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SERMON CCV.

OF THE FORM, AND THE POWER OF GODLINESS.

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.—2 Tim. iii. 5.

I COME now to shew, that he that takes upon him a form of religion, without the power of it, doth not only lose all the considerable advantages of religion, but he hath two great disadvantages by it.

I. He hath the trouble of making a show and appearance of religion, without the real benefit of it.

II. He incurs a heavier sentence upon this account, that he hath a form of religion, and yet is destitute of the power of it.

I. He hath the trouble of making a show and appearance of religion, without the real benefits of it. And it is no small trouble to personate and act apart well; it requires great art and attention, great guard and caution. That which men are prompted to by an inward principle, is natural and easy, it is done with pleasure and delight; but whatever is artificial and counterfeit, is stiff and forced. Nemo fictam personam diu sustinere potest, “No man can dissemble always;” one time or other he will be surprised and forget himself, and let his mask fall. A form of religion is a dry unpleasant thing, and a continual burden to him that assumes it, and the more outwardly strict and holy he is, he is the more inwardly guilty; his conscience never stings and galls him more, than when he is playing the hypocrite 539with God and men: whereas a truly good man, when he employs himself in acts of religion, or justice, or charity, he doth it naturally, and hath a mighty satisfaction of mind in the doing of it, and if he were permitted to make his own choice, he would not do otherwise; but a hypocrite puts a force upon himself all the while, and acts against his nature and inclinations, every thing he does in religion goes against the grain, and because it is un natural must be uneasy; his outward conversation and demeanour is set, and in a frame; he does not move as he would, but as he must, and the secret propensions of his nature are under a continual restraint.

He hath indeed one advantage by his artificial garb, that he can more securely overreach and defraud others by a show of godliness, while men are not aware of his dissimulation. But this commonly does not last long, and only serves a man for a few turns: and when it is discovered, the man is lost, and nobody will trust him. But suppose he could serve himself of religion this way for some consider able time, where is the advantage? It amounts to no more than this that the man hath the opportunity of being a greater sinner, of making himself more miserable, and “treasuring up to himself” more “wrath against the day of wrath.” So that he pays dear for all this in the end and issue, as well as in the way. He spends many a tedious hour in the service of God, and the exercise of religion; more it may be than many do, who save their souls and get to heaven. For as to the external part of religion, a hypocrite must do all that which a truly religious man does; he must frequent the church, and make as much show of devotion as the best; 540nay, it may be he pays more, and fasts oftener, and is more busy, and keeps a greater stir in the out ward part of religion, than the sincere Christian; for being conscious to himself of his own hollowness and insincerity in religion, he thinks himself obliged outwardly to over-act it in unseasonable and superstitious observances, and in all other arts of affected devotion; and when he goes abroad into the world, he is forced to lay great restraints upon himself, and to be continually gathering his cloak about him, as being afraid lest any body should spy what is under it. So much more troublesome it is for any man to seem to be religious, than to be so indeed.

II. A mere form of religion does upon some accounts bring a man under a heavier sentence, than if he were utterly profane and irreligious. He that makes a show of religion flatters God, but all the while acts and designs against him: whereas the profane man deals plainly, and though he be a monstrous and unnatural rebel, yet he is a fair and open enemy; and the kisses of a false friend are more hateful than the wounds of an open enemy. Upon this account it is that our Saviour denounceth so many severe woes against the scribes and pharisees, because they were wicked under a show of religion. “Woe unto you scribes and pharisees, hypocrites:” and when he would set forth the se verity of the lord against the evil servant, (Matt. xxiv. 51.) he expresseth it thus: “He shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” As if the punishment of hypocrites were the rule and standard of the severest punishment. “He shall appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.”

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I will not deny but that a profane man is a worse example to the world, and may do more mischief upon that account: but the hypocrite is more mischievous to himself, and of the two more odious to God, and sometimes does more prejudice to religion by undermining it, than the other does by all his open assaults and batteries. God cannot endure to be affronted: but he hates to be mocked. So that, upon this account, it is like to go harder with the formal professors of religion, than with the open contemners of it.

And thus I have done with the four things I propounded to speak to from these words—wherein a form of godliness does consist; wherein the power of it lies; by what marks and characters we may know when these are separated; and that a form of religion without the power of it, is insignificant to all the great ends and purposes of religion; and not only so, but it is greatly to men’s disadvantage to assume a form of godliness, if they be destitute of the power of it.

All that now remains is, to draw some inferences from this discourse by way of application; and they shall be these three:

First, To take heed of mistaking the form of religion for the power of it.

Secondly, To take heed of being captivated and seduced by those who have only a form of godliness.

Thirdly, To persuade men to mind the life, and power, and substance of religion.

