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CITY-ROAD MAGAZINE, .
THE PROFIT OF GODLINESS.
BY THE REV. THOMAS RODGERS.
"For bodily exercise profiteth little : but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”—1 Tim. iv. 8. ASCETICISM is not Christianity. Penance is not piety. Religion demands self-denial, but not unnecessary, self-inflicted suffering. It seeks to sanctify, not to destroy human nature. Religious perfection does not consist in contemptuous indifference to the things which “God hath created," and which He"giveth us ... richly to enjoy.” The tendency towards rigorous austerity, considered as being meritorious in itself, and conducive to piety, was thus early in the history of the Church of Christ beginning to manifest itself. Writing as he was "moved by the Holy Ghost," the Apostle, in language of startling severity, brands the spirit already discernible, as a sign of apostasy from the faith. The doctrines of these teachers were not Divine, but diabolical, in their spirit ; " doctrines of devils.” “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving ... But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise”-ascetic severity—“profiteth little ; but godliness is profitable unto all things.”
The Apostle's words protest alike against a spurious spiritualism, which ignores the present, and the worldliness which ignores the future life. In opposition to both evils, he affirms."Godliness is profitable" both for the present and the future, for "the life that now is,” and that “which is to come.”
(1.) Godliness is a duty. The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him for ever. Ungodliness is man's fundamental crime. It is the prodigal's ungrateful demand, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me ; ” indicating alienation of feeling and affection from his father and his home. “Father, I want, not you, but yours. I do not ask for loving intercourse with you, or count that amongst my goods. I desire all I can
What would be the agony of a father knowing that such language was the true expression of the feelings of his child towards
Yet such an attitude of mind and heart toward our Heavenly Father is ungodliness. Of all God's gifts to man, the best and chiefestthe gift most prized by the godly—is God Himself, the Supreme and highest good. “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul.” Appropriating
VOL. VI. FIRST SERIES,
obtain of yours.”
the gifts, the ungodly live alienated from the Giver. He who boasts of his irreligion, proclaims his degradation.
(2.) Godliness is a privilege, the most ennobling. Fallen and depraved, it is possible for the soul to be renewed by the power of the Holy Ghost, and fashioned after the image of God, “in righteousness and true holiness." We are " called to glory and virtue.” Man's chief glory is his capacity by grace Divine of becoming like God. Godliness is Godlikeness.
(3.) Godliness is a boon. It “is profitable.” It appeals not merely to our disinterestedness, but also to our self-interest. A great truth was perverted by the sneer, “ Doth Job fear God for nought ?” We do not fear God for nought. Nor does the idea of reward give a mercenary character to religion. God has connected well-being with well-doing : “ Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him.” Happiness is dependent upon holiness. The right is the ultimately profitable. A philosopher whose system of utility regards happiness as the true end of life, was compelled to arrive at the conclusion, that “this end is only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only,” he says, “ I thought, are happy, who have their minds fixed on some subject other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others; on the improvement of mankind; even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.” The truth cannot be too deeply impressed upon us, that happiness will not bear being made the ultimate end of life. Pleasure-seekers are seldom pleasure-finders. They who make their own gratification the distinct purpose of existence never succeed in their pursuit. “ Others
wish you all happiness,'” good Philip Henry would say to friends, “I wish you all holiness, and then there will be no fear, but you will have all happiness.” It has been divinely ordained that the pursuit of the true end of life shall be the source of the blessedness of life. Viewing man in his complex relations to the present and the future, the Apostle declares that “Godliness is,” without exception, or qualification, " profitable” for “ the life that now is, and that which is to come.”
1. Consider the relation of Godliness to physical well-being.—Had man stood in his original innocence, he had never suffered disease or death. We may imagine him living in this lower paradise, the possessor of every real good, joyfully departing, at the divine summons, from a scene of unalloyed tranquillity, to a world inconceivably more glorious,- from the earthly to the heavenly Eden. But no child of fallen Adam may now aspire to such terrestrial bliss. “The body is dead because of sin.” “We must needs die.” No exception is made in favour of the godly, nor can it be recorded of every godly man, as of the King of Israel, “And David died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honour.” Since the day, so sorrowful to the early Christian Church, when“ devout men carried Stephen to his
burial, and made great lamentation over him," the devout have often mourned men “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost" cut off in the midst of their days, with “ their purposes broken off :” or have poured their lamentations over the untimely bier of the youthful and ardent, whose lives like the dawning day were bright with promise of gladness and blessing to the world. “ Those whom the gods love die young,” says the Pagan proverb. There may be more than sentiment merely in the exclamation of mingled regret and pleasure, as the bereaved sometimes refer to the departed, beloved for their moral and religious excellence,_“Ah, they were too good for this world !” Memories of saintly children summoned from this present evil world are amongst the most sacred relics of the Church. “God's finger touched them, and they slept."
But yet, even with respect to physical well-being, “godliness” hath the " promise of the life that now is.” It renews the entire nature. The God of peace sanctifies wholly, in spirit, soul and body. Dwelling in the spirit,—the holiest of all, the Divine presence fills the outer courts of the temple. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost ? " The body has been “ bought with a price.” The presentation of the body, holy and acceptable unto God, is our “ reasonable service.”
