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needs be a very strange sort of religion, which has every thing in it that may incense the divine object of it against us, and harden ourselves in wickedness, and very much increase our future misery; but nothing that will gain his favour in the least, or do us any manner of good.
He then is a religious hypocrite that makes profession of the Christian faith, either out of custom, and conformity to the usage of the place in which he lives, and because he was taught so to do in his childhood, without such a hearty, inward belief of the great truths of it, as will engage him to live as becomes the gospel of Christ; and troubles his head very little about the obligations it lays upon him, and rests contented with a fair outward appearance of Christianity, and for the sake of decency, or, it may be, curiosity, or for diversion, frequents the places of public worship, and there behaves himself as he sees others do: or else makes a greater show of religion than ordinary, though he believes little or nothing of the matter, for some worldly ends and regards; that it may be as a cloak to cover and conceal some ill designs he has in hand, and would carry on without suspicion; that he may get into men's good esteem by it, in order the more successfully to cheat and overreach them; and grow rich and great and popular, under the notion of a very good man, though he is really a very ill one; and do the basest actions, and such as deserve the severest and most shameful punishment, and yet all the while have his pride and vainglory gratified by the particular respects and praise of men.
So that if we would know whether we are religious hypocrites or not, (which is a thing it in
finitely concerns us to be rightly informed in,) let us apply what was but now said to ourselves, and seriously inquire for what end and upon what motives we make profession of Christianity? Is it really and truly because we believe it to be the only true religion, the only way to escape God's wrath, and attain eternal life? Is it, that whilst we live in this world we may glorify God by paying him an acceptable obedience, and when we die be received to his mercy, and be happy with him for ever, through the merits and mediation of the divine author of this religion, Jesus Christ ? or is it only for fashion's sake, that we may not be thought singular, and liable to some inconveniences by a barefaced infidelity ? or because we were brought up and educated in this way, and think it will turn to better account, as to the advantages of this world, all things considered, than any other ?
After this, let us inquire into our practice; whether we act like those whose end in Christianity is right? that is, do we obey from the heart that form of sound doctrine which has been delivered to us? Do we study the holy scriptures with diligence and attentive reverence, as the great rule of our lives, and which alone can make us wise to salvation ? and what we find to be our duty, do we sincerely desire and endeavour to perform, as knowing it to be the great and good design of our Saviour's coming into the world to redeem us from all iniquity?
And, consequently, are we really grieved and troubled, when at any time we are tempted or surprised into the transgression of his blessed will ? and do we then fully resolve to be more watchful and circumspect, and careful of being true to our religious obligations for the future ? And is this our endeavour after better obedience entire, without excepting any known part of our duty, or a reserve in favour of any one vice or evil habit, which our natural temper, long use, and the way of life we are in, makes it more difficult than ordinary for us to do or to forbear? And is our religion the same in private as in public, not depending upon interest and humour, and men's observation; and do we purpose, by God's grace, to suffer for it, with patience and charity, when God in that way shall please to try our sincerity ?
Such inquiries as these will make great discoveries, and shew us more of ourselves and our religion than we ever took notice of before. And he that has the testimony of a good conscience in these particulars, in God's name, let him go on and prosper in the good way that he has chosen; and, notwithstanding some failures and imperfections, and the surprisal of some sins, which the best Christian in the world never was or shall be wholly free from, he may look upon himself as a Christian indeed.
For in our present condition here, a good intention, and religious practice, to the best of our ability and knowledge, together with true repentance for what has formerly been amiss, and hearty purposes and endeavours to be better for the future, joined with earnest prayer to God for his assistance; this, being all that we can do, is all that our merciful and good God expects we should do. But he whose aims are worldly in what he calls religion, and is more concerned about what he shall get by a
show of piety here, than what will be the consequence of pure and undefiled religion hereafter, this man is a religious hypocrite, and his condition infinitely deplorable, and next door to desperate. Which brings me in the next place to shew,
II. What is the hope of this hypocrite; what he proposes to himself, and what he will really get by this deceitful piety of his, this holy cheat; his appearing outwardly righteous unto men, but within being full of hypocrisy and iniquity d.
Now hope, in scripture, does often signify the object as well as the act, the thing hoped for as well as our actual hoping for it. As in the 5th chapter to the Galatians, 5th verse, We through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith ; i. e. the promised reward of it. And so in the 2nd chapter to Titus, 13th ver. looking, for that blessed hope, or being in joyful expectation of that immense happiness which shall crown the righteous, at the time of the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ. And, therefore, as the hope of a Christian signifies both what his expectations are at present, and what his reward shall be hereafter, so in inquiring what is the hope of the hypocrite, we will consider what it is he now aims at, and hopes for, and what he shall in conclusion really receive. As to this world, the religious hypocrite, as was said, proposes to raise such a reputation to himself by his seeming piety and religious behaviour, as will turn to his profit and advantage; and makes a show of godliness that it may bring him gain, and help him in the more effectual management of his secular affairs
d Matt. xxiii. 28.
and designs. Men generally having so great a value for religion, as being the most consummate virtue, that where they meet with a fair appearance of it, they are naturally inclined to give it all encouragement, by commending and trusting and dealing with those that have the repute of being men of conscience and piety. And they are much in the right of it, if not deceived by false pretences.
But now, suppose the hypocrite succeeds in his design, and gets what he aimed at by his putting on a fair appearance of religion, and raises both his fortune and his reputation by this means to a considerable height; what a mighty purchase is it, if you look into the bottom of it, and trace it home? Even nothing but ill-gotten wealth and greatness, to which there always cleaves a curse, that quickly brings it to nothing; and popular esteem and praise, which all wise and good men make but very little account of; as being the most fickle, uncertain things in the world, though never so well grounded; much more when supported by nothing but a lie and a cheat, which cannot continue long without discovery; and what then is the hope of the hypocrite? After all the pains he has taken to act his part nicely, and keep his disguise close about him; after all his fears of being catched and found out, and the continual watch and guard he is fain to be at the trouble of, lest nature should appear before he is aware, and ruin all in an instant; after all this, to sink into contempt and scorn and poverty; who would envy him such a bargain? Who would not think him, after all his craft and cunning, an egregious fool ; to be at all this drudgery to ruin himself, when with half the trouble he might have been really