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Apostle Paul acted: he accounted not his life dear to him: on the contrary, if called to lay it down for his brethren, he regarded it as an occasion, not of grief, but of joy! Ah! brethren, see how much you have acquired of that spirit; and how much you possess of " the mind that was in Christ Jesus, who, when possessed of all the glory and felicity of heaven, emptied himself of it all for you; and for your benefit became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross u.” Self has by nature wholly occupied your minds. The proper effect of the Gospel is, to root out that hateful quality, and to fill your souls with love both to God and man. Let this, then, serve you as a test whereby to try your state; and assure yourselves, brethren, that a work of grace is no further wrought within you than this great change is accomplished.] 2. In selecting our companions and friends
(St. Paul guards you particularly on this head: “Men will be lovers of their own selves . AWAY!” So say I, my brethren: “ From such turn away.” You can get no good from such men; nor can you hope to do any good to them: and your whole intercourse with them will be productive only of pain. As Solomon says, “ Make no friendship with an angry man, lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy souly;" so I would say in reference to a selfish man.
He only will be a source of comfort and benefit to you, who is divested of self, and who lives for God, and lays himself out for the good of man. That is an honourable character, worthy to be esteemed; and an useful character, from whom you may hope to derive much benefit; and a blessed character, with whom you may hope to spend a happy eternity. If thou find such an one, take him to thy bosom: and congratulate thyself, that, in this poor vain world, God has raised up to thee such a treasure as this, that may well be dear to thee even as thine own soul.] t Phil. ii. 17, 18.
u Phil. ii. 5-8. X ver. 5.
y Prov. xxii. 24, 25.
FROM SUCH TURN
FORM AND POWER OF GODLINESS.
2 Tim. iii. 5. Having a form of godliness, but denying the
power thereof: from such turn away. THERE were, even in the Apostolic ages, many awful declensions from piety and sound religion : but in the last days we expect they will prevail to a far greater extent. Even at the present day, a thorough acquaintance with what is called the religious world will bring to our minds many sad characters, who do not indeed fully answer to the description given in the preceding context, but in many respects approximate to it. It is not, however, my intention to take the whole of the character here portrayed; but only the last trait of it, which I have selected for our consideration at this time.
Let me, then, 1. Unfold the character that is here drawnThey “have a form of godliness”—
[By " godliness," I understand an entire devotion of the soul to God. This must, of necessity, have forms and services wherein it must display itself: for, circumstanced as we are in the world, it is impossible to serve God without forms. The reading of the Scriptures, the attending on divine ordinances, the observance of the Sabbath, the duties of family worship, and of secret prayer, are all forms, in and by which vital godliness must display itself. Now many have, in these respects, the form of godliness: they live in the external discharge of these duties: they are conscious, that without an observance of these things they could have no credit whatever for true godliness; and therefore they fulfil their duties in these respects; and then flatter themselves that they have performed all that is required of them ----] But they deny its power
[As for real delight in God, notwithstanding all their profession of religion, they are strangers to it. Their prayers are a mere service of the lip and knee; their praises are no other than cold, unmeaning acknowledgments; and the whole service of God, in the Church, the family, and the closet, is nothing but “ a form," a lamp without oil, a body without the soul. Nor does godliness pervade their souls, so as to produce the mind that was in Christ, or to transform them into God's image. They seem not to think that religion is to operate to such an extent as this; and that, provided they observe the outward duties of religion, the tempers and dispositions of the soul may safely be overlooked. Hence their self-love, their covetousness, and their numberless evil dispositions, retain their full ascendency, and reign without controul. In fact, " they have a name to live; but in reality they are dead."]
