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Of the form, and the power
2 TI M. iii. 5.
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
The first fermon on this text.
HE Apoftle in thefe words diftinguishes two things in religion, which do not, but ought always to go together, viz. the fhew and pretence of religion, and the life and power of it. He condemns neither, but blames the feparating of them. The latter indeed cannot be without the firft; for where-ever religion really is, there will be fome appearance of it: but the former may be, and often is, without the latter. Men may make a great fhew of religion, and yet be very deftitute of the power of it. And fuch were thofe perfons the Apoftle defcribes here in the text; they were guilty of the greatest faults and vices in their lives, but thought to cloke all these by an outward fhew and appearance of godlinefs. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
The word oppos, which is here tranflated form, fignifies the fhew or image of a thing, which is dead and ineffectual, in oppofition to the reality and life, which is quick and powerful. And, I think, this word is but once more used in the New Teftament, and much in the fame fenfe, viz. for an empty and ineffectual knowledge of religion, without the practice of it. Rom. ii. 17. 20. 21. The Apoftle there fpeaks of fome Pharifaical Jews, who gloried in their knowledge of the law, but violated it in their practice. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and refteft in the law, and haft the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore that teachest another, teacheft thou not thyself? Thou that preachest, a man should not steal, doft thou steal?
So that a form of godliness fignifies an empty shew and profeffion of religion, without the real effects of it.
And they who are destitute of thefe, are faid to deny the power of religion. It is ufual in feveral languages to draw metaphors from words to actions; and men are faid to contradict or deny any thing, when they do contrary to what they pretend; and fo this phrafe is elsewhere used, Tit. i. 1o. They profefs to know God, but in their works they deny him. 1 Tim. v. 8. If any man provide not for his own, efpecially for thofe of his own houfe, he hath denied the faith. The Apoftle does not mean that such an one denies the faith by an exprefs declaration in words, but by actions fo contradictory to the Chriftian faith, as an infidel would hardly do. He hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
In the handling of these words, I fhall do these four things.
First, Shew wherein a form of godliness confifts.
Thirdly, Give fome marks and characters whereby we may know when thefe are feparated, when the form of godliness is deftitute of the power.
Fourthly, Shew that a mere form of godliness, without the power of it, is infignificant to all the great ends and purposes of religion.
First, To fhew wherein a form of godliness doth confift. In general it confifts in an external fhew and profeffion of religion, or of any eminent part of it, or of that which is reputed to be fo; and a form of religion is more or lefs complete, according to the extent of it. Some pitch upon one part of religion, and fet themfelves chiefly to make a fhew of that; others take in more parts of it, and endeavour to exprefs and counterfeit them; fo that the forms of religion are various and different, and not to be reduced to any fixed and conftant ftandard; but they commonly appear in fome one or more of thefe fhapes:
I. An external devotion.
II. An orthodox profeffion of the Chriftian faith.
V. An imperfect repentance, and partial refor
VI. The appearance, and oftentation, of fome particular grace and virtue.
VII. A great zeal for fome party, or opinions, or circumftances of religion.
VIII. Silliness and freakishness, and either a pretended or real ignorance in the common affairs, and concernments of human life.
IX. Much noife and talk about religion.
These are the feveral forms of religion which men are wont to affume. Not that these do always go fingly; but fometimes men put on one, fometimes more of them, as may beft ferve their feveral turns and interefts. Nor would I be understood to condemn all these ; for feveral of these particulars which I have mentioned are good in themselves, and neceffary parts of religion; but being deftitute of other things, wherein the life of religion doth confift, they are but a form of godliness.
I. External devotion. This is the most common form of religion, and easiest to be affumed, and therefore it is that fo many take it up. And this is good in itself, and a neceffary part of religion: but if there be no more than this, it is a mere image and picturè of religion, abominable to God, and fulfom and odious to difcerning men.
Now, this external devotion fhews itself more efpecially these two ways:
1. In a frequent and diligent use of the means and inftruments of religion.
2. In a curious and nice regard to the modes and circumftances of performing thefe.
1. In a frequent and diligent ufe of the means and inftruments of religion, fuch as prayer, reading, and hearing the word of God, and receiving of the bleffed facrament. Thefe are not the life of religion, the great end and defign of it, but the means and inftruments which God hath appointed for the begetting and increafing of holinefs and virtue in us. Many exercise themfelves in thefe with great conftancy and devotion, pray to God, and read the Bible frequently, go to church duly, and hear God's word attentively, and receive the facra
facrament reverently, and behave themselves devoutly in all parts of publick worship; and yet all this may be but a mere form, and certainly is no more, where the great end of all this is neglected, and men do not fincere ly endeavour to do what God's word directs them to, and what they daily pray to God to enable them to do.
For all these means are in order to fome farther effect and defign. We read and hear the word of God, that we may know his will, and that we may do it; that by the precepts and counfels of the holy fcriptures, we may learn and understand our duty; and by the motives and arguments which are there offered to us, we may effectually be perfuaded to the practice of it. We pray to God, not only for the forgiveness of our fins, but for his grace and affiftance, to enable us to mortify and fubdue them, and to proceed in all virtue and godliness of living. We receive the facrament, to inflame our love to God and our bleffed Saviour, to excite in us a greater hatred of fin, and to confirm us in the purpofe and refolution of well-doing. Thefe are the great ends for which God hath appointed all thefe helps and means; and if thefe ends be not obtained, in vain do we wor fhip God, all our religion is but mere fhew and pageantry. We are but like the people God himself defcribes, Ifa. xxix. 13. This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do they honour me, but have removed their heart far from me. And like thofe, Ezek. xxxiii. 30. 31. 32. who pake one to another, every one to his brother, faying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they fit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they fhew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely fong, of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an inftrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. This is not to worship God, but impudently to affront him; and if we take this for religion, we put the groffeft cheat imaginable upon ourselves. Hear how God challenges the people of Ifrael upon this account, Jer. vii. 2. 3. 4. &c. Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter
in at thefe gates to worship the Lord. Thus faith the Lord of hofts, the God of Ifrael; amend your ways and your doings, and I will caufe you to dwell in this place. This is the great end of all religious worship and devotion, the reformation of our lives and actions; and if it have not this effect, it is a cheat. Truft ye not in lying words, faying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are thefe. For if ye thoroughly amend your ways, and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye opprefs not the ftranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and fhed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt; then will I caufe you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers for ever and ever. Behold, pe fruft in lying words that cannot profit. Will ye fteal, murder, and commit adultery, and fwear falfly, and burn incenfe unto Baal, and walk after other gods, whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this houfe, which is called by my name, and fay, we are delivered to do all thefe abominations? What greater impudence can there be, than to worship God devoutly, and to live wickedly? This is to declare that we mock God under a pretence of ferving him; or elfe that we believe that God, whom we worship, allows thefe abominations, and is pleafed with them.
2. Others make this form of external devotion yet more complete, by a curious and nice regard to the modes and circumftances of performing the duties of religion. They are very punctual and exact in all their carriage and geltures, as if they minded nothing elfe but the outward part of religion.
Not but that great humility, and reverence, does very well become men in their addreffes to God; but then we must be fure, that this external reverence be a fignification of the inward and real devotion of our minds. For if it be feparated from this, it is not devotion, but fuperftition; it is not to worship God in fpirit and in truth, but in bodily fhew and appearance only; not to honour the divine majefty, but to fawn upon him, and flatter him. And where men are very intent upon these things, and endeavour to out-strip bA 3 ther