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SERMON XLV.

FORM OF GODLINESS WITHOUT THE POWER.

By the Rt. Rev. DANIEL WILSON, D, D.,

Bishop of Calcutta.

2. TIMOTHY, iii. 5.
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.

THERE are two parts of religion, the internal and external. Each of these is important; but in very different degrees. The inward grace of religion is the life of the whole, and gives all the value to its outward appearances. The ordinances of it are excellent, if they are regarded as a means, rather than an end; but if they are substituted for inward piety, they become injurious, and dangerous. Thus the Apostle instructs us, that in the perilous times of the last dispensation of the Church, men shall learn to unite every possible vice, with an outward adherence to the rituals of Christianity; shall retain the form whilst they deny the power of godliness. And though the ordinary cases which occur in the present day are far from being so aggravated as those described by the Apostle, yet the tendency of human nature is ever the same. A large class of mankind are always prone to neglect the real spirit and influence of religion, and to overvalue its outward observances. Let us, then, consider,

I. The power of godliness,
il. The mere form of it.
We are to notice,
I. The power of godliness.

Vol. II.-68

The term Godliness is, strictly considered, a due love and obedience to the blessed God; but it is ordinarily employed in the Scriptures, in a larger sense, for the whole of true religion. This begins in the conversion of the heart by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It lcads to sincere repentance. It brings a man to believe cordially in the name of Jesus Christ, for pardon and justification through his vicarious sacrilice and atonement. It produces a love to God and holiness, a delight in prayer, a value for the Bible, a mortification of remaining sinful passions, charity to our neighbors, separation from the sins and corruptions of the world, meekness, humility, circumspection, tenderness of conscience, and a desire to discharge every personal and relative duty. Thus the sinner, who was formerly ungodly, and careless about his salvation, becomes 66 a new creature in Christ Jesus, and lives a sober, rightcous, and godly life.”

If this be the nature of godliness, the power of it must be that sacred influence, by which the genuine spirit of it is communicated, and the holy effects of it are produced; that energy by which it transforms, converts, and sanctifies the whole man. If the doctrine of godliness is lowered and explained away, its power will disappear. But when the true grace of Christ Jesus, the real and cffectual work of the blessed Spirit, the inward lise of God in the hcart, and the pure and devoted obedience of a Christian conduct, are duly insisted upon in the language and manner of the IIoly Scriptures, then the virtue and loveliness of rellgion will be preserved; the efficacy of it, as well as the name. Thus the Apostle speaks of the Gospel of Christ, as being the power '

of God unto salvation. Thus thc Thessalonians received it, “ not as the word of men, but," as it was in truth, “the word of God," which “ effectually worked in them that believed.” The Gospel is also said to have come to the same Thessalonians, not “ in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost," and " they became foilowers of the Apostles and of the Lord; so that they were ensamples to all the believers, having turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God.” And thus the truth of the Gospel came to the Colossians, "and brought forth fruit, since the day they heard it and know the grace of God in truth."

This 6 power of godliness" is manifest in the various histories of the true servants of God, which are found in the Holy Scripturcs. Abraham, by this efficacy of religion, came out from his country and kindred at the call of God, and afterwards offered up his only son Isaac at his command. Jacob 6 waited for God's salvation.” Joseph resisted the templation to which he was exposed, and said, “ How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Moses also “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter.” Ruth resolved to cleave to Naomi and the worship of the one Jehovah. Joshua “ followed the Lord fully." Hezekiah was a holy example to his generation. Manassch hum

. blcd himself grcatly before the Lord. Josiah sought the Lord with his whole heart. Daniel braved the den of lions, and the three children the fiery furnace, for conscience sake.

66 And what shall I say more? for the time would fail mc to tell of Gidcon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah, of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

I need not do more than allude to the cases in the New Testament of Matthew and Zacchus, and Paul, and Lydia, and the Phillippian jailer, and Onesimus, and others, which are familiar to every student of Scripture, and which concur with the histories in the Old Testament, to display to us the nature of this important topic, the transforming cflicacy of real religion.

It is impossible, I think, not to see from this enumeration, what is mcaut by “the power of godliness.” Because, separating in the cases of these persons every thing properly supernatural or peculiar, it is yet evident that there was a force and reality in their religion, a life and vigor, a spirituality and devotedness, a sacrifice of their own will and a resignation to that of God, a separation from the world, and a zcal for the Divine glory, which distinguished their whole character from that of cold, timid, double-minded and insincerc persons.

