« AnteriorContinuar »
amused with variety and change. In short, he looks upon the duties of religious worship merely as a task im. posed on him by an arbitrary master, who is too strong for him to contend with; and therefore he performs them for his own safety, and is always glad when they are over, and thinks that God hath nothing more to require at his hand.
Once more, in the fifth place, The power of godliness is manifested by a steadfast course of holy living, by an uniform and unreserved obedience to all God's commandments. I observed, in the entrance, that godliness is the subjection or devotedness of the soul to God himself: and in vain do we pretend to this, if we object against any of his laws; for the Apostle James hath assured us, that “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” “ It is not the calling Christ Lord, Lord, but the doing the things which he says,” that proveth us to be Christians indeed: “ Yea, in this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. He that doeth not righte. ousness is not of God." The formalist, as I have already admitted, may go a considerable length in an outward reformation of manners; he may abstain from pollutions of the grosser kind, and even do many things that are materially good: but still he hath his exceptions : some şips are so dear to him, that he will by no means consent to part with them; and some duties are so displeas. ing to the flesh, that he cannot be reconciled to them at any rate: he therefore endeavours, either to suit his opi. pion to his inclination, by persuading himself that they are no duties; or, if the evidence of their authority is too strong to be evaded, he may attempt to do something like them in a cold and superficial manner; but the things themselves he will not do. Whereas the godly
man “esteems all God's commandments concerning all things to be right, and hates, with a perfect hatred, ev. ery false and wicked way.” This is the habitual language of his soul: “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes ! Show me thy way, O Lord, teach me thy path, lead me in thy truth, and teach me;
for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day. What I know not, teach thou me: If I have done iniquity, I will do so no more. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” “ His delight is in the law of bis God;" and instead of complaining, that the duties required of bim are many or burthensome, he rather rejoices, that he is furnished with such a variety of means and occasions of testifying his gratitude to that amiable sovereign, to whom he hath devoted himself, and bis all. Love makes the Redeemer's yoke to feel easy, and bis burden light; and nothing grieves him so much, as that he cannot do all that he would, in acknowledgment of those manifold, inestimable favours he hath already received, or hopes to enjoy.
Such is the godly man; and after this manner doth godliness exert its power, “ casting down imaginations, and every bigh thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought,” word, and action, into full " captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
Here, then, let me entreat you, in the serious review of what hath been delivered upon this branch of the sub. ject, to make a fair and impartial trial of yourselves. God, who knoweth all things, is already acquainted with you : each of you must very soon be acquainted with himself, and all the world shall know you too: death is at hand to open your own eyes, and the last
judgment shall publish your real character, and expose it to the view of angels and men; so that, upon all accounts, it is necessary that you be early and thoroughly assured of your condition. If, when weighed in the balance, you are found wanting, you shall have this advantage by the discovery, that it will rouse you from that lethargy, out of which the unquenchable fire would at length awaken you ; and powerfully incite you to do something for your safety ere it be too late ; « God's arm is not shortened that it cannot save, nei . ther is his ear heavy that it cannot hear.” The Lord Jesus is still as “ mighty as ever, to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him;" and there is nothing that puts you so far out of the road of his mercy as self-deceit and presumption do. Let your case be ever so bad; yet if you are sensible of it, and apply to him for relief, you shall find him, at all times, ready with open arms to receive you; nay, he invites you to come to him in the mildest terms of condescension and grace; “ Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So that the most compassionate and friendly office that a minister of the gospel can perform, is to call upon sinners loudly and repeatedly, “ to examine and prove their ownselves," that, from an alarming sense of danger, they may be compelled, by a happy necessity, to flee for refuge to that almighty Saviour who alone can deliver them from the wrath to come. This indeed is the principal aim of my discourse; I have furnished you with several characters of true godliness, by the help of which you may discover whether you are possessed of it or not. These I now leave with you, that every man's conscience may apply them to himself in particular, and pronounce sen
tence according to the evidence it may find; and shall proceed to inquire, very briefly, in the
Second place; Whence it is that any who admit the power of godliness, should submit to the drudgery of maintaining the form of it?
With respect to many, it may be said, that they appear in the form of godliness by mere accident; because it happens to be in repute among those with whom they converse. They go to church purely because others do it; they observe an outward decorum of manners to avoid singularity; and walk the customary round of duties from a natural timidity, or perhaps civility of temper, which will not suffer them to do any thing that may be shocking or offensive to their friends or neighbours. Of this sort numbers are to be found in every Christian society; they want boldness, or perhaps invention, to become originals, by striking out a new path for themselves; and therefore they go along with the multitude, comply with the prevailing custom, and have no other rule of life but this short convenient one, to be always in fashion, and to do what others are doing around them.
Ambition may be considered as another source of formality. Men have sagacity enough to discover that reputation is power; and that the more a person is esteem. ed, the greater authority and influence be will have; and therefore, when religion is in credit, the greatest enemies to the power of godliness often betake themselves to its outward form ; which they employ as a ladder to help them to climb in to a bigher place, where, with greater ease, they may possess the means of gratifying their pride and lust of domination.
It sometimes happens, too, that covetousness, or the love of money, hath no inconsiderable band in making men assume the form of godliness. This was the just
reproach of the Pharisees, those noted formalists in the Jewish church; they fasted often, they prayed long, they abounded in washings, and in many bodily austerities; but our Saviour bath assured us that they did all “ to be seen of men.” They were mere pretenders to devotion; they lived by that craft, and used the forms of religion merely as an engine for drawing the estates of widows and orphans into their own hands, that, under the trust of managing them for their behoof, they might the more securely and successfully enrich themselves at their cost.
The two last are designing formalists, who know, or at least who may know, that they are hypocrites; stran. gers, nay, enemies to the power of that godliness which they outwardly profess to esteem and honour.
But there are others who practise the forms of religion to quiet and pacify a natural conscience; and do so many things, that, in appearance at least, they are not far from the kingdom of God; but still they resist the Spirit of grace, and will not submit to the power of godliness. Reason teacheth them, that as their being is derived from God, so their well-being must wholly depend upon his favour; and revelation proclaims, in the strongest terms, that without holiness no man shall see God. Hence they see, that a grossly wicked and profligate course of life would at once cut them off from all hope of happiness; and as they cannot bear the thoughts of being eternally miserable, therefore something must be done in the mean time to keep the garrison in peace. Were they presently to conclude themselves in a state of condemnation, their sensual enjoyments would immediately lose their relish, and the prospect of future approaching vengeance would embitter and poison every comfort they possess. To remedy this, they advance a few steps