Images de page
PDF
ePub

while they were under the dominion of fin, and the power of their lufts; they were laden with fin, and led away with divers lufts, and fo they never attained to that which the Apoftle calls the knowledge of the truth, that is, fuch a knowledge of the doctrine of Chrift, as is accompanied with a suitable practice, according to that of our Saviour, John viii. 31. If ye continue in my word, that is, if ye practife my doctrine, then are ye my dif ciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth fhall make you free. Then men come to the knowledge of the truth, when it frees them from the flavery of fin. If our knowledge have not this effect, it fignifies nothing, and does not deferve the name of knowledge, because we know nothing in religion as we ought to know. 1 John ii. 2. 3. fpeaking of the knowledge of Chrift, Hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his com mandments. He that faith he knows him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

III. He hath only a form of religion, who is grofly and knowingly defective in the practice of any part of it. And this fort of perfons are thofe, whom the Apostle particularly intended here in the text: for fuch were they whom he defcribes by this character, that they had a form of godliness, but denied the power of it. Under the garb of religion which they had put on, they were grofly faulty in their lives and practice, and mainly defective in many of the effential duties of Christianity; they were selfish and covetous, vain-glorious and defpifers of others, calumniators and flanderers, undutiful to their fuperiors, and unthankful to thofe that had obliged them, fierce and ill-natured, trea> cherous and falfe to their word, perfecutors of those that were good, filthy and fenfual; not that every one of them had all thefe vices, they are fo many and grofs, that no cloke of religion could have covered them; but the Apostle means, that among thofe that made an empty profeffion of religion, these vices were vifible, fome of them in one, and fome in another. And the living in any one of thefe, or any other of the like na ture, is inconfiftent with Chriftianity. The power of religion appears chiefly in the fubduing of thefe lufts, and in the exercise and practice of those graces and virtues

[ocr errors]

virtues which are contrary to thefe. Here the very heart and life of religion lies, and these are the veins in which it runs; and if there be a failure in any of thefe main virtues of a Chriftian life, it is a plain cafe, that we are destitute of the power of religion, and do only make a vain and empty fhew of it. St. James inftanceth, as one would think, in none of the groffeft and moft confiderable of these, the government of our tongue, and yet he peremptorily determines, that the want of this virtue is enough to deftroy all a man's other pretences to religion, chap. 1. 26. If any man among you feem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceives his own heart; this man's religion is vain.

So that by the practice or neglect of these main virtues of a good life, every man may examine and judge himself. This is the rule which our Saviour gives to try the religion of men by, Matth. 7. 16. 17. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thiftles? Even fo every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. The force of which reafoning is this, that every tree bringeth forth fruit according to its nature, and by the kind and quality of the fruit, you may certainly know what the tree is. So, by the good or bad actions of mens lives, you may know by what principle they are governed, whether the fear of God, or the love of fin, bear fway in them; the courfe of their lives will difcover the bent and inclination of their minds, whatever thew and profeffion they may make to the contrary. By their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that faith unto me, Lord, Lord, (there is some profeffion of religion), hall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father which is in heaven ; (there is the power of it.)

I would by no means encourage men to be over cenforious toward others, there is too much of that spirit already in the world; but it is not amifs that men fhould be ftrict and fevere towards themfelves. And would to God men would bring themselves to this test,

and

and examine the truth and fincerity of their religion, not by the leaves of an outward profession, but by the fruits it produceth in their lives. Every man that will but take the pains to look into himself, and to obferve his own actions, may, by comparing the temper of his mind, and the general courfe of his life and practice, with the rules and precepts of religion, eafily difcern what power and efficacy religion hath on him. Á man may as certainly know himself, and make as fure a judgment of his ftate and condition toward God in this way, as a tree is known by its fruit. Therefore let us not flatter ourselves; for if we indulge any luft, or irregular paffion in our fouls, and do not endeavour to mortify and fubdue it; if we allow ourselves in any vitious practice in our lives; we do but deceive ourfelves with an opinion of our godliness, and whatever fhew and appearance we may make of religion, we are certainly deftitute of the power of it. True religion and godliness is an uniform principle, which inclines a man to all holiness and goodness, and does bias him against all known fin and wickedness. All the motives and arguments of religion, and all confiderations of piety, are levelled against all fin, and tend to engage men to univerfal holiness of life. Bonum conftat ex integris caufis, fed malum ex quolibet defectu: the practice of any one vice, is enough to render a man a bad man; but there must be the concurrence of all the parts of religion and virtue, to make a man good.

