« PreviousContinue »
VAIN OSTENTATION OF RELIGION, OR THE DEFECT OF MORAL EXCELLENCE, CONSIDERED AS THE
OPPOSITE EXTREME TO PROFANENESS.
LUKE Xviii. 9.
He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.
EVERY reader of the Scriptures will immediately remember that the parable referred to here is that of the Pharisee and the Publican; the Pharisee who would have passed for a religious person, the Publican who dared not even to lift up his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, and prayed for mercy to himself, a miserable sinner.
It is not, however, my present purpose to enlarge on the particular circumstances of the parable, but only on the error against which it was directed. Our Saviour spake this parable, we find, unto certain which trusted in themselves
that they were righteous, and despised others. That is to say, in substance and effect it was directed against a vain pretence and ostentation of religion, without the spirit of true piety and charity. The special form which this false boasting took in this Pharisee was, that he trusted in his punctuality in outward observances. “ I
fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all "that I possess." And this, accompanied by haughtiness and a contempt of others, (as such a frame of mind is apt to be accompanied,) is what we must suppose the parable, in very strictness, to be intended to reprove.
But we should greatly err, if we imagined that its power ended there. If there be other grounds, besides the ground of punctuality in outward services, on which men will persuade themselves that they are righteous and despise others, while yet they want themselves a heart of holiness and love, we must conceive the spirit of our Saviour's lesson to extend to these also. And other forms of this same self-deceit there surely are. Let us not, therefore, confine our Saviour's words of wisdom too narrowly, but rather look on them as left on record against every pattern, be it what it may, in which an outward show and vain profession of religion is put in place of inward holi
ness and the true substance of devotedness to the divine will.
This then is the use, and all the use, which I shall now make of the parable to which the text relates; namely, to view it as affording us, in every form and way alike, a warning against all mere superficial profession; as applicable to the cases of all persons whatsoever, as many as shall place their trust that they are righteous in any form of godliness, without the power thereof". And under this view of the subject I shall endeavour to expose two different ways of error in religion, both very prevalent, I fear, and both most surely very dangerous.
True piety and zeal for God's honour is placed, like every other inward excellence, between two opposite extremes. On one side is a disposition altogether careless, loose, and sensual-the disposition of profaneness; upon the other is a disposition of pretence to godliness, without its proper influence upon the heart and personal behaviour. We have considered the exceeding peril of the soul from one extreme-namely, profaneness. Let us endeavour to advance a step further in progress toward a just understanding of the
danger on the other side; and let us strive to see the error that resides in all vain show, or ostentation of religion, considered as the opposite extreme to ir-religion, or carelessness about the soul.
Profaneness (let it be repeated) consists in carelessness, in unconcernedness, about divine things. The thing opposed to it is not an over or excessive concern, for no man can have too much care for God and for his own soul, provided only that his care be real; but it is either an insufficient, or a pretended concern. It is either a care only for the signs of piety, without regard to the thing signified; or a desire to appear religious, without the taking pains to be so. The first of these two great mistakes is that which some have called formality: the other has not any so precise a name, but still is easy to be understood. He who depends on mere outside observances and punctuality in waiting on prescribed ordinances, is said to have no better than a formal religion. He, on the other hand, who has the words of godliness upon his tongue without the fruits of it in his behaviour is said to have a notional one; that is, consisting of a set of notions or conceits in his own mind leading to no just practical effects. And both of these are apt
to think too highly of themselves, to the disparagement of brethren with whom they will compare themselves; both are too likely to incur their Lord's reproof, by trusting in themselves that they are righteous in comparison of others. But let us look at each more fully, and in order.
I. And first let us examine more distinctly who is the formalist, or what is meant by that which must be reckoned only a religion of forms.
Take a picture of it in its worst degree, as given in the person of the Pharisee imagined in the parable. "The Pharisee stood and prayed "thus with himself; God, I thank thee that I
am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican. I fast "twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." This is indeed a painful picture, for it displays the very heart and spirit of pride, together with the want of all becoming tenderness and charity.
But it is also an extreme case; nor need we think that every case belonging to the same kind of self-deceit is either just the same with this, or quite so bad in its degree. The error here reproved has many shades of difference, as it is seen in different persons. Some fall perhaps into