The power, then, of godliness, in the ordinary times of the Church, will consisi in a real and effuctual conversion of the whole heart to God, in opposition to a merely external reformation. It will appear in a cordial reception of Christ Jesus in his whole salvation as the “wisdom, rightcousness, sanctification, and redemption" of sinners, in opposition to a nominal faith in Him. It will produce a simple, unaffected, and continual dependence on the mighty

66

operation of the Holy Ghost for every good thought, desire, and action, in opposition to a merely general reference to his aid. It will be seen in a spiritual and hearenly state of the heart and affections, which delights in prayer and communion with God, and honors the holy Sabbath, in opposition to a cold performance of some of the outward duties of religion. It will manifest itself in a fervent love to Christ, which constrains the whole soul, and wins it to speak of his name, and glory in his cross, in opposition to indifference and neglect. It will appear in a circumspect walk, and abstraction from the world, and a dread of temptation, in opposition to a conformity to the manners of the age. It will be seen in a zeal for the glory of God, and an activity and enterprise in promoting the salvation of others, in opposition to a selfish indolence. It will appear in the humble, meck, and forgiving terper of Christ Jesus, in opposition to pride and revenge, and the spirit of party. In a word, the power of godliness is religion in action-religion governing the understanding, the will, the affections, and the life. It is the real deliverance of the captive; it is the actual erection of the spiritual edifice; it is the positive recovery of the patient; it is the perceptible warmth of life; it is the holy birth and growth of the soul in piety; it is Christ“ dwelling in the heart by faith;” it is the translation from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son." These effects, indeed, are not produced in an equal degree in all sincere Christians; but this is the test, this the criterion, by which the real power of religion” may be ascertained; and to attain to this, and more than this, is the supreme object and aim of all true servants of God.

But we come now to consider what is meant,

II. By the mere form of godliness—" having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."

Here it is to be observed, in the very first instance, that the dangerous state of mind described in these words does not consist in having the form of religion, but in so adhering to the form as to deny, either directly or virtually, its power. The oulward forms

. of religion are prescribed by God himself, and are absolutely necessary for man. As we have bodies as well as souls, external institutions are indispensable to us. Secret and family devotions must have decent forms, or they will soon decline. The public worship of Almighty God must be preserved and regulated by appointed

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services. No wise person ever undervalues order. Man is too weak to stand alone; and it is the mark of true humility to employ those means in which it pleases God ordinarily to convey his grace. One of the operations, indeed of the power of devotion will be to create a reverence for its forms. The Apostle instructs us to “ do all things decently and in order," and to consider the custom of the churches of Christ as a sufficient, and even an authoritative, guide to us in indifferent points. “He that troubJeth" their peace or union, “ will bear his judgment,” whosoever he be. We are “ to hold fast the form of sound words;" and "to. obey them that have the rule over us, esteeming them very highly in love for their works' sake."

The state of heart, then, which the Apostle condemns, is the so overvaluing the external services of religion as to neglect or despise that power of il, for the promotion of which those services were instituted. The offence condemned, is the putting the name of picty for the thing. It is the sinking of religion in its mere appendages. It is the stopping of our course exactly where we should begin; the resting in a form, instead of employing it to conduct us to a higher end. When this fatal mistake is made, the progress from bad to worse is commonly rapid; and men quickly learn to deny practically, if not avowedly, the power of inward and spiritual religion.

The tendency of the human heart generally is, to over-estimate the outward forms of piety. Form is by far the easiest part of religion. It suits the pride and self-righteousness of our fallen nature, it soothes the uneasiness of a guilty mind, it commends us to the good opinion of our fellow-creatures, it is soonest performed, it is all of which the cnawakened mind feels the want, it puts us on an apparent level with the pious and devout, it strikes the senses, it silences the clamors of conscience. On the other hand, to ascend to God, to pray with the whole heart, to examine our religious state, to rely on the alonc merits of Christ, to cultivate inward principles of piety, to “sce Him who is invisible, to walk by faith, to keep ourselves in the love of God,” to mortify selfishness and pride, are secrct, and spiritual, and difficult duties. The human heart tinds nothing in them to rest upon, nothing to gratify a good opinion of itself. Accordingly, in all ages of the church, an undue regard to the forms of religion has been a prevalent and most insidious danger.

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