
VII. A great zeal for some particular party, or opinions, or circumstances of religion.
This form is frequently assumed, because men find the greatest shelter and protection under it. He that declares zealously for a party or opinion, and is fierce and eager against those that oppose it, seldom fails to gain the reputation f a religious and godly man; because he hath the vote of the whole party, and a great number to cry him up. And if he be guilty of any miscarriage, unless it be very gross and visible, he shall never want those that will apologize for him, and be ready to vindicate him at all turns. Either they will not believe what is reported of him but impute it to malice, or they will extenuate it, and ascribe it to human infirmity; but still they cannot think but that he is a religious man, because he is so zealous for that which they esteem to be so considerable a part of religion. Nay, such is the horrible partiality and injustice of parties, that a very bad man that appears zealous 514for their way, shall easily gain the esteem of a holy and religious man, though he have many visible and notorious faults; though he be passionate and ill-natured, censorious and uncharitable, cruel and oppressive, sordid and covetous; when another who quietly, and without any noise and bustle, minds the substantial parts of religion, and is truly devout towards God; just, and peaceable, and charitable towards men; meek, and humble, and patient, kind and friendly even to those that differ from him, shall hardly escape being censured for a lukewarm, formal, moral man, destitute of the grace of God and of the “power of godliness.”
So, likewise, zeal for or against indifferent circumstances of religion, is another “form of godliness,” which many appear in. And commonly such persons, the more destitute they are of true piety and virtue, the greater stir they keep about these things, that they may seem to be something in religion; just like those, who, being conscious to themselves that they are defective in true and useful learning, that they may not seem to be so, are al ways troublesome with the shreds and ends of it.
Now the indifferent circumstances of religion are things which no man ought to have the face to trouble himself about, that neglects the weighty and substantial duties of it. No man that hath “a beam in his own eye,” ought to be concerned for “the mote that is in his brother’s eye.” Indeed, he that is careful of the main parts of religion, may and ought to be concerned for the other in their due place, so far as the order and decency of God’s worship, and obedience to authority, and the peace of Christians, is concerned in them. But to place all religion in a zeal for or against these things, 515is one of the thinnest and slightest forms of religion.
VIII. Silliness and freakishness, and either a pretended or real ignorance in the common affairs and concernments of human life.
This may seem, at first hearing, to be a very odd form of religion, and indeed so it is; yet, in several religions, men have appeared in it with great applause and acceptance. Among the Turks, idiots and madmen are mightily reverenced, it being always taken for granted that they are inspired. And among the papists, the most eminent of their saints, if their legends do not belie them, especially St. Francis and St. Dominic, are magnified scarcely for any other reason, but for saying and doing the most silly and ridiculous things. What can be imagined more foolish and fanatical than St. Francis’s stripping himself of his clothes and running about naked? than his frequent preaching to the birds, and beasts, and fishes? Was ever any thing more nauseously ridiculous, than his picking up the lice which were beaten off his clothes, and putting them in his bosom? which is magnified in him as a profound piece of humility; as if nastiness were a Christian grace. These, and many more such freaks, which are related in his life as instances of his great sanctity, serve to no other purpose, but to render religion ridiculous to any man of common sense. As if to be a spiritual man and a mere natural were all one; and as if this were a good consequence, that a man cannot choose but be very knowing in religion, because he is very silly in all other things, and must needs have abundance of grace because he hath no wit. It is pity it should be so, but I am afraid it is too true, that the greatest 516mischiefs that have been done to the world, have been done by silly well-meaning men.
Lastly, Great noise and talk about religion.
This is as empty a form as any of the rest, and yet this does strangely please and satisfy a great many. If a man do but mix something of religion with all his discourses, and be often speaking of God and heavenly things, this passeth for a more than ordinary character of a religious man. And many deceive themselves with it; they have talked of religion so long, till they believe they have it.
Not but that this is a good thing, provided it be ordered with discretion and humility, and be not forced and affected, impertinent and troublesome. But then we must have a great care that other things be answerable. Our lives must justify our godly talk, and our actions must give weight to our words; for nothing is more odious than a religious and good discourse from the mouth of a bad man. This made our Saviour so full of indignation against the scribes and pharisees—they were not what they appeared to be in their discourse and outward garb. They said and did not, therefore he compares them to “whited walls and painted sepulchres, that were beautiful indeed without, but within were full of all uncleanness and rottenness.”