And now let me,
The Apostle says, “ From such turn away.' " To explain this, I will shew,
1. In what sense we are not to turn away from such characters
(We are not to turn away from them in contempt. That were highly unbecoming us; who, if we differ at all, owe the whole of that difference to the distinguishing grace of God. And it would be most offensive to God, who cannot endure such hateful pride. If we say to any man, “Stand off; I am holier than thou ;" God will regard us as a smoke in his nose, a fire that burneth all the daya”
Nor are we to turn away in indifference, as though we cared not what became of them. We should rather mourn over them, as Paulb; and weep over them, as our Lord did over the murderous Jerusalem
- Nor should we turn away from them in despair ; for God is able to save them; and he will hear prayer in their behalf ---] 2. In what sense we are to turn away from them
[We are not, on any account, to make them our companions. We should in this respect turn away from them, for their sake, for our own sake, for the Church's sake, and for the world's sake. If we associate with them, we shall make them think well of themselves ; when, by a becoming departure from them, we may bring them to a measure of self-diffidence and compunction If we associate with them, we shall be in danger of drinking into their spirit, and of learning their ways. We shall have our zeal and ardour damped by them; who, instead of rising with us, would soon bring us down to a level with themselves - By associating with them, also, we should lead our weaker brethren to conceive that there is no evil in their ways And we should justify the world in all their censures of religion, when, for the sake of some ungodly professors, they decry all serious religion, and represent all the servants of God as hypocrites ---] ADDRESS
1. Those who have not even the form of godliness
[It is a lamentable truth, that the greater part of nominal Christians live altogether “ without God in the world.” Had they been born Pagans or Mahomedans, they would not, as far as Jehovah is concerned, have differed in any essential particular. Now then, I ask, if they who have a form of godliness may yet be in a state so hateful to God, what must be the condition of those who are destitute even of the form? Can it be that they should be approved of the Lord ? They will indeed, and with great confidence too, affirm, that they have no ground to fear: but they awfully deceive their own souls: for to them does that declaration of God belong, in its utmost force, “ The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God.” O that they would be wise, and consider their latter end, ere it be too late!] 2. Those who have the form, but not the power
a Isai. lxy, 5.
b Rom. ix. 1, 2.
[To what purpose is it that you “profess to know God, if in works you deny him?” In truth, if you will look into the Scriptures, you will find that real godliness is a far different thing from what you are accustomed to think it. Look at the precepts : do they extend only to forms? Examine the promises ; are they limited to forms ? See the examples of piety: do they rise no higher than to mere formal services ? The whole of God's blessed word declares, that God must “ be worshipped in Spirit and in truth;” and that the heart, the whole heart, must be consecrated to his service. Any thing short of this is a mere mockery, and a fatal delusion.)
3. Those who have both the form and power of godliness
[It is well to combine the two, yet to keep them both in their proper place. We must not elevate either, to the exclusion of the other. As we must not rest in forms, so neither must we rise above them, as though the eminence of our piety superseded the use of them. All external duties, of whatever kind, must be observed: only we must take care that we be filled with the Spirit, in the use of them. Forms are like Jacob's ladder, by which you are to ascend to God, and God will descend to you. But see to it, that your access to God be daily more near, and your enjoyment of him more sweet: see to it, that you shew forth daily, with increasing evidence, the efficacy of his grace, and the beauty of his religion. Let your whole spirit and temper evince the power of godliness in your souls; and then not only shall all the saints turn unto you in love, but God himself will embrace you as the objects of his tenderest affection.]
c Ps. ix. 17.
MMCCLIII. A WANT OF PROFITING BY THE GOSPEL, CENSURED. 2 Tim. iii. 7. Ever learning, and never able to come to the
knowledge of the truth. FROM what we know of the excellency of the Gospel, we should naturally conclude that it can never produce any thing but good. And this is true. But, as the law, notwithstanding it is good, is sometimes, through the corruption of our nature, an occasion of evila, so the Gospel often gives occasion to the corruptions of our hearts to manifest themselves to a very awful extent. Who, for instance, would imagine that persons calling themselves Christians should be obnoxious to the charge brought against them in all the preceding context, and answer in any degree to the character there drawn? Yet is it a melancholy fact, that some did answer to that character, even in the apostolic age; and, at different periods of the Church, multitudes have fully corresponded with the description there given; yea, and not only corresponded with it themselves, but laboured also with zeal and industry to infuse into others the same malignant spirit, and taken advantage of those who were less instructed, or more easily wrought upon, to propagate it to the utmost of their power. There is reason for thankfulness, that the Christian Church is not much agitated by such turbulent and unchristian teachers at this time : but still the spirit exists to a considerable extent amongst some classes of Christians; who, whilst they are running after every new preacher, exactly answer to the character here given of them, “ Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
To counteract this great evil, I will endeavour to shew, I. What little improvement many make of the Gospel which they heara Rom. vii. 5, 8–13.