First, To take heed of mistaking the form of religion for the power of it. The papists have almost confined their words religion and religious to cloisters and monks; and they make a religious life to consist in masses, and Ave-Maries, and Pater-nosters, 542in the observation of canonical hours, and the distinction of meats and habits, in coarse clothes, and a dissembled poverty, and several bodily rigours and severities. As if, to make a man a religions and good man, it were necessary that he should be dressed fantastically, and in a great many indifferent things be different from other men. Nay, so far doth this superstition prevail, that a great many think that they should hardly get to heaven with out it, or that it will be very much for their advantage, if they be buried in the habit of a religious man: as if to be put in a monk’s cowl, would give a man the start of other people at the resurrection. But what reason is there that the name and title of religion should be appropriated to these usages? Does the Scripture any where constitute religion in these things, or confine it to them? Are not these voluntary things which God ties no man to? Whence then come they to swallow up the name of religion, and to engross it to themselves, as if they were the very life and soul of Christianity; when the great author of our religion Jesus Christ, and his blessed apostles, never spake one word of them? What an abuse of language is this, to confine the name of religion to that which is not so much as any part of it!

But the church of Rome is not alone guilty of this; among ourselves it is very ordinary to mistake the form of godliness for the power, though the mistake is not so gross, as in those particulars I have mentioned. How many are there, who talk as if the power of godliness consisted in nothing else but a daily task of devotion, in frequent hearing of sermons, and a strict observation of the Lord’s-day? These are very good things; but they are but a 543form of godliness, and may be, and often are, with out the power of it; they are but the means and instruments of religion, but not the great end and design of it, that consists in the renewing of our natures, and the reformation of our lives; in “righteousness and true holiness;” in “mortifying the flesh, with the affections and lusts of it,” such as are “adultery, fornication, hatred, variance, wrath, sedition, envying, murder, drunkenness; for they which do such things, cannot inherit the kingdom of God;” and in “the fruits of the Spirit,” such as are “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance,” as the apostle reckons them up, (Gal. v. 22.) These are real and sensible effects of religion; and the means of religion, if they be sincerely used, do all tend to the begetting and increasing of these in us: so that it is a gross mistake to talk of the power of religion, without these. Whoever is destitute of these, whatever attainments in religion he may pretend to, is got no farther than a form of godliness, he is not yet under the power of it. This is the first.

Secondly, Let us be cautioned against being captivated and seduced by those, who have only a form of godliness. This is the apostle’s exhortation here in the text, “From such turn away: for of this sort are they which creep into houses and lead captive silly women.” To the same purpose is our Saviour’s caution: (Matt. vii. 15, 16.) “Be ware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” And that we may know how to avoid them, our Saviour bids us to observe their lives, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” He does not bid us examine their opinions, and try their pretences to 544inspiration; that is a thing many times above the capacity of the ordinary sort of men; but their lives and actions are open to every man’s view; and though it is possible men may counterfeit even in this, yet they seldom do it so exactly, as not to be tray themselves some time or other: however, this of all other is the easiest and surest rule: “By their fruit ye shall know them.”

Therefore, if any man pretend to any new discoveries in religion, beyond what is plainly revealed in Scripture, though he appear in ever so sanctimonious a garb, be not moved with this: for the power of religion does not consist in any thing now to be discovered; but in those things which are clearly contained in the word of God, in the precepts and directions, and in the motives and arguments to a good life; and whoever lives according to these, is in the best way to heaven that any man can put himself into; and he need not trouble himself about those new lights and opinions, which in every age appears like comets, and glare a while, and draw people to gaze upon them, and then vanish. And none are so much to be suspected of a form of religion, as those who make frequent changes in it, and wander from one party and opinion to another. An outward form and shape is easily changed; it is that which a man shifts and puts off at pleasure.

Thirdly, To persuade men to mind the power, and life, and substance of religion. It was the commendation of Socrates, the best of philosophers, that he did philosophiam de cælo deducere, “bring down philosophy from heaven to earth;” that is, from contemplation to practice, and from being an art of talking and disputing to be an art of living. This I desire may be the aim of all my discourses, to instruct 545men in religion in order to the practice of it, to teach men to know God, in St. John’s sense: (1 John ii. 3.) “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” This is the great end and scope, to which all discourses of religion ought to be levelled. It was a good saying of Pacuvius, Ego odi homines ignava opera et philosophos sententia: “I hate men that are inactive in their lives, and philosophers in their opinions.” Christianity is the best philosophy, and the most perfect institution of life that ever the world was acquainted withal; and therefore it is much more odious to see men Christians in their profession, and faulty and vicious in their lives; because the very design of the Christian religion, is to give men a perfect and plain law and rule of life, and to enforce this law by the most powerful and prevailing arguments. So that as Tully says, concerning the philosopher who lived but a bad life, that he was utterly inexcusable, Quod in eo cujus magister esse vult labiter, artem vitæ professus, delinquit in vita: “Because he failed in that wherein he pretended to be a master, and while he professed to have an art of living better than other men, he offended and miscarried in his life.; All defects in the practice, and in the virtues of a good life, may with much more reason and justice be upbraided to Christians, to those “who have learned Christ, who have heard him, and been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus;” to those who are blessed with the clearest and most perfect revelation which ever God made to the world, the holiest and most reasonable religion, which furnisheth us with the best counsels and directions, the most prevalent motives and arguments, and the greatest helps and advantages to a good life; a religion plain 546and simple, that hath less of outward form and pomp, and more of substance and reality, than any religion that ever was known in the world.

