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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 first operations, indeed, of the power of devotion will be to create a reverence for its forms. The Apostles instruct 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 troubleth 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 work's 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 it, for the promotion of which those services were instituted. The offence condemned is the putting the name of piety for the thing. It is the sinking of religion in its mere appendages. It is the stopping in our course exactly where we should begin; the resting in a form, instead of employing it to conduct us to a higher end. Where 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 GENBRALLY 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 unawakened mind feels the want, it puts us on an apparent level with the pious and devout, it strikes the senses, it silences the clamours 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 alone merits of Christ, to cultivate inward principles of piety, to see Him who is invisible, to walk by faith, to keep ourselves in the love of God, to mortify selfishness and pride, are secret and spiritual and difficult duties. The human heart finds notbing 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.
Thus Saul, with rebellion and envy in his heart, still addressed Samuel and David and his own courtiers, in the forms of piety. Thus the Jews in their most corrupt state were accustomed to say, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we. They drew near to God with their mouths and honoured him with their
lips, but removed their heart far from him. They called themselves by the name of Jacob, and stayed themselves upon the God of Israel, but not in truth nor in righteousness. They came to the Prophet as God's people, and sat before him, and heard his words, but they would not do them. Thus Absalom disguised his rebellion and treason under the pretence of performing a vow in Hebron. The Pharisees likewise in our Lord's time made broad their phylacteries, and enlarged the borders of their garments, and prayed standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they might be seen of man. Herod observed John, and did many things, and heard him gladly. Simon the sorcerer believed. Ananias and Sapphira, in compliance with the regulations of the church, sold the inheritance; and Judas betrayed his Master with the outward expressions of affection and reverence.
And in our own times and in a reformed apostolical church, our simple, solemn, and edifying religious services are frequently, it is to be feared, abused to the ends of self-righteousness and pride. This is not the fault of those fora mularies; it is the fault of human nature. Men by degrees thus pervert the offices of religion, They forget that mere bodily services are of no value in the sight of God without the heart, They proceed in a routine of decent obsery
ances, whilst their affections are in fact rivetted on the world, ambition, pleasure, gain. They are present where prayer is offered up, but they do not pray. They adopt the words of supplication, but neglect the spirit and feeling. They listen to the reading of God's word, but without any spiritual understanding. They admit the truths of Christianity, but without application or effect. They attend to some duties of piety on a part of the Sunday, but return to the pursuit of the world before the day is closed. Thus they have the form, but not the power of godliness.
And not having felt this power, they commonly next proceed to THE DEPRECIATION OF IT. The natural enmity of the human mind to spiritual religion is fostered by a mere observance of the outward fashion of piety. An over-eager attention to the name, diverts the eye from the substance. They quite forget what religion is, and what it should do for them. Repentance for sin, contrition and humiliation, are disregarded. Faith in Christ as our alone righteousness, and love to him as our divine Lord, are unknown. Spiritual affections, delight in prayer, watchfulness over the heart, the dread of sin, forgiveness of injuries, lowliness, meekness, resignation, fear, are things strange and unwelcome: whilst vanity, dress, display, amusements, business, company, indolence, selfishness,
pride, forgetfulness of God, and neglect of the Gospel, govern the heart, and govern it with more influence because the form of godliness lulls to rest the ill-informed conscience.
From this state of mind the descent is easy to the MISREPRESENTATION AND ABUSE of the power of religion. I place these together, because it is commonly Satan's art first to maim, as it were, and disfigure the fair countenance of religion, and then to expose it to contempt or ridicule. Men, who extravagantly magnify the mere externals of religion, continually misrepresent really spiritual piety as fanaticism, scriptural holiness as unnecessary strictness, genuine love to God as enthusiasm, real obedience as severity. To increase the deformity of the picture, the failings of the good are zealously proclaimed, their mistakes exaggerated, their defects in human learning or ability detailed, the scandals occasioned by false professors of religion charged upon the whole body, and differences of sentiment on smaller points magnified into fundamental disagreements. Thus the -power of religion being perpetually viewed through the medium of prejudice, is brought into contempt, and the form of it is almost exclusively regarded and followed.
AN ERRONEOUS SYSTEM OF RELIGIOUS DOCTRINE is frequently called in to support this inefficacious semblance of piety. The fashionable