« PreviousContinue »
the word of his grace, to the agency of his Holy Spirit. And let us lift up our hearts with our voices while we sing,
"And now, my soul, another year
And swift my passing moments run,
"Awake, my soul, with solemn care,
"Now a new scene of time begins Set out afresh for heaven; Seek pardon for thy former sins
In Christ so freely given. "Devoutly yield thyself to God, And on his grace depend; With zeal pursue the heavenly roadNor fear a happy end."
RELIGION MORE THAN
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.-2 Tim. iii. 5.
AND what is godliness? It is the tendency of the mind towards God: and is exercised in believing in him, loving and fearing him, holding communion with him, resembling his perfections, and employing ourselves in his service. It is the introduction of God into all our concerns, our acknowledging him in all our ways, our doing all we do in his name, and with a reverence to his authority and glory, through the mediation of the Saviour, and by the influences of the Holy Spirit.
This is godliness; and nothing else deserves the name. This godliness however has its form and its power; and this distinction enables us to arrange four classes of characters.
For, first, there are some who have neither the power nor the form of godliness. They are as destitute of the pretension as they are of the reality; and often glory in this for we read of some "who glory in their shame."
baptism and the ordinance of the Lord's Supper are founded. They do not remember that though the substance be confessedly the main thing, circumstances are often very beautiful and impressive and beneficial; that we are not only to possess, but to profess religion; that we are not only to serve God individually, but to unite ourselves to a body of Christians, and walk in holy fellowship, "striving together for the faith of the Gospel; and that we are bound not only to "glorify God in our spirits," but "in our bodies also, which are God's." So that the form when attached to the principle, is so far from being improper, that it is commendable and important.
Secondly, there are some who possess both the power and the form. And these are the most worthy of our esteem and imitation. May their number daily increase!
Thirdly, there are some who have the power of godliness, but not the form. Their religion is a kind of disembodied spirit: and because some have laid too much stress upon outward things, they lay too little. They carry their notions of the spirituality of divine worship so far as to exclude social considerations; the influence of the body over the mind; and the use which the Supreme Being himself makes of our senses, to aid our graces, and which is simply the principle upon which
But here we have reached the Fourth class to which we referred, those who have the form, but deny the power. These are awful characters; and therefore, says the apostle, to Timothy, "From such withdraw thyself." We should do this as much as possible with regard to their persons, but above all with regard to their state. In order to this-let us, I. CONSIDER THE POWER OF GODLINESS; and, II. INQUIRE WHENCE IT IS THAT SO MANY
WHO DENY IT ARE STILL DISPOSED TO MAIN
TAIN THE FORM.
I. THE "POWER" OF GODLINESS IS HERE DISTINGUISHED FROM THE MERE “FORM :" and indeed it is easy to show the difference between them. The one is principally external, and deals in words-the other is internal, actuating our feelings, and governing our actions. The one is the name-the other is the thing; the one is the appearance-the other is the reality. The one is the body—the other is the soul, that inspires every member, and penetrates every particle of the frame. The one is the picture-the other is the original: the one shows us the Christian on canvass the other presents him to us alive and in motion.
Now what I want to convince you of here is this-that real godliness is more than a show, a fancy, a form-it has an efficacy in it-there is a power attending it. For consider how it is produced and maintained. It is in its existence, as well as in its revelation, a Divine principle. Hear how the Apostle speaks of it in his epistle to the Ephesians. "God is able," says he, "to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think”"according to the power that worketh in us." I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ-" that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." And again, he prays for them, that they may know-what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, in the heavenly places:"
where we find that the same almighty ener-
Observe the subjects of Divine grace. This principle distinguishes them from others: and is capable of producing a holy singularity. If you have only the form of godliness, there will be no practical difference between you and others; if servants-you will be as idle, as gossipping, as regardless of the property of your employers, as others: if wives-you will be as unsubmissive; if husbands-as tyrannical: if tradesmen-as grasping and overreaching as others. But if you have the power-you will resemble good Nehemiah. "The former governors," says he, "were chargeable to the people-but so did not I, because of the fear of God." Piety would not suffer him to act like them. And if you are under the influence of it, you will not, in your various relations and circumstances, be borne down by the errors and vices around you: but you will be able to act uprightly you will be kept from consulting custom, and be constrained to listen to conscience: you will not be permitted to sin as do others, or 'sleep as do others you will not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of the mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." A dead fish can swim with the stream, but a live one can swim against it.
