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Swinnock mentions it as a memorable saying of a religious nobleman in his time, (Lord Brook,) “ That a man may be deceived, who thinks to save any thing by his religion, but his own soul.” (Heaven and Hell Epitomized, p. 167.) Blessed be God! none shall be deceived as to that, who trust their all with Christ. And as to every thing else, (besides the salvation of the soul,) they shall see reason at last to say, “ He hath done all things well.”
THE FORM OF GODLINESS.
2 Tim. iii. 5.
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof : from such turn away.
Do not think, my brethren, that I wish to apply this character to any one person now present. I am sure I have no one in view to whom I think it belongs. I should be very glad to prove that there is no one to whom it is applicable ; but I dare not absolutely answer for you : I am not without solicitude for myself. Such persons there were in the earliest ages of Christians, and there is certainly room to fear they are far more common now. For this plain reason especially, -the very form of Christianity might then expose to serious danger; now there is no such opposition to be dreaded, and the want of some form would often be more reproachful than a profession of godliness.
We will, therefore, inquire,
First, What form of godliness may they assume, who are yet destitute of the power ?
The Apostle evidently refers especially to nominal Christians. Other religions scarcely seemed to require any thing more than a form. Yea, their very festivals in honor of their gods, were more of a vicious form, than a form of godliness. So it was with ancient heathens. So it is now in heathen countries. The prayers of the Hindoos are not rational addresses; but vain repetitions of the name of some imaginary
deity. And the most meritorious acts of devotion are mere external rites; bathing in the Ganges; inflicting tortures on the body, in a fool-hardy, vain-glorious manner, without mortifying any evil passion. And Paul foretold, that in the latter days it would be so among too many nominal Christians. Time would fail to enumerate the idle forms of the church of Rome. While many of their divines deny the necessity of attention, during the external form. And in Russia, and other parts connected with the Greek church, things are little better. I have seen a Russian passport to heaven, sold by a Greek priest, addressed to the Three Holies—Virgin, Jesus, Jehovah; certifying the bearer to be a good Christian ; which they fasten round the forehead, and bury with them. While we bless God for deliverance from these delusions, we have room to lament that many ignorant Protestants have scarcely a better form. Persons who neglect public worship will yet depend on their attachment to the name of churchman, and a blind attachment to the denomination in which they were brought up; though grossly ignorant of scripture doctrines, and as regardless of all its precepts. While they indulge the grossest vices, they will curse all who dissent from their church. Others are far more decent in their conduct; yet all their dependance is on mere form; they are strangers to religion, and ridicule or severely censure all that pretend to more than they possess themselves. I lately travelled with some such persons : they decried infidelity and philosophy, admitted Christianity to be true, but severely reprobated all that pretended to more religion than others.
Such will generally oppose the doctrine of human depravity, regeneration, conversion, faith, union with Christ, communion with God, and all the interior of religion. They will be best suited with a scheme of religion which makes little of the evil of sin, of the work of Christ, of the dignity of his person, of the influences of the Holy Spirit, &c. Yet it is possible these truths may have been too early and thoroughly inculcated to be wholly denied or renounced; connexions may keep them under the sound of the gospel, though they never felt the power of it; and though the conscience is at times uneasy, they labor to keep all quiet by noticing the
failures and inconsistences of those who have more religion than themselves.
Some have gone a step farther; they have known a degree of superficial awakening, and religious affections, though it is now sunk into formality again. They have taken up a profession of their own, have obtained the verdict of true Christians in their favor, and have a name and place among them; yet their faith does not overcome the world, but the world has overcome their faith. They have a name to live, but they are dead; and He whose eyes are as a flame of fire knows it. Some false system of religion will be likely to draw them quite off from the truth ; or some new temptation may wholly overcome them; or otherwise they may pass undetected till the king comes in to view his guests, when they will be found not to have had on the “ wedding garment."
SECONDLY: Wherein consists that power of godliness without which no form will profit us?
