« VorigeDoorgaan »
were openly prophane and irreligious. He that makes a shew of religion, flatters God, but all the while acts and designs against him : whereas the prophane 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 denounces so inany severe woes against the Scribes and Pharisees, because they were wicked under a hew of religion. Wo unto you Scribes and Phari. fees, hypocrites : and when he would set forth the feverity of the Lord against the evil servant, Matth. xxiv. 51. he expresseth it thus, he shall cut him afunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; there Mall be weeping and gnasbing of teeth. As if the punishment of hypocrites were the rule and standard of the severelt punilhment. He shall appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.
I will not deny but that a prophane 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 inore 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 propound. ed 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 mens 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 · Thall 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 the words religion and religious to cloisters and Monks; and they make a religious life to consist in Masses and Ave-Maries, and Pater-Nolters, in the observation of canonical hours, and the distinction of meats and habits, in coarse clothes, and a dissembled poverty, and several bodily rigors and severities. As if to make a man a religious 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 without 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 coul, would give a man the start of other people at the resurrection. But what reafon 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 them. selves, as if they were the very life and foul of Chrisțianity; when the great Author of our religion Jesus Christ, and his blessed Apostles, never fpake 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 form 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 luns of it, such as are adultery, fornication, hatred, variance, wrath, fedition, envying, murder, drunkenness : for they which do Fuch 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, meekuless, 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 fincerely used, do all tend to the beget. ting and increasing of these in us; so that it is a grofs mi. Itake to talk of the power of religion, without these. Whoever is deftitute of these, whatever attainments in religion he may pretend to, is got no farther than a form of godlinefs, he is not yet under the power of it. This is the first,
Secondly, Let us be cautioned against being captivat. ed and seduced by those, who have only a form of godliness. This is the Apostle's exhortation here in the text, From fuch turn away; for of this fort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive filly women. To the fame purpose is our Saviour's caution, Matth. vii. 15. 16. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in Meeps clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves, And that we may know how to avoid them, our Saviour bids us to obferve their lives, Ye fall know them by their fruits. He does not bid us examine their opinions, and try their pretences to inspiration ; 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 feldom do it so exactly, as not to betray themselves some time or other : however this of all other is the easiest and surest rule; By their fruits ye Mall know them.
Therefore if any man pretend to any new discoveries in religion, beyond what is plainly revealed in scripture, though he appear in never so fanctimonious 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 nced not trouble himself about those new lights and opinions, which in every age appear 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 philofophiam de cælo deducere, « bring down philosophy “ from heaven to earth,” that is, from conteinplation 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 men in religion in order to the practice of it, to teach men to know God, in St. John's sense, i John ij. 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 to philofophos fententia, “I “ hate men that are una tive in their lives, and phi« lofophers 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 vitious 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 philofopher who lived but a bad life, that he was utterly inexcusable, Quod in eo cujus magister ese vult labitur, artem vitæ professius, delinquit in vita; “ Because he failed « in that wherein he pretended to be a inafter, 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 toChri. stians, 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 and 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 generaily to have! As if the grace of God had never appeared to men, to teach them to deny ungodliness and worldly lufts, and to live foberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world.
There was hardly ever any age, wherein the form of religion did more abound, and there were greater variety in them; 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 conscience 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