Yea, this principle distinguishes the man from himself. Thus, under the influence of it, the drunkard becomes sober; the swearer learns to fear an oath, and the liar a lie. He that stole, steals no more, but labours. The churl becomes liberal, and the niggard bountiful; it cannot be otherwise. If the man has been moral before, he continues to avoid the same vices, to perform the same duties, and to attend the same means of grace as before
but from very different motives, and in a very different manner. He has now also much more to engage his attention. His regard is no longer confined to externals only, but he is taken up with "the hidden man of the heart;" and prays with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.' Hence spring exer. cises to which he was once a stranger; and he feels himself engaged in a warfare which often perplexes him, and leads him to exclaim, "If I am his, why am I thus?"
Behold then the life of the real Christian, and trace the operation of the power of godi
It appears with regard to the ordinances of divine worship. Others who have only the form, come without expectation and prayer, and return without reflection and concern: they are satisfied with their attendance-but he is not. He is anxious to derive spiritual advantage from it: he enters the closet before he approaches the temple, and his language is, "Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!" Oh that I may be of "the circumcision who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
It appears with regard to the dissipations of the world. He voluntarily resigns those amusements in which he once placed so much of his happiness: and he returns no more to them. And why? If he were mindful of the country whence he came, he has opportunity to return: he is surrounded with the same allurements as others--why then does he not engage in these diversions again!Because he has found something infinitely more noble and more satisfying. And a greater good has power to abolish the impressions of a less. When the sun arises, the stars disappear. And the grapes of Eshcol cause us to forget the leeks and onions of Egypt.
You may see it in the mortification of sin. He denies himself; he crucifies the flesh with the affections and lusts; he plucks out a right eye, and cuts off a right hand. You may see it in what he is willing to sacrifice and to suffer. Read history: read the book of martyrs; read the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews-and see what the force of this powerful principle can accom plish. There you see an Abraham at the command of God, "leaving his own country, and his father's house, and going out, not knowing whither he went:" and, in obedience to the same authority, "when tried, offering up Isaac; his son, his only son; of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” There you see a 66 Moses, when come to years, refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy
But this power, derived from a Divine influence, and distinguishing the Christian from others and from himself-this power, which enlivens him in ordinances, raises him above the world, subdues his corruptions, and supports and comforts him in all his sufferings-this power, many, alas! are ignorant of, and in works, if not in words, really deny.
II. THEY YET ASSUME AND MAINTAIN THE FORM-and some of the reasons which induce them to do this, are the following:
First, because the form is comparatively easy. The difficulty lies in the power. It is an easy thing to pretend to be rich; to purchase splendid apparel and furniture; and live in style upon the property of others— which is the fashion of the day. This dif
"But we are not called to such scenes as these." Blessed be God, you are not. But every Christian, says Luther, is a piece of a martyr; "yea," says the Apostle, "and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." There is the same malig-fers exceedingly from the economy and innity in human nature against vital religion dustry and labour of the man who in his callas formerly; and it will operate as far as it is ing gains a competency lawfully. It is an the permitted by circumstances. And when re- easy thing to profess to be wise: but to acligion is vital, it will enable a man to abide quire knowledge by the weariness of study; the test; and resolve to go forward, notwith- by rising early and sitting up late; by keepstanding the ridicule of infidels, the sneer of ing the mind always alive, and attentive to worldlings, and the reproaches of relations perceive, appropriate, and classify fresh inand friends. And this requires a degree of tellectual stores here is the difficulty. And the same grace as martyrdom. thus it is in the case before us. The form of godliness requires no strenuous exertions; demands no costly sacrifices. It is the power of it that renders the Christian life a "striving to enter in at the strait gate;" a "pressing into the kingdom of God;" a "wrestling with principalities and powers;" a "running the race that is set before us;" a "fighting the good fight of faith." And it is this too that incurs opposition from the world. It will indeed be acknowledged that sometimes the very form draws forth the rancour of others: and of all people those are most to be pitied who are persecuted for what they have not; who are reproached as Christians without deserving the honour. But upon a nearer inspection of these mere formalists, the world is generally made quite easy. They see that they were mistaken in the characters; they find that they are "of their own," though wearing a religious uniform. And discover
The vigour of this principle appears also in other sufferings. How many are there at this moment, enduring a variety of grief in private, whose names will never be published in history, but who, in the eye of God, are greater than the admired heroes of the age! They act nobly, without the prospect, or the desire of notice, or of fame: they breathe no revenge towards instruments; they neither charge God foolishly nor unkindly in any of the disappointments and afflictions which have befallen them; they are strangers to impatience and repining; and all you hear is, "I mourn, but I do not murmur. I pray, but I do not prescribe. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.' I have more reason for thankfulness than complaint. I know not what he is doing with me-but he knoweth the way that I take.' Whether the trial
be removed or continued, increased or di-ing in them their own spirit, which disposes
should be-and so it shall be. 'Behold, here I am, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him!
