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THAT MANY MAY HAVE A FORM OR SHOW OF GODLINESS, WHEN THEY DENY ITS POWER, AND ARE FAR
FROM THE TRUTH AND REALITY OF IT.
2 TIM. iii. 5.
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. IN the beginning of this chapter, we have an illustrious prophecy of St. Paul's delivered to Timothy, concerning what should happen in the church of Christ after his decease; which is thus ushered in, ver. 1. This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come; èv oxáτais épais i. e. not only the very last days, towards the end of the world, but in general (according to the Hebrew phrase) the days to come, or the future time, whether nearer or afar off. For what in the following verses he doth foretell, he supposeth would begin to happen in the age of Timothy, to whom he delivers the prophecy, and that by way of caution or warning to him, as most evidently appears from the end of this fifth verse, immediately after the words of my text, ToÚTOUS άTоτρéпOν, from such do thou (thou, Timothy) turn away, and avoid them. But yet the full completion of the prophecy doubtless reacheth farther than Timothy's days, and extends itself even to the end of the world.
So among very many other interpreters Mr. Calvin thinks, who hath this gloss upon the text: "Un"der the last days he comprehends the whole state "of the Christian church "." For (as the same author goes on) his design is not to compare his own or the age next to him with ours, but in general to represent the condition even of the kingdom of Christ here on earth.
And this he doth to obviate the vain conceit of some men, and those good men too, who fancied that now the Gospel times were come, the golden age would soon return, and continue for ever.
all holiness, all happiness, a kind of heaven upon earth! And indeed such a blessed change and turn in the world might reasonably have been expected by him that considered only the nature of the Gospel of Christ, its excellent precepts of holiness, the most powerful motives to it therein delivered, the mighty grace of the Spirit of God accompanying the preaching of it, and the astonishing miracles wherewith it was confirmed.
But the apostle here shews, that through the vicious nature and corruption of men it should happen quite otherwise, and that even this admirable Gospel of Christ should in many fail of its designed and desired effect, that even these last days of the Gospel should be perilous times: perilous, because sinful; sinful, with the highest aggravation, because hypocrisy should abound in them; and very many men should still be very wicked, and yet seem very holy. Some of the chief of their sins and wickedness he particularly describes, ver. 2, 3, 4. For men a Sub extremis diebus comprehendit universum ecclesiæ Christianæ statum.
shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. And then he adds a character of their hypocrisy, as a veil drawn over all their wickedness in the words
of my text; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
For the explaining of the text, it will be necessary to inquire into these three things. 1. What is meant by a form of godliness. 2. What by the power of godliness. 3. What by denying the power of godliness.
I. What is meant by a form of godliness; the μόρφωσις τῆς εὐσεβείας though I am not ignorant that the word μoppwois hath sometimes another signification, yet here it manifestly signifies a form ; i. e. a bare show or appearance of godliness, without the truth and reality of it. A false and counterfeit, not a true and real godliness, i. e. an hypocritical religion. As a wooden or stony statue of a man hath the form, shape, figure, likeness, or appearance of a man, but is far from being really so, as having no true flesh and blood, much less a living and reasonable soul; so the hypocrite hath the outward show, likeness, and appearance of a Christian, but is far from being truly such, as being destitute of the substance, life, and soul of Christianity.
This bare form of godliness commonly shews itself in these following particulars.
1. In an outward profession of godliness; when men declare themselves to be for godliness, and that
in the strictness of it, and yet are enemies to the life and practice of it; when they are great and high professors of religion, (as the modern phrase is,) but very slender and careless performers of it.
2. In an affectation of godly discourse, to gain the repute and esteem of godliness, and that many times when it is altogether unseasonable, and there is no just occasion or opportunity for it. Many there be who have the tongue of the godly, but the hearts and hands of the wicked. By their discourses you would think them to be very saints, but by a stricter examination of their actions, whereby their hearts also are made manifest, they will be found to be far otherwise.
3. In affecting certain modes and fashionable gestures of godliness in ordinary conversation, such as a grave and demure countenance, eyes lifted up, and the like, when men's hearts are vain, and far from being truly religious or serious.
4. In a reliance on certain outward duties of religion, performed without the inward and sincere affection of the soul. When men rest in hearing or repeating of sermons, or in a formal course of prayer at certain times and seasons, while their lusts are unmortified, and their hearts estranged from the life of God; when they satisfy themselves with instrumental, and neglect essential religion. Hearing of sermons and prayers are indeed necessary duties of religion, but necessary only as instruments and means appointed by God, to bring us, through his grace, to that life and power of religion, which consists in the mortification of our lusts, and the renovation of our hearts, and the reformation of our lives. And therefore to acquiesce in those outward duties of religion,
without an inward, lively sense of it, expressed in agreeable actions, is to have only a form of godliness. In these and the like shows and appearances, a form of godliness consists.
II. We are to inquire, what is meant in the text by the power of godliness?
Briefly, the power of godliness is opposed to a form of godliness. And therefore, as a form of godliness is only an empty show and appearance of it, so the power of godliness is unfeigned, real, and true godliness. Which consists in the sincere love of God above all things, and the love of our neighbour as ourselves, expressed in our lives by constant actions of piety towards God, and of justice and charity towards our neighbour. And so I pass to the third
and last inquiry, viz.
III. What is meant by denying the power of godliness?
I answer again, in short, to deny the power of godliness, is for a man by indecent and vicious actions to contradict his outward show and profession of godliness. According to that description of the wicked Jews given by St. Paul, Tît. i. 16. They profess that they know God; but by works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate. And this briefly may suffice for the explanation of the text.
The proposition or doctrine resulting from it thus explained is this.
A man may have a form or show of godliness, when yet he is very far from the power, i. e. the truth and reality of it.
A notable instance of this we have in the Pharisees, who had indeed a very specious form of godli