It is true, indeed, that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh:” if religion be with in, it will appear in men’s words as well as actions; this is a fire that will break out: but the best men are very modest, and make little noise, do nothing out of ostentation and to be taken notice of, and had rather refrain from good words, than to make an unseasonable show of religion.517
Speech is intended to signify the inward sense of men’s minds, but it does not always do so; men may be full of religious talk, when there is nothing of religion in their hearts, nothing answerable in their lives; men may speak like angels and yet do like devils.
Therefore let no man deceive himself, or think to deceive others with this appearance of religion: for let men talk never so piously, every considerate man knows that there is more of true religion in one good action, than in a thousand good words.
And thus I have done with the first thing: viz. wherein a form of religion doth consist.
Secondly, Wherein the power of godliness doth consist. And, because it is very material to be rightly informed in this, I will reduce the several particulars to these four general heads:
I. A due sense of God, and suitable affections towards him.
II. A sincere and diligent use of the means and instruments of religion.
III. A firm and steady resolution of well-doing.
IV. As the proper and genuine effect of all these, the practice of a good life, in the several parts and instances of it.
I. A due sense of God, and suitable affections towards him. This is the principle and fountain of all religion, from whence all actions of piety and goodness do spring.
Under this I comprehend a lively sense of God’s being; which the apostle tells us, is fundamentally necessary to all religion: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is.” This is the great spring of all religious motions, and of our dependance upon him, the lively sense whereof will make us 518humble and thankful, and teach us “to acknowledge him in all our ways,” and to refer all our concernments to him; and of our subjection to him, which will make us obedient to his laws, and submissive to his pleasure; nothing being more reasonable than that he that gave us our lives should have the entire government and disposal of them; than that he that made us what we are, should command us what we should do. In short, this comprehends faith in God, or a readiness to assent to what he reveals, with the fear and the love of God, which are the great principles of religion.
II. A sincere and diligent use of the means and instruments of religion, such as prayer, reading, and hearing the word of God, and receiving the sacraments. These are the means which God hath appointed for the improving of us in holiness and goodness; and we sincerely use these means, when we really aim at this end; when we pray, and read, and hear, and meditate on God’s word, and receive the sacraments, that we may truly become better, more holy and virtuous in all manner of conversation; and do not rest in the use of these means, as if a man were a religious and good man, because he prays often, and every day reads the Bible, and goes to all the sermons he can hear of, and takes all occasions to receive the sacrament. The life of religion does not consist in the bare use of these, but in the real efficacy of them upon our lives. It is a very good caution which St. John gives us: “Be not deceived, he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous,” (1 John iii. 7.) Men are apt to impose upon themselves, as if they could be righteous, and approve themselves to God, upon some other terms, whereas only “they that 519fear God, and work righteousness, are accepted with him.”
I do not speak this to undervalue the exercises of religion, but to inform men of the true nature and design of them. Be as diligent as thou wilt in the exercises of piety and devotion, but be sincere in the use of those means; do not satisfy thyself in the performance of those duties, unless thou find the effect of them upon thy heart and life, always remembering that “not the hearers of the word, but the doers of it are blessed,” that the prayer and all “the sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.”
III. A firm and steady resolution of well-doing. This is the result of a true and sincere repentance, and the great principle of a new life; and if it be firm and steadfast, it will derive its influence into all our actions; but if it be wavering and inconsistent, it is only the occasion of a religious mood and fit, but not the principle of a religious state. Therefore it concerns us to strengthen this principle, and to be true to it, when we have once taken it up; for whenever we quit it, we break loose from God and religion at once, and cast ourselves back into a much more dangerous state than we were in before.
There is no doubt, but that the devil and our own corrupt hearts will make many assaults upon such a resolution, and raise all their batteries against it, because it is our main fort, and the great security of our souls, and so long as we maintain that we are safe; and therefore it had need be a mighty resolution that is able to stand out against such opposition.