Yea, we have seen and heard the saints "joyful in glory, and shouting aloud upon their dying beds;" raised above the fear of "the king of terrors" himself, and exulting,
the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming | minished, it is with him to determine-so it the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. And what shall I more say for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jeph-"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, thah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the where is thy victory? The sting of death is prophets: who through faith subdued king- sin, and the strength of sin is the law: but doms, wrought righteousness, obtained pro- thanks be unto God, that giveth us the vicmises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched tory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Surely, the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the therefore, in the religion of the blessed Jesword, out of weakness were made strong, sus, there is an excellency, an efficacy, a waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the power. armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."
them to plead for their vanities and leads them to indulge in the very same practices, as far as they can safely do it-they will readily allow them their odd way of thinking, or their peculiar observances; yea, they may even consent to go with them to hear their favourite preacher, if these formalists will go with them in return to see their favourite actor. The real Christian may say to these nominal ones, as his Lord and Saviour did to the Jews; "The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it that the deeds thereof are evil."
Secondly, Persons are sometimes induced to take up the form of godliness through the influence of their connexions. From some of them they feel the influence of authority; from some, the influence of friendship; from some, the influence of business. For with many, "gain is godliness;" and they assume religion because they imagine they can succeed better in the church than in the world. This often decides the place of their hearing. Some of them also pay for seats in several places of worship-it makes them known— and is likely to increase customers.
ward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power."
Though religion particularly and practically considered be obnoxious to mankind, yet viewed superficially and in the gross, it commonly obtains something like applause; and few would choose to have any thing to do with a person who avowed himself to be irreligious in principle and practice. Many therefore nicely determine the boundary of safety; and without going so far as to give offence, they will go far enough to procure respect. Hence, says Henry, they assume a form of godliness to take away their reproach, but not the power of it to take away their sin."
And to draw towards a close-If such a subject as this was ever necessary, it is peculiarly so in the present day, when hearing the gospel entails so little reproach, and the profession of religion is so cheap, having be Let me therefore beseech come so common. you to examine yourselves by this solemn test; and to inquire, whether you have the power, as well as the form of godliness. It is a good evidence in your favour, if you are willing to come to the light; and can even address yourselves to God in the language of David: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
And be it remembered, that in a case of such vast importance, and where the conse quences of deception are not to be repaired, we cannot be too anxious to be right. It is better to have a timorous conscience, than a presumptuous one: and to be unnecessarily distressed for awhile, and-be safe-than to enjoy a carnal confidence, and-perish for ever!
To induce you to seek after real godliness, you would do well to reflect on "the exceed ing great and precious promises," which are attached to it in the Scriptures of truth. If you have the life and power of religion, you will indeed be engaged in exercises and trials which the mere formalist escapes-but then you will have privileges and hopes of which he can never partake. He does not go enough to relish its enjoyments or amass its riches. But "for this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee, in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great
Thirdly, They avail themselves of the form of godliness to preserve peace within. For without something of religion, conscience would rage and clamour; but by means of this, it is amused and quieted; and this renders it so extremely dangerous. For, engaged in a
number of duties, he presumes on the good-waters they shall not come nigh unto him." ness of his state; and feeling no fear, he "The Lord hath set apart him that is godly Bodily exercise profiteth lit makes no inquiry. The man is secure with- for himself." out being safe; and while " poor towards tle: but godliness is profitable unto all things God," supposes himself to be "rich, and in- having promise of the life that now is and of creased with goods, and to have need of no- that which is to come." For eternity-here thing." is the assurance of deliverance from every evil, the possession of all good, the vision and the presence of their Lord and Saviour for And for time-here is the certaintyever. not of health, of property, of ease and friendship-but what is far better-the persuasion, that "all things shall work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose!"
"Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name!"