What a sad thing is it, that a religion so wholly fitted and calculated to the design and purpose of a good life, armed with such powerful considerations to engage men thereto, should yet have so little force and power upon the lives of men, as we see it generally to have! As if “the grace of God had never appeared to men, to teach them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world.”

There was hardly ever any age, wherein the form of religion did more abound; and it is to be feared, that there was never less of the power and efficacy of it.

I will instance in two great defects in the lives and practice of Christians, which are visible to every one, but are sad indications how little the power of religion prevails among men; I mean the want of common honesty and integrity among men, and the want of peace and love; the first of which is, the great virtue of civil conversation; and the other, the great bond both of civil and ecclesiastical societies. These are two great duties of religion frequently mentioned, and strictly charged upon the consciences of men in Scripture: and yet how rare is the practice of them in the lives of Christians? These are two main defects in religion, and a plain demonstration of a form of religion, without the power of it.

I. The want of common honesty and integrity among men. So, indeed, it used to be called common honesty; but it grows so rare now that it is like to lose that name. “Righteousness, truth, and 547faithfulness, are almost failed from among; the children of men;” all ranks of men have corrupted themselves in this kind; this is grown almost an universal depravation, there is hardly any trade or profession which hath not something of knavery and falsehood woven into the very mystery of it, and is become almost a necessary part of it. Where is the generous honesty and uprightness which did heretofore possess the spirits of men, and which is an inseparable companion of true courage? But we are now passing apace into foreign manners and vices, and any form of religion will serve, when justice and integrity are gone.

II. The want of peace and love. How full of factions and divisions are we? And these managed with all imaginable heat and animosity one to ward another; as if the badge of Christianity were changed, and our Saviour had said, “Hereby shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye hate one another.”

All the differences among Christians, of what denomination soever, are sadly to be lamented; but I almost despair as to the difference between us and the church of Rome, because the reconciliation is impossible, unless they renounce their principles. They cannot come over to us, because they think they are infallible; and we cannot pass over to them, because we know they are deceived; so that there is “a great gulf between us and them.” We must not only renounce the Scriptures, but our reason and our senses, to be of their mind. We cannot communicate with them in the sacrament, because they have taken away one half of it, which is as plainly instituted and commanded as the other part which is left. We cannot worship the Virgin 548Mary, and the saints, much less their images, because it is written, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” In short, several of their articles of faith are such, as no credulity can swallow; and several parts of their worship are such, as no piety can join with.

But this we bewail, that those who agree in the same essentials of faith and worship, should be so forward to divide and separate from one another, merely upon forms of government, and circumstances of worship. What can justify the breach of communion and peace upon such terms? Either church government is of Divine right, or it is not. If it be, why do not men submit to the form which is established by authority? If it be not, what kind of government can contend for that right, with any equality of advantage, against that which cannot be denied to have almost universally obtained in most ages and parts of the Christian world?

As for the circumstances of worship, there is scarce any man hath the face to contend, that any of those used in our church are clearly condemned by the word of God; and what else can make them unlawful? One of the chief causes of separation, is a form of prayer; the lawfulness of which our Saviour hath abundantly justified, and I do not think was ever questioned by any writer in the Christian church, for near upon sixteen hundred years; and is it worth while to break the peace of 549the church, and violate one of the greatest precepts of Christianity, upon little and slight pretences of unlawfulness and doubtful reasons of convenience and expedience; and about such things as are no more reasonable grounds of quarrels among Christians, than the differences of men’s stature and faces would be a just ground for mankind to make war upon one another?

Where is the power of religion, when the peace and unity of Christians is violated upon these terms? It is a sign that the life and substance of religion is little regarded by us, when men can afford to employ so much zeal about these things.

And that men may be effectually persuaded to mind the substance of religion more, let me desire them to imprint these three considerations upon their minds:

I. That the parts of religion are subordinate to one another, and are to be minded each in their due place. The means of religion are less worth than the end, and therefore deserves our regard chiefly in order to that. The circumstances of religion are less considerable than the means and instruments of it, and therefore are to be subordinated to them. Faith is in order to the practice of a good life, and signifies nothing, unless it produces that. So that the issue and upshot of all is a holy and virtuous life: “To deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world; to love God and our neighbour;” to deal justly, and to be kind, and peaceable, and charitable towards all men.

II. Consider that religion consists in an entire and universal obedience to the will of God, in a respect to all his commandments, and hating every evil 550way. Here the power of godliness consists in being “holy in all manner of conversation.”

III. Consider that religion chiefly respects God and another world. A form of religion, if it were artificially contrived, might possibly serve to cheat men, and be useful enough to all the interests and advantages of this world: but we are to do all things in reference to God, who cannot be imposed upon with shows and pretences; and with regard to another world, where no form of religion will be current, without the power of it. Yea, and in reference to this world, if there be any advantage in seeming religious, certainly the best way to seem to be so, is to be so indeed.

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