Commencing with the inner and nobler element of our being,—“ the spirit :” Godliness sanctifies and blesses man in all the elements of his being ; in all the relations and circumstances of his life. Its general tendency is to benefit in “mind, body and estate.” The promise of long life is offered by the Divine Lawgiver, amid the terrors and thunders of Sinai—as the reward of obedience to the law which commands filial respect and love: “Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” This “is the first commandment with promise.” This promise is often repeated. How triumphantly the Psalmist sings of the security and confidence of him who has made the Lord his refuge and fortress, who“ dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High,” and“ abideth under the shadow of the Almighty ... Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night: nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.” And the sublime strain concludes with the promise of long life and salvation :-" With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.” Wisdom still “crieth without.” In the streets, and in the chief place of concourse, in the market place of the world, she lifts up her voice to arrest the attention of the heedless or the busy passers-by. With both hands she offers her goodly merchandise : “ Length of days is in her right hand ; and in her left hand riches and honour.”
2. Consider the relation of Godliness to temporal prosperity. There are two extremes against which we shall do well to guard. The possession of worldly substance is not of necessity inimical to a devoted godly
life ; while it is equally true that Godliness does not of necessity secure such earthly good. As I was conversing with an otherwise intelligent man, my companion stated it as his belief, and stoutly adhered to it, that the acquisition of riches was inconsistent with a real religious life. He was reminded that many of the saints whose lives are written for our instruction in the Oracles of God were amongst the richest and most influential men of their times. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were rich in flocks and herds. " And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” Joseph, in Egypt, lived in high position and power, second only to Pharaoh, the King; Job was "the greatest of all the men of the east;” David was not the only godly King ; Daniel was the first of the three Presidents set over the kingdom and the princes of Babylon.
The Christian dispensation is a “ better covenant ... established upon better promises.” The promises of the old covenant primarily relate to the “ good things ” of the life that now is, the promises of the new covenant specially relate to the blessedness of the life which is to come. But as the old covenant " which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances ” did not ignore the future life, even so the better and more spiritual covenant does not overlook our present state of existence. Directing our hopes to a world beyond the grave, Christianity is nevertheless the true Secularism : “ The meek shall inherit the earth; ” “ All things are yours ;-life, death ; things present, things to come.”
Careful discrimination, thejudgment that “ tries the things that differ,”. is essential to distinguish between what is local and temporary, and what is universal and abiding, in the teaching of Holy Writ. “ All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution ” is a truth possessing much significance for us in this busy commercial age, but was especially appropriate to the heroic period of the Church's history, when storm after storm of legalised oppression broke over her, and when believers suffered even unto death for the Gospel's sake. Legalised repression we are not now called to endure. Convert the nations, and of necessity, persecution ends. The Church of Christ shall finally embrace all peoples, and be coextensive with the world.
Let us guard against the opposite error. Godliness does not of necessity procure the possession of worldly wealth. To become rich is not the supreme end of life. Riches are not essential to human happiness. “ Godliness with contentment is great gain.” The vast majority of men must ever be the toilers. It has been well and wisely said, that if all were rich, then all would be poor. But the tendency of godliness is towards the promotion of real prosperity, as it nourishes what have been designated the secular virtues ; and in unnumbered instances in which the ungodly are saved by the power of the Gospel from vicious habits, it creates these secondary virtues. Is honesty a secular virtue ? A dishonest man
cannot be a Christian. Is truthfulness a secular virtue ? “No liar can inherit the kingdom of God.” Does sobriety tend to well-being ? “Be sober” is an apostolic injunction. Is industry essential to welfare ? An idle man is not a Christian. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.”—Let not the dominant purpose of life be the accumulation of earthly good : “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
3. Consider the influence of Godliness upon the happiness of life.—God desires our happiness, for this universal instinct of happiness has been implanted in our hearts by Him. We would not despise worldly sources of happiness. The extension of his business may afford satisfaction to the merchant; the student may find rational enjoyment in his books and learned pursuits; the sight of his children growing up around him, healthy, intelligent and dutiful, may fill the parent's heart with the purest earthly joy of which humanity is capable. But secondary sources of happiness are uncertain and exhaustible. The cup is quickly drained ; the portion of goods soon spent. The child of God, enjoying the providential good which his Heavenly Father may graciously grant, possesses besides, in the loving-kindness and favour of God, a sure and inexhaustible portion. He enjoys an infinite good : “My flesh and my heart faileth ; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”
The worldling objects, “ But godliness tends to dulness and melancholy. It possibly is a good thing to die with, but a doleful thing to live with.” This is the devil's lie. What does experience teach? Need the "people of God” shrink from the test, or be ashamed of the result. Think of Voltaire, the famous author, the successful courtier, the friend of the King, describing man as “an unlucky rascal,” and cursing the day of his own birth. Some of the saddest and bitterest lines in our language were written towards the end of his splendid but miserable career, by a man who died before he had reached half the allotted period of human life; a man of brilliant, though perverted genius ; a nobleman, “with everything that fortune and rank could give him ; and who had laid out his life for pleasure :"
“My days are in the yellow leaf :
The flowers, the fruits of love are gone;
Are mine alone."
“Count o'er the joys thine hours have seen ;
Count o'er thy days from anguish free ;
Through every turn of life hath been;