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in the ways of godliness, and frame a religion for themselves, composed of as much truth and duty as may consist with their worldly prosperity and pleasures; which, while it leaves them sufficient room to prosecute their carnal aims, doth at the same time serve for a sheath to conscience, to keep it from wounding them when they are busied in the brutish service of their lusts. Present ease is what they chiefly covet; and they choose no more of religion than serves that purpose.
Thus have I endeavoured to shew whence it is that men who deny the power of godliness submit to the drudgery of maintaining the form thereof. Some do it to impose upon the world, that they may gratify their ambitious or covetous desires; and others do it to impose upon themselves, that they may not be tormented before the time."
And now, let me address my discourse to those who, from what they have heard, are in some measure convinced that they are the persons described in this passage.
“ How long, 0 ye sons of men, will ye love vanity ? How long will ye spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which cannot profit you ?" How long will you court the deceiv. ing shadow of godliness, and fly from the substance, which would certainly enrich and save you? The pro. digal's punishment is your choice; you feed upon husks, when there is bread enough in your Father's house, and to spare; you take all the trouble of appearing religious, and taste none of the comforts that religion affords; you endure all the fatigue of acting a constrained, artificial part before men, when, by yielding to the power of godliness, you might, with less labour, and infinite delight, become the very persons you feign yourselves to be. When you reject the truth and reality of godliness, how
can you painfully adhere to the form of it? Or, whert you go to the length of being very punctual in the exterpals of religion, why do you not go a little farther, and study to be really and inwardly what you outward.. ly profess, and would seem to be?
Is it the praise of men that you covet? This at best is but an empty, fading thing; neither can you be sure of attaining it. At any rate, the foundation of it shall be taken away at the final judgment, when every disguise shall be stripped off, and the bidden works of darkness shall be brought to light. Nay, God may detect your base bypocrisy, even before you leave this world; so that, as it is written, (Job xxvii. 23.) “ Men shall clap their hands at you, and hiss you out of your place.” Is it riches you seek by your seeming religiousness? In this likewise you may be disappointed, according to that other threatening denounced against the bypocrite, (Job xxvii. 10.) “ Though he heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay; he may prepare it, but the just shall put it on, and the innocent shall divide the silver.” Besides, "riches profit not in the day of God's wrath.” And, after all, “ What is the bope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when the Lord taketh away his soul?"_" Can the rush grow up without mire? Can the flag grow without water? While it is yet in its greenness, and not cut down, it withereth before any other herb. So are the paths of all that forget God, and the bypocrite's hope shall perish; whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider's web. He shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand; he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure." And oh! how vain is that hope which shall “ perish” at the very time when enjoyment is expected! Be awakened then, ye self-deceivers, and know that your formality, like the
harlot's paint, is only a false and borrowed beauty, which shall melt away when you draw near the fire; and however you may now hope, while under the threatenings of God, be assured that you shall not be able to hope when under the execution of them; despair shall then become essential to your misery. My brethren, a dream so transient, so momentary, is not worth the hav. ing. For the Lord's sake, then, awake in time, repent unfeignedly of your past hypocrisy, and “ give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eye-lids," till your souls be acquainted with the power of godliness, that you may have something better to lean upon than delusive forms, when all earthly props shall slide from
“ seek the Lord while he is yet to be found, and call upon him while he is near.”
But there are sinners of another kind, to whom this subject leads me to speak; those I mean who have not so much as the form of godliness. You, I doubt not, have got a great deal to say against hypocrites; perhaps, too, you are very well pleased that so much bas been said to expose them in the course of this sermon; and now you exult in the thought, that such a hateful denomination cannot be applied to you; if you are not godly, yet surely you are honest, for you do not pretend to be godly. We shall by and by examine your boasted honesty; in the mean time, it deserves your sea rious consideration, that, by your own confession, you are in a great measure useless in the world; as you contribute nothing, either to the glory of God, or to the spiritual improvement of your brethren around you. Now, here the formalist hath plainly the advantage of you; for though he neglects and destroys his own soul, yet, by his fair outside, and perhaps by the exercise of his gifts he may recommend religion to the esteem and choice of others; like the sign-post which, though it hath its station without, doth nevertheless mark the door to strangers, and invite them into the house; whereas you neither enter in yourselves nor give any assistance to others; but, on the contrary, do much to discourage and hinder them. But honesty, you say, is the qualification you chiefly value, and you are confident that your claim to that is unquestionable.-Not so unquestionable as you imagine. As you do not profess atheism, you must be understood to acknowledge the being of a God; and as you have not publicly renounced your baptism, you certainly mean to pass for Christians. None of you, I suppose, are willing to be reputed the enemies of God and of Christ; on the contrary, would you not exclaim against that man as a censorious, malevolent hypocrite, who should venture to hint the remotest suspicion of this kind? And now, wherein doth your honesty lie? You would be thought to love God, yet you live in open contempt of his authority, while you withhold that worship and homage which are due to him. Is this honesty ? You call yourselves Christians, yet you practically reject the institutions of Christ, and cast his most sacred commandments behind your back. Is that to be honest, to profess one thing and to do the contrary? This, Į apprehend, is the very essence of hypocrisy; so that, if you hate hypocrites, you are bound in justice to hate yourselves; for even you are hypocrites no less than the formalist, though you are not commonly branded with that opprobrious title. The difference betwixt you lies chiefly in this ;—the formalist is a sort of bashful hypo. crite, who, because he cannot deny the debt, makes a show of paying part, and would be thought to pay the whole; whereas the profane sinner, who retains the appellation of Christian, though he pays no part of what
he acknowledges to be due, would nevertheless be reputed an honest man; and therefore he too is a hypocrite as well as the other, with as little sense, and with much less modesty.
I shall conclude this discourse with a few advices, for the help of those who are aiming at real godliness, and would not be deceived with names and counterfeits.
Let your religion, then, my dear friends, be principally seated in the heart; and never reckon that you are possessed of it so long as it lodges merely in the understanding. Knowledge and faith are in order to practice; and we neither know nor believe to any good purpose, unless our knowledge and faith influence our practice, and make us truly better men. Be sure to live upon the great fundamentals of religion, and let not your attention to these be diverted by an intemperate zeal about lesser things. Place not your religion in disputable points and ineffectual opinions, but in those weightier matters of the law and gospel, which are of undoubted importance, and in which holy men, among the different denominations of Christians, are better agreed than is commonly apprehended. Choose God for your portion and felicity; beware of thinking that any thing besides himself is necessary to make you happy; and live daily upon Christ Jesus, as the only Mediator by whom you can either have access to God, or acceptance with bim. Indulge no sin; plead for no infirmity; but make it the daily business of your lives to “mortify the deeds of the body," and “ to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts.” Walk continually as in the sight of a holy, just, and heart-searching God; and study to be the same in secret that you wish to appear in public. Rest not in a low degree of holiness, but love, and long, and strive for the highest, And, for