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To assist us, in this self-examination, let us seriously attend to the illustration of these three important truths :
I. A form of godliness is absolutely necessary, if we would be saved.
II. But this form is insufficient, unless it be united with the power of godliness. · III. Yet notwithstanding the clear evidence of this truth, there are many who satisfy themselves with the form, while they are destitute of the power.
I. A form of godliness is absolutely necessary, if we would be saved. We cannot reasonably hope for future felicity unless we externally worship God in the way of his appointment.
I commence with this proposition, that those who are utterly careless of their obligations to God and the Redeemer, may feel, that if the false professor must perish, they shall not escape. When the ministers of religion remonstrate with those “ who have named the name of Christ,” there are always some in our congregations who are inwardly congratulating themselves that none of these censures affect them. But are you therefore more secure? Because those, who insincerely profess themselves to be friends, shall be punished, does it follow that
open enemies shall escape ? Because those will be undone who falsely pretend to have the seal of the Lord upon them, shall those be delivered who treat with contempt this seal, and bear the mark of the foe of God and holiness visibly impressed upon their foreheads ?
We are plainly and unequivocally commanded to assume the form of godliness; to testify by external acts our allegiance to the Lord; and to attend on those ordinances and sacraments which he surely did not appoint that we might with impunity neglect and contemn them. On this subject God has spoken; we must obey, or expect the recompense of our disobedience.
Would we imitate the pious of all dispensations and of all countries? We cannot walk in the steps of patriarchs or prophets, of apostles or martyrs, except we have the form of godliness. If, like Nicodemus, we come only to the Saviour by night, and secretly, we are not esteemed his disciples. Would we resemble the inhabitants of heaven, redeemed sinners, and holy angels? They do not merely worship God in their hearts, but aloud pour forth their praises and thanksgivings, and express their obedience and love.
Would you imitate the blessed Redeemer? In Him there was the form of godliness; at all times and in all possible modes he externally testified his affection, and his delight to do the will of his Father.
Say not, that you secretly, and in your hearts, worship and love him. It is impossible that there should be internal piety without some outward manifestation of it. “From the abundance of the heart, the mouth will speak.” If " with the heart man be
6 lieveth unto righteousness, with the lips confession will be made to salvation."
Besides, what right have you to withhold the acts of external worship from Him who is “ the God of all flesh,” as well as the “ Father of spirits;" who made your body as well as your soul; who confers upon it daily mercies; who purchased it by the sufferings of his Son, who when he was offered a sacrifice, not only endured agonies of soul, but was also crucified in his body; and who offers at the last great day to raise it up from the grave and crown it with immor
tality and glory. “ Glorify Him therefore in your body and your spirit, which are his.”
Without the form of godliness, you will probably render yourselves guilty of the blood of souls; be accessary to the eternal perdition of some who are dear to you. There is no one, whose example has not some influence on those with whom he associates. Think then, that by openly neglecting God, by refusing to profess his religion, by turning your back upon his ordinances, you are hardening in guilt that child, that relative, that friend, who, deriving confidence from your example, may live and die careless of the blessed Redeemer, and may spend an eternity in the world of despair!
But suppose not that I am urging you to a cold and insincere profession of religion, for we are taught by the text.
II. That the form of godliness is utterly unavailing for our salvation without its power.
Though your observance of all outward ceremonies be unintermitted ; though you often kneel before God; and diligently study the holy scriptures; and are constantly seen in the sanctuary; and seize every opportunity of approaching the sacramental table; yet if you rest in these external forms, if your soul be not engaged, if the vital power and transforming efficacy of religion be not felt in your heart, what doth it profit?
1. This mere outward service is a worship not conformed to the nature of God. This is taught us by our Saviour, “ God is a spirit; and those that worship bim must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John iv. 24.) The service that is the act merely of the body, is no more suitable to his spiritual nature than are the statues that are sometimes placed in kneeling postures and devotional attitudes upon tombs.
2. It is not conformed to the commands of God: “ My son, give me thy heart,” is his great injunction. (Prov. xxiii. 26.) That sacrifice in which the heart is wanting, though offered with pomp, with external reverence and devotion, never can rise acceptably before him.
3. It is not conformed to the design of the mission of the Saviour, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. If all that God requires is the form of godliness, it was not necessary that Jesus should become incarnate, and expire upon the cross : it was not necessary that the Holy Ghost, the promise of the Father, and the purchase of the Redeemer, should descend. Without the atonement, and without the influences of the Spirit, the form of godliness may be observed, and outward services paid.
4. It is not conformed to the nature of that covenant which is the foundation of our hopes. 6. This shall be the covenant that I will make, saith the Lord : I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in", their hearts:" it is of such only that he declares, “ I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. xxxi. 33.)
5. It is not conformed to the examples of the pious ; all of whom have used language the same in substance with that of Paul, “ The God whom I serve in my spirit.” (Rom. i. 9.)
6. It is not conformed to the example of the blessed Redeemer ; concerning whom none can be so blasphemous, as to doubt whether his whole soul was engaged in doing and in suffering the will of God.
7. It is not conformed to the great ends of religion. These are to deliver the soul from guilt, to renew it,
to re-impress upon it the image of God, to make us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. And how certain is it, that for these great purposes “ bodily exercise profiteth little ?” (1 Tim. iv. &.)
III. Yet notwithstanding the clear evidence of this truth, there,are many who satisfy themselves with the form without the power of godliness.
The testimony of scripture declares that it will be so; for it is not concerning the period when he lived, so much as the latter days, that the apostle speaks when he assures us, that the characters mentioned in the text shall be found in the church. The examples of the scripture prove that it has been so: that in every age " there has been a generation that are pure in their own eyes, though they have not been washed from their filthiness.” (Prov. xxx. 12.) Who can, without a holy jealousy over himself, without solemn“ searchings of heart,” remember the foolish virgins, (Matt. xxv.) or those confident professors, to whom our Saviour directs our attention, and who will be filled with astonishment, when he shall say unto them in the judgment-day, “ I never knew you;” (Matt. vii. 23.) or Ananias and Sapphira, Hymeneus and Philetus, Alexander and Demas?
Who can remember the deceitfulness and treachery of the human heart, the awful power of selfdelusion, the subtlety and force of our spiritual foes, the ten thousand times ten thousand, who, after assuming the form of godliness, have “ made shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience,” and not be convinced that an external profession is not necessarily connected with the power of religion?
But who are the persons to whom the dark traits in the text may be applied ? I can only mention a few of the classes into which they may be divided.