« הקודםהמשך »
ing of a sepulchre which within is full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. There is no life, no vitality in religion; there is no really pure faith; there is no really Gospel-regulated conduct; there is the service of the lips without the warm inspiration of the heart; there is every thing which external duty requires, and yet all this is mere bodily exercise, which profiteth nothing. Indeed, take a passage of St. Paul's epistle to Timothy and add it to this, and it appears to me that you will have as clear an idea of the actual spiritual state of the Church alluded to, as could be given in language. “Having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof;" having “a name to live, but thou art dead.” Formality, then, or mere nominal religion, is the evil complained of.
General remarks of this kind, however, are very little applicable to the entire condition of any Church of the present day. There are such varieties of character among those making up a nominally Christian congregation, that to take any particular evil, or to select any particular grace as the peculiar character of that congregation, would fall far wide of the mark. That there are in every congregation those who are devotedly pious, few will dispute. That there are in every congregation those who are utterly reckless of their souls, is a most melancholy fact. That there are in every congregation those who are only formalists, none can be bold enough to deny. The language of the text, though used in its original design as the characteristic of a Church, is actually now the characteristic of individuals only. My remarks, then, are intended as a caution against the sin of formality, and with
out discussing the subject, I break it at once into practical remarks.
1. It is possible to stand high in the estimation of others, and yet be hateful in the sight of God.
Unfortunately, brethren, it is no difficult matter to have a name to live, and formality in religion has its gradations from the very lowest particulars of the Christian profession to the most high-sounding and lofty pretensions. All who are not real Christians by a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and with a changed and sanctified heart, stand upon the same level, so far as that it can be said of all, that they have but a name to live: but even the pretensions to the form of godliness are different in different individuals, though all of the class are alike destitute of its vital power. Some there are who are satisfied with the most meagre and heartless endeavours. Mere attendance on religious ordinances, and a punctual appearance in the Church, is enough for them. They enter upon no serious inquiries how the feelings of their hearts have agreed with the solemnities in which their bodies have been engaged. This is the lowest grade of formality. Another class ascend somewhat higher in the scale, and try to excite pious feelings in their hearts during the time of actual devotion. They are satisfied with the trial, and if they have not succeeded in bringing their minds to the elevation, they content themselves with the endeavour, and are thus far pleased with their feeble services, and think themselves Christians. In this class are those who actually do sometimes have their minds excited during the hours of worship, or under some extraordinary providential dispensation, but who yet cherish none
of these feelings when the occasion or the dispensation has passed by. These feelings are but transient emotions; not religion, but the morning cloud, and the early dew which passeth away. They may constitute a name to live, but spiritual deadness is within. There is a still higher class of those who merely have a name to live. They are those who, in the outward and visible marks of religion, have appeared to abandon all gross and out-breaking vices; who attend with regularity on the public exercises of worship, and even are found in the more limited circle of devotion. They appear to take delight in those opportunities of worship which pass under the name of lectures, social meetings, and all the round of societies of a religious character. They appear to embrace the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, and relish the preaching which is most close and evangelical; they love to associate with the decided followers of Jesus, and on these accounts gain a name and a reputation for piety and godliness. Hence it is, that many persons either never truly converted unto God, or if converted, in a low and languishing condition, yet have a name to live, and nothing but a name; for, my friends, no matter what the grade of the formality is it is, in its real nature, intrinsically the same. It is no matter on what step of the ladder, higher or lower, we may stand, if every step is formality. Oh what multitudes of those called Christians are there, who, as to real religion, would stand out utterly naked before the world, if they were stript of that which is nothing but the form of godliness. Brethren and friends, let your examination be deep and searching; for where there is spiritual life in contradistinction to
a mere name to live, there is a real and effectual conversion of the whole heart to God. There is a cordial reception of the Lord Jesus Christ in his whole salvation, as wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; there is a simple, unaffected and continued dependance on the mighty operations of the Holy Ghost, for every good thought, desire, and action; there is a spiritual and heavenly state of heart and affections, which delights in communion with God and the contemplation of the future state of glory. Where there is nothing but a name to live, there may be an external reformation, and there may be a nominal faith, and there may be an union with the visible Church, and there may be a general and unmeaning reference to the aid of the Holy Spirit, and there may be a cold performance of the outward duties of religion, and all this while the individual is hateful in the sight of God. When, on the contrary to this, there is a real principle of spiritual life, 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. It will appear in a circumspect walk and a separation from the world; it will be seen in a zeal for the glory of God, and an activity and enterprise in promoting the salvation of others; it will appear in the meek and humble and forgiving spirit of the Lord Jesus. In fine, when there is not only a name to live, but where there is real spiritual life, it will emphatically be religion in action, religion governing the understanding, the affection, and the will. 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 Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son. To every individual who is not a heart-changed follower of Christ, the language of Scripture is—"Thou hast a name that thou livest, but art dead.” With all your round of duties, and with all your opinions of yourselves, and with the approbation of others, “thou hast but a name that thou livest, and art dead ;” and hear what God says—“To what purpose is the multitude of
your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new-moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with : it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your newmoons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye
many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.”
2. Another practical remark arising from this subject is, that there is in the heart a natural tendency to make an undue estimate of the mere outward forms of religion, and that this hardens the heart and conscience against the life and vitality of religion
Form, my friends, ever has been and ever will be the easiest part of religion ; it costs comparatively