In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Gal. vi. 15. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. 2 Cor. v. 17. Godliness is, then, an internal, operative principle, implanted in the human heart by God himself. No outward form can answer the description of a new creation. Nor can the truth be received in the love of it, without a most powerful and extensive influence of the temper and conduct.
If a man as much realizes the truth of those invisible objects, whose existence is ascertained by divine revelation, as he realizes the objects of sense, surely they will powerfully move every power of his soul; and if the whole soul be moved, it will regulate the outward conduct. He that knows God, knows what he is, loves to know him, and to keep him in mind continually; will this have no power to make a difference between him, and his conduct, and that of one who has not God in all his thoughts ?—He that knows and believes his own dependance, responsibility, and immortality, and often reflects on the account he must give of himself unto God, will he conduct himself like others? He that fully realizes his obligations, knows the extent of duty, feels the equity and excellence of the divine law :-he that sees
sin to be exceedingly sinful, sees sin in all his doings, sin in his heart and native disposition ; will this not affect him? He that believes the gospel to be good news from heaven; believes the love of God in the gift of his Son; believes the interposition of a Mediator was absolutely necessary, absolutely free, absolutely effectual; will not this very powerfully influence him? He that believes the need, freeness, efficacy of the influences of the Holy Spirit; considers himself as the temple of the Holy Spirit; and is sealed by him to the day of redemption ;-he that fully expects the second coming of Christ, and is often looking forward to that blessed epoch as the period when his bliss shall be consummated ; will not this produce emotions of heart, and influence to a course of conduct, very different from those who never think of it?
Can we suppose a mere form will correspond with the descriptions given in the word of God, of the life of a true Christian ?
Being justified by faith we have peace with God," &c.? Rom. v.1-5. “ Whom having not seen ye love; in whom though now ye see him not, yet, believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”? 1 Pet. i. 8. Or with giving all diligence to make your calling and election sure? 2 Pet. i. 10. Or with working out your salvation with fear and trembling? Phil. ii. 12. Or with forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those before ; pressing toward the mark, &c. ? Or with having conversation in heaven? or our affections set on things above? Col. iii. 2. Or with overcoming the world?
5. Or crucifying the flesh, with the affections and lusts? Gal. v. 24. Surely, all these expressions indicate, that godliness must have a peculiar power over the soul: to draw the heart towards God, and heavenly things; to constrain a man to depart from iniquity, to fortify him against temptation, excite him to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; to urge him to comply with the will of God, and to aim habitually at the glory of God; to wean his heart from the world, and make him comparatively indifferent to the events of time; to support under afflictions in general, and especially under sufferings for righteousness' sake; to curb all irregular appetites and passions; to con
1 John v.
If there be any
quer ambition, sinful indulgences, love of money ; to make him active in recommending true religion to others; and to induce him to use his influence to promote the knowledge of the Saviour; to reconcile to death, and endear the thought of being for ever with the Lord.
Let us then, my brethren, dread the thought of deceiving ourselves with the mere form of godliness, while we verbally or practically deny its power. Either godliness must be denied altogether, or we are very inconsistent if we pretend to it without being powerfully affected by it.
. room to represent Christ as dwelling in his people, or to speak of their being in him, we may well expect them to be new creatures. If Christians are the temples of the Holy Spirit; if they are sealed by him to the day of redemption ; if he is the earnest of the promised inheritance; there must be room for the Apostle's exhortation, -" Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith ; prove your ownselves; know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates ? And if any one saith that he abideth in him, he ought so to walk as he himself also walked.” 2 Cor. xiii. 5.-1 John ii. 6. Godliness is the knowledge, love, and resemblance of God. Is love to God a weak principle? Can a man be like God, like the incarnate Saviour, and not be, a firm, decided character ? Not be different, essentially different from those that live without God in the world ? O be not deceived !
2 TIM. iii. 16. . All scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
The Apostle, in the preceding context, exhorts Timothy to a constant adherence to the doctrine of Christ, notwithstanding all persecution and opposition, to which he might find himself exposed. He had received the truths of the gospel, not merely as the dictates of men, but was well assured that