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For what is the hope of the hypocrite ? It was a mighty addition to the afflictions of Job, and as great a trial of his patience as any thing, that his friends upbraided him with hypocrisy. They told him plainly, that the miserable condition he was then in, was but the due punishment of his pretending to be religious, and a man of integrity, justice, and goodness, when he really was not so; for, as Bildad said, God will not cast away a perfect, or sincere, man. If thou wert pure and upright, surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous ; but the hypocrite's hope shall perish, and his trust shall be a spider's web: which though artfully contrived to take the prey, yet is often too weak to hold it, and presently destroyed. Such severe censures as these did his miserable comforters a, as he elegantly calls them, frequently pass upon him; which touched him to the very quick, and almost robbed him of the glory of his patience, and extorted from him such a vindication of his sincerity, as the humility of so good a man as he was would not otherwise have suffered him to make.
a Job xvi. 2.
But after he had solemnly protested his integrity, and firmly resolved that his heart should not reproach him so long as he lived", he readily joins with them in their condemnation of hypocrisy, in the comprehensive words of my text, For what is the hope of the hypocrite? what can a man propose to himself from a bare pretence to religion ? And there he leaves it as very unaccountable. And what indeed can be more so, than for a man to worship a Being whom all the world believes to be every where present, and to know all things, even the inmost secrets of the heart; to worship such a Being with a counterfeit devotion, and pretend to put him off with a dissembled obedience; which as he cannot but see through, so must needs abominate.
But, as unaccountable as religious hypocrisy is, and condemned by every body, yet we have too much reason to fear that it is very common, since there is so great a discord to be observed between men's profession and their actions. And yet, as hateful and as common as it is, it is no easy matter to convince a man that he is guilty of it; or, after he is convinced, to persuade him to amend and become sincere.
The hypocrite has so long practised the art of deceiving others, that at length he is deceived in himself; and can by no means be brought to think that he is so contrary to what he has all along professed and appeared to be; for custom renders every thing natural to a man, and what sits as close as nature, we cannot tell how to look upon as a disguise : like some who have told a false story so often, that they at last believe it to be true. And thus, through the artifice of the great deceiver, one deception brings on another; and the most fatal disease of the soul grows so habitual, that the patient will not believe he is sick of it; which is one of the worst symptoms in spiritual as well as bodily distempers, and makes the cure extremely difficult.
1 Job xxvii. 6.
Nay, when a religious hypocrite is convinced that he is so; that he is that wretched creature whom God and men hate and condemn, nothing is more difficult (as was said before) than to work his reformation. For it is the nature of this ill habit to render all the methods of its cure vain and ineffectual; there being no fixing any thing upon one that has no sincerity. The hypocrite cannot trust himself in things of this nature, much less can any one else depend upon the likeliest means of amending him: and that of the prophet Jeremy is not truer of any man than the hypocrite, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
And this should make every man the more careful, impartially to examine and inquire into the state of his soul's health, whether he is infected with this foul disease or no; and if he is, immediately to make it his great endeavour, before it spreads too far, and eats in too deep, to get clear of it, and drive it out.
In my following discourse, therefore, upon so concerning an argument, I shall shew,
I. First, what sort of men are religious hypocrites, in order to the convincing those that are so of their being so. And, II. Secondly, what is the hope of this hypocrite;
c Jer. xvii. 9.
what he proposes to himself, and what he will really get by his holy cheat; in order to their cure, who shall become sensible that they have the disease, and by way of preservative and antidote to those few happy persons that have not.
I. As for the first inquiry: What sort of men are religious hypocrites ? The word is borrowed from the stage, and signifies an actor; one that personates people of such and such a character, but is indeed quite otherwise himself. As when a beggarly, lewd wretch acts the part of a virtuous prince; or a strumpet that of a virgin or a saint. So that hypocrisy in things sacred is a holy part acted; and he a religious hypocrite, that appears to the world as a Christian, for some by-ends of his own, suppose applause, or gain; but is indeed of a character quite contrary to that of the noble and excellent person whom he represents.
A man may speak and do many excellent things, and appear to be a very good Christian, when in the public view: that is, he may act his part to the life, and yet, when the play is done, and the spectators gone, and he is retired behind the scenes, and has laid aside his disguise, be as vicious and vile as ever.
There is a vast difference between the bare performance of such and such actions, how materially good and praiseworthy soever they may be, and the doing them in sincerity, in order to a right end: and it is a pure intention, which has no aims but what are enjoined or approved of by the gospel, that alone can make the best things we can do, to become properly Christian virtues, acceptable to God. For nothing is indeed religion but what de
stroys vice,and renders our temper of mind and course of life like to that of our blessed Redeemer, in imitation of his admirable example, and obedience to his righteous commands; that so we may glorify God, and do him all the honour we can here, and be capable of, and at last admitted to the eternal enjoyment of him in heaven.
And therefore, whoever wants sincerity in religion, wants that which, next to the blood of his Saviour, is the only thing that can do him any service in order to his salvation. All is hypocrisy without it, a mere outside, nothing but a company
of empty pretences and deceitful shows and formalities, without any good principle from whence they proceed, or any influence at all upon the heart and life; whereby God is really mocked and abused to his very face, by the man's pretending to lay a whole burnt offering upon his altar, when indeed he brings little or nothing but the skin of the sacrifice. For God requires and expects the love of the whole heart, the obedience of the whole man, and an entire conformity to that most excellent religion which his divine Son has taught us; and this with the greatest reason, because, by creation and redemption both, we are entirely his. And moreover we have, by our own act and deed, often renewed and confirmed, in the most solemn manner, made over our whole selves to him, to be disposed of and ruled by him at his pleasure.
How provoking then must it needs be to violate all these obligations; to put him off with a few theatrical nothings, instead of true devotion and hearty substantial duty and obedience in every thing, to the best of our power! And that must