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believe the existence of a first cause, he engraves it on every particle of the universe. If he would have us believe the divinity of revelation, he makes some character of that divinity shine in every part of it. Would he have us believe the immortality of the soul, he attests it in every page of the sacred book. Accordingly, without previous knowledge, piety can neither support us under temptations, nor enable us to render to God such homage as is worthy of him.
It cannot support us in temptation. When satan endeavors to seduce us, he offers us the allurements of present and sensible good, and exposes in our sight the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, If we have nothing to oppose against him but superficial opinions of a precarious and ignorant system, we shall not find ourselves in a condition to withstand him.
Nor can piety destitute of knowledge enable us to render to God such worship as is worthy of him; for when do we render to God worship suitable to his majesty ? Is it when, submitting to the church, and saying to a man, in the language of scripture, Rabbi, Rabbi, we place him on a sovereign throne, and make our reason fall prostrate before his intelligence ? No certainly; It is when, submitting ourselves to the decisions of God, we regard him as the source of truth and knowledge, and believe on his testimony doctrines the most abstruse and mysteries the most sublime.
True piety is wise, it rises out of those profound reflections, which the godly man makes on the excellence of religion. Open thou mine eyes said the prophet formerly, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. Thy words are as a lamp unto
my feet, and a light unto my path. Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word, Psalm cxix. 18, 99, 105, 148.
This is the first character of godliness, and this character distinguisheth it from superstion. A superstitious man doth not derive his principles from the source of knowledge. A family tradition, a tale, a legend, a monkish fable, the reverie of a confessor, the decision of a council, this is his law, this is his light, this is his gospel.
2. Piety must be sincere, and this distinguisheth it from hypocrisy. A hypocrite puts on all the appearance of religion, and adorns himself with the most sacred part of it. Observe his deportment, it is an affected gravity, which nothing can alter. Hear his conversation, he talks with a studied industry on the most solemn subjects, he is full of sententious sayings, and pious maxims, and so severe that he is ready to take offence at the most innocent actions. Mind his dress, it is precise and singular, and a sort of sanctity is affected in all his furniture, and in all his equipage. Follow him to a place of worship, there particularly his hypocrisy erects its tribunal, and there he displays his religion in all its pomp. There he seems more assiduous than the most wise and zealous christians. There he lifts up his eyes to heaven. There he sighs. There he bedews the earth with his tears. word, whatever seems venerable in the church he takes pains to practise, and pleasure to display.
Jesus Christ hath given us the original of this portrait in the persons of the pharisees of his time, and the only inconvenience we find in describing such characters is, that, speak where we will, it seems as if we intended to depict such individuals of the present age as seem to have taken these ancient hypocrites for their model. Never was
the art of counterfeiting piety carried to such perfection by any men as by the old pharisees. They separated themselves from a commerce with mankind, whom they called in contempt people of the world. They made_long prayers. They fasted every Monday and Friday. They lay on planks and stones. They put thorns on the bottom of their gowns to tear their flesh. They wore strait girdles about their bodies. They paid tithes, not only according to law, but beyond what the law required. Above all they were great makers of proselytes, and this was in some sort their distinguishing character, and when they had made one, they never failed to instruct him thoroughly to hate all such as were not of their opinion on particular questions. All this was shew, all this proceeded from a deep hypocrisy ; by all this they had no other design than to acquire reputation for holiness, and to make themselves masters of the people, who are more easily taken with exterior appear. ances than with solid virtue.
Such is the character of hypocrisy, a character that God detests. How often does Jesus Christ denounce anathemas against people of this character? How often does he cry concerning them, woe, woe ? Sincerity is one character of true piety, O Lord, thou hast proved my heart, thou hast visited me in the night, thou hast tried me, and shall find nothing : I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. Lord thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee. Psal. xvii. 3. John
xxi. 17. This character makes our love to God – resemble his to us. When God gives himself to
us in religion, it is not in mere appearances and protestations : but it is with real sentiments, emanations of heart.
3. Piety supposes sacrifice, and by this we distinguish it from a devotion of humor and constitution, with which it hath been too often confounded. There is a devotee of temper and habit, who; really, hath a happy disposition, but which may be attended with dangerous consequences. Such a man consults less the law of God to regulate his conduct than his own inclinations, and the nature of his constitution. As, by a singular favor of heaven, he hath not received one of those irregular constitutions, which most men have, but a happy natural disposition, improved too by a good education, he finds in himself but little indisposition to the general maxims of christianity. Being naturally melancholy, he doth not break out into unbridled mirth, and excessive pleasures. As he is naturally collected in himself, and not communicative, he doth not follow the crowd through the turbulence and tumult of the world. As he is naturally inactive, and soon disgusted with labor and pains taking, we never see him animated with the madness of gadding about every where, weighing himself down with a multitude of business, nor permitting any thing to happen in society without being himself the first mover, and putting to it the last hand. These are all happy incidents ; not to run into excessive pleasure, not to follow the crowd in the noise and tumult of the world, not to run mad with hurry and weary himself with an infinity of business, to give up the mind to recollection, all this is worthy of praise : but what is a devotion of this kind, that owes its birth only to incidents of this sort ? I compare it to the faith of the man, who believes the truths of the gospel only through a headstrong prejudice, only because, by a lucky chance, he had a father or a tutor, who believed them. As such a man cannot have a faith acceptable to God, so neither can he, who, obeys the laws
of God, because, by a sort of chance of this kind, they are conformable to his natural temper, offer to him the sacrifice of true obedience. Had you been naturally inclined to dissipation, you would have been excessively dissipated, for the very same reason that you are now excessively fond of retirement. Had you been naturally industrious, you would have exceeded in laboring, on the very principle, which now inclines you to be fond of ease and stillness. Had you been naturally inclined to mirth, you would have shewn excessive levity, on the very principle, that now turns your gravity into gloom and melancholy. Would
Would you know yourselves? See, examine yourselves. You say, your piety inclines you to surmount all temptations to dissipation : but does it enable you to resist those to retirement? It makes you firm against temptations to pleasure, but does it free you from sullenness ? It enables you to surmount temptations to violent exertions, but does it raise you above littleness? The same may be said of the rest. Happy he, who arranges his actions with a special regard to his own heart, inquiring what he can find there opposite to the law of God, attacking the strong holds of satan within himself, and directing all his fire and force to that point. They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire, mine ears hast thou opened. Lo, I come. I delight to do thy will, O my God, yea, thy law is within my heart, Gal. v. 24. Rom. xii. l. Psal. xl. 7, &c.
4. Zeal and fervor are the last characters of piety. By this we know the godly man from such