I proceed to the fourth thing I propounded, which was to fhew, that a form of godliness, without the power of it, is infignificant to all the great ends and purposes of religion. The great ends that men can reasonably propound to themselves in being religious, are these three: I. The pleafing of God.

II. The peace and tranquillity of our own minds. III. The faving of our fouls. Now, a form of godlinefs, without the power of it, is unavailable to all these purposes.

I. To the pleasing of God. External devotion, and exercifing ourselves in the means and inftruments of religion, and the profeffion of a right belief, or any other form of religion whatsoever, do not recommend

any

any man to the divine favour and acceptance, without the real effects of religion in a good life: nay, fo far is it from this, that all forms of religion, deftitute of the life and power of it, are extremely odious and offensive to him. Devotion in prayer, without a holy life, is but a rude and troublesome noife in the ears of the Almighty. The prayer of the wicked is fo far from being accepted, that it is an abomination to him. He does not love to be invoked by unhallowed mouths, and to be praised by the workers of iniquity. Flattery is hateful to a wife man, much more to the infinitely wife God. He cannot endure that men should lift up eyes to him that are full of adultery, and hands filled with violence and oppreffion, and tread his courts with feet ready to fhed blood. It is an affront to God to be worshipped by evildoers, and to fee men diligent in reading his word, and attending to his law, who break it every day. Unto the wicked God faith, what hast thou to do to declare my ftatutes, or that thou shouldst take my covenant in thy mouth, feeing thou hateft to be reformed, and cafteft my words behind thy back? What God fays of the facrifices of the Jews, offered to him by a finful people laden with iniquity, may be applied to the worship of Chriftians who live wicked and abominable lives, Ifa. i. 11. 12. &c. To what purpose is the multitude of your facrifices unto me, faith the Lord? I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beafts, and I delight not in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. Whenye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hands; to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations. Incenfe is an abomination unto me: the new moons, and fabbaths, and the calling of affemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the folemn meetings. Your new moons, and your ap pointed feafts my foul hateth, they are a trouble unto me. I am weary to bear them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear. Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes, ceafe to do evil, learn to do well. This is that which God expects from us, the amendment and reformation of our lives, and without this all our religious addreffes to him are naufeous and abominable. God does hardly any where

where in fcripture exprefs fo great a deteftation of the greateft fins, as he does of the devotion of wicked men. I will but bring one text more to this purpose, Ifa. lxvi. 3. He that killeth an ox, is as if he flew a man: he that facrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck: he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered fwines blood: he that burneth incenfe, as if he blessed an idol. What is the reafon of all these fevere expreffions? Because they were the facrifices of the wicked, of those who had chofen their own ways, and whofe foul delighted in their abominations; they worshipped God according to his will, but lived according to their own; and therefore they were to him no better than an affembly of murderers, and a church of idolatrous worshippers: for this is falfe worship, to offer facrifices to God, and to devote ourselves to the fervice of our lufts.

II. Another end of religion is the peace and tranquillity of our minds. And this is not to be attained upon true and lasting grounds, by any form of religion without the power of it. Men may delude themselves with fome falfe peace, and make a hard fhift to stop the loud and vehement clamours of their confcience; but the guilt of any vitious courfe of life will frequently recoil upon them, to disturb and interrupt their peace, and to put out their falfe joy; their confciences will ever and anon give them many fecret girds and lafhes. For no man can knowingly live in the practice of any fin, but he must be guilty to himself, and whoever is guilty, hath received a secret fting into his heart, which is never to be taken out but by repentance, and a thorough reformation. God hath faid it, and I doubt not but every finner finds it true, There is no peace to the wicked. Efpecially when fuch a man is feized upon by sickness, and approaches in his thoughts near to eternity, then his drowfy confcience awakes, like a lion out of fleep, full of rage and fiercenefs, and all his falfe peace and comfort vanifheth. For what is the hope of the hypocrite, when God comes to take away his foul? It is, as Job elegantly expreffes it, like the fpider's web, artificially wrought, but miferably weak, it can endure no ftrefs, upon the leaft touch it breaks and vanisheth.

VOL. IX,

C

And

« PrécédentContinuer »