But what is the hope of the formalist though he has gained?" And what does he gain? He may pass for religious in the opinion of his fellow-creatures, and lull conscience to sleep-But does he obtain the approbation of God? Can he possibly elude his discernment? "His eyes are as a flame of fire," which will pierce through every pretension, and consume every disguise. No. "He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is out
the derangement of one of which brings on the dissolution of the whole-the wonder is, that we ever live a single day to an end! Accordingly many are carried to the grave as soon as they are born. They open their eyes on a vale of tears; weep and withdraw. Others grow in stature, become lovely in form, engaging in manners, amiable in temper, and promising as to wisdom and virtue; these live long enough to engage the affections of their relatives, and then leave them mourning and "refusing to be comforted because they are not." Others advance further, form connexions, and enter on their busy schemes-but "in that very day, their thoughts perish." Sometimes wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, receive a commission to destroy. These may be compared to storms, which desolate a whole forest at once, and cover the ground with foliage.
From our windows, or in our walks, we may now see the trees, shedding their honours.-Isaiah tells us that this is an emblem of ourselves" For we all do fade as a leaf." It is observable that he does not compare life to a tree. An oak by slow degrees rises to perfection, and long maintains its glory. For ages it defies the fury of the elements, and at last, after long and repeated assaults, it gradually decays, or sullenly submitting to the axe, sinks slowly and crashing upon the ground. Many trees are much less solid and durable than the oak. But man is compared to none of them—his image is "
When a leaf falls it drops irrecoverably. It is otherwise with the tree: "there is hope of a tree if it be cut down that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, yet, through the scent of water, it will bud and bring forth boughs like a plant." But the leaf has no second spring: it can never be revived. And man is like it. "Man dieth and wasteth away, yea, man giveth up the ghost and where is he!-Man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep." Oh! could prayers and tears bring him back, and rejoin him to the living! But all is vain!—And equally vain are all our wishes and our endeavours to prevent the doom! "O remember that my life is wind; mine eye shall no more see
A leaf while it hangs on, adorns the branches and looks beautiful; it is the shel-good. The eye of him that hath seen me ter of the fruit and the dress of the tree; it shall see me no more: thine eyes are upon waves to the wind and murmurs to the ear. me, and I am not. As the cloud is consumed. But how weak, how frail is it! By what a and vanisheth away; so he that goeth down slender bond does it retain its situation! How to the grave shall come up no more. He small a force is required to bring it down to shall return no more to his house, neither the ground! where it soon mixes with the shall his place know him any more." earth, and is no more to be distinguished from it.
But the main thing intended in the image, is the short continuance of its being, and the beasts still shorter duration of its vigour and verdure. Be favourable, ye winds, and, ye of the field, come not to devour-let the leaf remain and flourish. How contracted the measure of its existence-and of its glory! When Jacob was asked how old he was, he
We all do fade as a leaf!—Isaiah lxiv. 6. THE inspired writers often send us to the animal, and even to the vegetable worlds for instruction: and it must be confessed, that they are wonderfully adapted to strike and to admonish us.
The misfortune however is, that "seeing many things, we observe not." The means of instruction are plentifully dispensed, but a mind to use them is rarely found.
Yet such a mind it behoves us to cultivate. And when the attention is awakened, and we are willing to learn, every thing becomes a teacher or a monitor. The heavens declare the glory of God. All his works praise him." The ravens encourage us to trust in him for food; and the lilies for clothing. His voice is heard in the thunder: he whispers also in the breeze: and even a falling leaf preaches a lesson to man.
A leaf does not always endure a whole season. It is exposed to a thousand disasters. It is often crushed in its prime. Insects gnaw it off; the beasts of the field may deyour it; winds may scatter it; or it may be shaken down with the fruit. And, between the diseases and accidents to which human answered, "The days of the years of my pilnature is liable, few of the human race com-grimage are one hundred and thirty years: paratively attain old age. The Jews formerly few and full of evil have been the days of the reckoned up nine hundred and three diseases; years of my pilgrimage: and I have not atbut accidents are absolutely innumerable. A tained unto the days of the years of the life vapour may cause death: our houses may of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimBut if he fell short of the age of his bury us in their ruins: our food may poison age." us. When we consider the extreme delicacy ancestors, we come vastly short of his. That of the human frame, and the multiplicity of man is old. Ask him how many annual pefine and tender parts of which it is composed, riods of time he has passed through? "Three