But what are we that we should take up such a 520resolution, and what is our strength? We are weak and “unsteadfast as water, reeds shaken with the wind; we are not sufficient of ourselves, as of ourselves, for any thing that is good; the way of man is not in himself, nor is it in man that walks to direct his steps:” but we have a greater strength than our own to rely upon, and greater than that of any adverse power that can set itself against us; we have God on our side, and the assistance of his grace to back and fortify these holy resolutions; so that we have no reason to despair of success and victory, if we be not wanting to ourselves; for “God’s grace is sufficient for us; greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world.”
IV. And lastly, Which is the proper and genuine effect of all these, the practice of a holy and virtuous life in all the parts and instances of it. And unless this effect be produced, we want the surest evidence of the former: for it is not credible, that that man hath a due sense of God, and pious affections towards him, or does sincerely exercise himself in the duties of religion, or is firmly resolved in well-doing, who does not shew forth the effects of all this in a good conversation. Thus St. James reasons: (chap. iii. 13.) “Who is a wise man, and endued with knowledge amongst you?” that is, instructed in the Christian knowledge, in the heavenly wisdom; “let him shew forth out of a good conversation his works.”
So that herein the power of godliness doth visibly appear, in the course of a good life; and it is the very design of the apostle in this chapter to declare this to us, as will appear to any one that considers the description here given of those persons, who, under a show of religion, denied the power of 521it; they were such as notwithstanding all their pretences to godliness, allowed themselves in several vices, and lusts, and passions, and were destitute of the virtues of a good life; they were selfish, and covetous, and vain-glorious, and proud, evil speakers, disobedient to parents, unthankful to their benefactors, filthy and impure, treacherous, heady, conceited, sensual, and voluptuous; so that, whatever appearance of godliness they made, they were almost as bad as could be imagined; there is hardly a fuller catalogue of sins to be met with in the Bible: besides, that all these vices are such as are plain and evident in the lives of men,
So that, upon the whole matter, it is very clear wherein the apostle mainly places the power of godliness; namely, in the real effects of religion, such as are the mortifying our lusts, and subduing of our passions, the government of our tongues, and the several virtues of a good life.
1. In the mortifying of our lusts, the lusts of in temperance and uncleanness, covetousness, and ambition. He that is a slave to any of these, his religion is but a form, how glorious a show soever it may make. “Fleshly lusts war against the soul,” and will finally ruin it. Covetousness and pride are enmity to God. “God resists the proud afar off,” and “the covetous man the Lord abhors.”
2. In the subduing of our passions, wrath, hatred, malice, envy, and revenge. They are the very nature and properties of the devil, and dispositions as contrary to God, as light is to darkness; there fore, whoever allows himself in these, whatever pretences he makes to religion, is really a bad man. This St. John tells us is a plain case: (1 John iii. 10.) “Whosoever doeth not righteousness, is not of God, 522neither he that loveth not his brother.” (Jam. iii. 14, 15.) “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth (that is, do not pretend to be religious); this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.”
3. In the government of our tongues. This is a great effect of religion, to “keep our tongues from speaking evil,” from backbiting, and slandering, and censuring, and reviling, from profane swearing and cursing, lewd and filthy talking. When men’s tongues run out into these disorders, it is a sign that they are not under the government of religion, and that the fear of God hath not seized upon their hearts; for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” So St. James tells us, (chap. i. 26.) “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” And, on the contrary, it is a good sign that religion hath some power over men, when it restrains them in this kind. So the same apostle tells us, (chap. iii. 2.) “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.”
4. In the several virtues of a good life, in opposition to these and all other vices; such as are truth and justice, humility and meekness, patience and contentedness with our condition, .peaceableness and charity to those that are in want and necessity, a readiness to forgive our enemies, and an universal love and kindness to all men. I have not time to recommend these particularly to you, the Scripture does it frequently and fully, telling us that these are “the will of God,” and the “Divine nature—the new creature—pure religion and undefiled—the wisdom that is from above—the fruits of the Spirit,” the proper 523and genuine effects of true piety, the sensible and substantial evidences of our love to God, the things wherein “the kingdom of God consists,” and that “he that in these things serveth Christ, is accepted of God, and approved of men;” but he that neglects these, whatever form of godliness he puts on, is a denier of the power of it. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil, he that doth not righteousness is not of God.”
Thus I have done with the second thing I propounded to speak to; namely, wherein the power of godliness consists. There are two other particulars remaining, which I shall reserve to a farther opportunity.524
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