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"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their ownselves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. Without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good. Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."-2 TIM. iii. 1--5.
To a discourse upon these words, I cannot think of any fitter introduction, than that wherewith our Saviour sometime began a sermon of his, "This day is this scripture fulfilled." And I would to God, there were not great occasion to fear, that a great part of it may be fulfilled in this place.
Two things are contained in it: First, The real wickedness of the generality of the men of the latter times, in the four first verses. For by "men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, boasters, proud," &c. I conceive is meant, men generally shall be so; otherwise this were nothing peculiar to the last, but common to all times; for in all times some, nay, many, have been "lovers of themselves, covetous, boasters, proud," &c. Se
condly, We have here the formal and hypocritical godliness of the same times, in the last verse; "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof;" which latter ordinarily and naturally accompanies the former. For, as the shadows are longest when the sun is lowest, and as vines, and other fruit-trees, bear the less fruit, when they are suffered to luxuriate and spend their sap upon superfluous suckers, and abundance of leaves: so commonly, we may observe, both in civil conversation, where there is great store of formality, there is little sincerity; and in religion, where there is a decay of true cordial piety, there men entertain and please themselves, and vainly hope to please God, with external formalities and performances, and great store of that righteousness, for which Christ shall judge the world.
It were no difficult matter to shew, that the truth of St. Paul's prediction is by experience justified in both parts of it; but my purpose is to restrain myself to the latter, and to endeavour to clear unto you that, that in our times is generally accomplished: that almost in all places the power of godliness is decayed and vanished; the form and profession of it only remaining: that the spirit and soul, and life of religion, is for the most part gone; only the outward body or carcass, or rather the picture or shadow of it, being left behind. This is the doctrine, which at this time I shall deliver to you; and the use, which I desire most heartily you shall make of it, is this: to take care, that you confute, so far as it concerns your particulars, what I fear I shall prove true in the general.
To come then to our business without further
compliment, let us examine our ways, and consider impartially, what the religion of most men is.
We are baptized in our infancy, that is, as I conceive, dedicated and devoted to God's service, by our parents and the church, as young Samuel was by his mother Hannah; and there we take a solemn vow, To forsake the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all the covetous desires of it; to forsake also the carnal desires of the flesh, and not to follow nor be led by them. This vow we take when we be children, and understand it not; and how many are there, who know, and consider, and regard what they have vowed, when they are become men, almost as little as they did being children! Consider the lives and public actions of most men of all conditions, in court, city, and country, and then deny it, if you can, that those three things, which we have renounced in our baptism, the profits, honours, and pleasures of the world, are the very gods which divide the world amongst them; are served more devoutly, confided in more heartily, loved more affectionately, than the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in whose name we are baptized: deny, if you can, the daily and constant employment of all men to be either a violent prosecution of the vain pomp and glory of the world, or of the power, riches, and contemptible profits of it, or of the momentary or unsatisfying pleasures of the flesh, or else of the more diabolical humours of pride, malice, revenge, and such-like; and yet with this empty form we please and satisfy ourselves, as well as if we were lively born again by the Spirit of God, not knowing or not regarding what St. Peter has
taught us, that the baptism, which must save us; is, "Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience unto God." 1 Pet. iii. 21.
When we are come to years capable of instruction, many, which is lamentable to consider, are so little regarded by themselves or others, that they continue little better than pagans in a commonwealth of Christians, and know little more of God, or of Christ, than if they had been bred in the Indies. A lamentable case, and which will one day lie heavy upon their account, which might have amended it, and did not. But many,
I confess, are taught to act over this play of religion and learning, to say, "Our Father, which art in heaven;" and, "I believe in God the Father Almighty;" but where are the men that live so, as if they did believe in earnest, that God is their almighty Father? Where are they that fear him, and trust in him, and depend upon him only for their whole happiness, and love him, and obey him, as in reason we ought to do to an almighty Father; who, if he be our Father, and we be indeed his children, will do for us all the good he can; and if he be almighty, can do for us all the good he will; and yet, how few are there, who love him with half that affection as children usually do their parents, or believe him with half that simplicity, or serve him with half that diligence? And then, for the Lord's Prayer, the plain truth is, we lie unto God for the most part clean through it; and, for want of desiring indeed, what in word we pray for, tell him to his face as many false tales as we make petitions. For who shews by his endeavours, that he desires heartily that God's
name should be hallowed, that is, holily and religiously worshipped and adored by all men? That his kingdom shall be advanced and enlarged; that his blessed will should be universally obeyed? Who shews, by his forsaking sin, that he desires, so much as he should do, the forgiveness of it? Nay, who doth not revenge, upon all occasions, the affronts, contempts, and injuries put upon him, and so upon the matter curse himself, as often as he says, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." How few depend upon God only for their "daily bread," viz. the good things of this life, as upon the only Giver of them, so as neither to get nor keep any of them, by any means, which they know or fear to be offensive unto God? How few desire in earnest to avoid temptation? Nay, who almost is there, that takes not the devil's office out of his hand, and is not himself a tempter both to himself and others? Lastly, Who almost is there that desires heartily, and above all things, so much as the thing deserves, to be delivered from the greatest evil; sin, I mean, and the anger of God? Now, beloved, this is certain; he that employs not requisite industry, to obtain what he pretends to desire, does not desire indeed, but only pretends to do so he that desires not what he prays for, prays with tongue only, and not with his heart; indeed, does not pray to God, but play and dally with him. And yet this is all which men generally do, and therefore herein also accomplish this prophecy, "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."
And this were ill enough, were it in private; but we abuse God Almighty also with our public